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Paying The Price by Stardawn Cabot – Sample

Paying the Price by Stardawn CabotChapter One

The house was dark except for the one room with a roaring fire. Real wood burned instead of gas, filling the air with the husky scent of pine. The few candles scattered about the room reflected light off the three platinum records that hung on the wall. On the coffee table, two plates of roasted chicken and fresh mixed vegetables had been recently placed, but the food had barely been touched. In front of the fire, reclining on the plush carpet and a few scattered pillows lay the home’s residents.

“What time is your flight in the morning?”

“9:30, but I should be there by 7:00.”

Thirty-one-year-old Kasey Cooper scrunched her nose as she thought about the early hour, knowing that her reaction would cause her darker-haired partner, Alexis Drake to laugh. Alex’s laugh was sweet and she never tired of hearing it. Her voice was sweet too, as the three platinums on the wall were a testament to. Alex was a legend in her own right, and most people would be in awe just to be in the same room as her, but to Kasey she was just Alex, her lover and her friend.

“You don’t have to take me, ya know. I can call a cab.”

“No, I want to. If I can’t go with you, at least let me take you to the airport,” Kasey argued.

“Kasey, you could come with me. I don’t care what they think.”

“Yes, you do,” Kasey gently scolded, catching the sadness in Alex’s bright blue eyes. She then sighed and brushed her fingers through her own short blond hair. “Alex, I don’t want to make things harder than they have to be. I loved your brother too, but me being there is just going to cause a scene. And besides, who would look after the big guy here?” she added, indicating the honey-colored Great Dane that slept peacefully using her partner’s thigh as a pillow.

Kasey smiled, remembering the day that Alex had brought the beast home. She had agreed to a dog, but only if it had short hair and if Alex promised that she would fully train it. Her mistake was that she hadn’t specified the size requirement for the animal. Once she saw him, she had accused Alex of buying a horse rather than a dog. Now fully grown, he outweighed the petite blonde by more than thirty pounds, but Kasey had to admit Hercules was a sweet thing and she had grown to love him dearly.

“Yeah, I suppose you’re right. I don’t like the idea of having to buy another new sofa,” Alex responded, tucking a piece of long dark brown hair behind her own ear. “He made such a mess after our trip to Egypt. Although I don’t get to do many concerts like that. Meeting the prime minister was special, and his niece was too cute, but I’m not sure the incident was worth the hassle.”

Kasey nodded. Herc hated to be kenneled, and the incident, as they called it, definitely hadn’t been worth the hassle. He’d been very upset about the whole affair, and had taken out his displeasure on their sofa. The new one wasn’t as comfortable. It was leather, although that didn’t really matter as they seemed to spend more time on the pillows in front of the TV or the fireplace than actually sitting on the couch.

“I still can’t believe that he’s gone,” Kasey murmured. She looked up, stealing a glance at her partner, momentarily meeting Alex’s sapphire blue eyes with her own emerald ones. Reaching out, she caught the lone tear that escaped down Alex’s cheek and brushed it away with her thumb. “Sweetheart, it’s not your fault. You know that, right?”

Alex sighed as she stroked her hand over the dog’s head, absently rubbing behind his ears. The Dane shifted in his sleep to give his mistress a wider area to scratch. “I know. I just feel responsible. He only joined the Army because I did. He always wanted to be just like me. We just never thought that…” Alex shook her head.

“I know,” Kasey said, remembering Alex’s brother fondly. He was a lot like Alex. He was tall, strong, and had an edge to him that people either loved or hated. He was brighter though, more hopeful, and not quite as dark as Alex. Kasey knew that Alex had her secrets. Kasey had enough of her own, but Lucas, he was special. The world was definitely a sadder place without him.

Lucas had been stationed in the Middle East. They had only learned of his death two weeks ago. They never found his body. Alex had been told there was nothing left to find. She had pulled every string she had with both the military and her connections in Hollywood, but the only answer she received was the same one that had officially been given to her parents: Lucas had been on a classified mission and killed in the line of duty.

Feeling Alex’s distress, Kasey shifted her body and pulled the other half of her soul closer. Kasey’s gentle touch seemed to be more than Alex could bear. Her grief finally broke through her shields, and Kasey was both alarmed and grateful as Alex accepted her embrace and let go. As Alex cried, Kasey held her taller partner close, gently rocking her, and letting her sorrow run its course.

Kasey felt her own eyes moisten as she shared Alex’s pain. She held Alex tighter, glad that for once Alex wasn’t fighting the grief. There were just some things that couldn’t be controlled, Kasey thought as she stroked the back of Alex’s hair and laid a gentle kiss on the crown of her head.

It was only when Alex’s tears had dried did they finally break the embrace. Alex stretched her long legs before rising to her nearly six feet and offered a hand to Kasey. Kasey took it gratefully, as she then helped Alex douse the fire and snuff out the flickering candles. Following Alex’s lead, they gathered the plates and returned them to the kitchen.

Dumping them in the sink, Kasey told Alex she would get to them tomorrow, before taking Alex’s hand and leading her toward the stairs. At the base of the stairs, their red tear-stained eyes met, and they exchanged a weak smile. Kasey looked up at Alex, standing on her tiptoes to place a kiss on her lover’s cheek. Alex gave her a smile and, placing her hand on the small of Kasey’s back, guided her up the wide marble spiral.

* * *

In the master bedroom, as they settled under the satin sheets, Alex couldn’t help reaching over and running her fingers over Kasey’s cheek. Her partner, her lover, was everything she needed right now. Kasey seemed to sense Alex’s need and moved forward, allowing their lips to meet.

Alex drank in the touch, moaning as they broke contact. She then let her hand travel to Kasey’s chest, where she rubbed her hand over the material that separated her palm from the softness of her partner’s breasts. Letting her hand slide down Kasey’s shirt, she moved under it, finally coming in contact with skin. It was then Kasey’s turn to moan, as Alex began to gently rub and tease Kasey’s nipples.

They were hard and erect and Alex found herself licking her lips as she managed to coax Kasey’s shirt off and over her head. The blonde’s shorts came next, and Alex found herself delighted not to find any panties in her way. Kasey didn’t always wear them, and this was one time it seemed to be paying off.

Moving down Kasey’s now naked body, Alex kissed her bare stomach, nibbling on that sensitive area right around Kasey’s belly button. Alex knew she was ticklish there and hearing Kasey giggle at her efforts lightened her spirit. She was about to travel southward when she felt Kasey’s hands on her back. Kasey shifted, lifting the hem of Alex’s shirt up and over her head. Knowing what was expected, Alex paused just long enough to wiggle out of her boxers, adding them to the growing pile of discarded clothing.

Turning her attention back to Kasey, Alex ran a tongue along Kasey’s hip and then back toward her center. “Open for me, honey. Let me make you squirm.”

Kasey chuckled, before her face turned more serious. “You sure you want to do this tonight?”

“Please,” Alex practically whimpered. “I want… I need to…”

“Alright,” Kasey returned, relaxing back into her pillow and bringing a hand to one of her exposed breasts as Alex turned her attention back to Kasey’s more intimate parts. Using her fingers first, she gently traced around the outside folds before teasing Kasey’s hood and finally her clit. Rubbing it gently, she smiled as Kasey moaned and squeezed her own nipple, giving herself a jolt of pain to accompany the pleasure that Alex was teasing her with.

Alex knew that Kasey often liked it a little rough. She liked when Alex took charge and a little pain with her pleasure was always welcome. Kasey’s nipples were especially sensitive, and they both loved to play with them, but Kasey’s backside was also very sensitive. She loved it when Alex paid special attention to it, going so far as pulling her over her knee and occasionally even spanking her. It was never in discipline, and although sometimes they pretended, it was always fun.

This time Alex didn’t feel like playing games. Maybe later they could try, but for now she just needed to feel that bond between them. She needed to connect with Kasey so that tomorrow when she left she felt whole. She’d need that strength, and tonight it was time to recharge.

“Are you alright?” Kasey asked.

Alex blinked, not realizing that she’d stopped as she’d gotten lost in her thoughts. That had happened to her a lot since she’d heard about her brother. “Yes,” she lied. “I’m fine. I was just admiring the view.”

Kasey chuckled. “You’re a terrible liar, and you don’t have to…”

“No, I told you, I need to. Please, I’m sorry, let me continue.”

Kasey nodded. “Alright, honey. I love you.”

“I love you too,” Alex automatically responded before returning her attention to Kasey’s body. This time she didn’t let herself get distracted as she focused fully on her partner. Her fingers again found their mark and Kasey again lay back. Eliciting a moan of pleasure from Kasey, Alex redoubled her efforts and shifted so that she could add her tongue to the song she was already playing with Kasey’s inner folds.

Kasey squirmed, letting out a soft grunt before bending her knee and raising her leg up over Alex’s shoulder. Alex took her cue and twisted slightly sideways, using the angle to her advantage to continue to strum Kasey’s clit with her tongue and use her fingers to enter Kasey’s sex.

The rhythm continued and Kasey’s wriggling increased. She let out a keening sound, which Alex knew meant she was close. She was tempted to switch it up, but was having too much fun to stop now. Kasey’s scent and her squirming were making her drip with desire. She was warm, and not just with passion. Her soul was also filling.

As Kasey finally pushed over that edge and let out a long slow groan, Alex slowly withdrew. She moved up Kasey’s body, kissing her soft stomach and her rock-hard abs. She ran her tongue over the closest nipple, sucking it gently before continuing her kisses up Kasey’s collarbone, neck, and finally meeting her lips.

“Gods, did I mention that I love you?” Kasey managed to get out as she pulled Alex closer to her.

“Once or twice,” Alex smirked.

Kasey turned her head, giving Alex a grin. “It’s your turn. I want you to pick something out of the drawer.”

“Drawer?” Alex returned, feigning innocence.

“If I have to do it, I’m going to pick something that’ll leave a sting.”

Alex rolled her eyes, not able to hold back a chuckle. The drawer, as they called it, was the bottom drawer of their dresser. It contained several toys that ranged from feather ticklers, to vibrators and dildos, to a handful of paddles and other spanking implements. It even hosted a few costumes, like the French maid one and a schoolgirl outfit that Kasey seemed to be very fond of. Every once in a while one of them would add something new, but this time she had a pretty good idea what she would choose.

Scooting off the bed, she sauntered over to the drawer, making sure she was giving Kasey a show as she walked. Bending at the waist, she wiggled her backside as she opened the drawer and pulled out not one but two of her favorites. The first she hid behind her back, but the second she waved toward Kasey, enjoying the giggle she received from her partner. It was a simple black scarf, and she couldn’t help but revel in the look Kasey gave her as she seductively used it in a creative dance, highlighting her nude body as she made her way back to the bed.

“Nice choice,” Kasey smiled as she took the scarf from where Alex had laid it over her shoulders. “Now, shall we use it on your hands, or perhaps your eyes?”

“Actually, I’d thought I use it on yours,” Alex grinned, pulling a hand from behind her back and surprising Kasey as she showed her the crop she had managed to keep hidden.

“Oh.” Kasey’s eyes went wide. “Oh,” she repeated as she grinned. “But what about you? It’s your turn.”

“You said I could choose. This is my choice,” Alex replied, taking the scarf back from Kasey and gently looping it around her lover’s eyes. “On your knees and turn around,” she then whispered into Kasey’s ear. “I want to make sure you behave while I’m gone. This will be a little reminder of what happens to naughty girls.”

“Oh,” Kasey said once again as she shivered, but quickly scrambled to obey.

Knowing that Kasey couldn’t see, and that only heightened her other senses, Alex decided to play with her a bit. Alex became very still, even quieting her breathing, as she continued to watch Kasey. She couldn’t help the small smirk however, as Kasey struggled to stay still, but was obviously excited. Her bottom cheeks kept clenching and unclenching in anticipation, and she would suddenly shift or quiver every time she heard or thought she heard Alex move. Alex of course hadn’t moved and as the seconds turned into minutes, Kasey’s patience seemed to run out. “Alex?” she finally called out, only to get a stinging slap from the crop across her right cheek for an answer.

Kasey yipped in surprise and then bit her lip, quelling a second cry as the crop kissed her other cheek. “I’m sorry,” she then quickly apologized.

“Un-huh,” Alex finally spoke, rubbing the edge of the crop over Kasey’s backside and tapping her gently on the inside of her thighs. That was the signal to open, and Kasey complied without protest. She was then rewarded with another kiss of the crop, but this one gentler and more approving.

Letting out a moan, Kasey shifted her hips back and forth, and Alex rewarded her a second time by sliding her fingers between Kasey’s legs and gently massaging the wet folds between them. Kasey moaned louder and pressed her backside up higher.

“I think someone has been naughty. You are dripping, sweetheart,” Alex teased, putting her hand away and sliding her glistening fingers across Kasey’s upturned cheeks. “Can’t you feel how warm and wet you are?”

“Gods, yes,” Kasey purred. “Please, Alex, I’ve been a bad girl. I need you…”

“Need me to what?” Alex prompted in a rough whisper, moving quickly so she was again at Kasey’s ear.

“Punish me,” Kasey managed after a shiver coursed through her body. “Make it hurt, Alex. I need it.”

“Oh?” Alex prompted, backing away and fingering the crop for a moment. She then took it and ran it down the length of Kasey’s body ever so slowly before rounding on her bottom once again. Not giving Kasey any warning, she pulled back and let the crop make sharp contact with the closest cheek.

Kasey gasped, but was given no quarter as a second sting quickly followed. Alex continued, alternating cheeks back and forth, but making sure not to hit the same spot more than once. No one swat was very hard, but with the little leather end of the crop, it left a nice little red splotch everywhere it made contact.

After about a dozen slower swats, Alex then upped the stake and double timed it, not only swatting faster, but leaving two kisses on each cheek before she alternated. This seemed to throw Kasey off guard and her squeals and yips increased in frequency as well. Getting through another dozen or so, Alex paused and rubbed her hand across the warmed and reddened flesh. It had a nice healthy glow and by Kasey’s reaction to her touch, Alex knew she wasn’t the only one who was enjoying it.

“Still feeling naughty?” Alex prompted, again letting her fingers slip between Kasey’s legs for emphasis.

“More than ever,” Kasey replied, without missing a beat.

Alex chuckled before giving Kasey a swat with her palm. “Maybe we need to work some of that energy out then. You’re not the only one who is wet, and I think it’s time that you earn your rewards.”

Moving up Kasey’s body again, Alex kissed her cheek and then brought her lips next to her ear once again. Letting her voice drop down into a rough whisper, she commanded, “You are going to pleasure me. You will leave that blindfold on while you do it, and you will satisfy me fully.”

“Yes, Alex. I understand. Will you punish me again if I don’t perform to your expectations?”

“Honey, I’m going to spank you so hard you’ll still be squirming when I get back.”

“Even if I do well?”

“Especially if you do well.” Alex’s voice dropped and Kasey shivered.

“May I begin?”

“Yesss,” Alex drew out, lying down on the bed next to Kasey and waiting for the blonde’s next move.

Kasey didn’t wait long, nor did she disappoint. It seemed not to matter that Kasey was without her sight, for her lips found Alex’s nipples almost of their own accord. She gently sucked and nibbled, and did that thing with her tongue that always got Alex’s attention as she licked around the areola in a small circle, using her tongue like a master artist uses a paintbrush.

Alex gave her a grunt of approval and despite Kasey’s blindness, she paused just long enough to grin. After that she licked down the rest of Alex’s core, pausing to nip around her soft belly and then kiss right above her hairline. As she moved over and down Alex’s mound, Alex didn’t wait for Kasey’s prompting before she opened her legs. She was dripping and more than ready for Kasey’s ministrations.

Again Kasey didn’t disappoint. Alex knew that Kasey was more than aware of her needs and was thankful that Kasey didn’t string her along. Before Alex could even position herself, Kasey was already pressing into her. She was using her thumb, stroking it in gentle circles around Alex’s hood, while using her tongue to spread the moisture that was already there in preparation for the next step.

Alex again grunted, letting out a small groan as she arched her back. Opening her legs wider, she smiled as Kasey twisted slightly sideways to make her access better. Her tongue then slid up to replace the thumb and her fingers danced across Alex’s center folds.

Two fingers started their descent as they were pushed and pulled back and forth into Alex’s sex. Soon a third joined in the procession and the rhythm increased as did Alex’s vocals. The small grunts and moans slowly became louder as Alex panted and echoed Kasey’s rhythm. Alex wrinkled her nose in concentration before her body finally stiffened and then she let out one loud cry of pleasure.

Alex was still panting as Kasey withdrew and then traveled back up Alex’s body, letting soft kisses against Alex’s quivering flesh be her guide. Once she was close enough, Alex removed the blindfold, letting Kasey sink into her arms. She kissed the top of Kasey’s head, and then met her lips as Kasey shifted and moved higher.

“So?” Kasey prompted.

“You are a naughty thing, you know that?” Alex laughed.

“So?” Kasey repeated, raising an eyebrow in question.

“Give me a minute, will ya?”

Kasey smiled and settled back down against Alex’s chest.

Alex was on top of the world, and for the first time in days felt like her old self. She had Kasey to thank for that. Her blond partner always knew just what to say or do to make her feel better. She also had a price, one that Alex willingly and even enjoyed giving.

“Alright,” Alex finally said, forcing herself into a sitting position and using the momentum to move Kasey with her. Pulling the smaller woman across her lap, she studied Kasey’s backside for a moment. The color had mostly faded, but there were still a couple of splotches that she feared might bruise. Not that Kasey minded, but she never wanted to be too hard on her. Still, a promise was a promise, Alex thought as she pulled back her hand and brought it sharply down on Kasey’s rear.

Kasey squealed and immediately started to squirm, but Alex only chuckled as she focused on the adorable bottom over her lap. It took close to two dozen swats before Kasey’s demeanor started to change, and that was Alex’s cue to stop. Kasey loved the spanking, but there was a point where it stopped being fun, and Alex wanted to make sure that it was a reward.

Giving Kasey a good rub and a little tickle in playfulness, Alex finally allowed her to get up and join her back in a lying position. Kasey curled up against Alex, putting her head on her chest. “Thank you,” Kasey whispered.

Knowing Kasey’s habits, Alex knew she was already half asleep. Alex never really understood why, but when they had a playful session, Kasey almost insisted on going to sleep with a freshly spanked backside. She claimed it helped her calm down and sleep, but Alex always wondered if there was something more to it.

Not that Alex would deny Kasey her little desire, but it almost had the opposite effect on her. Spanking Kasey was an absolute turn-on, and even though Kasey was already fast asleep, Alex knew it would take a while to join her. She felt good, and relaxed, and she was tired, but she needed a little while to decompress. Eventually she would join Kasey in slumber, but for the moment she was glad just to savor it. Kasey was her everything and lying in bed, naked, next to her freshly spanked lover was just about the best feeling in the world.

* * *

Early the next morning, Alex entered the airport lounge. She chose a strategic seat, her back to a wall, so that she could survey the area. She had purposely worn an old baseball cap and a pair of fake wide-rimmed glasses to hide her appearance. Her long chestnut brown hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and she had chosen to wear a pair of her favorite 501s and a faded gray sweatshirt that hosted a picture of Mickey Mouse. Kasey had teased her about the outfit, saying that it made her look much younger than her thirty-four years, but then that was the point. Today she didn’t want to be recognized as the international rock star, Alexis Drake; today she just wanted to be plain old Alex.

Alex listened as they called for first class to board. She absently patted the small 9mm in her pocket. It was a small consolation from her military background that she qualified as an air marshal. She had used her connections as a celebrity to gain a license and on the occasions that she flew coach, she would often take advantage of the fact by trading her status for a choice seat.

Once on the plane, Alex commandeered the window seat, knowing that the seat next to her would remain empty. With a sigh, she settled in and, ignoring the flight attendant’s safety speech, popped in her iPod’s earbuds. The six-hour flight from Los Angeles to Orlando was going to be a long one. Feeling like a sardine being prepped for canning, she closed her eyes and focused solely on the music pumping through her earbuds.

The plane suddenly lurched, causing Alex’s eyes to fly open in alarm. Just a little turbulence, she chided herself. Alex forced her body to relax and then checked her watch. Two hours had passed. She must have fallen asleep, but then after last night she could hardly blame herself. She and Kasey had both looked like zombies this morning, and although Kasey had a little trouble sitting still, Alex insisted on driving, affording Kasey the opportunity to nap on the way to the airport.

Looking out her window, the landscape was unfamiliar. She figured that she must be somewhere over the Midwest. Bored with the view, she glanced in the other direction, right into a pair of big brown eyes. Alex sighed inwardly. The eyes were staring at her. She knew she’d been recognized.

“What’s the matter? Was I snoring? I wasn’t drooling again, was I?” she joked at the tween with the chocolate brown eyes.

The girl smiled. “No,” she replied. “But you’re… you’re Alexis Drake, aren’t you?”

Alex sighed inwardly once again. “If I tell you yes, do ya promise not to squeal, shriek, or scream?” One thing she hated more than anything on earth was that high-pitched squeal that all young girls seemed to be able to produce. It was like nails being raked over a chalkboard.

The girl nodded enthusiastically and then let out a stream of almost incomprehensible drabble, the only phrase that Alex recognized being “OMG.” She had started to tune the girl out when she noticed the girl pulling out her cell phone.

“Is it okay if I take a picture?” the tween asked.

“Actually, I prefer that you didn’t,” Alex answered. The last thing she needed was the press catching wind of her brother’s funeral, turning it into a media circus. Glancing back toward the tween, she grimaced, realizing that she had upset the girl. “I’ll tell ya what. If you give me an address, I’ll send you an autographed copy of my newest album.”

The glow in the girl’s eyes immediately returned. “Really? Enduring Roses is awesome! It’s my favorite.”

Alex smiled at the girl’s comment. She had to agree, it had been released a little over a year ago, but it was awesome. She and Kasey had collaborated on each song. Alex’s blend of countrified rock and Kasey’s lyrics seemed almost like they were destined to be together.

* * *

Kasey sighed as she checked her email. She’d dropped Alex off a little over an hour ago and she was already bored. It was hard with Alex gone—especially when she knew that her partner was in for a difficult time over the next few days. Alex’s brother’s death was tragic enough. The fact that she had to spend the next few days with her parents made it even worse.

Alex had an interesting background. She’d been in the military for several years before being discovered. She had a beautiful singing voice, and Kasey wasn’t the only one who thought so. Her last three platinum albums and her Grammy, prominently displayed over the fireplace mantel, were all verifications to that. Alex had become world famous almost overnight and that sudden stardom had only strained her relationship with her parents.

Overall, Alex’s father was alright. He was quiet and mostly kept to himself. He’d taken up golf and spent most of his time playing or hanging out at the country club. In a way, Kasey couldn’t blame him. If she had to live with Alex’s mother, she’d probably spend most of her time away from home too.

Unlike Alex’s father however, her mother wasn’t a very nice person. She was manipulative and often guilted Alex into doing favors for her. There was the money too, which Kasey still didn’t quite understand. Her parents still lived in the same house that Alex grew up in, but her mother had redone everything except for Alex’s bedroom. It still looked like a teenager lived there, and it wouldn’t have surprised her if she’d left it that way on purpose. In public she was very proud and supportive of Alex, and probably kept her room pristine so she could use it as a showpiece.

Alex was never very talkative about her mother. The stories that she had shared weren’t very good ones, and after being with Alex for a while, Kasey stopped asking. Kasey’s own mother was very different and it was hard to understand why Alex’s mother wasn’t more accepting, but then she supposed some people were just like that.

She remembered one story in particular that Alex had told her about her tenth birthday. Alex wasn’t butch—in fact she was drop-dead gorgeous—but she’d always had a bit of a tomboyish side. Even as a kid, she had preferred sports over ballet or other girly pastimes. She also had a thing about dresses. Even Kasey had never seen her in one, but her mother pushed it to no end. She decided that when Alex turned ten she was going to have a real girls’ party, and arranged a whole dress-up tearoom event. Alex, of course, wanted nothing to do with it, but her mother insisted that if she only gave it a chance, she’d enjoy herself.

Apparently, Alex finally gave in, and even agreed to wear one of the dreaded dresses, just to make her mother happy, but only about ten minutes into the party, all hell broke loose. In addition to controlling the theme and the wardrobe, Elena Drake also added her own collection of mini-socialites to Alex’s guest list. Alex tried to take the teasing in stride, but it was too much. One thing led to another, and a little girl named Rebecca ended up with a black eye as Alex took off.

Needless to say, Elena Drake was mortified and Alex said she was grounded for a very long time after that, but their relationship never seemed to recover. Elena never planned another birthday party for Alex, and even through the time that Alex had been with Kasey, Alex always downplayed her birthday. Kasey didn’t push it, knowing it was a sore spot, but also knowing that was just one way that Alex’s mother had hurt her. Knowing that Alex was going to have to be with her for a few days was hard to think about.

Sighing, she turned her attention back to her email as it suddenly dinged, announcing a new one. Frowning slightly, she shifted in her seat. She was still a little tender from her play time with Alex the night before. At the time it had been fun, perhaps a little too much fun if the bruises she was now sporting were any evidence.

Opening the new email, however, she frowned. It was encoded, which only meant one thing—she had work to do. Running the message though her encryption program, her frown deepened. It was worse than she thought. With a little sigh, her mind again flowed to Alex. She hated the reason why Alex had to leave, but at least this new assignment would keep her busy for the next couple of days. It would be easier not to make up an excuse why she was suddenly so busy, and it would make missing Alex easier.

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