by Radclyffe

Please see part 1 for all disclaimers and copyright information.

Chapter Eight

Anne turned at the sound of the key in the side door. She stared at Dane's drawn face and the dark circles under her eyes, instantly concerned.

"Hi," she said. "I didn't expect you today. Things are really quiet. Why don't you take the day off?"

Dane walked toward the rear door to the kennels. "There are some things I want to check," she said tersely.

Caroline looked up as Dane entered. She had been cleaning out one of the runs and was just getting ready to bring out one of the young bitches they were planning to show in the late spring.

"Hi," she said tentatively.

Dane walked over and pulled a heavy jacket down from a hook by the door. "Hi," she said, knowing it sounded abrupt. She did not need them fussing at her today!

"Dane--" Caroline began.

"Later, okay? I want to work out with Troy."

Caroline watched her friend in silence as she led a beautiful two-year-old dog into the large training run behind the building. She followed Dane out and sat down on the rear step to watch. She loved to watch Dane train the dogs in protection. Dane was one of the few recognized authorities in the country certified to train animals in the difficult skills necessary for the dogs to compete for a Schutzhund degree. It was an art that few Americans really understood, and Dane was an expert at it.

Dane took the dog, a heavy, well-muscled animal, through some preliminary exercises first. He followed her every move, his calm dark eyes fixed on her face. She had been working with him for some time, and he had already distinguished himself by earning the Schutzhund I degree. He was by nature a well-controlled animal and had acquired an even deeper level of self-assurance through Dane's careful training. Caroline watched them moving together, Dane signaling her desires by silent hand commands. Caroline appreciated once again her partner's skills. For some reason, though, Dane seemed more tense than usual. When she signaled Troy to attack, she staggered slightly as he propelled himself at her heavily protected sleeve. Caroline could see the sweat on Dane's face as Troy pulled with his considerable weight against her. They continued in their physical combat until Dane commanded him to release. He did so immediately, watching Dane expectantly. She went down on one knee and hugged him, running her hands over his sleek back.

"Good boy, Troy, good boy," she said breathlessly. "That's a good boy."

She took him back inside with Caroline close behind. Dane eased the jacket off slowly and dropped it on a chair. She leaned back against the counter, trying to catch her breath. Her back hurt everywhere that her damp shirt touched, and there was a sharp, stabbing pain each time she took a deep breath.

"Looks like Troy wore you out," Caroline observed, acutely aware of Dane's exhaustion. She couldn’t hide her concern. The dogs never tired her like this! "You okay?"

"Fine, said Dane, regaining her composure. She continued to lean on the counter, and hoped that Caroline couldn’t see her legs shaking.

Caroline decided to get right to what was on her mind. "When are you going to stop letting her get to you?"

Dane glared at Caroline and reached a hand into her pocket for a cigarette. Her hand shook as she lit it. "She doesn't get to me."

"Oh, sure," Caroline said sharply, "that's why you left in such a huff last night."

"I just don't care for Brad's brand of company, okay? I'm tired of her arrogance and her fucking ego."

Caroline sighed. "It's been three years, Dane. Can't you let it go?"

"You know damn well what she did!" Dane exploded. "She drove me over the edge and then just walked away. No one—no one should do that to someone they love. Or say that they love."

Caroline remembered those precarious few months in Dane's life. She hadn't been certain that Dane would be able to survive the demons Brad had awakened in her. But she had. Caroline would always respect her for the way Dane had struggled to hold her life together after Brad had left.

"Damn it, Dane. You beat her. You beat her at her own game. You made it without her." She waved an arm toward the kennel. "She doesn't even show dogs any more!"

"Baron beat her," Dane said quietly. "He's made this kennel—and she knows it. Before I got him, Brad was the big name around here. Now it's us." She shook her head. "But she still thinks she can beat me in everything else." Maybe she’s right.

"You mean Kyle?" Caroline said astutely. She had seen the way Dane had looked at Kyle when they were dancing. A stranger might not have noticed, but Caroline did. She knew Dane was more than just physically attracted to Kyle.

Dane tensed. "Kyle is nothing to me."

"Oh, come off it, Dane. What are you so damned afraid of? If you ask me, Kyle is pretty interested in you, too."

Dane turned away, staring out the window over the counter. She didn’t want to hear this. She didn’t want to even think it. "She doesn't know what she wants right now."

Caroline disagreed. "You'd better give that woman a little more credit. She does know what she wants—she just may not be sure who she wants."

Dane turned back abruptly, her blue eyes flashing. "Well, Brad is the master, right? Who better to show her what she wants!" She winced visibly as another sharp pain shot through her chest. "Shit."

"What's the matter?" Caroline cried, moving quickly across the room.

Dane closed her eyes for a moment. "Nothing. I'm fine." She wiped the beads of perspiration off her face with her sleeve. She gazed affectionately at her friend, aware of Caroline's concern. "Really--it's okay."

Caroline knew her friend very well. "Oh, Dane. Not again."

Dane smiled weakly. "Yeah." She was in trouble.

Caroline took her arm firmly. "Come on. We're going to my place."

Anne checked the rear-view mirror and caught a glimpse of Dane's face. She couldn't tell if Dane was asleep or not. Her head rested against the back of the seat, her eyes closed. No one had said anything since Caroline marched into the office, saying, "Close up. We're leaving."

Anne looked over at Caroline. She was staring out the window, her face expressionless. She had been holding Anne's hand tightly ever since they got into the jeep. Caroline turned, as if feeling Anne's eyes upon her. She smiled softly and shook her head slightly, motioning toward Dane. Anne sighed, thinking it was not going to be a good day.

When the three of them entered the apartment, Anne went immediately into the den, closing the door behind her. She knew Caroline and Dane would need privacy.

Dane followed Caroline into the bedroom wordlessly. She was emotionally and physically too exhausted to protest. She hated to admit it, but she knew she needed Caroline right now.

"Take your clothes off and lie down," Caroline said as she walked into the bathroom. She opened the medicine chest and pulled out several jars. When she walked back into the room, she stopped short, drawing a sharp breath. Even from a distance, she could see the condition of Dane's back. Dane’s flesh was swollen and discolored from her shoulders to her hips. Caroline couldn't imagine the discipline it must have required to accept all of that punishment.

She sat down on the side of the bed, placing her hand tenderly in Dane's hair, the only place she wasn’t afraid to touch her. "Why does it have to be so damn much every time, Dane?" she asked gently.

Dane lay quietly, trying to dissociate her mind from her aching body. "It takes that much."

"To do what?" Caroline asked as she began very carefully applying a soothing ointment to Dane's back. She knew from experience that her ministrations would only help temporarily, but it was an excuse to keep Dane quiet for a while. And it was also a chance for them to talk. Perhaps if Dane would talk to her, she might not need this.

Dane tried to relax, but even the slight pressure of Caroline's hand sent lancets of pain through her sensitive muscles.

"Every time it gets harder," she began hesitantly, trying to capture the thoughts that she avoided much of the time. "I can't seem to let go of everything in my head unless I push my body further and further. It takes so much more physical sensation to clear away my feelings. And I can’t just let them eat me alive."

Caroline continued to stroke Dane's back gently, closing her mind to the sight of her friend's beautiful body in ruins. "What about when you make love? Doesn't that help?"

"Once in a while. With Kyle—" Dane stopped, not having meant to speak of Kyle.

"Kyle?" Caroline said in surprise. "Have you slept with her?" Suddenly things made more sense.

"Once," Dane said, her voice muffled by the pillow.

"So, Kyle was the one you were telling me about last month?"

Dane nodded, calmed by Caroline's touch. "Everything just happened so naturally. I didn't think about it, we just fit so well."

"Why didn't you ever call her?"

"She's a novice, Caroline. She's just beginning to understand --about herself, about the whole thing. I don't want to bring someone else out. I've had enough of that."

Caroline winced but continued. "You mean like with Anne?"

Dane laughed as much as her protesting muscles allowed. "Will you stop? You know very well it's okay about Anne. I love you two together. You're good together. Anne and I would never have made it."

"Do you want to make it with anyone?"

"I don't know anymore. I'm used to the way things are. I meet someone, we do a scene and then it's over. It's easier that way."

Caroline hesitated, not sure how far to go. "Maybe what's easier isn't always what's best. Maybe if you had someone you could really reach, you wouldn't need this."

Dane sighed. "I'm afraid I'll always need this."

"Who is she?"

"Caroline--" Dane began.

"Damn it, Dane. You're my friend. I love you. Why can't you tell me who does this to you?"

Dane rolled gingerly over onto her side, facing Caroline. "It's personal."

"Oh, come on--and this isn't?"

Dane reached up and touched Caroline's cheek gently.

"I can't. I'm sorry."

Caroline sighed, accepting defeat. "She must be something."

"Yeah. A top's top." Her voice was at once bitter and begrudgingly respectful.

Caroline ruffled Dane's blond hair, her voice sad. "Right."


Nancy shook Kyle's shoulder firmly. "Wake up, you. It's after noon."

Kyle protested sleepily and tried to roll away. "No, it's not. It's the middle of the night."

"Wrong. Wake up!"

Kyle opened one eye and peered up at Nancy. "Is the party over?"

"Yes, thank God. And Roger's gone to some meeting upstate until Monday. So get up--I want company."

Kyle groaned and sat up, looking about the room. "Where are my clothes?"

Nancy feigned ignorance. "I don't know. Where did you leave them?"

"Nance!" Kyle said threateningly.

Nancy laughed. "All right. They're in the dryer. I'll have them out for you in a minute."

Kyle fell back gratefully into the pillows. "Good. Wake me up when they're done."

"Oh, no you don't! You're getting up. Here's my robe. We're having breakfast, and then we're going to the shop."

"Oh, fun," Kyle said.

"And then we're going out."

Kyle looked up in surprise.


Nancy smiled. "To that bar you always hang out at."

Kyle stared after her friend as she left the room.

Chapter Nine

Nancy pirouetted before the full-length mirror in Kyle's bedroom.

"Well, how do I look?"

Kyle nodded appreciatively as she supervised her friend, who somehow managed to look elegant in blue jeans and a flannel shirt.


"Are you sure I can't wear your leather pants?"

"No!" Kyle exclaimed. "First of all, they're too big for you. Secondly, I don't trust you in them."

Nancy tried to look innocent. "What do you mean?"

Kyle laughed. "I'm not sure I could stand the competition!" She was suddenly serious. "Are you sure you want to do this?"

"Why not?" Nancy said lightly, searching through Kyle's closet for a jacket. "How much different can it be?"

How much different indeed, Kyle thought, shaking her head.


Brad saw Kyle the moment she entered the crowded bar. She smiled to herself and took note of Kyle's pretty companion. Another new one!

Carrying her beer, she threaded her way through the crowd and settled into the shadows against the wall. She considered how much things had changed these last few years. What once had been primarily a men's bar had slowly been usurped by women. More and more women congregated here, dressed in leather and stalking the night with sexual appetites previously attributed to their gay brothers. Partly it was due to the increased publicity of bars such as this, and partly to women's increasing awareness of their own sexual diversity. The sexual horizons of gay women seemed to be expanding. As the voices of women previously on the fringes of the sexual spectrum were heard, more and more women moved away from the mainstream to explore previously taboo areas. Brad found that she rarely had to look long for company. Now she had only to seek a challenge, and Kyle represented a challenge. Sensing that Kyle was involved with Dane heightened the thrill. Nothing intrigued Brad more than a battle with Dane, especially in the sexual arena. Since they had parted, Dane's reputation had flourished. She was known as a demanding but safe top. Women trusted her to take them unharmed through a scene, although she never let anyone top her. Brad welcomed the opportunity to reestablish her own superiority. Seducing Kyle would certainly be satisfying, and if it hurt Dane, all the better. As she slowly sipped her beer, Brad waited for an opening to make her first move. She was in no hurry; she enjoyed the game as much as the winning.

She watched Kyle and Nancy wend their way through the crowd to the end of the bar. When she got the bartender's attention, she motioned her over.

"Let me have another beer," she said, "and send two down the bar to the women at the end. With my compliments."

The bartender nodded and moved away. When she set the bottles down in front of Kyle, she leaned over toward her.

"From your friend over there," she motioned.

Kyle followed the woman's gaze. She flushed when she saw Brad staring coolly down the length of the bar at her. She tried to ignore the excitement stirred by Brad's lean, leather-clad figure.

Nancy watched the exchange with interest. "What's happening?"

Kyle turned back to face her. "We just got drinks--from Brad."

Nancy looked down the bar and immediately saw a dark-haired woman, dressed in a black leather vest and pants, staring pointedly at them. Nancy stared back, but Brad's features never changed. Brad raised her beer to her lips, her eyes locked on Nancy's face.

"Whew," Nancy said, finally breaking away from the woman's hypnotic face. "She is something."

"Uh-huh," Kyle said, keeping her eyes on the bar in front of her.

"So, now what happens?" Nancy asked eagerly.

"Damned if I know," Kyle said.

Nancy looked surprised. "Aren't you supposed to do something?"

Kyle looked at Nancy in exasperation. "What do you want me to do? Take my clothes off?"

"Well, you'd better think of something," Nancy said with a surreptitious glance over her shoulder. "Here she comes."

Brad stopped in front of the pair, appearing to tower over them even though she was smaller than them both.

"Ladies," she said smoothly. She stood casually, her legs slightly apart, her beer bottle dangling from her fingers, resting against her thigh.

"Hello, Brad," Kyle said, meeting her gaze evenly.

"Having a good time?"

Kyle nodded. "Thanks for the beer."

"My pleasure," Brad said, turning toward Nancy and extending her hand. "Hi, I'm Brad."

Nancy accepted Brad's hand easily. "Nancy."

"I was wondering if you two would like to go to a bar with a little more, ah—action."

Kyle looked at Brad in surprise. Before she could answer, she felt Nancy's hand close on her arm.

"Sure, why not?" Nancy said quickly.

"I don't know—" Kyle said. "There's a good crowd here tonight."

Brad continued unperturbed, finishing her beer and placing it on the bar. "I just thought you might be up for a change."

"Come on, Kyle," Nancy persisted, "we don't have any plans."

Kyle shrugged, intrigued. "Okay."

Brad smiled. "I'll drive. It'll be easier."

Nancy and Kyle followed Brad out into the night. None of them noticed the woman watching as they drove off in Brad's Mercedes sports coupe. As Brad maneuvered easily through the downtown traffic, she looked over at Kyle beside her.

"Ever heard of 'Encounters'?"

"No," Kyle said.

"You'll find it interesting. Your friend here is cool, isn't she?"

Nancy, who had been leaning forward in the backseat, answered quickly. "You don't have to worry, Brad, my dear. I'll be just fine."

Brad laughed and looked over her shoulder at Nancy. "I'm sure you will be."

They parked on a deserted street in what looked like a warehouse district. The broad, pothole-filled street was empty, and all the factory buildings on each side were dark. There were a few parked cars, but no one on the sidewalks. As they followed Brad down the block, Kyle felt a wave of apprehension. She felt responsible for Nancy, for one thing, and she realized she didn't know Brad at all.

"Listen," she said, as they stopped in front of a ground floor door unmarked except for a small sign which said 'Private Club', "I don't know about this."

Brad smiled at her as she pushed the door open. "Don't worry. You're with me."

There was no time to reply as Nancy followed Brad up the dimly lit stairway toward the light on the second floor. Kyle followed.

"Hi, Brad," a woman seated behind a small table at the head of the stairs said. "These women with you?"

Brad grinned and handed the woman twenty dollars. "Yes."

The woman added the bill to a stack in front of her, passed Brad her change, and nodded. "Have fun."

They entered a large room with a bar off to one side and a central stage ringed with tables. Brad led them to an empty table at the edge of the floor and went for drinks.

Kyle sat down with Nancy and looked around. The room was diffusely lit by soft, red lights, giving everything a surrealistic glow. Directly in front of them was a raised platform of some kind, with stout beams forming a scaffold. Women were seated at most of the tables and leaning against the bar. Everyone was dressed in heavy leather. There were more leather collars, studded bracelets, chaps and boots than she had ever seen in one place before. More than a few of the woman were clearly packing, the outline of synthetic penises evident under tight denim and leather pants.

"Christ, Kyle—" Nancy said in a soft voice, "that woman doesn't have a shirt on!"

Kyle followed Nancy's gaze and saw a small, dark woman standing by the bar talking to several others. She wore a thin leather collar around her neck and another on her right wrist. Except for her shimmering leather pants and boots, she was naked. Her well-formed breasts glinted with small gold rings through each nipple.

Kyle swallowed, her mouth suddenly dry. "You're right about that, Nance."

Nancy looked at her, amazed. "And I thought I was liberated!"

Brad returned with their drinks and sat down. "It's early yet. Things should pick up in a while."

As she spoke, another woman walked past leading a pale young woman by a short leash connected to wide leather shackles binding her wrists together in front of her. The bound woman's face was obscured by a hood which entirely enclosed her face except for holes over her nose and mouth.

"You mean there's more?" Nancy said, with just a hint of sarcasm.

Brad laughed, appreciating Nancy's aplomb. "Oh, yes--much more."

Kyle noticed several doorways toward the rear of the long room. Women wandered in and out of the darkened areas beyond.

"What's back there?" Kyle asked.

"Scene rooms," Brad said, enjoying her role as guide. "There's space for playing-- whatever game you like."

Kyle nodded, lighting a cigarette carefully. "And privacy?"

Brad laughed. "If you want that, you can go upstairs. Very private. But, that's part of the fun--getting to watch."

Three women moved across the floor toward the small stage in front of them.

"I think you'll get the idea in a minute," Brad said softly.

Kyle and Nancy watched silently as the woman with the leash stepped up onto the platform. Her hooded companion, led by a third, stood waiting docilely. In response to a quick nod from the woman above them, the "attendant" led the hooded figure onto the stage and carefully secured her ankles with soft loops of leather to hooks protruding from the upright beam. The top then handed her a key with which she released the wrist cuffs. She stretched the younger woman's arms out, binding each with short lengths of chain to hooks embedded higher up on the frame. She stepped back diffidently, awaiting her next instruction.

Kyle was uneasy. She turned toward Brad, who was following the activity with interest.

"Is this for real?" Kyle asked in a whisper.

Brad looked at her intently for a moment, her face expressionless. "You tell me, Kyle. What is real?"

Kyle stared back, unsure how to reply. The pressure of Brad's thigh against hers under the table was having an effect. Despite herself, she knew she was wet. The hushed silence of the room and the haunting tableau before them heightened her arousal. She struggled to ignore the pressure between her legs.

"Do you know them?" she asked at last, hoping her voice sounded steady.

Brad nodded, placing her hand gently on Kyle's tightly muscled leg. As her fingers trailed lightly up and down the rough denim, she answered, "The two on the stage are lovers. The one in jeans, the attendant, is a friend."

Kyle tried to ignore the presence of Brad's hand as it sent tiny shivers up her leg. She forgot her next words as the top stepped down from the stage and motioned to the attendant. The attendant opened a large canvass bag, handing the top a short crop with a stout handle connected to many long strands of leather. Just as quickly, the attendant stepped back into the shadows, leaving the two figures alone in the center of the stage. The room was eerily quiet as all eyes focused on the stage.

Suddenly the top arched her arm, and the sharp crack of leather broke the silence. The bound woman stiffened with the blow, but made no sound.

"Jesus," Nancy breathed in surprise. She grabbed Kyle's arm. "Let me have a cigarette, will you?"

Kyle handed her one, saying, "You quit."

The crop arced again, and Kyle had to force herself not to jump. Brad's hand rested against the material stretched tightly across her crotch, and Kyle felt naked, so intense was the contact. She didn't realize for several moments that the stinging blows were actually falling against the bound woman's leather-covered hips rather than her bare back. Still, the effect was overpowering. The act of dominance was real; the act of submission, no matter how staged, was real. The absence of true physical punishment was immaterial. The scene had been set, the roles defined. The stark declaration of power exchanged was inescapable and compelling. Kyle stared, transfixed, her mind clouded with lust. With every fall of the lash her pulse quickened; her clitoris twitched in response to the rhythmic pressure of Brad's hand upon her. Finally, unable to bear the enticing pressure of Brad's touch any longer, she pulled back in her seat, removing herself from the exquisite torment. She looked into Brad's face, knowing Brad was aware of what she was feeling.

Brad reached over and softly stroked her face with one long, delicate finger. "You all right?" she said softly.

Kyle nodded, wanting nothing more than for Brad to continue touching her. Just the exquisite pressure of the rough seam of her jeans felt like it might make her come.

Brad leaned back in her seat, her hand dropping back into Kyle’s lap.

"Keep watching," she said. "There's more."

The scene continued for what seemed like hours, the crop falling in rhythmic cadence through the cone of light surrounding the central figures. The bound woman silently endured the blows, her body straining with each contact. Finally, as quickly as it had begun, the punishment stopped. The attendant moved quickly out of the shadows and deftly released the restraints, encircling the woman with her arm. She led her to the edge of the stage and moved away again. The top reached up and released the straps at the back of the woman's hood. She pulled it off, running her hands gently over the woman's face. Her hands dropped to the smaller woman's shoulders, and as she pressed, the submissive went down on her knees and lay her head against the standing's woman's crotch. They stood unmoving, statue-like, in the center of the room.

Kyle hadn't realized she was holding her breath until the quiet voice behind her caused her to exhale explosively.

"You never give up, do you Brad?"

Three heads turned as one to face the woman behind them. Kyle noted the quick smile on Brad's face.

"Did you expect me to, Dane?"

Dane stood looking down at them, cold fury turning her eyes to steel. Kyle had moved in her chair, but not before Dane saw Brad’s hand against the damp fabric of her crotch.

"Why don't you sit down," Brad continued, motioning to an empty chair.

Dane hesitated a brief moment and then sat between Brad and Nancy, facing Kyle. Her eyes swept Kyle's face without a trace of emotion.

Nancy broke the silence by standing up. "I could use another drink. Kyle?"

Kyle nodded gratefully, "Please."

"And what are you drinking, Dane?" Nancy asked.

Dane stared up at Nancy in surprise. "Scotch."

Nancy smiled at her. "I'll just get us all a refill. Want to help carry, Brad?"

Brad laughed and stood up. "I'm always ready to help a lady."

Kyle stared at Dane, whose eyes were focused on some point across the room.

"What's going on, Dane?" she said after a moment, tired of the tension, confused by Dane's icy behavior. Released now from the hypnotic pull of the scene, she was beginning to think clearly again. Her body was still pounding with arousal, but at least her mind seemed to be working.

"Don't you know?" Dane spat out. Jesus, she practically had you coming in your pants at the table!

"No, damn it, I don't," Kyle said in an angry but subdued tone. She shook her head in frustration. "You were angry last night, and you're still angry."

Dane looked at her at last, her face softening for an instant. "I'm sorry. I guess you couldn't be expected to understand. It's something between Brad and me."

"I gathered," Kyle said dryly. "But what has it got to do with me?"

"I'm not sure," Dane confessed, suddenly feeling tired. "Brad just seems to keep turning up in my life--just when I think I'm rid of her."

Kyle looked at her compassionately. "I don't understand, Dane. Maybe someday you'll tell me. But don't put me in the middle of it. I ‘m not the enemy, and I don’t want to be."

"Then what do you want?" Dane said angrily. "Brad?"

"I don't even know Brad!" Kyle protested.

"You don't know me either."

"You're right. But I've touched you. I've held you and been held by you. I've trusted you with my body, and with my feelings. That counts for something. To me, at least."

Dane looked at Kyle in wonder. "Does it?"

Before Kyle could answer, Nancy and Brad returned with their drinks. As they sat down again, Kyle sensed that Nancy had captured Brad’s attention. Brad barely glanced at her or Dane.

"Well," Nancy said, taking a large swallow of her drink, "wonderful party. I'm so sorry I'm not properly dressed." She looked mischievously at Kyle. "Leather pants would have been so nice!"

Kyle smiled, grateful for Nancy's presence. "You're incorrigible."

"True," Nancy conceded. "I've talked Brad into giving me a tour of those intriguing rooms in the back. Want to come?"

Dane looked at Brad quickly. "Brad--" she began.

"Oh, don't worry, Dane," Brad said lightly. "Nancy will be quite safe with me."

Nancy rose, pulling Brad's arm. "Oh, come on, Brad. These two are just no fun."

Brad shrugged in Kyle and Dane's direction, allowing herself to be led away.

"Oh, boy," Kyle said. "That's Nancy."

"She okay?" Dane asked.

Kyle shook her head. "I'm not sure. I mean, yes--she can take care of herself."

They sat in silence, a silence that intensified Kyle's desire to break the barrier between them. Finally, Dane leaned toward her.

"Will you come upstairs with me?"


Dane nodded, waiting.

"Yes," Kyle agreed, accepting that for now, at least, she would only reach Dane on her own terms, in her own territory.

Chapter Ten

Silence surrounded them as Kyle pushed Nancy's sleek Ferrari through the tight turns of the darkened highway. They had met back at their table an hour or so after going off separately and had left shortly thereafter. The good-byes exchanged between the four women had been formal and terse. Nancy, for once, had been strangely subdued.

"Cigarette?" she asked Kyle finally.

Kyle reached automatically into her jacket pocket and pulled out two. She handed one across to Nancy, who lit both of theirs.

"You quit," Kyle said after a moment.

Nancy smiled slightly as she softly blew out a thin stream of swirling smoke. "I think I just started again."

"You okay?"

Nancy nodded. "Weird. But okay. You?"

Kyle laughed without humor. "No, but I'll tell you about it some other time." Her emotions were still too raw and painful to put into words. She knew she had to be alone with them awhile before she shared them, even with Nancy.

Nancy accepted Kyle's silence, knowing her friend's deep sense of privacy. She, however, wanted to talk.

"Is it always like that?" she began at last.

"Like what?"

"So intense--so exposed. I mean, I felt like I didn't have a private thought."

Kyle laughed grimly. "That whole place is designed to strip away privacy. The people don't count--just the sensations. No, it's not always like that. I've never been anywhere like that before. Believe it or not, Nance, it's usually the same for us as it is for you. A lot of strangers trying to find one face, one soul, they recognize in a crowd."

Nancy looked at Kyle quickly, concerned by the hollowness in her voice.

"What the hell happened to you in there?" she asked sharply.

"I found out I was just another person who didn't count," Kyle said tightly.

"I don't think so, my friend," Nancy replied softly.

Kyle looked at her, her anger suddenly surfacing. "How would you know? To you people are just bodies anyhow, right? You said it yourself--men or women, it doesn't matter. It's just another experience."

"Not fair, Kyle. You're not just another body, and neither is poor old Roger, for that matter."

Kyle sighed and pulled the car to a stop in Nancy's driveway. "I'm sorry, Nance. It's not your fault. You were just catching the bad end of my anger."

Nancy reached over and touched her friend's arm. "I know. Come on, let's go sit on the deck, look at the stars and get drunk."

"Sounds perfect," Kyle said tiredly as she followed Nancy up the stairs. She sat in a lounge chair and watched the sky revolve overhead while Nancy got them something to drink. She shivered, but she knew the chill came from somewhere inside herself. The breeze from the sea was actually quite warm. She feared the cold within would turn her heart to stone, but she didn't know how to stop it. Her tears fell softly in the darkness, unnoticed, until she felt Nancy's fingers lightly on her cheeks.

"Tell me, sweetheart. What is it?" Nancy murmured gently, sitting softly on the end of Kyle's chair.

Kyle reached for the glass in Nancy's hand and swallowed deeply before speaking. "I don't know how to say it," she began, feeling helpless in her confusion. "I'm not sure what I feel."

"Tell me what happened, then."

"We went upstairs after you and Brad left--to one of the private rooms," Kyle began softly, remembering as if in a dream. "We made love--no, that's not right. We had sex." She stopped as the bitterness welled up inside of her.

"I've always wondered about that distinction," Nancy said lightly. She knew Kyle needed to talk, and she also knew how hard it was for her old friend to do that.

"You know there's a difference!"

"Yes. But only the first couple of times. Then, after the romance dies, it's just two bodies together," Nancy replied.

"Not for me!" Kyle insisted.

Nancy sighed, "I know. That's your problem. You expect the honeymoon to last forever. And you’ll be heartbroken when you find it doesn’t. So tell me--what was wrong with it?"

Kyle frowned as she searched her pockets aimlessly for her lighter. She must be getting drunk if she couldn't find her lighter. It was one of those little possessions she thought of as a talisman, her good luck charm.

"Damn," she muttered.

"Here, I've got a light." Nancy lit them both another cigarette, refilled their glasses and sighed. "So, continue. What happened?"

"We went into this room, it was dark. There was a small light under a ledge up near the ceiling. It turned everything into shadows."

"Sounds marvelous," Nancy said with a touch of envy.

Kyle laughed. "I can't stand you!"

"I know. Then what?"

Kyle sighed. "I didn't know what to do--big surprise. So I just stood there. Dane closed the door and locked it. She didn't say anything--she just started to take my clothes off."

"Was she rough with you?"

Kyle shook her head. "No. Just the opposite. She touched me like I might break apart--her hands were so gentle--but she didn't say anything. I said her name. She put her fingers over my mouth to silence me. She seemed so far away, like a stranger. I tried to touch her, but she wouldn't let me. She pushed my hands behind me--" her voice faltered, but she continued. "She handcuffed them behind me. I couldn't touch her. Her face was in shadows; she could have been anyone!" Her tears started to fall again as she remembered how she felt. Alone. Wonderfully gentle hands stroking her skin, soft lips caressing the hollows of her throat and shoulders—but she had felt so alone! She could not touch back, she could not return the tenderness.

She wiped her sleeve angrily across her face. "She made love to me, and after a while, I didn't care that I couldn't see her or touch her. I just wanted her to keep touching me. I wanted her to be everywhere--inside of me, all over me. I didn't care who she was, I only wanted it to go on."

"Jesus," Nancy muttered, draining her glass, "that sounds good to me."

"Fuck you!" Kyle said angrily, trying to extricate herself from the chair. Her long legs got tangled in the webbing as she tried unsteadily to rise. Suddenly, they were both toppled to the floor, the chair overturned on top of them. Nancy ended up between Kyle's legs, her wineglass still held high in one hand, unspilled. She laughed delightedly and wrapped her free arm around Kyle's thigh. "You're drunk, Kyle."

"Am not," Kyle replied as she attempted in vain to sit up. "But you're an unsympathetic son of a bitch!"

Nancy laughed again, righting the chair. "I am not. You just have everything all backwards, that's all."

Kyle pushed herself up on her elbows and shook her head. "What does that mean?" She recovered her glass and filled it, nudging her toe into Nancy's leg. "Huh?" she said belligerently.

Nancy looked at her seriously for a moment. "You really want to know?"

Kyle nodded.

"What you told me about you and Dane tonight--it's what you've been looking for. You asked for someone to make love to you that way."

"What do you mean?" Kyle said in confusion.

Nancy continued. "You went to that bar because you were interested in power, or S and M, or whatever it is you all call it. You wanted to relate to someone differently-- more basically, more physically, more real-ly. Is real-ly a word?"

"I guess so," Kyle said dumbly. "So?"

"So, that's what you got. That's what Dane did. She dominated you. She defined you. She said you are this and I am something else. I am the controller, the giver, the doer, the—what do you guys call it?"

"The top."

"Yeah--that sounds right. The top. You told her to be that, and she was." Nancy reached for another cigarette and lit it with a flourish. "See?"

Kyle looked at her. "How did you know all that?"

"I read a lot."

Kyle laughed. "I can't stand you."

"I know." Nancy twisted around on the deck and leaned against the wall next to Kyle. Kyle slipped an arm around her as Nancy emptied the last of the wine into their glasses. They sipped it slowly as they watched the stars revolve overhead. Sometime, much later, they staggered into Nancy's bedroom, both of them falling asleep almost instantly.

Continue on to Part 5

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