By Carol Sandford


Chapter 01


Deanna had hoped for a few moments to collect herself, take a deep breath and psych herself up for the hours ahead, but, that was dashed before she could even remove her shift. Her buddy, her ally, her right royal pain in the butt of a best friend, Chandra swung open the door, allowing the music, laughter and festivities that lay beyond, escape, assaulting Deanna's ears. It took a tremendous dose of instant courage on her part, not to flee back out of the door that she had just stepped through.

"Deanna! You're finally here! And there was I thinking you'd chicken out on us," she grinned, "Come on in, the fun's just kicking off and everyone's dying to see you."

Deanna took a deep, steadying breath, settled her swirling mind and stepped into the room where the party was in full swing. For Deanna it was like taking a ride in a shuttle caught in a time loop; terrifying, dizzying, and nauseating. Her meagre stomach contents clamoured to her throat and she had to take an even deeper breath to stop it from coming up any further and completely humiliating herself.

But, apparently, this was exactly what Chandra and her mother both said that she needed. Right at that moment, though, Deanna could have thought of a million other ways of feeling better. Like taking an hour long luxurious spa bath. Or visiting her cherished museum and waxing lyrical with her favourite piece of art. Or slitting her wrists.

They said she was depressed. Deanna preferred to think of it as a, 'transition time'. She had some major decisions to make about her life and her future. Her best friend and her lone, dominating, but much loved parent, thought that it was much simpler than that: marry Wyatt, settle down, have babies.

Deanna was sure that her life, her destiny had more in store for her than that single option. She just had to find it.

A cacophony of laughter brought Deanna back to the moment. The crowded party, with its kaleidoscope of colourful clothes, its 40 different voices; small talk and silly laughtr, teasing aromas of party food, and the heavy scents of perfumes had Deanna stepping backwards towards the doorway. She did not want to be here. She absolutely did not.

But her buddy had spotted her slow, determined retreat. "Come back here, Dee, I am not going to let you hide away. Here." Chandra trilled, overly loud so that heads turned her way, trapping her. She barely registered the cool, tall glass of wine that Chandra had slipped into her fingers before gently tugging on her arm, steering her deeper into the throng towards someone. A man. A very tall man. A very tall, handsome man. A very tall, handsome, smiling man.

Hell, a gorgeous man.

And immediately her senses dulled. Instinct alone told her that her friend was match-making. Something inside her squirmed and panicked and Deanna fought frantically against Chandra's gripping hand and instead desperately tried to catch her eye so that she could plead against her obvious plan, but Chandra was too busily staring up into the man's face and making her introductions. Eventually, Deanna had no choice but to use her limited Betazoid powers. **Don't leave me with him, Chan!**

But she was too late. Chandra had slipped away with a flutter of her fingertips in her direction and a knowing smile skimming her lips.

The universe, the room, its occupants vanished as Deanna stared for a long moment at Chandra's retreating back with disbelief in her eyes and fear in her heart. Eventually, manners, if nothing else, finally stepped in and Deanna turned her eyes up to the man that stood before her.

The smile that had greeted her was still there. He really was a handsome man, Deanna thought. He had dark, very short hair - military hair - and the bluest eyes she had seen for a long time. And tall, so, so tall. And his voice was like velvet when he finally spoke.

"You're afraid of me."

It wasn't a question, simply an honest, observant statement.

"Don't be."

Deanna made to deny his outrageous claim but he stopped her before she could say one word, his quiet voice holding a hint of amusement.

"Yes, you are, don't deny it."

Deanna blinked. **Was he reading her mind?** Deanna mentally shook herself. Don't be absurd. He's an off-worlder. A Terran. A temporary blip in her crazy, mixed up life.

**Liar!** her mind screamed.

The next hour passed in a blur for her. Will, as he introduced himself after realising that she had embarrassingly missed Chandra's introduction, was quite pleasant. His conversation was light and undemanding on her wavering attention and his patience was inexhaustible in coaxing each reluctant word from her.

But Deanna still steeled herself against him. She was aware that her responses were stilted and monotone and she hated herself for behaving that way towards a visitor to her planet. But she was afraid of him and the incomprehensible feeling continued to grow in his presence.

Her mind was on Wyatt. These past few months it had seemed that he was always on her mind, one way or another. Her dominated her days, tormented her nights. Her head - and her mother - told her to settle down, but her heart told her to fly.

But fly where? What did it all mean. Become a pilot? Leave her home? Take a chance and find something that was a myth, a mystery. Imzadi?

Deanna stole a coveted glance at the man that still stood before her, comfortable in her silence as he took a long sip from his glass, glancing with curiosity around the room at the other guests. Was he her Imzadi? Was this why she was so afraid of him? Did her heart already know something that she didn't?

Suddenly and deliberately Will slowly brought his face back to hers and captured her gaze, and once more, the room and its occupants vanished. Was this it? Is this what she'd been waiting for? Was this Imzadi?

Wyatt began to diminish in her thoughts to be replaced by the man before her. Was it that simple, could she stop loving one and love another so quickly? That didn't sit well with her. Was love so shallow that just looking into the eyes of another could wipe out another's? Clearly it was because that was what was happening and it troubled her greatly.

Disturbed by her thoughts she took a deep, shuddering breath and forcibly tore her eyes away from his. She jumped slightly when she felt Will's hand settle on her shoulder and his voice came close to her ear. "Let me walk you home."

Her fears vanished as she accepted the inevitable and let him steer out into the moonlit night. It wasn't far to her home and the walk was done in a companionable quiet. The hand that had rested upon her shoulder remained there for the duration of the short journey. Deanna felt his heat and welcomed its warmth, cherished the intimate but unobtrusive touch. She could like this man. She did like this man. Liked who he was and how he behaved around her. Even though she had sensed his initial desire for her, it had soon diminished once they had started conversing. That had pleased her.

Reaching the path that led up to her door, Will released her shoulder and followed her quietly up to the porch steps. Deanna heard his footsteps stop as she continued on to the door and knew that he had reached the boundary and garnering another brownie point in his favour. She had expected the usual fumbling grope and slathering kiss that she usually endured when allowing a date to walk her home. Will had surprised her, and thrilled her.

With his hand firmly tucked into his pant pockets his eyes met hers in the darkness. "Can I see you again?" He asked, his voice a half-whisper but no less potent in its seductive power.

Reaching behind her, Deanna turned the knob on the door as she deliberately toyed with her answer until eventually she smiled shyly at him and whispered, as equally quietly, "Yes." before slipping inside before he could say another word.

Quietly closing the door behind her, Deanna leaned against it. For a time the smile that lit up her delicate features remained as she thought about the man that she knew still stood on other side staring at it, hoping that she would go back out and kiss him good night. Laughter bubbled up inside her as she eventually pushed herself away from the solid structure and made her way to bed.

**So this was Imzadi.** she said to herself with wonder.

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