DRIVEN CONCLUSION

Written by: Susanne Beck and TNovan

Dylan watched across the small table, in a secluded corner of her favorite restaurant. Her normally bubbly and talkative companion was unusually quiet, taking more interest in her food than her dining partner.

"Cat, whatís wrong?"

The blonde looked up quickly, it was clear she hadnít really heard the words. "Huh?"

Smiling, Dylan reached across the table and took the playerís hand. "I asked what was wrong." She gave a gentle, reassuring squeeze to the fingers she held.

Cat sighed and nodded, she knew it wouldnít do any good to try and lie her way out of this one. "Iím worried."

"About?"

"Us."

This was not the answer Dylan had been expecting and the expression on her face showed it as she sat back and considered her friend. "Why are you worried?"

"Youíre not going to believe this."

"Try me."

"Iím worried that being with me could hurt you."

"CatherineÖ"

Cat shook her head and looked directly into her loverís eyes. "Hear me out."

"All right. Iím listening, go ahead." Dylan hadnít released the hand she had been holding and began running her thumb over tender skin. "Tell me whatís bothering you."

"What if weíre found out?"

Dylan considered the question and her next words very carefully before speaking. "Weíll deal with it."

Cat steeled herself by taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly. "If Horace finds out about us, heíll fire you."

"Heíll fire you too," the tall woman offered, logically.

"I donít care about that. There are other teams that will take me."

Dylan grinned and winked. "You donít think there are other teams that will take me too?"

"Thatís not what I meant. Iím out; itís no big secret. But youÖyouíreÖ"

"Hiding?"

"No, youíre careful and I understand why. Youíre a huge commodity and if you were outted it could hurt you. Youíd lose your job, all your endorsementsÖ"

"Cat, I have more money than I know what to do with. I could lose my job tomorrow and Iíd be fine. I have a good financial planner, and heís made very wise investments for me."

The blonde gestured with her hands, not quite sure what to say. "Do you worry about anything?"

"Yes."

"What?"

"You." Dylan leaned across the table, taking Cat gently under the chin. "Donít you worry about me. I care for you Cat and I enjoy being with you. Weíll deal with what comes down, if anything at all and, weíll make future decisions together. So donít think youíre going to get all noble on me and end this relationship. If we decide to end it, it will be a choice we make together. Get it?"

"Got it." The blonde felt happy tears in her eyes but managed to blink them back.

"Good." Dylan sat back in her chair and smiled, gesturing to Catís untouched food. "Now eat because I have plans for you tonight that will require you to have an abundance of energy."

"Oooo do tell!"

"Nope. Itís a surprise. Now eat. They killed a cow so you could have that steak."

"Did you have to say that?"

Dylan smirked and brought her mineral water to her lips.

*****

"Where are we going?" Cat watched as the scenery of the city passed by through the car window.

"Someplace very special."

"I got that, can I have a clue?"

"Itís exclusive."

"Anyone ever told you that you give truly lousy clues?"

"Very few people in my life are as straight forward with me as you are." She glanced across the car and smiled at her companion. "Thatís one of the things I really love about you. You treat me like a real person, not the ĎGoddessí."

"Now I do, before it was definitely not the case. But I must admit the real article is much better than the fantasy I had."

Now Dylan sported a full-fledged unrepentant grin. "You fantasized about me?"

"Me and every other woman with active brain cells and hormones." Cat turned in her seat so she could watch her lover. "You have no idea how many nights I went to sleep, staring at your poster and dreaming of being with you.

Even in the dim light of the city streets lamps they passed by, Cat could see Dylan was sporting a slight blush. "Oh please," the blonde rolled her eyes. "Donít even try to tell me this is news to you. You must know that women fantasize about you."

"Well, thereís a difference between Ďwonderingí and Ďknowingí. Youíre the first person to tell me to my face."

"Maybe later Iíll tell you about the fantasies." Cat teased as she wriggled her brows. "Some of them were really hot."

Dylan groaned and made a left turn into a parking garage.

*****

As they began walking down the alley, Dylan reached over and took Catís hand. Feeling her tense slightly she pulled the smaller woman close and wrapped her arm around her shoulders. "Relax. Weíre safe here, no one will see us."

She guided them to a non descript building, stopping under a blue awning. Cat watched as Dylan removed a key card from her jacket pocket and inserted it into a slot next to a black steel door. The light above the slot blinked from red to green and Dylan pulled the handle.

Once inside, Cat could hear loud music and what sounded like a pretty happy crowd. She held tight to the tall womanís hand as they wound there way through a series of walls and curtains. After passing through the last curtain, Cat found herself standing on the edge of a dance floor, in a very well appointed and lush dance club.

"Wow." Her eyes grew wide as she saw many female couples, some of them on the dance floor taking advantage of the loud, heart pounding music. Others were lined along the bar, watching the action on the floor or trying to get the attention of one of the many bartenders. Looking up she saw even more people on the second floor balcony behind glass, looking down on the crowd. "This is amazing."

Dylan leaned down to she could speak in a volume Cat could hear that wouldnít require her yelling over the music. "Come upstairs with me."

"Gladly."

Cat continued to watch the crowd, trusting Dylan completely to lead her upstairs and not to lose her in the crowd. Once they climbed the stairs and entered the second floor, the din of the music was muffled by what was apparently soundproof glass, it could still be heard, but a person wouldnít have to scream to be heard over it.

"This place is great!"

"I thought youíd like it." Dylan continued to lead her through the room until they had arrived at the back were there were a few empty booths. They settled down together in one side of it and Dylan pulled Cat close. "Itís a private club, for those of us who want discretion. I pay a healthy membership fee to be assured I can come here without problems. A lot of those people," she gestured to the crowd around the balcony railing, "are people who would rather not be out either, but they want someplace to go so they can relax and be themselves."

"I had no idea places like this existed. I assumed that people just went to the local lesbian bars and took their chances."

"Not with this crowd." She pointed to a tall redhead. "That one is a superior court judge." She looked around the crowd and pointed to yet another woman. "She is on the City Council."

Cat shook her head and she watched the second woman, place a tender, and obviously very loving kiss on the temple of the brunette that was with her. "Itís a shame people still have to hide like this."

"Yeah it is, but they and so many others like them, have a lot to lose. This place is just the best and safest bet."

"Well, them Iím glad itís here. Thanks for brining me."

"Youíre welcome. I thought maybe we could get in a few dances," she leaned over and kissed a pink ear. "Then we can go home and act out some of your fantasies."

Now it was Catís turn to groan.

*****

The soft, gentle flickering of the candles in the room caused a golden glow to shimmer off the slightly damp bodies in the bed.

Every muscle in Catís body was taut with anticipation and arousal. She breath let her body in long, shaky streams as her skin tingled with Dylanís every touch, kiss and caress.

Dylan looked up Catís torso from her position, with her lips gently kissing the trembling stomach before her. She smiled as she watched Cat draw in a fast breath as her own hands traveled slowly up the blondeís body, barely touching the sides of her breasts as they continued up her arms. She glanced quickly at each of her loversí hands, which had a death grip on the silk scarves tied to the bedpost.

The scarves were tied, but Cat wasnít. This wasnít an exercise in light bondage; this was an exercise in patience, in erotica, in trust. Cat could let go anytime she wanted, but she didnít want to let go. She wanted this feeling to last all night and she had a feeling from the way Dylan was taking her time that it would be daylight before they finally found sleep.

Cat had told Dylan some of her fantasies and with a wicked, playful grin, the brunette had agreed that playing some of them out could be very stimulating and satisfying.

Arriving home from the club they had wasted no time in beginning a mutual seduction. Cat had confided that she wanted to give herself to Dylan in any way the other woman desired. For Dylan, it was an erotic rush like no other to hear Catís admission. No one in her life had ever offered such a pure gift before.

With gentle questioning of the blonde, Dylan had set the scene. Candles had been lit, soft music played in the background, giving them just enough to set the pace by, but yet not to be distracting.

For Dylan, Catís total submission did not equal domination. The tall woman was well aware it was her lover who actually held all the power because of the depth of the emotion she was feeling for her partner at this very moment as her hands and lips loved the body under her. If Cat asked for the moon, Dylan would drag it to Earth for her.

And Dylan was determined that Cat shouldnít regret sharing her most intimate fantasies. She wanted the experience to garner her more trust so that they could share more.

More.

That was a new word for Dylan. To want more from a lover. As she placed a kiss to Catís neck, feeling the shiver from her partner, Dylan realized that she could be falling hard for the blonde.

"Tired?" She whispered softly, licking Catís lobe.

"No." The soft admission, punctuated with a small moan, made Dylan smile.

"I could love you all night like this."

"Good."

Their lips met and Dylan knew it would be long, loving night. Tomorrow would be soon enough to take these new emotions out and examine them.

*******

The early morning sun laid lazy stripes across the huge bed, creating interesting patterns along the long, lean, muscled body occupying that bed. Turned to her side and propped up on one elbow, Cat traced the sun dapples on Dylanís body with one of the silken scarves, watching gooseflesh break out across her palette. She turned a smile to her lover, then froze as eyes gone to deep indigo pierced through her, turning her insides to molten heat.

"Sweet Jesus," she whispered, dropping the scarf and rolling into Dylanís waiting arms.

The kiss that followed was incendiary, tearing the breath from her lungs and the thoughts from her mind. She moaned as she glided across sweat-slick skin, sure beyond telling that nothing had ever felt this good. Until, that is, teeth grazed softly over her neck and lips latched on, suckling gently at her bounding pulsepoint.

"Dear God, Dylan, please donítÖ." Buried beneath a heap of clothes in the corner, a cellphone chirped self-importantly. "Östop."

Dylan eased away, earning a long, drawn out groan of protest. "They can leave a message," Cat growled, searching out her loverís kiss-bruised lips.

"Thatís the third time in an hour," Dylan replied, turning her face slightly away so the kiss landed on her cheek. "It might be important."

"This," Cat countered, pressing herself into the hot, firm body beneath her, "is important. That can easily be crushed into a million tiny little pieces if it doesnít shut upÖrightÖnow!"

As if hearing the threat, the phone quieted.

Then started up again, causing Cat to grit her teeth, jump up from lover and bed, and stalk over to the innocent heap of clothing, pawing through it until she came up with the phone and flipped it open. "What?!" she barked.

There was a long pause.

"Alright, whoever this is, youíve got exactly one second to start talking. And it damn well better be an emergency or thereís going to be some serious hell to pay!"

Another pause, shorter this time. Then a hesitant voice came over the line. "Cat?"

Catís eyes widened. "Dad?"

"Yes, sweetheart. Where are you?"

"Where amÖwait a minute. Where are you?"

"At the airport, Cat," her father replied patiently. "You were supposed to pick us up, remember?"

The sensation of blood rushing from her head was one Cat hoped not to repeat in the future.

Noticing the sudden paleness to her loverís features, Dylan started to rise, only to be waved back by Cat as she turned slightly away from the bed. "God, Iím so sorry, Dad. I overslept."

"Overslept? Honey, thatís not like you." A break in the conversation treated Cat to her motherís muffled voice demanding to know what was going on. "Your mother wants to knowÖ."

"Yes, I heard her. Look, Iím really sorry, Dad. I was up really late last nightÖstudying plays for tonightís game." The lie tasted sour and foul in her mouth, and she turned further away from what she was sure was a hurt look on Dylanís face. "Iíll jump in the shower real quick and be there in less than an hour."

"Thatís okay, Cat," her father countered. "We can take a taxi."

"No! No, justÖwait there. I wonít be long. I promise."

"WellÖ."

"Please, Dad, trust me on this. Grab some breakfast or hit the shops and Iíll be there before you know it, alright?"

She could hear more muffled conversation between her parents, and when her father finally came back on, she sighed in distinct relief.

"Your mother says that weíll meet you right outside the doors to baggage claim."

Thank you, God!! "Alright, Dad. Tell Mom Iím sorry, and Iíll see you guys soon. Bye."

Ending any further conversation, she snapped the phone closed, and turned hesitantly back to the bed where Dylan was lounging on a stack of pillows, hands clasped casually over the flat, muscled plane of her belly. "Iím sorry," Cat said in a small voice.

Dylanís eyes softened and she lifted one long arm, palm up. Cat crossed the small space between them, and grasped the offered hand, clasping it as one would a lifeline. "Youíve got nothing to be sorry for, Cat."

"ButÖ."

"Listen to me. Remember the conversation we had last night at dinner?"

"Yes, butÖ."

"Cat, a relationship like ours is going to have its difficulties. The need to keep it away from the outside world is primary among them. What you will, or wonít, say about it to your parents is something that only you can decide. And whatever you decide will have my complete support, okay? Weíre in this together."

Tears stung at her eyes again, and she blinked them away as she nodded.

"Good. Now Iíd suggest jumping in the shower post haste, because if you stand here like that much longer, Iím not going to be responsible for one hour late turning into four or five."

That got the smile she was looking for, and she stared in frank appreciation at the rear view as Cat scampered from the bedroom and into the bathroom. "Oh, Dylan," she groaned, collapsing back against the headboard as the shower cut on, "youíre playing with fire here." Then she grinned, stretching and feeling the pleasant soreness a night of loving had given her body.

"Burn, baby, burn."

******

Cat grabbed her gym bag and was headed out of the locker room when she ran into Dylan. The coach smiled and offered a wave bringing the player over. "Dinner?" Dylan asked quietly, knowing they might not completely alone yet.

"I..umÖI promised to have dinner with my folks tonight."

"Ah thatís right. I forgot. Have a good time and let me know if they enjoyed the game. You gave them a hell of a show tonight."

"I didnít do that for my folks, I did that for you." She grinned, wrinkling her nose. "I always get such great rewards when we win."

"True, but I guess this one will have to wait until your folks leave."

"Hey, why donít you join us? My day would love that. Heís a big fan you know?"

"I donít want toÖ"

Cat held up her hand. "Stop, just stop. Donít say it. I wouldnít have invited you if it were a problem. Come to dinner with us. Iím sure we can find something on the menu at Ramanoís that you can eat."

"Actually they have an eggplant dish thatís one of my favorites."

"Good. Then meet us there at eight. I need to go home and change. Iíd invite you, but theyíre meeting me there."

"Eight it is then."

Making sure they were quite alone in the hall, Cat gave Dylan a quick hug and a kiss on the cheek. "See you soon."

********

Cat opened the door of her apartment and found her folks sitting in front of the TV watching the highlights of the game on the evening news. "Didnít you get enough the first time?" She teased as she dropped her gym bag by the laundry room door.

"Never," he father stood and opened his arms for a hug, which she gave without hesitation. "I love watching you play. I have all your televised games on tape."

"Good. When Iím retired and I want a highlights tape I know who to call."

"Youíve got years ahead of you, Cat."

He led her back to the couch, where they sat, with her mother between them. She gave her mom a hug. "Iím so glad you guys could come for a visit. Iím sorry I couldnít get home, I just had so much to do."

"Itís okay, sweetheart. We understand." Her mother brushed a lock of hair from her daughterís face. "Youíre a busy young lady. Sometimes I think too busy."

Un-oh, this canít be good. "Whatís wrong, Mom?"

"Nothing is wrong, honey. Iím just worried that youíre working so hard youíve forgotten to have a life."

"I have a very nice life, Mom."

"What about finding someone?"

"Mom, letís not get into this again, okay. You know we donít see eye to eye on this subject."

"But honey, Iím justÖ"

"Please?" Cat asked with just a hint of pleading in her voice. "We shouldnít discuss this. It only ends up in an argument. We agreed not to talk about this."

"All right, fine sweetheart."

Cat sighed at her motherís tone. "I promise you with all my heart that when I find that someone special, youíll be the first to know and I hope you like her."

"Any chance itíll be a him?"

"Only if he has breasts and a vÖ"

"Catherine," he father warned. He knew that his wife tried to accept their daughterís choices and that sometimes she didnít manage it as well as any of them would like, but he hadnít raised his daughter to sass her mother and he wasnít going to let her start now.

"Iím sorry, Dad. Iím going to go take a shower and change so we can go to dinner. By the way, Coach Lambert is joining us. I thought youíd like to have a chance to talk to her one on one."

"Thatís great sweetheart," he father gestured her toward the upstairs and a shower, giving her the signal that he wanted to speak with her mother.

Once Cat was out of the room, he turned to his wife. "Donít do that to her."

"What?"

"Try to push her into an argument with you."

"I was doing no such thing!"

"You were too. Now I know you love Cat and I also know that you donít care for her choices in companionship, but donít start this. Let the girl be."

"IÖ" The doorbell ringing stopped her next comment.

"Dad," Cat called from upstairs. "Can you get that, Iím just about to get in the shower."

"Sure, Sweetheart, you go ahead."

Her father turned on his heel going to the door at a fast clip. He pulled it open to find Dylan standing there with a large blue notebook in her hand. "Hi, um I was supposed to meet you at the restaurant but Cat forgot the new play book and I was in the areaÖ"

"Come in Coach Lambert. I know Cat wonít mind."

Dylan stepped into the studio apartment and smiled finding it as she always did, neat and uncluttered. As she closed the door she heard a familiar clicking on the floor. "Hey, Hamlet, you flea bitten mutt." She tormented the dog, but knelt down and gave him the scratching he always expected when she visited.

"He seems to like you," Catís mother offered from the couch. "It took him an hour to stop growling at us. Does he see a lot of you?"

"Actually he does. Cat and I spend a lot of time together."

"Really?" The suspicion in her motherís voice was quite clear.

"Yes, Iím the head coach and sheís the team leader." She hefted the playbook as proof. "Itís a hazard of the job Iím afraid."

"Iím sure Cat doesnít think of it as a hazard or a hardship. You inspire her."

For all kinds of things. Dylan managed to keep the words from tumbling from her mouth. "Thatís good to hear."

"Would you like a drink?"

"Actually I donít drink, not normally at least. But if Catís got some juice around hereÖ"

"Iíll get it." Catís mom left the couch and wandered into the kitchen, leaving Dylan and Joseph standing in the center of the room.

"Have I done something to upset her?" Dylan lifted one brow and gestured toward the kitchen.

"No," Joseph sighed. "She and Cat had a Ďmomentí before you arrived. Itís fine."

"Is Cat okay?"

The older man smiled, hearing genuine concern in her voice. "Sheís fine. She and her mother go Ďround about things once in a while."

Dylan felt the need to press further. "And this time?"

"Ilene thinks that Cat needs to get into a relationship."

"Well, to be honest I discourage that in my players during the season. It messes with their concentration."

"That makes sense."

"So youíre the reason Catherine is alone?" Ilene entered the living room and placed a glass of orange juice on the table.

"No, Mother!" Cat yelled from the top of the steps. She hopped into her sneakers and charged down the stairs. "Dylan is not the reason Iím not in a relationship. Now would you please stop."

The blonde turned to her coach and smiled. "Iím sorry about that. Sheís off her medication and she gets nuts."

"CATHERINE!" Her mother yelled.

Dylan chuckled and her father out right laughed. "Itís okay Cat," Dylan turned sympathetic eyes on her favorite person. "I can understand why your mother doesnít want you to be alone."

If looks could kill, Cat would have seriously wounded Dylan. They were tempting fate by playing this little game, but Cat had warned Dylan. And she had told her that she wasnít ready to spring their new relationship on her parents just yet.

Catís parents loved her, that was never in question. And they wanted her to have her career as a basketball player. The young woman had worked hard for it and they supported her every step of the way.

However, her mother had never really been comfortable with Catís sexual orientation. In their home it had been a case of donít ask, donít tell and when Cat brought home someone she was dating, her mother simply pretended they were just friends. Ilene had always hoped it was a Ďphaseí and that Cat would grow out of it when she found a nice man to settle down with.

"So," Dylan broke the silence. "How about we go to dinner. My treat."

"Dylan, I invited you to dinner. You donít haveÖ"

"I donít have to. I want to. But you have to eat eggplant."

"Iíll buy and have a steak." Cat chuckled as she patted Dylan on the back in a gesture that was familiar if not intimate.

This did not get past her mother.

*******

Dinner was actually relaxed and the foursome had a good time. Dylan got to embarrass Cat with stories of games and practices that her folks hadnít seen and her parents got to tell embarrassing Cat stories. For Catís part she just sat, sipping her tea and wishing for a quick death.

Her parents had both excused themselves before coffee and Dylan leaned over to speak with Cat. "How you holding up?"

"Iím okay. Iím sorry about Mom."

"Well, honey you did warn me. But I do understand what you were telling me."

"Sheíll be okay, but itís better if we just let her figure it out for herself, then sheíll just deal with it."

"I gotcha." Dylan leaned over a bit closer. "How long are they in town for?"

Cat whimpered and twisted her napkin in her hands. "Three days." She turned playfully murderous eyes on her lover. "And donít you start something we canít finish."

"Me? Would I do that to you?"

"You know you would. You evil thing."

Dylan laughed and picked up her glass as her parentís returned from their respective trips to the restroom.

"Did we miss something funny?" Her mother asked as she retook her seat.

"Yes, I was just torturing Cat."

"Well", her father took his seat and took Catís hand. "Iím glad to know someone is taking the job seriously since Iím not here to do it."

Dylan laughed as Cat could only hang her head and shake it slowly, knowing that it was the truth and there was no way to fight it.

********

Returning back to Catís place, Dylan was invited up for coffee and but declined. She did ask to speak to Cat for a few minutes and the playerís parents headed up to the apartment leaving the two in the car.

"Thanks for tonight." Cat said as she took Dylanís hand. "It was sweet of you."

"Well, Iím hoping I can get them to like me without knowing why." Dylan chuckled, lifting her hand to caress Catís cheek. "Iím going to miss you."

"Letís just thank God that theyíre only going to be here for three days. We can survive three days."

"Now I remember," Dylan snapped her fingers playfully. "My shower has a cold setting."

"Yes it does. And thankfully, so does mine."

Dylan smiled, leaning over to kiss Cat goodnight.

*******

When she entered her apartment her mother was in her long nightgown sitting on the couch. She was noticeably alone.

"Whereís Dad?"

"Why were you kissing Dylan Lambert?"

"What?"

"I saw you kiss her. Why?"

Cat looked to the heavens for divine intervention and when she realized it wasnít coming she took a few steps toward her mother. "I kissed Dylan goodnight. Is there a problem with that?"

"Are you seeing her?"

"Does it make a difference?"

"Why didnít you tell us?"

Cat sighed hard and sat down in the chair across from the couch. "I didnít tell you because itís none of your business."

"So you are seeing her?"

"Yes," Cat finally decided that giving up would be the best course of action. "Yes, Iím seeing her."

"How long has this been going on?"

"That is none of your business."

"Catherine, donít you speak to me like that."

"Mother I love you dearly, but I will not be interrogated in my own house. Yes, Dylan and I are seeing each other, but how long weíve been seeing each other is none of your business."

"Do you love her?"

Cat sat there and considered it. Do I love her? "I have very deep feelings for Dylan. We are taking this relationship slow to give us both more time."

"Why are you keeping it quiet?"

"For a number of reasons, but mainly this one. We have no desire for our private lives to be up for discussion."

"You would think youíd tell your mother and father."

"Why? So you could tell me it was just a phase and that I needed to find a nice young man? God, Mom when are you going to realize that I donít want a young man? Iím a lesbian. I like women."

"I just canít understand that."

"Fine Mom, you donít have to understand it and you certainly donít have to approve, but damn it thatís just the way it is so you may as well just pretend to deal with it."

"I canít believe youíre talking to me like this Catherine."

"And I canít believe youíre still trying to tell me how to live my life. Iím a grown woman, Mom. I make my own living and I make my own choices."

"Sheís done this to you."

"Who has done what?"

"Dylan Lambert, sheís made you disrespectful."

"Bullshit!" Cat flew off the chair and began pacing. "Dylan has nothing to do with the fact that Iím tired of you pretending this is some phase or something Iím going to grow out of. Iíve been a lesbian since I was fourteen, Mom! Itís not going to change." She stopped pacing and faced her mother. "Iím sorry, but thatís just the way it is and Iím not going to try to do something that will make me unhappy just to please you."

"I can see that." Her mother stood up and nodded to her daughter. "Do you want your father and I to go?"

"No! Where did that come from? I love having you guys here, I just donít need this particular issue to come up and ruin our visit."

"Maybe I should speak to Miss Lambert."

"Donít you dare! Donít you dare drag Dylan into this! She has nothing to do with this other than sheís the one Iím currently dating. Donít make me choose between you mom, because right now Iím afraid you would lose."

"Catherine listen to what youíre saying. You would chose that woman over your family?"

"No, I would choose her over you. Look at what youíre doing, Mother!"

"Ilene," Catís father stood at the railing of the bedroom. "Thatís enough, leave Cat alone and come to bed."

The older woman looked to her husband and then to her daughter, without another word she turned and went upstairs leaving Cat mad and shaking.

A few minutes later Cat took the phone into the kitchen and dialed. She waited until Dylan picked up the phone and then she said the first thing that came to mind. "I love you."

*******

Dylan drummed her fingers on the steering wheel; her mind was elsewhere, which was obvious by the sound of the horn behind her. "Yeah, yeah, yeahÖgive me a break." She hit the gas and went through the light, taking a second to clear her thoughts.

She had managed to get Cat calmed down from last nightís unexpected confrontation without responding to the younger womanís declaration. Cat hadnít even seemed to notice, but the whole thing had left Dylan re-examining her relationship with the star player.

Just when she didnít think things could get worse, she got a call from Horaceís executive secretary. The old man was demanding that Dylan come to his house. It was certainly the last thing on the planet the coach wanted to do, but Horace wrote the checks, and if he wanted to see her she really couldnít tell him to go to hell.

"Though you bet your ass Iíd like to," she growled into the rearview mirror.

Turning off the main road, she slowed the car so she could enjoy the drive out to the estate. The road she was on was public, but it was barely traveled, making more like a private drive. She could just slow down and enjoy the scenery for a few minutes; it would give her time to try and figure out what Horace wanted and maybe give her some answers about dealing with Cat.

Ten minutes later she pulled up to the gates that kept Horaceís house secluded and away from the fans that might want to kick the old goatís ass. Dylan was no closer to knowing what he wanted, but she had come to a conclusion about Cat. Take it one day at a time.

Not that she was frightened, exactly, or unaware of the steadily deepening feelings between herself and one Catherine Hodges. She didnít know if she could call it love yet. Then again, being who and what she was, she never had much practice with that particular emotion.

"Thereís just so goddamn much at stake," she muttered, hitting the button to lower her window as the callbox came into view.

Placing her finger on the "announce" button, she waited until a womanís voice answered her buzz.

"Yes?"

"Dylan Lambert to see Mr. Johnson."

"Of course, Dylan. Horace is expecting you. Please come up."

The gate opened slowly, itís chain making a noise that made it clear it needed a good oiling.

"Maybe heíll get locked in." Dylan chuckled as she pulled her car up to the house. Before she had time to remove her sunglasses the front door swung open and a rather attractive older woman opened the door.

"Dylan," she smiled, opening her arms for a hug. "Iím so glad to see you again!"

Dylan returned the embrace fully. She'd known Hellene Johnson for a number of years and liked her a great deal. She was dignified, warm, kind and giving; the exact opposite, in other words, of her bigoted husband.

"Horace is with his doctor right now, but heíll be with you shortly. Can I offer you anything? Coffee? Wine? Something a bit stronger, perhaps?"

"Water would be fine."

Hellene smiled, and Dylan found herself appreciating the womanís genuine warmth all over again. Her anger at Horace grew. Why he felt the need to step out with a succession of airheads with chest sizes equal to their IQís when he had a partner who so obviously cared for him was something she would never understand.

"Iíll be right back."

As Hellene left the room, Dylan stuffed her hands in her pockets, but began giving the room a through look over. On what appeared to be an antique chest there were several photos. Inspecting them more closely, she found pictures of Horace and his wife along with a son and two daughters. She wasnít surprised to find the wife and the children looked happy but Horace always seemed to look as if he had a bad smell under his nose.

Hellene returned in short order and handed Dylan a tall glass of water. "Please have a seat and make yourself comfortable."

"Thank you." Dylan settled on a long leather sofa and Hellene took a seat in the matching armchair.

"So tell me, Dylan, are you happy with the Badgers?"

"I am. The Badgers have the makings of a championship team."

"Well, drafting Catherine Hodges was a stroke of genius on your part."

"Thank you. Iím not sure your husband feels the same way."

"Oh you have to ignore Horace most of the time. I promise you, his bark is far worse than his bite."

Dylan smiled and sipped her water. "Well, having been on the receiving end of his biteómetaphorically speakingóa few times, Iíd say theyíre about equal."

A moment later, a tall man in an impeccably pressed suit entered the living room. "Hellene, Horace is fine. But I still want him to take it easy for a few more days. And keep him off the liquor."

"I do my best, James, but you know how he is."

"I know if he doesnít change his habits heís going to be dead in a year. Pour it down the drain if you have to but keep him off it."

"Yes James." The older woman rose and showed the doctor to the door. "Dylan, if youíll come with me." She gestured down a long hall and Dylan rose to follow her.

*****

Horace was propped up in the massive bed and with several trade magazines spread all around him. The TV was tuned to ESPN, and the old man looked like hell.

It might not be a long wait.

Dylan waited until the door was closed and they were left alone, then she took a couple steps toward the bed. "Horace."

"Lambert. Glad you could come by."

"You called. I came. Youíre the boss."

"Iím glad to see someone in my organization remembers that." He gestured to a chair next to the bed. "But my being the boss isnít enough to keep you on the straight and narrow is it?"

"Excuse me?"

"Whatís going on between you and the Hodges dyke?"

"What?" Dylan managed indignant very well, she hoped it would be enough to side track him.

"Iíve been told that youíre spending a lot of time with her. Did you jump on the Sodomite chariot Ms. Lambert? Is that why you wanted her?"

Dylan rose to her feet. "I donít believe this. One, there is nothing between Catherine and me other than a coach and player relationship." Okay Iím going straight to hell for that one. "Two, Catherine and I spend a lot of time together because sheís the team leaderÖ"

"And why in the hell were you at dinner with her and her parents the other night?"

Trying her best to keep her boiling anger in check, she managed to stay calm enough to answer him. "Her father is a fan of mine and she invited me to dinner so we could meet in a more informal and comfortable setting."

"So you arenít screwing around with her?"

"No, I can honestly say Iím not screwing around with her." Itís a lot more than that you miserable bastard. She means more to me that a roll in the sack.

"Good. Then you wonít mind doing a little publicity thing Iíve set up for you."

"I am not going out with Hunter Locke again. The man is an idiot."

"Itís nothing like that. Itís a print ad for Nike. You do the ad and the team gets a seasonís worth of new gear, with an option for renewal if they like what they see." Bearing yellowed teeth in a leering grin, he takes a long, slow look down her body and back up again, not quite meeting her glaring eyes.

"Why is it that every time I deal with you I feel like a street corner whore?"

He cocked his brow. "You donít really want me to answer that do you."

Her jaw was clenched so hard she feared for her teeth, but she managed to keep her hands unfisted and hanging limp at her sides, though in her mind, those same hands were wrapped around the bastardís throat, squeezing the last ounce of life from his flabby body. "Fine," she ground out. "Are we through here?"

Horace held out a folder. "All the details are in there. You be a good little coach and keep me happy, and Iíll stay away from the dyke." His smile was brutal. "Send the wife in here on your way out."

*****

Dylan ground her teeth all the way home. Horace Johnson was an insufferable pig, and it was days like today when she wondered why in the hell she was still working for him.

Canít back out now, Dylan. Too many people count on you.

As she pulled in the driveway, she couldnít help but smile when she saw Catís truck idling. The blonde was sitting in the driverís side with the window down and the radio louder than it needed to be. Pulling in behind the truck, she could tell she hadnít been noticed.

Silencing the engine, she slipped out of the car and rose to her full, commanding height, the grin on her lips that of a hunter stalking prey. Quiet as a shadow, she moved to the truck and slid around so that she was standing before the open window. Bending so that her head came level with the in-the-clouds driver, she took in a breath, and expelled it in a gentle stream in the direction of Catís ear.

"Holyshit!!" Cat shouted, jumping in her seat and banging her head against the cabís ceiling.

Dylanís laughter only increased in volume at the black look Cat gave her as she rubbed her suddenly tender noggin. "You trying to kill me or what?"

"Sorry," Dylan said, not sounding very sorry at all. "Want me to kiss it and make it better?"

"You wish," Cat replied primly, reaching for the key and turning off the engine. Silence descended as she reached across the seat and grabbed a thick playbook. "The play diagrams you asked for, Coach."

"Ah, back to that again, are we?"

"Hmmph."

Opening the door, Dylan sketched a grand bow. "Would the Madame care to repair to the house? A lovely plum wine awaits her fine attentions."

Unable to even pretend to be angry anymore, Cat finally cracked a smile and slid from the cab, hooking her arm through Dylanís and allowing herself to be led into the cool confines of the large and beautiful house.

******

"Be good you two."

Siegfried gave a very human sigh of disappointment and stalked back into the living room, head hanging. Brunhilde looked regally on, sitting still as a statue until Dylan gave her customary scratch behind the ears. Only then did she deign to join her brother in the other room.

Tossing the folder and the playbook on the table inside the door, Dylan turned to Cat, drew her into her arms, and kissed her long and deep. When they finally separated, she grinned down at Cat, who looked like she was trapped in her own dream world.

"I needed that," the blonde finally managed as her eyes slowly opened.

"Me too. I had to spend part of my afternoon with Horace-the-bloodsucker-Johnson."

"Eww."

"Eww is right. God he makes my skin crawl. I want to take a hot shower."

"That could be fun," Cat offered with an evil grin.

"Yes, it could." Dylan grabbed Catís wrist and headed the toward the bathroom. "Letís go."

*****

Dylan laid on the floor, propped up on several fluffy pillows. Cat was lying with her head in the tall womanís stomach, drawing lazy designs on a corded, naked thigh only inches away. She was completely relaxed, filled with the kind of blissful lassitude that only a hot shower and a bout of enthusiastic lovemaking could inspire.

Dylan was leafing through pages of the playbook, obviously impressed.

"These are really good, Cat. You may have the makings of a decent coach." Looking over the top of the playbook, she playfully narrowed her eyes at her lover. "Youíre not gunning for my job, are ya?"

"Hell no. You think I want to deal with the slug who walks like a man any more than I absolutely have to? No thanks. Iíll stick to playing. The coaching job is allll yours."

Dylan let her fingers slip through Catís silky hair as she put the papers aside. "Thanks."

"So what did the smarmy little bigot want this time?"

"His spies caught me having dinner with you and your folks last night."

Cat rolled up to a sitting position, eyes wide. "Shit."

"No, donít worry about it. I convinced him it was harmless." She sighed. "But that convincing came with a pricetag attached."

Catís eyes narrowed. "What kind of a price?"

"He wants me to do some print ad for Nike. Gratis for me, lots of nice shiny new equipment for him." She sighed again, shaking her head. "Manny is gonna shit bricks when he hears."

"I donít understand. Doesnít your contract specify that you get a percentage of all those endorsement deals?"

"Yeah, but if you read between the lines, I need to scratch his ass for him when he asks."

"Or?"

Dylan hesitated, but something in those flaring emerald eyes convinced her that the truth would be the only thing Cat would accept. "He comes down on us."

"You mean me, donít you."

"Cat, itís okayÖ."

"No it isnít, goddamnit!" Jumping to her feet, Cat began to pace. "Dylan, I will not have you whoring yourself just to protect me. Itís not right, damnit!"

Rising, Dylan put a tender hand on Catís shaking shoulder and gathered her into an embrace. Cat struggled for a moment, her anger overwhelming, but Dylanís hold didnít loosen, and after a moment, she gave into the inevitable, finally resting her hot face against the silken skin of her loverís chest. "Sweetheart," Dylan murmured in a low, soothing voice, "when I said it was alright, I meant it. ThisÖwhoringÖisnít anything new for me. Itís all part of the game Iíve been playing since High School. It was just a lot more discrete back then. Do you think anyone was paying me to be seen at oh-so public events with Thad Hunter or any one of the legion of men Iíve been seen with over the years?" When Cat didnít answer, she continued. "If he couldnít use you as an excuse, he would have come up with another one, or even none at all. Itís part of the game, and I accept that."

"Itís not fair," Cat mumbled, her anger slowly leaking away in the strength of Dylanís embrace.

"No, it isnít. But if it keeps him off my back, and lets me have some peace in my life, itís worth it. I have no regrets."

Cat slowly lifted her head, eyes shining with tears not-quite dried. "None?"

"None." And with that, Dylan lowered her head and gave Cat a kiss that erased every single doubtóand every single thoughtófrom Catís head.

******

An hour later, they were back in their same positions on the floor, sipping the promised plum wine as their heated bodies slowly cooled. With an idle hand, Cat flipped open the folder that Dylan had dropped on their nest when she came back with the wine. What she saw caused her to choke on that wine, and she sat up, eyes glued to the glossy print in front of her. "Jesus Christ!!"

"What?" Dylan asked, startled out of her pleasant daze. "What is it?"

"This!" Cat shouted, thrusting the paper into her partnerís face.

Taking the glossy, Dylan examined it, impressed with the attention to detail. It was an incredibly lifelike drawing of two figuresóherself and Marquis Jackson, the reigning king of the NBAópressed chest to chest, belly to belly, melded together all along their lengths. Sweat beaded brightly against their naked skin; his a deep ebony, hers a beautifully contrasting ivory. Both were naked save for their feet. Marquis was clad in white Nikes with a black swoosh, and Dylan in the opposite. Artistically, it was breathtaking, and she understood fully why Johnson was salivating over it. If it looked this good as a simple drawing, Dylan could only imagine what it would look like with live bodies and expert photography.

"Youíre not saying anything," Cat commented in a dangerously low voice. "Why arenít you saying anything?"

Dylan lowered the mock-up and found herself bathed in pure green fire. She fancied she could feel her insides roasting under the heat of Catís glare and was, quite uncharacteristically, at a complete loss for words.

Catís eyes narrowed to slits. "Donít tell me you donít see anything wrong with thisÖthisÖ.thisÖtravesty!"

So, this is what being caught between Scylla and Charibdes feels like. Shit.

Catís eyes gradually widened at Dylanís continuing silence, and she peered down at her lover, examining her like some particularly atrocious species of bug sheíd just discovered stuck to the bottom of her shoe. "You donít see anything wrong with this, do you." Her voice was deceptively soft, but carried the thunder of a summer storm in its undertones. "I donít believe this."

Coming to her feet, she grabbed for her clothes in a series of jerky motions so unlike her usual smooth grace that Dylan could only stare in stunned disbelief. Finally, she found her voice and coaxed it out of hiding. "Cat?"

Pulling on her t-shirt, and not realizing it was inside out, Cat pinned her lover with another glare. "No. You justÖdo whatever it is you feel you have to do. I know where the door is. Iíll let myself out."

"ButÖ."

"Goodnight, Coach. Iíll see you at practice tomorrow."

Everything in Dylan wanted to jump up and prevent Cat from following through on her actions, but her more rational mind told her it would be one of the larger mistakes in her life to go after Cat now, when she was this angry. At her.

She was totally unaware of crumbling the glossy mock-up in one clenching fist as she watched, helplessly, as Cat stalked from the house, slamming the door behind her.

Dylan collapsed against the pillows, running her free hand through her hair. "Fuck."

*******

Cat cried all the way home. She cried once she was inside the door. She cried as she lay across her bed, wishing she could stop crying.

Why should she be mad? Dylan was a grown woman and if she wanted to do pornographic ads that was up to her. She didnít have anything but a few nights of Ö

Of what?

Cat considered it. She had blurted out to Dylan that she loved her. Did she love her or was she just saying that because her mother had pushed the envelope?

She rolled over on her back, angrily swiping at her cheeks to keep the tears from rolling down her face. String at the ceiling of her bedroom, she considered it. When she was with Dylan she felt things she had never felt before. And she knew it wasnít just the physical aspect.

When she was with Dylan she felt ten feet tall. She felt smart, funny, and more mature. Dylan made her stomach flutter, made her heart pound and made her brain mushy. All the feelings she felt were good. This was the first time sheíd ever felt bad when it came to dealing with the tall woman.

Obviously Dylan didnít feel the same way. She hadnít responded to Catís declaration of love in any way. Now Catherine realized all the older woman had done that night was get her clamed down before telling her they would talk later and ending the call.

Dylan didnít love her. That was becoming perfectly clear to the young woman.

If Dylan had felt anything that remotely resembled love she would have agreed not to do the ad simply out of respect for her lover.

If you love someone, you donít do anything to purposely upset them, do you?

Cat asked herself this question over and over as she finally felt the last traces of Dylanís touch leave her body and she slipped into an emotionally exhausted slumber.

*******

Dylan laid across her large bed, naked save for the T-shirt sheíd hastily yanked on after Cat had stormed from the house. Ever vigilant to their Mistressí moods, Siegfried, the chicken, had repaired to the far corner of the house, while Brunhilde laid with her head in Dylanís lap, looking up at her with eyes both sorrowful and compassionate. Dylan stroked Brunhildeís sleek head with an absent hand as she peered at the smoothed-out ad mock-up held in the other.

As she looked at the ad, the voices of Horace and Cat swirled through her head in an unending loop, only serving to increase the pain in her head and in her heart.

"Why is it that every time I deal with you I feel like a street corner whore?"

"You donít really want me to answer that do you."

"You donít see anything wrong with this, do you."

"You be a good little coach and keep me happy, and Iíll stay away from the dyke."

"No. You justÖdo whatever it is you feel you have to do."

"You be a good little coach and keep me happy, and Iíll stay away from the dyke."

"Goodnight, Coach. Iíll see you at practice tomorrow."

"You be a good little coach and keep me happy, and Iíll stay away from the dyke."

"I know where the door is. Iíll let myself out."

Tossing the glossy away as if it had suddenly grown fangs and was threatening to bite, Dylan cradled her head in both hands, her face set in a hard grimace, teeth bared, eyes tightly closed. "Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, FUCK!!!"

*******

Morning was not kind to the young woman, but as she stood in the blistering hot shower, she came to a serious decision. It was time to walk away from Dylan Lambert and chalk her time with the woman up to life experience.

She was old enough to know she was young and that most people go through several lovers before they find the Ďrightí one. Apparently Dylan wasnít the right one.

Even as her brain processed all this, her heart hurt and she knew it would be a long time before it stopped aching. She had believed that Dylan was the one.

Dressing in her sweats she packed her bag for practice and fed the dog. He looked up at her with sad brown eyes. He knew something was wrong, but there was little he could do to help his human.

Cat drove to the arena and dressed with little chatter as the rest of her teammates tried to bring her out of her funk. They knew if she was in a bad mood she wouldnít play well and it would aggravate the coach who would work them harder.

Chaney sat down and bumped shoulder with the blonde. "You okay?"

"Yeah Iím fine."

"You act like someone pissed in you Wheaties."

"You could say that."

"Okay look, you know Iím here for you and you can sit up and have a bitchfest of epic proportions, but after practice. Try and cheer up to Coach will kick our butts."

"íKay. Hey Chane?"

"Yeah?"

" Can we go out after practice? I just need someone to talk to."

"Absolutely."

"Great. Thanks."

"No problem shortchange."

Cat took a deep breath and decided that her teammates shouldnít pay for her stupid mistake. She plastered a smile on her face and headed out to the court.

The smile fell away when she saw Dylan. She sucked in a quick breath and fortified herself as she walked over to where everyone was looking at a diagram of a new play.

"Cat," Dylan said with a smile and a nod.

"Coach," Cat replied never taking her eyes off the diagram.

Suddenly Chaney knew who pissed in Catherineís Wheaties. Oh boy.

*******

Sitting on a locker-room bench, Cat was tying her sneakers and deep in thought when a hand on her shoulder almost launched her into orbit.

"Hey."

Dylanís voice was low and vibrant as it hovered in the still, humid air of the locker room, filling Cat with a warmth she was quick to quash. "Hi," she relied, her tone cool and clipped.

"Do you have a minute?"

"Actually," she replied, making a show of looking at her watch, "Iíve got plans for this evening. Unless itís about work, itís going to have to wait."

The warmth of Dylanís hand and presence was withdrawn as the tall woman straightened. Her expression was carefully neutral, though Cat thought she caught just the tiniest fleeting glimpse of pain in those remarkable eyes before it was immediately masked.

Or perhaps that was just wishful thinking on her part.

"Iíll see you tomorrow, then."

And like that, Dylan was gone, and the pain Cat thought she saw in Dylanís eyes settled instead around her own heart. With a heavy sigh, she lifted herself from the bench, grabbed her duffle, and left the garishly painted locker-room, her mind a jumble of thoughts and emotions, none of them pleasant.

*******

Chaney sat in the back booth of the restaurant, watching Cat pick at her pasta. Her friend had been quiet all night and the player knew something was definitely wrong. While Cat Hodges was many things, quiet was not among them.

"Okay, you gonna tell me whatís wrong, or are we going to just sit here all night and listen to our hair grow?"

Cat looked up from her now tepid dish and tried to smile but failed miserably. She dropped her gaze back to her plate again, cheeks flushed with embarrassment.

"Címon, Cat, whatever it is, it canít be that bad. Can it?" Many scenarios were running through her head, most of them having to do with the mega cold shoulder Cat had given their coach all through practice. The attitude was very much unlike the woman sheíd come to know, and it puzzled her, distracting her enough to get called out by Herr Caulley and forced to do windsprints till her lungs threatened a dramatic exit through her mouth.

"Have you ever been in love?"

The question, from seemingly out of nowhere, so derailed Chaneyís train of thought that she almost choked on the water sheís sipping. It was only with the greatest of difficulty that she managed to force the liquid down the right pipe, and the resulting prolonged silence caused Catís cheeks to flush again.

"Sorry. I didnít mean to pry."

"You didnít pry," Chaney forced out quickly, holding up a hand as she replaced her glass back on the table. "I justÖwasnít expecting the question is all."

"Oh." Catís voice was very small.

Chaney decided that "matter of fact" was probably the best approach. "Yeah," she remarked casually, "I did the love thing once or twice. How come?"

Catís mouth worked soundlessly for several seconds, and her head dropped, tendrils of fine golden hair hiding her chagrinned features. "ItísÖ."she finally managed, "Önothing."

"Course itís something, Shortchange," Chaney replied, reaching over and laying a hand on Catís wrist. "You been acting like someone ran over your dog all damn day. SoÖwhat is it? I wonít laugh at you or nothing. You know that." A moment later. "You got girl troubles?"

Cat laughed. It wasnít a happy sound, but it beat crying, she supposed. Especially in the middle of a crowded restaurant. "YouÖcould say that."

"What happened?" Chaneyís face went dead serious as she sat up straight in her chair, muscles tense. "Bitch cheat on you?"

Cat looked up, startled. "No! No, not at all."

"Hit you?"

"No!! No. We, um, we just had a fight, thatís all. You know, yelling, stuff like that."

Chaneyís face cleared. "A fight? Damn, girl, ainít no one told you fightingís good for a relationship?" She leered. "Especially the make-up sex part."

Blushing to the roots of her hair, Cat buried her flaming face in her hands and groaned.

Squeezing the wrist beneath her hand, Chaney grinned, then sat back in her chair, picking up her glass and finishing her water in one healthy gulp. "This your first serious relationship?" she asked after a time.

Cat looked back up at her, a rosy flush still faintly tinting her cheeks. "First? No. But it was the most serious."

"Was? You tossing in the towel over a fight?" Chaney shook her head. "Musta been one hell of a row."

"No. Itó." She sighed. "When you were, you know, with someone, did they ever want to do something that you were totally against? I mean completely?"

"You mean like screw someone else or do something illegal?"

"No. No, not like that. Justósomething you didnít agree with, and something that surprised you because you thought they wouldnít agree with it either?" She peeked at Chaney. "Am I making any sense here?"

"Yeah, yeah. Hang on, lemme think a minute." Her face cleared. "I was going out with this dude once, during college. It had been kinda casual for a long time, but then it started getting more serious, ya know? Anyway, it was getting close to spring break, and I was all about getting ready for the tourney and shit. He wasnít ever into b-ball, which is probably why we got along so well."

"What happened?" Cat asked.

Chaney shrugged. "I figured heíd do the whole tourney thing, but he told me heíd gotten the deal of a lifetime, to go to Maui with his frat boys and their sister house on spring break." She chuckled, shaking her head over the memories. "Man, we fought like fuckiní banshees over that, lemme clue you."

"And then what?"

Chaney shrugged again. "We talked. Worked it out. Both of us had things that we would never get the chance to do again. So we did Ďem."

"We did that," Cat said.

"What? Talked?"

"Yea! She wouldnítóshe wouldnítÖ." She stopped as her face drained of its color. "Fuck."

"What?" Chaney asked, startled. "Whatís wrong?"

Cat was silent for a few moments, playing the conversation with Dylan over in her head. "Jesus," she whispered.

"What?" Chaney demanded. "What is it? Damnit, woman, youíre scaring me over here!"

"íYouíre not saying anything. Why arenít you saying anything?í"

"What? Cat, we need to get you some help. Quick. Youíre going nutzo on me. Iíve been talking to you!"

"No. No. I just remembered. When DÖ" She stopped herself just in time. "When we had that fight. We werenít talking. I was talking. Yelling. Screaming. Storming off like some kid who just got told they couldnít go to the prom. Damnit! How could I have been so damned stupid?!"

"Hey, man," Chaney said softly, closing her large hand over Catís wrist gently. "Itís all cool. If she loves you, sheíll forgive you. Just talk to her."

"Thatís just it." Catís sad gaze met her friendís. "I donít know if she loves me."

"You donít?"

"No. Sheís never said."

"Oh hell, Shortchange, you need the words? Does she act like she loves you?"

Cat didnít even need to think about that one. "Yes. She does."

"Well, there ya go then. And if you need to hear the Ďl-wordí so bad, then just ask her!"

"IÖI donít know if I could do that."

"Shit, woman, youíre ready to give up now! What damage could be done by asking her? Youíve already decided what the answer is gonna be, without even giviní her the benefit of the doubt."

"Am IÖ? Shit. Thatís exactly what Iím doing, isnít it."

"Yeah. It is, Shortchange. Now, Iím not sayiní that whatever it was that youíre arguiní about is a good or bad thing, cause I donít know, and I donít think I wanna know. ButÖdonít ya think maybe you should talk to her first? Then make a decision based on what she says, rather than what you think sheís gonna say?"

"IÖI donít know." When she met Chaneyís eyes again, her expression was bleak. "Iím scared."

"Aww." Standing, Chaney walked around the table, squatted down, and gathered Cat into her arms, offering comfort the best way she knew how. "Itís okay, Shortchange. We all get scared over these things sometimes. Weíre human, ya know?" Pulling back, she smiled at her friend. "Gíwan home and think things over, Cat. I know youíll make the right move. Youíre smart like that."

Cat offered a tremulous smile, wiping at leaking eyes. "I donítÖ."

"You do. Now git!"

"But the check--!"

"You let me take care of that. Youíll owe me big time later. Now go."

With effort, Cat managed to stand. "Thanks, Chane," she whispered.

"Anytime, Shortchange. See ya tomorrow at practice, ok?"

"Ok."

Chaney returned to her seat after Cat left the restaurant and, after a moment, a stunned, amazed grin spread over her face. "Holy shit!" she whispered. "Catís shaggin the Coach!"

*******

Early the next morning, before the sun had fully risen, Cat found herself outside of Dylanís house, pacing nervously back and forth next to her car and having an intense, if internal, conversation. Alright, Cat. You can do this. Itís not like sheís gonna bite your head off or anything. Sheís a reasonable person, right? Right. So go up there, tell her you acted like a total ass, beg her for her forgiveness, andÖ

Sheíd never been able to get past that stupid Ďandí part despite her best efforts.

Before she had a chance to screw on her courage, the door opened and Dylan peered out, her face a mask of non-emotion, one eyebrow raised. "Would you like to come in, or were you planning on standing out there all morning talking to yourself?"

Startled, Cat blushed a deep red, shamed at being caught out like this. She fought down the almost overwhelming urge to jump back into her car and drive away. "Iím sorry. IÖ."

Taking a step back, Dylan opened the door wider in invitation. "Címon in."

Slowly, with hesitant steps, Cat approached the house and slipped inside, careful not to touch the woman holding the door, lest her hard-fought resolutions crumble away to dust.

Respecting the space between them, Dylan led Cat into the living room and gestured for her to take a seat on the couch. Dylan looked down at her, hands hanging loose at her sides. "Was there something you wanted?"

"IÖumÖ." her voice trailed off as she realized, for the first time, what Dylan was wearing. Clad in black dress slacks and a pale blue silk top that set off the color of her eyes, Dylan was, to Catís eyes, a vision. "Iím keeping you from something. I should just--."

"I have time," Dylan replied, her voice level. "The photo-shootís at ten."

"Thatís," Cat stated quickly, "what I wanted to talk to you about."

"Go on."

"I wantedÖIÖGod, this is hard." She sighed, looking down at her clasped hands. "I wanted to say that I wasÖsorryÖfor acting like an ass the other night. I wish I could say that I didnít know what came over me, but the truth is, I do. I wasÖ jealous." Taking a deep breath, she let the rest of the words tumble out. "I was jealous, and instead of talking to you about my feelings, I battered you with them, then ran away like an idiot. I acted irrationally, and Iím sorry."

Winding down, she continued to stare at her hands until to silence became too uncomfortable to bear. Sneaking a peek up at Dylan through her lashes, she swallowed hard at the mask the tall woman wore. Her heart clenched hard in her chest, and she fancied she could feel it fracture. The sting of tears came to her eyes, but she blinked them away before they could fall.

Never again, she told herself, unclasping her hands and setting them on the couch, prepared to push herself up and leave. Iíll never put my heart on the line again. Itís just too damn painful.

As she stood, she turned her face away from Dylan, unable to look at that stony mask one second more. "IÖguess Iíll see you at practice, then. Iím sorry to have taken up your time."

She had almost made it to the door when Dylanís soft voice halted her steps.

"Why were you jealous?"

"Thatís a good question," Cat replied, barely aware she was speaking aloud. "Iíve thought about it a lot during these past couple days, and I donít think I can come up with an answer that would satisfy even me."

The silence behind her gained weight, oppressive as only such silences could ever be. Her heart beating so fast and so hard that she was sure it would pound itself right out of her chest, Cat gathered every scrap of courage she ever possessed, and gave voice to the one question she wantedÖneededÖanswered.

"Dylan," she began softly, so softly that Dylan, even with her exceptional hearing, had to strain to hear her, "do you love me?"

Silence reigned again, for just a moment. "Excuse me?"

Whirling, Cat pinned Dylan in place with a gaze that was open, honest, and deadly serious. "I need to know. Do you love me?"

"Yes."

It was amazing, Cat mused, how that one simple word could restore hope to a heart gone cold. Still, the smile that might have been expected stayed from her lips. "I thinkÖI think that maybe part of myÖjealousyÖcame from notÖknowingÖthat." The silence was still thick, and Cat found herself turning her head away yet again. "I know it sounds like Iím dumping all of this on you, but Iím not. Not really. I guess I was justÖscaredÖ."

Not sensing any movement, Cat was startled at the sudden feel of long, strong arms wrapping themselves around her and the press of a tight, lean body against to hers. Emotionally drained, she could do nothing but melt into the enveloping warmth, her hands coming up to tangle in the fabric of Dylanís shirt as if holding onto a lifeline. "Iím sorry," she whispered, voice muffled against the fabric covering her loverís chest. "Iím so sorry."

"Itís okay," Dylan murmured, brushing her hand against Catís back in soothing circles. "Itís okay. Iím here. Itís okay." After a moment, she pulled away slightly and gently tipped the younger womanís chin up so that their eyes met. "I love you, Catherine. Iím sorry that itís taken me this long to tell you how I feel. Iím soó."

"No," Cat replied, touching a finger against Dylanís full lips, "please, donít apologize for my insecurities. My heart knew your answer before I even asked the question. I know you love me, and I knew it then. I justÖ."

"Cat, if this photo shoot bothers you so much, Iíll call Horace and tell him to shove it. I donít want you hurting like this."

"Dylan, I canít ask that of you, and I wonít. This is a part of who you are, a part of who youíve always been. I absolutely hate the way you were coerced into it, and I hate being a part of that, but I also realize that it bothers me a lot more than it bothers you." She smiled. "I trust you. I thinkÖI think I just need to learn how to trust myself."

Dylan was silent for such a long time that Cat began to fear that sheíd misspoken. Finally, the tall womanís expression cleared and she looked down at her partner intently. "If you donít have any plans for the morning, why not come to the shoot with me?"

"Oh," Cat demurred, "Iím not sure Ió."

"Please. I think it would really help you to see what goes on during these things. I think youíve built an image up in your mind that nothing but experience is gonna erase. I donít want that image coming between us, Cat."

Cat looked up at her pensively.

"Please."

Taking in the naked plea in those arresting eyes, Cat can do nothing but not her acceptance. The kiss she received in thanks drove any further apprehension from her mind.

*******

The photography studio was large and well-appointed, and Cat found her nerves settling just a little as they walked in and were greeted by Cory, the photographerís assistant. Cory was a well dressed, reed thin young man with a thick mop of curly red hair and a bubbly, welcoming personality. Leading them over to a nattily upholstered couch in the rather large sitting room off to one side, he slipped a bottle of juice into Dylanís hand and a steaming cup of coffee into Catís. "Now you just wait right here and Iíll get Wendy. Sheís putting the finishing touches on the layout."

Dylan and Cat exchanged amused looks as he hurried off, babbling to himself. Quaffing her juice in several large gulps, Dylan stood to throw the bottle away just as the chimes above the door sounded. Straightening, she grinned as the immaculately dressed and almost criminally handsome Marquis Jackson strode through the door, followed by his equally exquisite wife Marcelle.

Spying Dylan, Marquis beamed and moved to engulf her in a massive hug which Dylan returned in full measure. Cat looked on, astonished at seeing her lover so dwarfed. They were both of a height, but Jackson was much broader across the shoulders and chest, making Dylan look almost petite within the enshrouding shelter of his massive arms. Finally pulling away, he grinned at her, white teeth flashing brilliantly against the ebony of his skin. "Damn, girl! Youíre looking fine! Whereíve you been, lately?"

"Around," Dylan replied, turning to the young woman standing at Marquisí side. "Marcelle, itís good to see you again."

Laughing lightly, genuinely, Marcelle stepped into Dylanís fond embrace and gave her a soft kiss on the cheek. "Heís right," she said. "You look wonderful."

"So do you. You been keeping him in line?"

"Oh," Marcelle smirked, "he knows what side his breadís buttered on."

The three shared a laugh. Dylan then turned to Cat and held out a hand. Coming to her feet, Cat crossed the room and smiled at the newcomers. Marquis Jackson she recognized easilyówho wouldnít? He was to menís basketball what Dylan was to womenís. The best player ever. When he turned his smile on her, she had, she admitted silently, a bit of a fan geek moment, though it was nothing compared to the feeling that came over her when she heard Dylanís casually spoken words.

"Marquis, Marcelle, Iíd like you to meet Catherine Hodges, my partner."

"Oh ho!" Marcelle quipped, turning to Cat with a wide, knowing grin. "So youíre the reason sheís been behaving herself, huh?"

Cat found herself blushing deeply as the beautiful woman bent forward and gave her a hug. "You take good care of her, alright?" Marcelle whispered in her ear. "She means a lot to us."

"I will," Cat replied, dazed. "I promise."

Her sense of unreality trebled as Marquis stepped over and hugged her tightly, the scent of his cologne tingling pleasantly in her nose. "Iíve seen you on TV," he said, finally pulling away. "Youíre pretty damn good!"

Tongue tied, she could only blink at him, wondering if pinching herself to assure herself this wasnít a dream was proper protocol in such a situation.

Dylanís arm around her shoulder thankfully brought her back to planet Earth before she could embarrass herself any further. She felt herself being led back to the couch, and she lowered herself, a bit unsteadily, then offered a smile to Marcelle who eased in beside her.

"First time at one of these shindigs?"

"Yes," Cat replied, quite pleased at her ability to actually utter those words aloud. A few feet away, Dylan and Marquis were deep in conversation about something. Basketball, probably.

"Theyíre not too bad, once you get used to having the one you love prowl around half naked like some porn star for all the world to see."

Reality came back to Cat in a flash, and she looked over at Marcelle, stunned. "You feel that way too?"

"Not as much anymore," the young woman replied. "But at first, yeah, it was pretty bad."

"Bad how?"

"You know, the usual." She shrugged. "Jealousy, mostly."

"Been there, definitely done that! What made it better for you?"

Marcelle lifted an elegant hand. "Watching what goes on behind the scenes. Itís work, plain and simple. They know it, I know it, and after this, youíll know it too."

"I hope youíre right," Cat grumbled, slumping back against the couch.

"Youíll see."

At that moment, Cory stepped back into the room, trailed by a young, attractive, blonde-haired, woman who was even shorter than Cat herself. Stopping before Dylan and Marquis, she greeted them with a friendly grin, then murmured something to them both. Nodding, they left the room behind the ever-efficient Cory. The young woman then turned her bright grin on Cat and Marcelle, approaching them with a quick, no-nonsense step. "Mrs. Jackson, itís a pleasure to see you again."

"Hey, Wendy," Marcelle returned with a grin. "Youíre gonna take care of him, right? Heís just getting over a pulled hamstring."

"I promise to have him back in one piece."

"I like the way you think, girl."

When the young photographer turned to Cat, her grin became a little shy. "Ms. Hodges. Itís an honor to meet you, Maíam."

"Cat, please," she replied, charmed.

To Catís surprise, the photographer blushed, just slightly. "Ah, yes, wellÖIíve set up a couple of chairs a little closer to the action, if you ladies would like to follow me?"

As Wendy moved away, Marcelle stood and tipped a wink to Cat. "Looks like D isnít the only one with a fan club, hmm?"

It was Catís turn to blush.

Laughing, Marcelle led the way to the two directorís style chairs that were set up to the left of the shooting area, which displayed a plain white backdrop, a professional lighting setup, a tripod, and several cameras.

As she settled herself in, Cat looked to Marcelle, who was giving the area a casual once over. "Marquis and Dylan seem like good friends. Have you guys known each other long?"

"Since college. Marquis and I were high school sweethearts, and we both went to UCLA on scholarship. Marquis, of course, for basketball."

"And you?"

Marcelle smiled. "Pre-law."

"Impressive. Iíve always been interested in law."

"Well, I passed the bar, but Iím not practicing."

"Why?"

"I like traveling with Marquis too much, and he likes having me there, soÖ." She shrugged. "When he retires, Iíll set up a nice little estate law practice somewhere and work to my heartís content."

Before Cat could ask anymore questions, the door to the back room opened and Marquis stepped out. Catís jaw dropped as if unhinged and she felt her eyes actually press from their sockets. He strode confidently across the room, more god than man, his ebony skin oiled to a high sheen, his muscles rippling and cut to diamond perfection. He was naked save for white high-top Nikes and a black g-string that would have left absolutely nothing to the imaginationóhad there been anything to look at.

"Itís called Ďtuckingí."

Marcelleís amused voice cut through Catís haze and she found herself, once again, blushing furiously. "IÖumÖIÖ."

Marcelleís laughter was rich and full as she reached over and gave Catís shoulder a friendly smack. "Breathe, my friend. Itís alright."

Any breath Cat might have taken whooshed right out of her as the door opened again and Dylan stepped through. "Blessed Mary," she gasped, her eyes wide and round as saucers.

Like Marquis, every inch of Dylanís magnificent form was oiled to a high, wet gloss. Her engorged muscles, shot through with plump veins, were chiseled, standing out in bas relief against the flawless silk of her skin. Her hair, wet and drawn off of her face, trailed down her back in a shining, fat ebony braid, throwing her striking features into high, gorgeous definition. And like her photo mate, she was also naked, save for black high top Nikes, a flesh-colored g-string. A pair of small pasties had been added in deference to her gender.

"They make a beautiful couple, donít they."

Marcelle could have been speaking Martian for all Cat understood of her words. Her body was too busy trying to coerce her into doing something that was illegal in thirty seven states. At least in public. And when Cory entered the frey, water bottle in hand, and started spritzing "fake sweat" on them both, she considered chucking it all and dragging Dylan off somewhere a little more private.

Like the middle of Times Square.

On New Yearís Eve.

At this point, even the parking lot would do in a pinch.

Or that nice roomy couch just a few short steps away.

Mmm.

"Earth to Cat." A dark, perfectly manicured hand waved itself before her dazed eyes. "Earth to Cat, come in, Cat. Yoo hoo. You in there?"

Blinking, Cat forced herself out of a fantasy that was growing more lurid by the second. "Hmm?"

A warm hand on her shoulder completed the break, and she found herself looking up into the concerned eyes of her partner.

"You ok?"

"Mm? Me? Juuuuust fine."

Snorting softly, Dylan rolled her eyes, and gave Catís shoulder a fond squeeze before stepping away. "Keep an eye on her, will ya?" she asked Marcelle as she moved to stand beside Marquis.

"And off of your beautiful bod? Not a chance!"

"Hey!" Cat snapped, grinning. "You just keep your eyes on that gorgeous god of a husband youíve got there, missy. Iíll keep my eyes on Dylan, thank you very much."

The room broke up into relieved laughter, and with that, the session started.

*******

"Jesus," Cat murmured, looking down at the stark, black and white proof in her hand. The image of Dylan and Marquis, shining and covered with sweat, melded face to face, chest to chest, belly to belly, thigh to thigh was quite possibly the most erotic thing sheíd ever seen. "I think Nikeís gonna have a banner year when this baby hits the newsstands."

"Screw Nike," Marcelle exclaimed, holding her own proof. "Iím gonna use this to wallpaper the bedroom! My folksíve been pestering us for grandkids. This baby just might do the trick!"

Cat laughed, but couldnít disagree, given how her body felt this very moment just looking at the picture before her.

Just then, the door opened and Cory emerged, followed by the stars of the show, dressed in their street clothes. Dylanís hair was still swept back off her face, and Cat gave a little internal cheer. She had plans, big ones, and this image of her lover fit into them perfectly.

"Was it as bad as you thought it was gonna be?" Dylan asked, coming to stand beside her and slipping a companionable arm around her shoulder.

"You can invite me to one of these shindigs any time you want to, my dear."

Dylan grinned. "I had a feeling you might see it my way." She looked up, then released Cat to give Marcelle and Marquis a hug. "Good luck the rest of the season, Marquis."

"You too, D. And listen, Marcelle and I are gonna be having a dinner party in about a month or so. Just some of the old gang, you know, kick back, shoot the shit. You and Cat are invited, alright?"

"Please say youíll come," Marcelle interjected sincerely. "We miss you!"

"Wouldnít miss it," Dylan replied after exchanging glances with Cat.

"Great!" Marquis replied, turning to Cat. "Good to meet you, liíl Cat. Keep cool, alright?"

"Iíll do my best. Good luck on your season."

"Thanks!" Miming a fake jumper from the top of the key, he gathered his grinning wife and, like that, they were gone.

"Shall we?" Dylan asked.

"After you."

Once they were situated in the car, Dylan checked her watch. "Well, weíve got about an hour or so to kill. Wanna get to the arena early and warm up a little?"

"Only if we stop by your office first," Cat replied, glancing down at the photo she still held in her hand.

"My office?"

"Oh yeah."

"But wh--?"

She was stopped by a finger to her lips.

"Believe me, Dylan. Either we get to your office in, oh, the next five minutes or so, or Iím not gonna be responsible for what the police might see when they tour this parking lot."

The light finally dawned, causing Dylan to grin. "My office it is."

"Hurry."

*******

"SweetÖ.Jesus!" Cat gasped out before collapsing atop her loverís long, sweat-slicked form. Her heart was thundering in her chest, and her muscles, those few that were still working, seemed to have a mind of their own.

Gentle hands trailed through her hair and down her back, calming her as she shuddered with the last vestiges of her explosive climax. "Itís ok," Dylan whispered. "Itís alright, sweetheart, just breathe. Youíre okay."

Calming at last, Cat tipped her head up and pressed her lips against Dylanís neck, just beneath her jaw, tasting the salty flesh with a hum of pleasure. "I love you," she murmured.

"Mm. I love you too, sweetheart. Oh, that feels nice."

"I know." Moving over just slightly, she stroked a hand down the muscled flesh beneath her, stopping briefly to trace the tip of one finger around Dylanís bellybutton, causing a muffled snort from her companion.

"Ticklish?" Cat teased as her finger began another circle.

"Be good." The tall woman growled playfully, catching her loverís hand up in her own.

"Oh, I plan on being very good, my love." Pulling her hand away, she trailed her fingers further down, soon encountering a scorching, velvet heat. Stroking through it, her fingers weaved nonsensical patterns over Dylanís swollen flesh. She smiled as she felt Dylanís hips begin to move against her, their flesh sliding together in a sensual dance that quickened her breathing once again.

Cat felt long, strong fingers tangle in her hair and opened her eyes to see blazing indigo staring down at her. The hunger in Dylanís eyes took her breath away, and the incendiary kiss that followed robbed her lungs completely. Cat swallowed her loverís low moan as her fingers continued to circle and stroke, gliding easily in the slick wetness that was all but pouring over her hand.

Dylan finally broke the kiss, turning her head away as her lips parted and groaning pants filled the room with their sensual music. "CatÖ."

"Yes, loveÖ."

"CatÖ.IÖ.God!" Dylanís head moved back and forth on the couchís arm, the wet tendrils of her hair sliding across the leather like a snake. Her entire body undulated under Catís knowledgeable caresses. One long leg slid off the couch, opening her fully to her lover.

"What is it?" Cat purred. "What can I do?" She moved her fingers more firmly in a slow, swirling pattern that she knew Dylan loved.

"IÖGod!ÖIÖ."

"Tell me, lover."

"Fuck me. GodÖjustÖfuck me."

With a low laugh, Cat did as she was bid, sliding her fingers deep within and twisting them as she withdrew.

Dylanís cry of relief was nearly a sob as her whole body sprung into motion, hips pistoning against Catís steady, twisting thrusts. "So deep," she moaned. "God, youíre so deep."

"Let it come," Cat whispered. "Feel me, and let it come." Increasing the force of her thrusts, she lowered her head, blindly seeking out a rock hard nipple and sucking it into her mouth. With one final thrust, she bit down, and held on as Dylan released beneath her, crying out her name over and over and over again until finally, she sunk back into the softness of leather, completely spent.

Slowly withdrawing, Cat gently cupped Dylanís mound and released the nipple from her mouth, laying upon it a tender kiss before resting her head on her loverís still heaving chest. "I love you, you know."

That earned her a full body hug from muscles that were still trembling. With a sweet smile, she burrowed in, needing nothing more than to listen to Dylanís heart as it slowly, valiantly calmed.

*******

Cat woke up from a short doze, blinked, and lifted her head, chuckling lightly.

"What?" Dylan asked, her own voice muzzy.

"I canít believe we just made love on your office couch. In the middle of the day. When anyone could have walked right in and had themselves an eyeful."

"Nah," Dylan replied, stretching her long body taut, then collapsing back against the damp leather. "Made sure the door was locked." One blue eye popped open. "I think."

Catís head jerked up, eyes wide. "Dylan!?!"

Dylan laughed and gathered her lover close. "Just kidding. I gave the office staff the rest of the day off, remember?"

"Hardly," Cat snorted. "My mind wasnít exactly on conversation at the time."

"Mm. Youíre right." The husky purr threatened spark the bonfire once again, and she groaned.

"You realize that the coach has made it quite impossible for her point guard to practice today, donít you?"

"Practice started an hour ago," Dylan replied, then tightened her hold on her lover to prevent Cat from bolting. "Relax, sweetheart. I already called us in sick."

"Sick?! You called us in sick!?"

Dylan lifted her head and peered down at her companion, one eyebrow raised. "Would you rather I told them the truth?"

"I suppose youíre right."

"íCourse I am." Long arms tightened around Cat as she shivered. "Cold?"

"As hard as it is for me to believe, seeing as Iím lying on top of a thermonuclear furnace, yeah. A little."

"Guess we should get up and put on some clothes, then."

"Donít wanna."

Dylan chuckled. "Well, I know of another way we could warm up."

"Donít start. Itíll be hard enough for me to walk out of here under my own power as it is. We keep this up, and youíll be calling me out Ďsickí for the rest of the week!"

"And that would be a bad thingÖwhy?" Lowering her head, Dylan captured her loverís tender lips, tracing them with the very tip of her fluttering tongue before delving inside and tasting her sweetness.

"Sick days rule," Cat murmured as they finally eased apart, gaining purchase on slippery flesh and welcoming Dylanís long frame on top of her.

*******

Cat sat on the bench with her head down and her eyes closed. This was the game, the game she had been anticipating and dreading all at the same time.

 

This was the game that would decide the Badgers' fate. A win would send them to the play-offs. A loss would keep them from the championship this year and they would do their best to finish out the year on a high note.

 

Cat knew it wasnít true in the long run, but she felt like this game would make or break her professional career. As a rookie, if she could help her team with this win, she would be set; if they lost she would bet that Horace would find a reason to get rid of her. By contract he couldnít fire her but he could sure as hell trade her to some team that had five fans.

 

In her current contemplative state, she was barely aware of the chatter around her. Her teammates were their normal, boisterous selves. They were laughing, singing and doing their normal pre-game dances as they prepared to go out and play. She looked up when Chaney went dancing by and nudged her knee. Continuing to scan the room she could see Dylan in her office on the phone, which was not unusual though the look on her face was. Cat could tell Dylan Lambert was not a happy camper.

 

Bet sheís talking to Horace. Cat sighed, feeling sorry for her lover and the fact that the woman had to play buffer between the players and the asshole who owned the team.

 

She did manage to smile to herself, safe and secure in the knowledge that no matter what this game might bring, she and Dylan were all right. They had talked, she had cried, they had made up and Chaney had been right. The make up sex was wonderful.

 

She glanced down at her shoes, which she still hadnít bothered to tie. Reaching down she pulled the laces together in tight knots, making sure that they wouldnít come undone during play. She wiggled her toes in her shoes and took a deep breath to calm her frazzled nerves. No matter what happens, everything will be fine. One way or the other.

 

The arena was filled to capacity and as the team entered the cheers and screams of the fans was deafening. Cat wondered briefly if she would be able to play with all the noise, then she realized she had been doing it all season. This game shouldnít be any different.

 

Quit making excuses for why you might blow this game and get your butt out there and win this thing. Win it for yourself; win it for Dylan and most of all win it for the team and the fans.

 

The house lights went down and the music started. The game was on.

*******

 

Cat watched as her teammates moved the ball down the court. Seven minutes into the first half they were down by two. It hadnít helped that the opposing team had a seven-foot forward that looked like the progeny of an elf and some alien life form. The tip had sent the Badgers scurrying right away and no one on the team liked the unbalanced feeling it gave them. While they were trying to recover, the elf and her teammates took a five-point lead.

 

Tamara had completely shocked everyone when she broke through and shot a beautiful, nothing but net, three pointer to give the Badgers a much need boost. Cat carried herself down the court, watching or trying to watch every move around her and finding it nearly impossible.

 

She could feel the sweat starting to drip down her back and the muscles in her legs were already starting to burn and she knew it was going to be a long game.

 

She wasnít sure were the next few minutes went, but what she would always be able to clearly recall was the ball in her hands, automatically turning for the net to line up her shot and the roar of every fan in the house as the ball dropped right through the net at the buzzer.

 

Catís world went into complete slow motion as her eyes drifted to the scoreboard and she saw that the Badgerís now had a two-point lead. It was going to be a hard lead to keep and a hard game to win.

 

She turned to leave the court for halftime her eyes fell on Dylan who was patting each player on the back, but her hers were firmly on Cat and the player knew the smile was for her.

 

In the locker room, Cat lay down on the floor immediately and used a bench to stretch her leg muscles. The rest of the team took their own places around the room, stretching, taking in fluid to re-hydrate bodies that were tired and worn already.

 

"That was a beautiful first half ladies. I am very proud of all of you," Dylan praised as she and the assistant coaches took their places in the center of the room. "The second half is going to be tough, but if you play it the way you played this one, weíve got nothing to be ashamed of. How are you all doing? Is there anything I should know about?"

 

Cat managed to hold in the snort that threatened to bubble up. Dylan asked this question at every half time, expecting someone with a potential injury to speak up. To date no one had ever admitted there was anything wrong and Cat wondered how long it would be, if ever, that she would just stop asking.

 

"Hodges?"

 

"Yes Coach?"

 

"I noticed youíre fighting cramps out there. You okay?"

 

"Right as rain Coach. Theyíre just running me around like mad."

 

"Youíre sure?"

 

Cat opened her eyes to find Dylan bent over at the waist looking down at her. She smiled and nodded. "I promise."

 

"Tippens," Dylan turned to the tall Australian center affectionately known as Roo. "Howís the wrist?"

 

"No worries, Coach. Iím good."

 

"I donít want to risk it if itís bothering you."

 

Tippens shook her head and sipped from a paper cup holding Gatorade. Dylan nodded and made a couple of notes in the book in her hands.

 

"The one thing you have to watch out there is Sorenson. She's been looking for the opportunity to hit all of you at your weakest spots, foul or not. I donít think she cares and now that theyíre down by two I expect her to try something. IF that happens, donít be baited into a fight with the refs. Let me handle it."

 

The entire room answered in the unison that Dylan was looking for. "Yes Coach."

 

"Then letís get back out there and give them a fight. I donít need to tell you what this game means, but I will tell you, win or lose, Iím proud as hell of you. This team has really come together this season and weíve come further than a lot of our critics like at the moment. So go give them a good show."

*******

 

Catherine took the ball and put it into play, shooting to Mackey who began a hard charge down court. Cat moved up from behind and was getting her bearings when a warning whistle sounded and all movement stopped. She looked for the referee making the call and found that Chaney had been called for a foul against a guard.

 

"Shit!" Cat groaned as she trotted down the court to find out what was going on and she could see that Chaney was about to go off.

 

"That bÖ" Chaney was getting ready to charge when Cat put her hand in her chest.

 

"Stop!" Cat ducked so she could put her face in Chaneyís. "Just stop. If thereís a problem, Coach will handle it."

 

Before Chaney could say anything else the whistle blew and the ball was back in play and the Nitro had control.

 

"Shit," Cat mumbled, running into play. "Itís going to be a long 20 minutes."

 

Dylan paced as was quite normal for the coach. She always managed to sweat almost as much as the players just from working a rut into the floor. Her attention was fairly evenly divided between the players but most of her attention was on Cat, not because of their relationship but because she could see the player favoring her right leg.

 

"Fuck," Dylan breathed as she called for a time out.

 

As the team made its way to the bench, she gestured for Cat to take a seat and tapped her replacement. After giving them a few words and a new play she sent them back onto the court and resumed pacing. Cat shot daggers at her back from the bench, then she picked up a towel and rubbed down her face, leaving it buried in the soft material so she wouldnít be tempted to mouth something inappropriate when Dylan turned around.

 

She was startled when she felt hands on her leg. Peeking out from behind the towel she found the team doctor checking her out. "Iím fine."

 

"Thatís not how it looked out there."

 

"Why wonít anyone listen to me?"

 

"Cat weíre concerned about you." The doctor tapped Catís leg to get her attention. "Win or lose here tonight Cat, we still need you for the rest of the season. Youíve scored 15 points tonight; youíve done your share. We canít risk you injuring this leg. Let us take care of you."

 

Cat looked over to Dylan who was yelling to the players from the sideline. She considered the doctorís words as she thought of the legs under the neatly pressed slacks and the scars on the knee that kept the best player in the league from ever taking the court again. "All right."

 

The doctor retrieved a cold pack from her medic bag and wrapped it in a towel, which was wrapped around Catís leg. "Just rest and weíll do some therapy after the game."

 

Cat nodded and accepted the cup of water that was offered. Now that she was off the leg it was starting to throb and she knew while she wasnít seriously hurt, all the quick movements she had been required to make tonight had irritated her calf and knee. They had a three-day break before the next game and if she behaved herself then this strain wouldnít be an issue.

 

Dylan took a moment to sit on the bench next to Cat, she figured she would give the player a chance to rant a bit and get it out of her system. She wanted it over and done with so it wouldnít interfere with their weekend. She hadnít spent an obscene amount of money for a bungalow with a private beach in the Caribbean for nothing.

 

"Nice call Coach." Cat whispered as they watched Chaney assist with a beautiful three pointer.

 

"Thanks."

 

The noise in the locker room was nearly as deafening as the arena. Cat sat with her leg submerged in a whirlpool, while the rest of her sat on the rim drinking a glass of champagne, which had been somehow magically waiting for them when they got back to the locker room.

 

"Didnít think weíd win my ass," Cat mumbled to herself as she sipped from her very own plastic glass. Dylan was moving around the room looking very much like a proud parent. Her team was on its way to the playoffs for a shot at the championship. Regardless of what happened now it had been a very good season for Dylan Lambert and the Badgers.

********

Cat lay on her back, the sun shining down on her bikini clad body. She hadn't realized how badly she needed this vacation until she and Dylan had hit the beach this morning. The player hadn't done a blessed thing other than coat her body in suntan oil and drink juice that Dylan continually kept replenishing.

The only sounds around her were the surf and the wind rustling the trees behind them. She glanced over to find her partner lying on her stomach, eyes closed apparently dozing. Cat decided this was bliss. No games, no practice, no demands on her or Dylan. They were free to do what they wanted, eat, sleep or make love. They had done all those activities since arriving yesterday afternoon and Cat was feeling the need for a bit more of number three.

"Hey?" she said softly, so that if Dylan was really asleep she wasn't going to disturb her.

One blue eye opened, followed by a smile. "Yeah?"

"Let's go back to the bungalow."

"'Kay'."

Picking up their beach blanket and the two glasses, holding their drinks they began the short walk up their private beach to the bungalow. Cat was pleased when Dylan reached out and took her hand. It was a rare show of affection in public and for Cat it spoke volumes about how Dylan felt about her.

The bungalow was small, one bedroom and bath, living room and a small kitchen, but for Catherine it felt like a palace. Here, away from the team and the press and the fans, they were free to be themselves. She liked that. She liked being with Dylan when there was nothing to guard against. When they could just relax and be like any other couple.

"Okay," a sexy grin slid across Dylan's lips. "You got me here, what did you have in mind?"

Catherine moved to her lover and wrapped her arms around her neck. "This." The kiss was passionate and left no room in Dylan's mind for questions. She backed Cat up and they fell to the sofa, a tangle of arms and legs, slick from tanning oil. The skin on skin contact was perfect. It didn't take either of them long to shed what little clothing they had.

******

The resort was five star, as Dylan had said when they arrived, `nothing but the best this trip'. Cat had expected to have to drag her one grown up outfit out of the closet for dinner and was
pleasantly surprised when Dylan told her she could certainly go to dinner casual.

While her companion was dressed in a white polo and dark slacks, Cat had opted for a silk sweater and shorts. She decided that unless there was a real good reason to get dressed up she wasn't going to do it. The restaurant reflected the atmosphere of the Bahamas, right down to the waiters in safari shirts and shorts. In the center of the room was a waterfall decorated with local plant life and lit with red and blue lights. Large ceiling fans cooled the room but certainly didn't make it cold. Their table was next to a huge plate glass window affording them a beautiful view of the ocean at sunset. For Cat, her time here was just getting better and better.

They ordered their meals and sat making small talk, both of them purposely avoiding any conversation that even bordered on work. Dylan had been serious when she said she needed a vacation and she was bound and determined to relax.

The waiter placed their appetizers before them, before they could sample them and young girl of about eight hesitantly approached the table.

"Excuse me?" Her big brown eyes were settled firmly on Cat.

"Yes?"

"Are you Cat Hodges?"

"I am."

"Could, umÖ" The girl glanced at Dylan who sat with an indulgent smile. "Could I get your autograph?"

"Sure," Cat smiled and took the pen and napkin the girl hesitantly offered. "What's your name?"

"Amanda, but everyone calls me Mandy."

Cat smiled and autographed the napkin, folding the pen around it and handing it back. "It's a pleasure to meet you Mandy. Are you a basketball fan?"

"I love to watch you play. You're really good. Especially for someone who's so short."

Dylan couldn't hold back the laugh that bubbled up, but she tried to cover it by feigning a cough behind her fist.

Many turned to Dylan and ground her toe into the carpet. "Are you someone?"

Now it was Cat's turn to laugh, which she did as she sipped from her water.

"No, I'm nobody important."

"Okay." Mandy turned back to cat and offered her small hand to the player. "Thank you very much."

Cat took the young girl's hand and shook it very seriously. "You're very welcome."

Both women watched as the girl all but ran back across the room to where her family sat, proudly showing off her autograph. The girl's mother looked up and silently thanked Cat. Cat nodded and returned her attention to Dylan.

"What was that all about? What do you mean `you're no one'?"

"To her," Dylan gestured across the room, "I'm not. She's not even a Badger's fan. She's a Cat Hodges fan. You've begun charming the new generation of basketball fans."

"But stillÖ"

"Cat, when you were growing up and thinking that you wanted to play, who inspired you?"

"You did, you know that."

"Right, and someday when little Mandy hopes to make that first draft pick, she'll think of you and how you inspired her to her dreams. It's not a bad thing Cat."

"See I just don't put myself in the same class as you."

"Maybe, it's time you started." Dylan smiled and sipped her wine as she watched Cat consider her words. "You're a great player and you have the ability to have your name in the record books. It will take time, but I'm sure in a few years you'll find that you won't be able to walk down the street without getting hit up for an autograph."

"Right."

"I'm serious, but you know what?"

"What?"

"That's as much talking about work as I want to do. I want to enjoy dinner, have a couple of drinks then take a moonlight walk on the beach."

"Oh such a romantic you are."

"I know." Dylan skewered a mushroom on her fork and popped it in her mouth.

*******

They walked down the beach, with their arms wrapped around each other's waist. Cat had to keep changing step to keep up with Dylan's longer stride. It actually turned into a bit of a game when Dylan intentionally changed her stride.

"Be good," Cat chastised playfully, giving the tall woman a playful slap to the stomach.

"It's fun to watch you jump."

"Heathen."

Cat tightened her hold on Dylan as they continued down the beach. They reached an outcropping of rocks and Dylan pulled Cat behind them to remove them from view. She titled Cat's head up so they were looking in each other's eyes. For Dylan the night was perfect. The air warm, the moon bright and there was something on her mind.

"I want to ask you something?"

"The answer is yes," Cat answered somewhat breathlessly, it was a common occurrence when she looked into Dylan's eyes.

"You don't even know what I was going to ask."

"I don't care."

Dylan chuckled, leaning down to kiss Cat tenderly. "Now be good and listen to my question."

"Yes ma'am." Cat nodded soberly, but the smile playing on her lips gave her seriousness away.

"After the season is over, would you like to move in with me?"

"What?"

"After the season is overÖ"

"I heard you, butÖDylan are you sure?"

"I am very sure. I've thought about it a lot. I remember how I felt when we had that problem over the shoot. I hated it. I hated being without you. I love you Catherine, I want to share my life with you."

"What about Horace?"

"Well, I didn't think we'd be sending out engraved announcements," she grinned, running her thumb over Cat's lips. "But I'll deal with Horace. Don't worry. And as long as we're discreet, everything will be fine. But before you answer I really want you to think it over.
It will mean both of us changing the way we live and I want to make sure you're ready to do that."

"It hasn't been that long since I was living at home."

"That's exactly what I mean. You're just now getting a real taste of freedom and I don't want to take that away from you. There is a huge difference between seeing someone on a regular basis and living with them."

"I know that."

"Then before you answer, think about it."

"I will. I promise."

"Good."

*******

There was no hesitation between them as they made love, they had learned each other's bodies and took great delight in each other. Dylan had learned quickly that Catherine was responsive to a light and gentle touch most of the time, but Cat knew almost instinctively that Dylan preferred something a little more `aggressive'.

There was never a moment that they didn't delight in each other's passions and make the effort to satisfy each other completely.

Cat curled up in front of Dylan, feeling the taller woman spoon tightly against her back. Cat's pulse was pounding and rushing in her ears and as she caught her breath she felt her body finally
relaxed. She smiled a satisfied little smile as she listened to Dylan's breathing even out as well.

"We should eat something." Cat mumbled, feeling sleepy but a bit hungry at the same time.

"Thanks, I'm full." Dylan teased, earning a chuckle from the body in front of her that caused them both to shake from the laugher. She pulled Cat's hair back and placed a kiss to a pink ear. "We can order something in."

"Chinese?"

"I suppose so. What is this thing you have for Chinese food after we make love?"

"I have no idea."

"Have you always been this way?"

"No, just with you."

Another kiss and Dylan rolled over, switching on the lamp next to the bed. Opening the draw in the nightstand she removed a blue tri-fold menu, which she handed over to her lover.

"This hotel thinks of everything don't they?"

"Nothing but the best." Dylan retrieved a glass of mineral water she had brought into the bedroom several hours ago and took a healthy drink.

"Little dehydrated?" Cat giggled as she perused the menu.

"Just a little. I think juice is in order," Dylan sat up on the edge of the bed and stretched, causing her spine to pop in several places. "Care for something?"

Cat looked at her lover with a leer and wriggled her brows.

"I mean from the kitchen you little smart ass."

"Oh well, if you're going to limit my options, apple juice if you please."

"When you order could youÖ"

Cat held up her hand. "Got it, one veggie special with extra tofu."

Cat rolled for the phone and picked up the receiver but didn't dial until she had watched Dylan's nude form disappear from the bedroom.

"I would really enjoy waking up to her every morning." Cat sighed as she waited for the restaurant to pick up.

*******

Continued


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