A/N: I am working on this for National Novel Writing Month, but the site is soooo slow, I decided to post here. I don't need no stinkin' NANOWRI badge of completion.

Secrets Like Acid

Chapter 1

Randi Ashman turned the ignition again and her 1998 Honda Civic whined and complained, before sputtering out altogether.

"Must've been born under the wrong sign." She squared her spare frame with the steering wheel and looked around. The windows were sheets of water. The windshield wipers swooshed furiously, but the sheet remained.

The Cabrillo Highway this far north of San Francisco in this downpour was desolate. But she couldn't very well stay in the car all night. Could she? No, of course not. She pulled out her umbrella and just as she opened it, the wind mangled the frames leaving her drenched. Randi cupped her eyes against the dripping and saw a twinkling light in the distance. Whatever it was, her course was set.

She walked two miles in the rain to find an underpass to cross to the oceanside, then Randi sloshed herself back the same two miles. Her mom would've wondered what she did for this bad karma. Randi wondered that herself. She wasn't the one who had cheated on her girlfriend, after all. Paula would be laughing her ass off right now, if she knew about her predicament.

Randi curled her arms against her and leaned into the slanted rain. Her twinkling light seemed to laugh at her, too.

Just as she found the lighted house, it stopped raining. She glared up angrily at the thinning clouds. "Fuck you, too."

She cautiously peered around the house. It didn't appear to hide any thugs, dealers, pimps or other walking neon signs for trouble. Randi hadn't been safe on the streets for the last four years for nothing.

A door mat with yellow flowers and a scrolling "welcome" and a eucalyptus wreath decorated with tiny red birds seemed innocent enough. She pried one hand away from her shivering body and knocked. Randi hoped and prayed it wasn't some polygamist, paranoid schizophrenic or other backwoods nut holing up from the law. On the other hand, domestic terrorists don't have welcome mats.

The water that dripped from her nose tickled and she brushed at it, continuously. The house remained asleep so she shattered the calm with louder bangs. She peaked into a black window. This time she punished the damn door, the surf keeping time. "Shit!" she howled after long minutes. "Of course! Yes. Thank you, thank you very much." Randi scowled. "I find the only vacant house around. Double shit."

She turned a three-sixty and contemplated her next move. This house sat so far back from the road, it was like it was quarantined. Randi stepped off the porch toward the beach, turning back. From what little she could make out, the cute, little bungalow was embraced by weeds. Tall, leafy nuisances. Maybe it was abandoned. Who on earth could possibly neglect this cute house? "An idiot, that's who."

A thunderclap nearby broke her thoughts. "No more rain," she snarled.

As far as she could see in either direction, there was nothing but darkness. "No breaks for me," she muttered miserably. Then Randi sneezed three times. "Nope. None at all." She braced herself against the frigid squall.

Randi started back toward the road when she heard a light sprinkle around her. Then she felt the pelting raindrops. "Oh, no." She ran back to the porch and looked up, rain falling from the blackness. Randi held herself tighter. She would give her best power tool for a blanket. It didn't have to be clean or smell fresh. It just had to be dry.

She inhaled sadly and kicked the welcome mat. "Well, thank you. Preshadeit." Randi curled up on top of it and leaned against the front door.


It wasn't the chirping birds or the screaming light that rousted Randi. It was two firm hands that helped her walk through a door. Randi elbowed the confident hands and thrashed around, disoriented.

"It's okay," a smooth, feminine voice said. "I'm trying to help you."

She wanted to find the body belonging to that voice. Randi's eyelids were heavy. Her legs were like straw. She nearly stumbled again, when she felt warm arms supporting her. "You're burning up," the voice whispered, impossibly sexy. She was blonde and pretty, Randi could tell that much.

Randi laughed at herself. Feverish but on the prowl. Elite lesbian. That's what she was. And proud. She thought she said that, but she wasn't sure. She was glad her bad luck finally broke. A woman, even a straight one, would be preferable to a bearded man with stockpiles of guns. And wives. Pregnant. With toddlers, too. Maybe the Universe didn't suck after all.

She inhaled gardenia and felt warm, soft linens covered her shivering body. Randi slipped into a deep sleep.


Elise Barrows rubbed her eyes. She swore the letters got smaller every year on these financial reports. And she hated her reading glasses, even the cute, purple ones her secretary brought. She wasn't even forty yet when her optometrist had broken the news. Presbyopia, farsightedness for reading. She made a note for her assistant to require all financial reports for her be 14 points. She scratched out 14, replacing it with 16.

Elise glanced at the stack of papers she still had to get through. All of it at the tiny type. She sighed.

She leaned back on the couch and closed her eyes. Just a few minutes of downtime to clear her mind. Her monthly trips to Tokyo were becoming bi-weekly trips and the jet lag was taking its toll on her body. It was also taking its toll on her love life. She shook her head and pushed herself up. Who was she kidding?

Elise poured herself another cup of coffee and hummed her pleasure at its taste. Her last date was spring 2007.

"I'm so pathetic."

Elise had taken what's-her-name, the redhead, to a theater performance in San Francisco, where they spent two glorious nights fucking each other's brains out.

"What was her name?" She closed her eyes and scratched her head. In two years, Red had been attentive, finding all the places that drove Elise insane. The problem was, Red had also found all of the cold spaces inside of Elise that needed warmth. And Red had wanted to fill those empty rooms with roses and chrysanthemums. But they needed light, something Elise was not willing to allow. So Red was dropped and her name forgotten. Well, whatever.

The year before that, there was Mona. Elise moaned when she remembered the things that woman could do in bed. She bit her lip.

"It's been way too long."

Mona was gorgeous, connected and an expert in female anatomy. Mona loved keeping her unpredictable and zany circle of friends around her, all the time. She thrived in the embrace of crowds and noise and lights, while Elise withered.

Mona also wanted to play house. She wanted to share the same address with Elise. Then she aspired to matching rings and a trip east to meet Elise's folks. But Elise's closet suited her just fine, thank you.

And here Elise was, a dateless workaholic with a small circle of friends, an entire continent away from family. She kept up the appearances of being straight. She even went out with the same man while on her yearly and obligatory family vacations in Nantucket, Massachusetts.

That was coming up soon. She enjoyed beating the tar out of her brothers in golf, which meant a fine (and free) meal at an expensive restaurant for her. That was coming up soon and what was she going to do with her houseguest? Elise hadn't planned on finding a teenager sleeping on her doorstep when she arrived this morning from the airport.

By the looks of her, Elise pegged her as a dyke. She wasn't sure if it was the crew cut or the "Practicing Lesbian in search of study partner" T-shirt that tipped her off. After relieving the young woman of her outer clothes, Elise worked hard to resist the temptation to make a visual inventory of her well-tended body. A swastika tattoo accomplished that. Whoever or whatever she was, her guest was most certainly a glitch in Elise's hectic schedule. She didn't get to be Senior Vice President of Investments by sleeping her way to the top. They'd have to give her the entire goddamn company for that. No, this ailing young woman was merely a wrinkle that she intended to iron out ASAP.

Elise hit a button on her cordless and pulled it to her ear, while she fiddled with the earring of the other ear. She had just hung up when the bedroom door creaked open.


Randi turned in bed and laid her arm across an empty expanse of cool sheets. The sensations jolted her awake, that and the churning stomach. She blinked against the light assaulting her eyes. The sole window was dressed with a yellow, ruffled curtain that billowed. She could smell the ocean, hear the waves breaking and gulls calling.

She threw the deep red jacquard comforter and sheet aside. When the cool air hit her sweat, Randi shivered. She cast her eyes about the orderly bedroom looking for her clothes. The knickknacks were few and Marilyn Monroe had no portraits of any kind. The dark, flawless furniture was fancy, with the clawed legs on most pieces. They stood out against the chips in the red paint and a worn and frayed carpet.

Not finding her clothes, Randi borrowed a white terry cloth robe from the back of the bedroom door. She reached for the only other door in the room and was inside a small closet stuffed with designer clothes. Blue, green and black suits on one side and slinky dresses on the other. Her shoes were lined up on the bottom, by color, darkest to lightest.

"Where's the friggin' commode?"

She gently turned the knob and tried to push the door a little at a time. Randi felt suddenly vulnerable and wanted to spy her hostess before she spoke. But the door rudely cackled her approach.

Blue eyes captured Randi from the counter. "Umm," Randi said. "Hi."

Her hostess gestured with her reading glasses. "Hello." She was about to open her mouth to speak, when Randi's eyes began to dart.

Squirming behind the door, Randi clenched down. "Bathroom?"


When the door had creaked open, Elise saw a handsome face with large amber eyes and unruly hair. By the teenager's appearance, Elise was expecting insolence unbridled. But that was not what Elise received. The morning voice was gravelly and it rumbled straight to Elise's groin. She tamped her libido down. "She's a stranger, for chrissakes," Elise muttered. "A sexy stranger." She's got to go!

Sexy Stranger's head peaked out of the bathroom. "Umm...Are my clothes...Where are they?"

Elise shot to her feet. "Yes, of course. I'll bring them to you."

Her clothes were still warm from the dryer. As Elise folded her frayed and shredded jeans, she counted at least seven tears, including one on the right ass. Elise wasn't sure if it was a financial or fashion statement.

When Sexy Stranger was dressed, she walked slowly out of the bathroom, rubbing her hands on her thighs and swiveling her head around. "Ahh..."

The older woman stuck out her hand for a shake. "Elise Barrows."

Sexy Stranger smiled nervously. "Sorry." She grabbed Elise's hand in a firm grip and pumped it once.

Elise found her shy reaction endearing. "What's your name?" she whispered.

"Oh! I'm Randi Ashman." Randi slid her hands in her back pockets and searched the living room for her beaten-up Doc Martens. "I, ah, want to thank you. For last night, ah." Randi squeezed her eyes closed and looked away, blushing. She'd bedded hundreds of women and here she was acting like a botard. "I mean, for helping me."

Warmth drew Randi to Elise's sky blue eyes and she found them crinkling at her. Randi looked away quickly. On closer inspection, Elise could see how pale the young woman was. "You're welcome. It's not everyday a stray drops in—"

Randi jerked her head back.

"Not that you are a stray." Elise's eyes were wide, searching Randi's face for offense.

"No," she mumbled, looking down. "Ah, where're my shoes? I mean, can you please tell me where my shoes are?"

Elise went to a small, 12-inch case and picked up Randi's pink slicker shoes. "I couldn't find where I took your socks off," she admitted, handing the ankle high shoes over. "I can let you..."

Randi sat down and slipped them on her bare feet. "No prob." When Randi stood, she teetered and steadied herself on the sofa arm.

Elise reached a hand, but pulled it back after Randi stood straight. Her eyes drooped and her lips were cracked. "Listen, I was about to make lunch. It can be your send off."

Randi frowned, patting her stomach. "No, I really couldn't eat a bite." She patted her pocket for her keys. She fished out a black key fob attached to one key. Elise was surprised that Randi owned anything at all, much less a car.

"I'm still not feeling..." Elise dragged her eyes from her skeletal, calloused hands up to Randi's face. She seemed to grow paler.

"Are you feeling better at all?"

Randi hesitated to answer.

Elise gestured to her kitchen. "I tell you what. I'll make some lunch and put a plate in front of you. If you feel like eating, great. But at least try." Randi could certainly use the calories.

As the silent meal progressed, Randi's coloring remained ghostlike. Her eyes fluttered when her head started pounding. Nausea followed a rumbling stomach. Randi covered her hand and ran to the bathroom.

Elise could hear her retching. "Oh, dear."

Randi returned to find the living room spinning. A shaking hand against a wall held her upright. Elise handed Randi a glass of water and helped her to the couch.

"Randi." Elise clasped her own hands and raised them to her chin. "You don't look well."

Randi's eyes blinked in slow motion. "I don't feel so good," she croaked.

"I called a dear friend who also happens to be a doctor. She lives just up the road. I hope you don't mind."

Randi's hand in her hair tightened, head lowered. "No. Thank you." She looked up finally at Elise. "For everything."

"You're not well yet."