A Length of Joy

Copyrighted © 2004 All Rights Reserved
By B. S. Raven



Disclaimers:

Love/Sex: This story features strong consensual relationship between adult women, and some inferred m/m relations. It also has scenes of f/m relations. Love is love, no matter where or with whom it is found. So, if this bothers you, is illegal in the State, Province or Country you live, or if you are under the age of 18, please find something else to read. There are many general stories out there more acceptable for you.

Language: Yes, it has some harsh and strong language depicting certain subject matter is utilized to employ and set the tone and behavior of specific circumstances in the story, as well as some general overall characterizations. I have tried to keep the profanity down, but sometimes, well… it seemed appropriate for the characters.

Violence: There are brief depictions of disasters, references to hostility and both mental and physical violence in this story.

Hurt/Comfort: There is definitely some hurt/emotional discomfort in this story, with scenes of angst, treachery, deceit, betrayal and heartache to be dealt with by the characters. This is not a story of all fluff. Living just isn’t that way in real life. However, if you can wade through the uncomfortable scenes, you will find a deep, timeless love come into fruition, and I assure you, it does have a very, happy, happy ending.

Dedication: This story is for Sylvie. Without your suggestions, prodding and extremely valuable opinions, I would never have attempted to finished this story. I am eternally grateful for you and your advice. Thank you for the French used in the story also.

Special Dedication: To Helen, and Anna, without whose help this story and all my other stories would never have reached this stage. You both have my gratitude forever.

Acknowledgement: Maria, thank you for the Spanish used in the story.

Other Acknowledgments: Wish to thank Denise Virtue for her remarks and use of an idea from her 'Corporate Raider'. Many thanks go to Christine Toup (Roo), for her numerous suggestions and the heart to hearts on the story line, and the support. You are and will always be cherished my friend.

Special Acknowledgement: Chamber of Commerce, Anastasia, St. Augustine, Pet-In-Need, Our Creek, and Soulmates- Spirituality, and Grand Master Oran Osakawi for use of his site and all Aikido movements, descriptions and functions.

SPECIAL ACKNOWLEDGEMENT AND DEDICATION: To Helen, Anna and especially Norma for their beta reading, many suggestions, critique, review and head banging on the story line. Ladies, you all are deeply appreciated. Words can’t properly express my gratitude, but my deepest thanks. Much thanks also go to Nancy, Ruth, Mary, Patricia, Anne, Kiley, Tene for their efforts and input, and to a certain contributor who wishes to remain anonymous.

Copyright: This material is copyrighted with all rights reserved. For your reading pleasure only, and please, do not reproduce in any form without permission.

Further, this is a fiction story, and any resemblance's to any person living or dead is purely coincidental. Some of the areas mentioned in this story are real, but may not be exactly as depicted in the story.

FEEDBACK: Comments are appreciated. All feedback will be answered, whether it is nice or not; just make it constructive and I will be happy to respond to any criticisms: bsraven2000@yahoo.com




A Length of Joy

Copyrighted © 2004 All Rights Reserved
By B. S. Raven


Chapter One

A gunshot rang out, making the dark-haired photographer flinch as another native fell to the ground. Perspiration trickled down her forehead and into her eyes. Raven took the tip of her shirt collar and wiped the sweat from her eyes so she could see through the viewfinder. Her hands trembled as she focused the 150mm telephoto lens through the dense jungle foliage onto the laughing gunman, who stood fifty yards away. He poked the rifle barrel into the downed Indian several times. Then he and another armed guard unceremoniously dragged the dead hunter to the edge of the jungle and heaved him into a clump of undergrowth. They returned to their assigned guard stations without a backward glance at the now lifeless Indian… after all, each kill was worth fifty dollars and there were many curious natives nosing around.

For the last four hours, Ute, her Amazon Indian guide had skillfully evaded the armed patrols, as she photographed three areas of the illegal, murderous activities of the greedy lumber conglomerate harvesting the timber. It was a very lucrative business, highly prohibited in this area, and the mandatory prison term if caught, was twenty years.

Raven rapidly put the camera back up to her eye, and zoomed in on the face of the guard who had pulled the trigger. There was nothing she or Ute could do to stop the assassination, but the photographic evidence might bring the killers and the connection behind them to justice. Her efforts might even stop the destruction of the mighty rain forest she had come to appreciate the half dozen times she had visited it in the past eight years.

A blowgun touched her arm and she glanced towards Ute, who motioned for her to be still and silent. Quickly, he reached down six inches from her bare leg, and with a snap of his wrist, flicked a venomous snake a few yards into the undergrowth away from her.

“Damn! I hate snakes,” the tall beautiful, woman voiced in a low whisper.

Ute touched her arm again. This time he motioned to the jungle area directly behind her then signaled with his hand for her to keep low and follow him in the direction he had tossed the discarded reptile.

Her questioning stare at the retreating native was immediately answered when she heard the hacking of a machete in the jungle to the rear of them. The guards were enlarging their watch area, and being caught was not an option. She had seen three tribesmen executed today for just being in the area. For her, it would mean torture, probably rape, and eventually, a brutal death.

She moved as quietly as she could in the direction Ute had taken. Geesh! He would pick the same vicinity he threw that viper, she thought. A fearful expression filled her eyes as she glanced down to try and spot any slithering movement.

CRACK. Her foot came down on a decaying branch and she whipped her head around immediately to see if the patrol had heard the sound.

Ute took hold of her shirtsleeve and pulled her into the undergrowth of the forest…snake or no snake, he wasn’t giving her time to linger or look for movement on the ground. The hacking of the machetes was getting closer, and Ute wanted them out of the area before he released his hold on her sleeve. Five minutes later, he let go of her sleeve and again signaled for her to stay close behind him as he lead them quickly away from the danger.

*****


Raven Longgear stood two inches short of 6’ tall, with dark brown hair and hypnotic, midnight- blue eyes. Raven was sure of herself and her abilities and was very aware of the effect her presence had upon people.

At thirty-four, she didn’t have to prove herself personally or professionally. She had won a Pulitzer Prize for Photojournalism for her coverage of starving Ethiopian children and had been awarded the Freedom of Merit Medal by the President for Photojournalism for her Colombian drug expose. She had a dozen other awards which were displayed unpretentiously in the study of her Florida home. Now, she was one of the most sought- after international photographers. She had more magazine covers to her credit than the next five world-recognized photographers combined. It had been several years since she became fed up with photographing snooty celebrities for national magazines, and refused to do that particular photo assignment. She loved nothing better than to photograph scenic, nature, birds, animals, or human-interest stories all over the world, and had a great eye when it came to natural disasters. She took the chances…She got the right shots!

As she continued through the dense forest, Raven’s mind wandered to thoughts of her former lover, Clarea Relucante. Clarea would have loved to be with me in this amazing jungle. She would have loved the way Ute and his family teases and treats me. I miss her, she mused as she once again reached out to remove a thorny vine from her arm as she tried desperately to keep up with Ute.

Strange that Clarea should come into my thoughts right now. She shook her head Maybe I have been alone too long. It has been almost five years now since her death. She hadn’t thought of Clarea on a recurring basis in months now. Maybe, just maybe, it is time for me to move on and start thinking seriously about someone…. but, hell, there isn’t anyone in my life right now…and no one peeking up on the horizon either. At least none I’d give serious consideration. The tall, attractive woman wasn’t into casual flings. She once more shook her head at that thought and moved on through the dense jungle.

The rain started again, covering the forest like a drenching blanket. After almost an hour of jungle undergrowth, with vines tearing at her arms and head, Ute finally stopped for a short break, as he observed the surrounding area. Raven also surveyed the area. She looked for any slithering movement before she sat down, and leaned back against a fallen log. She took out her canteen and drank deeply, then offered it to Ute who took only a swallow or two before returning it to her.

Her eyes acted as a camera as she viewed the surrounding area. Life thrives among the trees, she thought, This is what I should be photographing, not murders and the raping of this beautiful forest. She watched as birds of all kinds flickered from limb to limb, with exotic parrots of every species squawking their unusual cry in the surrounding flora. A wide variety of monkeys, ground animals, such as anteaters, and various predators scurried around in the nearby underbrush. The insects seemed to embrace the wetness of the rainforest. When she breathed, gnats frequently swarmed up her nostrils, and the mosquitoes…well, they were everywhere in swarms and they loved her perspiration covered skin. Then there were the creepy, crawling reptiles slinking every few feet in the undergrowth, she mused. “Ugh! I really hate snakes!” she murmured to herself, shaking her head and glancing from side to side again.

Gaze around you, Raven. Just about everything in this area is green. A freshwater creek rushes past, almost soothing, but deceptive looking, as well. There were probably piranhas in there, as Ute had cautioned her to avoid the stream. The enormous trees seemed to hold up the sky itself. The umbrella of the magnificent foliage and hundreds of years of growth prevented any gulps of fresh air from penetrating the moist and musky-smelling foliage. Breathing the humid air became second nature after a few weeks in this damp, dense and muggy jungle floor. Yet, with all the possible dangers at every step, Raven found a sense of tranquility here in the tropical rain forest called… the Amazon Jungle. “I really love this place,” she spoke softly. Ute signaled acknowledgement with a slow nod of his head.

However, the scene didn’t make her forget the tragedies she had witnessed this past month. Now, it was time to take her cameras, her nightly developed negatives and get her butt back to civilization. She would expose the rape of the rainforest, and the murders, as well as the families, must be avenged. They must be provided for by those to blame. These photos will make a lot of people unhappy, but the authorities should have no difficulty in bringing those responsible to justice.

Her combination photo shoot-fishing trip to visit her longtime friend Ute and his family had turned into a real nightmare. She would return another time…a more pleasant time. A time in which they could do the fish and she could photograph the Indians and the wildlife she so dearly loved.

*****


Home was Anastasia Island, in a secluded beach house off of old Route One, only eight miles from St. Augustine, the oldest city in Florida. Her personally designed house was located on property fronted by ocean on the East, dunes on the north and south, and three hundred feet west of Route One. She had friends up and down the coast, but she also valued her privacy.

Raven’s skills and dedication to her work made her one of the most sought after nature/still life photographers around the world. It seemed everyone wanted her to photograph his or her nature scenes or special events. Her fees, terms or conditions were never questioned.

Besides being a baseball fan, Raven was an avid Jacksonville Jaguars football fan. She sat in the sports announcer’s box for each game with friend and sports writer, Rex Marston. She was a frequent guest at the home of Rex and Carl Wareham, partners for over ten years. Both Rex and Carl finally gave up match making for her after two years of trying to get her to settle down with someone again.

Six or seven years ago, at Clarea’s encouragement, she had started teaching photojournalism at the local University. Add fishing, and sailing to her globe trotting photography and it provided the onlooker with a basic idea of Raven’s somewhat busy, but straightforward life.

“I never get tired of this view,” Raven stated out loud, as she stood on the screened-in back porch of her freshly painted seashore home. “Man, listen to that incoming surf pounding the beach. Maybe I should grab my gear and go surf fishing for a couple of hours.” She finished her glass of lemonade, and gave the fishing some serious thought before shaking her head, deciding she needed to finish printing the jungle photographs and get those out of the way and off to her agent. Besides, I need to be in Jacksonville by dark, if I am going to go with Rex to the baseball game, she thought as she walked through the house to her darkroom. It was her personally designed and equipped haven where she had done some of her best developing and printing.

The doorbell chimed just as Raven stepped into her darkroom. “Doggone it! Who can that be?” Hurrying to the door, she jerked it open, a bit miffed. She was caught off guard as a covered pitcher was shoved into her face.

“Welcome home, Raven. Thought you might like a decanter of my homemade lemonade that you like so much,” came a high seductive voice from behind the jug. She smiled at her friend, Professor Latvia Latzie, Naturalist, and Ecology professor at Fulton University in St. Augustine.

Raven had not only contracted for lectures at Fulton University for the Journalism Department but, occasionally, she presented special photo slide shows and exhibits for Latvia in her classes and department. Although Latvia would like their camaraderie to become more, she had somewhat accepted that Raven wasn’t interested in anything more than a platonic relationship.

“Yeah, I can always handle a glass of your lemonade, Latvia,” she replied opening the screen door wider and motioning the attractive redhead inside. Upon doing so, she found herself being embraced by the one free arm of the provocative professor.

“Good to see you again, and thanks for the carafe. I will enjoy it, as always.”

“You’re welcome. Let me get some ice for this lemonade, and then you can fill me in on your trip to Brazil, and that forest you love to photograph.”

Raven caught the stunning woman by the arm, “I’m afraid I only have time for the drink. The update will have to wait until another time, Latvia. I have an appointment already, and I must finish the printing of the last batch of negatives before I go. Sorry.”

“Hey, that’s okay. Tell you what, how about I fix the lemonade, and you can bring me up to date in the darkroom while you work?” The woman asked anxiously. She always enjoyed being close to the tall woman, and she knew she would be standing side by side with her in the dark space. I haven’t given up on you, Raven. One day, my beauty, there will be an us, the attractive professor’s cat-like smile filled her face from ear to ear.

“Sure. That’ll work. I’ll get the developer and stop-bath ready while you fill the glasses.”

“You’re on, Gorgeous,” laughed the redheaded lecturer as she made her way to the kitchen and Raven disappeared into her darkroom.

*****


The young fair-haired woman ran silently in the dark to the side of the abandoned warehouse holding her gun in front of her with both hands. She squatted down in the snow and leaned over to get a quick look around the corner of the warehouse, where she caught a glimpse of her target darting into the building.

“How did I let myself be get talked into a case like this after five years in crisis negotiating?” the murmured question wasn’t answered by the young woman as she jumped up and sprinted toward the debris to the right of the entryway. I hope my partner has made his way in through the back of this place, she thought to herself as she pointed the semi-automatic towards the door which was hanging by only one old, worn hinge.

“CUT! That’s a wrap. Print it. Absolutely, outstanding work everyone,” expressed the director as the lights lit up the location set. “All of you have a nice Sunday off, but make sure you are back on this set at 5 a.m. on Monday morning. I want to complete the second part of this story by next Thursday, so we can all have a long four day holiday weekend,” he stated authoritatively.

“Thanks, Justin. That four-day weekend will be wonderful after these last four months of shooting six days a week, twelve-to-fourteen hours a day. I can say I will miss this series after next month, but certainly not the drain it puts on me, and everyone else as far as that goes.” The young actress laughed good-naturedly.

“Joanna, you and all the crew have made these last six years of ‘Crisis Negotiator’ an absolute pleasure to direct. Hon, your dedication to this role has made it one of the top ten favored shows all six seasons, and I will certainly miss being involved with this production as well,” came the sincere, appreciative response. “You want us to wait for you for dinner? How about Italian tonight?”

“Thanks, Justin. But the credit belongs to you, the rest of the cast and our fantastic crew. And, if you don’t mind, I think I will just pick up some Chinese on the way home. Please tell the gang I’m bushed. It has been a very long and tiring day. Getting wet from the rain, then the sleet, plus the snow, has me chilled to the bone. You made us do that last scene over so many times, my butt is dragging, ” Joanna replied as she headed toward the wardrobe trailer. She would welcome getting out of the attire, and the makeup. She looked forward to a nice long bubble bath in her rented, brownstone house in Ontario, where she lived for most of the year while filming the series. I’ve got to rest. I’m near exhaustion, but in four more weeks, she thought to herself, I can take that six months vacation I promised myself before I go to work on finishing the musical…. Shoot, I don’t even want to think about that right now.

“Okay, kiddo. You relax and put your feet up, I’ll tell the squad you’re DONE IN,” called the director, waving to her and then heading to join the cast and crew for their usual Saturday night feast.

It was a close-knit group, with mutual respect gained after many long months of filming sessions in Canada, and, to them, Joanna was just another accepted member of their close knit group, not some super-star even though she had certainly achieved that success. She seemed to strive twice as hard as any of them, but always gave them credit for the series being so successful. She had earned not only two Emmys for the show, a Golden Globe, and a coveted Actors Choice Award, but the respect of her peers, a number of whom had numerous Emmys themselves. Tonight, several others had decided they were too exhausted to join the group for dinner, as well. The prolonged shooting in the icy weather had over half the crew heading home for the few hours of much needed rest before the grueling schedule started all over again.

*****


In the bedroom, Joanna removed her clothes, methodically folding them before stacking them on the already mountainous heap to go to the cleaners. She slipped on a warm terry cloth robe and returned slowly to the living room, before she sat down cross-legged on the throw rug in front of the fire. She opened the shrimp fried rice, Chinese stir fried vegetables and took a large bite out of one of the shrimp egg rolls as she gazed into the gas log flames. “Never thought I’d turn up my nose at food, but I don’t think I can eat this,” she exhaled gradually as she stood up, and gathered the three boxes of carry-out food. “I’ll have this for breakfast,” she muttered as she placed the containers in the refrigerator and walked to the bathroom.

She removed the robe and placed it on the hook on the door, and turned on the bath water. After pouring in her favorite bubble bath, she retrieved a magazine from the living room and returned to her bath. She loosed her hair from the French braid and brushed it her normal hundred strokes. Turning off the steaming water, she stopped to look at her reflection in the full-length mirror next to the tub. She flipped her long hair back over her shoulder to give her mirror-image a fast once over, “You are getting a bit round in the wrong places, girl, and that won’t do. Guess I need to get in several more kick-boxing practices a week. I don’t think the Tai Chi is enough exercise to keep me trim,” she made a mental note as she stepped into the tub.

She sank into the hot bubble bath, exhaling a long breath of pleasure as the water surrounded her body and tingled her skin slightly. She closed her eyes and relaxed a few minutes before she reached over to pick up the Life magazine she had purchased on the way home. The face of the Amazon native on the cover immediately mesmerized her. After studying it for several moments, she turned to the photo coverage of the story and read the detailed captions under each photograph that covered five pages of the world-renowned magazine.

Her eyes became larger and more intense as she gazed on the last page of the series at the self-portrait of the photographer who had shot the comprehensive and meticulous coverage of the gripping event. Her heart leaped in her chest and was doing double time, as the midnight blue eyes of the attractive woman in the photo seemed to stare back at her. The young blonde had difficulty focusing on the bio of the photographer, as she was drawn back to the eyes over and over again. The photograph overwhelmed her. The eyes seemed so familiar, although she was sure she had never met the woman.

Suddenly, tears started streaming down her face. Unable to look up, or to see anything on the pages for the tears that filled her eyes, she stood up in the tub with her head down, smoothing out the pages with shaking hands, and quickly stepped out of the warm water.

Joanna looked up, blinking away the tears that saturated the ends of her long lashes, and wondered why she was experiencing such intense emotions. After drying off quickly and pulling on her robe once more, she picked up the magazine and found herself sitting on the bed looking at the photo of the woman who, for some reason had affected her so profoundly. “What is this? What is going on with me? What is this feeling and who is this woman?” The young actress questioned the silent bedroom.

After lying on the bed with the magazine open and held tightly to her chest for several hours, almost in an almost trance like state, she finally turned over, picked up her phone and dialed Betina Maxwell, her agent.

“Betina, I’ve found the photographer I want to shoot those four magazine covers you have me contracted to do,” she declared fervently, “Her name is Raven Longgear, and she has a full spread in Life magazine this month.”

“Joanna, darling, do you realize it’s two o’clock in the morning. Couldn’t this wait until later today? Besides that, Joanna, the magazines have their own photographers for you to choose from,” the sleepy agent responded.

“Listen carefully, Betina, its Raven Longgear, OR NO COVERS. Do you understand?” The young actress stated in a stern, unyielding voice.

“But...But Joanna,”

“NO! No Betina, I said it is going to be Raven Longgear, or no one. Did I not make myself clear? Say it Betina. Say you heard what I am saying, and that you understand me!”

“I heard you… and I completely comprehend your statement, darling. But you have to realize we have already signed those contracts, Joanna, and I don’t know if they will accept a change in photographers, or not. I will contact them on Monday.”

“Isn’t Life one of the covers, Betina?”

“Yes.”

“Well, Raven Longgear has a list of awards in her bio, and she did the feature layout in this month’s Life. I’m sure everyone will be happy with my selection. Isn’t that one of the terms of my contract, I have final selection for the makeup, layout, site and the photographer?”

“Yes, of course, Joanna, it is. I’ll check this out, and get back to you. Now go back to sleep and get some rest, darling. This is your only day off.”

“Thank you, Betina. I don’t want to go into why this is so important to me, but please believe me...it must be this photographer. Let me know by the first of the week about this. The shooting schedule is the next long weekend if I finish here on time. Goodnight, my friend and sleep well.”

“Night, Joanna.”

*****


“There is no way on earth that Raven will agree to do a layout for any actress or actor. You know that as well as I do. She is firm…no, she is explicit in her decision on that issue, Geneva!”

“But Margaret, shooting these covers is too good an opportunity for her. You at least have to present it to her, don’t you think?”

“Look, you’re her book publisher, I’m only her agent. I think she would listen to you more readily then she would me. Hell, Geneva, I wouldn’t even be able to get her on a flight if she knew the contract was for photographing an actress. I don’t care if it was a hundred covers. Not only that, she would fire me as…well, she would terminate me before you or I could blink. I have worked very hard for ten years now to be a good agent for her. She trusts me and I know what assignments she will accept and I’ve found out the hard way which ones not to offer her.”

“You call her, arrange the flight, and tell her I have a priority deal for her that I have to discuss with her, personally. I’ll handle this one, and you owe me big time for this Ms. MacPager. This proposed assignment came directly from the magazines. Joanna Stern has been adamant that she will only allow Raven to be her photographer. Otherwise, she will not honor the contracts. The magazines know Raven’s stand on this type of assignment, so they are willing to sweeten the pot, not only with an outrageous fee, but with four additional assignments that Raven would snap up in a heartbeat, I’m sure.”

“Okay, but you make sure you take the heat when you drop this bomb on her.”

“Fine, I accept full responsibility and clear you of any part in this. Now call her and get her up here by Thursday. The studio will supply the drops and sets and Joanna is scheduled to be there at 9 a.m. on Friday morning.”

“She won’t do it, but I’ll call her later today. She is lecturing this morning and you know she won’t carry a cell phone.”

“All right, call Judy, my personal assistant with the flight number and time and I’ll have her picked up at the airport.”

“Consider it done. And, Geneva, I’ll send up some good thoughts for you.” The agent said seriously.

“Good, I believe I’ll need all the help I can get on this one,” rasped the reply.

Three days later, Raven was on a flight out of Jacksonville to New York, non-stop. The first class aisle seat certainly gave her not only more leg room, but also allowed her a clear view of the flight attendants preparing the drinks. Raven enjoyed the view and liked to tease the attendants with her eyes. She had taken this flight regularly and knew most of them by name. She had even spent a couple months off and on dating the slim brunette who was handing her a cup of hot tea, but there had been no chemistry between them. The brunette had wanted a commitment, which Raven could not, or would not offer. They had remained casual friends over the past couple of years, however.

“Do you want anything else, Raven? We have some nice hot croissants,” the slim woman purred.

“No, thanks, Kimmy, I ate a large breakfast before I left St. Augustine. Are we on time?”

“Actually, we have heavy tailwinds and will arrive about ten minutes early. Just nod if you need anything Raven,” the chief attendant leaned down and whispered in the tall woman’s ear, “Anything at all.”

The tall woman smiled and returned an understanding nod. Don’t even think about it, old girl. It didn’t work the last time and it wouldn’t work now! The photographer shook her head a few times at that thought and reached for the hot tea. Wonder what Geneva has up her sleeve. My last photograph book has only been out four months, so it can’t be another book. Oh, well, I’ll find out in a couple of hours.

As predicted, the flight landed at Kennedy ten minutes ahead of schedule. The tall dark-haired woman pulled the camera case and carry-on luggage cart behind her as she exited the gateway and saw her publisher’s personal assistant, Judy Holdis, excitedly waving to her from the roped-off area. Raven smiled and greeted the slightly pudgy woman with a sincere smile and a gentle hug.

“I have the limo, and I am supposed to take you directly to the office for your meeting with Mrs. Foresiggnat, and then to your hotel. The limo and I will be at your disposal for the next four days, Ms. Longgear.”

“Judy, call me Raven. After all, we have known each other for what, the last seven years, and I think, by now, we can dispense with the last names. Unless you prefer for me to address you as Ms. Holdis?”

“Raven it is in private then, but in Mrs. Foresiggnat’s presence, I have been instructed to address all our clients by their last name.”

“Okay, Judy. What ever makes Geneva happy.” She chuckled gently as they turned and walked toward the underground express to the main terminal and parking lot.

“Oh, if you have more luggage? I’ll have a porter retrieve it and follow us to the limo.”

“No, this is it. Three cameras, and four changes of clothes, including one suitable for dinner at Twenty-One, compliments of Geneva.” The tall photographer laughed and gently pulled the distracted admin. from the pathway of a passenger-laden motor-cart.

It took longer from the airport to the skyscraper, which housed the publishing company offices than the entire flight from Florida. Raven was told to leave her luggage in the trunk as the limousine pulled up to the canopied entrance and allowed her to disembark for her meeting.

The long legged beauty strolled into the building and into the elevator as both men and women turned and watched her pass by. The elevator speedily passed each floor, opening only twice to allow passengers off before the door opened with a ping on the thirty-sixth floor where Raven stepped out and leisurely walked towards her publisher’s office.

Twenty minutes later, Raven stood up and leaned over the desk looking directly into the eyes of her publisher and to emphasize her words. “NO! Let me put it more clearly, HELL NO! After that fiasco with Traci Roman four years ago, I told you I would never shoot another TV actress again if I were starving to death. I don’t care if it’s for ten national covers, at ten times my fee. I will not do photo shoots of actresses. NEVER! NEVER! You wasted a first class round trip ticket to hear me tell you ‘no’. I’m surprised at you Geneva, I would have told you that on the phone for free.” Raven stood up and leaned over the desk looking directly into the eyes of her publisher and to emphasize the last sentence with definite tones of finality.

“Come on, Raven, Joanna Stern specifically requested you. No one else will do, she wants the best and the studio is willing to see that their newsmagazine gives you four choices, all expense paid, exclusive, relatively easy shoots for doing these four covers.

“What part of NO, don’t you understand, Geneva?” Raven asked in a belligerent tone. No means no. I will not do this project. I don’t care how much they are willing to pay or the extra four bonus assignments they are dangling up front as bait. Have you forgotten that last lunatic female performer so soon? Again, I…WILL…NOT…PHOTOGRAPH…ANY…SHOWBUSINESS…PERSONALITY… PERIOD! You have wasted my time and your money in bringing me here. And, there is no need for you and me to continue this discussion any longer,” the agitated woman turned from the desk. “Please call your driver so I can get my luggage and camera gear, I’m going back to Florida.”

“Raven, you can be so hard-headed and difficult at times. Not every entertainer is like Traci Roman, and not every performer is going to stalk you and make your life a living hell because you won’t go to bed with him or her; especially, not someone like Joanna Stern. I know her personally, Raven. I’ve been a friend of her family since she was born. She worked her way through school, even though she didn’t have to; she has paid her dues in the acting profession in bit parts on Broadway, television, and the big screen. She was the youngest graduate of The Actors Studio. She fought tooth and nail to land the lead in “Crisis Negotiator” so that she could return to Broadway and perform her own productions. Hell, she wrote and directed at least ten scripts every season for that hit TV show. She is extremely talented and a brilliant playwright as well. She has literally spent every break from shooting in Canada, to complete her own musical production. I have heard some of her creative arrangements and lyrics. With a bit of seasoning, she will give Andrew Lloyd Webber a run for his money.”

With the mention of one of Raven’s favorite composers, the photographer turned to face her publisher once more. Geneva immediately stood, came around the desk with a fancy gold-framed photograph she had just received from Joanna. She stretched out her hand toward Raven, offering her a view of the autographed portrait.

Raven hesitated momentarily, then reached out and grasped the frame, but her eyes never left those of the woman standing in front of her. Geneva was more than a good friend; she had taken Raven under her wing a dozen years ago before and treated her as her own daughter or niece. Finally, with some hesitancy she turned the face of the portrait towards her and exhaled unhurriedly as she glanced down at the face under the tinted glass. Time seemed to stand still. Moments appeared to be a continuation of eternity as the tall woman gazed at the reflection held in her hand. She swallowed several times as her tongue slowly ran across her bottom lip, then even more slowly over her top one for both had become dry as a bone, virtually parched in the brief moments she stared at the image. The sea-foam green eyes were imprisoned in the deep recesses of the dark-haired woman’s very existence. She stood there enthralled, awestruck, almost as if they had enchanted her. Raven felt beguiled by the green orbs. If anyone had told the lanky photographer she was captivated, or could be held spellbound by any photograph, she would have told them they had lost their sanity; however, that was exactly what had happened to Raven.

Geneva watched her friend several long minutes before she realized what was happening to the tall photographer. It was if she was seeing a transformation in the very demeanor of the always-confident woman. In her long years as a publisher, no… in her long lifetime, she had seen that manifestation only a couple of times. Each time it had been someone who had instantly been touched by the sense or realization that the person before them was his or her twin flame, their kindred spirit, their heart flame if you wanted to call it by a name. She returned to her executive’s chair and once again fixed her eyes on the stunned photographer, and remained completely quiet. The only sound in the room was the brown leather, swivel chair rocking gently back and forth and the shallow breathing of the stunned photographer still standing in front of the desk. She knew her tall friend was experiencing a once in a lifetime phenomenon and far be it from her to break the spell. She waited. And waited, and waited.

“I’ll do it,” Raven muttered tenderly, never taking her eyes off the portrait as she set it gently on the edge of the large desk. She turned and swiftly exited the executive’s office.

“I’ll call you at the hotel with the arrangements,” Geneva responded soothingly, not sure the tall woman had heard her. She picked up the phone, dialed her limo, and instructed Judy to have the car at the front of the building to pick up Raven, take her to the Waldorf-Astoria and fill in the photographer on the details of the agreed upon assignment at the Studio in two days. “Oh, yes, and Judy, make plans to go with Raven to the Metropolitan Museum of Art tomorrow. I don’t want her sitting around at that hotel all day by herself. She will be dining with Arthur and me at Twenty-One tomorrow night, and I suggest you join us as well. Oh, another thing Judy, she tends to get into trouble all on her own, so don’t let your infatuation with her get you both into trouble.” The publishing executive chuckled as she added the last remark and placed the receiver back on the cradle.

“Ye…yes ma’am,” answered the nervous personal assistant to the now dead phone.

*****


Raven had been in a daze for the past two days, but now she worked meticulously, re-arranging the lights on the provided set. She had actually been ready for over an hour now. She had loaded the two cameras she had selected, and given instructions to the two assistants provided by the Network for reloading and dropping the different backgrounds into place. Two other staff makeup artists were now waiting in the dressing room after the Executive Producer of the “Negotiator” show had dropped by the set and admonished them for gawking at the tall photographer as she busily arranged the multi-set drops. They had hurriedly brought in one additional light she had on her list of requirements for the shoot, that hadn’t been delivered earlier. She glanced over at Judy, who had been instructed to assist her also with anything needed for the photo shoot. She nodded her head as the last light stand was moved only an inch in a slightly different direction. Killing time was not her forte. The subject of the assignment was now thirty-five minutes late, and Raven began to fidget much more than usual. She shut down the lights, and again watched the door. She nervously went over to Judy, who held out the large bottle of water Raven had asked be provided for her.

“She is on her way, Raven, I just confirmed that with her personal assistant. It’s snowing again and that slows up traffic even more than usual,” came the encouraging smile from the infatuated woman.

“Thanks, Judy. You’re great,” came the sincere compliment as she took the water bottle and drank heavily. “I wish this was lemonade or at least iced tea,” she said as she turned to again glance towards the still unopened door.

“Lemonade or iced tea… in winter?” Judy asked questionably.

“Sure. Don’t forget, Judy, I was born and reared in the South. Being from Florida, any time is the right time for lemonade or iced tea,” chuckled the dark-haired woman as she again looked at the still closed door.

“I…I see,” stuttered the shorter woman. “I’ll try and find some tea, or lemonade, if you really want that particular beverage, but I don’t think I will be successful. Would hot tea be a satisfactory substitute?” Judy asked.

“Thanks, Judy, hot tea would be wonderful for our break, but the water is fine for now.”

“Okay, if you will excuse me, I’ll go and arrange for several carafes of hot tea for break time,” was the response as the assistant hastily exited the door Raven had been watching the last forty-five minutes.

Just as the door closed behind the plump shorter woman, it was opened again and held open by a woman with several changes of clothes hanging over her arm. In walked the honey-blonde who had haunted Raven’s every waking moment for the past two days. The attractive blonde was steadily talking on a cell phone as she glanced around the room, obviously seeking something, or someone specific. Her seeking eyes stopped when they met Raven’s. Although she stopped talking, the cell phone did not leave her ear as she approached Raven, her eyes steadfastly fixed on the midnight-blues before her. She stopped a few feet in front of Raven and they both looked intently at each other without a word passing between them for what seemed like a lifetime to everyone else in the room.

Finally, the voice on the cell phone jarred Joanna back to the present and she shuddered at the voice in her ear. “Susan, please keep me informed as to his condition and I’ll be there just as soon as I finish this cover shooting. I want you to know you both are in my thoughts and prayers,” the voice from the lips of the beautiful blonde was genuinely sincere. “I’ll get back to you when we get to a breaking point, okay?” She then pushed the end button on the phone and continued to gaze deeply into the eyes before her that seem to be penetrating just as deeply into hers.

“I…I…uh…the rain and sleet…traffic…I, well, I apologize for being late. It was unavoidable,” came the spurred expressed regret. “I’ll change and be back in five minutes, if that is all right with you?”

“Sure. I’m Raven Longgear,” she exclaimed as she extended her hand to shake the shorter woman’s, their eyes still locked on each other.

“Yes, I know who you are, Ms. Longgear, and I’m Joanna Stern; please call me Joanna as we will be working together.”

Very pleased to meet you, Joanna, and call me Raven,” came the response as the tall photographer continued to hold the smaller hand in hers. When the two hands had touched, they both began to tremble slightly from the feeling shooting up both their arms. They stood there staring at each other, unable to explain the mutual mystifying emotions flooding each of them. They were brought back to reality by a voice that seemed to be shouting.

“JOANNA, which outfit do you want me to lay out first?” came the question for the third time. “Joanna?”

The shorter woman jumped and dropped the warm hand that had just sent the most sensual sensations throughout her body. Sensations she had never felt before in her young lifetime. “Uh...Sorry, Annie, how about starting off with the green one?” She stated as she nodded toward the photographer, her eyes rising to questioning approval of her selection.

“Green will work. I’m starting out with a white background, and we can add whichever ones you choose as we go along came the reply as the photographer lowered her eyes and then moved toward the set once again.

Joanna watched her lanky graceful movements and continued to wonder what the feelings she was having meant, until Annie called her once again from the direction of the dressing room. She turned and glanced back one last time at the tall figure as she made her way toward the open doorway her assistant had just disappeared into.

Exactly one hour after the scheduled shoot was supposed to begin, the young actress reappeared on the set. “Where do you want me, Ms. Longgear?”

“Please, call me Raven, and just sit on the stepstool,” she stated as she cut on the lights and the area immediately began to get warm from the intensity of the fixtures. “I want to get some different head and profile shots first.”

Smiling, the young actress promptly sat on the stool and lowered her head and gazed at the photographer. Buzzzzzzzz. Buzzzzzzz. “Sorry, I need to take this,” Joanna said as she reached for the cell phone being handed to her by Annie.

Raven lowered the camera as she let out a sigh. She was already apprehensive from the hour delay, plus, she had a real fixation against cell phones in the first place. The conversation lasted for several minutes causing the lights to become even hotter and perspiration began to bead up on the face of the blonde now squirming on the stool. The phone call finally ended, and Raven called for makeup to make the necessary drying and makeup check of Joanna’s sweaty face. No sooner had the artist refreshed the makeup, than there was a definite… Buzzzzzzz, Buzzzzzzz again. Annie automatically handed the phone to Joanna who robotically took it and started talking without thinking about the uptight photographer

Raven gritted her teeth and exasperatedly sat the camera back down on the stand next to her, waiting for the call to end. This call was lasting even longer than the previous one, and finally Raven cut off the front box lights, but left the back strobe light on as the entire set was now becoming quite warm. “And everyone wonders why I have a dislike of cell phones,” she mumbled to herself.

“You say something, Raven?” Judy asked, having returned a few minutes before with the hot tea. She had watched the two phone call incidents and the reaction that Raven was having to the delays.

“Nah, just want to get on with this,” she said softly and directly to the administrative assistant.

Joanna looked toward Raven and mouthed, “I’m sorry, be off soon.” Her words had little soothing effect on the now anxious photographer. By the time the call ended, the satin green blouse worn by the honey-blonde had wet areas all over and had become plastered in several places to the toned body beneath the fabric. “Guess I’ll have to run and change this one. I’ll be right back,” she said as she hoped up and quickly made her way to the dressing room. Buzzzzzzzz. Buzzzzzzz came the sound before the actress was through the door of the dressing room to change.

Raven exhaled with irritation and shaking her head she clicked off the strobe lights and told the assistants to take a five-minute break. Judy handed her a hot cup of tea as she turned back around and muttered a grateful “Thanks” to the admin.

Raven glanced at her watch for the fourth time in less than a minute. It had been two hours into this shooting, and she had yet to take one single photograph. She had heard the Buzzzzzzz of Joanna’s cell phone three times since the drenched actress had gone into the combination dressing and make-up room to change. Turning to the sound of the opening door of the dressing room, she heard the irritating Buzzzzzzz Buzzzzzzz once more, and the partially open door was gently closed shut again.

“That’s it for me. I’m outta here.” She reached down and picked up her equipment bag and walked over to the stand that held her two loaded cameras, picked each one up carefully, wrapped the felt covering around both expensive pieces of equipment and placed them protectively back into their compartments. “You fellows need to dismantle the lights and return them to the studio’s camera storage unit. Thank you for your expertise and patience in assisting me in this unsuccessful assignment. I will make sure the Executive Producer knows how efficient, professional and helpful you were. Judy, thanks for everything. I appreciate you spending the last two days with me; the trip to the museum was most enjoyable. I apologize for being so preoccupied.” Raven stated and picked up her equipment bag and headed for the door.

“Wait! Wait; please, Raven, where are you going? Aren’t you going to do the assignment? What will I tell Mrs. Foresiggnat? What do I say to Ms. Stern?” The proficient, pudgy woman blurted out one question after the other.

With her empty hand on the door, Raven turned and addressed the anxious admin., “Tell Geneva exactly what happened, Judy. Enlighten Ms. Stern with your directives from Geneva, whatever they may be. I am going back to the hotel, pick up my overnight bag, and use that open-ended ticket Geneva provided to go back to Florida. I was reluctant in signing the agreement to do this in the first place. And I’m glad I had those clauses written into the contract, one of them being the time frame. I’ve enjoyed your company, Judy, and I’ll see you the next time I am in Geneva’s office,” she exclaimed in her point of fact manner, and then she reached down and gave the startled assistant a tight one-armed hug and left the Studio without another word.

The stunned administrative assistant looked around at the now busy technicians dismantling the set and lighting equipment. She was bewildered about what she should do now. Reluctantly, she picked up her cell phone, which she had turned off once Joanna had entered the studio set and punched in the speed dial number of her employer. “She is not going to be happy about this development,” she moaned briefly before she heard a “Hello” on the other end. “Mrs. Foresiggnat, this is Judy. I think you’d better sit down. I have something rather unpleasant to report.” The efficient assistant sat down on one of the extra chairs that had been placed on the side of the set and spent the next ten minutes briefing her employer. Geneva told her to wait for Joanna and bring her back to the office if she was willing to accompany her. The wild-eyed admin. hit the off button on the cell phone and looked up as she heard the door to the makeup-dressing room open.

“I’m so very sorry Ms. Lon…..g….gear..” The young performer stopped in mid-sentence as she swept the almost vacant room. No lights, no technicians, NO PHOTOGRAPHER. Her heart sank; she felt her emotions swell throughout her body. No! No! She left, thought the stunned young actress. I would be thoroughly pissed off myself if someone had kept me waiting for this long. I can’t say I blame her though, but I do wish she had stayed and allowed me to explain. Boy! I really made a mess of this. How will I ever set right this fiasco?

The nervous admin. slowly rose from the chair and stood in front of the almost crying, fair-haired woman. “Ms. Stern, do you need me to drive you anywhere? Do you wish to go to our office? Mrs. Foresiggnat has placed her limo, driver and myself at your disposal…that is, if you have need of our services?”

“Thank you Judy. I’ll go change and perhaps you need to drive me over to Geneva’s. I promise you, I will only be five minutes. Six minutes later, they were in the elevator headed to the side entrance and the waiting car.

*****


Raven’s trip to the airport and the check-in was a blur. She waited impatiently for her flight to be called, as thoughts of earlier events still playing a replay in her mind. Finally, her flight was called and she promptly proceeded down the corridor to the waiting aircraft. She carefully placed her equipment bag next to her overnight luggage in the overhead compartment and flopped down into her seat. She fastened her seat belt and closed her eyes to try and ward off the nagging headache that had really begun to pound for the last two hours.

I should have known better. Even from that brief amount of time which we spent together, there is something very extraordinary between Joanna and me; I can’t let my guard down and get all bent out of shape with this thing. If I am to meet her again under different circumstances, the fates will arrange it. If not, then best I get on with my life and don’t get so upset about the way this turned out. Out of sight, out of mind…. Yeah!…I know that one is a big lie. I won’t be forgetting that face or those eyes, anytime soon. She sighed and pulled the small blanket up over her shoulders and settled down for a nap even before they had taxied to the runway.

She was started awake by the Captain’s voice stating they would be arriving in Jacksonville in about twenty minutes. She had slept through the Atlanta stopover and her head did feel a little better…but not much. She stretched her legs and rotated her neck around a few times to get the kinks out. Her eyes noticed a shapely pair of legs turning from the galley and coming down the isle to make any last minute refills in the first class section. Her eyes slowly surveyed the figure of the flight attendant until the midnight blue eyes reached the smiling eyes of the woman looking back at her. Raven broke into a big grin, which brought the attendant to her side.

“Could I interest you in coffee, tea, or how about some dinner when we land, you good looking thing, you? I have the apartment all to myself for this flight, and I have a four hour layover,” came the exaggerated southern drawl.

“Nothing would please me more,” came the same intonation from the dark-haired woman.

“Wonderful, I’ll meet you at the North entrance cab stand about fifteen minutes after we land?”

“No, my vehicle is in long term parking, How about the parking entrance? We can go from there if that’s okay with you?”

“Absolutely. I am looking forward to our time together, it has been awhile since we have seen each other,” beamed the attendant, then walked past the seated woman to address the needs of another passenger. The woman sitting next to Raven squirmed in her seat and went back to flipping the pages of the magazine she was holding, only…the pages were upside down.

This is unexpected and really wonderful. I haven’t seen her in what…. Oh, three-four long months now…I didn’t know she was back on the East coast. Last time we were together, she was on the European rotation. This will be fun, probably the only satisfying event of this trip. She gets more attractive every time I see her. I must mention that and ask what she is doing on those European layovers, smirked the dark-haired woman as she erected her seat for the landing, per the Captain’s instructions.

Fifteen minutes later she pulled the Navigator up to the curb, got out and came around to store the flight attendant’s rolling luggage on the back seat. She turned and the attendant was in her arms hugging her tightly.

“Damn, it’s good to see you, Raven. You are looking sexier and sexier. How do you do it?

“I was about to ask you the same thing. And how is my favorite cousin and what are you doing on this East coast rotation? I thought you told me the last time we talked it would be a full year before you were relieved from the European flights? Isn’t this the first anniversary of Aunt Mary’s accident? Are you here to go to the cemetery, and do you want me to go with you?” questioned the taller woman.

“I’m your only cousin, you brat! Hush up, Raven! You are talking too fast, and I haven’t answered one of your questions, yet,” laughed the slightly shorter relative.

“Okay, Beautiful, your turn,” she said as she opened the door for her lone living relative. Then she sashayed around to the other side and slid into her seat and buckled up. She smirked and wiggled her eyebrows to her cousin and gestured for her to continue.

“I will be on this rotation for three weeks due to an attendant getting married and out having to cover her slot. I go back to the European trips, then. I am making the New York, to Atlanta, to Jacksonville, stint and return the same day. Makes for a long turn around, but the four-hour layover helps. At least, I can go to the apartment and rest. I’m glad it is only ten minutes from the airport. I plan on visiting Mother’s grave next weekend, Raven, and I would love to have you accompany me.”

“Will do, Cuz’. Now where do you want to eat so we can visit and I’ll drop you back off at the airport? Marcella, I know this great crab shack about twenty minutes from here. That sound okay?” asked the tall woman as the vehicle moved into the right airport exit lane and headed for the nearby coast.

*****


Chapter 2

The tall, dark-haired woman was deep inside the pyramid. Her footsteps echoed as she felt her way down a pitch-black corridor. Her heart raced. Suddenly, her seeking hand discovered an enormous granite lion. She twisted the paw of the lion and the stone door slid open to reveal a dimly-lit outer room, which was filled with master works of ancient art inscribed in hieroglyphics on papyrus. There were also full panels of hieroglyphics on the walls.

She looked around at the golden, royal women statues that stood beside the panels along three walls, each laden with cartouche pendants of gold and silver. She checked behind her to make sure the outer door had slid back in place before turning the head of the stone carved pharaoh’s mask on the wall to her right. Another door slid open displaying many golden antiquities; each object had its own story to tell. Many were created to ease the transition of a human spirit, or ‘ka’ into the afterworld and reflected the profound Egyptian belief in the afterlife; others were of the life of the young woman, who had been laid to rest. The long, burning torches inside reflected off the gold and silver bangles and shell amulets, each embedded with diamonds, rubies, and emeralds set in gold casings. On one wall, the light shone on the panel portrait of a stunning woman with piercing green eyes, who looked down over a golden mask of the same likeness. The mask flanked into a solid sheet of finely tooled gold, which covered the lid of the coffer entombed there.

Anguish and turmoil filled the eyes of the tall woman, whose entire demeanor showed unbelievable sorrow. The bewildered woman lay across the coffer and wept mournfully until her tears covered the lid. Then she threw up her arms toward the ceiling and shrieked, “NOOOOOO!”

“NOOOOO!” screamed Raven as she sat up in bed, trembling. Throwing the covers off, she swung her legs onto the floor and placed her head into her hands and literally bawled uncontrollably.

Her body was still trembling from the nightmare she had each night since her return from New York a month or so ago. It was the same familiar nightmare that repeated in her life since her earliest childhood memory at age ten. Weakly, she walked to the bathroom, turned on the water and with cupped hands splashed water repeatedly onto her face. Finally, with water still dripping from her face, she looked up into the haunted eyes of her reflection looking intently back at her, “Why, now? I haven’t had this nightmare for four years, not since I was in Egypt and the photo shoot at Alexandria. Merciful Heavens, why now, and what does it mean?” questioned the drained woman as she had so many times previously.

No answer came to her. It never did. The same dream, the same scenes, the same feelings just repeated themselves every now and then over the years. However, the occurrences had never lasted so long before, not five weeks, not every night. She toweled her face off and went back into the bedroom where she tugged off her oversized Jaguar sleeping shirt and put on a much used jogging suit and shoes. She stretched briefly on the back porch before she hit the ground running. Running toward the well-known beach until she came to the water, she turned sharply and ran full speed down the beach for miles, until she sank to the ground, exhausted. She only allowed herself a couple minutes to catch her breath, then stood up and ran back to her beach home. This, too, had been her pattern since her return from New York. It was the only thing that made her tired enough to fall into bed and sleep the balance of the night. Her body was gradually revolting, and, she realized, she needed something to stop this anguishing cycle…but what?

Later that morning, Raven held the clip up to the light and viewed the attached TMAX black and white negatives. She ran her gloved fingers carefully down the still damp negative to remove any access moisture.

“This looks much better than the Ectachrome. These will make great photos,” she spoke aloud to the empty darkroom.

She had developed the color slides earlier in the morning and had removed them from the metal film drying cabinet prior to developing the black and white rolls she had just examined approvingly. She nodded her head as she placed the last clip on the hook, closed the locker door and hit the timer on the side. The protective apron was removed and attached to the hook on the back of the door as she opened it, and walked from the darkroom to the kitchen.

Raven opened the refrigerator, looked inside, picked up the decanter of lemonade, sat it back down, and then closed the door indifferently. The tall woman leaned over and casually put her head against the top of the freezer section of the side-by-side unit. The last few weeks had been a real drudgery for her. Her mind continued to return, unconsciously, to a photo set and the green-eyed woman who haunted her every waking moment. When she finally was able to fall into a restless sleep, the green eyes joined her there, also.

“Snap out of this, woman. Get a grip on yourself!” the blue-eyed photographer aguishly spoke to the appliance her head rested upon.

‘Ding-a-Ding, Dong’ sounded the front door chime. Raven was not expecting company, much more, she did not want company as she straightened up and made her way to the open door of her beach house. Both doors opened onto fully screened-in porches front and back. As Raven reached the door, her heart did a flip, for standing there dressed in pale green leisure travel pants suit stood the owner of the eyes that haunted her constantly.

“Hello, Ms Longgear. I am here to apologize for the interruption of the photo shoot and to explain why I was so preoccupied.” the words rolled off the tongue of the actress earnestly. “I hope you are willing to accept my apology and allow me to give details why the disruption of the shooting occurred.”

Raven tried to stare the younger woman down. When she didn’t flinch under the scathing scrutiny of the blue gaze, she felt her ire rise…higher, that was. She was already annoyed beyond belief that someone had given out her address. Dammit! This woman had charmed away loyalties she had established. Now as she skimmed rapidly through her mind for a way to deal with this situation, she was struck with the truth…a second one more strongly than the first…here before her stood the woman who had preoccupied her every waking moment for five weeks; her heart was doing flip flops. Careful here, Raven, don’t go throwing up barriers, don’t be a sore ass.

“How did you find out where I live and what makes you think I am interested in an explanation?” Crap, you don’t listen do you, Stretch? she thought to herself again.

The silence dragged on, but Raven was in a world of her own thoughts, and she was not the least apologetic about her desire to make the actress feel uncomfortable. However, it was only adding to the slow burn within her that the honey-blonde showed not a sign of discomfort, or the guilt Raven thought she should be showing.

A chill permeated the air of the screened-in porch. But if the smaller woman was cold, she was too stubborn to show it. If she was uncomfortable standing on the opposite of the closed storm door, she didn’t show that either.

You would think, she told herself righteously; she’d have the decency to be nervous. But, she realized that, before her stood a determined woman who intended to have her say. Raven glanced down at the younger woman’s right foot that was slowly starting to tap the floor, not in nervousness, but from what? Raven was unsure.

Though the blue eyes had never left her face, Joanna returned her scrutiny, studying her relentlessly. The tall woman, now propping her form against the doorframe, admitted that the actress might have turned her head had she encountered her in different circumstances. Her hair was long and shimmering-gold-streaked, with strands that ranged from sun-kissed blonde, to honey-colored, reddish gold. The hair was pulled rather severely off her face, neatly caught in a green ribbon at her nape. But somehow that ponytail had come over her shoulder, and was cascading over her breast, tangled and tawny, looking like liquid sunshine against the dreary backdrop of the gray-stained porch. Raven prided herself on not having many weaknesses, but one of them was for deliciously long hair. The fact that some purely lustful portion of her brain was undoing that silken hair from the bondage of its ribbon served to push her anger a few notches higher. Damn it to hell, thought the photographer, A woman blessed with hair like that should, by some balancing law of nature, or at least Murphy’s Law, be cursed with a face as plain as bread dough… Sour bread dough at that.

But the fact was, she was definitely not plain; and even that fact, as out of her control as it might be, managed to irritate the dark-haired woman even more. Before her stood the face of an angel, regarding her with somber composure. She had a strong face, high cheekbones, a round chin, wide, firm lips, and a straight, proud nose. The face might have been almost too strong, save those large, soft-as-cotton, sea-foam green eyes, which tempered it. Though the eyes that met hers unblinkingly held a trace of granite…granite mingled with an intriguing hint of mystery... maturity...wisdom.... And sincerity.

The green eyes took in the tall, slender figure pressed against the frame. The dark- haired woman’s long legs seemed to go on forever and were covered by a pair of blue, multi-pocketed denim trousers. She could have been...and perhaps should have been…a fashion model, Joanna deduced cynically. What she should have been, and wasn’t going to be...at least for her, was a seductive...what...lover? Right! Yeah, right Joanna, you oaf; you find her most attractive. The truth is, there is something more here than meets the eye, but for the life of me, I don’t know what!

“Ms. Stern,” Raven finally growled, when the beautiful blonde made no move to break the silence. “I feel as though I’ve been duped, betrayed.” She watched her narrowly to see how she would handle the blunt return of the ball to her court. WRONG.

The young flaxen-haired woman did not flush. She did not squirm. She did not break her hold on Raven’s eyes either.

“Why is that. Ms. Longgear?” she asked evenly. Her voice was splendid-husky, sensual, and yet natural. “I owed you an apology and I truly want to explain my circumstances last month.”

That was what was wrong with her, Raven thought; she seemed natural, unaware or uninterested in her own attractiveness. Which only made Raven feel more duped than ever.

“Let’s not play games, Miss Stern,” she suggested tersely. “I think you’re probably aware of my desire for privacy, and Geneva’s betraying that trust? Frankly, I find your use of Geneva’s friendship crafty and unconscionable.”

The smaller woman returned her look, green eyes unwavering, unflinching from the fact that she had obviously switched to hardball.

“First, that is untrue, Miss Longgear. I had to engage a detective agency to locate you, as Geneva would not budge from her stance in keeping your address private, not even a phone number would she give. Secondly, my nephew was in a serious accident and was having emergency life and death surgery the same time as the photo shoot, and I am not only his aunt, but also his Godmother, and family is extremely important to me. He almost died, and I should have been there, but I had arranged for the photo shoot and I endeavor to keep my appointments. And lastly. Raven, I only wanted you to shoot the photo covers, you, and no one else. So, why not accept my apology and allow us at least to discuss the possibility of you being the photographer for those four covers?” she finished with a hard note in her voice to match Raven’s.

“Okay,” the taller woman admitted grudgingly, “maybe I am a bit of a dinosaur, but I’m simply uncomfortable with the notion of photographing you, Miss Stern.”

“Why is that, Miss Longgear?” For all that her tone was reasonable, there was no mistaking a warrior-like spark in her eyes.

This was no hollow-headed blond interested in only a quick lay, her Friday night plans, her fingernails, her hair, or getting her own way, Raven conceded. Not that she had a thing against hollow-headed blondes. In fact, that frequently seemed to be exactly what her taste ran to since Clarea’s death. And even though she found Joanna’s no-nonsense attitude less than appealing, she was still a very attractive woman and normal, healthy women could work together as intensively as they would have to and still maintain a strictly professional relationship. Right? Yeah, right!

“Why is that, Miss Longgear?” she asked again.

Raven supposed that, if she told her about the real reason, the portrait on Geneva’s desk with the piercing jade eyes engulfing her, the cell phone interruptions and the long wait, that the woman would understand? Raven wasn’t sure, but for some reason, she wanted the small woman to do just that.

“Look, Miss Stern, simply put, I believe in the right to choose what I do with my time, and how I am willing to spend it. Waiting for actresses and being interrupted by cell phones just isn’t my idea of how I choose to proceed with my ... BUZZZZZZZZ...BUZZZZZZZZZ.... BUZZZZZZZZZ... pro...fession.”

The actress reluctantly reached down to the cell phone on her belt and checked the number. “We did not get off to a good start, Miss Longgear, how about we start again? What if I turn off the cell phone, and stay in a nearby Jacksonville hotel for the next couple-three weeks on vacation and you choose where the shots are taken and how you wish to do them?

“Would you consider... BUZZZZZZZZ...BUZZZZZZZZZ... BUZZZZZZZZZ...taking the,” the smaller woman bent down and turned off the phone and looked back up at Raven. “I’m sorry. I have no intention of the same thing happening again. For heaven’s sake, Raven, consider my proposal, and let’s see if we can’t work out something,” Joanna’s voice pleaded with conviction.

Again there was silence between the two of them. A very long silence.

“All right, but on my conditions,” Raven came back stubbornly, her eyes narrowed to sapphire slits, feeling the younger woman would never meet the conditions she would propose and she could go on feeling self-righteous.

“Name them.” Joanna, for the first time, was losing some of that composure, for she was trying very hard not to sound too eager.

“Well, two conditions, actually. The first is you stay here at my home. I have an empty spare guest room, which would make the shooting convenient and much easier on us both, and second, you throw away that cell phone.”

Her eyes sparkled with tears, but the tears that shown in her eyes never fell. “You’ve got yourself a deal, Miss Longgear.” She hastily removed the cell phone, turned and walked towards the outer screen door.

“Where are you going, Ms. Stern?” Raven asked inquisitively as she finally held open the storm door that had separated them during their conversation.

“Why, I’m going into your yard, and throw the cell phone as far as I can, Ms. Longgear. Did I misunderstand your second condition?”

Raven threw back her head and started laughing. “No, you heard correctly, but I didn’t mean it, literally. I meant you have to put it away, not just turn it off. I’ve seen you on the phone, and I don’t want to get you set up for some splendid shot, and have that thing ring because you forgot to turn it off. When we are out shooting, your cell phone does not come with us.

Is that agreeable with you, Joanna?”

Sighing happily, Joanna turned and walked back to stand in front of the tall, beautiful woman and held out her hand in agreement.

“Deal?”

“Deal.” Raven blissfully responded. Not only had the butterflies in her stomach become dive-bombers, but also her heart was doing flip-flops. Mercy on high, what a fantastic day! Thank heavens!

“Have you already checked into your hotel, Joanna? Do I need to help you pick up your clothes? You really don’t need a rental car, I’ll be happy to follow you to St. Augustine or Jacksonville to return it and bring you back here.”

Joanna’s face lit up in a radiant smile, she held up her hand and wiggled her finger toward Raven to follow her. She swiftly moved to the rear of the rental and searching her pockets, ‘snap’ she clicked her fingers together and went to the driver’s side, opened the door and retrieved the keys from the ignition. Smiling, she returned and quickly opened the trunk and stood back.

Raven’s eyes opened wide and she gave a quizzical glance toward the grinning, beautiful face standing there with her arms now crossed over her chest. “Uh...you have seven bags here, Ms. Stern. I thought you said you were on vacation for two to three weeks? You, uh...well, let me help you get them inside. You always take your entire wardrobe when you go away for a few weeks?” Raven asked, more astonished then puzzled.

“Nope. Not even close...that is, ‘chuckle, chuckle’, not my entire wardrobe. I have never been to Florida, and I didn’t know exactly what to bring.” she responded laughingly. “I did ship a half dozen or so trunks back to my home in New York when we finished shooting the series in Canada. No sense in leaving anything there, as I gave up my lease before I left. If you don’t have the room, I can still go to a hotel?” she asked, but hoped the offer would not be accepted. She was thrilled at the possibilities of spending three weeks with the woman who had shared her dreams at night as well as the daytime for the past five weeks.

“Nah, no problem. I have plenty of room.” she responded as she began to lift the well-packed, bulky luggage from the trunk, sitting each piece carefully on the ground. “What do you have in here, the kitchen sink?” she asked and she struggled with one particularly heavy case.

“Nope, just my brick collection,” she chuckled again.

“Agh, now that makes sense,” smiled the taller woman. When all seven were out, she closed the lid, and picked up two of the larger, heavier pieces and started toward the front steps with Joanna following close behind. She carried one piece, which took both her hands to lift.

Raven stepped inside the oversized guest room, and sat the heavy luggage at the foot of the queen size bed. Joanna sat her bag down, and looked approvingly around the room. It was quite appealing; the soft yellow-patterned bedspread with matching curtains lit up the room. The sun streamed through the open blinds of the sliding glass door and the double window. The hand-finished, antique furniture had golden flecks in the subtle, green- glossed surface. The brass headboard had inlaid panels, with the same design of the handles on the triple dresser and six foot tall chest of drawers that stood on opposite walls. The nightstand held a CD player, clock radio, earphones and a worn, obviously well-read book. She knew from the cover it was a copy of ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, which was one of her favorites.

“The dresser and chest are empty, so feel free to use what you need.” Raven said as she opened up the sliding door that concealed a walk-in closet. “You will find some empty hangers in here, and there are additional ones in the laundry room down the hall to your left, if you need more.” she indicated with her hand. She opened the smaller door, and revealed a very tastefully-decorated bathroom, which also had soft yellow and green accessories to accent the side-by-side marble tub and shower. Raven came back to the matching armoire, opened the door to reveal a 25-inch television and an additional full stereo, complete with CD accessories. In the bottom cabinet, was a selection of video’s, CD’s, and about a dozen more worn books. “I’ll get the rest of your things; why don’t you start unpacking?”

“Absolutely not, I’ll help; after all these bags are filled with my prized bricks,” she laughed heartedly.

“Ha, Ha,” quipped Raven as she held up her hand towards the door, “After you then, milady,” and followed the shorter woman down the hall.

If Joanna needed a car, Raven told her she would allow her to drive the Navigator and she would use her truck. Joanna agreed, and thanked her for the suggestion. As a return favor, she convinced Raven to allow her to buy the photographer her favorite meal at the place of her choosing. It seemed from the moment of the handshake on the front porch, there was a pact between them and the differences had vanished, almost as quickly as they had arrived. Surprisingly, the dinner went extremely well. It was if the two women had known each other for a lifetime. The conversation was continuous and relaxed, more or less as any old friends would have conversed after a long absence from each other. They even laughed at the amount of food Joanna put away, and then set in to finish off the remainder of Raven’s. It felt very natural to share a house and to be in each other’s company. The next few days would be a test for both of them...well, a test of sorts, Ha, Ha, Ha.

Raven gave Joanna a brief tour as they returned from the marina restaurant, a preferred eatery of the photographer. She pointed out the historical, old city of St. Augustine. She indicated to the young honey-blond that she felt several of the sites would make great backdrops for the photo shoot and Joanna agreed enthusiastically.

Joanna yawned several times in the car, so Raven cut the tour short. The next three weeks, she was sure she would cover all the sites of her beloved city, and the surrounding area. “I think someone is ready for bed,” she said to her passenger.

“Yes, I do believe you’re right. I have been up since 4 a.m. and a hot shower and a soft bed sound right nice. I promise I will be a better sightseer tomorrow. One thing I do need to do, Raven, if you don’t mind? I need to go shopping.”

“What? With seven large, overstuffed pieces of luggage, you still need to go shopping?” queried the stunned photographer.

“Raven, I have lived in Canada and New York for the past six years. I have never been to Florida, not even on a business trip, and I don’t have the proper clothes for this area. During the day, I will be too overdressed, and I am not used to the heat and I certainly don’t have the proper clothes for a photo shoot, not for this area, that’s for sure. I only need a few things, and I thought I might buy a bathing suit. Do you mind very much taking me to a mall or shopping center? We did pass several shops that looked enticing.”

“Well...uh...you see... Actually, I dislike shopping, and the idea of spending hours in our mall... well. I…uh. Oh, why not?” Raven shrugged her shoulders. “I suppose it wouldn’t kill me to oblige this once. I think the idea of a bathing suit is great, I hope you enjoy swimming in the ocean, for I go almost every night when the weather is right.”

“I have never been swimming in the Atlantic before, Raven, and I do look forward to sharing that experience with you. Show me your Florida; let me enjoy this trip as a friend, instead of a first time sightseer.“ Joanna asked. “I’m in your capable hands and I rely on your expertise on the selection of clothes for this area. I definitely want to buy a pair of sandals, though, as these desert boots feel a little out of place.”

“Nooo...problem!” smiled the photographer as she turned the Navigator toward the Bridge of Lions and Anastasia Island.

*****


The rich aroma of freshly brewed coffee drifted to Joanna, piercing the last lingering mists of sleep. She opened her eyes, and turned her head slowly towards the clock radio as nine-twelve blinked on the digital face.

“Goodness, I haven’t slept this late in six years. I can’t believe I didn’t wake up at four a.m.,” she muttered to herself. Sudden color flooded her cheeks as she remembered the reason she had been so exhausted and had slept without stirring for all these hours. Raven, she thought. She stretched and rotated her head on the pillow, then casually threw off the cover and strolled to the sliding glass door. She opened the blinds and looked out over the sand dunes that seem to surround the secluded house. Her eye was drawn to the snow-white billowing clouds that passed slowly overhead. She pulled her gaze away to look at the waves gently lapping on the shore. “I must buy a gown that color someday. How very beautiful,” she spoke to the sight before her.

Tap...tap...tap sounded from the bedroom door. “You up in there? I have coffee and breakfast ready. We need to get to the mall and then I thought we’d start shooting this afternoon; that is, if you are up to it?” came a sturdy, but pleasing voice.

Joanna turned and quickly moved to the door, opening it and smiled at hostess. “Good morning to you also, and that coffee smells wonderful. If I don’t get room service or breakfast in bed with that aroma, do I have to get dressed before I have that cup in my hand?” she asked openly.

“Well...uh...” The blue eyes glanced up and down the slender frame before her as the blush rushed to her face, and she forcibly focused on the forehead of the beautiful woman standing before her.

Joanna looked down at her body to see what was wrong, and burst out laughing, “You’re cute when you blush, Raven. However, the blush did answer me. Guess I need to change from this negligee into something a little more concealing, huh? You know, I usually wear a huge sleeping shirt at night. I bought this, specifically, because I heard the weather is too warm here for bulky sleeping apparel.”

“Uh...don’t change on my account. I happened to like your choice of sleeping attire,” grinned the tall woman. “But, I don’t know how much shopping might get done in that outfit,” smirked the now beaming photographer.

“The public never has and never will get to see me in anything like this, but I might be persuaded to make our breakfasts together an exception...an exception just for you?”

“Phew! You come on strong, lady. Don’t make too many allowances, or I just might take you up on the offer and we definitely wouldn’t get any shooting done.” Raven expressed amusedly.

“Rest assured, Tall One, when I come on strong, or make advances, there will be no doubt as to the intended outcome. It might be interesting to see just how much you can take of my STRONG offers, even a bit of fun to see you continually blush and squirm like you’re doing at this very moment,” came back the banter.

“You win.” Raven held up her hands in mock surrender. “I’ll put breakfast on the table, and you join me...uh, in whatever apparel you deem appropriate.” She turned and quickly walked from the encounter.

Damn! She apparently has no idea what she was doing to my libido. Raven, old girl, you did blush to high heaven back there. “God help me, this is going to be so interesting... Interesting? Now that is an understatement,” the tall woman said to the cabinet door as she reached in and removed two mugs.

Joanna closed the door slowly, chuckling softly to herself. “She is so adorable...yeah, adorable and very pleasing to the eye...hmmm, eye-catching. Yet, this attraction...this gentle exchange between us feels so natural, so right. I wonder why? Shoot...I am not going to question this deep connection. Time for that later.” The young blonde said as she went to the closet and searched for a pair of khaki trousers and matching shirt.

Later? Later? You’re not going to question it at all, Joanna, and you know it, she grinned as she removed the garments and started to hum a tune that had been rolling around in her head for over a month now. The actual music had come to her that night in Canada when she held the magazine with Raven’s photograph. The lyrics had come by words and phrases, and in short bits and pieces, until the tune had become a constant companion to her thoughts.

*****


Just over an hour later, Raven pulled into the St. Augustine Mall. As luck would have it, she found parking place two slots from the South entrance where the various shops and nationally recognized chain stores were located.

“Where would you recommend we start first, and what type of clothes do you recommend?” Joanna questioned as she exited the car.

“Just look around at what everyone else has on, and we’ll go from there. You might want to select a couple of simple cotton skirts and blouses, and perhaps a dressy lightweight outfit for the evening shootings.”

“Great, and I think I will pick up a few pairs of shorts and tee shirts for every day wear, and I need several pairs of matching sandals. Look at that green sundress that woman has on! I like the way it flows and I believe that color would look good on me, don’t you think?” she asked as she took off after the woman in the sundress.

“I think most things would look good on you, Joanna. And yeah, that color would really bring out your eyes. Hey, where are you going?” She asked to the backside of the blonde as she scurried away. She placed her baseball cap on her head and pulled her ponytail through the opening in the back.

“Well, I have to admit she has nerve,” she said as she watched the shorter woman approach the woman and speak to her. A few moments later, the woman shook her head and pointed toward the mall and apparently satisfied the blonde’s inquiry. The younger woman smiled and said thank you to the wearer of the sundress and returned to the waiting dark-haired photographer.

“We are in luck, she purchased it here in the mall at a place called Jun Nanro’s. You familiar with that shop?” She grinned at Raven as she replaced her sunshades and looked at her questionably.

“Yes, I know where it is, but I have never been inside. Come on I’ll show you. I’m really surprised she didn’t recognize you from your television show.” Raven held opened the door to allow Joanna to enter first.

“She did, but I told her I get that a lot and thanked her for the compliment. Although, I don’t usually get recognized when I wear my hair in a French braid and sunshades, as I am doing now.”

“Good, for I don’t want to be interrupted, every time I get a great shot set up, with autograph hounds interfering.”

“Neither do I,” she said as she laced her arm around Raven’s and said, “Lead on, oh native Floridian. What shop do we hit first.”

“Oooohhh…” moaned Raven as the nodded towards the first shoe store on the right.

An hour later, both women had their arms full of parcels, when they stepped into the corridor and Joanna’s eyes became larger as she spotted the Nanro’s logo and started towards the entrance.

“Wait!” called Raven. Joanna turned and looked at her, quizzically. “How about I take these bundles to the car, and I meet you inside?”

“Thanks, Raven, you are a dear,” she said as she literally piled her packages into the arms of the taller woman and disappeared into the store.

“You’re welcome,” she to retorted and rearranged the bundles, then headed to the mall entrance. “Damn, how did I let myself be talked into this?” she muttered as she stopped to pick up several packages that had fallen to the floor.

“I hate shopping almost as much as I do snakes.” She sneered as she piled the parcels into the rear of the Navigator, slammed the door into place, and grudgingly proceeded back into the mall. The spring in the tall woman’s normal springy step had almost become a slow crawl. Anyone could probably have done the breaststroke and beat the less than enthusiastic woman down the mall corridor.

Later, she sat on the chair outside the changing room, twisting her baseball cap around and around. Joanna had tried on fifteen different outfits and had sought her opinion. Yes, she sought her approval on each outfit.

The dark-haired woman didn’t realize the intent of the blonde was actually to purchase each and every article she tried on until Joanna handed the armload of clothes to the saleswoman and said, “I’ll take them all.” as she handed the astonished clerk her Platinum Card and smiled.

“Yes ma’am. Do you need lingerie to go with any of these?”

“Oh-my-gosh,” she exclaimed, “I had forgotten all about those items.”

“Noooooo,” moaned Raven as she placed her head in her hands and shook back and forth in a ‘no’ motion.

“Raven, I can’t possibly wear my everyday undies with some of these. I promise I will only be few more minutes.” Joanna responded lightly.

“Okay, I’ll make another run to the car with these. Where will you be?” she questioned.

Joanna came up to the taller woman, and casually put her hands on her waist and turned her toward the side of the aisle that housed the display of lingerie.

“Oh, right. Be back in a few minutes,” as she placed the garment bags over her arm as the sales clerk handed them to her. She then stopped and turned to the flaxen-headed actress and said in a very sensual tone, “That is, unless you need me to give approval on these up and coming purchases. I could tell you if they were too tight, or the right color?” the photographer proposed, teasingly.

“Oh, you,” Joanna laughed as she patronizingly patted Raven on the forearm and gently pushed her toward the aisle.

“Just my luck. When any of the intriguing items are tried on, I am not needed,” she pouted.

Joanna caught her by the arm and leaned up to her so that no one else could hear and said quietly, “I’ll be happy to model them for you later...if you really want to see them?”

“Uh...well...uh... Darn it! Joanna, there you go pulling my leg again. I haven’t learned when you’re kidding or not yet,” she responded and walked away.

Joanna’s face lit up and her laughter could be heard all over the area as she headed to the department on the far side of the store. “This is going to be more fun then I had originally thought. She is so adorable when she gets so flustered.”

Three trips, several hours, and three different levels of the mall were scoured for the appropriate bathing suits. Joanna had insisted she needed several bikinis, and at least two one-piece suits for the three weeks; those particular purchases Raven didn’t mind critiquing. She actually licked her lips when Joanna came out in a string tangerine bikini, to which Joanna had retorted, “Nah...Too bold.” But then, she handed the selection to the clerk after she piled the others down on the counter and said, “I’ll take this one also.”

Beaming an amused smile down at her, Raven commented, “That one definitely has my vote.”

Now Raven sat in the plush lounge chair outside the changing room in the exclusive French shop ‘Saint-Laurent’ and waited for Joanna to change her last outfit, having asked for a size smaller and a deeper shade of green. It had fit the small woman a little loosely, but Raven had remarked that it was breathtaking. Joanna was finally happy with the five exquisite designs she had selected, including accessories. She stood before the photographer with a radiant smile, which was not lost on Raven.

“All done, but I have to tell you, Raven, I am famished. Could we eat something before we go back to your house?”

Raven jumped up, “Sweetheart, those are the most welcomed words I have ever heard.” She swiftly picked up the three dresses and carefully folded them over one arm. She took the actress by the other and gently directed the younger woman towards the exit. Raven was almost to the entrance door before she realized she had addressed Joanna with the term ‘sweetheart’. Hopefully she didn’t hear, or didn’t mind, she again blushed.

Sweetheart, huh? Well that really feels so right. Maybe the extent of this connection between us will be revealed. The ears of the young honey-blonde began to tingle with the terminology bestowed upon her.

“Raven, I’ll treat you to lunch for being such a dear this morning.” Joanna said adoringly.

Raven looked at her and smiled, “Joanna, it is mid-afternoon, but I would kind of like to eat something myself. How about crab claws?”

“Is it that late? Goodness Raven, we probably won’t get to shoot anything this afternoon. I guess I owe you another apology. Seems like I repeatedly mess up your timetable. And yes, I do enjoy crab claws.”

“It’s okay, we’ll get an early start tomorrow. By the time you get all these bags unpacked and taken care of, it will be dark. How about a walk on the beach tonight?”

“I’d really like that. And thank you for being so thoughtful today and so understanding.”

“No problem,” she laughed, “But don’t hold your breath until I let you drag me off shopping for a few items again.” She placed the gowns on the back seat, and then went to the driver’s side.

“Oh, you... I think you had a good time. Well, maybe not a good time, but the expression on your face at times today was worth a million dollars. Again, I thank you,” she said as she fastened her seat belt. They drove a couple of miles to a hole in the wall place called ‘The Crab Shack’ to eat hot, spicy, steaming crabs claws.

*****


Raven had taken her two favorite cameras and many rolls of film as they headed off to Old St. Augustine and the first photo shoot. The photographer thought she might drive around several areas, explain the history a little and see if any site felt right to shoot. She decided that the pool of Ponce de Leon would be an ideal spot to start.

As she drove down the Avenue of Oaks, Joanna let out a soft “Wow! Look at those trees with all that gray stuff hanging down off them! Their branches and shade completely covers the road,” she exclaimed excitedly. “Now, that is a breathtaking scene, don’t you think, Raven?”

“Certainly do. This is one of my favorite drives, and it is even better in a horse-drawn carriage. That gray stuff, as you call it, is Spanish moss. Those trees are several hundred years old, and this is called a canopy lane for the oaks’ umbrella appearance.”

“What an awesome landscape, and I can imagine the view is more panoramic from one of those horse-drawn carriages...You will see that I get a tour in one of them, won’t you, please? Joanna asked eagerly.

“Sure, I intend to park in the green zone, and as soon as I finish taking some shots of you at the Fountain of Youth, we will take a carriage tour around town. That sound okay with you?”

“Sounds like a plan. Is there really a Fountain of Youth?

“You betcha. I’ll snap off a few of you throughout the park and even treat you to a glass of the Fountain water. Never hurts to take a few years off your life, you know.” Raven snickered slightly at the thought of Joanna gulping down a glass of the sulfur water. I bet that will be a face to photograph, she thought to herself and chuckled out loud before she could catch herself.

“What’s so funny? There aren’t any alligators in the water, are there?”

“Of course not, I... ah, just thought you would like to take a couple years off; after all, looks like you might be all of twenty-two,” the tall woman chuckled again.

“Why thank you, kind lady, but I’ll never see twenty-two again. You’re pulling my leg about the water, aren’t you?”

“Not at all. Ponce de Leon searched all over Florida for the spring of youth. Guess the old codger wanted to recapture some of his long-faded, by-gone years. He never did find that fountain, but as a tribute to him, they did name this particular spring, the Fountain of Youth. You get a small free container of the water to drink, but they have bottles of it for sale, if you choose to take home a souvenir.”

“That is a nice idea; I bet Daddy would like one of those. He has a bottle of wine and water from countries all over the world, but I don’t think he or any member of my family has ever been to Florida. At least not that I can remember.” The blonde said seriously.

Ouch, oh, I’m in for it now. Wonder what she will do when she tastes that water. I’d better snap that shot quickly. Oh, well, I can outrun her... I think, Raven stopped the attractive woman as they started to cross the street and had her lean back against one of the oaks, where she snapped several shot of the cheery actress. Joanna had dressed in a white short skirt and pale green, button up blouse, on which she had left the bottom four buttons undone and had tied the ends around her midriff. The outfit was polished off with white sandals. She then had her attempt to hug the trunk as she laid her head against the bark with a dreamy expression on her face. This one is a cover shot if ever I saw one, Raven thought to herself.

A half hour later, after they had gradually proceeded through the park and stopped to pose at several shrubs and monuments, they finally arrived at the Fountain of Youth. At the refreshment stand, Raven purchased a bottle of commercial water for herself. She unscrewed the top and drank heavily from the bottle, nearly emptying it before she screwed the top back on and slid it into the backpack slung over her shoulder. She picked up one of the free cups of spring water for Joanna and walked over to where the young woman was curiously playing in the pool of water in the form of a wishing pool. Joanna was reading the plaque on a pole to her right. Raven handed the paper cup to the sitting woman, and readied her camera for her first taste.

“Thanks, Raven,” she smiled at the photographer. “I was getting a little thirsty. So this is the Fountain of Youth water Ponce de Leon had named after him?” she asked, raising and drinking heartedly from the cup.

Raven had raised her camera and was shooting rapidly as the enlarged green eyes, and the perfect lips of the actress squelched into a horrible expression and, unable to hold the water in her mouth, she spewed it out, covering the pool with a spray. She almost strangled, trying to expel the sulfur-tainted liquid.

“Phew! That stuff is awful!” she squinted again as she looked at the cup and them up to Raven to see the tall woman laughing while she continued to shoot. Reality hit Joanna, “OH! YOU BIG TURKEY!” she exclaimed. “I’ll show you how I retaliate on such trickery, Tall One,” she cried out as she scooped up a full cup of the pungent pool water and took off after the now fleeing photographer.

“Now, don’t do anything you’ll be sorry for later, Joanna. I never forced you to drink the water.” She yelled over her shoulder as she headed across the grassy knoll towards the ocean. She glanced back to see the shorter woman quickly gaining on her and opened up her stride.

Raven tightened her grip on the camera hanging around her neck and hoped the one in her hand did not drop and she extended her stride to its maximum length. However, she could hear the young blonde catching up to her. “Damn,” she swore softly.

“Just remember, Tall One, paybacks are a bitch. I always pay back... Always. Your jogging won’t help you here, Raven. I was on the track team and have been in the Boston and New York Marathon for the last six years.” the shorter woman cried out to the back of the fleeing woman. Joanna was gaining with every stride; even though she had to take two to Raven’s one, she was much faster. Within fifty yards, Joanna reached out to snag the back of the taller woman’s shirt and barely missed her. She put extra effort into her timing and quickly closed the remaining distance between them.

“You’re mine,” she growled, as she reached the back of Raven’s shorts and tightly gripped the waistband and stopped.

Raven felt the pull and tried to break the hold, only to find her body hitting the ground from a well-placed leg sweep from the blonde’s kick-boxing training. Before she knew what was going on, the blonde was straddling her waist with the cup held above her head.

“Not the cameras, Joanna. Sweetheart, not the cameras,” she pleaded as she quickly held the camera in her hand out to the side and covered the other camera with her hand to protect it.

“Okay, Raven, you be a good girl and take your punishment and I won’t wet anything except what I aim at. You squirm and I will wet you up and down your front.” The blonde dropped her voice. “Take your medicine, you conniving, scheming, devious, Meanie! Or suffer the consequences, your choice?” her green eyes fixed on the blue ones below her.

Raven looked up into those eyes recognizing that she could easily use her karate experience to disarm the woman above her. But, she didn’t want to harm or hurt this woman in any way. “I give, you win. I was wrong in tricking you into drinking the sulfur water. Just don’t get water into the cameras, please?” She appealed to the woman’s sense of fair play.

“I only intend to pour this entire cup all over your face and hair, but you squirm or try and prevent that happening and I will not be responsible for the direction. Just lie there and take your punishment, ok?” asked the grinning actress.

“Oh! Lord, give me strength,” Raven said, giving Joanna a light pat on the hip. “Get on with it then, sweetheart, and let us get this over with, we still have this park to see.”

“I recommend you close your eyes. This stuff not only tastes terrible, but it smells horrible and it might sting a little.” she began to tilt the cup.

Raven looked up and scrunched her eyes tightly shut as the sulfur water splattered all over her face and ran down into her hair. Joanna poured the cup slowly, and deliberately circled the beautiful face until the last drops dripped down on the tan skin. Raven turned her face sideways and blew the water from her lips. “You finished?” she asked.

“Yes, all finished.” Joanna replied. “Are we even?” She asked.

“Even.”

“Deal?”

“Deal,” the pinned woman answered.

Joanna hopped up and extended a hand to the still-prone photographer, who reached up and took the hand with a smile. Instantly, they were both in each other’s arms, laughing about their playful encounter.

“That was pretty mean of me and I do apologize, Joanna.”

“You will smell the balance of the day, Raven, and I am sorry about wetting your hair like I did.”

“Aplo... Apology accepted,” they both said in unison, and started laughing again.

Raven removed a cloth from her backpack and dried off as best she could. Then they walked slowly back to the Fountain of Youth, where they took up the shooting. Joanna did decline to purchase a bottle of the spring water for her father, and punched Raven in the side as she casually mentioned it as they stepped past the refreshment stand once again.

Some time later, as they proceeded through the park and down the winding walkways, Raven explained some of the history to Joanna.

“The Spanish explorer and treasure hunter, Don Juan Ponce de Leon, first sighted the mainland of the North American continent on Easter, 1513,” Raven enlightened Joanna as she glanced up at the hundred foot cross before her. “He claimed the land for Spain and named it La Florida, meaning "Land of Flowers".

“Land of Flowers. Beautiful, and it is so appropriate. Look at all the different flowers planted around these trees and monuments. You don’t see flora and plant life like this in New York and Canada... Not this early, at least.” Joanna was amazed by the many variations she had been shown.

Raven had been steadily shooting her without asking her to pose every few seconds, and the day was extremely enjoyable to Joanna. It wasn’t like some of the photo shoots she had been required to do, and she enjoyed the laid-back attitude and felt the beginning of a deep friendship between Raven and herself.

“Between 1513 and 1563, the government of Spain launched six expeditions to settle Florida, but all failed.” Raven flipped her hair back off her face then continued. “The French succeeded in establishing a fort and colony on the St. Johns River the following year, and, in doing so, threatened Spain's treasure fleets, which sailed along Florida's shoreline returning to Spain. As a result of this incursion into Florida, King Phillip the II named Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles, Spain's most experienced admiral, governor of Florida. He was instructed to explore and to colonize the territory.” Raven indicated the map in the sealed case they were standing before as she continued, “Menendez was also instructed to drive out any pirates or settlers of other nations, should they be found there. When Menendez arrived off the coast of Florida, the Feast Day of St. Augustine. Eleven days later, he and his 600 soldiers and settlers came ashore at the site of the Timucuan Indian village of Seloy with banners flying and trumpets sounding. He hastily fortified the fledgling village and named it St. Augustine.”

Joanna listened a attentively, then asked, “They actually had pirates, battles, and conflicts here in St. Augustine, Raven?”

“Yes, all three,” She said as she looked at the shorter woman warmly. “Utilizing brilliant military maneuvers, Menendez destroyed the French garrison on the St. Johns River,” her finger touched the plexi-glass, locating the river, “and with the help of a hurricane, also defeated the French fleet. With the coast of Florida firmly in Spanish hands, he then set to work building the town, establishing missions to the Indians for the Church, and exploring the land. Maintaining St. Augustine became a mighty task over the next two hundred years.”

She motioned for Joanna to squat down and touch one of the flowers in the bed before her as she captured the moment on film, then she continued. “English corsair, Sir Francis Drake, attacked and burned the town. Then, the pirate, Captain John Davis, plundered the town, killing sixty inhabitants. Without the courage, perseverance and faith of its early settlers, it is doubtful that St. Augustine would have survived. That is why the buildings are all in the Spanish design,” she indicated the buildings all around them inside the park. “I’m sure you noticed a majority of the buildings are of concreita.” They both looked at the nearby building. “Concreita is sand and shells ground up in a mortar form and applied to the surfaces of everything…buildings, fences, everything. We have the only Post Office in the U.S. that was given an exception decree to maintain the design of the buildings in the area. We are so proud of our city that a long-standing ordinance prevents any building from being constructed, except in the design already specified. Even the rebuilt houses must be built back in the sand and shell mortar finish and Spanish design.” Raven spoke proudly and very knowledgeably of her community.

“You want me to continue the history spiel as I shoot, or have you had enough of ancient times for today? I can be very boring when I commence on the history of my home.”

“Oh, please continue, Raven. This is so interesting. I have always been fascinated by History. I have always felt history teaches us lessons on how or how not to repeat a lesson in life. Although one of my degrees is in Music and Theater, my primary degree is in History. I can’t tell you why, but I have always been drawn to things of the past. My musical is an historical piece. It’s based on a past Egyptian woman ruler, her devotion to her people, her country, her accomplishments, and her tragic personal life and love. Actually, Raven, I even spent my three months vacation researching and studying the actual sites in deplorable conditions four years ago in Egypt to make sure the musical was authentic and factual.” Joanna expressed with conviction and humility.

Raven removed her finger from the advance button and slowly lowered the camera. The lump in her throat caused her to swallow several times and her heart began to race at the information just relayed to her by stunning woman now standing in front of her. Joanna had turned as soon as she had begun to talk and her eyes were fixated on Raven’s steel blue eyes.

“How long ago were you in Egypt, Joanna?” she asked anxiously.

Joanna knew there was something significant in the posed question, “Four years ago,” she replied hardly audible. “Why?” she barely squeaked out.

Raven stood there in awe. It was several minutes before she spoke softly, “I went there four years ago. I spent the month of July on special assignment in Alexandria. It was a most exacting month for me; some very bizarre events and happenings occurred, and for the life of me, I still can’t explain one of them.”

“Oh-my-gosh! I was there at that time Raven. I’m surprised we didn’t run into each other. Talk about strange phenomenas occurring; at certain times during the day, I would get these deep sensations, my skin would tingle and I would look around as if someone very precious to me was nearby, but it was the same each time... No one was there! I had the distinct feeling I had been there before, but it was my first time in Egypt. As far back as I could remember I have been drawn to Egyptian history. I used to spend hours in the library researching everything I could get my hands on, and now, I have so many bookmarks on my computer about Egypt, I had to put them in special folders.”

The silence between them was deafening. They stood still, gazing into each other’s eyes. Something was passing between them, some knowing, some sort of transition had occurred, but neither dared break the seemingly...what... spell? Enchantment?

Raven was the first to speak as she lowered her eyes, not knowing exactly what had just transpired between them. “Uh... we should continue our shoot. We need to take some shots of you at the beach edge, and then I think we should call it a day, if that is all right with you?” She said so softly, you would have had to strain to hear the words.

“Fine,” came the whispered reply.

Neither spoke for the remainder of the day. Both had questions, neither of them had answers.


*****



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