Kerry surveyed the packed Grand Ballroom and sighed inwardly.
She had never liked crowds. These might technically be her colleagues but she felt even further removed from them since she hadn't actually practiced medicine for several years. So far at the inaugural reception, she hadn't run into anyone she knew, which was almost a relief.
Attending this year's AMA convention had been a last minute decision; she'd finally commited because she needed the CME hours. Besides, she hadn't been back to Chicago since her brief visit for the dedication of the Carter Center a couple years previously; it would be nice to see some of her friends at County again.
Her eye was drawn to a tall blonde who was chatting animatedly with a handsome dark-haired young man near the bar. She admired the fit of the midnight blue silk dress, which left the beautifully toned back and arms bare and draped fluidly over the perfect ass; a deep side slit in the skirt showed tantalizing glimpses of a long, shapely leg.
Kerry watched as the woman turned away from her companion to point out something across the room. Recognition jolted through her.
The hair was straight now; shorter, too, falling just to the shoulders in a heavy sweep of gold. But the tilt of the head, the sharply incised cheekbones and jawline in three-quarter profile, the easy elegance of the posture -– she would know those anywhere.
Slowly she made her way through the throng, dodging yammering clumps of people waving wine glasses and plates of food.
She stopped within arm's reach, just close enough to catch the faintest trace of an achingly familiar perfume. Her heart pounded.
The young man gave Kerry an inquiring glance, as if trying to recall where he might have seen her before. Turning to see what he was looking at, the woman came face to face with her, eyes widening.
Kim blinked, then gave her a dazzling smile in return. "Oh, my god. Kerry." She took Kerry's hands in her own, holding them tightly. "How are you?"
Her tongue felt thickened. "I'm good. And you?" Avidly she scanned the face she had once known so well, and sometimes still saw in her dreams. There were a few more fine laugh lines but otherwise the sculpted features were much the same as she remembered.
The blue eyes crinkled. "Better now."
Impulsively, Kerry reached up to slide a hand behind the slender neck and pulled the taller woman into a gentle kiss, feeling Kim's surprise in the split second of hesitation before she leaned in.
The young man cleared his throat meaningfully.
Kim took her time, smiling against Kerry's lips before she straightened up and slitted a glare his way. "Kerry, this is my baby brother Daniel. He's a third year resident gas-passer at Johns Hopkins. Up for one of the RFS delegate positions, too. Call him the family overachiever."
Kerry shook his hand, her other hand still firmly in Kim's grasp. "Nice to meet you, Daniel. Kerry Weaver." Curious, she examined him. There was a suggestion of resemblance in the shape of the nose, but otherwise he looked nothing like Kim. The corners of her mouth twitched as she glanced over slyly. "One of Miguel's?"
Daniel rolled his eyes -– evidently a Legaspi trait -– with good humor. Kim burst out laughing. "I can't believe you remembered that."
"I remember a lot of things," Kerry said softly.
"Aaaaand that's my cue to go find something fascinating to stare at on the hors d'oeuvres trays. Nice to meet you, too, Kerry. Catch you later, sis," said Daniel, sketching a salute that turned into a wave as he walked away.
"Bye, Stinker," Kim called after him.
Kerry chuckled. "'Stinker'?"
"Earned the name before he could walk, believe me." Again holding both Kerry's hands, Kim gazed down at her. "You look terrific. Television agrees with you."
She felt herself blushing. "Thanks. You've changed your hair. I like it."
"Got tired of maintaining a perm. Cut it off and let it grow back in."
They were in danger of smiling foolishly at each other all night. Not that she minded, exactly, but they were getting jostled on all sides by people making their way to and from the bar. "Dance with me?" Kerry said.
Up went the eyebrows, even as Kim followed her to the dance floor. They swung into the rhythm of the music, fitting together perfectly, bodies moving in synch as though they had never been apart.
"You're pretty good at this," said Kim after they'd tried a series of increasingly complicated steps and combinations. "How come we never went dancing before?"
Letting Kim guide her into a twirl, Kerry stepped easily back into the slender arms. "You mean aside from the fact that I was so far inside the closet I was part of the panelling?" Kim snorted. "I actually couldn't have, before I underwent hip replacement. Would've been too painful. One of the first things I did after I recuperated from my surgery was to take dance lessons. My physical therapist suggested it as a good way to build up strength and improve my range of motion." She grinned. "Wound up dating my dance teacher for a few months. Gave me a new appreciation for the advantages of flexibility."
Kim laughed. "I watch all your segments, by the way. There's a guy on YouTube who collects them. He seems to be a little obsessed."
Kerry made a face. "That would be Gerald. Bit of a shut-in, which is probably a good thing. He used to send flowers to the station once a week, but I made him stop when I found out he was thousands of dollars in credit card debt." She smiled up at Kim. "I heard about your appointment at Stanford -– congratulations. They're lucky to have you."
"That's what I keep telling them," Kim said lightly. Her hand was warm at the small of Kerry's back. "How is your son?"
"Oh, Henry's a holy terror," said Kerry, shaking her head in amused exasperation. "Whenever I can't find him, I just have to look up because he'll have managed to climb to the highest point in whatever room he's in. If I didn't know better I'd think someone had cloned him directly from Sandy. You knew she was a firefighter?"
Kim nodded. "I heard about what happened when she died. I'm so sorry, Kerry."
"It's been almost seven years now," Kerry said. "I do miss her, but sometimes I wonder if our relationship would have lasted -– we were such different people, and in such different places in our lives."
Kim arched an eyebrow. "I also heard that she outed you in the middle of the ED. Can't say I condone that, but I totally understand the impetus. You know how many times I was ready to strangle you?"
Laughing ruefully, Kerry burrowed her head against Kim's shoulder. "I know. I can't even begin to make it up to you."
Fingers slid under her chin to tip her face back up, then pressed fleetingly against her lips. "That's all in the past." The slightly crooked smile was so exactly as Kerry remembered that she nearly laughed aloud. "Listen, would you like to get out of here?"
"Thought you'd never ask."
"I've been back a few times. Christy brought me here the last time I was in town."
Kerry's mouth tightened involuntarily at the mention of the name. She saw Kim notice her reaction. "Sorry, I know she's your friend, but she wasn't exactly one of my favorite people."
"Kind of an acquired taste," Kim said dryly. "She can be pretty abrasive, sometimes even a little socially tone-deaf. Absolutely loyal and protective, though, once she's decided she's got your back. And don't say that sounds like the description of a pitbull."
"I wasn't going to say it."
Giggling, Kim finished the last of her wine. She poured herself some coffee from the French press, then added a splash of cream.
"What, no sugar? You used to practically be able to stand your spoon in the sludge."
Kim shook her head. "Too many birthdays. A few years ago I started noticing that it was taking longer and longer to lose the extra pound or two, so I had to make some changes -– no more eating like a frat boy on a binge. Thank goodness for Pilates."
Taking in the svelte frame and glowing pale-honey skin, Kerry smiled appreciatively. "Something seems to be working. You're still so beautiful."
"The California vibe must have sunk in by osmosis. And I still run just about every day."
"In San Francisco, with those hills? That's insane!"
"So is half the population. Good for business, at least," Kim shrugged. She leaned forward on her elbows, sipping her coffee. "Do you get the chance to travel much?"
"A fair amount, mostly for work. Research, usually, or interviewing experts on subjects I don't have firsthand experience with. My producer wants to syndicate my broadcasts nationally so we've been in talks with the major networks and cable channels. Luckily she has to take most of those meetings, but I'm going to have to start tagging along soon."
"Well, if you find yourself on the west coast with some time on your hands, I'd love for you to visit. Bring Henry, too -– I could use a little chaos in my life these days." One long finger played with the rim of her coffee cup. "Are you still together? You and your producer?"
"How did -– I swear, you and your connections should take over the CIA. There would be no secrets anywhere. Not that we were a secret, exactly, but we never really made a big deal of it."
Kim looked faintly abashed. "I subscribe to an online press clipping service. You mentioned her in a couple of your interviews. And your FaceBook status says 'in a relationship.'"
"Oh, that. My assistant takes care of the updates and announcements, I don't have anything to do with it. I've looked in on it from time to time, but mostly it baffles me why anyone would want to publicize their navel-gazing. It's a necessary evil these days, though." Kerry snitched a beignet from Kim's plate and bit off a corner. "To answer your question, no, we're not together any more. Courtney's very ambitious, even more of a workaholic than I used to be; while we were seeing each other it was like there was no separation between our professional life and our personal life. We're much better off as business associates. And frankly she was a little boring in bed -– a real starfish."
Laughing, Kim nearly spilled her coffee. "That's something you could never be accused of." Sobering, she said almost wonderingly, "You've changed so much. The old Kerry Weaver would have died before she danced with me -– much less kissed me -– in front of a roomful of people."
"Wait, there were other people?" She was rewarded with a slow curling smile; her eyes traced the outline of Kim's mouth. "Not changed so much as no longer afraid to be myself. And finally realizing that the vast majority of the world couldn't give less of a damn what I do or who I do it with." Reaching over, Kerry swiped the rest of the beignet through a puddle of buttered rum sauce and savored the bite. "Are you seeing anyone now?"
"Nobody special." The blue gaze was laser-direct. "You?"
Pulse thrumming, Kerry swallowed. "No, not in a little while."
Kim took a deep breath, releasing it slowly. "Then would you care to spend the night with me? No strings, just a nice loud messy roll in the hay. For old times' sake?"
In answer, Kerry leaned across the small table to capture Kim's mouth in a lingering kiss, tongue slipping deeper to explore textures and tastes, fingers winding into the thickness of the silky hair. "I'll call a cab," she murmured.
"If you want to," said Kim, nibbling gently at her lower lip with careful teeth. "Or we could just go upstairs." At Kerry's puzzled look, she clarified, "I'm staying at the Palomar, the hotel next door."
Kerry narrowed her eyes playfully. "So you had an ulterior motive for bringing me here. Took it for granted that I wouldn't be able to resist your charms, did you?"
"No. But I hoped."
"Take me to bed, Legaspi."