Claudia’s little face in the background is like, “Oh, no, my mommies are fighting!”
©August 4, 2012
This damn kid.
Now that Adwin Kosan had left them alone in the Warehouse office, Jane Lattimer knew she had to do some damage control. She turned her steel blue eyes back to the “kid” in question. It was hard—of course, it was—not to think of them as children, though she knew how insulting the implied criticism could be. The fact that one of them was her child didn’t make it any easier, but while she was sometimes able to bring herself to admit that Pete was an adult, she wasn’t even sure this young woman legally could be served hard liquor.
“Claudia,” she began, mind moving ahead through the familiar channels of her “I’ll bear the brunt of this for you” speech.
“You really did it,” Donovan’s voice was deep, a bit like Jane’s own, content to color the lower registers and with a hint of roughened honey. The admiration in her tone sang through loud and clear. “You rebelled. You helped me bring Steve back with no input from the others.” A ghost of a smile curved Claudia’s full pink lips, “And now your ass is in as deep as mine.”
Jane exhaled the impatience. “No,” she drawled the word with steely clarity. “I made the decision to right a wrong and, like everyone who does that, I’m going to have to live with the consequences.”
“So will I,” Claudia approached, moving in an oddly feline series of oblique steps, nearer then retreating, but always ending up closer to Jane. The Regent felt a shiver of recognition at the easy charisma the younger woman projected.
“The way I see it,” the young redhead’s voice was lower, more intimate, “you and I are both involved in this because I started something that you wanted to guarantee got finished.”
The conversation wasn’t going anywhere near how she thought it would, but Jane took a long pause to think that over and then nodded, a bare inclination of her stubborn chin. “Yes.”
“Then you and I are linked in a way that we’re not linked with the others: We carry the same burden of knowledge and responsibility.”
Jane knew for herself how deeply that burden was embedded into her soul and, in spite of herself, she made a small sound that this young woman bore the same life-altering accountability. Empathy, guilt, pity shaded her deep blue irises as she met the night-dark eyes before her. There really was no answer, no way of lessening Claudia’s onus, no way of playing it off, even if that had been in Jane’s nature to do. Her respect for the young agent/caretaker, however, ensured that diminishing Claudia’s role or Claudia’s bravery was not a choice Jane Lattimer would ever make. Unable to stop herself, she nodded again, feeling tears well in her eyes as she met Donovan’s brave, yet still innocent gaze.
The same hint of a smile she had given earlier played over Claudia’s mouth, but it trembled a little this time as she tried to use it to do some downplaying of her own.
“But at least now I know that I’m not living with them all alone.”
That sent a shock through the Regent-Guardian’s chest. “Claudia, you’re never alone…”
The younger woman cut her off suddenly, stepping into the Regent’s personal space. “Don’t give me the comforting-elder act, Jane. You’re Pete’s mom, not mine.” One slender hand came to rest on Jane’s shoulder. “You can’t say all you’ve just said then pretend that we’re just teacher and student or mentor and mentee.” The fingers of that hand curled into the soft fabric of Jane’s sweater set. “I never asked for a teacher or a mentor….”
Jane’s eyes widened as she realized her chest was heaving in an effort to draw in breath. Claudia Donovan was well and truly inside her defenses and rapidly spiking every gun in the arsenal she used to keep agents—all Warehouse personnel, really—at a distance. The nexus of connections that held her to this young woman was built entirely out of choices Jane had made in the last few days and hours and it suddenly dawned on her that none of those decisions had be as carefully thought-through and considered as she had pretended. Her own motivations were unclear to her for the first time in memory and that scared her more than any realization she had had in decades.
Claudia’s grip tightened, and Jane felt herself pulled off-balance and into an embrace. Without her conscious will, her eyes slid shut just as Claudia’s lips found hers. For an instant, the Regent’s thoughts pinged around inside her skull like a pinball in a machine: I didn’t realize we were so close to the same height; her lips are softer than I imagined; How long has it been since someone kissed me with intent…? Then her thoughts foundered under the wave of physical response that crashed through her body.
Mother Nature was wise when she made sexual response instinctual; otherwise, human beings would second guess and overthink themselves out of any chance at fulfillment. Instinct made Jane’s knees suddenly unwilling to hold her and she clutched at Claudia’s shoulders to keep herself upright. On contact with the soft, thin, cotton Henley, her palms flattened out, molding the warm, firm muscles underneath, and someone—Jane feared it might have been herself—made a deep noise of utter appreciation. When the velvety tip of Claudia’s tongue intruded between her lips, she knew the sounds were her own, recognizing through a dearth of years the tones of pleasure and desire and as the small strong hand at her waist slid forward and up, under her arm, towards her chest, she felt another familiar, under-unused, response urge her hips forward and throw her shoulders back, allowing access and revealing her surrender.
Oh, God! was Jane’s only clear thought as Claudia accepted that unarticulated capitulation and cupped her palm around the swell of Jane’s breast. The rush of chemicals beneath her skin, into her brain, made her short of breath, but she couldn’t make her mouth leave the heat and wetness of Claudia’s to take a deeper breath and spots danced behind her lids as she grew light-headed. The moment stretched, thinned, pulled at her consciousness, even as Claudia’s cradling fingers tightened, gripped, and finally tugged sensually on Jane’s over-erect nipple. That sent a juddering ripple of shaking through the Regent and her mouth was jerked free of the molten kiss long enough to take in a huge lungful of oxygen.
It was like being dashed with a bucket of cold water: the flood of oxygen cut through the endorphins like a Tesla bolt and Jane straightened so abruptly she banged her chignon-coifed head on the olive drab file cabinet behind. That was a shotgun double-tap to the libido.
“I…!” Jane started. “We…!”
Claudia, pale-faced with desire and longing, threw up a blocking hand. “Don’t…”
Jane blinked hard and did something she had never been accused of even contemplating before: she fled the room, the building, the Warehouse, but most importantly, she fled Claudia Donovan like Sherlock Holmes’ Hound of the Baskervilles had been activated and loosed from the shelves on her trail.