Love's Melody Lost
See part 1 for all disclaimers and copyright information.
Silence descended on Yardley Manor as each of them struggled to accept their disappointments. Anna went about her work with quiet resignation, an aching hollowness her constant companion. Whereas once the time she spent with Graham eased her loneliness, now seeing her only seemed to heighten it. And Graham, if possible, was even more remote. They spent less time together, as Graham often absented herself from the music room in the afternoons. Instead she worked late into the night, after the others were asleep. She had begun taking her meals alone again, although the trays came back barely touched. The music that echoed in the corridors was dark and melancholyóthe one place Graham could not hide her emotions was in her music. It was truly the mirror of her soul. Helen stood by helplessly, knowing that only Graham could change the course of their lives.
Late one evening, to Helenís surprise, Graham came to the door of her sitting room.
"Graham, good gracious!" she exclaimed. "Whatís wrong?"
"Helen," Graham said urgently, without preamble. "Where is Anna?"
Helen glanced at the clock on her mantle. It was almost eleven, and it occurred to her she hadnít seen Anna all evening. "I donít know. She wasnít here for dinner. Hasnít she come up?"
"No, and I havenít heard the Jeep return," Graham remarked, barely able to hide her anxiety. In some part of her consciousness she waited for the day Anna would not return. It was impossible for her to work freely when Anna wasnít about the house or grounds. Especially recently, since their estrangement, she found herself listening for Anna's step in the hall or the distinctive crunch of gravel in the drive. As much as she expected Anna to leave, she feared it. When it happened, she would lose whatever small purchase on life she had left.
Helen could read the fear in Grahamís face. Ordinarily she wouldnít have worried, but Anna hadnít been herself lately. Since the night they talked in the kitchen, Anna had been distracted and almost dazed. Helen worried she might have had an accident.
It was hard for Helen not to think of that awful night when the call had come about Graham. She remembered only too well the agonizing hour they had all spent while men worked to free her from the wreckage. It was an hour spent not knowing if she were still alive. Helen struggled to dispel the image and quell the surge of alarm. Anna must simply have forgotten to mention her plans. Any other possibility was more than she could bear to contemplate.
She struggled to keep her voice even. "Iím sure sheís fine, Graham. Go on to bed. Iíll be up. If thereís any problem, sheíll call."
A look of panic flickered across Grahamís face. Helen knew as well as she that Anna never absented herself without word. With effort she said evenly, "Of course, youíre right. Just the same, Iíll wait in the library in case she calls."
Helen listened to the echo of her retreating steps, losing sight of her as she descended the dark stairway with a measured step. She knew Graham was every bit as stretched to the limit as Anna seemed to be. She wondered fearfully which one of them would lose the thin rein of control first.
The hallway was dark when Anna let herself into the house just after one in the morning. She jumped when a voice called out to her.
Anna fumbled for the light switch as she stepped into the library. Graham was seated in a chair before the window that fronted the main drive, as she had been for hours.
"Graham?" Anna asked in surprise "What are you doing in here?"
"We were worriedóHelen and I. I was waiting in case you called." Graham rose, and began to pace restlessly. "Although god knows what I thought I could do about it if you were in trouble," she laughed bitterly. "We make a fine pair, Helen and I. One who canít drive, and the other one blind!"
"Oh god, Graham," Anna cried. "I stayed to have dinner with my graduate advisoróit wasnít planned. I should have called, but we started talking and I lost track of the time!" She felt miserable for having worried either of them.
Graham made an impatient gesture, infuriated with her helplessness, embarrassed by her near panic. "Nonsense. You donít owe either of us an explanation. Your private life is none of our affair. Where you spend your time- and with whom, does not concern us."
Anna gaped at her. She had to be the most infuriating woman she had ever met! "Is that what you think? That I was out on a date for godís sake?"
Graham straightened her shoulders, anger replacing her worry. There was no need for Anna to know she had spent several anxious hours fearing she had left for good. "I donít think anything one way or the other, nor do I care. As I said-"
"I know damn well what you said, Graham," Anna seethed, absolutely beyond caring whether she offended Graham or not. "What I donít understand is why you said it! You know very well how I feel about you, whether you chose to acknowledge it or not. Iíve done everything short of begging you!! Donít insult me by suggesting I would simply wander off and find consolation elsewhere. Do you think youíre the only one capable of a true and honorable emotion?? Damn your arrogance!"
"It was not my intention to insult you, Anna," Graham replied in an amazingly calm tone. She couldnít remember the last time someone raised their voice to her, other than Christine. Annaís sincere distress had a greater affect on her than Christineís tirades ever had. "I did not mean for us to come to this," she said softly. "I never meant to misrepresent myself to you in any way."
"Donít worry, Graham. You havenít," Anna snapped. "It is I who have been mistaken, but I assure you, I will not trouble you again!" She grabbed her knapsack, intent on retreating before she completely lost the last vestige of restraint. She had tried so hard to be patient, to accept the depth of Grahamís loss and disappointment, but it hadnít made any difference and she doubted it ever would.
"I have legal matters that require your assistance. Iíll need to meet with you tomorrow," Graham said as Anna stepped out into the hall. She hated this animosity between them, but there seemed no other way.
"Certainly," Anna rejoined coldly. "Iíll see you in the afternoon."
Anna left her there, but she could not bring herself to turn out the light, even though the darkness would not matter to Graham.
Anna worked furiouslyódigging up buried roots with a spade, slashing through briars with a machete, flinging clods of earth aside with a vengeance. Her pace matched her moodóshe was still boiling. She wasnít sure whom she was angrier withóGraham or herself. What had she expected? Graham Yardley was a wealthy, gifted woman who had known both fame and great passion in her life. Under any circumstances she would hardly be expected to notice someone like Anna, and now, after all she had suffered, she had no special feeling for Anna. Anna struggled for acceptance, but it was so hard! What she felt for Graham went so far beyond anything she had experienced, or dreamed of experiencing. The wanting surpassed simple desireóshe felt inextricably linked to her, body and soul. When she saw Graham across the room, when the sound of her voice carried out into the garden, when she heard her piano whisper in the night, fire surged through Annaís being. Some primal part of her had been called forth by this woman. The combination of Grahamís great strength and her great need had awakened Annaís deepest passion. To be near her, and so apart, was unendurable.
She was beginning to contemplate the unthinkable. She might need to leave Yardley. She didnít have the strength to subjugate her desires to reason - she simply couldnít be around Graham and not want her. For a few months she had managed to be content with their carefully contained relationship, but since the instant they had kissed, all that had changed. She couldnít forget it, and she couldnít stop wanting it again. She would lose her mind if she stayed, and if she left she would lose her soul. It was a choice that was no choice at all, and she cursed her own indecisiveness under her breath. She rubbed the tears from her face and grabbed her ax. She intended to cut down every dead limb at Yardley before the day was out!!
While Anna warred with her emotions and the tangled undergrowth, Graham paced the flagstone terrace fighting her own demons. She knew she was hurting Anna by refusing to acknowledge what was between them, and she had no answer for it. Anna had restored life to Yardley, and to herówith Anna had come the scent of fresh flowers and the teasing sound of notes in the air. Graham had responded to both as if light had suddenly been returned to her world. Her heart lifted to the sounds of Annaís footsteps in the hall. Annaís presence had muted the pain of years of loneliness. But Anna had awakened other senses as wellóGraham knew the touch of her hands, the warmth of her skin, the soft fullness of her breasts. She knew the bruising demand of Annaís kiss as her lips searched against Grahamís mouth. If she made love to her, she would have to acknowledge what was in her heart. If she gave freedom to everything Anna ignited in her, she would never be able to live without her. That was what Graham retreated fromóshe dared not entrust her soul again, and she could not love any other way.
They sat thus, separated not by distance, but by uncertainty.
Anna sighed and stepped back from the line of trees she had been pruning. She could hear the delicate strains of the music Graham was playing wafting on the breeze. She glanced up at the sky, noting absently that clouds were amassing out over the ocean. She reached for her worn denim work jacket as the sudden wind off the water brought a brisk chill to the air. She didnít want to return to the house yet, she still felt too unsettled. She needed to fortify herself before she joined Graham in her music room for their late afternoon meeting.
Graham looked up from the keyboard as the curtains floated into the room on a chill breeze. The weight of the air on her face was dense and wet. Something ominous was stirring, and one word clamored in her mind - Anna! She bolted up from the piano bench in a rush, pushing the terrace doors wide as she stormed through them. From the top of the stairs leading down the flagstone path to the lower reaches of the property, she called out into the gathering wind.
Anna looked up at the sound of Grahamís voice, amazed to see the sky blackening around her. The rain and heavy winds were upon her before she knew it. In an instant a blinding wall of water blew in from the sea, drenching her and turning the garden path into a hundred yards of steep, slippery mud. To her horror she saw Graham start down toward her.
"Graham! No, go back!!" she cried, paralyzed with fear at the thought of Graham exposed in the storm. "Go back! Iím coming up."
Abandoning her tools, Anna began to climb the path, struggling to keep her balance in the buffeting winds and pounding rain. Tree branches bent and broke in the wind, hurtling by in the swirling gale. Lightening flashed around her, and the house seemed impossibly far away. She heard a tremendous crash to her left and knew, even as she knew she could not move quickly enough to avoid it, that the old sycamore had been struck by lightening. She threw up an arm to shield her face and cried out as falling branches and limbs engulfed her. There was an instant of white-hot pain in her shoulder just as she met the ground with a jarring thud.
Her first sensation after the initial shock was of the penetrating cold that encompassed her. The ground beneath her cheek was sodden, and her denim jeans and shirt clung to her clammy skin. The cold was almost instantly replaced with a stabbing pain in her left side and a throbbing ache in the back of her head. Her next thought was even more terrifying. Where was Graham!? Oh my god! Sheís out in this storm alone!
She pushed at the overlying branches holding her captive, managing only to worsen the pain in her arm. She fought against the need to vomit, finally ceasing her ineffective struggles. She dropped her head back to the wet ground and waited for the nausea to subside. Time seemed to slow as water dripped through the fallen treeís leaves onto her face. At some point through her disorientation she thought she could hear voices.
"For godís sake man, hurry!"
Anna recognized Grahamís deep voice, harsh with fear. Anna struggled to call Graham's name, to tell her she was all right, but all that emerged was a faint groan. She shouldnít be out here, she thought hysterically.
"Graham," she finally croaked. "be careful!"
"Anna- thank god!" Graham shouted, her voice choked with anxiety. "Are you hurt, love?"
"I donít think so," Anna said as steadily as she could. In truth she was more worried about Graham than she was about her own scrapes and bruises. "Go inside - call someone to help. Please Graham, please donít stay out here- go back to the house! Just do it for me!"
"Damn if I will!! Weíll have you free in a moment. Just hang on, Anna!" Graham called from somewhere quite close. "Damn it, John, canít you go any faster?" She pulled at the tree limbs in front of her, nearly mad with frustration at her inability to reach Anna. She was impervious to the branches that slashed at her hands and face. God, how she hated her blindness!
"I almost have the limb free, maíam, but it would help if youíd move back. We donít need both of you under this damn tree."
Graham turned angry eyes toward the man beside her and growled, "Iím not moving until you get her out."
A tremendous creak accompanied the shifting of the huge fork of limb that imprisoned Anna, and she cried out as the weight of the tree shifted off her tender body. Suddenly Graham was beside her, reaching a tentative, trembling hand toward her.
"Donít move," Graham whispered softly, "youíre safe now. John will have the rest of it off in a minute."
Graham settled on the muddy slope, unmindful of the water or the cold, and very gently lifted Annaís head into her lap. Despite her pain, Anna lifted both arms around Grahamís neck, pressing her face against her chest.
"Iím so glad youíre here," Anna whispered, clutching her tightly.
"Iíll not leave you," Graham replied, struggling to contain tears. She rocked Anna tenderly as she buried her face in Annaís damp hair. "Iím here."
Anna scarcely felt any pain as she thrilled to the comfort of Grahamís presence. As more of the tree was removed she tried moving her legs. Everything worked but she gasped as a multitude of small cuts began to burn.
"Where are you hurt?" Graham asked when she had control of herself again.
"My shoulder, but I donít think anythingís broken." Anna began to realize that both of them were shivering nearly uncontrollably. "Graham," she chattered, "you have to get inside. Let me stand up."
"Weíd better wait for the doctor. And Iím not leaving you." Graham swore inwardly at her own helplessness, even as she began to believe Anna was safe. For a few agonizing minutes she had feared she had lost her. She heard the tree cracking and Annaís cry as it fell. Helen had confirmed her fear that Anna had been trapped under the downed tree, and the panic that followed almost proved to be Grahamís undoing. All she could think of was that Anna was gone, a realization so painful she thought she would go mad. It was Helen who had the presence of mind to call both the family doctor as well as an old friend who lived nearby for help. She couldnít stop Graham from rushing headlong down the treacherous path, only to be unable to find Anna in the tangle of branches, flailing with anguished despair at obstacles she couldnít see. Helen feared that Graham would do herself real harm in her rage to find the girl.
Even with Anna in her arms, Graham was afraid to loosen her hold. Her hands ceaselessly roamed over Annaís body, seeking reassurance that Anna was safe. She didnít realize that each shaking breath bordered on a sob. She hadnít felt such panic since the night of the car crash, when she drifted in and out of consciousness, calling for Christine, getting no answer. She had lain in the twisted wreckage blinded by the blood in her eyes, trapped by the metal that pierced her leg, wondering frantically if she had killed Christine in her jealous rage. Had that been true, in all likelihood she would have taken her own life. Tonight, for those agonizing minutes before she heard Annaís voice, she thought that all that remained to her of life had been taken. Her relief was so enormous, she acted without thinking. She raised Annaís head with a hand cupped to her chin, capturing her mouth with a deep groan. Oblivious to all else, Anna returned her kiss with a hunger long denied. She gasped when Graham pulled away with a shaky laugh.
"We canít wait any longer, Anna. Youíre hurt and cold. We must get you inside." Raising her head, but maintaining her fierce hold on the woman in her arms, she called out, "John, help me to get her up!"
A tall man pulled the last of the debris free and moved through the darkness to their side. He carefully lifted Anna to her feet. Graham rose unsteadily beside them, her hand clasped in Annaís. Together they made their way slowly up to Yardley Manor.
The doctor spoke to Graham outside Annaís room after finishing his examination.
"Sheís badly bruised, and I suspect thereís a sprain of the left shoulder, but no permanent damage. She needs to be kept warm and to get plenty of rest for the next few days. Sheís going to be fine." He observed the strained, pale face of the woman before him and added, "You could use a hot bath and some rest yourself, Ms. Yardley."
"Yes, of course," Graham replied absently, her mind occupied only with her concern for Anna. She turned to push open Annaís door and found Helen in her path.
"What is it?" she asked in exasperation. All she wanted was to be alone with Anna. She needed to be certain that she was safe.
"Youíre soaked through and shaking. You need a hot bath and youíre not going in there until you have one." Helen steeled herself for what she knew was coming. As expected, Grahamís well-known temper ignited.
"Please step aside, Helen," Graham ordered, reaching toward the door. "I intend to see her, and I intend to see her now."
Very quietly, Helen responded, "Sweetheart, your face and hands are scratched and bleeding. Youíre going to scare her to death if you donít get cleaned up. Do you want her worrying about you when she should be resting?"
Graham paused, wanting to argue but knowing Helen was right. "All right, a quick one," she relented. "Please tell her I wonít be long."
It was in fact only a few moments before she approached Annaís door once again, and smelled the aroma of hot tea. She followed the scent into Annaís room.
Helen efficiently set up a tray and pulled a chair close to the bedside, carefully directing Graham to it.
"Now, both of you drink some of this tea," she instructed. "Thereís biscuits there as well." She poured two cups, guiding Grahamís hand to them, and turned to leave. Annaís face was white, but the eyes she fixed on Grahamís face appeared free of pain. Neither woman noticed as Helen pulled the door gently closed behind her.
"Anna?" Graham asked uncertainly, leaning forward on the edge of the bed, "Are you all right?"
"Iím much better now," Anna answered softly. Graham had a welt under her right eye and a scrape on her chin where a tree limb had struck her. Even worse were the many little cuts on her hands. Thank god none of them appeared serious. "You really shouldnít be doing that sort of thing with your hands, you know. Theyíre too precious."
"Yes, well so are you," Graham replied in a moment of unguarded honesty. She was still shaken from the accident, and not being able to see Anna, to assure herself she was truly all right, was driving her mad. She attempted to rein in her emotions, teasing lightly, "I promise I wonít do it again if you promise to stay away from falling trees."
"On my honor," Anna whispered. Grahamís tenderness after their weeks of estrangement, combined with the memory of her kiss moments before, had her emotions in turmoil. She needed Grahamís comfort, and here she was, gentle and attentive.
"You should rest now," Graham murmured. She edged closer carefully, finding Annaís hand with her own. She traced the fragile network of veins with her sensitive fingertips, allowing her hands to trail slowly up Annaís bare arms. Anna lay transfixed, scarcely able to breathe. She had the feeling that Graham was not aware of her actions, and that as soon as Graham realized what she was doing, she would stop. Anna fervently did not want her to stop. Now that Graham had relaxed her rigid vigilance, Anna felt the full power of Grahamís emotional intensity for the first time. The possessive look on Grahamís face combined with the touch of her hands was melting her with longing. The heat rising in her body overpowered the pain of her bruises.
"I have some pills for the pain," Graham said at length. She held Annaís hand against her cheek, her fingers folded about Annaís. She was very slowly brushing the backs of Annaís fingers against her skin.
"I donít need them," Anna whispered, her throat tight with desire.
Graham brought one hand to Annaís face and slowly ran a few strands of her hair through her fingers. It was so soft, silken - mesmerizing in its simple beauty. She wanted nothing more than to sit here like this with Anna safe beside her.
"You should sleep. Iíll be here," she murmured.
Anna drew a shuddering breath. Graham was so tender, and her touch was piercing. Anna knew she had never been touched like this before.
"You should go, Graham," Anna said with effort. She couldnít bear the thought of Graham leaving, but Graham had been through as much as she. The hand that held hers trembled. "You look exhausted."
"Not yet," Graham said in a tone that broached no argument.
"Then at least lie down with me," Anna demanded boldly, "or I wonít sleep either."
Graham frowned. "You are rather pig-headed yourself," she remarked darkly. No one had ever been able to sway her the way Anna seemed to. Not even Christine with all her wiles had been as hard to resist.
"Iím serious, Graham," Anna persisted, detecting a rare moment of weakness in Grahamís usually impenetrable defenses. "Either you lie down with me or Iíll stay awake, too."
Graham could not bring herself to leave, although she refused to consider why. With a sigh of exasperation she stretched out beside Anna, her back against the broad head-board, one arm around Annaís shoulders.
"All right now," Graham insisted, "close your eyes."
Almost instinctively, Anna moved so that she was reclining in Grahamís arms, her cheek against Grahamís chest. She wrapped her uninjured arm around Grahamís waist and closed her eyes. To her amazement, she soon began to drift.
"Donít leave," she murmured groggily. If she hadnít been compromised by physical and emotional stress, she never would have asked.
"I wonít," Graham promised, kissing the top of her head. If she hadnít been so recently terrified for Annaís life, she never would have stayed.
It was fully dark when Anna opened her eyes. Graham was still beside her, her cheek resting against Annaís hair, one hand rhythmically stroking the bare skin of her shoulder. In her sleep Anna had thrown one leg over Grahamís, and she lay tightly pressed to her now. Anna knew she was wet, and wondered if Graham could feel it. Anna shifted beneath the light sheet so her breasts rested more fully against Grahamís chest. She was rewarded with a swift gasp from Graham.
"Graham," she whispered, raising herself until their lips were nearly touching. She could feel the heat radiate from Graham now, too. Graham was scarcely breathing, straining for control. Anna shifted deliberately until her entire length rested upon Grahamís body. Her nipples tensed, and she rubbed them slowly back and forth across Graham's chest. When Anna rocked against Grahamís leg, a fine shudder passed through Grahamís form. Relentless now with need, Anna slipped one hand along the front of Grahamís trousers, trailing her fingers down Graham's thigh.
"Make love to me," Anna whispered in a voice husky with desire. "Please, Graham, please -I need you so much."
"I canít," Graham choked, shaking with the effort to contain her arousal.
Annaís hand pressed into Graham's thigh, sliding higher with deliberate strokes.
"Oh god, Annaódonít," Graham groaned, her hips rising to Anna's touch of their own volition. She was losing focus, the aching in her pelvis traveling in waves into her belly and beyond. "You canít know what youíre asking!"
Graham was wet against Anna's palm where she held her, and Anne saw a hunger in Graham's face that was undeniable. She sensed Grahamís fear and resistance too, but she was too far gone to care. Anna was completely at the mercy of her own driving need, motivated by an instinct as essential as that to breathe.
"I do know what Iím asking," she gasped, " and so do you! Do you want me to beg?"
Graham hesitated still, her head pounding, trying to ignore the building pressure to move against Annaís hand. Her body was in mutiny. She was afraid she might come at the slightest touch. "Anna, youíre hurt!" she protested weakly.
"All I can feel is how much I need you to touch me. I'm ready to explode Ė I'm so swollen Ė oh, god Ė Graham-- " Anna groaned through a haze of overwhelming need, her body surging against the reed slender woman in her arms. She caught Grahamís hand and brought it to the aching fullness of her breast. "Please-"
With that touch Grahamís restraint broke at last. She yielded to a tidal wave of lust with a strangled cry. Her hands were upon Anna with a force that took the breath from Annaís body. Sweeping like wildfire down the planes of Annaís abdomen, along her thighs, ascending just as quickly to stroke her neck and breasts, Grahamís touch stirred a searing heat that set Annaís nerve ends burning. She felt herself dissolving into molten liquid, her speech reduced to small cries that became incoherent whimpers as her body arched to Graham, desperately offering all of herself. Grahamís lips were on her neck, murmuring her name like a benediction. She eased her body over Annaís, brushing the covers aside, one hand seeking between Anna's legs. She thrilled to the welcoming warmth, parting the engorged lips, groaning as she slipped into Annaís silken depths. She clenched her jaw, willing herself to go slowly, struggling with the shattering urge to claim Anna with all the power of her passion.
"Oh god, Graham," Anna cried out as Graham filled her, willing her deeper, thrusting to contain all of her. Grahamís mouth bruised her lips, the fabric of Grahamís shirt chaffed her swollen nipples, and the exquisite motion of Grahamís fingers within her inflamed her senses.
"Oh, no," she gasped urgently as her hips began to rock involuntarily. Her clit was tingling, jumping with the rhythm of Graham's thrusting fingers. Oh god Ė not so soon! "Graham wait!" It was already too late. Muscles clenched and tightened, she sobbed as her body, long denied, found release. She clutched Grahamís shoulders, strangling on her own throaty cries. Endlessly, her peaked, only to be driven to a higher plateau by the insistent stroking of Grahamís finely tuned hands, until she lay exhausted, able only to murmur, "Enough, my darling, Iíll die from you."
Graham laughed gently, her fingers quieting, but not withdrawing. She settled Anna firmly against her, breathing into her hair, "Oh no, love, you wonít die from this. Never from this."
Through a curtain of languorous fatigue, Anna saw Grahamís dark eyes upon her face, tender and deep with passion. To see her so stopped the breath in her throat, she loved her so much. Anna pressed closer to her, whispering, "Just hold me, please."
"Anything," Graham murmured as Anna drifted into sleep.
Anna awakened slowly, her body still pulsing with sensation. Graham still held her tightly. She lay with her eyes closed, savoring the sweet satisfaction of Grahamís nearness and the lingering aftermath of their lovemaking. She didnít move when she felt a featherlight touch upon her cheek, remaining silent as Grahamís fingers traced her face. As gently as butterflies on spring blossoms, Graham stroked her brows, each eyelid, and the line of her lips and nose. With both hands she cupped Annaís face, her thumbs brushing across the bones of her cheek to sweep along her jaw and chin. A fingertip pressed against the pulse beating in her neck, then moved to circle the curve of her ear. When at last the gently probing hands quieted on her skin, Anna questioned softly, "Can you see me?"
Graham smiled faintly. "Yes."
"You make me feel beautiful," Anna confessed shyly.
"You are beautiful, Anna." Graham kissed her softly, reverently.
Anna smiled, then stretched indolently, trying to dispel the intoxicating lethargy Grahamís touch induced. She shifted on the bed, one hand resting on Grahamís abdomen. Muscles fluttered beneath her fingers. Being this close to Graham kept her constantly aroused. It was a new experience, one that left her breathless. Graham, ever sensitive, raised one questioning eyebrow.
"What is it?"
"I want to look at youóall of you," Anna replied, tugging at Grahamís shirt, brushing her fingers along the taut muscles beneath. She slipped her hand beneath the waistband of the tailored linen trousers, her pulse racing as Graham groaned and shuddered faintly at the touch.
"Let me touch you," Anna whispered against Graham's neck. Anna's need to have this enigmatic woman was as great as her need to be taken by her just a short time ago.
Graham flushed, but sat up slightly and began to unbutton her shirt. She shrugged the soft material from her shoulders and reached for the zipper on her trousers. Annaís hand grasped hers as Anna whispered, "Let me."
Graham raised her hips as Anna slid the last of her clothing away.
"God, youíre perfect," Anna breathed, gazing at the sweeping planes of Grahamís long form. As slowly as she knew how, Anna began to touch her, lingering over each curve and hollow of her body, exploring her with her hands and lips. Anna wanted to make this moment last forever, and even as Grahamís breathing quickened, her body undulating under Annaís caresses, Anna went slowly. With her mouth she began a slow descent from Grahamís neck, teasing each nipple before she traced a path down Grahamís quivering abdomen. Graham opened before her, arching gently up to meet her tongue, her breath rasping in her throat. As Annaís lips drew on her engorged clitoris, she moaned softly, her fingers entwining in Annaís hair. Anna had never known such tender power before. She thrilled to her ability to please this woman who had given her such exquisite pleasure. Her tongue stroked each ripe fold, moving with the surges of Grahamís body, matching her rhythm to that of her beloved. She was drunk with the taste of her, drowning in her rich nectar.
Graham groaned, grasped Anna's hands tightly, and arched against her lips. "Ah, Anna Ė my love," she whispered brokenly, finally giving in to the relentless driving pressure to come.
Anna struggled to hear her through the deafening roar of her own raging lust. She moaned with each quake that rippled through Grahamís body, holding fast to the slender hips until Graham quieted. Were it not for Graham calling her name, she would have gladly stayed there, senses overflowing, for time out of mind. Eventually Graham's hands gently drawing her upwards brought her back to herself.
"Come here," Graham whispered, "let me feel you close to me."
Anna moved to lie beside her, her heart contracting at the sight of tears streaking Grahamís cheeks. She thought she might come apart. She wanted so much to ease the pain Graham had suffered for so long. Softly she brushed the tears away. Her lips caressed the scar on Grahamís brow, lingering over each translucent eyelid. Grahamís lips parted in silent pleasure and a long sigh escaped her.
"You make me feel more than I ever imagined possible," Anna murmured against the ivory column of Grahamís neck. "Itís almost more than my heart can contain."
Graham caressed her gently as Anna slipped once more into satisfied sleep. Graham lay quietly for a long time, trying to absorb every sensation, every sound, every scent that was Anna. She filled her heart, and her mind, and her memory with her. At last she slipped from the bed, leaning down to softly kiss the sleeping woman.
"You are more beautiful than any music I have ever heard," she whispered.
The sun rose over Yardleyís grand expanses, but the brilliance of the changing dawn colors was lost on the woman who stood high above the sea. The brisk ocean breeze tossed her hair into her eyes, but she did not lift a hand to shield them. The tears on her face were not from the wind, nor the shivering in her body from the piercing cold. In the long years of her exile, she had never been so alone. Her defenses had been breached, her heart wrent by the gentle touch of a womanís lips. She remembered with shattering clarity each sensation - the longing, and the wonder, and the miracle of communion, body and soul. She could not drive the memory of the past from her thoughts - the complete desolation of the spirit she had suffered when Christine left her. She feared that ultimately her need would force Anna to leave her, too. She knew with utter certainty that this would be a pain she could not bear a second time in her life. Despite the years, the wounds still bled, and she could not banish the fear. She had not sought this love, in fact she had hidden herself from the very possibility of it all this time. She cried for what she had done, and what she must do. Finally, she returned to the house to await Annaís awakening, and to seal her own fate.
Anna knew instinctively as she reached out that she was alone.
"Graham?" she called.
"Iím here, Anna," Graham answered from her place by the window. "How do you feel?
Anna rolled over and pushed herself up in bed. She regarded Graham carefully. She had grown too used to the nuances of Grahamís posture and tone of voice not to know when she was distressed.
"Iím stiff, and sore just about everywhere, but nothing feels serious," she replied cautiously.
"Good," Graham sighed. She gathered herself for the hardest words she would ever say. "Anna, I must talk to you about last night."
Anna closed her eyes, her stomach tightening. Last night she didnít need to thinkóall she knew was the joy of Grahamís presence. She didnít need to think now to know she had been more deeply moved by Grahamís touch than any other event in her life. She didnít need words to capture the ecstasy of loving this woman. Her skin still tingled from the stroke of Grahamís hands, her body stirred with desire at the sight of her. She loved her, more passionately than she would have believed possible. Graham Yardley had claimed her, willingly or notóheart, body and soul.
"You donít need to say anything, Graham," Anna replied. "Last night, with you, was more beautiful than anything Iíve ever experienced. No one has ever touched me -"
Graham interrupted her harshly. She could not bear to hear these words! "Anna, you were hurt, vulnerableóyou needed comforting! IóI was frightenedóI forgot myself. It wasnít meant. Iím sorry."
"What are you saying? Are you trying to tell me last night was some kind of mistake?!" Anna asked incredulously. She stared at Graham uncomprehendingly. "You canít mean that! For Godís sake, Graham-"
"We were both frightened, exhausted - I took advantage," Graham stated flatly.
"Graham! I asked you into my bedóIíve been wanting, needing you, for so long! God Graham! I love you," Anna cried vehemently.
Graham groaned. "AnnaóAnna, you must not!" She drew a deep breath, her face set. "Last night should never have happened. I have no desire for it to be repeated. I do not want that kind of relationship with you."
"And you expect me to simply forget it? What we shared- the way it felt to touch you?" Anna questioned grimly, her hurt and bewilderment giving way to anger. "And what am I supposed to do with my feelings for you, Graham? Am I to ignore them the way you seem to be able to? "
Graham gave no sign that Annaís words affected her at all. "There can be no question of anything other than a friendship between us. If Iíve misled you, I apologize."
Anna wanted to scream; part of her wanted to beg. How could she be alone in this? She had felt love in Grahamís touchóshe had heard it as Graham whispered her name! She stared at Graham, a cold hand gripping her heart. "Are you sure?" she asked at last.
"Iím quite sure." Her face betrayed not a flicker of emotion.
"Then Iíll be leaving Yardley as soon as I can make arrangements," Anna replied hollowly, her mind numb with pain.
Graham clenched her hands, steeling herself against the crushing desolation. "Of course, if you think you must."
Anna watched her cross to the door, knowing this might be the last time she saw her. As Grahamís hand touched the knob, Anna said coldly, "Damn you for a coward, Graham Yardley! How can you do this!"
Graham faltered for a second before wordlessly closing the door gently behind her.
"At least tell me whatís sheís done!" Helen cried frantically as she watched Anna pile boxes into the back of her Jeep.
"She hasnít done anything," Anna replied woodenly. "Sheís exactly the same as sheís always been - I was the one who made the mistake."
"Let me talk to her," Helen pleaded. "Just tell me what happened!"
Anna stifled a laugh that verged on tears. She felt dangerously out of control. Poor Helen, this is almost as hard on her as it is on me! The only one who seems unaffected is Graham.
"Thereís nothing you can do, Helen," she responded when she could find her voice.
Helen stopped her hurried motions with a hand on her arm, forcing Anna to look at her. "Anna," she said quietly, "it will kill her if you leave."
"No, Helen," Anna said as she gently removed her hand and stepped up into the Jeep. "It will kill me."
She did not look back as she drove away from all she loved.
She woke before the alarm after another restless night. She turned toward the window, seeking a hint of the sun through the glass. Even after all this time she still missed the smell of the ocean. She lay quietly, waiting for the ache in her to lessen. It was there each day when she opened her eyes, arising from some deep wound that would not heal. Pain was her constant companion, a raw burning grief that clouded even the most simple pleasures. She had learned to accept itóas she accepted that there was a place in her soul which would remain forever empty. That she loved Graham still, would always love her, was the truth and the agony she lived with.
After the first desolate weeks alone again in Boston, she tried to reclaim her life. She immersed herself in her studies and had only to complete her thesis to have her degree. She had no social life and desired none. There was no question of re-entering the world she had known during her marriageóa world now foreign to her. Loving Graham had taught her that she could only have loved with such deep passion and paralyzing desire because Graham was a woman. And she knew without doubt that no other woman could ever eclipse Graham in her heart. She had wanted Graham with a ferocity that still stunned her. She need only to recall some fleeting image, and she would be ambushed by desireóher need to touch her, to taste her, to lose herself in her was palpable. Anna welcomed these moments, despite the bitter pain of loss, because it was only their presence that convinced her some part of her still lived. Otherwise, she moved through her days numb and scarcely present. The future stretched before her with no hint of joy.
The alarm sounded, a reminder that each day would come, and that she would somehow survive. As she moved about her small studio apartment gathering her things, she tried to dispel the lingering memories of her past. Woven through the tapestry of loss was a hard bitter thread of anger, anger over the life, and the love, she might have had - things too painful to dwell on now.
She still found it hard to believe the direction her life had taken. She now worked for a landscape design firm, a job that a year ago she would have been overjoyed to have. She did enjoy her work, in fact, it was her salvation, but the pleasure was diminished by the emptiness of the rest of her life. She barely remembered how she had gotten through that initial interview.
Lauren Parker, a nationally renowned landscape architect and one of a very few women to head her own firm, had interviewed her personally. Anna recalled that she had been both direct and personable, questioning Anna thoroughly but in an easy relaxed manner. Apparently she had been impressed by Annaís graduate work on historic estate renovations, an area she said her firm was interested in exploring. Although it seemed now to Anna that she had floated through the interview in a daze, she must have made a favorable impression. She had been there six months. She grabbed her briefcase and hurried toward the door. She needed this job, but more importantly, she needed to work. It was the only thing which provided brief respite from her memories.
Anna was sketching in the details of an outdoor theatre when someone tapped on the wall of her work cubicle. She looked up to find Lauren leaning against the partition. It wasnít unusual for Lauren Parker to supervise the work of her staff personally, but she managed to do it in a way that was both non-threatening and non-intrusive. Those who worked for her knew how fortunate they were to have an employer who was talented as well as fair-minded.
Anna smiled a greeting, laying her work aside. "Hi."
"Hi. Howís the prospectus for the Randolph estate?"
Lauren was dressed casually in a navy linen pants suit that accentuated her trim athletic build. She could have been thirty-five, although Anna knew she was at least ten years older. She radiated confidence and vigorous good health. Her blonde hair was stylishly short, and she wore almost no makeup.
"Good, I think. I have some things to run by Don, and then it should be ready for you to look at."
Lauren nodded. "Excellent. Weíre ahead of schedule, which should appease those elements on Randolphís board of directors who thought the project should go to Tom Langdon across town." Despite her firms national reputation, there were always those who mistrusted the ability of a woman to excel in a manís field. This job was her entree into the realm of historic renovation she had been waiting for.
Lauren hesitated a second, then asked, "How about a working dinner tonight? Iíd like to hear what youíve come up with so far, but Iíve got clients scheduled all afternoon. If you donít have other plans? I know itís Friday night."
A shadow flickered across Annaís face and was quickly gone. "No," she said quietly, "I donít have any plans. Dinner would be fine. Should I meet you somewhere?"
"Why donít we just grab a cab from here?" Lauren hadnít missed the reaction her invitation had provoked. Whatever the memory, it had hurt. She said nothing further, knowing Anna was intensely private.
Anna nodded, "Okay."
Lauren smiled warmly. "GoodóIím looking forward to it."
At six oíclock Lauren stopped in the corridor beside Annaís desk. "Are you ready to finish up? The cab should be downstairs in about fifteen minutes."
Anna smiled up at her, nodding. "Iím more than ready. Iíll just freshen up and meet you outside."
Lauren held the cab door open while Anna slid in, then instructed the driver, "The Copely Plaza, please," as she settled next to Anna with a sigh. "God, Iíve been looking forward to this all day."
"I might be a little under-dressed for the Copely," Anna said, indicating her casual slacks and sweater.
Lauren turned her head to look at Anna. "Nonsense. You look terrific," she said softly. The woman beside her had lost the deep tan that had accentuated her blue eyes and blond hair so strikingly six months before, but she had also lost the haunted look that seemed to shadow her every moment. She smiled occasionally now, a blazing smile that never failed to capture Laurenís attention for just long enough to be distracting. Pleasantly distracting.
Anna blushed under Laurenís warm, appraising glance. It was nothing like the way men had looked at her, still did in fact. She didnít feel as if she were being assessed like a painting about to be purchased, or a fine wine about to be consumed. Laurenís glance was appreciative, and intimate in a respectful way. It was the first time Anna had ever been aware of a woman looking at her in quite that manner. Would Graham have, if she could have seen her? Without warning she remembered the way Graham had stroked her face after they made love, Ďseeingí her in the only way she could. Anna recognized the sensuality of Laurenís gaze because she had felt it, magnified a thousand times, in Grahamís hands on her skin. The image was so painful she closed her eyes with a small gasp.
"What is it?" Lauren asked in concern.
"Just a headache," Anna said with a shaky laugh. "I think I forgot lunch and itís catching up with me."
"Well, dinner is on the company," Lauren said, almost as if she didnít own it. "Letís enjoy it!" She doubted the headache story; she had seen the same thing happen to Anna before. Some word or gesture would inexplicably cause her to pale, visibly shaken. Something had hurt her badly, and Lauren guessed that Anna kept the anguish at bay through sheer strength of will. Annaís struggle touched some deep cord in Lauren, as she watched the younger woman slowly rise above her pain over the past months. "Come on," she said, touching Annaís hand briefly. "Let me buy you a drink."
Anna forced herself to relax, wanting to forget everything for just a little while. She decided to try to enjoy herself, and before she knew it, she was seated with Lauren at a cozy table sipping a very fine wine.
At Laurenís suggestion, they got business out of the way while they waited for appetizers, so that by the time their meal came, their conversation was casual. Anna found Lauren an easy companion. Her interests beyond the professional were varied, and she had a way of bringing images to life with her enthusiasm. She was bright, gracious and altogether charming. For the first time in months Anna found she could actually distance herself from the despair that seemed to be the undercurrent of her life. She was grateful for the brief surcease of pain.
"Anna," Lauren said as she reached to fill Annaís wine glass, "you have been doing excellent work at the firm, and I consider us lucky to have you. I hope you plan to stay on with us for the long-term. There will be plenty of opportunity for advancement."
Anna stared at her in surprise. She hadnít expected Lauren to notice her work, let alone comment so favorably upon it. She was pleased and said so.
Lauren nodded, her face uncharacteristically subdued. She fidgeted briefly with her straw, then tossed it onto the table with a sigh. "Thereís never an easy way to do this, at least none that Iíve ever found," she said at length. "But I want you to understand that this has absolutely nothing to do with work, and never will. No matter what you say to me, your position at the firm is based upon your production, and your skill - nothing else."
Anna looked at her quizzically. "I donít have the faintest idea what youíre talking about," she said.
Lauren blushed and laughed lightly. "How could you? Iím not saying anything!" She leaned forward slightly, her intense grey eyes fixed on Annaís. "AnnaóI think you are a very attractive woman, and I like you. I would very much like to spend more time with youósocially. Well, romantically actually."
Anna stared at her, at a loss for words. Lauren was highly attractive in many ways - bright, accomplished, physically compelling, and Anna was more comfortable with her than she had been in months. Part of her wanted this woman to make her forget Graham Yardley.
Lauren waited in silence, then asked softly, "Have I misread you? If I have, I apologize."
Anna cleared her throat, then responded, "No, you havenítóI mean, I am a lesbian."
Lauren added in concern, "I have never asked an employee out before. I meant it, Annaódonít think for a second that this has any bearing on your position at the firm. Please!"
Anna searched for her voice. "I donítóit doesnít feel that way, and neither do you."
She looked at the woman across from her, imagining her touch, her kiss. She had grown to admire and respect Lauren, and after tonight she knew she liked her. She wondered if she could let Lauren make love to her body, if the physical sensation might even be welcome, if it somehow might dull her memory of Graham even briefly. She longed for some relief from the endless torment, but she knew without a shred of doubt she could never give Lauren her heart. That was no longer hers to own, or to give. She was Grahamís, in every fiber of her being, and always would be. She looked at Lauren helplessly, " Itís not that -itís just-, I canít, Lauren, Iím sorryó"
Lauren thought she detected tears in her eyes. "Hey," she said softly, "itís okay. I didnít mean to upset you."
Anna shook her head, brushing impatiently at the moisture on her cheeks. "You havenítóthis has been the best night Iíve spent in months. And if things were differentó"
Lauren hurried to state, "I donít want to get in the middle of anything if youíre already involved with someone. Iíve never heard you mention anyone."
"No," Anna answered, the pain in her voice impossible to hide. "Iím not involved with anyone."
"But?" Lauren questioned gently.
Annaís gaze was wounded. "But there is someone I love, very muchósomeone who apparently doesnít love me. But that doesnít stop the wantingódoes it?"
Lauren looked at her sympathetically. "No, it doesnít. Perhaps time will help. Iíve enjoyed our evening together. And Iíd like to do it again sometime. I appreciate your honesty, Anna, and if the time comes that you might feel differently about seeing me, Iíll consider myself lucky. ĎTil thenófriends?"
Anna smiled tremulously. "I could use a friend. Thank you, Lauren."
As time passed Lauren proved true to her word. On the average of once a week, she invited Anna to the theatre or out for dinner. The only place Anna refused to accompany her was to the symphony. Anna hadnít been able to listen to any kind of music that reminded her of Graham, and the thought of a concert hall brought twisting pain to her depths. In her mind, the concert stage would always belong to Graham; her memory held so many images of her there. Seeing Annaís response the first time she asked her, Lauren never asked her again.
Anna enjoyed their time together, coming to value their relationship immensely. She would not speak of her past, and Lauren did not press her. When they parted, Lauren kissed her lightly on the cheek. It didnít escape Annaís notice that occasionally Lauren would look at her with a question in her eyes, but Anna never felt pressured to move their relationship onto a more intimate level. Anna hoped that their friendship was as rewarding to Lauren as it had come to be to her.
Early one morning the phone on her desk rang. It was Lauren.
"Can I see you in my office for a minute?"
"Iíll be right there," Anna replied, rolling up the plan she had been working on.
When Anna entered, Lauren motioned for Anna to join her at the large drafting table situated before the enormous windows overlooking the Boston Commons. She indicated a layout pinned to the board. She was clearly excited.
"The Randolph renovations have progressed exceptionally well. The article featuring our work in the Times last weekend has really fostered interest in estate reclamation. This area is ripe for it. I think itís time to push the promotional we discussed when you first interviewed. Iíd like to use your work at Yardley as the centerpiece. Itís one of the oldest estates on the Cape and will be easily recognized by prospective clients. Since Yardley is so well known to you, and the concept of marketing estate landscape restoration is really yours as well, Iíd like you to oversee the project. Weíll need detailed plans, as well as photodocumentation. I want you to put your other projects on hold until this is off the ground."
Anna stood stunned and speechless, while Lauren looked at her expectantly. Of course she should be honored that Lauren would entrust such an important project to her direction, and it was what she had been training to doóbut, oh god, not at Yardley! Her composure threatened to give way under a wave of panic.
"I canít," she finally whispered.
Lauren stared at her in astonishment. "What do you mean, Ďyou canít?í Is it because of your thesis? I thought you had that nearly wrapped up."
"No," Anna forced herself to say calmly. "Iíll work on the promotionalóanything else you want. Anything. But I canít do the work on Yardley."
"But Anna, I want Yardley as the main work. Thatís where I need you!"
Anna passed a trembling hand across her face, trying to gather her wits. Just the mention of Yardley had brought a flood of memories, and such pain she thought she might be ill. God, what would she do if she actually had to see Graham? It was impossible! She couldnít do it!
"Anna, weíre friends. Tell me what this is all about." Lauren laid her hand gently on Annaís arm, her concern genuine. Anna was trembling.
Anna turned to face her, an agony of despair clearly visible. Lauren had never seen such desolation, and her heart surged with compassion.
"Tell me, sweetheart."
"I canít go back to Yardley," Anna said at last, her voice shaking.
"Grahamó" Anna began, barely able to say her name. "I canít see her. I canít." She looked at Lauren pleadingly. "Please donít ask me to, Lauren. It would kill me."
Lauren studied her for long moments, the pieces slowly falling into place. She knew that Anna had lived at Yardley but had never given it any thought. Now Annaís isolation and depression were more understandable.
"Graham Yardley - the composer," Lauren said softly. "Sheís the woman youíre in love with, isnít she?"
Anna closed her eyes, trying to stem the tears, failing. "Yes," she choked out, turning from her friend, struggling for control. She felt a tender hand on her shoulder, heard a soft voice murmur her name, and she turned into the arms that waited for her. Lauren held her gently, letting her cry, not trying to tell her it as all right when it so obviously wasnít. At length Anna drew away, fumbling for a tissue, embarrassed.
"Iím sorry," she said. "I didnít expect this - if I donít think about her, I seem to be able to manage. You took me by surprise."
Lauren let out a long breath. "Anna, youíve always been honest with me and I care about you. I donít want to see you suffer like this any longer, and Iíll admit not all of my reasons are selfless ones. I wonít pretend that I donít want more from our relationship, but this isnít about that. This is destroying you. You need to give her upóyou have the rest of your life, donít allow it to be an empty one. Maybe if you work on the project, it will help you heal."
Anna laughed almost hysterically. "Heal? You canít heal whatís already dead, and thatís what I am inside, Lauren. Dead. All Iím trying to do now is make it from day to day. If I have to see Graham, I wonít even be able to do that! Sheís not something I can just Ďgive upí! Sheís in every part of me. You canít imagine what being near her is like for me!"
Lauren winced at the truth of Annaís words. It wasnít easy to be faced with the extent of Annaís passion for another woman, but nevertheless her tone was kind as she offered, "You wonít have to see her. She isnít there."
Anna grasped the edge of the table, her head suddenly light. "Oh, dear god, has something happened to her? Is she all right?"
"As far as I know, she is. David Norcross told me that no one had been in residence at Yardley since last fall, but that he would provide us with keys if we needed access." Seeing the look of panic on Annaís face, she added gently, "Thatís really all I know."
Anna forced down the surge of panic. "I canít make a decision about this now, Lauren. Give me a little timeójust a few day, please."
Lauren nodded, reluctantly accepting that Annaís heart still belonged completely to Graham Yardley. Despite her own disappointment, as a friend, she would have to let Anna find her own way.
"Iíll need your answer by the end of next week ," she conceded.
That night Anna dreamed of Yardley, and of Graham. A storm was coming, like the storm that brought down the sycamore. She was in the garden, the sky darkening around her. Turning to the sea, she saw Graham standing at the edge of the cliff, struggling to stay upright in the gale. She seemed even thinner in the distant gloom, wraithlike, and in danger of being swept from the earth by the force of the snarling winds. Annaís cries to her were flung back in her face by the howling blasts. She must reach her!!
"Graham, Iím coming," she screamed soundlessly, "Iím coming, my darling!!" She fought to move, choking with panic, able only to watch in horror as Graham was flung by the whirlwind into the raging waters.
"No!" she wailed into the night, finally dragging herself to consciousness. She lay gasping, soaked in sweat, her face streaked with tears. The aftermath of her dream left her awash with loss. "Oh God Graham," she whispered into the darkness, "I love you so much."
Anna drove slowly up the drive to Yardley Manor, her heart pounding. Yardley appeared abandoned, dark and foreboding. The shutters were all closed, and windswept debris littered the walks and the wide front porch. She parked her Jeep behind the house by the kitchen and walked down the steep garden path toward the sea. She stopped at the site of the fallen sycamore, thinking of how that accident had finally brought Graham into her arms. Oh, god, she thought she had found heaven. How could she have been so wrong!
She stood for many minutes looking out to the sea, images flashing through her mind like slides on a screen. She recalled how Graham had looked that first day in the library, pale and stern, and so stubborn and proud! She had been drawn to her even then. She remembered the slow building of her love as she had come to know more of the gentle, tortured soul Graham kept hidden within. What finally started tears flowing was the memory of Grahamís musicóits haunting beauty and the even more beautiful image of Graham playing. As the music cascaded through her mind, so too did the remembrance of their lovemaking. She ached for Grahamís touch, and to touch her in return.
Watching the waves crash below, ominous in their fury, she was reminded of the desolation she had felt in her dream. She couldnít continue to live like this. Anna felt a strange steeling of her heart, and a new determination. Replacing the pain that accompanied each breath was a rising anger, and the resolution to put an end to this torment. As she turned and began the long climb back, Anna became aware of another sensations in her heart. She finally recognized that it was hope.
Continue on to Part 6
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