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 Artistic Differences


Chapter 10

He had driven to Denver to take care of the envelopes that had been waiting in his post office box. The drive to the city had also given him time to contemplate his next move as far as the hacking job. The Hammer still wanted anything and everything he could find about those energy weapons. For Harold, the entire ordeal had become personal. Someone had attacked his computer, and he wasn’t going to just let that go. That he'd been attacking what he believed were the Air Force computers at NORAD was a fact he conveniently ignored.

When he'd finished at the bank, he drove to the art gallery, worried at first that he wouldn’t be able to remember where it was located. Harold hesitated at the door. He'd never participated in a ‘silent’ auction before. Had no idea if he needed to check on the results of his bid or not. He wanted that painting, and he wanted it badly. Hoped that he would be able to find out if his bid was the highest, and if not, offer more. Taking a deep breath, he pushed open the door, listened to the soft, almost zen like chime that echoed in the room, announcing his arrival.

Tammy looked up, purse in hand, ready to make her escape for the day. She glanced towards Donna’s office. The older woman was on the phone. With a sigh, she put her purse on a nearby chair. Pasted a smile on her face. "May I help you?"

"Uh...yeah...um...yes," Harold stammered. "I put in a bid for one of the paintings. A big one. Venus."


"I was just wondering if I had the highest bid...if not, I’m willing to offer more."

She couldn’t help but smile at his nervousness. "I’m really not at liberty to discuss the auction nor the participants."

Disappointment washed over him. He'd never wanted anything as much as he wanted that painting. He couldn’t explain why...only that looking at it made him feel like part of something...bigger. Something important. As if he alone were witness to a grand event.

The crestfallen look on the man’s face tugged at her heart. "I shouldn’t do this...but it seems to mean so much to you-"

"It really does!" Harold exclaimed quickly.

"Well then, if you’ll give me your name, I can take a look at the list," Tammy smiled.

He nearly collapsed with relief. "Thank you! Maser, I’m Harold Maser."

"If you’ll just wait here for a moment, Mr. Maser, I can check on your bid."

He watched her walk away. She was a little on the plump side. But pretty. She had a nice smile. And she was friendly. And willing to check to see if he needed to up his bid. She'd been carrying her purse...had she been getting ready to leave?

"May I help you?"

He turned to see a stern looking woman walking toward him. "Oh! Uh...no, no thank you. Another lady is checking on my um...question."

Donna nodded. Tammy must have seen the man before she left. "Very well. If I can be of any assistance, please do not hesitate to inquire."

"Yes, of course," Harold replied. Stuck up bitch, he thought. Glad that he hadn’t been forced to deal with that woman. No doubt she would never have given him an answer.

He shuffled his feet, glanced around at the various paintings, mostly still life’s or pastoral prints. Nothing that interested him.

"Mr. Maser, it looks as if your bid is the highest for the Venus painting," Tammy said excitedly, hurrying back toward him.

His heart skipped a beat. "Really? Would it be possible to take it now?" The question was out before he had stopped to think that there was no way a painting of that size would fit into his Camry.

"I’m sorry. The deadline for bids is tomorrow at noon, so technically I can’t let you have it before then. But if you’d like to make arrangements to have it delivered, I can do that now."

"Yes, please!" He could barely contain his excitement. His first purchase, a major purchase...and of art, no less, as a ‘made’ member of the Mafia.

"Is the address on the form where you’d like to have the painting delivered?"

"Yes, it is," he replied.

She opened the daily planner she had brought from her office. Flipped it open to the date she needed, scanned the schedule. "I believe we could have it delivered on Friday morning, if you’d like. Around ten a.m.?" 

"That would be fine."

She quickly wrote his name onto that line of the page, put the name of the painting in parenthesis beside it. "I’ll call and let you know when the truck leaves."


"Congratulations, Mr. Maser," Tammy smiled. She hadn’t missed his exuberance, or the excitement he was showing at the news of having won the bid. She was glad that the painting was going to someone who would appreciate it.

"Thank you." With a nod and a smile, Harold turned and walked out of the gallery. He couldn’t help but strut just a bit as he walked toward his car, whistling loudly. Everything was going his way. How about that? He was halfway back to Silver Springs when he realized he hadn’t even asked that very pretty lady her name. He hadn’t thought to ask her to coffee or anything either. But he had the painting. That was the most important thing.


A  A  A  A  A  A


Sam’s phone rang, she reached for it absently. "Carter."

"Um...yes, is this Samantha Carter?"

She frowned slightly. The feminine voice wasn’t one she recognized. Whoever it was, she had the lab extension number. "Yes it is."

"I’m Donna Richards, manager of the William Havu Gallery in Denver. As yours will obviously be the top bid, I would like to speak to you concerning delivery of the painting, ‘Venus’."

"Oh...yeah," she thought, thinking frantically. "If I could have your number, I can call you back in just a few minutes with those instructions."

"Of course," the woman said amiably, reciting the number twice.

"Thanks!" She hung up the phone. It would certainly help if Jack would stay in his office once in awhile, she grumped silently. She glanced at her watch. By now he should be checking in on the cadets who were in training courses, although she had no idea what the lecture subject was for the day. Sam nearly ran for the elevator. The three of them had agreed that no one would know that they had purchased the painting. But they hadn't decided exactly what to do with it. Neither she nor Jack had garages. She did have a small storage locker, but it was far too small, and far too full, to hold that huge painting. Teal’c was still living at the SGC, and storing it on site was totally out of the question. Daniel and Casey did have a garage...maybe they could slip it in there. If they kept it covered...yeah, that would work, she grumped to herself. Neither of the Jacksons would notice a huge, painting-shaped, tarp-wrapped thing suddenly appearing in their garage. Okay, maybe they should consider telling at least Daniel about their plans...mostly because he had a garage...


A  A  A  A  A  A


She settled onto the sofa beside him. The lounge on the second level was never used, unless there were visitors to the SGC. It was one of the safest places where they could meet for coffee. She absolutely refused to think about what that consideration actually inferred. The relationship between them had moved up to the next level, finally. She'd been afraid that perhaps he had only viewed her as a friend. Even though they'd been spending as much time together as possible lately. The first kiss had been so sweet...so anticipated, that it still curled her toes and left her breathless to think about it.

He couldn’t help but smile when she leaned against him, just a bit. They'd spent every evening together for the past week, and the night before they had indulged in a bit of very enjoyable necking. The fact that they'd been at his apartment, where there was little chance that they would be disturbed by anyone from the base, or her teenaged daughter, had been part of the reason they had felt...relaxed...enough to let Nature take its course. The fact that Casey could have dropped by unannounced had completely escaped him...not that she ever had. When he'd realized that it was a possibility, he had broken out in a cold sweat...and had just as quickly reprimanded himself. He was not about to feel guilty for falling in love with an incredible woman, regardless of who she was...or how old she was.

"So then Casey just lost it, I mean totally lost it. She was shouting at Tiesha. From what I could find out, it seems that Tie didn’t tell Casey about the painting...so there Casey was, expecting to see a black and white portrait, and she’s greeted by a mural sized painting of herself," she said, finishing her story regarding the latest happenings in the SGC.

"And being Casey, dealing with what that...bitch...did to her, she couldn’t see the beauty of the work," he finished. He shook his head. "You don’t know how tempting it is to make a few phone calls."

A frown pulled at dark eyebrows. "Phone calls?"

"Helen Webster is in prison," he replied. "You’d be amazed at how little it costs to have someone inside killed."


He chuckled at the wide-eyed look of horror. Janet was a doctor, first and foremost. To her, life was precious...all life. Which took a bit of getting used to. Not that he didn’t believe in the sanctity of life. He was just more willing to look the other way when bad guys were involved. Or sadistic bitches who abused innocent little girls...which resulted in scarred and hurting young women. "Don’t worry. I wouldn’t really do it. No matter how tempting it might be."

"Well, the painting won’t be in the gallery much longer. The auction ends tomorrow."

He sat upright, nearly spilling his cup of coffee. "Auction?"

She nodded. "There’s a silent auction for all of the pieces of art that were entered for the contest."

A wide grin spread across his face. "Let’s go."



"The gallery closes at seven."

"We’ll make it," Gary said confidently.

"Right. And where are you going to put it?"

Gary shrugged. "Storage unit, I guess. I’ll worry about that part later."

"I can’t just leave! I’m on duty," Janet protested.

He frowned. "You’re the only doctor on duty?"

"Well, no. Doctor Warner and Doctor Brightman are on duty as well."

"I suppose it would be unheard of for a doctor to leave their shift what, two hours early?"

She tugged on her lip. "I did work through lunch today. This is really the first break I’ve had all day as well."

He grinned mischievously. "So, that means you’d have put in your eight hours in about an hour."

"Ten hour shift, actually," she smiled.

"Ten hours? No breaks? That’s just wrong. A doctor that tired could make mistakes. Give an allergy shot instead of a vitamin shot. Put a square bandage on a round wound...or a round bandage on a square wound...or worse yet, wrap it with an ace bandage!"

Janet burst into laughter.

"Hey, I’m just thinking about your patients, here! If you’re too tired, they’re not going to get your best."

"I suppose I could duck out early."

"I’ll meet you topside. My car."

"Give me twenty minutes."

"If you’re not there in twenty minutes, I’ll come find you, and drag you out of that infirmary."

"For the sake of my patients."


She giggled again. "Twenty minutes."

He stood to his feet as she rose. Grabbed her hand, tugged her closer. Leaned over and kissed her gently. "Twenty minutes."


A  A  A  A  A  A


He looked at the list of tasks he was expected to complete for the day. Most consisted of preparing the paintings that had been on display for the contest for shipment. All bids had to be received by noon the next day. Most shipments wouldn’t begin until Friday. He’d already made arrangements with a friend to meet him after the gallery closed. He’d found the perfect place to stash the painting until he could ship it to New York City. Of course, he had to be in the city to receive the shipment, and have somewhere there to store it until he could present it...as his own work.

He made a small notation on the bottom of the paperwork that was attached to ‘Venus’. To the casual observer, it would look like a simple pen mark. To him, it would let him know with a glance that this was the painting to grab...he knew that he'd only have a few minutes to get the painting out the back door, and the door closed and locked, before the alarm sounded. That was the result of his code for the system only allowing enough time to empty the trash and return. His job description didn’t include ‘janitor’, he fumed silently...again. That was Carl’s area of expertise. But he wouldn’t complain too much. At least he'd be able to have the door open long enough to get the painting out.

Everything was going exactly as he had planned. He'd slipped into Tammy’s office and taken a peek at the bid forms. The bid on top had to have been the highest, he was certain that was how she had the forms sorted. It had been for eleven hundred dollars. He'd located the form he had entered into the auction, under the name on the stolen credit card, and had changed his bid to eleven-fifty. Then Tammy wouldn’t become suspicious, and would just believe she had misread the form the first time.

His inquiries into moving to New York were beginning to net a few responses. So far there were three possible apartments, complete with roommates, but it wouldn’t take long for him to establish himself. He had to get there before he could deal with those details.


A  A  A  A  A  A


Sam dialed the number that Donna Richards had left. Recognized the woman’s voice when she answered. "Yes, this is Samantha Carter. Would it be possible to pick up the painting?"

"That would be perfectly fine. Actually, it would be a godsend. We have so many paintings and sculptures to deal with, that our driver is going to be besieged with deliveries."

"We could pick it up on Friday afternoon."

"That’s perfect."

"Great, I’ll...we’ll see you on Friday, then."

"I look forward to it. Thank you very much, Ms. Carter."

"Um, Major Carter, actually."

"Of course. Major. Have a nice day."

"You, too." She hung up, looked at the two men who had waited silently. "Well, it’s ours. We can pick it up-"

"On Friday afternoon," Jack finished. "Which gives us a few hours to decide exactly what we’re going to do with it."

"Perhaps we could store it in one of the warehouses, temporarily," Teal’c suggested.

Sam frowned. "That might work. We couldn’t leave it there for long, someone’s bound to see it and start asking questions."

"One crisis at a time," Jack grumbled.

"We could just take it to Casey,’ Sam said, twisting her quarter inch, straight slot screwdriver between her fingers. "Let her decide what she wants to do with it."

Jack and Teal’c exchanged a glance. "Carter, I think that’s a great idea!" Jack said.

"You just think it is because it means we don’t have to come up with a place to keep it."

He grinned unabashedly. "That, too. Look, we know that the thing is a great piece of work. Lieutenant Taylor wouldn’t have won if it wasn’t. But we also know that Casey had no idea about it, and that it bothered her. Still does, from what I’m seeing and hearing."

"Giving it to her might help her to deal with those emotions," Sam added.

"Indeed. Perhaps she’ll even be able to see the painting as being as beautiful as we all know it to be," Teal’c said.

"Then it’s settled. We pick it up, and deliver it straight to the Jacksons." Jack rubbed his hands together. "Any other problems I can solve while I’m here?" 

"You?" Sam asked, cocking one eyebrow. "It was my idea."

"But I inspired you," Jack replied jauntily. "No problems? Great! I’ll just be on my way."

"Isn’t there a report that General Hammond is expecting from you?" Sam asked, her eyes dancing with mirth.

"Report. Right," Jack said, deflating slightly. "Yeah, I guess I should go work on it."

"Yes, you should. Sir," Sam grinned.

His cheek twitching, Teal’c inclined his head in his normal fashion of greeting, and walked out of the room. Broke into a grin when he stood alone on the elevator.


A  A  A  A  A  A


Casey had a firm grip on Daniel’s hand as they entered the gallery. Tiesha walked close to her on the other side, both her Husband and her friend watching her carefully. She paused just before they reached the door to the room where the mural paintings were on display.

He watched her eyes. How they widened slightly. She had licked her lips three times, that simple movement affecting him on a dozen different levels, for as many reasons. "Ready?"

She glanced at him. Focused on the love, on the calm that filled his eyes. "I think so."

Tiesha grasped Casey’s free hand. "If you don’t want to do this, we won’t."

"No, no...I need to do this," Casey said softly. It was one battle. But if she could do this...win this one skirmish, then the next would be a little easier, and the next easier still, until she was able to fully control her feelings of guilt and shame and anger, and all those she wasn’t even sure had names. Stepping into that room, looking at that painting as an object of art, not as something that exposed her personally, was the first step in defeating Helen Webster. She took a deep breath. Tightened her fingers around Daniel’s hand, felt his loving, gentle squeeze in response. "Let’s do it."

There it was. Still as big as she remembered. It was difficult not to look at herself. She focused instead on the ocean...the soft waves, the foam of the water as it raced ashore. She studied the face of the god who looked on...the father of the woman...of Venus...

It still looked like her. Her face. Her body. Way too much of her body, as a matter of fact. But..."I suppose my bikini doesn’t cover much more than the shells," she said after a few minutes.

"I thought the same thing, myself," Daniel admitted quietly. The painting was breathtaking. He concentrated on his wife. "Tell me what you see, Angel."

His voice was soft, gentle. Washed over her like a protective wave of love. "I like how the god...um..."


"That would be him...I like how he’s watching. As if he’s letting her know that he’ll always be there for her. That he’s proud of her, that he’s glad he’s her father."

He couldn’t help but smile. He knew for a fact that Gary was overjoyed at being Casey’s father. And that he was immensely proud of his daughter. He also knew that she'd been completely overwhelmed by his love...his willingness, no, his eagerness to be a part of her life. "What else?"

"The water...it looks warm...inviting."

"What about Venus?"

"She looks...she looks..." Casey studied her face. Didn’t even notice when the face ceased to be her own, and became that of the goddess Venus. "She looks happy. As if she knows that everything will be all right."

"Something good, something beautiful, coming from such anger and violence," Tiesha said softly.

Daniel glanced over at the young woman, the artist who had created what was nothing less than a masterpiece. Thought that the description very aptly described Casey. "That’s a very interesting interpretation."

Tiesha looked at him, blushed slightly as she shrugged her shoulders. "That’s what I was thinking about when I painted it. That the myth is about hope, amid all of the anger and violence...sometimes something good, something beautiful, can emerge...in spite of what was intended."

He took note that Casey was nodding slightly. 

"Jupiter knows that. I think he was even willing to...accept...the sacrifice that had been made, if Venus was the result," she said softly.

Daniel leaned closer to his wife. "See, I told you that it was a beautiful painting, and one of Venus, not Casey Jackson."

Casey looked up at him and smiled. "Yes, you did. And you were right." She turned to Tiesha, hugged the lieutenant tightly. "It’s awesome, Tie, and it so deserved to win!"

Tears caught in her eyelashes. "Thanks, Casey. With your...approval...that win means something now," Tiesha replied.

The three stood admiring the painting, Daniel and Casey asking questions about the techniques used, how Tiesha had managed to make the water look so liquid, the foam so frothy...the mist so real. The artist avidly described how she had worked, the time it had taken on certain aspects of the painting.

They took a few more minutes to admire the other mural paintings, Casey hadn’t actually noticed them the night of the contest. Thanked the gallery manager, who congratulated Tiesha again on her success, and walked back into the late afternoon sunshine.


A  A  A  A  A  A


They walked into the gallery arm in arm, with fifteen minutes to spare. They smiled brightly at the woman who greeted them. "We’re looking for the mural entries for last weekend’s contest," Gary said.

"Of course," Donna smiled. She glanced at the door, tempted to lock it before anyone else wandered in. She wouldn’t be able to close up until these potential customers had left. Of course, she was willing to bet they’d look, and not buy a thing.

Janet glanced up at Gary, wondered if he was really prepared to see a painting of his daughter in the almost-nude.

"Holy shit," Gary breathed, stopping in his tracks. Granted, there was a bit more of his daughter visible than he as a father was happy about, but it wasn’t anything lewd, or even suggestive. What it was, he thought, totally taken aback, was absolutely beautiful.

Janet was staring as well. "Hello, Venus," she said softly.

"Do you know the myth?" Donna asked quietly.

"Not off hand," Gary admitted.

"Well, as I recall the myth, Venus was born when Gaia, Goddess of Mother Earth, got so angry at her husband Uranus, who was also known as Zeus, or Jupiter, that she sliced off his genitals and threw them into the sea. They mixed with the foam of the ocean and formed Venus, a goddess, or rather symbol; unconcerned with material issues and focused on sensuality and pleasure. I believe there are also stories where Cronus, one of the Titans, castrated Jupiter and threw the genitals into the sea, with the result being the birth of Venus," Donna said. "I am particularly fond of what the artist wrote as her inspiration for the piece...that Venus was the result of an act of violence, but became a symbol of love, peace, and hope."

"That’s a lovely idea," Janet said softly. Sometimes, it was easy to forget that the people of the SGC were more than just soldiers, who fought the Goa’uld on an almost daily basis. That there were many facets to each of them.

"Is it too late to get in on that auction for this piece?" Gary asked.

Donna tugged her lip between her teeth. "I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but we received a bid that promises $500 over the highest bid. I spoke with Major Carter-" She stopped abruptly, her cheeks turning crimson at her slip. "Oh, dear."

Janet giggled. "Please, don’t worry. Sam Carter just happens to be a friend of ours. If she’s buying this, I can’t think of a better person to have it."

The gallery manager nodded, silently castigating herself sternly for her faux pas. She was certain that slip of the tongue had to do with the fact that she'd spoken with the major shortly before this couple had arrived, and she'd been filling out the forms that would need to be signed by the major before taking possession of the painting.

"I know it’s closing time," Gary said, giving his most charming smile. "Thank you for allowing us time to see this, and for telling us about it."

"My pleasure," Donna smiled. Too bad he was with the petite auburn haired woman, she thought. He was quite a charmer. There was something a bit...dangerous...about him. Which intrigued her. "I’m certain that you’ll see the painting again, since your friend is the highest bidder."

"I’m sure we will," Janet smiled. Allowed Gary to lead her back outside.

"Are you hungry?"

"Now that you mention it, yes I am," she smiled.

"Let’s go. Shall we just drive around and see what strikes our fancy?"

"Sounds risky," she teased.

Gary chuckled. "Yeah, can be. Never know if you’ll get stuck with Denny’s or Jack-in-the-Box."

"Neither," Janet said firmly. "I am not a cheap date."

"Good thing I brought all of my allowance then," Gary teased in return.

"Very good thing." Janet snuggled against his side when his arm went around her shoulders. Nothing that felt this good...this natural...this right, could be wrong!


A  A  A  A  A  A


Daniel began to laugh when he saw the name of the restaurant, discovered after a few minutes of driving the streets of Denver, discussing the painting, and Casey’s newfound admiration for it.

"Oh, that just has to be a sign that we’re supposed to stop there," Casey declared with a soft laugh.

"Roman Villa Restaurant," Tiesha read out loud. "Oh, yeah. That’s a sign all right."

"Well, no sense tempting the Fates, right?" Daniel asked, flipping on the turn signal, and pulling the jeep into the parking lot.

"Absolutely. Leave the Fates alone," Casey replied.

That sweet, soft giggle had his heart doing flip-flops in his chest. Her eyes were bright, and reflected the smile on her face. For a few minutes, when she had first looked at the painting, he was afraid she’d never see the beauty of it...that all she would ever be able to see was herself, life-sized and nearly naked. He'd watched her, had been witness to that moment when she stopped looking at Casey Jackson, and began to see Venus, the Goddess of Love. Would tuck that memory into his heart, to treasure forever. In that one moment, she'd taken a step toward being the woman he knew she longed to be...the woman free of the scars that Helen Webster had left on her soul.

Daniel felt his pulse speed up when she slipped her arm around his waist, gently tugging him closer as they walked toward the door. Just a simple act. But it telegraphed her love to him, for him. He wasn’t even aware of tightening his arm around her shoulders.

The interior of the restaurant was divided into separate dining areas, all connected by wide, terra-cotta tiled walkways. The tables were covered with red and white checked table cloths; colorful candles in wine bottles offered ambient lighting. Traditional folk music from the countryside of old Italy played softly in the background.

"Very nice," he murmured. He’d have to remember this place. It would be great for a romantic dinner.

A young waiter with a ready smile, who took a moment to give the once over to each of the beautiful women, led them to a table off to one side of the middle ‘room’. Menus were passed out, drink orders taken, and he left the three alone to decide on their meal choices.


A  A  A  A  A  A


"Well, I’ll be damned," Gary grinned, pointing at the sign.

Janet began to laugh. "We just can’t pass that up. Besides, it sounds good. Parking lot is filling up, so it must be good."

"True. Let’s see if we can find a place to park."

Neither noticed the vehicle that was familiar to both of them, parked at the far end of the second row. Gary had found an open spot in the middle of the first row.

Seated at a table for two in one of the smaller dining areas, Gary and Janet found themselves alone in the room, and enjoying that fact immensely. He held her hand, they leaned toward one another, speaking softly, laughing frequently. Enjoying their time together.


A  A  A  A  A  A


Casey pushed her plate of ravioli away. "If I take one more bite, I’m going to explode!"

Tiesha nodded, sat her fork down on the plate that held what was left of her spaghetti. "I hear that!"

Daniel ate the last of his lasagna. "It’s not as good as yours," he had declared, "but it’s all right."

"If you’ll excuse me, I’ll be right back," Casey said, grabbing her purse and nodding toward the sign that pointed the way to the restrooms.

"Want dessert?" He couldn’t help but chuckle at the look she gave him. "You could always take it home."

"I’ll think about it. Let you know when I get back," she replied.

"Good enough."


A  A  A  A  A  A


"Here’s to us," Gary said softly, raising his wine glass in a toast.

"To us," Janet echoed, clinking her glass against his, taking a sip of the deep red Cabernet Sauvignon.

"I have to tell you, I never thought I’d find anyone after Cookie died," Gary said, setting his glass on the table. "I guess it’s true, love finds you when you least expect it."

Janet’s eyes began to sparkle. "Did you just use the ‘L’ word?"

He grinned. "Let’s see...um...yep, I guess I did. Does that make you uncomfortable?"

She shook her head. "Absolutely not. In fact, it makes me..." she paused. "You invited me to stay the other night, and I told you I wasn’t ready."

Gary nodded.

"I think...no...I know I’m ready now."

His heart leapt into his throat. His fingers sought hers, wrapped around them. "You mean I could have just uttered the ‘L’ word and saved myself the price of dinner?"

She giggled. "Hardly. It’s the wine. Going to my head. On an empty stomach."

"I’ll pick up more on the way to my place," he said, grinning at her. The grin faded. "I don’t want to rush you, Janet."

"You’re not," she assured him.

"Good. Just so I don’t have to worry about it later, how do you like your eggs?"

She smiled, blushed, lowered her eyes. "We’ll worry about breakfast after."

After. After holding her in his arms. Making love to her the way he’d been dreaming about for weeks now. "Right. After."

When she saw him move closer, her response was automatic. The touch of his lips against hers set off a symphony of violins and harps and...a gasp?




Casey stared into the mirror. Couldn’t help but grin at her reflection. She’d done it! She had honestly, actually done it! She had walked into that room, and she’d looked at that painting...and she had seen it! Not her...but Venus! Not only that, closer examination revealed that she wasn’t showing any more skin than what her bikini left bare, and she certainly had no trouble wearing it at the pool, or the lake. Or to take in the sun at Grant Park.

Feeling better than she had since seeing the painting for the first time, she washed her hands. She was still smiling when she pulled the door open and stepped into the narrow hallway.

She was on her way back to the table where her husband and friend were waiting when she glanced into the small room. Noted that there was one couple. How sweet, he was kissing her...

She did a classic double take. Gasped out loud. "Dad? Janet?"

Gary and Janet jumped apart, both looking as guilty as children caught with their hands in the cookie jar. "Casey!" Gary said, rising to his feet.

Janet was on her feet as well, staring wide-eyed at her best friend. Who stood staring at them...silently. Her green eyes were wide, her mouth a perfect ‘o’ of surprise. "Casey," she said softly.

They had known this moment would come. Well, not this particular moment, Gary thought wildly. He and Janet had already discussed the fact that they wanted his daughter to know about...and approve of...their relationship.

"I...we...oh," Casey finally stammered.

"I was going to tell you," Gary said quietly.

"Before or after the wedding?" Casey snapped. She closed her eyes, shook her head.

Janet felt her world tumbling out of control. She had no doubt that Gary would distance himself from her, from their relationship, if Casey wasn’t accepting of the two of them together. She didn’t want distance between them! She'd fallen in love with Gary Franklin and she wanted to spend all the time she could with him! To make matters worse, she might have just lost one of her best friends.

Before either of them could speak again, Casey was walking away.

"Casey!" Gary called, starting after her. He stopped when she continued to walk, putting one hand up, letting him know with that simple movement that she didn’t want to speak to him...at least, not yet.

She wasn’t sure what she felt. Shocked. Yep, that pretty much covered it. Her Dad, and Janet. Her father, and her best friend. There was something very wrong about that...there should be something wrong with it, only she’d be damned if she could figure it out! She didn’t even slow down as she walked by the room where Tiesha and Daniel waited. "Jeep," she said, tossing the word over her shoulder.

Daniel watched, a frown on his face. What in the hell? She had been just fine...damn it to hell! She was pissed off. He knew that from the stiffness he could see in her shoulders. Something had set her off, and he was left trying to figure out what. He yanked his wallet from his pocket, tossed a few bills onto the table, and hurried after her.

Tiesha waited, wanting to give Daniel a chance to find out what was going on, to calm Casey down. She could tell that the seer was angry. Began to worry that maybe Casey had been thinking about the painting and had decided she was still upset that it had been done. She drank down the last of her wine. Prepared herself for a miserable ride to Silver Springs. Nearly choked when she saw Dr. Fraiser and Casey’s dad hurrying toward the door. Together. Together? Oh, holy shit!




"Casey!" Daniel called sharply.

She stopped pacing, turned to him. "Together," she said.

Well, that cleared everything up nicely, he brooded. "What?"

"Janet. My dad. Together."


She tossed her head. "Are you deaf? I said my dad and Janet are together!"

He could only stare at her. "How do you know?"

"She saw us," Gary said quietly, approaching the couple slowly. Only peripherally aware that Janet was beside him.

Daniel turned to look at the newcomers. "Oh." His eyes widened as realization of the situation set in. "Oh!"

"Casey, I-" Janet started.

Casey’s hand shot up to forestall whatever it was the woman was going to say. "Please, spare me. I don’t want to know!"

"Baby, I’d never do anything to hurt you," Gary said, stepping toward his daughter. Felt as if a knife was twisting in his heart when she stepped backwards.

"Daniel, please take me home," she begged, grabbing his arm with both hands. "Please?"

Daniel glanced at his father-in-law and the doctor who was one of his best friends. "Sure, Angel. Get in the Jeep. I’ll get Tiesha."

He unlocked the door, opened it for her, ran his fingers over her cheek. Gave her an encouraging smile. When he turned to the two people who were the cause of his Wife’s distress, he didn’t know whether to be angry or amused. He gave a slight shrug, then walked passed them. Tiesha was waiting on the sidewalk beside the door. He nodded encouragingly, waited for her to reach him before turning back to the Jeep.

Gary watched the vehicle until it merged into traffic and disappeared. "Damn it!"

"I suppose this means tonight is off," Janet said softly, sadly.

As if remembering she were there, he turned to her. "I’m sorry, honey. I just...I can’t do that to her. I’ll talk to her. When everything is worked out..."

She nodded. She had two choices. Wait, or call it quits now. She looked up at the haunted look in Gary’s eyes. She knew about Brenda. About Cookie. His shock...and delight...in learning he was a father. And knew in her heart that she would make the same choice if it was Cassie who was objecting to their relationship. "She’ll be happy for you," she said, forcing a smile to her lips.

"I should have told her. I’ve had the opportunity twice," Gary said, shaking his head. "I should have told her."

"I’m surprised she didn’t see it," Janet said drolly.

"She knew something was up," he replied, almost absently. "She just didn’t have all of the details."


He ran his hand through his closely cropped hair. "Let’s finish our dinner. Then I’ll take you home."

There was no need for her to point out that neither of them would eat another bite. Janet nodded, and turned around. Was somewhat mollified when his arm went around her shoulders.

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