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Take Care Of Business

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PUCKER UP: this fast-talking fruit magnate-ess was spotted in a rare clinch on the dance floor at the RKO gala last night, showing off her assets in a gold Balenciaga number that had us by the pips... she's sweet as sugar now, but she's never been in a hurry to put down roots before... and with the sour looks she was getting across the floor, perhaps rumors of infidelity and sibling rivalry are flowering on the vine... don't expect her to settle on a main squeeze in the near future, we say.

*

Tilda's half-snapped when she walks through her apartment door. She staggers back against it, toeing off her heels, and when the shadows move at first she puts it down to the champagne fizzing through her bloodstream. Then the light shifts, revealing a silhouette at the bottom of the stairs.

Drunk or not, Tilda's hand is steady as she pulls her .22 out of her clutch. "Don't move," she orders, groping for the lights.

The figure on the stairs shifts, leaning back; a low chuckle issues from the darkness; Tilda relaxes all in a rush, letting the gun fall to her side even as she flicks the lights on. "Al," she says, laughing a little as the shock settles. "You lookin' to get shot?"

Alma unfolds herself from the bottom stair. She's still in her dress; it cuts in at hips and knees and she moves like a snake as she crosses the foyer, swaying up to Tilda. Even after all these years, the curve of her waist makes Tilda's mouth go dry.

"Lookin' for a lot of things," Alma says. She rests her hands on Tilda's shoulders, smiling up, sharp and dangerous. "Like maybe a little attention."

"Ah, baby," Tilda says, smiling back. She curves one hand around Alma's waist, but something prickles at the back of her neck, the same sort of warning she gets dealing with some of the scum at the lemon grove, and she doesn't let go of the .22 either. "All you gotta do is ask," she says, and makes the mistake of glancing away for the source of her unease.

Alma leans further up on her tiptoes till she's close enough to breathe against Tilda's lips. "Ask, huh." She presses Tilda back against the wall; the silk of their dresses slides between their bodies, bringing Tilda's focus snap back to her. Alma trails one hand over to the strap of Tilda's dress, tugging at it lightly.

Tilda pulls Alma a little closer. It's been weeks – months? – too long. Too long dealing with wandering eyes and even more wandering hands, trying to make deals with men who refuse to believe she knows anything about the family business. No matter that she's the one who brought the Lydecker name back to the top of the peak; they're still convinced she can't be beauty and brains. She takes a lot of pleasure in giving them the runaround, but it still means Alma, with all her unsavoury connections and the weakness of her cover, spends the summer months in the background, letting the business creep its way towards respectability. It's a sacrifice they've made for years, but lately it's started to chafe. If Tilda were a lesser woman, she'd say it leaves a sour taste in her mouth.

Tonight, seeing Alma across the dance floor and not being able to go to her tested all Tilda's self-control. She lets her eyes fall shut, inhales the scent of Alma's perfume, her sweat, starts thinking about getting her out of that dress and how her skin will be smooth as satin under Tilda's fingers. It's her second mistake.

Alma's grip tightens on the delicate strap of Tilda's gown; she tears herself from Tilda's grasp and tears the fabric too, pulling the bodice with her till it hangs half off Tilda's shoulder. The stitches rip with a sound loud as gunfire in the silence of Tilda's hallway.

"The hell, Alma?" Tilda shoves her further away, grip on her gun tightening. She spares a glance at her ruined dress – the lace-trimmed cup of her bra is almost visible – before glaring at Alma, who's staggered back a few feet, panting and smirking.

"Ask," Alma spits. "Did he have to ask, the boob you were hanging off all night?" She reaches out and flips Tilda's torn strap. "He have to ask to buy you this? Ask you to wear it? Or did you just know what he'd like hey?" She flicks the dangling dress strap again; her finger stings against Tilda's breast and Tilda shudders, startled out of her stunned amazement.

Alma's always had a big temper for such a tiny thing; Tilda's got treasured memories saved up of all the times Alma's gone off on punks on the street – or in the office. But it's been a lot of years since that fury turned on Tilda. It leaves her off-balance; it's the most emotional they've been in a while.

"Al, c'mon," she says, wheedling, but she's out of practice. That's not the way to calm Alma, not when she's got her back up; any sense she's being condescended to just riles her more.

"All night I was watching you, you know." She backs away further and plants her feet like she's bracing herself for an attack. "Stuck in the corner like I was lucky to be wanted, playing my part, and watching you. I'm... I'm tired of it, Tilda," she says with a deep sigh. "It's too much."

"Now, hang on." Tilda takes a step forward. The torn fabric of her dress flutters. When she reaches to fix it, Alma flinches; only then does Tilda realize she's still holding her gun.

Her turn to sigh, now; she lifts her hands up, exaggerating, then swiftly unloads the gun, placing it and the bullets on the floor behind her. It should feel like overkill, but it doesn't. Alma, too, seems to relax now she sees Tilda taking her seriously.

"Al," she says again, and this time she lets her own longing creep into her voice. "Al, you think I wasn't watching you too? All night I knew where you were, every time you powdered your nose or took a spin on the dance floor or got stuck dealing with those wiseacres from the newspaper. Wish I could've heard you giving them hell."

The corner of Alma's mouth twitches, like she's remembering her best lines of the night, and Tilda takes a breath and continues. "Sure, this's part of the show." She tugs at her dress, pulling it a little further down, baring herself a little more. "But I didn't put it on hoping some two-bit Hollywood hack would paw at it all night. It's just playin' the part. You know how it is."

She tugs harder. The lace-trimmed cup of her brassiere peeps above the fabric. Alma's eyes track the movement, and Tilda smiles a bit, lets it show. "Didn't exactly expect this when I hoped you'd be tearing it off me at the end of the night... but I'm not gonna say no." She eyes Alma blatantly, up and down like the worst of the men at the reception earlier. It's a risk – if she hasn't read her right, Alma might still go off, but if she has, maybe that explosiveness can be redirected. And as she watches, Alma relaxes: her shoulders sag, her fists unclench, and finally, unbelievably, she laughs.

Al's laugh is as big as her temper, deep like a bell and rough like her manners. She shakes with it, bending over regardless of her fine gown and the way it pulls taut across her thighs. When she straightens, shaking her head, smiling that same damned dangerous smile, Tilda feels a rush of heat in her belly.

She reaches across her body and hooks her thumb under the other, intact, strap of her dress. Watching Alma carefully, she pulls it off her shoulder, trailing her hand slowly down her arm, dragging the strap with it. The torn bodice gives easily, falling down to her waist, and Tilda shivers despite the warmth of her apartment.

Alma steps towards her, moving slow, like she's not sure of her welcome. Tilda lets the moment stretch out, waiting till Alma places a careful hand on her hip, so Tilda can feel the heat of her touch even through the silk. She covers Alma's hand with her own and guides it to the zipper of the dress, both of them trembling slightly.

Alma pulls again at Tilda's dress, this time much more gently. The zipper slides down, teeth parting with audible clicks, the only other sound their breathing.

Even with the zipper undone, the dress clings to Tilda's hips, and Alma is waiting, waiting for Tilda to take the lead.

Tilda pauses again, just long enough to see Alma frown impatiently – but she doesn't make another move, and Tilda smiles with pleasure. She shifts her hips just a little, squirming under Alma's touch, and the dress gives up its hold, slithering to the ground in a soft rustle of silk.

Alma's answering sigh is just as soft and whispers over Tilda's skin almost as sweetly, and though Tilda supposes she ought to feel exposed in her lingerie, instead she feels more in control than she has all night.

A step back, and then another, and she brings Alma with her till she's pinned against the wall again, caught between it and the hot press of Alma's body. Lace and silk and satin rasp as they move together, as Tilda cups Alma's ass and pulls her close. With her other hand she urges Alma to look up, runs her thumb roughly over her mouth, then leans down for a kiss.

"Your no-good Beverly Hills boy buy you these too?" Alma asks against Tilda's lips, tracing the straps of Tilda's bra, dipping her fingers under the lace of the cup and brushing the soft tender skin there. She's teasing, now, but Tilda nips at her as punishment, making her groan.

"Naw," she says, running her hand through Alma's hair, tugging her head back, baring her throat. She watches Alma swallow, visibly fighting the urge to pull away. "Bought 'em myself. Liked the way they feel." She lets go of Alma's hair, trails her fingers down, takes Alma's hand instead and drags it between her own legs.

Alma's smile softens; her fingers press soaked satin against Tilda's sensitive flesh. "Lots to like," she says, drawing slow circles. "Shame you didn't get to show these off on the dance floor, huh." Her touch is just too light, and Tilda kisses her again, demanding.

"No one else gets to see 'em," she says, only a little breathless. "That what you wanna hear, that I'm wearing 'em for you? Yeah, I've been needing you, Alma, you can see how bad."

"Yeah?" That gets her a little giddiness, Alma keen to believe in the difference between her and the men Tilda cons on the regular.

"Mmm." Tilda drapes her arms across Alma's shoulders, rocking her hips into the speeding rhythm of Alma's hand. "Too bad we didn't make it to the powder room together," she says. It wouldn't be the most public place they've fucked, but maybe the most risky, and Alma's breath catches at the thought.

"Wouldn't've taken long, would it," Alma says, leaning in, mouth hot on Tilda's neck. "Not if you've been needing me like you say." She twists her fingers, the fabric rough beneath them, and Tilda moans, suddenly caught herself in the fantasy she was spinning for Alma.

"Better here," she says, letting Alma take more of her weight. "Don't have to be quiet."

"Thought you were so good at keeping your mouth shut," Alma says, still with a bite, but Tilda doesn't care now.

"Not for you, baby," she says, and it doesn't matter whether she's lying, she couldn't have said if Alma'd asked, because Alma's fingers are as fast as her words and Tilda's suddenly over the moon and flying, coming apart in Alma's arms.

It takes her a minute to get her feet back under her, and Alma holds her through it, keeping her upright until she can catch her breath. When she does, Alma's laughing again, and Tilda stops her with a kiss.

"Helluva way to say you're sorry," she says, and Alma shrugs, unrepentant.

"Still a few things you need to make up to me." Alma raises a challenging eyebrow.

Tilda smiles. "All you gotta do is ask," she says, then holds up a hand to stop Alma from leaning up for another kiss. "But not here. Let's pretend we're civilized, why don't we, there's a whole bed upstairs just begging to be used." She twines her fingers with Alma's, pulls her hand up and nibbles on her fingertips, and Alma follows her without another word, leaving the dress and the gun behind, but not forgotten.