Disclaimers 1: This is not a work of fan fiction, this is an original work and these are my characters.
Disclaimers 2: This story features gay people and gay situations, eventually, maybe. So if this kind of think offends I feel bad for you cause you have no imagination. And it if its illegal where you are, then well you just need to move somewhere else.
Author’s note: Ok I’m back again everyone, this time with something a little different. I hope you like it, its been rambling around my head for quite a while now. As always, feedback is welcome at email@example.com. Flamers need not apply. Enjoy!
A Chance Encounter
Kylie hated mornings, always had. But running her own business often demanded she drag herself out of bed at an hour that sometimes seemed ungodly to her. Even coffee seemed to give her little if any relief from having to rise with the dawn; although that didn’t stop her from drinking it. And so she stood there in her store, a couple of hours before it opened, quietly going over paperwork as she relished in the silence surrounding her.
She might hate mornings, might hate having to drag herself out of bed and actually function long before her brain had caught up with the rest of her body. But she had to admit she loved the silence and stillness of them on those days she was in the store by herself. There was no one there to bother her, no one to question and no problems to solve. It was just her and her books and her store. It was a time when, not surprisingly enough she got a great deal of her writing done. Not to mention all the time she had to think before the real world closed in around her.
She looked up at a sudden change in light, her emerald eyes drawn to the window display. Sunlight poured through the large pane glass window, striking and reflecting off of the glossy jackets of the books set on display. The growing light caused them to sparkle and shimmer giving them the appearance of little more than a scattering of randomly tossed jewels. The light lent them a sense of life if such a thing could be said about a group of inanimate objects.
A small smile creased her face as she watched the rainbows created by the sudden glare of sunlight dance across the window pane. For a moment she stood there simply enjoying the visual display nature had seen fit to provide. Without thought, words floated up from the depths of her mind and she sorted them, rearranging and discarding ones that she disliked until she had the rough lyrical shape to describe the beauty she was looking at. She gave a slight nod and filed it away for later use. Then satisfied, she ran a hand through her short reddish blonde locks before turning and appraising the store and the building that she owned.
The building was old but well kept. Kind of like a favorite pair of socks that you held onto; not because they were particularly warm, but because you loved them and they were soft, well worn and oh so comfortable. The floorboards were warped in spots, the stairs creaked and the windows were drafty. But the paint was fresh and bright and the wood gleamed with a new coat of wax and sealant.
It had been her first store; the very first building she had leased nearly a decade ago with her share of the money from her parents’ life insurance, a much needed affirmation of life after their sudden and tragic deaths. Something she had decided that she needed to do as a remembrance of them. It had been a hard beginning, a hard learning curve to get where she was now. She looked back on those first days now with a sense of disbelief at the work she’d been forced to put into both the building and the business.
She’d been so terribly naïve to think that it would be a simple matter of renting a building, remodeling it and selling a few books to customers willing to buy. There had been so much to learn and no one to teach her. But she had stumbled through and made not only a place for herself, but a name as well.
The Parchment and Quill had become a popular spot for the American booklover to come and enjoy, read and buy the very things that they obsessed about. And she’d found herself with the unforeseen ability to expand. Not once, not twice but a total of nine new stores, all named the same as the original, dotted across the state.
Even after all of this time, she sometimes found herself in a state of disbelief that this belonged to her, that she had taken an idea and a passion for the written word and built a thriving, money making business. Sometimes the reality of it would just catch her and she would find herself looking around in disbelief; just like now.
Her laptop chimed next to her breaking the silence and Kylie opened it to check her email. She frowned slightly as she scanned the message from her distributor about a hang up with her latest shipment of a brand new novel. She picked up her phone to call them directly and clear it up when it suddenly began ringing.
She looked at the caller ID, sighing loudly as she recognized the number in the window as belonging to the contractor she’d hired to redo the brand new building she was leasing downtown. It was looking to be one of their days.
She flipped it open. “Kylie Rogers.”
“Hey Kylie, its Bob.”
She grimaced at his annoyed tone. “Hey Bob. Please tell me you’re not calling me at eight o’clock with bad news.”
He chuckled. “I’m that transparent huh?”
She gave a loud sigh shaking her head. “No, this is just turning into the project from hell.”
“That’s true. But we’re almost done.”
“Granted, but what are you about to hit me with today?”
There was a slight pause from him. “It’s the pipes.”
That was a new one. “The pipes.” Kylie had found the building nearly 3 months ago and immediately fallen in love with it and its prime location. It was far enough from the main downtown area as to be separate from the corporate businesses there. But still near enough to attract employees of those same businesses. Not to mention the amount of foot and car traffic she witnessed on several different occasions.
But from day one it seemed as if one thing or another was bound and determined to throw them off track. First the wiring had been a real problem. The electrician told her he was astounded that the building hadn’t caught on fire before now. Then, they found termite damage that had never been repaired. It was minor and mostly cosmetic but it was scattered throughout areas of the building they could not ignore. And now Bob was telling her there was something wrong with the pipes.
“Yeah, I know the landlord says he did most of his own work but a plumber he ain’t. He jerry rigged a lot of shit and if you want the café and the bathrooms, it ain’t gonna hold.”
Kylie sighed again reaching up to rub her temples. Then of course there was the land lord of the building. The man sometimes reminded Kylie of her Thénardier from Les Miserables, a man willing to do anything for a buck so long as it involved as little work as possible on his part. And this time would likely be no different. And that had a great deal to do with her.
Gathering the reins of her temper, she tried to calm down. “So what do you suggest?” She could almost hear his shrug over the phone.
“Ripping it out and starting over with PVC pipe. It’ll set your time table back at least a week.”
She groaned mentally even as the fragile reins of her temper snapped. “Damn Bob, this isn’t what I needed to hear. I’ve got people scheduled to come in and start bringing in stock at the end of the month.” She knew this wasn’t his fault, nothing that had gone wrong the entire project was. But she couldn’t help the reaction to shoot the messenger.
“I know Kylie but if you don’t want sudden problems in the future, this is the only thing that’s gonna fix it.” His tone was placating.
She sighed realizing he was right and gave a nod he couldn’t see. There really was no other option. “Do it. And get it done as quickly as you can.” She heard her email beep again and nearly snarled aloud at the urgent message that appeared in her inbox. This was not going to be her day. “Would you come down to the store in a bit and give me an idea what I’m going to have to reschedule? I’d like to know who I’m going to have to call today.”
“Sure thing Kylie. I’ll bring the bid for the plumbing on down too.”
Kylie held the phone against her ear as she opened the email. “Great and send a copy of the bid to the leasing office too. According to my lease, he’s footing the bill on this one.”
Bob laughed. “Lucky break that.”
She nearly groaned aloud as she scanned the email quickly. “Luck had nothing to do with that, I’ve learned to cover all the bases.”
The older man chuckled again. “Don’t see that very often; you must be one hell of a negotiator.”
This made her laugh. “I have my moments. Come by after lunch and we’ll go over our next step.” Her mind was alright pulling away from him and focusing on the problem someone just emailed her with.
“Sounds good. See you then Kylie.” He hung up.
She snapped her phone closed and leaned against the counter as she wondered if she should have called in dead today. Then her computer beeped again and with a muffled shout of annoyance, she opened her phone to take care of the book shipment that was stalled in the warehouse.
Twenty minutes later, her frame of mind calming once more, the shipment was on its way and she’d been given a discount by the distributor for the mix-up. Satisfied, she snapped her phone shut just as she heard Marie coming in through the back door. She smiled as the older woman walked up to the counter to stash her purse.
Her assistant gave her a brilliant smile. “Morning Kylie.”
“Morning Marie. How’re you doing today?” She closed her laptop.
Marie pulled out the cash drawer, beginning to count the bills as she stood there. “Great, wonderful, fantastic, stupendous and spectacular.”
Kylie chuckled. “I see someone’s been using the thesaurus they got for Christmas last year.”
“Yeah, well can’t let you look like the only intelligent one here. Might leave the customers with a bad impression.” She finished counting the bills and began the minor opening paper work.
Kylie finished up her paperwork, chuckling again. “Can’t have that, now can we.”
“Heaven forbid. I thought I heard you talking to someone when I came in the store. I thought maybe Mike had come in early.”
Kylie snorted at the very idea. “Not likely. You heard me talking to Bob.”
Marie winced slightly probably anticipating the bad news. “And what did our construction friend have to say.”
Kylie sighed. “Well it seems that our soon to be new landlord did some really shoddy work on the plumbing. He’s going to have to tear it out and replace nearly every pipe in the building. It's going to set us back another week.” She felt the irritation beginning to build again and resisted the urge to twist her jumble of papers into a ball and toss them in to the trash.
“Damn. I know you were really excited about getting our stock moved by the end of the month. Will this change the bid?”
Kylie shook her head. “Luckily no, when I signed the new lease I made sure to include an amendment for this very thing. The landlord’s footing this bill.”
“Serves him right for trying to pass off the jerry rigs in the first place.” Her assistant snorted beside her giving the air an obscene gesture that made Kylie double over laughing.
After she calmed down, she gave another sigh. “Yeah, but it still puts a week behind. So now, I’ve got to start making phone calls to reschedule nearly everything. I’m meeting with the contractor later today to determine just what it’s going to impact.” Without thinking she began listing stuff in her mind that she knew the fiasco with the pipes would immediately and directly affect. So far it wasn’t looking very good for her opening.
“Is that why you’re in so early?”
Kylie blinked, brought back suddenly by the other woman’s voice. She shook her head as she stowed the list away for future us. “No, just going over some paperwork I didn’t get to last night. Inventory is coming up soon you know.”
Marie groaned as she left Kylie behind the counter and began checking their displays. “Don’t remind me. Are we still planning on the pizza party to encourage volunteers?”
“Yeah but I’m not sure it’s going to work this time. I might have to draft some people today.” She wasn’t too enthused at that prospect. Over the years her employees had come up with some very interesting excuses to get out of helping with the inventory. She wondered just what they would come up with this year.
“How do you want to do it this time?”
Kylie pondered that. Between the two of them, they’d managed several creative ways to pick and choose the employees forced to work that night. But Kylie hated doing something too often; it tended to ruin the fun and gave her workers time to figure out how to counter it. “What haven’t we done in a while?”
Marie shrugged as she walked around the store, putting a few things back that the night shift had missed. “Oh I don’t know pulling names out of a hat is usually the easiest.”
“Yeah, but not nearly as exciting. We haven’t used the employee dart board for a couple of years.” Kylie was hopeful, they’d had a great deal of fun with that one.
Marie nodded but then dashed her hopes. “True. But then again it didn’t go over very well the last time, remember? Brian’s behind still hasn’t recovered.”
She chuckled at the memory. “Not my fault he was dating Tina and Marlee at the same time or that they found out. I’m still surprised he didn’t have two darts sticking out of him that day.”
Marie came back to the counter with a couple of books, setting them down before snorting loudly. “The only reason he didn’t was because Tina had broken her glasses and couldn’t have hit the broad side of a barn unless it was two inches from her nose.”
“Marie, really!” Despite her rebuke she was openly laughing. She shook her head. “Okay, so the dart board is out. I don’t want to have to pay out on another workman’s comp claim.”
“And they’re on to the damned balloons.” She gave a theatric sigh as she let that bit of knowledge free.
Kylie looked a bit sheepish. “We used that one a bit too many times didn’t we?”
Marie nodded solemnly but the effect was ruined by the wide grin on her face. “Yeah, but it was fun.”
“We could use the looser wheel again.”
Marie shook her head. “Sorry, I threw it out after it made Marlee cry the last time.”
“So what’s that leave us with?” She was suddenly out of ideas. Despite her best efforts, it seemed that maybe her employees wouldn’t be tormented by her selection methods this year.
Marie sighed. “I have no idea.”
There was silence for several moments, both of them wracking their brains for some way to choose the “volunteers” that would amuse and entertain them. Suddenly Kylie had an idea. “Maybe we’re going about this the wrong way.”
Confused, Marie came back up to the counter. “What do you mean?”
“I mean we’re trying to make this pleasant for them when really, as their bosses it should be pleasant for us. I say let’s have a ‘sucking up to the bosses’ contest. Whoever can sincerely impress us with flattery and gifts will not have to participate in next week’s inventory.”
Marie seemed to mull it over for a moment or two before shaking her head slowly. “I don’t know, I think this might turn out to be as bad an idea as that suggestion for mud wrestling.”
Kylie chuckled recalling the incident with vivid clarity. “Hey that was for charity and it was only that one time.” Given her history, she wondered how long it would take for that particular incident to come back and bite her.
“You still made Brian look bad when you beat him up.”
“Brian was hit in the ass with a dart by one of his ticked off girlfriends and it didn’t even faze him. How was I supposed to know that being beat up by his boss would shatter his ego?” She tried to sound petulant but neither one of them was fooled. She realized she just had to hire less sensitive people.
Marie laughed. “You can be so cruel sometimes. I knew there was a reason I liked working with you.” The back door slammed as Mike came through. They both dissolved into a severe case of the giggles as he came up to them.
“Good morning ladies.” He set 3 cups of coffee down on the counter before going into the office to stow his backpack.
“Morning Mike.” They said in unison, each of them helping themselves to the coffee he’d brought in.
He took the last cup for himself. “Sounds like the two of you were having a grand old time in here. Are you plotting again?”
“Yes, be afraid, be very afraid.” Kylie finished her paperwork, stacked it onto her laptop and headed to her office to leave the two of them to finish opening up without her.
“No, Mike of course not.” Marie’s placid tone was almost convincing but it didn’t fool anyone.
Mike trailed after her, his eyes bright and eager. “Is it anyone I know?” They both laughed
* * *
The morning was mostly quiet if a little busy. Mike and Marie handled most of the customers leaving Kylie to field concerns and problems from her other stores. Kylie had hired managers for each location but still liked to keep her hand on the pulse of each store.
She had the utmost faith in the abilities of her managers or she wouldn’t have hired them in the first place. But she knew that businesses succeeded or failed on how they were managed and how well their owners paid attention. So she tried to keep her eyes on things as much as possible. And she knew her managers appreciated the hands on approach as many of the problems they passed onto her were far beyond their scope of expertise or authority.
So she spent her morning eyeball deep in paperwork, emails and phone calls. Later that day, Bob stopped by just as promised. Kylie was hoping that very little would be affected by the bad plumbing but Bob seemed bound and determined to burst her bubble. The list he gave her was worse than she expected and she felt her spirits flagging just a bit at just how far the entire disaster was going to set her back.
She waited until they were back in her office before she threw the bid and the list onto her desk swearing softly. “Dammit Bob, can’t you ever bring me good news?”
He sighed as he sat down in the other chair. “I’m really sorry Kylie; if I could change this I would. I hate to see this costing either of us an additional week. I’m on a bid here; I’m losing out too.”
She sat down too, groaning. “I know, I know and I’m sorry.” She grabbed the bid feeling her tension mount at the annoyance it represented. “I knew this move was going to be a pain. I just wish I could have foreseen just how much of a pain.” She started scanning through the bid.
Bob shrugged. “Don’t feel too bad Kylie; by the time we get done, it’ll be perfect and everything you asked for.” His tone was placating and it made Kylie laugh.
“My yoga instructor has been working overtime to keep my stress levels down. I’m going to owe her a really big Christmas gift this year.” She turned the last page over pleased with the layout of the work he was going to do. She snapped her laptop closed, shutting it down. “Come on Bob, let me buy you lunch. I owe that for coming down here and listening to me rant and rave.”
His eyes lit up at gesture. “Sounds good, how about Ming Tao’s?”
She chuckled. “Something spicy?”
He clapped his hands together in anticipation. “Yeah.”
She laughed again; the man looked like a little kid at Christmas. “Let me call it in and then we can talk about you undercutting your bid on supplies.”
He had the good grace to look embarrassed. “Kylie…” she leaned closer, taking his hand in hers. The man wasn’t simply her contractor for this bid, he was a close friend.
“Hey, I asked you to do this cause I trust you, cause Keith trusts you. Your kids are over at the house nearly every day of the week, you’re practically family here. If you hadn’t been available for this and I had gone to someone else, they would have charged me full price for materials, maybe even more. I knew that going into this and I can afford it. I want you to up the bid by 10% to cover the materials.”
He tried again. “Kylie…” she waved him aside.
“Look, if you don’t want to do it this way, I’ll find another way to get you to charge me full price. You’ve got 3 kids to put through Harvard in a few years you know.”
Bob laughed. “Harvard huh?” She smiled. “Well then I guess I’d better make sure I’ve got those damn tuition payments saved up.”
“Good.” She picked up the phone. “Now let’s order lunch; I’m starving.”
* * *
Luce’s heels clicked loudly as she walked down the hall at a clipped and steady pace. The hallway was mostly empty but the few people she did encounter gave way to her easily and she reached the front door quickly. She pushed through the door, handing the valet the ticket for her car just as her phone rang shrilly in her jacket pocket.
She pulled it out as the valet trotted off to get her car, glancing at the caller id before flipping it open in irritation. “This had better be good Jerry, I’m leaving.” She snapped into the phone impatiently.
There was a warm chuckle from the other end. “Glad I caught you before you got too far then.”
“Jerry.” She resisted the urge to roll her eyes. She was just five seconds away from 3 weeks of freedom; she did not need him calling her now. There was no way in hell it boded well for her.
There was a sigh from the other end. “Fine, fine. I need you.”
She was expecting it but it still made her angry and she lost the fragile hold she’d had on her temper. “No, I’ve got 3 weeks coming, you can handle things until then.” She nearly hung up on him at that point but knew it was useless; he’d just call back.
“Luce, I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important, you know that.”
The valet chose just that moment to appear with her car. She began pacing angrily around the valet kiosk. “Jerry, I just spent 6 weeks in Europe knocking those damn bastards you hired there into line. Before that it was 3 weeks in Japan with a group of men who saw me as little more than office decoration. And before that was a week spent on a damn oil rig in Texas with a bunch of guys who hadn’t seen a woman in months! Do you have any idea how many times I was propositioned?” She was beyond furious at this point, her anger building with each incident she recalled and those were just the tip of the iceberg.
She took a deep breath before she said something she knew she’d regret later. “I am fried.” She heavily enunciated each word. “I need some down time or I won’t be worth jack to you. Which would you rather have, a hatchet man who can handle your problems like a surgeon or a megabitch coming in to slash and dash with a machete?”
There was a heavy sigh from the other end. “Luce please, I was planning on sending Carl but his wife went into labor early. Jack is out on medical leave until next month cause of his back. And Cheryl is already out in Germany handling the Klein merger there. I am literally pinned to the wall here. I need you.”
It was as close to pleading with her that he’d ever come and it caught her attention. And just like that, her anger was simply gone, swept away by the fact that he never begged but he was now. She sighed as she turned to see the valet patiently waiting by her car.
“You owe me, huge.” She stomped over to her car, tipped the young man and climbed into the seat.
“Whatever you want, it’s yours; you can even have my firstborn!” The man was practically giddy with relief.
Despite herself, Luce chuckled. “As much as I love the little darling I think you need to keep Emily or your wife might have both our hides.”
“Fine, whatever you want, name it.”
She shook her head. “I can’t think of anything right now, but you’ll owe me.”
“Fine, just be at the main office at 8 am sharp.”
“What’s going on?” All business, she pulled away from the parking lot and eased into lunch hour traffic.
“Not sure, some things don’t add up with the last inventory; major stock is missing and no one’s talking. Worse yet, all our investigations seemed to have ground to a halt. I want you to go down there, sniff around and figure out what might be going on, if its inside or if maybe these people are really dumb enough not to know what’s going on.”
“They know I’m coming?” Despite having to give up her vacation she felt excitement stir inside her. And it brought a hint of a tingle across her skin.
“No, I want you to surprise them; just head right up to the main boardroom they’ll be having a department head meeting tomorrow. I think you should crash it, put them off balance a bit.”
“How much room do I have and how much rope you giving me?” She needed to be very sure that nothing she would do over the next few days would see her hanging herself out to dry.
“As much as it takes, I want answers and I don’t care if you end up hanging nearly every department head to find them. Just find out what the hell is going on.”
She nodded. “Will do. I’ll call you as soon as I find out something.”
“Thanks Luce, you really pulled my nuts out of a vice on this one.”
She chuckled having thought of that herself when she’d extracted the promise from him. “You might not think that when I come asking for my favor.”
He sighed again. “Probably not. Good luck.” He hung up.
She closed her phone her mind turning over the puzzle he’d just placed in her lap. Someone was hiding something, she was sure of it. Her gut told her it was something huge and she wondered just how far up or down it went. She maneuvered through traffic pondering how to best approach the problem. Then it hit like lightning.
She’d been honest when she told Jerry she was fried. She could feel it; it was like she was stretched far too thin. And she seemed to have a hair trigger temper. Nearly everything set her off lately. And while she had no problem being subtle and using a scalpel when called for, maybe this time the best approach might just be with a machete.
Someone at the main office had cost her a much needed vacation. Maybe it was time to let her inner bitch free. She could feel herself smiling evilly as she drove herself home to unpack and cancel her travel arrangements. This looked to be a great deal of fun after all.
* * *
Kylie was fried; after her peaceful lunch with Bob and her uneventful morning in the store, it seemed that a bubble of chaos had burst in her office and her store. Not only did the customers seem to be storming the place, some of them with truly ridiculous demands, but her phone never seemed to stop ringing either. She ended up moving from one minor emergency to another and in the blink of an eye, several hours had passed and she was completely exhausted.
Then things inexplicably calmed and she found herself sitting in her office trying to catch her breath. She was sipping a much needed cup of coffee, fielding some final issues that had crept up before she left for the day. Closing the final email, she decided that she had more than enough and began packing up for the day.
She silenced her phone, throwing it into her bag and stood, her coffee in hand and headed towards the door. “I’m leaving for the night guys.” She waved at the counter on her way out, the night shift nodding at her and saying their own good nights. Then she was out the door and free. She stood there a moment, taking a deep breath before turning and walking down the sidewalk towards the employee parking lot.
She drove home slowly, for once not really annoyed with the city traffic; despite her stressful day. When she got home, she walked into the small house she’d purchased several years ago and threw herself onto the couch with a self satisfied sigh. She’d barely managed to get her breath when her cat, Loki leapt onto the sofa next to her.
She turned, her face lighting into a delighted smile as she looked at the young seal-point Siamese. “Hey there little man, how was your day?” She reached out to scratch his chin and his blue eyes closed in pleasure as he settled down next to her, purring loudly. She chuckled at the hedonistic animal and continued petting him for awhile, his presence soothing her.
Realizing she had stuff to do, dinner to cook, she picked him up and settled him on her shoulder as she walked into the kitchen. He purred loudly in her ear as she walked into the kitchen to get him a snack. She watched him eat the ham she put down with an indulgent smile on her face as she pondered her own evening.
Did she want to stay in, catch a movie? Or did she want to just suck it up and go out riding like she needed to do for the last few days? She sighed, realizing she’d feel much better for a long bike ride and decided to have a light dinner before she went off.
A short time later, she wheeled her bike outside and snapped her helmet into place. Then she pedaled off. She decided to head back towards the downtown area, maybe even run by her new location to see how things were going. That would give her about ten miles give or take and she figured that was enough for the night.
On the other side of town, Luce herself was standing in her apartment feeling suddenly restless. She’d tried sitting down to watch a movie but had been unable to sit still long enough for it to grab her interest. Deciding then that she was probably hungry, she began searching her kitchen. After a very short time she came to a startling insight; while she had plenty of food in the house but didn’t really want any of it.
She sighed softly, gathering her wallet and keys. As she was locking her door, it occurred to her that she’d been restless ever since the phone call from Jerry. And she couldn’t understand just why. Maybe going out in search of her dinner would get rid of the nerves and let her settle in to a movie later that night. She pulled her car out of the parking garage and headed downtown thinking that maybe BBQ would be just the thing for the night.
* * *
Kylie felt great, after twenty five minutes of riding, her muscles had warmed up and were feeling pretty good, despite the demand she was putting on them. Despite the effort she had to put into the hills, she really enjoyed cycling. She was really glad her brother had gotten her involved in the sport a few years ago. She leaned as she turned a corner and headed towards the new downtown location.
She was met with a maze of construction barrels and yellow tape. She sighed, her hands reaching towards the brake to slow the bike down and begin winding her way through the chaos when she saw the rock. It was right in the middle what was left of the bike lane. She swore softly to herself as she realized that they road was far too crowded with cars to let her swerve around it. Then she was on it.
Kylie knew there was no where to go and no time to think about what to do. She hit the large rock before she could even so much as twitch her handle bars in either direction. The bike lurched sickeningly and she felt herself flying forward, her momentum carrying her up and over the handle bars.
Instinctively, she let go of the bars, bringing her hands up to catch herself and roll with her forward motion. She felt the jar of impact slam into her hands as she reached the pavement and it traveled up her arms, making her shoulders go numb. Then she was rolling along the ground, hearing the sounds of horns honking and tires squealing as she fervently prayed not to be run over.
She came to a stop a few seconds later and lay there, stunned, trying to get her bearings as the world continued to spin around her. She heard the noise of a car slowing and then stopping near her. Then a car door opened and soft but hurried foot steps made their way towards her. She opened her eyes just in time to look into the most striking pair of blue eyes she’d ever seen.
“Hey, you okay?”
For a moment Kylie could only blink, not really comprehending the words that were coming to her as if from a great distance a way. Then, as the world stopped spinning, the words penetrated the hazy fog in her brain and she simply nodded at the woman standing over her.
“Then let’s get you off the road before someone does something stupid and runs you over.”
Kylie felt hands on her, rolling her into a sitting position onto the curb. She reached up to pull off her helmet, spying her bike some feet behind her, looking much the worse for wear.
Her attention was drawn back to her savior as the woman spoke again. “Did you hit your head? Do you feel dizzy at all?”
Kylie shook her head, the helmet sliding from her head.
The blue-eyed stranger grew a little frustrated. “Can you talk?”
She nodded. “Yeah, I’m just a little shook up is all.”
The other woman chuckled wryly. “I wonder why. You flew about 4 feet before you hit the ground. That’d rattle anyone’s noggin, even with a helmet.” She looked Kylie over carefully, touching her legs lightly. “Looks like you’ve got a couple of good gashes here. Let me get the first aid kit out of my trunk. I’ll be right back.”
Kylie made the mistake of looking down and the sight of the bed running down her legs from three long open gashes made her head spin. Gasping softly, she leaned her head back, trying not to look again. Instead she watched the stranger hurry back to a snappy red sports car and pull out a small plastic box before she hurried back over. There was the sound of latex being stretched and Kylie felt gauze being firmly pressed against her leg.
“Don’t like the sight of blood huh?”
She shook her head. “Not my own no. I’m fine with everyone else, but the minute I see myself bleeding, I freak out.”
The other woman continued working. “Understandable, hold this would you?” Kylie let her rescuer use her hand as needed. “So what’s your name?”
“Kylie, Kylie Rogers.” She looked down again and was relieved to see all the gashes had been covered.
“Hey Kylie, I’m Luce Donovan.” She pulled the bandages gauze back for a moment, and then pressed them back into place. “You’re still bleeding pretty good here. I think you’re going to need to go to the hospital. Do you want me to call an ambulance?”
Kylie shook her head. “No, let me see if I can get someone to come take me.” She pulled out her cell phone and began making phone calls. She started with her sister but there was no answer. She left a message and moved on down the line. She was more than a little astonished that she couldn’t get a hold of anyone.
She closed her phone and sighed loudly. She looked at Luce still holding the bandages against her leg. Luce gave her a wry smile. “No answer?”
Kylie shook her head. “No, how ‘bout a cab?”
Luce looked around, her lips set in a grim line. “I haven’t seen one go by yet, it may take one a while to get here too.” She gave Kylie an appraising look for several moments as the smaller woman wracked her brains for a solution. After a moment, Luce seemed to come to a decision. “Look why don’t I just take you?”
Taken back a bit, Kylie found herself simply shaking her head. “I appreciate that Luce, but you don’t have to.”
Luce snorted as she searched for tape and more gauze in her kit. “How else you going to get there, bus? The driver wouldn’t let you on looking like that. Let me tie these off, lock up your bike and we’ll go.”
Unable to think of any other solution and starting to feel the pain in her legs, Kylie gave up, simply nodding as Luce began tying more bandaging around her legs. “Thank you very much Luce.”
Luce gave her a warm smile. “No problem.”
Luce made quick work of locking up Kylie’s banged up bike. Kylie made a mental note of what street they were on so she could call Connor or Peter to come get it for her later that day; when and if she ever managed to get in touch with any of her family. Luce then helped her into the sports car and they were off.
Luce kept a close eye on Kylie looking for signs of shock to set in as she negotiated the busy streets. She was a bit surprised at herself for offering to take a complete stranger to the hospital but she couldn’t see any way out of it. Its not like she could have left her there, bleeding and unable to walk; that would have just been asking for trouble.
So why the offer then? Why not just offer to take her to someone’s house? Or sit with her until she got someone to come get her? None of those seemed like very good options. Besides, she needed help and Luce had never been able to say no to someone who genuinely needed help.
She watched as Kylie shifted in the seat, wincing as she tried to find a comfortable spot. “How you doing over there?”
The other woman shrugged slightly. “All right I guess. Feel a little shaky though.”
Luce did not seem to find that surprising. “Might be a bit of shock, here put this on.” She reached behind Kylie’s seat and pulled out a sweatshirt handing it to her.
“Thanks.” Kylie mumbled as she draped it over herself.
“You’re welcome.” They both fell silent as Luce drove through the city towards the hospital.
Kylie took that time to simply sit there and try no to think about what had just happened to her or where they were headed. She’d never been really good about getting hurt or going to the hospital; her siblings, all five of them liked to torment her quite frequently about it.
After a moment she looked at Luce. “Before I forget, I wanted to say thank you for stopping to help me. I heard quite a few cars just whiz right on by.”
Luce chuckled. “I might have too if I hadn’t seen how far you went flying. Besides, I was kind of worried when you didn’t get up right away.”
Kylie shook her head. “Still, thanks a lot.”
Luce nodded. “Again, you’re welcome.”
There was silence between them for the rest of the ride. Kylie struggled with the knowledge of where they were headed. She had always feared hospital, even before the tragic death of her parents. But after the accident, she found herself unable to willingly enter one even to visit someone.
Somehow in the past several years, she’d managed to avoid going into one. It was something she often wondered just how she managed to accomplish. But now, well now she was looking to spend a good deal of time in one for the first time in nearly ten years.
Luce turned a corner and she caught sight of the hospital. She felt her heart clench in fear and something in her chest tightened. She suddenly found herself having difficulty breathing. She reached up to touch her forehead, trying to calm down.
Luce pulled into the parking lot, parked and turned to Kylie. “Let me get you settled inside and checked in before I take off, okay?”
Kylie tried to talk her out of it. “You don’t have to you know.” She watched Luce walked around to help her out of the car.
Luce helped her stand up, noticing the limp and the pale cast to the other woman’s face. “Yeah, I know but I don’t really see you getting in there by yourself.”
She nodded and felt some of the tension in her chest ease. “Good point. Lead on general.”
They began walking towards the Emergency Room doors and Kylie felt new panic wash over her. This time it was much worse and not shaken off. She started to breath faster in fear as they moved closer and closer to the doors.
Luce looked over in alarm as Kylie stumbled. “Kylie, Kylie are you okay?”
Kylie shook her head, feeling her heart start to pound loudly as the panic attack took over. “No, no I can’t. I can’t go in.”
Alarmed, Luce grabbed the other woman to keep her from falling. “Hey, what’s wrong, take a deep breath and tell me what’s wrong?” She forced Kylie to look at her and not the hospital doors.
Kylie did as she asked, taking a deep breath, forcing the panic down as she shook her head slightly. “Sorry, I’m just a little terrified of hospitals.”
Despite the seriousness of the situation, Luce chuckled. “How terrified?”
She shrugged. “Sometimes I get panic attacks when I have to into one.”
The taller woman sighed. “This could be a problem since you might have to spend a good deal of time in one in the immediate future.”
They stood there for several moments as Kylie fought down her panic. After a moment, she looked at Luce. “I hate to ask anything else of you, but could you come in with me, sit with me for a while? I’ll try to get a hold of someone to come down here before they take me back to stitch me up. I just need someone to sit with me and keep me from thinking about where I am.”
Luce seemed unsure. “Kylie…”
Her hand tightened on Luce’s arm. “Please, I know we just met and all but I really need someone to stay with me. Otherwise they’re going to have to sedate me and I really don’t want them to do that.”
Luce sighed and then nodded, the fear in Kylie’s voice very evident; the sound of it tugged at her. “All right, I can stay until you can get someone else down here.”
* * *
Kylie, once checked in with the triage nurse and settled into the waiting room with Luce sitting nearby, sipped nervously on a soda she managed to grab from a nearby vending machine. She was managing, somehow, to keep her panic under control. But it was going to be a close call as to whether or not she would make it until the doctor called her back.
Luce noticed her discomfort and decided to try and distract her. “So what do you do for a living Kylie?” Luce was nursing her own soda which Kylie had snagged for her.
She took another quick sip from the soda. “I own a bookstore. Well actually I own ten bookstores. They’re called The Parchment and Quill.”
Luce was surprised and her interest was generally piqued. “I’ve been inside the one downtown, it’s really nice. Really sounds kind of interesting.”
She gave a shrug. “It can be, mostly its just a lot of hard work. But I really enjoy it.”
“Are you into reading a lot?”
Kylie chuckled. “Yeah, I swear if I didn’t own a bookstore, I’d be broke from all the books I just had to have over the years.”
“Well, you’ve got a convenient place to store everything anyway. I bet you’ve got a private stash in the back of every store.”
Kylie lowered her voice conspiringly. “Shhh! That’s a trade secret.” Luce laughed softly. Kylie felt some of her panic subsiding as her own curiosity awoke and she found herself asking her own question. “So what do you do?”
Luce hesitated, mulling it over. “I’m not really sure what you’d call it. I guess you could call me kind of a corporate hatchet man.”
She nodded. “Yes my boss sends me in to straighten out problems that crop up from time to time.”
Intrigued, Kylie decided to dig for more information. “What kind of problems do you handle?”
Luce shrugged. “Most of the time its something simple; someone reports inventory discrepancies and I’m sent in to investigate. Sometimes it’s more complicated like when we acquire a new company and it falls under problem acquisitions.”
“Umm, yeah. Sometimes after we acquire a company, there’s hostility. Sometimes that comes across in ways that affect the overall bottom line. When that happens, they send me in.”
“To straighten things out?”
Luce nodded. “Yes.”
She shrugged. “It’s really not but it is challenging. It keeps me on my toes.”
“You sound like you enjoy it.”
“For the most part yeah but sometimes it keeps me away from home a lot and lately that’s beginning to wear on me.” She took another sip of her soda and decided to change the subject. “So what do you like to read? Can you recommend anything good?”
Kylie gave a wry laugh. “Oh, I think I can think of something. How long you got?”
Luce looked around the semi-full waiting room. “We seem to have plenty of time.”
“Well, what exactly do you like to read? Maybe if you narrow it down to a specific genre it’ll make things easier.”
“That’s an easy one; lately I seem to be stuck on sci-fi and fantasy.”
Kylie nodded in approval. “Yeah I can see that. As many great books as there are in other areas, I really love that one and it keeps drawing me back in.”
“So who’s good now days?”
“Well, Laurel K Hamilton is always big; then of course you have Jacqueline Carey, Simon Green, Anne Bishop, Patricia Briggs. God they’re so many, it’s hard to choose.”
“I can understand that; I’ve read most of them and they’re all really good.”
Kylie nodded, opening her mouth to reply when she caught sight of her older sister appearing in the door of the waiting room suddenly. “Molly!”
Her sister turned at the sound of her voice and caught sight of her sitting in the waiting room. She rushed over and as embraced Kylie as she stood up. “I just got your message! Are you all right?” She looked Kylie over quickly, tsching softly over the obvious bandages tied to her legs.
Kylie tried to calm her sister. “Molly, its not as bad as it looks, I’m probably going to need some stitches though.”
“What on Earth happened?” She sank into a nearby seat.
Kylie sighed feeling a bit stupid over the whole incident. “I decided to go for a ride and head over to the new location. But they were doing some construction and some genius left a huge rock in the middle of the damn bike lane and by the time I saw it, it was too late to do anything. I hit the damn thing, went flying and Luce here stopped to see if I was ok.”
Molly gave her a confused look. “Luce?”
Kylie started as she realized that she hadn’t introduced either of them. “Oh god yeah, Luce this is my sister Molly Stewart, Mol, this is Luce Donovan.”
Molly turned her fierce regard to the taller woman. “You stopped to help her?”
Luce nodded, fighting the urge to wilt under the intense will flashing in Molly’s eyes. “Yeah, she hit pretty hard.”
“And then you took her to the hospital?”
Luce looked a bit chagrined; almost as if she’d been caught doing something a great deal out of the ordinary. “Well she couldn’t get a hold of anyone and there really wasn’t any other way for her to get here.” She got no further.
To her complete and utter surprise, Molly simply reached out and gave her a great big hug. When she pulled back, she looked at Luce intensely, squeezing her hand firmly. “Thank you, so much.”
Surprised by the gesture and not really knowing what to do, Luce could only gap as the small woman simply let her go and went up to bother the nurse about when Kylie would see the doctor. She turned to Kylie, a dumbfounded expression on her face.
Kylie gave her a wry, somewhat apologetic smile. “Sorry about that. She’s kind of protective of me. All of my family is.”
“Does she have reason to be?”
Kylie shrugged. “Maybe. But then again, she might just think she does.”
Luce laughed. “Well I guess that since she’s here, I can leave you to it.”
“Yeah. Thank you again, for everything. I don’t think I could have made it this long if you hadn’t come in with me.”
Luce chuckled. “Well I did help you out of the road and all; couldn’t let you throw that all away in a panic attack once you got here.”
“Still, not many people would have. Thank you.”
There was an awkward moment of silence between them until Kylie thought of something. “I’d like the chance to repay the favor if I can.”
“You don’t have to…” Luce stuttered.
Kylie held up her hands. “I know and I know it doesn’t really repay you for what you’ve done, but I’d like you to come down to my main store when you get the chance and ask for me. I’ll buy you lunch or something, please.”
“Luce hesitated only a moment and then nodded. “I can do that.”
“Great, well then I guess I’ll see sometime soon.”
“Yeah, good luck.” And she began walking out of the waiting room.
“Thanks.” Kylie called after her and then the tall dark-haired woman was gone. She sighed loudly and settled back to wait for her sister and the doctor to come back.
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