Title:Plus Ça Change
Author:CanadaBadGirl
E-mail:patsyrules@excite.com
Rating:18
DISCLAIMERS:Bad Girls and all it's characters are property of Shed Productions. The author implies no ownership of these characters, and they are used in the stories without permission solely for entertainment and not for profit.
COPYRIGHT:This story belongs to the author, please do not reproduce this story in any format without prior permission from the author.

Part 1

Claire Walker was sitting in the same spot Nikki had occupied two years earlier, when Lisa had dropped the bombshell about having met Helen at her hotel. It was early summer and normally Claire would have been spending a few weeks at her house in France, but since she’d separated from her ex, neither had been comfortable going there, so it had been sold in the spring. Still raw from the breakup, she was enjoying spending time with Helen and Nikki, taking comfort from the strength of their love and their absolute devotion to each other. Since Nikki had needed to take an unexpected trip to London for a week, she was having some unexpected “bonding” time with Helen and their chats had given her some necessary perspective on the end of her own relationship.

She and Laura had drifted apart until they’d become cohabiting friends, but she’d still been devastated when Laura had fallen for someone else. She hadn’t thought it could happen to them after so many years, but observing Helen and Nikki, she wasn’t sure she and Laura had ever shared that degree of passion. In fact, I feel more heart-pounding excitement when Lucia… Her thoughts were interrupted by Helen’s voice.

“Oliver, when your other mum comes back, you are going to be in so much trouble!”

Oliver was a year old and completely aware of his charm. He looked innocently up at Helen with big brown eyes, whose sadness appeared to be absolutely authentic. Helen could feel her resolve wavering, even though she knew she was being manipulated. She forced herself to continue the scolding. “You know you’re not allowed in the study and now you’ve completely destroyed Nikki’s favorite…”

“Aw, Helen, give him a break. He’s only a baby. And he’s sorry. Just look at him.”

“He’s not a baby and we really need to stop treating him as though he is. What he is, is a hopelessly spoiled, eighty-pound dog.”

As though sensing an ally, Oliver slunk away from Helen, who was still holding what was left of Nikki’s well-chewed flip-flop, and sat down at Claire’s feet, leaning against her leg and slapping his tail against the patio. Unable to resist, she scratched his chin and he gave her a grateful look. Helen made a sound of disgust. “Do you want another coffee?” she asked, as she made her way back into the house to put the remains of the shoe in the bin. For some reason Oliver refused to accept that flip-flops were not chewy toys. No matter how careful Helen and Nikki were to put them out of his reach when he was unsupervised, he managed to find at least one pair a month. Otherwise he was such an angel that it was impossible to stay angry with him for what they’d decided might be a character flaw, although the woman at the dog obedience school had given them a stern look when they’d suggested that, assuring them that he would outgrow it if they remained firm.

“Yes, please,” Claire replied, turning her face towards the early morning sun as she absently stroked Oliver’s head.

She murmured her thanks when she heard Helen put the mug down on the table next to her. “What are your plans for today?” Helen asked, taking a seat opposite with her own mug.

“Lucia’s taking me to Niagara Falls, then we’re spending the night at a gorgeous Georgian hotel in Niagara-on-the-Lake.”

“Like that, is it?” Helen teased.

“You know it isn’t. We’re friends and have been for more than a year.”

“A year ago you were with Laura, so there was a valid reason for not acting on your attraction, but you’re both single now.”

Claire opened her eyes. “What are you on about, Stewart?”

“You and Lucia. You were attracted to each other a year ago and you practically blister the paint when you’re in the same room now.”

Claire looked away. “You’re being fanciful.” But her heart was beating faster. If Helen had noticed the effect that Lucia had on her, had Lucia noticed as well? Helen was right and that visceral reaction to Lucia’s presence had been there from the first. It wasn’t just a response to her physical beauty – although that was a constant – it was the way they instinctively knew how to make each other laugh and the way their views of the world seemed to coincide, despite the fact that their backgrounds could not have been more different. Even Laura had noticed their immediate ease with each other on their first meeting at a dinner party at Helen and Nikki’s in the spring of the previous year. She’d described it as “simpatico”.

“You and Lucia certainly got on like a house on fire,” she’d remarked as they’d prepared for bed.

“Mm,” Claire had agreed, as she’d brushed her hair, “I like the way she thinks.”

“Not to mention the fact that she’s a hottie,” Laura had added with a grin.

“As was her date,” Claire had replied abandoning her hairbrush to join Laura on the bed. “But I’m happy with my own hottie.”

Claire remembered that they’d held each other for a long time that night, not sleeping, just thinking their own separate thoughts, Claire dealing with faint guilt because she had noticed Lucia’s physical appeal, certainly more than she’d noticed the bubbly redhead who had been her dinner companion. Perhaps it was because of the passion with which Lucia spoke of her work with the environmental group that was, in an eerie coincidence, the same one for which Claire did pro bono work. Or perhaps it was the shared sense of humor that had seemed immediately familiar because it reminded her of Helen’s.

“Walker, we both know that you fancy her, so if you want to talk about it, I’ll be here.” Helen looked at her watch. “What time will you be leaving for the Falls? Will you get to see Nikki before you go?”

“What time will you be picking her up?”

“Her flight is due in at 12:30, so we should be home before 2:00.”

“Then I’ll see her tomorrow evening. Lucia’s picking me up at noon.”

“So,” Helen looked meaningfully at her, “will you be sharing a room with this woman you’re not attracted to?”

Claire looked away and flushed slightly. “I didn’t ask. I think she said something about a suite, so I’d guess separate bedrooms.”

“Claire…”

“Ok, I’m attracted to her! But probably not in the way you mean. I don’t look at her and have some lurid sexual fantasies. I look at her and I want to… touch her. I want to know what her skin feels like. And sometimes I want to kiss her so badly that I’m sure the whole world must know – yet I don’t think she does.” She stared out at the lake and Helen waited, saying nothing. This confession had been a long time coming and she knew Claire well enough to know that having decided to talk about it, she would be no less than completely honest. “I feel closer to her than… almost anyone, even though we’ve only spent sporadic days together over the last year. I love you and you’re my best friend, but she… moves me.”

“Why didn’t you say? Why didn’t you want to tell me?” Helen sounded a bit hurt.

“Because it makes no sense!” Claire sounded almost panicked.

Helen was stunned. In all the years she’d known her, Claire had been the “rock” in their group of friends. Levelheaded, sensible and eminently practical. She’d never known her to panic. She was fierce in her defense of the underdog and in her work with the environmental group, but her passions never seemed to be as visible in her personal life. She and Laura had met at university and they’d settled into stable domesticity that had seemed happy, if not particularly exciting. Both lawyers, both liking to cook and garden, both preferring to spend holidays in southern France, northern Italy and the lesser known Greek islands.

It had been odd to see the way Claire and Lucia had responded to one another. She and Nikki had remarked on it to each other at the time, deciding that it was nice to see a friendship that brought out another side of Claire’s personality. Months later, as they’d watched the “friendship” develop, they’d also admitted that Claire would not be the one to leave her relationship with Laura, even if it meant denying the nature of her reaction to Lucia. Until that morning, Helen had never really appreciated how unsettled it would make Claire to have someone push her out of her comfort zone.

“Emotions seldom do,” she replied quietly. “Having someone make you feel so much can be frightening.”

“Oh no you don’t,” Claire waved a hand in denial. “You are not going to compare this to your relationship with Nikki. Nikki has adored you from the start. Lucia has never offered more than friendship and it’s a friendship that has come to mean a lot to me. The last thing I need is to bugger the whole thing up with a… schoolgirl crush.”

“I’m sorry if I made light of your feelings. I had no idea.”

“My feelings will pass. I’m just overwrought because the woman who said she’d love me forever has walked out on me after fourteen years.”

“I believe Laura will always love you, just as you’ll probably always love her. She just isn’t in love with you, just as you’re no longer in love with her – and you probably haven’t been for a while.” Helen reached across the table and took Claire’s hand. “Have you spoken to her recently?” It had been three months since the breakup and a month since the sale of the house in France.

Claire nodded. “She’d left me a voicemail message, asking if I was all right. I sent her a text to say I was visiting you in Canada. She asked me to tell you, Nikki and Lucia that she’d said ‘hi’.”

Helen smiled. “Thanks for the message, operator. You’re sacked.”

“Feel free to withhold my salary.” Claire managed a small smile.

“So why do you think she assumed you’d be seeing Lucia?”

“Oh, come on. You will not be blaming me for my cheating ex-girlfriend’s… well, cheating. She knew that Lucia and I were friends and that we’d kept in touch via email. There was nothing in those email exchanges that I wouldn’t have wanted her to read and she often heard my side of the telephone conversations.”

“Ah!” Helen said, leaning back in her chair.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Claire glowered at her.

Helen offered her an understanding smile. “Do you remember what it was like to be around me when I got a call from Nikki?”

“Why are you using the past tense?” Claire teased, before saying seriously, “There is no comparison. She’d talk to you and I’d practically have to stop you from sticking a hand down your pants.”

“Claire!”

“Well, it’s true. You two have this sexual… thing. Come to think of it, it’s just as well I’ll be out of the house tonight, since you haven’t sha… seen each other for more than a week.”

“And you think you and Lucia will be any different once you know what it’s like to make love with each other?”

Part 2

Helen dressed carefully. The white top gave the impression of bands of cloth wrapped around her body, but leaving her arms and one shoulder bare. Her skin was lightly tanned and it glowed with health. Her jeans were light blue, faded at the thighs and bum to be deliberately casual and the toes that peeked out from beneath the frayed hems were perfectly manicured in their Jimmy Choo sandals. She kept her makeup to a minimum: mascara and translucent lipstick, with a hint of bronze contour to highlight her cheekbones. She wanted to look good for Nikki. It had been only a week since she’d seen her and less than a day since she’d heard her voice on the phone, but she’d missed her terribly and there was a mixture of anxiety and nervous anticipation as she drove to the airport. Tony had offered to drive her, but that would have meant her having to wait an extra half hour, or even an hour if traffic was bad, before she could be alone with Nikki and she’d politely declined.

She sat in the car, clutching her phone and waiting for it to vibrate. When it did and she saw Nikki’s name displayed, her heart started to race. Three years since I fell in love with her and she still does this to me. “Hiya.” She couldn’t keep the breathlessness or the wide smile out of her voice.

“Hello, darling.” Nikki, too, was smiling and Helen could hear it. “I’ve just cleared customs and immigration and I can see my suitcase, so I should be out in five minutes.”

“I’m parked on level 1 in aisle F.”

“Okay. I’ll see you soon. I can hardly wait.”

There was no way Helen could wait in the arrivals hall without being recognized and causing complete chaos, so she was forced to wait in the parking lot. She got out of the car after the call ended, too impatient to sit still. Nikki was back.



Oliver was beside himself when the Mazda roadster pulled into the driveway. He adored Lucia, possibly because she was the only non-dog owner Claire knew who walked around with dog treats in her pockets. “Hello, my angel,” she greeted him, handing him half a biscuit that he swallowed without chewing. He bounded around her as she walked towards Claire, who was standing just inside the front door.

Claire wished she’d had time to put on her sunglasses and she was thinking that a bib might not have been a bad idea, either. Lucia was wearing cream trousers that rode low on her hips and a white cotton top that had only three buttons, so it dipped low enough at the neckline to reveal a white lace bra when she stopped to pet Oliver and then showed off a completely lickable navel, when she straightened to greet Claire. “Good morning. Sorry to be early, but traffic is building on the QEW, so I thought it best to leave as soon as we could – that is… if you’re ready…” her voice trailed off as her eyes adjusted to the light in the house and she got a good look at Claire..

Claire hadn’t been expecting her so soon and she wasn’t quite ready. She had hastily pulled on tan cotton slacks, but hadn’t buttoned the waistband and she was holding her blouse closed with one hand, since she’d been in her underwear and had just switched off the hair dryer when she’d heard Oliver barking his head off and then the sound of the car in the driveway. She never wore her hair loose, but just then it was a dark blond cloud around her face and her eyes were wide and startled. “I… I’m almost ready,” she stuttered. “Would you like to come in?”

“Yes… of course.” The words sounded stilted, so Lucia forced herself to say something more. She was used to being a smooth talker and it completely threw her off when Claire had this effect on her. “Take your time. I’ll wait with Oliver and we’ll listen to some music.”

Claire smiled. “Well I’ve been playing the stereo, so the current playlist isn’t classical.”

Lucia smiled. “Good. Then you’ll probably like the music I’ve chosen for the drive.”

Claire disappeared up the stairs and Lucia heaved a sigh and made her way over to the B&O music system that Nikki had had professionally installed in the living room, turning it on and then moving to stare through the French windows at the stunning view of Lake Ontario. Not long after she’d moved in with Nikki, Helen had bought the house from Nikki’s landlord. She’d presented the title deed to Nikki, registered in both their names, as a wedding present.

The two of them loved their extravagant romantic gestures and Nikki had told Helen that she needed to get over her frugal attitude towards motors, handing her the keys to a Bentley Continental, pre-named Ella, with a stern warning to “Mind your right foot, it’s got twice the power of your old car – literally.” That was the car Helen had taken to the airport. These two didn’t take any prisoners when it came to wedding presents. It was just as well they hadn’t had a gift registry. What could they possibly have needed? Lucia had given them hand-made matching bracelets and, a year later, she’d told them that Oliver and his five litter-mates were looking for homes. That last bit of information had probably contributed more to their married life than anything anyone else had given them and Lucia was quite proud of the fact.

As she continued to stare at the lake, thinking about her friends’ happy romantic life and her pathetic one, she became aware of the music swelling to fill the room. It was Beres Hammond, singing “No Disturb Sign”, absolutely the wrong thing to listen to before you spent the night in a romantic hotel with a woman you were struggling to keep your hands off.


I hope we never get tired
And I never have to go to work
No one knocking on the door
Disrespecting the ‘No Disturb’ sign
No baby crying
No horn blowing
Just the whisper of our voices all day long

Oh, won’t you come a little closer
Pass me my orange juice
Reach over and hold me, baby
Just like that
Just like that
We’re going to be making love all day, baby
I hope we never get tired…


Unable to stand it and equally unable to bring herself to pick up the remote and skip to the next song, she stood still and endured her tortured thoughts. It didn’t help that she knew her family would love Claire. Every time she went home to Milan, it was always the same, “When are you going to settle down with a nice woman?” her father would demand.

“Your brother already has three children and your sister has two. When are you going to give me a grandchild?” her mother would chime in. She sometimes wondered if they rehearsed.

“You’re not getting any younger, you know,” said sister would sometimes remind her. If her brother was around, he’d be most likely to offer the services of one of his friends for grandchild production and she would invariably throw something at him. Her family was living proof that there was no upside to being queer.

They had disliked Greta almost as much as they’d loved Nikki. All her other exes had been received somewhere on the scale between the two extremes. Looking back, she wondered how much of her determination to make things work with Greta had been an attempt to thumb her nose at her pushy relatives. There certainly had not been too much logic behind it. She’d had a budding solo career and was in negotiations for a recording contract when she’d met Greta, an investment advisor to Vienna’s super-rich. Greta’s job involved a lot of travel and so did hers. When the affair had started, they’d tried to coordinate schedules, but not even good sex could overcome the practicalities of business travel. Someone had to compromise and Lucia decided that since she wanted the stable family life that everyone else in her family harangued her about, she’d move to Vienna and take a job that was about five years backward on her career trajectory. Her manager had been apoplectic, but her family had been silent. After all, she’d taken their advice, it just happened to be with someone of whom they did not approve. She had not introduced anyone she was dating to her family since she’d ended things with Greta.

“I’m ready.”

She turned to face Claire, bracing herself for her inevitable reaction to the sight of Helen’s best friend. Claire’s hair was now restrained in a ponytail with hair slides making sure it would stay neat in the convertible. Ever the practical one , Lucia thought fondly, so why do I catch you looking at me sometimes as though you feel everything I feel? She forced herself not to think along those lines. She could not imagine moving to London and she knew from experience that she could not handle a long-distance relationship, so Claire was off-limits. The temptation to try to seduce her, to give in to the physical longing that she suspected she was not alone in feeling, was sometimes strong, but their friendship had become important to her and both their lives were so intertwined with Helen’s and Nikki’s that a fling was out of the question. “Good. Let’s hit the road, then, shall we?”

“How long will it take to drive there?”

“At least an hour and a half. I hope you’re wearing sun block, because there isn’t a cloud in the sky. Unfortunately, that means the roads will be crowded. We can park the car and take a walk along the gorge and then I’ve booked us in for a helicopter ride over the Falls later on – I hope you’re not afraid of heights.”

Claire shook her head. “No, I think a helicopter ride sounds fantastic.”

“Excellent. Do we need to let Oliver out for a pee before we go?”

Claire smiled. No wonder he loved her. “No, he’ll be fine. He had a walk this morning and Helen and Nikki will be back within an hour.”

When Claire’s bag had been stowed next to hers, she asked, “Do you want to drive?”

The question surprised Claire. She simply hadn’t considered being offered the chance to drive Lucia’s RX-8, but looking at the gun-metal blue sports car gleaming in the sun, she grinned and looked at Lucia. “Don’t mind if I do.” She got into the soft white leather of the driver’s seat and held out her hand for the keys.

“You have issues around being in control, do you know that?” Lucia teased, handing over the keys and buckling herself into the passenger seat.

“Wouldn’t you like to know…” Claire replied with a wink, taking a few seconds to familiarize herself with the controls before putting the car into gear.

No kidding Lucia admitted to herself.

“Which way do we go?” The question interrupted a vivid image that Lucia was enjoying, of Claire dressed in leather and completely in control of her.

“Left at the gate and another left at the Shell station about a kilometer from here. Then just follow the signs for the Gardiner westbound.”

Lucia turned on the car stereo and they headed off on their mini adventure.

Part 3

Nikki was walking briskly through the parking lot, her long strides eating up the space between the terminal building and the row where Helen had parked the Bentley. Helen watched her approach with pleasure, taking in the tousled hair, the soft blue jeans and the hand-stitched white blouse that curved to the outline of her body, yet remained comfortable enough to allow Nikki to sleep in it. She always wore the same kind of top, made by the same London tailor, when she flew long distances. It was one of the little things Helen had found out about her in the last two years.

She was pulling a case and her battered Vuitton hold-all was slung over her shoulder. She looked stylish and confident and, Helen noticed as she got closer, tired. Nikki hadn’t noticed her and Helen stared shamelessly. She felt an ache in her chest; she loved that woman so much. She loved the sway of her hips when she walked, the way she held her head and the way her hair curled over her collar when she turned to check the aisle numbers as she walked.

Helen stepped away from the car and waved to get her attention. Nikki caught sight of her and the weariness was instantly banished from her features. A wide grin lit up her face and she waved back. There was no disguising the joy with which she looked at Helen, taking in every detail of her appearance. When she was a few feet away from her she dropped her bags unceremoniously on the concrete floor and almost ran into Helen’s arms. They hugged each other so tightly that they could barely breathe.

“I’m the luckiest woman in the world,” Nikki murmured into Helen’s hair.

Helen pulled back to look at her, her eyes moving lovingly over the face she adored. “I was just thinking the same thing.” She chuckled. “We are two very sad cows.”

They both giggled and then they looked silently at each other for several seconds before, as if by mutual agreement, they kissed. The kiss was gentle, almost tentative, a soft rediscovery of a pleasure denied for what had been, for both of them, far too long. Oblivious to the occasional pedestrian and circling motorist, they allowed the kiss to deepen, Nikki slipped her fingers through Helen’s hair, caressing Helen’s scalp as she lost herself in the taste of Helen’s mouth.

Helen moaned and her hands moved restlessly over Nikki’s back and then down to cup her ass. She moaned again as her touch made Nikki’s hips thrust reflexively against hers.

Nikki broke away from the kiss long enough to say, “Oh, god, I’ve missed you so much…” in a voice so low and raspy that it seemed to cause vibrations to go directly from Helen’s ear to her clit, leaving a trail of goose bumps in between.

“Yes,” Helen agreed hoarsely before Nikki’s mouth covered hers again, although she wasn’t sure exactly what she was saying yes to.

“Woo hoo!” The shout accompanied the beeping of a car horn as three teenage boys slowly drove by, ogling the lesbian couple they’d happened upon in a passionate clinch and no doubt making note of all the details so they could embellish them later.

Helen buried her flushed face in Nikki’s neck. She couldn’t believe she’d been caught snogging in a public car park. Then the silliness of it occurred to her and her shoulders started to shake with laughter.

“I’m glad you think it’s funny,” Nikki tried to say crossly, but Helen could hear the smile in her voice.

“It is funny. I feel like a teenager with nowhere to go to indulge in heavy petting with her girlfriend.”

“It was not heavy petting!” Nikki’s indignation sounded genuine and Helen pulled back to look at her, giggling again when she saw Nikki’s red face and the way her embarrassment wouldn’t quite allow her to meet Helen’s eyes.

“You’re adorable, do you know that?” Helen gently kissed her cheek and then pulled back to look at Nikki again. “Now, can I take you home and take advantage of your jet lag and physically weakened condition by making mad, passionate love to you?”

“Mmm” Nikki murmured, obviously liking the idea. Then she frowned. “Don’t we have a guest?” Reluctantly, they let go of each other and Nikki looked around for her abandoned bags.

“Not at the moment. She’s gone off to Niagara for the weekend.”

“Let me guess, with Lucia?”

Helen nodded and Nikki shook her head in wonder as she picked up her bags and Helen opened the trunk of the car to put them in. When they got into the car and Helen was reversing out of the parking space, she had to slam on the brakes and stare at Nikki when Nikki muttered under her breath, “Maybe we should fuck in front of them. Maybe they don’t know where to start and need some pointers. Maybe that’s what’s keeping them out of each other’s beds.”

Helen laughed at Nikki’s facetious comment. “I think Claire is just extremely wary. Laura was always part of what she saw for her future, so now she doesn’t trust her own judgment. If anything is going to happen, I’m afraid Lucia will have to be the aggressor.” She pulled into one of the queues to pay with cash for her stay in the parking lot, since in her excitement she’d forgotten to use the pre-pay machine. “Although Lucia has never had any problem being the aggressor since I’ve known her, so I don’t understand what’s holding her back with Claire. It’s obvious that she fancies her…”

Nikki looked thoughtful. “Yeah, but all the women who’ve been through Lucia’s bed in the last few years have been there strictly for sex. And I don’t mean to imply that Lu has taken advantage of them – she always makes her intentions very clear. She offers good sex with a beautiful woman and no promises for the next day. She likes them, but she also feels safe that she won’t feel any more than that, so matter how many times she beds them.”

“And she doesn’t feel safe with Claire?”

“Not safe from feeling more than horny, no, although she’s never actually admitted that. I’ve known Lu for a long time. And feeling more for Claire would probably be something akin to disaster as far as she’s concerned.” She looked at Helen. “You’ve spent a lot of time with her; has she ever spoken to you about Greta?”

“Not much. She’s admitted that she interrupted her career and more or less cut herself off from her family to try to make a go of their relationship, but it didn’t work out. My impression is that Greta was unfaithful. But I don’t think Claire would be unfaithful.”

Nikki shook her head. “Nor do I. Lucia’s fear isn’t based on Claire’s behavior, but on what Claire represents. Her contract with the TSO is up next year and she’s considering her options. Toronto gave her the chance to jump-start her career again by being a big fish in a small pond and she’s ready for the next step. But Lucia really hates London and moving there would be the thing to do if she got involved with Claire… but she wouldn’t be happy there. I know she’s received offers from Paris, Berlin and Milan. Berlin is the most prestigious, Paris is her favorite city and Milan would be close to her family. She and Claire are really close friends. Maybe she thinks that by keeping it at that level, she can have the career and the woman without it getting messy.”

“And, not that I think there’s any danger of it, but what if Claire meets someone else? If you’d met someone else before we’d had a chance to make love I’d have been…” She stopped speaking, trying and failing to find a word to describe how she might have felt if she’d missed her chance to have a relationship with Nikki.

By then they’d arrived at the booth and, as luck would have it, they were even in the queue with the carload of boys who had shouted encouragement at them earlier. The boys’ eyes were like saucers as they took in the Bentley and recognized the woman behind the wheel as the famous actress. The intimacy they’d witnessed took on new significance and the sleek car further fueled their imaginations. Nikki chuckled when Helen offered them a deliberately seductive look and a wink. The barrier lifted and Helen and Nikki pulled away just as the boys recovered enough to start fumbling around in their pockets for coins to pay the attendant who, by that time, was looking distinctly impatient.

They were already on the highway when Helen became aware that Nikki was staring at her. “What?” she asked, with a quick glance at Nikki and a small smile, before she turned her attention back to the road and quickly moved into a gap in the traffic and allowed the car to flex its muscles in the fast lane.

“You mean apart from the fact that you’re going to get a speeding ticket?”

“No, I’m not,” Helen argued, but she slowed down and signaled a lane change before joining the flow of traffic.

Nikki smiled. “I was just thinking that you have just given three boys the makings of very wet dreams tonight.”

“You mean because I was kissing my woman in a car park?”

“No, because you were flirting with them in a car park after kissing your woman and grabbing her arse.”

Helen giggled, completely unrepentant.

“And…” Nikki added with melodramatic gravity.

Helen flashed another look at her and raised an expectant eyebrow. “And what?”

“And I was thinking how much I love my wife,” she added softly and Helen felt as though her insides had melted.

The engine growled as she accelerated and moved back into the left lane, the needle on the speedometer crept over 140 Km/H, but she didn’t care. Suddenly, she was in a terrible hurry to get home.


Claire couldn’t remember the last time she’d had such a relaxing day. They’d quickly given up on the idea of walking up the gorge to the top of the Canadian Horseshoe Falls, because of the sheer number of tourists the good weather had attracted. Instead they’d driven by twice, Claire reluctantly allowing Lucia to take the wheel the second time, so that she could crane her neck to catch a few glimpses of the rapids and the lip of the falls, between tourists of all sizes, shapes and races and their digital cameras. “We’ll come back in winter when only the hardiest of souls are about,” Lucia had promised and Claire tried to ignore the way that promise had warmed her heart.

The helicopter ride had been as spectacular as Claire had expected. The memory of cloudless blue skies, white foam on aquamarine rapids and Lucia’s smile as she noticed the pleasure on her face, floated to the front of Claire’s consciousness as she sipped white wine and looked out over acres of vines at the winery where they’d stopped for a late lunch almost two hours earlier. “Are you ready to go for a walk with me?” Lucia’s voice broke through Claire’s reverie.

“Where to?”

“Along the water.”

“With all those tourists?” Claire tried to hide her horror.

Lucia laughed. “No, not there. Near here – Niagara on the lake. I know of a footpath down to a rocky beach. It’s still early in the season, so most of the beach houses will be empty.

Claire wasn’t inclined to move, but the restaurant staff had started to prepare the other tables for dinner and Lucia did make that walk sound appealing.

The sun was starting to dip towards the horizon as they clambered up the steep path to get back to where they’d left the car. Claire put out a hand to help Lucia since she was the first to get back onto the wide level footpath that ran parallel to the beach. When Lucia drew level, she did not let go of Claire’s hand and Claire simply enjoyed the feeling of Lucia’s fingers against hers. She enjoyed the unaccustomed roughness of Lucia’s fingertips, ridged from the strings of her violin. Too soon they were back at the car and their fingers reluctantly disengaged.

They’d been talking about Paris, each delighted with the other’s familiarity with the city – not just the well-traveled and well-known parts, but the more obscure and quiet streets of Montmartre and of the left bank. When Lucia began to describe a small bistro she liked to visit, Claire recognized it. “La Porte Verte ,” she said, immediately.

“That’s it!” Lucia could hardly believe it. “But do you know why the owner called it that?” Without thinking, she asked the question in French.

“Well, it does have green doors as well as green shutters on the windows,” Claire observed wryly in the same language.

“True, but that’s not why. It’s because he had a small part in the notorious pornographic film Behind the Green Door .”

Claire’s mouth opened in a shocked little “o” that made Lucia laugh. Claire pushed her and got into the car. “How do you know that?” she asked as she buckled herself into the passenger seat.

“Because after that, he got involved in recording music for some of the x-rated films with bigger budgets. It supplemented his income as a cellist. I met him when he took over from the cellist in a quartet I played with when she took time off to have a baby.”

“You know the most exotic people.”

“True,” Lucia agreed in English. “I know you. And I didn’t think you spoke such fluent French. First Helen and now you. You Brits are full of surprises.”

Claire shrugged. “I spent a lot of time in Paris when I was a student and we… Laura and I had a house in Provence until a few months ago.” Claire’s voice tightened when she mentioned Laura.

Lucia had already started the engine, but she put the car back into neutral and turned to face Claire, putting a warm hand on her thigh. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bring up a painful memory.”

Claire shook her head and her troubled eyes met Lucia’s. “You didn’t.” When Lucia looked skeptical and apologetic, she covered Lucia’s hand with hers and said honestly. “What I feel is regret. Regret that something I took for granted is gone. Regret that what Laura and I felt for each other was not enough to sustain a relationship for the rest of our lives. Perhaps some regret that we wasted so many months, maybe years, pretending that a wonderful friendship was more than it was… and as a result we’ve probably lost that friendship.”

“Darling, just because your interaction with Laura is awkward right now, doesn’t mean you won’t eventually regain the closeness you had as friends. It’s only natural for the adjustment to take some time.”

“You’re not friends with Greta, are you?”

Lucia sighed and looked away. “Yes, but I was never friends with Greta.” She turned back towards Claire. “I think it will give you a different perspective on your own relationship if I tell you about the travesty that was mine. So why don’t we check into the hotel, ditch this car and go to a great little bar I know where the music is mellow, the wine is good and where the food is, well, adequate? I shall tell you my short, hair-raising tale and then we shall spend the rest of the evening talking about anything but our ex-lovers?”

“Sounds like a plan,” Claire said with a smile, but she immediately missed the warmth of Lucia’s hand on her thigh when it was taken away so that Lucia could put the Mazda in gear.

Part 4

“Do you know what the best feeling in the world is?” Nikki asked, trailing a hand over Helen’s thigh and hip as they lay facing each other on the bed.

“I have a few ideas,” Helen replied huskily, feeding a strawberry to Nikki and moaning softly as Nikki bit into it and a drop of juice pearled on her lip.

The conversation was interrupted as Helen leaned forward to lick the juice off Nikki’s lip and then stayed to taste the flavor of the fruit on Nikki’s tongue. As they kissed, Helen’s hand wandered over Nikki’s back to the nape of her neck and then lingered there, her nails lightly tracing a pattern on sensitive skin and raising goose bumps.

As the leisurely kiss ended, Nikki asked, “Are you trying to distract me?”

Helen’s eyes widened in a parody of innocence. “On the contrary, I was working on a demonstration of the best feeling in the world…:

“Ah, but that’s only part of the best feeling in the world.”

“And you have managed to define the whole…?”

Nikki nodded. “Being in love,” she said simply. “The poet Rumi said, ‘I am ashamed to call this love human, yet I fear God too much to call it divine.’ But the thing is, I do believe that love, true love, and the feeling of being in love, is a divine gift. It takes us beyond the bounds of our ordinary lives and mundane pursuits… it makes us see greatness in another person and, by seeing ourselves through the eyes of a person who feels the same, we see and feel greatness in ourselves. And that doesn’t mean we don’t see the flaws, or that we have some idealized image of another person.” Helen was incredibly moved by Nikki’s words. Nikki smiled indulgently at her and brushed away the tear that spilled onto her nose as she looked into Nikki’s eyes. “I know you’re stubborn and bossy,” she kissed Helen softly on the lips, “but you are life to me, Helen. Everything good and beautiful in the world is reflected in this feeling between us…”

This time Helen’s tears fell too quickly for Nikki to catch them and Helen was the one who initiated the kiss. “I love you, Nikki.” I would be empty without you. “And the only thing that stops the intensity of this love from making me paralyzed by fear is knowing that you love me, too.” She managed a watery smile. “Even if you are ill-tempered and downright grumpy at times.” Her smile faded. “There is so much in you that is beautiful and noble. You’re everything I want in this life and every day it thrills me to be married to you.”

Nikki pulled her closer and they hugged wordlessly for several seconds before Helen said quietly. “Are you going to tell me why you’re suddenly having philosophical thoughts about the nature of love?”

Nikki sighed. “I could tell you that making love with you always has that effect, but we both know that it usually leaves me as limp as a noodle and with a tendency to cry or sleep.” Helen didn’t laugh at her attempted joke, she only waited patiently for her to gather her thoughts. She knew that as much as Nikki had a tendency to fly off the handle and say exactly what was on her mind, when it came to what was in her heart, Nikki was more likely to channel it into music or the written word than to talk about it. In the years they’d been together, she had acquired some of the most beautiful love letters ever conceived by the human heart, so tonight’s words had not been uncharacteristic of Nikki, but the fact that they’d been spoken out loud had really caught Helen off guard.

“Helen, remember when we talked about children? About bringing up a child?”

“Have you changed your mind?” She tried to meet Nikki’s eyes, but Nikki looked away. “Nikki, it would mean that we have to change the plans we’ve made for our lives, but if you want…” She reached up and put a hand on Nikki’s chin and turned her face so that Nikki was forced to look at her. “Nikki, you know I’d be proud to have your baby.”

“God, Helen, I wish that’s what it was.” This time it was Nikki’s eyes that filled with tears. “We talked about having a baby. Your child or my child. A life we could shape and love… Maybe make some horrible mistakes with and fuck up in hopefully minor ways, but someone who would be our child.” She sniffed and Helen waited for her to continue, but she remained silent.

Helen sighed and gave Nikki time and space to collect her thoughts by clearing away the plates and bowls that were scattered on the bed. Strawberries, slices of mango and bits of orange, chocolate body paint, a cheese board and crackers were all moved to the bedside tables. Lovemaking and food had not prepared Helen for whatever was going on in the mind of her wonderful, but emotionally complex, partner, so busying herself also gave her time to mentally prepare herself for whatever Nikki was about to say. She supposed she should have known that there would be some emotional fallout from Nikki’s trip to England to visit her brother, with whom she’d had almost no contact in almost twenty years.

Eventually, she clicked on a lamp so that the dusk would not obscure the lines of Nikki’s expressive face. “Sweetheart, why don’t you tell me what went on with your brother? All you’ve said is that things went as expected and you remembered why you didn’t have anything to do with him, but you were there for a week, so maybe if you tell me what happened, whatever is bothering you will make sense to me.”

Nikki moved slowly until she was sitting against the head of the bed, but she still didn’t meet Helen’s eyes. Helen sighed and retrieved the pillows that had been scattered during their lovemaking and Nikki leaned forward so Helen could tuck one behind her back. Helen sat next to her and Nikki put an arm around her shoulders. “Everything about my brother had changed since I last saw him, but he wasn’t different, he was just more like himself.

“The last time I saw him he was engaged to his designer bride. I mean, Karen could have been put together from my parents’ imaginations. Apparently they stayed together long enough to have three kids and screw up their heads, then they divorced and began using them as weapons against each other. The end result is that my parents, incompetent as they are to bring up human beings, have been made guardians of my nieces while the courts decide what to do about my nephew.”

“Oh, Nikki, that’s terrible! Sweetheart, I’m so sorry.” She frowned. “So why did they need you? They could hardly expect you to act as a character reference when they all turned their backs on you.”

“My nephew is the one who needs me. At least he needs someone and considering what’s going on with him and the fact that he has rejected the lot of them, they thought I might be able to help. All misfits together, I suppose,” she finished bitterly.

Helen had suspected that there might not be anything in it for Nikki when she’d received the call asking her if she could return to England urgently to deal with a family emergency, when her family had shown no interest in talking to her in the three years they’d known each other. “You said he’s in trouble with the law? How old is he?”

“Fifteen. Fifteen going on forty. Extremely intelligent, but labeled ‘troubled’ at an early age. What it comes down to is that he’s gay and he was living in a hostile, homophobic environment. He’s gay and he decided to come out to his, my, wonderful family when he was twelve. The son and heir. You can imagine how well received that was. He was packed off to boarding school, because, of course, there would be no traces of homosexuality there,” she rolled her eyes, “where he perfected the skills of truancy and fellatio… his words, not mine” Her eyes filled with tears, but she continued to stare into the distance instead of looking at Helen. “He told me that he would have behaved better if he’d known that expulsion would mean being sent home to his parents, who were in the middle of an acrimonious divorce. He blames himself for that, as well.”

“Surely he knows it wasn’t his fault? Kids often have a tendency to believe that, but parents should always…”

“Ted and Karen have not got the foggiest idea what parents should do.” Nikki interrupted her. Her tone was bitter, but her voice broke as she spoke. “In fact, Karen actually said to me that the stress of Jacob’s behavior ‘didn’t help’, so you can bet she said at least that much to him. I think that’s when he first started using drugs.”

“He’s an addict? Is that why he got in trouble with the law?”

Nikki shook her head. “No. He only wanted the thrill and the danger of it all, so he sold more than he used, apparently.”

“What did his parents do when they found out?”

“He was living with Karen and when the police called her to go and fetch him one night, she simply called Ted and asked him to go and pick up his pusher son and keep him away from her house because he was setting a bad example for his sisters.”

“Shit. Did either of them try to get any help for him?”

“Well, I suppose it depends on your definition of help. She upped her dosage of anti-depressants and he sent Jacob off to some kind of boot camp thing. His excuse was that it had been two years, they’d tried everything and it was a last resort. How do you use the words ‘last resort’ in talking about your own child when he’s only fourteen?” Nikki’s voice broke again and Helen hugged her.

“After that,” Nikki continued quietly, “he started running away. Then two weeks ago, the police picked him up: filthy, skinny and on the game. I believe he offered the police officer a hand job for a tenner, or a blow job for twenty quid. When they arrested him he gave them a story about running away because his father was a rapist. He also gave them false identification and lied about his age – said he was seventeen so they wouldn’t have to contact his family.

“Unfortunately, his fingerprints were in the system because of his drug escapades and although the records were sealed, he was identified and Ted was arrested. Did I mention that Ted is a solicitor? It was the scandal of the century for the Wade family, as you can imagine, and they had a hell of a time keeping it out of the papers. As soon as Jacob found out the chaos his little lie had caused he admitted that he had made it all up and they released Ted, but he and Karen are still under investigation and Beth and Amanda are living with my parents.” She sighed. “So now you know the whole sordid story. My nephew is on suicide watch because he feels as though he has single-handedly destroyed his entire family. When I visited him at the young-offenders institution where he’s being held, he seemed so hopeless… but so matter-of-fact about it.”

“Why didn’t you tell me what was going on when we spoke?”

“It was so… terrible. My conversations with you were the only times in the last week when I was able to sense good things in the world. Something inside me was reluctant to… taint the time we shared with the ugliness and pain of my family. They all feel so much shame about all the wrong things and it seems to color them, color their world. They’re hiding and blaming each other and my poor nieces seem so lost, but my parents wouldn’t let me spend any time with them because, in some sick twist that defies any attempt at a rational explanation, they think that Jacob wouldn’t be gay if it weren’t for me.”

“Did you spend a lot of time with him?”

Nikki nodded. “They’ve more or less abandoned him.”

“As they abandoned you…”

Nikki squeezed her eyes shut, but tears seeped out between her eyelids. “But he’s not like me. I was sixteen and I had Lisa and other people who believed in me. I had Lucia and her family. I’d had a pretty solid education, thanks to years of tutors and time in a conservatory and, equally important, more than ten years of musical training and a future that was almost guaranteed to be decent, if not necessarily as good as it’s actually turned out to be. He’s been rejected and kicked around, with not a single adult who’s consistently stood by him. He’s been surrounded by pushers, junkies and prostitutes, yet some of them have shown him more kindness than his own family and he’s told me that he’ll go back to them as soon as he’s released.”

“Do you want me to go back with you?” Helen asked, immediately understanding that Nikki was not going to let that happen without a fight.

“There’s no temporary fix for Jacob’s life, Helen. If I want to be in it and help him pull back from the brink of something that will lead to assault, disease and death, I have to make a commitment that will take more than a trip or two to London. Even if I make that commitment, it might still be too late. And since I effectively abandoned him and his sisters when I chose to have nothing to do with Ted, he might never fully trust me.”

“But you have to try.” It was a statement. Helen snuggled closer to the comfort of Nikki’s warmth, because suddenly all she could feel was her own stomach churning: for the man-child who should have had every opportunity, yet whose life was in tatters, for the woman who was consumed by guilt for the lives she’d never touched and for the life she’d made with Nikki that she suspected was about to undergo some drastic changes.

Part 5

“You did not!” Claire was laughing hysterically at Lucia’s tales of her teenage escapades with Nikki.

“We did. There was an innocence to our wild behavior that Nikki lost when she got involved with Trisha, but which I think I held onto until Greta came into my life. Then all of a sudden fun became quite a serious pursuit.”

“You must have liked it,” Claire pointed out reasonably, trying to bring Lucia back to the memory of why she’d loved Greta rather than the pain of why she no longer did.

“Yes, I did,” Lucia agreed, offering her a grateful look. “She was intriguing and different from anything I’d known. My father is a banker and he’s engaged good financial advisors for me, but socially my father’s business had never been part of my life and I suppose I always thought of bankers as… sexless. Greta was anything but. Would it shock you if I said she was a trained dominatrix?”

Claire shook her head slowly, intrigued and embarrassed by her immediate arousal at the thought of Lucia, handcuffed and submissive, with all her creative energy and intelligence devoted to giving pleasure, or receiving it on command. “Not embarrassed, no…”

The huskiness of her voice surprised them both and Lucia stared at Claire, thrown off-stride by her reaction to the news that Lucia had enjoyed being dominated sexually. Do you want to top me, Claire? She didn’t ask the question, because she knew what the answer would be and neither was prepared to handle it. It was way over the border into the forbidden zone that sometimes seemed to stretch endlessly between them. Silence fell and was filled with the sound of Peter Frampton singing Baby I Love Your Way and the laughter of other patrons in the half-empty bar.

“So what else was there?” Claire asked, eventually. “Sex, no matter how… consuming, would not have made you step off the career ladder and move to Vienna, would it?”

“Claire, darling, do not underestimate the power of consuming sex. Believe me, that was a big part of it. She made me take sex beyond the bedroom and I freely admit that I’m a sensualist. She wanted to be my partner and, although she did not promise to be monogamous, I would be her only publicly acknowledged lover. I was arrogant enough to think that she wouldn’t need anyone else because I didn’t. I thought that when we talked about other lovers, it was one of the games between us. I was sure that sex between us would never get boring, so I basically made a lifetime commitment, on the sound, well-informed and exclusive advice of my clitoris…” She winked and Claire surprised herself by giggling.

The giggle was contagious and soon the two of them were holding their stomachs and laughing hysterically as Peter Frampton handed over the jukebox to Al Green who was, apparently, Tired of Being Alone .

When they sobered and had sipped their drinks, Claire asked seriously, “But you must have liked her and had things in common with her.”

Lucia shrugged in a way that was quintessentially Italian. “We had similar upbringings in some ways since we were the daughters of bankers, but beyond that, not much. We’d both traveled a lot and we’d both slept with a lot of women and had no regrets about it. But I think that’s where I made the mistake, because that did not represent something we had in common – except in the most superficial sense. For me, loving women physically resulted from profound admiration for them and an unselfconscious attitude to my body and to sex. For her, it was literally and figuratively about power. That probably started with her parents’ divorce at a sexually formative time in her life and continued when she had her heart very badly broken while she was at university… I never did find out the details of that one. She never let me all the way in – even after we’d been together for almost two years.” She looked sad.

“I’m sure it wasn’t your fault, Lucia. You are one of the warmest people I know and devastatingly easy to talk to. God knows I’ve spilled my guts to you. You and Helen are probably the only people who know what it was like to grow up in my family. And you were the first person to point out that the contrasting stability of my relationship with Laura was probably a reason why I never allowed myself to question its health.”

Lucia smiled and took her hand as it lay on the table, squeezing it affectionately. “You have to wonder about the lasting effect of parents’ behavior on adult children. My parents are as happy and in love as they were forty years ago when they first met and hers were divorced by the time she was thirteen. My issue was that I would never have a relationship that equals my parents’ and she was out to prove that she would never be vulnerable enough to succumb to the emotional trauma she experienced when her parents’ marriage and her own first relationship fell apart.” She shrugged again. “They say opposites attract and in some ways we were that. Although I liked her sense of humor, which I found dry and entertaining.” She sipped her drink again and her eyes clouded over. “Later on, I just found it cruel.”

“What ended it?”

“She insisted on a threesome. Dominating me physically just wasn’t challenging enough, I suppose. The woman, Karla, had no interest in me and I hated her on sight. Which was Greta’s point – to humiliate and control me. That was a new way for her to exercise her power: by choosing my sexual partners for me and make me want them. But she miscalculated. She didn’t understand the reason I wanted her so much, the reason it was such a turn-on to give over control to her. She didn’t understand where my boundary of emotional trust was. I refused to get involved.

“She called me a prude and I walked out and slept in the music room. I heard Karla leave… about four hours later, but I stayed there until Greta went to work, then I had to go and get ready for a rehearsal. I didn’t come home until pretty late the next night and when I walked into the bedroom Karla was there again…” She took a gulp of her drink and didn’t describe the scene she’d walked into, but the look on her face told Claire more than enough. “I realized then that there was a coldness in her that my love would never warm up. I also realized that the love I felt for her was not anything like my romanticized ideal…” And it makes me question my ability to love in that profound way.

Then she smiled and Claire knew why. Tracy Chapman’s Smoke and Ashes was playing. “Isn’t that the truth?” She shook her head wryly.

“So, no fire left in you, then?” Claire knew she was flirting, but she was also feeling an ache in her chest as though Lucia’s pain had communicated itself directly to her heart. The urge to flirt, to joke, to be lighthearted and sensual and to distract was too strong to overcome.

She was gratified when the question elicited a wide smile from Lucia. “Oh, I think I’m still capable of generating some heat… What about you? Have you given up on generating light and heat of your own?”

Claire stared at her drink and tried as hard as she could to think of her answer without factoring in Lucia. She honestly couldn’t say that she’d felt any serious attraction to anyone else, although she had noticed the physical allure of some women and she had been asked out. But the untangling of two lives would have been a time-consuming business, even if she hadn’t been so busy at work.

She and Laura had broken up weeks before she’d been scheduled to appear in the court of appeals in defense of an animal rights activist who’d been convicted a year earlier of assault, among other things, when he’d kicked a farmer while climbing over a fence after freeing dozens of rabbits that were to be sent to a vivisection lab. New laws enacted because of high-powered lobbying by multinational drug companies had made it almost impossible to get leniency at his first trial, but at the time Claire had not been his solicitor and she believed that the impossible merely required more work. She hadn’t thought she could handle the stress of dating while coping with the breakup and while her client’s future hung in the balance. Especially since her client was an idealistic, thoughtful and intelligent twelve-year old boy, who’d been aided and abetted by his seventy-year old grandfather, who’d been driving the getaway car – a Robin Reliant.

“I don’t know,” she answered honestly. “I’ve been concentrating on spending time with the people I care about and who care about me. It’s not that I haven’t noticed women; I just haven’t been in the proper frame of mind to act on that. It seems to require so much energy – that game we call ‘dating’, which I haven’t played for twelve years.”

“So be a ‘do me’ queen and let some nice butch do all the work. Allow yourself to be wined, dined and fucked and all you have to do is look pretty.” As she spoke, Claire’s eyes widened and when she finished there was a moment of silence and then they both burst out laughing.

“A do me queen?”

“Ok, it probably won’t work for someone as intense as you. But intense and intellectual can be irresistible when combined with sensual…” Lucia stopped speaking as her gaze drifted from Claire’s lips to her eyes and then refused to obey her mind’s instruction to move on. “You should date…” she added weakly.

Claire was the first to look away. “I don’t think I’d be good at it.”

“Dating, or sex?”

Claire flushed. “Dating.” She didn’t elaborate and apart from raising a questioning eyebrow, Lucia didn’t push.

“Well, you don’t forget, do you?” she finally blurted out. “And Laura and I really did try to make things work until about year ago, so sex was really good when it happened; it was just that neither of us particularly wanted it to happen.”

Desperate to get the conversation away from her own pathetic sex life, she asked Lucia, “So was that the voice of experience giving advice on the benefits of being a do me queen?”

Lucia grinned. “I’ve met a few in my time, but I’ve never seen the fun of it myself. I just thought it might work for you as a personal ad: “Sexy, intense, professional uninterested in dating, but seeking uncomplicated sex with a woman who is similarly intense and intellectual. Partner must do all the work.”

“Makes me sound way better than I am. I’d get arrested for misleading and unfair advertising.”

“Not in my opinion,” Lucia replied quietly, steadily holding Claire’s gaze until Claire turned away, her flush even deeper than before.

Claire’s heart was pounding so loudly that she could barely hear the music, but she recognized Joan Jett’s Cherry Bomb and could think of nothing less appropriate as two women who were recovering from opposite, but painful, romantic histories talked about their attitudes towards relationships.

“Is it me, or is the music schizophrenic?” Lucia’s question echoed Claire’s thoughts.

“They seem to like it.” Claire nodded towards a small group of dancers. Then, deciding that enough was enough, she stood up. “I’m going to get change at the bar and put money in the jukebox.”

“Ok. Meet me on the patio when you’re done. It was empty when I last went to the bar and the view is of moonlight and old maple trees, not of spastic drunks.”

When Claire joined her, the conversation moved to the more comfortable topic of their careers. Claire had Lucia in stitches as she told her about her more interesting legal aid cases.

“Do you like living in London?” Lucia’s tone was guarded, but Claire couldn’t quite grasp why that might be. The question was certainly a lot safer than some of those that had been asked earlier.

Claire shrugged. “Professionally, it’s easy because the interesting work comes to me – fighting for the underdog. Personally, it’s up in the air. I’ll be interested to know where Helen and Nikki decide to move to when Nikki’s contract is finished. She’s agreed to an extra year in Toronto, but London would definitely be more attractive to me if they moved back there.

“What about you? Have you decided where you want to settle down?”

“I’m a musician, so I’m not sure the term ‘settle down’ will truly apply until I retire.”

“Neatly dodged…”

“Only because I don’t know,” Lucia admitted quietly. Then her smile flashed in the dim light. “Dance with me.”

Part 6 >>