Please see part 1 for all disclaimers and copyright information.
Dane awoke to a cold nose in her ear.
"Go away," she muttered, pushing the huge head away with one arm. She tried to regain her dream, a dream filled with soft, tanned skin, warm tender lips. Just as she began to drift again into Kyle's deep recesses, the covers were tugged off her, leaving her shivering.
She sat up suddenly. "Damn you, Baron!"
Baron sat happily at the foot of her bed, the blankets in a tangle around him. He almost seemed to smile at her as he panted excitedly.
Dane swung her legs over the side of the bed as she pulled the covers back up over her bare legs. Just as she reached for a cigarette, the phone rang.
She snatched the receiver up angrily and snapped, "Hello."
"Well, a nice hello to you, too," Caroline replied. "Are you awake?"
"No!" Dane shouted as she drew on the cigarette. Immediately she began to cough. "The only one up around here is Baron."
Caroline laughed. "It's seven o'clock. We'll be ready for you in an hour. Are you alone?"
"Then you shouldn't have any trouble getting ready on time. See you." Before she could lower the phone, she heard the click on the other end.
"Is she up?" Anne asked as she walked in from the bathroom, toweling her hair.
Caroline looked over at her fondly. "Sort of. Sounds like she's in a bitchy mood, though."
Anne sighed. "So what else is new?"
"Does she seem that way to you, too?" Caroline asked.
As Anne pulled her tee shirt on, the blue one with 'Daneland' printed above a large dog's head, she scowled over at her lover. "These last few weeks she's been unbearable. I don't think I've done one thing right around the kennel. I can't even answer the phone properly!"
Caroline went to her, wrapping her arms around Anne's waist. "You know it's not you, don't you?"
Anne stared at her for a moment, the hurt in her eyes giving way to softness. She kissed Caroline very lightly on the lips and rested her head against her shoulder.
"I know, but it still bothers me." She often felt left out of what was happening around the kennel, and the personal closeness between Caroline and Dane didn't help. "Do you know what's wrong with her?"
Caroline stiffened slightly, not wanting to discuss Dane's personal life. Anne felt her response and pulled away angrily.
"Oh, sorry. I didn't mean to infringe on your special relationship with Dane." She turned away, afraid Caroline would see the tears quickly brimming in her eyes.
Caroline stepped closer to her, her hands gently resting on the younger woman's stiffened shoulders.
"Babe," she said softly. "Hey, babeó" she repeated as she turned Anne to face her again. "It's not that our relationship is so special, it's just that Dane hates to have anyone know what's going on with her. It takes a long time for me to get anything out of her."
Anne nodded and wiped her eyes. "I know that. It's just that sometimes I feel like I don't even belong there with you two."
Caroline hugged her tightly. "Anne, oh, Anne. You are the most important thing in the world to me--don't you know that yet?"
Anne smiled up at her. "I'm being stupid, right?"
"Yes, but you have a point. My relationship with Dane is special, but I donít want it to take anything away from you and me. And if I knew what was bothering her, I'd tell you. But I don't. She's stopped talking to me, too--ever since that night a few weeks ago when she left here to go out to the bar."
"Is she seeing someone?" Anne asked as they locked their door and headed toward the van marked Daneland Kennels.
"Not that I know of," Caroline sighed. "I certainly wish she would. She needs someone."
Anne laughed shortly. "Dane?"
Caroline looked at Anne, remembering how young she really was. "Probably more than most of us."
Dane climbed into the back of the van and leaned up against one of the dogs' crates.
"When are we showing?" she asked abruptly.
Caroline glanced at her in the rear view mirror.
"I'm fine, thanks. And we show at one o'clock. The Schutzhund exhibition is at three. You are going, aren't you?"
Dane stared moodily out the window. "I have to. Troy is counting on it."
It was the biggest specialty show of the season, and it was important that their kennel be well represented. Caroline was showing three of their own and another of Baron's sons from another kennel. In addition, Dane was to show Troy in an exhibition of advanced obedience later that day. All of them were edgy, especially Caroline. She was planning to have Anne show one of Daneland's new bitches in a point show for the first time. Anne seemed to have a talent for showing, and now that their kennel was expanding, Caroline needed help. Still, she was nervous, and she wanted Dane's support.
"We're all counting on it, Anne murmured, her own anxiety showing.
Dane looked over at Anne, as if seeing her for the first time. A tender look crossed her features, and she smiled.
"All set for the big day, chicken?"
Caroline drew a sharp breath as Anne turned quickly in her seat toward Dane. Dane had not called Anne that for years. Anne stared at Dane for a moment, trying to find the strong, tender woman who had led her so gently into awareness just a few years before. She saw only the sharp edges of Dane's pain etched across her face and the scars of many wounds hardened in her eyes. Her heart ached for the woman who had held her so long ago, and whom she had loved fiercely in return.
"Yes, I'm ready." Her smile was sad.
Caroline watched the exchange, seeing for the first time not the young woman she had fallen in love with, but the mature woman she had become. She reached over and grasped Anne's hand.
"Do you know that I love you?" Caroline asked softly.
Anne squeezed her hand. "Yes."
The show was crowded and hectic. People milled about with their dogs, half of which barked at every passing animal. Latecomers rushed about trying to find the appropriate rings, and harried judges struggled to keep the events on schedule. Dane watched from a ringside chair as Caroline brought out the first of their young bitches. She was just two years old and in fine condition. Dane was proud of her, for she represented one of the first products of her own breeding program.
"Nice looking bitch," a cool voice said from behind her chair.
Dane stiffened imperceptibly and turned to look up at Brad.
Brad placed her hand lightly on Dane's thigh as she knelt down beside her chair to watch the event. She smiled to herself as Dane pulled her leg hastily away.
"So, how have you been, Dane?"
"Fine." Dane kept her eyes on Caroline and the bitch, Maia, determined not to let Brad see her discomfort.
"Seen much of Kyle lately?"
Dane stared straight ahead, her jaws clenched. "No."
"Too bad. She's quite a woman."
"How would you know?"
Brad laughed. "Well, I don't know quite all of her yet, but I will."
Dane faced her then, her blue eyes bright with anger.
"Are you so sure of that?"
"I might not be, if it were anyone else but you she wanted. You're too much of a fool to know what to do with her. But I'm not. She'll come around."
Dane stood quickly, catching Brad unaware. She looked down at her, raging inside, her hands clenched tightly at her sides. She wanted nothing more at that moment than to drive Brad's insolent face into the ground.
"You're wrong about her, Brad. She's too good for both of us." She stepped quickly around Brad's surprised figure and stalked away from the ring.
Brad laughed as she straightened up, still looking at Dane's retreating back.
"Why don't you leave her alone?" Caroline asked angrily. She had seen the end of their encounter as she brought Maia back from the ring.
"Why, Caroline," Brad said soothingly. "What have I done?"
"You know damn well what you've done. You bait her and push her whenever you can. Why don't you just let her be?"
"Because she's too much fun to let go of. Besides, it'll teach her some discipline."
"You bitch!" Caroline said, seething with rage. "You tried that once and nearly killed her."
Brad smiled coolly at Caroline. "Don't forget, she asked for it."
"Not like that, she didnít! What you did to her--" Caroline took a step toward her as Brad turned to leave, but was halted by a tug on her arm.
"Let her go, Caroline. You can't change her. Dane will have to find her own way to deal with her," Anne said quietly.
Caroline gazed from Bradís retreating figure to her lover, allowing her anger to dissipate. "My god, when did you grow up? Have I missed it all these past few years?"
Anne slipped her fingers into Caroline's and smiled a little ruefully. "I think you've been so worried about how young I was, and that I might run off in a frenzy after someone else, that you never noticed it was you I've always been crazy about."
Caroline closed her eyes for a second. "All right, lover, you win. But, we have two more dogs to show. And--"
Anne took a deep breath, "You'd better go see to Dane."
Caroline kissed her swiftly, not caring how straight the crowd of people around them might be. "You're right again. I'll catch up to you later. And I won't forget what I have in mind for you."
She found Dane back at the van, sitting on the tailgate smoking a cigarette. Caroline sat beside her, slipping her arm lightly around her waist.
"Maia won, Dane."
"Good. She deserved to."
"Anne's showing next. I know she'd like you to be there."
Dane nodded, her face set. She stared blankly ahead, her body as taut as a finely tuned bowstring. "I'll be there."
"Can't you just close her out, instead of the rest of the world?" Caroline said softly.
"I can't. She reminds me of what I am--or what I'm not anymore," Dane said bitterly.
"No!" Caroline shouted. "She does not make you who you areóshe can't do that. You were nearly destroyed, and you've come back from it. I know what that took. I was there, remember?"
Dane stood and shook her head at Caroline. "It doesn't matter. There's nothing left of me. She wants Kyle and she'll have her, because I have nothing to offer her."
"Oh, Dane--you're so wrong. Won't you try, just try with Kyle?"
"I can't, Caroline. I can't fight Brad for her--besides, I don't care anymore."
"You mean you don't want to care anymore, Caroline said harshly.
Dane shrugged, her face not revealing the despair that threatened to choke her.
"Come on, let's go watch Anne them show how it's done."
Kyle found a seat on a shady knoll above the show ring. She had been strolling about, watching the events, and trying to figure out what was happening. She realized that the animals were grouped by sex and age, but exactly what made one a winner eluded her. They all looked perfect. The obedience trials being held in the ring below were much more interesting for her. The dogs were given a series of commands, sometimes separately and sometimes in a group. As one, they responded with flawless control. The dogs were powerfully built, obviously intelligent, yet perfectly attuned to their handler's commands. Kyle found the bond between animal and master exciting. It seemed so much deeper than love alone.
As she watched the choreographed movements below, she flashed on her last night with Dane, recalling the great distance between them even as they were so intimately connected physically. She knew now that she longed for some invisible chain that would link them even in their separateness. She hadnít seen her since, despite her hope that Dane would appear at the bar or call her.
She sighed, lit a cigarette, and was reminded of her lost lighter. It still aggravated her to be parted from it. She lost track of time as she followed the events below her, relaxing in the heat of the late afternoon. Suddenly the sight of a familiar figure approaching the ring interrupted her reverie. An announcement was made, but she lost the words in the wind. Dane's figure, however, was unmistakable. She wore black jeans and a short-sleeved, open-collared white shirt. Close to her side was a very handsome, muscular dog. As Kyle watched, her attention divided between the beautiful animal and Dane's equally beautiful face, Dane put the animal through some preliminary maneuvers. The crowd murmured with appreciation at the dog's split-second responses to Dane's commands. Even from a distance, Kyle could see that Dane controlled him purely by hand signals. Then a man entered the far side of the ring. The dog remained, tensely alert, as Dane walked slowly away. The stranger approached Dane rapidly, his arm raised aggressively. Instantly the dog responded to a signal from Dane and attacked. Kyle drew a sharp breath as the dog raced toward the man, only to exhale quickly as the powerful animal drew up short between the stranger and Dane. He held the man at bay with threatening growls and short rushes toward him, but never touched him. At Dane's command, the dog slowly moved the intruder toward the judges' table, whereupon Dane called him back to her side. The crowd was obviously pleased and gave a brisk round of applause. Dane then walked to the side and returned with a heavy protective garment covering her left arm. At still another signal, the dog launched himself ferociously at her, all semblance of restraint gone. Kyle shuddered as she saw Dane's slender body rock from the shock of contact as she threw her arm up at the last second. The dog's heavy jaws clamped around her arm as he brought his considerable weight to bear against her. Their struggle seemed endless as woman and dog joined in a contest of strength and will. Then, as quickly as it had begun, it was over. Dane raised her right arm, and the dog immediately released, sitting with his eyes fixed on Dane's face. She praised him with a vigorous pat on his solid shoulder as she led him from the ring.
Kyle walked up to her as Dane was finishing a conversation with one of the judges.
"That was very impressive," Kyle said softly as the judge turned back to the ring.
Dane looked at her in surprise. "What are you doing here?"
Kyle smiled. "Just happened to be in the neighborhood?"
Dane smiled, but her eyes were cool blue slate. "Way out here?"
Kyle shrugged. "Actually, Caroline told me about the show a few weeks ago after a discussion group."
Dane grimaced. "Still going to those, huh?"
"When I can."
"Learning anything?" Dane asked, starting to walk away. Kyle followed.
"Some. You'd be surprised at the things that women think about, and do, for that matter."
"Would I?" Dane said, stopping to look at Kyle. "There's not much I haven't seen."
Kyle was not intimidated by Dane's curtness. "Oh, I'm sure of that. I only meant to suggest that a lot of women who might not ever act out their feelings about power nevertheless think about it. And recognize some of those same elements in their own lives."
"Great," Dane replied, reaching for a cigarette. "I'm so happy that more women appreciate my life-style." She lit her cigarette and leaned to light Kyle's as well. She was startled by Kyle's quick grasp on her wrist.
"That's my lighter," Kyle said.
Dane, too, stared at the black and gold lighter in her hand. Nonchalantly, she dropped it into Kyle's palm. "I know. You left it upstairs at 'Encounters' when we were there."
"Why did you keep it?"
"I don't know--a souvenir? My bedpost is full." Dane said coldly. Because itís yours
Kyle stepped back as if struck, quickly searching Dane's face with dark, angry eyes. "You're a son of a bitch, Jorgensen." She turned her back and started away.
Dane looked after her for a split-second, suddenly sorry for her words. "Kyle, wait!" she called before she had time to think. When Kyle turned back, Dane could see that her face was pale.
"Look, I'm sorry." Dane wanted to tell Kyle it soothed her just to reach in her pocket and find it there. She just couldn't bring herself to say the words.
Kyle sighed and resumed walking beside her. "Why do I feel like you're always trying to push me away? Do I have to humiliate myself by telling you I want to see you?"
Dane continued staring straight ahead, acutely aware of Kyle's body so close to her own. "I thought you'd have other things to occupy your time."
"Do you think I spend all of my time looking for a bed partner?" Kyle said quietly, determined to get through to Dane.
Dane laughed. "When you aren't busy fighting off the offers."
Kyle laughed, too. "I do go out--mostly just to test my own feelings. To see if what I've been thinking is real to me when I'm actually living it. But I don't need to sleep with someone to find that out."
Dane sighed as she put Troy up into his crate in the van. "You think too much, Kyle."
"Sometimes. Are you done here today?"
"Just waiting for Caroline and Anne to come back."
"Tell them youíre leaving with me. I'll make dinner at my place." Kyle surprised herself with her own words, but as soon as she said it, she knew she wanted more from Dane than occasional encounters in bed.
"Today?" Dane asked in surprise.
Dane laughed and shook her head. "Why do you think I'd want to do that?"
"I don't. I just know I want you to."
Dane stared at her for a second, unable to read anything in Kyle's deep grey eyes except honesty. Answering the need that welcoming gaze stirred in her, she replied quietly, "All right."
Continue on to Part 6
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