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THE BOOK GROUP; a H & N story by MJnet
Topic Started: Nov 8 2008, 03:51 PM (5,386 Views)
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Chapter 1

“I don't know why you feel the need to spend an evening with a group of complete strangers when you could be spending it here with me.”

Nikki Wade had heard the argument many times before. In fact ever since she joined the local book group her partner Trisha Harris had complained about her not spending their spare time together. However after nine years together Nikki was longing for some freedom, the book club gave her this and more. When she stood and read passages from her favourite books it made her soul feel good.

“I don't know what you get out of it. Books are boring.” Trisha continued from the comfort of their sofa as she held a glass of wine in one hand and the TV guide in the other.

Nikki was looking for the missing car keys again and she could have sworn that every time her weekly book group came along the keys would go missing, and she was beginning to think Trisha was hiding them.

“Have you seen my car keys?” She frowned as she absentmindedly searched the spare chair, digging deep beneath the cushions.
The cat decided it didn't like this anymore and shuffled its bum, got up, looked at Nikki with narrow eyes and stomped off, then jumped from the chair to the sofa, landing right on Trisha's lap.

“Bloody hell Wizard!” Trisha held on tight to her glass and just stopped it spilling to her grey Armani trousers. The cat looked at her as if to say, “What me?” and curled up on her lap. Trisha sighed and tried to get her heart rate back to normal.

“Bloody stupid name for cat.” Nikki mumbled as she now searched the shelf above the fireplace.

“What was that?” Trisha hadn't quite heard her.

“Oh nothing.” Nikki glanced at her and smiled as she found her keys hidden behind a framed photo of her and Trisha. The photograph had been taken on their most recent vacation together in Spain, Nikki had finally managed to convince her lover that there was more to Spain than the beach and the bar… they had travelled to Barcelona and took in some fantastic exhibitions. Nikki was stood outside a café with a smile and her arm around Trisha's shoulder. Trisha was looking less invigorated but at least she was well tanned and that's all that mattered to Trish.

Nikki dangled her keys in the air, “Phew found them, I thought I was going to be late again.”

Trisha mumbled under her breath, “Damn it.” And then gave her lover a false smile and told her, “Have fun.”

Nikki picked up her rucksack from the floor and threw it over her shoulder, then she walked over to Trish, lent down and gave her a quick kiss. Trisha took this as an invitation to more and placed her hand around Nikki's head and pulled her in for another, Nikki struggled to free herself and eventually did, “Trisha”
“What?” she smiled in all innocence.
“Nothing, look I'll see you later.” Nikki frowned and headed towards the door.
“I'll be waiting up for you.” Trisha smiled.

Trisha heard the front door close and the smile vanished from her face and was replaced by a frown. She sat up and poured herself more wine and then took to her TV guide once more to find a good reality TV programme to watch.

“I don't know why you're so obsessed with books.” Sean Parr commented as he came home from yet another long day at work. His hours were forever running over and his partner was getting sick of it.
“Books are the key to your soul…” Helen Stewart smiled as she brushed her hair before the mirror in the hall one last time.
Sean seemed to laugh under his breath, his arms were full of plans for garden design and his shoulder bag hung from his shoulder, his floppy fringe fell forward when he lent closer to Helen and begged her for a kiss.
Helen frowned at him, “I heard that.”
“Heard what?” he asked and feigned all innocence.
“You laughing at me.” Helen gathered her bag and checked she had her keys.
He looked down at her, “I wasn't… I just find it odd that you'd rather spend an evening with a group of geeks instead of having a night of loving with me.”
Helen gritted her teeth as she stood up straight and faced him, “Your calling me a geek?”
“No….er…” Sean struggled to get out of the hole he had just dug.
“I'll see you later.” Helen frowned and walked straight past him and to the door.
Just as the door slammed he called out, “What about my kiss!”

“Tonight we have a new member to welcome to the group.” Charlie smiled.

Charlie was a woman in her mid 40's with wild grey hair… married with two grown up children. She wore long flowing multi coloured robes over brown trousers and a baggy patterned jumper. Her smile was wide and her brown eyes bright. You could tell she just glowed around books, you could tell that it was her world.

“Helen would you like to introduce yourself to the group?” she smiled in Helen Stewart's direction.

Helen stood from the circle of chairs and smiled a little nervously. God I should be used to things like this after all that time at Uni and especially after working in the prison service… she silently thought to herself. This felt different, a little overwhelming, it was something that meant a lot to her, she didn't want to give the wrong impression to the group, her new friends, at least she hoped they would become new friends, because she definitely needed some relief from endless boring dinners with Sean and his friends. As nice as they were she had little in common with them.

“Hi.” She smiled.

All 8 members of the group smiled back at her, she glanced around quickly at the faces not really taking them in until she came to the last one… she stayed there and caught herself captured in the other woman's amber brown eyes… then the other woman gave her a half smile and diverted her eyes downwards. Helen had to catch her breath before continuing…”Er…I…” Helen noticed the woman chuckle silently and look up at her once more. Well done Helen… she thought to herself… Just go and make a complete fool of yourself from the onset.

She diverted her eyes away from the dark haired stranger and looked to the rest of the group, “My name is Helen Stewart, I work for a prison and I love books.”

Helen glanced at the stranger and noticed her smile had vanished and had been replaced by a look of disappointment.
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Chapter 2

Helen slumped down on the sofa and kicked off her shoes. Sean was sitting watching something intently on television and hadn't even moved since she came in. She raised her legs onto his lap to show she was home. She was rewarded as his hand reached for her foot and started to give it a leisurely massage. Helen closed her eyes and lay her head back with a sigh. Her feet ached after a long day and if this was all the attention she received from Sean tonight then it would be enough.

Then out of the blue he asked her, “How did the book group go?”

She opened her eyes to see Sean looking at her as he rubbed her foot. “It was okay yeah.”

“Okay is that all?” he smiled a little. Helen could sense he was about to start teasing her once more about her love of books but she was determined not to get drawn into it.

“Yes it was okay.” Helen smiled a little, “And yes I will be going again.”

“I didn't doubt it.” Sean smiled and let go of the foot he had been massaging and moved between Helen's legs. “So,” his nose was almost touching her, his hands on either side of her, “Now you're home how about a shag?”
Helen laughed, “I don't think so.”
“You mean you can resist me?” he grinned at her playfully.

Helen shook her head and pushed Sean out of the way, “I need a drink.”

Sean watched as Helen got up off the sofa and walked over to the bottles of alcohol that ranged from wine, to vodka, the finest whiskey to beer that were stored in a cupboard at the end of the room. Helen appeared once more with a smile and bottle of Vodka and a glass, “You want to join me?”
Sean frowned, “I have a early start tomorrow Hels I cant.”
“Pity.” She replied sitting back down beside him and pouring herself a glass of straight vodka.

He sat back and returned to watching the television programme that so enthralled him. But deep down he was getting very concerned about Helen's drinking. It wasn't that she drank all the time… it's just that when she did he felt she was doing it because she was unhappy. The problem was he couldn't figure out what she was so unhappy about.

“Nikki is that you?” the call came from the living room. Nikki had just entered the house and took off her denim jacket. Her bag lay on the floor alongside her boots.

Trisha walked through just as Nikki was bending down to pick up her boots to put them in the show rack… “I missed you.” She smiled and licked her lips at the sight of Nikki's bottom in blue Armani jeans.

Just as Nikki was standing up straight she felt a familiar hand on her buttock. She turned around and faced her lover of nine years, “Trisha I'm not in the mood.”
“Who said I was after anything, I was just being friendly.” Trisha sulked a little and made a huffing sound before taking off towards the kitchen. Nikki followed her but only because she had too, she needed a cold beer.

“I gather your meeting wasn't much fun tonight?” Trisha commented as she pulled out a child bottle of white wine from the fridge.
“Can you pass me a beer?” Nikki frowned across the room at her.
Trisha placed her wine onto the counter and then reached for a beer. She opened it up for Nikki and passed it over to her.
“Thanks.” Nikki said gratefully. The cold glass against her fingers made her shiver.
Trisha opened the wine and poured herself a glass before walking through to the living room glass in one hand, bottle in the other. Nikki followed her.
They both sat down. Trisha had music softly playing in the background and various magazines strewn on the coffee table.
“You didn't find a film to watch then?” Nikki commented as she relaxed back with her beer.
“I tried to get into one but nothing was sinking in.” Trisha told her. Then she looked to Nikki, “Nik, are you okay?”
“Yeah fine.” She replied wishing Trisha would give it a rest.
“So why the long face then?”
Nikki looked at Trisha and sighed, “There was a woman at the group tonight.”
Trisha laughed, “And that's a problem because?”
“She works for a prison.” Nikki replied.
“I still don't see what the problem is.” Trisha looked puzzled.
Nikki frowned at her, “I nearly ended up in prison remember?”
“Ah… “ Trisha looked away feeling somewhat guilty, after all she still blamed herself for all that.
“I just see people like that and it brings it all home to me, how close I came to being incarcerated just because I was defending you from some maniac.” Nikki held the beer in her hands and sat forward, even now after 6 months it still shocked her how close she came to life imprisonment.
Trisha rested her hand on Nikki's shoulder and looked to her, “Hey, you didn't though did you. You shouldn't let this get to you babe.”
“I know,” Nikki conceded, “I just can't help it. Every time I see a police man in the street I think how close I came to losing everything and that the damn system they work for would have happily locked me up and thrown away the key.”
“Yes but they aren't all like that.” Trisha paused and tried to change the subject, “You want me to help you relax?” she said with a wink.

Nikki smiled and looked to Trisha with one eyebrow raised. Trisha stood and held out her hand, no words passed between them, just looks. Nikki stood, took the welcoming hand and was led to the bedroom.

Helen held her head but it didn't stop it thumping, she reached for the tablets in the bathroom cabinet and swallowed them back with a glass of water. The towel wrapped around her head stopped most of the water dripping down her neck but the droplets that escaped chilled her to the bone. Her body screamed for a warm duvet and sleep, but her mind told her that wasn't an option. She was due at work in an hour. And that was another reason she screamed for her bed.

“Do you know how much you drank last night.”

Sean's voice made her jump. She turned around and faced him, “I can do without the lecture this morning…” she groaned as she turned around and placed the tablets back into the cabinet.
Sean was already dressed and ready for work, “I'll see you later then.” He told her and waited hoping for that kiss.
Helen turned around and gave him a peck on the cheek, “Yeah see you later.”

Sean shook his head in disapproval, the Helen he knew and fell in love with wasn't like this, yeah she liked a drink but it was mostly a social occasion, it was becoming too frequent for him to comprehend, maybe Helen needed more from him… he kept thinking about it as he left quietly.
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Chapter 3

One week later

“Okay,” Charlie stood before her group and smiled rubbing her palms together, “Today we will be reciting passages from our favourite books, so I hope you are all ready?”
Most of the group smiled, nodded or replied with a quiet yes.
“Good!” Charlie took a seat within the half circle of book lovers, “Who would like to go first?” she looked around at the group.
“I will.” A man in his mid 30's stood with book in hand. He was casually dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, his short hair something similar to a cut worn by one of the crew on the Starship Enterprise, very neat with not a hair out of place.
“Thank you Jeremy…” Charlie smiled.

He stood before the group and held the hardback book in his hands, “From the book Full Moon by Michael Light.” He told them as he opened it up. It was a book of photographs taken of the moon over many years of Apollo flights. Non-fiction was Jeremys love although he often indulged in fantasy and science fiction from time to time. He was the kind of guy who joined the club to find like minded people, a loner not through choice but because he couldn't find anyone with a deep interest in the things that he loved. This gave him the freedom to talk about the things that interested him even if it was by way of a quote or passage from a book. The book club saved him from a life of loneliness.

“I will never forget my astonishment the first time I was able to examine the master dupe film roll of Apollo 11, re-enacting the exact steps and photographic decision-making of Armstrong and Aldrin frame by frame as they walked for the first time on the surface of another celestial body.”

He sat down as the group clapped his choice. Charlie looked to Jeremy, “So why did you choose this particular title and this particular quote?”

Jeremy spoke from his seated position with passion for the subject, “This book,” he tapped the cover, “It spoke volumes to me, but not through words but through pictures. The photographs need no words and they provoke the imagination just as strongly as words can. I find that completely amazing that a photograph can do such a thing. It is also history, history of the future if you like… this part of our journey into space is only the beginning, there is so much more to discover.” He rested back in his chair to show that he had finished talking.

“Thank you Jeremy, very interesting choice and I must admit I would love to take a look at your book at some point.” Then Charlie looked to the group once more, leaning forward in her chair, “Helen, would you like to go next?”

Helen let out a breath she had been holding, she was so nervous. She smiled, uncrossed her legs and stood. Taking a deep breath she walked across and stood before the half circle of people. Taking in their faces one by one. She stopped when she reached half way, their she was again, with a frown not a smile. Helen wondered what she had said wrong, something obviously wiped the smile off her face. This just added to how nervous she was already feeling but she looked deep within herself and concentrated on her book, the book she loved, a book that was having a profound effect on her life.

She held it to her chest…

“I have chosen to read for you a passage from a book called Sophies World by Jostein Gaarder.” She looked in Charlie's direction and caught the knowing smile, it was obvious she had read it too and very much agreed with her choice. Helen felt more confident, she relaxed a little more and opened up the book.

“What is philosophy?” Helen paused for effect and looked to the dark haired stranger. Her attention fully now on what Helen was about to read. Whatever Helen had said to upset her was overridden by her love for books.
“Dear Sophie,” Helen continued to read, her eyes flitting from the book page to the group, “Lots of people have hobbies. Some people collect old coins or foreign stamps, some do needlework, others spend most of their spare time on a particular sport.”

Nikki Wade listened with continued interest to see where this passage was going. And as Helen continued to recite from the book every word of it began to make complete sense to her.

“A lot of people enjoy reading. But reading tastes differ widely. Some people only read newspapers or comics, some like reading novels, while others prefer books on Astronomy,” She smiled in Jeremy's direction and he gave her a little smile back, “Wildlife, or technological discoveries. If I happen to be interested in horses or precious stones, I cannot expect everyone else to share my enthusiasm. If I watch all the sports programs on TV with great pleasure, I must put up with the fact that other people find sports boring.”

Nikki smiled to herself when she thought about Trisha, Yeah that's about right, trouble is we don't like anything the same anymore…

Helen continued, “Is there nothing that interests us all? Is there nothing that concerns everyone-no matter who they are or where they live in the world? Yes, dear Sophie, there are questions that certainly should interest everyone. They are precisely the questions this course is about.”

Helen stopped and gave a small smile as she closed her book. The group soon applauded her choice. Charlie stood as Helen sat, “Now that was a good choice!” she told the group brightly. “Thank you Helen.” The she looked to her watch, “Right, time to stop for a tea break and meet back here in ten minutes.” She told the group.

Everyone scuttled about and out of the building to the coffee shop across the road, well most of them. Nikki decided to take in some air. The enormity of what Helen had just read hit her, her and Trisha were going in so many different directions that she didn't know where they stopped. It was beginning to feel like the only thing keeping them together was the great sex and the club they both owned, and of course that old thing of getting used to each other. But was it love? Nikki stood there in the cold evening air trying to figure out what she felt for Trish, and she wasn't sure it was love after all.

Books quoted in this chapter: Full Moon by Michael Light, Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder
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Chapter 4

“I have chosen a passage from Charlotte Bronte. The Book, Jane Eyre” Nikki stood before the group.

“I am glad you are no relation of mine. I will never call you aunt again as long as I live. I will never come to visit you when I am grown up; and if any one asks me how I liked you, and how you treated me, I will say the very thought of you makes me sick, and that you treated me with miserable cruelty . . . You think I have no feelings, and that I can do without one bit of love or kindness; but I cannot live so: and you have no pity. I shall remember how you thrust me back . . . into the red-room . . . And that punishment you made me suffer because your wicked boy struck me—knocked me down for nothing. I will tell anybody who asks me questions this exact tale. 'Ere I had finished this reply, my soul began to expand, to exult, with the strangest sense of freedom, of triumph, I ever felt. It seemed as if an invisible bond had burst, and that I had struggled out into unhoped-for liberty. . . .”

Nikki had read with so much passion in her brooding brown eyes, Helen sensed there was much more to her choice than just sheer enjoyment of the book. Nikki had chosen this for a reason, some deeper darker reason that Helen was now curious about. What had unsettled Nikki as Helen had introduced herself to the group. Helen had seen it in her expression, an obvious change from a kind smile to a look of complete disgust. Did she mistrust people in authority? Had something happened to her in the past that made her feel that way? And as Helen questioned Nikki's reasons for reading that particular passage she caught the stranger's eyes as she sat down with her book on her lap. No smile was exchanged but an underlying tension stood between them.

When the session ended Helen approached Nikki on their way out, “Nikki Wade isn't it?” she said stopping Nikki in her tracks.
“Yes.” Nikki replied politely turning to face Helen. After all Helen hadn't done anything wrong, she was just in the wrong job. “And your Helen Stewart?”
Helen nodded, “Yeah…Look…” she began a little anxiously, how on earth did she break the ice? “Are you in a hurry to get anywhere?”
Nikki thought for a moment about that question, Trisha would be out all night at the club, having given up hope of Nikki spending her Wednesday evenings off at home with her, “No not really.” She replied.
“Your chosen book, very interesting… it's one of my favorites too.” Helen smiled lightly.
Nikki remembered what Helen had read, “What was the name of the book again, the one you read from?”
“Sophie's World,” Helen replied with a deeper smile and a little relief, the tension seemed to be breaking down, “I gather you haven't read it?”
“No I haven't.” Nikki smiled softly, loosening up as she began to enjoy talking to the stranger. Her voice was soothing somehow, she was a sucker for an accent like Helen's but there was more to it than that, the Scots voice was one that she could have gladly listened to all day without any problems.
“I can lend you mine if you like?” Helen replied digging into her bag.
“Are you sure?” Nikki raised her eyebrow in surprise. “I mean it's your favorite book.”
“I have a spare.” Helen said and handed it to Nikki, Nikki took it and smiled, “Thanks.” She placed it into her rucksack and then realized how thirsty she was, “If your not in a hurry, would you like to join me for a coffee at Starbucks, I know I need one before I carry on home.”

Nikki ordered the coffees and carried them over to the table they had chosen by the window and sat down. She still wasn't quite sure how she got here, if there was one person in the group she had been trying to avoid it was the one sitting at the table with her now.

“Was the quote from Jane Eyre meant for me?”

Helen's question came out of nowhere and completely shocked Nikki. She hadn't chosen it for Helen, at least not consciously but she could now see why Helen was asking her such a question, “No of course not.” Nikki replied eyes diverted downwards as her hands circled her hot cappuccino
“I just… I thought.” Helen stumbled… God what am I doing here! the voice in her head cried out. “It doesn't matter.” She sighed.
Nikki looked up at her, “I had a close call with the law.”
“Oh…” Helen said a little surprised but pleased that Nikki was willing to open up to her. “In what way?”
Nikki sighed, “A man died because I defending my girlfriend.”
Helen heard the word girlfriend before she heard the words a man died. “So your…”
“Gay?” Nikki smiled a little as she saw the surprise on Helen's face.
“I didn't mean to be so rude, sorry.” Helen felt awful for pointing out something that really didn't need to be pointed out, it was no big deal.
“How about you Helen?” Nikki asked casually with the smile still edging her mouth.
Helen laughed, “No, I'm straight.”

Nikki looked at Helen's eyes, gorgeous green eyes that sparkled when she got excited or happy about something, as she was now. She felt envious already of any man who got to share her bed. Shame… Nikki thought to herself.

“Anyway,” Helen changed the subject not wishing to linger on a subject that strangely made her feel just a little uncomfortable, “you were saying…”

“I killed a man in self defense.”

Helen looked stunned… she placed her coffee cup down, speechless.

“I can see I have shocked you.” Nikki said calmly. After all she had been through so much and been judged to high heaven, nothing really got to her anymore, well apart from people like Helen. “After all you spend your life locking up women just like me.”

Helen frowned, “Were just doing our job Nikki… and not all women are innocent like you obviously were.”
“And not all women are lucky enough to afford the best legal team.” Nikki replied quickly looking right into Helen's eyes.

Helen wasn't quite sure where this was all leading but she didn't like their current conversation, what was she supposed to say? “It's not my job to judge, that's up to others. I don't make the rules Nikki.”
“So it doesn't matter to you if those women in your care are innocent or not? Don't you care?” Nikki frowned back at her.
“Of course I care!” Helen replied a little angrier than intended.
Nikki looked apologetic, she had no right to judge Helen, she hardly knew her, “Look I'm sorry, may be we should just stick to talking about books.”
“Good idea.” Helen replied and breathed out. The tension had mounted once more between them.

“Hels your home.” Sean walked to meet Helen in the hallway.
Helen took off her coat and hung it up. She looked to Sean, “Why are you still up?”
“I was worried, I was beginning to wonder if you were coming home tonight.” He replied with a frown.
Helen brushed past him and walked through to the living room where she kicked off her shoes and slumped down in a chair.
“Well…” Sean followed her and stood before the chair.
“Well what?” she looked up at his confused and annoyed looking face.
“Where have you been?”
“I stopped off for coffee with a…” Helen paused and then continued after some thought, “a friend from the book club.”
“Oh I see.” He sat down on the sofa.
Helen looked to him, “Sean what's wrong with you tonight?”
He sighed and looked to Helen as he lent forward, “I didn't expect you home so late, I wanted to surprise you.”
“Surprise me?” Helen questioned, her stomach doing knots, terrified at what he was going to spring on her now.
He stood and walked back to where she sat, then he knelt down before her, “Isn't it about time we settled a little?”
“What do you mean? I am settled.” Helen lied. She knew deep down it was far from how she felt.
“I mean, you would make a great mother hels.” He smiled.
“You are joking right?” Helen looked startled.
“Why? We've been together a year now, why don't we make it more permanent, have kids, do the whole normal thing.” He said brightly.
“Normal?” Helen sighed, “Sean is this a proposal?”
“Yes I guess it is.” He replied. “So what do you say?”

Helen didn't know what to say, she needed time to think, and right now her mind was a whirl of things, not just relating to Sean. She wasn't even sure how she felt about him anymore, sometimes he really annoyed the hell out of her. Sometimes he made her laugh, sometimes he made her cry but most of all he was beginning to take over her life, take away bit by bit the control she had over it. And that scared her.

“Well Helen say something please!”

He was getting nervous. He didn't want to lose her, push her away even further. He was sure this was what Helen needed, wanted. He was sure that was the reason she didn't seem so happy anymore.

Helen stood, he stood and they faced each other.

“I need time to think.” She told him before making her way off to bed alone.

Quote from the book Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
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Chapter 5

After spending an exhausting Friday and Saturday night working at Chix nightclub, the club she owned with her partner Trisha Harris, Nikki spent her Sunday working in the garden. Trisha had suggested they have a later dinner out somewhere, after all if they were working hard for the money then they may as well enjoy it from time to time. Nikki had agreed gratefully, as much as she loved cooking, she needed time out and time out meant time spent on her garden. Nikki was planting some new seeds when Trisha appeared from the kitchen with a glass of cold beer poured ready for her. Nikki heard the door shut behind Trisha and looked up to see her heading in her direction, she smiled and stood, dusting the dirt from her gloves.

“Here, I thought you could do with this, it's rather hot today.” Trisha smiled. She was feeling good today, finally she had the day alone with Nikki, with no work and no damn book club getting in the way.
Nikki took the drink gratefully and took a long gulp from the tall beer glass. Trisha watched her as she drank down the cool liquid and caught sight of the beads of sweat trickling down her neck, she had the urge to lick her lips but managed to hold back.
“You've been busy.” Trish tried to sound enthusiastic, the truth was she hated gardening and couldn't see what on earth Nikki got out of it. She looked around and then looked to Nikki. The dirt stained the side of her face, the white t-shirt clung to her chest.
Nikki looked at her handy work and frowned, “Yeah but there's still loads to do.” And as she looked at what she had to accomplish today to feel pleased at herself she heard Trisha sigh. She looked to her and frowned, “What?”
“Why don't you come inside?” Trisha smiled lightly. Her heart was steady, hoping for the right reply. She touched Nikki's shoulder.
Nikki looked to the hand resting on her shoulder and then to Trisha's big blue eyes, “I need to get this done today Trish, I'll never have time in the week.”
Trisha didn't give up that easy, she moved closer until her breath was touching Nikki's cheek and then she whispered into her lovers ear, “I have some much more relaxing inside.” She pulled away and looked to Nikki's eyes. She couldn't read them.
Then Nikki sighed, “Trish, as tempting as that offer is…”
Trisha frowned and stepped away, “Fine Nikki… don't mind me, I don't care if you love your bloody plants more than me.”

Helen was reading the Sunday papers whilst Sean worked on the plan for his new customers patio. He was up in the spare room, the room he had converted into his office. Helen was sitting outside in the sunshine with a glass of orange juice, her legs were getting tanned by the sun as she sat in her cream coloured shorts and a loose blue shirt, the arms tucked under at her elbows. One arm was rested on the wooden table, her legs were crossed and she was holding up the paper in front of her. Hoping her neighbours would notice she was preoccupied and not to be disturbed. It worked as the man of the house went about mowing the lawn with a whistle only looking in Helen's direction once and sending a smile her way. Now if Sean had been out there, there would have been no lawn mowed and the beers that were cooling in the fridge would be all gone by now.

Nikki showered and changed having found a note from Trisha saying she had gone out for the afternoon, but she would be back as planned for dinner that evening. The garden was to her liking, for now at least and she was determined to just chill out with a book and a glass of wine while Trisha was out. She finally relaxed back in her casual attire, t-shirt and jeans, opened a bottle of red Australian wine and relaxed back with Sophies World. And as she touched the book cover and prepared to open it up she had a vision of the Scots face, Why was I so preoccupied with my hate for career choice? It was so bloody irrational of me. After all, she's really quite nice. And this is one hell of a book.

Helen got to the local events page of the newspaper and smiled with sheer excitement when she read what was on at the local arts centre. “A performance of Romeo and Juliet!” she said out loud. Then her excitement turned to disappointment when she read that the last performance was tonight. First of all would there be tickets left? And second of all who could she take? Sean would rather bite his toenails than sit and watch Shakespeare and her friend Claire was away on her holidays. Then she began to smile again as a thought entered her head… she first of all picked her mobile up off the table and phoned the arts centre to see if there were any tickets left and then she looked up Nikki Wades number on her mobile… and was very glad they had exchanged numbers over coffee… a little anxiously she dialled Nikki's number and it started to ring…

Nikki's phone vibrated in the pocket of her jeans and made her jump, she placed her glass down and the book to one side of her on the sofa and then she pulled out the phone and looked at the caller, “Helen…” she said in quiet surprise.

“Hello Helen?” she spoke into her phone.
“Nikki… hi, I hope you don't mind me calling you at home.” Helen began a little nervously, she wasn't quite sure what kind of reception she would get.
“Of course not, that's why I gave you my number after all, so you could call me.” Nikki smiled, her heart beginning to do giant leaps with every word Helen spoke.
“So what can I do for you?”
Helen began to fiddle with her newspaper and look for the details of the play, “I was wondering if you would like to join me at the Larkhall Arts Centre tonight?”
“Er…” Nikki was stumped that was the last thing she was expecting.
“Unless your busy of course.” Helen asked, feeling less unsure about what she was doing. After all Nikki was a virtual stranger!
“No.” Nikki answered quickly, “What's on?”
“Romeo and Juliet.” Helen replied, “It's only a small production but sometimes they can be really good.”
“Yeah I know,” Nikki replied, “I've been to a few.”
“So what do you think?” Helen asked with bated breath.
“I'd love to,” Nikki replied happily, forgetting all about her dinner date with Trish, “How about going for a drink at the bar before we go in?”
Helen smiled, her heart doing leaps and bounds, although she wasn't sure why she was so excited, after all it was only a play. “That would be nice. So I'll meet you in the bar at say 6pm?”
“Sounds good to me.” Nikki smiled, “See you later.”

“Yeah, bye Nikki.”
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Chapter 6

Lawyer Charlotte Walker lay in bed in a strange hotel room in west London. The sun shone through a crack in the curtains. Sleeping beside lay the woman she had fallen in love with, she smiled and lay closer, stroking the blonde strands of hair from her lovers face.

Blue eyes gazed back at her, “Your awake!”
Charlotte rested back against the pillows, “I've been awake for sometime, I thought you promised me another session before I have to go back to the pig.”
The blonde shifted from her rested position and rested on one elbow, then looked down at Charlotte with a frown, “I don't know why you stay with him.”
“He's my husband, I cant leave, what about the children?” Charlotte was now frowning and feeling uncomfortable.
“So what am I to you? A quick release when you need one, when you need to let out the dyke inside of you.”
“I thought that was you.” Charlotte grinned, hands behind her head.
The blonde got out of bed and searched for her clothes, “I don't know how much longer I can go on like this. I need more from you.” She muttered as she grabbed clothing from the floor where it had been scattered.
Charlotte raised herself up to a sitting position, “Where are you going?”
“Back to Nikki, I shouldn't even be here!”
Charlotte quickly got out of bed and put on a t-shirt then she walked over to where Trisha Harris was putting on her shoes, she stopped her and placed her hands to Trisha's shoulders, “Please don't go not like this…” then she added softly, “I love you.”
Trisha was all ready to leave until she heard those words… she turned to Charlotte, all her anger had dissipated to be replaced by tears, Charlotte reached out and pulled Trisha into her arms, “We'll work things out… I promise.” She told Trisha. She had meant the words, she just wasn't quite sure how she was going to work things out.
“How?” Trisha looked to her lover's eyes.
“I'm not sure, but I do love you and I want us to be together.” Charlotte replied.

Trisha hugged Charlotte tighter, she could feel her warmth against her and it felt so comforting. But half of her was feeling so guilty for betraying Nikki, her lover of nine years. Then she bravely looked at Charlotte and promised her, “I'll tell Nikki about us if you leave your husband. I'd leave tomorrow for you…”
Charlotte looked surprised or was it horrified, “Er… yeah sure…” she replied giving nothing away about the way she really felt.
“Shall I leave Nikki, is that what your waiting for?” Trisha then asked.
“Lets not be hasty babe, one step at a time eh?” Charlotte replied.

Nikki was picking out something to wear when she remembered her dinner date with Trish, “Damn it, I'm going to have to call it off.” Nikki cursed herself for forgetting. And deep down inside a part of her was saying forget dinner and spend the evening in the company of a intelligent woman, a few glasses of wine and a good play. She knew it was what her heart was telling her to do but her doubting other half was telling her not to be silly and that Trisha was already pissed off enough without making matters worse. Nikki sat on the edge of the bed beside her black suit. Her white shirt was open where her hands had left it… the white vest beneath clung to her breasts. Her legs were bare. Nikki smiled to herself when she thought of Trisha, she knew had she been there right now there would be no escaping her advances.
Nikki looked at the clothes she had chosen to wear for her night out with Helen and sighed, she really wanted to go.

Nikki's phone beeped twice beside her on the bed, she picked up and read the text message… it was from Trisha.

“I wont be back for dinner, spending the eve with Charlotte. You know the lawyer who took on your case. Anyway, she's cooking for us, so treat urself 2 a takeaway.”

Nikki at first felt annoyed at Trisha and then relieved when she thought about Helen… she began to get dressed as planned and left Trisha a note not to wait up for her and that she would be enjoying Shakespeare tonight in the company of a friend from the book group. Dressed in a black suit and a grey shirt, with her dark hair combed back Nikki put on some CK One and checked herself in the mirror one last time. It had been a while since she made this much effort for another woman. She smiled satisfied, picked up her door keys and awaited her taxi.

“Where did you say you were going again?” Sean asked. He was standing next to Helen in the kitchen making himself a cup of coffee to take into his office.
“The Arts centre.” Helen replied digging in the fridge for something cold to drink.
Sean lent on the side and looked down at his lover as she was half hidden in the fridge, “And who is this Nikki your going with again?”
Helen stood up straight and almost met Sean's nose on the way, she moved out of his way and poured herself some juice, “a book group member.”
“And?” Sean was obviously a little rattled and wanted more information than that.
“And what?” Helen asked as she sipped her juice.
“How old is he?”
Helen laughed, “It's not a he it's a she.”
“Oh.” He looked relieved. “That's alright then.”
“Don't tell me you were jealous?” Helen couldn't keep the grin off her face.
“Well…” Sean replied steadily, “You haven't given me an answer to my proposal yet.”
“And what's that got to do with anything?” Helen frowned and put down her glass.
“It's got everything to do with it. If a guy sees a ring on your finger he's less likely to get the wrong idea, believe me Helen, I know what men are like!”
“Sean stop patronising me.” Helen swung around and headed for the door.
“What?” he called after her and then chased after her into the hallway as she made her escape.
“Nothing,” she put on her coat and turned to him, “Look,” she kissed his cheek, “Don't wait up, I'm not sure what time the play ends.” She turned towards the door and before he could open his mouth and protest any further she was gone.
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Chapter 7

Nikki waited at the bar in the Arts centre with a soft drink in her hand. The plan was to not get drunk, after all Shakespeare was hard enough to follow sometimes without making matters even more difficult.

Every time the doors opened she looked over to that space, her heart beating hard in her chest, waiting for Helen Stewart to appear. Nikki didn't have to wait long, and typically the one time she didn't look over in the direction of the doors because she was looking at her watch, was the time Helen walked through the doors.

“Hiya Nikki.”
Nikki looked up in surprise, “Helen.”
“You look lovely.” Helen smiled.
“Thank you.” Nikki smiled back, “So do you.”

Helen confidently pulled up a chair beside Nikki, looked to the barman and ordered her drink, “A pint please.”

The barman smiled and poured Helen a pint of Stella, he noticed the Scots companion staring at what he was pouring in disbelief almost.

Helen noticed Nikki's stunned look too, “What?” she laughed lightly.

The laugh sent wonderful shivers down Nikki's back. Nikki looked to Helen and laughed a little back at her, “Nothing.”
“Good.” Helen said as she grabbed her pint from the barman and handed over a fiver.
“Hey, that was supposed to be on me.” Nikki said watching the money disappear into the till.
“Don't worry bout it, you can get the next one.” Helen replied as she supped at her pint and wiped the white creamy froth from her upper lip.
Nikki laughed again and stood with her glass of coke, “You want to get a table?”
“Yeah sure.” Helen stood with her glass and followed Nikki over to a quiet corner of the bar. Her eyes browsed Nikki as she walked behind her, the way her trousers fitted her so perfectly, they were obviously expensive, in fact the whole suit looked gorgeous and she hated to admit it to herself, but it looked sexy, or was that because it was on Nikki? Helen smiled to herself and shook her head.

They sat opposite each other, Helen leaning forward on the table cradling her pint, Nikki in a relaxed position lent back in her chair, her glass of iced coke on the table.

“Shouldn't you have some whiskey in that coke?” Helen had lifted it to her lips and sipped a little, she had frowned and put it straight back down.

“I'm saving myself for after the show, I don't want to get too distracted and believe me it doesn't take much to make me merry.” Nikki admitted with a small smile.

Helen laughed and caught Nikki's brown eyes staring back at her, for a moment she felt dizzy, like an unknown force had stunned her, the fact was, those brown eyes looking back at her and that soft smile had been the cause.

“After the show?” Helen eventually asked having regained her composure.
“You will join me for a drink I hope?” Nikki explained.
“How could I refuse, anything is better than going home to Sean”
Nikki felt the disappointment rushing through her veins, “Sean?”
“My partner.” Helen told her simply.
“Oh.” Nikki tried not to sound so disappointed. She surprised herself at how jealous she felt. After all it wasn't so long ago that she didn't even want to be in the same room as her.
“So what about you Nikki, do you have a girlfriend?” Helen asked with teasing eyes.

Nikki thought about her response and then told Helen with a smile, “No.”

“What a good looking woman like you?” Helen replied as she picked up her pint and finished it off.
Nikki looked at Helen, “So you think I'm good looking?”
“I might be straight Nikki, but I do know when I see a good looking woman.” Helen replied.

Nikki picked up her drink and was now wishing she had something stronger in there.

Helen then asked, “Have you never been interested in men?”

Nikki hadn't been too surprised by the question, after all she had heard it many times before, “Not my flavour no.”

Helen smiled. Nikki smiled back at her and answered the question that entered Helen's head, “What you thought I just hadn't met the right one? It doesn't work like that Helen. They do nothing for me.”

Helen found herself drifting into Nikki's stunning brown eyes, and watching her kissable lips as she spoke, then she stopped herself from thinking such things and looked away, “It's getting pretty busy.”

Nikki noticed Helen was changing the subject but decided not to let her off that easy, “So what about you Helen, have you never been interested in women?”

Helen looked to Nikki and giggled nervously, “Not in that way no.”

“Shame,” Nikki told her quietly, “You don't know what you're missing.”

Helen felt herself shaking, God knows why, and she had fear in her welling up, thinking she may blush and give too much away about herself. She also felt a little hot

When Helen didn't respond Nikki decided to make it a little easier for the stunning Scot, “Right well, shall we make our way inside and find our seats?”
Helen let out a breath in sheer relief, “Yeah good idea.” She replied standing quickly.
They both made their way into the theatre and took their seats after buying a programme each.

After the show they were like two different people, totally in awe of the performance they had seen, they couldn't stop talking about as they made their way out together. They automatically reached the busy bar and Nikki made her way through to the front to get them some drinks. She returned soon with a pint for Helen and a bottle of Budweiser for herself. “Lets find somewhere to sit,” Nikki suggested as she handed Helen her pint amongst the crowd.

Helen led the way and found them a place to sit, not as private as before but it would do.

They both sat, rather squashed together with their drinks. They looked to each other and smiled.
“I've had a wonderful evening Nikki, thank you for joining me”
“It was a pleasure. And it was a great production.” Nikki replied gazing at Helen's low cut green top.
Helen's green eyes caught her looking and she smiled, strangely satisfied that she had such an effect. “Talking with you… it makes me realise how little I have in common with Sean.” She said in all honesty.
“I know what you mean.” Nikki admitted.
“You do?” Helen asked with curiosity.
“Yeah… been there…” Nikki replied, careful not to bring Trish into the conversation, she didn't want to ruin things between them now by admitting she had lied earlier about being single.
“I just miss having someone around to talk too you know?” Helen sipped her pint.
Nikki nodded, “I know exactly what you're saying.” Then she smiled and lent closer to Helen, “But at least we have each other to talk to now.”
Helen smiled and put down her glass, “That we do.”
Nikki noticed Helen was getting a little merry and felt the electric shoot through her body as Helen's hand slipped casually behind her back. Nikki was speechless when she felt Helen's hand slip under her jacket. And the heat rising between them had nothing to do with the room temperature.
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Chapter 8

“Helen!” Nikki said startled by Helen's hand making its way up her back.
Helen smiled at her through half closed eyes, “What?”
“Your drunk” Nikki told her honestly.
“A bit merry maybe but I will ave you know, I'm not drunk.” Helen smiled.

Nikki reached for Helen's hand and removed it from herself.

Helen's attraction to Nikki was overwhelming her. The alcohol flowing through her blood stream gave her the courage to be brave and face it.

Nikki's attraction to Helen was scaring her. She so wanted to give into this woman. God she was totally gorgeous, sex on legs, but for one the woman was a bit merry and straight, or so she claimed and would certainly do so in the morning… and secondly she had to think about Trisha, no matter how worrying their relationship was at the moment.

“I think its time we called a taxi and got you home.” Nikki told her.
Helen smiled at Nikki through glazed eyes, “The nights only just begun.”

Nikki stood and took Helen's hand. Helen continued to smile, her lower regions screaming out to be touched as Nikki's hand captured her own. What a simple touch could do to her was absolutely shocking but at this moment in time Helen didn't care. Her heart was beating faster as Nikki led her outside into the cool night air.

Helen without warning pulled Nikki to herself and pushed her lips to Nikki's.

Nikki at first fought the urge to respond but as Helen's hands circled her shoulders and touched her hair she fell right into her spell. Gently lips touched, explored, caressed, and gentle probing tongues met and delighted in the feelings they were sending to places all over their bodies. Helen pulled Nikki to her closer, tighter; she needed to feel more of Nikki and Nikki needed to feel more of Helen.

Then suddenly Nikki pulled away and stuck her arm out and ailed a cab, “Taxi!” she called out, she was flustered, very flustered.

A taxi screeched to a halt and Nikki dragged Helen by the hand into it.

Helen woke the next morning with the most horrendous headache, she groaned as she opened her eyes and reached for the tablets on the bedside table. Then she took two and looked at the digital clock beside them, it read 6.30am. She had been to sleep for about 5 of those hours. She felt rough. Someone stirred beside her and her heart leapt in her chest as she turned over, relief washed over her when she saw Sean lying there. She closed her eyes and tried hard to get all images of the previous night out of her head, the embarrassment of the way she had acted was too much to take, especially in her current state.

Nikki woke much later that morning to find Trisha wrapped around her and naked. Then she frowned as she remembered why, she had come home completely frustrated after Helen's attempt to seduce her and taken her hormones out on Trish. Trisha hadn't complained of course. In fact she was glowing from the experience afterwards. Nikki however was feeling guilty… Why the hell should I feel guilty? she suddenly asked herself. The answer came to her quickly, because your besotted with Helen Stewart, and what your feeling for her already out numbers what you feel for Trisha. And the way she kissed you last night made you feel like no one had ever made you feel before. And because they already shared a connection that neither of them could explain.

And because I'm falling in love with her…

Nikki managed to remove herself from Trisha's warm loved up body, got out of bed quietly in the hope that she hadn't disturbed her and headed for the bathroom. Just as she was opening the bathroom door she heard Trisha call out in a cheery but sleepy voice, “Are you putting the kettle on?”

Nikki sighed, if there was one morning when she needed peace, time alone to think, then that was this morning but it didn't look like she was going to get what she wanted.

Work was complete hell for Helen, not only did she have another run in with PO Jim Fenner but his sidekick, the Governing Governor Simon Stubberfield had called her to his office for a few words, a few words dismissing her actions and taking on Fenners. Yet again she had lost the battle of the sexes. A battle strong within Larkhall Prison, a battle that was making her Scottish blood boil with anger. She was beginning to wonder what she was doing there. Why take on a job that makes you unhappy Sean had commented that morning. Why indeed, Helen was starting to think. And so when it was time to go home she was very relieved about it. And for once she had Sean's full attention for the evening, as for once he hadn't bought his work home with him.

“Sean.” Helen was cuddled up in his arms as they watched TV.
“Mmm.” He mumbled, his focus on the snooker.
“About your proposal.”
All focus on the snooker was forgotten, he looked to Helen and grinned like a Cheshire cat, “You wont regret this hels!”
She hadn't even said anything and he had jumped to conclusion that she had said yes. She was too tired to get into now, too tired to argue and so she just smiled. Besides she was beginning to think it was the right thing to do after her night out with Nikki. She had made a complete fool of herself. I'm straight for Gods sake and I don't fancy Nikki… she thought to herself, trying to convince herself seemed harder than it should have been.

Then Sean pulled Helen into a kiss. His lips were rough… not soft like Nikki's. His breathe didn't make her tingle all over like Nikki's did and his hands reached for her breasts roughly… unlike Nikki's soft tender hands that circled her waist as they stood outside the arts centre and kissed. Her heart didn't pound hard in her chest like it did when Nikki kissed her. And her clit didn't throb with the excitement the kiss provoked when Nikki had kissed her.

Helen kissed Sean harder, deeper and tried to provoke a response, she eventually pulled away and looked at him with very confused eyes.
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Chapter 9

Helen took tentative steps towards the doors of the book group the following Wednesday evening. Nervously she stood before the door wondering if she should go in. Her courage failing she was about to turn right around and go back home when a man walked up and opened the door for her.
“Helen isn't it?” he smiled at her. His dark hair and slightly darker skin gave Helen the impression he had Italian blood running right through him but he spoke with an English accent.
“Yes,” she smiled back, “Thanks.” She told him before walking in as he closed the door behind her. She couldn't remember his name from the group meetings previously and so she asked for his name before they went through and joined the others.
“David.” He smiled and held his hand out for Helen to shake, “David Jones.”

David led Helen to sit beside him. Helen hadn't yet seen Nikki and so she decided to join him, maybe after last week Helen had put her off ever going to the group again? Helen wouldn't have blamed her. She was somewhat intrigued by her new friend, he looked Italian but his name and his voice far from resembled anything east of the north sea. He made her feel more at ease and she was glad of him for that.

It was noticeable to Nikki that Helen was avoiding her right from the start of the meeting when she sat away from her and became very chatty with a male member of the group. Or at least this was how it appeared to Nikki.
Nikki had glanced over at her from time to time throughout the first half an hour and each time Helen had diverted her eyes. Nikki couldn't work out if Helen was embarrassed because of her behaviour on Sunday or just giving her the cold shoulder. But one thing was for sure… Helen looked just as gorgeous as she did on that Sunday, wearing jeans and a red silk shirt, with black boots that went up to the ankles, her hair had been tucked behind one ear on Sunday as it was now. The dark blonde strands showed signs of light, had Helen had her hair lightened? Nikki was sure she had. And those green eyes just melted right into Nikki's soul as they eventually exchanged a knowing glance when Helen read a passage from a favourite book, it was spoken with such emotion and such conviction…and it tore at Nikki's heart.

“It is morass my life, a bog, a swamp, a deceitful country, with the one bright patch in the middle” That was when Helen had met Nikki's eyes finally… and with that she picked up her voice and carried on, diverting her eyes back to her book, “the patch that is unalterably his,” Helen glanced at Nikki, Nikki had glanced back, both hearts were beating faster, Helen took a breath before continuing, her emotion building, ”I know that wading through it all he would emerge holding his estimate of me steadfast.” Nikki silently agreed that nothing could change her opinion of Helen now, and that she had not known her long but just one evening alone with her meant more to her than a lifetime with Trisha. Helen then continued to read, “This would be the test of my confidence, from which I would not shrink, I would not give it to her, perilous touchstone!” The group watched and listened to Helen speak the words with awe, she was like an actress on a stage, “Who even in these first score of lines should teach me where truth lies. I do know where it lies, but have no strength to grasp it, here I am already in the middle of my infirmities.”

Helen smiled as the group clapped… the only person who wasn't clapping was Nikki, who more than anything look stunned. When Helen sat they fiddled about with their books and excitedly waited to find out who would read next, Helen had already done a fantastic job.

It was all becoming too much for Nikki, she finally stood and excused herself from the group, she never met Helen's concerned look once, she hadn't even read her favourite part from the book she had bought along, a book called Middlemarch by George Elliot. Like a sudden wind on a sunny day she was gone.

Helen watched Nikki has she made a sharp exit and felt overwhelming guilt. She stood and apologised to the group, said goodbye to David and headed off in the direction of those doors she so struggled into earlier.

Once out in the cold light of day, or evening air… Helen looked around for Nikki. She sighed in frustration and pulled her long coat around herself, it was chilly in more ways than one. There was no damn sign of the woman! How could she possibly move so fast? Helen took a slow walk down the street, going over how bloody ridiculous this had become between them and wishing she hadn't gone to see Romeo and Juliet that Sunday before. She was so lost in her own thoughts, in her own little world that she didn't notice the person walk out in front of her from a shop doorway.

“Looking for someone?”

It was Nikki, wrapped up in a long black coat, with her hands tucked into her pockets and a newspaper tucked under her arm.

Helen looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights of a whopping great huge truck!

“I… yes. I was looking for you.”

Nikki stepped towards her casually, she had a few minutes to calm down and take in the passage that Helen had read, and she couldn't help but feel terribly sorry for her. It couldn't have been easy trying to deal with feelings so new and so fresh, it couldn't have been easy living a lie with a person you thought was your future.

“Well, how about joining me for a coffee? It's freezing out here.”

“I know.” Helen blew on her hands, “Its may for Gods sake, one minute were in a heat wave, the next minute I'm freezing my toes off.” She smiled relieved to be asked. Knowing that everything was still okay between her and Nikki. The last thing she wanted to do was loose a friend, she didn't have many of them and Nikki was special, she was trying to figure out the feelings she had for her, but right now, as the quote in the book had read, it all felt like too much.

Nikki smiled and Helen followed her across the road to Starbucks.

Ouote from the book, Portrait of a marriage by Nigel Nicolson.
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Chapter 10

Helen ordered the coffees. She looked over at Nikki who seemed to be in a world of her own, hiding behind her newspaper. Helen made a note of the newspaper in her hands, The Independent.

Very much like Nikki… the independent took a look at the world news from a completely open point of view.

Helen smiled to herself as warmth spread through her, she couldn't take her eyes off Nikki Wade. She was doing this when Nikki lowered her newspaper and peered over at Helen. For a fleeting moment their eyes met… both of them very aware of the extreme way it was making them feel.

“Two coffees”

Helen shot around and looked to the counter, “Thanks.”

She took the coffees and walked over to where Nikki was sitting, placing them down on the table.

When Helen had sat down Nikki gave her a curious look.
Helen could sense something was puzzling her friend, she smiled at Nikki, “What?”
“Your hair…” Nikki replied, her eyes roaming across the soft dark blonde hair that now harboured a few streaks of red and blonde. “Did you have it highlighted?”
Helen touched her hair and smiled, “Yes, do you like it?”
“It's beautiful.” Nikki replied seriously and then added, “Your beautiful.”

Helen watched as Nikki's attention left her and went to the mug of hot steaming coffee. She took a deep breath and then told Nikki, “I must apologize for Sunday. I'm not usually like that I swear. I'm really sorry.” Helen felt her cheeks go red just remembering it. The way she had drunk just a little too much and let herself go… even if she had acted truthfully to the way she felt, it was still dead embarrassing under the circumstances, after all she was engaged to be married.

Nikki looked a little amused and then replied with almost a whisper as she lent closer to Helen across the table, “I'm not sorry.”

Helen sat up straight and nervously bit her lip then she dared to look at Nikki, “Nikki…I”

Nikki stopped her, “it's okay Helen, I was just joking.”

Helen smiled with relief and then took a sip of her coffee. But soon relief turned to disappointment as what Nikki had actually said started to sink in… I was joking…
Helen then took a deep shuddering breath and told Nikki, “Sean asked me to marry him.”

Helen could see the stunned expression on Nikki's face. Nikki just diverted her eyes to her coffee and put her hands around the warm mug, her only words, “oh…”

Helen was in turmoil, “I don't know what to do.”

Nikki slowly looked up, her question was simple, “Do you love him?”

“I don't know.” Helen had confusion written all over her face. Then confusion turned to shock when she realised what she had said.

Nikki looked just as surprised, “There's your answer.”

“We are engaged.” Helen replied. “Everything is a complete nightmare.”

Nikki was stunned yet again, “When did that happen?”

Helen shook her head, “It doesn't matter, what matters is that my life is out of my control, what the hell am I going to do?”

“Helen, I'm not an expert when it comes to relationships, but even I can see that your doing the wrong thing here.” She reached her hands across the table.

Helen took them into her own and looked to her eyes, “God Nikki I've made such a mess of my life.”

Nikki moved from her chair to one closer to Helen, then she put her arm around Helen's shoulder and comforted her, Helen was on the verge of tears.
“Hey, you have a good job, a home of your own, a nice car, and a friend who cares about you.”

Helen wiped her eyes and looked to Nikki, “My job is just as bad as my love life right now believe me, I'm not sure what's worse. In fact I don't know why I keep going back there… its too hard.”

“Why what happened?” Nikki asked.

“What hasn't happened…” Helen laughed bitterly.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Nikki asked gently. Her voice was sincere, her heart breaking for Helen's predicament.

Helen sighed, “I shouldn't be landing all this on you.”

Nikki hugged Helen a bit tighter, “Don't talk daft, you're not landing anything on me.”

They ended up booked into a premier lodge. Helen phoned Sean to let him know she would not be home that night and that she would be staying with a friend from the book club. When he asked what friend, Helen had told him it was Nikki, as in a female… the one she had told him about before. He relaxed at that point and looked forward to having the television to himself for the entire evening.

Nikki closed the hotel door behind them and locked it. The only room available had been a double on-suite. Nikki walked in just as Helen was taking off her shoes as she sat at the end of the double bed. Suddenly Nikki was a little nervous and wondering what the hell she was thinking off, bringing this attractive, beautiful woman to a hotel room with one double bed… a bed they were about to share. She did a silent prayer to her hormones, begging them to be quiet, before stepping forward and taking off her coat, she smiled at Helen gently, who smiled back at her.

Then Nikki closed her eyes in quiet desperation… If I had a brain I would be dangerous… and if I had any sense I wouldn't be here, but to hell with sense… Helen needs me tonight. Nikki opened her eyes to catch Helen watching her… she was lent against the head rest with a pillow behind her back. Nikki walked over to the side of the bed and took off her shoes, then she joined Helen on the bed and sat beside her.

“This reminds me of boarding school…” Helen smiled, “When a girl friend of mine would sneak into my room at night so we could spend the night talking.”
Nikki looked at Helen, “I went to boarding school too.”
“Really?” Helen studied Nikki's face, so perfect, and those eyes… well those eyes struck her from the moment they first met. Helen could have fallen into them and lost herself gladly.
“I hated it… I have a feeling your experience was a lot more fun than mine.” Nikki smiled.
Helen felt her heart skip a beat at Nikki's smile… “It was okay, I was happier at university I must admit.”
“I didn't get that far.” Nikki replied thinking back, “At the age of 16 I was well and truly on my own… it was a matter of survival for a while.”
“Why?” Helen asked shocked.
“My parents… they found out I was gay and didn't want anymore to do with me.” Nikki replied almost cold to the facts.
“That's terrible.” Helen was truly amazed that parents could treat a child so badly. “Where did you go?”
“My girlfriends… at the time I was dating someone a little older. Then when she decided she wanted a man, she made me move out and brought in some bloke she met.”
Helen was now astounded, “How could anyone do that?”
“I don't know Helen, but there are plenty of straight women out there who do.” Nikki said it in all innocence and hadnt been pointing at Helen, but when Helen went quiet she had to reassure her. “No offence.”
“None taken.” Helen replied with relief.

“Anyway, we came here to talk about you…” Nikki changed the subject.
“Not much to say, apart from I am questioning myself so much right now… my work, my relationships, my life.” Helen looked down and admitted, “I think I've chosen the wrong career… It just isn't working out.” Tears were in Helen's eyes, “I cant do a damn thing for these women… every step forward I take, something happens to bring me right back to the beginning.”
Nikki placed her arm around Helen's shoulder and looked to her, “Hey I'm sure your doing your best…”
“Well my best isn't good enough…” Helen mumbled as her tears started to fall.
“Hey,” Nikki placed her hand to Helen's face and made her look at her, “You mustn't talk like that.”
“I just don't know how much more I can take.” Helen began to cry openly.
“You don't give yourself enough credit.” Nikki told her passionately. Her hand was still stroking Helen's tears away.
Helen looked to Nikki as Nikki moved in closer, “You really think that?”
“Yes…” Nikki replied quietly.

Their lips were inches apart and slowly, but surely Nikki's arm circled Helen's shoulder more, their eyes closed and their lips joined in a gentle exploratory kiss. Nikki felt the softness of Helen's lips, her warm mouth, the gentle tongue and felt herself going weaker by the second. Helen was lost in how beautiful the kiss felt. It was slow, sexy, erotic, not rough and needy like Sean's kissing. Helen felt herself more turned on by this simple kiss than she had ever been, but in her head she wasn't ready for this… in her head she needed time.

Eyes opened as Helen pulled away and awareness stared right back into Nikki's eyes… but did Helen dare to let her control go even more and admit it?
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Chapter 11

Helen stood to leave, flustered, unsure, scared…

“Helen don't go…” Nikki followed her and hounded her while Helen put on her shoes and jacket. “I'm sorry.”
“That shouldn't have happened.” Helen frowned at Nikki and finally headed for the hotel door.

Nikki placed her hand to the door stopping Helen from leaving.
“I can't let you go, not like this, your upset.” Nikki told her. Her heart beating so hard, her emotions rocked by the kiss and all that it had done to change things.
“Nikki,, please let me go.” Helen looked at her, her eyes betraying her stronger feelings for Nikki.
“Stay please…” then Nikki decided to try to lighten the mood, “So we kissed… what's a kiss…”
Helen struggled for the right answer to that, “I… Nikki… I really should go.”
“Helen what are you so afraid of? It was only a kiss. I'm not going to ravish you.” Nikki did not move from her position, with her hand rested on the door.
Helen sighed, “I'm afraid of making even more mistakes, even bigger ones.”

The thought of being ravished by Nikki was definitely sending sweet signals to her brain telling her to give into it.
Nikki let her hand fall from the door, “Is that how you see our friendship?”

Helen bit her lip and nervously tucked her hair behind her ear.
“If that is how you regard me, as a mistake, an even bigger mistake than Sean, then you may as well go back to him and marry him.”
“Nikki that's not fair, you know that's not what I meant.” Helen replied in frustration. “And as for Sean, its over… I'm going to tell him as soon as I can.”

Nikki walked back towards the bed, “Then stay, please… I wont kiss you again I promise.” She smiled a little and Helen could not help but let out a small laugh, she tried to cover it but Nikki had seen it.
“Oh what the hell, if I go back home Sean will only be all over me like a rash.” Helen said as she approached the bed. “I may as well take my chances here with you.”
Nikki laughed, “I'm not sure if to take that as a compliment or not.”
Helen took off her jacket and hung it up, “I didn't mean that the way it sounded, sorry.”
“Tell you what, I'll make some coffee…” Nikki looked to the kettle and then to Helen, “Unless you prefer tea?”
“No coffee is fine.” Helen replied and took her place back on the bed.

They drank their coffee and talked some more about when they were growing up. Helen told Nikki all about her mother and the vague memories she still had of her before she had died when Helen was just ten years old. She also told Nikki about her father, who had little time for her or anyone she ever dated, least of all Sean.

“When I told my dad about the marriage proposal he just said, oh, your finally going to do it are you.”

Helen's bitterness for her father was obvious by the way she spoke about him. Nikki felt incredibly sorry… she knew what it was like to have parents who just did not understand you, or just were not there for you. Nikki then spoke reluctantly about how she grew up with quite a privileged lifestyle. She had seen most of the world by the age of 15, been raised in central London where her mother lived off the earnings their father brought in. He was a Navy officer, highly respected and well thought of.

“Do you have any brothers, sisters?” Helen asked.
“One brother, David, a married Solicitor.” Nikki replied, her mind wandering back to childhood, “We were so close as kids, he's a few years older, refused point blank to join the navy when father tried to insist.” She smiled.
“Do you keep in touch?”
“No.” Nikki replied. “You know what its like when you lose touch with people… he got married, I got… well I had a lifestyle he didn't really approve of.” Nikki was careful not to mention Trisha. “We haven't seen each other in about nine years.”

They had talked a little more and then got into bed and turned the lamplight on. Helen's eyes lit up when Nikki pulled out a book from her bag beside the bed.

“Middlemarch!” Helen smiled.
“You read it?” Nikki asked as she got comfortable and prepared to read a bit before going to sleep.
“It's a rather good book.” Helen nodded.

Nikki smiled at Helen and then opened up the book to read.
Helen lay down beside Nikki and then looked up at her and asked her to read to her.

“Read to you?” Nikki had a small smile on her lips.
“Mmm… it will help me sleep.” Helen yawned.

I can think of something else that will help you sleep… Nikki thought to herself and her inner self cursed her for thinking it, she would never get to sleep tonight with thoughts like that going around in her head. It was like being handed the cookie jar and being told you were not able to open it up and take one.

“Please…” Helen smiled up at her.

How could Nikki possibly refuse that smile, that woman! Nikki looked to Helen, “Okay… but you'll have to hear it from where I'm book marked.”

“Sure.” Helen replied as she snuggled down and closed her eyes.

Then Nikki's eyebrows knotted in a thoughtful expression, “Wait I have a better idea.”
“I'm not ready for that yet.” Helen smiled when she said it, showing Nikki she was playing with her.
Nikki was about to react when she saw that smile and melted…she just smiled back at her and then reached for her bag, she pulled out another book and placed it on the bed.
Helen looked at it with some curiosity, “Mmm…Annie on my mind by Nancy Garden.” She paused and looked at Nikki, “I've never heard of this one.”
Nikki picked it up and opened it up, “I didn't think you would have… just relax back and let me read to you.”
Helen lay back down on her side, facing Nikki.

Then Nikki began to read… Helen closed her eyes…

“I read this book years ago to a teenager who came to the club and was questioning her sexuality… anyway, here goes…” Nikki flicked to the page she wanted to read.

“We sat huddled together on the wall in the shadow of some big trees, watching until Pixie and mommy were back inside their house, and then we walked back down to the ferry ship, shoulders touching. I think one reason why we didn't move away from each other was because if we had, that would have been an acknowledgement that we were touching in the first place.” Nikki paused and took a breath, her heart steady, her hormones bubbling away under the surface. Helen so close to her in a double bed… Was this such a good thing? she thought to herself and then she continued to read…

“We each called home to say we'd be late, and on the way back in the ferry we stood far up in the bow as possible so we could watch the lights in Manhattan twinkling closer and closer as we approached. We were the only people on deck, it was getting very cold.
“Look!”, said Annie. She closed her hand on mine and pointed up with her other hand. “The stars match the lights, Liza, look.” It was true. There were two golden lacework patterns now, one in the sky and one on the shore, complementing each other.
“There's your world,” Annie said softly, pointing to the Manhattan skyline, gold filigree in the distance.
“Real, but sometimes beautiful,” I said, aware that I was liking Annie's hand touching mine, but not thinking beyond that.
“And that's like my world.” Annie pointed up to the stars again. “Inaccessible.” ”

Helen with her eyes closed could hear everything, not just the words but the way Nikki read them, her voice so beautiful, so soothing, expressive… and the way it could turn husky at the appropriate times made Helen feel warm. She could sense Nikki's emotions as she read, she could almost see her expressions without looking, and she could hear her breathing and almost feel the steady beat of her heart. Helen had fallen to sleep as the last few lines were read.

Book read: Annie on my mind by Nancy Garden.
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Chapter 12

Trisha Harris had arrived home from the club she ran with Nikki Wade well into the early hours of the morning. She had checked her mobile phone as she stepped into the door to find a message from her…

“Hi Babes, crashing out at a friends from the book club, see u 2moro, Luv Nikx”

She had smiled and walked on through to the living room, she had walked over to where photographs of them both together were placed around the room sparsely. Her smile faded as she picked up one of them walking in the Lake District, happier times when their love was still new and fresh, Nikki wore a blue ski jacket and jeans, Trisha was in a red puffa jacket and jeans, both of them wore gloves, the weather obviously a bit chilly. Nikki had her arm placed around Trisha's shoulder as they both smiled for the stranger who had agreed happily to take their photo. Trisha could remember it so clearly like it was yesterday; they had walked for miles and enjoyed a sensual bath together on the evening at their hotel. Nikki was just 28, Trisha had been a couple of years older. Now as Trisha looked at the photograph she could recall most things, the only thing she could not quite recall was how she felt, she knew she had been happy, and so had Nikki, but now it seemed like a lifetime ago. They had been growing apart for the past two years, their love life dwindling to virtually nothing. The club had really taken off and then Gossard came along… everything changed. His attack and Nikki's bravery had stuck in Trisha's mind from that day forward. Nikki had almost been imprisoned for life, it had been the most stressful time of both their lives… and Trisha felt overwhelming guilt seeing her lover go through it all… not knowing if a few months down the line Nikki's freedom would be taken away from her.
Nikki had withdrawn into herself and her head was usually stuck in a book, more so than ever before. Trisha found love and affection elsewhere with the woman who won Nikki's case, Charlotte Walker. They got on well at the trial and to thank her for all her help Nikki and Trisha had invited her for dinner one night. The start of their affair…

Trisha looked at the photo in her hands and placed it down then wiped a tear from her eye. She knew she had to be honest with Nikki and tell her she loved someone else, but how could you tell the person that saved your life and your sanity that you were no longer in love with them? And not only that, but you had fallen in love with someone else? Trisha had struggled with that question for a long time, each day telling herself she would tell Nikki and each day not being brave enough, not wanting to hurt the one who she knew loved her enough to risk everything for her.

Nikki woke to find a gorgeous Scot wrapped around her. Helen's head was tucked into her shoulder, her left arm wrapped around Nikki's waist, her left leg trapping Nikki's long legs and her shoulder length hair flared around her face and across Nikki's chest. Nikki gently moved the strands of soft dark blonde hair back behind Helen's ear where they belonged.
“You are beautiful.” Nikki said softly as she stroked the hair she had just neatly tidied up. Nikki's eyes took in Helen's face, asleep she looked angelic. Nikki wanted to kiss her, just holding her was a gift but to kiss her was amazing.
She sighed and then thought of Trisha…
She knew she would have to confront it soon. Her feelings for Helen were growing stronger with every passing minute. She could no longer lie to Helen… she to be honest with her and with herself.

“What are you thinking about?”

Nikki jumped slightly, she had not expected Helen to wake up yet, they had been up talking until late. Then her eyebrows knotted at the question, “Not much.”
Helen smiled and moved from Nikki, “Sorry about that.” She said apologising for the way she had entangled herself around Nikki.
“Don't be sorry.” Nikki smiled a little and whispered to her, “It was nice waking up to find you there.”
Helen got out of bed and picked up the rest of her clothing, “I better go…”
“Why what's the rush?” Nikki asked.
“I have work this afternoon and I'm going to have to show my face at home before I leave.” She frowned to herself at the very thought of Sean waiting for her. She knew he would, even if he had work, he would put it off just to make sure Helen got home okay, he acted more like her mother sometimes and it annoyed her.
Nikki frowned, “What is he? Your mother?”
Helen laughed, her thoughts had echoed Nikki's, “He likes to be the boss whenever he gets the chance.”
“Oh really…” Nikki had a smile making its way up the corner of her mouth and with a glint in her eye she asked, “So you're the bossy type then?”
“You have to be a bit bossy in my line of work.” Helen said pulling on her top over the vest she had slept in.
Nikki was still smiling as she packed her rucksack at the other side of the bed.
Some minutes later Helen was all ready to go, “Right I better go…”
“Wait!” Nikki shot over to where Helen was standing, “I'll give you a lift.”

Sean was checking his watch every ten minutes and by half eleven he was on the brink of calling up all of Helen's friends to find out where she was. “I gave up a days work for heavens sake… where the hell is she?”
“I'm here.” Helen replied as she stepped into the hallway.
Sean looked at her, “Oh hi hel.”
“Hadn't you better go to work?” she shot him a look that did not give away her anger.
“What?” he looked puzzled and flicked the hair from his face.
“You said you gave up a days work, I didn't ask you to do that.” Helen replied as she stood there before him.
“I was worried about you.”
“No need I'm not a child.” Helen brushed past him and made her way to the bathroom.
Sean followed her, “Hels, speaking of which… while I have the day off how about we start on those future plans?”
Helen stopped outside the bathroom door and looked at him questioningly, “What do you mean?”
“Well, we could go shopping together for my suit…”
“Suit?” Helen frowned.
“For the wedding.” He smiled in exasperation.
“Oh that.” Helen turned to open the bathroom door.
“Or…” he began and placed his hand on Helen's arm, “We could always give our other future plan a go…”
Helen turned a little her heart beating hard.
“You know…” he said moving closer to her, “making a baby.” He winked.

“Nikki, I'm so glad your home, we need to talk.” Trisha greeted Nikki as she walked into their home.
“Yes we do, but not now darling, I'm tired.” Nikki said as she took off her coat.
“This is important.” Trisha continued.
Nikki turned to look at her, “Is this about Charlotte?”
“What?” Trisha asked very stunned.
“I know about your affair.” Nikki said matter of factly and walked into the kitchen.

A shocked and bewildered Trisha followed…
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Chapter 13

“How did you find out?”
Nikki was putting the kettle on. Trisha was now sitting at the table in the kitchen.
“I saw you.” Nikki replied her back to Trish.
Trisha put her head in her hands… she could not believe this was happening.
“I'm so sorry Nik.” She looked up from her hands to Nikki.
Nikki turned around and stood against the work top, hands in the pockets of her jeans. She wasn't sure what to say to her so she said what she really felt, “It's over, we need to move on.”
“Sure.” Trisha shakily got to her feet and walked over to Nikki, “I'll stop seeing her, that isn't a problem… and we can make our relationship work again, I know we can.”
“Trish, I didn't mean that. I meant, you and I, were over, finished. I don't love you anymore.”
Trisha had to sit down…

“Sean you are joking?” Helen looked stunned.
He laughed, “No… why would I joke about that.”
“That's it, I can't take anymore of this.” Helen told him, her face like thunder.
“What? What did I say?” Sean looked amazed that his advances had such an effect.
Helen pushed past him and went to the living room, she slumped down on the sofa with her head in her hands.
“Hels what's wrong?” Sean looked concerned. “Did something happen last night?”
Helen had to laugh, No sadly nothing had happened and she was wondering why… she looked up at Sean who was towering over where she sat, “Sean we need to talk.”
“About the wedding? Look if it's too soon that's okay.” He struggled to figure out at the best of times and right now he was completely unaware of any deeper problem.
“Sean, will you stop going on about the wedding!” Helen glared up at him and then began to cry.
Sean sat down beside her and put one arm around Helen's shoulder, “Is it that time of the month again?” he said carefully suspecting full blown PMT.
Helen looked at him in disbelief and wiped her eyes, “I can't marry you.”
“What?” he moved away stunned. “Why?”
“Because…” Helen paused and wiped more tears from her eyes, “I don't love you.”
“Helen….” It was the first time he had used her full name since the day they had met, “What are you talking about?” he stood, a deep frown on his face, “So what the hell was this for?” he took his engagement ring and threw it at her.
Helen was shaking, but she remained strong, she stood, faced him, took off her ring and placed it down on the table before she put on her coat and left without another word.

Sean was in complete shock, he sat for a while puzzling it over and then remembered the amount of times Helen had an headache lately, or went into work instead of planning things for the wedding with him. Even the trip to his parents had been called off because Helen wanted to attend a funeral of one of the inmates children… that he couldn't get his head around. There was one thing being proud of your position and enjoying your work, but taking a con to a funeral, where was the fun in that? He frowned deeply and then his mind started to go over recent events, what could have kicked this all off?
“Nikki…” He said to himself… “That's who she was with last night…” he walked over to the phone book and looked up her number, “Yes!” he said joyously as he found the number, but instead of dialling the number he took the name and number and scribbled it down into his own notebook.

Helen drove around for a long time before stopping at a park and taking a stroll. It was a lovely warm day, different to the day before and the rain… she was glad of it, it made her smile as the sun kissed her skin, but then she stopped smiling when she remembered she had little to smile about right now. Her eyes had become sore from her tears, but now she had cried so much that she couldn't any more. Now she felt relief… at last she was free, at last she had her life back and she was now very much in control of it. She just hoped that Sean would have the sense to pack up and leave before she got home.
She found a bench and sat down and while she was sitting there watching the world go by she could think of nothing else but Nikki. The way Nikki made her feel had no comparisons and yet she couldn't loose that control again, not yet, she had only just got it back… she needed to sort herself out before she gave herself to anyone else.

When Helen was leaving for home again, by late evening, she had come to a decision… she was due some leave and now would be the perfect time to take it.

The following Wednesday Nikki arrived at the book club eager, she couldn't wait to see Helen again, and especially now she had sorted things out with Trish, she really was a free agent. Nikki had also been worried about Helen, she hadn't heard from her since last Wednesday when they shared a hotel room and swapped stories of childhood. She was wondering how it had gone with her fiancé, if Helen had told him yet that she couldn't marry him. Every day Nikki had been so tempted to phone Helen up but was afraid she night catch her at the wrong moment… at work, in his company or even worse, in his bed.

All week Nikki had thought about Helen, she couldn't get the adorable Scot out of her mind. She could not imagine her life now without Helen in it. She had fallen in love with her and heavily. Nikki stepped through the doors of the book club late, her heart racing as she did so… her eyes scanned the room for Helen and her heart felt heavy when she did not find her.

“Nikki… take a seat…”

Nikki walked over reluctantly and sat down, her feet felt like lead and her head was spinning, she turned to David beside her, “Have you seen Helen?” she whispered whilst another member of the group started to read.

He shook his head and Nikki turned her attention back to the reader but right at that time her heart was not in it and worst of all, the woman was reading a passage from Romeo and Juliet. Doomed from the start just like me and Helen… Nikki thought to herself.
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Chapter 14

Helen drove into a dusty road track that led to a croft about 30 feet from the roadside. Surrounding her there was a large expanse of green, a field, untamed, growing wild and presently full of wildlife. Beyond the grounds into the far distance there were mountains… and before them tall trees of many a description with a small stream flowing through them and down towards the croft where it passed by on it's way to a huge Loch.

Helen pulled up on the gravel outside the back of the croft. She stepped out of her silver VW Polo and just stood and looked out at the huge expanse of land that was hers. Her secret hideaway from the rest of the world… she took the fresh afternoon air into her lungs and let out a deep breath, and it felt good. Helen loved the city, but she also needed this solitary space of her own where she could go when she needed to be alone, needed time to think or just needed a break from the hustle and bustle of city life.
It was a far cry from London and its heavy atmosphere. The only thing in the highlands that would take your breath away, would be the scenery.

Helen walked over to the boot of her car and took out her luggage and she walked over and around to the front door of her croft. She placed the luggage down while she fiddled in her brown leather jacket for her keys… she pulled them out with a smile and placed the key in the door. She stepped inside with a contented look on her face and dropped her bags. Then let out a breath, a sigh of relief… an intense sigh of relief!

“Nikki knows about us.”

Charlotte grabbed her robe and tied it up, she ran her hand through her hair, her eyes were on stalks as she paced before the bed. Those 4 little words rattling around in her head… “How the…”

“She saw us.” Trisha told her, “Come back to bed.” She tapped the duvet with her hand.

Charlotte looked at Trisha naked in her bed, she let out a heavy sigh and sat down on the edge of the bed, then she looked to Trisha, “This doesn't change anything.” She told Trisha anxiously, “I can't leave my husband.”

“Why?” Trisha frowned, “The man's a complete bastard.”

“I know and that's why I cant leave him!” Charlotte replied, fear in her voice.

“Charlotte you can't carry on like this, you need to be strong. You have me now.” Trisha said softly laying her hand on Charlottes.

Charlotte had tears in her eyes as she looked away from Trisha, “But the kids… it will destroy them.”

“Continuing to live with him is already doing that, can't you see that?” Trisha replied in frustration, seeing the pain her lover was going through, knowing there was such an easy solution but that Charlotte could not see beyond her marriage and her children and the false security that entailed. “It's not that simple.” She replied.
“Babe you fight for women just like yourself, day in day out in those courts… what's the point in doing a job like that if you cant be true to yourself?” Trisha's emotions were taking over as she spoke. She hated to hear about the things Charlotte's husband put her through… the mental abuse, the affairs, and the long weekends away. Right at that moment he was away and that was the only reason Trisha was in Charlotte's house and in her bed. Trisha had just watched and listened, but it hurt her to feel so useless. Trisha was now at the end of her tether and not willing to take any more excuses.

It had been 3 weeks since Nikki last saw Helen. Trisha had moved out of their home and into the club and slowly they were sorting out their lives separately. It felt strange to Nikki after nine years of living with someone, the things that were familiar to her were gone… the CD and DVD collections had been halved, Trisha had only taken one book… a book on cooking by Delia Smith that Nikki had got for her one Christmas. She had always been a terrible cook and Nikki told her to take it, she was definitely going to need it to avoid all those expensive take away meals. Nine years of saving, building a home together, broken down so quickly… it was a shock to the system once all was quiet and Nikki was alone with her thoughts. But with that pain, came joy, the sheer feeling of well being, the relief of being free of those ties that did bind them together…Because love no longer did.

Nikki sat nursing a drink of the alcoholic variety. She had never been a drinker, even though she half owned a nightclub and she knew every alcoholic drink like the back of her hand. She always told people that it would be impossible for a drinker to own such an establishment… they would drink all the profits. Trisha had been in complete agreement although she loved her champagne on special occasions and the odd glass of wine in the evenings.

Nikki was wondering what was next… was she destined to be alone? Would she ever see Helen again? 3 weeks and not a word, her hopes were dwindling… hence the glass of whisky in her hands. The ironic thing about this particular blend… it came from a trip to Scotland two years after she met Trish. They had visited the Highlands for two weeks in June and Trisha had been bitten to death by the midges. Trisha had sworn never to go there again and truly kept to her word. Nikki had been forced to take her trips to the Highlands alone from that day forward. Trisha much preferred to go to Greece, Turkey or Spain and when she was feeling really extravagant the USA. And as Nikki sat with that drink her hands, she began to realise how incompatible they really had been. In fact, they had spent more holidays apart than together. Nikki lifted the glass tumbler to her lips and finished off the expensive golden liquid, ice melted into it, it had sat there so long.

She stood and walked over to the CD player, then looked up at her CD collection in the wooden rack she had made with her own fair hands… that was on the wall above the stereo unit. Nikki picked out a CD and placed it into the CD player, then she continued with her work around the house… making it feel and look like her own, removing every touch that had been Trisha's, not wishing to hang onto the past for one minute longer.

Trisha's affair had hurt Nikki more than she liked to admit.

Nikki's love for Helen was stronger than she could deny.

And for that reason she was determined to move on and hope against all hope that Helen would return to her.
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Chapter 15

Night soon drew close as Helen packed away the wood varnish and stepped back inside her cottage. She had been there a week and already had made some vast home improvements.
It was only a small croft, refurbished with an extension built onto the back… the bigger jobs on the croft completed by hired professionals but the little things and the inner shell had been all Helen's handy work.

She closed the door behind her and walked across the living room floorboards to the kitchen, once inside the kitchen she placed the varnish safely onto the kitchen cupboard. Then she washed her hands, and made herself something to eat. The week had flown by. She had been so preoccupied by the work that needed to be done on her cottage that she hadn't had much time to sit and think… at least not until night time, and usually a good book seemed to solve that problem as she vanished all her worries, her problems from her mind. At last, she was beginning to feel alive again, and at peace with herself.

No one knew this place existed. It was Helen's secret. Not even her best friend Claire was privy to such information. But often Helen would take off and vanish mysteriously. Claire had joked about it on many occasions, suggesting Helen had some wonderful lover overseas, someone who deserved her, because Sean sure as hell didn't. Claire never really took to Sean and he never took to her. Sean had no idea and he wasn't really concerned, after all, ever since they had met she had only been away from him once, and that was a couple of months after they got together. After one of their more fiery arguments and unfortunately his charm never seemed to work, the fire didn't melt it just turned to ice.

Helen placed her food down on the wooden coffee table alongside a glass of red wine and then she knelt down in front of the fireplace and lit it. It was all prepared earlier that morning and as the chilly evening air began to enter, she began to shiver. Helen rubbed her arms and moved back to the three-seated soft blue sofa, sat down and picked up her glass of wine.

The croft/cottage was small but what most would consider to be cosy, especially the way Helen had made it look inside. In front of her was the fireplace, in front of that the coffee table, littered with a few books tidy to one corner, a notepad beside them that Helen had been writing in, in the middle sat her plate of sandwiches and beside that her glass of red wine stood.

A pen lay to the right hand side where Helen had dropped it earlier after making her shopping list. Consisting mostly of fruit, salad, bread and pasta, rice… with the odd bottle of wine thrown in for good measure. A packet of biscuits stood opened beside the pen, rich tea to dunk in her tea!

To Helen's right stood a tall bookshelf against the wall. The door in the middle of that wall led to the kitchen and was currently ajar. Behind her was another wall that the sofa lent up against. The white wall plastered dipped and bent in the oddest of places and so prevented her from doing much with the wall… but she had managed to hang a framed poster above the sofa, a rare poster advertising an early production of Shakespeare's Othello. In addition, above the fire hung a photograph of New York in the winter. Something she had acquired on a trip there before she met Sean. A happy memory of spending time with her friend's… friends that seemed to have dwindled over the years…

Was that to do with Sean? she asked herself as she looked at the photograph that conjured up old memories. She sighed. Had she been the only one to take so long to realise what a selfish arrogant bastard the man really was? Claire had told her long before, when she warned Helen that his views were a bit old fashioned and before long he would have her running up the aisle and buying baby booties and signing over her job to Jim Fenner. How right Claire had been. Helen was suddenly stunned by the revelation that her best friend had been right about him all along. So why hadn't she listened to her?

With the fire gently glowing and soon to be roaring, she walked over to the window at the sound of the lashing rain and looked out… the sun was setting in the far distance, clouds building up and blocking its rays and drawing closer to where she was, were big dark clouds, ominously moving in as night came with it. The rain steadily got heavier and she drew curtains.

She sat down on the sofa and ate her food, slowly savoured her wine and then afterwards she settled down with her feet up and her boots kicked off, the fire now roaring beautifully and keeping her warm, she picked up her book from the coffee table and began to read…

Suddenly the room was filled with a bluish light. A few seconds later they heard the crash of thunder and the whole house shook.
“I have to go,” said Sophie. She got up and ran to the front door. As she let herself out, Hermes woke up from his nap in the hallway. She thought she heard him say, “See you later, Hilde.”
Sophie rushed down the stairs and ran out into the street. It was deserted and now the rain came down in torrents.
One or two cars were plowing through the downpour, but there were no buses in sight. Sophie ran across main square and on through the town. As she ran, one thought kept going round and round in her mind. “Tomorrow is my birthday!” Isn't it extra bitter to realize that life is only a dream on the day before your fifteenth birthday? It's like dreaming you won a million and then just as your getting the money you wake up.”
Sophie ran across the squelching playing field. Minutes later she saw someone come running toward her. It was her mother. The sky was pierced again and again by angry darts of lightning.
When they reached each other, Sophie's mother put her arm around her.
“What's happening to us little one?”
“I don't know,” Sophie sobbed. “It's like a bad dream.”

When was it that I realised my life could go on without my mother? Helen thought. She thought of her mother Lainie every day at some point, usually something would remind her, or it would be those quiet moments when she had time to think. The pain of losing her never went away it just got easier to live with. Her father did his best, but sometimes he just didn't know how to cope without her himself and so Helen suffered the brunt of his anger and his sadness.

Reading the book in her hands brought back all of those memories….

Helen didn't want to lose anymore people from her life… she didn't want to lose Nikki.

BOOK QUOTED: Sophies World.
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