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Her Song Is a Sin

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The gun shot sounded a deafening boom magnified by the concrete walls of the parking garage. Raelle Collar drew her gun and returned fire in the direction of the source of the blast, her own shot echoing in the night. Her eyes darted to the man beside her. Her client, Senator Tony Johnson, just stood there. His head jerked this way and that, his normally elegant gray ponytail limp with strands of silver hair hanging in his face.  It was obvious that his sense of self-preservation had fled him. The Senator didn’t know what hit him as Raelle roughly grabbed him by his shoulder and pulled him around the SUV where she wanted him to hide. Another shot boomed just as she pushed him to the ground where the engine block of the SUV would provide the best cover. He looked up at her, eyes wide with fear. He started to speak, but stopped when Raelle put a slender finger to her lips and shook her head.

“Stay here,” Raelle hissed.

The Senator nodded his head in response and Raelle eased her arm off of the older man and crouched down beside him. Her head tilted toward the sound of running feet from the other end of the garage. Seeing every detail of the parking garage clearly in her mind, Raelle judged by the trajectory of the shots that shooter had come from the near the stairwell leading pedestrians up or down to the next level of the garage. She crept slowly around to the other side of the SUV, her weapon an extension of her arm. A silver Lexus blocked the view to her right. Cautiously, she moved to the end of the car for a better look.  The parking garage was dimly lit and every few feet lights illuminated the cavernous space. Raelle’s pale blue eyes focused on the darkness ahead searching for signs of movement. Nothing. Just as soon as she'd decided that the killer was going to give it up for now and try again later, more shots rang out. With a crack, the rear windshield of the Lexus shattered and glass rained down on Raelle, tiny shards bouncing off her black suit jacket.  Raelle backpedaled quickly, her heel catching on a wheel stop. As she fell back onto the ground, she fired in the direction of the shots and heard the loud thud of a body coming into contact with a solid object. 

After a few minutes of silence, Raelle struggled to her feet. Wincing, she edged around the vehicles and moved toward the still form laying against one of the concrete walls. She nudged it with her boot. No movement. Reaching down, she turned the body over. Blood oozed from a hole in the shooter’s head. Raelle allowed herself a small smirk. She might be a bit clumsy, but that was still a damn good shot. She holstered her weapon and grabbed the cell phone from her belt. Her job was done.

 

The next evening Raelle watched as the Senator poured himself a drink from a crystal decanter. Politely, she averted her gaze away from the older man, eyes roaming around the library in the senator’s home pretending not to notice as most of the dark liquid sloshed out of the glass as his hand shook. Not everyone was conditioned to handle being shot at and hunted like some sort of an animal. Raelle felt his reaction was perfectly normal.

“Thank you for saving my life, Miss. Collar.” Senator Johnson put the decanter down and lifted the glass to her in a mock salute. He offered her a glass but she declined with a slight shake of her head.

“It was my job, Senator.”

The older man nodded, recognizing the past tense for what it was. He had already noticed earlier that afternoon that the girl’s belongings were no longer in the guest room she’d occupied during her duties. The ex-military officer had agreed to serve him only as long as the threat to his life existed. The hired assassin had been eliminated. Raelle’s job was done and the contract had been satisfied.

“I’d like it if you’d stay on. Won’t you reconsider?” He offered his best “grandfather” smile at the blonde leaning against the wall in his library. He could tell that she was struggling to keep the weight off of her ankle. She was slender and so young, but carried a fierce and determined expression on her face.

“No, Senator. We had an agreement.” Raelle answered firmly. She picked up her suit jacket from the leather chair she’d slung it over when she’d entered the room. She had only stopped by to tell the senator about the police’s findings from the evidence gathered from the assassin’s vehicle. That final report made, she put her jacket on and stepped away from the wall.

“If it’s a question of money--” the Senator began, but stopped at a sharp look from the blonde.

“No, Senator Johnson, it’s not about the money. I don’t care about money. I just don’t like to stay too long in one place. If I get comfortable, my feet tend to fall asleep. Besides, you should be safe now. You have your regular security detail.” Raelle jerked her head towards the door where the government sanctioned security stood in the form of two ridiculously solemn men in seriously boring black suits. She offered a reassuring smile to the Senator. “You’ll be fine.”

The senator frowned, regretting his inability to sway the girl. After a moment he shrugged and offered his hand.  “I’ll have the rest of your fees wired to your account and I’ll be sure to add in a bonus for your unexpected medical expenses.”

Raelle accepted the gesture and firmly shook the senator’s hand. “Thank you Senator Johnson, but what we agreed upon will be fine.”

“Tony,” the Senator corrected. “You saved my life, you can certainly call me Tony.” If the girl was really going to walk away from a permanent position she could at least drop the formality she’d insisted on maintaining during her employment.

After a moment of silence, Raelle smiled. “Thank you, Tony.” 

The Senator nodded his approval. Taking that as a sign that she was dismissed,  Raelle turned on her heel and marched from the room as best as she could with her ankle still smarting from the previous night’s events.

 

****

 

Josh Talbert needed to take a piss. Unfortunately for him, leaving the limo to relieve himself wasn’t something he was allowed to do per company policy. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat and removed his hat. He was having a shitty day. Not surprisingly it started as most shitty days do when he woke up over an hour late for work. When he did leave the comforting bliss of unconsciousness, it wasn’t the sound of his alarm clock that interrupted his sleep, but the noise of his wife’s screams.

Josh, still groggy from his interrupted slumber, could not make out his wife’s words, but he could guess what had happened. He knew that letting their son have a dog was a bad idea, but Tommy had begged him into a state of insanity and so now, as a teething puppy, Paws had torn through another pair of his wife’s designer heels—heels which they could not afford in the first place on his meager earnings as a limo driver. Ignoring his wife, he got ready as quickly and as quietly as he could and walked out of the door forgetting his favorite thermos with its morning jolt of caffeine.

At work his ears received no respite as his boss reamed him out for being late. As punishment, he was assigned the one client that no chauffeur at the limo agency wanted. He usually enjoyed his job driving around the rich and famous. He had even been able to earn a few "cool dad" points with Tommy and his friends by getting the occasional actors’ autograph, but no one enjoyed driving around the young musician Ramshorn. Cursing his luck he at least tried to get a cup of coffee from the machine in the staff lounge, but it was apparently on the fritz again and so he was forced to grab a bottle of water instead. Water ran right through him.

Now, after hours of driving the spoiled 20 something and her brother around with no respite, he was again waiting in front of one of the lesser known fashion stores in Massachusetts. He glanced towards the shop windows hoping to see some sign of the brunette or her fruity brother, but he really couldn’t see inside the store from sun reflecting off the large glass panes. His eyes wandered to the next store over, a small café, and with a grunt he made his decision. He wasn’t going to suffer any longer. If the snooty girl and her brother came back while he was gone, she’d just have to wait by the limo or go back inside the shop. If she bitched to the limo company, well, how much worse could his day really get? Maybe he’d get lucky and she’d specifically request he no longer be her driver.

Josh stepped out of the limo, locked the doors with his key fob, and trotted across the street and into the café. Ignoring the customer’s only sign on the bathroom door, he entered and quickly did his business. Finally relieved, he washed his hands and stepped back into the shop. There he found himself tempted by the heavenly scent of coffee that he’d missed earlier that morning. He looked out the shop front but couldn’t see anyone near the limo so he joined the short line to buy a cup of coffee. Maybe he’d even be nice and get the brunette and her brother one. After all, Ramshorn might be a bitch, but her brother had always been courteous to him and apologetic for the brunette’s behavior. Byron, Josh thought, remembering the name.

Much later than he would have liked because the barista was obviously new and kept making mistakes, Josh exited the café with his drink caddy and started to cross the street only to see the young star and her brother not only standing out by the limo but animatedly pointing at something. With a groan the driver realized what had their attention. The tires on the limo were slashed. Ramshorn noticed him in that moment and started yelling at him.  He felt the caddy slip from his hands and the coffee spill on the street. Yeah, apparently his day could get a hell of a lot worse. Between Josh’s newfound fear of unemployment and the brunette’s yelling at the stupidity of the driver, neither of them noticed when Byron plucked something from the windshield and tucked it in his suit jacket.

 

 ****

 

Raelle relaxed in her soft brown leather recliner. She watched the fire dance in the fireplace and listened to the slow twang of 80’s country music.  It didn’t matter that it was hot as hell outside with the end of summer holding on strong.  Raelle enjoyed the heat and she loved having a fire lit. After the job with the Senator it was nice to take some time off. She’d have to take on another client soon, but she could at least allow herself another week, maybe two before calling up those who had expressed interest in her services thanks to the bonus that the Senator had wired her. She picked up the tumbler resting on the table beside her and took a slow sip of the whisky.

Moments later, the sound of the doorbell interrupted her from her relaxation.  With a sigh, she put down the drink she was still nursing.  She stood there for a second, making sure she was steady on her feet, and made her way to the front door. She walked slowly, mindful of her ankle which still smarted some even after taking it easy for two weeks.

As soon as Raelle opened the door to the older woman standing on her porch, she regretted it.

“Miss Collar, I’m here to speak to you again about Scylla Ramshorn.”

Raelle was already moving to shut the door for once not caring about the importance of maintaining her southern charm when Scylla Ramshorn's manager put her hand out to stop it.

“Please, hear me out. Just ten minutes of your time.”

Shaking her head, “Ms--"

"Izadora, remember? Just Izadora. ” The woman smiled, but left her hand where it was. She wasn’t going to leave until the blonde at least listened to her proposal.  The consequences of her failure were too high.

“Izadora,” Raelle responded, “As I told you on the phone, I don’t take on celebrity clients.”

“Miss Collar, Scylla is a young and very frightened lady.  She lost her parents years ago and all she really has in the way of support is her brother. She’s much more than just a celebrity. Your presence and expertise would go a long way in making her feel safe. Please, Miss Collar,” The woman pleaded, moving her body closer into the doorway.

Raelle sighed, stepping back from the doorway enough to let Izadora inside her home. She still planned to say no, but she could at least look at her contacts and offer the woman an alternative. She had a few military pals who had recently left the service and one of them might jump at the chance for private work.

“I won’t take the job, Izadora, but if you’ll wait here a minute I’ll grab my phone and maybe I can give you some names and numbers of someone who might want to help.”

“You’d turn it down even if I told you that the job is five thousand a week plus expenses and a private guest house?”

Ice blue eyes widened at the figure she’d just heard and Raelle faltered. “For that kind of money you could get someone who’s done this a lot longer than me and has had way more experience.”

“Scylla isn’t going to agree to some person my age or older tagging along with her everywhere she goes. She has a certain reputation she wishes to retain. You would be able to blend in with her, ah, crew. Besides, I’ve already vetted you thoroughly. Your last employer, Senator Johnson, has insured me that you are nothing but professional despite your limited time in the private sector and you came highly recommended by your former commanding officer Anacostia Quartermaine.”

Raelle couldn’t believe the audacity of the lady to vet her even after she’d said no to the job. Still, if Anacostia Quartermaine had recommended her, she was reluctant to let the woman down. Anacostia had really helped her to become the solider she had been. Then when Raelle’s mom Willa died during a combat strike gone wrong, Anacostia had understood why she had made the decision to leave the military after her tour of duty ended.  

After her discharge, Raelle had spent nearly a year holed up at her father’s house in the Cession refusing to even speak about anything remotely military related and she ignored the few friends she had made during her time in the service. Anacostia had been there for her then, too. Literally showing up at the Collar residence, she’d practically frog marched Raelle out the door and back into the world of the living. Her old commander had really helped her get her head back into the game. She had even helped Raelle get established in private work. Yeah, Anacostia supported her without question and she didn’t want to say no if it might look bad on her former commanding officer.

“I seriously doubt I’ll fit in with Miss Ramshorn’s-- what did you call it--crew?” Raelle awkwardly gestured at herself, unsure of her ability blend in as needed for the job.  “I mean, I’m not really what you’d call star material.”

The older woman hid a smirk as she took in the blonde’s appearance. She was tall and slender with her one side of her hair braided and the other side loose down to her neck. She wore faded old jeans that were probably as old as she was and had on a long sleeve pink plaid shirt. Izadora was quite sure she’d seen Scylla in a similar state of dress before she’d left the mansion. A yellow plaid blazer, if her memory served her correctly.

 “Oh, I think you’ll fit in just fine. Scylla has insisted that I hire you.”

Raelle sighed again. She realized Izadora wasn’t going to give up. “Maybe, I can come by the house and look at the situation. Meet Miss Ramshorn, but if I take the job, I want six thousand.”

She had told the senator that she didn’t care about money, but that wasn’t exactly the truth. She’d bought the house with her part of her mom’s life insurance that she’d received when Willa died, but she hadn’t made that much in the army and she’d yet to have many private clients with very deep pockets. The Senator’s pay and his bonus had been generous, but she still had bills and she could use the extra money to help her dad now that his health was starting to interfere with his work.

Izadora clapped her hands together and beamed at the blonde. “Six thousand it is. Why don’t you come by tomorrow around three and you can meet Scylla then.”

Raelle nodded, practically chasing the woman back to the door to hold it open for her, her southern charm returned. After Izadora left she closed the door, leaned against it, and groaned. Just what was she getting herself into?

 

Hours after Izadora had made her exit, Raelle was still considering calling the woman back and cancelling the meeting for the next day. She’d spent some time trying to research the musician and had read what some of the tabloids wrote about the young star. There really wasn't any biographies from reliable sources, rather mostly conjecture and rumor. One thing that did consistently stand out though was that Scylla Ramshorn was considered snooty and a bit of a bitch. Raelle sighed and picked up her phone. She was just about to click on Izadora’s number when it vibrated in her hand and the screen changed from her call list to the photo of a bubbly red head wearing combat gear and dancing in a desert. Raelle answered with a grin.

"How ya doing, Tally”

After a few minutes of catching up on what her best friend in the army had been doing since discharge, Raelle told her about her recent jobs and the newest offer.

“Scylla Ramshorn,” Tally Craven squealed through the phone, “Oh Rae, she’s a GODDESS.”

Raelle chuckled at her best friend’s exclamation. “Careful Tal, if I didn’t know better I’d say you have a crush.”

“You know how they say there’s that one girl you’d go gay for? Yeah, I’d go gay for her,” Tally admitted.

“I guess,” Raelle answered. Her brow furrowed as she looked at an image of the star on her IPad. She was beautiful, Rae admitted to herself. Soft brunette hair, eyes a shade of blue that surely had to be electronically altered for the photo. No one had eyes that blue. She was looking right into the camera, a soft smirk on her face like she was sharing a secret--

“She’s a siren, Rae.” Tally said, interrupting Raelle’s thoughts of the very same thing.

“Yep, she’s a little too much, don’t you think? I mean, I’ve looked at some of the tabloid stuff. She doesn’t seem to care that much about letting it all hang out.” Raelle’s eyes dropped back to the plunging cleavage the photo revealed.

“Well, I don’t know. I’ve heard she’s actually very private. Everyone knows that her parents died years ago, but it’s all really hush hush. Next to no one really knows anything about her personal life. If she’s not on tour she’s holed up in that big mansion she owns. Most people don’t even know if she’s gay or straight.”

“I don’t really care.” Raelle said, turning the IPad off. “I just don’t know if I should take the job or not.”

“Oh Rae, you have to. The money would really help you and your dad and you could help her.”

“Maybe,” Raelle said finally. “I guess I’ll at least go check it out.”

“Check her out, you mean” Tally teased.

“Uh, no Tal. Check the job out.” Sexy siren or not, Raelle was not going to let her mind go there. She was a lady and a professional, after all.

“Sure.”

Tired of the teasing, Raelle changed the subject to their old army buddies. Tally, who always seemed to be in the know, happily obliged by filling Raelle in on all that she’d missed, and they chatted long into the night.

"So then Bellweather knocks him right off the side of the boat and tells him he can swim back to shore or get kicked out of basic." 

"What did his unit do?" Raelle asked.

"Well you know how we were, Rae, unit unity." Tally answered.  "They all jumped in right after him."

Raelle laughed, just imagining some poor new recruit and his unit jumping in the North River at Abigail's commands. Glancing up at the fireplace she’d lit hours before, she noticed that it had burnt down to embers.

 “Okay Tally, if I'm going to go face the Scylla the siren tomorrow,  I'm going to have to call it a night.  I’ll talk to you in a few days.”

“Hey Rae,” Tally asked, before Raelle could end the call. “At least get her autograph for me.”

Raelle smiled. “I’ll see what I can do.”

Chapter Text

The Atlantic
Scylla lights up the Entertainment Business

August 25, 2021

Singer and actress Scylla Ramshorn is putting her name in lights and burning down the competition with her newest song “Burning Witches.” She easily earned the award for best actress for her role in “Camarilla” at the Critic’s Choice Awards in April, and now she’s hoping to add a Screen Actors Guild Award to her trophy wall this January.

Scylla, who started her career in her early teens with folk music and quiet love ballads, soared to popularity when she changed her style with the unexpected hit “Sexy, Naughty, Bitchy, Me.” Those wanting to see the bewitching musician sooner than the award season can catch her at one of the local clubs in Massachusetts as she does a hometown tour in September with a special All Hallows Eve benefit concert for orphaned children at Fort Salem in October. For complete details of her show schedule see her status page at Swythe Records or go to our Events page.

 

***

 

Raelle pulled her pearl white Subaru Outback to a stop in front of the massive wrought iron gate. It was elegant, but clearly old and its decorative design would be easy to scale. Taking in the limestone walls that wrapped around the property, her eyes paused on the vines and flowering plants that clung to them. She followed the winding path the greenery made all the way to the top of the wall and was disappointed. The vines were also an easy entry point. She put her window down and stuck her head out looking this way and that, but she couldn’t see any signs of camera equipment.  

Finally, Raelle turned her head and scrutinized the call box. Perched atop a rusted pole, it looked like something procured from a 1990s rummage sale.  She sighed as she reached a hand out to press the yellowed button with a long slender finger.

 The squelch that emitted from the box made her teeth ache. For a moment Raelle only heard static and she started to wonder if the call box even worked when a teeny mechanical voice came through the speaker.

 “Yes?”

So it did work. “Raelle Collar to see Izadora.”

The speaker buzzed and crackled with static. “What?”

Raelle repeated herself trying to speak as slow and as clear as she possibly could.

“Who?”

Raelle drummed her fingers on the steering wheel for a moment and then tried a different tactic. “Virginia Woolf to see Miss Ramshorn.”

The speaker burst with static again and Raelle could just make out “… an appointment?”

“Yeah, Rachel Maddow doesn’t look a day over forty five.” Raelle answered.

A moment later the gate groaned open to admit her, and Raelle scoffed in disbelief. She drove her car up the curving drive to the front of the main building. She parked and took in the impressive white limestone mansion.  It was a beautiful home, but everywhere she looked she could see various vines and greenery. There were flowers and shrubs everywhere and the place looked in danger of being totally overran by flora. There were multiple places someone could lay in wait and hide and it didn’t take Raelle long to lose count of all of them.

The sound of easy laughter caught her attention and Raelle looked over to the other side of the drive to see a tall woman with brown hair styled in a faux-masculine cut chatting with a young man beside a brand new limousine. Even from her car she could see the seat protectors still on the limo’s leather upholstery. It looked like Izadora had at least followed one piece of Raelle’s free advice from their several phone calls and was going to stop using rental companies for limo service. It was the first encouraging sign that she had seen since she had arrived on the property.

Raelle stepped out of her car, tugging at her navy blazer to make sure her holstered weapon wasn’t making any tell-tell bulges.  She glanced down at her white linen blouse, smoothing away wrinkles that weren’t there. She ran her hands down her dark jeans, and tried to mentally prepare herself for the meeting to come.

 As Raelle closed the door to the Subaru and locked it, the brunette looked up at the noise. Her gaze landed on Raelle and she raised her hand, indicating for Raelle to give her a minute. Raelle nodded her understanding and leaned against the side of her car, arms folded.

The brunette finished her conversation and Raelle watched as the man got into the limo and drove it around to the side of the home.  The brunette sauntered up to Raelle, a seductive grin on her face. “Something I can do for you?”

Raelle had to crane her neck to meet the other woman’s gaze. She was standing close enough for Raelle to count every freckle that dotted her face. Non-pulsed, Raelle asked “Were you the one working the intercom?”

“No, I’m Helen Graves.” the woman replied as if that should mean something. “Need some help, darling?”

“Jane Addams to see Miss Ramshorn.” Raelle said, still testing the security measures in place and watching the brunette closely for any signs of concern.

“Uh-huh,” the brunette replied, no longer smiling. “And that was arranged by--?”

“Izadora,” Raelle supplied.

Immediately any sense of doubt or alarm left the brunette’s face and her lazy grin returned. “Oh okay then, go on up to the door and Mr. Parker can show you the way.”

Raelle thanked the brunette and headed to the door adding another concern to her growing mental list.  She found the large oak door open. She considered just walking in, but her southern upbringing had taught her better manners then that and she rang the bell on the wall beside the doorway.  She stood there for several minutes and started to think she was going to have to walk inside without a welcome after all, when she was finally greeted by an elderly man with snow white hair and kind hazel eyes. He wore a simple pale pink polo shirt and khakis. He was using a cane, and Raelle now understood why the man had took so long to arrive.  She almost felt bad for making him come to the door.

“May I help you, miss?” The man wheezed.

“Are you Mr. Parker?” Raelle asked, offering the old guy a smile.

“Yes,” he answered simply, still catching his breath.

“Great, Miss. Graves said you could help me find Izadora. We had an appointment.”

Mr. Parker furrowed his white brows and frowned. “I’m not sure Izadora is here today.”

Raelle bit her lip and waited.

The gentleman stared at her for a moment and then shrugged. “Well, if you have an appointment, she must be around here somewhere. What did you say your name was?” Mr. Parker asked, leaning forward on his cane, trying to get a closer look at the blonde.

“Anne Lister,” Raelle replied. “And I had an appointment with Izadora to Meet Miss. Ramshorn at three.”

“Ah,” Mr. Parker answered. “Well come on in out of the heat and I’ll try to find her for you.”

Raelle followed the older man as he slowly led her into what looked like a parlor of some kind. He indicated that she should take a seat on one of the sofas and wait for him. Raelle did as he asked, noticing that the furniture was elegant, but dated. It matched everything else about the home. The furniture, the rugs, and the décor all looked like it was at least ten years old.  She watched Mr. Parker shuffle away, his shoulders slumping. She waited a full minute after he was out of her sight, then stood and walked back into the hall.  She turned in the opposite direction that Mr. Parker had gone and starting walking through the mansion. The faint sound of music drew her attention and she followed the sound down the hall and passed several closed doors. She eventually found herself at the doorway to a large open ballroom.

As she stepped inside, she could see that every corner of the room was full of equipment. There were cameras and lights, various types of technical equipment, and tons of people working with cables and clothes, and other things that made no sense to Raelle. The music was coming from large speakers mounted on poles set around what appeared to be a dance floor.  Through the spaces between the people standing and watching she could see that there were dancers practicing some sort of routine. As the music thumped their bodies swayed. At last a man off to her left yelled ‘cut’ and the music and dancers came to stop. Everyone started clapping and then grouped together talking to one another about costumes, lighting, and positioning.

Raelle caught sight of Izadora standing off to one side of the room near a mini bar and raised her hand in a small wave. Izadora saw her and smiled walking over to the blonde.

She offered her hand and Raelle shook it.

“I’m so glad you came. I was beginning to worry you’d change your mind.”

“I almost did,” Raelle admitted, “but I promised I’d at least meet Miss Ramshorn and give her an assessment. What is all this?”

“It’s a rehearsal for Scylla’s new music video.”

“Oh,” Raelle answered, surprised.

 “I’ll go get her for you.”

Before Raelle could respond, the older woman rushed off toward a set of leather chairs positioned near several video cameras aimed at the dance floor. Raelle could see Izadora talking to a woman with dark brown shoulder length hair sitting in one of the chairs. She couldn’t tell much from the back of the woman’s head, but she assumed it must be Miss. Ramshorn.

Standing there surrounded by people bustling about, Raelle felt totally out of place. What the hell am I doing here, she thought twisting the ring on her index finger. All around her women and men milled about in various stages of undress. Some wore sequined costumes, some walked around in their underwear, and others had the decency to at least cover themselves with robes while they waited for their costume change. None of them seemed to have a care in the world. The only people who looked halfway normal sporting jeans and tee shirts seemed to have headsets and were working with the equipment. Unfortunately, Raelle doubted that they were included in what Izadora had meant by Scylla’s ‘crew.’

After nearly being knocked over by a man carrying some stage setting that looked like a large wooden landscaping pole, Raelle moved over a bit closer to the side of the dance floor near the camera equipment. She could see that Izadora was still standing by the chair, talking and waving her hands as people kept interrupting her to talk to the brunette. It was clear that Miss Ramshorn was more interested in the rehearsal than in their appointment.  

Raelle wondered why in the world Miss Ramshorn would schedule an interview for a bodyguard to coincide with rehearsing a music video, but her train of thought was interrupted by the sight of said musician as Scylla finally stood and turned to face Raelle.

Raelle’s breath caught at her first proper look of the musician in person. She wore a burgundy silk blouse with several buttons undone offering a glimpse of what lay beneath the fabric tucked into a pair of black slacks. A gold toned belt buckle caught the stage lights and winked at Raelle. She swallowed and forced her eyes to meet the brunette’s exasperated gaze.  

Her first thought was that Scylla’s eyes were really as blue as they had appeared on her IPad the night before. The image hadn’t been digitally altered at all. Scylla’s eyes were like magnets. As the brunette continued to look at her, hands on her hips, a small smirk gracing her soft full lips, Raelle’s pale blue eyes were mesmerized by cerulean ones. Raelle’s second thought was, Get it together, Collar.

 Izadora looked back and forth between the two women and was all grins at having succeeded in finally getting them together in the same room. She almost sighed with relief as she made the introductions. “Scylla this is Raelle Collar.”

“Who?” Scylla asked, letting her eyes take in the sight of the obviously out of place blonde standing in the middle of the dancers, technicians, make-up artists, and costume designers. She was slender and undeniably attractive.  She took note of the blonde's hair with braids on one side and loose waves down to her neck on the other. Scylla assumed that there must be some special meaning to the style, but she had no idea what it might be.  She had pale blue eyes, like a glacier. Scylla briefly wondered what was hidden beneath the depths.  Surely this girl was new. Scylla would have remembered her otherwise. Maybe she was one of the new dancing talents her casting manager, Corey, was always trying to hire. He certainly had an eye for rare beauty.

Scylla’s simple question broke the spell she had on Raelle and the blonde tore her gaze away from Scylla and quirked an eyebrow Izadora whose smile was beginning to falter.

“The bodyguard,” Izadora explained.

Scylla’s brows furrowed in confusion, and she didn’t attempt to hide her new scrutiny of the blonde. Was this really the tough ex-military security expert that her manager had been harping about her hiring ever chance she got to talk to her over the last couple of weeks?  Surely, this was some kind of a joke.

After a moment when no one started laughing, Scylla spoke, “Porter handles my security.” She gestured vaguely toward a tall blonde man sitting a few feet away on a stool at the bar. Hearing the sound of his name, he stood up and made his way to the brunette’s side.

Raelle shifted uncomfortably and Izadora frowned, eyes looking around the room for help. It came in the form of a very gay man dressed in tight black jeans and a black tee shirt with a plum colored blazer who approached them and slung an arm around the brunette’s shoulders, “Scyl, hon, we talked about this. Now that you’re winning all these awards, you need more people to help keep you safe.”

“A professional bodyguard,” Izadora added. “Miss Collar, this is Byron, Scylla’s brother.”

Raelle smiled at the tall and lanky man.

“Hmm,” Scylla mused, her eyes still on Raelle. “You don’t look like a bodyguard.”

“What did you expect?” Raelle asked, starting to get annoyed with the brunette’s flippant attitude.

Scylla ducked away from her brother and shrugged. She placed a hand on Porter’s muscular arm and gave it a playful squeeze.  “I don’t know. Someone bigger, maybe taller. Someone tough.”

Porter cackled and preened at Scylla’s attention. He jutted his chin out, challenging Raelle. 

Raelle had to resist rolling her eyes at Scylla’s ‘security.’ He was large, loud, and looked like he’d been pulled straight off of some football field where he’d bulldozed people until he’d hit his head one too many times and had to be benched. She didn’t like his attitude and she didn’t like the way Scylla was handling what was supposed to be a serious meeting.

“They never see me coming, beautiful.” Raelle shot back, goading Porter and meeting Scylla’s mischievous gaze with a cocky grin. Southern charm and professionalism be damned, she wasn’t about to back down from a challenge.

Scylla’s eyes widened and her mouth formed a small “oh” before she smiled at Izadora. “Well, she’s right about that.” 

Scylla could see that the blonde might be uncomfortable, but Raelle was still holding her own in the chaotic, unfamiliar space around her.  Her ears had picked up the melodious hint of a southern accent in the blonde’s voice. She took note of her well-defined arms, visible even under Raelle’s blazer. Scylla’s eyes flickered back to her face and she noticed a scar that ran from her cheek to her chin on one side. She wondered if the blonde had got it while she was in the military.

Scylla didn’t like that she wanted to know more about this woman. It seemed that Izadora had deliberately searched out and found a security expert that just happened to be Scylla’s type. No doubt to lure her into agreeing to this ridiculous bodyguard idea. Well, at least if she hired her, she’d have someone worth looking at around the house. Scylla made her decision and offered Raelle an almost shy smile.

“It’s very nice to meet you, Raelle.” Scylla said, sauntering up to the blonde and offering her hand.  

Raelle found herself returning the brunette’s smile with one of her own in spite of herself. She liked the way her name sounded on the musician’s lips. She took the offered hand and was surprised at Scylla's firm grip.

Scylla held the blonde’s hand for a moment longer than necessary, her fingers brushing the inside of Raelle’s wrist before dropping it with a smirk, “Can I offer you a drink?”

“No, thank you.” Raelle answered. The touch had surprised her and left her a bit dazed. She felt her pulse quicken. She cleared her throat to center herself.

Scylla grinned at Raelle’s obviously distracted state, “Well, welcome to my little crew.” She said the last part in air quotes laughing, and took a step back out of the blonde’s personal space. “At least that’s what Izadora calls it.”

Grateful for the space and moment to find her voice, Raelle spoke again, determined to focus on her job and not the sexy woman before her. Scylla Ramshorn couldn’t be a woman to Raelle, not now that she had become her client. “Let’s talk about the security concerns I—“

 Raelle was interrupted by a loud “whoop.” She glanced around, the source coming from a man occupying the other leather chair near the stage. He shouted out another cheer and jumped up waving his phone over his head as he bounded up to Scylla. His black locks of hair were held in place with enough gel to keep them secure until the rapture and the scent of his cologne made Raelle take a step back to keep from sneezing in his face.

“We’ve got it!” He said, ignoring Raelle and stepping into the space she’d occupied only a moment before.

“What?” Scylla asked him, her tone expectant.

Mojo,” he answered.

 Scylla sounded a loud “Hah” and he picked the brunette up and swung her around in a tight circle. Scylla’s attention was immediately diverted as soon as he’d put her down and handed her his phone. She read what was on the screen and grinned. “I told you I’d get it.”

Scylla and the man talked, laughing and bouncing up and down on the balls of their feet. After a moment the man turned to walk back toward his seat and Scylla went with him, the meeting with Raelle completely forgotten. Porter quickly followed them.

Raelle’s mouth gaped open, and she looked to Izadora.

The manager shrugged, apologetic. “That was Scylla’s publicist, Gerit Buttonwood,” Izadora explained.

“What the hell is Mojo,” Raelle asked.

In the absence of his sibling, Byron answered. “A magazine. They are going to do a photo spread of Scylla. It’s kind of a big deal.” Byron smiled at her. “And so are you. We’re really happy to have you here. We’ll address any concerns that you have.”

 “Thank you,” Raelle managed to answer. “But I really should be talking to Ms. Ramshorn about all this.”

Scylla continued her conversation with Gerit and Porter, ignoring the blonde’s presence and Byron eventually had to call out for his sister to get her attention. The brunette turned and looked at Raelle and her brother. Her eyes met Raelle’s again and she shrugged, “This is all Izadora and Byron’s idea. They suddenly have an obsession with me needing more security. They are the ones you should be talking to.”

Raelle clenched her jaw, the reason for the musician’s flippant attitude suddenly dawning on her.

“Scyl,” Byron whined, “you promised you’d cooperate.”

“And I am,” Scylla huffed. “I said I’d hire her and I just did. I just don’t see the point in knowing all about security measures.”

“Right,” Gerit agreed, looking at Raelle for the first time. “I’m sure you can install whatever kind of security upgrades to the property that you want, but Scylla is a busy woman, you can’t just constantly follow her around and ask her questions all the time.”

“Gerit,” Izadora snapped, her voice a warning.

“Really, I don’t need her help,” Porter whispered to Scylla jerking a thumb toward Raelle.

Raelle listened, her temper flaring as Izadora and Byron squared off with Porter and Gerit about the merits of professional security. Scylla just stood in the middle following the conversation back and forth with her eyes, a grin on her face, apparently amused by their infighting and at her being the cause of it. Raelle could tell that this was a common occurrence.

After a moment Scylla caught Raelle’s gaze and winked, “See what I have to deal with here?”

“Miss Ramshorn,” Raelle began.

“Scylla,” the brunette corrected.

“Miss Ramshorn,” Raelle repeated, her voice thick with anger.  “I think that there has been a mistake.”

“A mistake?” Scylla parroted.

“Yes, I’m afraid there’s been some sort of misunderstanding about what I am here to do. If you’ll point me to the quickest way out, I’ll get out of your hair.”

Scylla’s eyes widened at the sudden turn of events. No one had ever refused a position with her. Before she could speak, Byron and Izadora stopped their arguing with Gerit and stared at the blonde. Porter looked at Raelle. His bright blue eyes shone with triumph. He stretched out an arm, pointing at a set of French doors on the far end of the dance floor. “You can go out that way by the gardens.”

Raelle offered Scylla a curt nod and stepped around her, following Porter’s directions. 

Izadora yelled after Raelle as she opened one of the doors, but the blonde ignored her and stormed out into the sunshine.

Scylla’s eyes never left the form of the blonde as she marched out of her field of vision. She had her full attention now, though admittedly, it was too late. Raelle Collar was certainly full of storm and fury.

Chapter Text

Raelle cursed as she marched outside. Beyond the French doors she found herself on a small patio with the only exit a winding stone footpath surrounded by flowers on either side.  She had to stifle a sneeze after only walking a few feet.

In several places the flowers had taken over the stone walkway and she awkwardly found herself stepping over the various plants and nearly twisting her ankle again. Feeling the sharp pain streaking up her leg, she gritted her teeth. What is it with all these fucking flowers?

Raelle followed the path up the hill to her car. She had known it would be a mistake to come to Scylla Ramshorn’s mansion. She didn’t take celebrity cases for a reason.  They were snooty, indifferent, and distractingly gorgeous, the voice in her head supplied.  She reached her car and jerked open the door when the the sound of running feet made her look up.

“Raelle, wait,” Izadora huffed, trying to catch her breath as she half jogged the few final feet to catch up to the blonde before she could leave.

“You lied,” Raelle said. It wasn’t an accusation, but a fact. “She didn’t even know who I was.”

And as silly as it was, Raelle didn’t want to admit to herself just how much that bothered her.

Ducking her head, Izadora had the sense to look ashamed. “Look, Scylla needs a professional bodyguard, but she’ll never admit to it. I thought if she met you, saw you, then the two of you would be able to work it out yourselves.”

“Because I fit in so well with her ‘crew’?”  Raelle mimicked the air quotes that Ramshorn had used earlier. “Yeah, that worked out great, thanks a lot.”

“Please,” Byron pleaded coming up alongside Izadora, “My sister needs your help.”

Raelle shook her head at the pair. “It’s obvious that she doesn’t feel that way.”

Scylla’s manager and brother shared a look and then Izadora spoke up, “Please, Raelle, let me show you something. You came all this way and agreed to make an assessment. At least look at everything before you make a decision.”

Raelle sighed, eager to get off of Scylla Ramshorn’s property. “Fine, but show me here. I’m not going back in there.”

Izadora faltered for second and then acquiesced. “I’ll just be a few minutes.”

 

Raelle closed her car door and stood beside Byron. Unable to resist her curiosity she asked, “So, what’s up with all the plants?”

Byron glanced at the blonde before looking away, “Scylla likes them.”

“Uh huh,” Raelle answered. “It’s all a bit much though, you need a landscaper or groundskeeper or something.”

“We have one,” Byron said.

Raelle looked all around her and then back to Byron in disbelief, “Who?”

“Helen Graves,” Byron replied.

Raelle snorted, “She does a shit job.”

Byron shrugged, “That’s why Scylla likes her.”

Raelle looked at Scylla’s brother for a moment, considering what he’d said and shook her head. She didn’t get it, but she felt that there was something there to get. It niggled just at the back of her mind.

They stood there in silence each lost in their own thoughts until Gerit walked up to them.

“So Izadora said you were military?” He asked, without even a hint of an apology for what had happened in the mansion.

“That’s right, MP.” Raelle answered, unconsciously shifting into an alert posture.

Byron looked at the blonde when she answered, but didn’t speak. He could tell that the she didn’t like the publicist, and he didn’t want Gerit to run Raelle off before she had all the facts about his sister’s situation.  Still, he felt the blonde could handle him and Scylla too if she’d just take the job.

Gerit seemed to be hoping for the opposite as he continued to goad her.

 “Just one tour of duty though. Why?”

“I’d rather not discuss it,” Raelle answered.

“Have you ever killed anyone?” Gerit pushed.

Raelle met his gaze, her eyes steel, “I know how to get the job done when necessary.”

“So are you married?”

Raelle scoffed, “Yeah, we’re not talking about that.”

Gerit gave up his interrogation with a shrug, “Okay.”

Raelle hoped her deliberately poor manners would make the publicist take the hint to leave, but she was wrong. Since she didn’t participate in the Q and A the publicist had started, and Ramshorn’s brother didn’t seem to have anything else to say, Gerit started talking.  Some people just couldn’t stand the silence. Apparently he was one of those types.

As Gerit droned on about the celebrities he’d met and people he’d worked with, Raelle seriously thought about pulling her gun and shooting him.  Just draw, shoot—a bullet straight through his frontal lobe and into his cerebral cortex.  At this close of range his head will explode like a watermelon.  He won’t even have time to realize what happened. Her mind entertained the image of spattering brain fragments, and she allowed herself a small smile. 

Of course, Raelle would never do it. Despite the little fantasy, Raelle despised the violence that people inflicted on others and although she’d felt no regret for the violence she herself had to inflict at times, she took no pleasure in ending a life. Her pleasure came from saving others and the more desperate or unusual their situation, the more Raelle was in her element.

Byron caught Raelle’s smile and returned it with a wink. He knew that Gerit was an ass and completely full of himself. It was practically a prerequisite for the job that he did. Still, he’d helped his sister rise to fame, distracting her from the death of their parents, and Byron liked him for that even though there had been other consequences.

Finally, Raelle said to herself as she watched Izadora return carrying something in her arms.  She walked over to Raelle and handed her a thick manila envelope.

Raelle tested its weight and then walked over to the hood of her car. The others followed and they surrounded the hood of the Subaru. Raelle pulled out a sheet of paper and some photos.  Dropping the paper and envelope on the hood, she turned her attention to the photographs.

Her eyes widened as she flipped through the photos.  Raelle felt a strange sense of déjà vu; it was like something out of one of her old case briefings.  Gruesome images filled with blood and death were prominently displayed picture after picture. “Where did you get these?”

“They were found attached to the windshield of the limo she was riding in a couple of weeks ago. The one I told you about on the phone.” Izadora explained.

Raelle’s head tilted to the side and her mind raced trying to recall the multiple conversation she had with the older woman, “You never told me about any photographs.  You just mentioned a note.”

“I wanted to make sure you’d come here first,” Izadora admitted.

Raelle looked back down at the photo in her hand. Through the blood and gore Raelle could just make out the figure of a naked woman. Something wasn’t quite right with the photos other than the obvious, but Raelle couldn’t quite put her thumb on what was wrong. The woman had been badly mutilated and it looked like something was carved on her chest, but despite squinting, she couldn’t quite make it out.

Grimly, Raelle shook her head, eyes still focused on the picture, “Well, I’m here now.”

The next photo showed a close up of the woman’s torso.  The word “Sexy” had been etched across the chest area.  She continued flipping through the photos until she came to the final image showing the body dumped in shallow grave.   She looked closely at the ground surrounding the grave looking for any telling signs of a location when it hit her; all of the photos were missing the markers used to catalog evidence.  She wasn’t looking at some stolen crime scene photos.  These had been taken before the police had arrived.

 “How was the envelope attached to the windshield?”

 “It was stuck under one of the wipers.”

“The driver didn’t try to take this with him?”

“No.” Byron answered.  “With the tires slashed I thought that whatever was there might be bad like the last time so grabbed it and hid it before he could notice that it was even there. Besides, all the driver cared about was the tires.”

“Last time?” Raelle asked.

Izadora and Byron shared a look.

Gerit shifted beside them and spoke up, "She's got couple of other notes like the one with the envelope. It started about three months ago."

Raelle dropped the photos on the hood of her car and turned her attention the note.  The author had used cut outs of block letters from magazines to create a message that explained in graphic detail how Scylla Ramshorn would die. 

"Do you still have the other notes?" Raelle asked, going back through everything but not finding anything else.

"No, I tossed them out. I thought it was just sick fan stuff. Every time Scylla's in a magazine or comes out with new music there's always a bunch of mail. Some of its pretty nasty."

"But like this?" Raelle prodded.

"Just a couple of notes." Gerit insisted.

"And the doll," Byron added. 

Raelle's brow furrowed and she looked to the lanky man. "What doll?"

“We should show her,” Byron answered looking at Izadora.

Beside them Gerit rolled his eyes. “Do we really need to do this?  We don’t need this shit. It’s a distraction.”

Raelle frowned at Byron.  “Show me in a minute. I want to talk about these photos and the note. You should have given them to the police immediately.”

“Why? It’s not like anyone was hurt.” Gerit answered for Byron, folding his arms defensively.

Raelle turned to the publicist.  “What about her?” She asked, thrusting one of the photos in his face.

He stepped back at the gruesome image and muttered, “Haven’t you ever heard of Photoshop?”

“Photoshop?” Raelle spat, barely containing her rising anger.

“Yeah, those have got to be fake-just some fucked up shit a sicko fan came up with. You can do all kinds of stuff with photo edits. People post edits on Twitter all the time.”

“The pictures are fake, aren’t they?” Byron asked.  His voice sounded hopeful, but his face betrayed him, and it was obvious that even he didn’t believe Gerit’s attempt to explain away the gruesome images. After all, they had called her here for help. And Raelle only worked for people whose life was in danger.

Raelle looked apologetically at Scylla’s older brother and attempted to control her temper. “It’s possible, but I seriously doubt it. This looks real. I won’t know for sure though until they are professionally assessed.”

The blonde put everything back into the envelope and dropped it on the hood of her car. She looked up at Byron and Izadora. “You mentioned a doll?"

Izadora handed Raelle a small doll from her pocket while beside her Gerit groaned his displeasure.

Raelle took the doll, turning it this way and that in her hand. It resembled a knock off Barbie brand. Surprisingly it bore a striking resemblance to Scylla. It even had blue eyes. There was a tiny witch hat fastened to the doll’s head and a noose hung around its neck. She quirked her brow at the oddity.  Raelle unfolded the small paper pinned to the doll and read the message. It was a similar style as the note, block letters, though the message was about Scylla being a witch. The point of the note was the same though: Scylla Ramshorn should die.

“Where did you get this?” Raelle asked.

“We found it in her home studio.” Izadora answered.

“Somebody got into the house?” But of course they did, Raelle thought. She had seen how it easy it would be. There were dozens of ways to get inside the Ramshorn’s home. What if the next time they show up with a gun or a knife instead of sick gift and a note?

Byron nodded, taking the doll back from from Raelle and looking at it as he spoke. “We went out with some of my friends for lunch, and when we got back Scylla told me she’d had an idea she wanted to jot down. She asked me if I’d go get her music notebook for her while she got us something to drink.  When I got to the studio, I noticed that the door was open. We always keep it locked because some of the instruments in there were our par-”

Byron stopped for a second, looking up from the doll to Raelle, a pained expression forming on his face. He shook his head, and then continued, “Well some of the instruments are delicate and we don’t want just anyone getting in there and possibly breaking them. Anyway, I found the doll and the note on the piano.”

“Could someone here have let themselves into the studio?” Raelle asked.  “A maid cleaning, maybe?”

Byron shook his head, “No one else has a key to the studio but Scylla and me.”

Raelle looked at Izadora and Gerit who both nodded their agreement.

“No one goes in there unless Scylla or Byron is with them.” Izadora confirmed.

“They don’t even let me in,” Gerit huffed. “Scylla had the opportunity to be in a photo spread of musicians and their creative spaces in Pitchfork last Christmas and she refused. We had to create a mock up studio down the hall to be photographed.”

Pitchfork,” Raelle asked, brow furrowed.

“Seriously?” Gerit gaped at her.

“It’s a music blog,” Izadora explained.

“It’s THE music blog,” Gerit corrected. “Fuck Izadora, what rock did you lift up to find her hiding under?”

Raelle rolled her eyes. “I don’t care about that stuff.” She turned her attention back to Byron.

 “Are you absolutely certain you or Miss. Ramshorn didn’t accidently leave the studio unlocked?”

“Absolutely.” Byron insisted.

“So the lock was picked?” Raelle pressed.

“It must have been,” Byron answered.

Raelle bit the inside of her cheek.  She stood there for a moment, thinking about all that she’d heard and all that Izadora had left out of their conversations.

“Let me see if I’ve got this straight,” Raelle began, ticking items off with her fingers as she spoke. “Three months ago she starts getting letters with death threats. Next, someone breaks into the house and leaves her a doll with a note calling her a witch and threatening to kill her in what you people are calling her most sacred space. Then, someone slashed the tires of a limo that Miss Ramshorn’s riding in and leaves a note and photographs of a probable murder victim for her to find.”

Raelle folded her arms and looked at the three people standing around her car. “You people have a serious problem here.”

 “That's what I've been trying to tell you. Please, will you help us?” Izadora asked.

Raelle sighed and looked over toward the house. Her eyes caught movement from an upstairs balcony and she could see Scylla staring down at them.  Even from this distance, Raelle could feel the pull of the brunette’s azure eyes and she had to resist focusing on them. 

Everything that she’d been told and seen suggested that Miss. Ramshorn’s safety was at serious risk, so why was the musician so flippant about having a bodyguard. Was she in denial? Because if she was, Raelle knew how dangerous that could be and how much harder it would make her job to protect the brunette.

Raelle jerked her head toward the balcony. “What does she say about this?”

Byron looked down at the doll in his hand and Izadora glared at Gerit who finally spoke up, “We didn’t want to freak her out.” Raelle’s jaw dropped and the publicist continued defensively. “Besides, I still think it’s some kind of hoax.”

“What?” Raelle asked, looking at them in disbelief.  “You mean she doesn’t know about this?”

“No.” Izadora replied finally.

“None of it?” Raelle asked.

“We wanted to protect her,” Byron supplied.

Raelle looked at them incredulously, “Protect her?” Raelle scoffed, “You people don’t know anything about safety or security.”

“Well, knowing all this would really fuck her up wouldn’t it?” Gerit spat.

Raelle was infuriated at their deliberate ignorance. It bordered on arrogance. She tried to remember that these people were a little eccentric. Celebrities and their ilk always were, but c’mon. 

Raelle attempted to keep her voice even as she asked “How do you expect her to take this seriously when she doesn’t know what’s happening?”

Gerit rolled his eyes and threw up his hands.  “Fuck me, we don’t need this kind of shit this close to the award season. Just go, we’ll handle it our own way.”

“Yeah, you’ve done a bang up job so far,” Raelle shot back.

Byron opened his mouth as if to speak and then closed it again.

Gerit folded his arms and stared at Raelle.

“I’ll tell her.”  Izadora offered, breaking their stand-off.

“I can’t protect her if she doesn’t know the threat.” Raelle said, pressing the importance of the issue.  “I mean, she has to have some responsibility for her own life.”

Izadora nodded, “I’ll make her understand.  She’ll be cooperative.”

“No, I’ll do it,” Gerit insisted. “I’ll go tell her.” Raelle watched as the publicist huffed off toward the towering mansion.

Byron swallowed a few times, his Adam’s apple bobbing. He looked like he was on the verge of tears, “Please Miss Collar, I know that she’s difficult to deal with sometimes and she can a royal bitch when she wants—but she’s my sister and I love her. She’s all that I have. Please say you’ll do this.”

 Raelle nodded her head, even though she knew instinctively that she was going to regret this. “Yeah, I’ll do it.”

Izadora smiled and grabbed Raelle’s hand shaking it furiously.  “I promise she won’t be any trouble.”

Raelle rolled her eyes and reclaimed her hand from Izadora.  “Oh, she’ll be trouble.”

“Well, no job is perfect.” Izadora admitted.

Byron smiled, the relief visible on his face, "Things won are done; joy's soul lies in the doing."

Raelle stared blankly at him and he chuckled, “Shakespeare.”

“Uh, sure.” Raelle picked up the envelope from her hood and put her hand out for the doll. After a few seconds, Byron gave it to the blonde.

“I’m going to take these with me and show them to an old friend of mine who's working with the FBI now.”

Byron surged forward and wrapped his arms around Ralle in a hug. “Thank you for taking the job.”

The blonde froze in place and said nothing. Eventually the lanky man stepped away and with a shy wave turned and walked back toward the mansion.

Izadora offered Raelle a small shrug. “You’ll get used to them.”

“Yeah.” Raelle answered and wondered again why in the world Izadora ever felt she’d fit in with Scylla Ramshorn and her ‘crew.’

“Alright,” Izadora said brightly, “well whenever you’re ready just swing back by with your things and one of the maids will get the guest house set up for you. Is there anything you need to get started?”

Raelle nodded to Izadora.  “Let’s start with the plans and blueprints of the grounds and the house.  I’ll also need a list of all of Miss Ramshorn’s staff…” Raelle looked over at Izadora, “You wanna maybe write this down?”

“Nah,” Izadora answered, tapping her temple. “I’ll remember it. And it’s ‘Scylla.’ She’ll go nuts if she constantly hears you calling her ‘Miss Ramshorn.’”

Raelle shook her head, aggravated by the silliness of people insisting on informalities.  Still, if that small concession on her part would elicit some cooperation from the musician, she’d give it a try just this once.

 “Fine, I need a list of all of the staff working here and associated with Scylla in any way. That means all her friends, lovers, nearest neighbors, and acquaintances.”

"That will be a short list," Izadora said. "Anything else?"

What else, Raelle thought. “Oh, a copy of her calendar schedule would be great.”

"I can get you a paper copy, but it will be easier just to link you to the electronic schedule I have on my phone."

“One more thing, I want an assistant. Someone on her staff will do." Raelle bit her lip, wondering how Izadora would feel about her final request.

Izadora’s eyes widened for a moment and then she nodded as Raelle moved to the driver’s door of her car. “Is there anyone in particular that you want from her staff?”

Raelle shrugged, “Who is driving her new limo?”

“Helen Graves.” Izadora answered.

“Let’s hope she drives better than she landscapes.”

Izadora’s brows shot up but she didn’t comment.

 “She’ll do.” Raelle laughed at Izadora’s expression as she got into the car and started the engine. Almost as an afterthought, the blonde looked back up at Izadora.  “We need to keep this out of the press.”

“I know.”

Nodding, Raelle said, “I’ll be back here tomorrow by six.”

“Raelle, thanks again.” Izadora said as the blonde shifted her car into gear.

 

***

 

Byron found Scylla sitting in a chair in her room and reading a book.  She had changed out of the blouse and slacks and wore a tee shirt and jogging pants. Her hair was back in a pony-tail. Byron was glad to see that she was already in her “in for the night” wardrobe. That meant he wouldn’t have to worry about her going out.

He hoped now that Raelle had agreed to take the job, Scylla would at least be safe when she did venture out. Maybe the blonde’s presence would also help to curb some of her antics. He walked over and plopped down on her bed.

Without looking up, Scylla asked, “Well?”

“Well, Porter and Gerit really pissed her off, but she’s going to do it. All it took was a little of my Ramshorn charm to convince her,” Byron bragged.

Scylla let the book fall to her lap and looked up at her brother with a sigh. She wouldn’t admit it, but a part of her was glad she’d get the chance to see the blonde again, while the other part dreaded the invasion of her personal privacy.

“Thank you ever so much for that.” Scylla answered, flashing her brother a grin that dripped with sarcasm.

“C’mon, Scyl, you know you need Raelle’s help. Porter never knew what he was doing.”

“He cares though,” Scylla said, defending one of her only childhood friends.

“Yeah, he cares too much.” Byron muttered.

Scylla shrugged, not wanting to rehash an old argument. She could handle Porter, she always had.

“So when does she start?” The brunette asked, changing the subject.

Just then Byron’s cell phone rang and he hopped up from the bed and made his way to the door so he could take the call.

On his way out he looked back at his sister and grinned, “Izadora said she’d be here bright and early tomorrow so you’d better be ready to play nice.”

“Just great,” Scylla responded, and returned to her book.  Half an hour later she threw it down on the floor. She’d been reading the same page over and over as her thoughts kept drifting back to a certain blonde bodyguard. My bodyguard, she thought with a smile.

Chapter Text

“Hey dad,” Raelle said, answering her cell phone and turning on the speaker function before dropping it back down on her bed. It had taken her a little over three hours to drive from the Ramshorn mansion back to her house and after having dinner and preparing the house for another one of her extended absences she was packing for her stay at the Ramshorn property. She’d tried to call her dad earlier but he’d been elbow deep in automotive grease and told her he’d call back later.

Now Edwin Collar was calling just as she was in the middle of packing her things.

“How’s your ankle?” Edwin asked.

“Oh its doing better,” Raelle answered, not wanting to worry her old man.

“Good. So you were saying you took on a new client?”

“Yeah,” Raelle answered. “A musician.”

“Anybody I’d know?” Edwin asked.

Raelle pictured the sexy brunette in her mind and thought of her signature song and the music video that went along with it. Blushing she answered, “No dad, not your style of music.”

“Oh, okay,” her dad replied.

They talked a little longer about the weather and the upcoming holidays. They discussed Edwin’s work and talked about the neighbors before finally circling back to Raelle’s new job.

“Honey, you be careful okay.”

“I will dad,” Raelle promised. “I’ll call you in a few days, okay?”

“You’d better. I love you, Rae.”

“I love you too, dad.”

 As Raelle finished her call, she zipped up her final piece of luggage and moved on to packing her weapons.

 

***

 

Penelope Silver shifted on the rotting mattress stained black with blood. Not all of it was hers. She had been chained to the wall by a metal cuff around her ankle which only allowed her to move a few feet in any direction.  She tried to swallow, but her throat was parched from lack of moisture.  Her stomach ached and she wasn’t sure if it was from being beat repeatedly or the fact that it was empty.  She hasn’t had to go the in the bucket he had provided her for a while now. At first, the man who had grabbed her coming out of the Quick Mart brought her food.  But that was weeks ago or maybe it was only a few days.  She really couldn’t be sure because the back room of the basement did not have windows. 

He was going to kill her.  She knew this because he had told her so.  The same day she had been taken, he forced her to strip naked and then made her put on a mini skirt and black lace bra.  He had roughly pushed a brunette wig on her head and then he’d made her do things.  Horrible, terrible things.  She swallowed, willing her mind to stop thinking about it.  But the memories came and she could hear music coming from above.  She pulled her knees up around her chest and wrapped her arms around herself.  It wouldn’t be long now-he always came after the music played. He would come back soon and he would kill her.

 

He had it all on his computer.

Alone, he sat on his couch, clenching the laptop. He smiled, knowing exactly what was going to happen next.  He’d watched this video many times.  On the screen a spotlight illuminated a lone figure on the stage.  She was magnificent. The music began and she danced to the rhythm of the song.

Sexy, Naughty, Bitchy. 

Her voice was like a beacon in the night and he leaned forward, his nose almost touching the screen as he watched her.

Yes, she was sexy, and oh so naughty. She was a siren, encouraging other witches like her. Her very song was a sin. For that, she would have to be punished.  And he would be the one to make the bitch pay. Oh yes, she would pay, she would burn. 

He had practiced for a while now.  Filthy whores he found in alleyways and the odd girl he could catch alone when the opportunity arose. He wanted it to be perfect for her so he honed his skills.  And it gave him a chance to rid the world of other women like her, all beautiful but dirty: bitches, witches.

As the music faded, he paused the video, the face of Scylla Ramshorn dominated the screen. With the music off, the place was quiet. A low clinking of metal could be heard from below. He cocked his head, and listened to the sound of sobs. Gently he put down the laptop on the cushion beside him and stood. It was time to prepare the next present for his siren.

 

***

 

Helen Graves paced back and forth in front of one of the maintenance buildings on the Ramshorn estate. She didn’t know if she was more embarrassed that she’d hit on the blonde yesterday or more furious at the woman for making a fool of her. Raelle was her name. Raelle Collar. Jane Addams, my ass, and Mr. Parker had said she’d called herself Anne Lister.  What the hell was that woman playing at?

When Izadora had approached her yesterday and jumped onto her case about letting the blonde in without checking her out first, she’d almost told the frumpy old manager that she had indeed checked the blonde out. Just not in the way Izadora had meant. She wasn’t overly worried about getting in trouble though, Scylla would never fire her.

Still, she was shocked when Izadora informed her that she was being assigned to Raelle as an assistant. She had enough to do around the property and with helping out Mr. Parker around the house.  What type of assistant did a bodyguard need anyway? Now here she was, up at this ridiculous hour waiting for her new “boss” to arrive. She was about to go inside main house to get a cup of coffee when she saw the blonde’s white Subaru pull up in the drive.

Raelle smiled at Helen as she approached her with two cups of Starbucks a few minutes later. “Hi, thought I’d bring you a cup of coffee.”

“Thanks,” Helen answered, taking the offered cup from the blonde. The bodyguard was gorgeous and Helen figured she could at least try to be nice. “Who are you today? Emily Dickinson?”

Raelle chuckled softly and had the sense to give Helen an apologetic smile. “I had to see how hard it was to get inside.”

Helen frowned, “And it wasn’t hard at all, was it?”

“No,” Raelle confirmed. “But we’re going to change that.”

Helen nodded, “So, famous lesbians, huh?”

“You caught me,” Raelle answered with a cocky grin

The brunette laughed at the blonde. “Okay hot stuff, what do we do first?”

“First we finish our coffee and then we'll take a walk around the grounds.”

Helen’s brows rose, “You got your hiking boots and flashlight?”

Raelle's face scrunched quizzically, “Why do I need a flashlight?”

“It will take us all day and half the night to walk the entire property.”

“You got a better idea?” Raelle asked.

“Yeah,” Helen answered and gestured at the building. “We take one of the side by sides in there.”

Raelle smiled as Helen took out her keys and pressed a button on a fob.  The large door opened to reveal a neatly stocked maintenance building complete with two side by sides parked inside.

“Great. I hurt my ankle a few weeks ago at my last job and it’s still giving me some trouble. This will make things a lot easier. Course nearly tripping over a bunch of flowers on the footpath by the ballroom yesterday didn’t help much.”

“Oh, yeah?” Helen asked without further comment.

“Yeah, what’s with all the plants?” Raelle pressed.

Helen’s face remained neutral as she answered, “Scylla likes them.”

“Yeah, that’s what Byron said. Surely, she doesn’t like them taking over the place though?”

Helen frowned, “Look, I’m not derelict in my duties or whatever you military types call it. Scylla has strict instructions to leave the plants the way that they are.”

“That’s going to be a problem. They pose a serious security hazard. Not only does it keep us from seeing what’s going on around us, it also gives anyone who manages to get on the property plenty of places to hide.”

The brunette shook her head, “Look, I’ll do anything I can to help you, but I’m not going to mess with a single leaf until I get Scylla’s okay.”

Raelle gaped at the woman. She couldn’t believe anyone could be so ridiculous about what essentially amounted to weeds. She’d just have to go to the source and have a little talk with Scylla about the grounds later.  She made a mental note to herself to do just that.

“Well, let’s get that side by side and we’ll get started looking at the other stuff,” Raelle groused, dropping her empty cup into a trash can just inside of the building and moving to the side by side.

As they rode along the perimeter of the grounds, Raelle made notes on a legal pad and asked Helen to stop here and there as she pointed out her concerns. She consulted the maps and made little notations on it to indicate potential placement for cameras. After they got done, Raelle would write it all up and consult the security equipment company she used. It was time for Scylla to use some of her money on updating the property.

***

Scylla followed the progress the side by side made around the grounds from her bedroom balcony as she sipped her morning coffee. She enjoyed early mornings. Most people in the business didn’t get up until at least noon and didn’t go to bed until two or three in the morning. Getting up early afforded Scylla the ability to relax and just be herself for a few hours.

Now though, her peace was disturbed by one Raelle Collar. As the side by side stopped close by the pool, Scylla watched as the blonde hopped out. She was in light gray suit today, her blouse the same pale blue as her eyes. At some point Raelle had taken off her jacket and Scylla’s breath caught at the sight of Raelle’s shoulder holster and how it stretched tight the fabric of her blouse showing the faint impression of her nipples.

Scylla swallowed hard and was so focused on Raelle, she missed seeing Helen hop out of the side by side.  Now the groundskeeper stood beside the blonde and Helen pointed at something Scylla couldn’t see from her vantage point. Raelle let out a small laugh and Scylla couldn’t help but think again about the musical quality of her voice.  

The musician shifted up on her toes to look down at them over the balcony railing. She couldn’t make out what they were saying, but they seemed to be getting along. Too well for the brunette’s liking. Scylla frowned at just how quickly Helen had taken to the blonde. As their heads turned upward towards her balcony to discuss camera positions, she stepped back in the doorway to avoid being seen.

 

***

Even with the use of the side by side, it still took Raelle and Helen all day to assess the grounds. Some areas were so overgrown with foliage they had to traverse it on foot. She was pretty sure her suit was ruined between the stains and the small briars that picked at her clothing as they moved into some of the deeper brush. It was hot and difficult work and by the time they were finished, Raelle was tired and sore and in desperate need of a shower.

When she’d arrived on the property that morning she’d tossed her bags in the side by side and had Helen stop by the guest house during their survey to drop her bags off just inside the door.  Now, that she was done for the day, she could properly check out her new home away from home. But first, the shower.

Her dad would have been disappointed by her lack of southern manners and neatness, but Raelle started stripping as soon as she walked through the front door and was naked by the time she reached the bathroom attached to the master bedroom. The bathroom was practically as big as her living room at home with one wall dominated by a granite topped vanity. There was a basket there loaded with wash cloths, hand towels, and an assortment of toiletries. The shower was large enough to practically hose off a small horse and jets protruded from various spots in the walls. Looking up she noticed a rainfall shower head in there as well, and she smiled as she grabbed what she needed and stepped inside closing the glass doors and turning the jets on full.

Half an hour later, the massaging jets having eased her sore muscles and washed away the dirt and grime from the day, Raelle stepped out of the shower and dried off with a fluffy towel hanging on a rack. The towel was warm and Raelle could see that the rack had some sort of warmer function that must have turned on automatically with the shower. While her cursory inspection of the main house yesterday found it to be dated, the guest house certainly seem to have all the modern amenities. 

A sound drew her attention to the living room and she wrapped the towel around her as she walked through the bedroom and into the short hallway.  She certainly wasn’t expecting anyone, but Izadora had said the maid would be by at some point to make sure she had what she needed. Perhaps she was bringing her some of the things she had requested.

As she stepped to the end of the hall she was surprised to see Scylla Ramshorn standing in the living area looking around at the mess she’d left on the floor in her haste to get in the shower.

Raelle cleared her throat and Scylla looked up with surprise at the bodyguard standing in nothing but a towel. Her eyes raked over the blonde, taking in her lithe form and toned arms with appreciation.

“Looks like you started without me,” Scylla said, smirking at the blonde.

Raelle gave a soft snort and stepped forward to begin picking up her clothes. “Sorry about the mess.”

Scylla shrugged, “That’s alright. I just wanted to stop by and make sure that you have everything that you need.”

“Uh, yeah, mostly.” Raelle answered. Feeling awkward standing in nothing but a towel, Raelle gestured, “Give me a minute and I’ll get dressed.”

“I don’t mind you the way you are.” Scylla answered, quite enjoying the view.

“I do,” Raelle responded evenly.

She turned on her heel to move back to the bedroom when she remembered her bags were still by the door where she left them that morning. Son of a bitch. Blushing, Raelle turned back and grabbed one of the suitcases, all too aware of the brunette’s never faltering gaze.

“Need a hand?” Scylla asked sweetly.

“No,” Raelle answered, voice clipped.

As she walked back to her room balancing her soiled suit, shoulder holster, and luggage while trying to keep the towel around her she could have swore she heard the brunette softly chuckle.

Raelle tossed everything on the bed and said a silent thanks for her basic training and the packing skills she learned there. It only took her a few seconds to find her clothes and get dressed. She re-emerged from the bedroom less than a minute later, sporting a pair of grey sweats and a black sleeveless tee shirt.

“Hello again,” Scylla teased.

“Hi,” Raelle answered. Now that she was dressed she took the time to look the brunette over. She was in jeans and a blue blouse with stripes. The shirt complimented her eyes and Raelle had to force herself to look away. They really were bewitching.

“Uh, can I get you a drink?”

“Sure,” Scylla answered.

The guest house had an open layout and Ralle moved from the living area to the kitchen behind an island that served as a raised dining table. She walked over to the refrigerator and then paused. “I, uh, well I don’t even know what I have. I’m just used to asking the question.”

Laughing, Scylla moved next to the blonde, slightly brushing against her as she reached up into a cabinet beside the refrigerator and pulled out a bottle of red wine.

Raelle swallowed and her skin prickled at the pressure of Scylla’s breast as it pressed into her arm.

“Glasses are over there,” the musician indicated and moved away to open a drawer to get a bottle opener.

Raelle moved mechanically over to the cabinet that Scylla had mentioned and got out a couple of wine glasses. She stood there for a second, trying to tame the twitch of desire that Scylla’s touch had running through her. By the time she had gained control of herself and turned around her expression was a calm façade.

Scylla had the bottle opened and was perched on one of the stools at the island. The blonde walked over, put the glasses down on the granite counter, and took a seat across from the musician.

Scylla poured them generous portions of the wine and let her fingers brush Raelle’s as she handed her a glass. “Why didn’t you come by the house today?”

“Busy,” Raelle husked, another flare of desire shooting straight to her center at the brunette’s feather light touch.

“And here I thought you were hired to protect me.” Scylla pouted and took a sip of the wine.

Raelle lifted her own glass, taking a gulp to steel her nerves. “I am protecting you.”

“By spending the day with my staff?” Scylla responded, a slight bite in her tone.

“By walking the grounds and determining the security features that need to be installed.” Raelle answered evenly. “I’ll also need to make a better inspection of the house to determine any upgrades needed there.”

“Inspect anything you like.” Scylla said leaning back on her stool, her voice suggestively seductive.

“I’ll be over in the morning after I’ve had a chance to look at the other buildings on the property.” Raelle answered, her tone flat.

“You could come over tonight,” the musician suggested. “I’m sure you’d enjoy inspecting my room.”

“No,” Raelle answered.

“Should we inspect your room instead?” The musician asked, leaning forward and offering the blonde a glimpse of what was beneath her shirt.

“Scylla,” Raelle began.

“Ah, no more of the Miss Ramshorn nonsense, then?”

Raelle shook her head, “No, Izadora said you’d insist we be on first name basis.”

“Good,” Scylla answered. “I'm used to getting what I want. Now, about that inspection,” Scylla said, brushing her hand over the blonde’s forearm.

“Scylla,” Raelle repeated, the edge of a warning in her voice, “I am here to keep you safe, not keep you entertained.”

The brunette quirked a brow, but she said nothing and after a moment lifted her glass and drained it. She leaned back on her stool again and sighed. “Very well, perhaps not yet.”

Raelle eye’s widened, a bit surprised that it had been that easy to deter Scylla from what was an obvious proposition. She shifted uncomfortably on her stool, trying not to think about what "yet" could possibly entail. Despite her best efforts at controlling herself, just being in the brunette's presence had her more turned on then she'd been in years and suddenly needing another shower.

After a moment and another gulp of wine to calm herself, she tried to steer the conversation back to her duties while she had the brunette’s attention to herself, “There’s a lot we need to discuss about the grounds. I’d like to go over the security measures I’d like to put in place.”

“I told you yesterday that I don’t care. Whatever you feel is necessary, I’ll approve.” Scylla answered. She stood up from the island, apparently ready to leave.

“There’s one thing that I think will need your personal okay.” Raelle said, recalling Helen’s comments about the grounds.

“What?” Scylla asked, her voice already indicating her boredom.

“All the landscaping.”

“What about it?” Scylla asked, her voice instantly sharp.

“It poses a serious security risk,” Raelle began, intending to give the musician the same lecture she’d given her assistant earlier in the day.

“No one changes it.” Scylla’s voice had an air of finality.

Raelle frowned, “But the vines on the gate.”

“What about them?” Scylla asked.

“Do you realize how easy it would be for someone to scale the walls? I’m sure you paid thousands of dollars for them and you’re going to need to spend a lot more to properly secure your property. All that is moot if someone can just hop over the walls by climbing the vines like Tarzan.”

Scylla’s azure eyes bore into Raelle’s, but this time the blonde’s gaze did not falter, her eyes as hard as ice. After a moment, the brunette looked away. “Fine,” she conceded. “I’ll let Helen know that you can get rid of the greenery on the walls. The rest stays the same.”

Raelle didn’t think that was nearly good enough, but she could tell it was the best she was going to get tonight. “Thank you.”

Scylla nodded and moved quickly toward the door of the guest house. “I’ll see you later.”

At the sound of the guest house door closing, Raelle let out a shaky breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding.

Chapter Text

It took most of the first week of her stay on the Ramshorn estate for Raelle to properly assess the house and the grounds. Once everything she wanted to have installed was outlined on the map, she took the foreman of the security installation crew on a tour of the property. As they finished their rounds, and the foreman promised to have the first crew begin the next day, Raelle was distracted by the sound of soft jazz music. She shook the man’s hand and left him to find his way back to his vehicle while she followed the sound of music.

Raelle found herself on one of the many winding stone footpaths that led to the various buildings dotting along the grounds a little ways from the main house. She stepped up to the French doors and peered inside.  Byron was sitting on a stool in an open area, working at an easel. She rapt lightly at the door with her knuckles and his head popped up from the canvas. He gave her a small wave and she stepped inside.

“So this is your studio?” Raelle asked.

“Yes, my own little artistic domain,” Byron answered gesturing around at the various canvases.

Raelle knew next to nothing about art, but from what she could see she assumed that Scylla’s brother was just as popular in the art world as Scylla was in the music industry. 

As she looked around, Byron stood proudly.  When she stepped up to one wall that displayed a series portraits of a man and a woman and a young girl, Byron moved beside her.

“That’s our parents. And that was Scylla when she was fifteen. I painted it less than a year before they died.”

Raelle looked at Byron, sympathy in her eyes.

“I lost my mom a couple of years ago. She was a medic in the army.” Before she could stop herself, she found herself telling Byron everything. About her anger, about her locking herself in her dad’s house. She didn’t know why, but she felt this Ramshorn was a bit of a kindred spirit.

After she’d finished, Byron gazed sadly at the portraits and then gestured over at several canvases depicting an odd mixture of patriotic flags and various plants. One painting displayed the American flag, the pole covered in climbing vines and white roses. “Our father was a dignitary, and mother was a botanist.”

“Someone who studies plants?” Raelle asked.

“Yes, I know you asked about them earlier.”

Raelle’s brows lifted and Byron smiled ready to tell the blonde his story.

“A lot of people don’t know much about our family. They were fairly private and my father’s job was, well, delicate to say the least. He had a lot of political sway in these parts, but that also made him a lot of enemies. We sort of kept to ourselves. Anyway, most people just assume that Scylla bought this place with her money from her music career but our parents actually bought it a couple of years before they were killed. Scylla and I inherited it.”

“So all the plants,” Raelle began.

“Yes, our mother planted most of them.”

Raelle nodded, finally understanding the brunette’s strange obsession with the foliage. It also made sense now why everything in the house seemed to be at least a decade old. It was obvious things had been left the way they were when the Ramshorn’s parents died.

“You said they were killed?” Raelle asked.

Byron nodded. “It was a terrible accident. They were ran off the road by a drunk driver.”

“I’m sorry,” Raelle said, the response automatic.

“And I’m sorry about your mother,” Byron answered.

“Scylla never quite got over what happened,” the lanky man continued, “She just threw herself into her music. About six months after they died she came out with her first major hit, and here we are.”

Raelle nodded. Stepping away from the art display she moved toward the canvas that Byron had been working on. It was male nude and Raelle could see that it was of a man the brunette obviously admired.

“And what about you?” the blonde asked.

Byron shrugged, a sad smile on his face, “Scylla turned away from love, and I’ve been running toward it for a while now.”

 Raelle nodded, understanding the brunette a little better now. She’d been avoiding connection like the plague since she’d lost her mother but eventually her friends helped her through most of the pain. Byron was right, love was the answer. She knew it, even if she wasn’t ready to do anything about it.

After leaving Byron to his art, Raelle stepped back onto the path and almost ran right into Helen who practically bounced on the balls of her feet, excited to learn some driving moves.

“I thought we were doing that next week?” Raelle asked, teasing the brunette.

“You promised today.”

“I’ve gotta check those temporary cameras,” Raelle said and starting walking in the opposite direction of the garage.

Helen darted in front of the blonde and tossed an arm around the bodyguard practically dragging her to garage.

“Okay,” Raelle answered laughing at her assistant and allowing herself to be pulled along by the taller woman, “I guess I can show you how to do a 180 degree skid turn.”

Helen practically whooped in excitement beside her and Raelle laughed as they entered the garage and made their way over to the limo.

A couple of hours later, Raelle gritted her teeth and held on to the “ole shit” bar as Helen jerked the limo around, following the blonde’s instructions.

 

Scylla and Byron lounged by the pool soaking up the last of the season’s warm summer sun. Soon they’d have to close the outdoor pool for the fall and winter. The mansion had an indoor pool, but Scylla preferred being outside among her plants.  She was relaxing on her stomach, letting the heat seep into her back, and enjoying the company of her brother whom she’d finally pulled away from his precious canvas, when sound of tires squealing abruptly roused her from her rest and she lifted herself up on her elbows and looked towards the sound.  At the sight of her brand new limousine being looped around the drive at extremely high speeds, she growled.

“What the fuck is she doing now?”

Byron turned his, head squinting up at his sister. “Who?”

“Raelle—do you hear what she’s doing to my fucking car?” Scylla hissed.

Stifling a yawn, Byron responded. “She’s teaching Helen defensive driving.”

“Defensive driv—Wait, how do you know that?”

“Helen mentioned it to me this morning at breakfast—she was really excited about it.”

Offended that she was the last to know, Scylla muttered, “Raelle should have asked me first.”

“Well, she got it all cleared with Izadora.”

Scylla rolled her eyes.  “Helen is so damn infatuated with her that she’ll go along with any hair brained idea Raelle has, won’t she?”

Byron smirked, “Sounds like somebody’s jealous. Besides, it was Helen’s idea.”

Scylla glared at her brother, “Jealous of what?”

“Of all the attention that Raelle is giving Helen and all the attention that Helen is giving back to your bodyguard.”

Scylla snorted in reply.

“You like Raelle, admit it.”

“Hell no.” Yes.

“Mhmm—you think she’s sexy, though.”  Byron prodded in a sing song voice.

To the point of getting off in the shower just thinking about her. Scylla blushed at her thought, “Well yes, she has an amazing body, you’d have to be blind to not see that she’s beautiful,” Scylla looked over at her brother and added, “Or you know, be a gay guy, but she’s not my type.” 

“You mean she’s got the brains to stay far away from you.”

Scylla’s brows shot up in surprise and she turned to look at her brother. “What the Hell is that supposed to mean?”

Byron shrugged.

“Well?”

“I mean that you aren’t her type.”

Scylla furrowed her brows.  “She’s not into guys, is she?” If she is, my gaydar is seriously broke beyond repair, she thought.

Byron laughed. “Nah, she’s totally a little gay puppy.”

“So exactly why aren’t I her type?” Scylla repeated again.

“Well, you’re her client,” Byron offered lamely. He thought back to the conversation that he’d had with the blonde in his studio, but it wasn’t a conversation he felt he had permission to share. Luckily, Byron was saved from further interrogations from his little sister by a loud squealing of tires that came from the drive. Hmm, Helen must have misjudged the turn.

“Son of a bitch,” Scylla shouted. She stood up from her lounge chair and stomped towards the driveway.

***

At the local FBI headquarters, Raelle handed the envelope over to the guard for inspection and checked her gun.  Beyond the metal detectors, Tally Craven stood, barely containing her excitement.

After the severe looking guard handed the envelope back to Raelle along with a visitors pass and instructions to not lose the receipt for her gun, the blonde walked up to her friend. They exchanged awkward glances for a moment, trying to decide which would win out, the need for professionalism or their need to hug one another.

The red head made up her mind and swept the blonde into a tight hug. The guard watched, a little excitement injected into his otherwise boring routine. He’d heard a few rumors about the red head, and it was as plain as day that the blonde was a lesbian. Maybe the red head was too. This little intel would certainly give him an advantage in the betting pool that Alder and Craven had a little something going on other than late night mentoring sessions. He’d have to raise his bet.

Raelle grinned, oblivious to the guard's interest, “It’s good to see you Tal,” She let her eyes look over her best friend tall form. “You look so serious in that suit.”

“I know,” Tally pouted.

“Miss Agent Craven.” Raelle teased. “I like it.”

Tally smiled, “And look at you in that suit, private work must be paying you well.”

Raelle blushed, “Well, I’ll admit I picked up a couple of new outfits when I took the job. The Ramshorns don’t go to Denny’s.”

Tally laughed, “You look great, Rae. Let’s go up to Sarah’s floor.”

“Sarah?” Raelle teased, “Since when does Ms. Special Agent in Charge Sarah Alder become just Sarah?”

Now Tally was the one blushing, her face turning as red as her hair. She was saved having to explain though by the number of people in the elevator when the doors opened.  They stepped in and she pushed the button for all the way to the top, garnering a few glances from the other agents.

Once they got off the elevator, Raelle found herself alone with her friend again and she pushed for more information.

“We’re just friends, Rae.” Tally sighed, leading her friend into a conference room where they settled to wait for the agent in charge.

It was obvious to Raelle that Tally seemed a bit disappointed in the ‘just’ part.  “Well, here’s a little something for you.” She reached into her suit jacket and pulled out an envelope.

Tally squealed as she took the envelope that Raelle offered her and opened it to see that it contained a picture with Scylla and the scribbled words, “With all my devotion, Scylla.”

“There’s a couple of tickets in there for the Fort Salem Concert, too. Maybe you can invite Sarah,” Raelle teased.

Tally’s eyes widened and her jaw dropped open. “Rae, those tickets are like five hundred dollars a person.”

“Well I know a girl…” Raelle began, blushing.

Tally squealed again and reached over to embrace her best friend.

Special Agent in Charge Sarah Alder stepped in the conference room in that moment and her brow furrowed at the young boisterous agent and her blonde friend.

“Miss Collar, you are here to talk to us about Scylla Ramshorn?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Raelle answered, straightening up in her chair.

“Show us what you have,” the Agent said, taking the seat at the head of the table.

Raelle opened the manila envelope and spilled the contents onto the conference table.

An hour later Special Agent in Charge Sarah Alder wrapped up the meeting with Raelle and her young agent. She had promised Raelle all the resources that the FBI had to analyze the evidence she’d provided and to have Tally get back to her when there were some results.

 Agent Craven walked Raelle out of the office and back to her Subaru, intent on sharing one more hug with her best friend before she headed back to Salem. “It will probably be a few weeks.” Tally warned.

“I understand,” Raelle answered. “Just try to rush it as much as you can.”

“You really think she’s in trouble, huh?”

“You saw the evidence, don’t you?”

Tally thought back to the notes she’d looked at and the weird creepy doll. The photos were still by far the most concerning thing though. “Yeah, Rae,” Tally admitted.  “You need to be careful.”

“Always,” Raelle answered as she stepped into her car.

***

Byron grinned as he watched the blonde and his sister sizing each other up once they’d entered the restaurant. It was their typical Wednesday lunch with Byron’s art friends and as usual he’d insisted that his sister come along. Now, nearly a month into her employment that meant Raelle had to come too and his friends, mainly a gaggle of girls, were instantly taken by the tough ex-military bombshell of a bodyguard.

Helen must have warned her about the dress code of the location because she’d dressed in a dark charcoal suit expertly tailored to fit her slender form, her shirt underneath a pale pink. She wore dark heels instead of her customary military style boots and the extra three inches made her look even more dashing. As they walked inside the restaurant, he’d noticed several female heads turn their way. His sister, who normally wore whatever looked skimpy to irk him in front of his friends, had dressed to impress this afternoon as well and he had no doubt she was showing off for a certain blonde bodyguard.  She wore a cobalt blue dress that hugged her curves and accented the look with simple gold jewelry.

As Scylla passed Raelle in the narrow doorway to the private dining area she brushed her form up against the blonde and whispered in her ear. “Nice suit.”

The brunette’s breath tickled at Raelle’s neck and blonde barely suppressed a shocked shudder at the instant twitch of desire that shot down her spine and straight to her center. She could still smell the light scent of sandalwood with earthy undertones as the brunette moved to take her seat beside Byron. Raelle cleared her throat and shifted her position, her back slightly to the group as she planned stand her guard over her client from the doorway. She blushed as Byron insisted that she join the group at the table and eat with them.

Half an hour later, Byron’s sides were sore from laughing and he was pretty happy with himself that he’d finally invited the bodyguard to sit with them. She was friendly, engaging, and she had a quick wit that went along perfectly with her southern charm.

“So then Abigail shoved Tally and she stumbled back. All that rockin’ upset the boat and the next thing you know here we were in the water with six crocodiles surrounding us and all we had were these teeny tiny little utility knives.”

As the bodyguard continued to gesture animatedly as she told her story entertaining his friends, Byron watched Scylla watching Raelle. It was obvious from her gaze that his little sister had it bad.

Once the story ended there were shouts from his friends for another one, but Raelle politely declined sitting back in her chair and sipping her coffee. Byron started a tale of his own and Raelle and Scylla found themselves ducking out of the conversation.

Raelle’s pale blue eyes met Scylla’s gaze and she flashed the brunette a soft grin. The smile fell when she felt something under table running up the length of her calf. She gave the brunette a withering glare.

Scylla winked at her bodyguard but gave the blonde a brief reprieve and moved her foot.

Raelle let out a relieved breath when Scylla’s foot left her calf, but nearly spit her coffee out a moment later when she felt the same heeled foot brush against her inner thigh and press against her center.

Scylla met the blonde’s withering glare with a soft smirk, daring the blonde to react.

Raelle’s sense of duty was quickly outweighed by the one two punch of her growing arousal and her stubbornness to never back down from a challenge. The two glasses of wine she’d had during lunch probably hadn’t helped either.  Still sipping her coffee, she slipped her other hand under the table and grasped the heeled foot in her lap.

As Scylla’s breath caught in response to her action, Raelle began lightly caressing her ankle with her long, slender fingers. She slid the bottom of her palm up further, massaging the calf in her lap in a lazy circular motion. As the brunette hid a moan behind her napkin, Raelle winked at the musician and mouthed “had enough?”

Sylla met the blonde’s gaze, blue eyes darkened with desire. Raelle's response to her little flirtation was better then she could have imagined and the fact that Byron and his art friends droned on, oblivious to what was going on under the table, only turned her on more. She gave a slight shake of her head.  “Keep going,” the brunette mouthed back, encouraging the blonde.

Raelle moved her hand anyway, much to the brunette’s displeasure and stood up. She excused herself, saying she needed to have the limo moved as everyone finished up with their desserts.

As Raelle left the dining area, she could feel Scylla’s eyes follow her out the door.

Byron looked over at his sister and noticed the somewhat strange expression on her face. “Are you okay?” he whispered, his friends talking among themselves as they began to settle up the bill.

“Yeah,” Scylla rasped, “Just peachy. Thanks ever so much for lunch.”

Scylla said her own goodbyes and stepped out to the front of the restaurant where Raelle stood, arms folded across her chest, eyes on the door and crowd that had surrounded the walkway to the limousine.

“They knew you’d be here,” Raelle said. No hint of their previous flirtation or the reaction it had caused visible on her face.

The hot and cold was a shock to the brunette, but she shrugged, pressing down her own arousal.

“We eat here every few weeks, so it wasn’t much of a reach.”

“Hmm,” the blonde answered but offered no further comment.

On the way out, Raelle insisted on walking a few steps in front of Scylla. When a girl shot forward from the side of the crowd, Raelle instinctively put a hand out to restrain the girl.

Scylla looked down at the girl, she couldn’t have been more than ten or eleven, and back at Raelle.

The girl’s mother stepped up and apologized and Scylla spoke before her bodyguard could.

“No, it’s not a problem at all.” She crouched down, coming to the girl’s eye level and talked to her for a few minutes while the blonde watched, slightly embarrassed at her response. It had been instinctual but far too extreme for the circumstance. The musician had her emotions all over the place and she once again had to remind herself to get it together.

Scylla stood and invited the girl and her mother to take a picture. She handed Byron the phone who stepped in front of them and took the shot. He handed the phone back to the mother and she left with her little girl still excitedly talking about the encounter.

Scylla frowned at Raelle as she stepped up to the limo, “You gonna shoot them next time?”

Raelle cringed but said nothing and got into the front of the limo beside Helen.

The driver didn’t say anything but Porter who had watched the entire exchange from the car snorted at Raelle. “Hot shot bodyguard, huh? Nothing like pushing around a kid.”

Helen looked over at Raelle and offered her a consolatory smile.  “How was lunch?”

“Spicy,” Raelle answered without further comment.

Helen chuckled as she pulled away from the curb.

Raelle watched her passenger door mirror, her eyes catching a dark black sedan pull out and follow the limousine. As Helen shifted into another lane, Raelle watched the car do the same.

“You know Collar, you need to understand something.” Porter said, still annoyed with the bodyguard and the way she was upsetting Scylla.

“What’s that,” Raelle asked, voice flat as she continued to keep her attention on the car.

“I love Scylla and I’m here for her comfort. Her pleasure.”

Raelle’s brow quirked at his choice of words but she kept her eyes on the mirror.

“I’m not some hired cold fish with a gun determined on making her life miserable.”

“Sure Porter,” Raelle answered.

"I let her do what she wants and I stand by if she needs help."

"Good to know, Porter."

"You could learn a lot from me, Collar."

Raelle snorted and looked at Helen.

Helen met Raelle’s gaze and looked in her rear view mirror spotting the sedan. “Is that him?”

“Maybe,” Raelle answered. 

“What’s going on?” Porter asked.

“Should I speed up?” Helen offered, foot hovering over the gas pedal.

“No, go as slow as you can to the gate and then once I’m out of the car, punch it.”

“Okay,” Helen answered, following Raelle’s instructions.

As soon as the car slowed enough for Raelle to get out at the gate, she jumped from the car and watched as the sedan behind them squealed its tires as the driver pealed out. Raelle took off after it, running along the edge of the property, trying to find a spot to jump out in the road.

Each time Raelle thought she had the car, the damn shrubbery got in her way, pulling at her clothes and tearing her suit.  She finally found a break in the greenery and jumped into the road just missing the car. She got a couple of numbers from the license plate and she knew it was an early 2000s Toyota Camry from the emblem on the trunk and the body style. Had she’d only been a few minutes quicker though, she might have had the entire situation resolved. Damn the fucking foliage.  Raelle was sick of it and she intended to have something done about it.

 

Scylla was perched on the piano bench in her studio, working on a new song idea inspired by the recent lunch outing she’d had with Raelle in attendance, when she was interrupted by what sounded like a chainsaw. And I thought the installation was about complete. Shaking her head, her hands moved to the keys and she tried to pick up where she’d left off, humming out loud the melody in her head. A loud crash made her jump and her hands slammed down on the piano keys.

Walking to the other end of the room she looked out of the window and her eyes widened as she watched several workman with chainsaws attacking the trees that ran along the border of her property. As another pine fell, Scylla felt her temper rise and she stalked out of the studio, slamming the door shut behind her.

“What the fuck, Izadora?” Scylla asked, yelling at her manager as soon as she walked into the living area, summoned by Scylla’s call.

“Scylla, you knew this had to be done.”

“I didn’t tell her she could cut my damn trees.”

“They are just trees, Scylla.” Izadora said. “They were here long before your family ever moved here.”

“And do you know she wants Byron to change the day he has lunch just so my fans can’t find us?”

Raelle stepped into the room and Scylla turned her anger on the blonde.

 “Are you trying to control my entire fucking life?”

“No, I’m trying to protect it.” Raelle began.

“By destroying my property and telling me when and where I can go places?” Scylla asked.

“It’s prudent to--”

“Are you going to tell me who I can fuck next?” Scylla yelled, interrupting the bodyguard.

Raelle’s temper flared and she began shouting back at the brunette until Byron trotted in the house from his studio after Izadora sent him a SOS via text. 

The lanky man talked to both of them, mediating the dispute and liberally applying his Ramshorn charm until both left the room, still angry but at a temporary truce.

Izadora shook her head at Byron after the girls left and he laughed nervously. “What are we going to do with those two?”

“I don’t know,” the manager answered. “I knew that there would be friction, but I didn’t expect this much.”

“No, those two have it bad for each other.”

“Yes,” Izadora agreed.

Byron looked at the manager, “Does Raelle know about tonight?”

“No,” Izadora answered. Gerit said he wanted to keep it under wraps until the last minute.”

“Even from her bodyguard?”

“You know after the luncheon the other day, Raelle would object to Beltane. She’s been firm about checking out every location prior to Scylla having a concert there.”

Byron nodded, “True, but I have a feeling this will be a shit show.”

“Me too,” Izadora agreed.

Chapter Text

Raelle inspected the limo, showing Helen how to search for tracking devices or worse, bombs, when Scylla and her crew stepped over to the vehicle. They were dressed as usual, but Scylla had some sort of cape wrapped around her and the blonde gave her a questioning look.

“Are you wearing that to dinner?”

“We’re not going to dinner,” Gerit said and moved to open the door of the limo for Scylla.

“Gerit,” Raelle said, her voice annoyed. “Where are we going?”

“Beltane,” he replied simply.

Raelle looked at Helen who shook her head at the blonde. Night Club, she mouthed.

After everyone had settled into the limo, Raelle slammed her own door, jaw tight. It was obvious that she had been the only one left in the dark about this little outing. She knew that Scylla was still pissed over the trees, but this was just ridiculous. And dangerous. All the way to the club, the bodyguard seethed.

Raelle felt like she’d swallowed a hot molten stone as they pulled up to the club. This was every bodyguard’s nightmare. The crowd surrounding the nondescript warehouse called Beltane was huge. People spilled out of the loading dock that served as the club’s main entrance and perched on the fire escape system attached to the building on the other side of the alley way. Beside her Helen searched for a place to put the limo, while Raelle’s mind raced as she tried to come up with various exit strategies on the fly.

She turned her head back to help Helen with positioning the limo and took in the mood of the other occupants in the vehicle. Directly behind her Porter looked green and she could only assume that he was just as nervous as she was at the idea of Scylla soon being among the reaching and grabbing fans. Someone smacked hard at the limo’s window and Gerit jumped with a nervous laugh. “C’mon guys,” he said at the crowd that couldn’t really hear him, “The show’s inside.”

In the back of the limo, Scylla shivered, not at being practically naked under her cape that hid her sequined costume, but with the energy she could feel from the crowd. Beltane held such great memories for her. She’d shed her pain and cried her heart out on the simple black stage, and the fans had ate her up. They lifted her and carried her to the fame she now had. It was a thrill to be here and launching her newest video for her biggest fans.

Byron sat beside Scylla, unhappy with Gerit and his hair brained idea to do an impromptu performance at the club and then to deliberately leak their intentions a couple of hours before his sister was set to go on. The move had created a mob, and that’s exactly what the publicist had wanted.

Only Izadora seemed quiet, almost oblivious to the various energies around her.

Scylla jumped out of the limo as soon Raelle opened the door for her and moved passed the bodyguard, avoiding the blonde’s attempt to stop her. She called out to the fans on the fire escape and grabbed a Sharpie from someone in the crowd to sign various photos and some body parts thrust under her nose as she made her way into the side entrance of the club. 

Raelle moved around her, attempting to clear the way while Izadora, Byron, and Porter followed on her heels. Gerit had already entered the club briefly shouting an explanation that he needed to talk to the owner as he dashed passed Raelle.

Once inside the narrow hallway at the side of entrance of the club, Raelle ushered Scylla to a small dressing room near the stage. The room was already packed with flowers and cards and various stuffed animals that fans had left for the musician.

 Raelle made sure Porter was standing guard at the door and left Izadora and Byron with the brunette inside the dressing room as she stepped out to secure the area.  She went back outside and spoke with Helen about where to park the limo for the best quick exit. Once they’d talked and decided on a plan A, B, and C, Raelle and the driver checked their coms devices to make sure that they were working properly.

Satisfied as Raelle could be with the impromptu security measures, the bodyguard returned to the club and wormed her way back towards the dressing room walking passed Gerit who was fending off reporters to his left and right.

At the door she gave Porter a curt nod before pushing it open. The moment she stepped inside the small cramped space, she could sense the change in the atmosphere. Scylla sat on a stool in front of the dressing room mirror, her eyes wide and her previous excitement gone.

Raelle looked to Izadora who thrust a doll in her hands. The doll looked just like the one that Scylla’s brother had found in the studio complete with a witch hat and noose. The only difference was that this one had gruesome disfigurations as if the plastic on the doll had been burned giving the face a waxed, melted look. She looked around for a note and found it in Scylla’s hand.

Byron paced back and forth in the cramped and space spoke up, “They sent another one.”

A loud noise came from the door and everyone jumped as Gerit stepped inside a bouquet of flowers in his hands.

“Nothing else comes in here,” Raelle said, grabbing the bouquet and thrusting it back out the door and in someone’s reaching hand.

At her perch in front of the dressing area Scylla looked back and forth among the blank faces of the only people in the world with whom she gave her trust.

Voice tight she asked, “What do you mean another one?”

No one spoke for a moment and then Izadora began talking and the others joined in, the confessions falling from their lips.

As Byron explained about the first doll, Scylla interrupted him.

“Somebody got in the house? The studio?” She looked around, and then her eyes landed back on her brother. Her voice was a shout and Byron cowered, “Someone touched mother’s piano?”

Raelle locked the dressing room door and stepped forward, crouching down to meet Scylla at eye level. She gently took the note from the brunette’s shaking hand.

“They didn’t tell you,” Raelle said simply.                                   

Scylla met the blonde’s gaze, her blue eyes desperately seeking answers. “You knew?”  She asked, her voice almost a whisper.

“It’s why I am here.” Raelle answered. “To keep you safe.”

Another crash came from beyond the dressing room and Raelle stood up, hands instinctively reaching for her weapon. Scylla watched the blonde, terror filling her eyes.

 The owner of the club stuck bald his head in the room, having unlocked the door with his keys. Oblivious to what was happening inside the dressing room, the manager looked at Scylla, a smile on his lips. “There’s my sexy little witch.”

Scylla flinched at his choice of words, echoing the note she’d read attached to the hideous doll, but the owner didn’t notice and carried on.

“Are you about ready to go on? The natives are getting restless out here.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t,” Izadora said quietly.

The owner’s brows shot up and Gerit surged forward. “Just give us a minute Dave.”

The manager bobbed his head and backed out of the door as Raelle shifted to block it.

Scylla looked at Raelle, “Is who sent this out there?”

“They could be,” Raelle answered honestly.

“We don’t know that,” Gerit said.

“But you all knew that someone was sending me stuff like this.” Scylla looked around the room, the pain of betrayal in her eyes. “You knew someone got into the house.”

“We need to cancel,” Byron said.

Izadora nodded, “I’ll go tell them.”

“Wait, Gerit shouted, “If you do that they’ll rip the damned place apart.” He turned to Scylla taking his hands in hers. “C’mon babe, this is what you’ve worked for. Besides, you’ve got Raelle here, right?”

The bodyguard sighed, “I’m here,” she confirmed, and then looked to the brunette, “but I don’t recommend that you go on.”

“I’m cancelling,” Izadora declared, and walked out to the stage.

Everyone started moving at that point and Raelle helped Scylla to her feet. The bodyguard started to guide her out the door, when the sound boos made Scylla pause. The crowd was going nuts, but not in a good way. They were disappointed.

“Wait,” Scylla said, coming to a stop.

“Scylla, you don’t have to do this.” Raelle said.

Shrugging out of her bodyguard’s grasp, she shook her head. “Yes I do.”

All Raelle could do was follow the girl and whisper frantic instructions to Helen through the coms.

By the time Raelle got back to the side of the stage, Scylla had said her hello to a roar of screams and stomps which was the unique way her fans always greeted the musician.  Izadora walked back to Raelle, shaking her head sadly, but any words she spoke were drowned out as the music started.

Scylla whipped off the cape she was wearing to reveal her costume and the crowd went wild as she began to sing and to dance.

From the sideline of the stage, Raelle watched. It was the most sensual thing that she had ever seen. Her throat was dry and she felt the very pulse of the beat in her innermost core. The sexual need she felt was almost tangible. She swallowed, her eyes fixated on Scylla as she sang and danced to the crowd.

Raelle’s stomach tightened and her jaw clenched. She had a job to do, keep her client safe. She swallowed down her desire, forcing herself to focus not on the siren in front of her but of the crowd beyond. As she searched for potential threats, Gerit stepped up into her personal space.

“Are we having a problem?”

“What,” Raelle asked, shouting over the music.

“I said I hope we aren’t having a problem,” Gerit repeated. “That’s what she’s meant to do.” The publicist pointed at the brunette on stage who had invited a few men and a couple of women to join her. Raelle started to step forward, intending to throw them off the stage, when Scylla caught her gaze and gave a firm shake of her head.

The bodyguard stopped, and Gerit continued. “I know you are supposed to keep her alive but none of that matters if she’s dead. If you don’t let her do what she’s meant to do, forget a psycho with a doll or a nut job with photo edits, if she doesn’t get out there and sing and win awards, she’s dead anyway.”

As the tempo changed and Scylla began a new song, she faltered as one of the men on the stage put an arm around her waist and swung her around, her back facing the crowd. Early on, when she first started performing at clubs, Gerit had actually hired plants to do this very thing. It was a way of generating excitement as the star left the stage and joined the crowd. Now though, she could see that this was no plant, and her voice turned from song to scream as her body was pushed down into the groping hands of the crowd.

Raelle reacted immediately, shouting into the com system and rushing forward. She jumped off the stage and into the middle of the crowd. She kicked, elbowed, and punched at the mob as she fought to get ahold of the brunette. As soon as she got to Scylla she pulled her from the crowd and took her in a fireman’s carry to the alley exit that was her and Helen’s exit plan B. She had tried to yell at Porter as she moved through the crowd but he had gone ahead bulldozing through the mob to the side exit that they had entered. The crowd was still grabbing at Scylla and she had no more time to try and get the blonde’s attention.

Outside of the club Raelle opened the limo door and placed Scylla inside. She climbed in beside her. The brunette was shaking uncontrollably and she had started to cry. Raelle took her suit jacket off and placed it around the brunette as she held her in her arms, rocking the singer back and forth. She wasn’t even sure what she was saying, she just knew she wanted to comfort the girl, her entire world having been upended in a few short moments.

 

 Raelle asked Helen to park the limo as close to the entrance of the mansion as possible. As soon as it came to a stop, she hopped out and reached back inside the limo to help Scylla out.  The brunette was still upset, tears streaming down her face, her normally beautifully blue eyes red and swollen. Without a second thought Raelle lifted the girl into her arms and carried her into the house and up the stairs.

She’d only been in Scylla’s bedroom one other time, when she’d done the necessary security assessments at the start of her employment with the musician. Now she carried the brunette into her room and helped her to stand by the bed. She found a light on the bedside table and flicked it on casting a soft glow in the room. The room was full of books. They filled the shelves that lined the wall, they were stacked on the floor in some spots, and there was at least four on the brunette’s bed.  Carefully she swept them aside and pulled down the covers on the bed.

“Don’t you want to know?” Scylla asked, voice shaky.

“Know what, Scylla?” Raelle asked, her voice revealing her exhaustion. Looking back at Scylla she could see the tears still glistening on her face.

“Don’t you want to know why I do it? Why I act that way?”

“I know why,” Raelle answered simply.

The blonde slipped her suit jacket off of the brunette’s shoulders and helped her out of her costume. The fabric was torn in several places and Raelle had the irrational desire to burn the offending garment. Somewhere in the mob Scylla’s shoes had been lost, so her feet were already bare. She slid her hands over the brunette’s hips and down her legs, slipping off her tattered hose. Once Scylla was clad only in her underwear, she helped her into bed and pulled the covers up around her.

“Please, don’t go,” Scylla called out, as Raelle took a step back from the bed.

“I won’t go far,” Raelle promised, moving to Scylla’s bathroom. Inside she got a wash cloth and wet it with warm water. She could hear Scylla’s sobs even over the water running in the sink and her heart wrenched at the sound. Once she’d rung out the cloth she returned to the brunette and sat gingerly beside her. Reaching with the cloth Raelle worked at removing the brunette’s running mascara and cleaning her tear stained face. Satisfied after a few moments, the blonde put the wash cloth on bedside able and settled back on one of the pillows. She stayed with Scylla until her soft sobs grew quiet and her breath evened out as the brunette fell asleep.

Porter was pissed. Actually that was an understatement.  As the man huffed into the quiet mansion a couple hours later after the fuck up that was Beltane, he knew that he was enraged. And it was all that blonde bitch’s fault. It was his job to be there for Scylla. His duty to rescue her and show her how he really felt. Instead that damned bodyguard had something cooked up with that dyke Helen, and just as he had cleared the way for Scylla to be saved, he had found himself surrounded by laughing and jeering fans as he looked on to an empty street. The bitch had moved the limo and didn’t tell him.

Now she sat in Scylla’s kitchen, cutting up an apple and munching on it as if she was just enjoying a late night snack. The closer he got to her, the more he wanted to make her pay for being able to do what he had never done. As he rushed forward, Raelle shot out an arm without even looking up, blocking his attack.

Raelle had sensed Porter’s approach and his roar of anger gave him away as she stood from the chair and blocked the taller man’s attack. They scuffled for several minutes, Porter lunging and Raelle parrying his weak punches. Tired of him not getting the point, Raelle swung a leg out and dropped him to the ground. Before he could get up she’d moved the chair on him, the foot rest on his neck, choking him. She put her weight on the chair until Porter was gagging and waving his arms.

 “This stops, now.” Raelle said, her voice ice.

Porter managed to nod and after a few seconds Raelle gave an answering nod. She lifted the chair off the blonde’s neck and put it down by the counter. She bent over, picking up some of the shards of broken glass that had fell to the floor with their scuffle. She dropped them into the trash, careful not to cut herself.  She heard a soft sound beside her and turned to find Porter facing her, a large knife in his hand.

She looked at him, eyes a question. Really?

He gestured at her vaguely, a come do your worst motion, and Raelle couldn’t resist a small smile.

Porter’s eyes bulged at Raelle’s expression. He was still angry, but there was something very calm and very deadly the blonde’s smile that made him pause.

He didn’t even see it, he just heard it as the knife she’d been using to cut the apple sailed passed his ear and embedded into the wall behind him less than an inch from his ear.  Hands shaking uncontrollably the knife he held fell to the floor.

Raelle watched him, her eyes turning from annoyance to pity as she spoke. “If you really care for her, stop fucking it up. Work with me. I’m not the enemy here.”

Porter swallowed and nodded his agreement. He was still shaking and holding on to the kitchen counter for support.

“We never speak of this again.” Raelle said with a shrug and walked out of the kitchen.

 

Scylla didn’t go anywhere for several days after Beltane. Instead she escaped to her books and to her plants. She tried to keep away from everyone in the house. She shied away from the smug publicist, even though Gerit continued to flit about insisting that the concert had been a success despite her colorful exit.

Izadora had tried to talk to her about the ramifications from the event, but Scylla only offered her a curt ‘thanks’ when the talented managed explained that she had put a quiet end to some legal complaints by offering free tickets and swag to fans.  She’d even discretely paid a few medical bills because apparently, Raelle had broken a few noses in her rush get to Scylla and rescue from her crazed fans.

There were only a couple of people that she didn’t have to outwardly avoid. The first was her brother. As soon as he’d got back to the mansion via an Uber the night of Beltane, Byron had locked himself in his studio, ashamed that he hadn’t gone behind Gerit and ensured that Scylla had been told about the very serious threats that had been made against her.

Raelle was the second person she didn’t need to avoid. The blonde had checked in on her again the morning after and then quietly backed away. She made it a habit to silently appear wherever Scylla was on the property just to check on her, but she didn’t try engage the brunette in conversation. Instead she merely watched, ensuring her physical safety while giving the brunette space. Sometimes Scylla noticed an emotion in the blonde’s gaze that she couldn’t recognize.

Now, as Scylla reclined in a brightly colored hammock on a more lush part of the grounds, book in hand and a blanket to keep her warm from the September chill, Scylla could feel those pale blue eyes on her.  She heard the rustle of dried leaves on the ground as Raelle stepped closer, but kept her gaze on the open page of her book. The sound grew louder and she felt the presence of the bodyguard beside her.

Scylla’s breath caught as the blonde spoke.

“Nice hammock,” Raelle said softly.

The musician looked up to see Raelle smiling down at her, and she couldn’t resist returning the gesture.

“Bit cold to be out here though.” The blonde continued, shivering in her pink flannel hoodie.

Scylla said nothing and after a moment Raelle reached up with a hand and awkwardly squeezed at the back of her neck. The brunette thought that nervous Raelle was still very endearing.

After a few minutes of silence, the bodyguard tried again, pointing at the book. “Reading anything good?”

Scylla smirked and decided to throw the blonde a bone, “Yeah, it’s a history of Shibden Hall and Anne Lister. Helen might have mentioned something about someone parading around here pretending to be her.”

“Oh?” Teasing, Raelle responded, “Today I feel more like Virginia Woolf.”

“Is that so?” Scylla asked. The wind swept through the trees making the fall leaves dance around them, and she shivered in the hammock.

“Yeah,” Raelle answered, letting her eyes roam over the musician. “It’s getting colder out here.” She put a hand out, offering to help the brunette. “Walk you back?”

“Only if I get to be your Vita Sackville-West,” Scylla answered.

A few seconds later, Raelle gave a nearly imperceptible nod.

Scylla looked into the pale blue eyes of her bodyguard and she saw that emotion again. There was affection in her eyes and there was an undercurrent of want too, but Scylla couldn’t be certain if it was the blonde’s or her own desire she saw reflected back to her. The vulnerability of the moment made her ache somewhere deep inside. It was a need, but not necessarily sexual in nature, at least not fully. It wasn’t something that she’d felt in a very long time.

 She handed Raelle the book and her blanket and got out of the hammock.

Once Scylla was beside her bodyguard, she reached for her book and carried it as Raelle held the folded up blanket under one arm and slipped her other arm around the brunette’s waist. Together they walked back toward the mansion chatting quietly about poetry and historical lesbians.

Chapter Text

Raelle stepped out of the shower and toweled off. She slipped on a robe and made her way to the kitchen where she’d programmed the automatic coffee maker the night before and her favorite brew waited for her filling the guest house with the aroma of a rich Guatemalan blend.

She poured herself a cup of the sweet, slightly nutty coffee and perched on a stool at the island. After reading the security report from the night man—all had been blissfully quiet, she pulled up Scylla’s schedule for the day.

After Beltane Izadora had canceled most of the musician’s elective events and so Scylla’s schedule had been effectively cleared of everything but contracted concerts. Raelle expected that today’s calendar entry would also be blank so the words ‘photo shoot’ both surprised her and made her groan. Raelle had thought that they were done with that for a while.

How many did this make in the last month? It seemed like every time Raelle had turned around the first few weeks, she found herself accompanying the musician to another photography session. When she asked about it, Izadora told her that Gerit wanted the brunette’s face to be in as many as places as possible so that she would be on people’s mind when it came time for the award season and potential nominations. The pacing of one shoot after another had been brutal. The aftermath of Beltane had been a quiet reprieve from the packed schedule, but it appeared that the quiet had come to an end.

Photo shoots were an exhausting ordeal for the brunette and boring as hell for Raelle. The shoot with Mojo took over 10 hours and the one with Pitchfork lasted six. Hell, even the one with the local Massachusetts Art and Culture Magazine took over four.

Raelle glanced back down at the schedule to see who would be taking up their time today, but there was no more information available. All she could see was that the entire day was completely blocked out with the one shoot. That meant Izadora must have expected it to run fairly long. Definitely gonna dress comfortable today, Raelle thought.

She donned a simple white button up blouse tucked into a pair of belted black slacks. The bodyguard decided to go with a pancake holster on her belt, forgoing her normal shoulder holster.  She checked her weapon and left the guest house for the short walk up one of the stone pathways to the drive. 

The air had a chill in it and it seemed like fall was in full swing.  Raelle thought about her home and the fireplace that she’d have roaring if she were there. Sadly the guest house didn’t have one, and she seriously doubted that the fireplaces in the mansion had ever been used. She wished she could make a trip back home, even for a night or two, but with so much still unknown about the threats against Scylla, Raelle was firmly planted by the musician’s side.

Stepping up to the car, Raelle gave Helen a nod. In her role as bodyguard she normally rode shotgun, but as she looked through the passenger door window she could see that Gerit occupied her usual seat. She frowned at Helen, who just shrugged. Moving to the back, she slipped into the limo and sat across from Scylla.

The tension in the car was palpable. This was the first time since Beltane that the entire crew had got back together in the same space with the musician.  The limo was quiet save for Gerit who was already busy on his phone re-scheduling Scylla’s events. Byron and Izadora sat side by side but didn’t speak and only offered the bodyguard a small smile. Porter wasn’t in the car and no one offered an excuse for his absence. Scylla, normally indifferent on a good day or bitchy on a bad one, was still unusually quiet. She twisted her hands together in her lap and kept her gaze on the floorboard of the limo. She had a nervous air about her that made her look incredibly vulnerable.

Raelle quirked a questioning brow at Glory Moffett, Scylla’s make-up artist and hairdresser, but the normally joyful and bubbly woman just shrugged. Raelle could tell it would be a long drive.

When they arrived at Swythe’s Records, Raelle had to forcibly relax the jaw she’d been clenching the entire ride to the recording studio. As soon as the car came to a stop, the occupants scattered as if they were trying to escape a burning building. They moved into the studio and Izadora excused herself, walking to the left instead of the right, saying something about needing to meet with the legal department about contracts. Gerit kept his phone to his ear and walked down a hall to the right and into the large room reserved for the shoot. Byron followed the publicist quietly.

Only Scylla’s mood seemed to improve when she walked inside and saw a man standing in the center of the room, directing at least half a dozen assistants as they bustled about with lighting equipment and props. “Gregorio, I’m so glad to see you.”

“Thank you darling, you know how I love to photograph my sexy little siren.” Gregorio Shellbark answered making his way over to the brunette. He kissed her on both cheeks, stepped back, and looked down at her with a grin, “So, today is the day, huh?”

Scylla gave a breathy laugh, “Yeah, it’s time.”

“Good, I’m so glad you decided to do this. I thought that perhaps after Beltane you would decide to postpone this little shoot.”

"I need to do this," Scylla said.

Gregorio slapped his hands together and rubbed them. “Wonderful. I think you’ll like who I’ve got lined up for you, someone worthy of the Ramshorn name, but first let’s get you prepared for the cameras.”

Scylla walked into the dressing and make-up area set up at one side of the studio room and Glory followed. After doing a walk around of the area and taking note of the various exits, Raelle deemed the location safe and found herself a seat on a couch in the corner of the room where she could watch the shoot and wait.  A young man came by and offered her a drink and she accepted a bottle of water. 

She’d just got out a book that Scylla had lent her and had started to read when she felt the cushion beside her shift. Looking up, Raelle was surprised by the woman who had sat next to her. She had gotten used to being surrounded by beautiful people on this job. They were usually props in a sense, used to accent and highlight Scylla’s own natural beauty, but Raelle had never seen someone like this at one of the shoots.  The woman could have easily been an early Kate Moennig’s twin right down to the ‘I only fuck girls’ smirk on her face. Her slacks were black with a sequined stripe running down the seam line and she wore a black sleeveless blazer with nothing under it save a black bra that did nothing to hide her small pert breasts. The heavy make-up on her face made it clear that she was ready for the shoot.

“Hi there,” the woman began.

“Hello,” Raelle answered and looked back down to her book, more interested in reading then in the physical embodiment of lesbian sex beside her.

“So you’re the bodyguard, huh?”

“Yeah, can’t imagine what gave me away.” Raelle answered sarcastically.

“Besides the gun?” The woman gave a husky laugh and Raelle’s hand instinctively brushed over the butt of her weapon as she looked back up at the woman.

“When I first saw you, I thought Gregorio had brought you in as a backup model,” the woman explained. “I’ll admit I was a little jealous.  I had hoped to have Scylla all to myself today. So I asked his wife about it, and she told me you were the bodyguard.”

It took Raelle a moment to process everything that the other woman had said and by the time she did she found herself blushing at the obvious compliment.   

“Um yep, that’s me, just the bodyguard.” Raelle managed.

The brunette flashed another smile at Raelle and offered her hand. “And I’m just Traci.”

Raelle shook the offered hand and then looked over to the photographer sporting a loud hot pink satin shirt with a Kelly green ascot and tight black jeans. He gestured this way and that as his assistants moved props on and off the set as he light tested them. “Wait, he has a wife?”

The dark haired woman laughed again, her green eyes twinkling, “Yeah, the short feisty brunette over there.”

Raelle searched the room and found the girl that Traci was talking about pointing up to a set of track lighting and talking to a man in coveralls who was nodding at whatever it was that the brunette was saying. “I’ve seen her around before.”

“Libba Swythe,” Traci supplied. “Daughter to the owner of Swythe Records.”

“Oh,” Raelle answered.

“Everyone is connected to someone somehow in this business.”  

“I guess so,” Raelle replied.

“So Raelle, speaking of being connected, I’ve heard quite a bit of talk about you lately.” Traci began, moving closer to the blonde on the couch.

“I can’t imagine what you’d hear about me.” Raelle answered, shifting herself away from the model.

“Well, apparently there’s some new staff at Tony’s and I suppose they haven’t learned the rule about keeping their mouths shut when celebrities are about.”

At the name of the restaurant where she had her little flirtation with Scylla, Raelle’s brow quirked. She didn’t think that anyone had seen them, but she was obviously wrong. The fact that someone had, and that the information had already spread like wildfire to this random model, made her incredibly uncomfortable. The last thing she wanted for Scylla was to have her stupid flirtation with the musician pasted across the tabloids, their interaction fodder for gossipmongers. Damn her and her bravado. Her need to accept a challenge could have caused the brunette a lot of problems. Well, the best she could do now was shut down Traci’s inquiries.

Raelle stood and looked down to meet the model’s gaze, face neutral. She made a point of looking over at the set being prepared for the shoot, “Well, Traci, I think that they’re about ready so I guess you’d better get to it. I’m going to go get coffee.”

Traci’s brow furrowed, surprised at just how quickly she had been dismissed and disappointed she wouldn’t get any information from the blonde, but after a moment she shrugged and stood up. “Nice to meet you, Raelle.”

Raelle watched the model walk away and shook her head.  She made her way over to the snack bar set up along one of the walls and busied herself by making a cup of coffee with the Keurig machine on the counter. Gerit stood nearby next to a camera tripod, sipping espresso and talking to a short balding man in a suit.  Agreeing with whatever Gerit had said, the man’s head bobbed up and down and Raelle thought he looked like one of those little bobble toys people stick on their dashboards. 

Across the room in the dressing area, Byron chatted with three women as they finished preparing for the shoot, a man flitting around them with make-up brushes. Apparently Traci would have to contend with back up models after all, the bodyguard mused.

Raelle’s eyes searched the dressing area, but she couldn’t find Scylla. She was probably still behind one of the privacy screens where they had taken her to get dressed. Even though the studio room was huge, the noise of various people chatting was loud and the room was already as hot as hell from the lights. Raelle leaned her back against the counter of the snack bar, her coffee cup in her hands, and let her eyes roam over the room taking it all in.  At first glance everything appeared to be chaotic, but after silently watching for a few moments she was able to pick out patterns and was beginning to see the natural hierarchy of this particular shoot.  

As Scylla stepped from the dressing area into the open space of the room, everyone stopped what they were doing. The siren had arrived and she was breathtaking. She wore a floor length black satin dress with sequins. Several parts of the fabric were see through, highlighting the brunette’s curves. There was a slit in the dress, running all the way up its length giving everyone a generous view of her legs whenever she walked. 

Raelle swallowed hard and watched as Traci made her way over to the brunette.  She could tell that the model was already coming on to the musician. There was a tightness in her stomach that she didn’t like and Raelle fought the twinge of jealousy that she felt. She forced herself to look away and drink her coffee. This was none of her business.

The shoot started out as a disaster. They had tried several different poses with different backgrounds and set props, but the normally bewitching and mesmerizing Scylla seemed stiff as a board. Her eyes looked lost rather than turned on.  When Gregorio had Traci hold her, the brunette seemed miles away.  To shake things up, Gregorio gave the other girls a whirl with Scylla even though he had only scheduled them to be there for the group shots, but none of them seemed to have chemistry with the brunette either. Even though Scylla had proven to be an accomplished actress, it was obvious that no amount of acting would make her look good with the women he had provided to be at her side in front of the camera today.

They moved on to a series of portraits and Gregorio liked what he saw behind the lens. The musician was breathtaking and all of her solo shots came out perfect. She did well in the group shots too, but as soon as he tried to go back to doing a few intimate couple shots, the stiffness in the brunette returned. He didn’t get it, normally Scylla could flirt with a chair and make it look sexy but today she just seemed occupied by something else. And Traci, who could usually make a nun give up her vows of chastity, didn’t seem to interest Scylla at all.

After trying for another hour, Gregorio flopped back in his chair with a sigh.

“I’m sorry Gregorio,” Scylla apologized. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me today.”

Gregorio was brilliant in his craft and one of the nicest people you could know personally, but when he was on a shoot, he wasn’t known for his friendliness. Nothing got in the way of his art, especially not his subject’s feelings. He sighed at the brunette and shook his head with frustration.  “Go get yourself refreshed and we’ll try again in half an hour.”

From Raelle’s vantage point on the couch, she could feel the tension in the air and she knew the brunette was having a tough time.  Although they were exhausting, Scylla usually seemed to enjoy the shoots. She’d chat with the models and joke around with the photographer and their assistants. Here though, Scylla seemed withdrawn. She clearly wasn’t getting along with Traci and it was obvious the photographer was disappointed with the shots he had taken of them.

Raelle watched Scylla walk away from the photographer and she was surprised to see that there were tears in the brunette’s eyes. Before she could stop herself she stood up and walked over to the musician who had perched herself on the arm of the grey club chair that they were using for the shoot.

 “Hey you, bored to tears already?” Raelle teased.

Scylla let out a small laugh though the tears still shone in her eyes.

“What’s wrong?” Raelle asked, her voice gentle.

Scylla shook her head and stood up next to the blonde. “This shoot, it’s important. And I’m royally fucking it up.”

“Why is it important?” Raelle asked.

“It’s for The Advocate.”

Raelle’s brows shot up because for once she knew exactly the magazine to which Scylla was referring. She thought back to the time she’d spent with the brunette and what Tally had told her about the musician. Scylla’s music exuded sex, but most of the lyrics were hetero in nature and although Scylla seemed to flirt with both men and women she seemed to do it more to get under people’s skin then to actually attract someone to her bed.

When Raelle first started the job and had asked for a list of known associates, the section under lovers had been left blank by Izadora, and in the various outings to clubs and at concerts, the bodyguard had never seen the brunette actually do anything with anyone else but flirt. Still there were loads of rumors. Scylla’s lack of being obviously romantic with someone seemed to make the tabloids even more desperate to publish their theories.  Obviously, the musician had decided to clear up at least one of the many rumors.

 “Oh,” Raelle answered. “So it’s kind of a coming out article.”

“Yeah, it’s a big deal.” Scylla let out a shaky breath. She hated herself for being so weak. She’d never been this way before, with the exception of the time right after her parent’s deaths, but since the disaster at Beltane she couldn’t seem to get control of herself.

Raelle didn’t like seeing Scylla so upset again. Before she could stop herself she pulled the musician into her arms in a hug.  Scylla stiffened for an instant, but then she relaxed into the embrace and returned the hug. After a moment Raelle released the musician and used a slender finger to wipe at a stray tear on Scylla’s face.

“Hell of a way to come out. You just have to do everything big, huh?”

Scylla smiled at Raelle, feeling some of the tension she’d felt ease.

 “Moffit’s gonna kill you for messing up her art.”

“Yeah,” Scylla answered, “No one wants a weepy canvas.”

Raelle laughed and Scylla took Raelle’s hand in hers and gave it a squeeze.

“Thank you,” Scylla said.

From his chair, Gregorio watched the two women closely. The blonde was attractive and as the two talked he watched Scylla’s entire energy change. The bodyguard said something else to Scylla and the musician laughed and then hugged the blonde again. Gregorio noticed the spark returning to the musician’s eyes and he reached for his camera.

This time they didn’t let go at the end of the hug. They stood in each other’s arms and Scylla looked at the blonde. Raelle found her lips an inch away from the brunette’s face. That soft scent of sandalwood and earthiness assaulted her senses again and Raelle thought she could stand there all day with the musician just breathing in her scent. Scylla wanted more though and she tilted her head to meet the blonde’s lips, intent on kissing her bodyguard.

The sound of several clicks in quick succession stopped Scylla from claiming Raelle’s lips as the blonde instantly took a few steps back and jerked her head towards the sound.

“Don’t move,” Gregorio chastised.

“Woah, dude, what the hell are you doing?”

“Gregorio,” Scylla growled, angry for the interruption and mortified that Gregorio had possibly caught them nearly kissing on camera.

“This is the most natural you’ve looked all day Scylla.” Gregorio said, shrugging at the musician. He moved around them, snapping a few more shots.

“I don’t like my photo taken.” Raelle said, her voice an icy warning.

Gregorio looked between them and let his eyes settle on Scylla. “Darling, if you’re really going to do this shoot, then you need to do it authentically. And trust me when I say that what I see here is authentic. If you do anything less it will be a disaster. Everything else today has been shit.”

"But Raelle isn't a model, she’s—“

“Your bodyguard, I know.” Gregorio snorted, “I don’t think anyone’s going to try to take you out here. Surely she can take off the gun for a few photos.”

“Photos going in a magazine,” Scylla said as if anyone needed reminding of that fact.

Gregorio shrugged, “So we publish her as an anonymous actress. Who cares?”

“I care,” Scylla answered.

Raelle’s brows shot up and she looked at the brunette.

Flustered by her confession and the blonde’s scrutiny, the brunette looked at Raelle and stammered, “I mean, I’m sure that you’ve got a reputation. I wouldn’t want it to interfere with your work.”

Raelle seriously doubted any of her future clients would read The Advocate and if they did, so what? Her face had already shown up in several articles about Beltane.  She didn’t like the way Traci had interacted with Scylla and it bothered her that the musician was having such a tough time. If taking a few photos would help her, then why not? Scylla had said that the shoot was important to her. Deciding, the blonde looked over at the photographer, “You really think you could get the shoot done if I helped?”

“Yes, it will be magnificent.” Gregorio answered, smiling at the blonde.

“Okay then,” Raelle said at the same time as Scylla said ‘no.’

The two women looked at each other and Raelle shrugged. “You said this was important.”

“Raelle, I can’t ask you to—“

The blonde shook her head, “Look, I’m no model, but if this guy thinks he can get me cleaned up enough to help you, then I’ll do it. If you want me too, I mean.” Raelle added, blushing. She hadn’t really taken into account that the brunette might not want to be seen in pictures with her. She wasn’t an ‘I fuck girls’ model after all.

Scylla stared into Raelle’s eyes for a moment. The blonde was stunning and Scylla wanted nothing more than to get closer to the bodyguard. The excuse of taking intimate photos would be perfect. Still, she didn’t want the blonde to do anything that would make her uncomfortable. Finally she looked at Gregorio who was impatiently waiting for an answer. “Nothing over the top.”

Gregorio clapped his hands together and then raised one hand and put it over his heart, “I will be perfectly chaste.”

Chapter Text

Raelle starting second guessing herself the minute Moffett got ahold of her and directed her behind the dressing screen. The wardrobe people had made quick work of her, putting her in an outfit similar to the one that Traci had worn. Moffett flitted about, adding make-up here and there. When the wardrobe people were finished with her clothes and Moffett had put her brushes and mascara away, she gave the blonde a wary look.

“What,” Raelle asked. “Do I look like a complete idiot?”

“No, it’s just…”

“What?” Raelle snapped, her nerves getting the best of her.

“Your hair.”

“What about it?” Raelle asked.

“Gregorio wanted me to take out the braids and let it be loose with waves.”

“Oh,” Raelle answered. She had worn the braids ever since she’d joined the military. They represented respect for her sisters in arms and honored her mother’s memory. It would be weird not having them, but she could always put them back after the shoot.

“Do what you need to do.” Raelle said.

Moffett grinned and patted a seat at the make-up area.

Twenty minutes later after Moffett worked her magic and the wardrobe people came back with heels and jewelry for Raelle, the blonde took a nervous step over to the set and the room fell silent once again.

“Goddess,” Byron whispered from a corner of the room.

Beside him, Gerit admitted, “This is going to be fucking fantastic. Her fans will lose their minds.”

On the set, Scylla looked at her bodyguard and reminded herself to breathe.

Gregorio prepared his camera and the set people adjusted the grey club chair on the set.

“We’ll start with this,” the photographer said. He had them sit in various positions, camera constantly flashing as they tried this pose and that pose. Finally he settled on having Raelle perch on the arm of the chair, one heeled foot resting on the seat the other on the floor just behind Scylla’s foot. He instructed the brunette to move in close.

“Scylla, put your hand on Raelle’s shoulder.”

The brunette stepped closer following the photographer’s instructions.

“Lower please.”

Raelle could feel the heat of Scylla’s hand move on her back and she swallowed, glancing over at the brunette.

Gregorio looked around his camera. “Raelle, face toward me for now.”

Scylla resisted a laugh as Raelle rolled her eyes before moving her head back into position.

“And flex your arm please, I want to see that definition.”

Raelle awkwardly tried to follow the photographer’s instructions.

“Okay, Scylla, I need you to step closer.” Gregorio looked again and nodded. “Now shift your right leg, please.”

As the brunette complied, Raelle could see that the slit in her dress revealed her bare leg and Raelle thought that she might just pass out. Everything in her wanted to reach out and run her hand up the brunette’s thigh.

“Raelle,” Gregorio began.

The blonde tensed, sure that the photographer was going to fuss at her again and tell her to keep her eyes forward, but as he gave her the next set of instructions, her eyes grew large. It was almost as if he’d read her mind.

“If you’re comfortable with it, I want you to move your hand out and rest it on Scylla’s leg.”

“Gregorio,” Scylla, began but stopped talking as soon as she felt the blonde’s hand just above the inner part of her bare knee. Her eyes closed and she resisted moaning right then and there on the set.

The photographer waited for the musician to open her eyes and he grinned at the expression on her face as the camera clicked over and over.

“A bit higher, Raelle.”

Scylla clenched her jaw. That was exactly what she both desperately wanted and at the same time did not want.

The blonde, ever the dutiful soldier, complied and Scylla could feel her limbs start to tremble as the blonde slid her hand up her inner thigh and into position.

The camera clicked a few more times and Scylla cleared her throat. “Let’s take a break,” she called out, voice tight.

Gregorio frowned but lowered his camera. “I’ll give you five while they remove the chair.”

Raelle and Scylla moved just out from under the lights and the assistants stepped up on the set to remove the chair while Gregorio studied his shots that were automatically transferred to the nearby laptop that set on a standing desk.

“Moffett, Scylla’s shiny.”

Glory rushed forward with powder, and refreshed Scylla’s make-up.

“And get rid of Raelle’s hand jewelry. “Just a simple ring, please.”

Raelle handed the jewelry over to Glory and retrieved the ring she always wore on her index finger.

“Alright ladies. On set please.”

Scylla and Raelle stepped back into position under the lights.

Gregorio instructed them stand in a stage pose with one foot in the direction of a would-be audience and the other towards each other as if they were having a conversation.

“Closer please. Closer.”

Eventually the two women were so close that they were touching.

“Scylla, I want you to lift your right leg and hook it around Raelle’s hip.”

The brunette had a flashback of some move out of Dirty Dancing and turned her eyes on Gregorio, prepared to tell him things were going too far, when Raelle reached out a hand to help Scylla support the pose and shot her a pointed look. As Scylla slid into position, she could hear the blonde’s breath hitch and she smirked at her bodyguard in spite of herself.

The camera clicked over and over.

Raelle shifted slightly, pulling Scylla tighter against her center and sliding the hand she had supporting her to her bottom, squeezing gently. Scylla bit back a moan and Raelle flashed her a cocky grin.

The camera clicked for several more seconds and then Gregorio took a step back.

“Okay. I think we have what we need with that set. We can move on to something else after you take twenty.”

Scylla didn’t move for several seconds, not trusting herself to be able to stand on her own.

“You okay?” Raelle asked as she shifted her grip on the brunette and helped her to regain her footing. She gazed into the musician’s cerulean eyes, her own pale blue orbs filled with concern.

“Yeah,” Scylla answered, trying to smile. “These heels are just killing me,” she added and quickly moved toward one of the chairs in the make-up area. She didn’t care that the excuse was hot garbage, if she didn’t step away from the blonde she was going come undone right then and there.

Raelle moved over to one of the chairs just off the set and took a seat, shaking slightly. That had been intense. Byron approached her with a bottle of water and a smile as he sat down beside her.

“Thanks,” Raelle said and took a long drink. “It’s hot as hell up there.”

“It certainly is,” Byron said.

Raelle blushed, ducking her head, embarrassed at what she’d just said to Scylla’s brother. “I mean with all the lights…”

“I know, Raelle,” Byron said. “You’re amazing. Thank you for what you are doing for my sister.”

“This is nothing,” Raelle said, thinking about her actual job. Her duty to keep the brunette safe even if it meant she might have to take a bullet for her some day.

Byron looked at the blonde for a moment and then stood up shaking his head. “You have no clue, do you?”

Raelle was about to ask the lanky man what he meant, when Gregorio called out.

“Okay people, I want to do something different.”

Raelle groaned, “Back to the torture.”

Scylla understood what Raelle had meant by torture. Photo shoots were physically taxing, and this shoot had been deliciously torturous to her.

Scylla and Raelle listened to what Gregorio had in mind, both rolling their eyes at the idea of going through another wardrobe change.

“We did fancy,” Gregorio explained, “now we need something more natural, more every day.”

A dozen or so tried on and then rejected outfits later, Gregorio finally approved a simple black turtleneck and dark jeans for Scylla. They looked through the wardrobe room for something to put on Raelle, but Gregorio eventually decided that what the blonde had worn when she had arrived at the studio that morning would do nicely, sans her weapon, of course.

He talked to Moffett and she adjusted their hair and make-up. Raelle’s was simply refreshed while Gregorio instructed Scylla’s hair to be let loose from the up do she’d had in the beginning.

On the set again he had them move this way and that and tried various poses with different chairs and sitting positions. Eventually the photographer had everything removed from the set.

“Syclla, Raelle,” Gregorio exclaimed, “You ladies have astounded me.”

On set both women smiled and Gregorio continued to snap more images as they moved.

“All right ladies, just one more pose.”

“Raelle, please step behind Scylla and pull her into your arms.”

The bodyguard did as instructed and supported the brunette as Scylla relaxed in her arms.

The camera clicked a few times and then Gregorio turned his back on them as he went to look at the images that had been transferred to his laptop.

Raelle kept her toned arms tight around the musician and bent her head forward, whispering into Scylla’s ear, “Tired?”

“Yeah, a bit,” Scylla answered, voice low.

“Just rest, then.” Raelle murmured, her lips brushing the musician’s ear.

Scylla shuddered in her bodyguards arms and Raelle held the brunette tighter. “Relax, I’ve got you.”

Scylla dropped her head back on her bodyguard’s shoulders and sighed contentedly, feeling more comfortable and safer than she could ever remember feeling in her entire life.

They didn’t notice that Libba Swythe took one of her husband’s extra cameras and clicked off a few more shots of the pair.

Gregorio released them a few moments later with promises to have some of the proofs ready for their final approval in a few days, and the two reluctantly stepped off the set and back to the dressing area where Moffett helped them get rid of their make-up and get back to normal.

In the limousine on the ride back to the mansion Byron and Moffett chatted quietly with Izadora about what had happened during the photoshoot while both Raelle and Scylla sat side by side, fast asleep.

As Helen drove the limo Gerit played with his phone in the seat beside her and the light distracted her. She couldn’t imagine who he would still be texting at this late of an hour. When she stopped the car at a traffic light she looked over at the screen and was surprised to see him scrolling through several photos of Scylla in poses with Raelle. Some were pretty racy. She was even more shocked when it looked like he attached them to an email. The noise of a sent message sounded from his phone and it was all the confirmation that she needed. He had sent the photos to someone.

***

He sat at his kitchen counter. With medical gloves on his hands he carefully opened the magazine and began to cut out the words that he would need. Using tweezers to hold the cut outs and a brush for the paste he began to assemble the words of the next love letter to his siren. He had tried to get her attention for so long. He had left her presents but she had not responded. He would have to do more to get her attention. His next gift would be more impressive.

He had been lucky at Beltane. He had got so close that he could practically reach out and touch the object of all of his desire and later of all of his hate. Her security had not succeeded in finding him out and he came away from the club with a new prop to use for his next present. He picked up one of Scylla Ramshorn’s shoes carefully and held it close to his face. He inhaled deeply, a hit of sandal wood and musk filling his nostrils.

He would need to be more careful now than ever though. There was a new one with her. The one who had a face like an angel. She had scooped the sexy, naughty, bitch up and carried her away before the crowd could take her. He didn’t know who this angel was but he’d seen the pictures of the blonde in the newspaper. She would have to stay out of his way or he would be forced to eliminate her. She would not keep him from making the naughty witch burn.

The sounds of screams could be heard from the basement, interrupting his thoughts, and he grinned as he picked up the other shoe and made his way down the stairs. He would eventually return the shoes to their owner, but for now he needed them for another purpose. A sacrifice for the witch and her evil conjuring.

 

***

The photoshoot with Gregorio had been the kick off for the next round of grueling photo sessions and public appearances. The last two days of Scylla’s schedule and been full and Raelle nearly cried with relief when Scylla out and out refused to go out earlier in the evening. She didn’t know who it was that Gerit wanted the musician to do an interview with, but he had grudgingly accepted her compromise to do an internet interview on some YouTube channel instead, Adam something or another. It gave everyone a bit of a rest and Raelle the chance to work on her client’s case.

Raelle sipped the whisky from a glass, her IPad on her lap playing Scylla’s music videos over and over again on loop. She tried to find some of her older music, but the early stuff was done long before the internet had exploded as it had now where everything was a simple click away. She’d asked Izadora for some of the musician’s earlier work and when the manager failed to deliver, she had resorted to asking Byron, but so far she was stuck with only the newer stuff.

The more the brunette swayed on the screen, the more difficulty Raelle had focusing on the music itself. Instead her mind kept flashing back to the other day at the photo shoot and the way the musician had felt pressed up against her. She took a shaky breath and as she swiped her finger to begin the video again she reminded herself that she wasn’t doing this to fantasize about her client.

Strewn out on the coffee table were pictures of the dolls and the notes that the musician had been sent. She had a legal pad and a pen with her and she was trying to match up lyrics with the wording in the notes looking for some sort of pattern. Some sense of when this psycho must have become obsessed with the brunette.

Absently taking another sip, she realized that her glass was empty. She stood and made her way back into the kitchen to pour another drink when a soft knock drew her to the door of the guesthouse instead.

Raelle’s brow quirked when she opened the door to find Scylla standing there and holding an envelope. Instantly alert, she reached for the envelope.

“When did you get this?” Did you open it?”

Scylla’s eyes widened and she immediately shook her head as the understanding of Raelle’s reaction dawned on her. “No, that’s not what you think it is.”

“You didn’t receive this?” Raelle asked.

“No,” Scylla answered. “It’s for you.”

“Huh?” Raelle asked, confused.

Scylla rolled her eyes at the blonde and gestured, “Think you could be kind enough to invite me in out of the cold?”

Raelle took in the brunette’s attire, simple jeans and a tee shirt with an unbuttoned light flannel jacket, and she immediately took a step back. “I’m sorry. Come in.”

The brunette walked passed Raelle and sauntered into the living area.

“Care for a drink?” the blonde asked automatically.

Scylla turned and with a smirk asked, “Think you can find the wine this time?”

Raelle chuckled walked to the island. She turned and held up the bottle of Glenmorangie, “Not drinking wine tonight.”

Scylla squinted at the bottle and asked, “The Quinta Ruban?”

The blonde smiled and nodded.

“Good choice,” Scylla answered, “Sweet and spicy.”

“Just like you.” Raelle commented as she took another glass from the cabinet and poured them both a couple of fingers of the honey orange colored liquor. “Neat or on the rocks?”

“Neat,” Scylla answered.

Raelle stepped back over to join Scylla on the couch in the living area and caught her looking at the photocopies of the evidence on the coffee table.

“Do you recognize any of it?” Raelle asked, handing her a glass of the scotch.

Scylla took a sip and then asked, “Why would I?”

Raelle shrugged, “We haven’t really talked about this but it’s entirely possible that you know whoever is doing this to you.”

Scylla shook her head. “I don’t know would anyone that would do this kind of thing.”

“Maybe it’s somebody you used to know, an old lover, maybe.” Raelle took a drink of the scotch, swallowing slowly as it burned the unasked question down her throat.

Scylla’s brows furrowed as she searched the blonde’s eyes. Had there really been a question there? Or was it just wishful thinking on her part. Falling back into old habits, she shot the blonde a cocky grin, “Well, I suppose it would take a while to go through that list.”

The bodyguard kept her facial expression neutral, “It would probably be someone from around the time that Sexy, Naughty, Bitchy came out. If it was an old lover, it would have been someone that was hurt pretty badly. A nasty break-up.”

“No, I haven’t really had any of those. Break-ups have been fairly mutual. Both parties left satisfied.” Scylla said, her answer deliberately vague.

“Not every break up is mutual. Someone almost always gets hurt.” Raelle pressed.

Scylla sighed, “It was a long time ago Raelle.”

“It’s important, Scylla.”

“Look, I said it was a long time ago and it was a bad time for me. Real bad. It was just after my parents died. Half the time I was drunk on booze or whatever someone slipped me after a show and the other half I was drunk on the success of the song. Lot’s of people got hurt. And I can’t give you names I never had in the first place.” Scylla huffed and took a gulp of the whisky, the burning in her throat matching the burning of embarrassment on her cheeks at the confession.

Raelle quirked a brow but let the subject go and took another drink of her scotch. “Well, how about someone in the music industry? Someone who saw you as competition?”

Scylla took another smaller sip her drink and thought for a moment. After a while she shook her head, “Another long list, but I don’t think so.”

Raelle sighed, frustrated. “People don’t randomly do this, Scyl.”

Scylla smiled, despite the topic that they were discussing. It was too heavy a topic and the brunette didn’t have any answers to give the blonde anyway. Changing the subject she picked up the envelope she’d brought with her and handed it to Raelle. “Byron said you wanted copies of my older music. Why?”

Raelle nodded toward the evidence on the table and to the legal pad. “These notes contain some lyrics in your songs. Predominantly from Sexy, Naughty, Bitchy and Burning Witches, but there could be some from your older songs, too.”

“And why does that matter?” Scylla asked.

“It could help establish a timeline that might give us a clue to who is doing this.”

“Well, that’s everything,” Scylla said gesturing to the envelope that the blonde had put on the table with the evidence. “Everything that’s been released since I started recording music when I was a kid.”

“And unreleased?” Raelle asked, excited at this new possible avenue of inquiry. She hadn’t even considered the possibility that there could be unrecorded music. If they found lyrics in the notes that matched unreleased music, it would seriously lessen their suspect pool.

“That’s private.” Scylla said, the finality of the subject evident in her tone.

Raelle’s brows furrowed, “But if it would help...”

“It won’t.” Scylla answered. “No one has access to my journals.”

“Byron does,” Raelle said.

Scylla felt a spark of anger flare inside of her and glared at the blonde, “Surely you are not suggesting that my brother is doing this?”

“No, but I can’t rule out…”

“No, Raelle.” Scylla said, her voice a warning. “No one here would do this to me.”

The bodyguard put her arms out in a gesture of surrender, “All right, Scylla. Okay.”

The brunette closed her eyes and took a deep breath, calming herself. When she opened her eyes again she could see the concern on Raelle’s face. “I’m sorry, Rae, I know that you’re just trying to do your job.”

Raelle nodded. She really didn’t want to argue with the musician. Not when she’d much rather do other things. Ever since the photo shoot, she’d found herself thinking about how much she wanted to touch the musician again. Hold her in her arms. She glanced down at Scylla’s glass and seeing it empty husked, “Refill?”

Scylla looked into Raelle’s pale blue eyes, and recognized the look she saw there. It was obvious her bodyguard been drinking for a while. Frustration probably fueling her thirst. The brunette was very tempted to say yes. Remembering the photo shoot the other day she knew it would be easy.

Raelle may not be ready to be with her out of some ridiculous sense of professionalism, but the musician knew that she wanted her. The problem was that Scylla wanted Raelle too. She thought back to those encounters she’d had in those early years and the flings she’d had since. Meaningless physical acts to temporarily forget the pain and later to meet a physical need. She was beginning to realize that she didn’t want that with Raelle. She wanted more.

For the first time in her life she shook her head and stood, ready to walk away from something she desperately desired. “No, I should go to bed. Early day tomorrow.”

Raelle shrugged, but the expression on her face showed her disappointment. “I’ll walk you out.”

“I can find my own way.” Scylla said. “It is my property after all.” She added, teasing.

“My papa would never let me live it down if I let a girl walk herself home.” The blonde stood, albeit a bit unsteady, and gallantly offered Scylla her arm.

Scylla laughed and linked their arms, the previous awkwardness between them forgotten and together they walked out of the guest house and back toward the main house of the mansion.

Chapter Text

“Fuck her,” Abigail suggested.

“Abs!” Tally hissed.

Raelle looked between her two best friends. She had met Tally at a small cafe near the FBI headquarters during the red head’s lunch break and their former unit mate had joined them. Abigail, who had couple weeks of leave, was staying with Tally at her apartment for a day or two and then planned to join her parents in New York for the annual Bellweather Octoberfest.

“What?” Abigail asked with a shrug. “It’s the same advice I gave you about Alder.”

“You didn’t, and don’t say her name.” Tally looked around the café and back to her friends. “Someone might hear you.”

“Well, it was almost the same.” Abigail insisted.

Tally waved her hand, “And look what’s happening now.”

“Wait, what did I miss?” Raelle asked.

“You mean while you were out clubbing and having sexy photos made with Scylla Ramshorn?” Abigail joked.

This time both Raelle and Tally hissed at their friend to shut up.

“I still can’t believe you did that, Rae.” Tally said.

“Yeah, well, she was having tough time and I thought I could help her out. I mean, it was just a few pictures.”

“Uh huh, you always were the one to help out.” Abigail said, taking a drink of her espresso.

“I like to fix things.” Raelle admitted.

“Yeah, situations, people,” Abigail continued. “Can’t fix them all, Rae.”

It was an old argument and Raelle don’t need to hear about what she already knew about herself. The not getting personally involved rule was there for a reason. And she wasn’t the best at separating sex and emotions like her friend. The blonde looked over to her other friend, “Well?”

“You know who and I might have hooked up.” Tally said to Raelle, blushing behind her latte.

Raelle smiled, seeing the happiness in her friend’s face. “Good for you.”

“It would be if she wasn’t the boss.” Tally said.

“And that’s what I said, you only followed the first part of my advice. Sleeping with her was part one, transfer out to another field office was part two.”

“I like where I work.”

Abigail shrugged, “Then deal with keeping it on the down low.”

Raelle looked at her friends. “You know I don’t get personally involved with clients.”

“Well, it’s a little late for that. You really came onto her last night?” Abigail asked.

Raelle blushed into her coffee, “Maybe.”

“You were drinking, weren’t you?” Guessed Tally.

“Scotch,” Raelle confirmed. Tally always knew them best.

Abigail shook her head, “Well, it’s too late for not getting personal now so you really should just fuck her. Get it out of your system.”

“Umm, what part of rejected didn’t you get?” Raelle asked.

“But you said she’s been coming onto you since you got there.” Tally protested.

“Yeah, but she comes on to everybody.” Raelle said. “Sexy siren, remember?”

“I don’t know Rae. I’ve never known you to meet a girl and her to tell you no. It’s that whole ‘excuse me ma’am did I leave my boots under your bed’ southern charm you’ve got going on.”

Raelle laughed, “Scylla’s different.”

“She’s bi and has a pulse. You didn’t try hard enough,” Abigail accused.

“No, I didn’t push. Abs, from what I see everyone wants something from her but no one actually gives a damn about what she may want. They didn’t even warn her about what was happening because it might mess up her chances for an award if she freaked out.”

“You really like her, don’t you?” Tally asked, squeezing her friend’s hand.

“Yeah,” Raelle admitted. “I do. She’s a good person who lost her parents when she was young and I think she’s had a shit life where the people around her took advantage of her.”

“We all know being rich and famous is shit,” Abigail said. And she did know. Growing up in one of the most influential families on the East coast with deep ties to the military and politics had made her life very difficult. She spent most of her career just trying to measure up. She understood what it felt like to have people constantly expecting something from you.

"Well, maybe you should try to get to know her better.” Tally said. “I mean, the more you know, the more we can figure out about this case.”

“And you really don’t think it’s a hoax?” Abigail asked.

“No,” Tally answered. “Most of the stuff is still at the lab but we do know that those photos were not faked. They are real pictures of a very real murdered person.”

“So what? A stalker or someone she knows?”

Raelle shook her head, “Scylla insists no one in the household would do this.”

Abigail snorted, “People always say that and nine out of ten times it’s the wife or the brother.”

Tally looked at Raelle over her latte, “You’ve been around her people quite a bit now. What’s your read on them?”

Raelle took a sip of her coffee and thought a minute. She pictured each of Scylla’s ‘crew’ and went over in her head what she had learned about them. “I don’t know. I don’t think her brother would do it. He seems to be one of the only ones that genuinely care for her. Her security guy Porter clearly has an obsession for her, but I don’t think he’s smart enough to do something this sophisticated. She’s very reluctant to talk about her past, though. So I’m not ready to rule out anyone yet. At least not until I learn more.”

“So we’re talking about a love-obsession stalker here?” Tally asked. “Someone she may not know at all?”

Raelle just shrugged and said, “Maybe.”

But as Raelle took another drink of her coffee she thought about the dolls and she didn’t necessarily believe it. Something niggled in the back in her mind that Scylla knew the person who was doing this.

“Okay Shitbird and J Douglas,” Abigail said, calling Raelle and Tally by their nicknames, “what I want to know is how you are going to try to learn more about your little musician and her friends without pissing her off?”

“By trying to reason with her, Abs,” Raelle answered.

“I still think you should have sex with her.” Her friend answered.

“Abigail!” Tally exclaimed.

Abigail rolled her eyes, “Fine, hold her afterwards.”

***

In her studio, Scylla made an adjustment on the guitar and bent over her journal, scribbling a few lyrics and adding the notes. She tried again, and liking the sound, wrote some more of the song in her head.

Scylla was already regretting turning the blonde down the other night. Had she’d just accepted that offer of a refill, she’d already have the bodyguard in her bed. Instead, she’d probably scared Raelle off completely. As she worked on the new song, very much inspired by the blonde, she thought about what she could do to get Raelle to move in the direction that she wanted. Maybe an indirect approach was best.

***

Raelle felt conflicted and she’d learned long ago the best way to deal with thoughts battling in her head was to work out. When she stepped out of the guest house to go for a run, she noticed that it was getting colder outside and had started to rain. She really didn’t feel like working out in the weather so she had found Byron and got his permission to use the home gym in the mansion. She planned to ask Scylla, but when she’d walked into the main house earlier, she’d seen the brunette through the French doors of her studio playing on a guitar and she didn’t want to disturb her.

Now, she adjusted the speed on the treadmill again. Her time employed with Scylla had been like nothing she’d ever experienced before. From fancy lunches to crazy fan mobs, to photoshoots, Raelle just didn’t know what to expect. What she did know was that she had it bad for her client and that put Scylla at risk. She didn’t want to get stupid and make a mistake that could cost the woman her life.

Raelle just wish she had some answers. After having lunch with her friends, she’d accompanied Tally back to her office. They dropped off the new doll and letter to the lab. It wasn’t conclusive, but at the first run through, the syntax on both the notes that came with the dolls and the one with the pictures matched. She was sure the answer to what was happening to Scylla could be discovered in knowing more about the brunette and her past.

And Raelle wanted to get to know the musician better, both for her job and for her personal reasons. There was something about Scylla that intrigued her. She genuinely wanted to know more about her. Tally had been right, she liked the musician. She just wasn’t sure if Scylla really liked her. Despite the flirtations and the obvious chemistry that they seemed to have, the moment Raelle had shown actual interest in more the brunette practically ran out of the guest house. She didn’t get it. Determined to run until she was too exhausted to keep thinking about it, she adjusted the incline on the machine.

The blonde felt a tiny prickle on the back of her neck, but it wasn’t sweat. It was the sensation that never failed to let her know when someone was around. Raelle glanced up from the treadmill display to find Scylla leaning against the doorway watching her. She stopped the machine, removed her earbuds, and gave the musician a nod.

“You need the treadmill?” Raelle asked and wiped her face with a towel that was resting on the display panel.

Scylla gave the blonde a quick shake of her head. “No, I don’t use it that often.”

Raelle looked at the brunette skeptically. Scylla had an incredible body and she very vividly remembered wrapping her arms around Scylla’s toned waist. Raelle knew she had to work out.

Scylla smiled at Raelle’s expression and admitted, “I’d rather run outside.”

“Even when it’s cold?”

“You know I like the outdoors,” Scylla answered.

Raelle stepped away from the treadmill and walked over to the brunette. “Do you need me?”

Scylla’s head snapped up and she gave Raelle a quizzical look, “Well, actually, I wanted to say thank you for the other day for helping me out with the photoshoot.”

“You’re welcome,” Raelle answered.

“I mean, I’m really glad that you are here.”

The brunette stepped into Raelle’s personal space and the blonde’s pulse quickened. It was a going a hell of a lot faster than it had been when she’d had been on the treadmill.

“Me too,” Raelle admitted.

Scylla looked up at the blonde her voice faltering as she fought to get the words out before she lost her nerve, “I, uh, I have a problem.”

Raelle quirked her brow and waited for the musician to continue.

“Well, our conversation the other night kinda got me thinking. I like to go out now and again. And you know, with the concert schedule and with what happened at Beltane, I haven’t been out in a long time.”

“You go out to lunch with Byron and his friends every week.” Raelle said.

“That’s not what I meant.” Scylla quickly answered.

“What did you mean?” Raelle asked. “If you want to go out to dinner with some friends or something like that then I’m going to need to know who, when, and where. Although I strongly object...”

“Raelle,” Scylla interrupted. Goddess she was off her game.

“Scylla, you know that I have to be with you.” Raelle said, mistaking the brunette’s interruption as an objection.

“Raelle,” Scylla tried again. The stubborn bodyguard being with her was exactly what she was trying to accomplish. “I was thinking that you could take me out. I mean, it’s not like I can go out on a normal date with someone with you right there, especially if we want to…”

Raelle’s brows shot up, “A date?”

Scylla stammered on, “Anyway, I just thought that if we went out together…”

“Hey, you found the gym!” Helen said as she bounced in and interrupted the brunette.

Scylla turned to her groundskeeper turned limo driver and shot her a glare that could melt glass.

Helen had seen that look many times before from Scylla and she immediately apologized “Oh, shit--I’m interrupting. Sorry.”

“No, Helen, it’s alright.” Raelle said. The interruption gave her time to think about what the brunette had just proposed. It was confirmation that the brunette did like her. Now she had to decide what to do about it. A big part of her wanted to say yes but the professional part of her still knew it was a bad idea and she should definitely say no.

Scylla visibly swallowed and closed her eyes. The expression on her face reminded Helen of when they were little kids and had got caught staying up late and watching horror movies. A couple years down the road, they’d also been caught doing other things by Scylla’s parents when they walked in the teen’s bedroom without knocking. Helen cringed as she realized just how badly timed her interruption was.

“I’ll talk to you later, Rae, just think about it okay?” Scylla said, suddenly feeling very idiotic for even suggesting such a thing to the bodyguard.

Raelle nodded, already trying to figure out how she was going to say no to herself and more importantly how she was going to say no to Scylla Ramshorn.

Helen watched as the musician made her escape and glanced over at Raelle who was also watching the brunette, a contemplative expression on her face.
Finally Raelle glanced over at Helen and asked, “What did you need?”

“Well, nothing important really,” Helen answered, looking sheepish. “I was just wondering when we were going to do another driving lesson.”

Raelle sighed and closed her eyes, “Eh, maybe in a few days. I still have to look over Scylla’s new schedule for the rest of this week.”

“Oh, okay.” Helen gave Raelle a little puppy dog pout and waited a few seconds, hoping she’d change her mind, but groundskeeper could see that the bodyguard’s attention had already drifted off somewhere else.

“Just let me know when you’re ready,” Helen said.

Raelle nodded and marched back to the treadmill.

***
Stupid, stupid, stupid, Scylla thought to herself as she marched back toward the sanctity of her studio. The brunette let out a loud “oomph” and watched as arms entangled her as she ran straight into Byron.

“God Scyl, what the hell…” Byron yelled, but the look on his sister’s face stopped him and he began again, his voice concerned. “What’s wrong, Scylla? Did you get another one?”

“Another what?” Scylla asked, her mind on the exchange she’d just had with Raelle.

“Another note, another doll.” Byron said

“No,” Scylla answered. “Nothing like that.”

“Then what’s wrong?”

“I’m a complete idiot.”

Byron put an arm around his sister and led back into her studio depositing her on the piano bench. “Why do I have the feeling that this is about a certain blonde and blue eyed bombshell of a bodyguard?”

“I asked her out.” Scylla said simply.

“Come again?” Byron asked and sat down beside her.

“Haven’t got to come the first time, By.” Scylla said, voice sarcastic.

Byron barked out a laugh and looked at his sister. “I’m surprised, I thought you were going to lose it during that photo shoot and I saw you two walking out of the guest house the other night.”

Seeing that his sister was not amused, he asked “What’s wrong? She didn’t say no, did she?”

Scylla ducked her head and blushed, “Actually, I asked her to ask me.”

“Uh, okay…that’s taking the long way around. So did she? Ask, I mean?”

“No.”

“What? How can she still not see…”

“Helen walked in right in the middle of it before she could say anything.”

“Oh, well, give her some time to process.”

“And what if she says no?”

Byron snorted, vividly recalling the photo shoot, “She won’t say no.”

Scylla closed her eyes and sighed. She’d never been this nervous about someone, then again she’d never felt this way about someone before. The brunette looked up, realizing her brother was still talking.

“Just write or play. Do something to keep your mind off of it and she’ll come around once she’s figured it out.”

Scylla grinned at her brother, “Thanks, Byron.

“Hey, Dr. Phill has nothing on the greatness that is me.”

Scylla swatted at her brother and laughed when he leaned back too far on the bench and lost his balance hitting the floor with an undignified grunt.

“Ha, I see now what I get for giving my sage advice.”

***
Raelle had ran until she nearly puked and she still knew that she wanted to be with the musician. Maybe Abigail was right. Stepping off the treadmill, legs unsteady and shirt drenched in sweat, she made up her mind. If she gave in to her want, then she wouldn’t be so on edge and so likely to make a stupid mistake. Besides, it would give her the chance to learn more about the musician’s past and maybe figure out who was doing this to her. It would be complicated, but she could do complicated. Especially if it involved Scylla Ramshorn.

The bodyguard made her way through the mansion, intent on going back to the guest house to clean up and then tracking down the brunette when the sound of music coming from the studio made her pause. By now she’d heard Scylla sing several times, but never like this. The tone was soft and there was a longing in the brunette’s voice that put a lump in her throat and drew her nearer to the musician. She hadn’t even realized that she’d moved to the open doorway of the studio until the music stopped and Scylla’s cerulean eyes met hers.

“Come in,” Scylla invited.

Raelle shook her head in protest, “Nah, I’m all gross.”

“No you’re not,” Scylla answered.

Raelle paused another second and then walked into the vast space. There were musical instruments everywhere of all types. Her eyes were drawn to a line of guitars against one wall and she approached them to get a better look.

Scylla watched where the blonde put her attention and quietly walked up beside her. “Do you play?”

Raelle looked at the instruments and then back at the musician and answered, “Not for a while now.”

Scylla nodded, wanting to know more but sensing that it wasn’t something blonde wanted to discuss and gestured at the guitar that had seemed to hold Raelle’s focus. “That was one of my father’s guitars.”

“My mom had one just like it,” Raelle replied and looked at the brunette. “She left it to me when she died.”

Scylla’s eyes widened at the admission. There was so much she still didn’t know about the blonde and so much she wanted to learn. If only her bodyguard would stop being her bodyguard and just be with her. The brunette walked back over to the piano and sat down on the bench fingers lightly raking the keys, “This was my mother’s pride and joy.”

Maybe if she offered a bit of herself, the blonde would respond in kind. She patted the space beside her and Raelle joined her at the piano.

“What were you playing earlier?”

Scylla shrugged, “An old song, something I wrote years ago.”

“It sounded different then what you sing now.”

“That style isn’t very popular with the crowd, at least that’s what Gerit told me. It was one of those songs I never released.”

“I liked it,” Raelle said. “It sounded like you.”

“And Sexy, Naughty, Bitchy doesn’t?” Scylla teased.

Raelle laughed, “Well you certainly have your moments.”

Scylla made an exaggerated pout, “You think I’m bitchy?”

“When you don’t get your way? Yes.”

The musician shrugged, “I like getting what I want.”

“And when you do get your way?”

Scylla grinned, “Then I can be sexy.”

“And naughty?” Raelle asked, pressing closer to the blonde.

“Very much so.”

Raelle chuckled and moved back, giving the brunette some space. “I have no doubt about that.”

Looking down at the piano and back to the brunette, Raelle asked, “Will you play for me? The unreleased song?”

“I’ll play it for you if you will agree to go out with me.” Scylla offered.

“This about getting your way?” Raelle asked, grinning.

“This is about me liking you, surely you get that by now, Raelle.”

“Okay, deal.” Raelle answered, making her decision. “Now, play for me.”

Scylla nodded, took a deep breath, positioned her fingers on the keys, and began to sing.

When the song ended, Raelle shifted on the bench, turning to face Scylla and placed a hand on her cheek. “You really are beautiful.”

Scylla blushed at the compliment. She was used to being told she was attractive. Hell, Gerit had promoted her as a sex icon, a siren, but being called beautiful felt different. The way it sounded on the blonde’s lips made Scylla want to think that Raelle was looking beyond her appearance and possibly seeing the woman she was beneath the act she’d played for so many years.

Scylla leaned into Raelle’s touch, her azure eyes asking for permission even as she closed the distance between them, her lips meeting the blonde’s in a tentative kiss.

Raelle felt the musician’s soft, full lips on her own and for an instant she forgot how to breathe. Her other hand moved to cradle Scylla’s face, welcoming the kiss. Scylla responded to her encouragement, feather light kisses becoming more intense as Scylla pressed her tongue into the blonde’s mouth, desperate to finally taste the sweetness she knew she’d find there.

After a moment Raelle pulled away, chest heaving as she fought to gain control of her breathing and of the situation before things got out of hand. She stood up from the bench on shaky legs. “I should go clean up. Wednesday luncheon and all that.”

“Okay,” Scylla managed, still dazed from the kiss.

Raelle turned to leave and just as she reached the door Scylla called out with a smirk, “I think we’re going to Tony’s today.”

At the name of the restaurant Raelle blushed, but recovered enough to give the musician a cocky grin, “Good, they have excellent coffee.”

Chapter Text

Scylla’s schedule was packed because Gerit had insisted on making up for the musician’s break after Beltane and so it ended up being several more days before Raelle was finally able to make good on her end of the deal. The blonde hadn’t been this nervous in a very long time. In the moments between her duties, she had second and third and fourth guessed herself about agreeing to go out on a date with the musician, but a deal was a deal and now here they were about to leave the mansion.

The musician stepped up to Raelle’s Subaru in a pair of blue jeans with pink top and a light jean jacket. She had a scarf around her neck and as she nervously stood there waiting for Raelle to unlock the car, all Raelle could do was stand there transfixed thinking about how much she wanted to kiss the delicate skin beneath that scarf. After a few moments that could have been mere seconds or could have been next to forever, Scylla gently cleared her throat and Raelle started.

The blonde bounded forward, hand sliding over the handle to unlock the door and held it open gallantly for the brunette to hop up in the vehicle. She was proud of her car. The leather still had that new car smell and Raelle had used the car detailing supplies in the supply shed earlier that day so the car looked like it had just come off of the show room floor.

Raelle made sure the brunette was safely inside the car and moved around to her side of the vehicle. She’d opted for simple dark jeans, a black tee shirt, and a black blazer to hide her service weapon in its pancake holster. As she got in and started the car, she adjusted it at her side to put on her seatbelt and caught Scylla’s curious gaze.

“Ready?” Raelle asked, drawing the azure gaze of the musician from her gun to her eyes.

“Yeah,” Scylla said, as she offered Raelle a reassuring smile and reached over to squeeze the blonde’s hand on the gear shift. Raelle returned the smile and leaned over to give the brunette a quick kiss on the cheek, earning her a whiff of the alluring scent of sandalwood and earthiness that was uniquely Scylla.

Raelle pushed the start button on her car and drove toward the gate. She stopped at the new guard building she’d had installed as a part of the upgrades and put down her window to speak to the attendant. She was surprised to see Porter in the shack instead of Jackson who’d she thought was on the rotation. Still she offered the blonde a smile, “You have my number. Call immediately if there’s any problems.”

“Sure thing, Collar,” Porter answered. He looked passed the bodyguard and gave Scylla a small wave. “Have a good time, Scyl.”

Scylla gave an odd smile, one that didn’t quite meet her eyes but she said, “Sure Porter. I’ll see you later.”

The blonde security man nodded and stepped back from the window of the guard shack pressing the button for the gate.

From the maintenance building Helen looked on as the car left the property.

***

Raelle had wracked her brain since she’d agreed to take the blonde on a date trying to decide where to take the musician. Where did you take someone who pretty much had as much money as a goddess and could go wherever the hell she wanted? It wasn’t like Raelle had enough money to properly wine and dine the brunette and so in the end, she didn’t try. She decided to do what was natural and real. And she opted for what would best keep the brunette safe in her charge.

Once they were on the road Raelle glanced over at Scylla and asked, “You aren’t especially starving are you?”

Scylla’s expression changed from confusion to a smirk as she answered the blonde, “Are you?”

Raelle chuckled and snuck another glance over at the brunette. She motioned toward the glove box. “If you’re really hungry there’s some nuts and trail mix in there and some water in the back. Where we’re going will take a bit to get there.”

About an hour into the drive, Scylla stomach growled and Raelle’s brow quirked. “You’d better take me up on that offer of a snack. We’ve still got a bit to go.”

“Okay,” Scylla agreed opening the glove box. She looked inside and then glanced back up at the blonde. “Uh, what is all of that?”

Raelle glanced over and chastised herself for not moving her MTM SAC mini ammo can. The little thing really was great for extra ammo and at 10 by 13 inches it fit perfectly in her glove box, but she’d planned to move that and the empty spare magazines to the trunk before the date as she’d noticed the musician didn’t seem to like her weapon. Reaching over past the brunette she rifled through the glove box and pulled out the bag of trail mix.

“Sorry about that,” Raelle answered.

Scylla looked over at the blonde and shrugged, “Are you planning on defending me against an army?”

Raelle shook her head, “Just a crazy fan mob.”

Both the blonde and the brunette winced at the same time and Raelle immediately regretted the day that her parents had taught her to talk at all.

“Shit, Scyl, I’m sorry. I didn’t…”

“It’s alright, Rae.” Scylla said, interrupting the apology. “You did save me and I feel completely safe around you.”

The ‘but’ hung in the air, palpable in the space between them in the car and Raelle asked, “But you don’t feel safe around guns?”

“I’ve just never been around them.” Scylla answered after a long moment, sneaking a glance at the brunette to see if she’d seen the look on her face. Luckily, Raelle’s eyes were on the curving road. “I guess you have, being military and all.”

“Yeah,” Raelle answered. “But I grew up in the south so I had a gun in my hand practically as soon as I could walk. I’m an only child which means I’m the boy dad never had and he would take me with him on his hunting trips.”

Once the road straightened out Raelle leaned back and pulled a bottle of water from a cooler in her back seat and handed it to the musician to go with her snack.

Although the drive to the town she lived near was just over three hours long, the ease in which Scylla and Raelle talked with one another save that one part about the gun made the time go by in a flash. In no time at all Raelle was pulling into a parking spot that dotted the sidewalks of the small town near her home.

When Raelle got out of the car and moved around to the other side and opened the door for Scylla, the brunette stepped out into the brisk fall air and asked, “Where are we going?”

“You’ll see,” Raelle answered, smiling.

She’d had to make a few phone calls to get ahold of the owner, but Mac had agreed to stay open past his normal closing time so that Raelle could bring Scylla to one of her favorite places to eat in town. The teddy bear of a man and his partner, Dave, had even strung a set of bare outdoor bulbs from the nearby trees to the food truck so that the small park’s picnic benches were illuminated in a soft glow as the sun hung low in the late evening.

“Have you ever had lobster rolls?” Raelle asked.

“Of course,” Scylla answered. You can’t live in Massachusetts and not eat lobster rolls. Everywhere has them.”

“You haven’t had these,” Raelle promised.

She walked up to the window and gave Mac a wave.

“Raelle, so good to see you. I’ll have your usual right up.”

For Scylla’s benefit, she looked to the owner and said, “Make that two.”

Mac grinned and offered the blonde a wink while Dave stood behind him making kissing noises.

At the table there were honest to goodness wine bottles with candles and even Raelle felt herself blush at the cheesiness of it all as she walked the musician over and got her settled at one of the tables.

At the food truck she tried to hand Mac a couple hundred dollars, but he shook his head and handed her back all but the cost of the food despite her protests. Once she’d grudgingly put the money back in her wallet, he handed her two containers piled high of homemade chips and creamy overstuffed lobster rolls on buttery English buns. Carefully she balanced the plates and accepted two ice cold bottles of coke. Food in tow she made her way back to the brunette who was looking around the small park.

Raelle put the bounty down and the pulled the napkins from her pockets. She waited as Scylla took her first bite of the lobster roll and felt rather then heard the moan that the brunette let out at her first taste of one of the blonde’s favorite meals.

Raelle managed to smile at Scylla and the brunette moaned again at a second taste. “Goddess, this is good.”

“Right?” Raelle asked and took a bite of her own roll.

They didn’t talk much, instead they devoured their food until they both leaned back from the table with groans.

Raelle smiled at the musician and noticing a bit of the tangy sauce on the corner of her mouth, reached her hand out and wiped at it with a slender finger. Scylla caught her wrist before she could move it and took the finger in her mouth sucking gently and teasing at it with her tongue.

Raelle felt the sensation all the way to her center and didn’t even try to bite back the moan. She leaned forward, over the table intent on kissing the brunette when a soft sound stopped her and she was instantly alert.

Looking up, Raelle let out a sigh when she saw Dave standing beside the table, a sheepish grin on his face. Mac came up behind his partner and put an arm around his waist.

“I told him no, but he insisted. I’m sorry, Raelle.”

Raelle smiled, “it’s okay Mac.

The blonde looked over at Scylla and smiled. “Scylla Ramshorn, this is Mac and Dave Riley.”

Scylla wiped her hands on her napkin and stood to shake both of their hands. “I’m pleased to meet you.”

She was surprised when they both took her in a hug instead.

“It’s so lovely to meet you, dear.” Mac said.

Dave cleared his throat and Mac shook his head and laughed. “Ms. Ramshorn, Dave here is not going to leave until you sign one of our kid hats for our daughter.”

Dave pulled the cardboard hat out of his back pocket and handed it to Scylla. It had the words “Mac and Dave’s Lobster Truck” printed across one side in red and blue lettering with a little cartoon lobster on the other side.

Scylla sat back down on the bench and Mac handed her a sharpie.

“What’s your daughter’s name?” Scylla asked.

“Tiffany,” Dave answered proudly.

Scylla grinned and wrote a little message for the girl and signed her name.

“Thank you, Ms. Ramshorn.” Mac said.

“Scylla,” the musician corrected. “And it was my pleasure. The food was delicious.”

Mac and Dave stood with Raelle and her date and chatted with them a few more minutes and then Mac made a soft sound in his throat and the two excused themselves to clean up the truck for the night.

Scylla and Raelle deposited their trash in the nearby bin and the bodyguard offered her arm as they walked down the street. When Raelle walked Scylla passed her Subaru, the musician looked at the blonde.

“Where are you taking me now?”

“You’ll see,” Raelle said, repeating her statement from earlier.

They stopped at the doorway to what looked like an abandoned shopping center and Raelle reached out a hand and opened the door. She nodded a greeting at the bouncer and handed over the cover charge. Slipping a hand to the small of Scylla’s back she guided her down a small hallway and into a large open space. The inside of the building looked nothing like the abandoned department store that it had once been a long time ago. According to people who had lived in the town all their lives, it had been a Magic Mart. No one would have ever had guessed that now, as the owners had worked hard to make it look like an authentic gay bar from the 50s.

Scylla took in the space with awe. A long bar ran most of the length of the large open area with stools. The wall was dotted with dark booths and in between were high top tables and chairs. Beyond the sitting area and the bar were a few pool tables and a small wooden dance floor. As Raelle guided Scylla to a booth were they could see the entire bar and the entrance, they watched as couples danced to what sounded like old country music.

At the very back of the room there was an honest to goodness old fashioned jukebox and Scylla grabbed at Raelle’s hand insisting that they go over and look at it once she’d spotted it. Raelle grudgingly agreed and they walked over to the machine. As the brunette began to read the songs listed, she laughed at the selection of gay and lesbian tunes intermixed with old country and the traditional slow dance songs.

“What is this place?” she asked Raelle.

“A gay bar,” Raelle answered simply. “It seemed appropriate after the photoshoot with The Advocate.”

Scylla laughed and took in the various couples completely at ease with one another in the space. There was no pulsing lights or blaring beats. None of the high energy of a modern club. Instead the people inside were entertained by the soft music, good drinks, and quiet conversations.

After a moment, when Scylla didn’t say anything, Raelle turned to look at her and quirked a brow, “Is this okay?”

Scylla grinned at the blonde, “It’s perfect.”

Slowly they moved among the dancers and made their way back to the booth that Raelle had picked for them. A few minutes later a waitress appeared and Raelle ordered a scotch while Scylla requested a cognac.

“So, is this your kinda place?” Scylla asked.

“It’s nice here. Quiet, easy.” Raelle replied.

“And you? Are you easy?” Scylla teased.

“Depends on who you ask,” Raelle answered with a laugh.

Their drinks arrived and they sipped them slowly, enjoying the company and the atmosphere.

“So, have you ever liked anyone?” Scylla asked.

“What do you mean?” Raelle asked.

Scylla rolled her eyes, “Liked someone, a girl.”

Raelle nodded slowly, “Yeah, a long time ago.”

“What happened?” Scylla asked.

Raelle shrugged, “We grew apart.”

Scylla wanted to know more, but she could see that the topic wasn’t one that Raelle wanted to discuss. Although she wanted to know everything there was to know about her bodyguard, maybe talk of exes wasn’t the best topic for the moment.

They finished their drinks and Raelle shook her head when the waitress offered her another. The bodyguard didn’t know what would happen later on, but she knew that whatever did happen, she wanted to be sober for it. She switched to coffee and Scylla did the same.

The brunette watched the dancers on the floor, her cerulean gaze wistful. All around them were couples, people clearly in love and in a space where they could comfortably show their mutual affections for one another. Scylla sadly couldn’t remember a single time in her life where she’d been able to experience what they were living now. Swallowing hard she looked at Raelle and found the blonde’s pale blue eyes intently studying her.

Quirking a brow Scylla asked, “Is this a full service date?”

The blonde’s eyes widened a bit and Scylla laughed softly. “I mean will you dance with me?”

Raelle’s mouth twitched and Scylla asked, “You can dance?”

“Yeah,” Raelle said and stood. She took Scylla’s hand and they moved through the crowd to a space near the jukebox.

Raelle took the brunette in her arms and they began to move slowly to the music. After a while Scylla picked up the melody and began to sing softly as they swayed to the song. A few seconds later she stopped and laughed.

“What is it?” Raelle asked, slightly disappointed that her own personal serenade had come to an end. She faltered in the dance, “Is something wrong?”

“No,” Scylla said, steering the blonde into moving to the music again. “It’s just the song, it’s actually pretty depressing.”

Raelle cocked her head, listening to the words instead of the melody and after a moment barked a laugh of her own.

“It is,” Raelle agreed.

They both laughed, but when a large crash behind them made Scylla jump, Raelle instantly swung her around to block the musician from the source of the sound.

Raelle’s eyes landed on the waitress who had dropped several glasses and was sheepishly trying to clean up the mess. She heard the brunette heave a sigh of relief in her arms and Raelle met the cerulean gaze of the musician.

“I’m okay Raelle, and I’ve got you.” Teased Scylla. She added, her tone sincere, “You’re safe with me.”

Raelle nodded and forced herself to continue dancing with the brunette. She looked into those eyes again with a smile and said softly, “You do. Have me, I mean.”

They continued to dance, long into the night and only stopped when they realized that they were the only two still on the dance floor and that the bar was ready to close. Smiling, Raelle led Scylla back out into the fall night, holding the brunette close when she shivered.

They reached the car and Raelle helped Scylla inside. She hopped in and turned the heat on high and tapped at the touch screen turning on the seat warmers for Scylla.

The brunette looked over at Raelle and asked, “Surely you’re not planning to drive us back at this hour?”

“No,” Raelle answered. She looked at the musician and asked, “Come over to my place?”

Scylla nodded and Raelle drove the Subaru out of town and toward her neighborhood.

They reached the small house on the end of the quiet street and Raelle got out of the car. She led Scylla up the walk and paused to bend down and pick up some mail that had been left just inside the screen door. She opened the inner door and allowed Scylla to walk inside.

They moved into the house and Raelle paused to turn on lights. She gestured to small hall and said, “Bathroom is that way if you need it. I’m going to start a fire.”

Scylla’s brow quirked, “It’s already warm in here.”

“I don’t have it for the heat. I just enjoy looking at it.”

The brunette nodded and followed Raelle’s directions and walked down the hall. As she left, Raelle took a long, deep breath and moved over to the fireplace.

Scylla walked into the bathroom, impressed by the claw foot tub that dominated the simple black and white tiled space. The vanity was small but everything was tidy and after she freshened herself up she made her way back into the hall.

As she walked, she paused to look at the pictures on the walls. She saw a handsome woman with a cute balding man and a little girl who could only be Raelle with long hair. She wore a pink dress and pout and Scylla found herself laughing softly. There were more pictures dotting the walls and Scylla continued to examine them.

One picture was of Raelle and the same handsome woman both sitting on stools. They had guitars resting on their laps and Scylla wondered about the comment Raelle had made to her in the studio.Was the death of her mother the reason she stopped playing music? She hoped one day she would get to hear her play. Eventually she saw pictures of Raelle in her uniform, some alone and some with two other women with beside her. They were all smiles and posing at the camera.

“Get lost?” Raelle asked jokingly as Scylla emerged from the hall and walked into the living area. The fire was roaring and the sweet smell of wood smoke enveloped her senses. Raelle had taken her blazer off, but her weapon still hung on her hip.

Scylla forced her eyes upward and smiled at the blonde, “I was just looking at some of the Collar family photos.”

Raelle smiled and offered Scylla a seat on the couch. “Can I get you something?”

Scylla smiled and looked at blonde “I’ll have whatever you’re having.”

Raelle blushed slightly and answered, “I’m having ice cream.”

Scylla laughed and nodded, “Ice cream sounds great.”

Raelle returned a few minutes later with bowls of ice cream and spoons in tow. Scylla leaned forward and reached up to help and the blonde settled on the leather couch beside Scylla tucking her legs beneath her.

The musician took a spoonful of the ice cream and looked around the home. It was small and cozy and entirely Raelle. She told the blonde her thoughts and Raelle nodded.

“I wish I could be here more often. I stay away so much on the job.”

Scylla nodded and watched the flames dance in the fireplace. She felt good in Raelle’s home. Safe and comfortable. There was no sense of expectation, of her having to follow through on some script about her being a sex object. In Raelle’s home Scylla had the sense that the only thing that would ever be expected of her was her company and she would receive equal measures of companionship in return.

Not that there wasn’t desire. Goddess no, she could feel the want coming off the blonde in waves and she knew that she exuded it too. This was different, though. And she had the distinct impression that whatever happened with her bodyguard would be like nothing she’d ever experienced before.

They sat on the couch continuing to easily chat with one another. They were still on the couch long after the ice cream was gone and the fire had died down.

Chapter Text

Scylla woke up to the smell of coffee. Her eyes opened and she could see that she was still on Raelle’s couch and still wearing her clothes sans the scarf and jean jacket. She realized that they must have nodded off in the early morning hours. The musician couldn’t remember if it was her or Raelle that fell asleep first, but obviously at some point the bodyguard had placed a pillow under her head and a patchwork quilt around her body. 

She shifted on the couch and slowly stood up looking around. The fireplace was blazing again and the bowls of ice cream had been removed from the table. Only Raelle’s gun was resting there now in its pancake holster. Scylla turned, the sight of movement catching her eye, and saw Raelle walking toward her, a cup of coffee in hand. The blonde was wearing grey sweats and a white tee shirt and her hair looked like it had recently been washed.

“Finally decide to wake up?” Raelle asked, teasing the brunette.

“What time is it?” Scylla asked.

Raelle took a sip of the coffee and looked at Scylla. “It’s about eleven in the morning. We had a late night.”

Scylla yawned despite herself, “We did,” she managed.

“There’s an extra toothbrush and comb in the medicine cabinet and I can get you something to change into if you want to clean up.”

“That would be wonderful,” Scylla said.

“I’ll make breakfast while you’re doing that then.”

“Breakfast?” Scylla questioned.

“Well, brunch.” Raelle smiled, “Do you like blueberry pancakes?”

“Blueberry pancakes sound incredible.”

Raelle nodded. “Okay. I’ll leave clothes out for you in my room. It’s just across the hall from the bathroom.”

“Okay,” Scylla answered.

The musician made her way back down the hall and found that Raelle had already put towels and a wash cloth out for her. There was an assortment of body washes, bath salts, shampoos, and conditioners and she found everything that she needed to get clean.  Although Raelle’s couch was comfortable, sleeping on it left her a little stiff necked and so she sunk deep into the tub and let the bath salts and hot water work its magic on her sore muscles.

When she finished with her bath, she climbed out of the large tub and dried off. She brushed her teeth and searched around a bit until she found a hair tie. Putting her hair back in a simple pony tail she padded across the hardwood floor and into Raelle’s bedroom.

The brunette saw the clothes complete with underwear and socks on the end of the queen sized bed immediately, but she left them there and instead moved around the room still in the towel. She looked at the dresser and took note of the various trinkets and pieces of jewelry. In the corner of the room two guitars rested in their stands and she immediately recognized the one that was like her father’s guitar. One bedside table was fairly devoid of decoration besides that of a picture of Raelle’s family. The other nightstand was strewn with various items, including something that went with a gun, a magazine, Scylla thought it was called and a book.

Despite the warmth of the house, Scylla shivered and she realized she’d spent far too much time being nosy. She moved back to the clothes, a thrill shooting through her at the thought of putting on the blonde’s clothing.  Raelle had picked Scylla out a similar outfit as to the one the brunette had seen her in only a little while ago.  She dressed and put the wet towel on a hook in the bathroom and then padded back down the hall. She made her way into the small open kitchen and found the blonde at the stove. Scylla perched herself on a stool at the high top breakfast nook tucked into one corner of the small kitchen and watched as Raelle cooked.

 After a few moments the blonde turned, a stack of pancakes on a platter.  As she caught sight of the brunette wearing her sweats and a tee shirt with the words police in grey against the white background she swallowed hard. The brunette had decided to forgo a bra and the fabric was tight enough on her chest to make her nipples stand out, depending on how she moved.  Hand shaking slightly, she placed the platter of pancakes on the table and moved to the cabinets to get plates and the drawer to get silverware. There she took a deep breath to calm herself. Once she felt she could speak again, she turned back around and smiled at the brunette.

“Help yourself,” Raelle said as she got a bottle of syrup from the refrigerator.

She returned a few moments later both with the syrup and a fresh cup of coffee that she put in front of the brunette.  She went back for a glass of milk for herself and then joined the musician at the table.

Scylla tucked into the simple meal. She was surprised at how ravenous her appetite was after all the food she’d eaten the night before but she enjoyed the brunch with gusto and even reached for a second helping of the fluffy pancakes. Raelle seemed to be just as hungry and after a short while the stack of pancakes had disappeared.

As Scylla sat at the table, full and contentedly sipping her coffee, her brow furrowed and she looked at the blonde. “When was the last time you were here?”

Raelle looked up from her own cup and shrugged, “Just after I accepted the position as your bodyguard. Why?”

“The milk,” Scylla said. “It’s fresh.”

“Well yes, I’m not going to give you food poisoning.”

Scylla shook her head. “And the lobster rolls last night?”

Raelle laughed and gave the musician a little shrug. “You caught me.”

“You set all of this up?”

“Well, it’s not as nefarious as you make it sound.” Raelle said, defending herself. “I have a neighbor that checks on the house for me and if I call her before I know I’m coming home she’ll stock my fridge. As for the lobster rolls, I’ve known Mac a long time and I asked him if he’d stay open a little late so we could eat there.”

“Oh,” Scylla said, a small smile on her lips. It pleased her to know that Raelle had wanted everything to be perfect for their date. “Let me help you clean up.” She offered.

Raelle nodded, “Alright.”

Together they made quick work of the dishes and after the kitchen was cleaned up, Raelle put on another pot of coffee.The domesticity of it was all very surreal for Scylla and she found that she thoroughly enjoyed the simple actions of going about the day.

They made their way back to the living room with their coffee and Raelle watched as Scylla continued to explore the space soaking up as much information as she could about the blonde. There was a trophy wall of sorts with lacrosse trophies and some sort of awards related to marksmanship.

Scylla studied everything and asked questions here and there. Eventually, she looked up at the blonde and smiled. “You really are amazing, Raelle.”

The blonde blushed slightly and shrugged. “I’m not so special.”

“You are. Look at what you do. How many people would risk their lives for someone else?”

“Lots of good people.” Raelle said quietly. “People like my unit, people like my mom.”

Scylla smiled. “I can understand doing it for your country or protecting someone important but not for me.”

“Why not for you?” Raelle asked. “You’re important. Your life is precious.”

Scylla blushed and ducked her head. “I haven’t been the best example of a good person. I’ve made a lot of mistakes.”

“We all make mistakes, Scyl. We can choose to let them define us or we can choose to live in a way where we do the best good that we can do each day.”

The brunette nodded and wanting to change the subject looked at the shadow boxes on the wall. She realized they weren’t shadowboxes as much as they were weapon display cases. There were several with wicked looking blades and one contained a set of throwing knives.

The other boxes were for guns, each one displaying a weapon of various size and age. Some looked like what a pirate might have used, some would be small enough to stick in a pocket or as Raelle explained, a woman’s bosom. One box displayed, according to the plaque inside the case,  a .40 Caliber Sig Sauer. This box included a paper target that was enclosed behind the pistol.  There was a large jagged hole cut out in the center of the target, Scylla could only assume meant something impressive.

Raelle watched the brunette as she examined everything and said, “Guns don’t kill, Scyl. People do.”

“Yeah,” Scylla answered.

“I could show you a little about them if you want. It might make you more comfortable when I’m carrying around you.”

Scylla furrowed a brow. She didn’t like guns at all, and she didn’t think she’d ever be comfortable around them.  She knew she’d be lying to herself if she didn’t think Raelle with a gun was a little sexy and the idea of Raelle instructing her turned her on more than she’d like to admit.

After a moment, Scylla nodded, “Sure.”

Raelle got everything that she’d need gathered and walked to her back door, Scylla nervously following behind her. The back yard was huge, and its border was edged by woodland.  The brunette could see that Raelle already had several boards lined up in what looked like a V shape, with various distances set up in the back yard.  Each board still had a faded outline from where she had spray painted targets on them. 

Within every target, there were several deep cuts into the wood and she shivered despite herself thinking of the box on display with several sharp throwing knives.  Focusing on the targets, she noticed there were multiple bullet holes mostly in the center creating a tight cluster formation, with some stray holes around the outlined target area. Although Scylla tried not to think about it, she knew that Raelle was perfectly capable of being deadly if the need ever arose.

Raelle walked passed the table that was set up outside, where she had just laid her bags and weapon accessories down.  The blonde mounted a fresh paper target over the wooden board that was in the center of the V, knowing that it would be Scylla’s first time shooting and it was the closest target.  She went back to the waist high table that was set up a few feet from her back porch and started unpacking her bag. Once she had everything lined up the way she wanted it, she beckoned Scylla forward.

The brunette approached cautiously and Raelle offered her an encouraging smile.

“So first things first,” Raelle began, “basic gun safety.”

Raelle spoke for several minutes giving the do’s and the absolute do nots. After a while she moved on to the basic types of guns, and the commonalities of the parts to the guns.  Finally she gestured to the table again.

“My day to day carry that you see me with is a Glock 19.  It’s light and easy to conceal. That’s what I’ve got here for you to try. You will see me keep my gun pointed down range towards the targets, or directly to the floor and away from us.  No matter how difficult you feel the gun is, never point it toward you or to the sides of you.”

Before even allowing the brunette to touch anything on the table she spoke for several more minutes. “You’ll always treat a gun like it's loaded. I have already checked it.  Notice that there’s no magazine in the gun and the chamber is clear. Therefore, it’s safe for you to pick up.” She then gestured for Scylla to pick up her weapon.

Scylla looked like she was going to pass out and Raelle slid up beside and slightly behind her. She moved her mouth close to the brunette and whispered, “First step right now? Relax and breathe.”

Scylla’s breath caught at the tickle from Raelle's lips on her ear and she nodded slowly. The action did seem to knock Scylla out of her nervousness though and she shifted, gaining a more confident stance and allowing her breath to normalize. 

Raelle watched her and smiled when the brunette visibly relaxed in front of her. “Good, now let’s go over how to have a proper grip.”

The blonde demonstrated with her own gun how to grip the weapon and then helped Scylla place it in her dominant hand. She showed her how to make sure her webbing of her hand was put as high as possible in the backstrap of the pistol, keeping it snug under the tang of the gun.  Raelle used her hand to guide Scylla’s, placing her middle finger under the trigger guard and her thumb forward tight around the grip.

“For safety, the index finger is always extended alongside the barrel.  You should only put your finger on the trigger when you intend to shoot.”  Raelle instructed. She helped Scylla to place her index finger out to rest letting the finger point to where she wanted to aim.   Raelle moved her hand helping Scylla as she closed her grip wrapping her ring and pinky finger securely under her middle finger.

Scylla glanced at the blonde, wondering she even had a clue how erotic her long slender fingers felt moving over her hand. Raelle’s eyes were that beautiful icy blue and they were completely focused on the task at hand. Given what Scylla was holding in her hand, she supposed that she should be too.

After Raelle was satisfied that the musician had the right grip, she gave a few more tips including that the gun should always be aligned with your forearm. Once the brunette had the correct position of the dominant hand, Raelle assisted Scylla in moving her non-dominant hand into position.  Raelle took the brunette's left hand and placed it on the gap that was made by her right hand.  Lastly, Raelle made a quick adjustment of the thumbs, placing them together and almost parallel with the barrel of the gun.

Raelle studied her student. Scylla still looked like she felt uncomfortable, but not as scared when she first started which was a step in the right direction. “It looks good, Scyl. Just keep breathing.”

Scylla swallowed and offered a tight smile. As the brunette listened, Raelle continued to guide her, explaining the importance of keeping her hand at a forty five degree angle.

Raelle moved on to talking about her stance while shooting and began with a demonstration of the Isosceles stance.  As she moved, she explained to Scylla what she was doing and why she was doing it.

“First, keep your feet just a little more than shoulder width apart, a slight bend at the knees which will make your butt stick out just a bit.”

Scylla quirked a brow and bit back a chuckle but continued to listen as Raelle on moved on to how she needed to keep her elbows loose to help absorb the shock of the recoil. 

“See how the arms extended outward forms an isosceles triangle?”

She demonstrated the stance a few more times and then she slipped her arms around Scylla from behind and told her to relax against her as she shifted her body into the position that she wanted Scylla to mimic. Once she was how she wanted her, Raelle let her arms go and gave Scylla the chance to get used to the stance.

Raelle put the gun on the table and pointed to various parts. “Now these are the parts that help you aim this weapon.  Here is your front sight.”  Raelle tapped what looked like a fixed tiny post located at the front of the gun on top of the barrel. “And notice that thing that looks like a blade with the notch in the middle, closest to you, these are your rear sights.  Holding the weapon, you will see on the back of the sights have a tiny dot in the middle of them” 

Scylla took in the location of the dots on her three sights and nodded.

Next Raelle reviewed how to actually fire the gun. “Pick up your weapon, spot your target and aim.  Align your sights so that each little dot is side by side. Together you will see three dots in a perfect row at the center of your target. Most people make the mistake of focusing on the target.  That’s a bad habit, don’t do that. You need to focus on your front sight, this middle dot. This will tell you the relative position of where the gun is to the target.   Doing that will give you better accuracy.”

Raelle instructed her to lift the gun again, “Now, when you pull it up to aim, you want those three sites to be in a line. That means its level.”

They practiced aiming for a few minutes. Just when Scylla had decided she didn’t have to worry about the gun because she’d never get around to firing one, Raelle told her it was time to actually load it. Scylla complied and with her non shooting hand took one of the many magazines already preloaded and slid it into the magazine well and slapped it in place.

Scylla thought that would be fine after hearing about the recoil and that it wouldn’t surprise her, but it was still a shock after that first round went off in her hands. She had to make herself hold onto the weapon and not drop it in surprise. She also wondered where that shot went because there was no mark on her target.  Raelle helped Scylla adjust her grip and so that she was better prepared.

They practiced for a while, loading magazine after magazine. There were a couple of misfires, but Raelle taught her to slap, rack, and shoot.  By the second misfire, Scylla remembered and completed the task without Raelle’s prompt. Scylla was a surprisingly good shot and Raelle felt that with a few more lessons she would be comfortable with the brunette having a gun if she wanted one.

Scylla had relaxed considerably, enjoying the blonde’s instruction and finding that she wasn’t so nervous now that she understood how everything worked. She still felt hyper vigilant about gun safety and Raelle told her that she should be. “Never take a chance, keep weapons down range. Always check, always make sure the gun is clear.”

 With the last round fired off, Scylla ejected her magazine and cleared her weapon before her instructor walked in front of her to provide a fresh target. Raelle had just started to move down range to replace the paper target for a second time when a huge boom made both of them jump and Scylla let out a scream as the heavens opened and the rain came down. It wasn’t a sprinkle or even a steady rain, instead it was as if a fire hose had been turned on above them and they were both instantly soaked even in the few feet it took for them to get back to the porch.

Scylla realized she still had the gun in her hand and almost dropped it, some of her earlier fear about firearms returning, but managed to put it down safely on a table on the porch. She turned to Raelle but saw that the blonde had went back out in the torrent to collect the rest of the weapons and magazines. She laughed at the blonde, watching as Raelle became hopelessly drenched by the downpour.

Together they carried everything back in the house and Raelle moved the guns and paraphernalia to the kitchen counter where she set everything out on a towel to dry. After she was done, she moved a little down the counter.  She turned to Scylla a laugh on her lips at the ludicrousness of the situation but the smile died when the brunette surged forward pressing Raelle’s back into the counter. She kissed the blonde hard, her tongue demanding entrance to the blonde’s hot mouth even as her hands began roaming over Raelle’s shirt, squeezing one nipple hardened by the cold rain and then the other. She pulled her mouth away from Raelle’s lips even as the blonde leaned forward trying to capture them again and ran her velvet tongue up the blonde’s neck, licking at the rain she found there still clinging to the blonde’s neck in droplets and nipped at Raelle’s ear.

Raelle shuddered, the cold of the rain on her skin mixing with the heat of the brunette’s touch. Her tongue was like a flame licking at her neck and with a groan she pressed forward putting her arms around brunette and flipped their positions.  Raelle kissed Scylla, her own tongue seeking out the sweetness of the musician’s mouth.  She trailed kisses all along the brunette’s jaw and dipped her head, letting her tongue swirl at the hollow in the musician’s neck. Without warning she plunged her hand into the brunette’s sweatpants and pushed them into her underwear. She moaned at the slick wetness she found there and plunged two fingers inside of her. She felt the brunette’s walls clench around her and Scylla let out a gasp as Raelle began thrusting her fingers, moving them in and out of the musician, fingers curling inside her. She moved her mouth back to Scylla’s throat kissing and nipping at the skin she found there.

Scylla shuddered at the blonde’s touch and was thankful for her strong bodyguard and the counter supporting her. As her pleasure built she moved her hand to the blonde’s wet hair, tugging her head from her neck and back to her mouth. She kissed her, the blonde’s lips swallowing Scylla’s gasps of pleasure.

As the gasps increased so too did Raelle’s bruising pace. Sensing Scylla was close she brushed her thumb over the musician’s clit and was rewarded with a loud moan. Raelle continued, her thumb pressing against her clit until at last the brunette tensed in her arms and came with a shuddering cry against the bodyguard dropping her head on the blonde’s shoulder.

Raelle waited until Scylla’s aftershocks subsided and then slowly pulled her fingers out.  Scylla slumped against the counter breath coming in pants and looked up at the blonde, her pupils blown. “Bedroom,” she managed between shuddering breaths.

Scylla wasn’t quite sure how they managed to make it to the bedroom. There were several stops along the way as each sought to kiss the other as their clothes were removed and skin was revealed. Somehow they did make it though and Scylla pressed Raelle the last few feet toward the bed, pushing the blonde down and laying on top of her, coming to rest between Raelle’s legs.  The musician kissed the blonde on the mouth and began a journey downward alternatively kissing, licking, and nipping at the blonde’s skin.

Raelle shuddered beneath the brunette one hand in her hair, the other grasping at the bedspread as Scylla finally kissed her where she most needed her.

Scylla’s mouth watered, deeply breathing in the blonde’s scent.  She dipped her mouth, tongue gliding through her already slick folds. Raelle moaned, her fingers twisting almost painfully in the brunette’s hair, pressing her head forward and Scylla responded, giving the blonde what she needed as her tongue licked at Raelle’s entrance. The blonde bucked under her and Scylla moved her talented mouth to the blonde’s clit sucking and licking as she slid two fingers inside her bodyguard. Raelle cried out, arching upward and moving to meet Scylla’s movements.  She was already so turned on and so close to the edge by the time the brunette’s tongue made a final deft stroke over the blonde’s clit, Raelle came crying out loudly as her walls clenched down over and over around the musician’s fingers. Scylla continued licking, riding out Raelle’s orgasm until the blonde sagged against the bed, her body still shuddering and twitching.  

Scylla removed her fingers and made her way back to the blonde’s side, collapsing beside her. They lay like that for a few minutes and then Raelle shifted, moving over the brunette. As she made her way down the length of the musician’s body, she smirked “my turn.”

They continued like that over and over until exhaustion finally won out and the musician shifted into Raelle’s arms, her head resting on the blonde’s chest as Raelle wrapped her arms possessively around the brunette.  Scylla had been right about her earlier suspicions, what she’d experienced with Raelle was nothing like she’d ever known before. It wasn’t quite sex, but it wasn’t quite making love either though Scylla would have to admit to herself she’d never done the latter. She felt like it could become love though, and that filled her heart with a hope she’d never felt before.

“I’ve never felt so safe before. Nothing could harm me with you around. No one could get by you.” Scylla murmured softly.

Raelle groaned, the aftershocks of their last coupling still making her spasm. “Right now it might not be too difficult,” she admitted.  Gingerly, she brushed her fingers through Scylla’s hair and breathed in her scent. She realized she’d never want to let this woman go and that she would easily hold her in her arms forever. Raelle would die in a second if it meant keeping the brunette safe from those who would dare do her harm. At some point Raelle regained enough of her strength and managed to move a throw blanket on the end of the bed over them and together they slept.

Hunger is what eventually drove them out of bed when Raelle’s stomach growled loudly, disturbing their bliss.

Scylla laughed at the sound and propped herself up on her side. She turned to look at the blonde. “Work up an appetite?”

Raelle smiled at Scylla, “It’s entirely your fault.”

“I do recall telling you that I could be naughty,” Scylla teased.

Raelle moaned as she reached for the brunette, “Show me again?”

She had just moved on top of the musician, her lips kissing a path down her chest, her mouth closing around a nipple when Scylla moaned and at the same time Raelle’s stomach growled again.

 Scylla pushed her bodyguard away, laughing. “I think that we better recharge.”

Raelle let out a dramatic sigh, “If we must but I don’t want to leave this house. I need you close to my bed.”

“Is there any place nearby that delivers?”

Raelle nodded. “Yeah, there’s a couple pizza joints and a really good Chinese restaurant.”

“I could go for some chicken chow mien,” Scylla admitted.

“Okay,” Raelle said and rolled herself out of bed. She looked around for a moment, her brow furrowed in confusion.

“What’s wrong?” Scylla asked.

“I don’t remember where I put my phone.”

Scylla cocked her head to one side and then got up from her side of the bed, “I don’t remember what I did with mine either.”

They retraced their steps and eventually found their phones on a table in the front entryway of the home.  They each picked up their phones, ready to check back in with the world and order dinner.

While Scylla could hear the blonde ordering enough food to feed a small army, Scylla scrolled through the missed messages and texts that she had received. There were a couple of messages from friends and a slew of texts from Gerit, each one getting more insistent on her returning to the mansion for an interview.  A message from Byron asked if she was safe and having fun and at last there was an invitation to a film festival premiere from an old friend.

Scylla took it all in and then looked up at her bodyguard. Raelle was giving her an almost shy smile as she patiently waited on her. With flourish Scylla turned the phone off and reached for the bodyguard. “Why don’t you start another fire?”

Chapter Text

The atmosphere in the car on the drive back to the mansion started out pleasant enough. After they had dinner and spent a few hours relaxing in front of the fire the night before, they had retired to Raelle’s bed where they spent their remaining time together getting very little sleep. In the morning they’d worked together to close up the bodyguard’s home again and now they were making the trip back.

Raelle took the long route and drove the Subaru over wet, leaf littered country roads. It was a beautiful fall drive and they chatted easily, enjoying each other’s company. Raelle was sad that their time together was coming to an end though and she tried to draw it out a long as she could, but eventually they reached the mansion and she sighed as she paused at the gate. She heard Scylla mirror her sigh and she glanced at the brunette.

Scylla looked up at the gates to the home she loved and instead of seeing her usual sanctuary saw a prison. After being away with Raelle and a place of peace and no expectations she was returning to her world where she had to be on stage in some form or fashion all day, every day.

Raelle squeezed Scylla’s hand reassuringly and drove the Subaru through when the gate opened.

As soon as Raelle pulled up to the main house and put the Subaru in park, Gerit stalked out from the door of the mansion to the car and opened the passenger door.

Raelle heard him hiss something in Scylla’s ear and she very deliberately turned to Raelle, ignoring the publicist. “Thank you, Rae. I had a wonderful time. I’ll see you a bit later.”

The musician paused for a moment and leaned over kissing the bodyguard on the cheek. Then, reluctant, she got out of the car and followed her publicist while Raelle started the engine again and moved the car closer to the guest house.

Once Raelle was at her home away from home, she killed the engine and got out. She moved to the trunk and she removed several cases with weapons, bullets, spare magazines and a few other things she’d need. She’d convinced the brunette to let her set her up a mini outdoor range on a far part of the property so that she could keep up her skills while at the mansion and so that Scylla would have the opportunity to practice some more. She’d also brought a gun for Scylla, but planned to give that to her later.

Raelle fixed herself some lunch and then decided she would make rounds to check on all the security equipment. She’d also scout out an area that might be appropriate to set up the range. The “thinking time” to herself, as her dad called it would do her some good. She changed into something more appropriate for being out in the cold and headed out. When she reached the maintenance shed with the side by sides she noticed one missing and assumed that Helen was out working on the grounds somewhere on the property. She checked the other side by side and once ensuring the gas tank was topped off, set off to do her perimeter check.

The grounds were ever bit as vast as Helen had warned about and a great deal of the property was still woodland. Helen had said she’d tackle it a few times a summer with industrial equipment, but some of the more densely wooded areas were still untamed as they were when the property was purchased by the Ramshorns years ago.

From a security standpoint the perimeter was secure and all potential entry points to the grounds had been covered by gates and cameras. As Raelle checked, everything seemed to be in good working order and she was satisfied that the property was rivaling Fort Knox under her watch. After leaving the furthest entry point from the estate, Raelle turned off the mowed path and ventured inward toward the woodlands. As the side by side bounced through the trees and brush strewn areas, Raelle took note of potential places that might make a safe outdoor mini range.

She had just took the side by side by side through a dense portion of trees when she came across a clearing, one side edged by a small creek. Raelle stopped the machine and hopped out to take a look around. The area certainly seemed large enough for her purpose and it was relatively easy to get to by taking the perimeter path. At this distance from the main house the noise from the gunshots would also be minimal. She walked along the creek for at least half a mile in either direction assessing the clearing.

The walk gave her the chance to stretch her muscles, still pleasantly sore from the night before. The ache made her smile, thinking of Scylla and the way her fingers had felt moving inside of her. She’d had a wonderful time with the musician and during the date discovered that they were extremely compatible, both in bed and out and she was already thinking of asking her on another date. She stopped for a few minutes, taking in the animal tracks here and there where animals had trudged the creek to satisfy their thirst. Eventually, she turned from the creek and started across the clearing intent on exploring the wooded areas surrounding it.

As she reached the edge of the woods across the clearing from the side by side she slowed, looking at the ground. She’d seen a few tracks near the creek, mainly raccoon and some smaller mammals and now she saw the tell-tale signs of a fox. No, a coyote, she thought to herself. She continued, moving into the woods, following a game trail. She could see the impressions of deer and more raccoon. She walked several feet along the trail and then paused, noticing that the woods had become extremely quiet. That tingle on the back of her neck came, and she stood very still. Then she heard it, the sound of another ATV. Quickly, she marched back toward the clearing and saw Helen in the other side by side parked by her vehicle.

Raelle reached her arm out in a wave and called out to the groundskeeper. She watched as Helen searched for the source of the sound and then finally seeing Raelle, offer a wave of her own. They ended up meeting in the middle of the clearing.

“I saw the Subaru, so I knew you were back.” Helen said. She looked around the clearing and then met the bodyguard’s gaze, her expression quizzical. “What are you doing out here?”

Raelle shrugged, “Checking the security and just exploring the grounds a bit.”

“Huh,” Helen answered. “Well, you’d better be careful. There’s been reports of a black bear around the area.”

Raelle’s brow quirked with surprise. “Oh really?”

“Yeah,” Helen continued. She gestured vaguely in the direction that Raelle had been heading and added, “Over the years we’ve come across a few of them over there.”

Raelle didn’t think so, it was highly unlikely a black bear would be around this area, but she didn’t say so to the groundskeeper. Instead she followed Helen as the woman made the way back to the pair of side by sides. “Well, I guess I’ll see you back at the maintenance shed?”

“Yeah, sure,” Raelle answered, climbing back into her side by side. Helen got in hers and Raelle realized that she wasn’t going to move until Raelle did. After a few seconds, Raelle called out over the rumble of the machines, “I’m going to ride on out and check the front gate area and then I’ll be back.”

Helen nodded, still waiting, and eventually Raelle took off in the direction that she’d indicated.

 

Back at the guest house Raelle could see that she’d missed a call from her dad and several from a number she didn’t recognize. She listened to the message, rolling her eyes at the sound of Gerit on voicemail first requesting and then demanding her presence in his office as soon as possible.

As soon as possible would have to wait until later, because Raelle intended on spending the rest of her evening checking in with her dad and then getting some much needed sleep. She dialed the number and waited for her dad to answer.

“Hey Rae.”

“Hey, dad, how’s it going?”

“Good, good. Hey, Marsha told me that you were out at your house earlier. Is everything okay with you?”

Raelle chuckled to herself. The neighbor who checked on her house and stocked it for her when needed had met her dad when she’d first bought the house and they’d become friends. She was a nice lady, though a bit nosey and she certainly helped her dad to keep tabs on her.

“Yeah, dad, everything’s fine. I just took a break for a day and picked up a few things I needed at the house.”

“Oh.” Edwin paused for a moment and then said, “She mentioned that there was a really pretty woman with you.”

Raelle rolled her eyes and shifted the phone on her ear. “Uh, yeah, dad.”

“First time you’ve ever brought someone to your house. Something your old man need to know?”

“Well, I met a girl,” Raelle began, a huge grin on her face.

 

The next morning not even the thought of her having to meet with the slimly publicist could stop Raelle’s good mood. She’d got up, a jaunt in her step, whistling to herself as she made herself some pancakes to go with her coffee. A quick glance at her phone indicated that Scylla’s schedule was empty for the day and she had every intention of finding the brunette after meeting Gerit and asking her if she’d go to dinner with her that evening. After she’d cleaned up and got dressed for the day, she took the footpath to the mansion and made her way inside.

She knew that one section of the first floor of the house had been converted into offices for the publicist and for Izadora. Even Scylla and Byron had large offices, but she knew both preferred to work in the music studio or in Byron’s case the art studio. When she started she’d been offered her own space but preferred the privacy of the guest house and so refused the offer citing the need to keep security matters separate from Scylla’s day to day business.

Now she made her way down the hall and knocked on the door. A woman’s voice called for her to come in and Raelle did so, a puzzled look on her face. A young woman, barely eighteen and beautiful, sat at a small desk just to the right of the entrance of the room. She looked up brightly at the bodyguard.

“You need some help, hon?”

“Um, yeah, Gerit wanted to see me.”

“I’ll check if Mr. Buttonwood is free,” the woman replied picking up a phone.

The large room, probably a library at one time, had been separated by a set of glass French doors and
Raelle could clearly see the publicist playing putt putt on a little green matt beside his desk in the office. When the phone rang, he cursed as his ball missed the hole and he answered the phone.

Raelle heard him ask what the girl wanted and she quickly explained in hushed tones that there was a rather severe looking blonde with a gun there to see him.

Gerit looked up from his phone through the glass in the doors and met Raelle’s eye. She looked back at him, her gaze icy and she noticed that he visibly shuddered.

He spoke into the phone a few more seconds and then put it down.

The girl looked up shyly at Raelle, “Mr. Buttonwood will see you now.”

“Uh, sure.” Raelle said. She walked passed the desk and through the doors.

By the time she’d reached the publicist’s inner office, Gerit had sat himself down in a large leather chair, hands steepled together under his chin.

“You wanted to see me?” Raelle looked around the room, taking in the photographs of Gerit with various celebrities and the little gold records on his wall. Sleazy or not, it was obvious he had been good at what he did.

“Yesterday, Ms. Collar.”

“Yeah, well, yesterday I was busy. What do you need?”

“Don’t expect to be reimbursed for your time today.”

“What?” Raelle asked, confusion taking over the annoyance on her face.

“I said I will not be reimbursing you for your time today because I requested your presence yesterday.”

“What are you talking about?”

Gerit furrowed his brow at the blonde and continued almost as if he’d rehearsed what he wanted to say and couldn’t compensate with the interruption, “If you will submit a total list of your expenses excluding your time here today, I will have a check cut within the hour.”

“I don’t understand what you’re saying.”

“Your services are no longer required.”

Raelle’s eyes widened and she immediately began thinking back to the weekend. Had she done something wrong? Had there been a mistake? Did Scylla want her to quit?

“Why? How does that even make sense? We still don’t know…” Raelle asked, her voice raising in the office.

Gerit slammed his hand down on the desk and stood up looking at the blonde. “You’re fired, Collar. You know nothing about show business. Do you realize that she missed three interviews while she was out with you?”

Raelle blinked in shock. She didn’t know. Truthfully, she hadn’t even looked at Scylla’s schedule. When she’d asked the brunette a good time for their date, Scylla had suggested the time.

“Well, if she wanted to miss the interviews that was her decision.”

“You’re a distraction for her, and not a good one.”

Raelle’s jaw clenched at being called a distraction, “It doesn’t matter. If she wants to spend time with me, that’s between us.”

“Really? Who do you think signs the checks?” Gerit asked. He lifted his chin, “You don’t realize how important my role here is.”

“Yeah, I get it perfectly,” Raelle answered her voice hard.

“Just get your shit together and be out of here by noon. You can e-mail me the expenses. I’ll get what you’re owed direct deposited.”

“What’s going on here?” Gerit jumped and looked beyond Raelle at Scylla and Izadora who were standing in the doorway.

“I was just telling Collar that she would be leaving us.”

“Raelle stays,” Scylla said simply.

“Gerit, you know that Scylla’s more popular every day. With all of the media and the awards coming up her life is more at risk now than ever.” Izadora said.

“We can get someone else,” Gerit answered.

“I don’t want someone else.”

Raelle turned to Scylla, capturing the brunette’s cerulean eyes. She offered Raelle a small smile before turning back to Gerit and continuing, “It’s Raelle or no one.”

“And there’s no way she’s going to Fort Salem without a bodyguard.” Izadora added.

“She has to,” Gerit said with a smirk, finally able to get his way in at least one area, “You should know that Izadora, you fixed the contracts.”

“Fuck the contracts,” Izadora said, “If Raelle goes then Scylla doesn’t step a toe in Fort Salem.”

After a moment, Gerit’s shoulders fell and he dropped back into his seat. “Fine, whatever.” He looked up at the blonde and pointed, “But you need to stay in your fucking place.”

Scylla looked at her publicist, her gaze hard, “Remember Gerit, you may sign her checks, but I sign yours.”

She looked at Raelle and jerked her head toward the door, “Walk with me.”

Raelle gave the publicist one last icy glare and followed Scylla out of the room.

“Where are we going?” Raelle asked

“Anywhere but here,” Scylla answered. She walked down the hall and stopped at the door to her studio. Taking a key from her slacks she opened the door and motioned for Raelle to join her.

After a second’s hesitation the blonde followed Scylla into the room, stopping near the piano as Scylla sat down at the bench.

“Goddess that man is insufferable.”

“You apparently missed some interviews?”

Scylla rolled her eyes and looked at Raelle, “Can you blame me for wanting to be with you?”

Raelle smiled, “No, but I don’t want to interfere with your work. We both have jobs to do.”

Scylla nodded, letting her hands glide over the keys. Looking at her bodyguard she asked, “Why don’t you play with me for a little bit?”

Raelle’s eyes widened and she began to protest.

“Please?” Scylla asked. “Help me do my job and I’ll be more cooperative in helping you do yours.”

Raelle swallowed and then spoke, “Go to dinner with me.”

Scylla’s lips pursed and then she smiled, “Are we still making deals?”

“Always,” Raelle answered.

“Okay,” the brunette said with a nod.

Raelle walked over to the wall of guitars and hesitated, looking back at Scylla. After the musician nodded her permission, Raelle picked up the guitar that was similar to the one that her mother had owned and walked over to a stool near the piano. She sat down, adjusting the guitar and once satisfied, looked up at the brunette.

Scylla leaned back on the bench, nodding at Raelle to begin.

“It’s been a long time,” she warned.

With that she looked down at the guitar and began to strum. After a few seconds, she took a deep breath and began to sing.

When Raelle had finished the song, or at least as much as she was willing to play with Scylla staring at her she ducked her head, blushing slightly. After a moment she got enough nerve to look the brunette in the eyes.

“You are amazing, Raelle.” Scylla choked, trying to swallow the emotions that the blonde’s voice had evoked in the musician.

“I don’t know about that,” Raelle answered. “I mainly just picked with mom to entertain dad and the neighbors.”

“Well, you ‘pick’ beautifully.” Scylla teased.

Raelle blushed again and then asked, “So how do you feel about Italian?”

 

***

Scylla knocked softly at the door to Byron’s studio and she heard his answering yell to come in.

She stepped inside and took in the canvases in varying stages of completion looking up when her brother approached her walking over from one of the work sinks and wiping his hands off with a cloth.

Scylla took a seat at one of the stools and looked at her brother.

“Well?” He asked expectantly.

Scylla smiled, “She’s amazing.”

Byron perched on another stool and looked at his sister. “Tell me everything.”

“Well it all started with a food truck.”

When Scylla finally finished her recounting of her date with the bodyguard, Byron smiled at Scylla and laughed softly, “You really have it bad, don’t you?”

Scylla’s grin faltered, “Byron, I have feelings for her.”

Byron nodded, “I know.”

“Am I setting myself up to get hurt?”

Byron shrugged.

“Please, I really want to know what you think.”

Byron frowned. He couldn’t even remember the last time Scylla had used the word “please” with him or anyone else really. Probably when she’d played a female version of Oliver Twist in her fifth grade school play.

“Scyl, you know I love you, and so I’m saying this out of love. You played the part Gerit gave you too well.”

“What?”

“You’ve always come off as this indifferent snob only interested in sex. You made a big show of flirting around with this guy or that girl, but you never actually dated. You never spent more time with anyone beyond what it took to get off. You’ve been emotionally unavailable for a long time.”

Scylla swallowed, “So you think this is all a huge mistake?”

Byron looked into his sister’s eyes. He could see the hope in her eyes and he could see her fear. “No, Scyl. I think that it’s great. She’s a good woman and she’s got a good head on her shoulders. I can see how she grounds you, quiets that noise you’ve always got going in your head.”

Scylla nodded slowly, “She asked me to go out with her again tonight.”

“And?”

“And, I said yes.” Scylla smiled and then confided in her brother. “We played together today.”

Byron smirked, “I’m sure you did.”

Scylla rolled her eyes, “No, I mean we played music together. She plays the guitar.”

Byron’s eyes widened, “Really?”

“Her voice is incredible. She should be the one with a singing career.”

“And you the bodyguard with a gun,” Byron asked. He shook his head, “I can’t believe that you actually shot a gun.”

“Um, Byron, you should know I gave her permission to put a range on the property.”

Bryon jerked his head up at his sister, “Scylla, you should have asked me first. You know how I feel about guns.”

Scylla sighed, “That was a long time ago, Byron.”

“I still don’t like it, but I guess since you’ve already done it I’ll have to get used to it.” He studied his sister, seeing the difference in the way she was carrying herself. She was calmer, more at ease, and it had been a long time since he’d seen her happy about anything that wasn’t career related.

“Scylla, I’m happy for you. Just take it slow. This is really new for you.”

“Yeah,” Scylla said. She knew that her brother was right, but it was hard to hold herself back. She’d held back allowing herself to have emotions for so long now that they were coming to the surface, they threatened to break out and overwhelm her. She stood and walked back over to the canvases that Byron had laying around.

“Are these for the exhibition?”

“Yes,” Byron answered.

“They really are amazing.” Scylla said.

She turned and headed to the back wall of Byron’s work area and looked at the cloth covering a canvas. “This is your masterpiece though.”

Byron stepped up beside her and looked at the cloth covered wall. His sister quirked a brow and he nodded slowly.

Carefully she removed the cloth and they both let out deep breaths at the painting hiding beneath it.

Scylla stared at it for several seconds and then looked at her brother. She could see the pain in his eyes. “You should show this.”

“You know I can’t.”

Scylla shook her head, “It was so long ago.”

“What if someone says something? And you know Gerit will freak out.”

Scylla shook her head, eyes flashing with anger at the mention of her publicist. “Did you know that asshole tried to fire Raelle because I blew off those interviews? He apparently summoned her to his office. He didn’t even consult me.”

The thought that Gerit may have succeeded and she would have woke up just to find that Raelle had packed her things up and left, made her shudder.

Shaking his head Byron shrugged. He took the cloth from her and carefully covered the canvas again. “He’s been running your life for a long time. Maybe you’re finally seeing that the advice he has given hasn’t always been what’s best for you.”

“Yeah, like this. It was wrong of me to ask you to hide it away. I want you to show your work at the exhibition. If people talk, then they talk. I’m tired of hiding, By. I deserve love and you deserve closure.”

Byron looked at his sister and after a moment nodded. He didn’t know if anything would come out of putting this particular painting in the exhibition, but he knew that his sister would at least have someone who would be by her side to support her if things went south.

“Maybe it really is time for both of us.”

***

As Scylla watched the fat little man walk away from them, still playing the accordion he had propped on his belly, she thought that perhaps it was just a bit over the top.

The food was heavenly though. Homemade style Italian with fresh garlic and tomatoes. The bruschetta appetizer had been divine and the gnocchi with meat sauce was the best she’d ever had. The waiter had told her the secret was that the meat sauce was made with veal. The restaurant itself was small and cozy and had that old world Italian restaurant look from the early 80s. The décor was dated but authentic. She couldn’t believe she’d never heard of the place, but it was apparently very popular. When Raelle had mentioned it, she admitted that she couldn’t get reservations and so in the end Scylla had used her pull to get them a small candlelit corner table. When she had asked Raelle about the dress code, the blonde just scoffed and told her to dress casual. Still, she wanted to look nice and so she'd worn a wine colored silk blouse and a pair of black slacks which ended up complimenting Raelle's simple white shirt and maroon blazer with dark jeans nicely. All in all, they very much looked like the handsome couple in love. She could see why the accordion player had spent so much time at their table.   

Scylla took another sip of her wine and then put the glass down, watching as Raelle polished off the last of her meal. Smiling she reached her arm out and offered her hand. Raelle took it while taking a sip of wine with the other.

“For the record,” Scylla said, “I would have come with you to dinner whether you played with me or not.”

Raelle blushed slightly and nodded. “Well, it was nice to play again. I’m still a bit rusty, though.”

“Then I can only imagine how incredible you’d be if you started back on a regular basis. You should play more often.”

Raelle met the brunette’s cerulean gaze. “Thank you, I need a lot of practice though to get even close to your level.”

Scylla snorted and looked up when the waiter approached them with dessert menus. They placed their order and the waiter removed their dishes.

“Speaking of practice,” Raelle began, “I think that I’ve found a place for the outdoor range.”

Scylla’s brow quirked, “Already?”

Raelle nodded, “Yeah, it’s near the back entrance to the property. There’s some woods and then a creek with a little clearing.”

Scylla nodded, remembering the spot from the description. “Did you see the pond?”

“No, I didn’t get much time to explore the area. Helen came by and said something about potential bears. Have you ever heard of bears being on the property?”

Scylla laughed and shook her head, “That’s ridiculous. I’ve never heard of anything like that.”

They paused the conversation as their desserts and coffee were delivered and after a second Scylla began again.

“Though, no one thought it was a good idea to tell me someone was making threats against my life so they may have decided not to tell me about a potential bear. Besides, Helen and everyone knows I really don’t go on that end of the property.”

“Why not?” Raelle asked. She poured their coffee from a silver pot and tucked into her cannoli.

Sylla shrugged, taking a bite of her own dessert. She considered how to answer the question, just what she was ready to tell the blonde, then settled on partial truths.

“My mom had a couple hot houses out there. She did a lot of research on various plants and fungi. After my parents died, I just didn’t like to go out there anymore. The plants around the house are one thing, but all of that was her life’s work and it just stopped. Besides, some of the stuff she grew out there is really poisonous.”

Raelle’s brows rose. She hadn’t seen anything like that, but again, Helen had interrupted her before she could do much exploring.

“Would you prefer I pick another spot?”

“No,” Scylla answered after a few minutes, “the clearing should be fine.”

“Good, maybe once I’ve got it set up you’ll come shoot with me again.”

“Maybe,” Scylla answered.

They finished their dessert, and despite Scylla’s insistence that it was her turn to pay for the date, Raelle paid.

They were making their way to the front of the restaurant when Raelle had the sense that something was wrong.

There were a lot more people standing around the front lobby then there should have been for people just waiting to be seated. Immediately she began to see the flashes and hear clicks. She stepped in front of Scylla, attempting to shield her but she could feel the crowd pressing in. The maître d', seeing the distress that her paying VIP customers were in, stepped forward with the help of a couple of waiters and pushed the crowd back.

Before they could get out of earshot though, she heard the reporters firing off questions.

“Scylla, is this your new girlfriend?”

“Hey, blondie, what’s your name?”

“Is it true you blew off Ellen because you were with blondie here?”

Raelle rolled her eyes and looked at the brunette.

“Fuck, Rae,” Scyl hissed.

Raelle backtracked into the dining area, away from the crowed and grabbed a waitress on the way to the kitchen by the arm. She took out her wallet and thrust a few bills in her hand and explained what she needed. The waitress looked curiously at Scylla and then hurried off to the back.

“What was that?” Scylla asked.

“Did anyone know we were coming here, tonight?” Raelle asked.

“Well, I had Gerit make…” Scylla’s eyes widened. “Oh God, Rae I’m so sorry.”

Raelle’s jaw clenched but she shook her head. “It’s okay.”

“What did you have that waitress do?”

“She’s getting my car and bringing it to the alley entrance. We can slip out that way.”

The waitress returned a few minutes later and they were able to slip out into the night. As Raelle whipped the car out of the alleyway, they could see the crowd of people and reporters still pressing at the door to the restaurant.

“Well, we may not be welcomed back there,” Raelle said.

“Shame,” Scylla said, “they had great gnocchi.”

Raelle looked over at Scylla who met her gaze and both burst into a fit of laughter.

Back at the house, Scylla and Raelle both stalked in, intent on finding Gerit. They didn’t have far to go as he met them just inside one of the living areas.

Izadora sat on the couch and Byron paced back and forth, only stopping when his sister approached. He pulled her into a hug. “Thank goodness you’re okay.”

“No thanks to Gerit,” Scylla said, glaring at her publicist.

“It wasn’t me.” Gerit said. “Though it looks like they will already have more footage.”

While Gerit showed Scylla a video of her and Raelle at dinner apparently taken with a cell phone, Byron stepped forward with a copy of the Massachusetts Gazette and handed it to Raelle. It was already folded open to the Celebrity gossip section and Raelle’s brows shot up as she read the article.

 

Massachusetts Gazette
Celebrity Column
October 10, 2021

The Witch has a Familiar

Male fans of singer, songwriter, and actress Scylla Ramshorn may be out of luck. Rumor has it that the sexy siren will be featured in an upcoming edition of The Advocate where she’ll spill all of her sexy secrets and talk about—that’s right—her love of all things female. Could it be she already has a special someone in her life and in her bed? These photos were obtained by a source close to the musician. My, don’t they look cozy? So far Ms. Ramshorn has been unavailable for comment.

 

Raelle looked at the photos that accompanied the article. They were clearly from the photoshoot when her arms were around Scylla. It was after Gregorio had finished taking pictures. She remembered holding the musician afterwards, one of their first real intimate moments. It looked like someone there had used their cell phone to take more pictures and leak them. It could have been one of the other models or the work crew, but she was certain that was Gerit. After a moment Raelle tossed the paper down on the nearby coffee table.

“I don’t have time for this,” Raelle said.

“Well,” Gerit said, “you’ll have to make time. If you can take the time to whisk Scylla away to some bum fuck hick town and screw up her interviews then you can take the time to respond to this.”

He stared at the blonde, his face the visage of smug triumph.

Raelle gave a mirthless laugh, “I don’t need to respond to shit and I don’t work for you.”

Scylla winced at Raelle’s tone. “Raelle, I’m really sorry that this has happened.”

The brunette moved closer, attempting to reach out to Raelle.

“This means nothing,” Raelle said sidestepping the musician and turned around looked over at Gerit. “You want a response? Write it yourself. I’ve got a job to do.”

With that Raelle stalked out of the room and down the hall.

Scylla caught her at the door and reached for her arm, “Raelle, please.”

Raelle stopped and took a deep breath before turning to the musician. “Please what, Scyl?”

Scylla closed her eyes and took a shuddering breath, “I know that you must be angry about the obvious leak and I’m sorry that this happened. That’s the only reason I objected to you taking pictures with me. I didn’t want your name dragged though the gossip columns.”

Raelle reached out and gently grasped Scylla’s chin with her hand. Softly she said, “I don’t care about that. I only care about doing my job and keeping you safe. I can’t do that when I have to deal with these types of distractions.”

Scylla swallowed taking Raelle’s hand away from her chin and squeezing it. “I will take care of this.”

Raelle nodded, “Good.”

“Rae? For what it’s worth, I had a good time tonight.” Scylla added.

Raelle nodded, “So did I.”

With that Raelle leaned forward, kissed Scylla gently on the lips, and then left the mansion for her guest house.

Chapter Text

The next few days were extremely hectic and it seemed like every time that Raelle and Scylla attempted to get a few minutes of alone time another photoshoot or interview or concert would get in the way. The only free time available for them to be alone was in the middle of the night. However, Gerit had Scylla’s schedule so jammed packed that nine out of ten times the musician fell asleep in the limo on the way back to the mansion.

As Byron and Raelle sat in the back of the limo on the way back from another concert, they both looked at each other and then back to the brunette who had literally fell asleep mid-sentence.

Her charge safely resting, Raelle let her own head drop back against the leather seat cushion as she recounted the recent times they’d spent together. They managed to have lunch together in the mansion one afternoon and another chance to play together in the brunette’s studio early one morning.  There were a couple of other moments here and there but no real time to connect like they’d had at Raelle’s house.

As she sat there, their most recent encounter came to mind.  It had been a particularly chilly morning a few days ago while Raelle shivered along the walking paths doing her security checks and she’d almost ran straight into the brunette on a morning jog.

Scylla had looked incredible, her cheeks rosy from the cold, her breath coming out in white puffs in the cold fall air.

“Good morning,” Scylla said, still moving in place, keeping up her heart rate and trying to stay warm in the running suit.

“Good morning yourself,” Raelle had answered, smiling at the brunette.

“Run with me?”

“In this weather?”

Scylla being her typical self, had just nodded and laughed, “C’mon, live a little.”

Raelle had quirked a brow, “Warm me up afterwards?”

“Absolutely, if you can keep up.”

With that Scylla ran off and Raelle laughed, running to catch up with the brunette.

And so they had jogged a good portion of the footpaths and ended up back at the guest house about an hour later, both panting and laughing and in Raelle’s case still fucking freezing.  As they stumbled through the door, Scylla reached for the blonde and slid her hands under Raelle’s hoodie.

The cold of Scylla’s hands on Raelle’s stomach made her shiver and shivers turned to shudders as Scylla teased at Raelle’s nipples. Raelle dipped her head down, capturing the musician’s lips and reached out a hand to slam the guest house door.

Raelle shifted uncomfortably in the limo snapping back to reality and realizing she was getting herself worked up for nothing. She looked at the sleeping beauty across from her now and then glanced over at Byron who looked just as tired as she felt.

“When does this stop?” Raelle asked Scylla’s brother. “She’s exhausted.”

Byron looked at Raelle and shrugged, “She’s booked through till Fort Salem at the end of the month and then she’s got a couple Christmas concerts scheduled and one around New Year’s Eve but that’s about it until January.”

“So we just need to make it through Halloween and she gets a break?” Raelle asked and looked at the still dozing brunette, hoping that the woman could make it that long.

“Yep.”

“So what’s this film festival thing tomorrow?”

“Oh it’s a big to do,” Byron said.  “Lots of hopeful screenwriters, actresses, and wannabe film producers hobnobbing with rich celebrities.”

Raelle rolled her eyes, “Sounds like a ball.”

Byron laughed, “Oh yeah, it’s a good time. This particular festival is all about the horror genre so of course they have it close to Halloween.  There’s always a big party complete with costumes and people in cos play before the films start.”

“And Scylla likes it?” Raelle asked. She’d got the impression Scylla would much rather be in her studio then be at a big party with people running around in masks and watching horror films.

“It’s not really her thing, no, but one of our old friends Beth is the Artistic Director and this year they are going to show some of her work. So I know she’s been nagging at Scylla to come.”

“Hmm.” Raelle answered.

The limo pulled up to the house and Byron roused his sister from her slumber.

As they got out of the limo, Scylla said her goodnight to the bodyguard and gave her a kiss on the cheek. Raelle watched the Ramshorn siblings as they walked to the house and saw Bryon as he dipped his head and whispered something to his sister as they reached the steps. Byron walked up the steps and inside the house pausing to give Raelle a small wave, but Scylla stopped and turned back to Raelle.  

She called out to the blonde. “Call over to the house tomorrow about an hour before we have to go festival and I’ll send Moffett over to help you get dressed.”

Raelle’s brow quirked, “I can dress myself just fine, Scylla.”

“And I can undress you just as easily,” the brunette teased and then yawned despite herself. “Seriously, some sort of costume is mandatory. Even if it’s just a mask. She can help you figure something out.”

Raelle nodded, “Okay, Scyl. Goodnight.”

As she headed to the guest house she pondered what Scylla would wear for the festival.

 

Raelle decided she would consent to a mask, but she wasn’t wearing a costume. Although she’d been given access to the guest list for the party and everyone checked out, there was still a chance that there would be a last minute addition and she would need to be ready to fulfill her duties as needed.  

She rolled her eyes at the idea of calling someone over to professionally get her ready for the festival, but she didn’t want her appearance to make Scylla look bad in front of people that she knew. After she showered she slipped on a robe and made the call.

Moffett arrived about ten minutes later carrying two large cases and Porter was lugging a box behind her.  Raelle took the cases from Moffett and Porter put the box down by the door. He offered Raelle a small smile.

“Aren’t you going tonight?” Raelle asked.

“Yeah, but I’ll probably just stay in the limo with Helen so no costume for me.” He gave the girls a nod and headed back out into the cold.

Moffett looked at Raelle and grinned.  “So let’s go look at your closet.”

Raelle walked with Glory back into the bedroom and opened her closet.  Immediately Moffett moved in, sliding clothes on hangers this way and that. The girl finally chose one of Raelle’s better tailored black suits. She rummaged through her blouses, settling on a blue satin one that Raelle thought would match Scylla’s eyes.  Next she went through the blonde’s shoes and insisted that Raelle wear heels.

“Okay, let’s talk costumes.”

“I’m not wearing a bunch of accessories.”

Moffett held up her hands, “I know, you have to be ready to be all bodyguard-ish. So, Scylla wants a bird theme this year and is wearing a Masquerade ball mask of a crow and I thought I’d bring some similar ones for you to try.”

“I can’t have anything that’s going to mess with my field of vision.”

“I know, I know.” Moffett walked to the box that Porter had brought in and began going through the various masks. She settled on a few and turned to the blonde for her approval.

The masks were relatively simple and Raelle found herself drawn to one that had black feathers that almost shimmered blue depending on how the light hit it. The feathers weren’t overly extravagant like some of the masks and she asked about it.

“Satin bowerbird.” Moffett explained. “It would actually look really good with the blouse and I think I heard somewhere that they love the color blue.”

“Okay.” Raelle knew that she certainly loved Scylla’s eyes.

“So on to make-up and hair.”

Moffett had Raelle take a seat in the bathroom while she plugged in a curler.

“I was thinking we’d go for the same style as the photoshoot. Is that alright?”

Raelle nodded and Moffett quickly styled her hair the way she wanted it. Next, she moved to the make-up where she focused on making sure that there was plenty of blue hues that would pop through the eye holes on the mask. She worked on adding mascara and picked a simple lip gloss.  She added a little bit of shimmer to Raelle’s neck and chest and then once done nodded her approval.

Raelle finished dressing and the girl opened a small blue velvet case.  As she handed her a necklace with two feather pendants, one gold and one silver, Raelle looked at it curiously.

“Scylla sent it over.” Moffett explained.  “She wanted you to have it and wear it tonight.”

Raelle’s brow quirked but she put on the necklace and the matching earrings.

Lastly, Raelle slipped on her belt and pancake holster again to minimize the chances of people seeing her weapon.

She took the mask from Moffett and raised her brows in question.

“You look great, Raelle. “ Moffett said.

The blonde bent down to pick up the cases and carry them back for the girl, but she just shook her head. “I’ll have someone from the house bring everything back over later. I don’t want you getting yourself messed up. Just go on out to the limo.”

Raelle nodded and did as she was told.

As she approached the car, she could see Helen and Porter talking with one another. Both stopped and looked at the bodyguard, complete with her bowerbird mask.

“Don’t say a thing.” Raelle warned.

“I’m not saying shit,” Helen said, already laughing.

Porter smiled at the blonde. “You look really nice, Raelle.”

“Thanks,” Raelle answered and got into the car.

Byron and Scylla were already waiting inside, both holding bird masks in their hands. Scylla was wearing a black satin dress and Byron was sporting a pair of black trousers, a black shirt, and a teal blazer complete with some sort of sequins.

“Peacock?” Raelle guessed as she settled down across from the siblings.

Byron laughed and nodded, “I wanted to go as a penguin, but Scylla wouldn’t let me.”

Raelle turned to Scylla and quirked a brow, “No gay penguins allowed?”

Scylla smiled warmly at her bodyguard. “You look wonderful, Raelle.”

Raelle deliberately touched her necklace and said, “Thank you. So do you.”

Scylla nodded and leaned forward, squeezing Raelle’s hand. “Thank you for coming.”

Byron rolled his eyes, “Helen let’s get a move on before I get sick back here!”

Before Helen pulled out though, one more guest joined them in the limo. Apparently Gerit didn’t get the bird theme memo and sat down beside Raelle, sporting a full wolf mask. She had no doubt that the evil grin on the mask matched the one on the man’s face underneath it.

 

The Tarim Theatre was one of the old picture palaces built back in late 1920s and while they had modernized the technology, the owners had restored everything else back to its original glory. As they walked up the marble steps and through the glass double doors, Raelle paused with the others to put on her mask. Gerit moved passed them and Raelle could only wonder what the wolf would be up to tonight.  

Large bronze comedy and tragedy statues stood guard at the end of a short hallway that opened up into a large two storied open lobby. As they walked passed the statues Raelle scanned the room and took in her surroundings.  Everywhere she looked she saw the grandeur of marble, gold, and velvet. A humungous crystal chandelier cast the room in harsh bright lights. All around her people flitted about dressed to the nines in ball gowns, tuxedoes, and masks. Interspersed among those dressed elegantly were people in costumes ranging from seductive to macabre. She could see staff dressed in all black and simple white phantom of the opera style masks scurrying around with trays of drinks and hors d'oeuvres.

All the masks made Raelle nervous and she found herself subconsciously checking for her weapon. Scylla noticed the gesture and gazed at Raelle through her elaborately feathered mask.

“You okay?”

“Yeah,” Raelle answered offering Scylla a nervous smile.

Scylla looked like she was about to say something, but the sound of her name being called from above made her and Raelle both turn toward the sound.

A gorgeous dark haired woman dressed in something Halle Berry would have worn in Cat Woman right down to the cat mask waved down to the musician from the top of a grand staircase.  Without warning Scylla started across the room toward the staircase and Byron and Raelle rushed to keep up with her.

The woman bounded down the stairs and the two met at the bottom and embraced. To Raelle’s absolute shock the woman kissed Scylla on the lips and the musician returned the kiss and then offered the dark haired woman additional kisses on each cheek.

Raelle looked sideways at Byron and whispered, “Who is that?”

“Beth Treefine. The old friend that I mentioned.”

“Just how good of friends?” Raelle muttered, despite herself.

Byron shrugged, “With Scylla you never really know.”

As they approached the two women, cat woman as Raelle was already beginning to think of her, turned to look at them and smiled.  “Byron you look as a gay as ever.”

“I do try,” Byron answered strutting forward and giving Beth a kiss on each cheek.

Raelle noticed that neither attempted a kiss on the lips.

He stepped back beside Raelle and looked up at Scylla, tilting his head in Raelle’s direction.

Quickly the musician introduced Beth to Raelle.

“So this is the famous bodyguard I’m hearing so much about.” Beth took her time letting her gaze rake over the bodyguard and then took a step forward.  Without warning she leaned in, and Raelle practically had to jerk her head to the side so that Beth’s lips just missed her mouth and grazed her cheek instead.

Beth stepped back giving the blonde a small pout, “Well, Raelle, if you don’t mind, I’m going to take Scylla with me for a little while. She’ll be perfectly safe in my hands.”

“I really shouldn’t leave Ms. Ramshorn alone,” Raelle said looking at the musician.

Beth laughed loudly and stepped into the bodyguard’s personal space, “Well you can frisk me if you feel the need to check for weapons.”

“I can see everything I need to see from here, thanks.” Raelle answered taking a step back.

“Well that’s what you bodyguard types are supposed to do, right? You like to watch but you don’t really get to touch.”

Raelle’s jaw clenched but she managed to release it and smile, “That’s right, Ms. Treefine.”

“Rae,” Scylla said interjecting, “I’ll be fine.” She gave her bodyguard a reassuring smile, “I’ll see you inside the theatre.”

Raelle reluctantly nodded and Beth slipped a hand around Scylla’s waist and led her back up the stairs. As they walked away, Raelle could hear Beth say, “Well, she’s sure an upgrade from Porter.”

“Looks like the cat caught her crow,” Byron muttered.  He looked over at Raelle, his expression apologetic. “Do you mind if I mingle?”

“No,” Raelle answered. “I’ll be fine.”

Raelle was not fine. She was glad for the mask as it would at least hide some of the hurt on her face.  A part of her knew she was being ridiculous. This wasn’t a date after all. She was accompanying her client on an outing with a friend. Or was Beth just a friend? And was it an outing or was Scylla meant to be Beth’s date? As the thoughts rushed through Raelle’s mind she didn’t even notice the blonde dressed in full She-Ra cosplay walk up to her and offer her a glass of champagne until it was thrust under her nose.

“You look like you’ve lost your flock, sweetie.”

Raelle took the glass and looked at the woman. “Uh, thanks. I don’t think bowerbirds really flock though.”

The blonde laughed easily and offered a hand, “I’m Michelle.”

“Nice to meet you.” Raelle answered politely and took the hand.

“So you’re with Scylla Ramshorn?” Michelle continued.

“Uh, bodyguard. I’m her bodyguard.” Raelle answered. “Actually, I’m working now.” She gestured to the glass. “Thanks for this, though.”

Michelle shrugged, disappointment apparent but took the cue to leave gracefully and sauntered back into the crowd.

Raelle forced herself to focus on her duty instead of wondering about what Scylla was doing with Beth. She walked the perimeter of the room, noting the various exits and inner rooms. After surveying the bottom floor she headed up the staircase and made her rounds there. As she mingled, she finally caught sight of Scylla and Beth coming out of a door marked “Private: Staff Only.”  Her jaw clenched at the intimacy with which Beth was still touching Scylla every chance she got. She watched as the two ladies made their way across the room and was surprised to realize that they were walking in her direction.

Raelle held her ground, waiting for them to walk the final few feet.

“Well, Raelle, here you go.” Beth said as they stopped in front of her. “Scylla’s all safe and sound and yours.” Cat woman turned to Scylla and pecked her cheek, “I’ll catch you again at intermission.”

Scylla nodded stiffly, “Sure Beth.”

Raelle noticed that Scylla didn’t return the kiss.  She looked down at Scylla, pale blue eyes studying the musician’s cerulean ones.  “Everything okay?”

“Yeah, just peachy,” Scylla nodded. “I could use a drink, though.”

Raelle nodded and grabbed a glass from a passing tray and handed it to the brunette. Her brow rose from behind her mask as the brunette tipped it back and drained the drink in one go.

Scylla handed the empty glass back to Raelle. “I should visit the ladies room before we go inside. We’ve only got a few minutes.”

Raelle nodded and gestured toward the nearest restroom. She watched as Scylla made her way to the door.

 A few minutes later after the musician had returned they tracked down Byron and made their way into the theatre. The space was as ornately decorated as the outer rooms and Raelle couldn’t helped but be impressed by how elegant everything looked. The room was cold though, and as they took their seats and removed their masks, Raelle could see Scylla shiver beside her and she removed her suit jacket, draping it over the musician’s bare legs.

“Thank you,” Scylla whispered as the lights in the theatre flashed a warning.  A moment later the theatre went dark save a lone spotlight on the stage.

A man wearing an old fashioned tuxedo complete with a top hat walked out from behind large red velvet curtains that were trimmed in gold.   He had on make-up that made him resemble Pennywise the dancing clown and even had on white gloves and blood red shoes.

As the spotlight fixed on him, he began to speak. “Good evening ladies and gentleman. And hello witches and demons and heroes and villains.  I am your host, Mycroft Maxwell. We are honored here tonight to be among some of the best and brightest in their arts. For over fifteen years the Tarim Theatre has played host to our little underground film festival.”

Behind him the curtains were pulled back to reveal a large screen and as he spoke images began to flash behind him.

“We delight in unconventional stories, nightmarish dreamscapes, and the macabre. Tonight’s films will shock you, they will frighten you, they may make you laugh, and they might even sicken you, but I promise that they will leave you changed.”

Beside her Scylla shivered again and Raelle looked over at the musician. She could see Scylla’s obvious discomfort. She wasn’t sure if it was the gruesome horror images that had flashed on the screen or the temperature of the room that made her so uncomfortable. A part of her wondered if it had something to do with Beth Treefine and that thought and the jealousy it sparked deep down somewhere in Raelle’s core more than anything else spurred her to slide her hand beneath the jacket and let her fingers run along the top of Scylla’s bare leg and push the fabric of her dress up. The brunette stiffened beneath her touch, then slid her own hand under the jacket, grasping Raelle’s hand and squeezing it tightly.

Raelle bit her lip and puffed out a breath, but put her attention back to the man on stage. He continued on for several minutes, talking about past festivals and thanking this donor and that contributor.  Eventually he introduced some of the staff and as Beth came onto the stage, Raelle felt Scylla stiffen again.

Raelle leaned over, whispering in Scylla’s ear, “Are you sure you’re okay?”

 

Scylla didn’t speak for a moment then let go of Raelle’s hand.  She put her mouth close to Raelle’s ear, her breath tickling the blonde’s neck and said simply, “Distract me.”

“Sure you don’t want her to distract you?” Raelle asked, nodding at the woman on the stage. As soon as the words came out of her mouth, she regretted it.

She watched Scylla’s jaw clench beside her and the brunette shifted away from her. “Fine.”

Raelle sighed and looked back up at the stage. There the staff of the festival made their closing comments and exited stage right as Maxwell introduced the first film.  He stepped down and the movie started.

As the opening credits flashed on the screen, Raelle started to move her hand but was stopped by Scylla grabbing at her wrist and guiding her hand between her legs as she shifted back toward the blonde.

“Distract me,” the musician repeated and this time her voice sounded like a plea.

Raelle felt her pulse quicken, and as Scylla uncrossed her legs the blonde shifted her position letting her hand brush across the singer’s center. Raelle heard Scylla’s sharp intake of breath and as she exhaled, Raelle let her hand move again, her fingers touching the musician over her underwear. She could feel the heat coming off of the brunette in waves.

On the screen, the movie played, something about an escort service for vampires and Raelle continued moving her hand until Scylla was trembling under her.  She turned slightly toward the musician, leaning into her and whispered, “Distracted yet?”

Scylla whispered in Raelle’s ear. “I want you inside me.”

The confession made the blonde shudder. Quickly, her eyes darted around the theatre seeing everyone else’s gaze glued to the screen.  She shifted her hand, pushing Scylla’s underwear to the side. As her fingers teased the brunette’s entrance, she had to bite back a moan at how wet she was. Scylla shifted in her seat, pressing against Raelle’s hand and the blonde moved her fingers inside of her. Raelle watched as Scylla bit back a moan. She slid her fingers in and out, watching the brunette and listening for the slightest shift in her breath. They couldn’t have timed it better if they had tried. At a particularly loud part in the movie with some witless blonde on the screen yelling at the top of her lungs after finding her boyfriend dead, Scylla climaxed and went limp in the seat beside Raelle.

Raelle shuddered in the seat beside the brunette. The musician may have had her release, but Raelle was uncomfortably on edge. Touching Scylla, bringing her pleasure, it all threatened to overwhelm her senses completely. She leaned over, kissing the brunette on the cheek before leaning back in her own seat, eyes closed attempting to drone out the noise of the film. Beside her Scylla shifted, leaning her head on her bodyguard’s shoulder.

Neither noticed the man in the wolf mask watching them from across the room.

When the film came to an end and the lights came back on, Scylla set up and looked over at Raelle with a smirk. Her pupils were still blown and Raelle swallowed at sight of the woman before her. Scylla leaned over and kissed Raelle on the cheek. She stood up, handing the blonde her suit jacket and looked down at her bodyguard. 

“We’ve got a thirty minute intermission and I know a place we can go.” She reached out a hand and Raelle took it, nearly stumbling to her feet.

As they walked to the same door that Scylla had emerged from with Beth earlier, Raelle hesitated and looked at Scylla.  The brunette shrugged and tapped the code on the key pad. “I watched Beth enter the code earlier.” She walked in the room and looked back at her bodyguard expectantly. Raelle swallowed and followed her inside closing the door behind her.  She barely had time to take in the small office before Scylla was on her.

Raelle wanted to stop Scylla. She wanted to ask the brunette what the hell she’d been doing with Beth in the first place. She wanted to know if they had done exactly what Scylla was doing now which was pressing Raelle against the closed door.  But Raelle didn’t ask. Instead she let the brunette kiss her, let her trail hot kisses down her neck, and let her unbuckle the belt on her pants with small clink. As Scylla brushed her thumb over Raelle’s clit the blonde felt her mind empty of everything but the siren in front of her. As her eyes started to roll back in head, Scylla’s voice brought her eyes back into focus.

“Let me take care you.”

She met Scylla’s gaze, and could see that brunette only had Raelle on her mind.

After leaving the small office and cleaning up in the restroom, they barely had time to grab drinks before heading back into the theatre. As they walked by a table set up at the entrance, Raelle grabbed a couple of bags of popcorn for them and they reached their seats just as the lights began to flash. Maxwell took the stage again and introduced the next film.

The two opened their bags of popcorn and began to munch as the opening credits started to roll.  Thank goodness the film was a farce and Raelle and Scylla both found themselves laughing at the antics on the screen. When the show came to an end, Raelle stretched out her legs and looked over at the brunette. “How much more do we have tonight?”

“Just one more show.” Scylla said.

Raelle reluctantly got up and reached a hand out for Scylla. The brunette took it and stood up beside the blonde.  They both donned their masks again as they walked out into the lobby.  Scylla slipped her arm in Raelle’s and let her head rest on the side of her bodyguard’s shoulder.

“Tired?” Raelle asked.

“You wore me out,” Scylla said, lightly chuckling.  She stifled a yawn and watched as Beth made her way over to them.

“Well, what do you think so far?” Beth asked, looking back and forth between the two glowing women.

Scylla smiled at her friend. “It’s off to a great start.”

“Good. I’m just sorry you won’t be able to attend the other nights.”

The brunette nodded, “I know, but Gerit’s got my schedule so full I can barely breathe.”

“Yep, well that’s what happens when you go winning awards and trying for more.”  Beth stopped a waiter and grabbed some drinks for them. “I overheard Gerit talking to Maxwell. He said he’d wager you’d win an Oscar by next year.”

Scylla snorted. “I don’t know about that.”

“Yeah well, we’ll see. I always knew you had it in you.”

“Thank you, Beth. You’ve always been extremely talented, too.”

Beth smiled at the compliment. “I’m working on it. I’ve got to get back inside for the last show. I hope you enjoy it.”

“Is it your film?” Raelle asked politely.

“Yeah, it is. Hopefully it will help end the night with a bang.” Beth leaned in kissing Scylla on the cheek. This time the musician kissed her back.

Before Beth could try to kiss her, Raelle took matters into her own hands and mimicked Scylla, kissing the woman’s other cheek.

Beth returned the gesture and beamed at Raelle.

“Well, Raelle, it was lovely to meet you. Take care of this one.”

“I will,” Raelle answered, slipping an arm around Scylla’s waist.

Beth’s smile faltered for just a fraction of a second and then nodded and headed off toward the theatre.

“You gonna tell me about what happened between you two tonight?” Raelle asked Scylla as she watched the dark haired cat woman go.

Scylla nodded, “The short version? Nothing happened. And that was a problem for her.”

Raelle looked into Scylla’s eyes for a moment and then nodded. “You two used to be close?”

“That was a long time ago. We were friends, Rae. Nothing more.”

“And now?”

“And now I’m in a position to help her career.”

“Will you?” Raelle asked.

Scylla shrugged, “I don’t know yet.” She smiled and looked up at the bodyguard. “But someone recently told me I should focus on doing the best good I could do each day.”

Raelle smiled at the musician, “Ready to go back for the final show?”

“Yeah,” Scylla answered as she walked with Raelle back into the theatre.

Chapter Text

He had watched the Angel fall from grace right before his very eyes through the mask in the theatre. He had seen the dirty things that the witch had made the blonde do. Once again she was using her workings at conjuring on another soul. What pain would she put this one through before she was tossed to the side? He was familiar with the pain that the bitch inflicted on others. He had hoped that this one would have been stronger than that. It disappointed him that this woman was just as weak as the others and would have to die.

He would give her one final warning before taking action, but first he would drop off his presents.  He took both gifts to places that he knew that the siren had been.  It was unlikely that she would be there when the presents were found but she would find out about them and she would wonder.  She would know that they came from him.

***

Massachusetts Gazette
Celebrity Column
October 16, 2021

Cinemaphiles lucky enough to snag a seat on the first night of the Annual Fever Dreams Festival at The Tarim Theatre got a double feature of a treat. Not only did they get to see the newest film Twisted Confessions from the festival’s Artistic Director Bethany Treefine, but they also got the opportunity to see siren Scylla Ramshorn and her new bodyguard rumored to be her secret girlfriend. The sexy siren denied the rumors that the dashing blonde was more than just the newest member of her staff.

According to Ms. Ramshorn she was at the festival to support her longtime friend Treefine and promote her newest work. She hinted that she would soon be releasing a song inspired by the film.  Mycroft Maxwell, managing director and host for the festival commented that it was the best turn out that they’d had in years and hoped to see many of the same artists and guests again in upcoming festivals. 

Those interested in seeing more of Scylla and her sibling Byron Ramshorn should get tickets while they last to his Gallery Exhibition Opening at The Hague Gallery October 22, 2021. Although it is less than a week away, the title of the exhibition as well as its featured painting has been kept a closely guarded secret by the painter and the gallery.

 

Raelle sat across from Scylla at the main house dining room finishing her coffee after breakfast when the comments in the Celebrity Section made the brew go bitter on her tongue.  Denied rumors. She’d just put the paper down with a sigh, when Parker shuffled into the room holding a cordless phone.

Raelle had never seen the man walk that fast and apparently neither had the musician because she instantly looked up from her book with concern etched on her face.

 “Everything okay, Parker?”

“I’m fine ma’am,” Parker said to Scylla with a smile. He looked over at Raelle and asked, “Ms. Collar?”

“Yes?”  Raelle asked.

“Sorry to disturb you ma’am, but you have a call. It’s a Ms. Craven from the FBI.”

Raelle immediately looked down at her cell phone on the table and saw she had multiple missed calls from Tally. She furrowed her brows wondering how she could have missed them all and then realized she’d never turned her phone off of its silent setting after the festival the night before.

She took the phone from Parker, “Tally?”

“Raelle, you need to get here now. I’ll text you the address.”

“Where are you?” Raelle asked.

“The morgue.”

“What’s happened, Tal?”  Raelle asked voice filled with dread.

“We found the body from the photos.”

“Oh God,” Raelle groaned.

“There’s more, Rae.”

Raelle listened to Tally as she picked up her cell phone and looked at the address Tally had texted her. She calculated the distance and as soon as the red head quit talking said, “I’ll be there in an hour.”

Raelle turned off the phone, handed it to Parker, and looked at the brunette.  “What’s your schedule like today?”

Scylla quirked a brow, “Why?”

Raelle shook her head, “It doesn’t matter. Whatever it is, cancel it.”

“What?” Scylla asked.

“Look Scyl, I don’t have time to explain. Just don’t go off the property until I get back.”

Raelle stood up and placed a call to the internal security line on her cell as she walked out of the dining room and headed toward the front door of the mansion, the brunette trailing behind her.

“Get me Porter,” Raelle said to the voice that answered the line. She ended the call without further comment and put her phone in her pocket.

“Where are you going?” Scylla asked.

“I need to meet my friend from the FBI.” 

Porter met them just as they reached the front door.

“You needed something Raelle?” Porter asked, smiling at both of them.

Raelle looked at security guard for a long moment. He may have not been the smartest tool in the shed, but she believed he’d try to keep Scylla safe. “You know how to use a gun?”

Porter’s eyes widened as did Scylla’s. He shot an odd look at the brunette and then looked back at Raelle. After a few nervous swallows, he nodded and forced the words to come out, “Yes ma’am, I do.”

Raelle reached into her pocket and handed him a key. “That’s to the case in the guest house. Find something that suits you and stick to Scylla until I get back. ”

Porter nodded and hurried back out of the mansion.

“What’s happened Rae?” Scylla asked, grabbing at the blonde’s arm. “Why are you giving Porter a gun? Why are you insisting that I stay in the house?”

Raelle looked at Scylla. She didn’t want to tell her what was going on knowing it would frighten her, but she also felt things had become as bad as they were now because everyone had kept the musician in the dark. 

“They found a body, Scyl. One that looks a lot like the one in the photos that psycho sent you.”  After a slight hesitation she added, “There’s a second one, too.”

“A second body?” Scylla asked. She dropped her hand from Raelle and took a step back. It was obvious she was having a difficult time accepting that there was even the first. “Gerit kept insisting it was a hoax.”

“It’s not. I have to meet my FBI friend and go see it for myself. I shouldn’t be gone more than a few hours.”

Raelle turned to leave and Scylla called out, “Rae, I…just get back here as soon as you can.”

Raelle didn’t turn back to the brunette, but she nodded at the door before she opened it, “I will Scyl. Please stay put.”

***

Raelle pulled up to the oddly cheerful looking building and parked her car. In the space beside her a dark blue Dodge Charger idled, Tally behind the wheel. As the red head turned her vehicle off and stepped out of the car, Raelle did the same.

“I was worried about you Rae. Why didn’t you answer your phone?”

Despite the circumstances Raelle found herself smiling and blushing. “I was with Scylla.”

“With her or WITH her?” Tally asked, as she playfully emphasized the second option, her eyes widening.

“Yeah, let’s just say a lot has happened.” Raelle said, flashing her friend a sly grin.

Tally looked like she wanted to jump and down and squeal and had they not been standing in the parking lot of a morgue, she would have done just that.  Instead she flashed the blonde a smile and said, “Promise to tell me everything after this.”

Raelle nodded and together they walked into the building. The smell hit her like a smack in the face. You could have woke her up in the middle of the night, blindfolded her,  and drove her around in circles and then dropped her off inside a building and she could immediately tell you if she was a morgue. It didn’t matter which one or in what country. They all smelled the same: stale death thinly veiled by sickly sweet disinfectant.

When they entered a room at the end of hall, the medical examiner was already waiting for them. There were two gurneys side by side and the handsome blonde haired, green eyed woman gave them a curt nod.

“Doctor Alice Monroe, this is Raelle Collar.”

 Alice gave the former military policeman turned private bodyguard a once over and decided she didn’t need to worry about cleaning up puke with this one. She could always tell who was going to be able to handle the horrors her house put on display under the industrial strength lighting and who would be depositing the remnants of their last meal on her clean floors.

“Nice to meet you Raelle, sorry for the circumstances.” Alice said. After Raelle returned the greeting, she showed them to the supply closet. Despite all the preliminary investigations having been completed, she didn’t allow anyone near a body that wasn’t behind a screen in the viewing room, without full gear. The bodies were usually so badly decomposed, the suits were just an attempt to preserve what was left of the remains and provided just a little assistance to dull the smell.

Once they were suited and ready, the examiner walked over to one of the gurneys and lifted the sheet.

Raelle knew what to expect from the photos, but the photos didn’t show the details. In person, the examiner had cleaned up the body, the eyes were still wide open, with a Y incision sewed into the chest. The body was so distorted from where it once was in the photos.  It was difficult to imagine this figure was the same person in the photos that was in the envelope left on the limo and Byron took to the house. Through the disfigurement she saw the features of the face that matched the singers.  The piercing blue eyes that once mirrored Scylla's were now painted over with a milky film. She had been chosen merely because of her resemblance to the singer, and it made Rae shudder to think what he would do to the actual Scylla Ramshorn.

Alice didn’t give her much time to just look and instead began going over various slashes and cuts on the body. Raelle had to drag her eyes away from the word sexy that had been carved into the woman’s chest.

“So all of this was done with an estimated 5/6 inch serrated blade, like a large hunting knife. Then the gunshot to the head was the finishing move?” Raelle asked, leaning forward to examine the entrance wound at the girl’s temple.

“Yes,” Alice confirmed looking down at the jagged cuts on the woman’s chest. “The killer wanted to make it as painful as possible before she met her end.”  

Raelle looked at the angry wounds across the chest. There was something intimate and purposeful about it but also chaotic. This person had been in a rage but then calmly delivered a kill shot.

“They missed cutting anything vital.” Tally noted.

“They wanted to take their time with her until they were ready to kill her.”  Raelle said.

“And she was she sexually assaulted?”  Tally asked.

“We ran a kit and it showed there was trauma, and it was inflicted postmortem.” Alice answered.

“Thank the goddess.” Tally said as they examined the wounds.

They moved on to the second body and this time Raelle wasn’t able to hold back her reaction. As the sheet was fully removed, she could see two stumps where the woman’s feet should be.

Looking at Tally, she asked “Where’s the feet?”

Shaking her head, Tally answered. “They haven’t been recovered.”

“Right,” Raelle muttered.

The wounds on the second victim were nearly the same as the first save for the word ‘naughty’ instead of ‘sexy’ carved into the chest and the missing feet.

Alice was generous with her time and spent most of her morning with them answering questions and discussing theories.  Some tests were still out to the labs and she warned with the back log that it might take a few days for her to get back to them. It was inevitable, the medical examiner expected something in return for her time. .

Looking at Raelle she asked, “So, Scylla Ramshorn?”

Raelle met Alice’s gaze with a well-rehearsed expressionless face.

“Oh c’mon. The song? Sexy, Naughty, Bitchy? I’m missing a corpse, aren’t I?”

“No comment.” Raelle answered.

Alice rolled her eyes and Tally came to her rescue.

“Rae, Alice is good friends with Alder. We chose her personally to be involved. She can be discreet.”

“Okay,” Raelle answered, “As far as a third body…yeah, that’s the working theory.”

“Well I hope for the sake of future victims, let’s hope the person doing this doesn’t move on to her newer music.”

“Yeah,” Tally answered solemnly not wanting to think of the potential horrors if that was to happen.

Raelle’s brow quirked as she looked at the women in question.

“Burning witches,” Alice furnished.

Raelle thought about the doll at Beltane and shuddered. “We need to stop this.”

“Agreed,” Tally confirmed.

They doffed their gear and washed their hands at one of the industrial sinks.

Alice met them on the other side of the double doors and pulled out a card, wrote her cell number on it, and handed it to Raelle. “Call me if you’re ever in town with some free time and we can do lunch.”

Tally looked over at Raelle and bit back a laugh.

“Thanks,” Raelle said as she took the card from Alice and slipped it into the pocket of her Columbia windbreaker.

After receiving copies of the victims preliminary autopsy reports, Raelle and Tally made their way out of the morgue and Raelle took in a deep breath of the fresh air.

“So… lunch?” Tally said, laughing at her friend.

“Yeah,” Raelle answered, “lunch.”

 

The two friends decided to have lunch at the same café that they had dined at before with Abigail and after Raelle finished her sandwich she asked, “Hey Tal, why am I getting all this help from the FBI?”

Tally shrugged, “The Ramshorn name is well known. You know her dad was in government. Lots of people still want to protect her by proxy. Not to mention, she’s got a huge fan base of her own.”

Raelle shook her head, “Politics and show business. What a silly job I’m doing.”

The red head laughed and looked at her friend, “Okay Rae, I let you eat, now tell me the truth about the rumors I’ve been reading about in the papers.”

Raelle smiled, but the expression didn’t quite meet her eyes. “I don’t know, Tally.”

Tally met the pale blue eyes of her friend. “C’mon Rae, I know that you’re crazy about her.”

“I am,” Raelle admitted. “And I did exactly what I was afraid that I’d do. I got involved with her and now I can’t tell when to be her bodyguard and when to be her lover.”

Tally thought for a moment, her brows furrowed and then she answered, “Maybe you just do both all the time.”

“And what about when she wants to do something that’s not really safe or smart?”

“Then you tell her no?” Tally said, her response coming out more as a question then an answer.

Raelle blushed, “And what if I don’t want to say no?”

Tally’s eyes widened and she smiled, “Why do I think there’s a story here?”

After Raelle gave Tally the broad strokes of the theatre festival opening, Tally sat across from her friend for several minutes and sipped the spiced cider they’d ordered. She’d known Raelle since basic and she knew that although the blonde certainly had enjoyed the company of women, she’d never known her to be reckless.

“Rae, I know you can be…well…I know you like women.”

“You mean I like sex.”

“Right,” Tally answered, blushing. “But Goddess, Rae. In public and while you were working? That’s not like you.”

Raelle shook her head, “I know.” She sighed and took a sip of her cider. “That’s what I mean. There’s something about her, she could suggest jumping off a cliff and I’d probably go out and buy a parachute.”

“Well, at least you’d get a parachute.” Tally said. “See, there’s that. You’re still thinking with at least a part of your brain.”

Raelle laughed. “God Tal, I think I’m in trouble.”

“You mean you think that you’re falling in love.” Tally surmised.

“Yeah.” Raelle admitted as much to her friend as to herself.

“So have you talked to her about it?”

“No, and see that’s the thing.  We are constantly with each other but we never get alone time to talk about anything private and when we do we get time we end up fucking like bunnies. “

Tally’s face matched her hair for several seconds and she ducked behind her cider. “It was like that with you know who at first, too.”

Raelle’s brow quirked, and she seized at the chance to get the spotlight off her dilemma, “Oh? And how is it going with your Lady Voldemort?”

Tally laughed at Raelle’s impromptu code name for Sarah Alder.  “It’s going really good. I think I’m going to ask for that transfer after this case though.”

“Why?” Raelle asked, though she already suspected she knew the answer.

“It’s just too hard to keep it under wraps. We want to be out and about. It sucks having to sneak around all the time.”

The blonde nodded and ducked behind her own cup of cider. “Yeah. I get it.”

 Raelle did get how Tally was feeling. She didn’t want to be a denied rumor. She wanted to be Scylla’s girlfriend. But she wondered if that was what Scylla wanted. Raelle had asked Scylla to take care of the media stuff and the brunette had said that she would. Overthinking as she tended to do, she continued, was the denial just for the media’s sake? If so, then why hadn’t they taken the time to really talk about what was happening between them.

Once they finished their drinks, Raelle accompanied Tally back to the FBI office where they met with Alder and a couple of other agents assigned to the case. Everyone took their seats at the rectangular table.  At the head of the table stood Alder waiting for everyone to get settled. Of course, Tally had found her and Rae a seat closer to the head of the table.

 

"Okay people,” Alder began, “we all know that this started with Ms. Scylla Ramshorn receiving letters at her home.” 

“Yes, but she never saw them,” Raelle said.

“That’s what the publicist claimed?” A red haired agent in his early thirties asked almost directly across from where Rae and Tally were sitting.  Raelle could see his identity card read Trevor Mackintosh.

“Correct.” Raelle answered. “Gerit Buttonwood claims that he threw the first couple of letters in the trash without reporting to anyone else, staff or otherwise.”

“Then according to our timeline, doll came next,” Tally said. “Scylla Ramshorn’s brother found the doll inside the house and that’s what prompted Ms. Ramshorn’s manager to seek out a private bodyguard.” She nodded to Rae as her cue to take over.

“Right, but before I was actually hired, they found another note. And that’s what really freaked them out.”

“That was the one with the pictures, right?” The forty something dark haired FBI agent looked up from his note taking. Unable to see his badge since he was at the furthest seat possible.  She thought his name was John. Some color…Black. John Black.

Still unsure of the agent’s name, she responded with a simple “Correct.”

“And it was on the limo?”

Raelle nodded.

“Then the doll at Beltane?” Alder asked.

“Now we have bodies.” The Mackintosh said.

“Jane Doe was found in the dumpster outside of Tony’s this morning.”  Tally said.  They looked at the photo of the body.

“But the pictures sent show her in a grave.”  Black protested. “So what, he dug her up and dumped her at the restaurant? Why?”

Alder nodded, “That’s what the forensics suggest.”

“The pictures weren’t enough.” Raelle said.. “They didn’t get the reaction from Scylla that the killer was wanting.

“I agree, Ms. Collar.” Alder said.

“It’s obvious that the person doing this is attempting to get Ms. Ramshorn’s attention.” As Alder continued she shot a glance over to Tally who ducked her head.

“And the second body,” Mackintosh said, “It was just dumped?”

“Yes,” Tally said. Forensics suggest that the body was dumped directly from the place of death to the dumpster outside of Zuppa’s”

Raelle shook her head. Zuppa’s was the Italian restaurant that she had taken Scylla to for their second date.

“Right, and both bodies have words carved into their chests that come from Ms. Ramshorn’s song Sexy, Naughty, Bitchy?” Mackintosh asked.

“Right,” Black said, laughing. “I hear that describes Scylla Ramshorn to a tee.”

“Well, she is sexy as hell.” Mackintosh admitted.

“Yeah, and according to the people we’ve interviewed, an entitled little bitch.” Black added.

Raelle’s jaw clenched. “A lot of that is an act.”

“Yeah, well, she’s a good actress then.” Mackintosh said.

“Actually she is.” Tally said in defense of Scylla, “She’s up for several awards.”

Alder watched the exchange for as long as she could stand. She glanced at Tally and then said, “Let’s get back to the situation at hand?”

Raelle nodded, “What have we learned about the victims?”

“Well, Jane Doe, we can assume was a prostitute. She’s got several of the usual indicators and her system was filled with marijuana, MDMA, and some sort of hallucinogens.” Black said.

“The second,” Tally said looking at her notes, “has been identified by dental records as a Penelope Silver. She was a second year law student.”

“Drugs were also in her system. Identical ones, in fact.” Mackintosh said.

“So, does she have a history of using or was she drugged by the killer?” Raelle asked.

“Tox screens are still processing on what was actually in her system and we are still looking investigating and looking at the usual forensic data financial, social media, cell phone, to see if there was a history of drug use.” Tally answered. “And we will need to meet with her friends. Her parents say she didn’t use drugs, but then parents usually do.”

Tally looked pointedly at Alder.

The action made Raelle’s brow quirk. Throughout their discussions and rehashing of the evidence and timeline, Tally and Alder kept sneaking glances at one another and Raelle decided that after the third time catching them they weren’t just making googly eyes at one another. Something else was going on. Finally she asked.

“Okay, what is it you’re not wanting to tell me?” Raelle asked.

“Alder wants to interrogate Scylla,” Tally immediately blurted out.

Raelle’s eyes furrowed and she looked at Alder, “Scylla’s the VICTIM here.”

“Actually, Ms. Collar,” Alder said her voice as smooth as silk, “these women are.”

She gestured to the photos of the dead women on the evidence board.

“Yes, and so is she,” Raelle said, pointing to the large photo of Scylla that seemed to be on the wrong section of the board. Her focus was on the meeting, and distracted by the Siren, Rae finally noticed the labels on the board “Why is she under the suspect list?”

“Sara thinks that there’s something Scylla is hiding.”

“Thank you Agent Craven,” Alder said, her voice a warning.

“Ma’am,” Tally said instantly, realizing her slip as Mackintosh and Black looked up from their Styrofoam cups of coffee.

Raelle noticed their reaction and she felt bad for her friend. She could understand why Tally wanted a transfer. Getting back to the topic, her focus on protecting Scylla, she said, “Well, if you go in there acting like she’s a suspect she’ll never tell you a thing.”

“I understand that you have become close with Ms. Ramshorn during the course of your duties. Has she told you anything about her past that might help us?” Alder asked.

“No,” Raelle admitted.

“Then I think that it is time for a meeting with Ms. Ramshorn. Perhaps you could facilitate it?”

Raelle nodded, “Maybe. I can ask.”

“We could meet you at the mansion,” Tally suggested.

Alder nodded, “If she is agreeable we could do the interrogation there.”

“I’ll try,” Raelle answered. She knew that Ramshorn didn’t like people on her property and it would be a hard sell. Still, the alternative of being marched into FBI headquarters may make the brunette agreeable.

“Get her to say yes, Ms. Collar or I’ll be forced to make her come here.”

Raelle swallowed and nodded.

***

“I don’t understand why you’re doing this.” Byron said from the couch.

Beside him Scylla shook her head, “Raelle told me she couldn’t do the job with the aggravation of the press.”

Across from them Izadora and Gerit sat on the other couch. Gerit had insisted on calling the impromptu meeting after reading the celebrity gossip of the day.

Byron frowned, “But you like each other. You’ve been on dates.  You’re obviously together.”

“Are we?” Scylla asked. Neither had gotten the opportunity to discuss exactly what they were to one another.

Gerit shook his head, “The Advocate comes out in a few days. It would be great if you’d announce that you’re together right after.”

“No,” Scylla said, her voice final.

“Then you’re going to have to get a girlfriend.”

“She has one, Gerit.” Izadora said.

“Not a public one.” Gerit said. He looked at the brunette, “We need someone that’s got a bit of a reputation. Otherwise no one would believe it.”

The publicist thought for a moment and then nodded at Scylla, “Yeah, on second thought, Raelle’s a bad idea. She comes off as way too tame.”

Scylla couldn’t resist a smirk. If only the publicist knew.

“That’s a terrible idea, Scyl.” Byron shook his head, “You’ll end up ruining your chances with Raelle.”

Gerit shrugged, “Well the only other alternative is to pretend to play the field.”

Scylla shook her head, “I’m not doing anything until I can talk to Raelle about all of this.”

“Talk fast,” Gerit said. “The news changes daily.”

Byron looked at his sister, “I have to agree with Gerit on that one, you need to talk to Raelle sooner than later.

***

“What’s going on?” Raelle asked as she hopped out of her car late that evening. “Why did I get a call on the security line?”

“There’s a package that arrived. It had Scylla’s name in block letters just like those notes. Roberts went out to the guard shack this evening and it was just sitting there.” Porter answered as he approached Raelle’s car.

“Who had the previous shift?” Raelle asked. She’d fire whoever let it by them.

“Me,” Porter admitted.

Raelle’s jaw clenched, he was the one person she couldn’t fire. Before she could speak, Porter shook his head.

“Look you asked me to stick to Scylla and I did. I forgot to change the schedule and by the time I remembered no one I called could cover the shift. I fucked up.  Again.”

“Porter, what the hell?” She shook her head and sighed. “Did the cameras capture it at least?”

“Yeah, though it don’t really tell us nothing.”

“What do you mean?”

“It was just a kid. He was on a bike and he rode right up to the gate and put it down. Then he rode away.”

“Did you call the local police? Maybe they can use the security camera footage to track down the kid.”

“Yeah, I called them and I gave them the footage on one of those little things.”

“A SD card?”

“Yeah,” Porter said. “Was that okay?”

“Yes, Porter. That was good.”

"Good,” Porter said, his chest puffing at the compliment. “I thought about waiting until you called back but then I figured that if I went ahead and gave it to them they might have answers by the time you got back.”

“That was great Porter.” Raelle answered. “Do they?”

“No, I haven’t heard back from them.”

“Okay, give it a couple of hours and try again. So where is it?”

“Where’s what?” Porter asked.

Raelle resisted lashing at out the man but just barely.  Deliberately she said, “The package.”

“Oh,” Porter answered. “It’s in the house.”

“What?” Raelle asked, her voice a shout.

Porter cowered slightly and pointed toward the house. “Helen said she was going in for coffee and offered to take it inside for me.”

“Fucking hell,” Raelle yelled and marched toward the house, the larger man practically running to keep up with the bodyguard.

Inside the house she broke up whatever little private meeting Scylla was having with her crew in one of the living rooms and gathered them all around the box she had Porter to go get.

“Who touched this?”

“Well, I did.” Porter said, and then smiled sheepishly. “But you know that.”

“And I offered to carry it to the house.” Helen admitted. “You know that too.”

“I put it in Scylla’s room.” Izadora added, finally providing the blonde with new information. “Because I assumed since Helen brought it over it was safe.”

The manager glared the unspoken accusation at Helen but the groundskeeper just shrugged.

Raelle stood there, mouth gaping. She could feel her temper flare. “Is there anyone here who hasn’t fucking touched it?”

“I didn’t,” Gerit said.

Raelle whirled around and stared at the smug looking publicist “Who would have thought the fucking publicist would be the one to get the gold star?”

They all stared at the innocent enough looking box sitting on the coffee table. Raelle asked Porter to go to the guest house to get one of her kits and he returned a few minutes later with a small bag.

 Raelle and reached inside getting what she needed. She snapped on a pair of vinyl evidence gloves pulled out a stethoscope.  After putting it on she ran it slowly over the box as she listened for the sound of ticking. Hearing none, she put the stethoscope aside and grabbed a knife. Carefully, so that she would do as little damage as possible to any potential fingerprints, she cut the tape and opened the box.

Everyone in the room subconsciously leaned forward, including Scylla who was standing beside Raelle with her arms folded in front of her. Raelle looked up and met the azure eyes. Scylla quirked a brow and the blonde reached inside the box and pulled out the contents.  There were two notes and two dolls.

“How fucking cute,” Raelle muttered, gingerly picking up the two dolls tied to each other and turning them over in her hand. One doll looked just like the other ones that had been sent before while the second was of a blonde with blue eyes. There was even a little toy gun attached to the doll’s belt.  Raelle resisted commenting and moved her attention to the notes.

They were of a similar style. Block letters talking about the death of the witch. The second note was intended for her. She read the warning and shook her head. She put everything back in the box, took off the gloves, and sighed.

“Okay. Shows over.”  Raelle said.

As everyone began to file out of the living area, Raelle called out to the brunette. “Scylla, can we talk for a minute?”

Scylla quirked a brow and took a seat on the couch beside her bodyguard.  “You were gone a long time.”

“Yeah,” Raelle answered. “Lot’s to do.”

“Gerit wasn’t happy that I blew off a couple of interviews today.”

Raelle snorted, “I’m sure he’ll blame it on me again. It’s not like I’m just trying keep you alive.”

Scylla looked at her bodyguard for a moment, “So you’re just trying to keep me alive, huh?”

Raelle shook her head, “That’s not what I meant. I mean when I ask you to cancel…”

“It’s fine Raelle,” Scylla said. The brunette wanted to talk to Raelle, but once again her schedule was getting in the way. “What did you want? I need to get ready, Gerit’s making me do a podcast interview this evening.”

“Uh, Scylla,” Raelle began.

Scylla looked over at the blonde, eyes searching. She was wondered if Raelle was finally going to bring up the subject they’d been dancing around. The musician had wanted to for a while but every time she got the chance she chickened out and had defaulted to her normal seductions.  “What?”

“The FBI want to talk to you about what they found.”

Scylla’s brow furrowed and she allowed indifference to hide disappointment, “I don’t know anything about it.”

“They still want to talk to you, to see if you know something that might help us figure out who’s doing this.”

Scylla shook her head, “I’ve told you before that I don’t have a clue. No one I know would do this.”

“I’ve told them that. They want to hear it from you.”

“No.” Scylla said and shook her head.

Raelle’s brows furrowed. She couldn’t understand why Scylla was being so resistant. “Look they’re trying to help me keep you safe.”

“And you’re doing just fine.”

“Look Scylla, you don’t really get to say no to this. You can do it here on your terms or they can drag you to their offices.”

“And you’d let them do that to me?” Scylla asked, surprised.

“I don’t have any authority to stop them.” Raelle admitted.

Scylla pursed her lips and Raelle pressed on.

“Please Scyl, Agent Craven is my friend and her partner is the Agent in charge. They can be discreet. They can come here and everyone will think that they’re just visiting me.”

Scylla sighed, “Fine, find a hole in my schedule and I’ll meet with them.”

***

“Well,” Tally asked as soon as she picked up the phone.

She stood in Sarah’s kitchen making a salad while the older woman stirred some sort of pasta dish on the stove.  She looked adorable in her “kiss the chef” apron.

“She said yes to the interview,” Raelle said, her voice breaking Tally’s day dream of what she wanted to do with the woman under the apron. “Good.” Tally said.

Raelle snorted, “Yeah, it wasn’t easy. I had to ensure her that it would like you were just coming over to visit me.”

“We can do that,” Tally said. She’d convince Alder somehow.

"Listen Tally, she got another package while I was gone. It was a box that had two dolls and a couple of notes."

"Two dolls," Tally said. "Because of two bodies?" 

"No, one of the dolls looked like me. And the note was basically about me backing off of her."  

"Shit Raelle, that's not good."

"I know." Raelle agreed, worried what this could mean for Scylla. Would it take some of the focus off her or make the killer enraged because Raelle had Scylla's attention and the killer did not.  "I'll send it over to the FBI office first thing in the morning."

Finishing the salad, Tally moved over to the wine cabinet and selected a wine to go with the meal. As she opened it to let it breathe she asked, “Good. So what about the other stuff? Have you had that talk yet?”

“No,” Raelle admitted.  “She was busy doing another interview. That’s all her publicist has her doing nowadays.”

“Well, maybe you should forgo the cliff edge until you do.”

“Is that what worked for you?”

Tally watched Alder fix their plates and take them over to the dining table.  She grabbed the bottle of wine and two glasses and joined her partner.  “Something like that.”

Raelle laughed, “Yeah, I’m already too close to the edge. I’ll see you two in a few days.”

“Bye Rae.”

When Tally ended the call Alder looked up at her and smiled. “She agreed to the interview?”

Tally nodded, “Reluctantly, according to Raelle.”

Alder took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I hope that she is cooperative with the investigation.”

Tally picked up fork and frowned, “Do you really think keeping knowledge of those sealed files from Raelle was a good idea?”

Sarah’s brow quirked, “If she is really as close to Scylla as you say she is I am afraid she might tip the brunette off. If not to warn her, to satisfy her own curiosity. I want to surprise Ms. Ramshorn with the information when the time is right.”

Tally nodded, “I just hope Rae doesn’t end up getting hurt in all of this. And I don’t like keeping things from her.”

Sarah took a sip of her wine and looked at her young lover. “I hope no one else ends up getting hurt. If it helps ease your conscience , think of it as a direct order from your supervisor.”

“Yes ma’am,” Tally answered.

Sara smiled and picked up her fork.

Chapter Text

It had been a brutal day for the musician and her bodyguard. Things started when Scylla had attended an early morning talk show program and sang a few songs while she was on set. Next, she’d been a guest on an afternoon radio show. Followed by being the keynote speaker at a local women’s club charity event where she sang several songs. The professional that she was, she then spent a good deal of time walking around and talking to the various club members. Finally, she performed a concert at a conference center that night. Now that her day was over she’d got back in the limo and was so exhausted she practically collapsed in her seat, feet and legs were killing her.

Raelle sat across from the brunette in the limo, seeing her pain and started massaging a cramp out of the musician’s calf. Scylla’s head rested back against the cushion and as she moaned in relief, and Raelle felt the temperature in the car rise. The fact that they were surrounded by both Byron and Izadora didn’t seem to bother the brunette in the least, but as soon as Raelle thought Scylla’s muscle wouldn’t immediately seize up again she released the leg and lowered it to the floorboard.

Scylla’s eyes opened and she pouted at the bodyguard. Raelle swallowed trying to clear her head from what she knew the musician wanted and what she wanted just as much and gave her a small shrug.

When the car pulled through the gate at the mansion and came to a slow stop along the drive close to the footpath to the guest house, Scylla called out, “Helen, take the car on up to the house.”

The groundskeeper/limo driver complied and less than a minute later the car came to a stop in front of the house.

As the rest of the crew piled out of the car, Scylla looked at Raelle across from her in the limo, “Why don’t you come in with me?”

Raelle swallowed gazing into Scylla’s cerulean eyes and recognizing the want in them or was she seeing her own desire. “I don’t know if that’s a good idea.”

Scylla frowned, searching the blonde’s pale blue eyes, with a hint of concern “This media thing is really getting to you, isn’t it?”

Truthfully Raelle still didn’t know where she stood with Scylla and every time she closed her eyes, the images of the bodies from the morgue haunted her. She was trying to take Tally’s advice and stay on the cliff.

“I just want to make sure I’m doing my job, Scyl.”

Scylla reached out for Raelle, letting her fingers trail a path up her bodyguard’s inner leg.

“We’re home. It’s not like anyone can get to me here on the grounds, and I’ll have you in my bed to protect me. No media, no reporters.”

And Rae knew if they were in bed, there would be no talking. She already felt that familiar throb in her center.

“You have another early day tomorrow.” Raelle said, reluctantly removing the musician’s hand. “And remember my friends are coming over.”

Scylla looked at her bodyguard for a long moment a frown on her face. She still wasn’t used to anyone telling her no. Raelle was the only person who had. Ever since she’d returned from meeting her FBI friend the other she’d said it each time Scylla had tried to get some private time with her. She gave the blonde an annoyed shrug, “Fine, Raelle.”

Before Raelle could say goodnight, the brunette slid out of the car and slammed the door to the limo.

Raelle let out a long sigh and watched the brunette as she marched toward the mansion. She thought about following her and going in after all. She’d just put her hand on the handle when from the driver seat Helen called out, “Want me to drive you back?”

Raelle closed her eyes. She couldn’t keep doing this. Decision made, she answered “I could use the walk.”

“It’s fucking freezing out there,” Helen said. “And you don’t even have your jacket.”

Raelle realized that Helen was right. She’d put her Columbia windbreaker around Scylla as they’d left the concert and the brunette still had it on when she’d got out of the car.

Sighing, Raelle said, “Yeah, I need the cold, too.” She got out of the car and then leaned in before slamming the door.

“Goodnight Helen.”

“Night Raelle,” Helen answered, tone cheerful as always.

As Raelle walked back toward the guest house, she wondered what the hell had got into her. She knew she needed to accept Scylla’s offer and then insist to the brunette that they sit down and have a conversation. It wasn’t like she was some teenager who’d just bought her first vibrator. She could keep it together and keep her hands off of Scylla long enough to tell her how she felt so why was she avoiding doing it?

Maybe it had something to do with Raelle having spent the last couple of days listening to Scylla politely deny the rumors that the cute blonde following her around was anything more than a member of her staff. She’d even had to endure listening to the talk show hosts teasing Scylla about going on a date with this or that potential prospect and Scylla commenting on how many “sexiness points” she’d give this or that person at seven in the morning. Sexy at seven the segment had been called and Raelle scoffed just thinking about it. The entire thing was fucking ridiculous.

Then there were the bodies. The letter and the pictures meant nothing compared to actually seeing them at the morgue. Someone was killing people and using the lyrics from Scylla’s song as a guide. They’d done it twice now. Any day Raelle knew that the killer would attempt to contact her again. They’d already sent more dolls and now she’d apparently got the killer’s attention, too, according to the note.

If the killer kept to the pattern there was still one more murder. The lyrics went Sexy, Naughty, Bitchy, Me. Did this mean Scylla would be the fourth?

Raelle knew she had to be ready for when this psycho came for Scylla. And this thing she had with Scylla was keeping her from focusing on job. Maybe leaving things where they were for now was for the best. Even though it hurt like hell.

***

Scylla stomped up the steps and made her way to her room. Once there, she walked across the room and out onto the balcony. By the time she’d opened the doors and strode out to the railing she could see Raelle bent over talking to Helen in the limo. She couldn’t tell what was being said, but a second later Raelle slammed the door shut.

For a second Scylla’s heart thumped in her chest. Had Raelle changed her mind? Would she come up and they’d finally get a chance to talk? Her shoulders slumped as her hopes died when she watched the blonde wrap her arms around herself and turn to walk toward the path to the guest house.

When the blonde shivered, Scylla did too and pulled the jacket she wore tighter around herself. She realized that was Raelle’s. Scylla sighed, feeling like an ass. Maybe she should give the blonde a few minutes to get to the guest house and call her or even go to her. She was trying to decide which would be best when she stuffed her hands into the pockets of the jacket and felt something inside. Walking back into her room she pulled a card from the pocket. Her eyes widened at the message she found on business card, “Call or come by again anytime, Alice XOXO”

Scylla closed her eyes and clenched her jaw as she put the card back into the jacket pocket and removed the coat. She sat on the edge of her bed, feeling betrayed and utterly exhausted. Obviously her time with the bodyguard had meant a lot more to her than it did Raelle if the blonde was seeing other people. Eventually she fell back on the bed as the tears began to fall.

***

Sarah Alder wasn’t crazy about the plan to show up at the Ramshorn mansion under the guise as friends visiting the bodyguard, but Tally had assured her that once behind closed doors, Scylla Ramshorn would understand that she was being interviewed.

Alder was impressed by the security she saw around her when they pulled up to the guard shack. She knew that Raelle had made several upgrades to the property and after the bodies were found, that she had several more additions that she wanted to make.

Even though they were on the list, the blonde haired blue eyed man at the gate named Porter still asked for their IDs and at seeing Tally’s FBI wallet asked for that as well. Alder offered hers and after they were reviewed and returned, they were sent through the gate. As they left, Alder noticed that Porter had picked up a phone in the shack and had made a call.

Inside the guest house Raelle sat across from Scylla dinking her coffee. She tried to sneak a look at the brunette and wasn’t surprised to see that she looked exhausted. She was dressed in simple jeans and hoodie and her hair was back in a pony tail. Gerit had been pushing the brunette so hard and the one morning she could have slept in, Raelle had arranged for the interview. She was sure Scylla wasn’t happy about it.

Raelle tried to be nice and encouraging to the singer but eventually gave up trying to talk to her. It had been a while since she’d seen the musician in such a bad mood and she wondered if it was because she’d refused to spend the previous night in her bed or if it was about the interview today. Even with her sweater and jeans, she shivered from the cold coming from the musician. The tension between them was thick and Raelle almost jumped out of her seat when a knock sounded on the door.

She walked over and opened it smiling as Tally strode in and pulled Raelle into a hug.

From behind them Alder frowned and met the eyes of the musician who was also frowning at the exchange. Scylla recognized the redhead from the photos at Raelle’s house and she knew that they were friends, but the brunette also knew intimacy when she saw it and she could sense that there had been something between them. Even if that something had never been fully realized.

Apparently, the tenured agent seemed to sense it same as the musician. Scylla quirked a brow at the woman wearing the old fashioned stereotypical black suit of the FBI. Her hair was pulled back tight in a French braid and she had that same stiffness that Raelle sometimes had as a byproduct of being in the military. She wouldn’t be as easy as the red head to shut down if the questions got too close to things Scylla wanted to keep to herself.

After Raelle and Tally let go of one another, Raelle made the introductions and led them into the living area. She directed Alder and Tally to one couch while Scylla took a seat at the one across from them. She went back to the kitchen for coffee and returned a moment later with a tray.

Tally and Alder busied themselves with their cups and Scylla leaned back on the couch studying the two women. The red head was pretty and the cream turtleneck sweater and blue jeans looked good on her. She was a bit too bubbly for her tastes, but she couldn’t help but notice that Raelle seemed very affectionate towards her. Not so much the other agent though.

“How was the drive?” Raelle asked.

“Oh it was beautiful,” Tally said. “All the leaves are at peak.”

Looking at Scylla, Tally added, “And the grounds here are beautiful, Ms. Ramshorn.”

“Scylla,” the musician corrected. “My groundskeeper, Helen, loves the fall so she always puts out a huge display of mum and asters. She’ll put out the pumpkins in a few more days.”

Tally’s cheeks went red and she beamed at the musician and at Raelle. “Well, Scylla, you have a beautiful home.”

Alder quirked a brow beside Tally and leaned forward, putting her coffee cup down. She’d brought in a manila envelope with her and she sat it on the table beside the tray. “Ms. Ramshorn, I appreciate you agreeing to meet with us today.”

“Scylla,” the musician repeated again.

Alder smiled at the brunette but her eyes stayed frigid,“If you don’t mind I’d prefer to keep this formal.” She took out her phone and opened the recording app. “I’m sure that Raelle explained to you that we need to conduct an interview to review your connection to the deaths of two young women found in dumpsters. From our investigation so far, we found these are restaurants you frequent”

Scylla immediately sensed the change in tone and she shot the blonde a look. Raelle had the good sense to keep quiet and Tally took a long drink of her coffee.

“Actually Agent Alder, I’ve only dined at Zuppas once.”

“I didn’t mention the name of the restaurants Ms. Ramshorn.”

Scylla scoffed and rolled her eyes, “I’m not living in a bubble agent. I read the paper, I see the news.”

“Of course you do,” Tally said, trying to deescalate the tone of the room. “What was not in the paper was that the bodies had words…”

“My lyrics to Sexy, Naughty, Bitchy.” Scylla interrupted. “Raelle told me.”

“The bodies only had one word each carved into them. We have only the first two words from your lyrics,” Alder said. She left the ‘for now’ out but the implication hung in the air.

Scylla felt the unspoken accusation and quirked a brow.

Alder let the moment settle, studying Scylla's body language and then continued, “I understand that you actually received a death threat with photos of the first victim.”

“My brother received them.” Scylla corrected.

“But the note was for you?”

“Yes,” Scylla admitted.

“And you’ve been receiving dolls with death threats as well.”

“Yes, hence Raelle’s presence here.” Scylla answered, the annoyance in her voice apparent.

“There seems to be a connection between these deaths and yourself, do you agree?” Alder said.

Before anyone could respond and Raelle and Scylla had both opened their mouths to speak, Gerit threw the guest house door open with a bang and rushed in.

“Scylla stop. Not one more word. You don’t say a damn thing to the FBI.” He turned to the agents, “Any questions you have for Scylla can be directed to her attorney.”

He turned to Raelle and scoffed, “Are you trying to fucking destroy her?”

“Mr….” Tally began.

“Gerit,” The publicist corrected.

Scylla looked at Raelle and then at Gerit. “How the fuck do you know who they are?”

“It doesn’t matter. You know better than this, Scyl.”

Tally blushed, “The guy at the guard booth. He looked at our credentials.”

“Name?” Scylla asked.

“I didn’t get it.” Tally admitted.

“It was Porter,” Gerit said. “He actually gives a damn about what happens to you.” As the publicist spoke he glared at Raelle.

Alder turned off the recording on her phone and tucked it back into her pocket. Beside her Tally looked back and forth between everyone unsure of how to react to Gerit’s interruption. Alder knew exactly what she had to do though and began to stand. “Thank you for your time, Ms. Ramshorn.”

Scylla’s brow furrowed and she looked at Tally’s partner. The challenge was there, unspoken. She could just nod, and the woman would be out the door all because Gerit had said the magic word “attorney,” but Scylla didn’t want to do that. She wanted this over and done.

“Agent Alder, I didn’t think that we were finished.”

Tally’s eyes widened as Alder stopped and lowered herself back down on the couch.

Raelle looked at Scylla but the brunette didn’t meet her gaze. Instead she stayed focused on the agent.

“I would need your consent to continue.” Alder began. “Am I to understand that you are agreeing to speak with me without an attorney present?”

“No she’s not,” Gerit said.

“Gerit, get the fuck out of here.” Scylla snapped, and gestured to the door so he can see himself out with her eyes locked on the agent.

The publicist looked like he’d been slapped but he gave a curt nod and walked out of the guest house.

“I waive whatever rights to an attorney that I have for this interview. I’ll answer your questions.” Scylla said. “Now where were we, Agent Alder?”

“We were discussing your connection to the women that were murdered.” Alder said, taking out her phone and waiting for Scylla to nod before turning the recording function back on.

Scylla gave her consent and spoke after the phone began recording, “The connection is that apparently the person doing this has become obsessed with me and my music. Obviously they get off on it. It wouldn’t be the first time and I’m sure it won’t be the last.”

“There’s been other people killed in connection to you?” Alder asked.

Scylla snorted. “I meant that my music can be very stimulating.”

Alder stared at the brunette for a moment. She could sense the tension in the room and she could feel it thick between Raelle and Scylla.

Pausing the recorder, Alder looked at Raelle and smiled. “I could use some more coffee.”

Raelle hopped up from the couch and grabbed the tray. Alder then glanced at Tally, and the red head quickly stood awkwardly mumbling something about helping and followed Rae out of the room.

“I think that we should continue this without an audience.” Alder said, her voice low enough as to not be heard in the kitchen area.

“Agreed.” Scylla answered.

When Raelle and Tally returned a few moments later with freshly brewed coffee, Scylla looked up at Raelle and Tally.

“You know, Raelle, I’m sure that your friend would enjoy getting to see more of the grounds. Maybe you could even take her around in one of the side by sides while I finish the interview with Agent Alder.”

Raelle’s eyes widened, “I thought you’d want me to be here.”

“I’m a big girl, Rae. And we’ve already talked about this anyway.”

Alder shot Tally an unspoken order and the red head nodded.

Looking at Raelle, Tally smiled, “That would be really fun, Rae.”

Raelle stood there for a moment perplexed. She had agreed to protect Scylla and keep her safe but now the brunette was essentially telling her that she wasn’t needed, during an interview...with the FBI. Finally she shrugged, “Okay.”

Raelle grabbed a jacket and she and Tally walked out the guest house door. Once it shut, Alder grinned at Scylla, “Now, shall we continue?”

Scylla smirked and leaned forward tapping the recording function on Alder’s phone.

***

“What the hell, Tal?” Raelle asked as they walked toward the maintenance shed.

“Well, Rae, you know how it is with interviews. We are just needing Scylla to be honest. If Scylla hasn’t told you anything yet, then she might not want to tell Alder anything in front of you. Maybe there’s things that she’s just too embarrassed to say in front of you.”

“Yeah,” Raelle admitted, “I get it.”

The red head clasped her hands together, “Goddess Rae, she’s gorgeous, and her VOICE.”

Raelle laughed, “I know, I know.”

Tally slung an arm around her friend and pulled her in close, “I still think that your voice is my favorite, though.” Blushing at the admission, she quickly added, “So where are you taking me?”

“You want to see the shooting range I’m setting up?” Raelle asked, smiling at the memory of singing for her friend last Halloween.

“Yes,” Tally answered.

When they reached the maintenance building Raelle punched in the code on the side door to let them in out of the cold. Raelle reached into her pocket for the key to the ATV but wrapped her fingers around a business card instead. She immediately realized her mistake. She’d just grabbed the jacket that Scylla had returned to her that morning instead of the one she usually wore on the grounds. The key ring was in that coat.

“Um, Tal, I don’t have the keys to the side by side. I left it in my other coat.”

“Oh, shit,” Tal answered, looking around.

“Is there another key...maybe somewhere inside the building?”

“No, Helen said she was going off the property to get supplies today. She’s the only other person with a key for the side by sides.”

“Do you want to walk back with me or do you want to stay here until I get back?”

Tally looked back along the path and then felt the warmth in the heated maintenance building. “Would you mind if I stayed here?”

Raelle shook her head, “Not at all. I’ll be back in a minute.” With that the blonde took off at a jog back down the path.

When Raelle opened the door to the guest house she saw that Alder and Scylla seemed to be deep into their back and forth. They both paused when she walked in and she gave an apologetic shrug.

“I forgot the keys to the side by side.” She explained.

Raelle walked by them on her way to the bedroom where she’d put her other coat and Alder seemed content to pause the interview, but Scylla continued on, her voice loud and clear in the open layout of the guest home, “You asked me about my past lovers. I’ll tell you what I told Raelle. I went a bit wild back then. I’ve fucked more men and women than I can count. And they meant nothing to me.”

Alder tilted her head, watching the brunette closely. Like a flip of a switch, there had been a change in Scylla when Raelle entered the house again. It was almost as if the musician was acting out a role.

Scylla continued, “If it meant something to them, if they formed some sort of sick emotional connection to me, then that’s their problem. I certainly don’t recall giving any of them any indication that I wanted more than a good time.”

As Raelle’s footsteps sounded her return, Scylla smirked and caught the pale blue eyes of her bodyguard as she walked by them again, keys in hand.

“I enjoy sex Agent Alder and I like fucking with people. It's just entertainment to me. Nothing more.”

Alder’s eyes narrowed as she watched something change in the musician’s eyes. The brunette had faltered for a microsecond and the veteran interrogator could read the micro expressions like a book. Love, anger, hurt, and regret all flashed across Scylla’s face and then was gone leaving only a smirk.

As the door to the guest house slammed shut, Scylla slumped back against the couch and looked at the Agent.

“I think we’re done here. Feel free to stay in the guest house until Raelle gets back with her little friend.”

Alder shook her head at the brunette. She’d put on her show and now Alder would put on hers. She opened the envelope and began to pull out the photographs and put them on the table between them.

“I don’t know what it is that you and your family is hiding. What secrets are buried in the back yard, so to speak, but this is what keeping them costs.”

Scylla looked down at the pictures. Two women, both very dead. The autopsy photos were gruesome and she thanked the gods and goddesses that she hadn’t had breakfast. Still, the coffee was bitter in her stomach and she felt the bile rise to her throat at the pictures of the wounds. Not the slashes, not the disfigurements where they had been assaulted. No, instead Scylla had to use every bit of strength she had to stay composed when the pictures of the gunshot wounds were laid on the table.

“I already told you,” Scylla managed, “I don’t know anything that could help you.”

Alder heard the brunette’s response and read the lie on the musician’s face.

“I know that the Ramshorns have connections high up the food chain, but I also have friends, Ms. Ramshorn. Trust me, I will find out what it is you’re hiding. I will eventually gain access to those sealed files. I just hope that it’s in time to prevent the next death.”

Alder picked up the photos and returned them to the envelope as she continued.

“And I would have hoped that even if you didn’t have emotional attachments to those you’ve spent time with, you’d not want to put the risk of those in your employ in danger. Ms. Collar is very good at her job and if she signed up to take a bullet for you…. ”

Alder paused, picking up the photo of the second victim’s kill shot last. The gunshot wound to the temple was enlarged and she made sure that Scylla got a good look at it.

“Well,” Alder shrugged. “She will do her job.” She put the photo in the envelope. “I’ll wait here for Agent Craven.”

Scylla’s jaw clenched and then she forced herself to smile at the older woman. “Agent Craven,” she repeated, “don’t you mean Tally? Raelle mentioned that she was your partner. I thought it awfully strange for an agent in charge to have a partner. But of course, now that I’ve seen you together I understand that she meant you are lovers. That must be awkward for you, being her superior.”

Scylla stood and smiled down at the Agent. “I’d imagine you’re too busy juggling not getting caught to have time to go hunting up things buried long ago.”

***
Raelle was shaking by the time she returned to the shed and the look on her face told Tally that something very disturbing had just happened to her friend.

Tally immediately pulled Raelle into a hug and held her as she struggled to keep from crying.

After a moment, Raelle pulled away and tried to smile, “I should at least give you the tour of the estate.”

“Rae you don’t have to do that,” Tally said.

Raelle shook her head and hopped in the side by side, “No, c’mon. I want to make sure the interview is over before I go back in there again.”

Tally got into the all-terrain vehicle and looked at her friend, “Do you want to tell me what happened?”

As they made their way onto the paved path that circled the estate, Raelle told her what she had overheard.

“But didn’t she say something like that to you when you asked her about her past?”

“Not like that Tal,” Raelle said. “She made it sound like she went wild for a bit when her parents died but that she had regrets. “

“I don’t know Rae,” Tally shook her head, “Maybe Alder pushed her and she just snapped. That’s what Alder’s good at, getting under people’s skin. She gets in their head.”

“It doesn’t matter Tal,” Raelle said finally. “Between this psycho sending warnings to me now and the bodies being dumped, I need to focus on the job. Not on her and not on my feelings.”

Tally looked at her friend and just shook her head. She loved Raelle but she knew the blonde could be stubborn as a mule. She hoped the blonde wouldn’t cut off her nose to spite her face and lose the opportunity to finally be with someone she obviously cared about.

***
Byron watched from his studio as the bouncy red head and stern brunette said their goodbyes to the bodyguard and headed to their car.

As soon as they were gone he made his way back into the house and found his sister in the studio, strumming something extremely depressing on the guitar that had been their father’s favorite instrument.

“What the hell was that about?” He asked his sister, dropping on a stool beside the one she was propped on.

Scylla stopped playing and looked up at her brother, tears in her eyes.

“Raelle said that they would interview me one way or another. I thought it would be better to do it on my own terms.”

“You let the FBI on the property?” Byron said, the disbelief in his voice.

“They don’t know anything. And if they do, they’re smart enough not to bring it up. I handled them.”

Byron sighed, “Okay. So, why are you so upset then?”

“I think I was wrong about Raelle.” Scylla admitted.

“You don’t want to be with her?” Byron asked, his brows furrowed. He knew that was bullshit.

Scylla closed her eyes and scoffed, “No, I know that I have feelings for her, but I don’t think she feels the same.”

“You still haven’t talked to her about it?”

“I’ve tried but she keeps avoiding me. I think she’s pissed that even though I’m denying the media rumors, people keep assuming we’re a couple.”

Byron tilted his head to the side, “Or she’s upset that you’re denying the rumors because she wants to be your girlfriend.”

“Then why is she seeing other people, By?”

“What?” Byron asked, looking at his sister as if she’d lost her mind.

Scylla swallowed, “You know her jacket that she gave me last night?”

“Yeah?”

“I found a business card in there from some doctor. It said something about that she should call and come over again. It had hugs and kisses on it.”

“Huh,” Byron said. “So you’re throwing in the towel because some girl must have hit on her?”

“But the card said…”

Byron shook his head, “Look, it doesn’t matter. If you want her, you need to tell her how you feel.”

Scylla hung her head, “I don’t think she’ll believe me if I tell I have feelings for her now anyway.”

“Why?”

The musician looked up at Byron and he frowned.

“Scylla what did you do?” He’d seen his sister do some incredibly stupid and reckless things over the years and he could only imagine what she’d do if she was hurt.

“I was upset about finding the card. Jealous, pissed, or whatever. I deliberately said some shit about sex just being sex in the interview when she walked by the room.”

Byron closed his eyes and groaned, “Oh sis.”

He shook his head and looked over at his sister, his face serious. “You still have to try. You’ll never forgive yourself if you don’t.”

***

Hours later Raelle sat beside Helen at the table in the back of the maintenance shed reviewing the diagrams and maps of the estate. She was looking for the best place to add additional cameras and she was seriously considering putting up game cameras near the clearing where Helen said she’d allegedly seen the bear. Instead, she found herself replaying over and over again in her head all that had happened with Scylla and what she’d overheard in the interview.

“So, I guess you’re an official card carrying member of the F.B.S club now.” Helen smirked.

“The what?” Raelle asked, her mind still on the musician and the interview.

“You and Scylla,” Helen answered.

Irritation in her tone, Raelle looked up from the diagram of the camera systems. They were supposed to be going over the couple of extra security measures she wanted to put in place, but it was obvious work wasn’t what was on the groundskeeper's mind either. “What are you talking about, Helen?”

“The Fucked by Scylla Club, Raelle.” Helen responded.

“What?” Raelle asked, her voice ice.

“Oh c’mon, you didn’t know? Scylla’s fucked pretty much everyone here except for her brother.”

“You had sex with Scylla?”

“Oh, yeah. She can do a lot more with her mouth than just sing, but I’m sure you know that after your little overnight trip and all that private time the two of you have been spending together.”

Raelle looked at the groundskeeper. Despite what she’d overheard Scylla tell Alder, a part of her wanted to believe that she’d over exaggerated. She frowned when she saw the truth in Helen's eyes.

“Porter?” She asked, thinking about what he had said about Scylla in the limo that day and ignoring the part of her brain that said ‘you don’t want to know’.

“Hell, yeah. Gave him quite the ride, from what I saw.”

“You saw..?”

“Oh yeah,” Helen said, obviously laughing at the memory. “Scylla’s got an exhibitionistic streak in her.”

The blood drained from Raelle’s face thinking about what had happened at the theatre. Beside her, Helen was still talking.

“Gerit too, before you ask.” Helen tilted her head to the side in mock thought, “Though the blow job might just be a rumor. Didn’t actually see that one.”

Raelle’s eyes narrowed as she watched the groundskeeper. “Why are you telling me this, Helen?”

The woman beside her shrugged, “You seem like a nice person, Raelle. I’d hate to see you get your heart broken. And Scylla destroys everyone she touches.”

Raelle began to speak but stopped when the subject of their conversation walked up, a slight frown on her face. For a second the bodyguard wondered if Scylla had overhead Helen but then decided otherwise when the musician offered the blonde a small smile.

“Can we talk?” Scylla asked Raelle.

Determined not to look like Scylla’s latest victim, Raelle shook her head. “I’ve got to go over these security upgrades right now.”

Scylla’s frown returned, her eyes filled with equal measures of anger and something else that Raelle couldn’t quite read. It almost looked like regret.

“Later tonight then?”

“If I have time.” Raelle answered.

“Right.” Scylla said and walked back in the direction of the main house.

“Yeah, once she’s got her claws in, you’re just a plaything to her.” Helen said with a smirk after the brunette had walked out of earshot. “She expects you at her beck and call until she’s done with you.”

Raelle recalled Beth referring to her as an upgrade from Porter and she studied the brunette who didn’t seem to know shit about taking care of flowers but had been in Scylla’s employ practically her entire life. Things began to click into place and she didn’t like what it meant. Scylla’s comments to Alder only confirmed them. She’d been fucked in more ways than one.

Raelle abruptly stood from the table they were working at and turned to leave. She paused and looked down at Helen trying to make it seem as if she didn’t care, “And how long has she been done with you?”

The bodyguard didn’t wait for an answer, decided she couldn’t stand to hear it, and instead made her way back to the guest house.

***
Raelle was more than halfway through the bottle of Jack Daniels Honey when the knock sounded on the front door. Dropping her head back on the couch cushion she yelled as loud as she could manage “Go away.”

The knock came again and this time when she didn’t answer, she heard the key turn in the lock. Raelle thought of getting up but she knew who it was. Of course the owner of the property had a set of keys.

Scylla walked around the couch and looked down at the blonde.

“Do you want to tell me what the hell is going on, Rae?”

“I’m taking a night off,” Raelle said, shrugging as she poured herself another generous glass of the whiskey.

Scylla took a deep breath and let it out. “You’ve avoided me ever since you got back from the FBI office and after the interview you’ve been outright ignoring me.”

“I am doing the job I was hired to do.” Raelle answered, her voice flat, her eyes focused on her glass.

“And what is that?” Scylla asked.

“Be your bodyguard.”

“Okay, and what about all that’s happened between us?” Scylla asked.

“It was a mistake.” Raelle said.

“I didn’t think we were a mistake.” Scylla answered.

“You hired me to be your bodyguard.” Raelle repeated. “Not your entertainment.”

“Entertainment?” Scylla asked, her voice raising again. “What the hell are you talking about?” But of course she knew. She’d said the words herself. She hadn’t been talking about Raelle, but of course the blonde thought that she had.

Raelle thought about the things that Helen had told her and then things that Scylla had said and just shrugged. “I’m your bodyguard. Not your fuck buddy, not your distraction. I can’t get mixed up on the job I’m here to do.”

“And what’s that? Treating me like shit?”

“No, but I can’t protect you like this. I got involved with my client and that was a mistake. How am I supposed to keep you safe when I’m…”

“Fucking me? Is that what you think has been happening between us?”

Raelle shrugged again, not answering.

“Rae, that’s not what…”

“Well you can deal with it or you can fire me.” Raelle said, her icy eyes finally meeting Scylla’s gaze.

“But I can’t be with you?” Scylla asked, the words coming out a lot more desperate then the brunette wanted them to sound.

“No.” Raelle said, her cold eyes devoid of emotion.

Scylla shook her head. Inside she was a torrent of emotions. She’d been angry earlier during the interview. She’d seen the card in Raelle’s jacket and she’d made assumptions. She was hurt and she wanted Raelle to hurt, but she hadn’t considered that it meant she’d lose the blonde entirely. She’d dodged talking to Raelle before and now it was obviously too late.

Scylla’s heart was breaking right before Raelle’s eyes and the blonde didn’t seem to give a damn. It was obvious that the bodyguard just didn’t have the same feelings that she did. Finally the musician managed to nod and walked out of the guest house slamming the door behind her.

Raelle jumped at the sound. Her face scrunched as she bit her at her lip and single tear ran down her face.

***

Scylla walked up to the maintenance building and mounted the steps to the apartment above. It had been a long while since she’d been there. Years, in fact.

She rapt on the door, a pattern they both knew, there was shuffling coming from inside the apartment, the door opened to reveal Helen standing there. Helen looked at Scylla with her customary smirk and Scylla vaguely remembered a time when she was still innocent and naive and that smirk had made her heart race.

Now, Scylla gave the groundskeeper a hard look and walked passed her into the apartment.

Helen shut the door and turned to face the musician, a cocky grin on still on her face. “Hello, Scylla. It’s been a while.”

“Not long enough,” Scylla muttered.

Helen shrugged, “Well, you’re here now, so what do you need?”

Scylla closed her eyes and then opened them, “A black bear, Helen?” The brunette scoffed. “That’s the best you could come up with?”

“Well I never would have thought in a million years you’d give some ex-military policeman permission to put a shooting range on the property.”

“All you did was rouse her interest. And then I had to go and shut it down.”

“And did you?” Helen asked as she moved into Scylla’s personal space. “Shut down the FBI’s interest?”

“Yeah, a little too well.” Scylla said, fighting back her tears. “You won’t have to worry about the FBI finding your little garden.”

“You know that’s not what I’m not worried about them finding. It’s the…”

“It’s fine, Helen. There’s nothing there.” Scylla answered. And there wasn’t anything there, she realized. Not with Raelle, not anymore. Scylla swallowed, trying to regain her composure but failed miserably as she felt the first of the tears she had been holding back since leaving the guest house roll down her face.

Helen studied the brunette she’d known most of her life. They’d shared a lot of firsts together and Helen had seen Scylla at the top of her game and at rock bottom. It looked like the musician was getting ready to take a nose dive. She would be there to catch her just as she always had been. The taller woman stepped forward and put her arms around the musician. She felt the brunette tense and then relax in her arms with a sigh.

What the hell was she doing, Scylla wondered even as she felt the other woman pulling her closer. The scent of Helen’s cologne invaded her senses and she felt her heart begin to race the way it had a very long time ago. Why was she here again? In this place? In this woman’s arms? Scylla pulled away and looked up at Helen, recognizing the look in her eyes.

“What am I doing here, Helen?”

“What do you want, Scylla?”

Scylla studied Helen for several seconds and then with a shuddering sigh walked over to the groundskeeper’s couch and sat down. Helen waited for her answer.

Chapter Text

Raelle put her mirrored Ray-Ban aviator sunglasses on and carried a travel coffee mug in her hand as she made her way to the limo the next morning. She was dressed in a black suit with a black shirt only buttoned about half way up making her collared shirt have a v style look. As she stepped up to the car she looked over at Byron who was standing by the open back seat door and looking up toward the mansion at Scylla’s balcony.

“What’s wrong?” Raelle asked. She squinted, looking in the same direction as Byron.  Only meeting the sun, even with the glasses on, made her wince. Her head was pounding and regardless of how many times she’d washed her mouth out, she still couldn’t get rid of that cloyingly sweet taste of the honey jack on her tongue. Then with her eyes closed, trying to work through the pain of the daylight she heard Byron's response. 

“Scylla’s running late.”

Raelle shrugged, “She probably overslept. Has anyone called her?”

“She’s not answering the phone.”

“Maybe she’s finally as sick of this shit as we are,” Raelle suggested.

Breaking his gaze from Scylla's balcony, Byron looked over at the bodyguard and was surprised by her appearance. She looked good, like desirable, even for him. He was a gay man and even he knew she was sexy but today she had this ‘I don’t give a fuck’ air about her that would make anyone stop and pay attention. Unfortunately he could see that she really didn’t give a fuck when instead of going to the mansion to check on Scylla she just opened the passenger door to the limo.

“Gerit went up to check on her.” Byron quickly said.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

“Good,” Raelle responded as she stepped inside the car, and closed the door.  She looked over at Helen, already irritated and feeling the driver's gaze on her. “Something you want to say, Helen?”

The brunette shook her head and with her usual upbeat tone said, “I can still smell the alcohol on you. Just don’t puke in the limo.”

“I’m good.” Raelle lied.  She figured she’d have to get used to this feeling. She would be lying for quite some time.

 

“Scylla,” Gerit called again, fist banging on the door.  After multiple attempts at the locked door and no response from the musician, Gerit had no choice. Finally, he sighed and took out a ring of keys and started to flip through the assortment of keys.  He searched for a key that very few people knew he had. Triumphantly he unlocked the musician’s bedroom door and found her there in bed still sleeping. He walked over and roused her and immediately recognized the look of someone who’d had a hard night.

“Well, it looks like you took a little trip last night.” Gerit said as he walked to her bed side to assess the musician's state of mind.

“What are you doing here, Gerit?” Scylla asked in a groggy, pouty voice.

“You’re gonna be late for the interview.”

“There’s no way I can go on like this.” It came out in a croak, the musician’s normally sexy voice raspy. She was parched and her tongue felt about two sizes too big for her mouth.

“Get in the shower and I’ll get you a pick me up.”

“I don’t want…” Scylla stopped mid-sentence when she saw her manager’s withering glare.

Gerit shook his head, “You’re doing this interview, it’s too fucking important to miss. Now get the fuck up.”

Eventually the publicist half pulled—half dragged the brunette toward the shower, He took her to her luxury bathroom that was big enough to have a bench installed along with her new rain shower heads. After tossing her in, Gerit closed the glass door to the shower so he could keep his part of the bargain.  

From the other side of the clear glass doors he yelled at her, “Get it together and we’ll talk about this after the interview.”

After Scylla had removed her clothes and actually showered, she stepped out to find a bottle of pills and a glass of water by the sink. The entire time she took to dry off, brush her teeth, and get dressed she could sense them perched there. She started to walk out of the bedroom but at the last second turned back into her bathroom.

 

A few minutes later, Scylla put on a pair of sunglasses and stepped out into the sun and got into the car.

Beside her Gerit patted her knee. “Feeling better, love?”

“Yeah,” Scylla answered grinning broadly at her publicist, “Never better.”

 After arriving on location, Moffett did the best she could with makeup and the publicist had handed her a bottle of eye drops before she went on set so she looked every bit of the siren he’d created. The first part of the interview went great.  Just like before during interviews, Scylla teased the hosts and flirted with the other guests, and Gerit let out a sigh of relief.

Now as they went to commercial Moffet went to freshen her up and a runner brought her a bottle of water. Gerit figured she just needed to keep it together a little bit longer.

Raelle stood, silently watching the studio audience for threats and tried to ignore Scylla as best as she could as the musician engaged the hosts and the other guests.  Scylla made a particularly suggestive comment to one of the male guests about joining her in the green room and Raelle’s jaw clenched. When Scylla left the set after the interview she passed by Raelle without a glance. The bodyguard could only hope the day would be over quickly.

***

As soon as Scylla made it back to the house, she changed out of her outfit and into a pair of sweatpants. She was cold and exhausted. It felt like everything had finally caught up to her and it was all very overwhelming for the musician. Searching through her discarded clothes she ran across the shirt Helen had given her last night to wear on the way back to the mansion.  She pulled it from the pile and decided to wear it for now. It was too big for her but it was a soft, worn flannel that still held a vague scent of her past. She needed the comfort that it brought more than she’d like to admit.

Looking at her schedule, she realized she had less than a week to write the song she’d hinted to the press that she’d already written for Beth Treefine’s film.  After looking at her bed longingly she forced herself down the stairs and to the studio. Along the way, she caught sight of Raelle in the hallway talking to Byron. Their voices were hushed but when Raelle’s eyes landed on hers she stopped talking with a shake of her head and walked away.

Scylla felt like she’d had the wind knocked out of her seeing Rae with sober eyes.  She’d been so out of it earlier that she hadn’t even noticed how stunning the blonde had looked. The musician froze in place.  Looking at Rae, Scylla just wanted to go to her, to speak with her.  However, Raelle was already opening the front door and leaving the mansion.

Byron looked over at her and frowned before following the same direction that Raelle had taken. Scylla could only watch her brother leave with the one person who she most needed in that moment.

Once again, Scylla was all alone.

***

Walking out of the mansion, Raelle had remembered seeing that flannel shirt somewhere. Putting things together, she recalled that flannel shirt, a faded red and black snap-front plaid shirt, was the one Raelle had seen Hellen wear thousands of times when she was working on the grounds.  She knew it was Hellen’s because there was a paint stain on the elbow of the left sleeve. Now, seeing Scylla wearing Helen’s shirt only confirmed to Raelle everything that the groundskeeper had told her was most likely true. And it obviously answered the question that Raelle had asked Helen. Scylla wasn’t quite done with the groundskeeper after all. Apparently she was her fallback and obviously Helen was happy to oblige. Of course she was, Scylla was fantastic in bed.  Who would say no? Who could say no? She just needed to clear her head.

***

Sarah Alder handed Tally a glass of whisky as she sat down beside her on the cream colored leather sofa in her home. The red head accepted the drink and took a small sip then pouted over her glass.

“I just can’t believe that she threatened you.”

“Us,” Alder corrected. “Believe it, we were both threatened. Scylla threatened to expose our relationship if I continued to dig into information about those sealed files.”

“And you really believe Scylla Ramshorn would follow through with it?”

Alder thought for a moment about her interrogation with the musician and nodded, “I think so. We know she has the connections and all it would take is a few well-placed phone calls. If she feels that the information the sealed files are hiding could harm her or her family, I could see her doing it.”

Tally frowned, “But I’m Raelle’s friend.”

“In her version, she claims she doesn’t have feelings for Raelle.”

Shaking her head, Tally scoffed, “I don’t buy that.”

“Nor do I, but it is clear that something is happening or has happened between them.”

“That’s a whole other story between those two. I don’t think either of them is willing to talk about how they feel.” Tally said.

Alder smiled, remembering her own conversation about feelings with Tally. The red head had pretty much blurted out what she wanted from her one evening over dinner. There were no suggestions or timid questions. Just a simple ‘I want you and I know that you want me too.’ After that there had been no sense in denying the red head and so Sarah did not.

“Well, perhaps it is for the best. Raelle’s focus should be on keeping Scylla safe.”

“Yeah,” Tally said even though the thought depressed her. She knew her best friend and she knew that Raelle had already fallen in love with the musician. If they didn’t work it out, she’d be sporting a broken heart and that could be dangerous too. 

Alder watched her young lover, knowing that Tally’s thoughts were about her friend and genuinely wanting her to be happy.  After taking a sip of her drink she asked, “How do you feel about transferring to another field office now?”

Tally frowned, “I had really wanted to help with this case.”

“I know,” Alder said, “but if we are exposed, we will both have our careers damaged. And we agreed you would do it after the case was resolved anyway.”

“Are we any closer with the case?”

Alder shook her head, “The lab has come back with some interesting findings, but nothing that puts a giant X on a map.” As they sipped their whisky, they summarized the investigation and Tally gave Alder a list of the leads she’d been following.

The idea of being booted from the case and making the transfer to another field office really bothered both of them but in the end they decided that it was for the best. Tally was still upset by the quick change though.

Tally frowned, “And you really think she would expose us?”

“I do,” Alder answered.  “And even if she doesn’t, by removing the ace up her sleeve I might get her to tell me what she knows.”

“So we’re going to Fort Salem?”

Knowing there would be challenges ahead, Alder nodded, “I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

***

Raelle had another hard night. She was becoming too good of friends with Johnnie and Jack and she knew she’d need to check herself soon. Still, seeing Scylla in Helen’s clothes and the talk she’d had with Byron about seeing his sister high during the interview really rattled her.  As she started her day with a large cup of coffee she checked the time and calculated that it was probably the best time to catch Tally. She picked up her cell and called.

Tally had missed the turn. As she looked back out the window at the exit she’d just missed she cursed as she knew she’d have to take the next one and turn around. She was already running late for her first day at the new office. 

As the red head put on a signal and navigated the multiple lanes of traffic her phone rang and she punched the button on the console.

“Morning Tal,” The sound of her best friend’s southern drawl which usually made her smile and on an occasion or two had even sent her heart racing caused her to frown this morning.

“Hi Raelle,” the red head answered. She took her exit and began searching for the on ramp that would take her back.

“So, Scylla.” Raelle began. She really needed to talk about what had happened and she knew her friend who always saw what others could not see would be her voice of reason.

Tally’s jaw clenched at the name. The singer was gorgeous and she was sure a part of Raelle must be right, the blonde could always find the good in people even if it was just a sliver buried deep inside, but right now just that name put her on edge. She’d been essentially booted off her first real high profile case and had lost her mentor in one fell swoop because of Scylla Ramshorn.

“Look Rae,” Tally said, as she got onto the interstate and finally found the right exit, “I’m kinda busy right now.”

“Oh,” Raelle answered, disappointment obvious in that one word.  “Well, uh, maybe we can talk later?”

Tally finally pulled up to the parking lot of the new field office and found a space. She glanced at the dashboard and grimaced. She was already fifteen minutes late.  Raelle was continuing to speak and as she grabbed her bag she tried to listen to her friend.

“So do you have anything at all I can go on?”

“Uh,” Tally thought back to the conversation that she’d had with Alder the night before. Not only had Sarah made her agree again to keep the existence of the sealed files from Raelle but she’d also suggested that due to Raelle’s personal relationship with Scylla, she should be limited on what information she was given. Still, Raelle was Tally’s best friend and she knew that Raelle was a brilliant investigator. She couldn’t resist giving her something to go on.

“So, the death threat letters,” Tally said, “the lab found some spores in the glue used to attach the block letters on the notes. Look, I’m walking so I don’t have anything with me, I can’t recall which ones. But maybe that’s something to go on.”

“Spores?” Raelle asked, “What kind of…”

“Some type of plant. Maybe a mushroom.” Tally said, as she walked up to the metal detectors. “Rae, I’ve got to go.”

“Oh,” Raelle frowned, “uh sure Tal. Talk soon.”

Raelle realized that Tally had already ended the call.

 

After she finished her breakfast, a quick check of the schedule confirmed to Raelle that she’d have most of the day free. Byron’s exhibition didn’t start until seven and Scylla’s schedule had been cleared for the event.

Spores...not much to go on really. Not without context to the information. Raelle could sit around the guest house racking her brain or she could get up and do something. After a few minutes of going through the paltry amount of evidence that she had, she decided to make use of the range she’d put on the property. 

Gathering what she needed in a rucksack, she dressed warmly and made sure she had the keys to the side by side. When she arrived at the maintenance building she could hear music coming from upstairs and was pretty sure that the groundskeeper must be taking advantage in the lull of activity too. As bad as Raelle tried to control her thoughts, a part of her wondered if Scylla was with Helen. Shaking her head  to clear the image of Scylla wearing Helen’s shirt that popped into her mind, she got into the side by side and used the key fob to open the garage doors.

The blonde checked the security areas on her way around the property, throwing her hand up waving at one of the guards on his rounds as she passed him on her way to the back entrance. She took the now familiar path to the clearing, and parked the side by side. She placed a call to the house and informed Parker that she’d be practicing for at least the next hour so that no one would be surprised by the sounds of gunfire.

After she prepped her weapon, Raelle began her own version of therapy. Empting several clips, the bodyguard reloaded before she holstered her weapon and walked over to the targets, a frown on her face. She felt it, she knew it and now she could see it.  She was off.  Her usual tight cluster formation she would see on her targets were further away from each other than she would like.  A few strays hit way off from the center.  Overall, it certainly was not bad, being an expert marksman, but this wasn't her best.

Raelle’s eyes kept looking toward the wooded area that she was exploring when Helen had showed up and cut her off the first time she’d inspected the area. The groundskeeper had gone on about a black bear which she still found ridiculous and even Scylla had agreed that it sounded preposterous.  Still, she had noticed the tracks of several small animals and there was definitely a game trail.  

Instead of going back to her start position, she made her way across the clearing and found the path again. This time there was no one to stop her and the longer she followed the winding path the more she began to wonder if it had always been a game trail or if perhaps it had been something else before the area had been taken over by the flora and fauna.  Studying the ground carefully, her eyes spotted something and she kicked at it with the toe of her boot. Sure enough, it was a small cobblestone. It looked just like the ones that littered the footpaths all over the property.  She crouched down, getting a better look and through the weeds could see more stones here and there. She grabbed a tree branch and used it to poke around. She followed the old path, eyes on the stones and was surprised to eventually find herself in another clearing.

 As Raelle looked up, her pale blue eyes were immediately drawn to a humongous tree, its branches stretching out like the devil’s fingers reaching for unsuspecting innocent souls. Raelle was struck by the thought and she shuddered.  One branch stuck out from the others, an accusing finger pointing. It reached out over a pond, the water still and stagnant.  Her gaze was drawn to where the branch pointed and she could just make out the glint of glass in the distance.  She wondered if those were the hothouses that Scylla had mentioned at their dinner date. Once again she felt a pang of regret. She almost succeeded in forgetting her current situation and insecurities.  Now reliving the fact, it had only been a few days ago that they were together and happy.  Remembering the sight of Scylla in Helen’s shirt again, she sighed. Or were they ever really together? Would it have ever even been possible for Scylla to be entirely hers? Raelle knew she had to be professional now to keep Scyl safe. When it came to the musician though, the blonde never felt so weak.

She walked forward to the edge of the pond and took a closer look at the tree. The pointing branch had indentations so deep as to have warped the branch itself and she guessed that at one time it had supported a swing. She walked around the perimeter of the pond and peering into the murky depths she could see it, yes, an old board, rotting ropes still attached.

Growing close to the tree was a cluster of mushrooms and as Raelle bent forward to look at them her eyes caught a glint of light. Peering closer she could see that it was the light reflecting off of a camera lens. She furrowed her brow. The camera was new tech. What was it doing here in the middle of a neglected area of the property? It was too new to be something that Scylla’s mother may have had put up to provide security for the hothouses. Once again she found herself following the line of sight.  She walked along the clearing and came across a small cluster of plants that she recognized too well. So, apparently someone knew how to garden after all. 

Raelle continued walking, shaking her head and ignoring the pot plants and making her way toward the hot houses. As she approached them she noticed again that there seemed to be footpaths still visible in the overgrown brush. Various plants were everywhere and as Raelle peered through the broken glass door to one of the hothouses, she could see that the entire place had been overtaken by vines.  Raelle remembered that movie she’d seen with Tally about the killing vines at a Mayan temple and found herself shuddering and subconsciously taking a step back. She could see through the vines what appeared to be several mushrooms and other plants but there was no way in hell she was going inside for further exploration. 

Quickly she made her way back toward the pond, her attention drawn once again by that strange tree. As she walked around, poking at the ground with the branch, thinking about installing some cameras of her own so she could have security coverage of this area of the property she noticed something with a dull glint shimmer through the weeds. She crouched down and dug through the thick grass with her hand. Her slender fingers closed around something metallic and cold and she realized that she had a shell casing in her hand. As she pulled at the weeds she found several more around the pond. Raelle took her phone out and snapped a few shots to have a reference of where the other bullet casings were located. Brows furrowed, she pocketed a few of them.

 At the base of the tree she looked out at the pond again. There was something heavy in the air. A feeling that she couldn’t shake that there was something very wrong here.  Just as she was about to turn back toward the woods, she felt that familiar prickle on the back of her neck and came to a stop. Her hand on her holster, she slowly pivoted and found the groundskeeper staring at her.

“Hello Raelle,” Helen said, her voice as chipper as always, but her visage a carefully expressionless stare.

“Helen,” Raelle answered cautiously. “What brings you all the way out here? I figured you’d be enjoying the day off.”

“Oh, I’ve always got little jobs to do around here to keep the boss satisfied.” Helen answered, a smirk finally gracing her lips.

Raelle knew that Helen was trying to get a rise out of her, and had it not been for her years of training, it would have worked. Instead she held in the desire to punch Helen’s customary smirk off of her face and gazed at the groundskeeper, pale eyes devoid of emotion.

“The camera?” Raelle guessed.

“Yeah,” Helen held up her phone and wiggled it in her hand before returning to her shirt pocket. “It alerted me someone was out here poking around.”

“Pretty high tech for just a little weed garden.”

“It’s a dangerous area. Lots of poisonous plants. And I certainly wouldn’t want anyone to wander out here and accidentally fall in the pond and drown.”

“That's very responsible of you.  Then I’m sure you wouldn’t object to me putting up more cameras for the security grid.”

“Well, security is your area of expertise.” Helen answered evenly.

“Helen,” Raelle began, feeling the shells in her pocket, “you ever do any shooting out here?”

The groundskeeper’s eyes widened but after a moment she shook her head. “The Ramshorns don’t like guns on the property. You’re the only one doing any shooting around here.”

Raelle nodded at the groundskeeper. That obviously wasn’t true, but Raelle didn’t want to push the subject and maybe tip Helen off to what she’d found.

“Do they know about the weed?”

Helen shrugged.

Raelle snorted, “Right, well I’m not a cop so it's not like I give a shit. My only concern is keeping Scylla Ramshorn safe.”

“Then I’d say she’s in good hands.” Helen answered, smirking at the bodyguard.

Raelle just shook her head and followed the groundskeeper as they made their way back to the parked side by sides. All she could think was did anyone in this house tell the truth?

 

***

“I can’t believe it, Scyl. You put yourself and everyone else through this shit once and I thought you’d know better than to ever do it again.”

Scylla didn’t meet her brother’s gaze, instead she kept her head down, her eyes on her fingers as they rested on the keys of her mother’s piano. She swallowed, trying to hold back her tears. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“Upset me?” Byron looked at his sister like she was crazy. “I’m worried about you. You get into a fight with your girl and the next thing I know you’re taking drugs again?”

Scylla clenched her jaw. Raelle wasn’t her girl. Not anymore if she ever had been. “I know what I’m doing.”

“Oh, let me guess: you’re in control? You know when to stop? It’s only until we get through the holidays? It’s just to take the edge off?” Byron shook his head. “Said every fucking junkie ever.”

Scylla rolled her eyes at her brother, “For fucks sake Byron, it was a damned Adderall. You’re acting like I’m doing lines backstage.”

“What did you do the night before?” Byron asked.

Scylla didn’t answer, thinking back to her time with Helen, and just looked at her brother for a long moment.

Byron shook his head, “I should have had that entire section of the property scorched to the earth.”

“You wouldn’t dare touch my mother’s hothouses.”

“OUR mother Scylla.” Byron said, his voice raised. “You’ve always done this. It’s all about you and your feelings. Your house, your fame, your parents. Your pain. What about the part that’s mine? What about my losses?”

By this point Byron was shouting and it had drawn the attention of several staff including Raelle who’d been talking with Porter about security round assignments.

She walked up to the studio door with Porter and both of the Ramshorns turned to look at them.

“Everything okay here?” Raelle asked.

“Fucking peachy,” Scylla snapped. “Close the door will you? This is a family affair.”

Raelle winced but grabbed the knob to close the French door when Byron said, “Don’t bother, Raelle, I’m done here.”  He marched out of the studio, slamming the door behind him.  The blonde knew she wasn't welcomed, but she still needed to run what she found by to the musician.  Raelle opened the door and walked into the studio.

Scylla turned quickly to the opened doors and saw her bodyguard back in the studio. “What is it now?”

“I was out at the range today, and I decided to do a little bit of exploring.  I just wanted to make sure you were aware of Helen's garden project that is located here on the grounds. It’s none of my business but I am here to protect you and I wanted to make sure you knew about it.”

Scylla rolled her eyes at the blonde. Of course she knew. She only hoped that Raelle had stopped her snooping at the pot plants. “Yeah, I don’t really see the harm.”

Raelle nodded, “Fine by me.” The bodyguard  turned to leave the studio but forgot one important detail and turned back, “Oh, I had a call with Tally earlier and I need to see the medical examiner and the forensic team so I’ll be heading out in a bit.”

Scylla’s jaw clenched as she remembered the little note on the card she’d found in Raelle’s jacket.  “No, I want you here on the property.”

Raelle’s brows rose, “I’m not asking permission. I’m just informing you of my movements.”

“I hired you to protect me, not to go on paid day trips and dates. “

“Coordinating with the team trying to catch this psycho is a part of me protecting you.”

Scylla shook her head. “Well protect me here, besides Byron’s exhibition opens tonight at the gallery.”

“Yes I understand, we have already vetted the list. Porter will be there and he can protect you...”

Not even wanting to hear Rae out, she cut her off “I don’t want it to be Porter, I want YOU to be the one next to me.”

Raelle’s eyes met the brunette’s cerulean gaze and she responded, “You know I’m yours, I’ll be there tonight.” 

Hearing Raelle say those words you know I’m yours, made Scylla’s heart skip a beat.  She only wished to herself that Raelle was telling her that not just as her bodyguard.

Chapter Text

Scylla smoothed down her white dress, nervous hands fidgeting over the fabric as she walked into the foyer. Byron waited for her bouncing up and down on the balls of his feet.  He stopped and smiled when his sister walked up to him.

“Ready for tonight?” Scylla asked.

“Yeah,” Byron answered. He thought about the exhibition and the painting that he’d finally put on display after so many years of being hidden in the shadows. He was both excited and a little terrified. He knew that Scylla must feel a little of the same. 

“Are you ready?” He asked. He examined his sister closely, looking into her clear azure gaze. He was glad to see that there were no traces of drugs there. He was worried that with this particular exhibition that Scylla wouldn’t be able to resist reverting to old habits.  

“You’re going to stay sober with me  tonight, right?”

“Yes, Byron.” Scylla answered.

“Good, I don’t want to see you going down that path again. I know that you’re upset about Raelle, but there’s no sense in letting some girl...”

“I’m not…” Scylla shook her head, “You know she's not just some girl.” 

“Did you tell her that?” Byron asked.

“I tried, she didn’t seem to care.”

“Wait, you told her that you loved her and she didn’t care?”

“No,” Scylla admitted. “I never made it that far. She had already said she couldn’t be with me and protect me at the same time.”

Byron tilted his head considering his sister’s predicament. 

“She said it was a mistake.”

Byron sighed, “That’s some shit right there, sis.” He pulled Scylla into a hug and kissed her cheek. 

“I promise you I won’t go down that road again.” Scylla whispered into her brother’s ear. 

“Good.” He answered. He let her go and used his thumb to catch a tear before it could fall and mess up the musician’s make-up. “We will figure this out. I don’t believe that Raelle thinks the two of you were a mistake.”

“She said…”

Byron shook his head, “there was a time that I said that I was straight.  It doesn’t matter what she said. I saw the way she looked at you…STILL looks at you. That woman is in love with you.”

“By…” Scylla said, her eyes filling with tears again.

“No,” Byron said, reaching out and squeezing his sister’s shoulders. “No more of that. We are going to my opening and you’re going to keep me from hyperventilating when the critics are let loose at the gates.”

Scylla laughed and Byron kissed her cheek. “That's the laugh I wanted to hear. Ok, C'mon. I look fabulous and Moffett did some great work and managed to get you cleaned up pretty nicely. Let’s go and rock the art world.” Bryon offered his arm to his sister and they walked in ready for his show. 

 

***

Raelle didn’t know much about art but she had to admit she liked the light jazz music that played in the background and the gallery was pretty nice. She was in her new customary black on black suit and was trying to blend into the crowd as she made her security sweeps before she had to join the Ramshorns for the reveal of the featured painting later that night. 

People milled about with a brochure in one hand and most had wine glasses in the other. She probably would never pay for a ticket, it had to be expensive. Raelle had to fight back an eye roll as she noticed a food tray that had lobster bites. She couldn't believe that they had lobster.  The guests were all discussing Byron’s work, and stopping at this or that exhibition.  After enduring Scylla’s interviews and concerts, this was a cake walk.  She’d already made a couple of rounds, keeping note of Scylla’s location in the gallery each time.  

She’d just made it back to her starting position when she heard a familiar voice behind her. 

“Well, as I live and breathe, Raelle Collar.”

Raelle smiled and she turned to see Dr. Alice Monroe standing before her in an exquisite blue dress. It looked familiar and Raelle realized that it was similar to the one she’d seen Scylla wearing tonight.   She wore heels that made her a good three inches taller than Raelle and the bodyguard had to look up just to meet the emerald gaze. Raelle stepped forward, taking the blonde’s hand expecting just a shake and was surprised when the doctor pulled her in for a kiss on her cheek.

Blushing, she stepped back and looked at the doctor, “What are you doing here? You weren’t on my list.”

Alice smiled at Raelle, “I’ve been a fan of Byron’s work for many years and when I heard that he was keeping the featured painting a secret, I just had to come and see what he had on display. I know the gallery owner and called in a favor. I hope you don’t consider me a security threat.”

“Not at all,” Raelle answered and as a waiter passed by she grabbed two glasses of wine and handed one to the Doctor who accepted it with a smile.

“Thank you.” 

“I don’t really get it,” Raelle confessed, leaning in close to the blonde, just barely close enough touching her arm. “I mean, it’s obvious that he’s good. I just don’t get why he’s good.”

Alice nodded her understanding and took a step forward closing the gap into Raelle’s personal space, “Yes, portraits seem so commonplace, don’t they? Yet Byron’s work sells out at every exhibition and people are constantly begging him for commissions.”

Raelle grinned at the doctor, noticing her, finding herself curious and gave her an expectant look, “Okay, I’ll bite. Why?”

Alice laughed, and it was a lovely sound to Raelle. There was no denying that there was chemistry between the two of them. Several of the guests glanced their way and took long measured looks at the knockout blondes sharing a drink and discussing art. 

One guest in particular took notice, that guest being Scylla Ramshorn. She was standing there beside her brother who was talking to another artist as they droned on about lighting when the sound drew her attention and her entire body startled at the sight of Raelle talking to one of the sexiest women in the room. She grabbed Porter who was on a security round and spat, “Who the fuck is that?”

“Who?” Porter asked, looking around the room.

“The woman talking to Raelle.” 

Porter looked over at the woman but she didn’t seem like much of a security threat and he shrugged. “I don’t know, I’m sure she had a ticket.”

“Find out her name, Porter.” Scylla hissed, giving a slight push for him to hurry.

The man darted toward the front of the gallery and returned only a few minutes later.  He walked up to the Ramshorn siblings and Scylla took a few steps away from her brother to talk to him.

“Well?”

“She’s a doctor!”  Porter exclaimed and bewildered like a child he continued. “Dr. Alice Monroe.”

Scylla took the news like a punch to her gut but managed to maintain her indifferent façade as she turned back to watch them.

 

As they walked from one painting to another, Alice would point out a brushstroke here or a spatter of paint there. She was quite animated about her love of art and as she spoke she’d gesture, frequently touching Raelle. 

Raelle had to admit to herself that she didn’t mind the touch.  IF it had not been that she was an absolute emotional wreck and still very much in love with one Scylla Ramshorn, she would have probably taken the doctor up on her offer for lunch. 

“Byron’s genius is his ability to tell a story about a person with just a few brushstrokes. He can show you what’s in a person’s heart and sometimes reveal their souls.”

“Like here,” Alice said, pointing at the eyes of a portrait of Byron’s sister, “If you look closely enough you can see the tiniest reflection there in the eyes.”

Raelle swallowed, finding it difficult to focus on the larger than life image of Scylla Ramshorn. Byron had captured the siren’s allure and she had to take a step back. She’d seen Scylla look at her like that, had been the object of her desire but she’d also thought she’d been more. It was too much to think about and she deliberately averted her gaze.

Alice watched Raelle closely and seeing  her discomfort and gave the bodyguard a knowing look, “So, the rumors are true?”

Raelle’s pale blue eyes met the intelligent emerald ones of the doctor and Alice pursed her lips and revised her statement. “They were true.”

Raelle swallowed again and gave a curt nod.

Alice gave the slightest of shrugs, “I’m sorry that you’re hurting, but I’m also sorry that you’re unavailable.”

“For what it’s worth, had circumstances been different, I would have liked to have that lunch with you.” Raelle admitted.

Alice smiled, “And we still can, whenever you're ready, just as friends.”

Raelle nodded, “I’d like that.”

They moved away from the painting of the siren and after walking with the doctor a little longer, Raelle excused herself to make another security round. 

 

As soon as Byron’s friend walked away, he made his way over to his little sister. Stepping up into her personal space he bent over and whispered in her ear,  “What the hell are you in such a tissy about?”

“Look,” Scylla said, nodding toward Dr. Alice Monroe. 

“Interested?” Byron asked.  Though he was sure that he must be missing something.

“No, you prat, that’s the woman who gave the business card to Raelle.”

Byron took in the handsome blonde. “You mean Dr. Alice Monroe?”

“Yes,” Scylla answered, staring at the blonde and comparing herself to the woman. What the hell did she have that Scylla didn’t.  And was that bitch really wearing her dress in a different color? Should she have got the blue one?

Byron watched his sister and knew that she was doubting herself. With a huff he took a step toward the doctor. 

Scylla grabbed at his arm and hissed, “What are you doing?”

“I’m going to take care of this,” Byron answered and shrugged his sister off.

Grinning, he walked up to the blonde and offered his hand. “Hi, I’m Byron, are you enjoying the exhibit?”

 “Oh immensely,” Alice answered, accepting the offered hand.   “It’s an honor to meet you in person, Mr. Ramshorn. I’ve been following and collecting your work for many years.”

“Really?” Byron asked, surprised. His work was expensive and if this woman was a collector, she must have deep pockets.

“Yes,” Alice answered. 

“I didn’t catch your name?”  Byron responded.

“Alice,  Dr. Alice Monroe.”

“Well, it truly is a pleasure to meet a dedicated fan.” Byron said. “So, I noticed you chatting with Raelle Collar. Is she a good friend?”

Alice smiled, “Well, let's just say if you ever completed a portrait of her I’d buy it no matter the asking price.  But candidly, we are just work colleagues .”

Byron nodded and smiled, “She’d be an interesting subject. She’s just full of fire and fury.”

“Yes,” Alice agreed.

“Well, if the day ever came, I’d let you know. Though I suspect I’d already have another buyer interested.”

Alice smiled, “And unfortunately for me I’m sure that you give your family the first purchasing option.”

“Too right,” Byron answered. “It was a pleasure Doctor, do enjoy the reveal later on tonight.”

Byron started back toward his sister when one of the gallery staff stopped him. 

“Sir, it’s time.”

“Oh,” Byron answered and was whisked away toward the back of the gallery. He glanced over his shoulder as they rushed him and he could see that another staff member had spoken to Scylla as well and the brunette was searching the room. A few seconds later her bodyguard appeared at her side and they started walking in the same direction.

 

It only took a few minutes for the crowd to gather around the covered canvas and as the lights came up, the staff removed the covering. 

There was a flurry of  murmurs and a few gasps as Byron stepped forward and smiled. “I give you Reflected Confessions.”

The painting was unlike any of the other portraits in the exhibition.  Rather than a single image of an individual against a light or dark neutral background, this contemporary painting showcased a young male, fourteen or fifteen with light brown hair and hazel eyes. He sat on a swing perched over a pond. 

The foreground of the canvas was filled with various exotic flowers painted in vibrant colors. There was a trail of mushrooms placed  in various locations within the flowers. The viewer's gaze was directed to the large tree that supported the swing. The tree was bare with large branches  that reached toward the sky almost like fingers on a hand. Unlike its counterparts, the tree was dark and painted in various deep brown and black shades. The water had ripples moving away below the boy, the deepest blue that seemed it would never calm. There was an image or maybe images of something that was distorted by the water that Raelle couldn’t quite make out.  It almost looked like the reflection of faces.

In contrast to the vivid colors and realistic imagery, the boy had an almost cartoonish red heart painted across his chest. The heart had a jagged line running down the middle indicating that it was broken. There was also the slightest hint of red on the boy’s temple that the viewer could detect if they put their nose to the canvas.

Byron and his sister stood still near the painting as the crowd buzzed about the work. Scylla nudged her brother with an elbow to the ribs and when he looked down at her she deliberately moved her gaze to Raelle.  

Byron followed his sister’s azure eyes and gave the smallest shakes of his head. He whispered in her ear, “Nothing’s happened yet.”

Raelle looked at the Ramshorns and then at the painting. She could sense that there was some message that she just wasn’t getting and she could see that they were having some sort of exchange. She was about to ask Scylla about the painting  when she felt a breath on her neck and she turned just in time to see Alice step right up behind her.

“Exquisite, isn’t it?” Alice whispered in her ear.

Raelle stepped back from her place near Scylla and nodded, “Yeah, there’s something about it I don’t get. I think I know the place though.”

Dr. Monroe’s brow furrowed, “Really? It’s a real place? Where is it?”

“A clearing on their property.” Seeing the tree reminded Raelle that she had wanted to talk to the doctor about the spores and the shell casings that she’d found. “Hey listen, I was wondering if I could ask you…”

“Raelle.”

The sound of her name on the musician’s lips still managed to make the blonde’s breath hitch and her pale blue eyes immediately met Scylla’s azure gaze.

“I need to leave.” 

“Now?” Raelle asked, surprised by the timing.

“Yes, now.” Scylla answered, stepping forward. She placed her hand on Raelle’s arm and looked over at the doctor.  “If you’ll forgive my bodyguard’s untimely exit, Dr. Monroe, she’ll need to accompany me.”

Alice’s brows furrowed and she nodded, “Of course, Ms. Ramshorn. Have a good night.”

As Scylla drew the bodyguard away, Dr. Monroe called out, “Call me Raelle and we’ll finish that chat.”

Raelle could only nod as Scylla pushed through the crowd and reached the front of the gallery dragging the bodyguard along.

“Shouldn’t we stay and wait…”

“No,” Scylla answered simply.  The musician had watched Alice and Raelle together and the only thing she could think to do was pull her bodyguard away.  She kept hearing what Byron had said over and over. YET There was nothing between Raelle and the doctor, YET. But she knew desire when she saw it. Scylla especially knew how Raelle behaved when interested and it was obvious that she and the doctor were more than a little interested in one another. She had to talk to Raelle. Now. 

 Finally outside she smelled the cool night air and took in a deep breath. The air had a familiar scent and it stirred up memories, her body responding before she realized what was happening.  Raelle was already calling for the car by the time she caught up to Scylla outside.  As they stood and waited for Helen to bring the car around they saw the flash of lightning and heard the crack of thunder. The rain that poured down was instant and the few people standing around waiting for their cars huddled closer  to the door and its awning.

As more people started to file out of the gallery, Raelle saw that Scylla wasn’t paying attention to the door and grabbed her, pulling her in close to avoid being hit.  In that instant Scylla looked up into Raelle’s pale blue gaze and she pressed forward, intent on letting her lips  show the blonde how she felt. 

A car horn made them both jump and Raelle turned her head to see Helen at the curb. She stepped away from Scylla and leaned forward, ignoring the rain.  She  opened the door for the musician and  was about to follow the brunette into the car when Porter rushed out and hopped in the waiting limo. Raelle frowned and got into the car after him and closed the door.  Helen moved the limo back into the parking area, giving other people a chance to get to their vehicles which were beginning to line up outside of the gallery.

“What the Hell, Porter?” Raelle asked. 

The blonde just sat there flustered, he wasn’t paying attention to Raelle. Instead his wide eyes were focused on Scylla and as they sat in the limo she could tell he was under stress. His cheeks were red and he panted, trying several times to catch his breath before speaking.  

“Gerit showed up and he's going off on Byron,” he managed. 

“Why?” Raelle asked.

“The painting. God, Scyl,  I can’t believe he…”

“Raelle,” Scylla blurted, interrupting her security guard and flashing Porter a look that told him to shut up. “Would you please go back inside and help my brother?”

Raelle looked back and forth between Porter and the musician, but she could already feel the car move and in a few seconds they were back in front of the door. She frowned, “Porter, watch her.”

Porter just nodded, still  trying to control his breath.

Raelle made her way through the gallery, glancing here and there looking for Scylla’s brother, but soon enough  followed the sounds of their shouts.

“Are you a complete imbecile?” Gerit yelled.

“It’s not your decision to make, Gerit. It never was.”

“You have no business risking Scylla’s career by being so fucking selfish.”

“Me selfish? What about you? What about Scylla?”

As they continued back and forth arguing in front of the recently revealed painting, Raelle stepped up and stopped before them.

“Byron,” Raelle began, “do you have a problem I can take care of for you?”

The two men stopped arguing and Byron’s brows rose and Gerit scowled at the bodyguard.

“Oh really? And what are you going to do to me?”

Raelle met his gaze and her pale blue eyes bore into his. It only took a few seconds for him to shudder and take a step back.

Nearly whispering he looked back at Byron, “If this ruins her, it's on you.”

Quickly the publicist stalked off and Raelle softened her gaze before turning it on Byron.

He offered her a small smile and then shook his head, “And to think I used to sleep with that jackass.” 

Raelle’s eyes widened and she blurted out, “You too?”

“What?” Byron asked, furrowing his brows.

“I...Uh...well, I heard that Scylla had sex with Gerit.”

Bryron’s eyes widened and began to laugh. After a few moments he caught his breath and wiped the tears from his eyes. “Good God, Raelle. No, Hell no. Gerit is as gay as you and I are.” 

Now it was Raelle’s turn to be surprised and she found herself blushing. If Helen had lied to her about Gerit, what else may she have lied about?

“Oh,” the blonde managed.

“Did Scylla already go to the car?” Byron asked, looking around and not finding his sister anywhere in the remaining crowd.

“Yeah,” Raelle answered. “I should get back out there to her. Will you be okay here?”

Byron smiled, “Sure, Raelle. You should go to her.” That idea alone made Rae smile back at Byron before walking away. 



***

“You just can’t do that Scylla.”

“The fuck I can’t,” Scylla anwered. “It’s my concert. I’ll sing what I damn well please.”

“But your fans will expect your hits...It’s what they paid to hear.”

“They paid to see Scylla Ramshorn,” Izadora corrected. “There’s nothing in her contract that specifies what she has to sing. She could sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Stars for all the contract defines. The important thing is that she mingles with them after the show.”

Gerit sat on the couch, pouting, as he looked around the room searching for someone to agree with him.

The entire crew was there, including Raelle, Porter, and Helen. Izadora had called the impromptu huddle to discuss the final days before Fort Salem and the event itself. They had already reviewed the few remaining events Scylla was contracted to appear in before Fort Salem.  The manager had taken the initiative, against Geirt’s advice, to cancel anything that wasn’t mandatory for the musician. 

 Raelle and Porter  discussed the security plans. They decided on who would handle the security at the house while they were gone. Then they discussed how they would address the concert and the afterparty and precautions that would be in place at the hotel itself.  Finally, they reviewed the guest list which had been carefully vetted. Last minute additions to the list would be checked out over the next couple of days. 

The conversation was going well until Scylla decided to drop the bomb on the group that she had a few new songs she’d planned on playing at the concert and would thus need time in Swythe Studios to prepare the music.

The publicist had protested, but really, what could he do?

“I still think it’s a bad idea. What if the songs tank? They’ll put a damper on the whole event and that will give you mixed press reviews.”

Scylla shrugged, “I’m tired of always picking the perfect songs, Gerit. I’ll do the usual set but I want to add a few new things too.”

Izadora shrugged, “Well, they could be new hits.”

“Exactly.” Byron said. “Sometimes it's what you don’t expect.”

Raelle sat, listening to the conversation and thinking about the painting Byron referenced. The strange painting at the reveal had taken the art world by storm and the reviews had been impressive. The entire exhibition had sold out the opening night and there had  been multiple offers for the piece that had caused the buzz itself, but everyone was shocked when Byron simply said it wasn’t for sale.  It was rumored he’d turned down several thousands of dollars. Raelle was still contemplating the price of the art in general. How much the painting of Scylla may have cost when Parker walked up to the group.

“Pardon me,” Parker began and met Raelle’s gaze, pulling her from her thoughts.

Raelle’s brow lifted, “Did you need me?”

“There’s a call from the security line. Apparently someone is here to see you. Did you call for a physician?”

“A physician?” Scylla parroted. “Parker, who's at the gate?”

Parker turned to Scylla and gave her a slight bow of his head, “Forgive me, Ms. Ramshorn. Dr. Alice Monroe is here to see Raelle Collar.”

No one in the group was more surprised than Raelle and she quickly stood. “I’ll go see what she wants.”

From opposite couches Byron and Scylla exchanged a long measured look. 

 

Raelle met Alice as she pulled her Navarra blue Audi Roadster up to the main house.  She stepped up to the car door and opened it for the doctor. Alice  got out of the car and Raelle couldn’t help but give it and the doctor a once over.  She was dressed casually in jeans and a camel colored turtleneck sweater and she looked fantastic.

“Hi there,” Raelle said with a grin.

“Hello Raelle, I was in the area and thought I’d stop by so we could finish that chat. I hope you don’t mind.”

“Not at all,” Raelle said. 

Alice leaned in and kissed Raelle’s cheek and the bodyguard kissed her back before pointing her in the direction of the guest house.

***

The meeting came to an end not long after Raelle had made her exit and everyone began to file out of the room. Scylla caught Porter by the arm before he could leave. 

“Notify me the second she leaves the property.”

Porter nodded and made his way out the door.

Byron looked at his sister from the couch, “Well?”

Scylla shook her head, “I tried, Byron. I still didn’t get the chance to talk to her.”

***

From the guard shack, Porter admired the Audi Roadster as it drove passed leaving the mansion. He made the call to Scylla’s cell phone, not realizing that it was too late. The musician had retreated to her balcony after the meeting  and from there she could very clearly see Raelle and the doctor as they rode up the drive in one of the side by sides later that evening.  She had watched them as they walked close together on their way back to Alice’s vehicle.  The musician had a feeling of trepidation seeing the two interact. Scylal witnessed the doctor kiss Raelle and frowned when she saw that Raelle eagerly returned the friendly gesture. 

 Her jaw clenched as she watched the physician get into her car and leave. Scylla couldn't help but feel betrayed and hurt. Had they been on a date? She brought her here to MY property? Then she  realized the one big threat in the  equation. They had been in the side by side. Did that mean she took the doctor to the shooting range? Did they go to the pond? Was Raelle investigating her for the FBI?  If so, Goddess protect.

The more that she thought about it, the more that it bothered her and eventually Scylla couldn’t stand it any longer. For the second time in less than a week, after her dinner, she made her way back to the groundskeeper’s door. She didn’t bother with knocking and just  shouted "Helen, open up! I know you're there!"

Finally, she heard the locks moving and the door opened. 

"Well this is a surprise,"  Helen answered,  flashing yet another cocky grin.

Scylla walked across the threshold "Yeah, it's not about that. I need to know if you still keep a camera up by the pond.”

“You mean the one that Gerit insisted I put up all those years ago?”

Scylla rolled her eyes, “That old thing? Surely you’ve upgraded it. Now,  let me see your video feed of the security camera that's by the water. Don't bullshit me, I know you have it."

Helen looked at Scylla with a knowing grin but she still asked, “Any particular time frame?”

“You know the timeframe. I’m sure you were probably squirreled up in here watching it yourself.”

Helen laughed and pulled out her phone from her pocket. She opened the app and tapped a few commands to bring up the recording of the feed from earlier in the day and then handed the phone to the musician. 

“Yeah, it was very entertaining,” Helen said.

On Helen’s phone, Scylla watched Raelle and the doctor walking towards the tree at the pond. They were looking straight into the lens and Scylla’s jaw clenched when the doctor linked her arm with Raelle’s and they walked together around the pond. She noticed that Raelle had pointed out something in the pond. The swing, Scylla knew.  Next the blonde showed the doctor something on the ground and Scylla’s brows furrowed. She wasn’t sure what was so interesting to them.

  Seeing Raelle at the pond brought back a cascade of memories. She swallowed hard and handed the phone back to Helen. The musician  had seen enough and with a stressed tone she spoke to Helen,"it's late, I better get back.”

“Apparently you didn’t get rid of their interest. Well, at least of the pond.” 

Scylla shook her head, “Maybe it was about Byron’s painting or maybe it was about you.  Eventually we are gonna have to talk about that shit you're growing over there." The musician tried to think logically, there were more things happening but all she could think about was Ralle. 

“Speaking of,” Helen began, walking toward the living room.

“No, not tonight.” Scylla answered. 

“Are you sure? You still haven't answered my question. What is it that you want Scylla?” Helen asked.

“I want to be with Raelle Collar.” Scylla said and walked out of the apartment.

***

“So she just showed up at the mansion?” Tally asked, almost losing her ear piece as she sorted through the last of the files on her desk.  This evening she had the time to talk to Raelle. Her new boss had welcomed her to the field office with a frown and had immediately dropped her at a desk with a large stack of cold cases to reassess.  

“Yeah,” Raelle answered. She rested her head back on the couch cushion in the guest house. 

“Wow,” Tally exclaimed.  “What did she want?” 

“She…” Raelle began but stopped at Tally’s bark of laughter. 

“I guess I know exactly what she wanted.”

Raelle found herself grinning and she couldn’t  help but admit to herself that she liked the doctor.  It was mostly shop talk, but she’d enjoyed their brief time together. Even the creepy tree by the pond couldn’t put a damper on her mood while she had the handsome blonde with emerald eyes by her side.

“Maybe,” Raelle finally admitted. “But she was here to talk to me about what I found on the grounds.”

Tally closed the last file shut and sat up straight in her chair. Instinctively, she grabbed a notepad and a pen. “What did you find?”

The bodyguard filled her friend in on what she’d found on the grounds including the pond,strange plants, and the hothouses. Then she told her about the shell casings and the odd little mushrooms.

“Spores?” Tally asked.

“Maybe, hell I don’t know.” Raelle admitted. “But the doc thought she could run some tests. Just for shits and giggles really.”

“Well, yeah,” Tally answered, her mind racing. There’s  no chain of custody for evidence.”

“No,” Raelle agreed. “I mean, it's probably nothing.”

Tally wasn’t so sure. She trusted Raelle’s instincts. The blonde was like a bloodhound when she scented something and she was almost never wrong. “What about the shell casings?”

“Same thing right? I mean, no chain of evidence.”

“No, but if you bring them by I can have a buddy of mine do some checking. See if they match any crimes in the database.”

“That would be fantastic. It was weird, finding all those shell casings in a cluster.  You’ll have them tomorrow.”

“You’re coming up here?” Tally asked, her voice pinched. She hadn’t told Raelle about the change in field offices yet and she still wasn’t sure how she’d explain giving up the case without outing Scylla Ramshorn’s threats. 

 “No, Alice offered to take them to you for me. She said she’d  probably drop them by Alder’s house so that no one at the office would catch on.”

“That will work,” Tally said, trying to hide the relief in her voice.  “What were you going to tell me the other day about Scylla?”

Raelle realized she didn’t know what to say.  She knew that she loved the musician, but she’d decided to keep the relationship as professional as possible. What good did it do to discuss the what if's?

“Ah, don’t worry about it Tally. I was just going to bitch about the long hours.”

"Are you sure?" Tally asked unconvinced there wasn't more to that statement. She could hear the disappointment in her friend’s voice but she could also hear the resolve. 

“Yeah,” Raelle answered with a sigh.

“Well, I’m going to have to finish up and get home.”

“Which one?” Raelle asked, then thinking about Tally being overheard at the office, added, “Alder cooking again tonight?”

“Yeah,” Tally answered with a grin.

***

Scylla was pacing back and forth in her studio. She was supposed to be putting the finishing touches on her new songs before heading over to Swythe’s Studios to work on the music so it would be ready for Fort Salem, but everytime she tried to focus, all she could see was her bodyguard with the doctor. 

The subject of her thoughts surprised her by rapping at the glass on the french doors and Scylla snapped her head up toward the sound.

“Come in,” she answered.

Raelle didn’t come into the room though and just stood at the doorway. “Gerit’s getting antsy, are you about ready?”

“We don’t leave for another fucking forty five minutes,” Scylla huffed.

Raelle’s brow furrowed, “Um, okay.”

She watched the musician sort through her notebooks for a few more seconds and then shrugged, “He didn’t tell me that.  I’ll just go grab a cup of coffee and wait.”

 Scylla looked back up at the blonde. The words and thoughts and images stirred in her mind and she found herself spatting, “Coffee break already? You take a lot of liberties with this job.”

Raelle’s head tilted and she blinked at the sarcasm she heard in the musician’s voice, “I’m sorry?”

“Yesterday we were in a meeting and you just disappeared.”

“Well, the security part was done and I had a guest.”

“You don’t get to have guests here,” Scylla said.

“You didn’t seem to mind me giving Tally a tour.” Raelle responded. 

“Tally doesn’t want to fuck you. Well, at least not now that she has Alder.”

 “Excuse me?”   Raelle asked, eyes wide. She could feel her temper rise, “What the hell are you...” 

This isn’t your home. You don’t get to have guests. This isn't your fucking property. ”

“Right,” Raelle answered. The words, always musical coming from the brunette’s lips, still struck her. Not her home. No,  she guessed that it wasn’t.

“Good, I’m glad we're clear on this point. No one comes onto my property without my approval.”

“Understood,” Raelle answered and turned on her heel.  

A second later she pivoted back, “I’ll be sure to keep a log for my time and I’ll keep an itemized list of any expenses. I’ll get that to you weekly. Or do you want me to send it to Gerit?”

Scylla blinked, “What are you talking about?”

“I’ll be off the property. So I should keep a log of my time on the job.”

“I didn’t,” Scylla began.

“No, you’re right, this isn’t my home.”  Raelle answered.

“I…” Scylla began.

“I’ll speak with Izadora about my contract.” With that, Raelle turned again and made her way to the manager’s office.

***

“She can’t do that...can she?” Byron asked.

“According to Izadora, she can,” Scylla answered.

Byron dropped to a stool beside the piano in the studio at the mansion.  After they’d returned from Swythe’s Records, he watched as Raelle packed up her things in her Subaru and then drove away. He made a beeline for the mansion as soon as the car went around the curve in the drive. 

“But you need protection around the clock.”

“According to the contract, she can assign security. It doesn’t always have to be her at my side.”

“But Porter?” Byron asked.

Scylla shrugged, “She said that I was most comfortable with him.”

“Hmm…” Byron answered. He wondered what had happened and he suspected that once again his sister had been her own demise.

“So what made her do this?”

The musician with her sad azure watering eyes just looked at her brother. He knew. 

***

“And you’re going to make that drive every day?” Tally asked as Raelle carried in the last of her bags.

“Yeah, for now.”  Raelle looked up at her friend and blushed, “Goddess Tally, I’m sorry, I should have asked before I just showed up here.”

“No,no,” Tally said, pulling her friend into a hug. “You’re always welcome here. Besides, you know I’m at Sarah’s most nights.”

Raelle nodded, “Yeah. I really do appreciate it.”

Tally helped the blonde get settled and then joined her for a drink. As they sat side by side on Tally’s couch, Raelle reached over and squeezed her friend’s hand. After a few seconds she let it go, “So, how long are you and Alder planning on doing this?”

“Doing what,” Tally asked. 

“Keeping separate apartments.” Ralle answered.

“Well, we haven’t been together that long,” Tally answered. In truth, Alder had asked her over dinner the night before if she’d be willing to consider not renewing her lease when it came due again. 

Raelle snorted, “Please, we’re lesbians. That's what we do. We Uhaul.”

Tally laughed, “Well, this is all a little new for me.”

“Yeah,” Ralle answered. She took a sip of her wine and watched the redhead. She thought about what Scylla had hinted at during their argument. 

Tally noticed her friend’s pensive gaze and nudged her in the ribs, “What is it?”

Raelle’s pale blue eyes searched her friend’s eyes and she found that she was blushing. “Nothing,” she answered, taking another sip of her wine.

“I’m glad you finally took the plunge with Alder.”

“I didn’t think you liked her that much,” Tally admitted.

“Nah, she’s a bit serious, but you need to be grounded sometimes.”

Tally blushed, “Yeah.” 

The redhead drank her wine, watching her friend. She could tell that Raelle was torrent of emotions, the fire and fury fueling one another. Eventually she got up the courage and asked, “So, what are you going to do about Scylla?”

“Exactly what I told you last night.” Raelle shrugged, “It’s obvious that whatever happened between us is over. I have a job to do. And as soon as we figure out who’s doing this and they are arrested, I can help her manager find a replacement.”

“So you’re done?” Tally asked.

Raelle swallowed. She couldn’t say yes. She knew it was unprofessional, hell, it was foolish, but she knew that she was in love with the musician. For her it would never really be done.

Tally took her friend’s hand and held it, “I still think you can work it out with her if you want too.”

Raelle squeezed Tally’s hand, “I’m not sure how, Tal. All I know is that I want to be with Scylla Ramshorn.”

 

Chapter Text

“You know I saw in a Twitter feed with your hashtag someone actually refer to you as a MILF the other day?” Gerit said with a laugh as he reclined back in his office chair.

Scylla shifted in one of the leather chairs across from his desk and shook her head. “That doesn’t even make sense. I don’t have kids.”

“It’s the idea that you could,” Gerit said with a sneer, “You’re getting old baby.”

Scylla shook her head, she was far from old. “I’ve got several more good years in me.”

“Not in this industry,” Gerit said. “Right now they still love you and we’ve got them whipped up in a frenzy. You can get the Oscar but it has to be now. You won’t get that chance later. If you're lucky, you got one…two more years tops.”

Gerit picked up a golf ball from the desk and began tossing it in his hands. “But maybe you don’t really want it.”

“What are you talking about? It’s been the goal from day one.” Scylla asked, annoyed by the back and forth movement of the golf ball.

Gerti put it back on the table and leaned forward. “Love, this is your time to shine and you’re fucking it up with this nonsense.”

“Nonsense?” Scylla asked, shifting in her chair.

“Look babe, we had a plan. We sell you as a sexy siren no man can resist and every woman hates. Now I get it, gay is cool now so yeah, you wanna come out and let everyone know you’d rather have pussy?” He grimaced, “It’s disgusting to me, but fine, I get it. You like what you like.”

“I’m sorry but the idea of sucking cock is fairly repulsive to me,” Scylla retorted. “Besides, coming out has brought my popularity numbers up according to Izadoara.”

Gerit laughed, “Fair enough.”

“So basically, having a girlfriend isn’t going to damage my image. As long as it's the right type of girlfriend ” Scylla pressed, leaning forward in her chair.

“Basically, there’s a whole group of people starving for representation, and you are certainly a sexy one to have on their team.”

Gerit reclined back in his chair again and met the musician’s azure gaze. “Being gay isn’t the problem, babe. It’s this nonsense with Raelle Collar. It's looking a lot less like a scandalous affair with your sexy body guard and a lot more like some boring love story gone wrong.”

Scylla sighed, “It’s not a boring love story, Gerit. I’m in love with her.”

“Then why aren’t you out together making sexy eyes at one another and getting caught fucking in public?”

“She doesn’t…” Scylla began.

“Want you? Nah, I’ve seen her fuck you with her eyes way too many times. And Helen’s been fairly grumpy lately so we all know that well dried up. You’ve got a new supply. You’ve been with Raelle.” Gerit shrugged. “You tell her how you feel?”

Scylla looked at her publicist in equal measures of disgust and shock. They’d never had a conversation like this before. Was it possible he was actually going to try and help her? She knew she certainly needed it after Raelle had moved out of the guest house. Gerit might be an ass but he was a genius in getting the results he wanted.

“I’ve tried.” Scylla began

“So she wants to fuck you, but doesn’t love you?” Gerit asked.

“I...I don’t know. She says we need to keep things professional.”

Gerit shrugged, “Maybe that’s Raelle’s way of saying she thinks she’s too good for you. You know, you aren’t good enough for her and her white horse.”

“What?” Scylla asked, her own insecurities stirring deep inside her.

“Well, I mean, look at all the things you have done. All that’s happened. And then you let Byron show that painting like a fucking idiot.”

“He had a right…”

“To fuck your career just as you’re about to win an Oscar?”

Gerit shook his head, “And he’s the one that talked you into hiring Raelle.”

“She’s protected me…”

“For now. But she also put the lid on all this.”

“What are you talking about? You’re not suggesting we go public with what’s happening?”

“Sympathy vote. Don’t underestimate it. People find out some crazy person wants you dead? They’ll eat it up and feel sorry for you.”

“No, Raelle…”

“Raelle isn’t the goal, babe. She’s a problem. The feelings you have for her?” Gerit shrugged again, “Get over them. Find someone who can handle your reputation.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means that she’s too good for you.” Gerit shook his head. “You need someone with a reputation like yours. A man killer. Well, lady killer.”

Scylla blanched at the publicist’s words and Gerit had the sense to duck his head. Even he knew he’d gone too far with that phrase.

“Look, I’m just saying you need to forget the bodyguard. Just focus on thinking about who you want on your arm the night you go for that Oscar.”

“I want Raelle,” Scylla insisted.

Gerit shook his head, “It will never work, babe.”

Scylla stood, “You don’t get to make that decision. We’re done, nothing left to discuss, right?”

Gerit looked up at the musician from his chair. “For now, I’ll get you a list.”

“What?” Scylla asked.

“I’ll even have my secretary set it up on little cards for you. Pictures and stats. You can pick a girl. I’ll make sure we choose ones who we know will be a sure thing.”

“You’re insane, Gerit.”

“No, you’re fooling yourself if you think you can suddenly step away from all this. Go off and pretend to be the perfect princess for your knight in shining armor. Wait for her to ride in on her white horse and just save you from your past. You’ve got too many skeletons in your closet.”

Scylla stalked out of Gerit’s office and made her way down the hall. She needed something to help her take the edge off after that exchange with Gerit. There was no way in hell she was going to see Helen and her little stash of goodies. Alcohol it was then. She paused at the kitchen on her way back upstairs and grabbed the first full bottle of whiskey that she found in the cupboards. She didn’t even bother to see what brand it was, it didn't matter. By the time she reached her bedroom and collapsed in a chair with thoughts of Raelle on her mind, she’d already taken several long drinks.

***

Commuting was for the birds, Raelle decided as she prepared to make her way back to Tally’s apartment. Staying at the guest house had certainly been a great perk of the job. Now, after enduring a grueling day of interviews and hours upon hours at Swythe Studios, she still had to make the hour-long drive to the apartment and then be back to the mansion by seven the next morning.

Earlier that day she’d been kicked out of the studio along with the rest of Scylla’s crew. The musician only allowed the studio staff to remain. Anytime Gerit protested, Scylla had mumbled something about a new song that she wanted to work on and needed the privacy to focus.

It was an odd thing for Scylla to do. The musician was usually very open about her music and took suggestions from others in the crew. She’d even worked with Raelle on some songs before things between them had become so tense. Still, Raelle took advantage of the time alone and made a few calls regarding Fort Salem. She’d finished vetting the guest list, smiling at seeing Tally, Alder, Abigail as well as Dr. Alice Monroe make it on the last minute additions. She wasn’t as happy to see Beth Treefine, but since Scylla was allegedly singing a song inspired by her recent film it only made sense that Beth would be there.

She’d made some changes to the security detail. As much as she hated to disturb the musician, Raelle knew she needed to run it by her before she got on the road. She walked up to Scylla’s room and found the door slightly ajar. She heard the musician yelling at someone but didn't hear any other voice. Was she on the phone?

"Fine, whatever!" Scylla yelled into her phone and tossed it on her bed. Scylla couldn’t believe that Gerit was still at it. He’d called to inform her that he knew Beth would be at Fort Salem and that she might be a good option for the ‘girlfriend project.’

Raelle took hold of the door and opened it enough to poke her head inside.

"What!"

A little taken back by the musician’s state, Raelle answered "I just wanted to give you a run down of the updated security plan for Fort Salem before I leave for the night."

Scylla rolled her eyes, "Leaving? Oh that's right. Leaving me is what you do now.”

Raelle’s brows furrowed and she stepped inside the bedroom. She was surprised to see the mostly empty bottle of Honey Jack on the musician’s nightstand and knew that Scylla would be hurting in the morning. It looked like she hadn’t even bothered to get a glass.

“Scylla…”

“No, it’s whatever, it’s fine.” The musician got up from the bed, swaying slightly. “I need to get out of this place. I can’t breathe here. It’s like the terrace in Dante’s purgatory. I’m fucking weighed down with stones.”

Scylla paced back and forth, staggering here and there, and Raelle had the sense she was looking at a wounded animal. The musician was clearly hurt, and she was aware that caged animals sometimes struck out at the people trying to help them. As Raelle thought about how to proceed, Scylla continued talking.

“It's good you're leaving, I can lose Porter. He has improved but he’s still not quick enough to keep up with me when I need to get out."

"You're not leaving." Raelle was shocked by the idea that Scylla would even consider going out in this state. Byron had told her stories of the brunette’s early days when she’d go clubbing and the thought terrified her. She couldn’t stand to think of Scylla out there alone with a killer on the loose or her seeking out comfort from another woman.

"Yes, the fuck I am." Coming from scylla, the sentence hit Raelle like a ton of bricks. Not the words themselves but the stench of alcohol that followed it.

“You’re already drunk and it’s not safe for you out there.”

Scylla laughed, “Oh really? Damned good investigator you are. I can’t imagine why you didn’t join the FBI with Red.”

Raelle’s jaw clenched but she took a cautious step toward the musician.

Scylla took a step back, her foot catching and she tripped herself. She started to fall back but Raelle moved quick enough to catch her. She pulled the musician in her arms. She didn’t know what had her so upset. She only knew that seeing Scylla like this was her weakness. Before she even knew what she was doing, before logic and duty could stop her, she leaned in kissing and possessing the soft lips she had missed so much.

Scylla’s response was immediate and desperate. She returned the kiss, pressing against her bodyguard. Her hands tugged and roamed and by the time Raelle was able to gain her senses enough to step back her shirt was unbuttoned and her belt buckle undone. She felt the need coming off the brunette in waves and if she wasn’t careful she knew she’d get pulled under by them. She swallowed, wanting Scylla just as much as the musician wanted her.

She grabbed at the musician’s groping hands, “No,Scyl.”

Scylla retreated, eyes wide with shock at what had happened as she watched Raelle straighten her clothes. After a second she gave a mirthless laugh.

“Of course not, how silly of me to forget. I was your mistake. You don’t want to be with me. I’m not worthy of someone like you.”

Raelle’s pale eyes searched Scylla's clouded eyes and she stepped forward again, taking the musician’s chin in her hand. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You don’t want to be with me, you don’t even want to fuck me anymore.”

“Goddess, Scylla you have no idea how much I want to be with you, but not when you’re like this,” Raelle whispered.

Scylla shuddered, the alcohol stealing away the rest of her resolve, and she began to cry.

“This thing between us, Rae. Goddess I want to be with you. I’d do anything…”

Raelle pulled Scylla into another hug again, shushing the musician and pressing her back toward the bed.

“You need to rest.” Raelle reached down tugging at the covers on the bed. “C’mon.”

“Don’t leave me,” Scylla pleaded.

“I’m not going anywhere.” Raelle promised.

Raelle helped the musician in the bed and then settled down in the chair beside it. Scylla had already been swaying in her arms and as soon as her body hit the bed, it didn’t take but a few minutes for the brunette’s sobs to cease as she passed out from the alcohol and the exhaustion of her emotions.

Raelle took a deep breath and held it for a long time before finally letting it out in a whoosh. She thought everything would be okay, but she wouldn’t take the risk of the brunette waking up and trying to leave the mansion. She took out her phone and sent a quick text explaining to Tally that she’d have to cancel their late drink plans. Raelle replayed what Scylla had said. Purgatory? What the hell was going on in the musician’s head? She didn’t know what the musician was going on about, but she knew that something had changed between them tonight. She reached for the bottle of Jack Daniels and took a swig, wincing at the taste.

A few hours later Raelle started, pale blue eyes jerking open. She almost reached for her gun as she felt something slip from her hand.

“Easy,” Scylla said, voice low.

Raelle could see that the musician had finally sobered up and was trying to pull the empty bottle of jack from her hands.

“You can’t sleep like that all night. Come to bed with me.”

Raelle’s eyes searched the cerulean blue depths of the musician’s gaze and she swallowed, grimacing at the cloyingly sweet taste from the alcohol still on her tongue.

“Please,” Scylla begged and Raelle stood up, groaning at how stiff she was from falling asleep in the chair. She undressed and slid beneath the blankets beside the musician.

She felt Scylla take a tentative shift toward her and Raelle slipped her arms around the musician pulling her close.

They both sighed into the night as sleep found them again.

A soft rap on the door the next morning was followed by a flurry of whispered conversation and a much louder bang.

Raelle jumped, eyes open, instantly looking for the threat and her pale eyes met the apologetic ones of Moffett and the angry ones of the publicist.

“Scylla,” Gerit yelled, ignoring Raelle. “Get the fuck up. We’ve got to get to the studio in an hour. Otherwise you’ll lose your time.”

Moffett mouthed “I’m sorry” to Raelle and the blonde shook her head. She nudged Scylla, waking the brunette and then glared at the publicist.

“She’s awake,” Raelle said. “I’ll have her ready in a bit.”

“You might want to try putting on your clothes first,” Gerit mumbled, walking out the door in a huff.

Moffett laughed and Raelle shook her head. She got out of the bed, reaching down to shake at Scylla’s shoulder again, the brunette having already fallen back asleep.

“Why don’t you freshen up, Raelle?” Moffett suggested. “This isn’t the first time I’ve had to get Scylla cleaned up after a long night. We won’t be long.”

Raelle nodded and grudgingly reached for her clothes. She dressed and slipped out of the bedroom passing Gerit on her way down the hall.

“You really need to stop fucking with her,” Gerit called out to her back when she strode passed him.

As she started down the stairs and ran into Byron, she was really beginning to think she was taking some sort of walk of shame.

“Raelle,” Byron said, his voice an octave higher than normal. “You’re here. Oh thank the goddess.”

“Uh, yeah, I…”

Byron smiled. “C’mon, we can find you something to wear downstairs.”

She followed Scylla’s brother to a room near the ballroom downstairs and for a moment thought she was walking into a department store.

“Scylla does a lot of shoots and music videos here at the mansion, so Gerit had this room outfitted with costumes and wardrobe changes.” Byron explained. “I’m sure you can find something and there’s a bathroom with a shower and toiletries next door.”

“Thanks,” Raelle answered and walked into the room.

By the time she was ready, Scylla was already standing at the door of the mansion arguing with Gerit. They both stopped when Raelle walked up and Gerit shrank back and then quickly left the mansion.

Raelle’s brow furrowed and she looked at the musician. “Everything okay?”

“Yes,” Scylla answered. She attempted to hide the worry that she felt about her drunken confession the night before and smiled shyly at Raelle. “Thank you for staying last night.”

Raelle met the musician’s gaze and nodded, “I keep trying to tell you that I am yours.”

Scylla’s breath caught at the bodyguard’s words, but she recovered quickly ‘Rae, we need to talk about all this.”

“Yeah, we do.” Raelle agreed.

“I want you…”

“Ready?” Byron asked, walking up and handing Raelle a travel mug of coffee.

He paused, looking between the women and Scylla glared at him. Swallowing, she altered her planned sober confession, “I want you to stay here on the property.”

Byron smiled, throwing an arm around his sister. “You’re like a security blanket, Rae,” Byron added. “We all sleep better knowing that you’re here.”

“Um, okay,” Raelle said, looking back and forth between the siblings.

The door to the mansion opened and Gerit stood in the cold rain looking at them. “Are we going or not?”

The Ramshorns made their way outside and Raelle followed them as they made their way to the limo.

 

This time when Scylla kicked the crew out of the studio, Raelle tried to call Tally. When she didn’t answer her cell phone, she considered just leaving a message but then decided she owed her friend a personal thank you and tried her office line.

“Mackintosh,” the voice said through the phone.

“Uh, hi, I was calling for Agent Craven.” Raelle searched her memory and recalled that Mackintosh was one of the agents on the case. Maybe that’s why he was answering Tally’s line.

“Agent Craven doesn’t work in this field office anymore.”

“What?” Raelle asked, her voice perplexed.

“I said…Hey, is that you Collar?”

“Yeah,” Raelle answered.

“Look,” Mackintosh said, lowering his voice, “Tally transferred to another office the day after she and Alder came down to interview Scylla. I don’t know what all happened, but they were really tight lipped about it.”

“Huh,” Raelle answered. She was about to ask a question when her phone beeped and she could see that Tally was calling from her cell. “Thank’s Mac, I need to take this call.”

“Oh, uh, sure thing, Collar.”

Raelle tapped her phone and answered.

“Hey Raelle, sorry I didn’t answer. I was busy.”

“Oh? Alder got you running around the office today? Raelle asked, waiting for her friend’s answer.

“Goddess yes,” Tally said in a rush. “She’s always pushing for results.”

“Right,” Raelle said, voice clipped at hearing her friend’s lie. “Speaking of results, anything on those bullets or spores yet?”

“Not yet, we’ve had to go through back channels since it’s not legally collected evidence for an actual investigation. Shouldn’t be too much longer though.”

“Right Tal,” Raelle answered with a sigh.

“You okay, Rae?” Tally asked.

“Yeah,” Raelle answered. “You gonna be home tonight?”

“Well, I’d planned on going out to dinner with Sarah, but I can give her a rain check if you want me there.”

“No,” Raelle said, noticing that Tally had used Sarah’s name out loud even though she was supposedly in the office where they were keeping the relationship a secret. “I’ve decided to go back to staying at the guest house and I was going to swing by to pick up my things.”

“Oh?” Tally asked, “Did you and Scylla finally have a talk?”

“Sort of.” Raelle answered, “And the commute is just too hard with her crazy schedule. Besides, we’re leaving for Fort Salem midday tomorrow and I’ll be with them at the hotel for a couple of days anyway.”

“Right, okay. Well, I’d love to see you before you go. Maybe we could meet you at the house and we can go out to dinner together afterwards?”

“Maybe, Tal. Depends on what time I get done today.” The blonde looked up and saw Scylla looking at her from the studio door. She gave the brunette a smile and then finished her call.

“You okay?”

“Yeah,” Scylla answered. “I think it’s ready for tomorrow night.”

“Good,” Raelle answered. “What else is on the agenda for today?”

“Nothing,” Scylla answered. “I have to rest my voice for tomorrow and I refuse to take another picture or do another interview until we get to the hotel.”

“Okay, back to the house then?”

“Yes, for now.” Scylla looked at Raelle, blushing slightly. “I was hoping you might have dinner with me in the main house tonight.”

Raelle shook her head and Scylla’s smile faltered.

“I’d love to,” Raelle said, stopping Scylla before the musician could get upset again, “but I am going to go get my things for Fort Salem and so I can be back at the guest house afterwards.”

Scylla nodded, “Okay, then. Have a drink with me at the house if you don’t get back too late?”

“Tea. I’ll join you for a cup of tea.” Raelle answered.

Scylla laughed and then winced still tasting the honey jack on her tongue, “Goddess that stuff is terrible.”

“Yeah, it is.” Raelle agreed.

“Tea and a talk?” Scylla asked.

“Yes.” Raelle agreed.

***


On the drive back to Tally’s apartment, Raelle tried to go over what had happened in her mind. Tally wasn’t one for keeping secrets and the only reason she could think of for her friend lying to her was if she’d been ordered to keep quiet about something. But what? It wasn’t like Raelle didn’t already know that Tally had planned to transfer because of her relationship with Sarah Alder. The question was what made her do it before the case was over.


The blonde changed lanes and shook her head in frustration. That was just one of the issues. She and Scylla had danced around talking long enough. She’d tried to shut them down for the job’s sake. Her priority had to be Scylla’s safety. She'd assumed that they were over but there was obviously something still there between them. Raelle loved Scylla, and regardless of whether they were together or not, that was going to affect her ability to do her job. She didn’t know the truth about Scylla and that was a part of the problem. She cursed at herself for letting Helen get to her and feed her mind full of suspicions. It was like that song she liked, they had been caught in a trap for weeks. At least they had a plan to fix things.


As Raelle turned the Subaru onto Tally’s street she resolved to fix the other issue. She was going to find out why her best friend had lied to her.


It didn’t take Raelle that long to pack her belongings again. She’d just returned the last bag to her trunk when Alder’s government-issued SUV pulled into the parking lot. Raelle frowned at seeing the older woman. She’d hoped to get Tally by herself to discuss the transfer.


Alder hopped out of the vehicle and slammed the door. She looked at Raelle, a tight smile on her lips. “Hello Raelle.”


“Sarah,” Raelle answered.


The older woman gave the younger blonde a measured look, pursing her lips. After a moment she spoke, “I know about the call with Mackintosh today.”


“Why did Tally transfer in the middle of the case?”

“Why don’t we go inside and discuss this,” Sarah said, nodding toward the door.

Raelle agreed and they started back toward the apartment door when Tally pulled up and parked. She joined them, a wary look on her face.

As soon as they were inside and the door was shut, Tally spoke, “Rae, I’m so sorry. It’s just been so crazy, I didn’t get a chance to tell you that I transferred.”

“That’s okay, Tal,” Raelle said. “But why did you lie?”

“I…”

“You caught her off guard,” Sarah supplied from Tally’s little kitchen where she was uncorking a bottle of wine. “I asked her to keep what had happened a secret.”

“Why?” Raelle asked.

 

“Because of your relationship with Ms. Ramshorn. We all know that it goes far beyond the professional.”

“It does.” Raelle confessed, “But that doesn’t mean I can’t do what is needed to help get the case solved.”

 

Sarah nodded, “Alice was very impressed with your investigative techniques.”

She handed the blonde and Tally a glass of wine before getting her own and they all settled down on the living room furniture.

“Alice seems to know her stuff, too.” Ralle admitted.

“Yes,” Sarah answered. “Hopefully we will get some results soon from the things you collected from the property.”

“So if everything is going so great, then why did you transfer and lie to me about it?” Raelle asked, looking at her friend. Turning her pale blue eyes on Alder she added, “What happened?”

The older agent remained expressionless but Tally shook her head, “Sarah, tell her or I will.”

Sarah gave the slightest of nods and looked at the blonde. “When you approached us about Scylla Ramshorn being threatened, it was obvious that the first step should be to look into her past. We hoped to find some link or connection to what was occurring.”

Raelle nodded, this was old news. “And she said she doesn’t have a clue why this is happening.”

“She’s lying,” Alder stated.

“Why do you say that?” Raelle asked.

“In the process of digging into her past I found two sealed police files involving the Ramshorns. One is related to the death of Ms. Ramshorn’s parents.”

“But Scylla’s parents were killed by a drunk driver. Why would that be sealed? It’s common knowledge.”

“It is,” Tally agreed. “I interviewed several people in the surrounding towns and they all remember the event clearly.”

“So, unless it was some government plot, what’s the big secret?”

Sarah snorted, “I admit, at first I thought that might actually be it. Apparently Mr. Ramshorn had made some very powerful people upset. There were initially questions about an assassignation attempt.”

“Yeah, but just as many powerful people loved him,” Tally added.

“And Scylla’s mom?” Raelle asked.

“A brilliant scientist,” Alder supplied. “She was in the process of running several experiments with the intent to use various plants in medical compounds. Specifically she specialized in cultivating various types of mushrooms including those with psychedelic properties. ”

 

“Could that have something to do with it?” Raelle asked. “I mean, if there was a pharmaceutical company wanting her research…”

“My thoughts exactly,” Tally said, “But that was a negative, too. In the end, it really was just a drunk driver.”

Raelle shook her head, “It doesn’t make sense then.”

“No,” Alder agreed. “It does not.”

Raelle thought about what the older agent had said and looked at Alder. “You said two sealed files.”

“I did,” Alder agreed.

“The second one actually came first,” Tally said. “Around four to six months before the car accident.”

“And what did your digging reveal?”

Tally shook her head, “Nothing. The police were called to the Ramshorn estate. And that’s it. Complete radio silence after that.”

“There are no existing emergency call records and no officer will admit that they know anything.” Alder added.

“Neighbors?” Raelle asked.

“They looked at me like I was crazy when I asked about it.” Tally said.

Relle shook her head, “So what are you doing about it?”

Tally put her hand on Alder’s leg, “Sarah’s been trying to use her own contacts to get us a look at the files. Obviously with Scylla’s life in danger we thought someone might be willing to let us take a look.”

“No bites yet?” Raelle asked.

“Not even a nibble,” Alder admitted.

The blonde thought about what she’d heard. The fact that some event, possibly two events occurred and Scylla might have knowledge of it concerned Raelle. Still, the brunette was only fifteen at the time, maybe she didn’t know about it herself.

“Okay, so there are these sealed files and you discovered them. What does that have to do with you dropping the case and transferring?”

“When I confronted Ms. Ramshorn about the existence of the files she became very guarded and eventually hostile. She refused to tell me anything although it was obvious that she had knowledge of the events that took place.”

“And then she threatened to expose us if Sarah didn’t back off.” Tally chimed in.

Raelle’s eyes widened and she leaned forward, putting her wine glass on the table. “No.”

“Yes, I’m sorry to tell you that is an accurate description of the conversation.”

“But why…”

Sarah shook her head, “I do not know, Raelle, but it is obvious that something very bad happened there.”

Raelle went over in her mind her own investigation of the property and shuddered when she thought back to first finding the clearing with the tree and the pond. She had very much the same impression.

“I’m sorry, Rae. I know how much you care about Scylla, but she’s hiding something big. Something that might break this case wide open.” Tally said.

Raelle shook her head, “I can try to talk to her again.”

Alder shook her head, “She wouldn’t tell you anything the first time that you asked, why would she now?”

“Things have changed between us,” Raelle said. “I think…”

The blonde stopped talking as her phone began to ring. The ringtone was specific and she put up a finger. “I gotta take this.”

Raelle answered the call and listened as the voice of one of her mother’s oldest friends calmly but urgently gave her the news.

“Goddess, Quinn, I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

Tally’s head jerked up, recognizing the name. “Your dad?”

Raelle nodded, already starting to tremble. She’d already lost her mom, she couldn’t lose her dad, too. “He’s in the ER. They think he had a heart attack.”

Tally reached over and grabbed her friend’s hand, “What can I do?”

Raelle shook her head, “I’ve got to go to him.”

Looking through her contacts on her phone she called the security line at the mansion and asked to be patched through to Scylla.

“Raelle, what’s wrong?”

Even with the crisis, Raelle smiled at hearing the musical sound of the brunette’s voice and she took a deep breath, calming herself. She spoke as directly as possible and after she finished, she listened to the silence on the other end.

“Scyl?”

“Sorry, Raelle, how long did you say the drive was?”

“Over eight hours.” Raelle admitted.

“That’s too long,” Scylla answered. “Give me a minute. I’ll call you back.”

The call disconnected and Raelle looked at her friend and Alder.

“Do you want me to see if I can’t get you some sort of escort…” Alder began but stopped when Raelle’s phone rang again, Scylla Ramshorn’s music filling the apartment. It cut out as Raelle answered the call on speaker.

“I talked to Izadora. She’s going to text you the GPS coordinates to a private airfield near your location. You’ll have a plane waiting for you there and a driver when you arrive at the airfield on the other end. It will only take you a couple hours to get to him.”

Raelle’s eyes widened. She couldn’t believe that Scylla had done that for her. “Thank you,” she rasped.

“Just get to your dad.” Scylla said. “Porter can cover me until you get back.”

“I’ll try to make it to Fort Salem.” Raelle promised.

“I want you there with me,” Scylla admitted, “but you’ve got to make sure your dad is okay first.”

“Thank you.” Raelle said again.

“Get to the airfield, Rae.”

Scylla ended the call again and Raelle looked up at her friends.

“Come on, my car has lights and a siren,” Alder said as she stood up.

The three made their way to the SUV, pausing only long enough to get Raelle’s emergency go bag from the Subaru. As they buckled in, Raelle looked up at them from the back seat. “Will you two please watch Scylla at Fort Salem if I can’t get back in time?”

Tally exchanged a look with Sarah and then turned around in her seat to face her friend. “If you don’t make it back, I’ll take your spot. I’ll call in some time. I promise you, we’ll keep her safe.”

“Thank you,” Raelle said. She wasn’t surprised at her friend’s offer. That was just Tally. It didn’t matter that Scylla had only days before threatened the redhead and her lover. Knowing Scylla would be safe, she collapsed back against the seat cushion.
Less than an hour after receiving the call from Quinn, she was boarding the small private plane.

 

***

 

“So you told her?” Byron asked Scylla as he sat on the edge of her bed later that night.

Scylla nodded, “Sort of.”

“What do you mean, sort of?”

“Well, I was drunk, By,” Scylla admitted. “But I told her that I wanted to be with her.”

“And she said she wanted the same?” Byron prodded.

“Yeah,” Scylla said, smiling.

“So why didn’t you tell her that you love her?”

“I was going to talk to her tonight and then her dad…”

“‘I’m glad you got her the plane. I hope he’s alright. I mean, she’s already lost her mom.”

“Yeah,” Scylla said, this time sadness coloring her answer. “We know what it's like to lose both of your parents.”

“We do,” Byron agreed. They stayed silent for a moment, each lost in their own memories of what had happened that night. Of the suspicions and then of the revelation and the quickly closed case. They had been told the case files would cease to exist. Obviously, they had been misled. After a few minutes Byron hopped up from his sister’s bed.

“Are you going to bed?” Scylla asked.

“Yeah, and so should you sis. Tomorrow night is your big night.”

“It’s just a benefit concert,” Scylla said.

Byron grinned, “Yeah, but I know you wrote that one song about Raelle. I can’t wait to hear it.”

Scylla smiled, “Goodnight Byron.”

 

***

Raelle stood beside Quinn outside of the hospital ward and listened as her father’s physician described his current condition. There were a lot of medical terms and she wished to the Goddess that her mother was there to help her decipher them. Luckily, Quinn had also been a medic and she was able to ask questions that actually had value beyond Raelle’s “will he live” and “when can I see him.”

Edwin Collar had actually had a relatively mild heart attack, but it was decided that once he left the hospital he would be going to the family hunting cabin to recover and that Quinn, who was retired, would be joining him there and taking care of him until he was back on his feet.

If Raelle had anything to do with it, Edwin would retire too.

The doctor grudgingly agreed to let Raelle and Quinn visit Edwin the next day if he continued to show signs of improvement after Raelle flashed her pale blue eyes at him in a way that demanded he give his consent, and they scouted out comfortable lounge chairs in one of the many waiting rooms to do just that...wait.

 

“Dad.”

“Rae,” Edwin squeezed his daughter’s hand, a grin on his pale face. “Baby, you didn’t have to come all the way out here.”

“Of course I did,” Raelle said, sitting in the chair by the hospital bed.

“Aren’t you supposed to be protecting that Scylla woman?”

“It’s okay, I’ve got someone covering for me.”

Edwin coughed and Raelle reached for the cup of ice chips by the bed and helped her father.

“Doesn’t she have some big show for orphans tonight.”

“A benefit concert to raise money for them, yes.”

“And she’s your girl?”

Raelle couldn’t help but blush and grin, “Yeah, I think so, dad.”

Edwin smiled. It was good to see his daughter smiling and looking so hopeful. “Then you need to get to her.”

“I need to make sure you’re okay,” Raelle corrected.

Edwin coughed again and then spoke, “Your old man is fine. This little thing will pass. You go be with her.”

Raelle nodded. She knew that there was no sense in arguing with her father. She was his daughter, after all, and she’d inherited her stubbornness from him. “I’ll come see you after the concerts. It will only be a couple of days.”

“That’s fine, Rae. Maybe you can even bring her by the cabin when she’s not singing.”

Raelle nodded and her father gave a sly smile, “Or posing in photos with my daughter.”

Raelle blushed a crimson red and her father laughed until he started coughing.

The nurse came into the room and he waved her off. A few minutes later Raelle grudgingly said her goodbyes and left her father in Quinn’s care.

She made a few calls on the way back to the airport to confirm that everything was a go for Fort Salem and planned to meet Scylla and the crew at the hotel. It was almost time.

Chapter Text

With the use of the private jet, Raelle beat Scylla and her crew to the hotel at Fort Salem. She was glad for the early arrival. It gave her a chance to meet with the hotel’s head of security, Mark Neal. The short balding man with his tweed suit reminded Raelle more of a professor than a security expert and as he showed her around the hotel he reviewed its history as much as its security features. Following him toward the ballroom, she felt like she was listening to a lecture.

“Over here, is where Mary Goode is rumored to have thrown herself from the upper level when she found out that her husband was having an affair with her brother.” Neal said, gesturing to the area overlooking the ballroom. Looking up she peered at the wood panels and the antique crystal chandeliers. Along the walls, they had kept the original gaslit sconces though they had been retrofitted and modernized for electricity. It really was a beautiful hotel.

Raelle studied the balcony and ran possible scenarios. Neal saw ghosts while she calculated security risks. Noticing a weak point Rae asked, “do you have people up there tonight?”

“Well, no.” Neal said, surprised.

Raelle shook her head. “That won’t do. I want at least one man per side, preferably two.”

“But the access points will be guarded,” Neal protested.

“It’s a great vantage point for the ballroom here,” Raelle reasoned.

“Oh, well.” Neal answered, jotting down a note on his legal pad. “If you insist.”

Raelle checked out the rest of the ballroom and then the stage. A couple of techs were doing sound and lighting checks and a man carried out a stool and a guitar stand that he put at one corner of the stage. The other was dominated by a beautiful piano. Raelle looked down from the stage as Neal peered up at her.

On the floor staff were already putting out the crystal goblets and silverware on the tables. The charity event was an exclusive 500 dollar a plate event with the option to go to an after party to mingle with Scylla. That cost another two hundred and fifty dollars, but promised personal access to the musician and an open bar.

Raelle exited the stage and joined Neal. “Let’s look at the reception area.”

Neal sighed but led the way. The reception area was more intimate and included a private room in one corner for the musician to go if she needed a break from the crowd. Across the room was the bar and staff worked at unloading bottles of champagne from boxes.

Finally they reviewed the primary and secondary routes to the suite and Raelle pointed out where she wanted security stationed and what aisles she wanted to be kept clear in case an emergency exit was required.

At last they examined the suite of rooms reserved for Scylla and the crew. She was looking at what would be the musician’s bed for the next couple of nights when a familiar voice rang out.

“Think it's big enough for two?”

Raelle turned, looking into the cerulean gaze of Scylla Ramshorn and answered with an even tone, “It will do.”

Scylla laughed and Neal’s brows shot up as he turned and blubbered his hello to the musician who offered him a smile and shook his hand.

“Thank you for your hospitality.” Scylla answered. “But I think I’d like to get settled in before the press conference.”

“Of course, Ms. Ramshorn, Ms. Collar.” Neal backed out of the bedroom and they heard him bump into a table and curse on his way out the door.

Scylla shook her head and laughed again before her expression became somber and she turned to her bodyguard. “How is your dad?”

Raelle frowned, “He’s got a long recovery ahead of him and he’s stubborn as a mule so he’ll fight rehabilitation every step of the way.”

Scylla smiled, “Stubborn, where have I seen that before?”

Raelle smiled, “Yeah. Speaking of that, why didn’t Porter call to let me know you’d arrived?”

“I didn’t want him to bother you when all I did was get out of the car and walk into the hotel.”

Raelle stepped closer to the musician. “Did you get ambushed by the press?”

Scylla shrugged and Raelle snorted, “Really, Scylla. You have to cooperate with the procedures I put in place.”

The musician pursed her lips, “Kiss me and I’ll consider it.”

“Scylla,” Raelle chided.

“Raelle,” Scylla pouted, and walked up to her bodyguard. “You don’t want to give me a good luck kiss for tonight?”

Raelle sighed but then reached out a hand, cupping Scylla’s face. “Thank you for making arrangements for me to get to my dad.”

She tipped her head, meeting the brunette half way and kissing her. It was a chaste kiss, and Raelle broke it off long before it could become more.

“You wanted to freshen up?” Raelle asked.

Scylla gave a nod, “Yeah, I suppose that I should before Gerit comes after me.”

“I’ll be in my room. Room service was supposed to get my other suit pressed and I need to change.”

“Oh,” Scylla said, following Raelle into the living area, “about that. I asked Moffett to order you some clothes. I knew you probably wouldn't have had a chance to pack. I had them put them in the other bedroom.”

“I thought that was Byron’s room,” Raelle answered.

Scylla smiled, “He can have a suite to himself down the hall. I wanted you close.”

“Okay,” Raelle said, changing directions and started toward the bedroom on the other side of the living room.

There was a knock on the door to the suite and Raelle switched directions again, opening it to reveal Moffett with Porter and Byron in tow. They carried in several dress and suit bags while Moffett wheeled in a portable hair and makeup kit.

Raelle peered outside the suite, satisfied at seeing the two armed guards at the door and then ducked back inside and headed for her own bedroom.

Porter knocked softly at her open door and she turned to look at him.

“Everything okay on the trip over?”

Porter nodded, “I’m sorry she got by me at the door.”

Raelle shrugged, “It’s okay. At least the place is fairly secured.”

“Uh, Raelle,” Porter began, shifting uncomfortably.

Raelle’s brow quirked and she looked up at the blonde. “Yes?”

“I just wanted to thank you for giving me the chance to get better. I know that I’m not some professional like you, but I love Scylla. I just want her to be safe. Her happiness really is everything to me. And everyone knows you make her happy.”

Raelle swallowed. She was dying to ask him the question. Had he had sex with the musician, but she resisted. In the grand scheme of things, what did it really matter? If something had happened between them it was ancient history now. “You’re welcome, Porter. Let’s just get her through this event.”

Porter nodded, “Sounds good, Raelle.”

He walked out of the room and Raelle turned back to the closet. She picked out a suit, the fabric expensive and the cut very modern, and then made her way to the large bathroom to shower to get ready.

 

Raelle knew that Scylla’s name usually equaled large crowds of screaming fans, but she was surprised by the crowd gathered at the hotel. Given the venue and the price of the tickets, Raelle had thought it would be a more subdued crowd.

Instead, when Scylla emerged from the lobby door of the hotel, prepared to make her way to the small stage erected in front of the grand entrance, she was met by an onslaught of young men and women on either side of the roped off walkway to the stage. There were several groups holding PRIDE flags and just as many holding posters with Scylla’s name.

Raelle stepped up beside Scylla and offered a small smile. Porter exited the door and stood on the musician’s other side. They paused, giving the lead to an older woman whose petite frame and mannerisms reminded Raelle of Sophia from the Golden Girls complete with her large round glasses, chains dangling on either side. Based on the way she marched by the crowd, the bodyguard would wager she had the matriarch's personality as well as her looks.

The manager of the charity event took to the stage and the crowd reluctantly settled down. After speaking for several minutes about the importance of the event and how much money would be raised to support orphans in the state, the older woman smiled at the crowd.

“Well, you’ve heard enough from me. For those of you not attending the concert tonight, I’m sure you’d like to hear from Scylla herself.”

Scylla walked with her group and mounted the stage while Porter and Raelle took up position in front of it. The musician stepped up to the podium and lifted the microphone from its stand and moved away from it so she was facing the crowd.

From Raelle’s position in front of the stage, she frowned. She didn’t like seeing the brunette so exposed in an unknown crowd. She shifted position as the chants of “Scylla, Scylla” began again.

The musician eventually hushed the crowd and began to speak, “Thank you. I’m so glad that you came out today to help bring awareness to this important issue. Foster care programs and children’s services need our help. Every day children are removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect. Some children though end up in the system simply because they have no one to care for them.”

Scylla paused and then began again, “This is a subject that is close to my heart. As many of you know, my brother and I lost our parents while we were still teenagers. Luckily, my parents had a plan in place that would ensure we received proper care and attention but many parents don’t. Much like planning out a funeral, the idea of planning out what will happen to your children if you unexpectedly pass is a subject most people avoid.”

A few murmurs could be heard from the crowd and cameras flashed. Although Scylla’s admission wasn’t especially hot news or even really something that most people didn’t know, they’d never heard the musician herself openly talk about it.

“My brother Byron and I are proud to partner with the Twist Foundation. Based on the popular Dickens’ character Oliver Twist, the foundation aims to raise money to provide education, free legal aid, and monies to help children who are orphaned. They also offer free planning guides and legal advice to assist parents who do want to make alternative plans for their children’s care just in case the unthinkable happens.”

“For those of you not attending the concert tonight, you can still help out. Go online to their site and make a donation if you can. You will also find links to my merchandise and Prints of Byron’s art that you can purchase and all proceeds will go to the charity.”

The crowd applauded politely and Scylla smiled and nodded. “Does anyone have any questions about the charity?”

A couple of reporters stepped forward and between Scylla and the manager, they were able to provide the answers to the questions.

As the queries began to turn more personal, Scylla shut the press conference down with the offer of an impromptu performance. The crowd went wild, drowning out any further questions from the reporters. A tech came up onto the stage with a stool and a mike stand and Byron walked out to the stage carrying a guitar. Raelle’s brows lifted, recognizing the instrument .

Scylla accepted the guitar from her brother with a smile and perched on the stool. She made a show of adjusting it while she leaned toward the microphone and spoke.

“This guitar is pretty special to me. It belonged to my father. The song I am going to share is about someone special to me…”

Scylla paused good-naturedly as the crowd began to cheer and she smiled as she heard the shouted questions about who that someone special could be.

“Thank you. So, it seems fitting to use this instrument for this occasion. I’ll admit, I’m a little nervous, so please be gentle with me. "

The crowd leaned in, the anticipation palpable in the cool fall air as Scylla began to play.

Raelle had a routine, and was familiar with the job when it came to her performances. Don’t pay attention to the client. Watch your surroundings. As all eyes were on Scylla, Raelle continued to scan the crowd wondering if one of the smiling faces could be that of a killer.

Still, Raelle’s ears worked just fine and she was entranced by how beautifully the brunette played the guitar. There was passion, vulnerability to the raw emotion she put in her lyrics. Scylla was delivering her vocals with a sensitive grace. It was a side that Raelle was not expecting, this would be the Scylla that wasn't created by Gerit. The cords she played painted a picture of a waltz with the person that meant the most in her life. Remembering their conversation at the gay bar, the bodyguard attempted to listen beyond the melody and to the lyrics.

“This something we have between us”

As Scylla sang, the lyrics captured Raelle. The bodyguard struggled to stay strong and professional. She was the one person who could make her feel weak. Could it be that Scylla felt the same way that she did?

***

Gerit stalked behind Scylla following her back to her hotel suite. Once they entered the room, he slammed the door behind him. The musician turned at the sound and faced her publicist.

“What the fuck was that horseshit?”

“Excuse me? Scylla asked, her blue eyes flashing.

“That song, that’s not what we discussed.”

“You said I should sing a song at the press conference so I did.”

“I meant something popular, or at least something sexy. That new song about desire maybe. Not some fucking ‘I love you, do you love me too, crap.”

“I thought it was a beautiful song,” Byron said, defending his sister.

“So did the fans and the press,” Izadora said, looking at the Twitter feed on her phone. “People are going nuts. And they're already making assumptions.”

“What?” Gerit asked, stepping up to the manager and grabbing the phone from her hand.

His face reddened at the sight of video fan edits of the song with various pictures of Scylla and different people. The one with the most favorites was several stills from the photoshoot with Raelle.

“Just fucking great,” Gerit muttered. As Raelle entered the room he handed the phone back to Izadora and stormed out of the suite. He knew he was going to have to do something to save the musician from herself if she wanted that Oscar.

“What’s wrong with him?” Raelle asked.

"Something is stuck up his ass...and it's not me this time, " Byron said with a chuckle.

Shaking her head at her brother, Scylla turned to Raelle and shrugged, “He’s pissed that he’s not micromanaging like usual.”

“Right,” Raelle answered, avoiding the musician’s gaze. The lyrics from Scylla’s song were still replaying in her head. Had that song been about them? The words were so familiar to her.

Scylla frowned, her eyes seeking out but failing to capture the pale blue eyes of her bodyguard. She wondered if Raelle had recognized the song for the confession that it was.

***

Another concert, another costume. Moffet and Scylla had been doing this routine for so long, it was as if they were in a dance themselves. Moffet looked into Scylla’s eyes through the mirror as she worked on putting her hair back in a loose bun.

“That song at the press conference was so romantic.”

“You think so? Scylla asked, biting at her lip.

“Of course. And stop that, you’ll mess up your lipstick.”

Scylla forced herself to relax in the chair. “Did you see Raelle’s reaction?”

Moffett shrugged, “Well you know how she is on the job. So serious, all business like.”

“Oh,” Scylla said.

“But I noticed she got this smile on her face and I think she was hoping that it was about her.”

Scylla smiled and Moffet quirked her brow, “It was about Raelle, wasn’t it?”

“Yes,” Scylla confirmed.

Moffett beamed, “You two will be amazing together.”

“I just need to convince her that we will be,” Scylla said.

“Oh, I think she knows. She just worried about keeping you safe with tha psycho on the loose.”

Moffett finished fixing the musician’s hair and then helped Scylla put on the finishing touches to her outfit.

The musician had just stepped into her heels when Raelle walked into the room and made an audible gasp.

“Goddess you look incredible,” Raelle said, her eyes raking over the musician in her red suit. As Raelle’s attention was drawn to the long black tie around the brunette’s neck, the bodyguard had to fight the urge to use it to pull the brunette in for a kiss. Her mind thought of a few other ways she could use it and she felt that familiar ache in her core.

“You look pretty fantastic yourself,” Scylla said, giving Raelle an appraising expression. The form fitting black suit looked amazing on the blonde and she was glad she’d had Moffett track down a suit similar to the one the bodyguard had worn during the photo shoot.

As the women stared at one another, Moffett slipped out of the room with neither of them noticing.

Scylla snapped out her trance with Raelle and noticed the room was clear. The musician started towards the door to lock it while she had the chance. In a split second Raelle cut her off with an extended arm, keeping the door closed with her back.

Ralle locked the door and looked at Scylla with passion in her eyes. “I think I need to do a perimeter check before we leave."

The musician could only smile at the cheesy line, as a rush of warmth flooded her body seeing Raelle staring back at her leaned up against the door. Despite her fame and countless interviews and concerts, the brunette was speechless with excitement. Scylla was powerless when it came to how Raelle made her feel.

Before Scylla could respond, Rae reached out grabbing the brunette's hand and pulled her close. Unexpectedly, Raelle stared into the musician’s eyes a little longer, cupping the side of her face and then the blonde went for a deep kiss. They had many moments when they tried to get time together, more stolen kisses and quick caresses than she could count, but this kiss was different. It took Scylla's breath away.

“Anything, huh?” Raelle husked slightly pulling back from the musician’s lips.

“Anywhere,” Scylla confirmed, kissing her bodyguard again. She deepened the kiss and felt Raelle respond, the bodyguard pulling Scylla into her arms.

The bang that sounded on the other side of the door wasn’t Moffett and Scylla stepped back, her eyes still soft, vulnerable with an emotion that Raelle had never seen before in the musician’s gaze.

They continued to stare at one another, fixed in the moment, both wanting to speak but unsure of what to say.

The knock came again, more insistent and accompanied by the sound of Gerit yelling this time.

Reluctantly, Raelle stepped away from the door and Scylla swallowed and gave the blonde a small smile before unlocking it and stepping out.

Gerit glared at Raelle and Moffett smiled, stopping the musician long enough to fix her lipstick before they followed her towards the back stage area. Raelle exited a side door that put her out among the guests and she settled into a position where she could provide the best protection for her musician. It was only a few minutes later that Scylla stepped onto the stage and the guests applauded her entrance.

Gerit paced back and forth in the small space behind the stage. By all accounts, Izadora and Byron thought that the concert was going well and the people seemed to be enjoying themselves but the publicist wasn’t satisfied. Scylla had sung that love ballad again and although the guests went nuts, giving the song a standing ovation, he knew it wasn’t the kind of thing that would get the press buzzing for days. They needed something else.

The publicist had already called Beth earlier in the day, feeding Scylla’s friend what she wanted to hear. That Scylla liked her, that she’d had fun at the theatre. Then he’d set it up that Beth would come on the stage. The musician would be singing the song she wrote about the movie when she came back after a short intermission and he’d have Beth with her. He’d also prepared a few bottles of water with his own concoction to get Scylla to loosen up. He knew how she was when she got high. A touch here, a caress there, and Beth would have the musician primed for one hell of an after party.

Scylla stepped back stage during the intermission and Moffett rushed forward to reset her make-up and hair. The musician waved her off for a second beckoning to Gerit instead who stepped up with a smile and a bottle of water. That was what she needed the most. She knew that she looked good in the suit, but with the stage lights it was impossibly fucking hot out there. She was parched. Greedily, she finished the first bottle and reached for a second.

“Uh, babe, might want to go slow there,” Gerit warned. “You don’t want to get sick.”

He wanted her to drink his little concoction, but not all at once. Better she sip it slowly for the best effect. Luckily, Moffett agreed and stepped forward again, fussing over the musician.

“God, Scyl, you look absolutely fuckable.”

Scylla looked up and smiled as Beth Treefine stepped up to her, wearing a classic little black dress.

“You look good yourself,” Scylla purred. She was already feeling a bit better from drinking the water. She reached her hand out again and Gerit reluctantly handed her another bottle.

“You think you’ve got the song down?”

“Yes, it's a great little tune. It fits the atmosphere of the film perfectly.”

“Okay, we’ll sing it and I’ll see you at the party afterwards, right?”

“Oh, I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” Beth purred. “It’s a date.”

A tech came out, giving them a two minute warning and Scylla prepared herself to go back out on the stage. Gerit handed him a couple more bottles of water and instructed them to be placed on a table by the musician’s stool. The next set would contain more of Scylla’s more popular and energetic music. The musician would need to take a few sips now and again. Gerit smiled, looking forward to seeing the siren he had created emerge on the stage.

Scylla reached for Beth and as the lights in the room went down, and the musician stepped onto the stage, arms linked with Beth Treefine.

“Most of you know my good friend Beth Treefine from her position as Artistic Director for the Fever Dreams Festival at The Tarim Theatre. If you haven’t got a chance to see her newest film, then as soon as you get home you need to go on their site and rent it.”

“Thank you Scylla,” Beth cooed. “You can find Twisted Confessions at the Fever Dream site or on the recent events page for the Tarim Theatre.”

“And now, Twisted Games.”

The music started and Scylla began to sing, Beth chiming in. The artistic director certainly shouldn’t quit her day job anytime soon, Raelle thought from her place in front of and to the side of the stage. However, the song was good and Beth’s voice was adequate enough, it was working. Judging by the applause, the crowd liked the song well enough and after it was done, Raelle watched the film maker step down from the stage and return to a table in the crowd.

The musician paused, drinking more of the water provided and then jumped into the next several songs. The concert went on for another hour and finally she finished the evening with the song that had catapulted her to fame in the first place.

As Scylla raised her arms to acknowledge the applause, Raelle finally glanced from the crowd and to the musician on the stage. She frowned at seeing Scylla. There was something off about her, different from before the concert had started. It reminded her of the way she’d been on the set at the morning show. Was Scylla high? Surely not.

As Scylla made her exit, Raelle did not follow her which was the plan. Instead, Moffett and Porter would meet the brunette backstage and help her with her wardrobe change for the after party while Raelle made her way to the reception room and completed a sweep to greenlight the room for the musician to enter.

She’d just made her second sweep and used the com system to give Porter the okay when Tally squealed from across the room and ran up to hug her.

“Goddess, Rae, I can’t believe you got us the VIP tickets.”

Raelle laughed at her friend, hugging her back and giving her a quick kiss on the cheek. “Well, you know the saying.”

“Go big or go home,” Abigail answered, coming up to the pair. Raelle smiled at her former unit partner. “It's good to see you Abs.”

“Yeah well, mom wanted to make a big donation to the Twist Foundation in the Bellweather name and insisted that someone in the family bring the check in person. I volunteered so I could see my favorite shitbird.” Abigail took her turn and gave her friend a hug. “So, you follow my advice?”

Raelle smiled, “Sort of.”

“How are things between you two now?” The redhead asked. “Everyone on Twitter was buzzing about the song today. Was that about you?”

Raelle blushed, “I think so, Tally. We still haven’t really got a chance to talk.”

“How is your father?”

Raelle recognized the voice and her brow rose at the sight of Dr. Alice Monroe dressed in a navy blue suit.

“Quinn, that’s one of my mom’s oldest friends, called earlier and said he was doing okay. They plan to release him tomorrow.”

“Good to hear,” Sarah Alder said, coming up to them and slipping an arm around Tally’s waist.

“Yeah,” Raelle answered, surprised by the obvious display of affection border lining on possession.

Abigail studied her friend and finally nodded, “This looks good on you. Whatever it is you’ve got going on here. It suits you.”

Raelle blushed, “You think so?”

“Well, your taste in clothes has improved at least.”

Beside Alder, Dr. Monroe chuckled softly and let her eyes roam down the blonde. The black suit was cut low and with no shirt beneath, she found her eyes fixated on the bodyguard. “You really do look great tonight.”

“Thank you,” Raelle answered automatically and then added, “Scylla picked it out.”

“Oh?,” Alice answered, disappointment in her eyes.

“The two of you have worked things out then?” Alder asked.

“Working on it,” Raelle answered and turned her head as she sensed the energy in the room change. Her friends sensed it too and she noticed that they had all gone on high alert. In her ear, the speaker came to life with Porter’s voice letting Raelle know that Scylla was only a couple of minutes away from making her entrance. Apparently someone had also alerted the press because they came into the room, cameras ready to take a few shots of the musician as she made her grand entrance and mingled with her adoring fans.

Raelle and her friends turned to the reception room door and watched as the musician made her entrance dressed in a simple pair of black slacks and a navy blue satin blouse, waving and smiling at the group as they applauded.

“Thank you, thank you.” Scylla said, walking among the guests. She reached a raised area in the corner of the room where a woman played a piano and spoke as the music stopped and everyone became quiet.

“Did everyone enjoy the concert?”

There was a flurry of applause and a smattering of “yeses” could be heard.

After the noise died down Scylla continued, “Well, of course you did. I want you all to have a good time tonight. You certainly earned it with your generous contributions to the Twist foundation.”

Scylla waved her arm again at the crowd and then gestured for the piano player to play.

As she stepped down from the platform Scylla scanned the crowd, wondering where the Hell is Raelle? As her eyes finally landed on her bodyguard she was simultaneously shocked and angered by the sight of none other than Dr. Alice Monroe standing between her bodyguard and that damned FBI agent Alder. Tally was there too and chatting with a sexy woman Scylla thought she recognized but couldn't place.

She was about to stalk toward them when Beth Treefine blocked her path, drinks prepared by Gerit in hand.

The dark haired woman handed Scylla a glass of what looked like champagne and the musician drank the entire glass in one go.

Beth couldn’t resist smirking. It had been many years since she’d had the pleasure of seeing Scylla like this and she looked forward to making sure that they both got to have some fun.

“Where were you going? You were acting like the building was on fire.”

Scylla shook her head, trying to clear it, “I was trying to find Raelle.”

“Why? It’s not like you need protection here.” Beth answered, frowning at the mention of the bodyguard’s name.

“And if you do, I can always cover you,” Beth said, smirking.

Scylla looked at her friend, indecision on her face.

“Let’s have another drink, maybe sit down. I’m sure you need to rest after the performance.”

Scylla looked around the room, “I’m supposed to mingle.”

“Baby, if they want to see you, make them come to you.” Beth took a step closer into Scylla’s personal space and ran a hand up her arm, “Besides I want to thank you properly for the song.”

Scylla squinted, looking at Beth and then beyond her, her eyes still searching the crowd. Who was she looking for? Raelle. Yes, but apparently the bodyguard was more interested in the doctor than her. Beth’s hand had moved as the brunette stepped in closer, slipping an arm around the musician’s waist. Scylla swallowed, her throat dry, and she looked at Beth.

“Let’s go get another drink, the crowd can wait a few more minutes.”

“Okay,” Beth said, leading them toward the private room in the corner. As they neared the door, Gerit smiled at Beth from across the room and winked.

Inside the room Beth found all the party favors that the publicist had promised would be waiting for them and then some. Although she hadn't been good friends with Scylla and her crowd when they were younger, she still knew all the musician’s little temptations.

Sitting down next to the buffet style of pills, powder, and inevitably pain Scylla started to lose her focus. She had already started to feel a little off balance during the second set of the show, and now she was upset at seeing the fancy Dr. Alice and the FBI at her party. How could they even afford such an event?

Scylla contributed the off balance feeling to a long day and how she’d revealed herself. She’d been vulnerable for Raelle, given her all for the bodyguard but beyond the brief interaction in the dressing room, Raelle still didn’t seem to get it. Why?

Now she looked at the cornucopia of “goodies” and felt the pull to just escape. Beside her Beth was already preparing lines on the coffee table in front of the couch and Scylla swallowed hard. She had yet to touch any of the choices on the table but Scylla felt the tingles in her hands, her senses were heightened. Her heart beat just a little faster.

Looking at Beth, she knew this wasn’t love, but it was real. It was physical and Beth was willing and wanton. And if Gerit was right, it would be the best she’d ever be able to do. Maybe she should just accept it.

As Beth moved away to give Scylla room, the brunette bent over the table.

 

Later, after catching herself kissing Beth and jerking back, realizing that this wasn’t what she wanted at all, the musician staggered to the door of the private room and stepped out into the crowd. She scanned the room, seeing dozens of strangers, all looking at her, wanting her, but the pale blue eyes she wanted to see the most were nowhere in sight.

She took a few steps and noticed Porter at a nearby table, his eyes filled with concern as he watched her walk through the crowd. He made his way over to her, frowning at the glassy look in her eyes.

“You okay, Scyl?”

“Yeah,” the musician answered, forcing a smile. “Never better. Where the fuck is my bodyguard?”

“She uh...,” Porter shifted uncomfortably. “She saw you go into that room with Beth and left.”

“Left to where, Porter?”

“Uh, outside I think. She said she wanted to take a breather. You want me to call her?”

He gestured nervously at the com system, but Scylla just shook her head and staggered off. A few moments later, Beth, dress disheveled and obvious marks on her neck walked out of the private room, a smirk on her face.

“How’s it going Porter?” Beth asked.

The blonde looked at his once childhood friend. She had always been trouble and it didn’t look like that had changed much. “You should go, Beth. Scylla already has everything she needs here.”

“Obviously not, or she wouldn’t have just been with me.” Beth answered. “Oh, by the way, do go in there if you want. There’s plenty of party favors to go around. And I certainly remember what you had a taste for, well, besides Scylla of course.”

Porter’s jaw clenched. “Leave Beth.”

The security man left the artistic director standing there and stalked off, determined to keep an eye on Scylla until he could get Raelle back into the room. He was just about to lift his arm to call her, when he finally spotted her with the same group of girls she’d been with at the start of the reception. He spied Scylla watching them and held his breath as the musician made her way over to them.

Tally stopped mid-sentence as she watched Scylla Ramshorn walking through the crowd and directly toward them.

“Rae,” the redhead whispered.

The bodyguard turned to see Scylla, a frown on her face. She didn’t know what the hell the musician had been doing with Beth, but she knew she didn’t like it. The jealousy that overcame her was enough to send her on a walk along the security escape routes to clear her head while she had Porter stationed near the room to ensure that Scylla was safe. She’d only returned a few minutes ago and found Scylla still in the room so she left the watch on the door to Porter. She couldn’t just stand there and watch and wonder.

Now, Scylla stepped up to them, slipping an arm around Raelle’s waist. Raelle stiffened at the touch but then attempted to relax. She looked at the musician, but Scylla’s eyes were on the FBI agents instead of her.

“Well, well, if it isn’t the famous Alder of the FBI. Ms. Agent in charge herself. Defiler of new agents, gifter of toasters.” Scylla said her voice mocking, as she glared at the older agent. Her eyes turned to Tally and she smirked. “And how are you liking the new field office, Red?”

Tally’s face reddened and Alder’s jaw clenched as Scylla chuckled. “I have to admit, confessing the affair, changing offices before I could call my little friends, well played, Alder.”

“Ms. Ramshorn,” Alder began but stopped as Abigail and Dr. Monroe walked up to the group.

“Excellent show, Scylla,” the doctor offered politely.

“You mean you were actually able to keep your eyes off of my bodyguard long enough to see it?” Scylla asked.

“It was a challenge,” answered the doctor with a shrug. The doctor's answer sent a jolt of anger into the musician.

“Scylla,” Raelle said, stepping away from the musician, “Are you okay?”

“Oh I’m just dandy,” Scylla responded, her eyes turning to the newest arrival. “I don’t know you, but I certainly think we should fix that.”

Abigail’s brow rose but she offered the brunette an even smile. “Abigail Bellweather.”

Scylla thought for a moment, trying to focus through the fog she felt, “General Petra Bellweather’s daughter?”

“The one and the only,” Abigail answered.

Scylla nodded, “I saw the check for the Twist Foundation. Most impressive. And I see you were charitable enough to invite all your little friends.”

“I think that was your kindness,” Abigail answered.

Scylla’s brows rose and then she recalled that at nearly the beginning of Raelle’s employment, Izadora had set the bodyguard up with a few tickets for Fort Salem. So she was fitting the bill for the bitch FBI agent and her red headed partner.

Scylla shrugged, “What can I say, I’m always willing to give to those who serve. And we all know Tally’s willing to serve. Raelle, Alder...” The musician droned off and stepped up to Abigail, invading her personal space, “And what about you? Do you still serve our great military?”

“Yes, Ma’am,” Abigail answered automatically, straightening up.

Scylla leaned in and tilted her head up whispering in Abigail’s ear, “Then you should let me give you something, a little thank you for all that you do.” The musician had slid her arm around Abigail’s waist, her hand touching Abigail’s back. As she continued to speak she slid her hand down lower, barely missing her intended target. "Rae knows my room number if you decide that you would want me to serve you tonight. Maybe she’ll even join in," the musician said, giving a wink with her glossy eyes.

The musician stepped back, almost as quickly as she’d moved forward and offered the group a smile, “Well, if you’ll excuse me. I’ve got other people to say hello to before the evening is done.”

The group looked at each other and then at Raelle. What might have been intended to be a whisper certainly wasn’t and Raelle’s face had reddened equal measurements of anger and embarrassment.

“Fuck,” Abigail said after a long silence. “That woman is a complete bitch, and her eyes were so glossy. Whatever she's on, it is definitely in full effect.”

“She was high,” Alder said simply.

“Yeah,” Raelle confirmed with a sigh. “I thought something had changed after the intermission.”

Tally shook her head, “Goddess, Rae, you can’t be with someone who…”

“I know.” Raelle answered. “I just don’t get it. I talked to her right before she went on. She was fine. We were more than fine.”

“Has Ms. Ramshorn done this before? Is she an abuser or addict?” Alder asked.

Raelle shook her head, “She has been like this before and I asked Byron about it. According to her brother, she just had a bad night.”

“Looks to me like she's taking something not as prescribed” Dr. Monroe muttered.

Raelle looked at Alice and frowned. “Byron said that she had a problem with drugs right after their parents died but that she eventually quit and has been off of them for years. I’ve only seen her like this one other time. And Gerit…” Ralle stopped speaking as understanding finally hit her. “Gerit.” Raelle repeated.

“You mean that guy that stormed into the guest house when we were doing the interview?” Tally asked.

“Yeah, her publicist. The last time I saw her high, it was the night after we’d broken things off. She was upset, we both were. Then Gerit intervened, and the next thing everyone sees is her flying high all day.”

Alice snorted, “Raelle, I’m sorry to say this, but I seriously doubt he put a gun to her head and forced her to snort or swallow something.”

“Well, something’s not adding up.” Tally answered. “If Rae says…”

A loud popping noise had them all jumping but the sound was only from fireworks that the hotel had set off in Scylla’s honor. Several of the guests made their way to the windows to watch. Raelle saw Scylla with her arms linked with two other women. It was clear that she was back to being the siren she had gained a reputation for being.

Beside her, Alder was thinking, calculating, “Raelle if we can find drugs on…”

“No,” Raelle said firmly.

Alder’s brow rose and Raelle stepped closer to the FBI agent. “She’s my responsibility. I will get her safely back to her room. I will get rid of...”

“It would give us access, leverage…”

“No, Sarah,” Tally said, putting an arm on her lover. “We are supposed to find a killer and help Raelle protect Scylla, not ruin her life.”

Alder frowned but finally nodded. “We should go then.”

Raelle offered Alder a small smile, “Thank you.”

Abigail looked warily at the musician flirting with her guests and back to her friend. “Look shitbird, I’m amending my suggestions. She needs to get her shit together before you go down that path. Don’t let her drag you down, don’t get caught up in her trauma.”

Raelle nodded. If only they could see the side of Scylla Ramshorn that she knew. “I’ll be careful Abs.”

“Uh, huh,” Abigail said, leaning in and giving the blonde a hug, “I can see that you’re already head over heels. Try to keep her safe without getting yourself dead.”

“Roger that.” Raelle answered.

She watched as her friends made their exits, taking the good doctor Monroe with them. She hoped that the second night here at Fort Salem would be less eventful.

Lifting her mike arm to her mouth she called for Porter. He arrived at her side a few moments later.

“Where is it?” Raelle asked with her palm out, expecting to confiscate whatever had altered Scylla's state of mind.

“What?” Porter asked.

“The drugs, Porter. I know she’s high.”

“The private room,” Porter answered.

“Did Beth bring them?” Raelle asked but already thought she knew the answer.

“Gerit, I think,” Porter answered.

“We need to get rid of them. Now.”

While the musician finished charming the guests and the last of the fireworks went off, Porter and Raelle entered the private room and the blonde blanched at the sight. There were enough drugs present to probably kill every guest at the party. Some of it she didn’t even recognize. They worked quickly, using the washroom to dispose of everything.

After it was done and the party began to wrap up, Raelle found Scylla and pulled her away from the remaining guests.

“I think we need to get you to bed.”

“Oh, now that your little friends are gone and Dr. Alice Monroe has left the building, you're suddenly interested in getting me into bed?” She was wide awake, with the drinks and the lines she did with Beth, Scylla felt like she could go on forever. Yet, she knew she was lashing out. She didn't really mean anything she was saying. She just couldn't stop it from happening.

Raelle’s jaw clenched, “No, Scylla, but the evening’s about over. You need rest for tomorrow.”

“Well I don’t feel like resting,” Scylla said, her voice raising and drawing the attention of those remaining. “I feel like we should keep going.”

There were a few enthusiastic murmurs and a couple of shouts and Scylla turned to the remaining partygoers with a grin. Walking over to the bar she reached for a bottle of whisky and opened it. She took a long drink straight from the bottle and Raelle sighed.

“Fine, have fun.” At least the alcohol was legal.

She walked away from the musician and met Porter at the door.

“I’ll stay with her,” Porter promised.

“You and me both,” Raelle answered sadly.

Leaning against the doorframe beside Porter, Raelle watched and waited for the musician, the woman she loved, to finally come down from the high she was on. She knew that tomorrow they would both be hurting.

Chapter Text

Thank the goddess, Scylla didn’t party for much longer. The addition of the alcohol put a damper on the other drugs and Raelle and Porter managed to support the musician out of the reception room and to her suite within the hour of the main party ending.

Porter supported Scylla while Raelle opened the door to the bedroom and then they managed to work together to get her undressed. It was becoming a disturbing pattern for the blonde and she knew that she and Scylla needed to have a serious conversation.

Once the musician was cleaned up and in bed Raelle followed Porter out into the living area.

“You want to tell me what you know about this?” Raelle asked.

Porter shrugged, “I know Gerit is a ruthless son of bitch that will do anything to keep Scylla under his thumb.”

Raelle shook her head, “And Beth?”

Porter shrugged, “Beth always wanted Scylla but she never liked her that way. I mean, I guess they played around when they were drunk or high, but Scylla never actually wanted anything serious with her.”

“How long have you known the two of them?" Raelle asked, brow furrowing.

Porter swallowed, “We were all friends from back when the Ramshorns moved to the area. I think we were all around Thirteen, fourteen year old.”

“And she was doing drugs then?” Raelle pressed.

“Look, we were kids, just doing the stupid stuff kids do. It wasn’t serious. And Scylla didn’t get into the type of shit we threw away tonight until Gerit came on the scene.” Porter shifted, “Look Raelle, I’m not really the one who needs to be telling you this stuff. It’s Scylla’s story to tell.”

“But how bad is this, Porter?”

The blonde shook his head,”It could get bad.”

“Fuck,” Raelle answered. They heard a moan from the bedroom and Raelle shook her head. “I better go to her. Be there if she gets sick.”

“Yeah,” Porter answered.

“Hey,” Raelle said, pausing on her way to the bedroom, “Why wasn’t Byron at the reception?”

“Oh, he ran into some art friends at the hotel and they decided to go to some exhibitions. He doesn’t really go in for the party stuff,” Porter said.

“Right,” Raelle answered, brow furrowed. When she heard more movement from the bedroom, she shook her head. “We can tell him in the morning. You’d better get some sleep because you’ll have to take the next watch.”

Porter nodded and exited the suite to find his own room down the hall.

Raelle walked back into Scylla’s bedroom. This time she didn’t even attempt to be gallant and pick a chair by the bed. Instead she slipped out of her suit and perched on the bed, eyes on the brunette as she tossed and turned under the covers.

The sun was coming through the windows when a groan beside her made Raelle’s eyes snap open.

“The fucking light,” Scylla mumbled, “make it go away.”

Raelle slipped out of the bed and walked over to the large windows, closing the blackout shades and plunging the room into darkness. Taking a step back to the bed she stumbled and immediately realized it wasn’t the smartest move that she’d made. She stood still, allowing her eyes to adjust to the darkness and made her way over to a corner table where she turned on a lamp casting the room in a low amber glow.

“Do you need anything?” Raelle asked.

“Yeah, a fucking drink.”

“I’ve got water or I can order you breakfast from room service.”

At the suggestion of breakfast, Raelle watched the brunette grow pale and she frowned. So the pain began.

“Why are you here?” Scylla asked.

Because I love you, you idiot. That’s what Raelle wanted to say. Instead she shrugged, “I’m here to keep you safe.”

Scylla let her head fall back on the pillow and mumbled, “Does that include keeping me safe from myself?”

“When necessary. Though I don’t think you did this to yourself.” Raelle answered.

Scylla snorted and then regretted it as pain flared in her sinuses, “So someone force fed me coke?”

Raelle’s jaw clenched. “You were high long before you touched that stuff.”

“What are you talking about? I didn’t take anything until Beth... Oh, God, never mind. Just get me Gerit.”

Raelle’s eyes darkened and she shook her head, “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“And why the fuck not?” Scylla asked

“Because you need rest. You still have a show tonight and then I want to get you back to the mansion.”

“Why?” Scylla asked.

“So you can take some time off, and so we can talk.”

Scylla swallowed hard, she was already having flashes from the night before and the more she remembered, the more she dreaded any type of talk that Raelle would have with her. Surely she’d leave her now.

There was a soft knock at the door and Raelle looked at Scylla. “I’ll go get that.”

“Fine,” Scylla answered, wanting a drink, wanting to get high, wanting to desperately get away from Raelle seeing her like this.

Instead of immediately going to the door, Raelle went into what was supposed to be her bedroom and got dressed in a pair of sweats and a tee shirt that had been in her go bag. When she opened the door to the suite, Byron was standing there with Porter, Izadora, and Moffett.

“I didn’t want to wait,” Porter said. “I’m sorry if I should have.”

“No Porter, you did the right thing.”

They all filed into the living area and Byron made a step toward Scylla’s bedroom before changing his mind and taking a seat on a chair by the couch. The others found seats and Byron spoke up, “How is she?”

“Nauseated, sensitivity to light, cravings.”

“Oh Goddess,” Byron shook his head. “I can’t stand to see her do this again.”

“How bad was it last time?” Raelle asked.

“Bad,” Byron answered. “A few really close calls.”

“Rehab?”

“Yes,” Izadora answered. “Swythe Records insisted on it.”

“Will this affect her contract now?” Raelle asked.

“No,” Izadora shook her head, “she’s been clean for so many years that the current contracts don’t contain any type of clauses.”

“And Gerit?”

“What about him?” Izadora asked.

“He’s the one who did this to her. He did it before and you all knew and did nothing?”

Byron shook his head, “Scylla wanted the drugs and Gerit knew how to supply them.”

“And you think that addiction just comes from nowhere?”

Izadora shrugged, “Unfortunately it's a part of the scene, Raelle. Once Scylla became popular she had exposure to a lot of that stuff.”

“But you said she hasn’t done that in years. And she was high long before she got access to the drugs in the private room.”

“Gerit, that slimeball.” Moffett said.

“What?” Raelle asked.

“She was fine when she came off the stage for the intermission. Hot and thirsty, sure, but she was okay. Then Gerit started giving her bottles of water.``

“You’re saying Gerit drugged my sister?” Byron asked, his voice low.

Moffett nodded, “I’d bet it on my life.”

“And so she was already weak when Beth took over. He got her high, got her to make a scene.” Raelle said.

“Just like the old days,” Porter agreed.

Izadora shook her head, “He’ll do anything to see her name buzzing in the press. He’s relentless about her winning an Oscar this year.”

“This has gone too far. There were enough drugs in that room last night to kill an army. He could have killed her. It’s reckless endangerment at the least.” Raelle said.

Byron shook his head, “She’ll never fire him.”

“Technically, she can’t. His contract is iron clad for another two years.” Izadora answered.

“He can break it off, but if she does the consequences are pretty lengthy.” Byron added.

“Then we will just have to get him to quit,” Raelle answered.

“Maybe after she gets the Oscar, but he won’t quit before then.” Izadora answered.

“What if she just quits? No more songs, no more records.” Raelle asked.

“Then her life as she knows it is essentially over.” Byron answered. “I’m sorry Raelle, but it's who she is.”

“Surely she isn’t going to do this for the rest of her life,” Raelle asked.

Byron and Izadora exchanged glances and Raelle leaned back on the couch, exhaustion finally coming over her. She hadn’t thought about what falling in love with the musician might really mean. That this would be what a life with her would be like for the inconceivable future.

“Do you want me to take over watching her?” Porter asked.

Raelle shook her head, “We should order some breakfast and go over the details for the day. She should be safe enough with all of us in here. Then I can take a nap.”

Everyone placed their orders with Raelle and she made the call to room service. When a knock sounded on the door to the suite a few minutes later, the bodyguard was surprised by the quickness of the service.

Porter opened the door and Gerit walked in, smiling broadly. “Oh good, the crew's all here.”

The publicist strode forward and dropped several newspapers on the table all with pictures and write ups of the concert on the covers.

“I’d say we’d better make room for that Oscar now.” Gerit said, grinning.

When no one spoke up or smiled back Gerit looked around “What’s the matter with all of you? Scylla keep you up half the night?”

The publicist laughed and he didn’t even have time to process Raelle’s movements. Before he knew it, the bodyguard lunged from the couch and pushed Gerit against the door of the suite, hand around his throat.

"You shady piece of shit!" Raelle yelled at Gerit pushing him up again against the door.

"Fuck! Get your hands off me. What are you talking about?"

"Are you trying to kill her? I should have saved your party favors from last night, so I could shove them down your throat." The bodyguard had a blanket of hatred covering her as she looked at the publicist.

Byron and Porter both stepped forward, grabbing at the bodyguard’s shoulders, trying to pull Raelle back. Eventually, they got her away and Izadora stepped between them before Raelle could start swinging.

"Ooooh oh I was doing MY JOB! I'm the best at what I do. Get off your white pony and understand this is our reality. It’s fucking show business babe."

"It might be your reality but it doesn’t have to be hers. You’re a slithering snake, she thought your ‘waters' were clean. You deliberately gave a recovering addict more drugs."

The more Raelle thought about what Gerit had been doing the more her rage came flooding back. Her jaw clenched and attempted to maneuver around Izadora but Byron was a lot stronger than he looked. Before Raelle could slip by him, Bryon wrapped his arms around the bodyguard’s waist and interlocked his fingers.

Byron hissed in her ear, “This isn’t the answer, Raelle.”

When Scylla walked out of the bedroom at the sound of the scuffle, she found her brother’s arms around her bodyguard’s waist and the rest of the crew warily watching as Gerit looked like he was about to be attacked.

“Byron, what the fuck are you doing?”

“Scylla, babe,” Gerit called out, smiling and stepping forward.

The musician had distracted her brother enough that he’d loosened his grip on Raelle and the bodyguard stepped forward, fist making contact with the publicist’s nose.

There was an audible crack and the publicist started screaming.

Everyone watched in horror as Raelle stepped forward again, intending on continuing her attack.

“Stop it, Raelle.”

The crew started to rush her, ready to intervene, but Scylla’s voice had already made the blonde stand still.

“This bastard drugged you.” Raelle said, her voice dangerously calm. The bodyguard’s eyes were cold, locked on Gerit.

From her position standing near the commotion, Moffett nodded her head vigorously. “He did, Scyl. He put something in your water.”

Scylla’s eyes closed, the light and the commotion making her head pound. Another wave of nausea hit her. “It doesn’t matter.”

“What the fuck do you mean it doesn’t matter?” Ralle asked, shock in her voice.

Scylla shook her head and directed her question to the publicist. “What’s the word?”

Gerit tried to grin but ended up wincing. He pulled a handkerchief from his suit jacket and carefully dabbed at his nose, “Fort Salem was the place to be last night and you put on a hell of a party.”

The musician swallowed and nodded her head, “Fine. Get in here and get cleaned up. We need to talk about tonight.”

With a smirk Gerit walked passed Raelle and the rest of the crew and followed Scylla back into her bedroom and closed the door.

Another knock sounded at the door and Raelle, still standing, stepped forward and opened it. She moved aside to allow the servers to walk in with a couple of dining carts and then looked down at the crew who had settled back down.

“I’ll be back later.” Raelle said.

“What?” Byron asked, “Where are you going?”

“I’m going to walk the route.”

“Raelle,” Porter protested, “you’re exhausted. You can’t…”

“You think I can sleep after that?” Raelle shook her head. “Watch her until I get back. Do not let her have access to anything.”

Porter nodded, “I promise.”

“Raelle…” Izadora began.

“Don’t, Izadora. We talked about this.”

The blonde exited the suite and Byron looked at the manager. “You talked about what?”

Izadora sighed, “That Raelle will not tolerate any use of illicit substances by her clients because of the security risks that it creates and if she suspects that they are using, her contract at her discretion can be null and void.”

“Oh Goddess,” Byron groaned.

“She can’t quit now, can she?” Moffett asked. “Not with someone trying to kill Scylla.”

Porter frowned, “Yeah, you mean two people.”

“What?” Izadora asked, looking over at Porter who had never really been known to join in a meaningful conversation.

“There’s a psycho that wants her dead and her publicist is willing to ruin her with drugs if it means he can control her enough to do things his way so that she wins an Oscar.” Porter shrugged, “So really...there's two people.”

Byron looked over at Porter, surprised how under Raelle’s tutelage he’d grown. In truth, he could think of a little dozen ways that they were all better with Raelle among them. Especially Scylla until Gerit intervened.

The security man shrugged and walked over to the breakfast trays. “Oh, they have steak and eggs.” Porter grabbed a plate and opened another section of the mobile buffett. “And hash browns!”

Izadora looked over at Byron and they shared a smile. The manager shrugged and went over to the buffett and joined Porter in getting some breakfast.

***
“Well?” Gerit asked, standing at the bathroom door and looking at Scylla as she perched on the side of the bed.

Scylla shrugged, “Not a doctor, but yeah, I’d say it’s broken.”

“That bitch,” Gerit muttered and walked back into the bathroom. He gingerly cleaned the blood from his nose with a washcloth.

“Don’t call her that,” Scylla said, her head still pounding.

“She’s gonna ruin you babe.” Gerit called out from the sink in the bathroom, trying to reason with Scylla. “You’re on a roll, on your way to get the Oscar. Her presence here is only holding you back. It’s a distraction you don’t need”

Scylla shook her head, “I love her.”

Gerit sighed and walked back to the bedroom, “I don’t know why. She judges you. She thinks she’s better than you. Better than all of us.”

“She doesn’t think that,” Scylla said, but in truth, the brunette wasn’t so sure. Raelle had been among veterans and doctors last night. Heroes. And what was she? A former junkie musician who sometimes acted. Sure, she had a degree, actually a couple, but Gerit didn’t dare let her tell anyone about it. That would certainly destroy the image they’d worked so hard to build.

“All you did last night was have a good time. It was your concert, your party. You had a right to have a good time. And if she really loved you, then why wasn’t she on your arm? Why was she with that doctor woman?”

Gerit’s voice brought Scylla out of her foggy thoughts and she looked up as he droned on. “Now here she is today trying to control you. Trying to keep you in here. Hide you away like you’re some kind of embarrassment.”

The musician frowned. It was hard to focus, hard to think when all she wanted was another hit. A drink, anything to take the edge off.

Gerit recognized the look in Scylla’s eyes and his hand reached for the small bag he had in his pocket and he put it beside her on the bed.

“She doesn’t get to decide what’s best for you, babe.”

Scylla looked at the bag, her heart racing.

“You’re a fucking star babe. She’s the one who’s nothing.”

Scylla swallowed, eyes still focused on the bag.

Gerit smiled, “Get yourself together, love. Do what you need to do to feel better. One more night and you can have a few weeks off.”

Satisfied he had the musician where he wanted her, he opened the door to the bedroom and walked into the living area. He glanced around, wary that the bodyguard would be waiting for him but was pleased to see that she was gone. He was confident that the rest of the crew would get in line. They needed Scylla to be successful too.
He saw that everyone was eating breakfast and walked over to one of the trays to get himself a cup of coffee.

Byron stood, leaving his half full plate. “I should go check on Scylla.”

“She’s fine,” Gerit said. “She’s gonna take a nice nap. Rest for the concert tonight.”

“Still, I should…”

“Leave her be, Byron.” Gerit said, sitting down with his coffee.

Byron shifted on his feet, uncertain what would be best for his sister. Eventually he nodded, “Fine, you’re going to take the watch, right Porter?”

The blonde looked up from his plate, mouth full, but nodded vigorously.

“Okay, I’m going to go then. Izadora, think you could come with and lets go over some stuff?”

Izadora nodded, “Sure Bryon.”

Moffett also made her excuses and left the room.

Gerit chuckled when it was just Porter and himself left in the room. “I guess I’m not the most popular guy right now.”

Porter looked at Gerit, anger flashing in his eyes. “You could have fucking killed her, man.”

Gerit shrugged, “We both know she’s too smart for that. She knows her limits.”

Porter shook his head, “I’m not so sure about that, not when it comes to all this stuff with Raelle.”

“And that’s the problem isn’t it?” Gerit said. “When it was just us, Scylla did fine. Now that Raelle’s here, she’s a mess. She’s lost her focus. What we need, Porter, is you in charge of her security again.”

Porter looked at Gerit, recognizing what the publicist was trying to do. “I’m always here for Scylla, Gerit, you know that.”

“Good,” Gerit answered. He put his cup of coffee back down on the tray. “Good,” he repeated. “I think that the head position is going to be open soon. Since we seem to understand each other, I’ll make sure it goes to you.”

Porter nodded and watched the publicist leave the room. As soon as the door closed he walked to Scylla’s room and knocked. When there was no answer, he opened the door just enough to poke his head inside the room and found the musician staring at something on the bed.

When he walked in the room he saw the bag of drugs.

“Scylla,” Porter said. When there was no response, he raised his voice, “Scyl.”

The musician looked up, eyes a million miles away. “Hey Porter.”

The blonde walked into the room and sat beside the musician on the bed. Cautiously he reached out and took the bag and put it in his pocket.

Scylla swallowed hard and then looked up at her childhood friend.

“Thank you,” she whispered.

“What can I do to help you, Scylla?” Porter asked.

The musician swallowed several times. She was still sick but she couldn’t stand to just stay in her hotel suite locked up all day.

“I need to get out of here. I need to get away from everyone. Raelle, Gerit, Byron...I just need to go somewhere, do something.”

Porter nodded slowly, “Okay, but you need to eat. You need to get some fluids in you.”

“Okay,” Scylla agreed.

“And you can’t run away from me. I swear, Scyl, if you try I’ll tackle you to the ground myself.”

Scylla laughed, taking her security guard’s hand and giving it a squeeze. “I promise.”

Porter waited on the brunette as she showered and dressed. When she came out of the bathroom she was wearing a pair of jeans and a University sweatshirt. She had her hair back in a pony tail and he offered her a ball cap.

Not wanting to be caught with the drugs on his person he put the bag on the nightstand on his way out of the room.

***

Raelle had walked the route and then she’d walked it again. She was about to make a third trip when her brain kicked in and she decided to try and track down Alder and Tally to get a different perspective of the situation. It wasn’t difficult to find their room and when she entered they were having their own room service.

Tally insisted that she eat and have some coffee and they talked about what had happened the night before. Unfortunately, the three of them couldn’t come up with any solution to get rid of Gerit. At least, not one that wouldn’t lead the brunette getting in trouble herself.

After the meal Alder suggested that Raelle take a nap on their couch and for once the bodyguard thought that the older FBI agent had made a decent suggestion. She needed perspective that only distance from the situation could provide. She texted Porter and he had answered back immediately ensuring that he was watching the musician and she was safe and so Raelle decided to take the offer and relaxed back on the couch.

***
Scylla was starting to feel partially normal. The brunch at the cafe had helped and Porter made sure she had plenty of water to flush out her system. They’d walked downtown, the crisp fall air and exercise doing Scylla some good.

There was still that nagging sensation every now and again, the pull to use, but the brunette had been down this road once before. She focused on her breath, on getting through the moment and Porter was actually a great distraction. Despite what a lot of people thought, he did use his brain for more than a hat rack and they chatted easily as they walked along the streets.

Eventually, they entered a locally owned bookshop. The musician was in her happy place, browsing the shelves, a cup of tea in hand, and handing a book here and a book there to Porter to hold for later purchase.

When she put an art book she’d picked out for her brother on the growing pile of books to purchase and Porter grunted, she looked up and met his eyes with an apologetic expression.

“I guess we should get back.” Scylla said.

“Yeah,” Porter answered, hefting the books in his arms.

Scylla offered to take a few of them back and together they made their way to the checkout counter. As the cashier checked them out, Scylla tried to avert her gaze to avoid recognition.

There were so many books that the cashier offered to box them and meet them around the side entrance with the car. They agreed and a few minutes later, Porter pulled the car he’d rented at the hotel counter around to the loading dock.

After putting the boxes inside the trunk, the cashier looked up at Scylla and Porter and grinned. “That was a great song the other day. I really hope it was about your bodyguard. She seems sweet.”

Scylla’s eyes widened and Porter looked like he was about to tackle the teen, but the musician just smiled. “Thank you. It was and she is pretty wonderful.”

The teenager smiled, “It’s hard, being gay. You’ve really inspired me to be true to myself and to speak my truth to others. To hold out for that one special girl. Thank you, Ms. Ramshorn.”

Scylla swallowed, tears unexpectedly coming to her eyes and she thanked the teenager. In the car on the way back to the hotel, the musician was quiet for a long time. Thinking about what a mess she’d made of things and wondering how she’d ever be able to fix them. In the end, the teenager’s words rang over and over in her mind. She needed to be truthful.

***

Raelle’s eyes widened when she stepped off of the elevator and did not see any of the security that should be in place. She rushed down the corridor, pulling the key card out of her pocket as she hurried down the hall. Nearly falling in her rush to get through the door she began calling Scylla’s name. No one was there. Not Porter, not Scylla.

After searching the suite from top to bottom and finding nothing but a damned bag of drugs, Raelle made her way back down the hall, banging on doors.

Izadora emerged first and she looked at Raelle in alarm, “What’s wrong?”

“Where is she?”

Byron stepped out of his room next and asked, “What’s wrong? Where’s Scylla?”

Moffett came out of her room last and looked around, “What’s happened?

Raelle looked back and forth, no one seeming to know anything. She strode down the hall and banged on Gerit’s door but there was no answer.

She reached for her cell phone and called Porter but the phone only rang once and went to voicemail.

“He’s not answering.” Raelle said, trying to keep the panic she felt out of her voice.

Byron tried Scylla on her cell, placing the call on speaker, and they all listened as the echoing of the phone ringing could be heard in the hallway. Eventually the musician’s voicemail message filled the hall and Raelle shook her head in frustration.

She walked over to a house phone and jerked it up, demanding to speak to Mark Neal.

“Where is your security on the floor? Has anyone seen Ramshorn?” Raelle yelled as soon as the man picked up.

She listened to him stutter for a moment and interrupted, “Get someone up here now.”

He muttered a few more minutes and then promised that guards were on the way.

“Okay, I’m coming down to review the footage.”

“What…” Byron began.

“I’m going to the security office to view the feed. Try to trace her steps.” Raelle turned to Izadora, “Stay here and let me know…”

As Raelle spoke they could hear the sound of the elevator doors and all heads turned to see Scylla and Porter emerge, both laughing and carrying boxes.

Scylla looked at the expression on Raelle’s face and asked, “What’s wrong?”

Porter smiled nervously at Raelle who’d turned her pale eyes on him. He’d only seen her eyes like that one other time, the night he’d challenged her. “I”m sorry, Raelle...I...”

“Scylla,” Bryon called out, “where the hell did you go?”

Scylla put the box of books down at the door to her suite and then shrugged, “I needed some fresh air. Porter took me shopping.” She gestured at the blonde who’d put another couple of boxes down just inside of the suite.

“You’re not supposed to do that,” Izadora chided.

Scylla scoffed, “I’m not a child. I can go wherever I want.”

Raelle’s pale eyes turned on Scylla and the musician took a step back. She’d never seen that look before and she felt herself shudder.

"We had a deal, I keep you safe, you follow the protocols. There's a hell of alot going on right now.”

“You think I don’t know that?” Scylla asked, her voice raising. “Between you and Gerit, it’s too fucking much. I needed to get some fresh air.”

“You sure you weren’t looking for more of this?” Raelle reached into her pocket and tossed the bag of drugs at Scylla’s feet.

The brunette blanched, seeing the drugs again and swallowed. She started to speak but Raelle interrupted her.

“You keep pulling this shit, I’ll walk.” Raelle said.

Scylla’s eyes widened sensing her fears being realized. She spoke before she thought, “You work at my pleasure. You’re under contract.”

From their suite doors Byron and Izadora exchanged nervous glances. Both were terrified at what the blonde would say, but after staring at Scylla for a long moment she shook her head and turned on her heel.

“Where the fuck are you going?” Scylla asked.

“To check the route. To do my fucking job.” Raelle entered the elevator and left Scylla standing in the hallway with her stunned crew.

Raelle checked the route again. Several crates had been put in the primary escape route and Raelle’s jaw clenched in anger. She’d called Neal but the call went straight to voicemail. She moved the boxes and continued walking. She had to ask three people to get the fuck out of the way and the security that were supposed to be present were nowhere in sight. Was anyone but her fucking competent?

Stepping out into the lobby she heard a voice she recognized and turned her pale gaze on Gerit. She watched as he stood by the entrance to the hotel lounge, chatting away with none other than Beth Treefine. The blonde stiffened and she watched them until the woman gave Gerit a kiss on the cheek and headed back down one of the halls leading to guest rooms.

The bodyguard watched him enter the lounge, buy a drink at the bar, and then retreat to the corner booth.

She followed his direction, asking for a drink, and then approaching the booth. She slid into the seat and looked at the publicist.

“What do you want?” Gerit asked, his voice a squeak when he saw the blonde. He looked like he wanted to run, but the publicist had nowhere to go.

“Don’t you think it’s time that you and I had a little chat? A discussion to clear up our communications problem?”

“You touch me again and I’ll sue you.”

"Gerit, shut up and listen. You won't sue me or anyone attached to this crew."

“If you try to hurt me, if you try to get me fired. I’ll sue whoever I have to.” Gerit said, trying to sound a hell of a lot braver than he felt with Raelle’s ice blue eyes staring at him.

Raelle continued to watch him, waiting for the right moment. She picked up her drink, not really tasting the whisky and then put it back down.

“Gerit, you don’t need to be fired and I don’t have to touch you. You can just leave...disappear.”

“Why would I do that?” Gerit asked.

Raelle shrugged, “Well, despite what you think, I do understand the job you do. How important it is. It's all about the narrative. You create a character and you get an actress to fit the part. Even you play a role. You act as a great discoverer of female talent. You’re a real ladies man. Until you go back to your room at night.”

Gerit picked up his glass and took a nervous drink. “What are you talking about?”

Raelle smiled and it was the scariest thing that Gerit had even seen in his life.

She took another sip of her whisky and then spoke over the glass. “You know what I mean.” She drained the glass and put it down. “I’m sure Byron wasn’t the first and he’s certainly not the current acquaintance that you have.”

“You’re full of shit,” Gerit answered.

“Well, Gerit, it doesn’t really matter if you leave or if you just...disappear. What you will not do is ever try to drug Scylla again. You will not force her to play music she hates or act in a manner that fits your little narrative unless it is something she wants to do. You do your two years playing on golf courses around the world on Scylla’s dime and still get paid until the contract ends. Then, you simply go away.”

“And that’s what Scylla wants?” Gerit asked.

Raelle didn’t speak and after a moment, Gerit laughed.

“Oh, she didn’t send you on this mission, did she? No, you’re trying to be a knight riding in on your white horse again.”

Gerit snorted, “What you don’t understand Raelle, is Scylla likes the narrative. She enjoys the fame, the fucking, the drugs. See it’s all the same to her...Scylla Ramshorn likes to get high. The method doesn’t matter that much to her and she doesn’t really care who gets hurt as long as she gets off. That’s the real genius in what I do. I don’t create a story and find an actress to play the part... I bring out their truth. Their story is what they choose. I’m just here to bring it to life and sell it.”

***

He watched the press footage in his car on his laptop. He’d parked in a McDonald’s close to the hotel and watched again and again as Scylla sang the song.

It was all lies. Lies. Lies. Lies. That's all the demon knew. Her whole house was full of lies. The witch had never loved anyone. She defiled and destroyed those around her. The poor blonde Angel would just be another one of her victims.

He knew he couldn’t save her now. It was too late. He had bided his time, waiting for the perfect moment for this next gift. Tonight, yes, it was the perfect time. He would remind her of what she was and of the death and destruction that her words brought to the world. Reaching over to the passenger seat he picked up a small burner phone and sent the link.

***

Raelle thought about what the publicist had said as she made her way through the hotel and back up the elevator to Scylla’s suites. She wrestled with the decision over and over again. She considered what was at stake and the reality of her limitations. She absently nodded at the security people, finally in place, as she stepped off of the elevator and made her way to Izadora’s room. She’d just knocked when the manager stepped outside of Scylla’s room, her face pale.

“Oh thank god you’re here.”

“I quit,” Raelle said. “I’ll get you back to the mansion, but then I’m done.”

The manager’s eyes widened, “You can’t quit. Not now. She got another message.”

“I don’t care.”

“I don’t believe that,” Izadora challenged.

“It doesn’t really matter, does it? I can’t be responsible for her safety when she does nothing to help herself. When she acts in a way that makes it impossible for me to protect her”

“You can’t…”

“I can, you wrote the clause.”

“Please, Raelle…”

The manager followed Raelle into Scylla’s suite and the blonde found Scylla in the living area sitting in a chair and staring blankly at the wall, her phone in her hand.

The bodyguard looked around the room glancing at Byron and then her eyes landed on Porter.

“Where is the doll?”

“What?” Porter asked, confusion on his face.
“Izadora said that Scylla got another message. Where’s the doll and the note?”

Porter shook his head, “There was no doll. No note.”

Raelle looked at Izadora and shook her head, “Then what the hell…”

“It was a video.”

“What?” Raelle asked.

She walked over to Scylla who still hadn’t acknowledged her presence and crouched down beside the chair. “Scylla, show me.”

Wordlessly the musician handed her phone over to Raelle. The bodyguard stood and looked at the screen. It looked like Scylla had received a text message with a link and had opened it. Looking around the room, Raelle hit the play button and everyone in the room instantly flinched.

The horrific screams began almost immediately, loud and incessant. She watched as the word NAUGHTY was carved into Penelope Silver’s chest. The camera was at an odd angle, deliberately placed to hide anything that could be used to identify the perpetrator or the location. The screams continued and after a few moments the angle of the camera changed. She knew what would happen next. What surprised her was the shoes. She recognized them instantly as the shoes that Scylla had lost at Beltane. With her jaw clenched she saw the blade and heard the sickening crunch of bone. The feet were removed and the screen went black.

When the door to the suite opened everyone with the exception of Raelle jumped. She was too busy processing what she’d seen, considering the options, running scenarios in her mind.

“Uh, Ms. Ramshorn?”

The armed security guy looked around the room and Raelle answered.

“What is it, Jack?” Raelle asked, recalling his name from the initial security briefing with Neal.

“The lobby sent up this package for Ms. Ramshorn.”

“I said no gifts, Jack. That’s no flowers, no candy, no packages.”

“Oh, it’s not a gift Ms. Collar. The lobby said that the car rental place sent it over. It got left in the car when some guy named Porter returned it.”

Hearing his name Porter looked up at the box and recognized it immediately as being one of the boxes from the bookshop. “Ah, man, I must have missed it.”

“You sure?” Raelle asked Porter.

“Yeah, that’s one of the boxes from the book shop.” He walked over to the guard and took it from him, frowning at the weight. He put it down on the coffee table, “It’s a little light though, I sure hope nobody messed…”

Raelle tried to step forward, tried to stop Porter from opening the box but by the time she’d reached him it was too late.

The blonde peered into the box, confused by what he saw and he started to reach his hand out.

“Stop,” Raelle yelled.

Porter looked up and Raelle shook her head. “Step away from it Porter, now.”

The other people in the room watched, frozen and unsure of what to do. The tone in Raelle’s voice had drawn Scylla’s attention though and the brunette watched intently as Raelle walked over to the box and peered inside. The overhead lights in the suite were caught and reflected by the sequins of Scylla’s shoes. Inside the shoes, there is flesh, jagged and torn skin. The gift included feet, does this box contain Penelope Silver’s remains?

The next hour was a blur as Raelle sprang into action first sending Scylla into her bedroom with Porter standing watch and then calling Tally’s cell. Thank the goddess they had decided to stay for the second night of the concert and they were at the suite within minutes of her call. The evidence collection team came next and everyone was interviewed.

As things wrapped up and the evidence was removed, Alder walked over to Raelle.

“This was timed too well.”

“I know,” Raelle answered, nodding at the FBI agent. “He’s close.”

“Very close. Most likely in the general area.”

“I need to get her out of here.”

Alder nodded, “Somewhere he won’t know. Somewhere you can keep her safe.”

“I don’t know that she’ll…”

“If she wants to live, she’ll go.”

“If not, make her go anyway,” Tally said, walking up to the pair.

Cognizant of the FBI agents still milling around the room, Raelle nodded and offered her friend her hand.

Tally took it and gave it a firm shake. “Be safe, Rae.”

“Call me as soon as you have something.”

Alder nodded, “I will. You do the same.”

After the agents left, Raelle met with Izadora and Byron. They spoke for several minutes and then Raelle walked to Scylla’s bedroom door. She took a deep breath and entered the room.

She found the musician sitting on the bed and jerked her head at Porter who nodded and left the room. She’d tried to think about what she would say, how she could convince Scylla to do what must be done to keep her safe.

“Scylla,” the bodyguard began.

“Raelle,” Scylla answered, looking up at the blonde. “Please don’t quit.”

The blonde’s brow furrowed and she looked at Scylla.

“I know you have the right, Izadora told me about the clause, but I’m begging you not to go.”

"I'm not leaving. No matter my title, my priority, the only thing that I've wanted is to protect you."

Kneeling down in front of Scylla, Raelle held her hands and this time she looked up at the musician. "But I can’t protect you like this. Out here, in your world, he’s got all the access. All the advantages. Come with me right now, let me take you somewhere I can keep you safe. Where I won't let anything happen to you. "

“You want me to cancel my concerts?” Scylla asked.

Raelle closed her eyes, offering a silent prayer to whatever deity was listening, “I know it's a lot to ask…”

“Okay,” Scylla answered.

Raelle’s eyes opened and she met Scylla’s clear cerulean gaze. “Okay?”

“Yes, I’ll do whatever you tell me to do.”

Raelle nodded, “Give everyone vacations and get rid of Gerit.”

“Can Byron come with us?” Scylla asked.

Raelle nodded, “Yeah.”

Scylla nodded, “Okay.”

Raelle squeezed Scylla’s hands and then let go and stood up. “I need to make a call.”

As Raelle left the bedroom, Porter reached out an arm and stopped her. “Bryon told me what you’ve got planned. Is she gonna do it?”

“Yeah, Porter. She’s going to walk away from this.” The sadness in her voice surprised her but then again, she’d just asked the woman she loved to give up everything she’d worked for and had known.

“Let me come, Rae. Please.”

Raelle looked at Porter and nodded. “I wouldn’t want to do it without you.”

Porter smiled and offered his hand. Raelle shook it and walked to her own bedroom to call her father.

As soon as everything was confirmed and the arrangements were made the crew worked to get everything packed. Izadora and Moffett would return to the mansion with Helen in the limo. Leaving Scylla, Byron, Porter, and Ralle who would ride to the private airport in Alder’s car with Tally following as an escort. Gerit...well Gerit could find his own way to Hell.

Chapter Text

The private jet was packed and the flight attendants took their seats after their safety demonstration, and they started moving. 

Scylla was still in shock, melancholy from agreeing to leave the concert behind. She felt like a part of her was just ripped away and left behind.   

The musician took a window seat. She’d continue to stare out the small panel as they started to take off. When they lifted off almost right away she spotted the venue. She saw her stage, her world that she was walking away from getting smaller and smaller. She sighed, exhausted and overwhelmed. 

Not realizing the bodyguard sat next to her, Raelle’s voice broke the silence when she asked. "Are you ok?" 

No, I am scared. I can't believe this is happening... "Yeah."

***

It was dark by the time the plane landed at the small airfield. Raelle had to squint to see the black truck waiting for them.

As Porter and Byron began helping the flight attendants with the luggage, Raelle hurried down the steps of the plane and made her way over to Quinn who’d hopped out of the truck.

She hugged the older woman, “Thank you for coming to pick us up and for letting us stay on the farm.”

"Well, hell of course sweetie.  It’s your family’s land after all. I just take care of it. Stay as long as you need. Where is the girl? How's she doing? "

Raelle shook her head, “Not good. She’s in a bad spot.”

Quinn studied Rae for only a moment when she responded. The bodyguard was a quick read for the older woman who had been there for her since was a baby. She’d seen her grow up, and has supported her through the good times and bad. In her heart, the blonde may not be blood related, but she was family.

Now, she could see the troubled look in those pale blue eyes. Raelle Collar was her mother’s daughter. She didn’t get scared…and yet what the older woman saw flash in those eyes was fear.

“We can keep them safe here.” Assured Quinn, giving a gentle smile. 

Raelle nodded. She knew they could keep the musician and her brother physically safe.  It was Scylla’s mental and emotional health the blonde worried about.

“Yeah, Quinn. Let’s go home.”

Quinn smiled at Raelle and looked at the boys bringing over the luggage.  “Just drop it in the bed fellas. I hosed it out and put down a tarp so the luggage should stay clean and dry enough.”

Byron exchanged a glance with Porter, but then shrugged and dropped the luggage in the back avoiding some type of hitch in the bed.

“It's a gooseneck hitch.” Porter said to Byron.

The artist didn’t have a clue what Porter was going on about but nodded anyway.

At last Scylla stepped off of the plane and Raelle walked over to her. The musician looked small, scared, and totally foreign in the space.  

“Come on, let’s get to the cabin.”  She moved to the back passenger door and opened it for Scylla.

The musician got in wordlessly and her brother hopped in beside her. Porter got in the back with them leaving Raelle to ride shotgun.

 

They traveled a couple of hours from the airfield to the vast property that belonged to Willa Collar’s family.

Scylla didn’t know what to expect when Raelle told her on the flight that they’d be staying in a cabin. All sorts of images of little log houses in the middle of the woods sprang to mind. Arriving at the property, she never expected it to be an impressive, large log home. 

She couldn’t see much in the dark but the lights that shone through the large pane windows revealed a vast space. Quinn opened the door and Raelle ushered them inside the home. 

Apparently she’d already worked out sleeping arrangements with the older woman. Right away, they were led up a set of stairs taking them to the second level of the home. They stepped into an upper living area with a view of large paned windows that spanned from the first floor to the roof. A small bannister provided protection from falls and one could look over it to see the great room on the first floor below.  Raelle led them to the bedrooms, two on either side of the living space. 

“Where are you staying?” Scylla asked in a slight panic as Raelle turned to leave after placing the musician's bags in the largest of the bedrooms.

“In one of the downstairs bedrooms,” Raelle answered.

“Oh,” Scylla answered. She’d just assumed the bodyguard would have wanted to stay close to her. At least she’d hoped for that.

“The fridge up here is stocked and there’s some snacks in the pantry if you want something before you go to bed.”

“Thanks, but I really just want to try and sleep,” Scylla answered.

Raelle nodded her understanding. “Well, I’ll see  you in the morning.”

Scylla nodded, “Sure.” She attempted to hide the disappointment from her voice as she added, “Goodnight Raelle.”

The bodyguard stepped from the bedroom and met Porter in the living area.

“Do you want me to stay up and watch her?”

Raelle shook her head. “You were with her all day. You should get some rest.”

Porter nodded, “So should you.”

“We’re safe here for now,” Raelle said. “At least from imminent danger. We can both get some rest tonight.”

 

Scylla looked around the bedroom. It was simply furnished with a queen bed covered in a patchwork quilt and a night stand. There was a dresser and a wardrobe along one wall and a small chair in the corner. She grabbed one of her bags and put it on the chair. After getting some toiletries and something to change into for bed she made her way to the bathroom down the hall and cleaned up. 

Looking in the vanity mirror she was surprised at how haunted she looked. She’d had a terrible day from the drugs to seeing the video. She hadn’t seen what was in the box but Byron described to her the contents of what he saw when the evidence team carried it out. The entire thing was a horrific nightmare made worse by the fact that it had been caused by a few simple words, her words, from her song.

Was this the retribution she’d always feared would come? She finally made it to the top. Last week she was expecting a chance at an Oscar. She never thought it would come to this, she had walked away from everything she’d known for her entire adult life. As she showered, she felt like her very identity was being washed away. When she returned to the bedroom, she got into bed and slept. Her dreams were of dark water and gunshots.

Downstairs in the great room, Raelle walked over to a leather chair facing the fireplace. She sat down with a glass of scotch and sighed. Even as the fire roared, the blonde hearing the crackle and pop as the flames danced in the fireplace, Raelle never felt more cold and alone than she did at that moment. It didn’t matter that there was a houseful of people around. She felt detached with such distance from the musician but she knew Scylla had a lot to process. 

 

The next morning after washing up and getting dressed Scylla walked into the kitchen area. She searched around a bit and made herself a hot cup of tea. She carried with her to the edge of the living area and peered over the bannister. The great room below  was dark, save for the flickering light of a fireplace. 

Peering out the large windows she looked out to gently sloping fields beyond the house. The ground was cleared with trees beyond a fenceline. As the sun began to rise she could see several deer grazing. The sight was absolutely breathtaking and she found herself momentarily at peace.

She didn’t know how long she stood there, just watching the deer go about their morning. Eventually one of the larger deer lifted his head and turned it, ears moving. The other deer followed the motion and as one, they took off across the field and ran back to the safety of the trees. 

Scylla didn’t have to wait long to see what startled them as two people on horseback came into view. The one was that older woman, Quinn. The other was unmistakably Raelle Collar. She watched the women ride across the field. She shifted, eyes following them until they rode out of sight.

 

Raelle and Quinn walked in the front door, pausing to take their boots off and drop them in a crate at the front door. They moved through the house to the kitchen, following the smell of bacon.

“Edwin Collar,” Quinn chided, “what do you think you’re doing?”

Edwin turned around from his place at the stove and blushed slightly.  “Well, I figured everyone could have a big breakfast.”

“Dad, you’re in recovery. You’re supposed to be resting,” fussed Raelle.

Edwin turned back to the stove flipping the pancakes and then back to Quinn and his daughter. “It’s just some pancakes, bacon, eggs, and toast.”

“Dad,” Raelle exclaimed. “You don’t need to do that stuff.”

“Now, Rae, quit making a fuss over nothing. Besides, this young woman offered to help out.”

Raelle’s brow rose and she was surprised to see Scylla putting platters of food on the dining room table.

Scylla looked up and offered Raelle a shy smile.  

Quinn glanced at Raelle and then the brunette. “Well, Rae, I guess we’d better leave them to it and get washed up.”

The blonde tore her pale blue gaze away from the brunette and nodded, “Yeah.”

 

By the time they’d returned Porter and Byron had joined Scylla and Edwin at the table and they were all passing around the platters of food and chatting. Porter was asking about the horses and Edwin was explaining that they were Quinn’s animals. 

“I board some, own some.” Quinn said, taking the platter of bacon that was offered to her by the blonde man. “You ride?”

“Not in a long time, but I used to every summer.”

“I didn’t know that,” Byron said, looking over at Porter.

The security man nodded his head enthusiastically. “My mom’s parents lived in Texas and I’d go there every summer. All the family would meet up and I’d go riding with my cousins all the time.”

Scylla smiled, remembering some of the stories Porter had told her over the years and was surprised that Byron didn’t recall them.  Then again, Byron had never seemed to notice the blonde despite Porter’s multiple attempts at being friendly to her brother.

“Well, they could use the exercise, so you ought to ride some while you’re here,” Quinn said.

"Oh great,” Porter answered, as he swallowed a mouthful of pancakes.

“What about y'all,” Edwin asked, trying to draw the others into conversation. “Do either of you ride?”

Scylla shook her head no and Byron snorted. “Those things are huge. And they bite.”

“I think you’re thinking about a donkey or a mule.”

“Well, horses bite sometimes,” Raelle answered. “But most of the ones here are pretty gentle.

“And you’ll learn quickly which ones to stay away from,” Quinn added.

Scylla put down her fork and looked at Edwin, “You have a beautiful home.”

Edwin smiled, “Well, it’s not really mine so much as it’s Raelle’s.”

Scylla’s eyes widened and she turned to her bodyguard.

Raelle shook her head, “It’s complicated. This was my grandparents' land and when they passed my mother and her sister inherited it together.”

“And when your mom died you got her half? Byron asked.

“Right,” Raelle answered.

“But you live here,” Porter asked the older woman.

“Yes,” Quinn answered. “I grew up with Willa and for a while we served together. She knew I wanted to work with horses so she let me use the land.”

“I can’t imagine you not being here,” Raelle said. “So as long as I have a say, Quinn will be here as long as she wants to take care of the horses.”

“I come up a few times a year to get away from town, maybe do some hunting.” 

“And drink my liquor.” Quinn added glaring at Edwin.

“Just the moonshine,” Edwin admitted. He looked at Byron, “Do you hunt?”

Byron blanched but managed to say no.

“Shame,” Edwin said. “I’ve been trying to get Rae to come home and hunt with me but she’s always working.”

“You hunt?” Porter asked the blonde.

“Some,” Raelle muttered and then took a drink of her coffee.

“Some?” Edwin asked, laughing.

He looked over at the others. “My girl is a fine hunter. Did you see the bear mount in the living room?”

Scylla had indeed seen the terrifying looking bear and she nodded. “Yes, it was huge.”

“Rae was thirteen when she took it down.”

“Dad,” Raelle protested. “They don’t want to hear about that stuff.

“They’re city fancies,” Quinn added with a look in her eye that Scylla couldn’t read though she sensed it was disapproval especially toward her. 

“Oh, okay.” Edwin said.

The conversation moved on to other topics including Byron’s work and Porter shared some stories about spending his summers in Texas.  Two people seemingly absent from the conversation were Scylla and Raelle who both seemed consumed in their own private thoughts.

Byron realized he had just cleaned the food off of his plate.  He noticed the awkward silence from his sister and Raelle, too. He knew he had to snap them both out of their own heads. 

"Well Rae, that settles it. We need to see if Porter still has what it takes. Can we go see the horses?" 

Raelle nodded, “Sure, as long as It’s okay with Quinn.”

“Absolutely,” Quinn answered, “Like I said, they need the exercise and Ashley hasn’t been able to get out here as much as she normally does.”

“Rae, you remember Ashley?” Edwin asked.

Quinn smirked, “I don’t know how she’d forget.”

Raelle blushed, “Yeah, is she still working at the veterinarian clinic?”

“Practically owns it,” Edwin answered.

“Who’s Ashley?” Porter asked.

“An old friend,” Raelle answered and stood. “If we’re going to go see the horses we might as well do it now.”

Quinn looked at Scylla as she stood beside Raelle, “More than friends, I’d say. How many times did I catch the two of you in the hay loft?”

Blushing, Raelle didn’t answer and walked toward the front door.

Quinn just laughed and followed the blonde. 

Edwin shook his head and met the musician’s gaze, “Don’t let Quinn get to you. Her bark is worse than her bite.” 

“Right, I've dealt with worse in my profession” Scylla said, glancing at Quinn as she walked away.  The musician stood and started picking up a few plates. “Let me help you clean up, Mr. Collar.”

“Absolutely not,” Edwin answered, grabbing at the plates the brunette had just collected. “You go along and see the horses. A walk would do you good. I’m just gonna load these in the dishwasher and then I’ll take a nap in the recliner by the fire.”

“Are you sure?” Scylla asked.

“C’mon, Scyl. Let me show you my skills.” Porter said, throwing an arm around the brunette leading her outside following Rae.

Byron smiled and joined the group as they made their way across the field to the barn. 

 

As they walked Raelle noticed several horses out grazing. “You started the boarders on the winter turnout schedule?”

“No, Quinn answered, brows furrowed. “I had them all in just like mine.”

They heard a sharp whistle and a black and white fur ball rushed passed them. 

“Skeet?”

“Yep,” Quinn answered with a smile.

“Goddess that dog is ancient.” Raelle said.

“That was a dog?” Byron asked.

“Yeah, Skeet is one of the best herding dogs you’d ever see.” 

Quinn led them into the stables and they were immediately hit by the scent of fresh hay and manure. The scent of horses was strong and Raelle found herself taking a calming breath. This reminded her of home, of summers with her mom and Quinn and the horses. Nights around a bonfire with her dad and some of his friends.

The whistle came again and this time the dog came to a stop in front of a stunning short dark haired woman with dark eyes. She gave it a pat on the head before releasing the dog with a command.

“Thought that might be you,” Quinn said, smirking again.

The mystery woman flashed a smile at the unexpected visitors, “I’ve got a lesson with the Johnson’s kid at eleven so I thought I’d get started on switching up the turn out and feed schedules.” The woman explained stepping forward to examine the group that had entered the barn. Her brown eyes roamed over Byron and Porter, pausing in recognition at the musician, and then at last turned to Raelle.  

“Hello Rae,” she said.

“Ashley,” Raelle answered. Glancing at the group and then back at the brunette she made the introductions.

“I’ll go in the office and pick up where you left off,” Quinn said and turned toward the back of the stables.

“Do you give riding lessons?” Porter asked. 

“Yeah,” Ashley answered. “I teach Western riding here a couple times a week.”

“Still doing barrel training?” Raelle asked and then turned to the group, “Ash ran the circuit growing up. Collected quite a bit of awards.”

“Enough to help my parents get me through college and then vet school.” Ashley said. “And yes, that’s my afternoon appointment.”

“Outdoor ring is a bit muddy,” Raelle commented.

“Yeah, I’ll do today's run in the indoor ring. You’re all welcome to watch. She needs to get used to an audience.”

Raelle glanced over at Scylla and then back to Ashley, “Might not be a good idea, Ash. Trying to keep a low profile.”

Ashley snorted, “As if anyone here would dare say anything or even really care about a musician here.” 

Beside Raelle, Scylla felt herself bristling and she was about to say something but stopped herself. She was a guest here.

Raelle’s brow quirked and the brunette from her past prodded. “So, what brings you here?”

“Just checking out the horses.” Raelle answered.

“Porter here fancies himself a horseman,” Byron added.

The blonde blushed, “Well, I used to ride quite a bit.”

Ashley nodded, “Okay, Jasper needs some exercise. Take the right at the breezeway. You’ll find him three stalls down.” She looked at Byron and Scylla, appraising them. “Watching or riding?”

“Watching,” they both answered.

“No surprise there.” Ashley mumbled and then turned to Raelle with a grin,  “Rae?”

“I had Zorro out this morning. I think I’ll just play spectator.”

Ashley nodded, “Okay. Well, I still need to get Annie ready and the Johnsnon’s kid is on Tornado. Care to lend a hand? I recall you being quite handy.”

“Sure,” Raelle answered with a smirk and headed toward the tack room. 

Ashley’s eyes followed the blonde for a moment and  looked at the Ramshorn siblings. “Feel free to look around. Just keep your hands out of any stalls that have bars. It will take us about twenty minutes and then you can join us in the indoor ring. Just take a left at the breezeway.”

With that Ash walked away, boots clomping in the dirt.  Byron followed her and gave a low whistle. 

“Damn,” he said. “Where the hell has your girl brought us?”

Scylla’s brows furrowed, “I’m not so sure I am her girl, By. Not after what happened at Fort Salem.”

The artist shook his head, “Of course you are, you’re just both too scared and stubborn to do anything about it.”

***

As Ashley and Raelle gathered the tack, the vet looked at her first love, “So why are you really here? It’s been years, Rae.”

Raelle’s eyes met her friend’s and she shrugged and hefted the saddle in her arms. “I’m on the job.”

“You brought them here because they are in danger?” 

“Scylla’s the one in trouble. And, yes, I’m trying to keep her safe.” Raelle answered.

Ashley considered this for a moment and then shook her head. “There’s a dozen places you could have taken her. You brought her home, Rae.”

“Yeah,” Raelle answered. “I did.”

Ashley smiled a sad smile before turning in the direction of Annie’s stall, “Love always did look good on you.”

It turned out that Porter was as good a rider as he’d claimed to be and the Ramshorns enjoyed watching the riding lesson from a set of wood bleachers set up along one side of the ring. They were both shocked seeing such a little kid turning and burning as Ashley had put it. The vet was an amazing horsewoman herself and Scylla might have been intimidated, had Raelle not sat in the space behind the musician and pulled her back in her arms explaining now and again what was happening in the ring.  For this moment her worries and insecurities faded away. 

***

The smell of rich vanilla and honey laced with a bit of caramel was in the air and the great room had been filled with the pleasing scent of pipe tobacco. Raelle walked up to her father carrying a couple mugs of cider and shook her head.

“Dad, you just had a heart attack. Don’t you think you should put the pipe away?”

Edwin shifted in the leather recliner and motioned for his daughter to join him.  Raelle sat down in the matching recliner beside him.  Truthfully, she enjoyed the smell and even smoked cigars once in a while.

“What are we without our rituals? The little things that make us who we are?”

“True,” Raelle admitted. She put the mugs on the table between them and pushed the button extending the footrest and relaxed back in the chair.

Raelle reached for her cider and took a few sips, staring into the dancing flames of the fireplace.  She worried about Scylla. How the musician was doing outside of her world. Was she struggling with her identity now that she’d walked away from the concerts and the photoshoots, the interviews and the limelight. 

As if reading her thoughts Edwin spoke, “Your guests seem to be settling into things here. I think they like it here.”

“What’s not to like?” Raelle asked, her voice thoughtful.

In the week that they’d been at the farm everyone had seemed to settle into a routine. Byron and Porter had gone into town with Quinn a couple days after they’d arrived and had returned with art supplies. The artist had taken to painting landscapes and the animals around the farm. He’d even started a few portraits.

Porter spent a lot of time with Ashley and Quinn working with the horses.  Raelle had found one of her old guitars for Scylla to use when she felt like playing. Although the musician seemed happy with the instrument, Raelle hadn’t heard her play it yet. Instead, she often found that Scylla spent a lot of time in the loft of the home which had been converted into a reading nook or walking around the property. 

“Your girl is troubled, though. It looks like she’s carrying around the weight of the world.”

“I know,” Raelle answered. “I’m trying to give her some space.”

Edwin puffed on his pipe for a long moment and then put it down. “I don’t think she needs space, I think she needs you.”

“Dad, I don’t know…”

“You know you love her, don’t you? I mean, that’s obvious to everyone. You need to tell her before it’s too late. Before she disappears into whatever cocoon she’s trying to spin around herself.”

“Maybe…” 

“She’s a nice woman, Raelle. She needs protecting, but she needs more than that. If you are in, be all in.”

Raelle nodded, lost in her thoughts as she sat with her father, enjoying the cider and the smoke.

***

Porter bounded up the loft steps and stopped at the top finally finding his friend. 

“Scyl, there you are.” 

Scylla looked up from her book, a look of annoyance on her face. Byron had been up here only a half an hour before doing the same thing...checking up on her.  Placing the bookmark in her book she tried to smile at her childhood friend.

“How are you, Porter?”

“Good, good.” 

The blonde looked around the room and Scylla sighed. “Did you need something?”

Porter shook his head, “Nah, just wanting to make sure that you were doing okay. I know that was a lot at Fort Salem.”

“Yeah, it was.” Scylla said. “Thank you for helping me.”

Porter smiled and blushed, “Anytime, you know I love you.”

“I do,” Scylla said. “And you know I think of you as another brother.”

Porter nodded. “So, how about going for a ride?”

Scylla laughed, “I don’t know about that. The horses are pretty but I don’t really think I want to go riding. At least not today.”

“There’s some beautiful spots on the property that you can’t really get to unless you’re on a horse. You should go with Raelle sometime. There’s this one place on the hill that you can see for miles and miles.”

“Maybe you should take Byron up there. He’d probably love to paint it.”

“Uh,” Porter said, face turning crimson.  “I don’t know about that.”

Scylla smirked slightly, “Goddess Porter, are you ever going to make a move?”

Porter shook his head, “Your brother never noticed me. Hell, he still thinks I want you.”

The musician shrugged, “So make him notice.”

“How?”

“Get him out of his comfort zone, get him in a position where he has to pay attention to you.”

“Maybe,” Porter said. He looked up at Scylla, “You sure you don’t want…”

“Take Byron,” Scylla said and opened her book.



“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Byron asked, looking up at the horse.  He was fairly tall and yet the beast seemed to tower over him. He was absolutely terrified.

Porter looked at Byron and then at the horse. The old boy’s name was Winston and according to Ashley he was one of the horses they used when she taught clinics with kids who had disabilities. He was a gentle soul and he looked at Byron with infinite patience.

“Yeah,” Porter nodded. “Winston will take good care of you.”

“He looks like he wants to eat me,” Byron muttered.

“Horses are herbivores.”

The artist snorted, “Well maybe this one makes an exception.”

Porter resisted rolling his eyes and watched Byron patiently, waiting for the artist to decide to try to mount the horse. Finally, he took a step forward and listened as Porter gave him instructions.

Once he was astride Winston, Byron looked down at Porter and asked nervously, “Are you sure this is worth it?”

“It’s a beautiful spot,” Porter promised. 

“You couldn’t just take some pictures for me?” Byron muttered and watched as Porter smoothly mounted Jasper.

“A picture can’t do this view justice. Besides, it's just across the field and up the hill. It’s an easy ride, just a bitch to walk.”

“Fine, fine.” Byron said, nervous as the horse shifted under him. “Let’s just go.”

Porter grinned and turned Jasper to the field. As they walked the horses Porter gave Byron instructions and pointers here and there. As they got close to the hill Porter moved Jasper beside Winston. “You’ll want to lean forward just a bit as the hill gets steep and don’t squeeze too tight or he’ll think you want him to go faster.”

Byron blanched, and loosed the death grip his legs had around the horse. Porter resisted a laugh as the artist yelped when Winston lengthened his stride. 

At last they reached the top of the hill and Porter brought his horse to a stop just before they entered a wooded area. They turned the horses to look back down at the field,the stables, and the house beyond and Porter heard the artist sigh.

“God that’s amazing.”

“That’s nothing,” Porter said, looking at Byron. He nudged Jasper forward and said, “We’ve got just a little bit more to go. It gets a bit rocky up here. Let Winston find his own way.”

The horses made their way through the dense trees and just when Byron thought they’d never stop climbing, they reached a level area and Porter rode out toward a small overlook. 

Byron rode up beside him with Winston and peered out. The view of the mountains and the valleys was breathtaking. There was even a little stream off in the distance and the sun made the water sparkle. He could only imagine what it would look like in summer or the fall.

He forgot about being nervous on Winston and reached for the phone in his pocket. He took several pictures at several different angles. Porter was right, he would be able to paint it from memory with the help of the pictures, but had he’d just received pictures, the artist would have never been able to capture the true beauty of the spot. He could even see himself painting a scene from the view between Winston’s ears. It would be an interesting perspective for sure.

After several minutes of taking photos and just looking at the scene, he turned his eyes on Porter. The blonde looked totally at home on the horse and Byron noticed just how his blue eyes sparkled. 

“Uh, can you move in front of me?” Byron asked. “I just want a few shots with the horse in front for perspective.”

Porter moved Jasper and Byron took several more shots with his phone.  At one point the blonde looked dead into the camera, eyes shining, cheeks flushed from the cold, and Byron realized that he was holding his breath.  He was surprised by the sudden itch to paint the blonde. 

“I, uh, I think I’ve got what I need.”

Porter nodded and moved his horse beside Winston. “Okay, so a bit more tricky going down.” 

Byron’s brow quirked and Porter continued. “You’re gonna want to give Winston his head and let him find his own way. As he starts down the steepest part of the hill, lean back.  If you feel like you’re slipping, no shame in grabbing the horn.”

As Porter made his way through the trees with Jasper, he smirked to himself. The instructions had been a bit over the top, but judging by the way he’d noticed Byron looking at him while taking the pictures, he figured it was time to put something else in the artist’s mind.  Scylla had been right, all it took was a shift in focus.

They made their way back to the stables without incident, mainly because Byron had stopped thinking so much about staying on the horse and more about the childhood friend beside him. Porter had always been closer to Scylla than he’d been with him. In fact, he’d almost seemed shy at times. Byron had always assumed it was because Porter was nervous about how he’d react to knowing that he had a crush on his sister but now he wondered.

Once at the stables Porter stopped Jasper and dismounted easily. He turned to Byron but the artist seemed to be stuck once again. 

“Um…”

Porter walked over to Winston and stroked the animal’s neck while looking up at Byron. “Need some help?”

Byron gave a slight nod and Porter once again provided instructions. All and all it started out well but just as he was about to remove his foot from the stirrup it got caught and Winston shifted.  The artist started to fall back and Porter caught him, hands holding onto the artist’s ass.

Once he was safely on both of his feet Porter let go of Byron and smiled shyly. “So, what do you think? Good scene to paint?”

“Yeah,” Byron said. The scene between the horse’s ears would be a nice painting but it wasn’t the one he had formed in his head. No, first he had a new portrait on his mind. “Pretty gorgeous.” 

Porter took Winston’s reins, “Well, I’ll take care of this fella for you.” 

“Okay,” Byron answered and walked away. His legs were a bit unsteady and he wondered if it was the ride or something else.

 

***

Raelle was usually the first to wake in the house.  She would walk around inside the house to check the doors and the windows for tampering. Next she’d do a sweep outside checking the vehicles in the driveway, and even weather just out of habit.  Everyone might be safe here away  from the city, but she couldn't forget there was still a threat out there against the person she...well the person she loved. 

On the east side of the house on the porch her mother had a log style swing set that could seat two installed years ago so they could watch the sun rise and the beautiful show that nature would provide. Surprisingly, who she saw sitting there was the musician herself, wide awake and just staring into the sky. 

It looked as if she just missed the sun rising this morning. The clouds in the sky still held a gentle pink instead of the usual white highlight to the light blue backdrop of the sky that morning. 

Before heading out there to join her, she noticed Scylla with a little red on her nose and cheeks. The brunette always lost the time when it came to cold weather. She would be out there all day if she had her way. 

Raelle went to the kitchen and prepared two hot cups of tea for her and the musician. While the tea steeped, the blonde put on her dad's brown, fleece lined jacket. She finished fixing the tea and headed towards the door.

The blonde strode along the porch, her boots thudding on the wooden planks alerting Scylla to her approach. The musician watched the blonde taking in her simple jeans and extra large coat. The sun had come up just enough that Raelle’s hair glinted in the sun. The view was just as breathtaking as the sunrise had been earlier that morning.

Raelle wordlessly handed the brunette a mug of tea and seeing a book on the swing beside the musician, decided to perch on the porch rail instead, stretching one leg out along its length. Scylla watched the motion swallowing at how Raelle’s presence filled her entire world. She felt the familiar calm, the strength the blonde offered. She knew that everyone had been tiptoeing around her since Fort Salem. Everyone but Raelle. Instead the blonde had given her time and space.

Scylla looked down at the steaming cup cradled in her hands and back up at Raelle with her own mug.  Suddenly she realized that they were finally having tea. She didn’t have a clue what to say. So much had happened and it looked like Raelle had come into her life to save her from it, but a part of the musician wondered if she deserved it. If all that happened was her punishment and involving Raelle would only drag her down too. Into a hell the blonde didn’t deserve.

Raelle drank her tea, watching the brunette get lost in her own thoughts. She’d noticed the musician doing that a lot over the past few days. Sometimes it looked as though Scylla had resigned to accept what was happening. It looked as though she’d accepted this chaos and torment and had made it her companion. That worried the blonde. No one deserved this. To have her art be used to destroy others. To be hunted.

The bodyguard cleared her throat, getting the brunette’s attention. When she felt the azure gaze on her, she nodded to the book on the seat beside the brunette, “That one of the books you picked up in Fort Salem?”

“Yeah,” Scylla said. She smiled sadly, remembering the teen cashier and what she’d said. Slowly she took a sip of the tea and let her mind wander.

Before the brunette could get lost again Raelle spoke up, “What’s it about?”

“Oh, it’s a series of essays about Emily Dickinson and her personal life.”

Raelle nodded, “Her liaison with Gilbert?”

“Yes, speaking of that, I’d picked up a book for you.”

“Oh?” Raelle asked with a smile.

Scylla frowned, “Unfortunately it was in the other box.” 

Raelle nodded knowing Scylla was talking about the box the psycho had gotten ahold of and used. The books had been found, dropped in a dumpster at a nearby McDonald’s. They had been taken to the crime lab as evidence.

“What was it?”  Raelle asked.

Scylla took another drink of her tea and then met Raelle’s gaze, “Love Letters of Vita and Virginia.”

“Sounds interesting,” Raelle answered. She recalled their conversation out at the hammock and how Scylla had joked about being her Vita. She looked at the musician, and took a sip of tea, considering how to say what she felt. Finally, she put her cup on the rail and stood up. She moved over to the swing and picked up the book and sat beside the musician. 

Scylla felt a shift in Raelle’s mood and turned slightly on the swing to face her.  She reached for the book and Raelle handed it over, brushing her fingers over Scylla’s. The musician felt that familiar jolt, the immediate need she always had when in close proximity to her bodyguard.

Normally she saw the same desire reflected in Raelle’s pale blue eyes but today her eyes seemed thoughtful, darker. She was sure she glimpsed something else beneath the icy surface. Despite herself her breath hitched and she shivered.

“You want to go inside? You must be freezing out here.”

Scylla smiled, “You mean you’re cold?”

Raelle laughed softly, “That too.”

Scylla shifted on the swing and leaned into Raelle. The blonde automatically wrapped an arm around her, pulling her closer.

“It’s beautiful here,” Scylla said, trying to tempt the bodyguard into staying outside. She was afraid if they went into the cabin they’d be interrupted as they had been multiple times. Although the blonde had been content to let Scylla have her space Byron and Porter constantly tried to engage her in conversation or their activities. They seemed intent on keeping her distracted. 

“Yeah,” Raelle answered. She held Scylla, feeling the tension in the musician and gently rubbed her back.

“For the record, I would have liked the book. Might have given me some pointers.”

They both laughed and Raelle continued, voice low. “When I got off of the elevator and I couldn’t find you anywhere, it terrified me.”

“Raelle, I’m sorry…”

“I would have never been able to forgive myself for not being there if something had happened to you.” Raelle continued, interrupting Scylla’s apology. “And I can’t imagine not having you in my life.”

Raelle shifted, meeting the cerulean gaze of the musician. “Scyl...I’m in love with you. Goddess knows I’ve tried to fight these feelings. I’m supposed to keep you safe and I thought loving you would interfere with that, make me weak when I needed to be strong. In reality, its when I'm with you, that is the time I feel I am at my best ”

As the bodyguard spoke, the harder Scylla’s heart pounded in her chest. Overwhelmed by hearing the words she had longed for Raelle to finally say to her.  She felt her eyes begin to water, there was still that guilt, that voice in the back of her head saying you don't deserve this kind of love.

"Hey, hey, hey, what's wrong? I didn't want to upset you." Rae held the side of Scylla's face wiping the tears away from her cheek. 

"No..no...nothing is wrong. This is just so much…" The musician sniffled and smiled behind her tears, "I am so in love with you." Another flood of guilt came over her, making her sad again "there's stuff in my past..I want to tell you everything…" Overwhelmed, Scylla started to cry. "I don't... want to hide anything... from you."

Raelle couldn’t stand to watch her  break down like that. She pulled the musician in tight, "shhh, look, whatever it is. It doesn't matter. What matters is us and who we are now. You are a beautiful person, inside and out. You are not a poster that some asshole made up. There's still so much of you that I want to get to know. This past, when you are ready. I'm here. I'm yours."

Scylla clung to Raelle, allowing herself to hope, to believe that maybe things would be okay. If giving up her music career was the retribution for what she had done, it would be worth it. She could make a new life with Raelle.  

Neither paid attention to how much time had passed, but eventually Edwin found them in the swing, frozen, still holding onto one another and insisted they return inside the cabin to get warm.

Chapter Text

Byron immediately sensed the change in his sister when she walked into the great room that afternoon. His easel was set up by the bear mount and he was busy working on the new portrait. He’d made friends with the bear and thanks to Edwin smoking his pipe every afternoon, he’d taken to affectionately calling the mount Smokey Bear.

“Hey, how’s it going?” Scylla asked, walking over to the canvas.

Byron kept painting and asked, “How long have you known?”

Scylla’s eyes fell on the canvas, the figure already unmistakably her childhood friend.

“Years,” Scylla answered. “That first summer he kissed me on a dare and afterwards we both looked at each other and just knew.”

“I remember that kiss. I caught you out by one of the hothouses. So you knew he was gay from the start? And that he liked me?”

Scylla shrugged. “I think the liking part came later.”

Byron’s brow furrowed and he asked, “Who dared him?”

Scylla "Well, Helen did. Thinking back at it. That was strange, she seemed to be focused on you know...more his reaction than mine or Porters. I just saw it as an easy out, so I went with it. A fun coincidence. I'm sure she wouldn't do that on purpose...would she? None of us could have guessed what was about to happen… right?" The musician just paused and Byron looked up at his sister. She met his gaze and after a moment he nodded his head.

“Makes sense now, I'm sure she didn't know, that would be so fucked up” he said, voice low.

“Yeah,” Scylla answered. “you're right...”

Scylla looked at the painting and then at her brother with a nice pivot from the depressing conversation stated. “He’s a solid guy, By.”

“I’ll try to remember that,” Byron answered. He dropped his brush in a mason jar filled with water. The blue paint swirling from the brush into the already red tinted liquid. Wiped his hands on a rag and turned to look at his sister. “So, tell me about you and Raelle.”

Scylla’s eyes instantly brightened and she smiled so wide her face must have hurt. “We finally did it.”

Byron laughed, “That’s old news. You did it a long time ago.”

Scylla rolled her eyes and smacked her brother on the shoulder. “The TALK you ass, she told me that she loved me.”

The artist smiled as Scylla’s face became a facade of wonderment even as she said the words. She’d be beautiful to paint like this, he thought. “And what did you tell her?”

“That I was in love with her.” Scylla admitted.

“‘Bout damn time,” Byron said. “So why aren’t you with her right now?”

“Her dad had a follow up appointment with his doctor and she drove him into town.”

Byron nodded, “They’ll be gone for a while then. Their version of town is pretty far away.”

“Yeah,” Scylla answered.

“So what are you up to this afternoon?” Byron asked.

Scylla shrugged, “I don’t know. I thought about maybe tuning the guitar Rae lent me and working on some music.”

Byron nodded, “Yeah, I mean, this isn’t forever, right? Surely, you can go back to your career once they catch the guy.”

Scylla swallowed, “Maybe.”

The truth was Scylla wasn’t so sure she wanted to go back to that life. And if she did, she wondered how Raelle would feel about it and where would the bodyguard fit in once the psycho was caught.

The artist studied his sister for a moment and then gave her a shrug, “You don’t have to decide anything right now.”

“Yeah,” Scylla answered, relieved from not having to answer her brother’s line of questioning.

Byron frowned at seeing her so uncertain. She looked scared and lost again and he didn’t like that at all. “Why don’t you come out with me to see the horses? Ash is here today and said she’d give me a lesson. It wouldn’t hurt to get in the saddle yourself. That way you and Rae can go for a ride and she won’t have to stress about you falling off the horse.”

Scylla wasn’t sure about any of what her brother just proposed. She’d only spoken to Ashley a few times but it was obvious the girl didn’t like her much and she knew from Quinn’s comments that the vet and Raelle had a history.

“C’mon, Porter will be there too. It will be fun and maybe you can help keep me from making an ass of myself in front of him.”

“In other words, you want all the attention on me so you can flirt with him?” Scylla teased.

“Exactly,” Byron answered with a blush and smile.

“Okay, Byron. I guess I can give it a try.”

***

“Well, all this proves is what we already knew.” Alder said as Tally told her about her ballistic friend’s findings.

“We knew there was a sealed file that was coded for an investigation, Tally argued, “Now we know a firearm was involved.”

“Unfortunately, we don't know if the investigation even involved a shooting. there’s nothing linking what happened at the tree to the serial killer hunting Ms Ramshorn.”

Tally sighed, “I know. We’re grasping at straws. Something happened there I am sure. The video cameras everywhere pointing at that old tree and the barely a misdemeanor of cannabis. That bubbly caretaker, that bitch, telling Rae she has eyes there. They are protecting something”

Alder shook her head, “You aren’t even supposed to be working this case anymore. You can’t keep letting it stress you out.”

“I’m worried about Raelle,” Tally admitted. “This psycho was right there, Sarah. They were in the hotel.”

“I know and with only one more word to go, I fear that Scylla is about out of time.”

***

At Byron’s riding lesson, with her new title as wingman for the day, it only took a moment for Scylla to regret allowing her brother to talk her to tagging along to the barn. It started when Ashley looked at her as if she was something smelly or sticky caught on the bottom of the vet’s boot.

Quinn’s brow had furrowed when Scylla had shown up for the lesson along with Byron and the older woman had exchanged a look with the vet that the musician couldn’t read.

“I’d say Bella,” Quinn said, with a quick glance at Scylla.

Ashley tilted her head to the side, letting her eyes slowly rake up the musician’s body. Scylla was used to people looking at her, staring at her, but she had to resist flinching at the way the vet appraised her now.

“No, I was thinking Tequila.” Ashley said, smirking slightly.

Quinn shrugged, attempting to hide a sly grin “You’re the instructor.”

Scylla’s brow furrowed and she looked at the vet, “well, yeah...I’ve never been on a horse in my life.”

“Yeah,” Ashley said, “Definitely Tequila.”

Byron walked off with Porter to get their horses saddled and Scylla was left standing with Ashley and Quinn. The older woman muttered something about finishing some bookkeeping and the vet looked at Scylla.

“So first things first, let’s get the tack and I’ll show you how to put it on.”

The brunette nodded and followed Ashley into the tack room. Ashley got down a saddle and bridle from the pegs on the wall and put them on a saddle stand before looking over Scylla and making a decision.

“I think this one will work for you.” She reached up, picking another saddle and bridle and put them on another stand. She showed the musician how to carry the tack and Scylla tried to keep up with the vet as she strode along the stalls while hefting the heavy saddle.

They finally reached a stall with bars and Scylla swallowed. “Um, I thought you didn’t want us near the horses that had bars on the stalls.”

“Oh,” Ashley said, “never mind about that.” She reached forward unlatching the stall door. “I’ll bring him out for you and we’ll cross tie him out here.”

Grabbing a halter and a lead from a peg outside of the stall, Ashley walked in and a few moments later came out with a horse that towered over two of them.

The horse was absolutely stunning and that took away from Scylla’s fear enough to ask, “What is that?”

Ashley looked up, meeting the azure gaze of the musician. “He’s a Blue Roan Tennessee Walker.

“He’s beautiful.”

“He’s a bit feisty, but I think you’ll be okay with him.”

“I’ve never…”

“Been on a horse,” Ashley repeated. “I know. I get it, but I’m guessing you’ll want to ride with Rae and Zorro is a Tennessee Walker too. You’ll need a horse with a similar gait or you’re gonna be working extra hard just to keep up with them.”

Scylla’s brows furrowed and Ashley explained the gait differences and the running walk. “Trust me, you’ll love it. They’re smooth as silk to ride.”

Scylla could only nod her head and listen as Ashley began to explain how to tack up the horse. She tried as best as she could to follow the instructions that was given. The musician fumbled a few steps and had to have Ashley help her undo the mess she’d created and try again.

It took a few tries for her to get the bridle right and at first Tequila seemed resistant to take the bit. Ashley had her stop and pet the horse for a few minutes and then try again. This time the horse practically put the bit in his mouth himself.

Once Scylla was tacked up Ashley showed her how to properly lead the horse and they made their way into the indoor ring.

Scylla watched as Bryon started to mount Winston. The horse, distracted by their arrival to the ring, turned his head and startled Byron who started to fall back. Once again Porter was there, hands grabbing at the artist’s ass and the blonde hoisted Byron up on the horse.

The artist was blushing like mad but gave Scylla a wink when the blonde turned to mount Jasper.

Ashley led Scylla and Tequila over to what looked like a step ladder and stopped. “As tall as he is, you’re gonna need to use a mounting block. Out in the field or on a trail I can either let you borrow a stirrup mount or you’ll have to find a rock to help you. And I’m sure Rae will be more than happy to assist you.”

Ashley gave Scylla some instructions and after a couple of failed attempts, Scylla eventually found herself astride the horse and nearly panicked at how high she was off of the ground.

The vet moved the mounting block outside of the riding area and Byron walked over on Winston.

“Who would have ever thought of us on horses?” Byron asked.

“Yeah,” Scylla managed, trying to fight the urge to yell something at him for getting her to do this.

Ashley looked up at them from the ground, “Byron, you have a bit more experience now. So why don’t you work with Porter for a bit on the outer edge while I work with Scylla in the inner part of the ring.”

Byron nodded. He gave his sister a reassuring smile and then rode over to Porter. Scylla was glad her brother was happy and getting some alone time with Porter, but she was not looking forward to being left alone with the brunette.

Ashley was no nonsense in the ring. Although she was polite, as soon as the lesson began she barked out instructions left and right.

“Heels down.” The vet snapped at Scylla. The first order caught her off guard. Looking towards the vet to see if it was even the same person talking.

“Eyes forward.” Ashley barked again as soon as they had eye contact. Scylla snapped her head back looking in front of the horse as commanded. She wasn’t sure if she was compliant out of confusion or fear. She just wasn't expecting this change in the brunette.

“You’re letting your shoulders slump.”

Now Scylla corrected her posture in more defiance. A little fire had started burning inside the musician. This wasn't something she wanted to do. She was doing this for her brother. Then this woman from Rae’s past comes in just to go Dr jekyll and Mrs. Hyde.

After a few moments of barking more commands, Ashley finally offered a bit of praise only to almost immediately yell out “I said heels down.”

It certainly wasn’t the fun that Byron had made it out to be and after a while Scylla brought her horse to a stop in front of Ashley and met the vet’s brown eyed gaze.

“Something wrong?” Ashley looked at the musician with a little sparkle in her eye and a vague smirk on her face.

“I don't really think I’m getting this.” Scylla moving her hand tracing a circle in the air, attempting to hide a tone of defeat.

Ashley stared at the musician for a moment and then shrugged, “Then dismount.”

“What?” Scylla asked, surprised by the flippant attitude of Ashley. She’d seen the woman work with kids and even watched a few lessons with adults. She’d never seen the woman act this impatient before now.

“Look, riding is something that anyone can learn. However, you have to put in the work. If you 'can't' that means to me you don’t want to even try to put the effort in doing this. If that's the case… just stop now and don’t ride.”

“I do want to do the work, I’m just not getting everything that you’re telling me to do.”

Ashley glared at the musician, “Then you aren’t listening. Let’s go again.”

Scylla hesitated and Ashley furrowed her brows, “If you aren’t ready for this, it's fine. Just get off the horse, walk away.”

“I’m not walking away,” Scylla said and then suddenly realized that this wasn’t about the horse or the lesson. This was about Raelle.

“I am ready for this and I am willing to put in whatever work is necessary.” The musician turned her azure eyes on Ashley and held her gaze.

Finally the vet nodded, “Then take Tequila out on a box pattern.”

Scylla found herself sitting up straighter on the horse and instructed Tequila to walk.

The rest of the lesson went without incident and by the time Ashley told her that they were done for the day, the musician was actually smiling. She rode over to the block Ashley had moved into place and with slightly shaky legs, managed to get down from the horse. Surprisingly, the vet reached out her arms and grabbed Scylla at the hips, steadying her as she stepped down from the block.

“You're going to be a bit shaky for a bit until you get used to using your leg muscles like that. Don’t feel you have to rush to dismount.”

‘Thank you,” Scylla answered.

Byron and Porter finished up their ride and joined Scylla and Ashley for a moment. They talked a bit about another lesson, perhaps in the field next time to go over some trail riding basics and the boys left the ring to put their horses away.

Ashley looked at Scylla, “You actually did pretty good for your first time on a horse. You’ve got a strong personality. I knew you’d be able to handle Tequila. He’ll help you learn, keep it a challenge.”

“He’s a nice horse. And you weren’t a bad instructor, once you stopped acting like a bitch.” Scylla responded.

Ashley grinned, “Calling me on my bullshit, are you?”

“Yeah,” Scylla answered with a playful smirk. Now that there seemed to be an understanding between the two of them.

“Good,” Ashley said, taking the reins from Scylla as they walked Tequila back to his stall.

“So I’ll cut the bullshit and get to the point. Rae brought you here. She brought you to her home. This is the first time she’s ever done that.”

Scylla tried to keep her expression neutral as she listened to the brunette.

“Look, it’s obvious she’s in love with you and I know what Raelle is like when she’s in love. She will give everything she can for you… and if you can't do the same then that’s not fair to her. If you’re not prepared for that, you better walk away now.”

Ashley cross tied Tequila and began to remove his saddle, “I had a chance. I blew it. God knows I would have done things differently if I’d known better. I sure as hell would if ever given a second chance.”

The vet met Scylla’s gaze. “I'd be sure if I were you to not give me a reason to try.”

Scylla nodded. “You won’t get another chance. I’m all in. Thank you for the lesson and the chat.”

The musician turned on her heel and walked out of the barn leaving the vet to tend to the horse.

***

 

Raelle said goodbye to her dad and once he’d gone inside the cabin she started back down the drive to help Quinn. She’d seen the older woman working at getting the horses in and figured she’d lend a hand so the woman could make it to a hot meal for once.

She met her inside the stables and began sifting feed into the buckets per instructions on the feeding lists.

“The girl rode today.” Quinn said after Raelle had filled the older woman in about Edwin’s follow up appointment at the doctor’s office.

“Scylla rode?” Raelle asked, surprised. Scylla hadn’t seemed the least bit interested in the horses beyond saying that it was peaceful to watch them in the field.

“Yeah, Ashley put her on Tequila.”

Raelle’s brows rose and she thought about the blue roan. He was a good horse, all of Quinn’s horses were, but he wasn’t usually used to teach beginners. “How did she do?”

“Surprisingly well,” Quinn admitted, her mouth a thin line.

“Well, Scylla’s a smart woman, I’m sure she picked up on things pretty quickly.”

“I suppose so,” Quinn answered, not thrilled to admit to that fact.

Raelle looked at her mother’s oldest friend. She often saw her as a second mom and her approval was important to Raelle. “You don’t like her much, do you?”

Quinn sighed, “I think you can do better.”

“She’s a famous musician and an accomplished actress,” Raelle said. “Not to mention she has a couple of masters in…”

“That stuff doesn’t matter, Rae. That girl has a past. She’s got demons running around her.”

“Everyone has a past,” Raelle protested.

“Not like her. I’m telling you, I sense it. She might have been able to hide it out there in the city with the fancy lights and wardrobe. She could spin whatever fantasy she wanted to, but out here she’s bared to the world.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about Quinn.”

“Look, Rae, I know you. I know the job that you do. The people you protect? They usually aren’t innocent. There’s a psycho out there chasing her for a reason. I hope to the Goddess that the FBI catches him or her first. But I know them and I know you.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Don’t you go getting yourself killed for that woman, Raelle. Maybe she deserves what’s happening to her.”

Raelle wheeled on her mother’s best friend, “No one deserves this Quinn. Not her, not the people being killed because of her.”

Quinn frowned, quickly holding her hands up to try to deseculate Raes reaction. “I’m not saying anyone deserved to die but I am saying that maybe this whole thing is because of something she put in motion years ago. You need to know what it is. If you’re going to risk your life for her, put your heart on the line for her, then you need to get the truth from her.”

“I love her, Quinn. And she loves me. And for right now, that’s enough.” Raelle finished filling the bucket she was working on and marched off, boots clomping as she made her way to the stalls.

Quinn watched the blonde walk away and sighed. She hoped that for once love would be enough and that if the musician really loved Raelle, she’d tell her whatever secrets she was hiding before it was too late.

***

In the house Edwin puttered around the kitchen, stopping now and again to catch his breath. He was just taking another breather, a large package of chicken resting beside him on the counter, when Scylla walked into the room.

“I thought I heard the truck,” the musician said with a smile. She looked at Raelle’s father, her face growing concerned at how pale the older man looked. “Are you alright, Mr. Collar?”

“Edwin,” the older man said between pants. “Just a little short of breath. It was a long day.”

“Then why don’t you just rest?” The musician moved closer to Edwin to try to lead him to the couch.

“People’s gotta eat.”

 

“Then ‘people’ can fend for themselves.” Scylla said, hands on her hips.

Edwin smiled and shook his head, “Nah, I promised Rae I’d make her favorite fried chicken and biscuits tonight.”

Scylla looked at the chicken beside him and back up to his stubborn gaze and sighed, “How about you tell me what to do and I’ll do the work?”

Edwin smiled at the musician again and nodded, “We can fix it together. I’ll cut up the vegetables here and make up the batter for you.”

“Okay, Edwin, it's a deal.” Scylla agreed.

As they prepared the meal, they chatted easily about their day and Scylla laughed at the stories Edwin told her about Raelle’s childhood. Eventually, he mentioned something about Ashley and Scylla’s grin faltered.

“Don’t let that girl get to you. That was a long time ago and Raelle moved on years ago.”

“And did Ashley?” Scylla asked.

Edwin shrugged and handed the brunette a bowl of chopped up vegetables to put in a pan, “For the most part. I think what happened between them was necessary but it's done now.”

“What do you mean?” Scylla asked, adding seasoning to the vegetables.

“I mean that I believe that everything we do and everyone we are with is there to help us to prepare for the one. Our true one. Our soulmate. Part of it is about learning how to be with another person and growing. Part of it is about getting ourselves ready. Learning who we are, what we bring to the table. Then one day, we get there and we’re ready to settle down. From there, it's just a matter of luck and waiting for that soul to be ready for us.”

Scylla stared at Edwin, lost in the depth of his words.

“You’re gonna burn that chicken if you don’t turn it.” His words made Scylla jump, and she turned back to the stove, turning the chicken over with a pair of tongs.

She turned around again after she’d finished facing the older man. “That was a really beautiful thing to say.”

Edwin shrugged, “I don’t know much, but I know love. I loved Rae’s momma with all my heart and soul and I’m proud to say she loved me the same until the day she was taken from us. We taught our girl to love that way, so you’d better be prepared.”

Scylla blushed and Edwin smiled, “My girl loves you and I can see that you love her. Just do that, give her your all, be honest and true with her,and you can’t go wrong.”

Edwin stood up from the stool at the counter and walked over to the musician. He gave her a hug and then helped her move the food from the pans to the platters. They had just finished placing the food on the table when everyone made their way into the dining area.

Raelle looked like she was going to start fussing at her father again for fixing dinner and so he held up a hand before she could start speaking, “I hope you all enjoy this because this young lady is quite the chef.”

Scylla blushed and Raelle looked at her brow raised.

“More like I can follow instructions,” Scylla corrected.

“Thank you for helping him,” Raelle said, leaning over and whispering in the musician's ear.

“I was happy to help.” Scylla said quietly.

The food was delicious and everyone ate until their stomachs were full and then let out collective groans of satisfaction. Porter offered to clean up and Byron joined the blonde.

Quinn and Edwin both expressed wanting to get some rest and soon Raelle and Scylla found themselves alone.

They made their way into the great room and settled in the recliners in front of the fireplace.

“That was a really good dinner,” Raelle said.

“Like I said, I was just doing what your dad told me to do.”

The blonde smiled. “Quinn told me you had a riding lesson today.”

“Yeah, Byron talked me into going with him.”

“You must be a quick learner. She said that Ash put you on Tequila.”

“It was an interesting experience,” Scylla began, “We had an interesting chat, too.”

Raelle’s brow furrowed, “About riding?”

“About you, actually. She said she regretted what happened between the two of you. That she’d messed up somehow.”

Raelle shrugged and turned her pale blue eyes to the fire, thinking back to her teenage years.

Scylla watched the blonde, hoping that Raelle would tell her what had happened but also worried at what feelings dredging up the memories may evoke. Eventually, Raelle met her azure gaze, and her eyes contained the same emotion she’d seen that morning. The bodyguard took Scylla’s hand in hers, squeezing it gently, letting the musician know that those feelings were for her and not some memory.

“Ash and I were the best of friends when we were little. Well, as good as friends as you can be when you live a couple of hours away and have a working class dad.”

Scylla’s brow furrowed and Raelle continued. “My mom’s family comes from old money. Coal mining, logging, they did a bit of it all and reaped the benefits.” The blonde gestured vaguely around her at the house.

“Dad’s family was working class. No land barons there. Anyway, it always put me in a weird spot. People at home thought I was stuck up and fancy, mom’s family and friends here thought I was no better than white trash.”

Scylla nodded. It made sense now why Raelle had never seemed intimidated around all the extravagance of the music business. She’d been comfortable around the glitz, glamor, and money but had never seemed to want to be a part of it.

“I was mostly a loner growing up. Ashley was the exception.” Raelle said, talking about the veterinarian now.

“Her parents were one of a couple of large animal clinics in town. Long before Quinn had horses here my grandparents did. When her dad would come by to tend to the animals, she’d tag along.” Raelle smiled, the memories of a five year old Ashley running through her mind.

“You were instant friends?” Scylla asked.

“Oh yeah, inseparable from the start. You name it, we’d get into it. And when we were little it didn’t really matter so much. I mean her parents weren’t going to risk losing business because they fussed about me hanging around their kid.”

“Then things changed?”

Raelle nodded, “I was fifteen and she was sixteen. Suddenly Ash wasn’t just coming over with her dad. Now she was coming over and picking me up in her truck and I’d go with her on the weekends to the rodeos.”

The blonde shrugged, “At some point it became more between us. We’d been careful to keep it under the radar. She usually had a boyfriend and I played around. Nothing serious though and I made sure the girls knew it.”

“Then we got careless. We had a bit too much to drink one night, celebrating a great run. Her dad walked in on us.”

Raelle snorted, “It wasn’t even the fact that I was a girl that bugged him. It was who my father was and who I wasn’t.”

Scylla couldn’t imagine anyone not liking Raelle’s father. Then the fact that the dislike was simply over money or status was ridiculous to her. “So Ashley’s dad made her end it?”

“Yeah,” Raelle answered. “I guess. We never really even talked about it. One day we were together and the next day we weren’t. She kept doing rodeos and I started working out more, getting prepared to join the military as soon as they’d let me in. She stopped coming here and I didn’t really come back that much until my mom died and I inherited the land.”

“And so you never even discussed it later?” Scylla asked.

Raelle shrugged, “What was there to say? She’d made her decision to end it. She didn’t even try to figure something out. And really, our lives were going in different directions anyway. It wasn’t meant to be.”

“But you never…”

“No,” Raelle answered.

“Do you regret that you didn’t try to work things out?”

Raelle shook her head, “ By the time we saw each other again she’d taken over her dad’s practice and was seeing someone and I definitely wasn’t in a place to be involved with anyone. No, we are better off being just friends.”

Scylla was glad her bodyguard felt that way but it was obvious the veterinarian had come to a different conclusion about the events.

“You were her first?” Scylla asked.

“Yeah,” Raelle answered.

Scylla nodded, understanding the situation a little better. You never forget your first and sometimes they won’t forget you.

After a few minutes of just watching the flames dance in the fireplace in companionable silence, Raelle stood and walked into the kitchen. She made them tea and when she returned with the cups she asked, “So what’s going on between Porter and Byron?”

Scylla smiled, “Porter has been crazy about By for years.”

Raelle’s brow rose in pleasant surprise and they continued talking long into the night.

***
A news video of Scylla’s press conference from Fort Salem played on the laptop...

"This is a subject that is close to my heart. As many of you know, my brother and I lost our parents while we were still teenagers. Luckily, my parents had a plan in place that would ensure we received proper care and attention but many parents don’t. Much like planning out a funeral, the idea of planning out what will happen to your children…"

Heart...what heart? Where the hell was her heart when mine was ripped from me.

Siren. Demon. Witch!

Where did you go? Where are you hiding?

"FUCK!"

You can't hide forever. That's not in your nature, selfish slut.

They sat on a couch, clicking through the online tabloid magazines, trying to find a trace of the musician. Social media seemed to be no help, her fans were questioning the same thing they were.

"...online to their site and make a donation if you can. You will also find links to my merchandise and Prints of Byron’s art that you can purchase and all proceeds will go to the charity.”

She moved on from the blonde?? That fallen angel...I haven't forgotten about her...such a disappointment. Now this witch is selling her brother’s prints. HA. Lets see what you get selling your brother's soul to the devil…

I still need to find and prepare the next gift. Her hiding hasn't stopped me. That bitch doesn't have that kind of power.

They flipped through the various sites, desperately searched for clues when at last an article about the gallery opening popped up. The title Reflected Confessions caught their attention. Too small of a picture, they enlarged the image of the witch and her brother standing beside a painting. The image alone of the siren sent a fire running through their soul.

Shaking, fingers moved on the touch screen enlarging the painting. As the minutes ticked by, they examined the image, eyes blinking rapidly as they finally understood the depth of the witch’s evil right in front of everyone's eyes. The people at the gallery didn’t see it. Her admirers didn’t see it. But they would. Soon EVERYONE would see...

They also knew now who would make the next gift. He would take them, prepare them. It would be perfect. He would present them to the witch. A sacrifice close to home.

 

****

The phone rang at Special Agent Craven's desk. Still assessing the new case that had been dropped off moments earlier, the agent put the folder to the side and picked up the phone.
"Hello."

"Agent Craven, it's Alice. I have something you should see. It's from the samples that Raelle collected for me. Can we meet?"

Tally knew she was off the Ramshorn case but that was her friend, her sister. "Just tell me when and where."

Chapter Text

It had become their little routine after that first day on the swing together. Even as the weather fluctuated between freezing and just ‘damned cold’ as Raelle put it, they’d met each morning at the swing. Raelle would finish her morning sweep and Scylla would be watching and waiting with mugs of tea or coffee.

This particular morning, the early forecast had promised a beautiful day. One of the oddball days where Mother Nature remembered the warmer weather fondly and gifted would-be Christmas shoppers, hunters, or just two people in love a nice day to be outside.

Raelle planned to take full advantage of warmer weather. She made the preparations and after consulting with her father and Ashley, had put things into motion. She didn’t tell Scylla anything about it, save that during the evening hours Quinn and Edwin planned to have a fire in the firepit after dinner.

As Raelle mounted the porch steps, already dressed for the day in jeans, a long sleeve shirt, and a blue flannel jacket, she smiled at the sight of Scylla waiting for her with a steaming mug of coffee.

Raelle leaned in capturing the musician's lips in a good morning kiss and then accepted the offered mug and settled down on the swing beside her.

“Sleep well?” Scylla asked and smiled when the blonde nodded.

You?”

“I fell asleep with a book in my hand last night.” The musician tried to recall when she had felt this safe and relaxed.

Raelle smiled at the image in her mind. She’d checked on Scylla more than once during her nightly rounds and had found her that way, sleeping with a book still open on her lap. She’d seen her last night as well, but wouldn’t tell the musician that. Only Porter knew about her nightly ritual, having caught her standing in the doorway of Scylla’s room one night not long after they’d arrived at the farm.

Even after they’d confessed their feelings to one another they still hadn’t been intimate again. It was as if they had some unspoken agreement to take things slow and explore this new development of their relationship. Raelle was all for taking it slow, but she missed the way Scylla felt beneath her. She missed being inside of her, tasting her, holding her through the night.

“Penny for your thoughts,” Scylla said, bumping her shoulder into Raelle’s and breaking the blonde’s train of thought.

Raelle looked over at Scylla, blushing slightly and was surprised to see the same desire she felt reflected in the cerulean gaze of the musician. She felt her pulse quicken and she took a drink of the still almost too hot coffee to distract herself.

“It’s going to be nice today. The weatherman said it will get up to 65F by midday.”

“And that’s got you quiet? I would have thought you’d be thrilled that it will be warm.”

Raelle took another sip of her coffee and then smiled at the musician. “I was thinking that I would like to take you out across the road to my Aunt’s part of the farm. There’s some nice trails out there.”

“On horseback?” Scylla asked.

Raelle nodded, “Ash said you were doing really well with Tequila.”

“Okay,” Scylla answered, blushing at the compliment. Although she’d probably never be best friends with the veterinarian, with each additional lesson she grew to respect her opinion more and knew that Ashley was reserved with her praise.

“Okay,” Raelle repeated with a smile.

They finished their morning coffee and decided to meet back at the swing in twenty minutes

Scylla searched through the wardrobe, trying to pick her outfit for the decent weather and to ride Tequila...on a date. She settled on an old pair of jeans with a flannel shirt and a jean jacket. Nerves crept over the musician giving her a smile that only thoughts of Raelle brought out.

Thinking she was finished early, Scylla stepped back out on the porch and her azure eyes widened in surprise at seeing that Raelle was already outside and Edwin was handing her a backpack.

"There's food at the bottom and snacks on top if you get hungry. I love you. You kids have fun. "

Papa Collar walked over to Scylla with a happy grin and offered the brunette a loving hug. It had been years since someone had hugged her that way and it brought warmth to Scylla as she hugged him back.

Looking into her eyes, he said "love her hard" with a wink and smile.

"With everything I have,” Scylla promised, fighting tears of happiness.

Scylla quirked a brow at Raelle who had yet to move from the swing, the silent question of what she was waiting for in her eyes.

The bodyguard held up a finger for Scylla to wait with a grin and then pointed to the opposite side of the house. Byron and Porter approached on their horses with Tequila and Zorro in tow.

The pair both beamed, excited to be a part of this moment. Scylla's mouth opened in awe, it surprised her that brother was even awake this early.

"What is happening?!?" She asked, watching Byron and Porter exchanging glances.

Byron smiled back at his sister "Well, we all got to talking and we thought we needed to get out of the house and take advantage of the weather. So, we are gonna do a double date.”

Raelle grinned, pulling Scylla to her side and the musician gave Porter and her brother a warm smile. “Well, it’s about damn time.”

They laughed and Byron motioned toward Tequila. “So 'giddy up!'”

Raelle resisted rolling her eyes and Porter laughed, “could you sound any more like the city fancy Quinn accused us of being?”

Byron looked at Porter, his expression serious, “You didn’t seem to mind how I sounded last night.”

The blonde blushed and Scylla groaned as she stepped forward to reach for Tequila’s reins.

Raelle walked up beside her and gave her a leg up to mount the huge horse, hands supporting her as Scylla swung up and into the saddle.

Once Raelle was sure the musician was safely mounted she secured the backpack, and took Zorro’s reins from Porter. The horse stomped a hoof in the dirt, eager to get moving, and Raelle took a minute to stroke the horse’s neck, calming him. Once Zorro was standing still, she mounted the black horse and offered her dad a small wave before leading the group in the direction of the driveway and the road beyond It.

Edwin Collar leaned against the porch rail, arms crossed, a smile on his face as he watched the group leave. He heard the screen door and footsteps approaching him. A moment later Quinn offered him a cup of coffee.

“So they’re off on their little adventure?”

“Yep,” Edwin answered, accepting the coffee and taking a long sip.

Quinn stood beside her oldest friend’s widow and sighed. “I hope Raelle knows what she’s doing.”

“Rae will be fine. That girl is strong and she’s full of love.”

“Rae’s been through so much pain. I just hope Scylla doesn’t break her heart.” Quinn explained.

Edwin took another drink off his coffee and then looked at Quinn, “I was talking about Scylla. She’s a good soul, it’s just buried under a lot of pain.”

Quinn’s brows furrowed and the older woman frowned, “I think she’s holding on to something big. Her eyes are haunted. I just hope Rae doesn't get hurt in the middle of this."

“I think they’ll heal each other,” Edwin said.

"They better hurry. Then they can get that ghost that's chasing 'em. If they get hurt… oh goddess help 'em, I swear I'll go find that psycho myself. I don't care."

"Yes, yes, we know you will. Enough of this, we have a lot to take care of before tonight. So complain while we work."

"Then I am coming after you Edwin. I swear. Second on the list!"

"Yup. Copy that. I'm second on the list. Speaking of which, get the grocery list on the counter."

***
Doctor Alice Monroe put down her leather dark brown messenger bag. The same one that Tally had seen when she came across Alice on job sites and occasionally at her office. Finally comfortable in her seat the Doctor smiled her thanks when the waitress at the cafe delivered not just the cups but an entire pitcher of coffee to the table. Alice was grateful to Tally for arriving early and taking the liberty of ordering for her.

The waitress lingered, “Would you girls like a few minutes with the menus or do you know what you want?”

“I’ll take the chicken salad on sourdough,” Tally said.

“Just a buttered croissant for me,” Alice added.

The waitress walked away and Alice looked at her friend’s lover. “I know you’re technically not on the case anymore, but Sarah hasn’t been overly thrilled that Raelle did her own investigation and we’ve got evidence we can’t use in a court of law.”

“Rae knows her stuff,” Tally said. “If she thought she’d found something, then it's worth taking a look.”

“I agree,” Alice said. She pulled out her iPad and a few lab reports, laying them methodically across the table.

“So what did you find?” Tally asked, leaning forward.

“Have you seen Byron Ramshorn’s paintings?”

“No,” Tally answered.

The waitress brought their food and Alice continued.

“Well, he’s a great artist. He usually does portraits…”

“What does this have to do with what you found,” Tally asked, taking a bite of her sandwich.

“It’s relevant, trust me.” Alice said and paused long enough to eat some of her croissant.

The doctor wiped her fingers and then brought up the painting of Reflected Confessions.

“This is different,” Alice said, turning the iPad so that Tally could look at it. “There were rumors about this painting circling in the art world for years. He allegedly painted it right around the time his parents died, but no one saw it until he put it in his opening a couple weeks ago. Then the shocker...he wouldn’t sell it.”

Tally took in the painting of the boy on the swing, it was almost whimsical yet at the same time realistic. It reminded her of the garden of Eden and she couldn’t help but shiver.

“Yeah, it has that effect doesn’t it?” Alice said.

“Yes, it gives me the creeps. It screams that something’s not right, but what does that have to do with the stuff Raelle gave you?”

“This place. This is where the mushroom spores and the shells came from. And this is what I’ve found.”

Alice reached for the lab printouts. “We know the lab detected spores in the glue used to create the letters.”

“Yeah, we assumed some sort of mushroom.”

“Right, and you see all the mushrooms there?”

Tally shrugged, “Yeah, but so what? Mushrooms grow everywhere.”

Alice shook her head, “Not these mushrooms. The Chorioactis geaster or Devil’s Cigar is extremely selective about where it grows naturally and it certainly does not grow in Massachusetts.”

Alice pointed at the mushrooms in the painting. “These are Devil’s Cigars and they’re everywhere out there. My guess is Scylla’s Ramshorn’s mother was growing them in her hot house and they spread and somehow survived. They are researched heavily for medical purposes.”

Tally shook her head in confusion. “What are you suggesting?”

Alice leaned back in her chair, “Alder always thought that it was an inside job. That someone close to the musician was doing this and it had something to do with a crime that happened on the property long ago and got covered up.”

The doctor put her iPad on the table with the painting glowing before them. “The notes had letters glued in place to form the words and those letters had spores on them from a mushroom that only grows in Japan, interestingly Texas, and in Scylla Ramshorn’s backyard. Tell me that’s not something?”

“Scylla’s back yard,” Tally echoed and shook her head. “That's a much more plausible place for the spores to have come from then Texas or Japan.”

Across from her, Dr. Alice Monroe nodded her agreement.

***
Crossing the road with the horses had made the Ramshorn siblings nervous but they were able to ride down and across without incident. Once on her aunt’s property, she led them through a series of gates until they reached what looked like a stone foundation.

“Be careful out here. Somewhere there’s a well and I’m not sure that it's still properly marked,” Raelle said, turning Zorro away from the structure.

“What was that?” Byron asked.

“My grandparents had a couple of staff houses out here. Over the years they started to fall apart and eventually Quinn had them burned to the foundation. I think she was planning to put another barn out here if I ever buy out my aunt.”

“What would it take to do that?” Scylla asked, stopping Tequila beside Zorro.

Raelle shrugged, “It's not really a matter of money as much of me deciding if I really would want the property. I hardly have the time to be at my own house, let alone here.”

“Well, you can’t be a bodyguard forever,” Byron said. “Might be a nice place to settle one day.”

Both Scylla and Raelle looked at the artist, wondering if he realized what he had just suggested.

Porter rode up on Jasper and looked at the spot. “It’s a pretty place. Was this the area we saw from the lookout?”

Raelle nodded, “Some of it.”

“What about the stream? Is that a part of the property?” Byron asked.

The bodyguard nodded with a smile, “Yeah, that’s actually our destination. There’s a place here on the property where it kinda pools. It will be a nice place to stop the horses and have lunch.”

“How far?” Porter asked.

“Couple of hours' ride from here,” Raelle answered. “We’ve got a few rough spots to get through. Should be a nice challenge for us and the horses.”

Scylla’s eyes widened and she looked at her brother. It was obvious that Raelle and Porter would be able to handle the terrain but she worried if Byron and she had enough experience.

Raelle smiled at the musician’s expression. “Don’t worry, the horses know what to do and you don’t want to miss the scenery.”

The ride went smoothly, despite a couple of extremely steep spots. As they moved further along they came to an area that was so tight around a drop off that Scylla thought for a moment the blonde must have taken a wrong turn. There was no way she could see that they could get beyond the area to the other side where the trail widened again.

Raelle stopped them and explained the horses would need to move in single file. Scylla shuddered as she looked over the hill at the sparkling water below. It was obvious that they were taking a winding path down a mountain to the valley below.

“No way,” Byron said, peering down the cliff edge.

“It can be done,” Raelle said. “You just need to trust the horse. “Direct them to hug the hill.” She looked at her riding companions and nodded to Porter, “You want to go first?”

If something did happen, Raelle wanted one of the most experienced riders on either side of the challenge.

“Sure,” Porter said. He nudged Jasper forward and everyone held their breath as Jasper cleared the tight spot. Once on the other side, Porter leaned over, patting the horse’s neck and offered him a treat from his saddle bag.

“Byron?” Raelle asked.

The artist looked as if he’d pass out right there in the saddle but Porter called to him from the other side and after some encouragement the young man rode Winston out. The horse seemed to have a bit of trouble, pausing in the middle, and Byron followed Raelle’s instructions to urge the horse through the tight spot.

Scylla was terrified but she wasn’t about to let that get the best of her. She nudged Tequila forward and the horse walked a couple of steps and then stopped. The change in locomotion was so sudden, Scylla felt herself shift in the saddle and she had to grab the saddle horn just to keep from falling out of the saddle and over the cliff’s edge.

“What the hell,” she muttered, righting herself again.

From the other side Porter and Byron looked quisically at Scylla and Tequila. She instructed the horse to move forward again, but the blue roan stood still and wouldn’t budge. After a moment, Raelle dismounted and walked up to the pair. She petted the roan for a moment and looked up into the musician’s azure gaze. “He’s not going to go until you’re ready and he senses that you’re not. You’ve got to show him that you trust him or he won’t trust you.”

Scylla met the pale blue eyes of the woman she loved and forced herself to take a deep breath. She nodded and Raelle smiled. “Just take your time.”

The blonde walked back over to her horse and remounted. The black horse stomped a hoof, eager to move forward. Raelle patted Zorro’s neck, distracting the horse to give Scylla and Tequila the time that they needed.

After a few moments, Scylla bent forward, whispering something in the roan’s ear. The horse’s ear flicked, turning toward the musician and after a moment, Tequila walked through the tight spot like it was nothing and joined the horses on the other side.

Raelle met them with Zorro a moment later and they all looked back at the cliff. Finally Byron said, “Do we have to go back across that when we leave?”

The bodyguard shook her head, “No, there’s a couple of ways back to the house from the stream and we’ll definitely take another route so you can see more of the property.”

Though Raelle’s companions didn’t respond, they were all relieved.

Raelle had been right, Scylla thought as they finally rode the last few feet that led them to the water’s edge. The ride had been exhilarating and the views were fantastic. Once they dismounted, Raelle helped Scylla and took her in her arms for a kiss. After they tended to the horses, they turned their attention to the lunch that Mr. Collar had prepared for them.

The food was simple: cold fried chicken, various salads, chips, and a few different kinds of miniature pies for dessert. When Porter and Byron first started pulling the food out of the bags, Scylla thought they’d never be able to finish it all but apparently riding really did work up an appetite and soon they were repacking the now empty containers.

Mr. Collar had included bottles of old style root beer to drink and after helping with the clean up and checking on the horses, Raelle perched on a rock at the edge of the pooled area of the stream and sat down with one of them. Scylla picked up her own bottle and made her way over to the blonde and sat down beside her. They clicked the necks of their bottles and drank.

Byron and Porter exchanged glances and wordlessly walked a little way down the stream, giving Raelle and Scylla some privacy.

“So what did you say to Tequila?” Raelle asked after they’d sat on the rock for a few minutes, basking in the sun.

Scylla gave a small smile, “I, uh, I was singing to him.”

Raelle grinned and looked at the brunette. “Have I told you today how much I love you?”

Scylla ducked her head, blushing at the words of endearment. Shrugging, she said, “I just thought it might calm both of us down.”

“Well, it worked.” The blonde said, nodding. She took another pull from the bottle and looked out to the water, enjoying the scenery and the company. She leaned back on the rock, hands supporting her as she gave a contented sigh.

Scylla snuck a glance at Raelle. The blonde’s head was back so her face could feel the warmth of the sun. Her blonde hair caught the light and Scylla’s breath hitched. The woman beside her was brave, good, and kind and most importantly Raelle loved her. She wanted to be with her. Her. The siren, the bitch. She’d done so many things wrong. She just didn’t deserve it. As she continued to stare at Raelle, she felt her heart start to race. One minute she saw her lover, the next she saw a flashback from her past. Another person perched at another pond. She felt herself starting to panic.

With Raelle’s eyes closed her other senses were heightened and she sensed a change in the brunette beside her. She opened her eyes, frowning at the sight of Scylla, almost shivering beside her, eyes staring out into space. Sitting up, she put a hand on Scylla’s leg.

“Hey, you okay?” When the musician didn’t respond, Raelle repeated herself. At the sound of laughter she looked up to see Byron and Porter approaching.

Apparently the sound was enough to bring Scylla back from wherever her mind had taken her and the musician attempted to smile and nodded at the blonde. “Yeah,” she answered, “I just felt a little light headed for a second.”

Raelle frowned and looked over the musician. She seemed physically fine but it would probably be best to head out. No one should be on a trail ride if they weren’t feeling well. Especially in a place where it would be hard to get medical attention if needed.

“Do you feel okay riding?” Raelle asked.

“Yeah,” Scylla answered, giving Raelle a real smile this time. “I’ve had a lot of fun with Tequila.”

Raelle laughed despite the serious topic, “Yeah, I know a lot of people who say that.”

Scylla laughed, slapping at the blonde’s leg and met her pale blue gaze with her own azure eyes. “I love you, Rae.”

Raelle smiled and leaned in her lips meeting Scylla’s. They kissed, long enough, deep enough that both felt their hearts begin to race. It was only with the very loud sound of Byron clearing his throat that they pulled away, both breathless.

Scylla looked at Raelle with that same desire she’d always felt and the blonde met her gaze with the same unspoken intention. Wordlessly they got up from the rock and made their way over to the horses. Once ready, Raelle assisted Scylla up in the saddle and they rode back toward the log house and barn.

 

***
At the dinner table, Raelle continued to reach out to Scylla's hand. She was still worried about the musician and whatever had come over her when they were at the stream. When they had a private moment together on the ride back, their horses out pacing Bryon’s and Porters, Raelle had reminded Scylla that no matter what, she was in it for keeps and she meant it. Scylla still saw the sincerity, love, and care that was streaming through the blonde's eyes at the dinner table now. It sent a warmth and a tingle throughout the musician's body.

The end of the meal signaled it was time for drinks and desserts at the fire pit and after cleaning up a bit they went to the back yard. Wood had already been prepared for the fire. A circular stone pit was perfectly centered about 15ft away from the house. It was far enough from the house for safety but not so far away that they would get lost going back inside from the fire pit.

A couple of coolers were already set up outside along with lawn chairs that surrounded the stone pit. The core four Byron, Porter, Scylla and Rae were just following Quinn outside like little ducklings with their mama. As they walked the bodyguard gave the group a little background of the firepit tradition along with some childhood stories. After a few swings of their arms while they walked, Raelle caught Scylla's hand and grasped it, interlocking their fingers for a welcomed stolen moment as they found their seats.

As the night progressed and the fire burned bright lighting the group in a beautiful orange tint, Edwin picked up his guitar. ‘So who’d like to start?”

Everyone looked around at one another and Edwin let his gaze settle on Scylla. “How about you, dear? You’re the professional of the group.”

Scylla blushed and started to protest when Byron spoke up, “Hey Scyl, sing us that song you wrote for Raelle again.”

At this Quinn set up in her chair and Edwin smiled, “Oh gosh, we’d love to hear that.”

Now Raelle was blushing too and was about to suggest something else when Scylla accepted the guitar from Edwin and started to sing. As the intensity of the words, the proclamation of love echoed into the fire lit night, Quinn found her frown softened by the sincerity of the lyrics. If this woman truly loved her girl like it sounded, then maybe there was hope for them after all.

Once the song ended, Quinn looked at the brunette. “That was beautiful, but let’s have some fun. Here’s my version of a love song.”

The older woman took the guitar and led the group in a sing along of Shady Grove. Edwin followed it with another sing along song from the country, Dooley, and then looked around for the next performer to step up.

Between the drinks and the songs, Byron eventually reached for the guitar despite the groans from Scylla and Porter who both knew the musician’s brother could make dogs howl. Before he started he drunkenly yelled, “Fuck Geritt.”

Still, Byron held his own. He did the song justice and as the laughter calmed down from Byron's cover of 'love yourself', Scylla locked eyes on Raelle. The musician had so much she wanted to tell her but never could find the words. What she always could seem to find was meaning in the music and then she remembered…

"Hey Porter, remember that Michael Jackson song I made you sing with me at the house. I think we need a comeback performance."

Raelle had recovered the guitar from Byron to hand the guitar to Porter and was surprised when Scylla shook her head and then dipped her head toward Porter. Shrugging, Raelle handed the instrument over to the blonde.

"He is a cowboy that can play guitar and sing...oh my. You're so getting lucky" Byron tried and failed in normal fashion at being discreet but his whisper was the same volume as his normal talking voice and from across the fire pit Quinn and Edwin held back chuckles.

With the guitar in hand Porter and Scylla looked at each other as the blonde got ready to start playing. He counted off slowly. Porter started to strum on the acoustic guitar, a familiar baseline. The musician started to sing. Porter joined in as back up… finally Raelle recognized the song as Scylla sang thorugh the first verse.

Your butt is mine
Gonna tell you right

These words to the song didn't portray what everyone knew and loved about Michael Jackson's version of Bad. Scylla's version, her eyes, her words gave almost a warning to those around her. It sounded like her poor soul had felt guilt and through the words her pain her torture was there for the group to see. Hearing Scylla sing was so emotional and it fueled Raelle’s desire to show her how much she was loved. How she would do anything to protect her, and support her. After the song, all were slow to react because the performance was so raw and powerful it made the group pause to recover for a second.

"Rae, did you want a turn? Haven't heard you play in years! Come on, I know you still have some tricks left. The city can't have made you that soft." Quinn asked, smiling as she poked fun at the dazed bodyguard.

"Umm, sure." Raelle answered, grabbing the guitar back from Porter. She adjusted the straps to fit her. What song should she play? The musician seemed to still not believe her words when she told her that what they have is real. That she wouldn’t leave her. If words didn’t work then maybe she should speak a language the musician could understand. With that thought, Raelle started to play.

Baby it's you
You're the one I love

The lyrics from Love On Top were easily recognizable but as Raelle finished the song, pale eyes meeting Scylla’s azure gaze, the feelings were felt by everyone around the campfire. Byron looked at Porter with a soft smile and Edwin discreetly wiped at a tear in his eyes. The song had held a special meaning for him and Willa and he was pleased to see Raelle singing it to Scylla. Quinn smiled, soft and hopeful.

At last Edwin cleared his throat, “Well, it's getting a bit late. Why don’t you take the guitar inside, Rae, and the boys can help Quinn and me with the fire.”

Rae smiled and turned back to the house, holding her hand out to Scylla, "Want to join me?"

Scylla smiled and took her hand and followed Rae as they went back into the house. Around the fire Edwin told the bodyguard that maybe the musician should hold on to the guitar so they were off to her room to drop it off.

As Raelle led Scylla through the dark house, the musician was all smiles holding on to the person who had captured her heart. The musician stopped before getting to the staircase and caressed Raelle’s face and leaned in for such a deep kiss. The passion was explosive, this kiss was new, different, something had changed. Whatever it was, it took Raelle’s breath away. The guitar made noises as the blonde’s grip loosened, which distracted the two of them in their moment. Both giggled and then continued up the stairs towards Scylla's room.

Finally reaching the door, Raelle entered Scylla's room to place the guitar in a safe spot in the corner.

While the blonde placed the guitar in a corner, Scylla looked at her bodyguard and asked, “So, Beyonce, huh?”

With the help of the light from the fire pit peaking through the window, the musician was able to see everything she needed in Raelle’s eyes when the blonde turned around from safely putting the guitar down. “My mom used to sing that song to my dad. It was one of the first songs I learned to play. It meant a lot to them and to me. Now I wanted to play that song for you, so I did.”

Slowly, Scylla walked up to Raelle and pulled her body into the blonde, kissing her sweetly. Raelle deepened the kiss and as Scylla felt her pulse quicken, that familiar ache beginning in her center, she pulled slightly away from the kiss. Staring into Raelle’s pale blue eyes darkened with desire, she said "I want you to make love to me."

The blonde’s breath hitched, the words sending tingles throughout her body. She’d never wanted anyone or anything more than she wanted Scylla and this moment. After what seemed like eternity Raelle cupped Scylla’s face in her hands and bent her head to gently capture the musician’s lips. Holding Scylla's hand, Rae walked back to close the door. "Now, where were we?"

***

The buzzing of the phone on the nightstand beside the bed made Raelle’s pale blue eyes snap open and she reached for it automatically. As soon as she heard her friend’s voice, Raelle told Tally to hold on for a minute. She looked over to find Scylla naked and sleeping soundly beside her. Gently she adjusted the covers over her and then quietly slipped out the bed and pulled on a tee shirt and her jeans, leaving the brunette to her slumber. She opened the door to the bedroom and made her way over to the living area.

“Okay Tally,” Raelle said, “what’s going on?”

The redhead filled the bodyguard in on what the ballistics expert and Dr. Monroe had found. It was clear to Raelle that something tragic had happened at the pond and that whatever it was had haunted Scylla. It may have even created some ghosts. One that was killing young women.

Raelle continued to listen as Tally urged her to talk to Scylla and eventually got off the phone after promising to try and get some answers again. With a sigh she ended the call and made her way to the small upstairs kitchen area. She made them coffee and then returned to the bedroom door. The view was beautiful this morning but the blonde wouldn’t trade being in bed with the brunette for the sunrise. She slipped back into the room, a smile on her face despite the phone call she’d just had until she saw that Scylla was awake and crying. The brunette had put on a tee shirt and was sitting at the head of the bed.

She put the coffee down on the dresser and walked over to the bed. “What’s wrong, Scyl?”

“It’s just…” Scylla shook her head… “this... last night, goddess I love you so much.”

Raelle’s brows furrowed, watching the brunette. “I love you, too, Scylla.”

The brunette made a sound between a laugh and a sob and kept crying, “I don’t deserve it. I don’t deserve you.”

“What are you talking about?” Raelle asked as she perched herself on the edge of the bed, giving the musician some space but also letting her know she was close.

“The things I’ve done…”

Raelle sighed, “Scylla, I told you that I don't care about what you did in your past. I love you for who you are now. So whatever is weighing you down, you can tell me and you won't have to take that weight alone. You have me and I'm not going anywhere.”

Scylla shook her head and continued to cry.

Raelle tentatively reached out a hand and Scylla took it. “Tell me what happened at the pond, Scyl.”

“You mean yesterday? I just got a little light-headed…”

“No, the pond at the house with the tree. The place in Byron’s painting.”

The brunette’s head jerked up and she searched the blonde’s pale blue eyes. What did Raelle know?

 

“How do you know…”

“I know about the sealed files, I know that something happened out there and that it must have been pretty bad. And I know that it could be linked to what’s going on now. So please, tell me. Nothing you can say will change how I feel about you and no matter what happened back then we can deal with it together.”

Scylla looked at the blonde for a long moment. She remembered what Raelle had said about trust with the horses and she thought about what Mr. Collar and even Ashley had said. She nodded slowly and leaned back against the pillows and started to speak.

“We moved into the mansion when I was thirteen. Byron was fifteen and we both had trouble adjusting. We just left our friends behind and by that age going to a new school to start over was hard. Then of course there was the money issue. Our parents had gads, yet they put us in a public school. There were some kids in my class who were never sure they’d have food beyond what the school provided. There was a lot of resentment.”

Raelle nodded her understanding and squeezed Scylla’s hand.

“Anyway, we ended up kinda making friends with the oddballs, the misfits. Porter, Helen, and Clay. They were all between Byron’s age and mine and so it made sense we just kinda started hanging out together. We’d get together at the mansion most evenings, just doing what teenagers do.”

“Porter mentioned that you all used to get high,” Raelle prodded gently.

Scylla snorted, “Yeah, you know my mother was a botanist. She specialized in studying plant properties for potential use in pharmaceuticals. She had a wide range of stuff growing in her hot house.”

“Including psychedelic mushrooms?” Raelle asked.

“All kinds, yeah.” Scylla shrugged, “It was stupid but it was something to do. Byron hated feeling alone and hanging out with those guys gave us some friends. And we were both struggling with who we were.”

“You mean being gay?”

After a moment Scylla shrugged, “Gay, bi, whatever. Helen was obviously gay and I guess that's what drew me to her. I wasn't sure who I was but she did so I followed her like a puppy. Byron was crushing so bad on Clay that it was ridiculous but Clay didn’t seem the least bit interested. In fact the only reason he started hanging out with us was because he’d told Byron he had a crush on me.”

Scylla rolled her eyes and shook her head. “It was so stupid. Goddess we were all so dumb but Byron talked me into flirting with him. Encouraging him so he’d keep coming around.”

“And you did?” Raelle asked.

“Yeah, we actually went out a couple of times. He didn’t have a license yet and his dad would drive us to the movies or to the mall.”

“He started to like me, a lot. And I admit, I liked the attention. Helen wanted me, Clay wanted me. There were rumors that Porter wanted me.”

Scylla shook her head, almost as if she were disgusted by her younger self. Looking up into Raelle’s eyes, desperate for the blonde to understand, she explained, “It was nice to be wanted instead of being the nerdy kid who played the piano, wrote songs, and read books for once. I admit I let it go to my head.”

Raelle looked at Scylla, brow raised. It would be hard to imagine her as a nerdy kid without many friends. Wanting popularity though, wanting attention, Gerit had told Raelle that he’d taken advantage of that part of the musician's psyche to create the siren known as Scylla Ramshorn.

“But as it went on, Clay just became more and more obsessed with me and more jealous of the others. He told me he loved me, that he wanted to marry me. It was nuts, we were just teenagers. I tried to discourage it and keep it more casual but it was like he just became crazed. Clay was like that. He had all these weird quirks. Like he was obsessed about westerns and he loved guns. I never really knew why but he’d come over with his dad’s revolvers. He took By and Porter out with him and they would target shoot tin cans. That’s when Helen and I would…”

Scylla stopped and shrugged, “Anyway one day he came over as usual. The whole gang did. We grabbed some liquor from the kitchen and headed out to the pond. We’d been drinking for a while and we'd started to eat some of the mushrooms. I’d been bitching about Clay to Helen. She seemed kinda pissed too. I mean, she already didn’t like that he and I were dating.” Scylla said the last word with air quotes.

“She wanted you to herself?” Raelle asked.

“Yeah, that day we’d all got way wasted. We were hanging out around the hothouses and the pond and at some point Helen dared me to kiss Porter of all people. Goddess, it was so stupid. But I was so sick of Clay that I thought maybe it would make him realize he should back off. So I did, and Porter and I just both looked at each other. I mean, even with being drunk and high we both knew that the other was gay.”

“Byron didn’t know about Porter?”

“No, Byron was so obsessed with Clay that he couldn’t see straight. He was absolutely in love with him, but wouldn’t do anything about it. He was pissed about the kiss and about Helen. He was afraid I might upset Clay and then he’d stop coming around. And he did see it, the kiss I mean. He got pretty upset and I tried to tell him that it wasn’t a big deal. I had calmed him down, or at least I thought I had.”

Scylla shuddered suddenly, memories flooding her mind.

“Later that night we kept drinking and getting high. I was so stoned, I don’t know for sure what really happened next. I know that at some point Clay was talking with Helen and I know we were playing stupid games, truth or dare, the crazy crap that kids play. ”

Scylla’s eyes stared into the empty space between them, her gaze haunted, trying to remember the events she’d fought so long to forget.

“I don’t know whose idea it was, but suddenly we were passing one of the guns around, firing it. All but one of the bullets had been removed.”

Raelle’s eyes widened, “You were playing Russian roulette?”

Scylla nodded, “Yeah, I mean, I guess that’s what it was.”

Raelle shuddered at the thought, imagining a bunch of teenagers literally playing with death. The thought that Scylla could have killed herself…Raelle held Scylla’s hand a little tighter. After a moment she managed to whisper, “Go on.”

“One minute the gun was in my hand and the next it was in someone else’s. It ended up with Clay though and I remember he just looked at me, goddess he looked directly into my eyes and he just had this look on his face. He fired. Click, he fired again, click. And then the gun just looked like it exploded in his hand. He shot himself, right in the head in front of all of us.”

With part of her confession made, the brunette had begun to cry although Raelle doubted that she even realized it. The brunette was stuck in the memory, the trauma of what had happened. Her head was focused on the bed like she was watching it all over again in her mind.

“I remember hearing screaming, someone, me or maybe Byron. Porter ran to the house and my father came out. He made all of us go into the mansion and then he placed a call to the police.”

Raelle frowned. So this was what was in the sealed file. A boy had killed himself on the property and Scylla’s father had used his political pull to get his children’s involvement covered up.

“When the police arrived they came inside and looked at us and then they all went out to the pond with my father. They were gone for such a long time. Finally they came back and they talked to us, it was Byron first, next Helen,then Porter, and finally me. They gave us the same story, I remember the cop saying ‘Clayton’s death was just a tragic accident.’ He said we should try to not think about it and just move on. The cops and my dad told us never to speak of what really happened.”

Raelle’s jaw clenched but she resisted asking any questions. Seeing someone die, especially someone taking their life, was a terrible burden to bear without being able to talk about it and seek help. And yet it seemed that Scylla’s father and the police had done just that. She listened as the musician continued her story.

“Byron blamed me...well, I think. He wouldn’t talk for weeks after what had happened. I turned to Helen but she didn’t want to talk about it. She just wanted it to be us, always trying to control me and she never wanted to talk about Clay. I remember her saying, ‘now that Clay Is gone, we can be out together.’ She almost seemed happy about it and I just couldn’t deal with that. Finally, I turned to Porter and he kinda stepped into the role of big brother. We became good friends and he really helped me get through it. I was still blaming myself though and then...then my...”

“Your parents?”

Scylla nodded, “It was my fault, Raelle. It was because of me, Clay killed himself and then because of me, my parents were killed. And then I lost him, too. After that things changed, I was angry at him for what he did. I wasn't going to press charges on him though. After my parents died he came by to offer condolences. I told him to fuck off and slammed the door in his face. He tried calling a couple of times later. He tried calling offering his apologies again and just wanted to ask questions about his son. He wanted to go to where it happened. Hearing Clay’s name for what felt like a 100 times, I flipped. I told him things I didn't mean. They were cruel and horrible things. But I was far from sober, and I was still angry and young. He came around the grounds again when I started gaining some fame for singing. Well, Helen caught him before he got far because she was escorting him to his car when we got home. Then I stopped seeing him. He stopped trying to contact me.”

“Wait, what are you talking about?” Raelle asked, trying to get Scylla to refocus on her original thought. The secret, the sealed files, were they connected to the psycho hunting them now?
The bodyguard had to backtrack to make sure she understood correctly.

“Byron said your parents were killed by a drunk driver, who was the driver? Who is this ‘him’?”

“The drunk driver was Clay’s dad, Raelle.” Scylla explained. “My parents were coming back from some political ball and he crashed into them. He was always drunk whenever he would actually surface out of his house. After Clay died he lost it, he became an alcoholic and I'm sure our interactions didn't help him process Clay's death. My parents had run into him on his way to buy more liquor on more than one occasion, and he proudly told them of his destination.”

Raelle shook her head, still not comprehending why Scylla thought that their death was her fault. “You didn't make him drink, you were a kid and he was an adult.”

Raelle frowned, thinking she needed to know more about who this person was but she could see that Scylla was becoming more upset and had more to tell.

“The police came again after the crash and this time they reminded us about accidents. Tragic accidents and how in the long run it would be better for everyone if charges weren’t pressed, if we just let it go. The police indicated if we pressed charges or made a big deal of it then what happened at the pond would have to be re-examined. We were promised that if we kept quiet about the wreck, then what happened at the pond would be kept quiet. ”

“They threatened you,” Raelle said, feeling anger building up inside of her.

“It was my fault, Raelle, all of it.”

Raelle shook her head, “No Scyl. You didn’t have the gun, Clay did. You didn’t drive the car, his dad did. None of this is your fault.”

As Scylla shook her head and silently sobbed Raelle realized that for all of these years Scylla Ramshorn had carried a guilt that was not hers to bear and that those around her had never tried or never succeeded in convincing her otherwise. Raelle would try, she would be with Scylla, help her if she could but right now her mind was racing, connecting the dots.

“Scylla, who killed your parents? Who was Clayton’s dad?”

The brunette looked up at Raelle and answered, “Alban Hearst.”

Before Scylla could say anything more, Raelle reached for her phone.

Chapter Text

Scylla grabbed at Raelle’s wrist as the blonde started to place a call, “What are you doing?”

Raelle’s brow furrowed at the panic in the musician's voice. “I’m calling Agent Alder and Tally. They need to know about this.”

“Don’t,” Scylla said, her eyes were afraid and her voice a plea.

“This could be relevant,” Raelle said, shaking her head. “Besides, they're spending a lot of time trying to get at the information in those files. Now they won’t need to.”

“We weren’t supposed to tell…”

“That was years ago, Scyl. And you didn’t do anything wrong.”

“Please…”

Raelle met the fractured azure gaze of the woman she loved and put the phone down with a sigh. She needed to get this intel to the FBI, but waiting a little while probably wouldn’t make that huge of a difference.

“Okay, Scylla. We can wait a bit.”

Scylla’s eyes closed as she leaned her head back against the headboard of the bed, silent tears still running down her face.

Raelle shifted, taking Scylla’s hand that was gripped around her wrist into hers and squeezing it gently.

“I’m so sorry you had to go through all of that. None of that changes us. I love you. I’m in this with you.”

Finally the musician's eyes opened and met Raelle’s pale blue gaze. Her heart caught at the sight. She had been so scared to see disgust or at the least, a distancing from her. Instead, the bodyguard’s gaze was clear and filled with love.

Scylla smiled at Raelle and the blonde moved in closer providing the comfort she needed till they both fell asleep.

***
Porter had been there for Scylla through some of her most difficult times. When he saw Scylla and Raelle walk into the dining area, the longtime friend immediately noticed a difference in the musician and not her brother who was sitting right beside him. He nudged Byron and with a look of curiosity he gestured towards the girls.

As Scylla walked into the dining area for a late breakfast she kept having the sensation that something wasn’t quite right with her. She felt different, lighter, not so guarded. The secret guilt she’d carried with her, made her companion through the years had finally been lifted. Telling the woman that she loved her horrible secret made it bearable. She felt eyes on her and her blue gaze settled on her childhood friend. She could see the concern in his kind blue eyes and she gave him a reassuring smile.

Raelle and Scylla sat at the table joining Byron and Porter. “Dad and Quinn already up?”

“Up and out,” Porter said. He took one of the mugs by the coffee carafe and poured a cup for Scylla and then repeated the action for Raelle. He gestured toward the pan of still hot cinnamon rolls on the table. “Something about going to town for supplies.”

“Good,” Raelle responded and took the coffee from the security guard. She grabbed a cinnamon roll and sat back in her chair. “Then we can talk openly. Scylla told me about what happened by the pond.”

Byron and Porter exchanged glances and then looked at Raelle.

“What do you want to know?” Porter asked.

“Well, Scylla admits to being extremely high when it happened. I’d like to hear your version of the events.”

The security guard nodded, “That was the day Helen dared you to kiss me, wasn’t it?”

Scylla looked up from her own cinnamon roll that she’d put on a plate and nodded, “Yeah.”

“I got so pissed when I heard Helen dare you guys,” Byron admitted. “I was crazy about Clay and I was so afraid you two would hook up officially or something and he’d stop coming around.”

Porter shook his head, “And I had the hots for you but you were too obsessed over trying to appease Clay to notice.”

Byron looked at Porter, noticing the words he used. Appease Clay? He’d never given the blonde much attention before that day on the trail ride but now it seemed like he saw another side of the blonde more and more each day they talked.

“We’d been out shooting at cans in the clearing, hadn’t we?” Byron asked. He looked at Raelle, “The same place where you set up the shooting range.”

“Yeah, and when we got back to the pond, that’s when Scylla called me over to the hothouses. Clay got back to us just as we kissed,” Porter said, smiling at the musician. “I didn't even realize he was there until the last minute. I just remember we both kinda just looked at each other and started laughing.”

“You weren’t a bad kisser, though,” Scylla said.

Porter laughed, “You weren’t so bad yourself. Just not my type.”

Scylla smiled, “No, that much was obvious.”

“Why wasn’t it obvious to all of us?” Byron asked, still shocked he had missed the signs this whole time. “I mean, even though I liked Clay, you never said anything, you never gave any indication that you were gay.”

Raelle watched the three before her. She needed to hear their version of the events that occurred that night, but she also knew the more relaxed they were, the more likely they were to give accurate and candid recollections.

“Your dad,” Scylla said, remembering one time that Porter had come over panicked and sporting a black eye.

“Yeah,” Porter confirmed. “My parents were insanely homophobic. Just the thought that their golden boy might be queer sent my dad in a rage. So I learned to act the other way, as macho as I could, but of course I never really dated.”

“No,” Byron said, remembering this too. “I just assumed you were holding out for my sister.”

“That would have been a cold day in hell.” Porter said and they all laughed.

“What happened after the kiss,” Raelle asked, gently prodding the group along.

Byron looked over at Raelle, almost forgetting she was there as they discussed their memories of so long ago.

“Well, we were done with target shooting so we met up with Helen and Scylla. From there we all went to the pond. We were of course drinking and getting high. The typical Friday night at the Ramshorns,” Byron said.

Except there wasn’t anything typical about a boy committing suicide in front of his so called friends and girlfriend, Raelle thought. “Tell me about what you did at the pond that night.”

Porter shrugged, blushing, “We were all pretty wasted. I remember Helen egging us on. Drink after drink. We were tripping on the mushrooms too.”

“Yeah, Helen was the one that got the bright idea to start stealing them from the hothouse.”

“Helen wanted to play truth or dare again,” Porter said.

Byron looked at Scylla, “I remember it was your turn and you picked ‘truth.’ It was my fault, I’d been mouthing it at you, hoping you wouldn’t say ‘dare.’”

“Why?” Scylla asked.

“I thought she might dare you to kiss Porter again.” Byron said, “But ‘truth’ was worse.”

“That's right, she asked me who I liked better, girls or boys.” Scylla said. “I remember that now. Goddess, we’d just been together why you all were out…”The musician shook her head again. “I answered, admitting I preferred girls.”

“Clay got so pissed,” Porter said.

Scylla nodded, “I remember he told Helen that her games were stupid, kid stuff.”

“Right, and then she told him to come up with something better,” Porter said.

“He told us about that stupid war movie. The game. Goddess, what was it?” Scylla asked.

“The Deer Hunter,” Byron said.

“So that’s how it started?” Raelle asked.

“Yeah,” Porter said. “We were all like, hell no, that’s crazy. It’s too dangerous.”

“But Helen was relentless once Clay mentioned it. Called him a chicken shit. “

Scylla nodded, the conversation bringing back the memories. “Clay gave the gun to her first...”

“We were so fucking stupid,” Porter said. “We all took a turn.”

“And then Clay got the gun and he shot himself.” Scylla said.

Byron and Porter exchanged a look and then nodded their agreement.

Raelle had noticed the look and met each of their eyes in turn. “And that’s it?”

“Uh, yeah,” Porter said. “I ran up to the house to get help.”

“And I took Scylla away from the pond. I didn’t want her seeing him there.”

“So what happened to Helen?” Raelle asked.

“She stayed with the..uh..with the body.”

“With Clay,” Byron said, correcting Porter.

“And then what happened,” Raelle asked.

“Dad came out and he ran into me and Scylla first. He had us go to the house. He told us to change, to get out of the clothes we were in because when we went over to Clay we ended up getting blood on us.”

“I don’t remember that,” Scylla admitted.

“No, you were still in shock. You had me worried, just stared out ahead of you expressionless. You also had tears coming down your face but you were silent. I don't think I heard you say much of anything for the rest of that night,” Byron said, pulling his eyes away from his sister reliving that night and back at Raelle. “My dad must have gone on out to the pond because he came back a little while later with Helen. Then we all waited for the police.”

Raelle nodded, she was satisfied with the account that they gave of the events. She’d wait and call Tally later to let her know that she had the information they had wanted about the sealed files.

They finished their story, then finished their breakfast and talked about their plans for the day. It was too cold to ride, so each had their own ideas of activities to keep themselves occupied in the house.

***
Helen was bored. She’d finished decorating the grounds for Thanksgiving, though with Ramshorn siblings out hiding away in god knows what place the likelihood of anyone coming by to enjoy the sight of her hard work was unlikely.

She’d even helped Parker do the fall cleaning in anticipation of the holidays and had helped him decorate the inside of the house. Parker had always been that neutral guy anyone felt comfortable with. As long as Helen had known him he had been the Ramshorns butler but he was like everyone's Uncle.
They’d made their way down to the basement and even sorted the Christmas decorations that they’d soon put up around the mansion. Scylla had always been very specific about what went up and where. The musician had insisted on recreating that last Christmas that she’d remembered having with her parents.

Now that the work was completed and there was absolutely nothing to do, Helen wandered around the house thinking about what she could do to occupy herself. She knew she’d have to check on the plants she had in the hothouse at some point...the weather was getting too cold for her outside garden, but that could wait until later.

Finally she decided to raid the kitchen for some lunch and found Izadora there at the island, eating a salad.

“How’s things going?” Helen asked conversationally as she opened the refrigerator to look for something to put on a sandwich.

“Fine,” Izadora answered.

When the manager didn’t say anything else, Helen turned to her with a smirk. “Guess you’re about as busy as me.”

“Yes,” Izadora admitted. “It's so quiet without them.”

Helen brought her armful of sandwich supplies to the table and began assembling her lunch. “I wish we knew if they were okay.”

“Byron checked in yesterday,” Izadora said. “He seemed to be in a good mood.”

Helen’s eyes widened. “Did he say where they were?”

Izadora shook her head, “Just that it had been a nice enough day to go for a ride.”

“A car ride?” Helen asked, brows furrowed.

Izadora put down her fork and stood to place the empty plate in the sink to be rinsed before going into the dishwasher. “No, horseback riding.”

Helen snorted, “You’re kidding me?”

“No, I’m not.” Izadora said.

Helen shook her head. She remembered that Porter used to ride somewhere as a kid...Tennessee, no Texas, where some of his family lived. She couldn’t imagine Byron on a horse though.

“Did he say anything about Scylla?”

Izadora met Helen’s gaze evenly. She’d never really liked the woman. She was lazy and cocky. Scylla had brought her into her employ very early on though, and made it clear to Izadora that after everything that they had all gone through together as teenagers, both Helen and Porter were to always have a place in her household. They were paid, and paid very well.

While Porter genuinely seemed to try to do his job and really flourished under the tutelage of Raelle in the security department, Helen coasted through her duties as groundskeeper and then driver. She always seemed to have time for her little private pet projects and side jobs as a casual drug dealer.

Izadora had taken her complaints to Scylla but the musician shook her head and said she’d have a talk with Helen. Even Byron just shrugged and told her that Scylla wouldn’t dare fire her friend and ex lover.

“Well?” Helen asked, breaking the manager’s train of thought.

Izadora looked up at Helen, her expression gleeful, “Byron just said that she and Raelle had worked things out.”

“Good for them,” Helen said, her voice flat.

“Yes, hopefully Raelle will stay around long after this nasty business is finished.”

“Yeah,” Helen said, taking a bite of the sandwich she no longer wanted. Picking it up and tossing in the trash she looked at the manager. “See you around.”

Izadora smirked, pleased at herself for getting a jab in at the groundskeeper, “Have a great afternoon, Helen.”

Helen stalked out of the mansion, her temper flared. She wasn’t surprised that the bitch bodyguard and Scylla had found their way back to each other. Scylla was weak, she always had needed a strong hand to guide her and Raelle had seemed more than eager to be that hand Scylla craved in the night. She had thought her little gifts would have been enough to bring Scylla running into her arms again, but then her cock sucking brother and the bitch manager had got involved and had hired Raelle. Now she would have to figure out something else. She’d have to find a way to get rid of the bodyguard just like she had gotten rid of others.

Helen would worry about that later, though. For now she needed to blow off some steam. She walked out of the mansion and made her way over to the garage. Bypassing the limo and half a dozen other vehicles, she strode toward Scylla’s newest acquisition, a metallic gray carrera cabriolet Porsche.

Getting in and adjusting the seat and mirrors, she grinned. She could really practice some evasive driving in this little baby. She started the engine, appreciating the sound the vehicle made and pulled out onto the drive.

***
They sat, configuring the next move for the next gift. Like a statue they stared at the sign above their door. The fathers anointed soldier remembered.

Psalm 121: 7-8 Gifting such a sign, the meaning was engraved in their mind. The verse meant: put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.

Things became clearer now. They knew that they had the right tribute that would make a fitting gift to that witch. Lying. Self centered heartless witch. They saw them. The godless brother may have hoped to send this message to them. Depraved soul. He shouldn't have signed the devil's contract.

They would have to think of a way to get the gift. To lure them. This gift, this sacrifice would bring the witch out of her hiding place. If they prepared it right, she’d come running home to her desecrated and unholy place. Her coven would not be able to protect her. God would show him the way.

***
Helen pulled the car back into the garage, still dazed from her little accident. She parked the car, careful to position it in a way that would keep the nosy manager from noticing it if she came into the garage. As she got out of the car and surveyed the damage she thought, Well, hell...what did they expect? They shouldn’t have left her behind. In reality it wasn't her fault. She had been trying to be proactive and responsible by practicing and keeping up with her defensive driving skills. Yup, not her fault...Well, the car's bumper might be considered her fault, but whatever, minor details. Besides, it could be fixed, and with them gone she’d have the time to get it fixed and no one would ever know.

She just needed to call the body shop. Jason always hooked her up with talented people who would do house visits for the right price especially if she tossed in a few goodies with the negotiations. The little extras also helped to ensure things would be kept on the down low.

Just to make sure that no one noticed the damage, Helen put a cover on the car and then left the garage. As she entered her apartment, she pulled out her cell and placed the call.

As soon as Jason’s voice came through the tiny speaker, Helen spoke, “I need your best guy.”

“What did you wreck now?” Jason asked, knowing the groundskeeper’s little habit of driving the musician’s toys.

“Her new porsche.”

“Damn, Helen. We’re overrun right now. I’m swamped here trying to fix things. The frost last week caused a lot of fender benders.”

“C’mon, Jason, you’ve got to know somebody.”

The body shop owner was quiet for a few minutes and then he said, “Well, I’ve got this new guy. He’s young, a bit of an oddball, but damn he knows his shit. I work him odd hours because the other guys don’t like him, they say he gives them the creeps. So he’ll be cheap but I’ll be expecting a little extra for sending him to you.”

“The usual supply?” Helen asked.

“No, don’t go cheap on me. I know you got some better stuff than what you sent over last time.”

Helen laughed because Jason was right. She did have a special little blend that she saved for those occasions Scylla wanted to go on a little trip. Unfortunately, the brunette didn’t indulge as much as she used to so she had plenty that she could give to the mechanic for his troubles. “Only if you get him here this week.”

“Okay Helen,” Jason answered. “I’ll give him a call right now.”

Satisfied, Helen ended the call and made her way to the fridge to get a beer.

***

"Hello"

"Hey, it's me, Jason. I’ve got a job for you. It's a house call.”

They listened intently as their boss gave a description of the needed repairs and the location. At the mechanic’s insistence that the job be started this week, they gave their assurance that they’d start the next day.

As they turned the phone off, they smiled and looked up at the scripture on the wall again. God had provided a way. Just as they knew would happen.

***
Raelle could hear Scylla moving around in the upstairs loft. After they’d watched some TV and spent most of the day being generally lazy, the musician said she was going to start another book before it was time to help Edwin fix dinner and had headed towards the book nook in the loft.

Moving delicately as she could, Raelle made her way back downstairs to the main floor and headed into her room. Once there she pulled out her cell phone.

“Rae, thank the goddess you called.” Tally said. “Alder still hasn’t found a way into the sealed files but Alice was able to access some of the lab reports and forensic tests. We’ve got…”

“I know what happened,” Raelle said, interrupting the red head.

“You know what’s in the files? Scylla told you?”

“Yeah,” Raelle said, glancing up as she heard movement in the living area. “Look Tally, I think you should come here and hear it for yourself. And you can bring the forensics over and we can take a look at it.”

“I’m not sure that I can get there in enough time…”

“I’ve got the number for the guy who flew us here. Just call him and put it on my account.”

“Now?”

“Yeah, Tal, now. If you can get here in the morning that would be great.”

“Um, okay.” Tally said, looking at the stack of cold cases still sitting on her desk. Some dated back twenty years. It wasn’t like they couldn’t wait another day or two.

“Oh, another thing…” Raelle said. “I’ve got a name Alder should look into...Alban Hearst. He’s the guy that caused the crash that killed Scylla’s parents. And I’ve got a hunch it wasn’t an accident.”

“What?” Tally asked. “Why?”

Raelle heard voices in the living area now. It sounded like Quinn and Edwin were back and that meant Scylla would be joining her dad in the kitchen any moment.

“Look, I’ll explain it when you get here. I’ve got to go.”

“Okay, Raelle. How will I get to the farm?” Tally waited for an answer and then heard the beeping sound that the call had ended.

She sighed and then called Alder. She knew that Sarah wasn’t going to be happy about this.

***
“How’s Smokey Bear?” Porter asked as he walked by the mount and stood beside Byron’s easel. The artist was so lost in his work that for a moment Porter thought he’d have to ask again. He was about to do so, when Byron commented, “stuffed.”

Porter laughed, “Me too. That dinner was pretty good.”

Byron looked up, meeting the blue eyes of the security guard. “Yeah, Scylla’s cooking skills are improving.”

“Goddess, could you imagine her as a housewife?” Porter asked, laughing.

“With a little apron?” Byron added, laughing, “Now that would be sight.”

Porter nodded and offered the artist one of the glasses that he held.

“What’s this?” Byron asked, taking the glass of slightly colored liquor.

“Butterscotch moonshine.”

Byron’s eyes widened, “You’re kidding me?”

“No, Quinn makes it out on the other farm.” Porter took a sip, savoring the taste before swallowing and allowing the liquor to burn slowly down his throat. He glanced at Bryon smirking slightly as he saw that he had the artist’s rapt attention.

Byron looked down at the glass and took a tentative sip, the smell of butterscotch immediately fragrant in his nose. He noticed something else but he wasn’t sure what it was. As he took a sip, he was surprised to find that the liquor was warm.

“Exquisite,” Byron said. “Why don’t you pull up a chair.”

Porter put his glass down on the table where Byron had some of his supplies and walked over to the bar area. He returned a moment later with another stool and joined the painter.

“Interesting perspective,” he said, taking in the canvas before him.

Byron looked at the painting of the man beside him and shrugged, “I find myself making revisions almost every day.”

“Why is that?” Porter asked.

“Because every day I learn a little bit more about who you are versus the man I thought I’d known for all these years.”

Porter met the artist’s gaze and smiled, “I’m still just Porter.”

“You're a lot more than that, I’m just sorry it took me so long to realize it.”

Porter shrugged and turned his gaze back toward the canvas. “You've really grown into the social realism style. You bring out your model in such a way that you portray their personality through a pose. Not just the superficial, are they hot or not. But the complexity of the person themselves. It's in the eyes. Posture. Facial expression.”

Byron looked up at Porter, surprised by the security guard’s insight. “You know about social realism?” Immediately he blushed, embarrassed that he’d once again sold the blonde before him short.

Porter nodded, ignoring the implication, “I'm just honored to see a piece of yours as it develops.”

He looked at the canvas again. Byron had captured the scene between Wintson’s ears perfectly. He gazed at himself, astride Jasper. Behind him the scenery was as beautiful as what they had seen on the overlook that day.

“It really is a stunning scene.”

“You are,” Byron said, correcting the blonde. “The landscape only highlights you.”

Porter met Byron’s gaze, blushing slightly.

“I hope that I got it right,” the artist admitted.

“There’s a few more things about me you don’t know yet. Maybe you’ll let me show you.”

“I was hoping that you would,” Byron responded.

Porter nodded and they both took sips of their drinks as they started to talk about art as Byron continued to paint.

***

As soon as Tally had texted Raelle her ETA to the airfield, the bodyguard made an excuse to find Quinn.

“It’s gonna be a cold night and some of the horses will need some extra attention. Blankets and such. I’m gonna head out to the barn and help her.”

Scylla looked up from her glass of moonshine and met Raelle’s pale blue gaze. They had been enjoying a nice drink of Quinn’s latest concoction by the fire.

“Now?” Scylla asked.

“Yeah, sooner we get to it, the sooner it's done.” Raelle leaned over, kissing Scylla’s cheek. She moved her mouth, whispering into the musician’s ear, “And the sooner it's done, the sooner we can go to bed.”

Scylla’s breath caught and she moved her head to capture the blonde’s lips again. Between kisses she asked, “Do you want me to come help?”

“I want you to come..” Raelle said with a mischievous smile, “but that’s after I get back.”

Scylla laughed despite herself and playfully pushed the blonde away.

“I don’t know...not with lines that lame.”

Raelle laughed and left the brunette by the fire.

At the barn, Raelle stayed true to what she’d told the musician and between the two of them, Quinn and Raelle quickly had the horses bedded down for the night. As they finished the job, Raelle made her request.

“You want me to go out there at 0500?”

“Please,” Raelle confirmed.

“Why don’t you just take the truck?”

“I don’t want Scylla or the others to know about it until she gets here. If I suddenly leave the farm in the morning they’ll know something is up.”

“Well, Rae, I guess I can do it.”

“Thanks, Quinn.”

“Should have known your help came with a price,” the older woman groused.

Raelle laughed, throwing her arm around the older woman’s shoulder as they headed back toward the house.

***

By the time Raelle returned to the house, Scylla had already made her way upstairs. Raelle reached the top of the steps just as Scylla stepped from the bathroom, hair still wet and wearing a robe.

The bodyguard stopped in her tracks, just looking at the beautiful woman before her. The woman she loved, the woman she had come to realize she wanted to marry and grow old with.

“Coming to bed?” Scylla teased.

“Yeah,” Raelle managed and followed the brunette into the bedroom and shut the door behind them.

***
Raelle finished making her morning sweep of the property and met Scylla at the swing as was their custom. This morning the coffee had a slightly nutty flavor and Raelle looked at Scylla, her brow arched in question.

“It's maple pecan. Your dad picked up while he and Quinn were out yesterday.”

“I like it,” Raelle said and snuggled closer to the musician. The sunrise was as beautiful as always but couldn’t compare to the sight of Scylla sitting beside her, a contented smile on her face.

They watched mother nature’s show for a few more minutes before the cold got to even Scylla and they made their way back into the warmth of the log house.

Walking through the front door Scylla spotted a familiar redhead right away nursing a mug of coffee at the dining table. The musician's eyes widened in shock. She reached for Raelle’s arm, gripping her bicep and tugged. With that look that said, we are leaving. She jerked the blonde into the kitchen and whirled on her, blue eyes flashing.

Rae tried to convey a comforting look to the musician. "Yes, I called her. We have to talk to her, Scyl. This could help them with this case. I wouldn't do this if I didn't trust Tal. She won't do anything without your consent and she won't let anyone know where we are at. Did you see Alder there? No, It's only her.”

Scylla shook her head, angry at Raelle for calling Tally and the redhead coming to this place that she’d started to think of as a safe place. A refuge where she could be herself, where she could heal. “I don’t know how any of that can help with what’s going on now.”

“It could be relevant. Maybe in ways we don’t even know yet. Besides, Alder’s like a dog with a bone. She won’t let this go until she has the truth. You might as well get this off your chest so that they can move on and catch the person doing this.”

“We weren’t supposed to talk about it.” Scylla said, her protests weakening.

“I won't let anything happen to you. We are in this together. I am not protecting you if we just let that psycho run free out there. Hiding you away forever isn’t protecting you.”

“None of what happened was your fault. You were just kids. Your parents, the police who were involved, they all failed you. You should have never been made to feel like any of it was your fault. That someone who killed your parents should go free while you suffered for something you didn’t do. I'll keep telling you this till my last breath. None of that or this was your fault. But we can't hide out here forever. If we have to tell this story to get the case to move forward, then that’s what we need to do. And I’ll be with you, every step of the way."

A look of sadness and relief came across the musician’s face hearing Raelle say those words. Not her fault...not her fault. The words echoed in her mind. For someone who took the guilt and carried it for so long, this was the first time that she truly considered those words to be true. It was one thing to tell the person she loved the truth but hearing her at that moment was something different.

Then she thought about the reality of knowing that Raelle was right. They couldn’t keep hiding. Not while she and her family were in danger, not when other innocent girls may be harmed because of a psycho hell bent on ruining her life. Tears started to build under the musician's deep crystal blue eyes.

“No more hiding...”Scylla asked. The words came out more as a statement than a question.

Raelle gave Scylla a reassuring smile, "Yes, no more hiding out. Doesn't mean I can't see us living here later. Without a psycho looking for us. That was more along the lines of my retirement plans.”

The musician’s eyes widened at her bodyguard’s confession and she shook her head yes after a moment. “Okay, I’ll talk to her.”

They both smiled and Scylla took Raelle’s hand in hers, interlocking their fingers.

“We’re in this together,” the bodyguard reminded Scylla.

They both start walking out of the kitchen and towards the dining table. Scylla felt the anxiety in her heart build, each step felt lighter like she was about to pass out. Holding the blonde's hand kept her grounded when her first instinct was to run. She had been a runner since she could remember, running from her emotions, running from taking responsibility for the consequences of her actions. Looking at the blonde leading the way, she knew her priorities had changed. Now her, them, their love, it was something real to fight for.

Tally offered a tentative wave at Scylla and Raelle as they approached the dining room table and took a seat.

“How was the flight?” Raelle asked.

“Oh, good,” Tally answered. “Look, I’m just going to say this up front...Sarah is pissed about this.”

“I’m sorry I put you in a bad spot with her,” Raelle said and she meant it. She loved her best friend and she wanted her to be happy, instead she’d risked that to help her and a woman who’d already done her harm once before.

“She’ll get over it,” Tally said, shrugging. “But she wants answers, clear answers so we can move on with this.”

Scylla nodded and looked at the red head. “I guess you want me to start from the beginning?”

Tally nodded and Raelle poured them cups of coffee. After a moment, Scylla started to tell Tally about the day at the pond.

Partially through the events, Porter and Byron joined them at the table and Tally asked them a few clarifying questions.

Once they had finished the red head looked at her best friend and frowned.

“What’s wrong, Tal?”

The red head shook her head and pulled a file from her bag that was resting on the floor. “I’m sorry, but your story doesn’t match the forensics.”

“But that’s what happened,” Scylla protested. She didn’t understand why after she’d told the truth she was still being looked at like she was some sort of criminal.

“You were very drunk and very high and according to Porter and Byron it was a very traumatizing event.”

“It was...but that’s what happened.”

Tally sighed and then put her hand out to the musician and squeezed it. “Look, I’m not here as an agent. I’m here as Raelle’s friend, as potentially your friend. Maybe you don’t remember what happened accurately.”

Beside Scylla, Porter and Byron looked at each other but did not speak.

Brows furrowed, Raelle looked at her friend. “What does the forensics say?”

Tally let go of Scylla’s hand and rifled through the file until she found the right report. “The gun recovered from the scene had four unidentified partial prints in addition to the boy’s that were lifted from the gun.”

“Right, they were playing Russian Roulette. You should have at least partial prints from all of them.”

"True. However, we still have to consider something else. Scylla and Clay’s prints were the only two clear enough that we were able to pull an i.d.”

“So? That just indicates that they were probably the last two to play.” Raelle argued.

Tally sighed, looking at Scylla and then to her best friend. “The boy had only partial powder residue on his hand.”

“So?” Scylla asked, her voice a squeak. She’d been looking back and forth at Tally and Raelle trying to understand what all of this meant but none of it made sense to her. She could see that Byron and Porter were looking more and more nervous and she was close to snapping.

“He wasn't the only one who had a hand on the gun when it was fired.” Raelle said and then looked around at the people who had been there that night. “Your recollection...it’s wrong.”

“Incomplete.” Tally amended. “But with the forensics on the prints…”

“Will somebody just fucking tell me what you mean?” Scylla asked.

“He made you…” Byron blurted out and then put his hand over his mouth in shock.

Tally looked at Scylla’s brother and nodded as he continued to speak. “Your hand was on the trigger!”

“No,” Scylla said. Frantically, she searched her memories, forcing herself to relive that event one more time. The last thing she remembered was the gun, the scream...he had been on the swing...hadn’t he?

Porter gave Byron’s shoulder a squeeze with his hand and then spoke up. “The police, Mr. Ramshorn...they forbade us to tell what really happened that night. Scylla was in shock, she really doesn’t remember. After it was over, I tried to bring it up to her, to see if she did remember.” He looked over at his friend apologetically. “I had to know, ya know?”

Scylla nodded, “I remember that...after a while I just wanted to let it go, but you kept asking me to tell you what had happened, what I saw...but...it was just blank.”

Raelle looked at the security guard, “So what happened at the end?”

This time it was Byron’s turn to look off in the distance as if the past was playing before him. "We took turns with the gun. And then Clay got it after Helen. He was on the swing and he fired. The gun clicked. Then he did it again and it clicked.”

“And Scylla told him to stop,” Porter said. He looked at his friend. “You told him to stop. You got up and started walking to the swing. He met you just by the tree. He said something to you. I didn’t hear it.”

Byron shook his head, “I couldn’t hear it either. He was whispering, but I know that it scared you. You grabbed the gun from him and you were walking away with it.”

“And then he grabbed your arm,” Porter said. “He jerked her into him.” He looked around, desperate for Raelle and Tally to understand.

“Clay forced you to put the gun to his head, and he put his hand over yours. He had his finger on your finger and he squeezed. He shot himself.”

“He forced Scylla to shoot him?” Tally clarified.

“Yes,” Byron and Porter both shouted in unison.

The artist continued "whatever was happening, we all saw fear and confusion in Scylla’s eyes. We were all frozen. It happened so fast "

Raelle looked at Tally and frowned. That was what had happened. And whether it was intentional or forced, Scylla’s finger was on the trigger when the kill shot happened. And that was what Mr. Ramshorn was really trying to hide. Not just the drugs or the fact that his kids were present when a boy committed sucide. The police cover-up and the sealed files made much more sense now.

“So it was my fault?” Scylla asked, her voice flat.

Porter and Byron both shook their heads.

“No, you tried to stop him, Scyl.” Porter said.

“You lost it after it happened,” Byron said. “You had his blood all over you…” The artist shuddered at the memory. “You collapsed and I went to you. I got you to the house.”

“This wasn’t your fault.” Raelle said, repeating what she’d already said at least a dozen times and then looked at Tally, “He was clearly unstable, he wanted to kill himself, he wanted to hurt the person that he felt had wronged him.”

“The forensics supports that,” Tally agreed.

“And that supports my theory...Alban Hearst could be the person doing this. Some sort of twisted revenge for what happened to his son.” The bodyguard said, clenching her jaw.

“Maybe,” Tally agreed. “I gave the name to Sarah and she’s got the team checking into it today. Alder also has forensics going over all of the evidence collected so far again with a fine tooth comb just to make sure we haven't missed anything.”

Raelle nodded, “Okay, well let’s see what they and Alder come up with.”

Tally closed the file and looked at her friend, “I have to be back to the office in a couple of days. What are your plans?”

“I’m tired of hiding, Tal. I’m ready to start hunting.”

Chapter Text

Sitting at the table, Raelle and Tally’s intensity had the others looking at one another nervously. They’d never heard Raelle use that tone before now.

The closest time Porter could recall hearing the bodyguard use that tone was when she used it at him after he’d attacked her the night of Beltane. This Cowboy has seen a lot in his life and very few moments struck fear like she did that night. He'd had that image of her icy stare engraved in his mind since. However, that night was nothing compared to what he saw just now. What was even more disturbing, was how easily the normally cheerful and friendly redhead met Raelle’s gaze and gave a single nod. Porter saw her eyes reflect the same unspoken agreement, he was just glad not to be the target. 

After a moment the tension was released as Raelle sat back in her chair and looked at them. “I’m heading back with Tally when she leaves and I want the three of you to stay here.”

Porter and Byron nodded but Scylla met Raelle’s gaze. They all looked back at Rae in unison. 

“Absolutely not,” The musician said. “Where you go I go.”

“It's not safe for you to go back. Not until this is done.”

Byron's head just fixated on Rae, then finally he chimed in.  "This is like in every horror movie, cop story, they always say stay together...am I right?"

“It’s not safe for you either,” Scylla reasoned.

Raelle scoffed, "I'll be fine.”

“I don’t like it,” Scylla said. 

Byron looked at Scylla in agreement but kept from saying anything more. He knew he just wanted to support his sister right now. 

“You promised me you’d do as I’d asked if I stayed on as your bodyguard.” Raelle said, meeting the musician's azure gaze. “I’m asking you to stay here while I go back with Tally and end this thing.”

Scylla wanted to protest more, but the blonde was right. She had promised Raelle she’d follow her instructions down to the letter. Finally, she sighed and then nodded her head.

The artist watched Raelle speak and could only wonder what plan his sister was coming up with...because it will be a cold day in hell if she thinks a Ramshorn will be held back from protecting family. Nope. Nope. Nope. 

Porter added “I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to go alone." In truth, he knew he didn’t have the experience the two women sitting before him had. He didn’t relish the idea of hunting someone who was perfectly capable of hunting him back. The reality was, he was scared but knew he had to support his friends... his family, in any way possible.

“I won’t be alone, right Tal?” Raelle said, nodding to her long time partner, friend and sister.

“I’m with you.” Tally confirmed with a sharp glance and a smirk to her sister. The agent was surprised she even needed to ask.

Raelle met Porter’s gaze and smiled, “Besides, I need you here watching over Scylla just in case.”

Just in case what? The musician kept repeating those words. That phrase her bodyguard used just kept ringing in her mind…

Just in case...things went south? Raelle got hurt, maybe killed? Scylla was about to protest again when Tally spoke.

“I’ll contact the team once we’re in the air.”

“Good,” Raelle said, already thinking of strategic maneuvers to capture this psycho as quickly as possible.

Seeing that the group conversation was essentially over, Porter shifted in his chair and then spoke to break the tension.

“Okay, I think I’m going to go hang out with Jasper then.” 

The security guard was eager to get out of the house. “Maybe we can take another ride?”

“That’s a good idea, Porter.” Raelle said. “In fact, why don’t you all go for a ride while Tally and I talk.”

“Sounds fun,” Byron said, desperate to be anywhere else after their admissions to the agent. He slapped the table a couple of times when he stood as a cue for the others to come along. 

Scylla frowned, “I think I’ll pass.”

“You sure, sis?” Byron asked as he got up from the dining table.

Porter joined the artist and looked down at his friend, “Do you want us to stay here?” 

“No, Ill be good...go on. Have fun,” Scylla said, with a smile and shaking her head. “You two go see the horses. I think I’d rather just stay in the house.”

Raelle looked at the musician, her pale blue eyes softening as Scylla’s azure gaze met hers, “We’re going to get the one who is doing this.”

It didn’t matter how much Raelle had softened her gaze, the intensity with which she spoke made a shiver run down Scylla’s spine. She had no doubt that Raelle truly intended to hunt down the person who’d threatened them. 

Tally spoke from across the table, “They will be arrested and held accountable for their crimes.”

“Yeah,” Raelle agreed and forced herself to give Scylla a reassuring smile.

Scylla stood from the table, “I’m going upstairs to read.”

Tally and Raelle nodded their goodbyes and watched as Scylla left the dining area. She could feel their eyes on her as she walked away. She knew that they’d both just lied to her.

***

Porter had just finished helping Byron with tacking up Winston when the sound of approaching boots thudding on the floor caught their attention.

Quinn turned the corner and offered them a smile.  “Y'all going on another trail ride with Rae?”

“Nah, its just us today,” Porter said and then thought that he probably should get permission. Sheepishly he added, “If… that’s okay with you?”

“Sure, hon,” Quinn said. “Just be sure to take a saddlebag with the gun and the first aid kit.”

“Why do we need a gun?” Porter asked, genuinely curious. He’d noticed Rae had been carrying on their trail ride the other day, but he just assumed it was about keeping Scylla safe.  The more he thought about it though…he couldn’t recall her carrying at any other time since they’d come to the log house.

“I know you saw the bear in the living room,” Quinn said.

Byron’s eyes widened, “Smokey Bear?” As he mimicked the stuffed bear's stance.

The old woman snorted back a laugh. “Yeah, Rae took him down near the old staff house.”

Byron blanched, remembering them being there just the other day without a care in the world.

“It’s not likely you’re gonna run into one this time of the day, but you need to be ready just in case.” Quinn said, attempting to calm the nervous artist.

“I really don’t like guns.” Byron mumbled.

“I’ll carry it,” Porter said, waving his hand in the air. 

“You don’t have to like them but you need to know how to use them." The wise woman said loud enough for the both of them to hear.  "Think about it, what if you get hurt?  What's he gonna do then?” Quinn asked the blonde as she jerked her head toward the artist.

“Then I’d run to get help,” Byron said.

Quinn put her hands on her hips and shook her head, “You boys both need some learning in self defense and first aid.”

She told them to wait for her by the main entrance and then stalked off.  Twenty minutes later she joined them on a buckskin quarter horse she called Whisky.  He was packing several bags.

“C’mon,” Quinn said, turning her horse toward the drive, “I’m gonna teach y'all a few things.”

Porter and Byron followed the older woman. One excited to learn and the other nervous about the whole thing. 

The blonde smiled from ear to ear as they trotted behind Whisky. All Byron could do was roll his eyes at his boyfriend's excitement for " today's lesson."

***

Helen weaved her way through the various ferns and vines to the back of the hot house. She looked around, more out of habit than actual concern.  Seeing no one around, she bent down and picked up one of the rubber mats lining the hot house floor. A trap door was revealed and Helen took a key from her pocket and unlocked the padlock.

The space beneath the hothouse wasn’t that fancy. When it was first created,  it was simply to be used as a space for Mrs. Ramshorn to grow various fungi and mushrooms in a temperature controlled environment that would be more hospitable to them.

Once Mrs. Ramshorn died, Helen thought the hot houses would be torn down. The groundskeeper was pleasantly surprised when Scylla, half crazy with grief and out of her mind thanks to a steady supply of booze and drugs, made the decision that nothing was to be touched. It would be allowed to remain and the flora  to grow in whatever way it naturally would. Ms. Ramshorn would live on in a cornucopia of poisonous and potentially lethal plants.

Helen took advantage of the space, creating a little hideaway where she could work on her side project. It started simply enough with seeking out those plants she could use to make a profit. A little bit of purple haze was an easy sell, then a little of her experiment mixes she sold to her usual customers. Of course the mushrooms were one of the most popular items and not just the psychedelic ones. Ms. Ramshorn had some rare edibles that sold for quite the pretty penny.  The groundskeeper had worked hard and did her research to keep certain plants thriving while allowing others to die.

The overgrowth of vines provided a perfect cover and made the hot house and her hideaway seem abandoned. Over the years, she’d made several little improvements to the space. That included putting in a little generator to supply the underground room with electricity and heat for the winter months. Since she had small plants and the work area was small, one generator was enough to power the heat lamps she needed.

She wasn’t sure where the idea had come from.  If she was honest with herself, it was probably from watching a rerun of criminal minds while she was tripping. Or it was when Gerit had shown her a couple of crazy fan mail letters he’d opened, that’s  probably what started it all. It was then Helen put the idea into action and created her first little gift to give to Scylla.

It really had started out as just a thing to do.  The idea was something to maybe freak the musician out, get her unsettled, get her to come to her for comfort. But then the note on the limo came and Helen just kept creating the dolls, mimicking the letters Gerrit had shown her. When the bitch bodyguard was hired it suddenly became a game. She’d make a fool of the blonde and the FBI and the bodyguard and have Scylla running to her for comfort. 

She made her way down the wooden steps, pausing when her phone buzzed in her shirt pocket.  She didn’t recognize the number but it was local so she answered.

Ms. Graves?”

“Helen,” she responded, walking over to the makeshift work area.

“I work for Jason. He said you had a job that required some discretion and urgency.”

“Yeah,” Helen answered. “When can you get started?” The groundskeeper took a seat at the workbench and looked down at the unfinished doll. A stack of magazines were off to the side, most still covered in their plastic wrapping.

“I can come over today around three to make an initial estimate for you .”

“Can you come later than that?” Helen asked. She’d rather wait until after most of the day's staff ended their shifts for the day to hopefully prevent Izadora from finding out about her little accident. 

“Will around eight work?”

“Sure, if you don’t mind coming out that late.”

“No, I don’t mind. Jason may charge you extra though for an after hours call .”

“That's no problem. Jason and I have an arrangement about the costs.”

A laugh echoed in Helen’s ear and something about it made the groundskeeper shiver.

“Yes, Jason informed me of the extra perks of this particular job. He said that you tip very well.”

“Yeah, I do.” Helen said.  She gave the mechanic the address and the particulars about coming around to one of the back gates instead of entering the front of the property and ended the call. As she put on a pair of latex gloves and picked up one of the magazines and an exacto knife she thought about the mechanic. His voice sounded oddly familiar. 

***

Theo prepared for the work ahead, placing notepads and little magnetic  measuring strips inside the canvas bag he used when doing estimates away from the shop. He hesitated, peering into the bag, and then decided. He put the gun in an interior zip pocket.

It is time. Time to pack. God has provided a path to the heathens. Time for the devil to make peace with the inevitable...her death. 

Oh, there he is again. Father.

"Yes father…

I have…

Don't rush me !"

I must be insane. Father says I'm not.

" Stay on mission. Yes. yes. Yes.”

DON'T TALK TO ME LIKE THAT!!!!

I'M NOT A CHILD!"

I am ready to find my father a new home...I can not escape his voice. Always there. I know what I am to do...but he can't leave me, not yet.

Theo knew it was his father providing the extra strength he needed to avenge his brother.  His father had wanted Scylla Ramshorn to pay for what she had done.  Killing his son, Theos older brother.  Father had passed the responsibility to him as he became too sick to complete his mission...their mission.

"Father, you have to be patient. I know what I am doing. Just trust me. The insolence from the witches' whole crew will blind them. None of them are worthy." 

The pressure deepened, his head beginning to hurt. He felt his father’s anger, the desire to kill the witch overwhelming him. 

“Soon, father, soon. I will kill her coven and then I will kill the witch.”

***

Raelle packed her bags in her room and added a few items from the gun safe. Once she felt she had everything that she needed to leave the next day, she made her way up the stairs to Scylla's bedroom. She found the musician near the foot of the bed, rifling through one of her duffle bags.

"Missing something?” Raelle asked.

Scylla looked up at the blonde,  her eyes filled with surprise. On seeing the woman she loved, her expression darkened and she put down the bag that she had been rummaging through and shook her head.

“Just you,” Scylla answered, dropping her head and biting at the corner of her lip. In truth she didn’t want Raelle to know that she’d been packing her things. She loved Raelle and she had no intention of the blonde leaving her here. She planned to get a flight back home as soon as the blonde and her friend’s plane had left the tarmac.  

 “Hey...what is it?" Raelle walked towards the musician, seeing the look of those blue eyes. She wanted to comfort her as best as she could. She could understand this would not be easy with the circumstances, that she was leaving Scylla. That Rae was going to be chasing after a psycho.  Every part of Raelle wanted to stay in this hideaway with Scylla forever,  but she wanted the woman that she loved to be able to move forward. What had happened at the pond had haunted her for so long and it wasn't her fault. Until the psycho was caught, she’d be trapped.

Raelle gently grasped at Scylla's wrist and looked deep in her eyes. "Scyl, we are going to get this guy.  I'm not going to let anything or anyone hurt you anymore."

"What would hurt me most was if something happened to you,” Scylla admitted.  

"What?" The bodyguard straightened her shoulders and attempted to look confident, but she knew by the expression on Scylla’s face that the musician saw past the façade. 

The brunette reached out and stared deeply into her true love's eyes.

There were no words needed. Raelle knew that musician was scared, hell even she felt worried. It was at that moment when the blonde lowered her eyes and stepped back towards the door to close it. Hearing the door click as it shut, a petite slender hand reached out from behind the bodyguard to the lock of the door and secured it. Raelle smiled as turned to face the musician, her arms reaching out to encircle the musician’s waist.

"I'm glad we were on the same page on one thing." 

Scylla smiled, pressing her body against the blonde.  She leaned in and with her lips she found Rae’s. Her eyes took in her lover before shutting tight, as if her emotions, her body was trying to record this moment. 

Raelle felt the change, the passion behind Scylla’s embrace, the taste of her kiss, she couldn’t let this moment pass. The blonde could just whisper "you are so beautiful..."

Scylla could not help herself and kissed Raelle with such intensity that everything else just melted away. The musician ran her hands under Raes' shirt, gliding her fingers over her rib cage. Her thumb grazed the bottom of the bodyguard's breast. 

Raelle took her jacket off and dropped it to the floor. This allowed for the musician to take off the shirt that was restricting access to the body she craved, that she ached to feel. She pushed her chest up against Raelle, the friction of the musician's shirt against the blonde's skin sent goosebumps running over her body. 

The blonde reached for the musician’s shirt, hands slipping underneath the material, fingers grazing the sensitive skin.  She heard Scylla’s breath hitch and leaned in to capture her lips. They stood like that for what seemed like forever soft kisses and gentle caresses slowly increasing in intensity until Raelle was pushing her lover closer to the bed. They may not be able to control what would happen in the future, but they had this moment and they were not going to waste it. 

***

“You did really well today,” Porter commented as he handed the artist a glass and took a seat beside him on a stool near the easel and Smokey Bear. 

Byron looked up from the canvas he was touching up and accepted the glass from the security guard’s outstretched hand.  His own still had the slightest of tremors and he bit his lip.  “I don’t think I’ll ever get completely comfortable with guns again.”

Porter watched as Byron turned back to the canvas and made a brush stroke here and there not only adding another layer of paint but also adding more depth and dimensions to the image of himself. After a moment he nodded, “ya know… I think that’s okay.”

“I don’t have to like them, just be able to use them, right?” Byron said, repeating the older woman’s words with a smile.

“Yeah,” Porter answered in reassurance. “I just wanted to add, you were amazing with the first aid stuff.”

“You weren’t so bad yourself,” Byron said. He sighed and shook his head, “I know it's important to know all that stuff. I just hope we never have to put any of it into use.”

“Me too,” Porter agreed. “Because that would mean someone was hurt and I don’t want anybody getting hurt.” His eyes turned from the canvas and met the artist’s gaze. “Especially someone I care about.”

Byron gave a slight smile and nodded before sighing again. “I don’t like this plan Raelle has with her FBI friend.”

“I don’t either,” Porter agreed. “I can’t believe Scylla just accepted it.”

Byron shook his head, “I don’t think she did.”

“But she said…”

“She also stayed behind instead of going out with us. How much do you wanna bet she went up to her room and started packing?”

Porter’s head tipped to the side for a moment as he thought about his friend. That would be more like her personality. Scylla would have said whatever was needed to pacify the bodyguard and then make plans to return to the mansion and catch up with her  “Maybe we should do the same, then. I’m not letting her go back without help.”

Byron stood up from his stool and nodded, “Sounds like a good idea to me.” 

Porter smiled as he watched the artist put away his tools and together they headed back to their rooms. Both scurrying quickly to pack, wanting to be ready to go at a moment’s notice. 

***

Theo parked his white 2001 Toyota Camry in front of the gate to the Ramshorn’s property and peered at the entrance to the witch’s inner sanctum.  He had made multiple drive bys over the last several months and he’d noticed the workman making upgrades.  He put his window down so he could speak with the person inside the security booth and as he waited, he took in the other changes.  Theo had been worried about how he would get by the advanced security but as his father had promised him, God had provided a way in the form of an inside source. And what a source it was. It truly was providence that this particular coven member would be the one to allow him access to the witch.

He tapped his fingers just on the outside of the driver’s door and looked this way and that.  Where was the person manning the booth?  He tried to squint, to look inside the little booth, but the glass had been tinted. A moment later the gate began to swing open on its own and with a grin Theo closed the window and put the car into drive. Anticipation building, he followed the winding road towards the mansion in the distance.

As the beat up and partially rusted white Toyota pulled to a stop just beside Helen, the groundskeeper frowned. Was this really the best Jason could do? If the man’s own car was any indication of his skills, then she’d been suckered by the mechanic.

Theo smiled at the groundskeeper who had her hands on her hips and wore a scowl on her face as he got out of his car and slammed the door.

“You must be Ms. Graves,” he said, coming around to the passenger side of the car.

“Helen,” The groundskeeper said automatically. She didn’t really care what this guy called her as long as he could fix the car. It had just become routine…Scylla and her first name rule.

“Well, Helen, I’m Theo.” 

The mechanic opened his passenger door and removed a large black canvas bag from the floorboard. He slammed the door shut and turned to Helen with a grin, “Where’s the patient?”

“The pat…” Helen started to repeat, puzzled. “Oh, the car.” The groundskeeper gestured behind her. “It’s in the garage.”

“Well, let’s not keep her waiting.”

Helen’s brows furrowed at the mechanic calling the car a her but started to turn her body toward the garage. She didn’t want the man walking behind her though, something about him made the hairs on the back of her neck stand up. Instead she waited until he’d taken a couple of steps and then motioned him on to go in front of her. 

Once inside the garage, the mechanic was all business. He thoroughly examined the car and took pictures of the damage with his phone. Reaching for his bag again, he slipped his hand inside, hand brushing against the inner pocket that held the gun. His hand froze for a second, thinking how easy it would be to just kill the coven member right now, but then pulled out a notebook and pen and began to scribble notes about the car.

“What do you think?” Helen asked when the mechanic had finished his notes.

“I think you’re lucky that the parts I need should be easy to get. No way around the paint job, though. I’m going to have to repaint the whole thing.  You want me to do that here? Or do you want it to go in the shop?” Say you want it done here, he thought.

Helen put an arm to the back of her neck, a frown on her face. She hadn’t thought about the car needing a complete paint job. There was no way that could be done at the house without someone noticing it. 

“Maybe I should just take it into the shop.” 

Theo began packing his things away and nodded. He didn’t want to come off as desperate, but he needed to have a reason to keep coming to the witch’s lair. 

“Sure, won’t be able to fit it in for a couple more weeks though. So the paint job is a ‘maybe’?  What about the body work, want me to do the work here?”

Helen nodded slowly, “Yeah, I think that would be good.”

Theo smiled, “Good, I can come by tomorrow evening and get started. Same time work for you?”

Helen found herself returning the smile and nodded, “Sounds great.”

The groundskeeper walked Theo back out of the garage and over to his vehicle. As he drove away she still thought he sounded familiar. The more she considered it, the more she realized he also looked like someone she thought she knew. Maybe she’d figure it out when he came back by tomorrow.

Chapter Text

Scylla lifted her head from her pillow at the sound of a soft knock on the bedroom door. It was only around nine in the morning she saw as she glanced at the clock and her brows furrowed. Tally and Raelle weren’t supposed to leave until the late afternoon, so who would be waking them up now? 

Raelle was sound asleep, snoring softly in the bed. The bodyguard  was the one usually up early and making her rounds of the house. At the least, she would be instantly alert at any noises or changes in the environment, that's when a knock sounded on the door a second time.

Scylla was surprised by how Rae did not move in response to the noise at their door.  Seeing how peaceful she was sleeping, Scyl wanted her to get some rest. The musician untangled herself from the blonde and slipped into a long tee shirt and made her way to the door and opened it. She watched Tally’s eyes widen as she took in her disheveled hair and state of undress.

“What’s wrong?” the musician asked.

The red head attempted to look beyond the brunette into the darkened bedroom.

“Is Raelle’s in there?”

“Of course she is,” Scylla squared her shoulders and leveled her chin.  “She’s exactly where she belongs.”

Tally nodded and shifted her stance away from Rae's direction and back to the musician. “We need to talk.”

“Raelle and...” Pointing to her sleeping girlfriend and with a confused face then pointed to herself.  The musician was not expected to be included in Tally’s request. 

“Yes, the both of you.” 

Scylla nodded, “Okay, give us a minute.”

“I’ll make coffee and be in the sitting area.” 

Scylla closed the door and turned back to the bed. She smiled, looking down at the bed and her lover, still sleeping soundly. She wasn’t surprised, they’d been up most of the night, making love over and over again. They’d been insatiable, clinging to one another as if they might not get another chance.

Scylla perched on the side of the bed and leaned over to gently kiss the blonde. She was surprised when she felt Raelle’s arms snake around her and pull the musician on top of her.

“Good morning,” Raelle murmured in between kisses. Her hands slid over Scylla’s body, caressing the soft skin. As a hand slid beneath the hem of the shirt and between her thighs, Scylla moaned.

The kisses deepened as Raelle began teasing her and Scylla had to struggle to break away from the delicious sensations Raelle’s talented fingers were sending through her body.

“Rae,” she groaned, reaching to still her lover’s hand. “Tally wants to see us.”

“She can wait,” Raelle said, moving her hands to slide the tee shirt up so she could take one of the brunette’s nipples in her mouth.

After a moment, Scylla shifted on the bed and Raelle moved enough to allow the brunette under the covers.

***

Tally was on her second cup of coffee when Raelle and Scylla emerged from the bedroom. They were dressed but both still had that glow about them. An irritated Tally had to bite her tongue. 

“Good morning, Tal,” Raelle said, her voice chipper, as she dropped to the couch opposite the one where Tally had been sitting and watching the horses from the large windows.

“I’m afraid there’s nothing good about it,” Tally said.

The glowing couple almost in unison broke from the blissful morning daze in response to Tally's comment and focused on their reality. “What’s happened?” Scylla asked, taking the space beside Raelle on the couch.

“Sarah called this morning. They finished re-running the forensics.”

“What did they find?”

Tally looked at her friend and then at the musician. She knew the news she had wouldn’t please either of them.

“I’m sorry to tell you this, but they found a fingerprint on one of the dolls.  They used the partials from the pond incident as a reference.  It was Helen Graves’ print.”

“No,” Scylla said immediately.  “It couldn’t be.”

“Wait, Tal. It was just a partial.” Raelle was already starting her own protest, convinced she had the right target in her sights by wanting to hunt down Alban Hearst. “So, what? How can it be conclusive? That's great you found a partial but multiple people could have touched the dolls before they got to you. Helen drove, she helped Porter out with security…”

Tally was already shaking her head sympathetically, “They found this print on the inside of the doll. The joint where the head attaches.”

Raelle just frowned, mulling the new information around in her head, but beside her Scylla was still making protests.

“If you’re saying that Helen did this, then you’re wrong. There’s just no way…”

“Sarah is getting a team together as we speak. They are going to go in tonight, we need to get her while we have the element of surprise.”

“She didn’t do this,” Scylla repeated, shaking her head and swinging her arm in one swift motion across her body, as if she was casting a spell to convince them that it wasn't Helen.

"Ms. Graves does have a criminal record,” Tally said.

“Drugs,” Scylla said with a scoff, “sure, I know, but that’s not…she isn’t capable of doing what happened on that video. There has to be some mistake. Some explanation for this. Let me talk to her.”

Raelle looked at her lover and then at her friend and shrugged, “I don’t know Tal, Helen has a dark side, but murder?”

“Her prints…”

“I know, I know.” Raelle answered. “Maybe Scylla is right. We should all go back. Scylla can speak with her.”

Tally’s eyes widened in alarm, “There’s no way Sarah would allow that.”

“Why not?” Raelle asked. “If Alder is right on this, and Helen’s the killer, then she’s fooled everyone for a very long time. Even me, Tal.”

The redhead met the ice blue eyes of her friend and nodded, “You think Scylla could get a confession?”

“If there is one,” Raelle said, still not completely willing to give up her own theory.

“There isn’t,” Scylla insisted. 

Tally looked between the two for a moment and then nodded, “Okay then. If I'm taking this to Sarah let's get a plan ready.  How do you want to do this?” 

“We fly back and meet Alder. We still follow her plan to obtain Helen. I'll meet Alder at whatever staging point she has set up. Then we go in and secure Helen.  Only thing I'm requesting is that after she’s in custody, Scylla can meet with her.”

Tally bit her lip as Raelle talked. She knew Sarah wouldn’t like it, but she thought she could sell it to her partner. 

“Okay,” the redhead agreed with a nod. “I’ll give her a call.”

As Tally stood up and took out her cell phone, Raelle stopped her with a wave of her hand.

“Tal, what about Hearst?”

“Dead,” Tally answered with a frown. “I’m sorry Raelle. I know you thought it was him.”

The blonde shook her head and sighed. “Yeah, well, even I’m wrong now and again.”

“I don’t know who is doing this, but it’s not Helen.”

Raelle’s eyes met the musician's and she spoke,  “I don’t want to believe it either, but if they found a print and Hearst is dead what other option is there?”

Tally looked at the lovers another moment and then stepped away to call Sarah.

***

 

Raelle was doubtful and Scylla had been resolute about Helen’s potential to commit the crime, but for some strange reason neither Byron nor Porter seemed to be surprised by the news.

Instead they both shook their heads and agreed they should get back home to get things resolved. 

Raelle was only slightly surprised to discover that Scylla and the boys had already packed their things and were ready to leave with the bodyguard, despite her plea for them to stay behind. They had the sense to look sheepish as they walked out of their rooms with their bags packed, but Scylla met her lover’s icy eyes with a look of defiance. 

“I told you, I go where you go,” Scylla said simply as she moved around Raelle to put her bag in the trunk of the waiting car. 

Raelle stared at her lover for a moment and then nodded as she walked over to the car with her bags and put them beside the musician's luggage in the trunk. 

Edwin Collar stepped off of the porch and made his way to the car. He was helping Quinn out by also driving to the airfield so that there would be enough room for everyone and all of the luggage. Plus, he wanted a few extra moments with his daughter.

He met her just before she opened the back door and gave her a hug.

“Thanks dad,” Raelle said, returning her father’s hug. She breathed in his aftershave and then sighed deeply as she reluctantly let him go.

“No trouble, kiddo.” Edwin replied, meeting his daughter’s gaze. “And don’t you get yourself in any trouble.”

Raelle nodded and forced a smile but didn't respond. She wouldn’t lie to her father and she still wasn’t convinced that the resolution to everything that had happened would be as simple as arresting Helen Graves. She had that feeling that something bad was going to happen and she knew she’d do whatever was necessary to protect her client, her love. She would take a bullet herself to save Scylla.

Edwin frowned, reading his daughter’s mind. “Please be careful. I want you and that girl back here for Christmas, okay?”

Raelle smiled. She saw Tally gesturing at the watch on her hand as she emerged from the house and opened the car door. Looking back at her dad, she said, “We’ll be back for the holidays, I promise.” 

After Raelle got in the car beside Scylla in the back and Tally hopped in the front, Edwin took his place behind the wheel and waited for Quinn to pull out of the drive in her truck. As soon as the truck turned down the road, Edwin followed. 

***

Theo had dumped his work bag on the couch as soon as he had got home from the Ramshorn estate the day before. Being in the very witch’s lair had filled him with even more hate and the desire to kill Scylla Ramshorn and her entire coven was stronger than ever. Yet, he needed to wait. 

There was the need, or curiosity to see where it had happened all those years ago. To lay his eyes upon the place that took his family and had turned upside down. He needed to see where his brother had been killed by the witch. He had seen the painting, the image of his brother on the swing at the pond. His brother's death had given the witch her power. Then soon after she had become famous, his father became sick and weak from grief and the alcohol that he consumed. She rose as his family fell. His father believed her pact with the devil allowed the very life force of their family to be siphoned to hers like a cosmic succubus or vampire.

It had been decided.  It would only be fitting to leave the witch’s next gift at the pond where it had all begun. Like the holy trinity, the act would serve three purposes. First, it would leave no doubt in the witch and her coven’s mind as to who was doing this. Scylla would know who was coming for her. Second, she would learn about the sacrifice and she would come out of hiding long enough to bury her dead loyal coven member and he would be waiting. Third, and most importantly to his father, by making the sacrifice where it had all started, he would be gifted the power needed to finish the witch. God would grant him the same power the devil had gifted to the witch. He would at last break the spell and reclaim his family’s power and then his brother and father could Rest In Peace.

Theo glanced at the time, he only had a couple of hours before was scheduled to be at the Ramshorn estate.  Yes, the job was supposed to be on the car, but there was a bigger job he needed to complete. He re-packed the bag, ensuring he had everything that would be needed. Of course he had to double check that there was duct tape, rope, and his gun. With some last minute additions, and a couple other things he remembered, Theo stuffed his gloves in his coat pocket. Now, he was ready. Inside him, he felt his father’s anticipation build.

Arriving early, with hardly any traffic probably due to the pending storm they were forecasting, the mechanic pulled up to the gate of the mansion. Theo smiled as the window in the security booth opened.

“Can I help you?” The guard asked, glancing from the man in the car and back to the game that was playing on the little television in the booth. It should have shown feed from the security cameras surrounding the property, but it was obvious that while the cat's away the mice played.

“Yes, Ms. Graves is expecting me. I’m working on the Porsche.”

The guard nodded, barely paying the man any attention. Yesterday Helen had told him to make himself scarce because she had a “client” coming by. Per usual, the deal was a few samples of what she had growing in the hothouse in turn would make him take a well timed break. He was supposed to do the same thing today, but apparently someone had got the time screwed up. Still, the drugs she served were good enough, he could just forget to put a note in the visitor log. It wouldn't be the first time Helen would have to make good on the mistake later. 

“Sure, go on in. Want me to call Helen? I think she’s still making her rounds.”

“No, that’s alright.” Theo said. “I’ll just start working on the car. I’m sure she’ll be along soon enough.”

The guard nodded and started to punch a button on the keypad but then stopped and took a closer look at the mechanic.  There was something off about this guy, though he couldn’t quite put his finger on what it was that disturbed him.

“The garage will be locked, so maybe I should call Helen.” The guard said as he reached for a two way radio receiver.

“Hey,” Theo barked, loud enough that the guard paused with the two way radio halfway up to his face. “I gotta ask, isn't the place in Byron Ramshorn’s masterpiece painting that’s gotten all the buzz somewhere around here?”

The guard frowned again but nodded, “Yeah, it’s around the back side of the property. That’s where Helen’s probably finishing her rounds.”

Theo grinned, “Well that’s great. I’d love to see it in person. How’s about you giving me directions and I’ll just go meet her out there?”

“I’m not sure that’s such a great idea,” the guard said, shaking his head.  “The head of security said I’m not supposed to let…”

“Who’s gonna know?” Theo asked with a conspiratorial smile gracing his face. 

“Helen’s already expecting me and I’m sure you know about our little arrangement. This way I can really keep out of sight. Hell, I’ll even tell her it was your idea. I bet she’ll give you an extra ‘thank you.’”

The guard thought for a moment. The mechanic had a point. That nosy manager, Izadora, was still on the property and she could be a real bitch. If she caught wind that Helen was still doing her little side projects and that he’d helped, it would be “goodbye George.”

Putting the radio down, he reached for a scrap piece of paper and a pen.  “You just gotta get back on the road and follow it for about a mile. The turn off is on your right. The road isn’t marked but you’ll notice a break in the trees.”

As the guard spoke he started to draw a crude map of the area and Theo listened attentively to each direction.

“About 10 yards in you’ll come to a gate. There’s just a camera there and a keypad, but if you’ll wave I’ll open the gate remotely from here. It’s a dirt road,  but it eventually comes to a dead end.”

It would indeed, Theo thought with a small smile.

“So just park your car in the grass. You walk across a little clearing and then a grove of trees. On the other side is where you’ll find the old pond.”

“And I’ll find Helen there?” Theo asked.

“If she’s there, you’ll see the side by side,” George said as he handed the map to the mechanic. “Just be sure to close the gate. And tell her I said hello.”

Theo nodded, “I’ll be sure to let her know how much you helped.”

As the little TV crackled in the booth with the roar of fans’ applause, George turned his attention back to the game. With the satisfaction that even if his team lost, there was gonna still be a party. He'd score big with his girlfriend when he showed up at her place with Helen’s special blend.

Theo backed his car enough to manage to swing a 180 and turn it back onto the road. He grinned as he clutched the steering wheel with one hand and the little map with the other. He chuckled as he read the guard’s scrawl ‘dead end, park here’ on the map.

***

Inside her work shop, Helen scrutinized the doll, turning it this way and that with a gloved hand. She grinned, thinking that all and all she’s captured the likeness of the bitch bodyguard pretty well. Carefully she attached the little mini pancake holster to the belt around the doll’s waist.

She had just reached for the toy gun when her phone chimed beside her. Brow furrowed, she carefully put the doll down on the workbench and reached for her phone. 

Her eyes widened at the alert she read and she quickly opened the app to see the mechanic staring at her. She almost dropped the phone but caught it by the pop socket. Horrified, she watched Theo staring directly into the camera lens at the tree by the pond. Slowly, almost deliberately, he turned away and began heading directly towards the hothouses.

Helen jumped up from her chair and made her way up the narrow steps. She slammed the trap door but didn’t bother with locking it or moving the rubber mats back in place. She didn’t have time to do that before he’d reach her. What the hell was he doing here on this part of the property anyway?

Theo stopped his approach as Helen stepped out of what appeared to be an old abandoned hothouse but he knew otherwise. He had heard the sound of a nearby generator and Helen wasn’t dressed nearly warm enough for the cold. 

“Is this where you grow your stuff?” Theo asked, wanting Helen to get closer to him.

“Yeah,” Helen answered cautiously, pausing mid-stride. “What are you doing out here?”

Theo shrugged and smiled, “I got done early at the shop and thought I’d come on over and get started, but the guard said the garage was locked so I decided to take a little stroll and find you.”

“How’d you know I’d be here?”

Theo shrugged again, “Ah, the guy at the gate told me you were on the grounds.”

In truth, Theo had hoped to come out to the pond and have some time to himself with his father and his brother before tracking the sacrifice down. He had prayers that must be said to sanctify the sullied grounds.  Obviously the camera must have alerted her to his presence and now he’d have to improvise. 

Helen’s face scrunched in confusion and she took a step back. “But how did you even know about this place?”

Theo laughed and smiled as he casually strode forward, closing the distance she’d created, “Well, I have to confess, I love Byron Ramshorn’s art. This is the place he painted, right? I read about it online and then the guard…George, right? Yeah, he confirmed it.” 

Helen stared at the mechanic, uncertain. She guessed it could be true. She knew about the painting and the uproar after the gallery opening. Regardless, she didn’t want him so close to her little hideaway and even though she didn’t want to get any closer to the mechanic, she took another step on the path towards him to keep him from getting any closer to her sanctuary.  

Helen, her voice a slight stutter, answered. "Yeah, Byron is pretty great at painting. Don't tell him I said that...ha...I won't hear the last of it."

Seeing Theo with his feet still planted, she walked around him, giving him a wide berth while attempting to lead him back towards the garage. As she walked away in the direction where the side by side was parked hoping he would follow, she continued, "I believe this was the scene in that painting. If you like there's more of his work inside the house I can let you see."

Theo knew what the minion was trying to do, to lead him from this unholy place of power. He grinned, though his voice was flat as he spoke,"Yeah. Who was the kid in the painting? Most of his artwork is from someone in his life. He normally does portraits, right? I recognized Scylla in a few. So who was the boy?" 

Helen stopped in her tracks and turned back around to look at Theo.

"That's an odd question, aren’t you just a mechanic?” She blushed, realizing she’d probably just insulted this strange man she was alone with in the woods. She chuckled, trying to lighten the very dark mood she felt. “Ha, Theo...man... I mean, I’m not an artist either.   As you see by the car you are fixing...my concern is the automobiles and greenery.  I don't know what was going on in Byron's mind."

"Well, it looked like you and a couple of other people were also in the painting. In the reflections in the water,  I could vaguely make out some faces. One had your hair color and everyone looked about the same age."

Worried about how in depth the questions were getting and seeing him still not moving from the spot close to her hothouse, Helen reached for her phone in her pocket, but remembered she dropped it when she hurried to shut the trap door and get outside. The groundskeeper looked behind Theo and saw a reflection off her screen where it lay in the grass close to the door of the hothouse. 

Shit.

"Yeah? Oh I think I know which one you are talking about. Like I said. I don't know EVERY one of his artworks. That was a boy from when we were kids. We all grew up together and he took his life, the kid was sad. The whole thing was crazy for us. His name was Clay. His father was nuts before and then he went bat shit after. Not sure what happened to his brother Max…. Poor kid. To grow up with a fucked up dad like that. Dude, this is hella depressing.”

Helen stopped talking, realizing that she’d been babbling. She could sense she was quickly losing control of the situation. Shifting her shoulder’s back, she made an attempt to reestablish it.

“Hey, since we are here, let's grab some mushrooms for the road before we get back to the garage."

She backtracked towards her phone while picking up some stray mushrooms. He still wasn’t moving and she had to get to her phone. 

"That batch there is pretty damn good.” Helen said, gesturing at the ground. 

“Some of my best, that's a quoted review from my last customer who tried 'em. I need to create a Yelp page."  Helen said with a forced laugh, hoping Theo would turn his back to pick some mushrooms. He didn't budge, just glanced down at the mushrooms and then back to Helen with a grin. 

He's not leaving, she realized. She suddenly understood why the guys at the auto shop didn’t like the dude. There was something seriously off about him. She just needed him distracted long enough to get to her phone and call for help. 

Looking back towards Theo, still sporting that odd smile, with the tree in the background, memories of Clay flashed through her mind.

"You know, now that I'm thinking about him, it’s crazy Theo of how you remind me a lot of him."

"Yeah? Huh...how strange. " The mechanic kept his hands inside his pockets while he listened to the minion babble. He had all of his fun tools still in his bag but it was back in the car. He hadn’t expected the groundskeeper all the way out here. He did have a 3 inch spring loaded Benchmade knife in his left pocket and a shop plastic bag in the other though. Theo thought that it was a good thing that it was a shop bag. They were good quality, thick, and resistant to tears. He always had one in his coveralls, for his oil rags or messy tools.  

Mmmm. Eeny, meeny, miny, moe… ooo father would be furious with me. To start without the proper prayers first? The lamb had practically wandered to the slaughter of her own accord or was it divine intervention? Was this sacrifice already blessed? 

"Well you're gonna be working here, I don't even know your full name…" Helen said, holding up her hand as she waited for Theos response. 

"Well, Theo is actually my middle name."

"What? That's cool…." Helen felt as if she had to say something. Theo had such an empty glare as he spoke. The groundskeeper had seen her fair share of wild personalities.  The man before her, made the hairs on the back of her neck stand up.  

In a voice reminiscent of Clay's father, Theo’s demeanor changed and he spoke, "You know my name, demon. Stop your lies. That's all you know. You can't lie to God's soldiers."

Helen’s jaw dropped at the sudden change in the mechanic’s demeanor and it took everything in her to keep standing there.  This guy had some serious problems. She was about to respond when the man shook his head, then swiped at his face, almost like he was trying to swat at an annoying insect. His expression stiffened and then his smile returned. 

"My first name is Maxwell, middle name Theodore." Theo said, taking another step closer towards Helen. 

Oh my goddess. Helen took a step back, hearing the name Maxwell…seeing his face…at the pond...the look in his eyes. The groundskeeper  tried to hide the fear that swept over her. She knew who this man was...Maxwell… Max

"Hearst" the mechanic said, completing her thought. He saw the fear etched in her face and it filled him with excitement. To see the witches' minion in fear gave him power.

Helen was overwhelmed by the need to get to the phone to get help. She was all alone and the phone was out of her reach. 

Damn it. 

Theo took another step closer and then another. Helen reacted with a swift front kick to Theos nuts. Her kick was with such force, it knocked her backwards off her feet.  He was late at reacting though and he felt the jolt of pain in his groin. It surged through his body, stunning him as much as it enraged him. Helen knew it would only buy her a few precious seconds to get away. Maybe just enough time for her to sprint to the phone and maybe even the trap door.

Theo hunched over in pain, wheezing and attempting to keep himself from being sick,  but the anger, his mission, his father brought him back. 

GET UP NOW AND GET HER!  

His eyes locked on Helen bear crawling not towards the house but back where she came from earlier. The mechanic moved with the speed of a cheetah attacking its prey. He caught up to her with ease. Grabbing her ankle, then the other, the mechanic's grip was strong and firm.  Helen's petite frame was not much of a challenge for Theo as he jerked her back, her body laying flat as she slid on the ground toward the mechanic. He got down on top of her, knee digging into the small of her back.

 "I guess we are picking the bag, Helen?" 

Before the redhead could even comprehend what was going on, she heard plastic rustle and in a split second, a flash of white went over her eyes. As Theo put the plastic bag over her head she felt a tightness around her neck, her vision was blurred, and her breathing was restricted.  The  plastic was pushed against her face. Every breath was obstructed by the bag sealing her mouth. She could only hear her gasps and the plastic. She fought, trying to get Theo’s hands to loosen their grip. 

Nothing…she was now only inhaling the bag, no air...fatigue was setting in. 

It was Clay's brother this whole time...why me? Am I going to die? I can't die...

Helen’s arms went limp as she stopped struggling. Theo loosened up his grip, he didn’t want her dead just yet. He stood up, leaving the groundskeeper unconscious on the dirt path and stood over his prize. His work had just begun. 

***

Tally arranged for a pick up when they landed at the airfield and Scylla thought that the agent who arrived to collect them looked like the cookie cutter FBI agent of a TV drama. The redhead had introduced him as Agent Black. After providing them the news of a freak storm front that had already already began dropping freezing rain and snow in the area, he helped them gather their things without much discussion and ushered them into the vehicle. 

After they had been on the slick roads for a few minutes, Scylla heard a radio crackle to life. Sitting in the back row, she struggled to make out bits and pieces of the exchange between Agent Black and Agent Alder. Her voice sounded commanding and intimidating even over the crackle of the radio. He updated her that they were less than fifteen minutes from the rendezvous but warned that with the worsening roads, it might take longer. The musician still couldn't believe Helen could be behind any of this.  The sound of Agent Black drew her away from her thoughts. 

“Can’t figure you out Red,” Black said, eyes darting from the road to the rearview mirror to look at Tally in the second row of the SUV. “Are you one of us or not?”

Tally’s mouth stretched into a thin line as the SUV slid a bit and she shot Agent Black a pointed look before she nodded her head and responded, “You mean human? Yes, I’m with you now. We’ll see what happens after.”

Scylla listened to the exchange between the agents with a frown. She knew she’d caused the redhead a lot of grief and she regretted it. Raelle’s friend had been nothing but kind to her.  The red head even took up for her and Raelle with Alder on the phone earlier when the Special Agent in Charge had first declined Raelle’s offer to help with the arrest and Scylla’s insistence at being on site to speak with Helen. Scylla sighed wondering how she could make things right with Tally. She felt her arm being squeezed and she glanced at Raelle who had an arm around her and had pulled her in closer.

“Stop overthinking things. It will all work out in the end,” Raelle said softly, whispering into the brunette’s ear.  

As the SUV traveled along the slippery Massachusetts roads toward the staging area, Scylla could only hope she was right.   

The vehicle turned into the parking lot of the local police station and Scylla stiffened. She could feel the tension from Porter and Byron too and she met Raelle’s concerned gaze with a quirked brow. The three of them stood still, this was the same station from when they were kids. One would think it wouldn't look as intimidating as adults. To those three the building looked like it had grown in size. Rae reached for the musician's hand with a gentle tug, breaking her trance on the building. 

“It’s okay. We’ll meet Alder here and go to the mansion with the team,” Raelle said softly, answering the musician's unasked question. She continued to give reassuring smiles to the musician as they walked with Byron and Porter in tow. The bodyguard knew that the Ramshorns’ previous experiences with law enforcement hadn’t been pleasant and she was sure it was uncomfortable for them to be around so many police now.  Still, this was the staging area Agent Alder had picked.

A young woman in uniform met them at a side entrance near where Agent Black had parked. She quickly ushered them inside the police station and toward a small conference room at the end of a pale green tiled hall. 

Around them were officers, some in uniform and some not, milled about. More than one shot a curious look at the group and especially at Scylla Ramshorn. The sight of a couple officers dressed in tactical gear was encouraging to Raelle though she felt Scylla falter beside her.

The bodyguard would have reassured the musician but the officer stopped at the closed door and opened it for the group. Tally, who’d taken the lead, smiled at the officer and thanked her as she went inside.

Once everyone was inside and the door had been shut again, Special Agent Sarah Alder looked up from the maps and schematics spread out on chipped formica conference table with scowl. The smell of burnt coffee was faint in the air and around her was more than one rumpled looking agent. 

“Problems?” Raelle asked, not waiting for pleasant introductions.

“The surveillance team cannot seem to locate our target,” Alder said, glaring at one of the more rumpled agents who ducked his head.

Another agent beside him looked up as sort of a replacement for the line of questioning. Her clothes were just as rumpled,but whereas her partner looked defeated, she still seemed hopeful.

“We know she’s on the property. We just don’t know where.”

“How can you be sure she’s on the property, Agent…”

“Torres.” The woman answered, turning to Raelle who’d asked the question. “We’ve had surveillance on the mansion ever since the incident at Fort Salem.”

Scylla and Byron looked at one another with frowns but didn’t speak. Alder caught the exchange. 

“I’m sure you wanted protective eyes on the rest of your crew. Although you have always been the primary target of these attacks, we felt the need to provide those closest to you with a certain amount of protection.”

And scrutiny, Scylla thought.  After a moment though the musician nodded, “Yes, thank you, Agent Alder.”

Tally looked at Raelle and then back at Alder, “So we are absolutely certain that Helen Graves is on the property?”

“Yes,” Torres answered.

“However, we haven’t had eyes on her since the early afternoon,” Alder groused.

“Cameras?” Raelle asked.

Torres shook her head. The defeated looking agent beside her finally raised his head,”No dice.”

Raelle thought for a moment and then spoke, “Well the cameras don’t provide total coverage of the property. That was something I haven't gotten the chance to fix. Primarily I had them set up for the entrances, weak areas on the perimeter where someone could get in, and entry points to the main house itself. I mean, there are blind spots.”

Torres nodded, “We’ve had drones over the property as well.”

“And you still can’t find her?” Tally asked.

“No,” Agent Alder said, the frustration in that single word response evident. 

“Have you tried using infrared?” Raelle asked, speaking directly to Agent Torres.

Scylla had her attention on Agent Alder though and spoke up, “Let me call her.”

“Absolutely not.” Alder said.

The tone of her voice stopped the various side conversations going on between different agents and the local law enforcement in the room and all eyes turned toward the musician and the Agent in Charge. 

“And why not?” Scylla asked.

“You could alert her to what we are doing and she could run. I cannot let you jeopardize this mission. Being too close to the target makes you a liability."

“If Ms. Ramshorn calls, it could flush her out, and give us what we need to pinpoint her, ” Torres reasoned.

“I don’t want her hurt,” Scylla said as she glanced at an officer in relaxed tactical gear. 

Byron and Porter jerked their heads up and looked at Scylla but didn’t comment.  

“Ms. Ramshorn,” Alder said, “I don’t think you understand. She is the primary suspect in multiple killings.”

“I don’t believe…”

“I will not allow you to call her or contact her in any way.” Agent Alder said with an air of finality.

Scylla was about to protest but Raelle touched her arm gently and gave the slightest shake of her head.

 Alder wasn’t paying attention as she was already looking around at the other members of the team, “Time is growing short and our window is closing. I want to apprehend Ms. Graves and have her back here before the storm gets any worse.”

“Yeah, good luck finding her without my help.” Scylla said as she pulled away from Raelle’s grip and stepped up to the table across from Agent Alder.

 “Excuse me, Miss Ramshorn?”

“Look, my property is huge. With the storm, most of the paths are going to be covered. Helen only clears them if I’m on the property. Let me call her, you can use her cell phone to track her.  Torres thinks it could work. I don't think you understand, if she thinks I’m coming, she’ll be busy cleaning the driveway and the walkways. She's always been like that, a teenager  cleaning the house after being alone. Then you can do your thing with no one getting hurt.”

Agent Alder frowned and Scylla saw a weak spot forming in the senior agent’s steely resolve. She continued to make her argument.

“Your agents, they'll get lost. Your team is trained but celebrities are skilled at privacy when it comes to possible aerial shots.  I know you haven't gotten a proper view of the landscape. And I can tell you these schematics are out of date.”

Raelle, having extensively studied the most recent blueprints of the property for when she’d had the security cameras installed, walked up to the table beside Scylla and studied the maps and drawings. After a few seconds she nodded and looked up at Alder. 

“She’s right, this is old.  There’s a lot more paths here and here. I can't give you an accurate update since it's been awhile being back there ” As she spoke, she gestured to the maps.  “The worst part though, is this part is way overgrown, that I know for sure. You can only traverse it on foot.”

Alder’s jaw clenched and she was about to object again when Tally spoke up, “Sarah.”

The senior agent jerked her head toward her lover with a glare, but it was evident that Tally didn’t plan to heed the warning.  And why should she? By now everyone had already figured out they were a couple. She’d left the field office just so they could be public. Why pretend otherwise now?

“Yes, Tally?” Alder said, also dropping the formality for a moment.

“Scylla is here. She’s willing to cooperate, ready to help.  It’s her property, she knows it better than any of us.”

“But if she tips off Miss Graves…”

“She won’t.” Tally looked at Scylla and shot her an expectant look, “You won’t, will you?”

“No,” Scylla answered, though she regretted saying it.  She felt like she was betraying her friend, but maybe she was also saving her from harm if the whole thing turned into an FBI raid gone wrong.

“There,” Tally said, voice chipper, “Raelle trusts Scylla and I do too. I vote we let Scylla make the call.”

“So do I,” Raelle said.

“Me too,” the defeated male agent said, eyes now shining with new hope. Beside him Torres nodded.

Sarah slowly gave a single nod of consent. “Ok, when you call, you will simply say that you have decided to come back. That you tried to call earlier but had difficulty due to the storms. This will be ON speaker, Miss Ramshorn.”

Scylla nodded and pulled out her phone. As she put the phone on speaker and dialed, she felt the others in the room press in on her, wanting to hear the exchange.

“Hello…This is Helen, you know what to do.”  

Scylla didn’t know what to do, though. She couldn’t recall a time that Helen hadn’t answered her call. As the beep signaled for her to leave a message, she ended the call and looked up at Agent Alder.

The senior agent was studying the expression on Scylla’s face carefully, “You seemed surprised.”

“She always answers,” Scylla said. 

“Maybe she’s in the shower,” Raelle suggested. Looking at the others she added, “Could the surveillance team have missed something and she’s just holed up in her apartment?”

“Or maybe she is out clearing the driveway with the plow,” Byron suggested.

“You have a plow?” Alder asked.

“Well, it's an attachment for the side by side.”

“Gotta snow blower too,” Porter answered, remembering lugging it around in the winter.  “She could be out clearing snow.”

“No,” Torres said, shaking her head, “One of the drones would have seen that.”

“Well, what do we do now?” Raelle asked.

***

Theo watched the redhead. She wasn’t waking up as quickly as he’d hoped she would. He would have preferred her to wake while he was still completing his message, but the groundskeeper didn’t even flutter an eyelid. He briefly wondered if he’d overdosed her. Then again, she’d probably already been on something before he got to her anyway.  Her phone that he’d found and placed on the workbench lit up and began to vibrate.

The small space was filled with the ringtone and he laughed at the lyrics he heard.

I'll let you whip me if I misbehave

It's just that no one makes me feel this way

The sound of the ringtone roused Helen. The first sensation that she felt was agony. Pain seared from her chest and her head pounded. She tried to move but realized her arms were tied to a chair. Her head was foggy and she shook it, trying to clear it. Her eyes focused on her arms and tied wrists.

What the fuck is this? 

She struggled against the bonds and the pain seared in her chest again. She felt a wetness, a stickiness on her chest. There was a coppery scent in the air. She was trying to figure out what had happened when she was startled by the mechanic.

"Hello, Ms. Graves! I was getting bored with you asleep.”

Theo walked over to the woman and roughly grabbed her by the chin to raise her head. 

“Say hi to the camera. Oh and you have a missed call.  Though I suppose you know that since that’s what finally roused you. How sweet that you woke up for Scylla’s call. It’s a shame you missed it." 

The groundskeeper, forced to look up, recognized her workshop. Holy hell, he found it...but how...I left it uncovered. Damn. Where's my phone, I heard it.  It was on the ground last time….oh no.  

Jerking her head to the side, she screamed, "What the FUCK THEO!?! Let ME GOOO!" 

After a moment of useless struggling, she tried to speak again, attempting to hide the shaking in her voice.Maybe she could find a way to reason with him. "Why are you doing this? I wasn't even close with your brother!"

"Helen….you cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons.- Corinthians 10:21"

"What is that supposed to mean you psycho??"  The groundskeeper snapped back.

"Psycho? Seeing your lovely little Hobbit whole with your toy dolls is a great setting for YOU to call ME psycho.” Theo laughed as he gestured around the little underground room with a large serrated knife that was smeared with blood. As he gestured, blood droplets spattered onto the floor and onto him. The mechanic had a different pair of coveralls on and Helen saw that they were covered in blood. 

Blood...there's so much blood.  

Helen looked down at her chest, remembering the sticky wetness she felt on her shirt. The longer she stayed awake it seemed the pain had started to become more defined.  She looked down at her chest. Even with the word upside down and backwards, she recognized the word Bitchy carved into her flesh.

As Helen took in the reality of her situation, Theo continued to rifle through the things on her desk. With a laugh he picked up one of the dolls and held it up in the air. 

“Looks like we have another artist here...is this the bodyguard? It's really close to her likeness, shame on that one...she had potential."

After looking at a few other things on her work table, he turned his full attention to her.

Helen looked at the mechanic warily and then glanced over to where Theo had pointed to earlier and seemed to be focused on now and saw that there was a camera recording. 

Theo saw that the camera had drew her interest and smiled at her. 

“Oh yes, I want the truth you hold. The truth about my brother, you demon.  You will give your confession and it will be recorded for all to hear. Let's flash back to that kid you 'hardly knew.'  It took me a little bit but I finally put it together. I knew you were there when my brother died. After our first meeting I recognized your voice and I knew you had to be my final offering." 

"Wait. Recognized my voice? We never talked before this job. Damn it! UNTIE me!"

The mechanic waited until Helen stopped struggling, too weak from blood loss to do much and then continued. 

"Maybe not to each other Ms. Graves. You do however talk a lot in every other kind of way possible. I find it funny that when my brother's belongings were returned, his cell phone was missing. Imagine that?"

"Yeah...so" what?” Helen already knew what he was talking about.  She couldn't let him win this easily. 

"Well, when my brother was shot in the head...he didn't just die, he was alive. You knew that already, didn't you?" 

A cold evil stare came over the mechanic's eyes when he met Helen’s defiant gaze. He then closed his eyes and shook his head violently as if he was shaking something out of his head. Theo seemed to re-emerge and continued to speak. 

"Byron is full of shit. The cookie cutter layout he gave in that painting was ridiculous.  Because in that version he at least had a  quick death and he looked at peace. Well, here in the real world, he LITERALLY tried to call for help. You know who he called?  Me.” 

Theo jerked a thumb at his chest. He was breathing heavily, the memories still so fresh in his mind. 

I was just a kid. Hearing my brother gurgling and gasping and I was powerless. That fucking flip phone. Imagine if it would have been in today's age? He would have just had to hit a button for an emergency? Nope, NOT in our story.  I remember when we were kids and he first got that phone. He was showing off the speed dial buttons. Well lucky me, he picked the button that he assigned to me. I was the one that night who got to hear a murder happen.”

“He shot himself,” Helen protested. “It wasn’t murder.”

“No...no...there you go again. Lying. that's not the ending of our little story is it?  I kept listening to the sounds of him dying and then finally I heard a voice on the other end saying, "he was shot in the face" and "what are we going to do?" 

The mechanic shook his head, a sad expression on his face. “I was hopeful after hearing the conversation. Someone was there to help. As an adult I think about that moment though and realize that was all an act, the wanting to help."

Theo kept pacing back and forth, arms crossed as he was reliving that moment. 

 "Then you… you didn't help...did you? I know for me, I was trying to yell to get someone's attention. My dad wasn't home and I thought I could get whoever it was on the other side of the phone to tell me what's going on.

I heard someone grab the phone and I yelled out, but then I heard the plop as it was tossed into the water. Of course, then the call dropped." 

Theo stepped in closer holding the knife close to her eye. 

"So demon...you knew my brother was alive...I heard you shush him! A boy with a bullet wound to the head, you just wanted to quiet him down."

"I was just trying to comfort him…" Helen explained, attempting to finish her lie. 

"No, don't you pull that with me here. You may have lied to the police, but you won’t lie to me and you cannot hide your sins from God.”

“I didn’t know what to do…” Helen tried again, her voice weak. “Please don’t…”

“Don’t what, demon? Tell the world what that evil witch Scylla Ramshorn and her minions did in the name of the devil?  All so she could have power?”

“Scylla didn’t know.”  Helen shouted, tears streaming down her face.  “She didn’t know dammit. They thought he was dead. Only I knew…”

Theo surged forward, grabbing the back of Helen’s head with one hand and putting the knife on her face with the other.

Helen could smell the coppery scent of the blood and feel the cold metal blade of the knife against her lips and she whimpered.

“Keep lying, minion, and I’ll cut your tongue out.” He bent his head forward, whispering in her ear as if he had a secret to tell her, “I’ll leave it in a special place only she will think to look for it, whore.” Theo pulled away to stare into her eyes. Hmm, may I? The mechanic attempted to get permission from his father. 

The groundskeeper trembled in the chair but didn’t dare speak. She didn’t know how long he kept the knife to her face, it could have been seconds or hours. Before he found an answer, Theo heard the music. It was the sound of her phone that made him finally back away, taking the knife with him.

I'm bringing sexy back

Them other boys don't know how to act

Theo swayed his hips a little as he let the ringtone play. Picking up the phone and seeing the witch’s face, he laughed.

"Oh, it looks like your witch wants to talk to you, coven member.”

Helen looked at the phone, seeing Scylla’s face. After a moment the phone chimed and Theo grinned.

“Ah, I wonder what message your witch has for her loyal minion? Though, judging by your little craft projects, it looks like you haven’t been so loyal. Are you hoping that she will whip you?” Theo laughed, mocking Helen and the ringtone she’d chosen for the witch.

Helen didn’t answer, though tears had begun to stream down her face. 

The mechanic approached her with the phone and put it in front of her face.   The phone unlocked and he opened the voicemail app.

In the small space, Helen thought Scylla’s voice sounded like an angel.

Helen, it’s Scylla. I’m coming back to the mansion tonight. Give me a call when you get this.

“Well this is wonderful news. God has answered my prayers and the witch will come to me. I promise to be just like you were with my brother, I'll be sure to stay with her to comfort her until the end. I think I'm going to go out for a little while and prepare for her arrival.”

 “You stay." The mechanic held his hand up to the tied up groundskeeper as if he was giving a command to a dog. 

Helen mumbled under her breath "you...fucking...asshole..don't hurt her. " 

With a laugh, Theo opened the trap door and it slammed it shut behind him as he exited the little room under the hot house. 

***

After the second call did not yield an answer, Scylla left a voicemail as instructed.

The brunette shot her brother a worried glance and as Alder went over the assignments with various agents and local law enforcement,  he looked at Scylla.

“Maybe it’s just interference from the storm,” Byron offered, attempting to give Scylla some reassurance.

“Maybe.” Scylla answered but she wasn’t so sure. She couldn’t help but sense that something was wrong with her friend.

Beside them, Porter shrugged. “She could be high. I mean, the weather is crap, she doesn’t know you’re coming back. I can see her stoning the evening away.”

“Let’s hope that’s all she’s doing,” Byron said, wondering if it was possible that the groundskeeper really was the killer.

Scylla looked at her brother and scoffed, “She’s not what they think she is. She’s just messed up. What happened to Clay fucked us all up.”

“I don’t give a damn who you are, I said I’m going with you.”

Raelle’s voice, booming in the small conference room drew everyone’s attention and Scylla made her way over to where the bodyguard stood. The blonde was facing Alder and Tally stood partially between them.

“What’s going on?” Scylla asked.

“Agent Alder seems to think that we will stay here while her team goes to the mansion.”

“Absolutely not,” Scylla said. “It’s my home. You can’t keep me from going there.”

Alder’s jaw clenched and Tally lightly touched her arm. The agent turned her gaze on Tally, eyes only slightly softening.

“Sarah, they can help.” 

“They’ll get in the way. It could put them at risk or a member of this team. I can't have that”

“I can follow orders, Agent. I know how this goes. I've served with Tally. I know my weapons. I also know Helen, and how she would maneuver because I taught her. You need me. You will also need the Ramshorns if you want to navigate through that property. The storm has already made these lights flicker once since being here. It's only going to get worse ” Raelle said. 

Time wasn’t on Agent Alder’s side and rather than continuing to waste precious time by arguing she nodded. 

“Fine. You can cover the back exit.  From what we can tell, if she's located in these possible locations she will try to flee the closest exits. That back gate is too far away, so stay put.  It will keep you out of the way and safe. If the others insist on coming with us. You take responsibility for them. I mean their lives are in your hands. Do you understand? "

Raelle’s jaw clenched, but she gave a curt nod. "Yes."

“Let’s go,” Alder called out to the team. 

As they started filing out of the station and into the assigned vans, Raelle and Scylla followed to one of the SUVs. 

Porter looked at the group leaving and back at Byron who was playing on his phone. He grabbed his wrist and said "Come on, we are leaving. " 

Byron looked up, "Wait...why am I going? Man, this sucks." Porters looked back at his boyfriend with a scowl.

"OK, fine, I was kidding.” Byron rolled his eyes as he followed Porter out of the station. Under his breath he muttered, “Come on, let's go towards a psycho killer. Sounds fun."

After Raelle made sure that the “civilians” were loaded safely in the SUV, the  bodyguard  steps back into the moving  sea of law enforcement.  She spots Tally  and they exchange a knowing glance. In their minds they are the only two they see. Their bond is stronger than ever at this moment. Raelle gives a single nod, an unspoken message:  "with storm and fury." 

The redhead nods, "Let's end this today. " 

Special Agent Craven steps up to her assigned vehicle and their trance is broken. Ralle with a smile of appreciation and love she yells out to Tally, "Stay safe. I'll see you after."

Tally nods again and Raelle steps back to her own vehicle and climbs behind the wheel. 

Chapter Text

“You’re heading out in this?” George eyed Izadora through the snow that had started to fall. There were weather alerts sounding periodically, interrupting his tv show.

“Yes, I’m going to try and make it home to see my family. They’re starting to complain that they don’t remember what I look like.” Izadora had a suite in the mansion, and normally would stay over. However, with Scylla safe in WV, came a cleared schedule. Izadora had caught up on her work and had planned to spend some much needed time with her family.

George couldn’t help but return the smile that was so rare on the manager’s face. “Well, you’d better be careful, Miss. They’re saying we’re likely to get some snow squalls.”

Izadora shivered as the cold crept into her car and the heat had difficulty compensating. “Crazy to have snow like this so early in the season. What about you? Aren’t you supposed to be off duty by now?”

“Katie’s babysitter fell through so she had to run her son over to her mom’s before she could get here. I’m just holding down the fort until she arrives.”

Izadora’s brows rose and she wondered if maybe she’d misjudged the guard. It was a kind gesture. “Well, that’s good of you, George.”

The guard shrugged, “Just doing my part, ma’am. You drive safely now.”

Izadora shuddered again as another cold blast whipped through her car window and gave the guard a smile. “Thank you. Goodbye George.”

As soon as the taillights from Izadora’s car disappeared in the snow, the smile on George’s face fell. That cunt had better hurry up, he thought. He’d only agreed to wait for Katie because he was still waiting on Helen to make good on their deal. It struck him odd that the groundskeeper hadn’t even contacted him over the radio with an update. In fact, there had been no movement at the gates, so the mechanic must still be there. He didn’t have a clue what the fuck they were doing out there and to be honest, he didn’t really care. He’d already called and promised his girl a good time and now he didn’t have the party favors to make good on his promise.

A car pulled up to the gate and he scowled at the red faced woman behind the wheel. “Bout damn time.”

“Sorry George,” Katie said, her cheeks flushed. “I’ll park the car and pee and I’ll be right back as soon as I can.”

“Didn’t you pee before you left?” George said, annoyed that he’d have to wait even longer.

“I couldn’t get Chase to get his things together. It took me a while. You know how he is when there is a change in plans.”

George understood that Katie’s son had autism and a long list of other demands of his mother, so he shook his head. An idea came to him though and before he opened the gate for her to pass he said, “Look if you gotta go in the shed to pee, why don’t you grab me a little something from Helen’s emergency stash.”

Katie’s eyes widened and she shook her head, “I don’t like going through Helen’s stuff, George. You do it before you leave.”

“Look, Katie, you owe me. It won’t take but a minute and you’re already going in there. I promised my girl a good time but Helen’s been busy.”

“Busy doing what?” Katie asked.

“Nevermind what,” George said. “I'm not saying rob her, just get to her stash and take like three nuggets from the jar. Here, I even have a bag.”

Katie sighed but finally nodded her head, “Okay George. Be back in a bit.”

By the time she made it back outside with the drugs, George was already walking down the drive and met her halfway. She handed him the bag and he put it in his jacket.

“What about the changeover logs?”

George shook his head. “Nothing to report. And there’s not gonna be anything with this storm. It’s dead out here.”

Katie frowned but nodded. She was shivering in the cold because in her haste to get Chase to her mom’s after his meltdown, she’d forgotten to get her heavier coat. The bodyguard who’d taken over security from Helen had insisted that the guards meet in the shack to go over the day’s visitor log and discuss anything of interest, but George was probably right.

“Okay George, have a good time with your girlfriend and be careful.”

George barely offered her a nod as he hurried toward his parked car.

Less than five minutes later, Katie looked up from the empty visitor log and offered George a wave as he sped past the shack in his jeep.

***
The groundskeeper tested her restraints on her wrists with little movement.
As soon as she was sure the mechanic was gone, Helen tried to break free from her binds. She struggled for what seemed like forever before her head dropped in exhaustion. When her eyes opened again, she didn’t know how much time had passed. All she knew was that she was thirsty, tired, and very weak. The pain she’d felt earlier had strangely subsided. Helen guessed that her body was in shock. What had been just splatters of red earlier had become the predominant shade on her shirt. She made a couple more feeble attempts at her restraints but stopped when she heard the latch on the trap door again.

"Well Ms. Graves… ooo look at you." Theo said in a sarcastic upbeat tone as he made his way down into the room. "You moved the chair further than I would have guessed. Just a little fighter, aren't chya?"

The mechanic walked over to the camera and made some adjustments, tilting the camera a little lower.

Helen heard the sound of her cell phone chirp and knew that the tone signaled a text message from Scylla. As she watched, Theo removed the phone from a pocket in his coveralls and read the message.
After a moment, he put it back in his pocket and picked up a rag from the workbench. Opening a bottle of water, he poured some of it on the cloth. Hearing Helen whimper, he turned to the bleeding and bound gardener with a smile.

"Well ok, new plan" the mechanic said softly to himself. "Ms. Graves, have you ever had a moment in your life where you were compelled to say amen?" Theo asked.

The gardener looked down at her raw, reddened wrists and then up at the mechanic. "At the moment, nothing comes to mind."

“Well, you have to have FAITH, Helen,” he raised his voice enough to make her sit up. "Sorry, ha. Just excited when talking about faith, you know…umm…" The mechanic remembered his audience and shook his head. . "Yeah. Maybe not." Theo walked toward the gardener, the wet cloth in one hand and the bottle of water in the other.

As she watched him approach, her body stiffened, every instinct in high alert and telling her to run or to fight.
The mechanic stopped in front of the chair and asked, “Pardon my manners, may I call you Helen?”

He reached forward with the cloth, gingerly wiping blood and dirt off of the gardener’s face. Theo started to comfort her as he wiped the blood "shhh, shhh, shhh, there we go…much better."

Helen glared at him in pain, why was he doing this?
The groundskeeper looked up from the chair, and met the mechanic’s gaze and then back at the water bottle. She gulped, trying to swallow and pain seared her throat.

Surprisingly the mechanic opened the bottle and tipped the water toward her mouth. Greedily, she drank the offered liquid. Very little water dribbled from the sides of her mouth as she quenched her thirst.

For Helen, someone who prided herself on reading people, she was angry at herself. Theos personality was everywhere. The groundskeeper couldn't help thinking she could have stopped him. As soon as Helen finished one thought, the mechanic’s entire demeanor had changed again. The change of personalities continued to baffle her. This last round, she heard him for a couple of minutes. He sounded mad and Theos voice was rigged like how an old man would sound. Vaguely he sounded like his dad, though she was just a kid when she last heard his voice. However the cadence was there.

Now the mechanic sounded chipper, even friendly. His actions seemed almost kind. A part of her wondered if she could escape somehow, take advantage of this twisted kindness. She tried to think, but her mind was a blur. Helen heard Theo still talking, his voice sounding like it was getting farther and farther away. She could only make out bits and pieces. The groundskeeper started to feel light headed. Out of instinct she closed her eyes and shook her head, trying to focus.

Don't slip Helen. Keep at it, figure this bastard out. She kept having to remind herself, the maniac made it clear he wanted Scyl.

“Faith Helen, you must have faith. After all, look at what faith has brought me. The Lord gave me you…he put the abomination that you are right in my path. And I will use you to get to your precious witch. It is a miracle.”

Helen’s eyes opened, surprised to see that Theo had moved back across the tiny space to the workbench. He had traded the empty water bottle and the cloth for his knife. The bloodstained blade glinted in his hand as he flashed it before him, holding it as comfortably as a conductor would be in front of their orchestra. Theo started to lead a sick symphony only he could hear.

“Oh, I don’t suppose you can really appreciate the miracle if you're restrained like that." Theo made a sort of bound from across the room towards Helen's chair. He stood there, blade hanging in the air between them. He waited until at last Helen’s eyes closed again, her head drooping, and with the knife, he cut the duct tape that was securing the gardener’s wrists to the chair.
….
There was discomfort on the groundskeeper's back. As if there was a dull rake going up her back slowly, over and over. The sensation of being pulled by her legs brought Helen back to consciousness. She felt so groggy, her brain felt like it had cotton in it. Drugged, she realized. The water must have had something in it. She’d been foolish enough to think that the bastard was being kind, showing a sign of weakness. She’d thought she’d be able to take advantage of the situation but he had been one step ahead.

She struggled to lift her head and look at her surroundings. The ground was cold, the nor'easter she had heard about on the weather channel earlier must have already moved into the area, dumping snow on the grounds. On the bright side, the cold seemed to help her clear her head a bit and she was able to see where the mechanic had left her on the ground. She raised her head, and her eyes widened at the sight.

There, hanging from the tree, was a swing that was just swaying in the wind. Two long ropes had been fastened to the branch and a flat wooden seat had been attached. The sight was shocking. Helen’s mind flashed back to a time from long ago when they were teenagers. She half wondered if she was hallucinating, but then she saw Theo’s form. He was adjusting the game camera that she’d mounted to the tree. Whatever he had planned, she knew she only had minutes while he was distracted to move. Slowly she shifted her body, and scanned the snow blanketed ground for something she could use as a weapon. As her hands moved through the snow her fingers closed around a large rock. The rock would have to do,and she knew she needed to make it count.
The crunching of the snow under the mechanic's feet sounded amplified. He was humming the tune to Sexy Back. It was that tune that started to help her focus. Whatever mix of drugs the psycho had given her was strong. Still on all fours, she looked in the direction the music coming from.

Seeing Theo and the swing, her focus slipped. Her mind showed her an illusion, "Clay…?" She muttered but remembered...it's the psycho trying to kill you. Trying to kill Scylla!

Over confident, Theo walked back from the tree and kneeled down to be eye to eye with the gardener. "No, I wish I could say you'll see him in heaven but your soul has been marked for eternal punishment for what you did to him."

A fire ignited inside Helen. The gardener gripped the rock as tight as she could . "I'll see you there."

Her eyes widened and face tensed. Theo saw the change but his overconfidence made him hesitate. In that split second the groundskeeper swung her arm with rock in hand meeting theos forehead.

He fell back from the hit, knocking him off balance. At that moment Helen could only yell at herself "STAND UP NOW."

One foot planted she shifted her weight. The mechanic, still woozy, tried to grab at her again.

"Fuck you!” Helen shouted, moving the rock to her other hand as she swung it toward the mechanic. This time, it connected to the other side of Theos jaw.

Her fear, her pain, her trauma all seemed to collect in the pit of her stomach. She felt anger, love for Scylla, even love for Byron and Porter. They were a fucked up group but they were family and this bastard was trying to destroy that family. The only family that she had.

The mechanic, usually not phased, was shocked by the first hit and then the second. A taste of copper formed in his mouth and he felt a liquid warmth on his skin. A thin red line had left a trail from the first hit that landed. He touched it and was rewarded with a sharp sting and a warm liquid substance coated his fingers. With a quick glance down, he confirmed it was blood. The bitch had dared to strike at God’s soldier.

"Aw little Maxi Pad has a boo boo." Helen said. If she didn’t know anything, she knew psychological warfare. She’d spent her life reading people. Just like she had seen Clay, she saw the fucked up daddy's boy that stood in front of her now. Just have to keep distracted long enough to get a weapon...his weapon, Helen thought. The groundskeeper no longer had the rock in hand. It slipped to the ground with the last strike.

"Oh my GOD! That's so original. Are we 5 now?" Theo said, still spitting the blood out of his mouth.

"No, we aren’t, but you're still a little bitch, Maxi Pad" Helen said as she raised her right arm across her body and backhanded him.

The hit from the gardener struck the soldier down. That nickname started from Clay. Feelings came flooding back and overwhelmed him. He could hear it in his head, Clay’s teenage voice singing the nickname in his head. He felt tears spring to his eyes. His brother, he’d died right here. In this damned place. This wicked ground. He had sinned. Had he sought forgiveness or had the witch tainted him before he died, marked him for Hell, too?

You heathen child. Snap out of it. Stay on mission.

From the depths of his mind he felt something take over. He spoke in a voice that froze Helen in her tracks.

"Through YOU we will push back our adversaries.”

***
Raelle narrowed her eyes, trying to focus on the road, and looked out the windshield through the blinding white snow that seemed to come right at her. Her hands tightened on the steering wheel as she drove the SUV keeping pace with the tactical team as they headed toward the mansion.

Inside the vehicle, it was deathly silent. Everyone inside was scared of the unknown that awaited them. It was taking too damned long to get to the house. The snow was slowing them down, more than expected. It gave everyone too much idle time to think. Raelle knew that was dangerous. That it led to over thinking and would allow negative thoughts to creep in everyone’s head, especially when what was needed was for everyone to focus on the mission .

Raelle risked taking her eyes off the road for a second and gave Scylla a sideways glance in the passenger seat. Her heart ached for the brunette who was gripping her phone so tightly in her lap that her knuckles were white. The phone mocked her, staying silent. There had been no return call or text from Helen. The bodyguard had to break the silence, not just for the musician but for everyone.

"Scyl, breathe. We are not giving up. We are almost there."

Between them, the radio crackled to life and everyone in the SUV jumped at the sound of Tally’s voice. Scylla gripped Raelle’s arm, making the vehicle slide on the road. Raelle cursed as she righted it.

“Watch it,” Byron hissed from the back seat.

The bodyguard put her hand on Scylla’s leg, with a rub and pat she mouthed, we are ok.

Porter put his hand on Byron’s knee and squeezed it. “Rae’s got this,” he whispered to the artist.

At least I hope she does, Porter thought, his eyes watching the bodyguard as she lifted the radio to her mouth and talked to her friend.

“No, nothing yet.” Raelle said in response to the question about Helen making contact after Scylla’s earlier calls.

There was some more chatter back and forth and finally Alder gave her permission for Scylla to try to make contact again via text once they were at the mansion.

"Copy that, I'll relay the message." Raelle said, ending the conversation and putting the radio receiver back down.

The bodyguard glanced at the musician and knew there was no need to say anything. Scylla had been listening to the exchange and had nodded her understanding. She looked down at her phone, noticing the signal going in and out from the storm. She hoped beyond hope that the storm was the only thing that was keeping Helen from returning her call.

***

At the pond, the groundskeeper, fueled by rage, stood before Theodore. The loss of blood made her body lethargic, which caused a hitch in her step. The crazed man noticed the hesitation. Before Helen could react, she saw the mechanic lunge toward her. His arm reached out for her and around her body, holding her. It felt like a strange embrace, until she felt the sharpest pain radiating from her stomach. Helen was frozen in place from shock and pain as Theo pulled her close and whispered in her ear, “This is for my brother. A knife in your stomach, the perfect revenge for how you stabbed him in the back by betraying your duty as a human to help him when he needed you.”

Theo spun her around forcing her back against the tree and stabbed the groundskeeper again.

“That's why you were chosen today. Your actions caused God to smite you and it is my mission to carry out his punishment.”

As the gardener started to fall forward, he caught her and carried her to the swing.

Theo continued to speak as he worked at tying her in place on the swing. He didn't really care if the groundskeeper heard what he was saying because he knew that God would hear his promise and his father would hear it. “I will kill Scylla next. Thank you for giving me this opportunity. You are the reason she will come to me. This is how I was meant to set you free.”

As he finished his work with Helen and moved to his bag by the tree to prepare for the witch’s arrival, he hummed Sexy Back.

***
The vehicles finally reached the mansion, and Raelle watched the SUV that Tally drove pull toward the front gates. Another vehicle with tactical personnel followed close behind them. It went against Raelle’s instincts not to follow them too, not to be a part of the frontal assault but she had her orders. More importantly, she had the people in the vehicle to think about. She looked over at Scylla again as they continued on the main road where they would make their way around to the back entrance of the property.

"OK, we have the go ahead to text Helen. Remember the story, it's just you heading back and you two need to talk."

“Right,” Scylla said and unlocked her phone.

Raelle watched how Scylla’s fingers shook as she sought to press the right letters to make her sentences. After what seemed like forever, a noise from her phone confirmed that her message went through.

The blonde frowned as she turned her focus back to the road and looked for the gap in the trees where the back road would be. The snow was making everything more difficult and it could complicate what should have been a fairly simple mission.

 

As hard and fast as the snow fell, Raelle knew they must be in some sort of snow squall. It was a freak storm for this time of year and the blonde couldn’t help but question Alder’s decision to strike tonight of all nights. They could have maintained the element of surprise at least until the next morning and by then hopefully the storm would have been over.

 

“There,” Bryon announced from the back seat, but it was too late and the SUV sped past the road even as the bodyguard started pumping the brakes.

Cursing, Raelle made a uturn and looked for the road she’d just missed. She frowned as she finally found the gap and turned the SUV onto the side road. Even though the snow was heavy, she couldn’t help but notice there were areas where the snow looked more compacted than others.

The bodyguard stopped in front of the gate and hopped out to use the keypad to open it.

Inside the car, Byron pulled out his phone and frowned as he watched his signal come and go.

“Hey Scyl, you gotta signal?”

In the front seat, Scylla shook her head. “No.”

“Must be this crazy storm,” Porter said.

The musician heard her friend’s comment but her eyes were following Raelle’s form as the blonde opened the gate. With the snow falling heavier and heavier as the minutes ticked by and the wind howling, Scylla was surprised to see Raelle walking around the gate rather than immediately making her way back to the car.

Scylla’s brows furrowed, the impatient musician just put her hand on the door handle when the blonde finally turned back to the car. The door opened and with a chilly, wet blast of snow, Raelle got back behind the wheel.

“What is it?” The musician asked.

Raelle shook her head even as she rubbed her hands together, trying to warm them. “I don’t know. Something just doesn’t feel right.”

Scylla looked back down at her phone and watched as the signal continued to fluctuate from one bar, to two, then back to no bars at all. The wifi wasn’t much better even though there were extenders all over the property.

Raelle watched her and asked what she already guessed, “Still no response from Helen?”

“No,” Scylla answered. “The signal keeps dropping.”

“Well, let’s drive onto the property. Maybe you’ll get better luck with the wifi.”

Raelle started down the gravel and dirt road and continued driving the SUV even as the road ended. They were close to the clearing where the blonde had set up her shooting range. She stopped the vehicle when her headlights flashed on the metal of another car parked several feet away.

“What the hell?” Porter said, more to himself than the others.

“I don’t recognize it.”

“Nor do I,” Scylla said, looking over at Raelle.

The blonde’s mouth was set in a grim line and she shook her head, “I think I do.”

“You do?”

“I think that’s the car that was following us.”

“There was a car following us? When?”

“The day after the restaurant. Remember, I had the trees cut after?”

Scylla’s eyes widened with the memory, “That’s right, you’d jumped out of the car once we got on the property.”

The musician frowned as more memories of that day returned to her. “I asked Helen about it. She said you thought it might be the guy stalking me. Helen was with us, Raelle.”

Raelle frowned and shook her head, “I know, Scyl.”

“So it can’t be Helen,” Scylla said, her excited voice filling the tiny space in the car.

The blonde shook her head, “I don’t know.”

All the blonde knew for certain was that there was a car where it shouldn’t be. A car that looked a lot like the one she’d chased that day.

“I’m going to check it out.” She looked at Scylla and then glanced back toward the wide eyes watching her from the back seat. “Stay here.”

After she’d received nods from everyone, Raelle suggested that Scylla keep trying to reach Helen and hopped out of the car. Her feet sunk into the snow and she trudged toward the parked car. Even with the snow partially covering the vehicle she recognized it as the white Toyota Camry that had been following the limo that day. What the hell was it doing here and how had it got past the gate?

***
Tally offered the petite blonde in the guard shack a small smile along with her ID as she stopped at the gate.

After she’d explained why she and the others in the SUV were there, Alder began barking questions from the passenger seat.

No, there had not been any visitors according to the log. The only person to leave the grounds was Izadora. When the questions turned to Helen and her whereabouts, Tally couldn’t help but notice that Katie became visibly more nervous.

“Do you know where Ms. Graves is on the grounds?”

The blonde shook her head and Tally frowned.

Not wanting to upset the friendly agent, Katie picked up her radio receiver, “I can try to contact her.”

“No,” Alder shouted from the passenger side.

Katie immediately dropped the radio back down on the small desk and even Tally jumped at Alder’s order.

“Just do as the officer who joins you says and try to stay out of the way, okay?”

Katie nodded as Alder spoke into her radio. A moment later a young man in tactical gear got out of the second SUV and made his way toward the guard shack.

If this was about Helen’s drugs, they were going to an awfully big fuss to bring her in, Katie thought as she made room for the man and his gear. She pressed herself against the far wall of the guard shack. The officer with his gear and gun in his hands took up quite a bit of the already small space. The image that popped in her mind was that of a can of sardines. She offered him a small smile and wondered if he felt as awkward as she did.

“Gate?” he asked without further introduction and Katie reached for the button. A moment later the gates opened and the agents made their way onto the property.

***
“What is she doing,” Scylla asked. From the way that Raelle had parked the SUV, she couldn’t see what the bodyguard was up to in the dark.

Byron tried to twist around but couldn’t see much through the snow.

“I can’t tell. Porter?”

The blonde attempted to look out the window but could only see snow where the light from Raelle’s phone glowed. The heat from the car combined with the moisture was also starting to fog up the windows. He shook his head. “It’s snowing too much to really see anything.”

“I wish she’d hurry up,” Byron said a moment later.

There was an audible hitch to his voice and Porter reached for his boyfriend’s hand in the dark.

“She knows what she’s doing.”

Byron swallowed hard, “Let’s hope so.”

A moment later a chime broke the uneasy silence in the car. It was followed by several more chirps and chimes as the wifi finally connected and their phones lit up with notifications.
There, among the various alerts, Scylla whooped with joy as she saw a message from Helen. The happiness only lasted for a split second though as she read the confusing and cryptic message.

Great. When you get here, come out by the old pond. Found something really important I need to show you. Your eyes only.

Scylla didn’t take time to think, she just hopped out of the car.

“Scyl,” Byron shouted from the back seat, “Where are you going?”

“Gonna check something out, be right back.”

Byron started to protest, but Scylla had already shut the car door and was quickly swallowed up by the darkness and the blowing snow.

“What the hell?” Byron grumbled.

Porter didn’t know what to do. Part of him wanted to stay with Byron, the other part wanted to go after his friend.

Byron looked at him expectantly, “Well go on.”

“You’ll be okay?”

“I’m sure as hell not leaving this spot.”

“Okay,” Porter said as he hopped out of the backseat and into the cold.

***
They breached the maintenance building quietly and made their way up the stairs to Helen’s apartment. No sound came from beyond the door and after a moment, the tactical team granted them access. The agents swarmed into the small space and after a moment it was pronounced clear.

Moments later, team two cleared the mansion. As the third team cleared the garage and the secondary team moved to the next set of buildings on the property, Alder stood in the center of Helen’s apartment with her hands on her hips and frowned.

“What are we missing here?”

Tally shook her head as she looked up from her search of the apartment.

“Well people don’t just disappear like a fart in the wind,” Alder said, quoting a line from one of her favorite movies. Around her the other agents from the first team buzzed about executing the search of the apartment as per the warrant allowed.

“No,” Tally agreed as she broke away from the bookshelf she’d been inspecting and joined her partner. She seriously doubted the property had sewer lines for Helen to hide in and crawl out of like Andy in Shawshank. Though maybe Raelle would know something that they didn’t. Some place that the gardener could hide. She reached for her phone clipped to her belt when one of the agents called out.

“Agent Alder, you’d better come see this.”

Alder and Tally walked over to the agent sitting at a small desk in the corner of the living room. He’d opened a laptop and there was an image on the screen.

The screen glowed green as the night vision feature of a camera revealed their suspect sitting on a swing swaying in the wind, eyes closed and her head resting on her shoulder.

Chapter Text

The way the snow had unevenly fallen on the car's surface, it was obvious that it had still been warm from recently running when the snow had started to fall. Raelle slowly circled the car and then tried the doors. They were locked, but then she noticed that the passenger door had not been closed properly. She began pulling at it, though she figured she’d have to go back to the SUV to get a tire iron when to her surprise the door popped open. It happened so suddenly she was knocked back and landed on her butt in the snow with an oomph.  

 

After the stun from the fall had subsided, Raelle stood a moment later, dusting the cold wet snow off her and peered into the dimly lit car, the dome light casting the interior in a yellow glow.

***

Scylla had to hold her coat tight around her with one arm while she held her cell phone out with the other one. The wind buffeted at her and she stumbled a few times on the uneven ground hidden by the snow. She was across the clearing and had made it into the woods. It had been years since she’d been on this end of the property and didn’t remember the woods being so dense. Helen had followed her instructions about leaving the woodland untouched and now she had difficulty finding the footpath that connected the clearings and led to the hot houses.

***

Porter wasn’t sure where his friend had gone, but he followed the tracks in the snow as best he could. What disturbed him was that there appeared to be multiple tracks. A couple of sets were fresh but there were others partially covered by the snow. Once he reached the edge of the clearing though, the patches of snow were more uneven, some of the accumulation blocked by the canopy of the thick evergreen pines interspersed between the bare limbs of oaks and maples. More than once he lost Scylla’s tracks and even found himself doubling back in the thick growth of trees.  There was only one place she would go if she’d come into these woods though he couldn’t fathom why she’d go there of all places. Where was that damned path?

 ***

“What is this?” Alder demanded.

The agent pecked at the keyboard and the image reduced to half of the screen as he examined the information that flashed across the other side. “Looks like a security camera feed.”

“Where?” Alder barked.

The agent pecked for a few more minutes at the keys as the image flashed in and out, replaced by others on the screen. At last the image with Helen re-appeared and he shook his head, “I don’t know. It’s not hooked to the rest of Collar’s network.”

“It’s the pond,” Tally answered. “I recognize the tree.”  She put her finger out and traced the darkened bottom of the image. “That’s the water. ” Her face scrunched and she shook her head. “I don’t remember a swing there, though. And I don’t remember seeing a camera aimed at the tree. The one Rae showed me was attached.”

Alder frowned as she studied the image and ran through the options in her head. She wasn’t sure what this new development meant but she knew that they needed to get to the pond STAT. Raelle was the closest person to it but she had civilians with her.  Should she task the bodyguard with checking it out? 

The agent at the keyboard turned his head one way and then the other, trying to see the video feed from every angle “Is she dead?”

Suddenly the screen flared a bright white and the agents shielded their eyes. It took a moment for the camera display to adjust to the new lightning conditions. It looked like someone had aimed  a spotlight at the swing and turned it on.

From the corner of the screen Alder saw movement and as her eyes began to make sense of what she was seeing she gasped and Tally began frantically calling her friend.

***

From the passenger seat of the car, Raelle looked through the items she’d retrieved from the center console and the glove box that she had placed on the dashboard. Among various receipts and written lists, there was a registration card with the name of Maxwell Theodore Hearst and a funeral program for an Alban Hearst. This couldn’t be a coincidence. Raelle pulled her phone out of her coat pocket just as it began to ring. 

“I’ve got something,” Raelle said into the phone, not bothering with pleasantries.

There was a garble of words and static on the other end of the line followed by two sharp beeps in her ear as the call dropped.

“Shit,” Raelle muttered as she looked at her phone and the absence of a single bar where her signal indicator should be.  

With a slam of the car door, she made her way back toward the car. She’d try to raise them on the radio.

***

“I lost her,” Tally said to Alder. 

Alder finished speaking into her radio and looked up at her lover. “Keep trying her cell and I’ll try to reach her on the radio.”

“Holy shit, dude.” Tally jumped, partially at the words the agent shouted and partly from the image of a man entering the camera’s view with a gun in his hand. As they watched, helpless to do anything, the man shot Helen. 

***

The shot rang out through the woods.  The wind had almost silenced it completely however it reached Scylla's ears. The musician stopped in her tracks at the sound. Was that really what she thought it was? 

Scylla brought her phone close to her, her heart pounding and hands shaking, but managed to send another text.

  Where are you??? Call me!

She stared at the screen for what feels like forever and then sighs as three dots appear in Helen's text box and begin flashing. "Oh you bitch, finally."

At last, the dots are replaced by another message. This one was just as confusing and cryptic as the previous one.

Out by the hothouse, close to the pond.  Just shooting some rounds off. I found a box of stuff you need to see that had this old gun with ammo. Found some other stuff too. Get over here.

Scylla frowns at the message but then typed back.

  on my way 

She stood there waiting for the message to go through as the wind continued to whip at her.

After a moment she muttered , " Shit, the weather is getting worse, no bars." She shook her head and continued her journey to get her friend.

Finally, she reached the clearing and came to a stop. With the storm there was no moon out and yet the area around the pond seemed to glow a bright white.  Right away she noticed something was different.  For over a decade the pond and tree they used to clamber around as teenagers had been untouched besides her insistence that the swing be cut down. She knew about Helen's projects near the hothouses, but aside from the security camera she’d installed, it was supposed to be no man's land.   Her eyes took in the scene and at that very moment she saw the ropes hanging from the tree, did she put the swing back up?

There was a figure sitting down on the swing. Scylla partially froze out of fear and confusion from the sight of the resurrected swing, but pushed herself to continue with small cautious steps around the water to get closer to the tree. Scylla heard the swoosh from her phone indicating that her message had finally been sent. The trees must have blocked the signal. 

A second later, she heard a faint chime. Is that Helen's phone? The sound came from the near the swing. Something isn't right , Scylla thought. There seemed to be no movement except when the random gusts of wind moved the mass that was hunched on the swing. 

Fear weighed each step down. Was it anxiety?  The last time she saw the tree with a person on a swing was with Clay. Scylla texted again now that she was a little closer. Again her ringtone.  Again no movement. Then came the answering chime from the mass on the swing.

Swallowing and taking deep breaths to try and calm herself, Scylla stepped closer to the figure on the swing. Finally, she sees through the snow and recognizes her friend. She spots the duct tape that had Helen secured to the swing and runs to her friend.

"Goddess, no.  Helen?!?!"

***

Porter had heard the gunshot and a few moments later a scream that sounded like Scylla. He ran, trying to reach his friend. He pushed through the trees, jerking this way and that as the branches seemingly grabbed out, trying to hold him back. As he reached the clearing that led to the pond and the hothouses he had to blink. After the darkness, the light was blinding. It looked like someone had put up spotlights to highlight the tree in the clearing. He heard a generator running. 

Porter’s eyes followed the light and he saw Helen on a swing attached to the tree. Her face was bruised and bloody and her chest was a mess. As his eyes fell on the tree, he saw Scylla slumped against the trunk.  He was so intent to get to Scylla that he never noticed the man standing just beyond the treeline. He felt a sudden pain at the back of his head and then nothing but the cold of the snow as he dropped to the ground.

***

Byron jumped at the sound of the radio crackling to life from the front seat of the SUV.

“Collar?”

The sound of Alder’s commanding voice made the young artist lunge for the space between the seats.

Raelle found him there, arm stretched out for the radio when she opened the door.

“They’re calling for you,” Byron said in explanation of his position.

“Yeah, they tried my cell but the signal keeps dropping in this storm.”

“Raelle,” the radio sounded again, but this time it was Tally’s voice. Her voice sounded desperate.

Raelle grabbed the mic and answered.

As quickly as she could, Tally described the horror playing out on the monitor. She was still talking when the entire room was plunged into darkness.

“What?”  Raelle asked, unable to single out Tally’s voice among the others. There was just too much background noise. The red head quickly quieted them down and tried again.

“The power just went out,” Tally explained.  

The room was lit by the various agent’s cell phone lights and flashlights. As they moved about, the lights flashed on and off, some hitting Tally in the face and making her blink. Her eyes searched and finally settled on Alder who with a nod to Tally, disappeared out the door of the apartment. 

“Rae, we’re on the way, but I’m not sure we’re going to make it in time. You’ve got to get out there.”

Raelle gave a “Roger that” and dropped the radio. She peered over at Scylla’s brother who’d listened to Tally’s description with mounting terror.

Raelle checked her gun and then met Byron’s wide eyes and said simply, “Do not leave this car unless you’re told to by one of the agents.”

Byron swallowed and nodded. 

Raelle reached back into the car and found the portable radio in the glove compartment. She clipped it to her belt. Before the car door slammed shut, Raelle heard Byron praying.

She took off at a dead run toward the trees.

***

As the musician's hands grabbed at her friend’s shirt, the groundskeeper's head fell back.

Blood dripped from Helen’s ear, and Scylla saw that she had cuts and bruises all over her face. Scylla tried to listen for sounds of Helen breathing, and she couldn't feel any pulse. Her skin was so cold. As she examined her friend she spotted the gunshot wound on her chest. The  blood had already begun to coagulate from the cold.

“No,” Scylla screamed, shaking her friend.  When there was no response, no movement aside from the lulling of Helen’s head, Scylla felt her legs and her sanity give out.

The musician dropped to her knees on the ground in front of the pond and let out another scream that sounded like a soul that has been tortured all her life.  

"Scyl, Scyl…" 

The sound was so soft and faint that at first Scylla thought her damaged mind was playing tricks on her.  But then she saw movement in front of her as Helen shifted, her eyes opening. Scylla lunged for her friend. 

“Oh, thank the Goddess, Helen.” Scylla said as she hugged her friend. She reached for the duct tape holding her friend and began frantically tugging at the corners, trying to free Helen.

"Run .." Helen said, trying to focus.  

“You’re hurt, we’ve got to get you help.”

"Trap. It's a trap.. "

The brunette didn't even acknowledge the warning as she continued to claw at the restraints. 

From behind her, Theo stepped forward and wrapped his arm around her waist. 

Scylla froze as she felt the cold metal of a gun at her temple. The man leaned forward, his mouth so close to her ear she could feel his warm breath at her neck.

"Enjoying your gift, demon?"

"Scyl...oh goddess…I'm sorry.." Helen muttered from her vantage point on the swing. At last, tears began to fall at the sight of her only true love being held with a gun to her head by a madman. A homicidal nut that her actions had created. Then anger returned as she focused back on Theo. 

"Theo, you sad piece of shit, let her go"

"Theo?" Scylla whimpered.

"Oh, you are a smart one. Technically I am Maxwell Theodore Hearst." He felt the musician shudder in his grasp. He leaned over her shoulder, pressing the side of his cheek against hers. "Shh, shhhh, shhhh," the mechanic brushed a strand of hair away from Scylla's eyes once she stilled again. "Yes, you witch. I believe you may have known my brother, Clay? " 

Having the heathen finally in his grasp,  a ringing in his ears began. He felt a sharp pain at his temple. Flashbacks of his father hitting him, no it was teaching him, training him for the mission. Squinting his eyes in pain, the anger hit in a flash and he used the butt of the gun to hit Scylla in the temple.

"Please…" Helen cried from the swing, remembering all too clearly what had happened after he 'comforted' her. She pleaded, "Don’t.”

Theo grinned as Scylla went limp in his arms, and he quickly used the zip ties in his coveralls to bind her hands as he had the boy’s hands a few moments ago. He put her on the ground, her back against the tree and walked back to the clearing to retrieve Porter. As he worked, he hummed a tune. He would get to kill the demon and her minions all at once.  His father would be so pleased.

***

Helen!

The thought woke Scylla up, remembering where she was. Still disoriented, she attempted to reach for the tender spot on her head but couldn't and realized her arms were tied.

It took her by surprise to see Theo. The shock of how much he resembled Clay overpowered the fact he was dragging Porter's body to the opposite side of Helen. She heard him groan.

Thank the goddess Porter was still alive. When Theo dropped him on the ground sitting up, his head bobbled around as if he was trying to wake himself up. 

"For he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer…and that one Porter is which one?"

The musician watched with her head pounding and heart racing. Was he really quizzing him?

"Come on. You got this.”

Porter mumbled something Scylla couldn’ hear but she watched as Theo’s eyes lit up as he heard his answer.

“…YES, Romans 13:4.  Good job!" 

The mechanic was entertained, smiling from ear to ear. He looked to Helen, tired and bloody and still strapped to the swing. She blinked slowly, looking back at him with disgust.

The mechanic winked back at her, still smiling. Then his eyes are drawn to the musician looking back at him. 

"Well welcome back to the world of the living, for at least a little while longer, WITCH!” 

He raised his arms, relishing his trophies that he had mounted to the tree that had held his dead brother.  

“Looks like we got the band back together!" 

“Sicko,” Scylla mumbled to the man. It was obvious that he was crazy.

“So if you're here…then your disappointment of a bodyguard should be close." 

Scylla looked down immediately for fear he would read the answers in her eyes. 

"Oooooo she is…" Theo paused mid sentence, seeing  just a trickle of blood peaking through the hair down the side of Scylla's neck. "Uh oh. Helen, how did you say it? Looks like our witch has an owie.” He frowned, mocking any sympathy one should have for another human.

"I said boo boo, maxi pad has a boo boo." Helen said with the little strength she could muster. Anything to distract him from Scylla and Porter. 

Theo rolled his eyes at  Helen and continued to speak. 

"Well witch, how many seats do I need to make? What other demons have you brought to the fight? The table is getting full, but the lord will provide!"

"What about your wickedness? You call me a witch? A demon? How many have you killed?”  The musician knew she needed to bluff, to stall for time so that the agents could find her. So that Raelle could find her. “You know you'll burn for what you have done. They know about your family." 

Theo gave Scylla a look of disbelief.  There's no way the officials knew. None of them knew. No.  No. No. The witch was lying.

The brunette could see that the news rattled him a bit. "Yes Theo, that's right. Guess what?" 

His eyes focused back to the musician.

 "I have a lighter, " she said with a smile. For all her apparent insouciance though, she was absolutely terrified. Where were the agents? Where was Raelle and her brother? As much as she hoped they’d come to rescue her and Helen, another part of her desperately wanted them to stay away and stay safe. 

The witch’s words and the fact that she didn't look away, made Theo pause. It was as if  a promise was being made.  In his frustration, he felt his father’s words guide him.

"Demon, the righteous hate what is false, but the wicked make themselves a stench and bring shame on THEMSELVES."

***

Raelle didn’t have to search for the path in the woods that connected the two clearings. The shoe prints from Scylla and Porter were clearly visible and she followed them at a quick pace. She slowed just before she reached the edge of the clearing and listened.  She heard voices and ducked behind a tree. Cautiously, she peered out around the large trunk. There she saw Porter and Scylla tied to the spooky looking tree in the clearing near the dark water of the pond.  As her eyes roamed up the tree she could see Helen attached to a swing. A man stood over Scylla, gun waving as he seemingly preached.

She took another step, her boots crunching in the snow. Looking down she spotted a trail of blood near a depression in the snow. From the footprints, it was obvious someone had been injured and fell to the ground.

Raelle inched closer, eyes back on the people in front of her. From this distance and the man’s proximity to the others, she didn’t think she’d have a clean shot. She’d need to get even closer.

***

Tally met Alder at the SUV.  She hesitated when she saw the expression on her lover’s face. 

“What is it?”

“Power’s definitely out. A tree came down on the main road and took down the line.”

At Tally’s confused expression, Alder continued. “It’s down just beyond the gate.”

“The way to the back entrance?”

“Right,” Alder confirmed. 

“Is anyone trying to get it out of the road?”

“It's live wires. Can’t do anything until the power company gets here.”

“We’ve got to get to them Sarah. I called Raelle on the radio and her cell. She’s not answering.”

“I know, Tally.  I’ve got police, EMTs, and our agents all on standby as soon as the roads clear.”

“That will take too long.”

“You got any better ideas?”

Tally did. “The side by side!”

“Do you remember the route Raelle took you on the property that day?”

Tally thought for a moment. It had been in the daylight when Raelle had shown her around the vast grounds. Now the property was dark and snow covered the ground and any familiar landmarks. Still it was the best shot they had. 

“We’ll figure it out.”

“Okay,” Alder answered, confident in the agent and her lover.

After Alder gave more directions to the other agents, she and Tally made their way back toward the maintenance building to get the other side by side.

***

Scylla watched as Theo seemed to struggle with himself. It was as if the words coming out of his mouth weren’t even his. She glanced over to see what Porter thought and that’s when she noticed the movement near the clearing. Raelle!

It was obvious that her bodyguard was trying to get to them, but the second she walked closer, she’d be exposed. If Theo turned around, he’d see her. 

From the expression on Porter’s face, it was obvious that he’d seen Realle too. 

Deciding quickly, Scylla began taunting Theo.

Atta girl , Raelle thought, hearing Scylla engage Theo.  If she and Porter could keep him distracted for just a few more seconds, she’d have a clear shot at Theo. She took another step and then another…

“Raelle!”

Tally’s voice from the radio was deafening in the clearing and Theo immediately swung around, gun raised. He fired a shot and Raelle jerked to the side,losing her footing in the snow and crashing to the ground, her gun going off.

As she got back up on her knees , ready to take a shot, she froze.  Theo had his weapon aimed right at Scylla’s forehead.

"LET HER GO!" The bodyguard yelled, assessing her chance of a kill shot, and quickly dismissing it. Scylla would be dead long before Theo if she even attempted a shot. 

"About time you made it here, bodyguard.  Aww look at that. Hey Helen, you captured that pancake holster perfectly. So tactical.”

When Helen didn’t respond, Theo took his other hand and slapped her face.  “Come on, wakey-wakey. You can’t sleep now. Not when we’re just about to have fun.”

Raelle took advantage of Theo’s split attention and raised her weapon.  Scylla stiffened at the action and it was enough to alert Theo.

The bodyguard silently cursed as the man turned to look at Raelle.

“Ha, bodyguard, did you play softball? I'm kidding. I don't care. You're a lost soul, you gave into this witch. I was praying that you would be strong, but you're weak! This demon has that effect. She bewitched you just like she did my brother."

He moved his locked eyes back at Scylla pressing the gun harder into her skull.

"...and she needs to be stopped. She will be stopped, but first, I think you’d better drop your gun and get over here where I can watch you." 

Raelle swallowed, meeting Theo’s gaze.

“Drop it, or she dies now.”

With a groan of frustration, Raelle tossed the gun away from her and watched as it landed near the treeline.

“Good. Now walk over here. Slowly.”

Raelle obeyed, despite her desire to lunge at the madman holding a gun to her lover’s head.

When Theo thought she’d gotten close enough, he told her to stop and tossed something at her feet. When it hit the ground it slid,  burrowing under some snow. 

"Pick it up detective. I wanted to say private dick…but that is too strange, like yeah. Moving on." Theo smiled, lips chapped with blood from his own mouth. Waving his gun to Rae gestured for her to hurry and pick up the item. 

"No. I'm not picking up anything. What is that?"

"Um yeah, it's marlin rope that you'll be using on those petite wrists of yours. There really needs to be only one conductor on this runaway train and that’s me."

"Well, Max…"

"Theo! You do not use that name. It's Theo."

"I'm not doing it….Theo"

The mechanic's eyebrows furrowed. Of all times for disobedience, a gun to the witches head was not a moment he would have guessed would happen. He looked towards Scylla, like a switch that flipped to the killer.  As he stared at his true target the bodyguard responded quickly. 

"WAIT, wait, wait, because marlin absorbs water and it's been in the snow. I'm sure some of it has melted." She picked up the rope and felt the moisture that had been absorbed already from wherever he had kept it. 

Raelle tossed it back at his feet and stepped backwards.  "I'm reaching for my own cuffs. They are the ziptie kind, I have no gun remember?  I tossed mine that way. These plastic cuffs are more reliable than the rope. It won't slip. Ok?" Rae had a ring that Quinn had bought her. It was a survival ring with a removable  center piece that revealed a small blade for rope and even zip ties. She hoped she’d get a chance to use it.

"Fine. Hurry up already. This game is about to start one way or another." Theo emphasized the urgency by firing a warning shot into the ground. 

The storm was slowing down and the deviants were getting too relaxed. He was the one in charge. He was on God's mission. He was in control. 

***

Byron jumped at the sound of another gunshot. At first he hadn’t been sure it was a gunshot. Earlier, the storm had been relentless, the wind strong enough to bring down a tree. There had been the sound of an explosion earlier when Raelle was in the car talking on the radio, and the night sky seemed to light up before everything went dark again.  He knew that most likely something had fallen on a power line and his suspicions were confirmed by the agent on the radio.

At first he was all too happy to stay in the car. He didn’t know what the hell to do and he knew that he was better staying out of the way of those that did. It had been a while though, several minutes, and no agents had arrived. He wrestled with himself about what he should do and then decided. He rummaged in the car, looking for some sort of weapon, but all he found was a duffle bag with a cross stamped on the front. Inside were various first aid products and a set of small tools including an ax. It was better than nothing.

 Grabbing the entire bag, Byron  stepped out of the car and listened.Thankfully the wind had died down and the storm seemed to finally be coming to an end.  All was quiet for a while and then there was the sound of another gunshot followed by what he thought might be a scream. There was a melodious quality to the sound and he took off at a run toward the sound of his sister.

***

Once Theo had everyone under his control he let his gaze rake over the witch and her minions. “Before you arrived, Helen was kind enough to tell me about the little game you played the night that my brother was murdered.”

“He killed himself,” Porter corrected.

“No, he would have never committed suicide. He knew it was a sin. Father taught us the Lord’s word from a young age.”

“He fucking shot himself,” Scylla yelled.

Theo ignored her and rummaged in the bag he’d put near the tree. He stood, a revolver similar to the one Clay had that night in his hand. With care he loaded a single bullet and spun the chamber.  “Russian roulette wasn’t it?”

When no one responded, he held the gun to Scylla’s head and shouted, “Answer me, witch.”

“Yes,” Scylla said. The gun was too much. Memories of that night began blending with the horror taking place and she shuddered as tears began streaming down her face.

“I’m not as foolish as my brother was to let you have a gun, so I’ll hold it and you demon, you will pick. Everyone will get a turn, even me. Who goes first?”

Scylla shook her head and Theo pointed the gun at Raelle.  “Choose, or I will kill her.”

“Me,” Helen groans. “I’ll go first.”

“No,” Scylla shouted.

“I’m dead anyway.” Helen said. And she knew that there was truth in those words. It didn’t matter though. Only Scylla mattered. She just needed to stall. To give Raelle a chance to save Scylla.  “I want my turn.”

Theo sighed, but turned the gun on Helen and spun the chamber. As everyone watched, breaths held,  he pulled the trigger and they heard the click clang in the air.

“Hmm demon,” Theo muttered,  “It looks like the Lord isn’t ready for you just yet.”  He turned his attention back to Scylla, brow raised in question.

When she again refused to speak, Theo turned the gun toward Porter and then back to Raelle. Finally he shrugged, spun the chamber, and aimed the gun at his own head.  An audible click filled the cold silence in the clearing.

“You're running out of options, witch.” Theo warned.

“It doesn’t matter who goes next. We’re all dead anyway,” Raelle spat.

Theo turned to Raelle and smiled. “True. The Lord has charged me with cleansing this land with your blood. Are you volunteering to go next?”

Raelle didn’t speak and Theo took that as his answer, aiming the gun at her chest.

“Just kill me and let them go,” Scylla cried out.

“Oh, I will kill you, witch, but not until you see everyone you love here die.  Their blood will coat the Earth and prepare it for you.”

Theo turned the gun on Porter and fired. When he also lived, he turned back to Helen, not bothering to spin the chamber. He shot at her and as the gun clicked he turned it at last on the bodyguard.

Scylla’s scream drowned out the sound of the gun as it clicked.

Theo grew tired of the game. He knew he should let God decide but he felt he would help the Lord along. After all, he was his sword.  He fired again at the bodyguard, and again.

From her position on the swing, Helen could see that Theo was losing it again. He was going to kill Raelle.  She could also see something that no one else did from their vantage points on the ground. Theo was so intent on playing the game, even he hadn’t noticed that Byron had arrived in the clearing and had picked up Raelle’s gun. He just needed time to get close enough to shoot.  She’d buy him that time. 

Though the movements felt slow and clumsy and she ached all over, Helen willed herself to shift on the swing, forcing it to move. As Theo fired again and again at Raelle, Helen swung her legs out, hitting Theo in the back and knocking him off balance. 

Two shots rang out and Scylla screamed as crimson bloomed on Raelle’s chest. She fell back with a cry and only a second later Theo stumbled back, dropping the now empty gun. 

Byron stepped forward, panicked, and fired again. The madman fell back in the snow and didn’t move. As the artist watched, blood pooled out from under his body like an angel’s wings.

“Help,” Raelle croaked from her position and Byron dropped the gun and picked up the bag he’d put at the edge of the clearing. He ran over to her, assessing the damage. He was so intent on performing first aid, he didn’t hear the sound of the side by side as it crashed through the woods.

The agents jumped off of the side by side and freed Scylla and Porter. 

Tally stood over Porter, checking his head, but he shook it furiously.  “Helen.”

After she was sure Porter’s wounds were superficial, Tally nodded and walked over to Alder who was struggling with Helen’s bulk.  After knocking Theo over, the groundskeeper had lost consciousness.  Together and with Porter’s help they managed to get her on the ground and began rendering first aid.

“Raelle,” Scylla shouted and ran toward the blonde the second she was free. She reached her brother and the bodyguard and fell to her knees in the snow. Her hand reached for Raelle’s. It was so cold.

Byron’s hands were covered and blood as he fought to control her bleeding. He looked up, his eyes meeting Scylla’s concerned cerulean gaze.  

“What can I do?”

“Put pressure here,” Byron said, indicating the wound. “I’ll get more gauze.”

“Scyl?” Raelle groaned. 

“I’m here. I’m okay.” Scylla said, pressing her hand to Raelle’s chest.

“Theo?” Raelle croaked.

“Dead. We’re safe.”

Raelle nodded, “Love you.”

“I love you, too,” Scylla said. 

Raelle’s pale ice blue eyes seemed to dim and she closed them. 

“Stay with me, Rae.” Scylla shouted.

Byron had to force her to move as he returned with more gauze.

As she watched her brother working on the love of her life, she looked up and saw Porter taking turns with the agents to give Helen CPR.

Everywhere she looked, blood stained the snow. The tree loomed over them, its branches reaching toward the sky and the pond was still and black. She felt herself begin to slip, to faint as the moment overwhelmed her, but she felt her hand being squeezed and she met Raelle’s icy blue gaze.

Scylla squeezed her hand and tried to smile. “I’m okay. You’re okay. Help’s on the way.”

The musician prayed she was telling her lover the truth. There was just so much blood. She looked back up toward the treeline. Where the hell were the EMTs?

Raelle nodded and closed her eyes again. Even in the cold, she felt a sense of warmth. There was no more pain. Scylla was safe and Theo was no longer a threat. Her job was done. She could finally rest now.

 

Chapter Text

…Flatline, no vitals…

The words shouted between the paramedics echoed over and over again in Scylla’s head as Porter drove at breakneck speed following the ambulance.

“She’ll be okay,” her friend said, trying to give them both comfort as he reluctantly broke away from the ambulance to find parking at the hospital. 

“I should have gone in the ambulance with her,” Scylla said.

Porter shook his head, “Tally is FBI, they’re more likely to give her information, let her know what’s going on even though she’s not family.”

Scylla put a hand to her mouth, Raelle’s drying blood smearing on her cheek, “oh Goddess Porter, Edwin.”

“We can call him as soon as we get inside and know what’s actually going on.”

The doors of the hospital parted to admit them, Scylla made a beeline for the redhead standing in one corner of the ER waiting room.

“Well? How is she?” Scylla demanded.

Tally met Scylla’s gaze evenly, “They lost her for a bit, but they were able to get her back. She’s still in surgery.”

Lost her? How could they have… And then the phrasing made sense to her and she understood what Tally said. Raelle had died and they managed to bring her back. Could it have happened that quickly? One minute the woman she loved was there, alive, and the next she was gone? She had…Scylla began to tremble and Tally pulled her into her arms.

“She's a tough cookie, Scylla. She literally died and came back for you. She’ll certainly fight to keep living for you.”

Scylla began sobbing on the redhead’s shoulder and Tally held her tight, hands lightly stroking her back. As Porter approached them, Tally gave him a look and he reached for Scylla’s arm.

Reluctantly, Scylla broke away from the comfort her loves best friend had offered and looked at Porter. 

“Quinn’s driving them to the airfield and they’ll fly out as soon as the plane can get off the ground. Edwin wanted you to know he’ll call the hospital and tell them to make sure you can get access to what’s going on with Rae.”

Scylla nodded to her childhood friend with a smile of sadness but appreciation. With that news, Tally directed them to a row of chairs against one wall. By this point, exhaustion was setting in for everyone.  

They waited for what seemed like forever until at last a short dark skinned woman walked out and after talking to a person at the desk came over to them. 

“Miss Ramshorn?” Agent Craven?” The woman took a seat across from them after they both nodded and began to speak.  A lot of it made no sense to Scylla, it was mostly medical jargon but the important parts she understood. 

Raelle was alive. Yes, they were still cautious, but the surgeon was optimistic. 

No, they couldn’t see Raelle yet, but they could visit in the morning if she remained stable throughout the night.

Dawn arrived, and  so did everyone else. Alder brought Byron after the FBI wrapped up what was essentially a crime scene. Quinn and Edwin finally arrived at the hospital after flight delays related to the weather in WV.  Izadora and Glory arrived last, ready to support Scylla. Quietly, they were all moved to a private waiting area by the hospital brass as the rumors had already spread like wildfire that the famous musician was at the hospital. 

The news channels broadcasted the story about a shooting at the Ramshorn estate and the death of a longtime friend and employee of the musician.  Izadora gently suggested that Scylla would need to make a statement to calm her fans.

“Just turn it off,” Scylla grumbled and Izadora reached for the remote. As the television went dark, there was a collective sigh of relief.

“It’s almost ten,” Edwin said, peering at the pocket watch Raelle had given him several birthdays ago. “Why haven’t they come to take us to see her?”

Quinn shook her head and squeezed Edwin’s shoulder. She’d spent some time talking to the petite surgeon and she knew Raelle had a long way to go to being well. 

“Sometimes no news is good news, Edwin.”

In a corner of the room Alder and Tally whispered quietly to each other and after Scylla catching them sneaking glances her way, she turned to them. 

“What is it?” She asked.

Alder shook her head, “I can’t really comment on an ongoing investigation.”

A high pitched laugh emanated from Byron and Porter squeezed his hand. “What ongoing investigation? Theodore Hearst is dead. The end, right? He even admitted to killing those girls, to taunting Scylla.”

Alder only frowned at the man, but Tally shook her head. “Sarah, they have to be told at some point. Might as well do it now.”

The older agent’s frown deepened but after a moment she shrugged.

“You know that forensics found a partial print belonging to Miss Graves on one of the dolls.”

Scylla blanched, vividly seeing her old friend dead at the pond. “She wasn’t the killer, she was a victim.”

“True, she was not the person who committed the murders, but she was the person who sent you the dolls.”

Scylla shook her head in confusion. “What are you talking about?”

“Mr Hearst sent you a few letters and the package at the hotel, but he wasn’t the only one taunting you. We found a small room beneath one of the hothouses. Miss Graves had converted it into a workroom. We found the materials needed to make the notes and the dolls there. We even found a partially completed doll.”

Scylla’s mouth worked but no sound came out. Eventually Quinn, who had been listening to the conversation, spoke up.

“Why would this Helen girl do that?”

“Because she always wanted you, Scyl. And she couldn’t have you.” Byron answered.

“We believe that Mr. Hearst caught Helen by surprise and she didn’t have the opportunity to hide things away and lock up.We also found a journal that matches Mr.  Ramshorn’s hypothesis.”

Scylla shook her head, a part of her still refusing to believe that  someone she’d made a part of her family could do such terrible things.

“It doesn’t matter,” Scylla finally whispered. “She was family.” 

The musician looked up at the agent and spoke firmly,  “She didn’t deserve to die and she doesn’t deserve to have her name destroyed.”

Alder pursed her lips but after a moment nodded. “Agreed.”

It was another hour before the petite physician entered the waiting room to speak with them about Raelle’s condition. After a short conversation they were allowed to go in two by two for a few minutes each to see the blonde.

Scylla stepped back to allow Quinn to go in with Edwin and was surprised when the older woman didn’t move forward and gave the musician a ‘go on’ gesture.

Quinn scoffed, “You helped save her life. Go see her.”

Scylla could only nod, the tears already falling from her eyes.

Quinn stood at the door for another moment and then returned to the waiting room chairs. She took a seat by Byron and Porter and gave them a nod.

“You boys did good, too. From what I was told, that first aid you did on the scene really gave her a fighting chance.” Quinn turned her gaze on Byron and patted his knee. “And you did some fine shooting for someone who doesn’t like guns.”

Byron blushed and Porter squeezed his boyfriend’s hand.

“Will she be okay, now?” Byron asked.

“She’s tough,” Quinn answered. “I think she’ll be just fine.

***

Epilogue

There was champagne, of course, and there was also homemade brandy. Quinn had made a batch special just for the occasion.  It was a bit strong for Scylla, but both Byron and Porter sported tumblers of the pungent drink as they talked easily in lounge chairs on the other side of the fire pit. 

Beside her, Raelle was sticking to the champagne. The blonde looked good, a bit thin still, but her color was back to normal and she was beginning to regain some of the definition that she’d lost. She certainly looked a world different than she did when she’d still been recovering from the gunshot wound.

Raelle felt her lover’s gaze and looked up to see Scylla’s eyes on her but the musician looked like she was seeing something far away.  The blonde reached over and squeezed her hand.

Scylla met Raelle’s eyes, startled from being lost in the memories of Raelle and her recovery. She returned her lover’s smile and looked down to where Raelle had squeezed her hand. She moved hers, lacing their fingers together, the diamond ring she wore winking in the dancing fire. 

“You okay?”  Raelle asked, leaning over, her warm breath teasing Scylla’s ear in the cool spring air.

Scylla smiled and turned her head to look at the blonde. 

“Never better,” she murmured, leaning in and gently kissing Raelle.

“Hey,” Quinn shouted from her nearby lawn chair, “save that for the ceremony.”

Beside the older woman Edwin watched the couple, a grin on his face. He’d cried when Raelle had told him that she intended to propose to Scylla over the New Year’s holiday and she cried when he gave her the engagement ring he’d given her mama and told her to use it if she thought it would be good enough. Raelle had told him that it was more than good enough, it represented the greatest love story she’d ever known besides her own. Seeing the simple ring on the brunette’s hand filled his heart with a happiness he hadn’t felt since his wife had passed on.

Porter and Byron, who had also been sneaking a kiss in the firelight, broke apart grinning sheepishly and turned to watch as Raelle and Scylla continued to kiss, oblivious to everyone else but themselves.

“Leave ‘em be, Quinn.” 

The older woman snorted but she was smiling and she relaxed back in her chair, sipping her drink.

“Willa would have liked her, I think.”

Edwin nodded, “Yes, I think she would. The love they have for each other comes natural, organic. It’s an old love, transcending life and death itself.” 

“Almost as if their souls already knew one another.” Quinn murmured. 

Raelle and Scylla finally came up for air and when the blonde saw that everyone was watching she blushed.

“Practicing for tomorrow?” Porter teased.

“Yeah,” Raelle answered, shifting in her lounge chair. “Are you ready to be the best man?”

Porter grinned, “You know I’m here for you.”

“Oh, so you’re here for my pleasure now?” Raelle said with a grin, echoing the words Porter had spoken to her a long time ago.  

"Omg.” Porter answered, blushing furiously.  He glanced over at his boyfriend, but Byron was engrossed in a conversation about bluegrass with Tally and Abigail who had flown in for the wedding. 

“I'm sorry for being such an alpha male. You were such an intimidating figure. Like when I was saying it, I was even calling bullshit on myself.  But I still wasn't comfortable claiming the real me when you first showed up. I felt like I was being replaced. It was a jerk move.”

Raelle nodded and smiled, “It’s okay, I get it, and I can’t wait to have you by my side tomorrow.”

Porter smiled. “I’m so glad you two are going to be married.”

“You’ll hold the fort down while I’m on the honeymoon?”

Porter nodded, “Yeah, everything’s mostly in place at the office and I’ll work on interviewing staff and looking at job proposals while you’re gone.”

Raelle nodded. After Scylla announced she was taking an indefinite leave of absence from the music business, Raelle decided to trade in being a bodyguard for being a security consultant and training others. She’d asked Porter to join her and they’d opened the business only a couple of months ago in WV close to where Scylla would finally be putting her degrees to use and adjunct teaching at WVU.

Scylla leaned over and smiled at her friend, “What are you two going on about?”

“Just some shopkeeping,” Raelle said.

Scylla sighed and met Porter’s eyes, “Don’t you have better things to do? Like proposing to my brother?”

Porter blushed again and Raelle laughed. It was quickly followed by a yawn and Scylla squeezed her hand. 

“Ready for bed?”

“Yeah, it’s getting late and we’ve got an early day tomorrow.”

Raelle and Scylla said their goodnights to the group at the fire and started to head back toward the house.

“Don’t ya’ll forget, you’re sleeping in separate rooms tonight.” Quinn yelled out. “It’s bad luck for the brides to see one another right before the wedding.”

As they moved away from the fire and reached the house, Scylla looked up into her lover’s eyes.

“We aren’t really going to sleep in separate rooms tonight, are we?”

Raelle shook her head, “We’ll let Quinn think she’s getting her way and I’ll sneak upstairs later.”

“Good,” Scylla answered. “Because I don’t ever want to be apart from you again. Like ever.”

“Never again,” Raelle agreed and leaned forward to kiss Scylla goodnight