"Ugh! I think you broke me."
Willow got up groaning from the fluffy feather bed and wandered about the room, stretching languidly in an attempt to unknot the muscles of her back from the afternoon's exertions. She was rewarded with a massive washboard-sounding "thrrrrrp" as the vertebrae snapped back into place.
Tara giggled helplessly beneath the maroon silk sheets that only partially covered her lithe, perspiration-slick body. "Well it was your idea to use the ice cubes, after all. I have never EVER been with anyone who used ice that way before," she replied, an arch smile spreading across her face.
"Hmph, little did I know that my technique would work too well. God, woman, you are insatiable!" Willow observed ruefully. "It's a good thing that we're going to something other than stay in bed all day. I'm not so sure that I'm a spring chicken anymore."
"Don't worry, I think you'll like what I have planned for tonight. There is much fun to be had, 'pon my word, milady."
Willow gave Tara a sidelong glance. "Uh huh, that's what you told me three hours ago," she snorted. "Much fun indeed."
Tara touched her chest daintily and batted her eyelashes. "But mah deah," she mocked in a faux Southern accent, "didn't mah ministrations give you pleasure?"
"Ok, Scarlett O'Hara, I get the point," Willow smirked. "I guess we'd better get dressed sometime soon, though." She looked around wistfully at the various articles of clothing that were discarded willy-nilly about the room. "What time did you say you made dinner reservations for?"
Tara picked up her watch from the nightstand beside the bed. "I didn't. We have to be there at 6:30 sharp to get seated. At least, that's what the reservations operator told me. Why?"
"Well, I was thinking that we might just have time for a nice hot shower as well as other things." Willow sauntered over to the vanity and grabbed a handful of ice from the ice bucket on the counter. She grabbed Tara's hand and hauled her up from the bed and into the spacious bathroom. Gripping her tightly about the waist, the lovers drew in to each other close enough so their breaths were like tiny whispers dancing on their lips. Their pulses quickened with the contact and their faces flushed with heat.
Tara ran her tongue lightly over her lips, tasting the salty beads of perspiration that had formed there. "And just w-what exactly did you have in mind for these 'other things'?" she inquired.
Willow leaned into her lover's ear, catching one baby-soft earlobe delicately between her teeth. "Oh, my dear, I have such sights to show you," she whispered.
A sensual, throaty chuckle escaped from deep within Tara's chest. "Well then," she murmured, "I think you'd better get cracking. We only have an hour."
They finally reached the Egg and I restaurant after dealing with the unbelievably knotty rush-hour traffic on Las Vegas Boulevard. Tara decided it was best that she take over the driving from Willow after a rather snarky cab driver cut them off at the corner of Sahara Avenue and then proceeded to rail at them in some incomprehensible language. Willow turned so red with rage that Tara could almost see the steam coming out of her ears.
"Maybe I should do this, honey," she said calmly, placing soothing hand on Willow's face. "You might spontaneously combust and I don't think a little pile of Willow-ashes would be much fun." Willow nodded curtly in agreement, her mouth set in a grim line.
The restaurant was surprising nondescript considering its reputation for fun and fine dining. A small crowd of diners was gathered alongside of the building, chatting amiably amongst themselves while they waited for the maitre'd to admit them inside.
A skeptical look crossed Willow's face as she waited patiently beside Tara. "Umm, baby? Are you sure this is the right place?" she commented, cocking an eyebrow skyward.
"Of course it is... just trust me. You'll enjoy it," Tara grinned, her eyes twinkling with mischief. Suddenly a tall woman in a blonde wig wearing a precipitously short skirt, tube top and the spikiest heels known to woman appeared by their side.
"Hi!" she greeted them brightly. "I'm D.D. We should be opening the doors for seating shortly. Do you have your tickets handy?"
Tara wordlessly handed the woman their tickets. D.D. compared them with a list that was on a podium beside the entrance, gave them back and motioned for a serving woman to show them to their seats.
"Think that skirt could get any tighter," Willow murmured.
"Shh! Willow behave yourself!" Tara giggled.
"I'm just sayin'..." Willow let her sentence hang unfinished.
A different server came to get their drink order and inform them of the menu for the evening. Other couples soon occupied the additional seats at their table and the dining room filled quite rapidly. Excited babble and chatter filtered throughout the restaurant so that it sounded more like a noisy schoolroom. Around 7pm, D.D. reappeared to announce that the show would be starting soon and give details about its purpose to the rest of the audience.
"Okay, a lot of you asked me at the door where the stage was. Well the answer to that is, 'All around you.' This is a murder mystery and the action takes place all through out the restaurant, and the people who are going to be murdering and murdered are seated among you. So shake the hand of a neighbor and say, "Goodbye" because they might not be there in half an hour."
Willow's eyes brightened in excitement when she heard the words "murder mystery". Tara shook her head in amusement as she watched her lover frantically write down all the clues that were being presented by the cast members such as Anita Dedman (whose "My Barbies are Lesbian" T-shirt nearly caused Willow and Tara to fall out of their chairs with laughter) as they each came on and off in turn. D.D. and Lt. Post wandered about the room talking with diners and asking them questions about the "murder" they had all witnessed to help him "solve" the case. Everyone seemed to be enjoying the "interactive theater" experience, including a suddenly child-like Willow. After almost thirty minutes of watching the cast and even members of the audience being murdered and carted off, Lt. Post left to "examine the bodies" and D.D. stepped up to give additional instructions to the crowd.
"Now the next thing we need you to do is to go back out to where you came in tonight and spend a few minutes interrogating other audience members. This is your chance to find see if you can find someone involved here this evening. Ask the same things I asked earlier, name, where they're from, occupation, why and what they'd use to kill someone. The reason for this is so that we can place your salads and hide a few clues. So everybody get up and head outside!!"
As fellow diners wandered about striking up conversations with total strangers as part of the "game", Tara observed Willow unobtrusively from a darkened corner of restaurant patio. The soft orange-red glow of sunset bathed her face, which only served to enhance the green in her eyes. "If I wasn't in love with her before, I sure am now," Tara mused. She couldn't help but fixate on every feature, on every curve. "Here's to hoping she'll be my Forever Girl," she thought, raising her glass of zinfandel in a mock toast. Tara paused, searching for the right words for how she felt at that moment, as the emotions swirled about in her chest, expanding and flowing through her mercurially. What was that Randy Travis song she heard once?
Took a little time to get up to speed
How odd that something simple as a song could summarize something so complex as feelings? Across the crowd Willow, who was flanked by two people attempting to get her attention, met Tara's eyes. She slowly winked at her lover and continued to talk with fellow diners although, in truth, her mind was only partially concentrating on the conversation. She had to admit that Tara looked positively stunning, her blonde hair golden in the evening sunlight. Even though she stood in a very shaded part of the patio, the magical blue of her eyes seemed to leap out at Willow from the darkness, caressing her soul and stealing her heart. Excusing herself from the group that had gathered around her, she walked over to Tara and gripped her hand gently.
"Hey," she whispered. "You ok?"
Tara nodded almost imperceptibly. "I-I'm fine. Just... you know... thinking."
Willow was about to inquire about those thoughts when D.D. came outside to herd everyone back into the restaurant. The night moved rather quickly after that point. Tara remained rather silent for the most part, content to observe Willow and the heated debates she had with Lt. Post and the surrounding diners about who the real "killer" could be. When all was said and done, she had solved the crime and gave Tara a self-satisfied smirk when her name was announced as the winner of a special prize.
As they walked to the parking lot, Tara linked her arm in Willow's and drew her close. "So... I take it you enjoyed yourself," she remarked lightly.
"That was just soo cool!" Willow exclaimed. "Did you see that guy get all nervous when I stared him down? I just knew he was the real killer!"
Tara laughed out loud. "Well it's good to see that you had fun. It's good to hear you laugh again."
"I had a lot of help," Willow smiled softly. "Thanks, baby. For everything." She kissed her lover on the cheek and got into the car. "I think you should drive. I don't think I have enough energy to rant and rave." The insistent buzz of the cell phone in her pocket caused her to groan in annoyance.
"Who the frilly heck could this be? I told Xander not to call unless it was really important," she muttered irritatedly. "Hello?"
"Willow!" She recognized the voice at the end of the line as Cole Osbourne, the project manager for the software engineering section of Lockheed Martin in Philadelphia. "I have been trying to call you for hours! Listen, we have a crisis here in Philly. How quickly can you be on a plane back here?"
Closing her eyes, she ground her teeth in frustration. Not now! Not when things were just going so well.
"I'll be there as soon as I can," Willow replied and closed the lid of the phone.
Tara took her attention off the road and glanced at her briefly. "Is everything ok, baby?"
The hacker took a deep breath, not knowing what to say or how to say it. "I've gotta go back to Philly. My boss is having a minor meltdown and says he needs me there." She wiped away angry tears that sprang into her eyes. "Damn," she said under her breath.
"I did my best, Craig but the earliest flight I can catch from here to Philly is tomorrow morning at eight... I know I know! Tell that to USAIR!... ok... fine, just have Markie email me the module and white box test results so I can go over them. And please tell Marketing not to talk to any of the customers until we can get this sorted out... yes... yes, I know Craig. Talk to you tomorrow."
Willow slapped her cell phone shut and threw the offending appliance into the back seat of the car. "Great... juuuust great. What more could go wrong?" she muttered irritatedly.
She was grateful that Tara had offered to drive because her blood pressure was far too high at that moment to deal with the gridlock that is Las Vegas traffic. It was well past 11 p.m. and it was still bumper-to-bumper on Las Vegas Boulevard.
Glancing over at her very frustrated lover, Tara sighed deeply. "Are you too upset to stay on the Strip or do you want to just head back to the room?"
"Nahh, I'm fine. It's just that there are days that I wish I could turn my boss into George of the Jungle and watch him swing merrily from the ceiling of the Board Room. It takes so little to amuse me sometimes," Willow chuckled at the visual that popped into her head.
"Now now, my dear, behave," Tara smiled wryly. "I was thinking that we could hit this cool place that I know called the House of Blues. It's at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and is the best medicine the I can think of for what ails you."
Willow cocked an assessing eyebrow at the blonde who was maneuvering them through the hideous traffic with a skill she didn't know she possessed. Never in a million years would she have figured Tara to be such a multi-faceted person. "Is there anything she HASN'T done?" she mused inwardly.
"Sure, why not?" was Willow's noncommittal reply. "Is there a concert going on or is this kind of a free-for-all? 'Cause, you know, me and my feet have been known to go their separate ways at the weirdest times."
Tara's warm laugh filled the cabin of the car. "I really don't think that will be a problem, babe. Besides, I have another surprise for you," she grinned, her eyes alight with mischief and mirth.
"What did I do to have the honor of being surprised so much?"
"Oh nothing... just being the wonderful woman you are."
"Ah hah. I think you might have sprouted a tail and donkey ears after that one."
"Oh hush. You'll enjoy yourself, trust me."
Willow winced slightly. "The last time someone said that to me, I ended up in a black leather bustier, muttering something about riding people like ponies." Tara stared at her with something akin to mortification. "Hideously long story, SO not worth repeating."
They pulled up to the front entrance of Mandalay Bay and handed the keys to a rather attentive valet. He was so absorbed in admiring the view from behind them, he almost crashed into the car in front of him.
Willow's brow furrowed in concern. "What was his problem?"
"Apparently he thinks that you are more than just passing fair, love."
"Well he can just keep on lookin' because wantin' ain't havin'," she sniffed.
Tara couldn't help but laugh at her lover's quirky sense of humor. As they stepped into the lobby of the hotel, the din of the gambling floor nearly overpowered them. Raucous shouts of success, the incessant clinking of change being cashed out of slot machines and the drunken exuberance of the table game players was pretty close to sensory overload. By the time they reached the House of Blues, the line was surprisingly short but it was apparently a happening place. The tables and barstools were packed with people and the wail of blues guitar flowed out of the open doorway like sweet wine.
"How the heck are we going to find a place to sit around here?" Willow shouted to be heard above the din.
"Not a problem," Tara replied. She pulled aside the bouncer at the door for a few quick words. Next thing, Willow knew she was being gently pulled through the crowd to a suddenly vacant booth by the stage.
"I don't even want to know how you managed that," she said in amazement.
"It's ok. Nothing illegal I promise. Just that I did a favor for the owner once so I decided to collect," Tara smirked. "Wait here... I'll be right back." She slipped out of the booth and around the side of the stage before Willow had a chance to protest. Dropping her hands on the table in resignation, she decided that, with the evening she was having, a fizzy alcoholic beverage was in order. She managed to flag down a passing barmaid whose shockingly transparent uniform made her blush a rosy pink. The woman appeared not a day over 18 and the slightly naughty look in her eyes practically dared Willow to comment.
"What'll ya have, hon?" she smirked.
"Um... um... a-a Sloe Gin Fizz, p-please," Willow stammered, trying to hide her nervousness.
"Sure, anything for you. Back in a flash," the barmaid replied with a wink and disappeared back into the swaying crush of patrons. Willow hadn't realized that she was holding her breath until it came out in a great whoosh once the woman had finally gone. She muttered a silent prayer to whatever deity was listening for the redness in her face would be gone by the time Tara sat down. A burst of applause made her jump in surprise as she realized that the music had stopped playing and a female singer was addressing the audience.
"Thanks everybody, I'm Susan Tedeschi for any of y'all that don't know... and this is my wonderful band.... it's always a kick to be here in Sin City," the musician paused, drawing delighted hoots and catcalls from the crowd. She strummed her guitar absently, smiling broadly to someone off to one side of the stage. "I've got a friend with me tonight who wants to sing a little song to cheer up a certain special someone. Now y'all be nice to my friend Tara. Come on out here, honey."
The crowd erupted with cheers, whistles and raucous applause as a rather bold Tara stepped around the stage, mike in hand. "Hi everyone!" she called out.
"Hi Tara!" the crowd responded eagerly.
"I sometimes think Susan had this next song written with me in mind. See, I was in love with a person I met in a coffee shop. And I had no idea how to convey my feelings for them or even how they felt about me. This song is mostly about what I felt for this person before and what I feel for them now."
Willow stared up at her, totally amazed. It was like everything that had happened in her dreams only better. She considered pinching herself to make sure it was real but decided against it. Having to endure pain was one thing but inflicting it on yourself was a whole different ball o' wax. A hand on Willow's shoulder almost made her fall out of her seat. Standing beside her was the sassy barmaid with her very colorful drink.
"Here ya go, sweetie," she grinned. "Try not to drink it all at once."
"Uh, thanks. Smartass," Willow muttered, glaring darkly after her. She returned her attention to the stage as the band launched into a peppy little number. Her eyes were wide with wonder as Tara started to trade off singing duties with Ms. Tedeschi.
I cry for love that's gone
Tara strode sensually to the edge of the stage, not ten feet from where Willow was sitting and made eye contact with her. She was making it very clear that this song was her Willow and her alone. Her sultry voice dipped and wailed, keeping pace with the musician's rough and bluesy style. Even the audience was pulled into the women's sexy little world, captivated by two shows it seemed.
The temptation of you is oh so strong
Tara's impromptu performance practically brought down the house. People stood on tables, even barstools and pounded out their approval with staccato-like raps using beer bottles or anything that was handy. She bowed gracefully, accepting the accolades from the crowed and was helped offstage by a pair of solicitous young men who were standing close by. They managed to look a little pained as she paid them no mind, her attentions meant for only one woman. Collapsing in a heap next to Willow, she leaned on the table with both elbows, a truly wicked smirk on her face. "So," Tara chirped brightly. "How'd I do?"
Willow stared at her girlfriend, her lips working to form words but no sound was coming out. She finally gave up trying to put a sentence together and shut her mouth with an audible clack. Bright droplets of unshed tears hung from the corners of her eyes like dewdrops.
"I really don't know what to say," Willow whispered hoarsely. "No one's ever sung to me before. I don't even know if I deserve it."
Tara laid one hand gently over her lover's trembling ones and softly stroked her cheek with the other. "No one in the world deserves it more than you. Trust me."
The redhead swiped at her eyes, annoyed with herself that she'd gotten to weepy in front of strangers. "Can we go back to the room? I'm suddenly feeling like having some alone time with you. Tomorrow is going to come far sooner than I want it to."
"Ask and ye shall receive."