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:~: Tuesday, June 05, 2007 :~:

The Poolhouse, Part One

While the guys end up in the Basement, the girls have a much nicer place to hang out. Envision, if you will, a tropical destination with cool blue waters and scented breezes drifting through pine trees . . .

And a villa poolhouse to die for.

Plus, they have nicer manners.

Mostly.

***

Caitlin gives the flowers a quick adjustment in their crystal vase. The table looks perfect, except for . . .

"Hey, Ange, bring out that little bowl of lime slices and mint leaves, would you?"

"Sure." Angie's voice, with its lingering New Jersey accent, carries from the house. Caitlin wanders to the edge of the lanai, the breeze playing with the gauzy tiered skirt she'd paired with her paisley tankini. She's tired, as if she's recently been embroiled in a grueling investigation.

She frowns. That's not all, either. She feels... different.

Not real sure she likes this, either.

Angie steps through the french doors and sets the tiny bowl on the snowy white tablecloth. Caitlin glances around at her. The sportier bikini with its belted swimskirt suits Angie's no-nonsense personality. God, she hopes Fish wises up soon. If anyone deserves an HEA, it's Angie.

"I'm telling you, Cait, worst damn blind date of my life. He was obviously not interested, couldn't focus on the conversation, kept calling me by the wrong name. You're welcome to him."

Caitlin laughs.

Footsteps whisper on the wide steps leading the lanai. Both Caitlin and Angie turn to watch the three brunettes approaching. They are disparate as could be -- one petite and blue-eyed, one tall with short curly hair, the last slender with the most beautiful amber eyes.

Caitlin nods at the last woman. At this point, she's taken charge of the trio; it's obvious. The other two women are nervous, gazes darting everywhere. They're ready to run; it's obvious.

Pulling up her best hostess smile, the one she patterned after her grandmother's, Caitlin steps forward. "Ladies, welcome. Would you like to freshen up before we eat?"

***

"First things first. I think we could all use a drink."

Cassie offers her hand to the woman who'd welcomed them. A kindred spirit to be sure--independent, strong, intelligent, used to being in charge. Cassie respected her immediately.

"I'm Cassie." She gestures to her right, to the woman with the most beautiful eyes she's ever seen, but also full of suspicion. Cassie knows the look. "Paige." And to her left, another strong, smart woman, her dark eyes clever and watchful. Cassie would stay on her toes around both of them. "And this is Kat."

"A drink," Kat says, "Definitely." Her gaze skips around the pool house the same way Cassie had seen Rio case Hussongs, the bar he frequents. But Kat is no cop, Cassie's sure of that much.

Cait smiles and Cassie is struck by the transformation--professional and confident to mischievous and stunning. "I can tell we'll get along just fine, even if our heros are down there in a damn pissing contest."

She turns toward the bar on the opposite side of the well-appointed living room and her pretty skirt billows. Cassie brushes at her own jean shorts, wishing she'd had a little more notice before being plucked out of her novel. She could have worn something a little more appropriate.

"This is Angie." Cait's hand sweeps gracefully to another gal in a darling little skirted swimsuit. "She's made up a batch of killer cosmos."

"I'd rather have a beer if you've got one," Kat says moving deeper into the room, hugging her elbows.

"You got it." Angie pulls a Corona from the fridge, pops the top and hands it to Kat.

Cait pours a raspberry colored drink into a cocktail glass.

"Can you add an extra splash of vodka for me?" Cassie asks.

A conspiratorial smile lights Cait's eyes. "Rough trip?"

"Are you kidding?" Cassie takes a long deep drink, savors the tang of cranberry and the bite of vodka. "She's been dinking around with this latest round of revisions for about a month already. The last episode cut deep and went on for eight months. Before that... Oh, you don't want to know."

Another sip and Cassie's body warms nicely, tension eases. "No offense, but you look a little like I feel after I've been on duty in the E.R. two days straight. I'd bet you're under some heavy duty revisions, too. And these two gals are as jittery as June bugs, which makes me guess they're still in the initial stages--maybe in creation or first round revisions." She tips her glass toward Angie. "Now you, little missy, I can't read."

***

Paige tests a smile, feeling the tension ease for the first time in too long to remember. "Creation," she says. "But just barely. She wrote the first couple of scenes, but then left me with blood on my hands--literally--locked in a windowless room."

Now the smile grows. Fitting that Christian was now locked away in some basement. Served him right for locking her away without any form of explanation. This is so much better than any form of revenge she might have come up with herself. "Anyway, she's stuck on the first chapter. I don't know when she'll get moving again."

Though this isn't such a bad place to be stuck. Not bad at all. More of the tension seeps from her shoulders. She glances down at her hands. They're clean. Thank God for that.

***

Kat stares at the group of women, chatting and drinking like they're already old friends. She grips the bottle of beer in one hand, tugs on her elbow with the other. Tight. She doesn't fit in here.

Big whoop. Story of her life.

The one in the flitty skirt is passing out hors d'oeuvres now. Kat watches as the woman with the pretty blue eyes - Paige? - reaches for a crab puff. Caitlin smiles, glances around the group, moves to refill glasses.

The perfect hostess. Yet there's something off with her. Watchful. Wary. And the looks she's sending Kat make the hair on Kat's neck prickle.

The woman has to be a cop. It's in her eyes. Kat watches her body language. The way she has command over the group, the area, the situation. Maybe a Fed. That might prove to be a good thing, Kat thinks. Then she remembers what happened in the park.

No. Definitely not a good thing.

She takes a step away from Caitlin, closer to a chaise lounge. "So, not to be a party pooper or anything, but how does this work? I mean. How long will we be here?"

The one in the stylish swimskirt quirks a brow. "Anxious to get back to your hero?"

"No. God, no." Kat sits on the blue striped cushion. Runs a hand through her short, messy hair. For a minute wishes she could be as stylish as the other women here, then figures she doesn't really care. There are more important things to worry about.

She glances around the poolhouse. Gretian columns encircle the crystal blue water. A mountain of rock and stone form a waterfall that spills into the far end of the pool. Soft, summer grass fans out, bordered by towering pines swaying in the soft breeze. It's peaceful. Serene. But way too open. And tight. She swallows hard. "I just don't like being confined anywhere."

Caitlin crosses the stone patio and sits on the chaise next to her. A small circular table with a wide, open umbrella blocks them from the warm sun. "A little claustrophobic, are you?"

Kat looks into her dark eyes. Careful not to back down. She's okay. She's fine. She can talk to a Fed and not freak out. "No. Just ready to go back. I have things I need to do."

Like run. This whole poolhouse thing was just getting in the way of her escape plans.

Caitlin eases back on the chaise, stretches her long legs out. "I'm not sure. It's up to Them." She casts a knowing look Kat's way. "Judging from how our boys are acting though, it could be a while."

Great. Kat lifts the bottle to her lips and takes a long pull. This had the makings of a long day.

"Since we've got a while," Cait says. "Why don't you each tell me what your heroes did to get tossed in the Basement with Tick?"

***

Cassie let the last of her second double cosmo slide down her throat. "God, I needed this. I'm telling you, between Rio's intensity and Her stressful life, it's a wonder we're this close to our HEA."

She sets the cocktail glass on the glass table at her side with a clink.

"Man, that water looks good," she says, squinting against the sun. "This place is a haven. I feel like we should all be wrapped in crisp white sheets with gold belts, floating on clouds. A very Goddess-like setting."

She glances around, sizes up the other girls. "Cait, you look about my size. Have an extra swimsuit I could borrow. Swimming always helps me beat the stress."

"I'll get you a suit if you answer my question. Rio's your HEA, right? What did the boy do to tick Her off?" Cait grins. "He's hunky, by the way. But if you tell Tick I said that I'll handcuff you to the bar."

Cassie laughs and relaxes against the chaise, enjoying the warm breeze across her face. She didn't know what The Basement was like, but she was pretty damn sure it didn't even come close to this.

"Yeah," Kat says with a sly look in her eye. "What about those handcuffs? I heard a rumor--"

"One at a time," Cait cuts in, color striking her high cheekbones. "Let Cassie finish."

Kat rolls her eyes, opens her mouth to argue, Cassie guesses by her expression.

Angie laughs. "Don't you worry, Kat. We'll get that story out of her before we leave."

Satisfied, Kat settles back. "Sorry, Cassie. Go ahead."

"Nahvae wants the ending changed. She thinks its too complicated as it stands, wants the CIA thread and the ICE thread separated." She opens her eyes and glances around to find all eyes on her. "But, Rio...well, that ending puts him front and center of attention. The epitome of knight in shining armor as he saves my life and gets shot in the process. You know," she waves a hand, "the whole sacrificial hero thing."

Angie nods, her gaze distant over the pool. "I know that syndrome too well. Those guys can be such asses."

"What do we need them for anyway?" Paige's soft voice draws everyone's attention.

"We don't," Kat says. "They need us."

They all lift their drinks in saluted agreement.

"Okay, Cait," Cassie says. "Your extra suit?"

"Don't have one." She laughs, a light tinkling sound. "But I believe She left one for you in your room. Although, I doubt its the kind you can swim laps in."

***

Caitlin closes her eyes and listens to Cassie scurrying off in excitement to see what gifts lay inside her room.

Next to her, Kat is a humming, seething bundle of nerves. Caitlin can sense it, realizes the heroine has already pegged her for law enforcement. Definitely a story there, but the other woman hasn't figured out yet that at this point, Caitlin's probably the least of her worries.

And she has other things on her mind. She wonders if it happens to the others, if they get the flashes and snippets of what's going on in the author's mind, on the page. Those glimpses have been haunting her all morning and the connection she's always had to Tick Calvert is tugging at her differently.

All combined with the enforced vacation, it's seriously making her edgy.

"Are you all right?" It's Paige, the one with the gorgeous blue eyes. Her voice is soft, and when Caitlin opens her own eyes, Paige is watching her a steady, knowing gaze.

She knows.

Caitlin's not sure yet, but somehow it seems Paige can see inside her...? Is that possible? Or is she just imagining things?

"I'm fine." Caitlin swings her feet to the floor, sitting up opposite Kat.

Kat casts her a glance, smirks a little, lifts her beer bottle once more. "Sure you are."

Desperate to change the subject, Caitlin glances between them. "So who's next? Paige, what's up with your hero?"

***

Cassie's face burns as she walks back out on the patio. "Excuse me, but I want to know who the hell my muse is. She or he or it is sure as heck not my author because my author would never have left these in my room."

First she holds up a cobalt blue bikini. "This doesn't even enter the "string" category." She grips the ties and shakes them at the other women. "Dental floss maybe."

Angie snickers. Cait laughs. Paige grins. Kat tips her head in consideration. "You've got the body for it."

"That's sweet, Kat. But believe me, I won't be stuffing myself into this unless I have another three pitchers of cosmos."

Cassie drops her arm holding the suit out and closes her eyes on a huff. "And this. Oh, my God. I can't even look at it. I mean, I know what it is, but what the hell you'd do with it and why on earth you'd want to is completely beyond me."

Opening her eyes, face a hundred and six degrees, Cassie thrusts out the rectangular box. "My author knows these don't fit my character. And She swears she doesn't have a muse. So what the hell is up with these sex toys?"

***

Kat narrows her eyes on the box. Peers inside. Angie and Paige do the same. Paige's face turns red and she eases back against her seat. Angie lets out a rolling laugh and slaps her thigh. "Well you lucky girl."

"Lucky?" Cassie asks with wide, irritated eyes. "I have a hero. I don't need this, this . . . stuff."

Kat glances at Caitlin, still leaning back against her chaise, eyes closed, seemingly uninterested in the conversation around her. Something's up with the woman. And the worried looks Paige keeps sending her set Kat's nerves on edge. The woman - correction, the women - know something the rest of them don't.

Not her issue, Kat figures. She plans to be well out of here and on her way before anything big goes down. And besides, she's never going to see these women again, so what does she care what's bothering the Fed?

She swings one leg over each side of her chaise, the worn jeans she's wearing creasing at the hips as she stands and scoots over the chair. She reaches for the box. "Well, I don't have much of a hero. At least not one that wants me, so I'll take those if you seriously don't want them."

Cassie shoots her a disbelieving look. "Are you sure?"

Kat nods. "Trust me. It'll be the best sex I've had in longer than I can remember."

Angie lets out another hoot of laughter. "Honey, that's some hero you've got there. You need to get out more."

Kat takes the box, replaces the lid, refuses to think about Pete right now. Or what he's doing. What he's thinking. And if it's at all about her. "No kidding."

Paige's expression turns serious. "Something tells me we all might be needing that box before long."

All eyes turn her way. Silence settles over the poolhouse as her somber words drop onto each of them like a lead weight.

Caitlin finally opens her eyes and looks over at Paige. "I wasn't wrong, was I? This feeling? It's . . . happening, isn't it?"

Paige nods.

"What?" Cassie asks. "What's happening?"

Caitlin looks from face to face, something in her eyes sad and . . . scared. Yeah, that was it, Kat realizes. The Fed is scared. "Tick and I have been together a long time. Longer than the rest of you." She fixes her gaze on Cassie. "Even you, I'd bet. We've been around and around more times than I can count, but each time, I knew how it would end, what would happen and where we'd go from here. Now . . ." She lifts her hands, drops them. "Something's wrong. I can't see what's going to happen next. Almost as if there isn't . . ."

"A HEA after all, " Angie finishes for her, eyes wide and concerned.

"Yes," Cait says, nodding. "Which means either we did something wrong, or Tick and our boys did something to seriously tick Her - Them - off."

"Oh my God," Cassie mutters, sinking onto the end of a chaise lounge. "No HEA? But . . . but . . . but Rio . . ." Her brow lowers, shock and worry darkening her eyes. "I can't picture him in my head. Why can't I picture him?"

"Because it's changing," Paige mutters. "It's all changing. That's why we were brought here. Our futures are about to change course, and there's nothing we can do to stop it."

Kat grips the box of sex toys to her chest and thinks about Pete. His blond hair, slate-gray eyes, the irritation in his expression the last time he'd looked at her. Yeah, she wanted to get away from him right now, but there was always that knowledge in the back of her mind that they would work things out at some point. But now? No HEA with him? Ever? The idea makes her stomach roll.

She senses it in the other ladies, as they each think about their heroes. Like a dark wave of smoke settling over each of them. And then, as if a wind had blown and the smoke cleared, they hear footsteps.

Kat looks over at a dark shadow coming through the trees, sunlight shining behind, making it hard to see a face. The body is male though, toned and fit and increasingly sexier the closer it gets. And the voice? A smooth rolling gate as he says, "Hello, ladies. Looks like I'm just in time."

***

Caitlin rolls her eyes. "Oh, no, not you. I'm so not in the mood for this."

He extends his arms. "Now what kind of greeting is that?"

"The only one you're going to get. Now go away."

"I see how this is, Angel Face." He shrugs and drops his arms. His tall form flattered by a well-cut pinstriped suit, he strolls to the buffet table and picks up a small cluster of grapes. He tosses one into the air, catches it in his mouth.

Caitlin watches him with narrowed eyes. Kat studies the body language between the two. Lots of hidden affection, a huge power struggle, and . . .

Matching green eyes. Kat nods. Siblings. Gotta be.

Paige and Cassie are watching as well. There's something arresting about him, from the too-perfect face, to the air of money and power about him, to the fact the man oozes sex. He's reminiscent of the ultimate alpha hero in a Harlequin Presents novel.

Kat shakes her head, trying to free herself of the daze he inspires so easily. Something about him tells her he's not hero material. More like heartbreak material. Any self-respecting heroine would have to be nuts to go there.

"But it would be a fun ride," Paige whispers and settles on the chaise behind her.

"Cassie." Kat reaches out, snags Cassie's hand, tugs her nearer. There's safety in numbers. And at least this isn't that hot new Amie Stuart novel, so she doesn't have to worry that the Grecian setting will inspire an old-fashioned Bacchus party, either. "Stop staring. Remember Rio."

Cassie runs the tip of her tongue over her lips. "Rio who?"

"Vince." Caitlin's voice is cold now, all of the warm hostess politeness gone. "You had something to do with this, didn't you? What did you do this time?"

He ignores her, his emerald gaze tracking over the other three women. Oh, yeah, definite Harlequin Presents material -- a lean face, hawkish nose, thick black hair, an arrogant mouth.

He catches Cassie's gaze and smiles, a definite predatory expression. "Nice swimsuit. Are you going to try it on?"

Caitlin huffs. "I asked you a question."

He waves a dismissive hand at her. His gaze falls on the box in Kat's grip and another slow smile spreads over his gorgeous face.

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2Comments:

Blogger Laurie said...

You all have great imaginations! Ever thought about a collaborated series? :)

3:43 PM  
Blogger Joan Swan said...

ROTFLMAO. Us? Collaborate? A series? We've all got enough work to keep our eyes bleeding for years! :-) Maybe someday.

3:54 PM  

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