I Found My Heart in San Francisco

Book 12: Lifeline

by S X Meagher

Part 5

Jordan shot Mia a grin as their friends walked towards the beach. “Alone at last. I thought they'd never leave.”

“Who's that?” Mia asked as she leaned back in Jordan's embrace, her hands laced behind her lover's neck.

“Ryan and Jamie,” the blonde said, realizing that Mia was playing with her.

“Oh, are they here?” the smaller woman asked idly. “I hadn't noticed. All I see is a pair of crystal blue eyes, some dazzling white teeth, and some of the prettiest golden hair I've ever seen in my life.”

“Don't forget the warm, pink tongue,” Jordan said, delivering the evidence directly into Mia's mouth for inspection.

“How could I ever forget that?” she asked long moments later. “It's one of my favorite things on earth.”

“Really?” the blonde asked, strangely shy about believing compliments.

“Oh, yeah,” Mia said. “It's quite extraordinary you know. The first night — when you kissed me — I remember thinking, 'Oh, that is a delightful tongue. I can't wait to have it explore my body'.”

Jordan's head cocked as she asked, “Did you really?”

“Of course I did,” Mia said. “I was a goner by the time the sun rose, Jordan. I moped around for days when you didn't call me.”

The blonde blushed, the high color evident even in the moonlight. “I was too shy,” she said. “I didn't think you'd be interested in me when you found out I was so inexperienced.”

“Not so,” Mia said. “I was a little worried, but I was very interested.”

“Worried? Why were you worried?”

Mia took her by the hand and led her over to pair of chaises sitting side by side. Sitting on one, she urged Jordan into the other. They held hands while they watched the waves breaking, a few minutes passing before Mia continued. “I was afraid that you might get upset by the feelings that going further would bring up. Frankly, I was most afraid that you'd find that being with a woman wasn't right for you.” Looking over at the blonde she said quietly, “That would have been very hard for me.”

“I'm glad you hung in there with me,” Jordan said softly. “I'd been so worried about … being with someone … and you took all of my fears away. That was such a gift, Mia,” she said.

“Oh, Jordy, I'm sorry this was so hard for you, but in another way I'm thankful that you've not been with anyone else. It makes me feel very special that you waited to share your sexuality with me.”

“I shouldn't get credit for being a chicken,” Jordan said. “I would have been working my way through every available woman in the Bay area if I hadn't been such a coward.”

“Well, we'll never know for sure, but something makes me doubt that. I think you're just careful.”

“Eh … maybe,” Jordan said. “I guess we'll never know.” She looked over at her partner, her blue eyes sparkling. “So, am I making progress? I know I was horrid at first, but I feel like I'm getting my sea legs now.”

“You were never horrid, sweetheart, just nervous. The first time we were together, you touched my heart so deeply …” Mia sighed heavily, shaking her head. “By the time we had finished making love that first night, I was mad about you.”

“Really?” Jordan asked shyly. “I was pretty crazy about you, too. I did cartwheels all the way to school that morning,” she said. “Ryan thought I'd lost my mind.”

“We were pretty silly,” Mia said. “We tried really hard not to show each other how excited we were about being together.”

“Probably because I made such a big deal about not letting this get out of hand and not falling in love,” Jordan said quietly. Mia was lying on her side, and when Jordan said this she rolled onto her back and looked away, not wanting her partner to see the look in her eyes. Jordan rolled onto her side and grasped Mia's chin, turning it until they were nose to nose. “I didn't follow my own rules,” she said softly. “I couldn't help myself, Mia. You're such a wonderful woman…” She took a deep breath and finally spoke the truth. “I swear I was already in love with you the first time we made love.”

“You love me?” Mia's soft voice asked, her eyes wide and filled with wonder.

“Yes, I love you,” Jordan said, her voice surprisingly strong and confident. “I love you very, very much, Mia. You're all I think about, you're all I dream about. You're with me every part of every day … from the time I wake from my early morning dreams of you, until I fall asleep picturing your face. I love you.”

Practically throwing herself onto Jordan's chaise, Mia wrapped her in a rough embrace and kissed her with a rabid passion. Pulling back just slightly she whispered, “I love you, too, Jordan. I've loved you from the first time I touched you.”

Jordan beamed a smile at her and declared, “I have to go to the ocean. I want to strip off every bit of my clothing and run naked into the water. I need to bay at the moon!”

Taking her hand, Mia followed her lover down the stairs and across the sand, laughing hysterically at the wild enthusiasm that the taller woman was exhibiting.

*        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *

Jamie tugged Ryan along when she determined that her partner was moving too slowly. “You're on the verge of being too relaxed for my tastes,” the blonde said.

“Okay, I'll try to add a little tension to my demeanor,” Ryan promised, giving her partner a remarkably slow smile.

“Nah, you can dawdle if you want,” Jamie said. “I've just never seen you like this — it's going to take some getting used to.”

Ryan smiled down at her and admitted, “I sometimes deplete my resources to dangerously low levels. When I do that and then get a chance to just relax, I tend to sink into a near-vegetative state. I think I need to somehow find a happy medium -- one where I'm not frazzled or comatose.”

“That will take some work,” Jamie said, “but I think it's a good idea. I think you'd be happier if you weren't so stressed, either.”

“Yeah. As soon as this media assault is over, I'm going to try to be a little more moderate.”

“New Year's resolution?”

“No. Just a plan I'm going to attempt — with your help, of course.”

They had reached the beach, and as they padded along the firm-packed sand Jamie suggested, “Let's go over to that little outcropping of boulders, okay?”

“Sure, if you want to,” Ryan said. She took her hand and cut back across the fluffy sand, her bare feet kicking up little pink clouds as they walked. When they grew close, she spared a wry glance at her partner and said, “Hey, look! Somebody left us a couple of blankets, some candles and a bottle of champagne. Boy, are we lucky or what?”

“Planning is everything,” Jamie said, sharing a grin with her partner.

They settled down against the boulder after Jamie took pains to cover the rough surface with one of the blankets. Ryan sat against the stone, with her partner cuddled up between her legs. The smaller woman opened the bottle of champagne and poured a little into each of the glasses she'd brought. “Okay, at the risk of repeating myself, now I can't be any happier,” Ryan said. “Sitting on the beach with my beloved, sipping an exceptional bottle of champagne, listening to the quiet lapping of the waves … this is the height of pleasure.”

Jamie snuggled a little closer and drew circles on Ryan's knee with her fingertip. “You really don't think I can give you any more pleasure?”

Knowing that the question was rhetorical, Ryan teased her, saying, “Nope, I really don't think so. I think this is the apex of your powers.”

Checking the faint glow of her watch dial, Jamie's mouth curled into a gentle smile as she said, “Wanna bet?”

Her mouth curling into a grin, Ryan nodded. “Yeah, I'll take you on. I think you're bluffing.”

Crawling into position, Jamie settled herself just so, making sure that Ryan was right where she wanted her. Counting down the time, she leaned in close, then whispered, “Keep those sweet blue eyes open.” Her head dipped, and she captured Ryan's soft, moist lips, placing tender kisses upon them. With a massive boom! the first barrage of fireworks exploded right over their heads, the burst of sound followed by a rapture of color. Vivid red, blue, green and gold streamers shrieking across the inky black sky.

“Happy New Year, sweetheart,” Jamie whispered between kisses.

“Happy New Year to you, Jamie. I know this year will be a happy one for me, because I'll have you right by my side for the entire year.”

“Wow,” Jamie said slowly, as if something momentous had just dawned on her. “We've only been together a little over 6 months. How much happier will we be with a whole year to work with?”

“I can't wait to find out,” Ryan said, colorful streaks of fire glinting off her expressive eyes.

*        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *

Joyous voices echoed against the boulders that the lovers rested against. Ryan shifted slightly, turning her head just enough to look over her shoulder. “I have a feeling someone told someone else she loved her,” Ryan said, chuckling deep in her chest.

“Why do you think so?” Jamie asked.

“ 'Cause Jordan's doing cartwheels down the beach … and she's just answered the question of what a woman wears under her sarong,” she said dryly.

“And the answer is?”

“Nothing at all,” Ryan informed her. “Ahh, I could have waited for a second and gotten that answer the easy way,” she said. “She just stripped off all of her clothes … now Mia's done the same … yep, it's skinny dipping time.”

“Ooo … skinny dipping,” Jamie said, her interest piqued. “I've never been skinny dipping in the ocean.”

Ryan was on her feet in an instant, her silk pants hitting the ground a moment later. “No time like the present. Besides, I don't like the thought of the two of them out there alone. If we're there, we can keep an eye on each other.”

“Here I go,” Jamie said, shimmying out of her dress, an impish look on her face.

Ryan was nude in seconds, and she waited impatiently for Jamie to lose her underwear. “Let's boogie!” the blonde cried when she was naked. She grabbed Ryan's hand and ran as fast as her legs would carry her, feet pounding against the warm sand. She was yelling the whole time, Ryan laughing helplessly as she was dragged along behind her. They hit the water and just kept going, running until they were in up to their necks. “My God! This is fabulous!” Jamie cried. “Why have I never done this?”

Jordan and Mia came floating over, their joyous expressions dead give-aways. “Jordan loves me!” Mia cried, throwing her arms around Ryan's neck. She released her and offered the same embrace to Jamie, then Jordan waded over and did the same.

“That's wonderful, you two!” Jamie cried.

Mia put her hands on her lover's shoulders and jumped up, wrapping her legs around her waist. “She's loved me for months. She's loved me as long as I've loved her! How stupid were we, not to tell each other sooner?”

“You told each other now,” Ryan said. “That's all that matters.”

Mia looked so happy getting to go for a ride that Jamie jumped onto her partner's hips as well. They played in the warm water for a long while, enjoying the fireworks that continued to shoot across the sky.

“Hey,” Ryan said. “One of the benefits of water is the relative weightlessness. Jordan and I should get to ride, too.”

Jamie slid from her hips and said, “I can take you, hot stuff. Climb on.” She braced herself as Ryan wrapped her long legs around her waist. “Your legs are long enough to loop them around twice,” she said.

“I'm gonna ignore that,” Ryan said, “and resume telling you how positively marvelous I feel. You've made me a very happy woman tonight, Jamers.”

“I hate to be a spoil sport, but it's getting late,” Jamie said. “We should go in soon.”

“I really like being outside,” Ryan said. “Any chance we could stay out here to continue our party?”

The smaller woman smiled and said, “I think this is one of those 'sounds better than it is' things. I think we'd need a shower first. I know I have sand in some very private places.”

“There's an outdoor shower right by the beachside restaurant …” The look in Ryan's eyes was one of hopeful playfulness. Jamie knew that she would be mildly disappointed if she chose not to comply with the request, but she also knew that Ryan would hold no hard feelings. Considering the matter for just a moment, she turned to their companions and asked, “You guys aren't ready to go back in, are you?”

“Hell, no!” Mia cried. “I wanna watch the sun come up!”

“Would you consider being lookouts for us? We wanna go … be close … over by the rocks, and we don't want any surprise visitors. Would you keep an eye out?”

“Sure, girls,” Mia said. “Have any champagne left?”

“Yep. Almost a whole bottle,” Ryan said. “But if you drink it, promise you'll stay near the shore. I don't want to lose either one of you tonight.”

“Deal. We'll sit in the surf and talk. That's one of our favorite dates,” she said, beaming up at her partner.

*        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *

Jamie screwed up her courage and scampered across the sand, her nakedness slowly receding from her consciousness. The shower was warm and efficient, with the hotel-provided banana-scented shower gel removing every irritating trace of sand from her body. “All clean?” Ryan asked, her eyes already twinkling.

“Yeah … but when I walk across the sand I'll be all dirty again,” Jamie said, placing her hands on her hips, daring her partner to solve that conundrum.

“Simple solution to a complex problem,” Ryan said, bending down to sweep her into her arms.

“Honey, you'll hurt yourself carrying me that far!”

“Oh, please! You're as light as a feather! I could carry you all over this island.”

“Are you sure? I don't want you complaining of a bad back tomorrow.”

“I'm positive,” Ryan said. “I do want to be complaining about certain parts being overstressed, but my back won't be one of them.”

“Such a focus you have,” Jamie said as they made their way back to their lair.

Jordan and Mia had taken the champagne bottle, but they had thoughtfully left the glasses, and each now contained a few ounces of the golden liquid. Ryan lit the candles, then covered each with the hurricane glass to keep the wind from blowing them out. She propped herself up against the biggest boulder and took a sip of her wine, letting the tiny bubbles tickle her throat. Jamie scooted between her legs, resting her torso against Ryan's. “We fit together so nicely,” she said, as she idly played with the water droplets coating her partner's thighs.

“I know,” Ryan murmured. “There are so many positions we just seem drawn to. You wouldn't think that would be so, since I'm almost nine inches taller than you are, but I've honestly never felt more physically comfortable with anyone.” She tugged her partner even closer, thrilling to the feel of her warm skin touching her own cooled flesh. “How do you feel about being outside? I don't want you to be uncomfortable.”

“I feel good,” Jamie said. “Having Mia and Jordan look out for us took away my concerns. I just didn't want to be surprised by any uninvited visitors.”

“It seems like most people wanted to be at parties tonight,” Ryan said. “I haven't seen another soul since we came down here. This is such a fantastic place,” she sighed, her contentment evident. “I love the fact that there's practically nothing to do here … and that everyone from the hotel seems to have gone onto Eleuthra for some fun.”

“Mom's travel agent is fabulous,” Jamie said, “but this is working out better than I had hoped. This was just what we needed.”

“It is,” Ryan sighed. “And the longer we're here, the more obvious it is how much we needed this. I'm really starting to feel like myself again.”

“I can tell,” Jamie murmured. “Your playful self seems like she's back again.” She paused for a moment and said, “I've missed her.”

“I've missed her, too,” Ryan said. “I've got to concentrate on staying child-like. It's one of the keys to my sanity.”

“It's doing little things out of the ordinary like this that make me feel young,” Jamie said. “Things like staying outside tonight.”

Ryan dropped her head and nuzzled her partner's still-damp neck. “Doing this doesn't make me feel young,” she demurred. “It makes me feel hot. I absolutely love holding your warm naked body … just a candle and your luscious curves to guide my touch … the sound of the waves lapping against the shore … and that fantastic scent of jasmine and hibiscus that sweetens the air. Every one of my senses is saying, 'Thank you!'”

“Mmm … mine too,” Jamie murmured. “This is heavenly.”

“No, this is heavenly,” Ryan said, putting her arm out at a right angle and lowering Jamie onto it. When she had her in the proper position, she dipped her head and began to kiss her … the tender, emotion-filled touch warming both of their hearts.

They continued to nuzzle and cuddle for a very long time, neither of them compelled to progress. Just this simple meeting of their lips, their breath filling each other's lungs, was enough to completely satisfy them. “I never dreamed this would be the year I fell in love,” Ryan said, her voice soft and warm. Between each word she planted kisses on her lover's face … on her delicate eyelids … on the smooth curve of her neck. “I'm so happy that it was with you, Jamie.”

Feeling the emotion well up in her chest, the smaller woman caressed Ryan's lips with her own. “I'm so happy that you chose me,” she whispered.

A deep laugh bubbled up from the dark woman, and she gently reminded her partner, “You … chose … me. Remember?”

“How could I forget that?” she giggled warmly. “Best choice I've ever made.” She ran her hand down Ryan's shoulder, continuing down her arm until she could see goose bumps form on her flesh. “I make that choice every single day, Ryan, and I will for the rest of my life.”

“I look forward to a lifetime of saying yes,” her partner replied, her voice husky with emotion.

As she leaned into her again, Jamie's lips tingled with the sweet intensity of their kisses. Desire began to pulse through and between their bodies, each beat of their hearts increasing their need for one another.

Ryan shifted her powerful body, effortlessly moving her partner onto her back. As the large form hovered over her, Jamie soothed her by slowly running her hands up and down the strong back, welcoming her soft, warm tongue into her mouth. She felt delicious, familiar tingles fly up and down her spine as the darting tongue slid into the recesses of her mouth, seemingly determined to leave no part of her untouched.

Unaware that she had moved, Jamie felt her legs lock around her lover's pelvis, pulling her down hard against her need. A low, satisfied growl passed her lips as Ryan dipped her head once again, her kiss now more demanding, more compelling.

Just as her body started to grind against Jamie, Ryan lifted her head, forcing her eyes to focus. Gasping for breath she said, “This isn't how I want to love you tonight. I want to touch you gently and softly, to show you how much you mean to me.”

Smiling serenely, the smaller woman ran her fingers through her partner's hair, pushing the dark locks from her eyes. “We can make love any way that your heart desires. Show me what's in your heart, Ryan. Open yourself up to me.”

The deep blue eyes fluttered closed, and a shiver chased down Ryan's spine as she tried to gather herself enough to show her partner all of the love she possessed. Blinking slowly, the dark-haired woman gazed deeply into her lover's eyes, trusting her with every tender emotion that she held in her heart. She was staring so intently that Jamie automatically returned her gaze, not even blinking as Ryan started to glide her hands up and down her body.

Their eyes locked on each other, Ryan kept her touch soft and slow and very, very gentle. Her eyes would trail to the skin she was caressing, her gaze so tender and filled with love that Jamie's heart ached from the intensity of her feelings. Seconds after dropping her gaze, Ryan's eyes would once again return to her partner's, the strength of their connection so fierce that it was nearly visible.

The strong, warm hands moved unerringly, slowly but inexorably drawing the smaller woman along a path that they had traveled many times. Ryan lowered her body so that she lay right next to her lover, their eyes still fixed on one another. As the long, elegant fingers slipped into her, Jamie fought to maintain her connection with her partner, forcing her eyes to remain open.

A tiny smile tugged at one corner of Ryan's lips, and she leaned in and kissed her partner, delighting in the small gasp that filled her mouth when her fingers touched a particularly sensitive spot.

Once again she pulled back and stared into Jamie's eyes, feeling the intimate connection reach every part of herself that had been closed off or hidden during their tumultuous last week.

Ryan could see the pulse pounding against her partner's throat, could see her struggling to maintain her gaze, even as her eyes lost their focus. Leaning just above Jamie's lips, her desire throbbed through her body as she heard the breath catch in her lover's chest. Her lips were captured by Jamie's hungry mouth just as the first spasms raced through her body. The smaller woman struggled for breath, but she needed Ryan's warm mouth covering her own more than air. Her arms were locked around her partner's neck, holding on for dear life as Ryan's fingers picked up the beat again, gliding against her slickness with the same rhythm as her rapidly beating heart.

Jamie couldn't let go — couldn't loosen her hold one bit. She clutched Ryan to her breast so tightly that both sets of lungs were unable to fully expand — but neither woman regretted the sacrifice. Feeling her lover's need to merge with her was deeply thrilling for Ryan, and she gladly accepted the bruises that were sure to follow.

As the second wash of sensation pulsed through her body, Jamie's mouth opened to cry out, but Ryan covered her tender lips once again, needing to capture the explosion of feeling in her own body. The smaller woman didn't disappoint — gasping out a strangled cry that was devoured by Ryan's hungry mouth. Soft moans and deep sighs continued to spring from her lips for long moments -- every sound, every breath greedily consumed by the dark woman.

Finally, needing to fill her lungs, Jamie regretfully pulled away just enough to be able to breathe. Ryan was so close that the smaller woman could have counted every one of her long, dark lashes, and she gave every indication that she would remain right where she was for as long as Jamie could tolerate the closeness.

Once she was able to take in a normal breath, the blonde gazed at her partner with loving eyes and gently teased, “Why are you so far away?”

Ryan immediately closed the scant distance and spent a few moments kissing her with a passionate intensity. Finally lifting her head just an inch she whispered, “I never want to be farther than this from your sweet lips.”

Smiling broadly, Jamie murmured, “My plans for the future match yours exactly.”

“Let the future begin,” Ryan said, capturing her prize once again.

*        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *

Two bodies came running across the sand, their exuberant cries nearly swallowed by the sounds of the surf. Splashing through the waves, they found their friends, as promised, lying on the hard-packed sand just at the edge of the water.

“All loved out?” Mia asked lazily, looking up from where her head was pillowed on Jordan's chest.

“I am perfectly well loved,” Ryan said. “Can't speak for my partner here, but I'm just about at my capacity for bliss.”

“Count me in,” Jamie said. “Thanks for watching out for us, guys. I could never have relaxed if you hadn't been playing lookout.”

“Don't you think one good turn deserves another?” Jordan asked, her eyes glittering in the bright moonlight.

“That's only fair,” Ryan said. “We'll play in the surf while you two take over our little love nest.”

“If you get cold, you don't have to stay,” Mia said as she got to her feet. “No one's been out here all night, and I doubt anyone will come by this late.”

“No, we'll stay,” Ryan said, her cautious side emerging. “You never know who might come by, and seeing a couple of beautiful women making love on the beach might be more than even a rational person could resist. And given that most people out at this time of night are blind drunk …”

“Okay, okay,” Jordan said. “We promise not to fall asleep and leave you out here all night.” Looking at her partner she said, “Even though that won't be easy. I call Mia my little sandman.”

“Get going, you two,” Jamie said. “I think you'll find the accommodations quite lovely.”

It was getting a little cool, so rather than lie in the surf, the pair decided to walk up and down the beach for a while. It was still entirely deserted, and as the wind freshened, Ryan felt a chill go down her partner's body. “We should have taken one of the blankets,” the taller woman said.

“I am getting chilled,” Jamie said. “I hope they don't take too long.”

“Why don't you run up to the cottage and get some clothes? I can watch you from here.”

“You don't mind?”

“Of course not. Bring me some sweats while you're at it, okay?”

“Will do,” Jamie said as she scampered off, the white flesh of her ass flashing in the moonlight, much to Ryan's pleasure.

She returned a few minutes later, clad in her warmest sweats. Ryan reached for her own, but Jamie urged her to wait for a moment. “Can I take your picture?” she asked.

“Like this?” Ryan asked, holding her arms out to indicate her nakedness.

“Yep. I want to have a picture of you on our first New Year's together. Do you mind?”

“Nope,” Ryan said. “If you can get the pictures developed, I'll do whatever pleases you.”

“It's a digital, silly. We can be as risqué as we like.” Jamie situated her in a few memorable poses, then doffed her own clothes and fiddled with the camera for a moment, set it on a rock and took a few of the two of them embracing. “I want to show these to the people at the retirement home in about seventy years,” she said. “I want to be able to back up my contention that you were the hottest looking 24-year-old in the world.”

“You plan for everything, don't you,” Ryan said. When they were both dressed, Ryan looked at her watch and said, “It's been a long while. Think they're still making love?”

Jamie glanced at her watch and saw that it was 4 a.m. “Doubtful,” she said. “Let's get a little closer and see if we hear anything.”

They did so, walking across the sand, hand in hand. As they drew near, it was clear that their friends were sound asleep, and Jamie took the opportunity to snap a few photos of them, their bodies completely entangled. They were so sound asleep that neither woke until the third picture, the flash finally penetrating their slumber. “Oh-oh,” Jordan mumbled drowsily. “I think we fell asleep.”

“I think you did,” Ryan said. “We're going in to bed. Wanna join us?”

“I wanna see the sun rise,” Mia said, her voice still heavy with sleep.

Ryan and Jamie exchanged looks, and Ryan said, “Take our sweats if you're gonna stay out here. I don't want you two lying out here naked.”

“You sure?” Jordan asked.

“Yep.” Ryan struggled out of her clothes and tossed them to Jordan, then slipped her original slacks and snippet of a blouse on.

“Ooo, warm,” Jordan sighed, getting into the toasty clothes. Mia did the same with Jamie's, while the smaller blonde put her dress back on.

“Goodnight, love birds,” Ryan said, giving them a little wave.

“Keep my camera and take some pictures of the sunrise,” Jamie said.

“Okay,” Mia said. “See you guys later.”

They walked along in the bright moonlight, their hands linked, Jamie's head resting upon Ryan's shoulder.

“You've set a pretty high standard for the first day of the new year,” Ryan said. “We've only experienced four and a half hours of the year 2000, and I've felt more joy than most people get in a lifetime.”

“We do have our work cut out for us,” Jamie said. “But I know you like to set goals for yourself, so we can make it our New Year's resolution to have every day be filled with as much joy as we've felt tonight. It's a tough job, but you're the woman I want on my team.”

“We're permanent teammates,” Ryan said.

When they reached their room, Jamie's sure, warm hands started to undress her partner, letting her hands glide across her cool skin. “Ready for bed, love?”

“Yeah,” Ryan said, her voice low and a little hoarse. “No better way to see the New Year in than wrapped in your embrace.”

“You're gonna see an awful lot of New Years in just that way. Sure you're up to it?”

“If we're together until the third millennium, that won't be enough for me,” Ryan said, meaning every word.

*        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *

Ryan tried to ignore the giggling that pulled her from sleep. Nuzzling her face against Jamie's neck, she tugged her partner closer, trying to hide her face to avoid showing her wakefulness.

“Come on, sleepyheads,” Mia said. “Pose for your picture.”

“G'way,” Ryan growled, drawing the sheet up to cover their naked bodies.

“It's payback time, Boomer,” Jordan crooned, giggling as she grabbed the bottom of the sheet and ripped it from Ryan's grasp.

“C'mon,” the dark woman moaned, “let us sleep. Have a heart, guys.”

“I bet you don't have any pictures of how cute you look when you sleep together,” Jordan said. “We're just rounding out your photo album.” The shutter snapped again, and rather than trying to retrieve the sheet, Ryan just shifted a little so that she was mostly lying on top of Jamie to provide some cover. “How can she sleep through this?” the tall blonde marveled.

“Forget that,” Mia said. “How can she sleep with Ryan on top of her like that? You weigh a ton, big girl!”

“Again, thanks for sharing,” Ryan responded dryly. “More later, okay?”

“Come play with us,” Mia begged. She slid into bed next to Jamie, leaned over and pushed her eyelids open with her thumbs, gazing into the green orbs as they began to focus. “Wanna get up and play with us?” she asked, her bright visage just inches from her friend's face.

“Who's on top of me?” Jamie mumbled. “Jordan or Ryan?”

Ryan's hand slid down her body and gave her a little tickle on the back of her thigh, right at the swell of her ass.

“Ahh, that's my Ryan,” she sighed, knowing that only her partner would be able to find a sensitive spot so adroitly.

“Do you often wake up with Jordan on top of you?” Ryan's deep voice burred against her ear.

“No. But I usually don't wake up with Mia tugging on my eyelids either. Who knows what else might be going on.”

“Come on, guys,” Mia said. “The Rose Parade is on TV. Don't you want to watch it with us?”

Ryan sighed and rolled onto her back. “I'm game. I love the parade.”

“Me too,” Jamie said, taking a deep breath as her partner's weight lifted from her body. “Thanks for waking us up, Mia.” She rolled over onto her friend, straddling her body as she twitched her fingers under her tank top and got in a good bout of tickling. “Just remember that I know where some of your sensitive spots are, buddy, so don't make a habit of waking me up like that.”

Mia was howling with laughter as her hands flailed wildly, trying to get her friend to stop the torture. “Promise! Promise!” she cried.

Sliding off her waist, Jamie blew on her index fingers as though they were smoking pistols. “Better not forget your promise, pal. These babies are always loaded.”

*        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *

After they ate a delightful breakfast while watching the parade, they decided to go to the beach, lie in the sun, and sleep. Following lavish applications of sun-tan lotion to the yards of exposed skin, they all nodded off quickly, managing to sleep soundly even though the beach was quite a bit more crowded than it had been the day before.

Around noon, Ryan's empty stomach woke her, and she stretched and growled for a few minutes. Jordan was right behind her in waking, and both women got up and continued to stretch, to the delighted pleasure of the young men closest to them. “Wanna go get lunch?” Ryan asked. “They've got some conch chowder at the restaurant that is killer.”

“Sure. Should we ask what our women want?”

“Nah. Jamie's easy to please. I know what she likes. How about Mia?”

“Yeah, I think I've got her number,” Jordan said, grinning toothily.

“I just bet you do,” Ryan replied with a matching smile, as she slung her arm around her friend's shoulders and led her to the restaurant.

As if she could sense her partner's absence, Jamie woke just minutes after Ryan and Jordan left. She looked around idly and saw the pair trudging through the pink sand, little clouds billowing up as their feet shuffled along. Mia woke up when she heard Jamie moving around, and she sat up, running her hands through her curls. “I'm hungry,” she pouted, sounding more like a five-year-old than an adult.

“I think our women went to provide for us,” Jamie said.

Mia got up to stretch the kinks out, saying loudly, “I don't care what they bring, as long as it's chocolate.”

“Ooo, chocolate,” Jamie purred. “I'm seriously chocolate deprived.”

The young men sunning close to them overheard this bit of conversation, and one of them hopped to his feet, bringing with him a paper plate filled with gooey, chocolate chip-laden brownies. “Heard you girls talking, and thought I'd be neighborly,” he said, his handsome face sporting a wide smile.

“Oh, no thanks,” Jamie said. “We're getting lunch soon.”

Mia shot her a puzzled look and reached for one of the treats. “Suit yourself, babe, but these look fantastic.” She gave the young man a long look and asked, “Just being neighborly, right? 'Cause we're not looking for dates.”

He looked mildly offended as his eyes widened. “Just being friendly, ma'am,” he said. “A little New Year's treat for y'all.”

Jamie gave Mia a look, and saw her friend take a bite of the brownie. Mia's nose crinkled up as she asked, “Who made these … you?”

“Yep. How'd I do?”

“You're quite the cook,” she said. “Did you use cannabutter?”

“Uh-huh,” he said. “They're good, aren't they?”

“The best I've ever had,” she said. “Boy, they're really loaded, aren't they?”

Now Jamie's interest was piqued, and her mouth started to water. “Can I have a bite?” she asked, taking half of Mia's square and popping it into her mouth before the brunette could blink. She smacked her lips reflectively, detecting an odd aftertaste. “What kind of butter did you use?” she asked, repeating Mia's query. “Is it something local?”

“Yep,” he said. “It's all native.”

“Do they graze cows or yaks around here?” she asked, her nose wrinkling in distaste.

The young man found her question to be wildly funny, but he offered no further hints. She was still trying to place the unique flavor when she spotted her partner out of the corner of her eye.

“Hey, who's having dessert first?”

“We were just sharing some brownies with our neighbor here,” Jamie said, trying to give her partner the 'these are odd, don't even think of taking a bite' sign. But Ryan was never one to deprive herself of a treat, and she lifted the last bite from Mia's hand and popped it into her mouth.

Mia's eyes grew wide and she said, “Ryan, don't!”

Her quick reflexes allowed her to spit it onto the sand before she had even managed to taste it. “What's in it?” she asked, her eyes flashing.

“Uhm … they're magic brownies,” she said, knowing that Ryan was not one to partake in mind-altering substances.

“You ate some?” Ryan asked, glaring at her partner.

“Y … yeah, I did,” Jamie said weakly. “Just half of a brownie, though.”

“She didn't eat much, Ryan,” Mia said.

Looking at both of the women, Ryan narrowed her eyes and asked, “Did you know there was grass in those brownies?”

“Uhm … yeah,” Mia gulped, while Jamie shook her head.

Now Jordan was staring at her partner, her expression betraying her dismay. “Mia! You knew that you were eating loaded brownies, and you didn't try to stop Jamie?”

“Stop her? She broke off half of my brownie and had it in her mouth before I could say a word! What's the big deal, anyway? We've gotten high together plenty of times,” the smaller woman said. She looked to Jamie for support, but saw her friend rolling her eyes, looking a little sick. “Uhm, well, not plenty of times,” she said, trying to extricate herself from the corner she had painted both of them into. “Hardly ever … uhm … maybe I'm thinking of someone else …”

Ryan leveled her gaze at Mia and said, “Jamie obviously doesn't mind having substances put into her body without her permission, but if you ever try something like that with me …” She stopped herself from uttering the threat that was on the tip of her tongue, deciding that the atmosphere was tense enough without wishing harm to her friend.

The dark-haired woman turned and strode towards their cottage, not getting five feet before Jamie was beside her. “Honey?”

“Later,” Ryan said. “I'm not in the mood.”

Smarting from the brush-off, Jamie sat on steps of their deck for a few minutes, not quite knowing how to approach her partner. She felt blameless about the incident, but she knew that Mia wasn't really to blame either, having gotten the impression through the years that Jamie was usually willing to have a few hits off a joint during a party.

After a long while, Jamie realized that Ryan was not going to come out, so she steeled her nerve and went in. The taller woman was sitting in one of the chairs in the living room, and she made no move for several minutes. “I uhm … I don't have any right to pry into your life before we were together,” Ryan said softly, “but I would like to know if you and Mia currently get high together.”

Jamie came over to her chair, and sank to the ground next to her. “No, of course we don't,” she said. “I wouldn't have done it today either, but I had no idea there was anything in that brownie. I honestly thought it was just badly made, and I was trying to be polite. I have no interest in ever getting high again, honey. Really,” she said, her eyes searching Ryan's, which had turned a steel gray.

Her brow knit and her gaze sharpened. “Are you saying Mia tricked you into eating it?”

“No, not at all. I honestly took it from her, just like you did,” she said. “But since she knows I've smoked with her before, she obviously didn't think she had to warn me off. It's not her fault, honey.”

The dark head shook, her lips pursed together. “I'm sorry, too,” she said. “I know I overreacted a little ...” She paused at Jamie's raised eyebrow glance. “Okay, maybe a lot. But even if you didn't know there was grass in it, that was incredibly naïve, Jamie. Accepting food or drink from strange guys is just … well, it's stupid,” she said, knowing the term was harsh, but believing it was apt.

“You started to eat a bite,” the blonde said quietly, looking down at the floor.

Ryan shook her head and said, “I didn't know the whole story. I saw you two eating something that looked good, so I grabbed a bite. You didn't tell me that a complete stranger had given it to you. Yes, you said you were sharing brownies with those guys, but for all I knew you had bought them at the store when you went out yesterday, or had bought them at the restaurant when I was asleep.”

“You're right,” the smaller woman said, resting her head on Ryan's knee. “You're disappointed in me, aren't you,” she said.

“No, I'm not disappointed in you,” Ryan said as she ran her hand through Jamie's hair. “I've done far stupider things.”

“I was afraid to tell you that I've smoked grass before,” Jamie said softly. “I knew it would bother you.”

Ryan was quiet for a moment, but finally said, “Drug use is just a hot button for me, baby, you know that. It brings back so many bad memories …”

“I understand. Let's just close that little chapter, okay? Today was the last time I'll use grass. Promise,” she said.

Ryan shook her head, saying, “It's not my place to tell you what you can and can't do, Jamie. If you want to smoke grass, that's your choice. I'm sorry for being so controlling. I'd just prefer that you don't do it in front of me.”

“It's all right, baby. I don't want to get high any more. Besides, if I really wanted to smoke grass again, I'd say so. I don't like to be controlled — as you know.”

“Well, whether or not you want to, you're still gonna get high today,” Ryan said. “Ingesting it is much more efficient, but slower acting.”

“Great. You'll not only be disappointed in me, you'll get to see me acting as dumb as a stump.”

“I promise that I'm not disappointed in you,” Ryan said. “I meant it when I said I've done many, many things that were more unwise than smoking a little grass. I'm actually more upset that you took food from those guys. That was beyond naïve.” Giving Jamie a puzzled look she continued, “Why do you think they wanted to talk to you and share their drugs with you, anyway? That's akin to accepting a drink from a guy at a bar. They don't do that because you look thirsty, ya know.” She shook her head and said, “For two sporadically straight girls, you two seem pretty clueless about guys.”

“Okay, I get your point,” Jamie said, rolling her eyes. “No more taking candy from strangers.”

“I'm lecturing you, aren't I?” Ryan asked.

Holding her thumb a scant distance from her index finger, Jamie allowed, “A little.”

“I apologize,” the dark-haired woman said. “I don't want to supervise you, Jamie. I'll back off.”

“You're not supervising me,” Jamie said, “you're caring for me. Big difference.”

*        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *

“Hey,” Ryan said as they reclaimed their chairs, “I apologize for flying off the handle. I'm still pretty short-tempered, I guess. I uhm … snap at people over the smallest things.”

“I'm really, really sorry, Ryan,” the curly-haired woman said.

“You don't owe me an apology, Mia. You warned me before I ate it. Now, Jamie's a different matter,” she drawled, looking at her partner.

Mia got up and sat next to her friend, sharing the edge of the chaise. “Jamie, I'm really sorry if I let you get high when you didn't want to. I thought you knew what I meant when I asked if he used cannabutter.”

“Mia, I've smoked grass about six times in my life. I had no idea what you were talking about. What in the heck were you talking about, anyway?”

“Oh, that's a way to make things that get you high without tasting terrible. You cook up some grass with water and butter, and strain it and cool it, and then you skim the butter off. It leaves an aftertaste, but nothing like trying to cook with it by just putting chopped up grass in brownies. Those taste like they were made with a combination of sand and hay.” She grimaced and shook her head. “Nasty stuff.”

Jamie reached over and wrapped her friend in a hug. “I'm not mad at you. And I did grab a bite before you had much time to warn me. But I don't want to do this again, okay?”

“Gotcha,” she said. “I'll go run for more lunch. We uhm … kinda ate yours.”

“Darned good idea,” Ryan said.

Jamie and Mia went off together, leaving a pensively silent Jordan and Ryan behind. “You look pissed,” Ryan said.

The blonde head shook as she said, “No, not pissed.” Leaning back with her hands laced around her knee she said, “I know that Mia smokes grass once in a while … among other things.” She let out a low chuckle, acknowledging that her lover was a very free spirit. “I uhm … I'd have to say that I'm more bothered by her taking the stuff from those guys.” She twitched her head in the direction of the six young men who were seated close to them.

“That's what bothered me too,” Ryan said. “I'm surprised that Jamie was that naïve. You just don't take food from strange guys out on the beach.” She shook her head and continued, “You never know when an innocent looking guy might be a real predator. They could have had those things laced with anything!”

“No, it's not the food thing. It's that she was interacting with the guys like that. She's just such a natural flirt, Ryan. I know that she's just that way … it's an elemental part of her personality. But guys don't see it that way.” She shook her head quickly, trying to dispel the image of Mia flirting with the men from her imagination. “I'm worried about her.” She let out a plaintive sigh and said, “I told you a month ago that this was one of my biggest fears about getting involved with her. I don't think she slutty, but she's … very friendly. I worry that she's gonna flirt with someone who flirts back and …” She trailed off, obviously uncomfortable with where her mental image led her.

“Of course that's possible,” Ryan said, “but it seems unlikely to me. I still flirt, Jordan. I don't really try to, but it's … who I am, too. But just because I flirt doesn't mean I'd ever do anything about it. I notice other women, but I only love Jamie, and I'll always be completely faithful to her. I think Mia really loves you, Jordan. I don't think she's playing, and I don't think she'll betray you.”

“I hope not, Ryan,” she said softly, staring at the pink sand that covered her toes. “I don't think I could handle it if she breaks my heart.”

“I know just how you feel,” Ryan said. “It's scary to be this vulnerable with another person.”

“Scary is the word,” the blonde said, flopping back onto her chaise to wait for their partners.

*        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *

Ryan looked up from the last few bites of her chowder to see a pair of vivid green eyes staring at her soup. “Want something?” she asked, sucking on the spoon tauntingly.

“I'm still hungry,” Jamie said, her gaze never leaving the bowl.

Ryan rolled her eyes and asked, “Does somebody have the munchies?”

The blonde head nodded slowly. “I'm already a little high,” she said, not even trying to suppress the giggle that had been trying to escape. “I get a little silly,” she said, her nose crinkling up in the grin that Ryan was powerless to resist.

“I love you, no matter how silly you are, Jamers,” Ryan said. “Let's go get you a little more food.”

“Oh, God,” she moaned, “I'm so hungry that I was looking to take a bite out of your tasty looking calf.” Ryan rolled her eyes as her partner started to giggle again, and they headed back to the restaurant for the third time in the last hour.

*        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *

Depositing her plate onto the sand, Jamie eyed her partner speculatively and said, “Now I need dessert.” Her eyes raked up and down the long body, and Ryan immediately got the message that she was the proposed snack.

“Let's go, stoner,” the amused woman said, extending her hand to give her a boost.

“I want some of that dessert, too,” Mia said, giving Jordan the same hungry look that Ryan had just received.

Jordan rolled her eyes and stood, helping her partner to her feet to trail behind their friends.

When they arrived at the cottage, Ryan surprised them all by turning on the TV and flopping down at the end of the sofa. “Come over here and keep me company while I watch a little of the Rose Bowl,” she said, patting her lap. “Stanford's playing, you know. You promised your dad you'd watch.”

Jamie stood with her hands on her hips, her face betraying her incredulity. “You'd rather watch football than … me?”

“Football's only on for another quarter,” Ryan said. “You're here all day.” She spared a charming grin at her lover, hoping that was enough to get her to comply. “Now that we've been together for six months I have to start taking you for granted. It's in the rule book,” she said.

“I knew it,” the blonde said. “I knew you were just bode … bid … biding your time until you could start ignoring me.” She looked very pleased with herself for being able to remember the word she had been searching for, and Ryan couldn't help but smile at her.

Jamie lay down on her back with her head resting on Ryan's thigh, and stared vacantly at the ceiling, trying to count the number of times that the slow moving ceiling fan revolved. Ryan placed one hand on her head and began a slow, gentle head rub, while her other hand made matching patterns on her bare belly. In seconds the smaller woman was sound asleep, not even noticing when Jordan asked loudly, “Want something to drink, Boomer?”

“Sure,” Ryan said, now able to talk in her normal tone of voice. “Got any sparkling water?”

Jordan tossed her a bottle and sat down on the couch that rested perpendicular to Ryan's. Mia came in from the kitchen, munching on a bag of M & M's that she and Jamie had purchased from the liquor store the day before. “You too?” she asked, giving Jordan a cross look.

“Just a few minutes, honey,” she said. “The game's really close.”

Giving her a scowl, Mia took up a position identical to Jamie's, and after just a few minutes, had joined her in sleep. Jordan tilted her head slightly and gently pulled on her chin, checking to make sure she didn't have any more candy in her mouth. “She conked out so fast I wasn't sure she had time to swallow,” she said to Ryan. “I'm amazed that they got high from one brownie. What would they be like if they'd eaten a couple of them?”

“People don't realize how stoned they're getting when they ingest grass,” Ryan said, shaking her head. “Have I told you about my cousin? The one who died of AIDS?”

“Yeah. I know that you were really close,” she said.

“We were.” Ryan looked down at her partner, continuing to play with her hair. “His lungs were too trashed to allow him to smoke grass, but eating magic brownies helped give him an appetite, and it killed his pain a little,” she said. “I'd guess that marijuana kept him alive for at least a year longer than he would have lived if he'd relied only on legal drugs.” Her face grew dark as she said, “He had some good doctors, but they dropped the ball when it came to pain relief. They were totally freaked about him becoming addicted to painkillers. Grass really helped,” she said.

“You seemed awfully pissed when you realized Jamie had taken some,” Jordan said. “I thought you were just really anti-drugs.”

“No, not really,” Ryan said. “Ignoring the fact that it's illegal, I don't think grass is any worse than alcohol if you use it in moderation. My bigger issue is with anything that changes your mood or your personality.” She looked at Jordan with eyes full of pain as she said, “The last year of Michael's life, he was too sick and disoriented to even know where he was. But the year before that, he was stoned much of the time. He had to be,” she said quietly. “I'm happy that he got some relief, and I'm happy that he was able to eat, but that wasn't Michael. It was nearly impossible to have a lucid conversation with him when he was high, and his wit and his observant style were completely gone. He was alive, but he wasn't … there. Do you know what I mean?” she asked.

“Yeah, yeah I do,” the blonde said softly. “It seems like there's a point at which you're extending life … but is it really your life that you're extending?”

“Exactly,” Ryan said. “You really get this, Jordan.”

“Yeah, I do,” she said. “My grandfather died last year. Prostate cancer.” She looked over at her friend and said, “He was the one worthwhile member of the whole group, and he was dead before he hit sixty-five.”

“I'm sorry,” Ryan said.

“Yeah, it was hard. He was being kept alive, too; and just like your cousin, he wasn't really there any more. I was glad for him when he had a massive heart attack and died before they could try to save him.”

Ryan looked very contemplative as she said, “It seems like we're here such a short time. Why try to dull your senses and your perceptions?”

Jordan shrugged and said, “People have been trying to alter their consciousness since we lived in caves. I think it's part of the human condition. I know that I'd be a mess without the high I get from endorphins.”

Ryan smiled at her and said, “Yeah, I've got a lot of nerve to complain about Jamie getting high. Hell, I alter my consciousness constantly. With sex, with food, with thrills, with danger seeking, with physical activity. My father says that when I was an infant, I would rock in my crib until I was in a trance. The boys used to bring their friends over to look at me like a little sideshow exhibit,” she said. “Da says I wouldn't even blink when they put their hands in my face and snapped their fingers.”

“Yeah, but those states are something you can slip out of immediately,” Jordan said. “The thing I hate about drugs and alcohol is that you can't change your mind once you're high. I despise being altered under some arbitrary time line. Couldn't do it,” she said.

“Have you ever smoked grass?” Ryan asked.

“No. No interest, really. You?”

“Huh-uh. Some of my cousins do, and my brothers have, but I couldn't do it, either. Lord, I couldn't do it just because of the munchies!” she said, laughing. “I'd burst!”

*        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *

When Jamie woke, her partner and Jordan were chatting softly, neither watching the television, which was now showing some syndicated show from the U.S. “Where's the football game?” she asked slowly, smacking her dry lips together.

“Over. Wisconsin won, by the way.” Ryan checked her watch and said, “You've been out for more than an hour.”

“Really?” Jamie sat up and stretched, moaning a little as she said, “I feel hung over.”

“I'll get you something to drink,” Ryan said. “That'll help.”

She came back with a pitcher of fresh lemonade, with just a hint of the fragrant local limes in it for bite. “Ooo, this is goooood,” Jamie sighed.

“What's good?” a rough voice demanded from across the room.

“Lemonade,” Jamie said, getting up and walking over to her friend to hand her a glass. “We did good buying those lemons and limes yesterday.”

“God, this is good,” Mia said, sitting up just enough to greedily gulp it down. Sitting up all the way, she gave Jordan a puzzled look. “We didn't make love, did we?”

“God no!” she cried. “Do I make that small an impression on you?”

“Of course not,” Mia said softly, gently patting her leg. “Every time with you rocks my world.” She leaned over and kissed her, saying, “I just don't have a real clear memory of the afternoon.”

“That's why we didn't make love,” Jordan said. “I want you to be fully present when we touch each other.”

“Me too,” she said, snuggling up into her warm embrace. Her head cocked, and she gave her a sexy grin as she informed her, “I'm present now.”

“I guess you are,” the larger woman said. “Don't worry, we'll get right on that little item.”

“Do you guys want to have dinner together?” Ryan asked.

“Yeah, sure,” Mia said, and Jordan nodded too. “It's okay with me if we just eat here again. I really enjoyed last night.”

“Mmm,” Ryan said, “it was magical, wasn't it?”

“It was,” Jamie said. “That works for me. I'll have them deliver dinner again.” She looked over at her partner and said, “It astounds me that you're keeping your vow. I really think you'd be happy not to leave our room except to lie on the beach.”

“I wasn't kidding. I need the solitude.”

“So, you're not interested in going to the main island and participating in the body shot contest?” Mia asked. “I thought Jamie was going to talk you into it.”

“Oh, you were, were you?” Ryan asked, looking at her partner.

“I've never seen anybody do body shots before,” she said. “But Mia said she bet you'd be good at it.”

“Mia knows me too well,” Ryan said, grinning rakishly.

“Show me … show me,” Jamie begged.

“All right. You know I can't say no to you. But no alcohol. I'm not in the mood to get buzzed.”

“Do you know how to do this, Jordan?” Jamie asked.

“Yeah, I've seen navel shots,” she said. “But I've never done them.”

“You can practice on me,” Mia purred, giving her a very sexy grin.

“Okay,” she said, her voice a little higher than normal. “Let me watch the master first.”

Ryan shrugged, deciding that it wasn't a bad idea to have a little racy fun. She went into the kitchen and cut a lime up into eighths, then took two shot glasses from the bar. Grabbing the saltshaker on her way out of the kitchen, she placed everything down on the coffee table. “Okay, class, the most G-rated body shot is the navel shot. Luckily, we have an adorable navel here,” she tickled Jamie's exposed visual aid, “to serve as our model.” She placed a hand on her shoulder and pushed gently. “Lie down, please.” Turning to her friends she said, “In a bar, you would usually do this by having the victim … I mean model … lie down across a couple of bar stools. For our purposes I choose the sofa. I happen to know that the model is very delicate and used to gentle treatment.”

“Funny,” Jamie said, sticking her tongue out.

While grabbing the pink organ and giving it a tug, Ryan said, “Okay, you usually use tequila, but I'm choosing lemonade. For the traditional method, you rub a lime around whatever piece of skin you want to lick, then sprinkle it with a little salt. I think I'll choose the one stop meal,” she said. Taking a wedge of lime she squeezed it a little and rubbed the flesh around Jamie's sensitive navel, making sure she had it coated well. Jamie, of course, giggled throughout, making the application a little more difficult. Ryan then sprinkled just a few grains of salt onto the wet skin and poured a tiny bit of lemonade directly into the little depression.

The smaller woman twitched and shivered, trying to stop herself from pushing her partner away. Ryan's grin grew wider as she leaned close — so close that Jamie could feel her warm breath on her skin. “Now you lick the salt and the lime, then slurp up the shot.” Twitching her eyebrows in Jamie's direction, she did just that, letting her soft tongue caress the sensitive skin until her lover's toes curled and her hands balled into tight fists. A few noisy sucks drew almost all of the lemonade out of the tiny human shot-glass, but Ryan was always careful to clean up after herself, and her tongue made sure there wasn't a drop left.

When she started to pull her head away, she realized that two hands were laced through her hair and that neither one wanted to let go. Her chin rotated so that she could gaze at her partner, and saw that Jamie's eyes were tightly closed and her nipples were so hard that they were plainly visible through the thin fabric of her bikini top. “Like that?” Ryan asked, her voice having dropped into a dangerously low register.

“Ungh,” the smaller woman grunted, unable to speak at the moment.

“Your turn, Jordan,” they heard Mia say. Neither Jamie nor Ryan had remembered that their friends were in the room with them, but they did their best to sit up and focus.

Jordan blushed a little, but she hung in gamely and rubbed the lime all over Mia's navel, one of her most sensitive spots. Dripping a little lemonade into the depression, she grasped her hips and held her down while she retrieved it. Mia was excessively ticklish around her navel, and Jordan knew the process would be like wrestling a bobcat, but she rather liked to wrestle with this particular bobcat, so she held on tight, and didn't relinquish her hold until all of the lemonade was whisked away by her agile tongue. She finished with a flourish, snapping her teeth onto the gold hoop that pierced the sensitive skin and giving it a good tug, making Mia scream with delight.

“Well!” Ryan sat back against the sofa, her eyes wide and a little glassy, her partner exhibiting a similar expression. “Body shot or foreplay? You be the judge!”

“Foreplay,” Mia growled, throwing her feet to the floor and grabbing Jordan's hand. Before Jordan could echo her decision, the door to their room was firmly closed.

“Well, that was hot,” Ryan said, fanning herself quickly.

“Ha! You think that's hot,” the blonde purred, “just wait until I get my hot little hands on you.”

“But, honey, my lesson isn't over yet,” Ryan said. “Don't you want to see the whole gamut of body shots?”

Jamie paused for a minute, looking at the big blue eyes that gazed at her so lovingly. “Who would say no to that?” she asked. “Instruct me, hot stuff ... in the bedroom.”

Ryan followed her compliantly. “I love a willing student,” she said. “I think I'll show you the crotch shot next. Any objections?”

“Duh … huh?” Jamie asked. “You make me lose my rational mind when you look at me so hungrily.”

“Rationality is highly overrated,” Ryan said. “For this one you have to stand … can you?”

“Barely,” she muttered.

Jamie stood on her wobbly legs while Ryan took one of the shot glasses and filled it half full of lemonade. “Okay, this one is a little tricky,” she informed her. “You've got to hold this one with your legs. Here goes,” she said, and pressed the glass into the smooth flesh at the very top of her lover's thighs. “Perfect,” she breathed. “Now just a little more lime.” Oddly, she rubbed the lime onto her lover's hips, just above and below the tiny ties that held up the strip of fabric that was masquerading as a swimsuit. Jamie gave her a puzzled glance, but Ryan just got to her knees and proceeded to worry the little ties with her tongue, licking and sucking all of the juice from her flesh at the same time her white teeth nipped at the tie and pulled the little bow.

“An ulterior motive,” Jamie chided gently, running her hand through Ryan's dark hair as the determined woman worked at the second tie. When both were loose, the fabric draped over the shot glass, and Jamie wondered how Ryan was going to drink from it. She found out seconds later as her partner crawled behind her and tugged at the single millimeter-wide strip of fabric that separated her cheeks. The dark woman yanked and pulled, her white teeth gaining purchase of more and more of the fabric as it slid across her partner's vulva. With one final yank, the thong was in her mouth, her grin rivaling Duffy's when he won a game of tug-of-war.

Crawling back to the front of Jamie's body, she looked up at her with bright eyes, the fabric hanging from her mouth like the prize that it was. Her mouth opened and she dropped it into her hand, then extended it to her partner. “I believe you dropped this,” she said, blinking up at her. “Now I need a little drink to cool my dry tongue.”

Jamie's mouth was dry, too, but that was just about the only part of her body she could make that claim about. Ryan scooted closer, her head just level with the glass that had managed to stay right where she had placed it. Bright blue eyes looked up at Jamie, giving her a heartbreakingly sexy smile as her hands trailed up her body to hold her hips. Her determined tongue peeked out of her mouth and started to push at the bottom of the glass, managing to eventually tip the contents right into her mouth, grinning up at Jamie the entire time. “Like that one?” she asked, the room redolent with the scent of their commingled arousal.

“Yeah,” the smaller woman muttered, now monosyllabic. “Good.”

“One to go,” Ryan said, smiling at the wide-eyed response the information engendered. “You'll like this one.”

“I liked the other ones, too. A lot.”

“Yeah, but you get to drive this time.”

Ryan whipped off her top, leaving her pouty breasts exposed to her lover's intent gaze. After pouring the shot glass full, she wedged it between her ample breasts, saying, “Any old place you want to put the lime is fine with me.”

“I like this,” Jamie said weakly, her mind reeling with possibilities.

“I know my girl,” Ryan said, blowing her a kiss.

As expected, Jamie squeezed the lime onto Ryan's erect nipples, watching them perk into even stiffer peaks. She grasped her partner by the waist and proceeded to lave the hard points, raking them with her teeth and sucking gently. Ryan's hands were splayed across her breasts, holding the shot glass as still as possible against difficult odds.

When all of the lime had been thoroughly removed, Jamie dropped the wedge into the glass and leaned in close. She used Ryan's technique of pulling the glass down with her tongue, and when it was tilted a few degrees in her direction she sucked the lime out, biting down with her even teeth before discarding it. Now she leaned in hard and nuzzled the perfect flesh with abandon, making quite a mess as the lemonade splashed out of the glass, and dribbled down the supple breasts. That was all in Jamie's plan however, and she tilted her head to lap up every spilled drop, running her tongue frantically across nearly every inch of skin.

The rough nuzzling and voracious suckling quickly rendered the glass nearly empty, and she lightly grasped it with her teeth, tossing her head back to drain the final recalcitrant drop. She removed the shot glass and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. “I love lemonade,” she growled, pulling her partner close for the first of many mind-altering kisses.

*        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *

“Have a nice nap?” Ryan asked as she gently trailed her fingers through her partner's hair. The smaller woman was sprawled across her body in exactly the same position in which she had fallen, after the last of a series of deeply satisfying climaxes.

“Uhm … that wasn't a nap. I was unconscious.” She blinked her eyes into focus and rolled onto her back, scrubbing at her face with her fists. “Goodness! My throat hurts from moaning.” Clearing her throat, she flipped onto her side and caught the self-satisfied expression on her partner's face. “You love making me beg for mercy, don't you?”

“Mmm,” Ryan said thoughtfully. “I'd have to answer in the affirmative. Every artist loves to hear feedback on her work.” She shared a warm smile with her partner and tenderly brushed her mussed hair from her forehead. “I love you, Jamie.” Dipping her head, she placed several gentle kisses on the coral-tinted lips.

“I love you too, Ryan,” the smaller woman said. “I do so love being here with you. It's wonderful to see the old Ryan back.”

Stretching languidly, Ryan acknowledged the truth to the statement. “I feel better … lighter … freer, than I have since basketball season started. I feel like me.”

Jamie started to play with her hair, and in seconds Ryan's dark head was resting on her chest, turning slightly every few minutes so the head rub could reach every inch. “You surprised me a little by being so mischievous in front of Mia and Jordan,” she said.

“Good surprise, or bad surprise?” the dark woman asked.

“Good. I like losing some of my inhibitions and being more light-hearted. I'm glad they left when they did, but up until that point it was just fun.”

“Yeah,” Ryan said. “It's different for me, since I haven't had many friends in the past that I felt comfortable letting my guard down with.”

“Really?” Jamie asked. “That surprises me.”

“I mean friends that I was never intimate with,” Ryan said. “It's funny. I feel sexual tension when we're with them, but it isn't directed at them. It's more of a charged atmosphere … probably because we're all newly in love. It's very different for me, but I really enjoy it.”

“I enjoy it too,” Jamie said. “I don't want to flaunt our sex life in front of them, but I feel comfortable being kinda frisky with you while they're around.”

“Yeah, that about sums it up,” Ryan said. “I'm beginning to feel more comfortable just being ourselves. It's nice.” She looked up at the ceiling and said, “I really miss Jordan. I know that being on the Olympic team is her life goal, but it's gonna be hard having her gone for so long.”

“Being with her for a few days makes it that much harder to let her go again, doesn't it.”

“Yeah, it does. You know how I hate to be away from family.”

“The ever-expanding O'Flaherty clan,” Jamie said. “We're gonna have to buy Bill Gates' house to hold everyone.”

“Small price to pay,” Ryan said. “You can never have too many people that you love.”

*        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *

The next morning Jamie woke with the sun peeking in through the open sliding glass doors. The salt-laced breeze was warm and humid, and felt divine against her bare skin. Mmm, Ryan's already up. She felt the bed, noting that it was cool to the touch. The little scamp's been up for a while. I wonder what she's up to?

She put on one of her partner's T-shirts and went to look for her, finding a note on the coffee table. Went to explore a little. I guess two days is my maximum vegetation period. I'll be back for breakfast. It was signed with a bold R and a series of small X's. Bringing the paper to her lips, she fondly kissed the signature, feeling just a little silly as she did so. God, could you be any more in love?

There was nothing of interest in the refrigerator, so she went out onto the deck to wait for her partner. In just a few minutes she saw her in the distance, her unmistakable form eating up the space between them. Ryan had the ability to look graceful and smooth even when walking through ankle deep sand, and Jamie watched her, absolutely mesmerized by her easy, rolling gait. As soon as the tall woman got close enough to make out shapes, she waved, as though she knew Jamie would be outside waiting for her.

Unable to wait the two minutes it would take her to cross the sand, Jamie dashed down the stairs and ran to greet her, her face beaming a grin as she did so. “Miss me?” Ryan asked, water still rolling off her bronzed skin. She was holding a mask, snorkel and flippers, and wore a satisfied, deeply contented smile.

“Of course. I couldn't sleep without you.”

“Uh-huh,” Ryan said, knowing that wasn't true. “How long have you been up, love?”

“About ten minutes,” she said.

“I've been gone for two hours,” Ryan said. “Something doesn't compute here.”

“Well, I was technically asleep, but I'm sure it was poor quality sleep since you weren't there.”

“Ahh, that makes sense,” the dark woman said. “Wanna go out with me again? Honestly, Jamie, I just had one of the most amazing experiences of my whole life, and I'm dying to share it with you.”

“Tell me,” Jamie said, grasping her partner's cool hand.

“I got in the water just before sunrise,” Ryan said, her eyes sparkling. “I was over by a little grouping of rocks, and the sun started to stream through the water, lighting up more and more of the most amazing variety of sea creatures that you can imagine! I swear I would have stayed there all day, but I knew you'd be worried about me if I didn't come back soon.”

“I would have been very worried about you if I knew you were snorkeling alone,” Jamie chided gently. “That's not very smart, love.”

Ryan just grinned widely. “I told you that I do lots of dumb stuff, too,” she said.

“I guess you did, didn't you?” she said, patting her chilled tummy as she smiled up at her. “I'd love to go with you. Let's eat a little snack and head back out.”

“Honey, I loved it so much it hasn't crossed my mind to eat! Let's go!”

Looking up at her, Jamie saw a hint of something in the cool, blue eyes. Instead of the calm, relaxed look of a moment before, now Ryan looked like she needed to get back into the water. “Ryan,” she said softly, “why the rush?”

“Uhm …” Ryan moved from one foot to another, looking a little embarrassed. “I uhm … I felt free when I was there, Jamie. I didn't have any upsetting thoughts get in … I was safe.”

Putting her arms around her waist, Jamie held on tight. “You're safe, honey; you're safe here.”

“I know,” she said, “but I felt much better underwater. I don't know why, but I need to go back out there. I keep thinking about leaving tomorrow and I … I …”

“Okay, love. We'll go right now.” She took Ryan's hand and led her back to the cottage so she could put her suit on.

Tapping her foot anxiously, Ryan said, “Bring your new camera. This is something I'll want to remember for the rest of our lives.”

“I'll remember this weekend without photos,” Jamie said, smiling broadly. “But it'll be nice to share the pictures with the rest of the family.”

“Yeah,” Ryan sighed. “Then maybe they'll understand why I'm going to move here.”

*        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *

When Mia woke, she turned slightly to find two very bright blue eyes gazing at her. “Hi, gorgeous,” she said, drawing a very faint blush from Jordan.

“Hi. Sleep well?”

“Oh, yeah.” Mia purred throatily, rolling all around the big bed while she stretched. “I haven't slept this well since you left for Colorado.” She rolled over and enfolded Jordan in a warm embrace. “Everything's better when you're here,” she sighed. “The food tastes better, the air's fresher and cleaner, the sun's even brighter.”

“Honey, the food is better, the air is fresher and cleaner, and the sun is probably brighter too,” Jordan said, smiling warmly.

“Okay, smarty-pants, then explain why I'm sleeping so much better. This bed isn't as nice as the one I have at home.”

“Well, that's probably because of me,” Jordan said, grinning widely. “You know,” she said, “I've been thinking, and as hard as I wrack my brain, I can't recall ever enjoying two days as much as I've enjoyed the two we've had here.”

Mia tightened her embrace, and nuzzled her head into Jordan's chest. “I feel the same way,” she murmured. “I've enjoyed every minute with you.” Nuzzling harder, unable to be close enough, Mia said, “I keep trying to focus on enjoying today, but I keep thinking about leaving you tomorrow, and it makes my stomach ache.”

“Uhm … I don't know what your plans are … but you could come with me to the tournament in Florida. That would give us a few extra days together.”

Mia sat up, her eyes saucering a little. “Come with you?”

“Yeah. I'll have to practice in the morning, and play in the evening, but we'd have a few hours together in the afternoon.”

“Uhm … where would I stay?” Mia asked.

Jordan blinked at her, puzzled as to why Mia didn't seem to understand her point. “With me, of course. We'll probably have to rent our own room, but that shouldn't be too expensive. I can swing it if you're low on funds.”

Staring at her partner in amazement, Mia asked again, “You'd stay with me? What if people see us together?”

Looking mildly frustrated, Jordan tried again. “Look, Mia, the whole point would be so that people will see us together. I want you to meet my teammates, and the women I'm going to share an apartment with. I want the coaching staff to meet you. Heck, you should get to know the traveling secretary — she might have some leads on how to get bargain hotel rooms in Australia.”

Sitting up and staring, Mia asked, “What am I missing? You were adamant about making sure that no one knew you were gay! Now you want everyone to know?”

“Yes, yes,” Jordan said. “I want everyone to know. I was being paranoid, Mia. Now that I know there isn't a problem with the team, I'm ready to come out — to everyone.”

“I … I had no idea,” Mia said, still stunned.

Jordan pulled her back down, and cuddled her close. “Now the only issue is how you feel about it.”


“Yeah, you. I know you don't claim the lesbian label, Mia, and having me introduce you as my lover kinda puts the tag on you. How do you feel about that?”

“Jordy, there are two people who I don't want to know about our relationship. Those two are my mother and father.” She paused for a second and said, “I'd better add my grandparents to that list, too. They'd have a stroke.” Shivering roughly she took a breath and said, “I'll tell them all, but I'm not ready just yet. Other than that, I don't give a damn what people think about me. You're the only person that matters to me, baby.”

“So … you'll come?”

“I'd like to meet the person who could stop me,” she said.

*        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *

The next morning, two anxious women scanned the beach, looking in vain for their friends. “If we don't leave in ten minutes, we'll never make the flight,” Jordan said. “I don't want to ditch them, but I can't be late for practice!”

“If they're not here soon, you go ahead. I'll meet up with you in Ft. Lauderdale.”

Taking another anxious look, Jordan asked, “Is that them?”

Mia looked where she pointed, and saw two figures who looked to be running across the sand. The taller one was clearly in the lead, and Mia sighed as she said, “Yep. That's them. Jesus, could they cut it a little closer?”

Jordan went and grabbed their suitcases, getting everything into the waiting cab while their friends were running across the deck, stripping as they went. Mia threw them each a towel, and they ran naked into their room, throwing on the clothes they had left out. The curly-haired woman grabbed their wet, sandy suits and put them in a plastic bag and shoved them into her backpack. “Let's go!”

“Okay, okay,” Ryan said, hopping on one foot as she tried to wipe the sand off the other. They all flew down the front steps and got into the cab with a collective exhale. “Nice day for snorkeling,” Ryan said when she caught her breath.

“You two have been in that water so long I thought you'd get the bends!” Jordan said. “You were out there until it was nearly dark last night, and then you disappeared before we even got up today.”

“I'm just glad she didn't discover it until we'd been here two days,” Jamie said, fondly patting her partner's leg. “The fish would have seen more of her than we would have!”

“You know how I've been anxious to go to Ireland to see my family?” Ryan asked, her eyes twinkling.


“Scrap that,” she said with a chuckle. “Every vacation from now on is gonna be somewhere that I can snorkel. The Irish Sea just doesn't cut it!”

*        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *

Once on the plane heading for home, Jamie snuggled up next to her partner and said, “I kinda envy Mia, getting to stay and watch Jordan compete in a tournament.”

“Envy? Why?”

“Mmm, mainly because it feels so peaceful and calm down here. We don't know anyone, and no one knows us. It feels like a little sanctuary.”

“That's a nice term,” Ryan said, finding a comfortable position as she felt her body begin to relax. “We needed a sanctuary. Regrettably, it's back to reality in about oh … four hours.”

Jamie sighed and cuddled close, chuckling softly as she said, “You smell like the ocean.”

“Hmm … snorkeling for three hours, not taking a shower … I wonder why?”

“That wasn't a complaint,” Jamie said. “I like it … reminds me of snorkeling. I'm going to dream about the pretty fish all the way home.”

*        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *

Continued in Part Six

original fiction index | xena homepage | what's new | amazontrails.com