The Lion and The Lamb
Part 3

by Lois Cloarec Hart

Disclaimers - See Part 1 for disclaimers.

Chapter Seven

Jac sat at her desk staring at the loan documentation she was supposed to be assessing, but completely unable to focus. Instead, her mind was on a young woman-a young woman who in the space of three weeks had completely shaken up her world. The executive shook her head in bemusement. This was the last thing she'd expected when she's accepted Victoria's challenge.

It had been two days since the disastrous dinner at Christi's place. They'd spoken several times since, though Jac was careful not to call Christi at home. She decided she'd pushed Phil's buttons hard enough and didn't want to make things more difficult for her friend.

When Christi phoned on Monday, Jac had delicately asked if things were all right between the couple. The young woman had sighed and told her that she couldn't talk about it just then. The executive had respected her friend's reticence and turned the conversation elsewhere. When the blonde reminded her that Jac had promised them a fun outing, she suggested going to the zoo, which met with enthusiastic approval from the younger woman.

Contemplating their plans for the weekend, Jac suddenly realized that this was the last weekend before the wager expired and if she were going to win the challenge, she'd have to have sex with Christi before next Wednesday. With a small whistle, Jac leaned back in her chair and stared at the ceiling. Oh boy! Now what?

Jac had no doubt that if she exerted the full force of her charisma, she could have Christi in her bed before the deadline. The chemistry between them was so palpable that the air around them practically sizzled. She knew the young woman wasn't quite clear on what she was feeling for Jac, but with the difficulty between Christi and Phil, she also knew it would take very little for them to cross the line between friends and lovers.

She frowned as she remembered her original plan to seduce and then abandon Christi. That thought was repugnant now. She'd come to value the blonde's friendship too highly to carry out such a course of action. Maybe I could win the bet AND keep the girl too. With that hopeful thought, she finally accepted that she wanted Christi in more than just her bed-she wanted the young woman in her life.

The executive let her mind drift over the times she'd spent with Christi--all the laughing and teasing, how comfortable they were with each other--yet also how a current of eroticism ran between them. Jac knew she was the main instigator of that, but she hadn't missed the signs of the blonde's reciprocal interest. She smiled as she remembered her friend's hasty exit from the bathroom and the affectionate way those soft green eyes regarded her. When she'd kissed Christi goodnight after their dinner at the Grotto, Jac had felt an unmistakable response in those soft lips.

Do I push her this weekend? Okay, pros-I want to make love to her anyway-God, do I ever-and the sooner the better. I'd win the bet, which means I wouldn't have to take Victoria to the mountains for a weekend.

The thought of having sex with her old friend disturbed her even more now than when she'd agreed to the challenge. She loved Victoria, but not in a carnal sense. Jac knew that wouldn't necessarily stop her if she had to pay up, but she wasn't looking forward to the prospect.

Cons-pushing our relationship prematurely could ruin what I really want with Christi and, even worse, it cheapens what I feel for her. What I feel for her?? What DO I feel for her? Could it be possible? Do I love her? God, I don't know! I just know I don't want to make love to her on a deadline.

Confused, Jac shook her head. One thing at a time. I have to talk to Vic and cancel this bet. After that, we'll let everything happen in its natural time.

Knowing that her old friend wouldn't let her out of this easily, but for the first time in her life prepared to eat humble pie if necessary, Jac placed a phone call.

"Trevor Travel Agency. Victoria McDermott speaking."

"Hi, Vic."

"Oh hi, Jac. What's up?"

"Look, I have to talk to you. Could you meet me after work?"

"I guess." Her voice was puzzled. "What time and where?"

"I'm going to be tied up here until about six thirty. Can you meet me at the firehouse around then?"

"All right. I have to work at our north end office this afternoon anyway, so I won't be too far away. See you then."

"Thanks, Vic. See you then."

Jac hung up and noticed her hands were trembling slightly. A smile spread over her face as she realized she was excited. Excited about possibilities, excited about the young woman who haunted her thoughts most of her waking hours and not a few of her sleeping ones, excited about a future that suddenly looked miraculously bright.

She reminded herself that Christi was still engaged to Phil, and for a moment that took the edge off her anticipation; but then she thought of how the blonde's face lit up whenever she saw Jac coming, and the executive knew that Phil simply couldn't compete with what they'd begun to feel between them.


Entering the last details of the Harlands' cruise itinerary, Christi absently grabbed the ringing phone.

"Trevor Travel Agency. Christi Blaine speaking."

"Miss Blaine, it's Sandor Fregosian from the Fregosian Gallery?"

"Oh, hi Mr. Fregosian. How are you today?"

"Fine, thank you. Miss Blaine, the tapestry was delivered this afternoon so you may pick it up at your leisure. We're open until nine during weeknights and until five on Saturday."

"That's wonderful! I thought it would be at least next week before it was in."

"I did too; but I was unaware that the artisan had already planned another delivery for this week, so things fell into place."

"Great, okay, I'll be by later to pick it up. Thanks for calling, Mr. Fregosian."

"My pleasure, Miss Blaine. We'll see you later."

Christi grinned delightedly as she hung up the phone. The tapestry was the last piece she needed to complete Jac's loft. She was tremendously pleased with how her friend's home had shaped up, and she reveled in the executive's lavish praise for the improvements. She'd even coaxed her tall friend into a duvet and pillow set that suited the new colours perfectly. The tapestry would be the piece de résistance, and she could hardly wait to see it hanging in Jac's bedroom.

She reached for the phone again, beginning to punch in the number she now knew off by heart, but then she hesitated. Why don't I surprise her with it? If she picked the tapestry up after work, she could have it hung by the time Jac came home. Then maybe they could order something to celebrate the conclusion of the project. I guess the boss could spring for pizza.

Chuckling, Christi turned back to her computer. Then a thought occurred to her and her smile vanished. With a tiny groan, she acknowledged that she would have to tell Phil she'd be home late. They'd maintained a stony civility since their fight on Sunday night, but she knew going over to Jac's was very likely to reignite the fires. God, is it worth it?

She knew the answer to that without even thinking. Christi enjoyed Jac's company immensely, loved the unexpected playfulness of the executive and soaked in the acceptance and comfort of their friendship. Feeling like she'd known the other woman forever, despite only having met her three weeks prior, the blonde wasn't going to give up this new friendship, even if it caused a rift with her fiancé.

He doesn't like Jac-Well, I don't much like his best buddy Denny either! We're both just going to have to make allowances for each other's friends. And if he won't compromise... Christi let the thought trail off, not yet ready to consider those implications.

Quickly she dialed their home number and left a message on the answering machine that she'd be late tonight. Christi knew it was the coward's way out and only delayed the inevitable conflict, but she didn't feel up to dealing with Phil's outrage at the moment.


Jac waved at the figure sitting on the firehouse steps as she pulled into the covered garage. Once parked, she walked back out to the entrance and smiled at her old friend.

"Hi, Vic. Why didn't you let yourself in?"

"Because I forgot to grab the key from my desk before I went to the North office this afternoon." The redhead stood and followed Jac into the building. "So what's the big mystery, Jac? What did you want to see me about?"

The two friends climbed the stairs while Jac tried to figure the best way to approach this. They'd passed the second floor landing before she decided it was best simply to blurt it out.

"I want out of the bet."

"What?? Like hell you do! Just because you're going to lose doesn't mean you can back out now!"

Jac winced at her friend's raised voice, but she felt the first stirrings of anger within herself. Doesn't Victoria understand that this isn't a game anymore? Doesn't she know how important this is? Patiently she tried again, as she unlocked the loft door.

"Look. I should never have agreed in the first place. It was a dumb bet and I don't know what I was thinking when I made it." Jac tossed her coat into the hallway closet and made her way to the kitchen.

Still agitated, Victoria's raised voice chased her. "You were thinking that you were God's gift to women, and you could fuck anyone you set your sights on. Don't be blaming me if Christi proved too tough a challenge and failed to knuckle under to your charms! You owe me, Jac. You've got one more week, and then you owe me! I'm NOT letting you back out of this bet!"

Jac turned to argue with the angry redhead when an icy voice slashed through the room.

"What bet?"

Gasping, Jac spun to see Christi standing halfway up the stairs to the upper level. Oh God! Unable to convince her numb tongue to form words, she simply stared at the blonde whose usually soft green eyes were throwing daggers at both of them.

"I said, what bet?"

"Uh, we didn't know you were here," a subdued Victoria muttered.

"Obviously. I was hanging the tapestry. You remember the tapestry, Jac? The one we picked out on one of our friendly little expeditions? Now, ladies, I believe there's a question on the floor."

Jac cringed at the hostility lacing that gentle voice. Sinking down on a tall stool, her voice barely audible, she said, "Tell her, Vic."

"Yes, do tell me, Victoria. What's this about a bet involving me knuckling under to Jac's charms?"

The redhead's eyes fluttered nervously, and she cleared her throat several times. "Uh, well it was just-look, I mean we'd been drinking at the time-we weren't-we didn't mean..."

Raising her head, Jac recited the bet emotionlessly. "A few weeks ago, Victoria challenged me to bed the woman of her choice within one month."

"I see." Christi hadn't descended the stairs and was still glaring at the shocked and guilty pair. "And how did I become the lucky target?"

"Well, I thought you and Phil were real solid, so I didn't think Jac stood a chance with you," Victoria confessed, taking a stool next to the executive.

"And what were the terms?"

As her world crumbled around her, Jac closed her eyes and longed desperately for this nightmare to end. She heard Victoria's voice echo as if from a great distance.

"Um, well if Jac won, Roger and I would go to this club she likes. And if I won-she'd go to the mountains for a weekend with me and um, well we'd, uh..."

"I get the picture. And to win, Jac had to fuck me by when?"

The executive grimaced, agonized by the anger and hurt in the young woman's voice. God, why? She wasn't even sure what she was asking why about. Why did Christi have to be here at the wrong moment? Why couldn't she have met the blonde under pure circumstances? Why had she made the goddamned bet in the first place?

"Next Wednesday." Jac didn't think she'd ever heard Victoria so chastened. Her old friend continued in a tiny voice, "Christi, I'm sorry. I really didn't think..."

"Didn't think what? That maybe she was better at the game than you thought? That maybe it might have some effect on my real relationship? That maybe, just maybe, you were ruining my life with your little bet?" Christi's voice cracked over them like a whip. "No, you two didn't think at all, did you?"

She didn't wait for an answer as she descended the stairs, reaching into her pocket. Contemptuously Christi tossed a key at Jac's feet. "From Victoria's desk. I was trying to surprise you. Guess I succeeded, eh? Well, I'll never need that again." Turning to Victoria who was the picture of dejection, she snapped, "Enjoy your weekend with her in the mountains!"

Spinning, the young woman stormed out. Jac stared after her, then frantically she surged to her feet and ran after the blonde.

"Christi, wait! Please wait! I want to explain! I have to explain!"

Christi halted on the top step, but didn't turn around. In a voice that hurt Jac to listen to, she asked, "Explain what? That I don't mean any more to you than what's between my legs?"

"No! No, it's not like that, Christi! You have to believe me!"

"I have to believe you? How can I ever believe you again? Everything you said-everything you did these last few weeks-all you wanted was to get me into bed. I thought we were friends."

"We are! Christi, when we made that bet, I didn't know you. I had no way of knowing that we'd become friends. I'd never make that bet knowing you. I was trying to back out of it today!"

Jac could see the blonde trembling. She longed to reach for her, but knew she'd just drive her off. Desperately she prayed that Christi would hear the truth of her words.

"You know the irony?" Christi's voice was so low that Jac had to strain to hear it. "You didn't even have to work that hard. I was falling for you. No one has ever made me feel the way you did. God, I'm such an idiot!"

"Oh no, sweetheart. You're NOT an idiot! Give us a chance-give ME a chance. I'll make this up to you, I swear. Please, please don't go. However it all started, it brought us together. That can't be all bad, can it?"

Christi turned slowly and Jac held her breath. The young woman's face was streaked with tears and her lips quivered. With quiet contempt, she said, "You just don't get it, Jac. It's not only that you made a fool of me, it's that you would treat any woman as nothing more than a piece of meat. I don't want to be around someone who has so little respect for herself and everyone else."

With consummate dignity, Christi slowly resumed her descent. Jac sank down on the landing, staring after the blonde with dry eyes as her heart shattered. She had no idea how long she sat there, but finally she dragged herself to her feet and numbly made her way back into the loft. She found Victoria hunched over a half-empty glass, with a newly opened bottle of scotch on the island in front of her.

"Want one?" the redhead asked, pushing the bottle in Jac's direction.

Jac looked at the bottle distantly. "I think you should go, Victoria."

Her friend nodded and downed the rest of her drink. Standing, she squared her shoulders and said, "I'm so sorry, Jac. I should never have started this whole thing."

The executive shook her head lifelessly. "We're equally culpable, Vic." She gave a bitter snort. "In fact, there's more than enough guilt to go around."

"I still feel responsible. Look, why don't you let me talk to her?"

"No, leave her alone. She doesn't deserve to be afflicted with the likes of us. Just go, Vic."

The redhead nodded and brushed by Jac who was staring into space. She'd almost reached the door when the executive said impassively, "You won, Vic. I'll meet you at the cabin on Friday." Stonily she added, "I'll even bring the toy bag."

"Aw, Jac, forget it. It's over now."

Lips turned up in a smile that never reached dead blue eyes. "No, it's not. I pay my debts. You wanted this. Be there." Despite the lack of inflection, the command was clear, and Victoria nodded hesitantly before hastening out the door and closing it softly behind her.

Jac knew she was punishing herself. Victoria would have let her out of the pay-off without protest now. Having sex with the redhead all weekend rather than going with Christi to the zoo would inflict the worst kind of pain on her heart, and she took a perverse satisfaction in that. Christi's parting words were flayed into her soul, and she knew she'd never forget them-or the woman who spoke them.

Absently she turned to the island and dragged the bottle over. Not bothering with a glass, she was about to tip it to her lips when she noticed a paper rolled and tied with a blue ribbon on the counter. Brow furrowed in puzzlement, she reached for it and carefully unrolled the parchment coloured paper. In beautifully precise calligraphy, she read:

Certificate of Achievement
Home Decorating

This is to certify that Jacqueline Lanier has earned
her beginner's merit badge in redecorating. The recipient
demonstrated the highest levels of dedication, professionalism and aptitude. She is hereby judged competent to undertake any future
projects (under strict supervision!)

Jac almost couldn't read the signature through tears that were now falling thick and fast, but straining, she read, Christi Blaine, The Boss It hit her then--exactly what she'd just lost; and she let her head fall on crossed arms, the scroll clutched tightly in one hand, sobbing as she hadn't since she was a little girl.

Chapter Eight

Jac carefully negotiated another hairpin curve. The old logging road that led to the McDermott family cabin was tricky to navigate, particularly in the gathering dusk. The narrow road cut through thick old-growth forests, winding its way up the side of the mountain. Small waterfalls tumbled down steep rock faces to her left, and towering pines rose from the crags to her right. There was no room for error or woolgathering drivers. Jac had been here with Victoria and Roger several times but even so, had nearly missed the turn-off from the main road.

Should have kept going. Her sullen thoughts reflected the mood she'd been in most of the week. She hadn't slept all night after Christi's calamitous appearance in the loft. When Victoria called her at the bank the next morning to report anxiously that the young blonde hadn't showed up for work, and a call to her home revealed she hadn't been there all night either, Jac panicked.

She knew Christi's friends were all Phil's friends, and she doubted the woman would turn to them in a crisis. She 'would' have come to me. The bitter irony of that thought almost doubled Jac over in pain. God, what did I do? She paced frantically, trying to come up with an idea of what to do until Victoria called again a short while later to report that Christi had phoned in and requested a week of her vacation time from the manager, citing a family emergency. Jac assumed she'd gone home to her parents' farm for a few days, and was sadly grateful that the blonde had a loving sanctuary to retreat to.

And as for me-well I made my bed, now I'm going to lie in it-literally! With a bitter laugh, Jac shook her head. Victoria had tried again on Wednesday to let the executive off the hook, but Jac refused her offer. When the redhead hesitantly proposed they take one vehicle to the cabin, she'd also rejected that. Part of her expected the weekend to ruin this friendship too, and she wanted to make sure they each had separate ways home if it came to that.

They'd made plans to meet at the cabin around eight on Friday evening and stay until Sunday afternoon. Jac found herself longing for Sunday night, when she could isolate herself in the loft and start trying to forget the whole debacle.

Spotting the clearing ahead that signaled her approach to the cabin, she downshifted and swerved to avoid the huge pothole that Victoria's father swore to fill in every spring and never did. Turning up the short access road, she came to a bumpy halt, her headlights illuminating the front of a log structure. She took a moment to appreciate the view.

Victoria's great-grandfather, a logger, had originally built the cabin to house his family while he worked the mountain. Over the decades, successive generations had lovingly maintained the small building as a vacation home; and when additions were built, they were carefully wrought to blend with the pioneer structure. Nestled under pines that cast a protective embrace around the clearing, the cabin blended with its environment, appearing to have grown with the forest rather than as an incursion of man. Standing on the front porch, a visitor could look out over the valley and listen to the roar of the glacier fed river that provided the cabin with its water.

Jac was puzzled to see a trail of smoke from the large stone chimney, though there was no light in the windows. Victoria's car wasn't there and when she stepped out of her CRV, she didn't hear the sound of the generator. Shrugging, she decided Vic must have been there already and lit a fire before going to one of the neighbours for some reason. There were only a handful of homes along the old road, mostly those who had a grandfather clause that protected their residency when the government had declared the area protected from development thirty years earlier.

Shivering, Jac walked around her vehicle and unlocked the back gate. Almost November, the mountain air was cold and bracing. The executive had seen many patches of fresh snow on her drive up, and she hoped Victoria had built the fire high before she left. Snagging a small duffel bag, her thick, fleece- lined barn coat, and a leather satchel from the interior of the CRV, she slammed the door closed and hurried to the cabin.

"Brrr," she muttered as she reached for the doorknob. Jac smiled in relief, as it swung open. Unlocked. Dunno what I'd have done if she'd left it locked, though I assume she'll be back soon. It's almost eight now.

Stepping inside, she swung the door closed, enjoying the warmth of the greatroom that held a kitchen and living space. Taking a moment to let her eyes adjust to the dim interior, Jac dropped her bags by the door and started towards the fire blazing on the hearth across the room. It was only when she crossed the cabin that she realized a silent figure was watching her from the old rocking chair at the edge of the fire.

Startled, she stopped dead; and then, as she saw who it was, her jaw dropped. "Christi?" she asked incredulously. Jac's knees threatened to buckle under her, and she grabbed the back of the couch that paralleled the hearth, hanging on for dear life. She stared at the young woman who regarded her gravely.

After long moments of silence, broken only by the crackling of wood and the snapping of the flames, Christi nodded at the armchair right-angled to the couch and directly opposite her position.

"Looks like you'd better sit down before you fall down," she suggested calmly.

Jac stumbled around the end of the couch and dropped into the armchair, her eyes still fixed on the apparition across from her. She tried to speak, but couldn't form any words. That seemed to amuse her companion as Christi took a sip from the wine glass she was holding. Entranced by the way the firelight flickered off the sweet features, bright golden hair and the ruby depths of the wine, Jac found herself wondering if she was dreaming. A surreptitious pinch convinced her this was real, and she studied the young woman closer.

Christi was wearing a tight black turtleneck tucked neatly into the same faded jeans she'd worn the night of the Blue Rodeo concert. Sleeves pulled up her forearms, legs extended in front with her hiking boots crossed comfortably at the ankles, she was the picture of relaxation. Shadowed green eyes were serious, but Jac couldn't see any trace of anger in them.

The executive swallowed, a rush of hope overcoming her as she permitted herself to consider the implications of the woman's presence here--tonight. She hardly dared believe as she tried desperately to read her companion's face, but the impassive expression gave nothing away.

Finally, unable to bear the suspense, Jac asked, "Um, I thought, I mean...where's Victoria?"

"Victoria and I had a long talk yesterday. We agreed it would be better for all concerned if I met you here tonight rather than her. She very graciously brought me up here earlier and left hours ago." Christi's tone was cool and matter of fact. Jac didn't know what to think. She desperately didn't want to take a false step and ruin what could be a second chance.

It has to be a second chance, doesn't it? She wouldn't be here otherwise, would she? Finding her throat dry with desperate want and growing anticipation, the executive nodded at the wine glass Christi was holding and asked, "May I have some of that?"


Jac blinked, startled at the forthright refusal. She thought of protesting, but decided not to make an issue of it.

Christi gave a little sigh, set her glass on the side table beside the wine bottle and leaned forward, resting her forearms on her knees and pinning Jac with her gaze. "I've done a lot of thinking since Tuesday." She gave a rueful laugh. "In fact, that's about all I've done."

The executive couldn't meet those penetrating eyes and dropped her head. "I was worried about you when I heard you didn't go home that night," she confessed softly.

"I went up to Lookout Point. Stayed there all night trying to figure things out. When dawn came, I went home and broke up with Phil."

Jac's head jerked up in surprise. "I made you end your engagement? I'm sorry, Christi. I didn't mean..." She stopped there. She wasn't sorry. She was delighted that old Phillie was out of the picture, but she did regret causing the blonde even more pain.

Christi shook her head in exasperation. "I told you once that no one makes me do anything I don't want to. Have you forgotten that already?" Without waiting for an answer she went on. "All you and your little scheme did was crystallize things I'd been ignoring. For all your callous disregard of my feelings, the simple fact is that if Phil had been the right one for me, nothing you did could've broken us up."

The tall woman flinched at the coolly accurate assessment of her actions, but she didn't try to argue. "Um, how did Phil take it?"

There was a long moment of silence. "How do you think he took it? He certainly wasn't happy, though I don't think he was too surprised either. He said some rather nasty things."

The dark mane snapped up, and Jac glared at the thought of anyone hurting the young woman, momentarily overlooking the hypocrisy of that instinctive reaction.

Christi, obviously interpreting the look on her face, held up her hand and said somberly, "He had the right, Jac. I hurt him-almost as badly as you hurt me. He does love me, and although you haven't exactly seen him at his best, he's a good man. He can't believe the way his world and his future fell apart so quickly. I think it will take him a long time to get over this. If calling me a few bad names helps ease his pain, then I owe him that."

Sinking back in her rocking chair, Christi continued, "I spent a couple of hours packing up my stuff and then headed for home. After a lot of thinking, and talking to my mother, I called Victoria on Thursday and met her back in the city. So here I am."

Jac looked at her quizzically. There was no enthusiasm in the blonde's voice, no joy or passion at the prospect of being here this evening; and the executive still wasn't sure what this all meant.

With a small, humourless smile, Christi picked up her wine again and took another sip. Giving Jac several more moments to stew in her own confusion, she finally sat up purposefully.

"Okay, this is the way it is. You have a choice here, Jac. We can leave together tonight and when we get back to town, maybe we can be friends again. It would take time and work, and I'm not even sure if we can repair the damage, but I'm willing to give it a try. However, if we leave tonight, that's ALL we'll ever be-friends."

Jac held her breath, knowing this was what she'd been waiting for, and listened on tenterhooks, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Christi regarded her sternly. "Or we can stay the weekend on MY terms, and maybe when we leave on Sunday, we'll have a chance for much more than friendship. The choice is yours. You're obviously not averse to wagering. Are you willing to bet on us? On giving us a chance?"

The dark woman blinked even as her heart soared. A chance? We have a chance? She was so certain that she'd ruined any hope of a relationship with Christi that she could hardly believe her ears. Then her mind fully processed what the young woman had said. "Um, on your terms? May I ask what those terms are?"

For the first time, Jac saw a genuine smile on the blonde's face; but instead of a direct answer, Christi instructed, "Bring your bags over here, Jac."

Puzzled, the executive did as bidden and retrieved her bags. She was about to set them down by her chair when Christi said, "Over here." Obediently, she crossed in front of the fireplace and set the bags beside the young woman. She hesitated, hoping for an invitation to stay, to be allowed to touch the blonde who held her heart. An almost imperceptible shake of golden head sent her reluctantly back to the armchair. Once settled there, she focused on her companion again.

"Victoria and I had a very interesting talk, Jac. I think I understand you a lot better now. I even have a clearer idea of why you agreed to the wager in the first place."

Jac dropped her head in shame, unwilling to meet those insightful eyes.

Christi's voice softened. "You know what puzzled me for the last few days?"

Jac shook her head, not bothering to answer the rhetorical question.

"I couldn't reconcile the sweet, considerate, funny, lovable woman I'd gotten to know with a sexual predator that would target an innocent without regard to what her actions would do to that person. Over and over in my mind, I examined every moment we spent together. I asked myself if you were some kind of sociopath, or if you were that good an actor that you could've pulled this off. I questioned how I could have been so dumb, so gullible and naïve."

Jac's heart steadily sank, even though her companion's voice held no anger. She stared at the toes of her boots, unable to look up.

"Finally I came to a conclusion. I wasn't that dumb, and you weren't that good an actor. However it started, what was happening between us was real."

"Yes!" Jac blurted eagerly. "It was, Christi!"

The young woman nodded. "I know, and in an odd way, that asinine wager served to bring us together, so I shouldn't even be mad about it, right?"

The executive hesitated. She wasn't willing to write off her culpability that easily. Slowly she said, "I'm not sure what to say. I'm profoundly glad that we met, Christi. It was like being torn in half when you left that night; but if I could spare you the pain and humiliation my actions caused you, I would. I'm so very sorry for hurting you."

Jac was surprised to see the approval on Christi's face and realized she'd just passed some sort of test.

"I know you're sorry, love."

The dark woman just about jumped for joy at the unconscious endearment, but she forced herself to concentrate on Christi's next words.

"Which brings us back to my terms for the weekend. Jac, Victoria told me a lot of things, including your affinity for the Tube."

Jac gulped. Oh God! Her eyes flicked guiltily to the satchel sitting beside Christi's chair. She looked up to see that the byplay hadn't escaped her companion, who was sporting a little grin. The blonde reached over and grabbed the satchel, dragging it in front of her. Jac shrank back in her chair, covering her eyes until she heard a low chuckle. Peering through parted fingers, she saw Christi examining the contents with interest.

"Do you need these things, Jac?"

"Uh, need?"

"Yeah, do you need them? It seems like a simple question."

Flabbergasted, Jac considered her answer. Slowly she said, "I don't think I need them. I mean they're just toys, just for fun."

"Hmm, some odd ideas of fun in there." Christi closed the satchel and slid it out of the way. "Okay, here's what I've been thinking. What you've been about, what the damnable bet was all about, is power and control. For whatever reason, it's been your driving force. Would you agree?"

Jac squirmed. "Yes, but that's not what we were about."

"My point exactly. I don't have anything against the occasional bedroom games, Jac, but if we're going to have a serious relationship, then it has to be one based on equality and true partnership. I'm not sure you're up to giving up total control."

Christi rocked gently, giving the dark woman time to mull over her words. Jac considered what her companion had said. She let her mind drift over past relationships, both casual and serious. It was true that she'd always held the balance of power, whether it was a romance or a friendship. Every relationship was conducted on her terms, up to and including when it ended. Even her reputation in the Tube was as a hardcore Top. She had never allowed herself to be vulnerable to anyone-ever.

Can I change? Do I want to? Jac looked up to find green eyes studying her affectionately. She locked gazes and looked deep into compassionate eyes, questioning her companion, questioning herself, and questioning a future for them together. Yeah, for her I can change.

Quietly, Jac asked, "What did you have in mind?"

Christi smiled at her. "I don't want you to alter the essence of who you are, my love. But I need you to trust me and I need to trust you, especially after what happened the past three weeks. I need to know that you have the capacity to grow into this relationship, because Jac, I don't intend to take us lightly. If you agree, if you want to explore fully whatever this is growing between us, I need to know you'll dedicate yourself to nurturing it as completely as I will. If you can't give me an honest commitment to that, then we should leave now before either of us gets hurt." Her voice aching, she added in a whisper, "I don't think I could take another hurt like that."

Blue eyes closed and when they opened again, Jac said firmly and with utter conviction, "You have my heart. You have my commitment."

The two women looked at each other searchingly, looking for assurances, for trust, for the unavowed love that each could see in the other's eyes. Finally Christi nodded.

"All right, then for this weekend, you're mine. I get to call the shots until we leave on Sunday."

Jac gaped at her. "You're going to top me?" she asked incredulously, inanely wondering what pod person had taken over her companion's body.

Christi chuckled. "Hmm, well I was thinking of it more as a couples' weekend retreat and trust-building exercise, but you can call it whatever you like. Last chance to back out, Jac. Are you ready to gamble on us?"

The executive swallowed her trepidation and sent up a quick prayer for strength. She couldn't see this gentle lamb hurting a soul, but she had a feeling that Christi was going to put her through the wringer, at least psychologically.

"Yes." It came out in rather an undignified squeak, but Jac's message was received.

"Good. It was a long drive up here. Why don't you use the washroom and then grab a couple of pillows off the bed and bring them back here."

Without a word, Jac went to the larger of the two back bedrooms and took two pillows from the bed, wondering as she did if they'd end up in here together sometime. At this point, she wasn't willing to bet on it. Dropping the pillows on the couch, she made use of the washroom, lit only by the moonlight streaming through the window. It was cool in here. Without the generator turned on to provide electricity, the only heat came from the fireplace it backed onto. Washing her hands, she stared in the dimly illuminated mirror.

"What are you getting yourself into?" Jac asked the dark-haired image with the somewhat apprehensive blue eyes. Drying her hands, she laughed. This is Christi, you twit. What the hell are you afraid of? Hanging the towel, she aligned it carefully, taking her time. I'm afraid I'll let her down-again. With a final glance in the mirror, she straightened her shoulders, drew in a deep breath and returned to the main room.

She was welcomed by a warm smile as Christi lifted her wine glass in an unspoken toast and a quiet command.

"Take off all your clothes except your jeans."

Jac gulped but gamely began to unbutton her denim shirt. Trembling fingers fumbled with the buttons, and she cursed her lack of coordination. God! You'd think I was a thirty-year-old virgin on her wedding night! Suddenly small warm hands closed over hers and stilled their tremors.

"I won't hurt you, my love. I would never hurt you."

The calm reassurance in that sweet voice soothed Jac's fears. When she raised her eyes to meet green ones watching her with concern, the executive managed to nod.

"I know."

And she did. Somehow Jac knew that her heart, soul and body were safe in this woman's care. Christi reached up to draw the dark head down, and Jac greedily absorbed the sensation of soft lips possessing hers. Lost in the intoxication of the kiss, she almost didn't notice the blonde pull back. Opening her eyes, she saw Christi smiling at her.

"Finish up. I'll put some more wood on the fire. I wouldn't want you to get cold."

Cold? She has to be kidding. I'm on fire here! With a wry chuckle, Jac managed to finish undoing her buttons as she watched Christi pile two more logs on the healthy blaze. Stripping off her shirt and bra, she sat down on her chair to untie her boots. The blonde dropped a pillow midway between their chairs and settled back in her rocker, watching as Jac kicked off her boots and thick wool socks.

When the tall woman was down to her jeans, Christi nodded at the pillow and said, "Kneel there, love."

Jac knelt, sitting back on her heels and placing her hands on her thighs. She held her shoulders back, enjoying the appreciative examination the blonde was giving her half-naked body. Giving her head a minute shake, she realized that with barely a touch, the blonde had her more aroused than the hottest night at the Tube.

Christi took a tiny sip of her wine and grinned. "At least I'm in no danger of drowning this time."

The executive chuckled. "You knew?"

"Not at the time. But after everything happened this week, I figured out that you were putting on a show in the shower."

Jac dropped her eyes, but couldn't hide a guilty smirk. Unconvincingly she protested, "I was just getting the paint off."

"Sure you were," Christi drawled. "You sure spent a long time scrubbing areas that the paint never touched."

The executive peeked at her companion. "Um, cleanliness is next to godliness?" She was rewarded with a hearty laugh, but then the young woman fell silent, and Jac could feel the heat of green eyes tracing over curves and hollows. Remaining silent now, Jac submitted to the loving survey even as her body loudly demanded attention.

She started when Christi finally moved, strolling over to rest a hand on ebony hair and issue a soft command. "Up straight, love."

Still on her knees, Jac straightened and found herself staring at a ribbed black turtleneck that was rising and falling visibly with Christi's heightened breathing. She was deeply gratified that she was having the same effect on the young woman that the blonde was having on her.

Christi sank down in front of her, and Jac realized she was still carrying her glass of wine. The blonde held the glass to her lips, and Jac took a swallow, surprised to find it was her favourite French red. After a few more swallows, the young woman took the glass away and Jac ran her tongue over her lips, gathering the last drops.

"Put your hands behind your back and then don't move, love. Don't touch me and don't touch yourself."

Jac nodded and then gasped as a wet finger trailed over her collarbone, followed immediately by a warm tongue removing the traces of wine. She quivered as the finger trailed wine down between her breasts and around the soft curves. Clutching her wrist tightly so rebellious hands didn't fly forward and seize the golden head that was moving over her breasts, Jac endured the loving torture gratefully.

Her breath grew ragged as hardened nipples were painted red and then laved with a gentle tongue. Jac feared her heart might burst from her chest as Christi explored her body: thoroughly, sensually, softly. She wanted desperately to pull the woman into her arms, roll the lithe body under hers and rip the blonde's clothes off, but with every ounce of her formidable will, she held still and submitted.

When the golden head pulled away and teasing strokes stopped, Jac had to bite off a plea for more. Chest heaving, she waited to see what her sweet captor would do next. Christi set her empty glass aside and reached for Jac's waist. Nimble fingers undid the buttons of her jeans. The executive swore her head was getting light as she felt the pressure of those hands undressing her.

She wasn't prepared for the peal of laughter as Christi slid her jeans over her hips. Startled, she looked down.

"Dilbert?! You're wearing Dilbert underwear?" The blonde's giggles were shaking her whole body. "Why do I get the impression your heart wasn't really in this weekend?"

Sheepishly, Jac grinned. "Um, because it wasn't? At least not when I dressed to come up here." Christi's mirth showed no signs of subsiding, and Jac said with mock-indignation, "Hey, do I laugh at your underwear?"

"Honey, I promise you, I am NOT wearing Dilbert boxer shorts." Christi's voice had dropped to a sultry purr and Jac felt a flood of moisture between her legs.

When the young woman pulled her jeans and shorts down to her knees, she couldn't prevent a groan.

"Oh God, Christi! What are you doing to me?"

"Teasing you. Teaching you. Loving you."

Jac swayed a little as Christi picked up her empty glass and returned to her rocker. Pouring another glass, she sipped at it as she regarded the tall woman kneeling before her.

The executive had never felt so exposed, nor so excited. Always alpha in sexual games, the woman prided herself on her control, but she was certain it would only take a single touch from this young innocent and she'd explode. Innocent, my ass! Look at her. She's looking at you like a lion watches its prey!

The dark woman watched as hungry green eyes swept over her body. She saw the gaze still when it reached the black triangle of coarse, curly hair, and when Christi's nostrils flared, she wondered if the scent of her desire had reached the young woman. Helpless to stop the trembling that shook her body, she could only stare, blue eyes vulnerable and pleading. She wanted this woman's touch like she'd never wanted anything in her life.

Christi set her wine aside and reached for the button of her own fly. Jac's eyes fixed on the fingers sliding the zipper down. She caught her breath as an agile hand slipped under the waistband of dark silk panties. A bear breaking through the front door of the cabin couldn't have torn her eyes away from the movements inside the young woman's pants.

Jac found herself panting in time with the rise and fall of Christi's hand. Oh God! It was no longer a problem preventing movement. She was utterly paralyzed, except for the quivers that started between her legs and fluttered through her whole body. Listening raptly to the blonde's quiet grunts escalate, her body jerked sympathetically when Christi finally uttered a small cry and thrust upwards.

She sank back on her haunches, watching as Christi extracted her hand and fastened her pants. The blonde took a deep breath and closing her eyes, rocked gently for long moments while Jac tried to calm her breathing and focus her mind on delaying her own gratification. She was so intent on her task, that she didn't even notice the young woman had moved and was now standing in front of her. Fragrant fingers traced her lips and Jac eagerly opened her mouth, sucking those aromatic digits inside and reveling in the flavour.

Christi dropped her other hand on Jac's head, caressing and soothing the aroused woman. The executive whimpered when the blonde gently extracted her fingers.

"Shhh, love. You're all right. Let's get those jeans off you."

Jac said nothing as she hastily pushed her jeans and shorts over bare feet, and tossed them aside. Her lust making her uncharacteristically clumsy, she wavered as she tried to resume her kneeling position. Strong hands caught her shoulders and then guided her head down to the other pillow Christi had tugged to the floor.

"Please, oh please," Jac moaned, parting her thighs as she buried her head in her arms.

Christi dropped to her knees beside the prone woman, and gentle hands started gliding over her long back, kneading, caressing and memorizing the leanly muscled planes.

"You are so beautiful, my love. It was the first thing I noticed about you--how you turned everyone's heads in the restaurant. I couldn't understand my own feelings that day. I'd never reacted to anyone, man or woman, like that before. But you-you haunted me from that very first meeting."

The blonde's hands had dropped down, caressing Jac's ass as the dark woman's hips began to rock involuntarily.

"After we went to the concert and I discovered how much I liked the person beyond your beauty, I couldn't stop thinking about you."

One hand drifted softly up the delicate skin of Jac's inner thigh while the other ran underneath, over her hard abdomen and cupped a dangling breast, teasing a rigid nipple before sliding over to its mate and inflicting the same delicious torture.

The executive stifled a groan. Patience-patience-patience! The inner mantra was NOT lessening or delaying the heavy sensation of arousal that curled in her belly and spread between her legs. Her body was now so sensitized that she felt the shadow of Christi's path over her flesh as acutely as she felt the small hands dancing on her anatomy, wrenching her desire to new and powerful levels.

Distracted by the multitude of sensations assailing her mind and body, Jac uttered a tiny scream when a finger penetrated her, sliding smoothly into hot welcoming depths. Frantically she thrust back and begged, "More! Please-more!"

The invader slid out and then back in, this time filling and stretching her as two more strong fingers joined the loving assault. Absorbed in the wonder of being taken, Jac barely noticed when the hand that had been caressing her breasts traveled down her belly and came to rest between her legs, but when a delicate touch tentatively stroked her swollen clit, she sobbed in relief.

"That's it, my love. You're safe. It's okay to let go. Trust me, my love, trust me." Christi's whispers filled her ears, urging her on.

Jac's body jerked frantically, seeking absolution in the inexorable hands and heart that possessed her, drove her and released her. With a loud cry, she climaxed-shuddering and crying out, calling for her saviour who gentled her back to earth with loving words and soothing touches.

She fell forward, sucking in air, aftershocks rocking her body as strong hands rolled her over and into welcoming arms. The dark woman clung to Christi, resting her head on a soft breast. It was only when soft fingers brushed at her cheeks that she realized she was crying.

"I love you, I love you, I love you," Jac mumbled against her human pillow.

A soft chuckle floated over her head. "And I love you, my beautiful one. Rest now. I'm not going anywhere." With that assurance, Jac let the lassitude take her, completely content to be sheltered in her lover's arms.

When she awoke again, the fire had burned low. She raised her head a little and found green eyes watching her lovingly. Awe in her voice, she rasped, "What have you done to me, my imp?"

Christi smiled, and Jac knew she'd do anything in the world to wake to that smile every day of her life.

"Only what I hope you're going to do to me soon, love." The green gaze twinkled as Jac's eyes widened eagerly.

"Um, soon? As in tonight? I get to make love to you too?" Jac wasn't sure about the rules of this game they'd been playing--and she was determined to stick to Christi's directives--but she desperately hoped to touch and taste her lover as soon as allowed.

In answer, Christi eased out from under Jac's body and stood. The executive rose up on one elbow, watching in fascination as Christi slowly removed her clothes. Her breath caught in admiration when her lover stood proudly naked in front of her, extending a hand.

Jac took the hand and rose to her feet. Christi moved smoothly into her arms and for the first time, the dark woman felt the silky, supple flesh that moulded to hers as if the smaller figure was returning to its source. She clung to Christi, holding her securely as she absorbed the intensity of their physical connection and reveled in the emotional onslaught washing over her. Whispering into the golden head tucked into her neck, she swore her love, her fidelity and her devotion. Arms that tightened around her waist expressed her lover's acceptance of the vows, and she heard the young woman sigh happily.

They stood, locked together for long moments, and then Christi drew back. Still holding Jac's hands, she looked solemnly at the tall woman. "I love you, Jac. No more games between us, okay?" The executive nodded seriously. "It's just us now, my love."

Jac smiled and raised their joined hands to her lips. "It will always be just us, beloved imp. That is my promise and commitment to you."

Eyes met and exchanged pledges. Hearts promised forever; and bodies surged together as Jac brought her mouth down on her partner's.

The executive soaked in the sensation of her lover's eager kisses, running her hands over Christi's back and down to cup smooth, firm cheeks. Flushed, the blonde pulled back and asked hoarsely, "Now?"

"Oh yeah, now," Jac agreed, leading the way to the bedroom. Then with a little grin she glanced over her shoulder. "Are you going to let me put clothes on at all this weekend?"

Christi smirked. "Oh, I'll let you put on boots if we go for a walk tomorrow. Wouldn't want you out of action because of frozen toes."

The executive grinned. "What about other frozen bits and pieces?"

"Oh, not to worry. I'll keep the other...bits...warm."

Jac's eyes widened and a delighted smile crossed her face before another thought occurred to her. "Hey, does this mean I still owe Victoria a sex weekend?"

Her impudence was met with a sharp smack on a convenient bottom, and Jac yelped. "I take it that means no," she laughed as she turned around and backed up in front of the glowering blonde, rubbing one red cheek as she did. "Geez woman, that's quite a hand you have on you."

Christi snorted in amusement. "Oh for heaven's sake. Compared to what you have in that bag, I'm surprised you even noticed. But I'll tell you this, Victoria is now off-limits, except as our friend."

Jac pouted, blue eyes sparkling with mirth. "No more fooling around, eh?"

The blonde raised one brow and smirked. Pushing past Jac, she opened the door of the room and paused. "I didn't say that. I'm just not letting you fly solo anymore."

The executive's jaw dropped as she stared at the pale form vanishing into the dark room. Oh boy, what have I gotten myself into? With a huge grin, she shook her sable mane. Don't know. Don't care. I'm just going to spend the rest of my life thanking every deity ever known to mankind for this woman! And with that thought, she hastily followed her mate into the bedroom.

The End

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