This is not a real new chapter of this story. This is a version of Birthday Treat that was going to go into the recently published version of Bandages, but didn't quite fit in. I didn't want it to go to waste, so I decided to share it. I hope you enjoy. Remember, this story is set after Scarred for Life and before New Cuts, Old Wounds.

Warning: this hasn't been beta'ed, so expect mistakes. Sorry in advance.

Kiss

Dane Wolfe, more commonly referred to as Danny nowadays, sat in the small office inside of her girlfriend's house. She was on the computer, scanning websites, and biting the top of a pen that she was supposed to be using to write things down with. Her free hand ran through her short, ebony hair every few seconds as the buzz of the computer hummed through the room. She never really noticed she did this nervous gesture until a few days ago when her girlfriend pointed it out to her.

What was the cause of her frustration? Funny enough, it was about to be her girlfriend's birthday. She wanted to get something extra-special for her beloved, Nicole Cardell, considering what she put her kind-hearted, stressed-out lover through well over a month ago.

She had broken up with Nicole over the phone, in a voicemail no less, and then disappeared for three weeks, only to show up on the lawn one cold night, high, drunk, and in terrible pain—both physically and emotionally. Nicole had first taken care of her before jumping down her throat from her thoughtless behavior. She still felt extremely guilty over it, knowing it would've been better for her to just drag Nicole naked through broken glass than walking out like she did. I'm such an idiot.

Then, she had to add insult to injury—in her opinion anyway—because Christmas came around a month after that incident and she couldn't afford anything suitable for her girlfriend. Why? Well, because on her three-week running away and crying fest, whatever little money she managed to save, she had pissed away on alcohol and weed. Such a fucking idiot.

She had also lost tutoring clients thanks to her impulsive three-week "vacation," so she hadn't been able to make much money in her month home. She'd been able to buy Nicole a book and a pair of emerald earrings, which Nicole acted like were the best gift ever. While Danny appreciated the sentiment, she felt bad and disappointed with herself—even if Nicole genuinely liked earrings. All she could bitterly think was Merry fucking Christmas as she had peeled away the paper on her six large gifts. Never in her life had she ever felt so bad for getting presents!

She didn't think bringing in the New Year was much fun with her either. First, she really wanted to stop drinking. So, to her, that made going out for New Year's Eve a disappointing trip, even though Nicole swore up and down she had a blast. To Dane, it seemed like them being surrounded by a bunch of drunken strangers, who were way too close to her girlfriend for her liking.

Nicole had ignored all of that and just enjoyed being with her lover and her friends. She didn't need a drink and made sure to remind Dane of that, so Dane could stop thinking of New Years as a drinking holiday, but more as a time to look forward to the future and enjoy those around her. It wasn't as easy as either of them hoped. They almost had a little fight when Dane sipped a drink to toast the New Year, as Nicole seemed to think this was a slippery slope. They both pulled back before it turned into an argument and decided to just celebrate with each other.

They had one of those celebrated New Year's kisses with Nicole's friend and coworker Mina taking a picture of the couple as they were locked in the embrace. The picture was now the screensaver on the computer Dane currently killed her eyes with.

Dane was determined to do better for Nicole's birthday. A girl only turned twenty-eight once, after all. More importantly, this was the first birthday Nicole would celebrate while they were a couple and Dane wanted to make sure it was special. She wanted to make Nicole's birthday as close to perfect as possible, especially considering the birthday Nicole had treated her to months back. They hadn't even been a couple then, but Nicole still made her feel so…loved. It was a feeling she cherished, would never let go, and wanted to give Nicole in return.

"I won't be able to do anything if I can't even find a proper gift. I mean, geez, is it really this hard to shop for women?" Dane groaned, leaning down to bang her forehead on the desk a few times.

She had never actually shopped for anyone before. This would be her first time buying a birthday gift for a woman point blank; never mind the fact that she was in a relationship with this woman. Of course, she considered this her first real relationship and she wanted to do right by Nicole. Nick always does right by me. I gotta get this right, so find something.

She groaned again, feeling like a failure. Nothing grabbed her eye or wowed her in any way. It seemed like she'd fall on her face before she even got started.

"Nick's gonna think I'm the worst girlfriend ever!" Dane whined, tugging at her hair as she picked up her head.

It went beyond not knowing what to get. She didn't even know where to start! I'm so damn bad at this gift thing. She sighed and turned from the computer. Her eyes caught sight of the telephone. She got an idea and she was just desperate enough to use it. She grabbed the phone and dialed a number, hoping someone was home. What if they all work late like Nicole, though? Then, I'm screwed.

"Hello?" And maybe they're just trying to drive Nick to drink, she thought since someone picked up the phone. Apparently, Nicole was the main one who burned the midnight oil.

"Hello, it's Danny. Mister Cardell?" she guessed it was him because the voice had that touch of bass that Kathleen's voice lacked.

"Yes. What can I do for you, Danny?" Raymond, Nicole's father and boss, asked. "Nicole's still in her office as far as I know, if you're looking for her."

"Oh, no. I'm not looking for Nick."

"Oh? Then what is it?" he asked, sounding polite. He was usually polite to her, but she was certain he didn't approve her. Still, she hoped the politeness remained as she tried to pick his brain.

"I was wondering what you think I should get Nick for her birthday. I'm all out of ideas," Dane admitted, managing to hold in a disappointed sigh. She ran her fingers through her hair for what had to be the millionth time at least—she thought anyway. Gonna rub myself bald at this rate!

"I'm not too sure, Danny. I mean, if you can't figure out what to get her for her birthday, maybe it's a sign," he replied as if that was the most logical thing in the world. She could picture him shrugging indifferently to her plight.

Dane resisted the urge to scoff, but she rolled her eyes. Neither of Nicole's parents were crazy about her, but she thought Mister Cardell might help since he was willing to give her a chance. But, apparently, he was willing to let her fall flat on her face, too, if it might mean Nicole would leave her for screwing up. Well, she had a trick for that.

"Well, I guess I'll just have to go with my last plan then. I figured I'd propose. Is Nick a diamond girl? Was gonna go with emerald since they remind me of her eyes," Dane said very casually. It was a thought she had in passing on days where she was just overcome by Nicole's gentle spirit, but the more she thought about it, the more she liked the idea. She just thought it was too soon for her to really entertain such thoughts. I'm definitely not ready for that kind of commitment, so I shouldn't even toy with that idea right now.

Raymond made a gagging noise, like he was choking on air. "Propose?" he audibly gulped.

Again, Dane imagined what he was doing and figured he looked like he swallowed a bug. The thought tickled her, even though she felt like he was right to fear the notion. Knowing Nicole, she'd accept, even though they all knew Dane had a lot to work on.

"Yeah. I'm sure that'd make a good gift." Despite knowing she needed to work on herself, this idea was tempting as hell, especially since she didn't have any better ideas. Still, she'd never do something that drastic just because she couldn't pick out a birthday gift. Besides, it'd hurt like hell if Nicole turned her down, even though that damn sure would be the right thing to do. I'd turn me down.

"Wait, wait, wait, Danny, don't you think you're jumping the gun? I mean, you haven't even known Nikki for a year yet and you haven't been dating that long," he hurriedly explained.

"I know it's hasn't been a year, but I've felt this thing for Nick for a long time and I feel it deep. I'm sure Nick does, too. Maybe I should just skip it all and propose. So, like I said, I think an emerald ring would look good." She smirked to herself, feeling so very clever. If this worked, she might literally pat herself on the back.

Raymond sighed heavily. "Danny, I think you're being too hasty. Give it time before you start thinking about proposing. Kate and I will go with you to the mall to and help you get a gift. We haven't gotten her anything yet either."

"Really? Great!" Dane cheered, throwing her hands up. A mad grin felt like it'd split her face open. She quickly hopped out of her chair, thrusting her free hand in the air for victory again, and then quickly sat back down, her knee reminding her she shouldn't make sudden movements like that.

"All right. We'll go Saturday," Raymond said, leaving no room for argument.

"Okay. See you then." Dane disconnected the call before he had a chance to change his mind and did her version of a little dance, moving her hips while making sure her legs didn't move at all. "Okay, now, let me go warm up dinner for Nick." She trotted off downstairs…well, more like power-walking downstairs and even that caused her knee to complain. It didn't slow her down much.

-8-8-8-8-

Dane groaned from her space on the bench in the bustling, crowded mall as yet another person bumped her knee while walking by. She hated mobs of people now, mostly for the reason that clumsy idiots were just brutalizing her knee. At least at a club people had the excuse of trying to dance or being drunk. At the mall, it just showed people were idiots and never developed the proper motor skills they were supposed to have at three years old. Her knee throbbed, begging her to get the hell out of the mall while she still had the ability to walk. Soon enough.

Dane took a deep breath and shook her head. I'm just cranky because I'm too much of a dumbass to do something as simple as buy the love of my freaking life a birthday gift without assistance. She put her head down for a moment, feeling absolutely pathetic. Her stomach turned a couple of times, as if it agreed she was pitiful.

Maybe I should've just called Crow…Dane thought. But, that was a horrible idea, even if it would've been much less humiliating. Crow wouldn't have been much help because she refused to look at anything unless it was black or…well out of Dane's price range. For some reason, Crow still had it in her head that Dane could afford the finer things in life. Right now, Dane could barely afford the crappiest things in life. It was a good thing she wasn't being charged for breathing or she would've either died a long time ago or been in debt up to her eyeballs.

"Danny, are you okay?" Raymond inquired as he and Kathleen walked up to her.

They both looked at her curiously and for once it had nothing to do with the way she was dressed. She probably looked as sick as she felt. She took a deep breath, but feeling like it didn't do any good.

"I'm fine," Dane replied, picking her head and smiling as best she could. They seemed to buy it.

Kathleen glared the usual daggers at her, as usual. How the hell did Raymond get this woman to come with him on this trip? Hell, he probably told her I was gonna propose and she insisted on coming to make sure I found something. But, it didn't matter. Dane took another deep breath before climbing to her feet—and kept a wince at bay thanks to her now sore knee.

"Let's just get this over with. It's not that hard to buy Nikki something," Kathleen huffed as she turned away from Dane, making sure to give Dane a dirty look before doing so. From her voice, it was clear she thought Dane was the stupidest creature on Earth for not being able to find Nicole something on her own. Hell, she might be right.

Dane ran her hand through her hair. Maybe I shouldn't have done this. Nah, it'll be fine. I need the help. Of course, Kathleen would sooner spit on her than truly help her with anything. Still, she wanted things to be perfect for Nicole and if that meant spending time with Nicole's mother, then so be it.

Dane shoved her hands into her pockets as she waited for the parents to lead her off somewhere, half-expecting them to know some secret location hidden away in the mall that might be Nicole's favorite story or something. Instead, they stood there and looked at her. She remembered Raymond said they hadn't bought Nicole anything either. Oh, boy. Are they clueless, too?

"Do you have any idea what you might want to get her?" Raymond asked. He wrapped his arm around Kathleen and pulled her close. Kathleen looked away, scanning the mall.

Dane shrugged. "Not really. I went through a lot of store websites, but nothing really caught my eye."

"You really should've just brought her something online. The selection is basically limitless," he pointed out.

Dane shrugged again and forced herself not to say something snippy. Before Dane managed to say something, Kathleen walked off, pulling Raymond with her. Dane followed, hoping there was a plan. But, it was clear very soon there really was no destination in mind.

"Well, there's two problems with shopping online," Dane said, for the sake of conversation. "One being if I did see something I really like, I probably wouldn't have been able to afford it anyway. Two being that I don't have a credit card or a debit card to buy stuff off line." When she went through websites, she had hoped to find something in a store nearby she could go pick up in person.

"You don't have a debit card?" Kathleen asked, frowning and giving Dane a narrowed stare. She made it sound like such a thing was impossible.

"I don't have a checking account," Dane added, knowing this just made things worse. Still, she felt complied to be honest with her girlfriend's parents, even if meant that their opinion of her would be lowered…not that Kathleen's opinion of her could get much lower than it was already.

"You don't have a checking account? How is that ever possible? Everyone over the age of twenty-one with a job should have a checking account," Kathleen sneered.

She thinks I'm a total loser. Dane shrugged. "Well, I don't."

Kathleen's scowl deepened and she shook her head. "I suppose I shouldn't have expected much from you."

"Kate," Raymond said, possibly as a warning or a gentle reminder of something. Whichever it was, his wife pretty much ignored him.

"Do you even have any money at all?" Kathleen plump, olive-toned face tensed. "Or are you just wasting our time? I mean, do you even work?" she snapped soundly and continued to glower. Surely if she tried hard enough, she could will Dane's heart to just explode in her chest, or at least that was what she seemed to think.

"Kate, I'm sure you remember that Danny gives music lessons," Raymond said. He then turned to Dane. "How much money are you working with, though? I mean, I remember Nikki saying she was trying to keep you from jumping right back into work and everything."

"I don't have much," Dane admitted. Her cheeks burned a bit and she was certain her face was a sheepish scarlet, feeling like she proved Kathleen's point. "I've got about three hundred dollars to spend." It'll leave me poor as hell, but Nick is worth it.

"That's all the money you have saved up? You're really a gold digger, just admit it," Kathleen hissed.

Dane rolled her eyes, chuckling a bit. "I wish. Lately, it seems like one of the main things I've been doing with Nick is turning down money. She wanted to start a joint account for us, but really for me. I couldn't let her do that when I didn't have as much money to bring to the table."

Part of her thought the joint account was supposed to be enticement to make sure she didn't vanish again, but surely Nicole knew money wasn't the issue. Well, it wasn't the reason she left anyway. But, she definitely wouldn't be able to live with herself if they had a joint account and Nicole was the only one contributing to it.

"You keep going at this rate and you'll never have enough money to bring to the table. Maybe you should go out and get a real job," Raymond said with a smile to probably soften the blow. It didn't.

Kathleen gave a curt nod. "Yes, since Nikki deserves to have someone who can take care of her. She shouldn't be acting like your sugar mama. She shouldn't be with someone she needs to take care every second of the day."

Wow, she's not pulling any punches today. If only they had paid this much attention to Nicole's other relationships, they might've known that Dane was one of the least dependent people that Nicole had ever dated. Yes, she didn't have money like the others, but she did her best not to press upon Nicole. Of course, she came with her own type of headache, made glaringly obvious thanks to her disappearing act.

Dane shrugged and ran her fingers through her hair, trying to push memories a couple of months ago out of her head. "Nick doesn't seem to have a problem with what I do and I like my job for the most part. Money isn't everything." Except on holidays that require gifts.

"Yet, I'm sure you'll spend Nikki's money freely as soon as she gives you the okay to do so," Kate snapped. If possible, her deep brown gaze would've set Dane aflame. The look of sheer, intense hatred that burned there didn't bother Dane much and she ignored it for the most part.

Dane sighed. "I doubt there's anything I can say that makes you believe otherwise. Unless, of course, I told you I had a trust fund and really had no need for any of Nick's money."

"Do you? Nikki said your parents…" Raymond paused, probably trying to think of the phrase Nicole used. Surely, it was odd, but clever, like many things that came out of his daughter's mouth. The words escaped him, though, and he never finished his sentence.

"If only my parents gave enough of a damn about me to sign off on a trust fund. My siblings have, but I damn sure don't," Dane scoffed and then she noticed an ATM. "Excuse me while I go empty my savings for the third time in less than a year. I wonder if there's a limit to how many times a bank let's your account balance be zero," she muttered, speaking mostly to herself while walking off.

"Nikki told you about Dane's parents?" she heard Kathleen ask Raymond as she stood in front of the ATM. They were still close enough for her to hear their conversation if she strained her ears. If they're rude enough to talk about me while I'm not there, then, hell, I can be rude and eavesdrop.

"We were talking about the Wolfe family since I've been observing Tyler closer after finding out he might be harassing some of the female clerks and things. I was wondering how Danny's related to him at all. I thought they might be using the term 'cousin' as loosely as possible, but it turns out that they're very closely related. Russell Wolfe is her father," Raymond answered.

Dane glanced back in time to see Kathleen bristle and her face went stone cold. Russell's reputation definitely preceded him and probably helped ruin Dane further in Kathleen's eyes, even though Russell probably hated Dane most of all. Taking her money from the ATM, Dane turned in time to catch a frightfully hard glower from Kathleen. If looks could kill, Dane would've died a thousand times before she hit the ground thanks to the murderous glare. Kathleen turned back to her husband as Dane made her way back to them.

"He had a bastard child?" Kathleen inquired, like Dane wasn't even there. A chuckle came from the "bastard child" as she settled in next to the couple.

"If you're talking about who I think you're talking about, he likes to think his wife had the bastard child," Dane said with a lopsided smile, doing her best to appear almost proud. She didn't want them to make the mistake of thinking she gave a damn about that man. Of course, there were times when she was certain being a bastard would've been easier on her.

"Sorry, Danny," Raymond had the good manners to apologize.

His wife wasn't as gracious. Kathleen didn't say anything, but instead regarded Dane as if she were something Kathleen found on the bottom of her shoe. Dane wasn't fazed.

Dane waved the apology off. "No need. Nick told me she's talked to you about my family before. Don't really care about it. I just don't make it a point to talk about that bright bunch much." She shrugged. Her voice was calm and indifferent, wanting them to understand perfectly well that she didn't care one way or another about her family.

"No? I'd ask if you're adopted, but knowing what I know about Russell, that bastard wouldn't do something that selfless," Kathleen said with even more bite and disgust in her voice than usual. Apparently, Kathleen didn't care for Dane's father much, which was something they shared.

"Got that right," Dane agreed. She put her hands in her pockets. She wore pants at Nicole's insistence since it was wintertime, even though it felt a little weird. Her usual chain swung at her side, going into her pocket with the other end connected to her belt loop. Even with her accessories, being told what to wear, actually wearing what she was told, and having on pants in general was strange. But, Nicole had that power over her. She wanted Nicole to have that power over her, trusted Nicole to have that power.

"You're his youngest, aren't you?" Raymond asked as the trio started walking. It seemed like a ploy to make conversation, like he wanted to be the peacekeeper between them.

Raymond put his arm around Kathleen and glanced down at her, pleading with her with his eyes. Kathleen continued glowering at Dane. Dane just ignored her, eyes on alert if they passed a store that might have something in it she could buy.

Dane frowned, not really wanting to talk about it, but she reminded herself that she needed to stay on the couple's good side. "I am." She hoped that the short, clipped answer was a big enough hint that she did not want to continue.

"So, he has a mistress? I wouldn't put it past that bastard." Kathleen's top lip curled in disgust and disdain oozed from her words.

"Not that I'm aware of," Dane answered honestly. She'd give it to her father; he was bastard on many different levels, but despite it all, she was pretty sure he was always faithful to her mother, even when screaming Dane wasn't his child. She'd give her mother some props, too, for never going out of her way to prove her father right by having an affair. As bad as the couple were to her, she'd bet her parents held genuine, real affections for each other.

"Then how did you come into the picture?" Kathleen inquired suspiciously. Her eyes narrowed again, as if she thought Dane was lying to them, like Dane was playing some sort of sick game with them.

"I got here just like most kids get into the world. What, you don't think my mother could have blond hair and blue eyes?" Dane countered with a smart-ass smile on her face. She couldn't help it; she was getting really irritated. Why the hell is Kathleen judging me by my fucking father? He's not even really my father. Just an asshole. She honestly wished she never called the couple to help in the first place now. I should've known this was going to go bad really fast!

It was Kathleen's turn to frown. "You think you're funny, don't you?"

Dane shrugged. "Just answering a question. You don't want the answer, don't ask the question. Isn't that a lawyer rule? You never ask a question you don't already know the answer to?" She ran her hand through her hair and her face hurt from forcing out another smile. At this rate, she'd never get on Kathleen's good side and she might even work her way on Raymond's bad side if she continued to antagonize his wife. But, she wouldn't care if they wanted to keep talking about her father like he mattered to her. She just hoped their feelings never influenced Nicole's feelings for her.

"Is that what your father taught you?" Kathleen sneered.

Dane chuckled, shaking her head because it was better than verbally responding. She doubted it'd be a good idea to get into what her father taught her. Instead, she tried to focus on why she was at the mall in the first place. She walked just a little bit ahead of the couple and scanned the stores they passed. She didn't want to talk or hear about her father anymore. And I really just need to get something for Nick without getting frustrated over stupid crap like my father.

"Something elegant, fitting for an angel," Dane crooned, singing the words in a low tone. This oddity earned her glances from the Cardells. She ignored them.

"Danny, do you have something in mind?" Raymond asked.

Scratching her head, Dane shrugged and offered him a quick smile. "Not really. I'm hoping for something spectacular." She wanted something that would just take Nicole's breath away.

"You're not going to get something too spectacular with a mere three hundred dollars. Maybe you should call up your daddy and get him to send you money," Kathleen said.

Dane's spine went stiff and a biting comment was on the tip of her tongue. She managed to swallow it down. It'd probably serve her best not to answer anything at this point or she and Kathleen would have a serious an argument. And it'd be an argument if she was lucky; she hated to think how Nicole would react if she found out that Dane beat the crap out of her mother in the middle of the crowded mall.

The funny thing was that Dane thought they had actually come to something they could agree on, which was that her father was a bastard. It was just that she doubted Kathleen would believe they agreed on that point. Kathleen was quite comfortable in assuming her father meant something to her and had something to do with the type of person she was. Well, that's probably true, but not in the way Kathleen thinks.

"Something fit for an angel…" Dane sang again in a low voice. If the search went on long enough, she'd end up writing a song in her head while seeking a birthday gift. I guess I could give Nick the song along with something nice, though. She'd probably like that.

"Danny, you have a rather nice singing voice," Raymond noted, giving her a curious sidelong glance. A slight smirk tugged at his lips, like he was pleasantly surprised by her voice.

"Didn't expect a punk rocker to have a nice voice?" she countered with a teasing smirk on her face. Most people didn't.

Raymond chuckled. "I have to say, it is a surprise."

"I like singing almost as much as I like playing my guitar, which I guess is good since I was the lead singer in a band once upon a time," Dane replied, hoping revealing a little more about herself would wash over her earlier behavior in regards to talking about her family. She figured this'd show she didn't have anything to hide. There were just certain subjects she'd rather steer clear of.

"I think Nikki was telling me about that. She says that's basically how you made a living before you got into teaching music. I didn't know people could still make a living off of playing music without being really famous," Raymond said.

Dane couldn't help the smile that slid onto her face. Playing in her band, earning money for it, it was the best time of her life. Well, until she met Nicole anyway. Still, she had lived her dream. How many people could say that? Making it even more awesome was she did it in her teens.

"This is actually a very big music town…well, the city part anyway. The suburbs, not so much. There's a huge music culture in the city and if you're good, you can make a decent living. If you're great, sky's the limit really," Dane said.

"Were you mediocre then? Why is it that you don't do it anymore?" Kathleen asked a smug look in her eyes. "You know the say goes, those who can do and those who can't teach."

"Think I've heard that before. It's a bit insulting to teachers, but whatever. I was better than mediocre. I was great. I was a god when I played my guitar," Dane declared proudly.

Kathleen could rip into her for a lot of things, but she'd be damned if she'd let someone downplay what was now her third greatest passion—music. Nicole held the first place and second place. Not even music could not touch Nicole. But, she knew music better than she knew anything else, had a feel for it, and expressed herself with it, reaching out and into others. Kathleen couldn't take that away from her.

"You think rather highly of yourself," Kathleen said with naked disgust. Her lip curled up and her nose wrinkled a bit as if she smelled something bad.

"When it comes to my music, yes. I know what I'm good at. Used to play my guitar damn well. I could touch things inside of people they didn't know was there when I played. I was a big draw at a lot of clubs not too long ago," Dane stated. It felt like another lifetime ago, but she remembered being an underground celebrity and she had loved every bit of it back them. All of the women, drugs, and alcohol. None of that mattered now, though. Yes, she missed what she could do with her guitar, but she'd never trade in what she had now for what she had then. This realization put a smile on her face, renewing her devotion and her determination to find Nicole the perfect gift.

"What happened?" Raymond asked.

Dane felt her face tense and ground her teeth together for a long moment. Damn this sharing bullshit. Yet, she found herself answering anyway. "…People proved to be what I know them to be." People were assholes and she had forgotten for a moment.

Dane tried to flex her left hand into a tight fist, but she couldn't even do that with it. She growled and tried to storm off, away from the questions and the memories. Unfortunately, her sore knee made her hobble off, which only burned her up more. She wouldn't answer any more questions since she couldn't make a clean getaway while maintaining her dignity.

"I think I might have touched a nerve there," Raymond said in a whisper to his wife. He managed to effortlessly do something Kathleen hadn't even managed, though not for lack of trying, offend Dane.

"Who cares? With luck, she'll limp out of Nikki's life now," Kathleen said, making sure it was loud enough for Dane to hear.

"Kate," Raymond sighed.

"What? You know she's not good enough for Nikki, and it has nothing to do with the fact that she's a woman. She just happens to be the worst woman Nikki has ever introduced to us ever. She's worthless, has a horrible job, no money, and she dresses like a clown. Could you imagine taking her to one of the firm parties? Having to introduce her to clients? And worst of all, she's his daughter!" Kathleen hissed with utter contempt.

But, tell us how you really feel, Kate. While Dane understood she was no one's first pick for their daughter, she knew for a fact she wasn't Nicole's worse choice. Yeah, she had done some shitty things, but from the little she knew about Nicole's other relationships, there were worse folks out there. And how the hell is being Russell's rejected offspring being held against me, but they're totally cool with his jackass nephew dating their daughter? She wanted to call bullshit on Kathleen, but didn't want to look at the woman right now.

"I can confidently say he's not a father to her. I saw what he did to her with my own eyes. And we did allow his nephew to join our firm and date our daughter, so I don't see why you'd make such a big deal out of that. But, other than that, I suppose I agree with you. Danny does make Nikki feel special, though. She makes Nikki happy and until I see otherwise I'm going to root for her…a little anyway," Raymond explained with a chuckle.

Dane smiled a bit. Okay, at least Raymond was kind in her corner. While she knew Nicole wouldn't leave her based on her parents' opinions, it had to help make things easier for them if Raymond didn't completely hate her like Kathleen did.

"Okay, Tyler was an exception, first of all. He was almost the total opposite of his jackass uncle when we met him and interviewed him for the firm. Besides, his father's not a complete and total jerk, unlike Dane's father. As far as things with Dane, though, Nikki could do better. Much better," his wife insisted.

Raymond was silent and Dane couldn't blame him for it. He couldn't argue that one. Hell, Dane doubted she could argue that one. Her mind was taken from that as she noticed something in the window of a jewelry store. She stopped right in her tracks and stared. He and Kathleen stepped up behind her. They didn't even need to ask what caught her attention.

"You can't afford that," Kathleen sneered at her.

Dane didn't say anything, but she took off toward the ATM once more. Raymond and Kathleen only watched her rush away. Dane sort of hopped/skipped to get the ATM, not caring about how much it hurt her leg. She then hurried past them into the store.

"Well, she does have good taste," Raymond said with a chuckle.

Kathleen scoffed. "Only if she can afford what goes with it, which we all know she can't." The couple entered the store behind Dane.

Raymond didn't argue and Dane didn't care. She pointed to the display at the front to the first salesperson who caught her eye. He had the nerve to arch an eyebrow at her, apparently not believing she could afford the piece. What the hell? Just because I look like some kind of surf bum doesn't mean I can't afford it. He did go get the item without saying anything snotty, though. She fought the urge to bounce on her heels.

"Is this all?" he asked.

"No, no, no. I need…" Dane scanned the display case and picked out three accessories.

"Very good." He collected those. "Anything else?"

"No. That's it for me."

He shrugged and rang her up, handing her the bag in exchange for every single dime that she had to her name. Dane hugged the bag to her chest. No one would know from the content look on her face that she was seriously penniless now. She couldn't even afford the bus fare home, so she'd have to walk, but she didn't care. This is perfect.

"I thought you only had three hundred dollars. You took money out of Nikki's account, didn't you? I'm sure she gave you the numbers and a card. She's too damn trusting," Kathleen huffed. A familiar, burning glare fixed itself into sharp umber eyes.

Dane smiled, feeling too good about herself at the moment. "I'd never do that. Look, guys, thanks for coming out, even though we didn't look around much. I'm gonna get going since I got my gift and I doubt you guys want my company anyway."

"Danny," Raymond started.

Dane held up a hand to stop him. "It's okay. I know."

Raymond glanced down at Kathleen. "It's good you found something."

Nodding, Dane gave him a small smile. "So, Nick told me you guys usually celebrate her birthday by going out for a family dinner. I didn't know that until after I planned on making a birthday dinner for her." This seemed like a brilliant idea, especially after she realized how horrible she was at looking for a gift.

"And?" Raymond gently urged her, knowing she had more to say.

"I was…" Dane scratched her forehead. "Well, I was hoping…um…you'd come over for dinner instead of going out," she explained in a slightly shaky voice. Her hand went through her hair as a second of silence past between them.

"You're going to make dinner? But, Nikki said you do that almost every night. Going out is special. I hope you don't think we're going to take Nikki and leave you at the house to wait up for her or something because that's not the case," Raymond assured her.

Dane shook her head a little, even though it was plausible. "Wasn't worried about that, really. I just want to make a special dinner for her. I also want to make desserts. I already figured out what birthday cake I want to get and everything."

Raymond's eyebrows shot up and his mouth bent downward, but it wasn't a frown. He looked…impressed. "You've really thought this out, huh?"

"I did. Cooking at this point is something I can do well and can make happen. I can do it big with some forethought. I'm just better at being domestic than at giving gifts it seems," Dane chuckled.

Raymond nodded and put his hand over to his chin. "What kind of food are you going to make?"

"Nothing too fancy. Just some of Nick's favorites and maybe try out a few things. The cake'll be chocolate if that helps." Dane smiled. She knew it counted with Nicole. She just hoped her girlfriend got her sweet tooth from one of her parents—hopefully, the parent that semi-liked her, so he could convince his wife to come.

"Kate?" Raymond turned to his wife, who looked just as sour as she had all day.

"No. We're not going to break a tradition for some passing fancy in Nikki's life." Kathleen scowled in Dane's direction for even suggesting such a thing. She waved the whole idea off with a flick of her hand, as if the very notion was an affront to her.

"I just thought—" Dane tried to explain herself because she wasn't trying to ruin their tradition. Actually, she thought it was an awesome tradition, but Kathleen cut in.

"No, you've been in Nikki's life for a few months and you think you can just come and rip apart our family traditions? We've been taking Nikki out for her birthday since she was four years old. I'll not have you show up and try to ruin everything and then when you finally do run out on Nikki leave us to pick up the pieces!" Kathleen snapped, a fire burning in her eyes and trying to ignite Dane.

Dane was shocked she hadn't lost a finger in that tirade just from the bite in Kathleen's words. How many of Nick's lovers have done just that? Dane didn't know, didn't want to know. She just wanted to make sure she never made that list.

Having learned recently that there were some battles she just could not win and should not fight, Dane withdrew. She turned and walked away, giving them a short wave as she did so. Her dinner plans would have to wait.

-8-8-8-8-

"Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you…" A smile spread across Nicole's sleeping face as she heard those words softly sung in her ear. Her eyes fluttered open and her smile grew wider when Danny's face came into focus. Danny hovered over her, grinning merrily.

"I get the feeling it's going to be a very happy birthday," Nicole said, her voice scratchy from sleep. She wrapped her arms around her girlfriend.

"If I have anything to say about it, it will," Danny replied before leaning down for a good morning kiss.

Nicole grinned to herself when her lover's lips met her own. They both moaned as their mouths made contact. Unable to help herself, Nicole's hands wandered Danny's back as Danny crawled on top of her, making sure not to break the blissful kiss. Warm skin touched equally warm skin, but Nicole wanted more.

"Please, love," Nicole whispered against Danny's sweet lips.

Danny lowered herself onto Nicole, lying on Nicole and kissing her once more. Nicole purred from the contact, trying to pull Danny even closer. They moaned again as Danny settled into between Nicole's spread legs and rolled her hips slightly, hinting just how happy she was willing to make this birthday. Suddenly, the alarm clocked sounded, startling them enough to pull away.

"Shit! Is it really this late?" Danny growled as they both reached out for the alarm clock. Nicole did the sensible thing and turned the alarm off while Danny yanked the bothersome device out of the wall.

"Danny," Nicole sighed, rolling her eyes a little.

"What?" Danny flashed a charming grin and Nicole rolled her eyes again. The grin remained, knowing she was out of trouble. "I'll go start your birthday breakfast. Don't want you to be late for work."

Nicole groaned. "I wish I could just call in, but my parents would be so suspicious and I know they'd probably come here just to call my bluff." The last thing she wanted to do was give her parents an excuse to show up at her house, possibly finding her in a compromising position with her girlfriend.

Danny nodded in understanding and gave Nicole a quick peck on the lips before climbing off of her. Nicole sighed and frowned, wanting the body contact to return. In fact, she felt like she deserved a medal for not pulling Danny back to her.

Danny grabbed a robe and dipped out of the room, undoubtedly to make breakfast. Nicole got up to search for her outfit for the day. She was tempted to throw on something naughty, just to tease Danny for a little while, but she really didn't have the time for that.

"I can't believe we slept so late!" Nicole huffed, speaking under her breath. But, then again, she could understand how they had slept so late since they had just gone to bed four hours ago. From the start of her birthday at midnight last night, it had been a very good day and she had hoped to continue right where they left off when they woke up. Fate was against that plan, though.

Nicole showered and dressed in her usual business attire. Checking herself out in her mirror, she was tempted again. She wanted to put on her best makeup and perfume and tease Danny's senses until Danny flung her on the bed and didn't let her leave until they were both sated. The thought actually made her blush. Shaking her head, she rid herself of the fire in her cheeks and then rushed down for breakfast.

"Danny, you okay?" Nicole asked as she noticed her girlfriend marching around the kitchen in a fit.

Danny immediately turned and smiled sheepishly. "Uh…no, actually," she admitted, running a hand through her hair.

"What's wrong, sweetheart?" Nicole asked, walking over and wrapping her arms around her lover's waist.

"I wanted to make you a special breakfast today, but I overslept, so I couldn't do it," Danny mumbled, resting her head on Nicole's shoulder. She returned the hug, holding onto Nicole tightly.

"Honey, you don't need to make me a special breakfast. Besides, I was the reason you overslept." Nicole flashed her a smirk.

Danny laughed. "I didn't object to it then. I was sure I'd get up in time to make you strawberry pancakes, though."

"I missed out on strawberry pancakes? Damn it," Nicole playfully pouted. "Love, you know I'd rather be with you than have all of the strawberry pancakes in the world. Even though, you do make some killer strawberry pancakes."

A grin was in place when Danny pulled away to look into Nicole's eyes. Those grey eyes shined with so much love Nicole could burst. Instead, she gave Dane a quick peck on the lips, keeping that grin on Danny's face. She caressed Danny's cheek before pulling away.

"Honestly, the look you're giving me now is special enough," Nicole said.

Danny chuckled. "You sure?"

"Positive."

"Wish I knew how I looked now."

Nicole tittered. "Don't worry, love. You give me the look more than enough."

Danny smiled. "I made you an egg and bacon sandwich for breakfast. Is that good?" She moved to retrieve the meal.

"Perfect!" Nicole chirped happily, going so far as to clap twice.

"Lunch is leftovers again, even though I doubt you'll need it. I bet my ass your friends treat you to a really good lunch today," Danny declared.

Nicole nodded. "You're probably right, but thanks for looking out for me anyway, Danny."

"Hey, I love you."

"I love you, too."

Danny walked Nicole to the door as usual and kissed her farewell. Nicole lingered for a moment, caressing Danny's cheek again.

"I really don't want to leave," Nicole admitted, leaning in close to Danny.

"Don't want you to, but you gotta."

Nicole nodded. "That's true."

"We'll see each other later. After all, your parents have to give you my dead body over dinner for your birthday." Danny tried to downplay her worry with one of her giant smiles. It didn't work because her eyes looked haunted.

"It'll be fine, baby. I promise. And then, we get to come here and keep celebrating my birthday." Nicole gave Danny a soft kiss to lift her spirits. Hopefully, the promise of more of last night would be enough to settle Danny.

-8-8-8-8-

Nicole smiled ear to ear when she arrived at work. Once upon a time, this hasn't been the norm, but most people seemed to expect it now. They smiled back when she greeted them. Only a few people knew why she came in smiling everyday, but obviously the whole firm preferred that to her coming in with a chip on her shoulder. Her assistant greeted her with a warm, polite, and sincere smile, making sure to call her "Miss Cardell" while he was at it. He knew better than to get on her bad side now.

She settled in at her desk and started to set herself up to get to work. Before doing so, she glanced at a recent addition to her desk, a framed photograph of her and Danny. Mina took it during the New Years' celebration they attended together; it wasn't the infamous "kissing picture." The couple was engaged in a simple embrace for the camera, nothing over the top—except maybe Danny's monster grin.

"You always smile so big, sweetheart," Nicole said, running a finger across Danny's expression.

Before she could get lost in any thoughts about her lover's smile, the door to her office opened. Her eyes shot to see the last person she ever wanted to see enter her office. And he had the nerve to be carrying flowers!

"Get out, Tyler," Nicole ordered, her voice so cold it was a shock the walls didn't frost over. The sound didn't affect him or the wannabe charming look on his face, though. Why the hell doesn't he ever get it?

"Aw, Nikki, you don't mean that. Look, I brought you roses," Tyler cooed, slightly waving his dozen, long-stem roses.

"I don't want a damn thing from you, Tyler, aside from you getting the hell out." Nicole glared at him with the intent of killing him with her gaze. Unfortunately, it didn't work. It didn't even get that stupid look off his face.

A light laugh was followed by a boyish smile. "Come on, Nikki, don't be that way. You remember this time last year, how special I made sure your birthday was."

Her eyes narrowed and a snarl tugged at her lips, baring her teeth. Sometimes, I wish I could just kill him and be done with it. "I remember all right. I remember you filling my office with junk I didn't need and didn't want, probably due to the fact that you couldn't remember what type of flowers or stuffed animals I do like, so you just brought them all."

He flinched. "What? Of course I remember." He forced his smile back onto his face, but it was a little tighter than before.

She snorted. If he did, he'd stop giving her roses. "I remember my friends wanting to take me to lunch to a café I really like, but you refusing without talking to me first and instead dragging me to some expensive place I hate to this very day and then you graciously allowed me to pick up the check. Thank you for that by the way."

"I would've gotten it!"

Rolling her eyes, she scoffed. "And then when we had dinner with my parents, you graciously allowed my father to do the same thing. No, I haven't forgotten how 'special' you made my birthday last year, which is why I don't want you around this year." She didn't care how harsh she sounded.

"I got you tickets to that show," he said, as if that was something.

"And then you spent the whole show on your phone. You didn't even pretend to have a good time."

"Nikki—" he started, but she cut him off right there, her voice more effective any blade that she could wield.

She growled. "I've told you time and time again to not call me that."

A frown conquered his face and anger flashed in his eyes as his nostrils flared. "Oh, but I bet my dyke cousin can call you that!"

"What Danny can and cannot call me has no bearing here. Now, I suggest you get the hell out of my office or I will throw you out and then I'm going to file a harassment claim because you don't seem to follow instructions well unless there's consequences involved," Nicole pointed out, referring to the fact that he had only recently stopped trying to pick up every woman in the firm because he heard one of the bosses was watching him.

His tight mouth twitched and his scowl deepened. The sound of his teeth grinding echoed through the office for a moment. His anger burned so intensely she could practically feel it on the other side of the room, but it was canceled out by her infuriated aura. Ignoring her emotions entirely, he pressed on.

"What the fuck does Dane have that I don't? How the hell can you keep defending that drug-addict bitch and denying me? Does she eat you that good?" he sneered, face turning bright red as he threw his arms out in a fury.

Nicole growled and shot up from her desk, pointing at the door. "Get out of my office right now, you jackass! And never come in here again or I swear you'll regret it!"

He narrowed his eyes. "Are you threatening me?"

"I'm promising you," she answered in a deadly serious voice.

"Nikki, you've made a big mistake. You're going to regret sticking up for that bull-dyke of a cousin of mine. She's a no-good, dirty bitch—"

"Tyler," Nicole cut him off again, now walking around her desk. He gulped and took a step back. "I'm tired of you injecting your opinion in my life, especially in regards to the woman I LOVE! Get your ass out of my fucking office right NOW!"

Tyler took a step back every time she took a step forward. As soon as he was across the threshold, the door was slammed in his face, hitting his roses in the process.

"Ah, shit!" she heard him hiss. She hoped he got the message now.

She was about to go back to her desk and get to work, but then she heard her father's voice. "Is everything all right down here?" The question was probably posed to Tyler.

"Everything's fine, sir. Nikki wasn't thrilled about my birthday gift," Tyler answered. Nicole rolled her eyes.

"I don't think this is the best place to try to give Nikki birthday gifts, do you?" her father asked. The question made Nicole smile.

"It doesn't matter. She didn't want them anyway. All she can think about is her precious Dane. I swear, she won't listen to reason when it comes to Dane and I know my cousin's just taking advantage of her."

Nicole held her breath, scared her father would listen to Tyler's crap. After all, he had gotten to her parents before.

"I'm sorry, Tyler, but I don't have time for this. I have to see Nikki," her father replied. "Have a good day," he said, entering the office. He quickly shut the door behind him.

For a second, Nicole feared Tyler came back in. A sigh of relief escaped her when she saw it was just her father, even though she doubted he carried good news. It was just that even extra work sounded better than having to put up with Tyler again. Noting the folder tucked her father's arm, she figured he did have more work for her. Just once I would like a birthday gift in the office and it would be for everyone to leave me alone for the day so I can handle whatever I already have. She doubted she'd get that gift anytime soon.

"Hi, Nikki, and happy birthday," Raymond greeted her with a proud smile. He kissed her on the cheek.

"Hi and thank you. What can I do for you, Daddy?" Nicole asked, returning to her desk.

He shrugged a little. "Nothing much. I'm just passing this contract onto you. Franklin Hamilton seems to think that you're the best when it comes to these sorts of things. He wants to make sure this contract is as solid as a bank safe and as much in his favor as it seems to be." He placed the folder down on her desk.

Nicole nodded. "I'll do my best with it, Daddy." She didn't mind the work since she'd been requested.

"I know you will, Nikki." Raymond paused for a moment. "Is everything all right between you and Tyler?"

"Of course not. Tyler's too much of an insufferable twit to know how to make everything all right between us. He refuses to leave me alone," Nicole huffed.

Raymond nodded. "Do you think he's just worried about you?"

Nicole's response to that was a vicious glower that told her father to leave this topic alone. He understood. Instead of saying anything else, he took his leave and left Nicole to her work. Wow, maybe I should try that more often.

Nicole's day went as normal after that. People wandered in and out. She got some work done in between until lunchtime. She started putting her things away, knowing any second Mina and Clara would be in her office, dragging her off to lunch. Her timing was almost perfect; they came in just as she shut down her computer.

"Come on, workaholic, time to go celebrate your birthday. What are you, fifty now?" Mina teased, bright smile lighting her chestnut features.

Nicole chuckled. "You don't want to go down that road with me since you are older than I am."

Mina smiled. "Don't even go there. It might be your birthday today, but I won't pull any punches."

"I'm sure you won't. Give me a second and then we can leave," Nicole replied. She just wanted to make sure everything was away.

The pair nodded and Nicole was with them in a few seconds. After that, they were off to Nicole's favorite little bistro. They had to sit inside because of the winter chill and a waiter quickly made his way over to them. The rapid service was one of the many things that Nicole loved about the place. Their orders were taken and the waiter was off to fetch their drinks.

"Tyler didn't bug you today, did he?" Mina asked, leaning back into the seat cushion.

"As a matter of fact, he did. Were we shouting so loudly you heard me on the opposite end of the hall?" Nicole countered, thinking her friend was being sarcastic. She hoped she hadn't been that loud, though.

"No, actually. I came in around the same time as that jackass and noticed he had flowers in his hand. Doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out why he had them, but I was hoping that I was wrong." Mina shook her head. Her top lip curled in disgust that Tyler just didn't know when to quit.

"He brought you flowers? To work?" Clara shook her head.

"Yes," Nicole snorted, turning her nose up. He was a special type of pest and moron.

"He's such an idiot. He brought you flowers to work last year too, didn't he?" Clara inquired. Nicole nodded and Clara snorted, too. "It kills me how he doesn't seem to realize you hate that."

"You know what's really funny is that Danny knows how much you hate it and she doesn't even work with you. She hasn't sent you anything at work or shown up during business hours or anything like that," Mina said.

Nicole shrugged. "Danny's a bit smarter than her cousin, apparently." And she pays way more attention to…well, me.

"But, Danny's also breaking you out of that a little. I mean, you take calls from her at work. It used to be you'd never think to take a personal call while you're at work, no matter who was calling you," Clara said.

Nicole's cheeks warmed and she knew a blush stained her face. "Well, Danny makes me see why some people do mix a little personal in with the business day."

Mina laughed. "Danny is just outstanding. She's getting you to come out of your shell and making you feel alive. Not to mention, she takes a killer New Years' Eve picture!" She wiggled her eyebrows.

Nicole cheeks felt hotter than ever, embarrassed by the praise and also by Mina bringing up that little public display she and Danny engaged in during New Years'. She was saved for a moment when the waiter came back with their drinks. They thanked him before he hurried off again. Nicole wrapped her hands around her hot chocolate, warming her fingers.

"Danny understands me and makes me feel special. I know we still have some work to do on our relationship, but right now, I'm really happy with her," Nicole sighed. The sound was dreamy to her own ears, so she could only imagine how her friends took it.

"We know, sweetie, believe me, we know," Mina said, reaching out and rubbing her friend's shoulder for a moment.

"You two will be fine. We have faith in you," Clara said and then she sipped her hot tea.

Nicole smiled graciously at her friends, hoping they were right. She knew relationships took a lot of work, but Danny seemed willing to work at it. Given the effort, Nicole could see them lasting as long as they didn't give up like before or let others come between them like before. She highly doubted Danny would let anything come between them now considering the state Danny was in during their separation.

"So, does Danny have any plans for you?" Mina asked. She drank some of her lemonade.

"None she's told me about." Nicole licked some of her whipped cream from her hot chocolate and noticed Mina smiled. "Did she tell you anything?"

"Us? No." Mina shook her head.

"We have no idea," Clara insisted. So, of course this meant they knew everything.

"You guys didn't bug Danny about making a big deal out of my birthday, did you?" Nicole asked.

"Nothing of the sort," Clara answered.

"We just offered to help if she needed it, but she's got it under control," Mina replied.

Nicole eyed them, but decided against pressing them. She'd find out what Danny had planned soon enough. It was nice that her friends offered to help Danny, though.

The friends made small talk and laughed together throughout lunch. Mina and Clara got the café staff to sing "Happy Birthday" to Nicole, who blushed all the way through since there were people around. She was so happy when the song was over, surprised she didn't die of embarrassment.

"Happy birthday, sweetie," Mina said, putting her gift onto the table. The box was small, so Nicole suspected it was jewelry of some kind.

"Open it quick, so you can open mine next!" Clara was barely able to keep in an eager squeal.

"Okay, okay, okay." A smile stayed on Nicole's face as she reached for the gift and peeled away the perfect shiny blue wrapping. Her smile widened when she revealed Mina gave her a new watch. "Oh, god, I actually needed one of these!" she said, in awe her friend knew.

"I noticed your other watch is hanging on by a hope and a prayer. Now, you can take it out back and shoot it," Mina chuckled.

Nicole giggled as she quickly removed her worn out watch and replaced it with her new timepiece. She admired the piece for a few more seconds as it was twisted and turned at all possible angles. After that, Nicole turned to Clara, who handed her an envelope. There was no surprise that there was a card in the envelope, but it was a surprise that it held two tickets.

"Oh, what are you sending me to, dear Clara?" Nicole cooed with a delighted grin as she examined the tickets.

"Oh, just some play that you liked that left town for a little while and then made a come back," Clara said in a humming type of voice, waving it off with her hand as if it was trivial. She bit her bottom lip, pretending to suppress a smile.

Nicole almost jumped up and down, but instead leaned over to hug her friends tightly. Clara and Mina each got a huge hug for their gifts, which put smiles on their faces. Settling back into her seat, Nicole couldn't stop smiling.

"You guys are great friends," she said.

Mina waved her off. "You make it easy."

"Yeah, you're a great friend, too," Clara agreed.

After that, they had to return to work. A phone call was the only interruption Nicole had from her duties.

"Hey, baby," Nicole answered the call, knowing it was Danny because her assistant now got Danny's name right every single time she called. It sort of ruined Danny's fun because she couldn't surprise her lover anymore.

"Damn it, I was gonna pretend to be a lost lap dancer needing your address," Danny playfully huffed.

Nicole burst out laughing. "You need to stop that."

"But, it's so much fun. Speaking of fun, did you have fun with your girls at lunch today?"

"You bet I did. Mina bought me a new watch."

"I know. I helped!" Danny sounded so proud.

"You did? When?" Nicole asked. She had no idea that her lover met up with her friend at any point in time without her around, but that was good. Mina likes Danny and approves of her. Nicole couldn't think of another lover she had that got Mina's stamp of approval.

"Yeah, she called out sick some day last week. She came over to the house like right after you left and asked me about things you needed. When I finally stopped and thought about it, I remembered how messed up your watch was, especially after you accidentally kept it on in the shower the other day. After I said the watch, it dawned on her, too. After that, me and her went shopping and boom! You got a watch," Dane explained.

Nicole smiled to herself. It was so cute that Danny was so excited over something most people would think was mundane. If she's this excited over a watch she helped Mina pick out, I wonder what she got me. She didn't realize she was quiet for a few seconds until Danny's panicked voice rang in her ear.

"You still there, Nick? You're mad at me, aren't you? I mean, she's your friend and I shouldn't be hanging out with her! I'm so sorry. I won't do it again."

Nicole quickly interjected before her girlfriend could go on. "No, no! Danny, it's fine! I'm sorry if I scared you. I was just wondering if you helped Mina get me a watch, then what did you get me?"

Dane laughed. "Nah-uh! Wait 'til tonight to find out."

"Meanie."

"Hey, angel, you keep that up and I won't give it to you at all."

"You're a double-meanie. Oh, honey, do you want me to come get you for the dinner with my parents or do you think you could make your way out here without harming your leg in any way?" Nicole inquired, making sure that her lover could hear the seriousness in her voice involving her leg.

"I promise you I can make it out there without hurting my leg or my hand and properly dressed to boot!" Dane replied, grin evident by her voice.

"All right, then come to the firm by six, please."

"Six it is! Oh, what did Clara end up getting you?" Dane asked.

Nicole smiled, thinking about how last year, her significant other would have never thought to ask that question. Hell, Tyler didn't even know her friends got her gifts on her birthday. He also just invited himself to her dinner with her parents while Danny had quite shyly asked if she was allowed to come. That reminded Nicole that she had to talk to her mother before dinner.

"Chem, you still there?" Dane asked.

"Oh, yes. Sorry, I got wrapped up in my own thoughts. Let me ask you this one, what do you think of the theater, Big Dog?" Nicole countered, a smile playing on her lips.

"Hmm…don't really got an opinion. Why? Are we theater bound?"

"Only if you want to be."

"Want to be wherever you are, angel."

An elated smile conquered Nicole's face, not just for the charming words, but the sincere voice that said them. "You are too sweet, baby."

"That's the pot calling the kettle black. Look, I'm gonna let you go, Chem. I know you have plenty of work to finish up."

"That I do. I can't wait to see you all dressed up, honey."

"I'll be sure to wear something extra-nice just for you."

"I'm sure whatever you have planned will be fine. No need to go all out for me, so please, put the tuxedo back in the closet," Nicole joked.

Danny burst out laughing. "Fine, fine, fine, I'll leave my tux where it is. Now, I'll let you get back to work."

"Okay. I love you, Big Dog."

"Love you too, Chem."

The lovers hung up and Nicole resumed working. Glancing up every now and then to check the time on her new watch, Nicole started packing up at 5:30. Once she was done with that, she got up and marched to the elevators, going up to her mother's office. She waved to anyone she passed as people started going home until she got to her mother's corner officer at the end of the hall. After knocking, Nicole waited for acknowledgment.

"Who is it?" Kate called.

"It's me," Nicole answered.

"Oh, Nikki, please come in," her mother urged her. Forgoing any birthday greetings, she glanced up from her desk as the door opened. She always saved birthday well wishes for when they were outside of the firm. She was definitely the parent that Nicole got her sense of professionalism.

As soon as Nicole entered, her mother got up from her chair. Kate met Nicole half-away across the large office and hugged her. Nicole accepted and returned the embrace, smiling as she did so. Her mother kissed her cheek.

"You're a little early if you're picking me up. I was just finishing up my work for today," Kate explained.

"Actually, Mommy, I'm here to talk to you about dinner tonight," Nicole replied.

Kate's eyebrows raised a bit. "What do you want to talk about? Do you want to go to a different restaurant this year?"

Nicole shook her head. "No, nothing like that. Mom, Danny is going to join us for dinner and I don't want it to be like the last time you two shared a table. I don't want you sniping at Danny the whole night or saying insulting things to her."

"Listen, Nikki, I don't trust that girl." Kate frowned and folded her arms across her chest.

"I understand that, Mommy, but that's not what I'm asking you. I do trust Danny and I enjoy having her around. I don't want to sit through you talking down to her the whole night," Nicole said.

"Listen—" Kate was about to go off, but her daughter held up a hand, cutting her off right there.

"This is not up for debate. I'm putting my foot down on this. If you don't have anything nice to say to Danny tonight, then don't say anything. I don't want to spend my birthday playing referee and wondering when I should walk out of our dinner," Nicole said as plainly as possible in her opinion.

Her mother's face was instantly tight. "Nikki—"

"If you can't agree to these terms, I won't even bother going. I'll take Danny out somewhere else. She knows plenty of restaurants."

"Listen to yourself, Nikki! You'll take her out. It's your birthday. She should be taking you out!" Kate huffed.

Nicole slapped her hands together. "It doesn't matter!"

"It does matter. How the hell did this girl con you into this thing?"

"I'm not with her for a bankroll and it's not a con! I'm with her because I love her and we're in a relationship. Now, will you just do me the favor of not trying to pick a fight with her tonight? If you don't have anything nice to say to her, don't say anything to her. It's that simple because I know she won't say anything to you if you leave her alone. That's just how she is."

Kate growled and opened her mouth, about to object. Nicole halted that with a stern look. Kate glanced away momentarily and then turned back.

"Fine. I won't say a word to her tonight," Kate begrudgingly promised. "I won't ruin your birthday, even if it'll be marred by Dane's presence."

"Mommy!" Nicole huffed, stomping her foot.

Kate waved it off. "Fine, fine, fine. I promise. I will not say anything to her."

"Thank you, Mommy. I do appreciate it," Nicole said with a smile. "Danny and I will meet you and Daddy at the restaurant, okay?"

"Fine. Do you have to go pick her up, too?" Kate sneered.

"No, she's quite capable of getting here on her own. I do want to go keep an eye out for her. I told her to be here at six."

Kate nodded. "All right. Just remember our reservations are for 6:30."

Nicole nodded and then she took her leave. She checked her watch again, seeing it was ten to six. She went back to her office to grab her coat and briefcase, figuring she'd wait for Danny in the lobby. There was no wait necessary, though. She was tempted to whistle as she spotted her lover leaning against the wall in the lobby.

"My, my, my, don't you look good enough to eat," Nicole remarked, approaching her girlfriend.

A small smile crept onto Danny's face. "I think that'll have to wait until later, birthday girl."

"I hope that's a promise," Nicole said.

Danny's smile grew. "What the birthday girl wants, the birthday girl gets."

"Where'd you get this outfit from?" she asked as she stood before Danny.

Danny wore her clothes a little more fitting than usual. Her black pants hugged her legs just enough to call attention to them. Her top was a burgundy button-down shirt that was clearly her size and a girl's shirt; it was very rare for Danny to wear something clearly made for females. It clung to Danny and made Nicole want to rip it off of her.

A shrug of the shoulders and a hand through ebony hair seemed like it was the only response that'd come for a second, but Danny decided to vaguely explain things. "I bought it," she replied.

An inelegant laugh mixed with a snort escaped Nicole. "Clearly. I would remember if I was the one that bought it. You look very nice, honey." Nicole gently fingered the shirt color.

Danny puffed her chest out a little. "Thanks. Wanted to look my best on your special day. Glad I did the job right."

Nicole nodded. "You did a wonderful job. But, baby, where is your coat? You better have one." She used her threatening lawyer voice as well as a stern glare.

"Of course I have! I don't want you yelling at me about the weather and my outfits anymore." Danny gave her a playful smile.

"I only do it because you act like you don't care about your health. I do care about your health, even if you don't." In fact, she set the wheels in motion to make sure Danny had health insurance. It was a lot of work, but she didn't care. She needed to take care of Danny just as much as Danny took care of her.

"I know, Chem. I'm doing my best not to make you worry too much anymore. So, let me just get my coat and we can go."

Danny went to a row of chairs by the wall, picking up her long pea coat and putting it on. She went back to her lover and offered Nicole her arm, which Nicole readily took and they exited the building. They got to the restaurant before Nicole's parents, which was fine. It was nice to have time alone, sitting at the table just talking about anything that came to mind. Her parents showed up about ten minutes later. True to her word, Kate didn't say a word to Danny, not even "hello."

-8-8-8-8-

Dane didn't take offense to Kathleen not greeting her. She stood up and shook Raymond's hand. He smiled at her and patted her shoulder before pulling Kathleen's chair out. They both kissed Nicole on the cheek before sitting down.

"I hope your birthday's going well, Nikki," Raymond said.

"It's going very well," Nicole answered, giving Dane a glance. Dane sat up a little straighter thanks to the knowledge that she helped make Nicole's birthday good.

Raymond nodded. "That's good. Let's toast to you." He waved a waiter over and ordered a bottle of wine.

Dane ordered a glass of lemonade for herself. She ignored the glare Kathleen gave her when she made her beverage order. She's going to hate me for not drinking? What the hell? Dane's attention was drawn from her thoughts when she realized Raymond spoke.

"So, Nikki, whatever happened to this back-to-school nonsense you were talking about?" Raymond asked.

"Oh, it's not nonsense, Daddy. I start classes at the end of the month. I will be in class on Mondays and Wednesdays from six to nine. I got accepted to a very good program and I plan to see it through," Nicole answered.

Dane took Nicole's hand in silent support. A small smile settled onto Nicole's face. The expression probably came from the thought of getting her chemistry degree and hopefully being hired as a chemist, but Dane knew holding her hand had a little something to do with it, too.

"I don't understand why you're doing this," Raymond said, shaking his head slightly.

"It really makes no sense," Kathleen concurred.

"It makes perfect sense to me," Nicole said.

"You have a good job," Raymond replied, as if this was supposed to change Nicole's mind, like she didn't know what type of job she had. Besides, it wasn't as great as Raymond wanted it to seem.

Nicole frowned and Dane caught sight of the vein in her forehead, a sure sign Nicole was pissed. Nicole didn't need this kind of stress, especially not on her birthday.

"Uh…Maybe we should get champagne to celebrate Nick's big day instead of wine. It's not often a girl turns twenty-eight," Dane said, hoping to diffuse the situation before it turned into an argument.

Kathleen turned to Dane and gave her a sharp look. For a second, Kathleen seemed like she was about to say something, but turned away at the last moment. Raymond opened his mouth, but quickly closed it. He smiled at Dane and then agreed, springing for champagne to go with their meals. Dane had a sip just for a toast Nicole, who watched her for a second with the flute. Dane went back to her lemonade after that sip. From that moment on, the dinner went very smoothly.

Dane didn't do much talking. She liked watching Nicole interact with her parents. Initially, Dane thought Nicole's parents were terrors, which was a habit she developed because of her own parents and because Nicole's parents demanded so much of her. But, watching them when there was no work between them and they were just enjoying family time, it was a wonder to her.

"So, your mother talked me into going to the club over the weekend," Raymond started a story while he cut into a juicy steak.

"Wait, I talked you into it?" Kathleen arched an eyebrow, challenging her husband already.

"Yes, you wanted to go. Nikki knows you like the place more than I do, so don't try to lay this one at my feet."

Kathleen turned to Nikki. "The whole point of the story is to try to make light that he allowed Vince Martin to beat him in a game of racket ball. Mind you, Vince has a broken finger and wasn't supposed to be playing anyway. Your father manages to walk off with a twisted ankle and somehow it's my fault."

Nichole laughed. "You didn't stop him, Mommy. So, of course, it's your fault."

Kathleen chuckled. "Of course."

Raymond pretended to be indignant, trying to glare at them, but he smiled. This was how their conversations went for the night. Dane was too nervous to jump in unless prompted. She didn't want to ruin their flow.

-8-8-8-8-

"Thanks for enduring dinner with my parents," Nicole said as she and Danny exited her car. They both had on their coats to fight off the minute they'd be spending in the freezing cold.

"It was for a good cause. Besides, your mom ignored me the whole night, so that made it easy," Danny replied with a laugh while they walked to the house. She had her key in hand already, so she opened the door.

"I actually had to talk to her about it because she seems to have gotten worse in a past few days. Daddy told her who your family is and that's just got her going over the edge now. She thinks your family, more exactly your father, is evil and you're the spawn of the devil," Nicole said, stepping through the door and unbuttoning her coat at the same time.

"She might be right about that one," Danny chuckled.

"Still, I wasn't going to stand for her badmouthing you through out my entire birthday dinner. I told her before that you can't pick your family, so it's not your fault that you were born to that man," Nicole said.

Danny laughed as she slid Nicole's coat off her shoulders. "I wish you could pick. If that's the case, I would've been born from a rock or inside a chestnut shell!"

A small laugh escaped Nicole, but it was to cover up her true feelings than to show amusement. She wondered what Danny's childhood and her birthdays could've been like with a father who denied her, a mother who despised her, and siblings who disowned her before they even understood she was different. She recalled the birthday surprise she had given Danny months ago was declared her best birthday ever by Danny, so she wondered what exactly Danny had to put up with at home.

Nicole shook her thoughts away as Danny hung Nicole's coat up in the closet. Her own coat followed it. Danny then turned back to her girlfriend and smiled brightly at her.

"Let's not bother with any more of that. We're home and now I'm hosting your birthday after-party!" Danny grinned and clapped her hands together.

"Does it include chocolate?" Nicole hoped, despite the fact that she had a small piece of chocolate cake for dessert at the restaurant. Her parents had insisted.

"In more ways than one. Go to the table and I'll serve you dessert. Plus, I want to give you your birthday gift."

Nicole grinned, wondering what her girlfriend got her. She went to the table while Danny rushed off into the kitchen; neither of them bothered to turn on the lights. She knew the cake would be chocolate, but she wondered what Dane meant by there being chocolate "in more ways than one." She squirmed in her seat, thinking about it. Of course, that didn't help.

The squirming became a little more pronounced as Danny returned, holding a beautifully decorated chocolate cake with a three candles lit on it. Her face was lit because of the fire, dancing across her face, making her look like some glowing phantom. Nicole's breathing sped up, as did her heart rate as the ethereal figure approached her, gently singing "Happy Birthday" with soul that Nicole would've never thought possible for such a simple song. Nicole's face burned a bit and she knew it had nothing to do with the subtle heat from the candles. The blush spread as Danny leaned down to put the cake on the table, their bodies not quite touching, but they were so close.

"Happy birthday, angel," Danny whispered, leaning down to speak into Nicole's red ear.

Nicole opened her mouth, wanting to speak, but nothing came out. She turned to stare into loving grey eyes and tried to go in for a kiss, but Danny pulled back. She shook a finger at Nicole.

"Naughty girl, you have to blow out the candles and make a wish first," Danny reminded her. Her breath tickled Nicole's neck and teased her senses.

Nicole blinked and shook her head a little, trying to clear her head. "Right. I've forgotten." She turned her attention to the delicious-looking cake and let loose a short breath—surprised she had even that much in her—to blow out the candles.

"Good girl," Danny said, kissing Nicole's cheek.

Nicole turned, wanting to go in for more, but Danny was already busy cutting a slice of cake. Nicole put her hand on Danny's, earning a glance, but nothing more. They cut the cake together. One slice with one fork, for them to share. Danny broke off a small piece and presented it to Nicole.

"When do I get my birthday gifts?" Nicole asked with a teasing smile before taking the bite. She made sure to make a show of eating the cake, liking the fact that Danny's attention was stuck on her lips.

"Huh?" Danny blinked. "Oh! I have the first one right here in my pocket."

Nicole snickered, happy she was getting to Danny in the same manner the Danny was getting to her. Danny went into the pockets of her slacks, searching around as if her pocket was infinitely deep. Whatever she sought seemed to underneath her wallet and it took her several long seconds to retrieve. She presented the small box to Nicole with a shy smile and hopeful grey eyes.

Shaky copper-toned hands held the box out and Nicole graciously accepted with a smile. It was perfectly wrapped with plain green and red paper that was left over from Christmas. A deep red bow sat on top of it like a crown, causing a flutter in Nicole's chest, even though it was slightly smushed from being in Danny's pocket. She carefully opened it, not wanting to tear the paper and discovered a black, velvet box waiting for her. Swallowing hard, she slowly opened it and her mouth dropped open when she saw the gift.

"It's beautiful!" Nicole declared, pulling out the platinum charm bracelet. There were three charms on it, but room for so many more. There was a silver acoustic guitar, a book with a ruby in the center, a golden halo, and a small emerald heart dangling from the piece. "It tells our story." She smiled.

Danny nodded. "Well, pieces of our story. There's always going to be more to tell."

Nicole smiled more. "Please, put it on for me?"

Danny nodded and took hold of the bracelet. She attached it to Nicole's wrist and then clasped onto Nicole's hand, holding it tightly. Nicole's eyes met grey, witnessing a hurricane of emotions in the stormy depths. This caused Nicole's heart to beat just a little faster.

"Nick, I want you to know I'm giving you more than just a bracelet. What I'm about to tell you isn't to make you feel bad, but for you to understand the lengths I'd go for you. I spent every penny I had on this. I'd give you everything and all you'd have to do is ask. Even if the request seemed outrageous, I'd work my ass off until I could make it possible. I want to start a new life with you and live it with you until the end of my days. I've never loved any person, any thing, as much as I love you. You're everything to me, you're my life, my world, my heaven," Danny explained and then placed a tender kiss to Nicole's palm.

Nicole's bottom lip trembled and a few tears slid down her cheeks. She leaned down, capturing Danny's mouth in a passionate, loving kiss. Eyes closed, a moan passed between them, and eager hands started reaching for Danny's shirt. For a moment, Danny lost herself to those questing hands, just as Nicole wanted, but then something happened.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait," Danny said, pulling away from the powerful embrace. She glanced down to see Nicole had managed to open all of the buttons.

"What? Why are we stopping?" Nicole asked, placing her hands on the bare midsection that was before her. Her new bracelet felt cold against her own hot skin.

"We'll get to this, but I have other things planned before that. I mean, I know you didn't think I just had cake waiting for you, right?" Danny gave her a cocky half-smile.

Nicole returned it with a sly smile of her own. "I'd never think that's the only trick up your sleeve, baby."

"Then you sit here and finish your cake. I'm going to run us a nice bath with the works to relax in for a little while, okay?"

Nicole nodded, figuring there was more coming than just a bath. Danny ran off as best she could while Nicole leaned back, wanting to finish her cake quickly. It was a good cake and she looked forward to really sharing a piece with Danny. Maybe tomorrow. She had already taken the day off, so they'd have time to recover from tonight and share some.

-8-8-8-8-

As if on cue, as soon as Nicole was done with her cake, Dane returned. Wordlessly she took her lady's hand and led her upstairs to the candlelit bathroom where soft, classical music played and a hot, bubble bath awaited them. Dane slowly undressed Nicole, placing soft kisses to revealed skin as she slid the cloth from Nicole's body. Nicole shivered and her eyes fluttered shut. She swallowed a moan with each kiss and caress of fingertips.

Nicole silently reached out to return the favor and Dane allowed it since Nicole was the birthday girl…and Dane loved it when Nicole undressed her. Amorous hands brushed the shirt from Dane's shoulders and lingered on the uncovered flesh for long seconds. The adoration drifted to her legs when Nicole rid her of her pants. She stepped away when she was totally naked, smirking at Nicole. Nicole returned the expression with a smirk of her own.

Dane helped Nicole into the rich bubble bath that was filled with all of her favorite little skin softeners and things Dane never thought to add to a bath before living with Nicole. A long sigh escaped her beloved when she was submerged in the hot water. Before Dane slid in, she reached into one of the cabinets in the bathroom and pulled out a basket. She turned to Nicole and grinned, showing off the treat.

"Chocolate covered strawberries? My god, Danny, you really did put a lot of thought into this," Nicole purred as Danny climbed into the hot bath next to her.

"I want this to be a birthday you remember for the rest of your life," Dane replied.

"That was already a given. It's my first birthday with you," Nicole remarked with a sincere smile.

"Sweet talk, my dear, will get you everywhere," Dane said, plucking a strawberry out of the basket and putting it to her lover's lips.

Nicole bit into the fruit in a way that made Dane moan. When did eating get so sexy? First the cake and now this. There was a twinkle in Nicole's eyes that made Dane aware Nicole knew just what she was doing. Still, Dane whimpered as Nicole pulled away. The noise only got louder as she watched ruby red juice ooze down the corner of her beloved's mouth. And then a playful pink tongue darted out to slowly clean up the sticky mess. Dane doubted she'd be able to last long if Nicole was going to eat any more strawberries like that.

"These are good. You have to have one," Nicole said, taking a berry in her hand and putting it to Dane's lips.

Dane opened wide without a second thought and took in the whole strawberry. A smile worked its way onto her lips as she chewed slowly, wanting to tease Nicole a little. It worked; Nicole gulped. As a distraction, they continued feeding each other strawberries, but they wouldn't able to finish the entire basket tonight.

"I was going to have some champagne for you, but I know how you hate drinking alone," Dane said. She also knew Nicole didn't like her drinking point blank. She put the strawberries down when she was certain Nicole wouldn't want another one.

"It's definitely no fun, but I appreciate your effort," Nicole replied as she turned her body to lean against Dane.

"Then we'll just have to find other things that we both can do," Dane whispered into a nearby ear, bringing her hands up to massage Nicole's shoulders and back.

A small moan escaped Nicole as Dane worked out her muscles. Emerald eyes drifted close. "You keep this up and we'll be going to sleep together and that's about it," she warned.

"Well, that's no fun. I still have a couple of things planned for your special day before sleep is even an option." Their sex life was slow to get going since her return. She was nervous about it because she still feared she messed their relationship with her unscheduled, panicked flight and Nicole seemed to take her cue from Dane.

"Promise?" Nicole whispered.

"Promise." She kissed Nicole's neck to seal it.

Nicole groaned and turned a little to give Dane better access to a spot that deserved some attention. She ignored the slight tremble from the left and was thankful for Nicole doing the same. The last thing Dane wanted to hear about was her hand.

Besides, if Nicole started talking about her hand, Dane knew she'd then get to the knee, and the leg, and ask how physical therapy was going, which would only lead Dane into a rant about how evil her therapist was. They didn't need that tonight. Dane just wanted to focus on Nicole and make sure Nicole understood how special she was. From the way Nicole moaned at each touch, Dane was certain she was accomplishing her goal.

"You keep this up and I'm going to think I'm good with my hands," Dane quipped with a light chuckle.

"You are. You are so good, sweetheart," Nicole purred.

Dane grinned like a goof, all too happy Nicole couldn't see her. Nicole's deep mew rumbled against her skin and made her smile more. Usually, she was the one purring because of Nicole. It felt good to be able to cause the sound for once.

"Ready to get out?" Dane asked.

"Very much so. I don't want to fall asleep on you, but we're going to revisit this new talent of yours sometime in the future," Nicole replied with a lazy smile.

"You bet!" It was a promise. Dane wanted to hear more purring out of Nicole.

They both stood up to get out of the tub; the water had cooled down anyway. Grabbing their towels, they wrapped up and Dane started blowing out the candles. Nicole picked up the basket of strawberries.

"I'm going to go put these in the fridge," Nicole said.

"Okay. I'll be in the room," Dane replied. "Oh, and take your time."

Nicole arched an eyebrow. "Take my time?"

Dane shrugged. "Just don't rush. We'll get to everything."

A teasing smile settled onto Nicole's face. "Should I grab some water or one of those sports drinks you're starting to get a taste for?"

Dane gave her a deadpan expression and gently slapped Nicole on the rump. Nicole laughed and hurried out of the bathroom. Dane moved quickly to clean up the bathroom, leaving her towel behind. She needed to get to the bedroom next.

There were candles to be lit there. She had a bowl of red rose petals and covered the bed as if it rained flowers in the room. There was a bouquet of roses by the bed, even though she knew Nicole wasn't into roses. She had gone for three red roses, two white, and a yellow. Nicole would understand the message. I love you, respect you and our new beginning. We're not just lovers, but friends as well.

Dane barely had time to grab her guitar before she heard Nicole on the stairs. She settled near the closet, so for a moment she'd be the only thing Nicole paid attention to. When Nicole stepped inside the room, she audibly inhaled sharply.

"No one is going to believe me when I tell them about this birthday," Nicole muttered and then her next surprise caught her attention.

Dane lightly plucked her guitar, causing Nicole to turn to her. Nicole licked her lips as she watched Dane stand there with her guitar in hand…and nothing else. She strummed the strings and approached Nicole, but stopped a few feet shy of Nicole. The playing paused for a moment, allowing Dane to flex and shake her left hand. She then started again, playing softly and then she started to sing.

"The light in your eyes, show that you're a gem.

There's such a priceless, wonderful shine in them.

You're a diamond, you're a pearl.

You're everything in this world.

You're an angel. You're my angel…"

Dane didn't make it passed those words as her lips were halted by Nicole's mouth and plundering tongue. The towel was gone and guitar was yanked away, almost taking Dane's arms with it. Replacing the guitar in Dane's hands were Nicole's hips. Dane wouldn't complain.

Nicole wrapped her arms around Dane's neck, pulling them closer together. Nicole then led Dane to the bed, toppling them both over while daring not to break the connection between their mouths. Nicole settled on top of Dane. Again, Dane wouldn't complain.

Dane was the one who broke the kiss. She peeled her head away to give them just a breath of space. She stared into emerald eyes darkened with passion and smiled. She brought her hand up to caress the side of Nicole's face.

"You're incredible, angel. You're worth everything to me. You are everything to me. I love you so deeply that words will never be enough to express it. Hell, sometimes, I don't even think it can be expressed in this universe because it's just so vast," Dane said.

Tears slid down Nicole's cheeks and a seriously happy smile spread across her face, lighting up her watering eyes. "You're the incredible one. No one's ever done anything like this for me on my birthday. I've never been this romanced before. Damn it, Danny, you wrote me a song!"

"That you didn't let me finish," Dane playfully pointed out. Not that she'd have been able to finish the guitar portion of it anyway.

"You can finish it later. Right now, we have more important things to do. I want to love you."

A smart-ass grin spread across Dane's face. "And I want to let you."

Nicole decided to occupy Dane's mouth before she said something even more joking than that. Dane moaned when those soft lips and probing tongue attacked her again. Of course, she accepted her fate and gave herself to the woman on top of her.

"You sure you don't want me to love you?" Dane asked in between kisses.

"No, my birthday wish is for you to lie here and let me have my way with you."

Dane shrugged. "Well, if that's what the lady wants."

Nicole smiled and propped Dane up at the head of the bed. She then spent the night turning Dane inside out, committing every inch of her to memory, especially with her tongue, just the way Dane liked it.

And then she let Dane return the favor. Dane reveled in the sound of Nicole moaning as she settled on top of the redhead. Nicole loved feeling full body contact. Dane wondered if it was just her body, but she shook that away. This was about Nicole, about reestablishing their connection, and making sure her angel understood she loved Nicole with all of her soul.

"Please, Danny," Nicole groaned. "Touch me."

She didn't have to tell Dane twice. Dane kissed Nicole's neck and caressed her breasts. Each touch of her lips caused Nicole's legs to spread just a little wider. Dane groaned as she felt Nicole's desire against her thigh.

"Danny," Nicole whined again.

"I know, angel. I know," Dane replied, sliding a hand between them. "I just wanna put my lips everything, though."

"I'd like that…" Nicole panted.

Dane knew she'd like a finger more than that, though. She gave Nicole exactly what she wanted and felt like her body might overheat as Nicole surrounded her. Nicole let loose a moan that burned its way down Dane's spine and pushed her fingers deeper.

"I need this. Need you. Always," Dane sighed, kissing Nicole's chest.

"Me, too," Nicole replied, hips moving with Dane's fingers. She clutched Dane's back, nails biting into Dane's flesh. It hurt so good.

God. Dane could barely process that Nicole still wanted her. After everything she put Nicole through, Nicole wanted her, loved her.

"I love you so much," Dane said, thumb pressing against Nicole.

Nicole couldn't manage a response, only a strangled moan. She gripped Dane harder, drove her hips up with more purpose. Dane moved her thigh, giving her hand more power. Nicole cried out and her body hugged Dane, trembled around her fingers, and Dane swore she could feel it pulse through her.

"I love you," Nicole whispered and she pulled Dane to her, kissing her deeply.

Dane returned the kiss, giving it her all. This felt right. This felt good, pure, and like everything. This was her everything.

"I want to stay inside of you," Dane muttered and she hoped that didn't sound weird.

"You're always inside of me," Nicole answered.

Dane smiled and tried to press herself even closer to Nicole. Nicole kissed her again. Dane didn't want to let go and Nicole didn't let go, so Dane moved forward. With each stroke, she felt Nicole's words were eternally true.

By the time it was no longer Nicole's birthday, Nicole was in a deep sleep. She drifted thinking everything was over, thanking Dane for such a wonderful birthday. Little did Nicole know, but Dane still had one last trick up herself, which happened to be breakfast in bed that morning…well, afternoon. And making it even better, it was strawberry pancakes.

"Sweetheart, you are too good to me," Nicole said and this earned her a kiss.

"Chem, I'm just trying to make sure you know how important you are to me and just how special you really are. Now, hurry up and eat before the food gets cold. You're going to need the energy," Dane replied with an adoring, but naughty smile.

-8-8-8-8-

Nicole couldn't stop grinning and she knew it told what sort of birthday she had. She couldn't help it, though, even at work.

Mina couldn't resist teasing her about it while Clara congratulated her—before she even had a chance to tell them what Danny did for her. Apparently, her smile said more than she thought, but she didn't care. She wanted them to know, wanted to tell them everything. Lunch couldn't come fast enough for Nicole and she grabbed her friends, dragging them to the nearest bistro to tell them about everything her girlfriend did. Sparing only a few steamy details, Nicole made sure her buddies knew just how wonderful her girlfriend was.

"Damn, I wanna date Danny, too!" Mina said by the end of the account. "Do you think she has room for one more?" she asked with a seductive smile.

Nicole rolled her eyes. "You go near my Danny with as much as an impure thought and I'll call all your clients and tell them I do all of your work for you."

Mina shook her head. "God, they already think you're the superman of lawyers. They'd drop me like a hot brick if they thought I wasn't doing most of the work on their cases and they thought you could fit them in your impossibly busy schedule."

"Nicole, I'm happy you finally found someone to treat you right. You make sure you hang onto Danny," Clara said.

Nicole only smiled. She'd never let Danny go, of course. She felt very confident Danny wasn't going anywhere ever again either. After such a magical birthday, she figured they'd have a "happily ever after."

-8-8-8-8-

I hope you liked this version of the story. I also hope you decide to go check out Bandages to see more of Dane and Nicole. Bandages is available on Amazon under the name S.L. Kassidy. You can also come say hi to me over on Facebook; there's a link on my profile. Thanks for the support. I appreciate it.