DISCLAIMER: See Chapter One.

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Strangle the Heart - Cover

Strangle the Heart

Chapter Two


Cait was buttoning a slightly wrinkled white blouse when the phone in her room rang. There were only three people who had her hotel number. One was the office and the other was . . .

"Hi Mom," Cait said, plopping down on the bed and reaching for her favorite pair of flats. Today was going to be just as long as yesterday, and Cait knew adding aching feet to the mix wouldn't make her happy. "Yes, I'm keeping safe. Really. I'm fine," she said, stuffing a foot into the shoe. "I can't talk. I'm," she looked at the bedside clock. "Shit," she cussed, wincing slightly when she remembered it was her mother on the other end. "Sorry," she apologized. "But I'm late already. I have to go."

She was just about to hang up the phone when the words her mother said began to hit home. "What?" she said, all the energy leaving her body.

"I'm sorry, honey," her mom said. "Lauren didn't really want to talk about it. She said everything you needed to know was in her note."

"She just . . . She just left . . . She left all my stuff?" Cait felt her vision began to blur. "But she didn't even call me."

"Oh, sweetie. I'm so sorry. I know you wanted everything to work out between you two, but . . ." she heard her mother sigh. "How can you blame her, Catie?"

"Mom," Cait said, but couldn't even find the strength to react. "I can't believe it's - -" there was no way to say the word 'over' right now. So she didn't. "I have to go."

"Of course you do," her mother said. "No one in your life would expect anything less."

That hurt. She sat there not sure how to respond, or even if she could. The silence stretched until it became even more painful than her mother's comment.

"Fine, Catie," her mother finally said, her voice dismissive. "Go do your FBI thing. Lauren's note and your things will be at my house when you're ready to come home."

"Mom?" She had to ask. "Did Lauren say why?"

Her mother seemed to snort, which Cait couldn't ever remember hearing before. "Just like your father," she admonished. "You can see the smallest clue at a crime scene, but you can't see the out of control train bearing down on your life."

"That's not fair. Dad was a good man."

"And you're a good woman," her mother said. "A good agent, too. You're just - -" her voice trailed off.

"I'm just what, mom?" Cait asked, feeling a familiar lump sticking in her throat. She knew exactly what her mom was going to say. Today it would hurt more than normal, but today of all days she needed to hear it.

"You're just not meant to have anyone in your life, honey. Like your father, you're always going to be married to your job."

"Lauren said she understood." It sounded like a poor excuse the moment it left her lips.

"I said I understood, too. But I never did."

Cait knew there was nothing she could say to change anything, so after a long silence she said, "Bye, mom. Thanks for calling and letting me know." She sighed. "I only wish Lauren would've called me, too."

"Be safe, Catie," her mom repeated. "Call when you can, or when you need me."

Cait dropped the phone back into its cradle and sat there one shoe on and one laying forgotten by her foot. She felt conflicted between crying and smashing something. It wasn't fair. She said she understood. Lauren knew her job was important. She knew there were times it consumed her. It wasn't fair. She shouldn't have said she understood if she didn't.

"I can't think of this now," she said, grabbing the other shoe and jamming her foot into it. "Damn you, Lauren," she muttered. "You promised me . . ." The phone rang again and she snatched it off the hook.

"Lauren?" she asked, knowing even as she said the name it wouldn't be her.

"No," Cameron's voice answered. "I'm downstairs. You ready?"

"Yeah," Cait replied mechanically, her voice disinterested.

"You okay?"

"Fine. Be down in a sec." She hung up the phone before Cameron could say anything else. She knew he wouldn't ask again. That was one of the good things about knowing someone as long as she'd known Bill Cameron. You learned to let things go.

She rushed into the bathroom to splash some water on her blotchy face. The coolness felt good and she did it again and again, trying to calm herself. She stared at her reflection in the mirror and wondered if at thirty-one she had the strength to start it all over again. Lauren was supposed to be the one. They'd felt so right together.

"Well fuck you, too," she said, turning from herself and grabbing her small makeup case. This she stuffed into her already packed over night bag and walked out of the hotel room.

As she punched the button for the elevator, she knew she had to focus herself on what mattered. In a word, that was her job. It was all that sustained her and gave her meaning, and if it took her last breath, she vowed to be the success her father never was. If that meant forsaking a personal life, then so be it. At least she had something to count on. "Right?" she questioned herself as the doors opened.

"'Bout damn time," Cameron said, leaning against a pillar by the elevator bays. "Coffee's getting cold."

"Thanks," Cait said, taking the coffee from the older man. "No chance it's a café con leche?"

"Café latte," Cameron said, and Cait laughed.

"It's almost the same thing, Bill."

"Yeah, well," Cameron said, dropping his eyes to the ground. "Black's the only way to drink it anyway."

Cait nudged him with her shoulder, starting to relax in his comforting presence. "Thanks for remembering."

"Your dad always liked those fancy coffee things, too."

"Who do you think introduced me to 'em?" she said, taking a sip and sighing. "God, that's what I needed."

"Then let's get going," Cameron said, grabbing her small overnight bag. "We're leaving from Andrews in an hour. I've called in some others for this, and they are already assembling."

"I see," Cait said, opening the passenger door of the ugly Bureau sedan Cameron always drove. "No commercial flight this time?"

"No," Cameron said, sliding into the driver's side and starting the car. "I wanted the others to hear the profile on our guy. We'll be going over that in transit."

"Have you seen it?" Cait asked, buckling herself in while holding her coffee between her knees.

"Not all of it. Beginning's pretty basic." He pulled out of the parking lot and pointed them towards the Capital Beltway which would take them into Maryland.

"Let me guess," Cait said, trying not to notice how fast Cameron was approaching the on ramp. "Perpetrator will be a Caucasian male between the ages of 18 and 35. Probably abused as a child. Evidence of the McDonald triad."

"Very good," Cameron said, nodding his head while swerving across a lane of traffic. "Didn't know you knew about that one."

"Criminal psychology courses. 'The typical serial killer'," she quoted. "'May or may not exhibit signs of bedwetting beyond age ten, abuse of animals and arson. Together known as the McDonald triad.'"

"So how close do you think the profile's going to be on our guy?" He pulled up close on another car's bumper before stepping on the brake and falling back. It took all of Cait's concentration to answer the question.

"From what I learned," she said, fighting the urge to close her eyes. "Exceptions to the norm is the rule of thumb in apprehending a serial killer."

"Which is why you don't buy into my bar pick-up theory?"

Cameron's comment caught her by surprise, and she gulped down the hot coffee she'd finally gotten the nerve to attempt drinking. "You knew?" she coughed.

"You're just like your dad, Cait," Cameron said, giving her a rare toothy grin. "He could never keep his feelings about a case a secret either."

"I just don't think it's the right scenario for this killer. It doesn't feel right to me."

"So what does?" Cameron asked, riding tight on the bumper of the car in front of him before twisting the wheel to the left and speeding around. "Jerk."

"I dunno," she said, forcing her heartbeat back down. "I'll let you know after I hear the profile report." She turned to look at him. "I'm driving next time," she announced.

"Keep dreaming, Edmunds," Cameron said, swinging the car off on Allentown Road.

A pair of jeans landed in the open suitcase laying on the bed, causing a petulant white cat to burn his gray green eyes into the back of his owner. Even though his gray green eyes watched each movement with interest, he wasn't about to give his owner the satisfaction of knowing her leaving affected him. His back arched and he let out a hiss when a shoe landed a bit too close.

"Well move, Hannibal," she said, briefly warning him before tossing the other shoe at the leather suitcase and turning back to the closet. "Stupid cat," she muttered, grabbing a long leather jacket.

San Francisco was cold in summer, but it absolutely froze you in the fall. A wet wind blew off the Bay and right through you. She remembered being there this time last year, and only being warm while standing near a heater. This time she meant to be prepared.

Even though business took her to the city, it was her after hours plans that caused her to jostle between excitement and fear. The excitement was in the anticipation and hope that her journey was at an end. The fear was having to suffer another disappointment and everything that meant. Both emotions warred internally for her full attention, but neither side would be able to declare victory until much later. She'd realized that this battle was part of the game. The thing that made the journey interesting, albeit frustrating and enraging.

In the end she didn't know if she had the stamina or heart to suffer another crushing failure. True, April sounded like what she wanted, but then again so had they all. Each woman had responded to her needs with promises. Empty promises. The anticipation kept it interesting, but the disappointment made it a horrendous burden that she longed to put down.

"April," she said out loud, trying the lilt of the word on her tongue. She smiled. It had a nice sound to it. Catching sight of herself in the bathroom mirror she stopped. What would April think of her?

"My hair's too black," she said, disgusted that after so many attempts she'd been unable to really change the color for very long. That was why she usually wore it pulled back or laced through a hat. "And I'm too tall." She remembered how she towered over what-was-her-name? Sarah McMillian in San Diego. She hated her height. Maybe April would, too.

The phone rang and she pulled herself away from her self pity. "Move, Hannibal," she said, pushing the well fed cat out of the way so she could sit on the bed as she grabbed the phone.


"You are not going to believe what I succeeded in getting?" the voice said, stressing each word with important meaning.

"Hi Diana," she responded, somewhat relieved to hear her friend's voice.

"So guess."

"Just tell me."

"No," Diana said, her voice instantly pouty. "I want you to guess what I got."

"It's not another STD, is it?"

"Gross! Can't you be serious for once?"

She thought of another cut down but smiled into the phone instead. "Is it an interview?" she guessed, knowing it was. Diana always called her with every job success little or small.

"Not just an interview, but the interview," Diana replied, needing no more prodding to tell her news. "Remember that idea I told you about? The one about telling the story of women in difficult professions?"

"Yeah," she replied vaguely. Diana was always off on one idea or another. It made it hard to keep up sometimes or fein interest. "You were going to interview women CEO's and stuff like that?"

"Glad my idea made such an impact on you."

"So sue me. I've got a life, you know." She took a deep breath. "G'wan, tell me your news. I've got to pack."

"Where to this time?"

"Another scouting trip to Chicago," she lied, not sure why.

"Bummer. So guess who I get to interview?"

"I'm not guessing again."

"Okay, okay. You're not going to believe it, but I am going to be on the inside of a real FBI investigation. I'm following this one woman around . . ."

Her heart jumped wildly in her chest. "FBI? What are they investigating?"

She could almost see Diana shake it off. "Oh, I dunno. A run-of-the-mill serial killer. Not too interesting, but this woman. Wow. Talk about an FBI blue blood. Her grandfather was an agent. Her father was an agent. He was actually killed during a 1985 Miami drug bust. But this woman is something else. High scores on everything from college entrance exams to all that FBI Academy bullshit stuff. Amazing, huh?"

"Yeah," she muttered, her mind not hearing one word Diana said. Serial killer? That couldn't be her, could it? She wasn't a serial killer.

"You there or did my news bore you to death?" The sarcasm dripped from Diana's voice.

"Sorry," she apologized. "That's great news, Di. Really great." It can't be me. "Let me know how it's going." Please, don't let it be me.

"With a response like that, you'll be lucky if you get a Christmas card."

"C'mon. I think it fabulous. You're a terrific film maker and this will be one of your best films yet. I know it."

"Well Blue Sea Films needs a good opinion piece this year. I'm pretty sure the Discovery Channel will pick this up for at least an On the Inside segment. I'm planning on pitching them an entire series."

"So when do you meet her?"

"I'm flying to DC tomorrow."

"Good luck. I hope this Super FBI woman is everything you expect."

"Oh she is." She could hear the satisfied tone in Diana's voice.

"I gotta go," she said, suddenly exhausted. "Early flight."

"Call me when you get back."

"Same to you." A silence stretched between them and she knew Diana was waiting for more. "It's going to be great. You're a fantastic story teller."

"You really think so?" Suddenly Diana was a small child seeking approval.

"From the first time I worked with you, girl. You're one of the best."

"I need this."

"I know you do."

Diana took a deep breath. "Wish me luck."

"Luck and love."

"Talk to you soon?"



"Give em hell, tiger," she said, hanging up the phone and allowing her body to finally shake. "It can't be me, can it? How would they even know?" She pulled her knees up to her chest and looked down at the cat. "I can't be a serial killer, Hannibal. I'm not doing it to kill."

Cait slid into the roomy leather seat of the FBI's Gulfstream IV. She'd never been on any of the Bureau's planes before and she imagined she looked a lot like a kid in a candy store. This plane was a fully equipped command station, complete with a high tech room that easily connected them to a multitude of law enforcement data banks across the country. The main cabin held seating for fifteen, and a small galley was well equiped enough to feed them all with snacks, coffee and sandwiches.

She smiled at some of the familiar faces she recognized, and nodded a greeting to the new ones. From what she could tell, she was going to be the only woman on this flight. That was slightly unnerving.

Next to her Cameron snapped his fingers to get everyone's attention. "Okay," he said, looking around the cabin. "As soon as everyone's here, we're cleared for take off. That's just enough time to hit the head or grab something to drink. This is going to be a working flight, folks, so get what you need now." He sank into the seat next to her.

"I'm going to grab another coffee," Cait said, turning to Cameron. "Want one?"

"Sure," Cameron said. "Don't dawdle back there. I want to introduce you to someone."

Cait hesitated. "I can stay and do that now."

"She's not here yet." He shrugged. "She caught a flight from Seattle this morning. It sucks to fly commercial," he said, pushing his bulky body back into the wide leather seat and smiling.

Cait smiled at her partner. "Whatever." She turned to go, but looked back. "Why's she flying in from Seattle when we're heading there?"

"Didn't ask," he said, closing his eye and letting Cait know she'd been dismissed. "Keep close," he mumbled.

The plane's galley was much smaller than she imagined, and already it was crowded with people trying to grab snacks for the flight. She spotted a big thermos of coffee latched in place and grabbing two cups, stood behind Tony Richie for her turn.

"First time on the big jet, huh?" Tony said, turning and smiling down at her. "I remember my first time. Wow! I was totally impressed."

"It's just a plane, Tony," she replied, barely hiding her own giddy smile.

"Well enjoy it," he said, stepping forward to pump coffee into his cup. "Not everyone gets to see this."

"So I hear," she said, squeezing in after him to pump her and Cameron's coffee.

"Yeah," Miguel Rosales said, coming up behind her and standing just a step too close. "Usually an Agent has to earn the right to fly the big jet, Edmunds. I guess family and favors come in handy, eh amiga?"

Cait stopped pumping and slowly put her cup down on the counter. She'd known Miguel Rosales since college, and he'd been digging at her every since Cameron brought her to Quantico. At the University of Arizona she'd ousted him from the top spot in three behavioral science classes and apparently he'd never forgotten. He was pompous and egotistical, but controlled enough to know the best ways to stroke a superior. Turning she looked at his pock marked face with narrowed eyes. "You got something to say, Miguel?"

"I thought I said it. Has all that time in the Phoenix heat made you deaf?"

"No, you said something to my back. Want to repeat it to my face?"

Rosales took a small step back but only to give the rest of the room a better view. "Yeah, Edmunds," he said, raising his voice a notch. "You don't belong here. You're not equipped to deal with a case of this magnitude."

"I've got more experience in the Bureau than you do."

"Listening to your old man's stories at the dinner table doesn't count as experience." He looked around the small room hoping for a laugh.

"Why don't you shut up, Rosales," Tony said, moving his muscular body closer to Cait. "No one cares about your opinion."

"Oh Richie, man, don't go and get in this. Let your girlfriend handle it herself." He pointed at Cait, his eyes opening wide with feigned surprise. "Oh, that's right, I forgot. She doesn't like - -"

"Enough," Bill Cameron said, from the galley door. He stepped into the room, his bulk shifting Rosales aside like a rhino to a bush. "You got my coffee, Cait?"

"Yeah," Cait muttered, grabbing Cameron's coffee.

"Then come with me," he said, taking the coffee. "Our guest has arrived."

Cait nodded, waiting briefly for Cameron to leave the galley before following. As she passed Rosales she leaned in a little. "Get over it, Miguel," she whispered. "I just never liked you."

"What was that about?" Cameron asked, waiting just outside the galley for her.

"Nothing I can't handle," Cait said, noticing that she forgot her coffee. "Damn."

"Here, take mine," Cameron said. "Beth's been nagging me to cut out the caffeine anyway."

Cait took the proffered cup with a nod. "So who's this guest?"

Cameron shrugged, averting his normally level gaze from her. That only told her this wasn't going to be something she liked. "First, I had no control over this, Catie. This comes from above me."

"Okay, so I won't be angry. Promise."

He hesitated, finally sighing in frustration. "It's like this." He stopped, searching for the words. "Okay, Diana Blue is - -"

"Maybe I can do this better," a woman said, stepping into the tech room from the passenger cabin. "I'm Diana Blue."

Cait looked up, immediately awed by the woman's presence, which radiated a confidence that touched all around her. Even Cameron seemed respective of her space.

"Yeah, well," Cameron said, clasping his hands behind his back. "Diana Blue, this is Cait Edmunds. Special Agent Cait Edmunds."

The woman herself wasn't an exceptional beauty, but she had a charm that both reminded you of the girl next door and the girl you wanted to be. Her face was freshly washed and lacked all but the most classic touches of makeup which accentuate her cheeks, lips and eyes. By and large, her dark blue eyes were her best feature. Clear and crisp, they met you and invited you inside. Her face was framed by a shock of auburn hair that bounced with large, loose curls. When Cait looked closer she noticed a splatter of freckles across her nose was that crinkled up as she smiled at her.

"Nice to met you, " Diana said, extending her hand. "I've been looking over the file the Bureau gave me on you. Very impressive, Agent Edmunds."

"I'm sorry," Cait said, shaking the woman's hand, but turning her gaze to Cameron. "What's going on?"

"Ms. Blue is a documentary film maker from Seattle."

"Blue Sea Films," Diana provided, her red hair shifting like an ocean wave against the palness of her skin. "You've probably seen some of our work. Last year we did . . ."

Cait held up her finger to silence the woman. "What's this got to do with me?"

Cameron answered, his eyes looking anywhere but at her. "You see, Cait, the Bureau feels it needs to become more accessible to the public. There's been some PR problems and all those shows and movies giving false ideas of what we do. Our image isn't high. This," he motioned to Diana. "Is one of their plans."

"What plan?" Cait said, already seeing where this was going and not liking it one bit.

Diana decided to field this one, which forced Cait to shift her burning glare from Cameron. "We're working with the Discovery Channel to profile women in the workplace," Diana explained. "We're planning for a five part program that will highlight exceptional women in typically male dominated fields."

"Like the FBI," Cameron said, a bit too enthusiastically.

"Why me?" Cait asked, looking hard at Diana Blue. "I'm not exceptional."

"I beg to differ, Agent Edmunds. Your background speaks volumes on your career choice. Your single minded drive through college and the Academy with high marks and letters of recommendation speak of your exceptional sense of duty. You are what women today need to see."

"And what about my three years doing nothing but listening to wire taps in Phoenix? Is that exceptional?"

Diana smiled, revealing a wall of teeth brilliant enough to be seen on TV. "That's my point exactly!"

Cait felt confused. "I don't remember you making a point," she finally said.

"A male dominated world!" she exclaimed, looking quickly at Cameron, who nonetheless took a step back. "No offense."

"None taken," he said, looking between the two of them, and Cait sensed she was about to be thrown to the wolves. "Well, I think my part is done." He smiled at her, but she glowered back. "Why don't you two grab your seats and chat. I'm going to get this show on the road."

"Bill," Cait pleaded, as the older agent began to turn, but he just raised his hand abandoned her to Diana Blue. With a sigh, she looked at the reporter and smiled weakly.

"I'm sorry, Agent Edmunds," she said, leaning in a little so the comfort zone between them diminished. "I thought you had been consulted prior to my arrival."

"No," Cait said, unable to make herself step away. "I wasn't."

"If you don't want to do this," Diana let the offer hang unspoken.

"Really, Ms. Blue, it's not a good time," she began explaining. "We're tracking a particularly deadly serial killer who is probably getting set to - -"

Diana laughed, causing Cait to stop speaking. "I'm sorry," she said. "But, are there serial killers who aren't particularly deadly?"

Cait thought about it for a moment and chuckled. "No, I guess there aren't."

"I know about the case, Agent Edmunds. In fact, I've already seen the murder scene in Seattle."

"What?" Cait said, not sure if she should be shocked or outraged.

"I live in Seattle, and my local contacts are good. When I was given your name and file last week, I researched what cases you worked on and were working on. When the murder of Chris Simmons was reported, I requested access to the scene."

"And you got it?"

"I started out as a crime scene reporter. I know my way around a murder."

The audacity of the woman surprised her. "That may be," she said, searching for a way out. "However, I still don't think it's a great time to be following me around."

"Cait," Diana said, softening her name so it seemed to tickle her ear. "I hope I can call you Cait."

"I guess," Cait stumbled.

"I want to do this story on you. I think you are an unmatched subject, and from what I've heard, you have a promising career in front of you." She smiled. "Despite the thousands of men in your way."

"You're a feminist?" Cait asked, needing to know something about Diana Blue.

Diana laughed. "Of a sort. I just believe that women shouldn't be held down because of their sex." A smile tugged at her lip, causing an previously unseen dimple to deepen. "Don't confuse me with those militant feminist who think all men should be castrated and kept around only to open jars."

Cait thought about it for a second and finally laughed. "I hadn't heard that one before."

"I understand what it's like for you, Cait." Again her name seemed to tickle her neck, causing a not so unpleasant shiver. "It's been the same for me, too. I've tried so hard to rise above it all and be judged on my talents alone. Can I ask you a question?"

The FBI agent nodded, not sure why Diana Blue's words made so much sense to her. "Have you tried?"

"I don't know what you mean," she said, even though she did understand. The reporter was looking for that hook which would unite them in a common cause. Cait wasn't sure she wanted to give Diana that, even though she'd felt like she'd been fighting her whole life.

"I think you do, Cait."

She looked up at the red head briefly before lowering her eyes. "And what if I'm not what you think I am?"

Diana's hand touched her arm. "I think you know you are." Cait raised her eyes. "Even if your entire record was a lie, Cait, you're still the type of woman I want to profile."


Diana chuckled like it was some private joke. "C'mon," she said. "Let's go sit, and I'll try and explain what I have in mind for this."

Stepping into the interior of Harvey's was like stepping into a jungle of mixed signals and flying innuendos. She felt eyes roving up and down her body, but she walked by them all. A few were more daring, their hands or bodies brushing against her with feminine invitation. She refused to even give them the benefit of a glance, instead pushing past the throng of women and heading for the more secluded booths at the rear. It was here that she would meet April.

She was lucky to grab a booth as a couple left, and she slid into the curved seat with a sigh. With the nod of her head she brought a hovering cocktail waitress over and ordered a drink, dismissing the woman from her sight the second the words left her lips.

The energy of the room attacked her and she took it all in, adding it to the building excitement that coursed through her body. However, as her cool blue eyes surfed the crowd she gave off a picture of calm control. There was no indication of the volcano of anticipation boiling under the surface.

Around her various acts of perversion and pleasure were acted out before her eyes. On the dance floor women grinded into each other while the tribalistic beat of the music pounded on, spectators oggling the demonstration or the dancers. From the safety of her booth she watched them all and found interest in none. Tonight she was here to observe a solo act.

When the waitress dropped off her drink, she barely looked at the woman, dropping a five on her tray and turning her head. She felt the woman's gaze sweep her, and sitting alone only seemed to increase the interest. It was important she not be remembered, and so when the waitress lingered longer than needed she lifted her watch to the whatever light was available and checked the time.

It was enough of a message for the waitress and she slipped off into the darkness without a backward glance. She was late. Being late was not a good way to begin with her. She'd said ten o'clock and she meant that.

Her blue eyes now seemed to smolder in the darkness as she scanned the crowd. She would give it another five minutes and then leave. There would be no sense in continuing the torture if it was a losing battle.

From person to person her gaze moved until finally stopping on an attractive woman wearing a pair of jeans, white t-shirt and black blazer. The woman looked around the room, her almond shaped eyes finding the intimate booths near the back with purpose. Out of instinct she moved deeper into the shadow, but continued to watch the woman's progress. Again she felt like the spider and fly. Shaking the thought from her mind she smiled when the woman stopped at her table.

"Jane?" the woman asked, her voice sweet and kind.

"April?" she asked, coming half out of her seat and holding out her hand. Greetings were always so awkward in this circle. Handshakes seemed masculine, hugs too intimate, and no gesture at all too cold.

"Yeah!" April said, firmly grabbing her hand and shaking. "I found you right away." She pointed to her New York Yankee's baseball cap. "Not many of that team in here."

The girl was younger than she expected, but Jane smiled and promised herself to give it some time. "Giant's territory, huh?"

"I don't get to too many ball games anymore," April said, sliding into the booth like a feral cat. "Law school takes up a lot of my time."

Jane smiled and winked. "Glad you found some time for me." She forgot about the law school. That gave the woman some intelligence. Or so one would hope. "Get you a drink?" she asked, pulling her ball cap lower and signaling to one of the cocktail waitresses.

"Whatever you're having," April said, leaning forward so her breast strained against the cotton shirt.

'She's submissive and not subtle,' Jane thought, grinding her teeth together. "It's ginger ale," she said, shaking her glass.

"Oh," April said, turning to the waitress. "Absolut straight up."

'No taste in alcohol,' Jane thought, the whirl in her stomach slowing a little. Her hope was being laid siege by disillusionment.

"So," she said, after the waitress left. "Why'd you answer my personal ad?"

April laughed. "Like I told you, it spoke to me in ways no one else ever has."

"Like how?" And so the test began.

The girl giggled. Actually giggled! "Because I've been made to feel like I'm asking for too much in my past relationships. They never tried to understand me. Or to even try and find out what I like. I want so much more from my," she hesitated, her eyes looking around the room. "Significant other," she finished with a shy smile. "Do you know what it's like to be overlooked in your relationship?"

'Self centered,' Jane thought, taking a sip of her ginger ale. She despised the taste, but it had become a ritual for her. The bitter sweet flavor reminded her of her hopes and failures. With each sip this drink became more bitter. "A few times," she answered.

"Well, I'm sick of it," April announced. "I'm sick of not being understood, or not even having the time taken to try and understand me."

Jane stared at her for a minute, the tone and meaning slowly sinking in. "Just out of relationship?" she asked, unable to stem the disappointment which was growing by the second.

April hesitated but finally nodded. "Almost three months now."

"That's not a long time."

"It's long enough for me," April said, leaning back and pulling her arms across her chest. "I'm glad it's over."

No, you're not. Everything about her body language suggest to Jane that April was miserable. Which meant she didn't really understand what she was asking. And what was worse - - she pointed at April's bulky black purse. "You're straight, aren't you?"

"What?" April looked down at the purse and back at Jane. "I don't think so," she stammered. "Not anymore." She shook her head. "No, I'm not straight. I don't want to be what's expected of me any longer."

"I see." She handed the waitress another five and waved her off

"Is that a problem," April asked, not touching her drink, her eyes slightly downcast as if Jane's response would make or break her. In a way the poor girl didn't know how right she was.

"No," Jane finally replied, smiling ever so slightly. She couldn't help wondering if April was so dumb that she truly expected Jane to just submit to her sexual experimentation. She closed her eyes a minute, fighting the overwhelming urge to stand up and leave. But there was no way she could do that again. She'd done it too many times in the past. This endeavor required her total commitment. There could be no wavering, and as she looked into April's beautiful blue eyes, she knew there could be no turning back.

"I want to be something different," April said, smiling shyly.

"We all want something different," Jane replied, motioning April to drink, knowing she'd encourage the woman to keep drinking. That was how it worked.

Continued in Chapter Three (updated 11/10/01)

Thanks for reading.  If you have any questions or comments, please email me at Pallas3@yahoo.com

Strangle the Heart, copyright 2001 by Pallas


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