Note: It's Spring and I've been doing some cleaning which includes my hard drive and some stories I'd forgotten I'd written. I can remember what inspired this one; that curious look on Marissa's face in the 6/10 episode when she's standing at the bottom of the stairs in the Chandler mansion looking down at Bianca's name on her cell phone. I wanted Marissa's POV because we weren't getting it and all it took was a look for me to decide to go off on an Ela tangent - you remember them right? Anyhows I guess it's better out here that growing the tech equivalent of dust.

Disclaimer: Minx and co are not my creation that right belongs to some strange people who had no idea what they were doing. I owe little and gain nothing but a smile from sharing this.

Putting Things Together

Marissa scrolled through her phonebook her thumb hovering over Bianca's name as her mind tried to decipher what it was she wanted to say to the other woman. Bianca Montgomery; the typecast of the cell entry couldn't capture what the brunette had come to mean to Marissa. Her first client, her first win, her friend, her fellow captive, a survivor, a woman who amazed her in so many ways.

Footsteps descending the stairs distracted the redhead from her meandering thoughts. Colby's smiling face greeted her, Asher was home come say hello. But Marissa wanted to say hello to Bianca, to hear the brunette's gentle voice reassure her that everything was okay. Because nothing felt okay right now, Scott's words troubled Marissa, JR's antics angered her and Bianca's reticence gnawed at her. The brunette had looked more than scared in Ricky Torres' room, those chocolate brown eyes were full of a pain and weariness that Marissa wanted so badly to remove. She had to call her.

The cell seemed to ring forever before Bianca finally answered. Marissa could tell something was wrong just from the way her friend greeted her, she could also tell that whatever it was Bianca wasn't going to talk to her about it; not over the phone; maybe not at all. When Marissa finally hung up she felt more despondent than she had before the call. What was happening with Bianca? And why did it leave a sickening feeling of dread in the pit of Marissa's tummy?

The mansion was buzzing with activity, Asher's return a welcome reprieve from the thoughts and woes of all those who greeted him. Scott bit down his grief to play along with the jovial occupants of the room but JR's eyes followed him everywhere. It amused Scott that his cousin could still be so insecure; well let him be.

Marissa's eyes lit up with feigned shock when Scott smacked her playfully. She wasn't aware of JR or the fact that he had witnessed his cousin's antics. The redhead was oblivious to either's intentions, all she really wanted was to relax and forget her troubled thoughts.

But forgetting wasn't so easy when later that night Marissa lay in bed with the light on trying to rid her mind of images of an unconscious Bianca Montgomery slung over the shoulder of a killer. A cold sweat broke out along Marissa's skin as her tired mind began to imagine what could have happened, how Ricky Torres could have come back and finished what he had started months ago when he'd killed Zach Slater.

Marissa moaned softly and turned around trying again to sleep. Bianca's words, the tremor in her soft tone, the sound of shame and fear in her voice as she spoke of her past and the horrible crime that had been committed against her brought tears to Marissa's eyes. The brunette had suffered so much, survived so much pain and terror. Marissa couldn't begin to imagine how hard it must have been for Bianca, it was no wonder the woman was finding it difficult to cope with what Torres had done.

Marissa turned again, this time thumping her pillow to expel the anger that bubbled through her at the thought of anyone hurting her friend. Bianca Montgomery was a walking breathing inspiration to women everywhere, she was more than a survivor, more than a mother, more than all of the things that defined her; she was amazing. The tall slender brunette was nothing short of wonderful.

Marissa's mind wandered back to the past; to Bianca and Kendall helping her through her grief and anger with David, how the younger woman had sat there listening placing a comforting hand upon Marissa's back soothing her as the pain finally broke through. There had been so much warmth radiating from Bianca, so much understanding and gentleness that when she'd put her arms around Marissa and drew the three of them into a hug it had felt so natural. Everything always felt natural with Bianca, no airs or graces or diva Kane tendencies. Marissa had been a little surprised by that at first. Everyone in Pine Valley knew Erica Kane and her eldest daughter Kendall Slater, Marissa had met both and was familiar with their larger than life personalities; she had expected Bianca to be something similar.

But Bianca was different, so different. Sure Marissa had seen the fiery Kane temper flash in those deep brown eyes, she wasn't likely to forget the way the brunette had put it to her when she'd tried the strong arm approach at winning the divorce settlement. Marissa had been impressed by the demure brunette's fiery resolve, there was something about the way Bianca's eyes had blazed with emotion that day. How that warm soothing chocolate colour had bubbled with heat. Bianca was no pushover that was for sure, yes she was demure and kind to a fault but she was also a strong intelligent woman who knew what she wanted.

The redhead smiled to herself. Bianca's intelligence shone through both intellectually and emotionally. The brunette had been the embodiment of smart in her dealings with that bigoted woman whose daughter had teased Miranda. Marissa had wanted to get from behind the counter and tell the ignorant woman exactly what she thought of her but Bianca had remained calm in the face of adversity, not once rising to the woman's narrow mindedness. The lawyer had been so proud of her friend and proud that it was she who Bianca had wanted as her backup.

And the way Bianca spoke with Miranda, the gentleness in her voice, the love shining from her eyes it had touched Marissa profoundly. Bianca Montgomery was an amazing mother, an amazing woman. The redhead finally drifted to sleep with that image in her mind.

/

It was hard to hide the feeling of sheer delight at seeing Bianca standing chatting with Krystal in the diner. And the brunette didn't seem so spooked either, until Marissa reached out and touched her. Damn why had she done that? She should have known after yesterday that Bianca had an issue with being touched. But God Marissa wanted to touch her, to reach out and comfort her, tell her it was okay, that everything really was going to be okay. But Bianca was withdrawing both physically and emotionally and it was killing Marissa, inside it was killing her to know that her mere presence was bringing back bad memories for Bianca.

The brunette had brushed off Marissa's fears, even complimented her. The lawyer hadn't realised how much she'd missed having someone to compliment her like that. Oh yeah JR did it all the time but it wasn't the same, behind Bianca's words, behind that cute little half smile of hers was the realisation that the brunette meant absolutely everything she said. And Marissa glowed with the praise, glowed with the knowledge that Bianca Montgomery thought she was amazing.

Amazing. It had been a while since Marissa felt anywhere close to amazing and yet when she was with Bianca, when the brunette spoke with her, shared her past and her hopes for the future and smiled at her with that beautiful captivating smile of hers, amazing was exactly how Marissa felt.

But then JR had returned to the table and something changed, something Marissa couldn't really understand. JR mentioned conditions and suddenly Bianca forgot that she was in the process of looking for whatever it was she had planned to give Marissa, her eyes blinked rapidly several times before she looked away and over at her daughter.

When Bianca excused herself to use the washroom Marissa looked at JR in question. He shrugged then made the same excuses leaving Marissa alone to think about everything she couldn't understand. At the table next to her AJ laughed at something Miranda said, the two kids sat with their heads bowed close together, one dark, one light. Marissa felt an overwhelming sense of pride looking at them, the birthday twins innocent and full of joyful youth. She sighed wishfully, the last time she'd felt a sense of joyful youth was the snowball fight she'd had with Bianca. It seemed Ms Montgomery had a way of bringing out Marissa's inner kid.

JR returned with a grin Marissa recognized all too easily, behind him a half smiling Bianca also approached the table. And there it was again, that look in Bianca's eyes that told Marissa something was troubling her friend. Was it another flashback? Or did something happen with JR? Did he go and say something to upset Bianca? Damn it! Why couldn't he just leave them alone? It hit Marissa like a 2x4, she didn't want JR there, she wanted Bianca. Oh.

Krystal brought the ice creams down and Bianca busied herself making sure Miranda and AJ got theirs first. The kids were laughing again and the brunette laughed with them pointing at something Miranda had coloured on the page beneath her. Pink hair, Miranda had given the character florescent pink hair.

"Nina had pink hair and she reminds me of her."

Bianca glanced again at the cartoon a small frown of confusion marring her pretty face.

"Nina? Why does she remind you of Nina?"

The mischievous look on Miranda's face was absolutely adorable as she smiled up at her mother.

"Cause she's wearing that short skirt that Mommy Reese said would you look better on you."

A blush flooded Bianca's cheeks, her eyes darkening at some memory that only she was partial to. Miranda began to giggle and Bianca tried to glare but it failed miserably so instead she dropped a kiss upon her daughter's head and whispered something. Whatever it was it turned Miranda's giggle to a full out laugh that made Bianca smile with pride. Marissa marvelled at how beautiful the blushing brunette looked.

JR was keen to find out what had caused the curious blush, when Bianca retook her seat he began to question her enthusiastically. Marissa rolled her eyes and JR shrugged.

"What? Aren't you just a little curious as to what could make Ms Cool Calm and Collected blush so beautifully?"

Truth be told Marissa was more than curious but she wasn't prepared to tell either JR or Bianca that. The brunette cleared her throat.

"I can't imagine why you'd think I was cool, calm and collected JR. I thought you had us all pegged as neurotic."

JR laughed.

"Pine Valley has made us all a little neurotic Bianca but you seem to weather it better than most, wouldn't you agree Marissa?"

Marissa was lost in staring at Bianca, at the way the brunette swirled the spoon around in her banana split before slowly lifting it to her mouth. Soft full lips opened to admit the spoonful of ice cream in a way that felt like it was tickling Marissa's insides. Oh God. JR nudged his ex-wife, hazel eyes turned to him in confusion.

"Sorry did you say something?"

JR's eyes narrowed, who had Marissa been thinking about? Scott no doubt. Always bloody Scott.

"I was saying that I think Bianca is probably one of the least neurotic people living in Pine Valley. Where did you go just then?"

Marissa smiled.

"Nowhere. We're both living in Pine Valley JR are you saying we're neurotic?"

Bianca was in the process of trying to swallow a mouthful of ice cream making her giggle sound more like a choked sob. Marissa's eyes flashed back to her instantly, worry shining bright in them. With the ice cream fully swallowed Bianca was finally able to let out a full laugh that lifted the worry and brought a delightful smile to the redhead's lips. JR looked from one to the other in consternation.

"Women!"

It earned him glares from his two table mates plus a decidedly Erica Kane like glare from the girl sitting at the table with his son. JR held up his hands in surrender as Miranda's eyes narrowed some more.

"Whoa there Mimo take it easy with those lazar eyes."

Miranda's eyes fell to her mother who was smiling softly at her. Marissa watched as the little girl's eyes began to glisten causing her mother to rush round to her. The Chandlers watched in confusion as little Miranda Montgomery began to cry in earnest. Bianca eyes began to glisten too as she hugged her daughter to her and whispered gentle words to the distraught girl.

The Montgomerys left shortly after that, Miranda's eyes still full of tears as she bid her best friend goodbye. It did not escape Marissa's notice that Bianca made no promises when she begged the brunette to call her later to let her know everything was okay. The Chandlers finished their ice creams, JR intent on finding something else to occupy AJ's mind. The pool party next weekend began to take on a life of its own as father and son made plans.

"Miranda will be okay by then, won't she Mom?"

Marissa nodded at her son hoping she was right.

/

Bianca didn't call. Later that evening Marissa kissed her son goodnight and went to her room thinking of little Miranda Montgomery and those tears. What had triggered them? And how was Bianca coping with it? Miranda and Gabrielle were Bianca's whole world, Marissa knew their pain would be doubly hard on their mother. And right now Bianca had enough pain without more being added. Maybe Marissa could help, would Bianca let her? Marissa reached for her cell determined to stop second guessing herself; if Bianca didn't want to take the call then so be it.

The call connected within seconds Bianca's breathy voice saying sorry straight away. Marissa smiled.

"You've nothing to be sorry for."

"You wanted me to call and I forgot."

"You had more important things to deal with, how's Miranda? Is she okay?"

There was several moments of silence followed by a deep calming breath.

"Bianca?"

"Sorry."

Marissa pursued her lips, there were too many of those going around lately.

"Don't be sorry just tell me what's going on. Talk to me Bianca, maybe I can help."

It sounded painful, the sigh that Marissa heard, it sounded like it was hurting the brunette.

"When I got Miranda back I promised myself that I'd put her first, that I'd do everything I could to make my little girl happy, to fill her world full of love and joy because that's what she did to mine."

The redhead was confused by the words got her back but she listened without interruption knowing that right now Bianca needed that the most.

"I failed her Marissa, I failed Miranda. I didn't put her first when I should have. She's seven years old and she's carrying around all this sorrow because I put my heart before hers. I did it with Maggie and then Reese. I brought these women into her life and let her love them only to take her away from them. I … broke her…little …heart."

Bianca's voice cracked and a sob echoed down the line bringing tears to Marissa's eyes.

"I called her Mimo….I haven't called her that in so long…..it's Maggie's pet name for her. Mimo and Moma that's what they call each other. And now Reese is gone too and it's brought it all back. She's hurting….my baby's hurting….and it's all my fault."

The heart wrenching sobs floored Marissa completely. What she wouldn't give to be in Wildwind holding her crying friend, wiping those tears away and telling her it wasn't anyone's fault.

"Bianca?"

There was no answer just another of those loud sobs.

"Bianca listen to me. This isn't your fault. Miranda doesn't blame you, that little girl is just like her Mom her heart's as big as a house, she has plenty of love to give."

Bianca sniffled softly and Marissa wished again that she was there to dry those tears.

"I can't…I can't do…this anymore."

They were words Marissa had heard before, yesterday in Ricky Torres's room Bianca had said the same thing.

"You can't do what anymore?"

Another soft sniffle.

"Love and hurt…they go hand in hand…in my life."

Those sad broken words felt like a gut punch to Marissa's stomach, she couldn't let her friend give up on love, not now; not ever.

"It won't always feel like that Bianca, I promise it won't."

This time the deep sigh didn't sound so much painful as it did resigned.

"That's not a promise you can keep Marissa."

An hour later striving for sleep those words echoed in Marissa's mind. Red hair splayed across the pillow as the lawyer tossed and turned; her mind too full of her friend. The light knock on the bedroom door startled her enough to make her yelp softly. The door eased open and JR popped his head around it a hopeful smile on his wide awake face.

"I saw your light on."

Marissa didn't see the need to tell him that she had taken to sleeping with it on. She sat up and pulled the covers beneath her chin as he came on in holding something in his hand.

"Thought you might be having some trouble sleeping, this might help."

He proffered the gift with another of his charming grins. Marissa took the box.

"You didn't need to get me anything JR."

JR sat on the side of the bed waiting expectantly for her to open the gift. Marissa bit her lip wondering why she felt so uncomfortable with him this close to her. She opened the box, marvelling at the intrinsically designed ornament within. Her eyes rose to meet expectant blue.

"It's beautiful. Thank you."

It earned her another charming grin.

"Open it fully, I think you'll like what's inside."

Marissa felt a clawing sensation in her stomach, please God don't let him have bought her some expensive jewellery. She opened the box surprised to see what looked like a musical spindle.

"Turn it on."

Tears sprang to the redhead's eyes when she heard the opening notes to Forevermore. JR reached forward wiping away a falling tear.

"It was meant to make you happy not sad."

A sob broke forth followed quickly by another and then another until Marissa was bawling just as little Miranda Montgomery had done hours earlier. JR folded her within his arms wondering why the music box hadn't made his ex-wife smile the way Bianca had hoped it would. Women.

/

Four days later with little more than two five minute phone calls between them, Marissa knew for certain that Bianca was avoiding her. It hurt, it hurt so much it felt like a physical pain had settled within Marissa's chest threatening to stop her heart from beating. She needed her friend, she wanted someone to talk to, someone who would know just the right thing to say and how to say it. Bianca always did that for her, right from the beginning the brunette seemed so in tune with Marissa as if they'd known each other a lifetime instead of a mere year.

JR was pushing so hard to deepen their relationship and Marissa was suffocating under the weight of her conflicting emotions. Scott took every opportunity to remind Marissa of why getting back with JR would be a huge mistake. What he didn't realise was that Marissa really didn't need the reminder. She knew it was a mistake; that it would always be a mistake because leopards could not change their spots even if they truly wanted to. Part of her believed JR wanted to be a better person but he was failing miserably. The music box was a prime example; he maintained Marissa had told him her father used to sing it to her. But she hadn't, she rarely spoke of her adopted parents to anyone; the pain of their lie still hurt too much.

Bianca and Krystal were the only two who knew about Forevermore, Marissa wasn't sure why she had told her birth mother; maybe it was to hurt her or maybe she just wanted someone else to sing it to her when she was hurting. But Krystal never had, not in those long talks or those times she had held Marissa after the divorce. No Krystal wasn't the type and Marissa was pretty sure her mother wouldn't be helping JR pursue her.

So that meant it was Bianca who had bought the gift. Was it what the brunette had tried to give to Marissa in the café that day? Before JR had come back and ruined the moment with his throwaway remarks. Marissa was finding it harder and harder to be around her ex-husband; his spoilt rich kid behaviour was getting on her nerves in a way it never had before. Why couldn't he be more like Bianca, selfless in his giving instead of always having ulterior motives?

Bianca, Bianca. Marissa doubted there was anyone who could be like Ms Bianca Montgomery. The woman was a goddess among mortals. There wasn't anyone in Pine Valley who didn't think the youngest of the Kane women walked on water. Krystal adored her, even David had a soft spot for the brunette and Marissa knew her birth father rarely had soft spots for anyone anymore. And Babe, the twin Marissa had never known, had loved Bianca like a sister. It was obviously a family thing because the more Marissa thought about the brunette the more she realised she loved her too.

It was the ache that had given it away. The tiny ache that had begun in Marissa's chest four days ago when Bianca hadn't called like she said she would. By day two the ache had deepened so that not even their tense five minute call could ease it. Now on day four it was full out heart ache and Marissa knew it wasn't going to go away.

Lydia and Roy Tasker had instilled some fine qualities in their adoptive daughter, the best being pragmatism. Marissa wasn't given to fanciful ideas or theories, she got right down to the root of things and then did what was needed to resolve them. So the ache in her chest had clued her in pretty quickly to the fact that her feelings for Bianca Montgomery had deepened, significantly deepened. And being a pragmatist meant she wanted nothing more than to go to Wildwind and tell the brunette all about them. But she couldn't. Not because she didn't want to but because she genuinely believed Bianca needed the breathing space, needed time to heal the hurt she believed she'd caused her daughters.

So Marissa was left to think about the beautiful brunette from afar; she knew there was a good chance that it might always be that way. Bianca was giving up on love, love had caused her and her daughters too much hurt. God it killed Marissa to know that she might never get the opportunity to explore what she knew would be something wonderful between her and Bianca. And it would be wonderful. She was in no doubt of that. Bianca was beautiful and amazing and everything that Marissa could ever want in a partner. The redhead smiled wistfully; Bianca Montgomery was perfect, absolutely wonderfully perfect.

"A dreamy smile, should I expect my ears to burn?"

JR's smug grin made Marissa roll her eyes.

"I'm sure someone somewhere is talking or thinking about you JR so yeah you should probably expect your ear to burn, your right one I'd imagine."

JR chuckled at the quick response, he'd always liked Marissa's fiery spirit.

"So if it wasn't for me then who was it for?"

Marissa could hear the cogs turning in her ex's mind, he was thinking of Scott again; wondering whether she and his cousin were more than just good friends. It was pathetic.

"Bianca."

The relief was obvious on JR's face.

"Is she bringing the girls round at the weekend? I know AJ is really looking forward to the pool party."

Marissa got up from the couch, her face the picture of happiness.

"I think I'll go ask her."

JR watched fine hips sway as his ex rushed from the room.

/

Caleb was sitting in the parlour staring up at a picture with a scowl on his face when Marissa entered Wildwind.

"You okay there Caleb?"

The old man didn't turn to look at her.

"Nope."

Marissa came closer.

"Anything I can do?"

"Nope."

The redhead smirked.

"Ok then, where can I find Bianca?"

"A picnic by the stables, you won't need directions. You'll hear them before you see them."

Marissa didn't miss the smile that Caleb tried to hide; he had really taken to the Montgomery kids.

"Thanks Caleb, I hope the picture tells you what you want to hear."

Caleb chuckled softly.

"And I hope Ms Montgomery does the same for you."

Marissa caught the old man's eye for a brief moment and read the wisdom within, had he seen something she herself had not been conscious of until days ago? Probably, there was very little that Caleb Cooney missed.

"Bye Calab."

"Bye."

Marissa made her way out to the back of the huge house and down the lane that wound around to an open yard. She had lived for a short time at Wildwind with David and had always found a certain tranquillity in the meadow beyond the stables. Caleb had been right, she didn't need directions, the peels of laughter greeted her within moments. Beyond the stables in a paddock of thick rich green grass the three Montgomerys lay upon a large picnic rug. The two little girls were squirming beneath their mother's tickles while trying at the same time to tickle Bianca back. Marissa watched in wonder at the sight before her.

It was a warm day, the sun shining bright in a clear blue sky. Bianca had dawned denim cut offs and a sleeveless white tee, her hair was gathered haphazardly in a wooden clasp, she was barefoot and looked lovelier than Marissa had ever seen her.

"Mercy Mommy, mercy mercy mercy."

Gabrielle's squeals were like a siren and their effect was instant, Bianca's hands dropped away and her daughters sprawled out next to her their little chests heaving as they regained their breath. Bianca giggled softly when Miranda whispered something in her baby sister's ear.

"Oh no you won't Miranda Mona."

Miranda began to giggle too and rolled closer on the rug to settle against her mother's side.

"No but maybe Gabby will."

Gabrielle launched herself at her mother, her little hands grasping at ticklish skin as Bianca began to howl with laughter.

"You little sneaks, you tag teamed me."

Miranda lost no time in helping her sister as Bianca began to flail at them. Marissa watched her friend's face, saw the happiness that shone on it like the sun above. This was the Bianca she wanted to see, this happy carefree woman who found her solace in the company of her kids.

"Mercy mercy mercy."

The girls howled with laughter as their mother finally scampered away from them, when they high fived together Marissa couldn't hold back her giggle; tag teamed indeed. Three sets of chocolate eyes turned to stare at the redhead.

"Marissa?"

Bianca sounded breathless, the sound making butterflies begin to beat their wings in Marissa's tummy.

"Hi."

The brunette stared up at her in wonder.

"Hi Marissa."

Miranda grinned at her mother's friend.

"Hello Miranda."

"Hi Missa."

Gabrielle's toothy grin made Marissa want to tickle the little sweetie.

"Hi Gabrielle that was a pretty good move you made there, so did it make you the winner?"

The grin morphed to a giggle as Gabrielle threw herself at Bianca again burying her head into her mother's neck. Arms folded around her instantly and snuggled her closer.

"I think it makes us even, right Mommy?"

Bianca nodded at Miranda.

"But only because you played me you little rascal."

It was funny to watch the seven year old put her hand on her hip and smirk in a very Erica Kane like way. Marissa had to bite back her laugh as Bianca raised a brow at her oldest child.

"I think you've been spending too much time with your grandmother."

Miranda's face scrunched up in thought.

"No not anymore. Grandma isn't really the same as she was when she came to see us in Paris. She played with us then but now she just wants to shop."

Marissa looked from daughter to mother and saw the hurt in Bianca's eyes.

"I got to pee pee Mommy."

Gabrielle pulled away from her mother, her embarrassment forgotten as she made towards the fence where Marissa stood. Bianca got to her feet.

"I guess we should all go cool off a little."

Gabrielle made fast work climbing through the bottom rug of the fence and darting up the lane.

"Gabby slow down, wait for us."

Gabrielle did her own imitation of Erica Kane when she stopped and looked back at them impatiently. Bianca laughed at the image causing her youngest to begin to scowl.

"Pee pee Mommy."

Miranda climbed over the fence and jumped down beside Marissa.

"I'll take her Mommy."

The two girls ran up the lane and out of sight as Bianca put her flip flops on and climbed over the fence. Marissa watched, marvelling at how gracefully the brunette moved, in flip flops no less.

"So what takes you out to Wildwind Marissa?"

The redhead drew her eyes up from Bianca's legs and tried not to stare at the rest of her as she made eye contact with the amused looking brunette.

"Sorry you're wearing flip flops."

Bianca's eyebrow arched and Marissa began to blush.

"And shorts."

Marissa's blush deepened at the awed tone she could hear in her own voice, it made the brunette laugh.

"It's really not as amazing as you're making it sound."

Marissa chuckled.

"It sort of is though. I've never seen you in anything that isn't designer label."

Bianca began walking.

"Come on those rascals will hound poor Caleb if I don't keep an eye on them."

"He looked like he needed hounding. What's going on with him?"

The two fell into step.

"I'd imagine it's Mom. Seems she's upsetting a lot of people since her return."

Marissa wondered if that extended to Bianca herself. They entered the house and sure enough they found the girls tackling Caleb on the couch.

"Could the owner of these delightful delinquents please put a harness on them?"

Miranda knew from the look on Caleb's face that he was teasing again, she turned to her mother in question.

"What's a delinquent Mommy?"

Bianca scowled at Caleb and Marissa stepped forward to answer the question.

"A delinquent is someone who doesn't listen when grumpy old men tell them they want to be grumpy on their own."

Miranda flashed Caleb a winning smile.

"But you're not a grumpy old man so that means we can't be delinquents."

Caleb began to laugh.

"Smart this one, real smart, takes after the Kane women no doubt."

"And the Montgomery women too, uncle Jack says I'm the best of both."

"And me too, both best."

Caleb laughed some more and pulled the two girls to him.

"Well I guess you both can't help being related to captain Marvel."

All three Montgomerys laughed at the now familiar line. Bianca cleared her throat.

"Girls I'm going to start on dinner so if Caleb needs to work go play in the garden or in your room. Okay?"

Neither seemed interested in moving away from the old man.

"Girls?"

The difference in Bianca's tone had both girls turning instantly, it wasn't a shout and Marissa couldn't detect any anger in her friend's voice yet it had garnered the kids attention instantly.

"Sure Mommy if Caleb doesn't want to play Gabby and I will go upstairs."

Gabrielle nodded solemnly at her sister's words both looking to their mother expectantly.

"Good. If you get bored you can always come help me cook."

Marissa wanted to know why both girls looked at each other wide eyed before turning identical head shakes to their mother, she followed her friend from the room determined to find out if it was what had caused Bianca's soft laughter.

"What was that about the cooking?"

Bianca laughed again guiding her friend to the back of the house and into the huge bright kitchen.

"The girls helped me bake some muffins yesterday. It got messy, very messy."

The brunette washed her hands in an antique sink before pulling open the large fridge.

"Messy?"

"I guess you could call it a food fight."

The redhead laughed, muffin mix was not the easiest thing to clean.

"Ok I can see how that would get messy but it doesn't explain why the girls wouldn't want to help you cook. I remember food fights, they were fun."

Bianca was laughing again as she came away from the fridge laden with vegetables.

"Yeah they still are but the cleaning up wasn't so much. I guess they're both thinking cooking means cleaning, never a good idea for a seven year old and certainly not for a two and half year old. The plan is if I get them started early I won't be stuck screaming at them when they're teenagers."

Marissa smiled.

"I can't imagine you'd ever need to scream, your quiet voice packed quite a punch in there."

Another laugh, Marissa was sure she hadn't heard her friend this carefree since before that disastrous blind date JR had set her up on.

"That's what Reese used to call my "don't mess with the boss" voice."

The humour dropped away as the brunette lapsed into silence.

"You miss her?"

Bianca placed the vegetables in the sink and turned the faucet on leaving Marissa to think she didn't want to discuss it.

"I miss what we had when things were good. I miss my friend and the girls other Mommy."

Marissa could hear the sadness in that soft quiet tone and she moved across the kitchen to offer comfort. Her hand settled on Bianca's back, the thin white t-shirt not much of a barrier to the warmth of the brunette's skin. Bianca shivered and moved away abruptly leaving Marissa to search for the right words.

"I'm sorry. God I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to scare you."

Bianca shook her head and grabbed a knife from a block before turning to the centre island with the vegetables.

"You didn't. You never answered my question Marissa, what brought you all the way out to Wildwind?"

Marissa stood watching the brunette slice and dice the vegetables it didn't surprise her that the movements seemed as graceful as everything else that Bianca Montgomery did. She moved across so that she was at the opposite side and able to look at Bianca's face.

"I wanted to give you space because of the girls, I know you've been worried about them. But I'm worried about you Bianca."

Brown eyes lifted to meet hazel, the small smile not enough to put any real light into them.

"I'm fine."

Marissa shook her head, she hadn't realised until that moment how much she missed Bianca's real smiles.

"No you're not. You don't look like you've been sleeping, hell you look like a racoon, a jumpy racoon doing speedballs."

The brunette snorted at the imagery.

"Thanks for the visual. Where do you come up with these things?"

Marissa pulled a face.

"Krystal."

Bianca laughed, if Marissa started sounding like her mother there would never be a dull moment between them. She dropped her attention back to the chopping board.

"Racoon look aside I really am fine."

"Would you tell me if you weren't?"

"Sure."

Marissa didn't believe that for a minute but she knew there was no point in forcing the issue so instead she changed tactics.

"Thank you for the music box Bianca, it was really sweet of you."

It brought the knife to a clattering stop.

"JR told you?"

Marissa wanted to scream, Bianca's question proved she had been right; that hypocritical son of a bitch had lied to her again.

"No he spun me a sack of lies about how much he knew I loved that song. Thing is I never told him about it, just you and Krystal and there's no way she'd want me to see the good in him. I'm wondering why you would Bianca, from what Scott says JR hurt you worse than anyone else in this town."

Bianca grabbed the knife again and resumed her chopping,

"That was the past, we've all moved on from it."

"So have I."

Marissa's voice was firm enough to get Bianca to look back up at her.

"I've moved on from JR and I'm not going back, I don't want to. Not now not ever. What I can't understand is what made you think I would?"

Bianca didn't answer she seemed too lost in staring into Marissa's eyes, the redhead smiled softly.

"Bianca why would you let him take credit for giving me one of the most thoughtful gifts I've ever received?"

"You said he was winning you over. You were happy with him once and maybe you can be that way again. I know you want a family for AJ."

Marissa was stuck between wanting to kiss those incredibly foolish lips and wanting to shake some sense into the brunette.

"Is that what you had in mind when you bought me the gift?"

Marissa had never known Bianca Montgomery to lie but she sensed from the way the brunette shifted uneasily that that was about to change. She reached out setting her hand upon Bianca's arm, above the wrist away from the marred skin.

"We've always been honest with each other Bianca, whatever else is changing between us I hope that never does."

Brown eyes searched hers for unending minutes.

"Changing between us?"

Marissa shrugged.

"Well something has, you're pulling away from me. Why? Is it because of what Ricky did? Is that why you're intent on getting me with JR because you think I need protecting?"

Bianca snorted.

"No. Marissa you're one of the strongest women I know, you definitely don't need a man to protect you."

"Then why are you so willing to help JR win me back?"

"I told you already I want you to be happy and a family for AJ would make that happen."

"You make that happen too."

Bianca forgot to breathe, Marissa could tell from the way the younger woman began to pale.

"Breathe Bianca just breathe."

The brunette took a lungful of air and began to blush profusely.

"Now please tell me what you were thinking when you bought me that music box, I need to know."

"Why does it matter so much? It was a simple gift to show my appreciation for all that you did for me. A token of my gratitude."

"If that were really the case then you would have given it to me that day in Krystal's. But instead you give it to JR, Bianca what aren't you telling me? What's really going on here?"

Marissa was quickly beginning to put things together, Bianca's withdrawal, her uneasiness with their closeness and now this rouse with JR. Marissa was bringing something up alright and it had damn all to do with memories of Reverend Ricky. She moved her hand gently up Bianca's arm feeling the goose bumps rise beneath her fingers.

"You feel it too don't you?"

Bianca swallowed slowly and began to bite her lip. Marissa felt an overwhelming need to be those teeth, to feel that soft gentle lip against hers. She stepped around the centre island her hand not leaving the warmth of Bianca's arm.

"Tell me to stop Bianca and I will. I'd never do anything you didn't want no matter how much I'd like to and right now I'd really like to kiss you."

The gasp was an unexpected bonus for Marissa, its sound doing all kinds of crazy things to her stomach. She turned Bianca to face her and locked her gaze on those beautiful brown eyes. A step closer and she was crowding Bianca's body space.

"Tell me to stop."

Bianca didn't say a word as Marissa leaned in, all she did was close her eyes and accept the first tentative touch of soft warm lips against hers. Marissa had known it would feel like this, exquisitely gentle and yet so intoxicatingly hot. She could feel herself becoming lost in the kiss, in the very closeness of Bianca and for the first time in her new life away from the Taskers Marissa let herself go.