This is a work of original fiction. Any similarities between this and reality are mere coincidence.
Balances is a sequel to Tasting Desire and Blood Vengeance. While you can read this story and not be completely confused, it is recommended that you read the other two first. Otherwise you might find yourself going, "huh?"
Warning: These characters are the kind of people your parents warned you about. There is blood and violence, though neither is graphic or gratuitous. This story also has sex between women, some of which involves elements of bdsm. If you can't deal with that, don't read the story. If you choose to read the story, don't yell at me about the subject matter.
Feedback is welcome.
The doors from the elevator woke me from my nap, and I looked up to see Nix with her arms wrapped around this black haired woman. I rubbed my eyes; for a moment, it had looked like Jesse.
Pulling her companion from the elevator car, Nix took three steps and stopped.
I think she was surprised to see me sitting next to her apartment door.
"Hey." I yawned as I climbed to my feet. "You're late; I've been sitting here for a good two hours."
She folded her arms and glared at me. "Sorry to inconvenience you. I would have maybe have been here earlier if you'd told me you were coming."
"Hard to do that when you don't stay in touch. No phone call, no email, not even a postcard." I glanced at the woman beside Nix. "Hi, I'm Trey."
"Liz." She looked annoyed. "So, what's up, Nikki? Are we gonna do this or not?"
"Not." Nix glared at me, but I simply smiled at Liz. "Sorry."
"Yeah, me too." She turned around and punched the button for the elevator. It opened immediately and she got on. "Too bad, Nikki. Let me know when you have some free time."
"No, Liz, wait --"
The doors slid closed, and Nix whirled around to glare at me.
"Nikki, huh? That's the name you go by up here?"
"Yes, as if it's any business of yours." She pulled her keys out. "This is getting to be a habit, and I'm not liking it."
"You stopping me from feeding."
"Oops." I shrugged. "You should have told me sooner. I could have just slept on the couch while you two did whatever in the bedroom."
She glared at me again as she unlocked the door and opened it. I followed her into the apartment, taking off my coat as I did. The place was huge, with a bay window and French doors leading to the balcony.
"Wow, nice. Do all vampires live as well as this, or just the really old ones?"
Nix rolled her eyes as she hung up her leather jacket. "Do you want a beer? I have Heineken and St. Pauli's."
Nix gave me a funny look, but headed for the kitchen. I wandered around the living room, looking at things and generally being nosy.
What I noticed first was how bare the apartment was. While there was plenty of furniture, and a couple of paintings on the walls, it didn't look like anyone lived here. The sofa looked brand new, and the easy chair had a definite 'showroom' smell to it. The coffee table was wooden, and showed absolutely no scratches or marks to show that it had been used long.
Other than a few books on the shelves, and a sweatshirt lying on the sofa, there were no personal objects anywhere in the room that I could see. Even the desk was cleared of anything more than the monitor and keyboard.
"Here you go."
I turned and took the bottle Nix offered me. "You live here?"
She nodded. "Yeah. Why?"
I shrugged. "Doesn't look like it."
Nix glanced around and sighed. "Yeah, I know. I like New York better. Toronto's nice, but New York has more of a home type feel."
"So why aren't you in New York?"
She dropped onto the sofa with another sigh. "'Cause I'm trying to give Tess time to work through things. I figured it would be better for everyone if I was out of firing range, you know?"
"Tess is gone."
Her eyebrows rose. "Gone where?"
"England. About a month ago."
"Yeah?" Nix nodded. "That sounds about right. Tess always did head home whenever something was bothering her."
I sat down in the chair, ignoring the scent of plastic that still clung to the fabric.
Nix chuckled. "Wouldn't know that chair was two years old, would you."
I stared at her, my beer half way to my lips. "You're kidding."
"And it still smells like plastic?"
"Yeah. I cover them when I leave town."
"Ah." I nodded, then took a sip from my bottle.
"Thought you and Jace only drank Heineken and Guinness."
For a moment, I choked, coughing to clear the beer from my throat. I wiped my mouth and looked away. "Well, yeah. Jace doesn't like much else."
Nix frowned. "Everything okay, Trey?"
"Sure." I nodded. "Fine." I stood and wandered over to the window, looking out at the lights of Toronto.
A hand came down on my shoulder and I turned to see Nix's blue eyes watching me closely.
I shrugged. "Jace is in Los Angeles. Has been for about six weeks now."
Her eyes widened. "Why? What happened?"
Another shrug. "She got a job offer from this guy she met through the theater. It's in tv production, and from there, she might be able to get work on some films, which is what she wants."
"So -- she just flew out there? Is it permanent?"
I nodded. "Yeah. We tried to do the long distance thing for about a month, but . . ." One more shrug and I turned back to the window. "It just didn't work. She's happy out there, so . . ."
Nix moved closer in behind me and slid her arms around me in a hug. "I'm sorry, Trey."
"Yeah." I took a long gulp of my beer, and frowned when I realized I'd finished it. "So'm I."
"You doing all right?"
"Sure." I turned around and handed the bottle back to Nix. "Just peachy."
She took the bottle with a knowing look. "Right. Peachy."
Things were silent for a few minutes. I stared out the window, trying not to think about how the city lights reminded me of Christmas, and who I wouldn't be with this year. Nix turned on the stereo and I sighed in relief when I heard the familiar sound of the Indigo Girls.
I didn't think I could handle much more holiday music.
"So, you gonna tell me what brings you all the way to Toronto? Can't say it's for the weather -- I can't picture you as the below zero type."
Turning away from the window I moved toward the chair again. Nix patted the sofa next to her and I changed direction.
"Came to see you, of course."
"Ah. Right. All the way up here to see me. I'm touched." She waited until I was sitting down. "I also don't buy it. You didn't just come to see me. What's up, Trey? Is it this thing with Jace? Did you need to get out of New York for a while?"
I shook my head. "No, that's not it. I mean, that's still bothering me a little, sure. But it's not the reason I came up here."
"But there is something going on?"
"Yeah." I took a deep breath. "I need you to come back to New York, Nix."
She was quiet for a moment, her fingers idly circling the top of the coffee cup she held. There was a wistful look in her eyes.
"I'd like that, but -- I'm not sure --"
"I'm sure. Please, Nix."
"Because Jesse needs you."
She laughed softly, but with little humor. "Right. I'm sure Jesse, Miss Tough Leathers, really needs me."
"Uh-huh." She set the coffee cup down and stood. "Besides. I told her I needed some time. That hasn't changed." It was her turn to pace over to the window.
"You've had time, Nix. It's been three months since you left."
She shrugged. "It's not enough."
"Not enough time?"
Nix turned toward me, her hands on her hips. "Fuck you, Trey. You don't know everything."
"You're right." I got up and stood in front of her. "I don't know everything. But I'll tell you what I do know. There is no time left."
"Oh, you may have lots of time. For all I know you have another fifteen hundred years. Plenty of time. But --" I stepped closer and put a finger to her chest. "Let me remind you that I'm not immortal. Neither is Jesse."
"Jesse," I said softly, "doesn't have much time left either."
She stared at me, stunned. When she spoke, her voice was soft, as if she'd lost all her energy.
"What are you talking about?"
I sighed and shoved my hands in my pockets. "Jess is in bad shape. She's been drinking a lot, doing some serious drugs. She's been suspended from work for failing a drug test, and she's gotten a DUI. Would have had two, but the officer who pulled her over knew her, had even slept with her. She called me and I picked up Jess." I winced, remembering that night. "She looked like hell, Nix."
Her face went pale, and her eyes closed, squeezing tight as her jaw clenched. After a deep breath she opened her eyes again and looked at me. "What does Kruise say? Is she as worried as you?"
"She was concerned before she left. That was about ten days ago. When I called her and told her what happened last week, with Jess being suspended, she suggested we get in touch with you. Dayle only had an address, no phone number."
"Where's Kruise?" Nix looked confused.
"She's in Montreal, with Dayle. They're packing up Dayle's stuff and she's moving to New York." I cocked my head and looked at her. "That's right, you left before things between them got serious."
"They're moving in together."
"Wow." There was a look of surprise on her face, but her eyes still showed fear. "So, Kruise thinks this is bad? This thing with Jesse, I mean?"
I nodded. "Nix, you don't get it. She's not eating, she's not taking care of herself. All she does is hang out with this vampire family of hers and --"
I sighed. "These friends of hers, they call themselves vampires. They aren't really, but they pretend, and to them it's pretty serious. After you left, Jesse started hanging out with them even more. She's wearing her fangs again, and she's --" I stopped, not sure I should tell her the rest of it.
Nix waited patiently.
"Nix, it's just bad. We're all worried for her. Please. Just come back and see her, would you?"
After turning away, Nix went back to the window. She leaned on the ledge, one arm stretched out along the length of the window sill. The other hand ran through her blonde hair several times.
It was my turn to wait, though I couldn't do it with any patience. I fidgeted, putting my hands in my pockets and taking them back out. I'd started jingling my keys when Nix turned around.
"When's your flight back?"
"Tomorrow. I have a deadline to finish a story and I can't miss it."
She nodded. "I'll be on the plane with you."
I felt myself suddenly breathing easier than I had in days. "You will?"
"Yeah." She smiled hesitantly. "Can't let you guys down, can I?"
"Nope." I smiled back. "Flight's at twelve-thirty. Is that going to be a problem for you?"
Nix shook her head. "No. That's just enough time to let the gallery manager know that I'm leaving."
"Cool." As I stood there I realized with a yawn how tired I was. "Mind if I crash on your couch?"
"You can if you want, but you might be more comfortable in the guest room." She pointed to a closed door beside the kitchen. "It's comfortable. Get some sleep." Turning back to the window, she fell silent again.
I stepped up behind her and touched her shoulder. She turned to me and I smiled. "I've missed you, Nix."
She smiled back and hugged me. "I've missed you, too, Trey." A kiss to my cheek, and then she was pointing toward the guest room. "To bed with you. Go."
"I'll make sure to get you up on time, and we'll be at the airport early. We can call Kruise from there, okay?"
"Good. Off with you."
I headed for the bedroom, turning back just as I reached the door.
Nix was looking out the window again, one hand splayed against the glass. Her reflection in the window appeared to be wet, but I couldn't tell if it was because of the snow outside, or if she was crying.
With another yawn I closed the door and got ready for bed.
True to her word, Nix had me up bright and early the next morning. After a quick shower, she called me to the kitchen for a breakfast of eggs, cheese toast, and hot tea.
It wasn't until my second cup of tea that I began to really wake up though, and she held off all her questions until then.
When I got up to put my plate in the sink, Nix leaned back in her chair and said, "So, tell me about this 'family' of Jesse's. What're they like?"
I hesitated. "What do you mean?"
"I mean, who are they? Tell me about them."
"Like what?" I sat back down at the table. "What exactly do you want to know?"
Nix sighed. "You're a writer, Trey. Pretend you had to describe them for a story."
"Oh. I can do that." Taking a sip of my tea, I thought about how to explain the group. "Well, there are eight of them, including Jess. They have this weird organization, hierarchy really. At the top is the Mistress. That's Shelby. She's in her late thirties, long black hair. Tries to really play the part of the vampire; like, she doesn't go out in the day. She works nights, but I don't know what she does. Then there's the three guys --"
"Guys? There are men in this family?"
"Yeah. There's Maz, Evan, and Tommy. Tommy's a fledgling -- a new vampire, newly made. I think Evan is his sire."
"Sire?" Her eyebrows went up. "Damn. They really are serious, aren't they?"
I nodded. "Shall I continue?"
"Okay." I shifted in my seat, trying to get comfortable. "Where was I? Oh, yeah, the guys. Well, Evan is an elder. Maz is just a vampire. He's a nice guy, though. Doesn't get as involved with the drugs as some of the others."
"Do you know where they're getting the drugs?"
"Yeah, from Evan. He says he just knows a couple dealers, but Jesse told me she thinks he's the one dealing."
"Fuck." Nix got up and poured herself more tea from the pot. "Okay, so you've told me about four of them. I know Jesse, so who are the other three?"
"There's Victoria, Lista, and Dina. Victoria is the other fledgling. Lista is an Elder, as is Jesse now."
"Jesse's an elder?"
"Yeah. They made her one about a week ago. Only the Mistress and the Elders can make fledglings. Jess offered to make me one, but I said no."
We grinned at each other, and I took another sip from my tea before continuing. "Anyway, that's the family. There are a couple others who hang around, but they're not vamps, or not vamps yet, I guess."
"And they do a lot of drugs?"
I nodded. "Yeah. Acid is popular with Lista and Dina. Jess has joined them on their trips a few times. For the most part, though, they do cocaine and crystal meth. Pure coke for Shelby. A lot of times, she's the one that gets Jesse stoned." I shivered, remembering the last time I'd seen Shelby.
"You don't like this Mistress, do you?"
Startled, I shook my head.
Hesitating just slightly, I took a breath and tried to answer her. "Shelby is -- well, she takes the title Mistress very seriously. No one argues with her, I mean no one." I gulped my tea and hissed at the heat.
"You all right?" Nix offered me a napkin as I coughed.
"Yeah, fine. Fine." Wiping my mouth, I leaned back to continue. "See, the person who actually started the family, her name was Michelle, she was a really cool person. Jesse introduced me to her a long time ago, and I really liked her. When she was head of the family, it really was a family. They took care of each other, and even did some work in the community. Had a couple of really good picnics, that even Kruise and I went to. Michelle used the vampire theme as sort of a way to bring together people who felt all alone in the world, and give them a place they belonged. It was a neat idea, and it worked."
Nix nodded. "Yeah, I've heard of a few groups like that. Been involved in a few, but not for many, many years."
"Yeah. Well, anyway, things started to change when Shelby and Evan joined the group. They came in together, and several of the older vamps left. Michelle was looking to move west, so she was looking for someone to take over the group. Jesse was busy with her job, and Lista wasn't around much because of court problems and such, so Shelby was raised to Elder, and someone named Tina took over the group.
"Jesse never told me what happened, but from what I can gather, there was a power struggle, and Shelby came out on top. Tina disappeared, and Shelby became Mistress. This was right during the time that Jesse met you, so she didn't know everything that was happening. Before she got back involved with the group, the struggle was over. Evan was an elder, Shelby was Mistress, and the family had changed."
"Changed how?" Nix leaned forward to hear the rest of the story.
"They got -- well, this is only my opinion, and it's based only on my own observations, but, they became less of a family and more of a cult. Shelby started commanding all these rituals, and anyone who didn't show for them was in trouble. More of the older vamps left. Finally, it was Evan and Shelby running things with no opposition."
"Wow." Nix's fingers tapped on the glass in front of her. Her gaze rested on the tablel, but her eyes told me she wasn't really seeing it.
"Why do you think I can help Jess?" she asked softly. "It sounds like Shelby is the one who holds the influence over her at the moment."
"Sure, at the moment. But you know as well as I do that Jess is in love with you, and --"
"She never said that." The vampire's eyes were suddenly blazing, and I unconsciously moved back an inch or two. "Jesse never said anything like that to me."
Again, I nodded. "I know. But she does. The night you left, she got drunk and told me."
Her gaze softened. "She did?"
"Yes." I waited, sipping my tea. Nix was off in her thoughts again, and I wondered what would happen when she came back.
Finally, she sighed and pushed away from the table. "Hurry and get dressed. We're stopping by the gallery so I can turn some papers over to my manager, and then we're going to the airport." She turned and headed for her bedroom, but stopped before she got to the doorway. "Trey?"
Nix hesitated. "How bad do you want me to stop Jesse?"
I felt my eyebrows lower in concern as I tried to puzzle out her question. "Um . . . I want you to help her, Nix." I paused. "What are you really asking me?"
She took a breath, not looking at me. "How far am I allowed to go to help her?"
"What do you mean?"
"I --" Nix stopped, and sighed. "Never mind. Go get dressed." She entered her bedroom and closed the door.
I sat for a few minutes, wondering what the real question was, before shaking my head and leaving the kitchen.
The gallery Nix owned specialized in up and coming Canadian artists. As she met with her manager, I wandered through the exhibit which featured the oil works of a painter from Vancouver.
I was admiring a picture of an elk when my new cell phone rang. The caller I.D. said it was Dayle.
"It's Kruise. Did you find Nix yet?"
"Yeah. She's flying back to New York with me." I examined a second picture of an elk as she relayed the message to Dayle.
"Great. Dayle wants to know what time you get in. We're flying back today as well."
"Everything set for Dayle's move already?"
"Cool. We should get to La Guardia about 2:30."
"We'll be there at 3:15. Hang out and wait for us?"
"Shouldn't be a problem. I'll check with Nix, though, and call you back if there's a problem." I frowned at yet another painting of an elk. "I thought you guys were staying in Montreal for a few more days."
"We were planning on it. But, Dayle got a call from Kelsey, and there's some kind of trouble. The council wants to see her."
"Any idea what's up?" Finally, there was something different -- instead of an elk, it was a bear, with a salmon in its mouth. At least it looked like a salmon.
"Something about more attacks. They don't know if it's a vampire or a Nosferatu, but from what Kels said, it's drawing media attention, and the council wants someone's head."
A door slammed and I turned to see Nix leaving the office. She shook hands with the man who ran the place for her, then looked around for me. I waved and started walking towards her.
"Gotta go, Kruise. We'll be heading for the airport in a few minutes. You two have a safe flight, okay?"
"You do the same. Call if you can't meet us at the airport. We're on AirCanada, flight 1909."
"Got it. Later, babe. Say hi to Dayle for me."
"Will do. Safe trip, Trey."
I hung up just as Nix met me.
"What's Kruise up to?"
"Her and Dayle -- how'd you know it was Kruise?"
Nix smiled. "She's your best friend. I took a guess."
"Oh." I nodded. "Well, her and Dayle are headed back to New York. They get in just a little after us and wanted to know if we could wait for them."
She nodded. "We can do that."
"Cool. Are you set to go?"
"Yep. Just waiting for the car to get here."
"Yeah." She shrugged. "The gallery has a limo for times when we have special guests coming to premieres, or when we have a celebrity artist in town. I own the gallery, and since I don't know when I'm coming back and don't want to leave my car at the airport --"
"I get it." I chuckled. "Besides, limos have tinted windows -- much better for vampires than a cab."
Nix grinned. "Exactly."
I shrugged. "No complaints here."
Waiting at airports is one of my least favorite things to do. People are either in a hurry to get on a plane, or glad to get off one. None of them want to sit for any length of time, and if they have to, they get very grouchy.
It doesn't help when your traveling companion is of the same ilk.
"Would you please stop pacing and sit the hell down?"
"Sorry." Nix sat, but she didn't sit still.
Her nervous energy had been building ever since we left Toronto. I couldn't sleep on the plane because she wanted to talk. Not that we talked about anything important -- just small talk, chatter, inane questions and the like.
After we left the plane, she seemed to get a little better. We found the gate for flight 1909, and grabbed two seats. But Nix's nervousness had been growing ever since, and I was tired of her pacing, biting her nails, sitting and then standing, and tapping the book she wasn't reading against her leg.
With a sigh I pulled my phone out and dialed.
"Who are you calling?"
"Kruise." I waited for her voice mail to come up. Nix looked confused. "Hi, Kruise, it's Trey. Listen, we're here, but not at the gate. I'm taking Nix for a beer at the Irish pub place on the concourse. Meet us there, okay? Bye." I hung up and stood. "Come on. Grab your stuff. I'm buying the beer."
The pub was packed, as usual, but we managed to squeeze into a couple of chairs at a still dirty table in the back. We each took a seat, and used the third chair to pile our bags. I headed up to the bar to get drinks for us, and find a rag to wipe the table off.
I put the bottle in front of Nix with a solid thump.
"Drink this and tell me what's wrong."
She glared at me, but took a few swallows from the bottle.
"Nothing's wrong, Trey. I just get bored sitting around airports."
"Yeah, me too. That's what the books are for. But you're not reading, and don't tell me nothing's wrong, cause I've never seen you fidget before."
"I wasn't --"
"Yes, you were." I took a swallow from my Rolling Rock. "Now tell me what's wrong."
"Nothing's --" She stopped when she saw me glaring at her. "Fine. I'm just nervous about seeing Jesse."
"Cause we didn't exactly part on great terms."
I nodded. "You walked out on her."
Nix squirmed. "I wouldn't put it like that."
"I would. You left a message for her, then headed for the airport."
She bit her lip. "Um. Did she tell you what happened when we saw each other last?"
"A little. She was pretty drunk at the time, so it wasn't a totally coherent telling, but . . . yeah. She told me."
Nix tipped her beer bottle up on edge and slowly turned it in a circle. "I -- told her I love her."
"Did you mean it?"
"Then why'd you leave?"
A shrug. "It -- just seemed like the right thing to do."
I snorted. "You mean it was the easier thing to do."
She glared at me. "That's not what I mean. You think it was easy to walk away from Jess?"
"Must have been. You did it very well, and you didn't bother to come back."
"It wasn't easy. It hurt like hell."
Raising my bottle, I nodded. "Yeah. It hurt Jesse."
"Really?" I put my bottle down and leaned across the table. "Then why didn't you come back?"
She opened her mouth and closed it. After a moment she seemed to slump a little.
I nodded again. "Yeah. It was easier to stay gone, so you didn't have to deal with Jesse."
"Okay, yeah, maybe so. But it still hurt to do it." She glared at the bottle and started peeling the label. "What if she doesn't --"
She cut off suddenly, and sighed. I waited for a few seconds, then prompted her for the rest of the sentence.
Her voice was very soft. "What if Jess doesn't want to see me?"
I shrugged. "We deal. Besides, I don't think that'll happen. She may pretend at first that she doesn't care, and she doesn't want to see you. But I think that will be an act. She loves you, Nix."
Her gaze remain worried. "Does she? Or -- did she?"
"She told me she did."
Nix nodded. "Yeah, I know. But, what if that was then, and the feeling has faded." She sighed again.
"Have your feelings for her faded?"
She shook her head, then locked her gaze on me. "No. Not at all." Her eyes dropped back to the label she was slowly tearing off the bottle in pieces. "But, that doesn't mean hers haven't."
Startled, she stared at me again.
"Chill, Nix. I know what you mean." I finished my beer. "I'm personally more worried about whether or not she's willing to walk away from these friends of hers."
"You don't think she will?"
I shook my head. "I don't know. She's . . . it's like she relies on them for everything right now. Ever since --" I broke off, not wanting to hurt Nix any further.
"Ever since I left."
She sipped the last of her beer, nursing it for a few more minutes. "What do you think the best way will be to approach her?"
"At her place. Tonight, if you're up to it."
"She'll be there? Not out with her vamp pals?"
"Maybe. If not, we can either look for her, or we can wait. Either way, I'd like to confront her as soon as possible."
She nodded. "Makes sense."
My phone beeped, making me jump. Nix chuckled as I reached into my pocket and retrieved the cell.
"It's Dayle. We just got off the plane. You and Nix still at the pub?"
"Meet us at baggage claim?"
"Sure. See ya in a few."
I hung up and stood, motioning to Nix. "Come on. We're meeting them at baggage claim."
Nix finished her beer and set the bottle on the table with a thump. "I'm ready."
Kruise looked better than I'd seen her in a long time. There was a constant smile playing around her hazel eyes, and her long hair shown in the flourescent lights. She had gained a few pounds, and while on me added pounds were just added pounds, on Kruise they made her just a little softer, and even more curvaceous. I don't like the word beautiful, but that's how I always thought of her.
She and Dayle were standing by the carousel, waiting. Dayle had casually draped one protective arm around Kruise, who was unconsciously leaning into her lover. The two of them were talking softly, and Kruise was chuckling every once in a while.
They turned at my call, and Kruise stepped up to hug me. I felt her squeeze just a little harder than normal, and I raised an eyebrow. She winked at me and shifted her collar so I could see the small purple bruise on her neck. I froze for just a moment, then answered her grin with one of my own.
Nix hugged Dayle, then turned to Kruise. Dayle moved over and put her arms around me.
"You okay, Trey?"
"I'm good, Dayle."
She looked closely at me and frowned. "You're a lousy liar." As she hugged me tight, she whispered in my ear. "We're here if you need us. I promise."
I nodded, not sure how to take that exactly. Kruise I had expected it from. She seemed to always know my moods and could see through my fake smiles. But I wasn't used to it from Dayle.
It was good to see them both, though.
After gathering the bags, we grabbed a cab and headed for Kruise and Dayle's apartment.
When Jace moved to L.A., I looked at my finances and knew I couldn't afford our apartment by myself. Fortunately, that was about the time that Dayle asked Kruise to move in. Kruise's apartment was cheaper than mine and Jace's, by a good two hundred bucks. She agreed to sublet the place to me and I moved into her apartment when she moved in with Dayle.
Dayle's place, however, was one she'd had for a good twenty years. In that time, the neighborhood around it had disintegrated, and was now filled with junkies, gangs and chop shops. As soon as Kruise had agreed to move in with her, Dayle had gone searching for something better. The result was a new apartment in an upscale building in Manhattan. The view from their balcony included the Manhattan skyline and the Hudson River.
Even Nix seemed impressed, and Dayle offered to give her the grand tour. Having seen the place before, I chose to join Kruise in the kitchen.
She was busy pouring drinks for everyone, but every few minutes she'd look up at me, raise an eyebrow, then look back at the glass she was filling.
"I'm fine, Kruise."
"Then why do you keep looking at me like that?"
"Cause I care. And you may be fine, but you're not all right."
"You don't think so?"
We both went silent for a few minutes. She handed me a glass of lemonade and motioned toward the kitchen table.
"Is this going to be another lecture?"
Kruise grinned. "Only if you think you need another one."
"By all the gods, please don't."
She laughed as we sat down at the table.
"Any change in the situation with Jess?"
I shook my head. "Not that I know of."
"I can't believe she's doing this."
"I know. She swore after the thing with Nix that it wouldn't happen again." I sipped my lemonade. "Nix really hurt her."
Kruise nodded, concern evident in the way her eyebrows were drawn together. "Do you think it's the right thing to do? Getting Nix involved, I mean?"
"Hell, I don't know, but I can't think of anything else to do. Maybe seeing Nix will shock her out of this state, or at least make her think about it."
I raised an eyebrow. "You don't think so?"
She shrugged. "I'm not sure. All this started when Nix walked out on her. Is it really going to fix everything just to bring Nix back?"
I put my glass down with a clank. "Boy, wish you'd have thought of that before I went and got her."
The frown on her face deepened. "Sorry. I'm just worried."
"I know." I was worried too. "How do you think we should work this? Get them together alone, or with all of us there?"
Kruise tilted her head slightly, her gaze thoughtful. "Good question. I'm kind of concerned that if they're alone first thing, Jesse will get scared and do something stupid."
"Yeah. You wouldn't normally think of Jess doing stupid things, but lately . . ."
"Shall we do it tonight? Or wait?"
"Depends. Kelsey wanted to meet with Dayle, and she'll probably want Nix along as well. So I think that's first on the agenda."
"And after that?"
"If it's early, we can come back here and wait. If it's late -- let's see if Jesse's home."
"Good plan." I could hear Nix and Dayle's voices as they made their way to the kitchen. Moments later the door swung open.
"Wow. Nice place, Kruise."
"Thanks, Nix. It's Dayle's, really."
Dayle mocked a slap to the back of Kruise's head. "What have I told you about that? This is your place as much as it is mine."
Smiling, Kruise reached for Dayle's arm and pulled her close. "Sorry. Just not used to it yet."
"Get used to it." Dayle kissed her gently on the lips, then on the forehead. "Next time I hear you say it's mine, I'm gonna put ice down your back."
Kruise shivered. "It's ours. Mine and yours. Got it."
I managed a smile.
End Part One
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