Out of India

by Enginerd

Chapter 4 - Going Home

The truck bounced and jarred the occupants as it approached the camp, causing Janice's sore head to thunk against the glass side window. "Fuck," Janice mumbled weakly.

"Sorry, honey," Sophia said with a wince and offered "Sitting up straighter might help."

Janice's less puffy eye opened and glared at her from a still hunched-over position.

"Uh, we're almost there," she said uneasily and headed towards the group of tents.


Hearing the truck, Mel quickly emerged from her tent, anxious to talk with Janice. Her eyes widened with surprise as a rather buxom redhead got out of the drivers' side.

Adjusting her colorful skirt and tight blouse, Sophia carefully navigated the dirt road in her high heels around the front of the truck to the appreciative wolf whistles of the workers. Sophia waved and smiled at the business prospects before she opened the passenger's door.

Just put one foot down, then the other, Janice thought with great concentration as she stared at the ground. She noted with fascination how it seemed to be quickly moving towards her. "Ooff."

Mel watched the archeologist fall out of the truck. "Dear Lord!"


"Ehh," Sophia said with a cringe, kneeling down awkwardly, not sure how to pick Janice up without causing more pain.

"What on Earth happened?!?" Mel asked, quickly by Janice's side as were Raj and Peter. They all could all smell the alcohol and smoke.

Janice moaned into the ground, ready for a nap as soon as the loud ringing in her ears stopped. "Pfth," she spat out the dirt in her mouth and looked at familiar boots. "Hi Mel," Janice said softly, peering up at the tall silhouette with one eye as she was picked up.

She was home now and everything would be OK, Janice concluded.

The fact Janice looked like she had been run over by a truck, was obviously drunk, not to mention in the presence of what she strongly suspected was a "working woman," and not knowing why to any of it, made Mel's heart ache.

Mel exhaled heavily, trying to calm her turbulent emotions.

Maybe not, Janice thought, seeing Mel's unhappy face. Janice's brow furrowed, causing a jolt of pain that seemed to shoot to her legs. "Jesus! My eyebrows are connetted to my legs!" She slurred, raising her brow with amazement. "Ow. See?"

"That's amazing, Honey," Sophia said. "Where's her tent?" She asked Mel, then glanced around with interest, never having been to Janice's camp before. The archeologist told her she never mixed business with pleasure, she recalled. Until now apparently, Sophia concluded with interest, eyeing the tall, attractive woman.

Peter and Raj looked at each other and carefully stepped back out of the way, concluding Janice had more than enough help. "Chess?" Peter suddenly asked Raj, who answered "Why yes!" The two quickly left the women's side.

"Over there," Mel said, nodding towards their tent. "Who are you?" She asked briskly as the three slowly made their way towards it.

"An old friend," Sophia responded honestly, eyeing the American woman with intrigue.

"That's Sophia," Janice informed Mel and smiled at the prostitute. "Ow."

"Sophia Themopolis. And you are?" She asked as they entered the tent.

"That's Mel," Janice gushed happily with a big smile. "Ow."

"Melinda Pappas," Mel said, automatically adding "Janice's partner."

Sophia smiled at the slightly possessive tone.

"If you really are her friend, why didn't you take her to a doctor!" Melinda snapped, eyeing the battered condition of the archeologist as they carefully sat her down on the cot.

"Nononooooo," Janice blurted with displeasure at the thought. "No," she added firmly.

"She wanted to go home," Sophia said with a shrug.

"Home," Janice said, blinking experimentally and touching her nose. "Ow . . . I shouldn't do that," she muttered, looking at her offending hand. Amazing how it can coax such pleasure and yet so much pain, she thought, wiggling her fingers then making a fist. Ow.

Mel looked at Janice, then grabbed a wash cloth, a bowl, and a canteen of water. "And you listened to her," Melinda said softly, shaking her head with amazement as she poured water into the bowl and knelt before Janice, who couldn't help but smile at her best friend. "Ow."

"It's just a bloody nose and a few bumps and cuts. She'll be back to her old self in a day or two," Sophia said.

"Well, thank you so much for that medical assessment, Doctor Themopolis," Mel said briskly, gently holding Janice's chin as she started to wipe the dried blood off of Janice's face.


"Sorry," Mel said softly to the archeologist, who she hoped would quickly get better so she could strangle her. "Would you mind telling me what happened?" She asked with strained politeness, continuing to clean the archeologist's puffy and bruised face.

"I ran into a doorknob?" Janice volunteered with amusement.

"I am not talking to you!" Mel blurted, surprised she could get angrier at the archeologist. But she just had to open her mouth and lie! "Sophia, would you please tell me?"

"We bumped into each other in the Crooked Bastard . . . ," Sophia said, drawing Mel's confused gaze.

"A bar . . . with three big doorknobs," Janice explained helpfully, grabbing the washcloth in Mel's hand to help finish up. Mel shouldn't have to clean up my messes, she thought.

"Janice Covington, you are trying my last nerve!" Mel snapped, pulling the washcloth away as Sophia bit her lip to keep from smiling.

"But . . . " Janice frowned. "Ow."

"Sit still and be quiet, Janice Covington. Sophia was trying to speak. Please continue, Sophia," Mel politely commanded in a voice that Sophia knew was best to obey.

"Some jerk insulted us, Janice took offense, and well . . . all hell broke loose."

"Are you saying one man did this to her?" Mel said with genuine surprise.

"Uh . . . no. The jerk had two large friends and Janice wasn't really at her best," she admitted uneasily, making Mel breath deeply to calm her stormy emotions. "But in the end, Janice was the only one standing," Sophia offered with a grin, which faded when she realized Mel was not nearly as impressed.

Hearing a soft rumble, they looked at the archeologist, whose head was down as she snored.

Sophia softly laughed and offered "She can sleep anywhere, in any po. . . ." Her amusement was quickly squashed when cool blue eyes briefly glared at her before returning to the archeologist.

Considering sleep what Janice needed right now, Melinda sighed and gently guided the sleeping lump to lie down. With a groggy grunt, Janice settled on the cot and started to softly snore again. After taking Janice's boots off, Mel pulled a blanket over the archeologist. When she finished, she turned towards the redhead to suggest they leave the tent. But Sophia was already gone.

Mel's gaze returned to the sleeping woman, who once again stirred her emotions like no other. Her fingers tenderly brushed the hair from the archeologist's puffy brow. How could one person get her so angry, worried, and so . . . so . . . ? The word to describe the incredibly unpleasant feeling eluded her until she heard the wolf whistles, undoubtedly for Janice's voluptuous "friend."


Sophia walked up to the kind-faced worker, Peter, who was sitting with Raj at a table, staring at the chess board between them.

"Hey Pete, need to borrow some cash?" One worker heckled, provoking snickers and chuckles in the camp that Sophia chose to ignore.

"I hate to interrupt your game, boys, but could I get a ride back to the city?" Sophia said and sighed heavily as she rubbed her temples. The day was starting to wear on her.

"Of course," Peter said, standing up with a kind smile.

"How's Dr. Covington?" Raj asked with concern.

"She'll survive . . . if her partner doesn't kill her," Sophia added flatly, getting nods from the two. A sudden, panicked look filled Raj's face.

"For getting drunk and fighting," Sophia clarified, causing the Indian to exhale with great relief.


Sophia walked with Peter towards the truck. "You've known Janice a while, haven't you?" She asked curiously, getting a thoughtful nod from the older man. He was easy going, like Janice.

"Since Covington's first started to dig. So how did she attract trouble this time?" Pete said with an amused smile.

"Well Pete, it happened quickly," she said tiredly, rubbing her eyes. "One minute, Janice was kissing me, then the next, this jerk. . . ."

Peter cleared his throat.

"Hey, I know how it sounds, but it wasn't business it was just a kiss," she said, "well, it's never "just a kiss" with her but . . . " she amended then sighed, seeing his eyes widen as he cleared his throat again.

"For your information, I had offered . . . ," she tried to explain to the nice, but disappointingly narrow-minded man, who was obviously very uncomfortable with her brutal honesty. He coughed, loudly.

"Do you need a drink of water?" Sophia asked flatly, then felt someone behind her. Looking into Peter's face she saw a sympathetic wince. Oh shit. She turned to find the look on Melinda's face unreadable . . . almost. Shit.

"Come to think of it, I do need a drink of water," Peter blurted and quickly fled.

"Coward," Sophia muttered, then sighed heavily. "Nothing was going to happen, Melinda."

"From what I understand," Mel said agreeably. "Three doorknobs made sure of it."

"Look, Janice wasn't interested . . . . "

"I must admit, I don't have a great deal of experience in this area, but I would have thought going to a bar and kissing a . . . a lady of the evening . . . would have meant she was," Mel said tightly. "Silly me."

Sophia rubbed her eyes and sighed, knowing from experience there was no reasoning with a jealous woman. "You should be more concerned that she was already drunk when I came in for my lunch break. The last thing on her mind was sex, honey. Well, at least with me. . . ."

Mel's eyes dropped, not sure of what to make of this woman or what she was saying. But she knew Sophia cared for Janice, as incredibly irritating as that was, and both of them were concerned about her recent behavior. "I don't know why she got drunk," Mel admitted uneasily, looking up at Sophia hopefully. "Do you?"

"Did you two have a lover's quarrel?" Sophia guessed, getting a startled look.

"N . . . no!" Mel quickly blurted, nervously pushing her glasses up.


"Yes, really," Mel said, indignant and flustered, fumbling with her glasses. "We . . . we aren't . . . so we couldn't have," Mel said, her eyes dropping as she thought about that.

"Really??" Sophia asked with surprise. "So, she wanted to, but you weren't so sure about the "loving a woman" part?" Sophia asked gently, knowing that could cause a love-sick archeologist to drink.

"I . . . I . . . she's never . . . that's not . . . !" Mel blurted, then paused and sighed heavily as she pinched the bridge of her nose. "She was upset over something having to do with India. Do you have any idea why?" Mel asked, attempting to get back to the current problem at hand, the frustration evident in her voice.

Sophia shook her head no. "I'm sorry. She didn't want to talk about what was bothering her. She never talks about herself much."

Mel sighed and nodded, feeling some small, strange consolation that Janice had not shared all of herself with this woman.

Chapter 5 - Rise and Shiner

Mel woke, knowing something wasn't right. She heard familiar sounds of activity in the camp and from the light in her tent, realized she had slept until mid-morning. Startled at the unusually late hour, she sat up and slipped on her glasses, immediately looking over to Janice's cot.

It was empty.


Janice surveyed the nearly barren site as the last large grid was being excavated of what once was a kitchen. She slowly shook her still-throbbing head with disappointment, never having liked this site. While she knew there was value in uncovering the past, pots and pans just didn't interest her. And what really pissed her off at the moment was she didn't know where they would go next, having already exhausted her clues.

Not that it would really matter.

The Nazis were becoming more disruptive, not to mention greedy. She had heard an increase in stories about them "appropriating" artifacts from Universities and personal collections. Then, of course, from her personal experience with them, she knew there was no room for compromise. They wanted it all. Nazi bastards.

"Doc!" A worker called out. Janice was kneeling by his side as quickly as her incredibly sore body would allow. "It could still be intact," he said with excitement, glancing into the bruised face, then back to the artifact partially sticking out from the earth.

"A pot," Janice said flatly. "Raj?" She called out to the Indian, who joined her.

"Yes, Dr. Covington?"

"Log it in the book," Janice said with a sigh and got up with a groan.

"Yes, Dr. Covington," he said happily, opening the catalogue he was responsible for.

"Oh and Raj?" She asked, still staring at the pot as he recorded the grid and item number.

"Yes, Dr. Covington?" He asked, looking up curiously.

"When you're done, shoot me."

"Because of boredom or the results of yesterday?" He asked with amusement.

After a thoughtful pause, she answered. "Both."


As the workers came back to camp for the lunch break, Mel finished with the supply tent inventory. Just enough until the end of the week, she confirmed, reviewing her list. Then, thank the Lord, they should be done with the site, she considered with relief. But that welcome news meant Janice was going to have to decide where they would go next, and soon. It was apparent that she wasn't thrilled with the India idea. But where would they go? They had no more leads and Greece was becoming a less and less desirable location. The Nazis' presence was unnerving. India had to be better.

Exiting the tent, she glanced around but still didn't see Janice. She caught up to Raj, who was chatting with another worker about the find. "Raj?"

"Oh, Miss Pappas. How may I help you?" He said pleasantly.

"Where's Janice?"

"She is at grid 4B. We found a pot today!" He said enthusiastically.

"Really?" Mel said politely. India had to be better.


"Just keep doing that," Janice said, releasing his hand after her demonstration on how to pick away the hard dirt that still trapped the pot in the Earth. "In this soil, the dirt will come off in clumps. You have to be patient, but sometimes you're going to have to use a little elbow grease."

"But, I don't want to break it," the young worker said nervously, pulling back.

"Well, that pot isn't going to suddenly free itself," Janice said, eyeing the trapped artifact. "You have to help it along."

"But I might break it."

"Nicholas, I have yet to meet an archeologist who hasn't broken a few things."

"But I'm not an archeologist."

"You said you wanted to be one."

"But. . . ."

"No guts no glory, Nicholas," Janice countered with rapidly depleting patience.

"Speaking of guts, I am rather hungry," he quickly blurted. "We can work on it after lunch?"

"Sure," Janice said tiredly as he quickly got up.

"It's just a goddamn pot," she muttered as she watched him leave for camp. Wearily, she got up with a groan and dragged her exhausted self to a tree. Sitting down, she leaned carefully back against the trunk and closed her eyes for a glorious moment of rest. With a long exhale that caused an uncomfortable ache, she hoped she had enough energy to yell at Raj.

He forgot to shoot her. "Uggggh."

"Are you OK?"

"Huh?!?" Janice said, startled. "What?"

"I . . . I just asked if you were OK. You sounded . . . well, unwell," Mel said awkwardly.

"Actually," Janice admitted reluctantly, surprising the tall woman, who would have bet, if she didn't have moral reservations about gambling, that Janice would have stubbornly said she was fine.

Dear Lord, she might really need a doctor! Mel suddenly worried, until Janice offered "My big toe is still bothering me a bit." The archeologist wiggled her foot, eyeing the toe she stubbed last night.

"Well there goes any sympathy I might have had for you," Mel said flatly.

"Good. You shouldn't be wasting your t . . . . " Janice said honestly.

"Aren't you hungry?" Mel interrupted, not going to be told how to feel at the moment, especially by Janice.

"Not right now," Janice said grimacing at the thought of food.

"You should at least drink some water. You've been out in the sun and you're already dehydrated from the alcohol," Mel said, holding out a canteen.

Janice was going to argue that Mel shouldn't worry about her, but saw the determined look on Mel's face. "Uh, thanks," she said, reaching up and accepting the water.

"So . . . I heard you found a pot today?" Mel asked, pushing up her glasses, trying not to stare at the puffy and bruised face as she sat next to the archeologist under the tree's shade.

"Nicholas did, right over there," Janice said, pointing to grid 4B then taking a swig of water.

"Oh," Mel said, much more interested in the fact that Janice was guzzling the water.

Feeling Mel's eyes on her, Janice stopped. "Thirstier than I thought," Janice said sheepishly, carefully wiping her wet lips with the sleeve on her forearm. "Thanks for the water, Mel," she said softly.

Mel nodded with satisfaction. After a moment of uncomfortable silence, Mel softly asked "Why did you let me sleep in today?"

"You looked tired," Janice said, looking out over the site. She knew Mel had lost sleep because of her. She had woken up a few times in the night to be immediately asked if she needed anything. The least she could do was let Mel get some shuteye when she finally did fall asleep.

"I was. But turning off my alarm and letting me sleep in when others are working is just not fair to the others," Mel said firmly. "It sets a bad example."

Janice sighed. She hadn't thought about that. "You're right." Janice glanced into blue eyes, seeing worry.

The Southerner wanted to ask the archeologist why she bolted from camp, got drunk, got into a fight, and why she was kissing this "Old friend" who was a prostitute . . . and just how many other "Old friends" were there?!?

Another thing Janice didn't think about - Mel's worry. Damn it. "It won't happen again," Janice offered uneasily.

But as many questions she had, Mel knew Janice wouldn't respond well to an interrogation and the answers to some of those questions were none of her business.

After a thoughtful moment, Mel softly answered "I hope not."


In the evening, Mel had returned to their tent with two plates of food. Entering, she found the archeologist at the table, looking over a map.

"I brought you food and before you argue, you will be eating some of it," Mel said firmly, placing the tray down on top of the map in front of the archeologist.

Janice looked up then down at the tray and nodded without argument, which immediately worried Mel.

"Are you all right?" Mel asked with concern, sitting across the table from her unusually amenable friend.

"Yeah," Janice said tiredly and picked up a small piece of bread and nibbled on it.

"You shouldn't have pushed yourself so hard today, Janice," Mel said softly.

"I just helped with a lousy pot," Janice blurted wearily.

"You didn't have to stay outside digging with the others the whole day," Mel countered, ignoring the archeologist's comment.

Janice looked at her. "Of course I did. We'd never get any work done if the guys thought it was OK to take it easy after a night of carousing."

"Day," Mel corrected. "Well, actually, morning. . . ."

"Work needed to be done, Mel," Janice wearily countered, sighing as she pushed the plate aside. Looking at the map, she added "still does."

Mel glanced at the map, then at Janice with surprise. "India? I thought. . . ."

"I've reconsidered," the archeologist interrupted and stared at the map. "A gut feel can be just as important as evidence sometimes," Janice said, though her gut was telling her to either stay as far way from that country as possible . . . or not to eat that stew.

"But . . . you said we don't have a lot to go on and India is a big country," Mel said with confusion.

"We don't. And it is," Janice said and nibbled on the bread.

"But . . . why now?" Mel asked suspiciously. "Why were you upset with the idea before and now . . . ?"

"Jesus, Mel," Janice blurted with irritation. "We don't have a hell of a lot to go on in any country, let alone India. And if I'm going to be stuck digging in some god-forsaken place, one of us might as well be excited by it. And Greece isn't going to get any better until the Nazi bastards are kicked out. And I don't see that happening any time soon."

Mel was still confused but didn't push. She was relieved that Janice's plans included her. When Janice distanced herself, Mel wondered if it was a sign that the archeologist was unhappy with their partnership and wanted to work alone. But Janice wasn't the kind to beat around the bush. She'd just tell her . . . wouldn't she?

"You expressed some concern about money," Mel said softly, knowing she could remove at least one burden for Janice in this new endeavor. "Will you at least let me help with . . . ? " Mel offered but was interrupted with a firm "No." The answer was crisp and clear. But Mel didn't understand.

"But I . . . "


"I really don't see . . . " Mel continued to argue.

"So, where do you think we should start?" Janice interrupted and pointed to the map.

"Doctor Covington, you are the most infuriating person I have ever met," Mel said with exasperation.

"It's always nice to excel at something," Janice said dryly.

"And you do at that."

Janice motioned to the map again. "So, where do you think we should go?"

Chapter 6 - Looking Ahead

Mel started to count the money in the old cigar box that was also the "treasure chest." Moving a pouch of cigars out of the way as she gathered the bills and coins, she rolled her eyes then eyed Janice, the first woman who she had ever met that smoked cigars.

Without looking at Mel, Janice continued to write in her journal and offered. "Help yourself to a cigar."

"No, thank you."

"They're really smooth," Janice said temptingly.

"As much as I appreciate your willingness to share something so important to you, I think I'll pass, thank you," Mel said and collected the last of the coins.

"You never know if you like something unless you try it, Mel," Janice said, reaching over to the box and lifting a cigar towards her in offering.

"Normally sage advice, Dr. Covington. But in this particular case, I have been exposed to enough of your smoke to know that I do not have to endure that vice first hand to know I would not care for it. So no, thank you," Mel said.

"Wow. You know, you could have saved a lot of time by just saying no," Janice offered.

"I tr . . . !" Mel said with irritation and noted Janice grin devilishly as she started to put the cigar in her mouth and produce a lighter. The Southerner swiftly plucked the stogie from her hand.

"Geeze, Mel. I though you just said didn't want one," Janice complained, then offered thoughtfully "Though your long-winded answers usually are confusing. . . ."

"Why don't I just put this back for later? When you can enjoy it better in the refreshing outdoors," Mel said, ignoring the archeologist's usual jibe.

Janice chuckled, watching Mel carefully return the "treasure" back in the box. Shaking her head in amusement, the archeologist returned to writing one of her last entries about the site.

Mel watched her, thankful that they would be moving on soon. While the Southerner knew there was value in digging up the past, pots and pans were only so exciting. Her enthusiasm for the normally tedious profession of archeology was only sparked when she got caught up in the archeologist's contagious passion for evidence about the Warrior Princess.

Unfortunately, as Janice had predicted months ago, no evidence of Xena or Gabrielle had been found on this dig. Mel wondered how many digs Janice's family had endured without finding anything. From the archeologist's recent and surprising remarks about her father, Mel guessed it must have put quite a strain on her family. Janice herself wasn't exactly a picnic to be around when she was bored or irritated with lack of progress, which was most of the time on this particular dig.

Would she have been so willing to follow Janice from camp to camp, had they not found the scrolls so quickly? Mel wondered briefly, then looked at the puffy and bruised profile of the dynamic woman, who exuded such confidence and passion for life.

Mel knew the answer with certainty, and it had nothing to do with the scrolls.

"You know, I'm going to look like this for a while, Mel," Janice said, looking up from her journal.

Mel smiled uneasily and pushed her glasses up. "Well, there's always makeup."

"Funny," Janice said flatly.

"Dr. Covington?" Raj said, poking his head in the tent. "Peter said you wanted to talk with me?"

"Raj. Yes. I'm finishing up now. I'll meet you by the truck?" Janice said uneasily.

"Of course," he said with a curious look and smiled with a slight bow before he left.

As Janice got up, Mel eyed the archeologist, waiting for her to say something. The preoccupied archeologist silently put away her journal and left the tent.

Mel blew out a frustrated breath and strummed her fingers on the table. She felt more like a new hire than a friend, being kept in the dark about something obviously bothering the archeologist. Why was she so hesitant about confronting Janice about it, she wondered. It wasn't like she never got yelled at by the archeologist before - and their friendship had survived then. Who knows, she might even be able to help Janice if that stubborn woman would just tell her what was wrong. She was her partner for heaven's sake!

"Darn it!" Mel blurted with frustration and stood, determined to get answers.

Leaving the tent, she suddenly stopped, stunned to see for the first time, Raj arguing with Janice. She was too far away to hear why. Janice seemed to try to appease the angry man, but was unsuccessful. When he stormed off, the archeologist wearily shook her head and walked towards the driver's side.

"Janice?" The archeologist heard Mel say, turning to see the tall woman join her.


"Is everything all right with you and Raj?" Mel asked, looking over at the angry Indian marching away from camp.

"Yeah," Janice said absently, rubbing the back of her neck.

"He seemed rather upset," Mel pushed, eyeing her. Come on Janice, you can do it. Talk to me!

"Yeah." Janice nodded. Hearing Mel's low growl of frustration, she offered. "He agreed to go to India with us. I'm glad about that. It helps to have people with us who speak the language."

"Why wouldn't he . . . ?"

"Mel, can we discuss Raj later? I've got a few things to take care of in town," she said looking at her watch, surprising Mel.

"Oh, uh . . . do you need any help?" Mel offered.

"I uh, I've got it covered," Janice said awkwardly and climbed in the truck.

"Are you going to see Sophia?" Mel blurted, surprising herself.

Janice's guilty look was answer enough.

"I . . . ," Mel said uneasily as her heart sank. "Say hello for me?"

Janice nodded hesitantly. "I won't be long. And I'll try to avoid barroom brawls."

Mel smiled weakly. "That would be a pleasant change," she said, getting a small smile from the archeologist as she drove off.


Janice paced in front of the café. With a heavy sigh, she stopped, took her hat off and entered the establishment. It was a nice place, Janice thought as she scanned the plush room and spotted the woman she was looking for. Sitting at a sunny corner table, sipping espresso, Sophia read the newspaper.


As Melinda walked up to Raj, a large gust of wind almost stole her large-brimmed hat. Undeterred by the threatening weather, she quickly reached up before it took flight. Holding her hat firmly against her head, she joined the gentle man on the hill top.

"A storm is coming," he announced, looking out over the site at the thick blanket of dark clouds rolling in.

"So it seems," she agreed, always one who looked forward to nature's light show, even if the accompanying rains caused their site to become undesirably muddy. Mel had always found the raw power unleashed during a lightning storm simply amazing to watch.

She eyed the tense Indian. "I saw you arguing with Janice," she said softly.

"Yes," he said with a sigh. "She is as stubborn as a mule. And at times, I'm afraid she has as much common sense as one."

Well aware of Janice's stubbornness, Mel nodded. After a moment, she asked "Would you please tell me why you two quarreled?"

Raj looked at her briefly before his eyes dropped uncomfortably to the ground.

"I'm concerned, Raj," Mel blurted with frustration.

"You are indeed a good friend to Dr. Covington," Raj offered.

"I want to be, but she makes it incredibly difficult at times," Mel admitted and sighed. "I see something is going on with her that worries me. Something I'm sure has to do with India."

"I don't know what to say," Raj said uncomfortably.

"Please. I need to know what's going on. Why has the thought of going to India provoked such strong reactions from the two of you?"

He looked at her. "I can not speak for Dr. Covington. But she has made it clear we do not share the same concerns about returning," he said with irritation.


Feeling a presence at her table, Sophia continued to scan the financial page and said "Honey, come back tomorrow. It's my day off."

"Are you sure you can't squeeze an old friend in today?" Janice said, crossing her arms over her chest.

"Janice!" Sophia said with a big smile, that quickly faded. "Good God, you look awful."

"Thanks," Janice responded, uneasily handling the hat in her hand.

Motioning for the archeologist to sit, she grinned. "You know I'll squeeze you in anytime and anywhere you want," she teased silkily.

"Good. Because I wanted to discuss something with you," Janice said as she sat. "How about someplace a little more . . . private?" Janice blurted uncomfortably, looking around to the neighboring tables. A couple of patrons glanced at her disapprovingly. She knew she was not dressed for this place, unlike Sophia, who looked really nice, she noted as she looked her over with appreciation.

"Oh, Janice," Sophia interrupted with a wince and placed a hand over Janice's. Janice curiously eyed their hands, then Sophia. "I know Melinda's upset with you now, but I really think you should ask her," Sophia said, squeezing Janice's hand and reluctantly letting go.


"She removed your stinky boots for you, Honey," Sophia said emphatically. Janice's face crunched in confusion. "That ought to prove she'd do anything for "her partner," Sophia stressed softly. Janice rolled her eyes.

"She's already offered and I said no! I'm not . . ." Janice snapped with irritation.

"She already offered and you said no?? What the hell were you thinking!?! Maybe you do need to see a doctor," Sophia said with amazement.

"I can't believe this!" Janice growled loudly and stood up, causing a few more patrons to glance over at their table. "I am not going to take one goddamn cent from her just because you two think it's OK. It's NOT OK!" Janice barked.

"Whoa . . . wait a minute . . . . Janice? Janice?!?" Sophia called out in confusion as Janice stormed out of the café.


Even with her longer legs, Sophia found it difficult to catch up to the archeologist. The shorter woman swiftly darted through the crowded sidewalk, annoying the prostitute.

"Would please you stop for a second?!?" She yelled out, catching her breath.

Janice halted and turned angrily in the busy sidewalk. A wave of pedestrians parted around the two, nearly colliding into them.

"If you wanted to borrow money, why didn't you say so?" Sophia said with amazement.

"What the hell did you think I was . . . ?!?" Janice asked incredulously, then the pieces quickly fell together. Shaking her head, Janice silently headed towards her truck which was parked at the curb.

"Would you please stay put for one minute!" Sophia complained. "These heels are for luring, not chasing!" She blurted, awkwardly following Janice towards her truck.

The few people who noticed the arguing women quickly lost interest and went about their business, except for one very curious man leaning on a light pole. His black eye peeked over a newspaper that blocked the rest of his bruised face.

"You've got it wrong about Mel," Janice said evenly, stopping.

Sophia looked at Janice to see if she actually believed that. She couldn't tell and sighed. "Fine. I've got it wrong. You came to ask for a loan?"

Janice looked at her, uncertain of her original plan.

"Come on, I know you. You wouldn't ask me for help unless it was really really important," Sophia said with a warm smile.

"I would pay you back," Janice said and pointedly added "With interest."

"Oh Honey, don't worry about it. When I was down on my luck, you never once hesitated to give me a helping hand or a few bucks," Sophia said and added softly. "I owe you a lot."

Janice snorted. "I'll need a hell of a lot more than I ever gave you."

"You gave me more than you realize, Janice," Sophia said sincerely, making Janice uncomfortable. "And besides, I'm sure it will be a good investment."

"It'll be for a dig, Sophia," Janice said flatly, knowing that was not going to be a good investment. She'd be lucky if she could pay Sophia back, Janice thought with growing depression. Sophia worked too hard for what she had to have her blow it. "Maybe this isn't such a good idea," Janice frowned.

"Janice, don't. You want it. I have it. It's yours. Don't argue. Now, where are you spending my money?"

Janice sighed, wondering if she was going to regret this. But she didn't have many options. "India," Janice answered. "Starting in Delhi," she said with a heavy sigh.

Nothing like diving right into the very place she wanted to avoid, Janice thought warily. She should have gotten a new map, Janice considered with irritation. Mel immediately noticed the rings her goddamn shot glass had left around Delhi. When the Southerner pointed to Delhi, Janice saw challenge in those blue eyes, daring her to argue or worse. . . talk about it. But she just nodded and they were going to Delhi.

"Really?!?" Sophia asked with surprising enthusiasm.

"Yeah?" Janice responded cautiously.

"That is so exotic! Why don't you tell me more over coffee?"

"Uh, just a cup. I've really got to get back to camp," Janice said apologetically, looking at her watch.

". . . To report to the ol' ball and chain, huh?" Sophia said with amusement, getting a surprised, then very annoyed look from the archeologist.

"Sophia," Janice blurted with irritation. "She's not. . . ."


"Jesus Christ, Sophia, you've. . . ." Janice growled.

"Fine! I've got it wrong," Sophia said wearily, knowing her stubborn friend was either oblivious or ignoring what was right in front of her. Either way, it wasn't like Janice. "So I guess that means I'll buy the coffee."

Janice watched her turn and walk towards the café. "Oh come on Janice, visit for a little bit and let me dream about your new site. I've always wanted to visit India," Sophia said wistfully.

"Why haven't you?" Janice asked curiously. "You can afford to travel," she said as they walked to the café door. "You know you could have walked away years ago, if you wanted to," Janice noted softly as she opened the door for her friend.

"Honey, the reason why I have a healthy bank account and a variety of investments is because I happen to like my job and I'm damn good at it," she said a bit defensively.

Janice smiled and nodded, unable to argue as she followed her friend into the café. She suddenly grabbed her friend's arm. "Are you sure I'm dressed all right for this place?" Janice asked, looking down at her dusty working attire and then Sophia's nice dress.

"Janice, you're not trying to back out on having coffee, are you?" Sophia teased.

"No. I just . . . ," Janice said with annoyance.

"Have to get back to camp quickly because you'll be missed?" Sophia teased, batting her eyelashes at her.

"You can be a pain in the ass, you know that?" Janice said softly and forced a smile as two customers passed them in the doorway.

"Yes. Some customers even request that," Sophia offered with a wink and headed towards her usual table.

Pushing himself off the light pole, Simon folded his newspaper and tossed it into the trash can. He lit up a cigarette as the women disappeared into the café. Strolling past the front door, he exhaled smoke and sported a pleased smile. Something big was going down if Dr. Covington was going to pay back the whore with interest. . . .


After returning to camp, Janice turned off the engine and sat in her truck with a perplexed look on her face. By every right, she should be happy. She got what she wanted. After a forced nod of conviction, she got out of the truck. Staring at her tent, she thought warily "Yeah, exactly what I wanted."

She got to go back to a country she never wanted to set foot in again. She got to babysit yet another greenhorn, who knew absolutely nothing about digs. And better yet, she got to make Mel livid while trying to make her happy, Janice thought and winced. But damnit, it's not her decision whose money I use, Janice thought with irritation.

"I'm the one who runs the digs, and Mel's the one who translates," Janice silently reminded herself of their roles as she entered the tent. "That's the way it's been, that's the way it's going to . . . . " her thoughts were interrupted by the Southerner.

"We need to talk." Mel uttered those four little words that sent chills up Janice's spine.

"Oh?" Janice said with a cringe.

"Why was Raj upset with you?" Mel asked pointedly. Janice eyed her with surprise. "You said we would discuss it later, Janice. Now is later," she quickly added, seeing Janice's narrowing eyes.

"You've already spoken to him, haven't you?"

"Janice," Mel said, feeling uneasy from the archeologist's crisp words. "I was concerned."

"So there's really no need for me to go through that again, is there?" Janice snapped.

"Raj told me someone vowed to kill you if you ever returned to India. Is that true??" Mel asked, trying to ignore the woman's anger. To Mel's surprise, Janice snorted with amusement.

"Sweetheart, if I worried about every death threat I got, I'd never leave my tent."

"Is that supposed to make me feel better?!?" Mel asked with amazement.

"Mel, it's nothing," Janice said tiredly with a dismissive wave, going to her cot.

"Dear LORD, are you trying to drive me crazy?" Mel blurted with incredible frustration and rubbed her temples.

"No," Janice said and offered "It just . . . "

". . . . comes naturally, I KNOW," Mel moaned wearily, rolling her eyes at the archeologist who had an uncanny ability to look completely innocent, like right now, with those wide green eyes, blinking at her, waiting. Mel reluctantly smiled and the most certainly not-so-innocent Janice, who responded with a grin.

Mel shook her head and asked "Why won't you tell me about Delhi?" The question wiped the grin from Janice's face. "I'm your friend, Janice," Mel explained as Janice's eyes dropped to the ground. Mel sighed and added softly "At least I thought I was."

The dejected tone surprised and disturbed the archeologist, who hesitantly sat down at the small table, rubbing the back of her neck. After a moment, Janice looked uneasily at the depressed Southerner. The archeologist's eyes diverted to the pen on the table, which she picked up and rolled between her fingers. Like a skilled magician, Mel noted absently, though considered that Janice's best skill seemed to be dodging questions.

"In India I . . . lost a lot," Janice said finally, surprising the Southerner, who waited, patiently watching the archeologist put the pen down. "When you mentioned going there, all those bad memories came back. And I was an ass . . . a drunken ass," Janice said guiltily, then added softly. "No one should ever have to put up with that. I'm really sorry, Mel."

Straightening up and looking Mel in the eye before she could say anything, Janice declared "But the past should stay in the past," and joked weakly "unless we're digging up information on the Warrior Princess, of course."

There were still many questions that Janice seemed intent on not answering. Why? Mel wondered with frustration, but knew to she had to tread carefully with this volatile woman.

"Janice," Mel said and sighed, looking into Janice's eyes. "I wasn't looking for an apology, though I do appreciate it," Mel said and softly admitted. "You worried me."

Janice looked at her boots guiltily.

"I only want to understand," Mel offered, seeing the archeologist tense slightly. "And I want to know I'm not pushing you to go somewhere you shouldn't be. . . ."

"If I didn't want to go to India, Mel, I wouldn't," Janice said with irritation.

"Would you have gone back if I hadn't kept pushing?" Mel probed.

"Would you have kept pushing if you hadn't read it in a scroll?" Janice countered the amazingly persistent translator.

Mel's brow furrowed at the incredibly evasive archeologist. "If there wasn't a scroll, would you have ever returned?" Mel pressed.

"But there was as scroll," Janice noted.

"Lord, give me strength!"

"Mel," Janice said wearily. "Going to India is a good idea. And you know all the reasons why."

"And now Raj has informed me of one amazingly compelling reason not to go!"

"India's a big country and I'm a big girl," Janice said tightly.

"Raj says isn't wise to go. And I don't want you to do something foolish . . . ," the frustrated Southerner blurted.

"Too late," Janice interjected wryly, noting Mel wasn't as amused. "Mel, I appreciate your concern. But there's really nothing to worry about," she said and smirked. "With you, Raj, and Sophia looking out for me, what could possibly happen?"

Mel sighed heavily, knowing anything could happen. Even with all her friends . . . .

Mel blinked a few times and looked at Janice. "Sophia?"

Chapter 7 - Goodbyes and Hellos

"Mel?" Janice poked her head in the supply tent and looked a Mel, who sat at the pay table with the ledger and cigar box in front of her. Mel looked up with neutral eyes.

"Are we ready for the workers yet?"

"Yes, Dr. Covington," Mel said frostily and pushed up her glasses. Janice winced. After two days, Mel was still calling her "Dr. Covington." Livid didn't begin to describe what Mel was feeling.

"Uh, good," Janice said, quickly retreating back outside. She frowned. Apparently, Sophia going with them really annoyed Mel, though the Southerner didn't say anything to that effect. Janice sighed with growing irritation. If she wanted to borrow from Sophia and have her travel with them, she damn well wasn't going to feel guilty about not discussing it with Mel first. She was the one who ran the goddamn digs, damn it!

Sophia never asked to tag along, even though she really wanted to go. She could have made that a condition of the loan, Janice considered. But she didn't. And that spoke volumes to Janice about Sophia and their friendship. Money had always been a sore spot with Janice. She had seen how it could destroy relationships when there were strings or expectations attached to it. Too bad dear ol' Mom believed in sweet talking Harry's dreams of grandeur. Good ol' Mom thought that once they discovered tangible proof of the Warrior Princess, fame and fortune would soon follow and they could finally live in a big house instead of living in tents like Nomads.

Eventually, her substantial inheritance was lost to his "sure thing." Of course, the sure thing was going to be found the next dig . . . always the next dig, Janice sighed, shaking her head. She often wondered how Harry could possibly have kept taking from the woman he supposedly adored. She believed that decision, the first of many bad decisions, caused her parent's seemingly solid relationship to crumble.

Noting a few workers looking at her expectantly, she once again pushed back her depressing thoughts of the past to live in the present. Lifting her fingers to her mouth, Janice got the camp's attention with a piercing whistle.

"Payday! Line up, single file!!" Janice barked, getting an immediate and enthusiastic response.


Janice looked up from the table and called out, "Next!"

Mel cringed.

Everything she did annoyed the Southerner lately, Janice noted with a sigh, considering it a good thing they were almost finished. She wondered if it was possible to catch a cold from that Southern chill.

"Nicholas." Janice smiled at the worker who came in.

"Dr. Covington, Miss Pappas," he said with a nod.

Mel smiled at the man as Janice handed him his pay envelope. "So, did you talk with Dr. Biggs?" Janice asked.

"Yes," Nicholas said and grinned. "He was willing to take me on, like you said he would."

Mel glanced at Janice then back to her ledger. Janice kept doing that, she thought with frustration. How could she possibly remain mad at the archeologist when she kept being so . . . so . . . .

"Good. He's a good teacher and is respected in the academic community," Janice said. "If you work hard and do well, his recommendation can get you into the archeology program at the University," she added.

Mel glanced at Janice again. In spite of being aggravating, pig-headed, and entirely unreasonable, the frustrating woman had a good heart and generous spirit. Mel had witnessed that time and time again. And especially today, where it was clear Janice had gone out of her way to make sure her workers had plans and were going to be OK. That was one of the many things Mel found so appealing about the archeologist.

"I'll work hard, Dr. Covington," Nicholas promised.

"School's not cheap, you know. You need to seriously save. And stay away from poker. You stink at it," she said bluntly, getting a chuckle from the man.

Mel knew it wasn't fair to take out her frustrations on Janice. Ever since she laid eyes on the hot-blooded archeologist, she had felt things, so many things. And after having met Sophia, she understood with disturbing clarity why. But she had no experience with . . . these things, and Sophia certainly did. Mel winced.

"I've been saving, like you've said, Dr. Covington. And I know to stay away from poker, especially after losing a paycheck to you," Nicholas said, able to smile now, though at the time he was really annoyed at losing with three kings. But she was right - he shouldn't gamble at poker.

"Good. I hope you take my other advice too - don't be afraid to use a little elbow grease sometimes," Janice added, making him cringe. She sighed and pulled something from the leather satchel at her feet and stood up, offering it to him.

"Something so you don't forget," Janice said, revealing a small piece of vase in her hand.

Mel expected their tent arrangements would change. She grimaced, not relishing the thought of facing "them" day after day. But she had no desire to leave Janice or go back to her suffocating life. What was she to do?

"I'm really sorry about that," he said, staring at the piece in her hand guiltily.

"You found the pot and got it out."

"I chipped it."

"Yes, it was chipped. And you probably will break some valuable artifacts in your career. I know I have," she said with a shrug. "Even Dr. Biggs has broken an item or two, though I'd doubt he'd admit it," she offered with a smirk. "But you learn by doing. There are millions of artifacts buried in this Earth, Nicholas, just waiting to reveal our history to us . . . ," Janice lectured.

The passion that filled Janice's voice drew Mel's attention, like a moth to a flame, distracting her from distressful thoughts about their future. She listened with a small smile, able to picture Janice lecturing at a University somewhere, certain she would make an excellent professor.

". . . a history rich with amazing stories waiting to be told," Janice continued. "But that requires us to roll up our sleeves and get to work, and do the best we can. And when you come upon another difficult dig, and you will, you have to push aside your fear, remember what you've learned, and go for it," she said, looking at him. "Otherwise, your find will stay stuck in the dirt, or worse yet, someone else will come along who isn't afraid to enjoy what should have been your discovery," she lectured, grimacing at that thought. She offered the piece again. "Take this. I think it will be more useful in your hands than in a museum. It'll remind you of your success."

"But I had your help," he said with confusion, taking the small chipped piece and inspecting it.

"We all need a little help at times," Janice offered softly, getting a nod from the young man.

"And some of us need more than a little," Mel interjected sincerely, inspired as she looked at the archeologist.

Janice glanced at Mel curiously, surprised there was no chilly sarcasm in her words. Apparently, that chill had thawed . . . for some reason.

"Thanks, Doctor Covington," Nicholas said with a smile. Looking at the two women, he wished them good luck on their trip and left the tent.

"It was a nice thing you did, helping him with Dr. Biggs . . . and all," Mel offered awkwardly, getting a hesitant nod from the archeologist.

Janice eyed her as she sat, tempted to correct the Southerner and explain that she was far from nice.

She convinced a reluctant Dr. Biggs to help by mentioning that his wife might not be that thrilled about his occasional noon-time trysts with a certain red-headed prostitute. But she thought it best to not mention those particular details, which would likely prompt a lecture on the sins of blackmailing and prostitution. If Mel only knew how ill-fitting a word "nice" really was, she thought. Smiling weakly, she looked to the tent flap for the next worker.

Mel couldn't take this troublesome unease between them. An unease she knew she had created.

"I'm sorry, Janice," Mel blurted guiltily. "I just . . . well, you invited Sophia . . . and it was a surprise. . . and . . . ." She stumbled over her explanation, not quite sure how to explain her feelings without sounding foolish. Like she was sounding right now, Mel thought, nearly groaning with frustration.

"Mel," Janice interjected with irritation, then sighed. She decided against ranting about not having to justify to anyone who would, or who would not, be part of her team. She recognized that Mel was her partner and just wanted to understand. Truth was, she didn't have a particularly compelling reason to invite Sophia, other than Sophia really wanted to go. "Sophia is a good friend," Janice admitted softly.

Mel nodded weakly. "I know."


It was early evening when the last worker, Janice's oldest friend, Peter, came into the supply tent and approached their table. Normally payday was a quick affair, but as it was the last one for that dig, Janice took her time talking with each worker. Mel smiled as she watched the kind man stand in front of Janice, looking at her with admiration and . . . love.

"Well, this is it," he said, taking a deep breath.

Janice looked up at the man who had been with her for years. The man who now was staying behind with his countrymen as she moved on. Goddamn Nazis, Janice thought once again.

"There's always room for a good cook, old man," Janice offered the man, who smiled sadly.

"You know I need to stay, little one," he said softly, getting a brisk, understanding nod from Janice as she stood and held out an envelope. He eyed her and pulled her into a bear hug.

"Christ, don't tell me you're getting sentimental on me," Janice growled as she awkwardly returned the hug, battling her emotions.

"I'll miss you," he said sincerely, then added wryly "Don't get into any trouble." After a short, most unladylike snort from Melinda, he released Janice from the embrace.

Janice glanced at the Southerner, who pushed up her glasses and innocently flipped through the ledger with great interest.

"I have something for you," Janice said, going to a wooden crate with "baked beans" stenciled across the side in big black letters. Pulling off two planks, she sifted through sawdust to retrieve an old bottle of Brandy. With a pleased grin, she wiped the label off and proudly handed it over the liquid treasure to the older man, whose eyebrows rose.

"This is too much," he blurted with concern, offering it back to her. Mel cringed with sympathy as Janice shifted uneasily at his attempted rejection of her gift.

"Take it. I know you love Brandy . . . almost as much as Napoleon."

"Isn't this gift a bit extravagant for a cook?"

"If you're fishing for me to say something nice . . . like," Janice said, looking him directly in the eye as she continued "how much I appreciate your help, through some pretty rough times." Janice spoke softly. "Or how much it meant to know I could always count on you, even when I couldn't count on my own my family. Or, how much I . . . like your stew," Janice suddenly blurted, clearing her throat. "It ain't gonna happen, old man," Janice said gruffly, sniffing sharply to get control over her turbulent emotions.

"Well," Peter looked at the Brandy, blinking back tears. "It was worth a shot," he said with a shrug.

"I will miss you," Janice admitted stiffly.

"Be safe, little one," he said, quickly planted a fatherly kiss on her forehead, and left.

For a long moment, Janice stared at the tent flap.

Finally moving, Janice uneasily retrieved a cigar from the cigar box and a lighter from her pocket. Unable to look Mel in the eye, she awkwardly held up the items to show Mel before she left.

Mel stared at the tent flap and wiped the tears from her cheek.


Mel sat at the small table in their tent staring at her novel. She had been attempting to read it as she waited up for Janice, but the words blurred hopelessly together. In the past two hours, she hadn't turned the page. Sighing, she gave up on reading and closed the book, pushing it away with a groan.

Janice was intent on enduring her heartache alone, rather than sharing it, Mel noted with concern, wondering if she was going to seek distraction through the bottle or Sophia's "company" in town. She frowned. Soon, Janice wouldn't have to go into town.
The thought made her insides churn.

She had no right to feel so possessive, Mel thought guiltily. The redhead obviously cared for Janice. And she oozed undeniable sensuality, Mel thought, pushing up her glasses self-consciously. And while Mel could only guess at what Janice wanted or desired, she just knew Sophia knew.

When she heard the archeologist returning, Mel quickly grabbed and opened her novel.

"Hey," Mel said with forced nonchalance, turning to greet the tired looking archeologist.

"You weren't waiting up for me, were you?" Janice asked, tossing her hat on her cot.

"Oh no. Just reading," Mel said with a smile, lifting up her evidence.

"Good book?" Janice said, looking at it curiously.

"Uh . . . not very interesting, actually," Mel said honestly with a shrug.

"Perhaps because it's upside down?" Janice suggested with amusement.

Mel's eyes went wide as she quickly inspected the pages. "It is not!" she countered with irritation.

"Had to look," Janice said with a satisfied grin.

Mel eyed her. "I am not going to apologize for caring, Dr. Covington," she declared stubbornly, placing the book on the table with a thunk.

"I'm not asking you to, Miss Pappas," Janice said softly, walking towards the table. As Janice slowly leaned over Mel's shoulder, reaching for the book, Mel could feel the warmth radiating from the archeologist, causing her heart to pound.

With the book in hand, Janice sat and scanned the back cover. She looked up with a smile and penetrating gaze that made Mel feel . . . vulnerable.

Mel nervously watched as Janice gently put the book down. To her surprise, Janice's hand covered hers. "I know I don't show it, Mel, but I really do appreciate the fact that you care," Janice said softly, squeezing Mel's hand.

"I do, Janice," Mel said and squeezed her hand back with a warm smile that faded when Janice started to slowly caress her hand with her thumb. Mel wondered if the sudden flood of warmth washing over her was a normal response to such an innocent . . . .

"Thank you," Janice said softly, as her hand moved to Mel's wrist. Her fingers stroked Mel's tender flesh at her pulse point, which revealed how Janice's touch affected her. Her pulse raced.

. . . touch. Mel smiled uneasily and cleared her suddenly parched throat.

"I care for you too, Mel," she said, focusing on Mel's shoulder, which was now the recipient of her touch as she gently explored the roundness through the soft, cotton shirt. "Very much."

"Janice?" Mel's voice cracked, unable to focus on much more than Janice's fingers which left a trail of goose bumps as they slowly traveled down her sleeve.

Green eyes locked on blue as Janice whispered "Yes?"

"Uh," Mel blurted as she tried to remember what she was going to say. Her body, woken by the increasingly intimate touch, craved more. As if knowing, the archeologist's touch became bolder, grazing the side of her amazingly responsive breast.

Mel gasped at the touch which seemed to affect all her nerve endings.

"Should I stop?" Janice asked, retreating to gently stroke her arm.

Her initial, entirely selfish thought of "Dear Lord NO!" almost escaped her lips. However, Mel's Southern upbringing, which had ingrained a strong sense of propriety in her won out. "W. . . What about Sophia?" Mel blurted, searching Janice's eyes.

"She will never be more than a good friend, Mel. I want you . . . to be more," Janice said, looking into her eyes with unveiled desire, making Mel's heart flutter.

"R. . . Really?"

Janice nodded, continuing her caresses along Mel's arm. "You didn't answer my question. Do you want me to stop?" She asked softly.

Mel's eyes widened. She was no longer able to avoid the distressing truth - she had very limited experience. And what experience she did have, wasn't very encouraging.

There had always been a heady sense of excitement whenever Mel had gained the interest of a suitor, when someone made her feel special, interesting, worth pursuing. But that excitement was always short-lived. While they had seemed to enjoy those earnest and sloppy kisses and eagerly sought something more physical, she found those experiences . . . lacking. After several dates with seemingly charming and upstanding young gentlemen, the gawky and bookish Southerner had finally learned the truth. She had been no more than a prize by those eager to climb the social ladder by catching a very wealthy, single woman of a highly respected and influential family.

Memories of her worst date flooded back.

"Frigid bitch," "wasn't worth the trouble," and "would be lousy in bed," were just a few of the hurtful comments hurled her way by a former suitor and she had thought, good friend, after she put her foot down . . . in a matter of speaking. Wilson C. Pendelton, who, truth be told, had more looks than brains, was just another gold digger.

But what if Wilson Pendelton was right?

"I . . . uh" Mel squeaked as Janice caressed her more boldly, her thumb easily finding and circling the hardened nub through the layers of material.

A surge of arousal coursed through Mel, from the tips of her nipples to deep within her womanhood, which pulsed as if Janice was actually touching her there. Her heart pounded at that thought, as her body ached with a basic need, a need to be touched by Janice. A need so powerful, it frightened her.

"Tell me," Janice urged in a whisper, startling Mel when she slowly stood and moved behind her.

"Oh Lord. I j . . just . . . uh . . . ," she said nervously. Janice's gentle but firm hand maintained contact as it traveled up her arm to her shoulder, where she gave a firm squeeze.

"I've n . . . never felt like this," Mel said. She gasped as she felt Janice's warm breath tickling her ear with her soft, welcomed response.

"Neither have I."

Coupled with Mel's need to be touched was a profound desire to touch. "I d. . . don't know what to do, Janice," she said in an anguished voice.

"Sweetheart, it's OK."

"I . . . I don't want to disappoint you," she blurted.

"I don't think that's possible, Mel." The soothing words were accompanied by a not-so-soothing shake of her shoulder.

"I don't know what . . . ," Mel said again with concern as Janice squeezed her shoulder and firmly shook it again.

"Mel, it's OK. Everything's OK."

Feeling her hand against her cheek, Mel stirred as she slowly emerged from her stressful slumber.

"It's just a bad dream. . . ."

Mel's eyes popped open when she felt the pages beneath her fingers and realized her head was resting on the open book. "Janice??" Mel called with panic as her head snapped up from the table, hitting something really hard.

"Ow!" Mel said, her hand shooting to the sore spot on her head as Janice blurted "Unk!" and stumbled back. Janice's hand went to her face as intense pain shot through her still tender bruises.

Mel turned to see tripping over her cot, and falling on her butt.

"Dear Lord! Janice, are you all right?" Mel said, straightening her cockeyed glasses.

Janice sat there with her hand on her eye, a bit stunned as Mel knelt down beside her.

"Did I hurt you?" Mel said, looking at Janice with a cringe.

"Has anyone told you, you've got a hard head?" Janice asked, looking at the Southerner through her uncovered eye.

"I'm sooooo sorry, Janice," Mel gushed with wide eyes of concern as she attempted to inspect the injury. Seeing tears roll down Janice's face as her shoulders shook, Mel gasped. "Dear Lord, I've made you cry!"

Janice laughed harder.

Mel looked at her, then got annoyed. "Janice Covington! Are you laughing at me?!?"

Janice continued to chuckle as she climbed up and plopped onto her cot, gingerly wiping her eyes. "Oh GOD, the look on your face." The image renewed her laughter.

A reluctant smile emerged as Mel realized the object of her affection, who had been very depressed after saying goodbye to Peter, was not seriously hurt but amused.

"Thanks, Mel. I needed that," Janice said sincerely, buoying Mel's spirits for bringing laughter to her friend. Even if it was at her expense . . . .

Janice shook her head and started to take her boots off with a small chuckle.

Despite her bruises, both old and new, Mel thought the sight of Janice laughing was the most beautiful she had ever seen. "You're welcome . . . I think," Mel said with feigned confusion, rubbing the back of her head.

"Are you OK? Do you want me to take a look at your head?" Janice quickly offered with a boot in hand, glancing over her shoulder to the tall woman, who pulled out a night gown from her clothing trunk.

"That won't be necessary, Dr. Covington. As you've so kindly pointed out, my head is rather hard," Mel said as she pulled the shirttails from her pants and started to unbutton her shirt.

Janice chuckled and started to take her socks off.

Mel sighed heavily, trying to settle her nerves, after the unsettling dream. While she knew Janice preferred women, she just had to accept the fact that it was Sophia Janice preferred. And while she could understand why an inexperienced, bespeckled Southerner wasn't Janice's type, Mel couldn't understand why Sophia was. It wasn't that Sophia wasn't attractive. She was. It was just that Mel had expected fidelity in a relationship to be more important to Janice than it apparently was. And that thought was disappointing.

Janice's amused smile faded when she glanced over her shoulder again and caught a glimpse of cleavage as Mel's shirt opened. She knew she should look away. She knew it was the decent thing to do. But what she knew was forgotten when the tall woman unfastened more buttons to reveal her long, smooth abdomen. One of many areas Janice had wondered if ticklish or . . . .

Janice's heart almost stopped when she realized Mel had stopped undressing.

Focusing on her belly button a moment, which she considered a very attractive innie, Janice blinked, afraid to look up and see anger or worse, disgust. Knowing she was being thoughtless and deserved whatever tirade she got, Janice swallowed uneasily. Her gaze finally rose over the exposed flesh, which she thought must be cold now because of the goose bumps now appearing, and locked onto those incredible eyes.

Surprisingly, Janice didn't find disgust, or even anger . . . only nervousness, making Janice feel more like a dog for slipping up and taking advantage of the situation.

"S . . . So. Your eyesight hasn't been affected from our little collision, I hope?" Mel offered, wishing she had just ignored that brazen gaze and avoided this awkward situation. But how could she possibly ignore something that caused her knees to go weak, butterflies to wrestle in the pit of her stomach, and her heart pound with anticipation?

"Uh . . . no," Janice responded uncertainly, surprised the Southerner was not reprimanding her for her blatant breach of friendship. But Mel was always the lady, Janice thought guiltily, wanting to get out of this amazingly uncomfortable situation.

"My eyesight is fine but . . . ," Janice offered with a grimace, surprising Mel, who looked at her with concern.

". . . my big toe is bothering me again," Janice looked down at her foot, waggling her toe that she stubbed many nights ago. Looking up from her foot, she saw the pillow just before it nailed her in the head.

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