***Hotel room, Los Angeles***
Monique Fournier was feeling much better as she stepped from the shower. A couple of shots of tequila and a warm shower were enough to revitalize her even after a near-death experience and a phone call from her former lover. As soon as that cheeseburger arrived from room service, she would be ready to face the world again. Or the end of it as we know it.
She shook her head as she stared at the woman in the mirror. Those lines around her eyes and mouth were a tiny bit deeper, but for a woman nearing the half-century mark, she was in damned fine shape. Good genes, of course. Though being multi-cultural and multi-racial was not always easy.
Born to a French father and a Guinean mother, her early years had been spent running barefoot around her mother’s village. But when her grand-père had died, the family had returned to her father’s vineyard legacy in the Loire valley. She and her brother had been the only people of color in their school. If that had not been bad enough, her grand-mère had never accepted her son’s family, making her mother’s life and theirs a living hell. Worse still, her father dismissed his mother’s behavior as grief, refusing to stand up for them.
But none of that mattered now. Monique had left the family drama behind when she went to college. The only one she had any contact with was her brother, Pierre, until he had been killed in a car accident a dozen years ago. Back then, she had a family of her own. Or she thought she did.
Maria. Maria Elena Cortez-Espinoza had been her college roommate at UC-San Diego. It was the first time that either of them had been away from home. Of course, Maria’s upbringing had been much stricter, so she had never told her family about them. Even when they decided to begin their family, Monique had begged and pleaded with Maria to tell them the truth. But Maria thought that having a baby out of wedlock would be enough for her family to stop pressuring her to come home and settle down with a man of their choosing. It hadn’t been.
Of course, Monique accepted her share of responsibility. She had lost herself in grief after Pierre’s death, clinging to Daniella in a way that Maria worried was not healthy. They had fought – a lot. Maria had taken their four-year-old daughter just to visit her family in Veracruz. They had never come back. Maria’s family had introduced her to an up-and-coming young prosecutor named Hector De León. They were married before Maria had even told her.
Monique had lost her lover, her daughter, and the last link to her brother. To be fair, Maria had allowed her to continue to see the child occasionally. At least until Hector ran for Attorney General. She shuddered at the memory of what had happened – a massacre. Only Maria, her mother, and the children had survived. What happened to them then was wrapped in mystery.
One that she needed to solve. And quickly. It did not matter anymore what Maria wanted. Monique was finding her daughter and keeping the girl safe. Though girl wasn’t quite right. Daniella would be twenty now. If Maria, her other children with Hector, and even her mother wanted to come to Regenesis, they were welcome.
But Monique had failed to protect her daughter once; she was not doing it again. Yes, Maria might have carried and born the girl, but Fournier blood coursed in her veins too. That was why they had asked Pierre to be the sperm donor, so the baby would be theirs. Not that the law recognized that.
There were tears in her eyes as a knock at the door broke into her thoughts. She reached for the robe hanging on the back of the door and slipped into it. Her food. That and sleep were what she needed.
Hopefully, the other plane had landed safely outside D.C. The hard drive in the hands of their contact there. It was just a matter of waiting now. She might not agree entirely with how Brent and Lauren wanted to handle this situation. But she had given her word. And she would keep it. Forty-eight hours or when she got the go-ahead from Brent.
“Just a minute,” she called out as she reached for her wallet to tip the waiter. That had been quicker than she expected.
She opened the door without looking through the peephole. The blond with her fist raised to pound on it again was every bit as stunning as she had been three years ago. Yes, Carlie was aging, but she did it with dignity. Those lines added gravitas to her still youthful beauty. “I told you….”
“I know what you said, Monique.” Her former lover, the only one she had had since Maria, except for a few one-night stands, barged into the room. A tornado. Carlie Carlisle constantly reminded her of the tornados that at first brought the woman to national prominence. Even that sweet tang remained unchanged. Monique’s nipples hardened painfully against the rough terry-cloth material of the robe.
But she had made a promise. She kept those. “As I said on the phone, Carlie, if or when I have something to say, you will have the exclusive. But….”
Carlie turned to face her; her lover’s cheeks glowed pink with the heat of her passion. She was always beautiful, but like this, she reminded Monique of Helen of Troy, a face that supposedly launched a thousand ships. Unfortunately, this time that flush was from anger, not the orgasms Monique knew she could give the woman. Still, those pink lips looked so kissable even as more words flowed from them.
“Monique, I expected better from you.” Those words cut like a knife to her heart. How many times had her mother said them to whatever unrealistic expectation her grand-mère had for children? Monique slumped to the end of the bed as Carlie began to pace the room. She always paced when she was upset, worried, or angry. It was funny the things you remembered about the people you loved.
Loved? Monique shook her head; that was not a word she had ever before used to describe her relationship with the woman. After Maria, she had sworn she would never love anyone again. So in all those years of on-again-off-again relationship with this woman, it was just something she had never considered.
Maybe it was coming that close to dying just hours before? Perhaps it was knowing that the world was going to change forever? But for whatever reason, Monique Fournier had to face the truth. Somewhere along the way, in the past decade, she had come to love Carlie Carlisle. The question was….
“Are you listening to a damned word, I’m saying, Monique? You and Brent Jacobs cannot fucking play god with the lives of millions and billions of people. Ya’ll need to come clean and tell the world what you know.”
Yeah, she loved that passion too. How this woman had managed to keep that innocent passion alive in this misogynistic world was surprising. But she was not up to having this conversation now. “Toilet paper.”
“What the fuck? Monique, the world is in chaos, and you fucking want to talk about toilet paper?”
“Yes, that’s it exactly, Carlie. Toilet paper. You remember a few years ago with that virus; what happened?” Carlie looked at her toes; they were painted a cute shade of cotton candy pink. It was probably the same shade as those luscious lips. But now was not the time to have her libido reawaken either. “Yeah, that’s right. Toilet paper. People acted stupid and cleared the shelves of toilet paper. What you do think would happen if….”
“If you came down off of Mount Olympus and told the fucking world the truth.” The more Carlie cussed, the more passionate she was about something. Another of those silly things you come to realize when you love someone.
She stopped pacing and drew in a deep breath. Monique knew that whatever words came from those sexy pink lips next, she would not like. “People may act crazy. They may even be stupid. But they have a right to protect their families. Because we both know that the government isn’t capable of doing it.”
Her shoulders slumped. It was her own argument, reflected back to her in the words of her lover. And it shook her.
Suddenly, Carlie was in her arms. The force of the impact sent Monique sprawling on the bed. If the woman thought to use her sexual wiles….
At first, Monique was confused. It had been over three years since she had held this woman in her arms. Any woman. She was definitely feeling something.
Then it clicked. “An earthquake?”