I Found My Heart in San Francisco

Book 9: Intentions

by S X Meagher

Part 7

Ryan was nearly asleep when the phone rang. “H'llo?” she said, trying to clear her throat at the same time.

“Do you have school tomorrow?” Conor asked without preamble.

“No, as a matter of fact, I don't. Don't have practice either. Why?”

“There's snow at Heavenly,” he said, naming one of their favorite ski haunts.


“Come on, Sis. We always go as soon as there's any snow. Don't be so whipped!”

“I'm not whipped,” she said archly. At his silence she admitted, “Okay, I am whipped, but in this instance, Jamie's not even home. She's in Oregon until Wednesday night. Besides, she loves to ski.”

“Uh-huh,” he said. “And I bet she'd love to go with us, wouldn't she?” he asked archly.

“Point taken,” Ryan admitted. “Okay. I should stay home and rest, but I'll go if you drive.”

“Done. I'll be there to pick you up at four.”

“Great,” she muttered. “Bring my board, and my Sorels, and my overalls, and my ski jacket, and my gloves, okay?”

“Anything else? Jeez, I'll be packing all night.”

“It wouldn't be that much fun to sit in the truck in my jammies, Conor. The equipment is kinda required.”

“Okay, okay. You buy breakfast for my trouble, though.”

“Deal. See you in…” she checked her watch, “six hours.” I should have my head examined, she thought to herself as she tried to go to sleep quickly.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Conor was polite enough to call his sister when he pulled up, not wanting to wake Mia by ringing the bell. “Let's go,” he demanded when she picked up.

“Be right there.”

She ran down the stairs, making sure the note she left for Mia was easy to find. She planned on calling Jamie later, when she knew she'd be up, but she wanted Mia to know where she was in case Jamie called first.

Opening the rear door of the truck, Ryan checked to make sure all of her gear was packed away, then she pulled her clothing from the oversized nylon bag and made a reasonable pillow with it. She curled up as best she could, got the door closed and ordered, “Go.”

“Aw, come on,” her brother complained. “That's all I'm gonna get? How am I gonna stay awake if you don't talk to me?”

“Stop at 7-11 for a Big Gulp of coffee,” she mumbled, but her wily brother knew one topic that would perk her up.

“Da was up when I left,” he said.


“He's taking someone special to the airport today…”

“Shit! I forgot Aunt Maeve was leaving today!” She grabbed her cell phone from her waistband and dialed home. “Da, it's me.”

“Hello, Sweetheart. You be careful up on that mountain today, Love.”

“I will. When are you leaving, Da?”

“In about an hour. The flight is at seven, but she should be there an hour early.”

“I'm gonna call her, okay? I just didn't want to wake her up.”

“I think it's safe to assume she's been up for a few minutes, Love. I'd be surprised if she slept a wink last night.”

“Okay. Give Aunt Maeve a kiss for me, will you, Da?”

“I think I can manage a spare,” he chuckled. “Call me when you get home, Darlin'. I want to make sure you're lucid.”

“Will do,” she agreed.

After a quick call to her aunt, wishing her a good trip, Ryan hung up and glared at her brother. “You did that just to wake me up. They're not leaving for an hour.”

“Who, me? I was just making casual conversation, Ryan. Just trying to keep you informed.”

“Well, it didn't work, big guy. I'm going to sleep. Wake me when it's time to strap my board on. And not a minute sooner.”

* * * * * * * * * * *

Since it was Columbus Day and the first holiday of the season, the slopes were more crowded than usual. Conor and Ryan were engaged in a spirited argument as the first light broke over the mountain, neither sibling willing to give in.

“I'm not going to do it, Conor. I don't do stuff like that anymore.” She was shaking her head firmly, arms crossed against her chest.

“It doesn't hurt anything, Ryan. We've always done this.”

“I wasn't in a relationship then, Conor. Things have changed.”

“You don't have to do anything, Ryan. Don't tell me that you can't even flirt when you're in a relationship.”

She rapped her fingers against his head, expecting to hear a hollow echo. “Yes, Conor, you most certainly are prohibited from flirting if you want your partner to trust you. Are you that clueless?”

“Aw, Jamie wouldn't mind. She's not a tightass, Ryan. This is important.”

“Conor, I'm not going to do it. You take a whack at her if it means so much.”

He shook his head and started to walk towards the chair lift operator. “I'm telling you that she's gay,” he insisted. “She'll be completely immune to my charms.”

“Oh yeah, like that would be the only possible reason for that,” she called out.

He was only there for a few minutes, with Ryan watching his apparent lack of progress. When he returned he started to pout, making Ryan wish that she could have driven so that he had taken a nap. “You owe me,” she grumbled, striding over to the woman.

“Hi,” Ryan said when she approached, her normal friendliness shining through. “Do you have any siblings?”

“Pardon me?” the woman asked.

“Do you have any siblings?” Ryan asked again.

“Uh…yeah. I have two older brothers. Why?”

“Well, my brother was just over here flirting with you…”

“Oh…yeah. You do look alike. Funny,” she said, eyeing Ryan up and down, “he's not my type. He should have sent his sister,” she leered.

“Yeah…well,” Ryan said, trying to get out of this one with a minimum of damage. “We have a little um…thing we do when we go boarding. We uh…try to make friends with the chair-lift operator so we don't have to wait in the long lines.” She was blushing a little, making her even more attractive to the operator.

“Is that what you're doing? Trying to make friends? I could always use another friend…”


“I could always use another friend, Ryan,” she decided.

“Well, to tell you the truth…”


“To tell you the truth, Sandy, I'm in a relationship and I can't really have any more…friends at this point in my life. I was actually going to try to appeal to your sense of sibling rivalry, or if that didn't work, I was prepared to offer you a shameless bribe.” She was bestowing one of her most charming grins on the woman, and she knew she was flirting…but just a little…almost too little to count.

“Make you a deal, Ryan. Meet me for lunch—your treat, of course—and you have a deal.”

“Happy to buy you lunch, Sandy, but that's all that I can offer. I'm quite attached.”

“So am I,” she said rather airily, “but I'm not too firmly attached.”

“No problem,” Ryan beamed at her. “I'm attached enough for both of us.”

* * * * * * * * * * *

On the way home, Ryan offered to drive the truck since Conor had been up since three that morning. She had the stereo on low, singing to herself to stay awake when she heard a soft voice from the back seat say, “You didn't really hit on the lift operator, did you.”

“Of course not,” Ryan laughed. “I told her the whole deal, and she played along for a free lunch. She was a pretty nice woman.”

“You would have done her in the locker room a year ago,” he chuckled.

“A year ago?” she said reflectively. “Yeah, I guess I probably would have. It feels better to just offer a bribe,” she said, deciding that she didn't miss her old ways one bit.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Jamie's tee time was scheduled for ten o'clock, and as she was introduced, she turned at the exuberant applause to see her father, who had obviously just arrived, clapping for all he was worth. She gave him a little wink, waited for her playing partner to tee off, then strode to the tee box to begin the tournament. She was pleased with her drive, and after she hit she walked back to the gallery to give him a kiss. “Glad you made it,” she said, a big smile on her face.

“It was nip and tuck,” he admitted. “Great drive, by the way. Those muscles have really paid off.”

“Gotta go,” she said, as she saw her foursome getting ahead of her.

“Go get 'em, Jamie,” he said, giving her a fond hug.

* * * * * * * * * * *

He was waiting outside the clubhouse when she emerged a little after two, having won her match, three and two. “Congratulations, Honey,” he said excitedly. “You really toughed it out over the last two holes. Great sand recovery on fifteen.”

“Thanks, Dad. I was pretty happy with the way I played after the turn. It took me a while to get my rhythm.”

“You did great, Honey. Cal is lucky to have you.”

She giggled a little at that, and said, “I'm about to faint from hunger. Want to have some lunch?”

“It's five o'clock my time,” he admitted. “I had breakfast at four a.m. Pacific time. I think I could stand to have a bite or two.”

They decided to eat at the restaurant in the clubhouse, ordering identical meals, as frequently happened. As they waited for their food, Jim got on his cell phone and spent a few minutes talking softly with his secretary while Jamie observed him. There is something both odd and reassuring about having someone in your life that you so resemble, she considered. I know I share a lot of traits with mother, but sometimes Daddy and I act like the same person. It's odd…I wonder if I have the same inner desire that he has to win at all costs. God, I hope that stays buried if I do have it.

Since her father was fully occupied, Jamie got on her own cell phone and called home. She didn't really expect Ryan to be there, but she wanted to leave her a message about her victory. Just a moment after she hung up, Jim finished his business and focused his attention on her.

“How are you managing golf along with school, Jamie? Has it been very difficult for you?”

“No, not really, Dad. I'd say that Ryan's volleyball schedule has been tougher on us than my schedule. She has one or two games a week, and that really makes it hard.”

“How is it going, Honey? With Ryan, I mean?”

She wasn't at all sure what he meant, and she looked a little confused for a second.

He smiled and said, “I was a newlywed once too, Jamie. It was a very tough transition for both of us. I guess I just want to make sure that you're handling the stress.”

“It's not like that for us, Daddy. Being with Ryan reduces my stress, to tell you the truth. I eat regular meals because I like to cook for her; we go to bed really early because she has to get up so early; she just calms me down…she centers me.”

He smiled at her and reached over to grasp her hand. “I'm really glad to hear that, Jamie. That's what a relationship should be.”

She grew pensive and spent a moment wondering if she should ask the question that played at the back of her mind. Deciding to risk it, she asked, “You didn't ever have that, did you?”

He shook his head, his face betraying his sadness. “No. We really didn't. We had the best of intentions, Jamie, but we were far too young to get married.” He looked at her for a second and added, “You and Ryan seem much more mature than we were. We were like two kids trying to act like adults.”

Their food was delivered, and they spent a few minutes digging in. They said little until Jamie put her sandwich down and said, “Mom told me why you got married, Dad. I know it was a lot sooner than you wanted.”

He looked a little ill as he nodded slowly. “It was too soon for us to marry,” he admitted. “But I never regretted it, Jamie. Not then…not now. I was too young and immature to be a proper husband, but I think I did a pretty good job of being a father.” He sighed heavily as he admitted, “I was better then than I am now. Odd, huh?”

“It doesn't do much good to talk about what happened, Dad,” she said softly. “Let's try to build on what we have now. I think we'll both be better off that way.”

He gave her a gentle smile and agreed with her advice. “I'm willing to try, Honey. We have nowhere to go but up.”

* * * * * * * * * * *

Jordan was waiting for Ryan after practice on Tuesday, practically wagging her tail as she waited to be invited over for dinner. “I've got my bike today,” Ryan said, not even specifying why that was important.

“I can handle you, Tiger. Don't worry your pretty little head about that.”

“I'll go easy on you,” Ryan allowed. “We're ordering carryout, by the way. I don't get pleasure out of cooking like Jamie does.”

“Like I'm gonna complain?” Jordan chuckled. “I owe you twenty dinners already.”

“Only eleven,” the ever-accurate Ryan said, “but who's counting.”

Ryan rode her bike at a snail's pace so that Jordan only needed to walk at a brisk clip to keep up with her. “I think it really went well with Mia this weekend,” the blonde said.

“Yeah? It looked like you were getting along well. How was it sleeping together? Kinda weird?”

“Mmm, no, to be honest. It was really nice. It was less tense for me than usual.”

“Really? I'd think that being that close would have made you uncomfortable.”

Jordan shot her a look and said, “It's not the sex, Ryan. I'm not afraid to touch her or to be touched. The only thing that bothers me is how it makes me feel. Do you get the difference?”

“Not sure,” Ryan said. “Seems like the same thing to me.”

“No, not at all,” Jordan assured her. “I've had guys touch me…all over,” she added. “No big deal. Actually, that's why I never had sex with any of them…it was no big deal. I didn't want to risk getting an STD or getting pregnant if it wasn't something that meant something to me, ya know?”

“Well, yeah, that makes sense, I guess. I forget that birth control thing.” She shivered as she said, “Thank God for lesbianism.”

“Yeah, that is a nice part of it,” Jordan agreed. “The difference is that when a woman touches me or kisses me, it's a very big deal. I feel my heart beating so hard that it feels like it's going to pop out of my chest!”

“Hearts almost never do that,” Ryan said seriously. “I wouldn't have made it past my first time if they did.” She smiled and added, “The first time I kissed Jamie, I honestly felt faint. I don't think I've ever felt that lightheaded over something that I'd done thousands of times before. It was just so…intense,” she said, shaking her head at the memory.

“Yes! That's it! It feels so intense that I'm trying to slow it down and stop when it feels too overpowering!”

“That's not a bad idea,” Ryan agreed. “We did that, too. The difference was that Jamie was a little freaked out about the sex part, not so much the lesbian part.”

“Well, the sex freaks me out, too, but in a good way,” Jordan smirked. “I'm afraid I might wear Mia out when I finally let myself go.”

“Oh, I think she can handle you,” Ryan smiled, thinking that the randy young woman could handle Jordan and then some.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Ryan came trotting down the stairs on Wednesday morning, pleased to see the living room empty for a change. When she entered the kitchen, Mia was sitting on a chair, drinking a glass of juice. “Congratulate me,” she said, a smile on her face.

“Congratulations,” Ryan said dutifully. She took the container of orange juice from the refrigerator and gulped a half-dozen swallows from it, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. “Don't tell Jamie,” she warned, pointing a finger at Mia as she replaced the bottle. “Now, what am I congratulating you for?”

Mia wiggled her fingers, grinning evilly as she said, “Under the T-shirt. Both hands.”

“Wow!” Ryan said, suitably impressed. “Bare breast?”

Mia rolled her eyes and said, “Hey, it's only been a month. Don't expect miracles!”

* * * * * * * * * * *

As usual, Ryan couldn't wait to welcome her partner home, so she picked her up at the airport, stopping for a bite of dessert on the way home, since neither had eaten much for dinner. They entered the house via the back door, obviously surprising the trysting women, neither of whom heard them, and once again they were forced to walk right by them to go up to their room. This time Jordan was lying on the love seat, her long legs draped over the arm of the piece. Mia was lying atop her, twitching her hips as Jordan's hand disappeared up the leg of her shorts.

“Oh, shit!” Jordan moaned, her face coloring as she spotted their friends trying to sneak up the stairs. “I'm sorry, guys. What in the hell time is it, anyway?”

“9:30,” Ryan replied.

“I've got to study for a big test tomorrow,” she cried plaintively. “How did it get to be so late?”

“I don't know,” Mia said, smiling coyly while Jordan extracted her hand. “I went to kiss you good-bye at eight o'clock. How could an hour and a half pass that quickly?”

“I've really got to go,” Jordan said regretfully, waiting while Mia slithered off her body. She leaned in for one last kiss, grabbed her gym bag, and ran out the door, saying, “Bye,” as she jogged down the porch steps.

Mia ran her hands through her hair and started to climb the stairs to her room, saying in a singsong fashion, “I got my butt squeezed, I got my butt squeezed.”

“Bare skin?” Ryan called up the stairs.

“Must you diminish every one of my accomplishments?!” Mia yelled back down, closing her door with a thud.

* * * * * * * * * * *

They were both very tired, neither having slept well during their two nights alone. Jamie was curled up in bed, looking up at Ryan sleepily as the taller woman studied her computer screen, memorizing the number she was going to dial.

“Are you sure it's not too early to call?” Jamie asked, a huge yawn accompanying her question.

“Nah. It's fine. It's seven a.m. there,” Ryan said. “Moira has to get the younger kids off to school, and I'm sure Maeve isn't just lying about with all of that activity going on around her.” She dialed the long string of numbers, and Jamie watched as a delighted smile came over her lover's face. “Brenna!” she exclaimed. “It's Ryan.” She listened to her cousin's reply and said, “I'm just calling to check up on Aunt Maeve. Has Granny driven her to take up residence in the pub yet?” She nodded and smiled and said, “Sure, put her on.”

“Ryan?” Maeve's clear soprano rang out.

“Just calling to see how you're faring,” the younger woman replied.

“That's so thoughtful of you, Dear,” she said with her usual level of enthusiasm. Ryan could hear the lightness leave her aunt's voice as she related the truth of the situation. “I suppose things are going about like I expected.”

A look of consternation settled on Ryan's face as she replied, “That bad, huh?”

“I shouldn't be surprised,” she said, a little hitch in her voice. “I knew this would be hard for Mam to take. I suppose I was fooling myself to think she'd gotten over…”

“How she feels about Da,” Ryan supplied helpfully.

“Yes, that's mostly it, of course. But she's also upset that she won't be able to attend the wedding. She didn't see either your mother's or my first wedding, and it hurts her to miss this one as well. I think it brings back the pain of losing us both in the first place.”

“There's no way she'd come here, is there?” Ryan asked, knowing the answer.

“I assume you're teasing, Ryan,” she laughed. “She still talks about the time she had to go all the way to Dublin to see your grandfather off to the war. She acts as though it was yesterday!”

“Do you regret going, Aunt Maeve?” Ryan asked gently.

She quickly replied, “No, not at all, Dear. Regrettably, Moira can't make it either, so this is my only opportunity to spend time with her and the kids.”

“That's a shame,” Ryan said. “I know you were looking forward to her coming for the ceremony.”

“Yes, it seems silly at this point in my life, but I will regret that no one in my family came to either of my weddings,” she said with her voice breaking just a tiny bit.

“What would you ask for if you could have any wish granted?” Ryan asked quietly.

She thought about that for a few minutes and finally said, “I wish we could have all come here for the wedding. I just don't know why I'm so emotional about this, Ryan,” she sniffed a little. “I feel your mother's spirit so close to me when I'm here. And a very big part of me would like her to be near when I marry your father.”

Ryan sniffed her own tears away as she said softly, “Aunt Maeve, I can't make your entire wish come true, but I can give you the biggest part.”


“Jamie's mom gave us two round-trip ticket to anywhere in the world. I'm going to arrange for Da to come over there and marry you in Killala.”

“Oh, but Ryan,” she said wistfully, “then we wouldn't have the children with us.”

“What's to stop you from having two weddings?” she asked with a laugh. “This is the last time you'll marry, Aunt Maeve,” she said somberly. “I say you do it up right!”

“Oh, Ryan,” she said breathlessly, her enthusiasm pouring out. “Do you think Martin would do that for me?”

Ryan barked out a laugh as she assured her, “He'd swim over there if it was important to you, Aunt Maeve. The poor man's quite over the moon, you know,” she added in her Irish lilt.

“I can't…I can't tell you how much that would mean to me, Sweetheart.”

“I know, Aunt Maeve, I know,” she assured her. “I want you to go over to church and speak with the priest this morning. Find out what you have to do to get a license. Then get on the phone and call every cousin you can get hold of and tell them you're getting married on Saturday!”

“Is there any way you and Jamie could come, Ryan?”

She sighed and said, “”I wish there was, but I've got two volleyball matches this weekend, Aunt Maeve. There's no way I can get away.” She thought of an even bigger reason to refuse and told her aunt, “Even if we could come, it would be unfair to the other kids if just I got to go. I'll play nice and wait until January. You will still have a service in January, won't you?”

“Oh, of course! It wouldn't feel right to not have a celebration with all of the children there with us.” She paused for a moment and said, “You are the most generous woman, Ryan. You make me so proud,” she said as her voice quavered again.

Ryan smiled broadly at the compliment, acknowledging that her aunt's approval meant a great deal to her. “Much of what I am is directly because of you, Aunt Maeve. You've been the best mother-of-choice anyone could wish for.”

“I think that's the nicest compliment I've ever gotten,” she sniffed. “My Lord, Moira must think I'm having a mental breakdown!” she laughed. “She keeps poking her head in to see why I'm crying.”

“Well, you've got a busy day ahead of you. Call me before you go to bed tonight and let me know what you've found out, okay?”

“I will, Ryan,” she promised. “Should I call your father or should you?”

“Why don't you call him right now and propose?” she suggested. “Tell him to call me in the morning and tell me when he wants to travel. I'll take care of getting the voucher traded in for a ticket.”

“Bless you, Ryan,” she said softly. “I love you.”

“I love you too, Aunt Maeve. Call me later.”

She replaced the phone and lay back fully on the bed, resting her head on her linked hands. “Not a bad night's work, huh?”

“You rule,” Jamie said as she crawled over and wrapped her arms around her. “Now wrap those arms around me and cuddle me, Baby. I've missed your touch more than I can say.”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

They were almost asleep, Jamie's embrace too comforting to allow for any other options, when the ringing phone caused Ryan to jerk upright, her eyes wide with alarm. “Damn! I hate to be wakened by the phone!”

“Siobhán!” Martin's voice rang through the line, “There are plans to be made, child, get out of bed!”

“I'm awake, Da,” she laughed. “I take it you spoke with your betrothed.”

“Yes, and I've decided to let you run my life from now on. You're obviously more adept at it than I am,” he said wryly. “Why I didn't think to do this originally is beyond me!”

“So you're not mad that I got involved?”

“Of course not, Sweetheart. I'm entirely serious—you're in charge of all my important decisions from now on!”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

“What did he say?” Jamie asked excitedly when Ryan hung up.

“He is sooo excited,” Ryan related. “I've never heard him sound so happy.”

“So when will he leave?”

“He wants to go tomorrow, but only because it's too late to get a flight out tonight!” she laughed. “I'm going to take the morning off and take him to the airport. Boy, I can't remember the last time he took an unscheduled day off,” she mused. “He called some of his friends and got people to cover for him, so they'll come home together on Sunday as originally planned.”

“What about a honeymoon?” Jamie asked with waggling eyebrows.

“When I asked him that, he told me to get my mind out of the gutter!”

“He is so funny about that topic,” Jamie grinned.

“Well, he'd better get used to it, 'cause they'll be the butt of a lot of teasing for a very long while. Harassment about sex is a long O'Flaherty tradition,” she said proudly.

“Don't I know it!” Jamie wryly agreed, having been on the pointed end of those barbs more often than she cared to count.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Ryan lay awake in bed for a long while, her mind too filled with details of the events to allow her to relax. She was up at four, having decided to get dressed and get across the bridge before traffic became unbearable. After her shower she called Ireland again and spoke to her Aunt Moira, who was now alone in the house, Maeve having gone into town to speak to the parish priest. “Aunt Moira, I had an idea and I wanted to conscript you into helping me pull it off. Interested?”

“Of course, Ryan. Your ideas always spice up my day. How can I help?”

* * * * * * * * * * *

Blowing a kiss to her still-sleeping lover, she took off while it was still fully dark, whistling a happy tune to herself as she got into her car.

Martin was packed and ready, looking quite dapper in a navy blue blazer, light blue golf shirt, and neatly pressed khaki slacks. “You look great,” Ryan said, taking in her father's tidy appearance and giving him a hug.

“One of the most beautiful women in the whole of Ireland is going to be waiting for me,” he said with a wide smile creasing his face. “I have to look my best!”

“I hope Aunt Maeve knows how special she is to you,” Ryan chuckled. “Switching days off…flying halfway around the globe at a moment's notice…borrowing Conor's jacket,” she added, brushing a fleck of lint off his collar.

“That's enough out of you,” Martin said, giving her a firm chuck on the arm. “I've seen the way young Jamie twists you around her tiny little finger, so if you plan on starting a bout of slagging with your father, be prepared to have the spotlight turned right back on you. You're as far gone as I am, Sweetheart.”

“Guilty as charged,” Ryan laughed. “But I wouldn't change a thing.”

“Nor would I,” Martin agreed.

* * * * * * * * * * *

As soon as she had her father deposited on the plane, Ryan called Jamie on her cell, smiling to herself when she heard the phone ring and ring. Finally, her lover answered, sounding a little winded. “Hi, Sweetheart, what's up?”

“How'd you know it was me?” Ryan asked.

“You have a distinctive ring. I can pick it out from among thousands. Now, what's up? I had to sneak out of class to answer the phone.”

“Sorry to bother you, but I'm about to spend a lot of money and I wanted to check with you before I did so.”

“Ryan,” Jamie said in a warning tone, “you know how I feel about this. We have about $25,000 in our checking account. As long as you leave a couple thousand dollars to cover outstanding checks, you can spend every dime. You not only don't need my permission, you don't need to inform me.”

There was a long silence as Ryan tried to digest this information. “That's probably never gonna happen, but I appreciate that you trust me that much.”

“I trust you with my life, Ryan. Now let me get back to class. Have fun!” She hung up before Ryan could utter another word, the tall woman staring at the phone in her hand for a long while.

* * * * * * * * * * *

When Ryan came home from practice that night, Jamie was in the kitchen, busily making dinner. “Hi,” she smiled when Ryan entered. “How was your day?”

“Good,” Ryan said, giving her a kiss. “Yours?”

Jamie proceeded to tell her about a funny little thing that happened at golf practice, all of the details of her day's classes, and every other bit of minutia that she felt compelled to share with her partner. By the time she was finished, dinner was ready and Ryan spent a moment setting the table. As usual, two additional hungry mouths miraculously appeared, Jordan and Mia sitting down before Jamie could get the food on the table.

“Long time no see,” Ryan drawled, having left Jordan's side not twenty minutes before.

“We'll clean up?” the blonde offered, giving Ryan a winning smile.

“It's a deal,” the tall brunette decided, looking forward to a very early night in bed to make up for the previous evening.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Leaving Jordan and Mia to their tasks, the pair went up to bed at 8:30, Ryan not even feigning an attempt at studying. She was stripping out of her clothes on the way up the stairs and had her T-shirt and bra off by the time she crossed the threshold.

Jamie was chuckling at her exaggerated attempts to get into bed quickly, and as Ryan went to brush her teeth she asked, “You seemed quiet at dinner, Honey. Everything okay?”

“Yeth,” the tall woman replied, her mouth full of toothpaste. She finished up quickly and came back into the room, shucking her pants as she walked. When she climbed into bed, she rolled onto her side and rested her head upon her arm. “I uh…had a little revelation today,” she said, her eyes unfocused as she stared at a spot on the wall.

“Tell me,” Jamie urged, softly stroking her bare side.

“It's about the money,” Ryan said. “I got a taste of what having access to this kind of money is going to mean. It's weird, Hon. I'm still a little numb.”

“Ryan,” Jamie soothed, “you don't need to tell me how you spend our money, but I'm very interested in how you feel about this. Come on…tell me. What happened today?”

Ryan rolled onto her back and rested her head in her joined hands, letting out a long sigh as she related, “I was at the airport, thinking about my family. It dawned on me that none of this would have been possible without your…our money,” she corrected herself. “I thought about the little Irish town my family lives in, and it dawned on me that I could help Da and Aunt Maeve have a nice little party.”

She looked at Jamie and said, “I've never really talked about their situation, Honey, but my grandparents barely get by. I'm sure my Granny hasn't bought a new dress in ten years. Da has tried to give them money over the years, but Granny won't take it. I get the impression that she takes a little from Aunt Maeve and Moira, but that's about it.” She laughed wryly and added, “My Uncle Eamon teaches at the national school, and I bet he doesn't make the equivalent of $20,000 American. They're the last people who should be trying to support my grandparents.”

“How do your grandparents support themselves?” Jamie asked.

“My grandfather was a self-employed fisherman,” she answered. “He never made much, but they did all right. Their needs are very simple, so it wasn't too bad when he was working. Ireland has an Old Age Pension, but when my grandfather was working he wasn't covered by social insurance, so he didn't qualify. The government added a special provision for people in his situation, and he gets a pension now, but I think it's only about 80 Irish pounds a week.”

“How much is that, Honey?”

“With the current exchange rate that would be about ninety dollars,” Ryan mused. “In essence, they live on less than $5,000 a year.” She shook her head and said, “It dawned on me today that I could help make the wedding nice and help my grandparents a little in the bargain.” She looked up at Jamie and said, “It's a weird feeling. Really weird.”

Jamie's mind was still reeling over the fact that Ryan's grandparents lived on such a meager sum, and she patted her lover absently, trying to imagine how it would feel to not be able to afford the simplest luxuries. “What did you decide to do, Honey? We can take my distribution and send them as much money as you want.”

Ryan smiled and gently stroked her partner's arm. “I don't think that would go over well, Love. My granny is more hard-headed about accepting money than I am…if you can imagine that,” she said, while rolling her eyes. “I decided to do an end-around, so I called my Aunt Moira and we decided that she'd take the money I sent and offer to pay for a reception in the local pub. She said she'd order some nice flowers for the church, and take my grandparents out and buy them each something nice to wear.” Ryan smiled fondly as she said, “My grandfather's only suit is so shiny that it looks like it's made out of spandex!”

Scooting across the bed, Jamie cuddled up next to her partner and said, “How do you feel about doing that?”

Ryan let out a long breath and said, “It feels really good. Scary good, to be honest. Making the day a little nicer for my…parents,” she said, experimenting with the word for the first time, “feels awfully good.”

“Wow,” Jamie said softly, looking up into Ryan's deep blue eyes, “It sounds funny to hear you refer to them like that.”

“Yeah,” Ryan said. “I've been trying to determine what feels right…you know? I mean, after Saturday, she's not really just my aunt. I refuse to refer to them as 'my father and my aunt,'” she declared, a look of distaste on her face, “but I'm not sure what does feel right.”

“It will come to you. Don't rush it. It does make sense to refer to them as your parents, though, at least when you're speaking to people who don't know them well. Maeve has been a mother to you, Ryan, and it's nice to acknowledge that.”

“I know,” she said softly. “I just can't call her 'Mom,' Jamie. It doesn't feel right, and I don't think she'd even like it.”

“Don't push it. You'll know what feels comfortable, and that's what you'll do.” She had been softly stroking Ryan's back and felt her start to drift off. She tilted her head up and placed a gentle kiss on the rose-colored lips, surprised when Ryan's eyes opened fully and the kiss was returned.

”Thank you for letting me send that money, Jamie. It means a lot to me,” she murmured as she wrapped her arms tightly around the smaller woman and fell into a contented sleep almost immediately.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Friday was Jamie's easy day at school, and after golf practice she decided to balance their checkbook, a task that she was becoming more and more comfortable with. She opened the check register and saw the precise handwriting from Ryan's entry of the day before. $5,000, she mused. My baby acted as though she had written a check as big as the national debt. We've got to find a way to provide for her grandparents on a routine basis, she decided. I'll not have my sweetheart's aged grandparents living on next to nothing!

* * * * * * * * * * *

Jamie was working away at her desk when Maeve called with a progress report, “My goodness, Jamie, I've made more decisions and called more people today than I can ever remember!”

“How's everything going?” she asked, Maeve's excitement bubbling over to infect her, too.

“Just lovely,” she said happily. “I was so excited about seeing Martin that I nearly burst!”

“Can I speak with him?” Jamie asked.

“He's not here, Dear. The curate wanted to talk to him about the wedding, so I came back home to make more phone calls.”

“How's he doing? Ryan says he was acting more like Caitlin than himself,” Jamie revealed. “She said she didn't think he even needed the airplane to get him across the Atlantic.”

“He certainly does seem excited,” she admitted. “This is all turning out so well, Jamie. Our curate pulled some strings and helped get everything organized. I think Mam helped convince him of a few things,” she laughed. “Moira and I took Mam and Da shopping today, and she bought them both the most lovely things! I don't know how she afforded it, but she insisted.” She took a breath, her words spilling out so fast that she was hard to understand. “Did I tell you she's arranged for a luncheon for everyone at the pub after the ceremony? My goodness, Jamie, I don't know when I've been so excited! This is the wedding I dreamt of as a girl!”

“Don't forget to take pictures for us, Maeve. We want to see every little detail.”

“I brought my little camera, Honey. I'll assign Cormac to that job. We'll do our best.”

“Well, you'd better wander over to church to pick up your fiancé, Maeve. You don't want to keep him waiting.”

“I wouldn't dream of letting that adorable man wait for me, Jamie. Thanks so much for everything. If it wasn't for you and your mother, none of this would have happened.”

“Don't mention it,” Jamie insisted. “If it wasn't for Martin and your influence I wouldn't have the wonderful partner that I have. I just hope you're as happy as we are, Maeve. You truly deserve it.”

“Thank you, Jamie,” she sniffed. “I'd better go now. I've got to go fetch my Marty.”

“We love you, Maeve,” Jamie said softly. “We wish you all the happiness in the world.”

“Bye,” the older woman said, her voice choked with tears.

* * * * * * * * * * *

After the volleyball team played a very successful match against Arizona on Saturday night, Jamie and Mia stood near the locker room, waiting for their dates. The team usually had a quick meeting after home games—just a chance for Coach Placer to compliment them on their play and make a few tactful suggestions where needed. No one showered after the match, which Jamie found very strange. Most of the women didn't even venture into the locker room; they just exchanged their sweaty uniforms for T-shirts and their warm-ups, which most of them left in the meeting room during the game.

As the pair waited, a legion of young fans tried to get as close to the athletes as possible, pushing and elbowing each other to be near the spot where the women exited.

Ryan and Jordan were among the first to leave, each toting her enormous gym bag on her shoulder. Ryan immediately handed her bag to Jamie, who gave her a kiss on the cheek as a reward for her excellent play. Jordan gave Mia a shy smile and the smaller woman held her hand out and accepted her bag also. Both players then went into the large, unstructured half of the gym and began signing autographs. Tonight the team had distributed posters with very flattering photos of Jordan and Ryan prominently featured, both because of their play and because they were the only seniors on the team.

The girls who sought them out were anywhere from eight to sixteen years old, and many of them wore T-shirts and sweats that identified them as members of a school or club volleyball team. In fact, many of them came to the game as part of a team, with their coaches hovering around them trying to keep track of the kids in the crowd.

Jamie couldn't help eavesdropping on one pair of girls, who were nearly giddy when they walked away with autographs from their heroes. “Ryan's so tall!” one of them said, in the cross between a scream and a whisper that only pre-teens could manage.

“Jordan's so pretty!” the other exclaimed.

“They're both really nice,” Jamie said, catching the girls' attention.

“Do you know 'em?” the bolder of the pair asked, her eyes wide.

Jamie held up the gym bag, with “O'Flaherty” embroidered on the side. “Quite well,” she said, smiling impishly.

Mia hefted her bag, too, displaying the “Ericsson” on her burden.

The girls looked at each other, their eyes wide, then emitted twin screams and ran out the door, laughing the whole way.

“My God, were we that weird only ten years ago?” Jamie laughed.

“I'm that weird now,” Mia said rather dreamily. “I'm kinda stoked just to be holding her gym bag.”

Jamie gave her a look and said, “I've never seen you like this about anybody. You're positively smitten!”

“Oh, I am,” Mia agreed. “Maybe it's because I have to work so hard. But whatever it is, I'm absolutely goofy for her.”

“I was a little surprised to see that she went home last night,” Jamie said. “What's up with that?”

Letting out a wry laugh, Mia said, “We've been staying up most of the night for a month, James! She's on her last legs! Besides, I know everything about her by now. I could write her biography at this point! No, we don't need any more all-night talks. Now, we just need to get busy and make love.”

“Any progress?”

“No, as a matter of fact. We actually seem to be doing less, rather than more. I'm going to take her home and push the envelope a little tonight. I don't want to lose patience with her, but I also don't want to hang on forever if she doesn't want to keep moving forward.”

Slipping an arm around her shoulder, Jamie said, “I hope you hang in there, Mia. She's really pretty special.”

They both gazed at the lanky woman, who was now lying on her stomach on the gym floor signing autographs for the line of kids who waited patiently, posters and pens in hand. Ryan was lying right next to her, adding her signature as soon as Jordan finished. Jordan spotted Heather standing around, looking a little lost, and she called her over and ordered her to hit the floor and start signing. The shy freshman did as she was asked, the kids now making over her as well.

Watching the scene unfold, Mia sighed and said, “She really is special, Jamie, and one of her best traits is that she doesn't know how special she is.”

* * * * * * * * * * *

As soon as they arrived home, Ryan grabbed a big bottle of sports drink and she and Jamie went to bed. They had only been gone a few minutes when Mia leaned against Jordan and wrapped her in a hug. “You played so well tonight. It was honestly fascinating to watch you.”

“Thanks. I felt good about tonight, to tell you the truth. I worked my ass off.”

As Mia released her hold Jordan got a whiff of herself and said, “Wow…I smell like I worked my ass off. I should go home, take a hot shower, and get to bed.”

“You know,” Mia said, trying to sound casual, “I have a really nice shower here. My bed's not bad either. Wanna see?”

“Uuhhhhhh.” Jordan looked like she didn't know whether to run for the shower or the hills, but Mia didn't try to influence her. She wanted her to make up her own mind, and after a minute she did so. “I'd like the shower,” she decided. “We'll see about the bed later.”

“Good deal,” Mia smiled, taking her hand to lead her upstairs. While Jordan was in the shower, Mia paced around the room trying to decide if she should try to set a mood or just act like this was an everyday occurrence. She finally decided to go for it, then turned off the overhead lights and lit a profusion of candles, their flames flickering against the darkened ceiling.

A muffled voice came from the bathroom, “I forgot my gym bag, will you get it for me?”

“Uh…sure,” Mia said, instead, handing her friend a blue silk robe. Jordan's hand reached out, and she accepted the offering without comment, then emerged a minute later, looking magnificent to Mia's appreciative eyes. She had washed her hair and it was wrapped in a white towel, showing off her exquisite bone structure even more distinctly than usual. The short robe highlighted her pale blue eyes, and her cheeks glowed from the warm water. She smelled fantastic, having used some of Mia's favorite freesia shower gel.

“Blow dryer?” she asked, her voice a little tight with tension, her blue eyes darting nervously about the room.

Mia indicated her desk chair and said, “Sit. I'll do it for you.”

Jordan raised an eyebrow but complied, sitting stiffly on the edge of the chair while Mia grabbed a wide-toothed comb that Jordan extended towards her. She worked the comb gently through the thick strands, being careful not to pull too hard. She had never combed another woman's hair before, and she found herself fascinated with the thick, straight tresses. Actually, Mia had technically never combed her own hair. Her curls did not respond well to any attempts at order, so she usually just fluffed her fingers through them to provide some loose organization. When the tangles were combed through, the brunette grasped the blow dryer and worked the warm air through the hair, running her fingers along Jordan's scalp and then letting them slide through the silky tresses. It only took a few minutes to dry the golden locks.

It was clear that Jordan was nervous, but she seemed willing to go where Mia was leading her, giving the smaller woman hope that they would finally make some progress. As Mia continued to touch her gently, Jordan's body grew more and more relaxed, eventually feeling pliable and receptive as Mia started to massage her shoulders a little bit.

“It's getting dry out now that it's fall. Can I put some lotion on you?” she asked softly, breaking the silence. Jordan's head rested comfortably against her hip.

She could actually see Jordan swallow, but to her satisfaction, the tall woman slid the robe from her shoulders, clasping some of the fabric to her breasts, but exposing her back and shoulders to Mia's touch. A massive sigh escaped Jordan's lips as Mia's hands began to work the freesia-scented body lotion into her skin, her fingers gliding over the dips and swells of muscle. “My God, but you have a beautiful back,” Mia whispered as Jordan closed her eyes and leaned hard into the touch. “Such soft skin…it's like silk.”

“Y…your hands…feel good.” The blonde grimaced as she heard the nearly inarticulate sentence escape her mouth. She had so much to say—to share with Mia, but she knew that it would remain locked inside. So much emotion was threatening to burst forth, that she was terrified of allowing the floodgates to open even a tiny bit.

Mia continued the gentle massage, focusing on letting Jordan become used to her touch and the sensation of exposing her body a little. “You feel very tight,” she commented. “You didn't have the trainer work on your back after the game, did you?”

“Huh-uh. I was in a hurry,” she said, her voice so soft that Mia had to lean around her to catch the last words. “I couldn't wait to see you.”

With a fond smile, Mia turned the desk chair just enough to be able to reach Jordan's shyly grinning mouth. “You are so sweet,” she sighed, capturing the soft, full lips for several loving kisses.

When Jordan's eyes opened, Mia had not moved a muscle and she met and held her gaze as she asked, “Why don't you let me give you a real massage? I'm good at it.”

“I just bet you are,” Jordan smirked, a trace of her usual sense of humor making an appearance.

“Come on,” Mia urged, reaching out to grasp the large, fine-boned hand that trembled slightly when she touched it.

The tall woman stood, looking awkward and shy as she clutched the bright blue fabric against her chest. “Where do you want me?”

Mia looked at her quizzically and said, “I thought the bed would be the best choice. Is that okay?”

Lips pursed tightly, Jordan nodded briefly and walked over to the queen-sized bed, which seemed to grow before her eyes. By the time she reached it, it appeared to fill the room, blocking her exit with its bulk. She gulped audibly as she stood in front of it, looking at the orchid and white checked flannel sheets that were in the same state of disarray that they had been in when Mia had crawled out of them that morning.

The curly-haired woman came up behind her and placed a hand on her exposed shoulder. Deciding to adopt a casual attitude she said, “Come on, let's get those muscles loose. You don't want to stiffen up.”

Jordan did a little better dealing with a direct order, and she slipped the robe back into place and tied it, then set about making the bed, twitching the sheets into place and fluffing the pillows before settling them just so. Mia didn't comment on her actions. She went into the bath and found some vanilla-scented massage lotion and was warming a healthy dollop of it between her hands when Jordan got into position.

“Why don't I cover you with the blanket? That robe is just going to get in the way.” Again, her casual, businesslike tone carried the day, and Jordan pulled the fleece blanket up to her waist, then slipped out of the robe entirely.

“Excellent,” Mia said approvingly. She climbed onto the bed, straddled Jordan's hips, and started to work on the stiff muscles, almost immediately drawing a heavy sigh from the blonde.

“Ooooh, that's perfect,” her soft soprano voice purred.

“Glad you like it,” Mia smiled. “I love to give massages. It's actually a nice way to get to know someone. You learn about how they like to be touched, how much pressure they like, if they're ticklish. All sorts of things, if you pay attention.”

As the massage continued, Mia learned that Jordan could take every bit of pressure she could bring to bear, but that she also liked a delicate, whisper-soft touch. She didn't seem to be ticklish, and as time passed, she stopped shaking and seemed to appreciate the loving contact.

Mia kept the massage completely chaste, not even venturing past horizontal on the surface of her back. She stayed well above the blanket also, since Jordan was the one who had placed it just above her waistline.

“That feels great, Mia,” the blonde finally said. “You do a better job than the trainer does.”

“I care more,” she said honestly, as her hands stilled, remaining splayed across the pale skin.

“I uh…was thinking about what you said before,” Jordan ventured, her voice once again high, and thin. “Would you like a massage?” she managed to get out. “I'd um…like to get to know you a little better, too.”

“Sure,” she said immediately, before Jordan could change her mind. Sliding off the bed, she started to undress, removing her sweater while Jordan performed a stunning series of moves to get the robe back on while still covered by the blanket. Mia rolled her eyes at her friend's extreme modesty, but she knew that the only way to get her past it was to be patient with her.

Jordan stood by the bed, managing to look everywhere but at Mia. The brunette removed her bra, then considered, Do I have on cute panties today? She paused to think for just a moment, then remembered that she had on a deep purple thong that was just the perfect shade to compliment her olive-toned complexion. Good job, Mia, she crowed. It's unlikely that she'll look anywhere near your ass, but if she does she'll have a nice view. She unzipped her slacks, rolling her eyes again as Jordan flinched noticeably. Good thing she's in great shape, or I'd be afraid of her having a heart attack! I can see the headline in the Daily Californian. “Volleyball player succumbs to zipper fright. 'I didn't even get my pants off,' grieving near-lover laments.”

Smirking at her internal monologue, Mia climbed into bed, settling the blanket around her hips just as Jordan had. The blonde straddled her and began to give her a fantastic massage—managing to be gentle yet firm, alternating delicate caresses with deep, penetrating pressure. “Oh, my Lord! Where did you learn to do this?” Mia moaned from her trance-like state of bliss.

“I had a great trainer one summer at a clinic I participated in,” she revealed. Mia noted that her voice was its normal confident timbre, and she decided to continue to engage her.

“Tell me about him or her,” she urged.

“Mmm…it was a guy. Probably three years ago,” she decided. “He was just great at giving massages, but his best quality was his ability to explain what he was doing and why. He taught me a lot.”

“Where can I send a thank-you card,” Mia sighed. “You are gifted!”

“Thanks. I uh…haven't really had the opportunity to do this before. Except for Ryan, that is.”

“Hey, no fair,” Mia teased. “Ryan gets to sleep with you first, she gets a massage before I do…”

“There are still a few things that I haven't shared with her,” Jordan teased back. But when she heard what she was implying, her mouth snapped shut and she reverted to concentrating on the massage.

Mia had a feeling that the mood was lost, and she quietly enjoyed the last few minutes of the fabulous massage. When Jordan's hands stilled, she decided to take a bold risk. Turning her head until she could make eye contact, Mia asked, as casually as she could manage, “Want me to turn over? I bet your touch would feel divine on both sides.”

Stark, dead silence filled the room, and Mia realized she had been too forward. Grasping the sheet to her chest, she turned over as much as she could and started to apologize, but the look on Jordan's face brought her up short.

Mia didn't think she had ever seen anyone who looked more like they were wrestling with a dilemma. She could almost see the internal dialogue in the blonde's mind, but she didn't say a word. It was important to her that Jordan only go as far as she was willing—and she decided that she did not want to tip the scales in any way. However, she eventually couldn't stand it another minute and asked, “Tell me what you want, Jordan. Not what you think you should do, or what you're afraid of. Tell me what you want.”

The ice-blue eyes locked on her and she mumbled, “I want to run.” The delicate lids snapped shut, and she began to tremble again, looking like she was about to cry.

Tucking the sheet under her armpits, Mia sat up and grasped her friend by the arms. “Jordan,” she said firmly, “you don't have to run. We'll only go as far as you want. I promise that. If you want to stop, we'll stop. If you want to get dressed and stay and talk for a while, that's fine, too. I just want you to know that I will never push you. You don't have to run from me, Jordan. It's safe here.”

The blue eyes cracked open and immediately sought out the warmth of Mia's gaze. “Only part of me wants to run, Mia,” she whispered. “Another part wants to touch you so badly that I feel like I'll go mad if I don't.”

“It's safe, Jordan,” the smaller woman whispered. She grasped a trembling hand and held it to her chest, chafing the soft skin with her hands. “I won't hurt you.”

“I don't know how to touch you,” Jordan said, her voice coiled with tension. “Would you show me?”

“Of course I will,” Mia sighed, her heart breaking for the obvious distress that her friend was in. “How would you like me to show you?”

Jordan lay down on the bed and closed her eyes as she tugged open the tie to her robe. Spreading the fabric open, she revealed her body to Mia's stunned gaze. Oh, my God! Thank you for having her close her eyes, 'cause it would not do to let her see me drool!

Jordan's shaking hand lifted, and Mia instinctively laced their fingers together. The blonde placed the smaller hand upon her breast and whispered, “Show me.”

The blue fabric still covered the long body from waist to thigh, so Mia climbed astride her once more, the robe providing a thin, protective barrier for Jordan's modesty. Now it was Mia's hands that shook, nearly rivaling the trembling in the long body that she lovingly caressed. She trusts me so much, she silently considered. What a precious gift that is!

Mia massaged the stunningly smooth skin with reverence, keeping her touch light and delicate. She repeatedly replenished the lotion on her hands, wanting her touch to glide across Jordan's body, not even allowing the friction of her hands to mar the perfect flesh.

She continued the loving touch until Jordan had visibly relaxed and her breathing had calmed. The blue eyes had remained shuttered, but they slowly blinked open and gazed at Mia with a gentle question reflected in their clear blue depths. She obviously decided not to pose her query verbally, instead lifting her hand to trail the backs of her fingers up Mia's exposed side.

The brunette twitched and involuntarily pulled away, stifling a giggle as she did so. “Yes, I'm ticklish,” she admitted. “Ridiculously so. Like a three-year-old.” She had a resigned smirk on her face, but Jordan's expression remained serious. Outlining Mia's lips with the tip of her index finger, the blonde promised, “I'll never take advantage of you because of your ticklishness.”

Turning her head, Mia captured Jordan's fingers and kissed them gently. “I know that,” she admitted.

Jordan rose up on her elbows, holding Mia's gaze for a long time. Sitting up fully, she wrapped her arms around her body and started to kiss her, their breasts pressing lightly against each other. Unable to contain the moan that sprang up from her core, Mia held on tight and opened herself fully to Jordan's increasingly confident caresses.

Their bodies slowly grew hot to the touch, their skin tingling everywhere their flesh came into contact. Hands threaded through silky and curly tresses, mouths opened—sucking gently on tongues, moans mingling. Jordan's breath had grown so ragged that she was now softly panting, her eyes hooded with the desire that pulsed through her veins.

Finally, pulling away roughly, she grasped Mia firmly by the shoulders and said, “I can't fight this anymore.” Her determined face and fiery eyes locked upon the smaller woman's. “I don't care who knows…I don't care that I know. I can't deny myself any longer. No matter what the consequences—I've got to have you.”

Mia grasped the long, lean woman by the shoulders and pulled her down onto her body, their breasts compressing against each other as Jordan settled onto her. “I've never wanted anyone like I want you, Jordan,” she murmured, her voice soft and gentle. Her hands roamed all over the smooth, strong, yet delicate body. “It makes me feel very special to share this with you.”

“You are special, Mia. You're very special to me,” her soft voice murmured, her eyes full of confidence in her decision. Her smile broadened even as she began to shake again. With a look that merged equal parts stark fear and burning desire, she whispered, “Let's make love.”

* * * * * * * * * * *

Mia let the wish hang in the air for a few minutes, softly stroking Jordan's cheek, letting her eyes convey her wholehearted acceptance of the offer. She wanted to give the shaking woman time to change her mind, while hoping fervently that she wouldn't. It soon became clear that Jordan wanted to continue, but equally clear that she didn't have any idea of how to begin.

Denying her almost painful desire, Mia concentrated on making Jordan feel loved and cared for. She knew the remarkably lovely woman didn't often feel lovely, and she silently pledged that she would do everything in her power to make her feel so.

Her hands glided over her body in a whisper-soft touch, slowly pushing the silky fabric from her flesh. Eyes locked together, Mia smiled at the look of intense pleasure on Jordan's face as her hands caressed her. “I love touching you this way,” she whispered. “You're such a beautiful woman.”

Jordan blushed becomingly, averting her eyes as she struggled to accept the compliment. “You make me feel beautiful,” she admitted, her voice soft and winsome.

“You're just as beautiful here,” Mia insisted, placing a kiss on her temple, “as you are here.” She placed delicate kisses down the long body, starting at the hollow between her collarbones, and continuing to her navel.

Unexpectedly, Jordan threw her arms around Mia's body and hugged her tight. She felt as if she would burst from the wellspring of feeling that pummeled her body, but she didn't know how to express herself. Her instincts told her to grab on and hold the smaller woman as closely as she could, but that's the only clear message she was able to decipher.

Mia was patient with her, letting her go at her own pace, even though she was about to combust. Her ribs were beginning to ache, and she freed an arm to stroke down the long, muscled back, soothing Jordan with her gentle caress. “I know,” she murmured, “It's a lot to process, isn't it?”

“Yeah,” the blonde's shaking voice agreed. “It's an awful lot.”

“Just relax,” Mia urged. “Lie back and let me touch you. Let me know what feels good,” she soothed, “and what feels even better.” Her voice had dropped into a low growl, and Jordan's toes curled at the frank sexuality of her tone.

She dropped to the bed inelegantly, her quivering muscles unable to support her any longer. Consciously opening her body to Mia's touch, Jordan held her breath as determined hands smoothly removed her clothing, leaving her naked and more vulnerable than she had ever been. “Relax,” Mia soothed as the long body continued to twitch with tension. “Just relax.” The small, cool hands stroked across her skin, the gentle touch too appealing to resist. Jordan's body slowly calmed as the touch grew more focused, and her nerve endings began to tingle from the sensation.

“Ohh…yes,” the blonde whispered. “That's fantastic.”

Mia moved slightly, bringing her head up to rest on the same pillow with Jordan's. Their lips met and merged, the passionate kisses causing the blood to pound in Jordan's head as Mia's hands claimed her body. It was almost too much, but she forced herself to breathe deeply and focus on the touch rather than the emotion that was flooding her brain.

Body and brain warred for supremacy, the echoes of previous emotionless intimacies fighting to be resurrected. But she focused on Mia, chanting her name like a mantra to her mistrusting inner voices. Lifting her eyes repeatedly, she let the warm brown depths soothe her tumultuous thoughts, gaining strength from the sure, gentle regard she found there.

Eventually her mind calmed, and she opened her body and her heart to the gentle woman who held her in her arms, surprised by the strength and sureness of her embrace. All rational thought slowly ceased. Her body now in control, the deeply intimate caresses overpowered any shred of doubt about her sexuality that she harbored. This was right—so very right, and suddenly that was all that mattered.

Her breathing grew more erratic and her heart beat wildly, feeling like it would explode from her chest. The sensations grew to be so overpowering that all she could do was hold on and let them take her. Long, elegantly-shaped hands clutched at Mia, grasping at her hair, her skin—anything that she could reach to stay grounded. A fantastic burst of feeling washed over her as her body convulsed in sensation, the feeling at once brand new and deeply familiar.

Suddenly she was being cradled and soothed, warm gentle hands caressing her tenderly as her heart slowly calmed. She blinked up at Mia, desperately wanting to express the feelings that filled her heart, but she was completely unable to utter a single word. Tears formed in her blue eyes, spilling onto her cheeks, where Mia immediately kissed them away, lifting her head to lock her gaze onto Jordan's face, searching her expression for a gauge to her feelings. “Are you all right?” she asked.

“Perfect,” Jordan whispered, a tired smile curling the corner of her mouth. “As long as you hold me, I'm just perfect.”

* * * * * * * * * * *

Continued in Part 8

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