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~ Chapter 3 ~
Stepping into the shop, Del called out for Jasper. The shop was small but well-kept and it was obvious that the man had a passion for his work. She walked around as she waited for him to join her, running her fingers over an old vanity and opening the drawer on a well-loved desk that had intricate carvings.
“Hello there Missy. It’s good to see that some people have the good manners to show up on time.” The white haired gentleman walked in from the back. “Isn’t she a beauty?”
Del smiled as she didn’t often take to people so quickly, but this man had an ease about him and she couldn’t help but enjoy his company. “Well, if my grandmother taught me anything, it was manners. It really is a beautiful piece. Where did you find it?”
Rubbing his hand along the top, Jasper smiled. “The person who is getting the desk tonight, well, it used to be her mother’s, but she had to sell it years ago to Regina to pay off a debt. Regina finally decided to sell it since her husband, Arthur Senior flew the coop and so it’s going back to its rightful owner as a trade for the vanity.”
Del continued to look over the vanity. “It really is a wonderful piece of woodworking. I can’t imagine giving it up. I would guess that it is probably worth a pretty penny, yeah?”
Wiping his fingerprints off the wood, Jasper agreed. “It is a Kindle and worth about a thousand dollars, but the desk means more to the buyer, so I’m going to make it an even trade. Anything to help a friend out.”
“That’s very kind of you Jasper,” Del said quietly. It had been a while since her days living in a small town and she sometimes forgot the generous nature of most small communities. “I’m sure your friend is mighty happy about it, but I’m sure they’ll be even happier if we get it there soon. How about we get it packed up then, besides I was promised a good roast,” the blonde chuckled.
The older man agreed, and they soon had the desk loaded up. Turning back to the blonde, Jasper asked. “You wanna ride with this old man or you wanna follow behind me?”
“No offense, but I’d rather take my own ride, so I’ll follow behind you. I’d feel better knowing I have my own ride if I wear out my welcome too soon,” she laughed; in truth, she wanted to make sure she had her own ride in case something went bad. As much as she enjoyed this man’s company, she couldn’t forget that she was here on a job. One some people might not appreciate her doing.
The older man agreed, got into his truck, and headed towards the outskirts of town, kicking up a trail of dust in his wake.
Del followed Jasper’s truck, observing the town as it passed them by. She made a mental note of the locations of buildings and paid special attention to the residential areas. It wasn’t a large town and soon enough they had passed the last of the houses and hit an old dirt road. After what she thought to be about two miles of driving, she noted a house up ahead. Most of the land had been cleared, with the exception of a large old tree in front of the house. She looked to her right once they had stopped in the yard and saw a tree line a few yards from the back porch. Filing that away for later, she quickly hopped out of the old Jeep to help Jasper with the desk.
“It’s a nice house. Quiet out here, I bet?” she asked him, even though she hated to drill him, but years of investigating just wouldn’t go away.
The house was secluded with the tree line nearby and by the looks of the small pickup, probably only housed one person. Del knew a perfect hiding place if she ever saw one.
Pulling on his work gloves, Jasper opened the bed of the truck and chuckled as the blonde nimbly jumped inside. “Yeah, but this family doesn’t mind the silence. In fact, you can ask her all about it,” he nodded his head towards the brunette that had opened the back door and walked out.
Raelin had heard the truck pull up as she put the roast on the carving platter, but she cocked her head in puzzlement when she made out the sound of a second vehicle. Then she remembered that Jasper had said that he was going to bring someone to help him.
Wiping her hands on a kitchen towel, she opened the door and started out. When she saw the blonde in the bed of Jasper’s truck, she almost stumbled. She wasn’t prepared to see her yet.
Del glanced in the direction Jasper had indicated and wasn’t at all prepared to see the brunette from earlier in the day. She started and took a step back to steady herself, but caught nothing but air as her foot slipped off the end of the truck bed. Catching herself with her knee, she grunted at the pain, struggling to keep the desk from falling, knowing its worth.
“Take it easy, Missy. Don’t want to bruise you up before we finish.” Jasper smiled to himself as he noticed the look on Raelin’s face. ‘This was gonna be fun.’ “Hey Raelin! We’re here right on time. This is Delaney Delacroix, and she’s offered to help me out tonight.”
Swallowing her embarrassment and a good chunk of her pride Del smiled and nodded her head, choosing to get the desk off the truck in one piece before she did something stupid. Once the desk was safely on the ground, she looked back up at Rae, noting the mild shell-shocked expression on her face. “Uh, you can just call me Del if you’d like, most people do. Thanks for having me.”
“Umm, nice to meet you Del. Any friend of Jasper’s is welcome here,” she held out her hand for the blonde to shake, and wasn’t surprised at all at the mild tingle that she felt as soon as they touched. ‘Oh Goddess…I am in so much trouble.’
“Where do you want the desk, Raelin? Let us get it inside, and then we can start on the pot roast that I can smell from here.” Jasper wiggled his eyebrows at the suggestion.
Turning around, Raelin walked over to the back porch and threw open the French doors. “I was thinking that it should go into the side room. I made sure that there is plenty of room.”
The low thrumming in her limbs had intensified for the split second she’d held the other woman’s hand, and Del finally let out the breath she’d been holding when Rae started to direct them into her home. ‘I am so dead,’ she thought; maneuvering the desk into what Rae had called the side room. She watched Rae’s form as she moved about the room, adjusting things here and there. ‘But what a way to go!’
“Well, Raelin. I think that that is a perfect spot for it. You can see outside to the front and into the garden.” Jasper rubbed his hands together. “Now let’s eat.”
Laughing at her friend, the brunette led the way to the dining room to where the food was ready and waiting on the table. “Would you care for some tea Del, or like Jasper, have a cold beer?”
Del weighed the options for a minute. She wouldn’t normally drink on a job, but somehow she felt safe in this place with these people. It was a feeling she got, an insistence in the back of her mind that she could trust these two, if no one else. “A beer would be great thanks. It smells great in here.” And it did, Del was suddenly aware of just how lackluster her own cooking was.
Raelin blushed at the compliment. “I enjoy cooking for my friends,” she walked into the kitchen and came back out with bottles of beer and iced mugs. “I hope that dark ale is all right with you. It goes better with the roast.”
Jasper reached for one of the mugs and poured his beer. “If I know Raelin, she used a bottle of beer with the roast,” he had just taken a swig of the cold beverage, when his cell phone went off. Putting down the glass, he answered it and frowned. Huffing, he closed the phone and turned to the two women.
“Ladies, as much as I really do want to have dinner with you, someone else beckons who doesn’t like to wait.” Turning to Del, he smiled. “I know that you will enjoy the meal.”
Del looked at him, barely managing to hide the panic. ‘Well, this will be interesting,’ she thought. “As long as Raelin doesn’t mind me staying. I can head back into town if you’d prefer. I don’t want to impose or anything.” Del wasn’t entirely sure she could trust herself to be alone with this woman. She so wanted to get to know her better, but she was here for work and still hadn’t ruled her out as a potential suspect. She hadn’t had the chance to rule anybody out yet. Perhaps it would be best if she did stay. Raelin might just have some valuable information.
The brunette took a swallow of beer before she answered. “No, I don’t mind you staying at all. Please stay and have dinner with me. That way you can take Jasper some leftovers.”
Del couldn’t have said no if she’d wanted. If it hadn’t been for the silky smooth tone the brunette had asked her in that convinced her, surely the mouthwatering smell coming from the roast would have done the trick. Already well out of her comfort zone, Del decided she’d try and get back some of her dignity while she still had the chance. She swallowed a mouthful of beer and dove in. “It’s a date then,” she smirked. “Jasper, I’ll be by the shop tomorrow with those leftovers. If I don’t eat it all myself, that is.”
The older man nodded his head in agreement with the blonde and hugged the brunette tight. “Enjoy the company Darlin’. You deserve it,” he whispered into Raelin’s ear.
The young woman hugged him back. “You are so bad, Jasper. I’ll make sure she brings you something.”
He laughed and waved goodbye, leaving the two women alone.
Turning back to her guest, Raelin smiled. “So, I hope that you’re hungry.”
Raelin’s smile was infectious, and Del couldn’t help but smile back. “Starving, I only had a muffin and coffee for lunch. Jasper tells me I’m in for quite a treat.”
Motioning to the table, Raelin shook her head. “I’m an okay cook. I don’t get a lot of practice just cooking for myself, and I don’t have many visitors. Would you mind carving the roast? I’ll get the side dishes,” she quickly disappeared into the kitchen.
Once in the kitchen, Rae leaned against the counter and took a deep breath. Closing her eyes, she offered a quick prayer. ‘I don’t know who’s listening, but please give me strength to get through dinner without making a fool of myself. Please, please, keep everything normal. So be it.’ Picking up the bowls of potatoes and corn, she walked back out to the dining room.
Del watched Raelin leave the room and groaned inwardly. ‘Keep it together Del. You aren’t some stupid teenager. It’s just a dinner. Surely you can manage to eat without doing something stupid. Besides, you are working, keep to the job.’
She shook her head to clear it and started to carve the roast, trying not to drool over the aroma too much.
“Here we go.” Raelin set the bowls on the table and looked at the blonde. She smiled at how serious the woman looked; like it was the most important thing in the world to get the slices just so. “I take it that you don’t cook a lot either.”
Del, having sliced the roast to her satisfaction, threw a sheepish grin Raelin’s way. “That obvious? I live on a whole lot of take-out really. I’m not home enough to have time to cook. Work keeps me busy. Do you need me to help with anything else?”
Shaking her head, the brunette sat down. “Just help me eat all of this or I’ll have leftovers for a week. What kind of work do you do, if you don’t mind me asking?”
Del looked over at the brunette, half sizing her up. She caught the dark gaze of the other woman and held it, searching for any hint that this woman might be trouble. Seeing nothing but sincerity but still hesitant to open up, she decided it would be best to keep quiet until she’d talked with her more. “Oh, a little of this, and a little of that. Whatever needs doing mostly,” she replied, never breaking her stare.
Offering her guest the food first, Raelin held the blonde’s stare. “What exactly are you searching for Delaney?”
Del had to pause a moment, the bluntness of the question catching her off guard. She suddenly remembered the words of the waitress and figured she might want to tread lightly with this one. She slammed her detective face into place, making sure the other woman saw nothing, but a casual curiosity. “What makes you think I’m looking for anything?” she asked, taking a bite of roast. “This is pretty fantastic you know.” Perhaps a subject change would steer this in a safer direction.
The brunette smiled as she filled her plate. She knew that Mary at the diner had probably filled the newcomer in on her and her family. Cutting the meat, she took a bite before she answered. “No one comes to Leroy except for fishing, hunting, or if called by Regina. And I figure the only reason the she would call you would be to find her wayward husband, Arthur Senior.”
“Which of those three do you think I’m here for then?” She smiled, lightly chewing on the end of her fork. She’d have to come back to the wayward husband in a bit, but the opportunity for a little harmless flirting was too much to resist.
Putting down her fork so that she could stare deeper into jade green eyes, Raelin pulled in some of the power of the lines so she would be able to see more clearly. After a few moments, she whispered, “You’re here to find someone, but not who I think. You’ll find something dark that doesn’t want you here, but there’s someone else who needs you to stay.” Shaking her head slightly, Raelin closed her eyes, knowing that she had said too much and would have scared Del off.
Del regarded her closely, reading her face, seeing no signs of a lie. Those words sounded so much like the ones in her dream, and she suddenly remembered how much she hadn’t wanted this job in the first place. Seems she was going to have to get to the point with this lady. “You see a lot for someone who’s known me for less than an hour. Care to explain that?”
Picking up her fork again, she speared a potato slice before answering. “I’m sure that Mary told you that I’m a witch. I knew that someone was coming, and here you are.”
“She did inform me, yes. I don’t think I need to tell you though, that small town gossip isn’t really very reliable. I am looking for something yes. I don’t imagine you get too many visitors out this way, do you?” If Rae wanted to talk shop, Del was all too happy to comply. Any information she could get was going to be an asset in this job.
Smiling at the blonde, Raelin thought for a moment before answering. “When you want help or some answers, just ask. I’ll do my best to give you what you need, and not freak you out at the same time…glad that you like the roast.” She didn’t want to push the woman away, and since she wasn’t running, Raelin decided to let her do things in her own time.
“I’ve seen many a thing in my line of work. Trust me; a little otherworldly help is not the worst of them. Thank you for dinner, I won’t keep you too much later, but before I go, I want to ask you a few questions. Is that okay?”
Del had noticed how Rae had avoided her question in regards to getting much in the way of visitors. Figuring she’d hit a sore spot, she left it be for now.
Leaning back, Raelin smiled. “Please don’t rush off. It’s nice to have someone to talk to, and you can ask me anything. I don’t lie. Karma, you know.”
Del couldn’t help but chuckle at that as she stood to clear her plate. “Let me help you clean up and we can talk while we work.”
Raelin stood up and picked up the platter of meat and an empty bowl. “I hope that you saved some room for dessert. I have homemade vanilla ice cream with caramel or chocolate sauce.”
“If I didn’t, I do now. It’s so hard to get homemade ice cream now. My father, he used to make it every once in a while when I was a kid.” Del grabbed a few extra plates and some utensils and followed Rae to the kitchen, depositing the dishes in the sink as directed.
“Just leave everything in the sink and I’ll get them later. It will give me something to do.” Nodding towards one of the cabinets, Raelin directed the blonde. “Get a couple of bowls out. Which do you want? Caramel or chocolate sauce…or both?” She paused next to the fridge.
Smiling childishly, Del grabbed the bowls and turned back to Rae. “Both please.” Del couldn’t help but drop her guard around Rae. As much as it had gone up during the dinner, Rae had managed to set her at ease again with that earthy charm Del was quickly falling for. ‘Oh Lord, help me,’ she thought.
Filling the bowls with the ice cream, Raelin handed the blonde one and watched as she poured the sauce over it with glee. When Del reached out to catch a drip of the caramel and put her finger in her mouth to clean it Raelin barely smothered a moan, instead she turned to put the ice cream back into the freezer.
“So Rae, is it okay if I call you that? You grow up around here? This seems like a pretty big house for one person,” she asked around a mouthful of ice cream. “Oh, this is heaven in a bowl.”
Chuckling, the brunette answered. “Yes, you can call me Rae. I’ve always lived here. This house has been in my mother’s family for generations. My mother died a few years back so it’s just me now. I never knew my father.”
Del sensed sadness deeper than Rae was showing. “I’m sorry about your Mom. You were close?”
Nodding slightly, Rae swallowed before continuing. “We were all each other had. In fact, the desk used to be hers, but she had to sell it a few years back to cover something, and I’ve been trying to get it back ever since. I like to keep family items within the family.”
Del felt guilty having brought up something that was obviously pretty upsetting for the brunette. She reached out and rested her fingers lightly on Rae’s arm, the odd thrumming returning. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you. We can talk about something else.”
Sucking in a breath at the blonde’s touch, Rae shook her head. “There are no bad memories when it comes to my mother. She lived the way that she wanted and I am surrounded still by her spirit and her love.”
Del gave Rae’s forearm a reassuring squeeze before retracting her hand. “So it’s just you huh? I have a hard time believing there isn’t a line of handsome young suitors outside your door.” Laughing, Del took another bite of her now partially melted ice cream, taking her time licking the sticky sauce off the spoon.
Closing her eyes briefly, it was all Rae could do not to go over and taste the sauce left on the blonde’s lips. “Not interested in a knight in shining armor. I prefer the princess.” The brunette couldn’t believe that she had blurted that out. No one in town knew of her preference, and she had hoped to keep it that way. ‘Way to go Rae.’
Del smiled devilishly. “Can’t blame you there. I always found the princess to be a little high maintenance,” she looked at Rae sideways. “Perhaps a small town girl is more my thing,” she leaned back against the counter, crossing her ankles and tapping her chin with her spoon thoughtfully.
“You’re gonna get your chin all sticky if you keep doing that,” Rae teased.
Del paused for a minute, realizing Rae was right. Dropping her spoon into the now empty bowl, she could already feel the caramel sticking to her chin where the spoon had touched it. “You’re right, and it feels gross,” she chuckled and started scanning the room for something to wipe her chin with.
Without realizing what she was doing, Rae stepped forward and lightly ran her tongue over Del’s lips before moving her lips down to clean her chin. Moaning lightly, she placed her hands on the shorter woman’s hips, holding her right where she wanted her.
Heat spread from where Rae’s hands held her hips, and she couldn’t help but whimper as Rae went to work on her chin. She allowed Rae to linger there for a few moments before she reached up and fingered the collar of the taller woman’s shirt, guiding her up into a gentle kiss.
When Rae felt Del’s acceptance of her kiss, she almost turned it into something hard and hungry, but she didn’t want it to be something that was fast and over with before either one had the time to enjoy it. And Rae had been waiting a very long time for something like this.
Pulling away, Del watched her fingers as they continued to play with Rae’s collar. The thrumming in her limbs was an insistent buzz, and she felt light headed. There was no denying the pull Del felt, but she wasn’t about to blow it by rushing things. She needed to clear her head and get her mind back on her work.
She finally looked up; taking in Rae’s flushed face and brown eyes darkened nearly to black. “It’s getting late, and I still need to get back to town. Thanks for dinner. Can we maybe do it again sometime?” she whispered, running gentle fingers across the bronze skin where Rae’s neck met her shirt.
It took Raelin a moment to realize that Del was leaving, and she stepped back, almost tripping over her own feet. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what came over me. Umm, yes, you are always welcome here.” Turning away, she stopped herself from wiping her eyes. “Let me fix you a plate for Jasper, if you don’t mind waiting.”
Del just stood there a moment, suddenly wishing for Rae’s warmth again. Seeing the other woman’s embarrassment, she sought to do some damage control. Del couldn’t deny that there was a potential for something great with Rae and she wanted to try to see where it went. She walked up behind Rae and rested her hands softly on her waist. “It’s okay. You don’t need to be embarrassed.”
Shaking her head, Rae piled slices of beef with generous helping of vegetables in a Tupperware container. “I should have asked you before I did that.” She reached down to cover one of the hands resting on her hips with one of her own. “I want to see where this will go Delaney. I don’t know how to tell you, but I need to see where it leads.”
Del closed her eyes, taking in the warmth of the taller woman. “I think I’d like that. I don’t usually take to people so quickly, and certainly never while I’m working, but I want to try. Let’s see how it goes, okay? No hurry and no pressure. How does that sound?”
Nodding her head, Rae turned around with a smile. “I’d like that very much. I just want you to know that I’ve never…this is new to me.”
Del brows furrowed for a moment, before she got the meaning of what Rae was trying to tell her. “Oh, uh in the spirit of fairness, you should probably know that this isn’t my first time. Is that a problem for you? I mean, it’s not like I’ve had a lot of partners or anything.” Del realized she’d started rambling, and quickly shut her mouth before she made herself look even more stupid.
“No, not at all.” Rae reached up to run her fingers through golden hair. “I guess that I shouldn’t keep you any longer. You probably have a lot to do tomorrow and you need to get your sleep. You probably didn’t get a lot last night.”
Del was suddenly aware of how exhausted she was, and despite really not wanting to leave; a bed seemed like a pretty fantastic idea. “You’re right, I didn’t. The call for this job came through at four-thirty this morning. You keep playing with my hair like that, and I won’t make it out of this kitchen,” Del murmured, eyes closing against her will. She found herself leaning into Rae’s arms, trying to keep her body from shutting down.
Shaking her head, Raelin made a decision that she hoped wouldn’t come back and bite her. “You’re not leaving. There’s an extra room, and you’re staying the night. I won’t take the chance that you’ll fall asleep on your way back to town. Besides, your Jeep won’t start this late.”
Del’s eyes snapped open, and she stepped back from Raelin’s arms. “Rae, I couldn’t possibly impose on you like that. I’ll be fine; I’ve driven in worse shape before.” Even as she said the words, she swayed a little on her feet, hoping Rae wouldn’t have noticed.
“You’re staying Delaney.” Raelin quickly threaded her fingers with the blonde’s and led her upstairs to the spare bedroom. “There’s a bath right over there, and the clean towels and a change of clothes are in the closet. Make yourself at home.”
“I’ll just take a shower then,” she headed for the bathroom to shower off the day, but poked her head out quickly, flashing a charming smile Rae’s way. “Thanks Raelin. I’m really glad we met today.”
“Me too.” Raelin headed back into the kitchen to put away the food and quickly washed the dishes. Making sure that she heard the water still running, she silently made her way through the house, making sure that everything was buttoned down, and that there would be no surprises during the night.
Del sighed as she stepped quietly into the spare room. She was a little more awake now, and the shower had felt amazing. She pulled on the extra clothes that she had found in the bathroom and then she stopped to listen for a few moments, and hearing no signs of movement anywhere, she quickly darted down the hall, then the stairs and towards the front door.
She couldn’t get Rae’s comment about her Jeep out of her head, and while it had been rather off handed, she was in a strange town in a house owned by someone she had only just met. She really didn’t want to take the chance that her Jeep had been rigged, years of work told her that as much as she was attracted to this woman, she needed to keep a level head just in case. Reaching her Jeep, she quietly popped the hood, hoping to take a quick peek.
Before she could look around too much she heard the front door open and turned to find Rae looking back at her. “Uh, hey there. I figured you’d gone to bed?” she said lamely.
Leaning against the door jam, Rae smiled. “It actually took you longer than I thought to come out here. I didn’t do anything physical to your truck. Go ahead and try to start it.”
Del looked at her oddly. “If you haven’t touched the Jeep, then it should start. I’ve always been sure to do the work on it myself. It’s old, but runs like a dream.”
The brunette arched an eyebrow. “I just told it not to start. That’s all.”
“Rae, you can’t just tell something not to work and have it not work. The world doesn’t work that way.”
“That’s your world Delaney. In my world, I work with the powers that be, not against them. They like me. Please, go ahead and try it.” Rae waited.
Sighing, Del walked the driver’s side door and jumped in. She pushed the key into the ignition and turned, surprised when nothing happened. Frowning, she tried again, still nothing. Huffing in annoyance, she tried one last time before she pulled the keys out and jumped out of the Jeep. Hearing Rae’s light giggle at her expense, she stalked over and poked her in the side, tickling the taller woman lightly. “Yeah, yeah, laugh all you want, but that Jeep better be running in the morning or you’re in trouble.”
“Ooo, I’m scared. If you want to try it once more, it will start, but I am asking you to please stay the night.” Rae had a serious look on her face.
Del stopped her tickling, but left her hands on Rae’s sides. “I’ll stay, but in the spare bedroom. I don’t want to rush this and risk messing it up. I especially don’t want to push you into something you aren’t ready for.”
Looking down at the shorter woman, Rae smiled. “I know. What do you want for breakfast?”
“I even get breakfast? Wow, uh whatever you want to make is fine. I’m not too fussy,” the investigator replied, stepping into the house.
Watching the blonde walk inside, Rae laughed as she realized that Del was taking what she said at face value now. She didn’t have to go start the Jeep. Closing the door and locking it, she turned back to her guest. “I should warn you that I tend to walk the floors some nights when I can’t sleep, so please don’t be alarmed if you hear some strange noises.”
“I know what that’s like. I have some weird dreams sometimes, and I can’t usually go back to sleep after. I’ll keep it in mind if I hear you. Now it’s pretty late so we should head to bed. Or I should at least.” Del was stalling and she knew it. She really did need to sleep, but she was reluctant to part with Rae just yet. ‘I’m in way too deep, way too soon,’ Del thought idly.
Leaning forward, Rae brushed her lips against Del’s. “Good night Delaney. Sleep sweet and have fresh dreams.” Taking a step back, the brunette smiled as she headed towards her room.
Pausing in the doorway, Raelin glanced back at the blonde and smiled. “I’m glad that you came out to help Jasper. He’s a good friend, like I hope that you will be.”
Del smiled, and nodded. “Night Raelin, I’ll see you in the morning. Sleep well.” She watched the other woman until she closed the door before heading to her own room for the night.
Changing into her nightclothes, Rae sat cross-legged in the middle of her bed and concentrated on her house. She felt Del’s energy in the spare bedroom and smiled at the emotions coming off the blonde. Shifting her mental eye, she made sure that all of her wards were set and active before she shut off her ‘sight’, and crawled into bed.
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