Disclaimers: This is an original work of fiction. The characters are all mine. Please do not copy or link to this story without the author's consent.
“Ayah,” a voice replied from somewhere inside the repair area. A thin, friendly looking man in his late fifties, dressed in stained coveralls, came out of the building wiping his hands casually on a grease-spattered rag. He smiled at Adrienne expectantly. "Can I help you?"
“I hope so,” Adrienne replied. “I’m looking for the turnoff to Whitley Point. My directions said it should be near here, but I can’t seem to find it.”
“Not from around here, are you?” he inquired conversationally. His broad New England accent contrasted sharply with her clipped, precise cadence. He busied himself cleaning the road grit from her windshield while he studied her from the corner of his eye. Tall, trim, very elegant. Golden-blonde hair just beyond short, stylishly layered and carelessly pushed back from her face. Casual chinos and cotton shirt that fit her neatly.
Adrienne smiled, a smile tinged with sadness. “I guess that’s pretty obvious. I’m from the West Coast.”
“You’re pretty far from home, I’ll say,” he said, reaching into his pockets for a cigarette. “Got friends on the Point?” he inquired, leaning against the bumper, appearing for all the world as if he were settling in for a long chat.
You have no idea how far from home I am. So far I hardly recognize my life anymore.
Adrienne looked at him, struggling between annoyance and amusement. Obviously he wasn’t in any hurry, and she decided she might as well get into the spirit of his slow easy manner. After all, she had come all this way to relax and leave the turmoil of the last few months behind.
She tried to put a conversational tone into her voice. “I don’t know a soul at Whitley Point. I’m leasing a house there for the next six months, and I’d really like to find it before dark.”
He nodded, gave a last swipe at the spotted windshield, and stubbed his half-smoked cigarette out with the toe of his reinforced boot. “I’m trying to quit, so I only smoke them half way down,” he offered as if he needed to explain. “It’s a real pretty place, Whitley Point. I used to work out there when I was a boy. That was back when Charles Whitley, Sr. was still alive, before the island was developed.”
“I thought the island was privately owned by the Whitleys," Adrienne said, interested in spite of her urgency to get back on the road.
“Still is,” he continued. “The whole north half of the island is the Whitley family estate, but there are some private homes too, on the southern end."
Adrienne had heard some of this before, but she was still impressed. The idea of a family dynasty as powerful as the Whitley empire intrigued her. It was far different than her own experience growing up in a working class family. It was partly that fascination which had prompted her to inquire about the house for rent when she had come across it by chance in a magazine. She had been searching for some graceful way to escape from the overly solicitous attentions of her family, and this had seemed the perfect opportunity. She was grateful to her parents for offering her a refuge of sorts when she needed one, but recently she found their thinly veiled pity too oppressive to bear. They, in turn, had seemed almost relieved when she left.
“I thought the younger Whitley was dead, too,” Adrienne queried, forcing her thoughts back to the present.
“He is,” her companion informed her. “Died almost ten years ago in a freak storm out at sea—they found his body way down the coast days later. Never could understand how he let himself get caught so far out to sea in gale weather. Any native knows how fast those storms blow in—and Whitley was a mighty fine sailor. Maybe it was fate. Anyhow, now his widow manages things on the island, although I hear she leaves most of the business matters to the corporation.” He squinted up at the quickly setting sun and added, “Well, I guess you’ll want to be getting on.”
Adrienne suppressed a smile and nodded solemnly. “Perhaps I should be.”
She finally learned that she would have found the sign for Whitley Point had she driven two miles further down the road. Her new acquaintance informed her that she should, in fact, reach the southern end of Whitley Point in less than half an hour. Adrienne said good-bye with some reluctance. She couldn’t remember the last time she had held a conversation with anyone that hadn’t been filled with embarrassed pauses or awkward silences. It was good to be treated like an ordinary person again. She waved as she pulled out of the parking lot, suddenly eager to reach a safe haven.
Safe haven. Is there really such a place for me?
She had come three thousand miles in search of one.
Adrienne crossed the causeway onto the island and followed the narrow coast road that wound north on the ocean side. She marveled at how untouched by the modern world the surrounding shoreland appeared. Only her headlights broke the darkness as she carefully followed the twisting highway. Occasionally she caught glimpses of lights through the trees, but she couldn’t make out any structures from the road. The sea breeze gusted in through her open windows, bringing with it a sudden pang of nostalgia. How she missed the ocean! Despite her melancholy mood, being near the water soothed her, and even after many hours on the road, she felt strangely rested. Her mind was drifting, lulled by the sounds of the sea, and she almost passed the small painted sign that announced the turnoff to Eagle Lane. She braked quickly and negotiated the turn faster than she had intended, feeling the chassis shake under her. Her heart raced as she pulled the big car out of a near spin.
I’d better stay awake if I’m going to get there in one piece. After all this, is it would be rotten luck to die in a car crash.
She drove with all her attention on the road until she found the house, looming up in the darkness, all angles and edges. Adrienne sat in her car for a few moments, staring. It was huge! She could make out a wide porch and what looked like a top floor deck winding around the side toward the rear. The ground level was comprised of a garage and a semi-enclosed storage area. The living space actually started on the second floor - a precaution against tidal floods, she imagined.
She finally gathered her suitcases, maneuvered them up the wide front steps, and set out to explore her new home. The spacious bedroom, she discovered to her delight, was in the rear and adjoined the deck. She immediately opened the sliding doors to admit a breeze. She could just make out the shore a hundred yards below her. It was a beautiful setting, and for a fleeting instant she wished she had someone to share it with. She quickly banished that thought, as she had done so many times in the last year. That too, was part of her past.
Suddenly weary, she kicked off her shoes and stretched out on the bed, fully clothed. Within seconds, she was asleep, and mercifully – she did not dream.
Five miles up the road, Tanner slammed the door of her seaside bungalow and sprinted toward her Jaguar. She gunned the engine and roared from the drive amidst a shower of gravel. She tore down the coast road, her headlights slashing through the night. If she had left ten minutes earlier, she would have passed Adrienne’s car on the road. As it was, she saw no one as she hurtled toward her destination. Despite the chill night air, she had the top down on the sleek convertible and the radio turned up, all six speakers blasting. She drummed her fingers impatiently against the steering wheel, maneuvering the twisting turns from memory. When she pulled into a hidden driveway near the south end of the island, careening to a stop behind a long line of sports coupes and roadsters, the party was already in full swing. All of the windows were open on the second floor of the large house, loud music pulsating into the night. Tanner sauntered through the crowd of people gathered on the wide front stairs and made her way into the house. She nodded as friends called a greeting and moved toward the bar set into an alcove on one side of the spacious living area.
“Tanner!” a young man shouted, trying to be heard over the pounding music and din of excited voices. “Glad you could make it! What are you drinking?”
“Scotch,” she replied. She accepted her drink with a smile and turned to survey the room. Most of the island's young were present, all of them eager to initiate the summer season with abandon. Many of the faces she recognized. For the most part, they were the sons and daughters of the island’s most wealthy families, home for the summer from expensive universities or simply idling away time they had no better use for. Tanner was no different. She had just returned from a six-month tour of Europe that she had found repetitive and boring.
"So, what are your plans?" the handsome blond asked her.
She shrugged, sipped her drink, not really tasting it. She simply waited for the burning to dissolve into a few hours of numbness. She had no plans. She gave little thought to anything beyond the moment. At least, she tried not to. Tomorrow was a lie, a dream that disappeared with the sunrise. And when she couldn't ignore the oppressive pointlessness of her days, she sought satisfaction in the superficial social life of the island. Unfortunately, keeping apathy at bay was a losing proposition.
"Still waiting for Princess Charming?" Todd Barrow prodded good-naturedly. He had known Tanner since they were children. They had even dated semi-seriously during high school. Both their families had assumed that they would someday marry. It seemed like a natural match. They had remained friends even after Tanner had told him she wasn’t interested in anything other than friendship, and why. Todd regarded her now with a mixture of bewilderment and fondness.
She laughed bitterly. "Afraid not. I've outgrown fairy tales." About ten years ago.
“Really? I thought the young and the innocent were your favorite types,” he responded flippantly.
“Innocence is the last thing I want,” she continued in a strangely hollow voice. Let them find out from someone else that dreams don't come true.
“Are you getting cynical in your old age?” he inquired, his tone still light but his eyes serious. It was rare for Tanner to admit she had doubts or reservations about anything. Despite their long friendship, they hadn't talked intimately in years. Tanner had always been an intensely private person, and perhaps the reason they had remained friends for so long was that he never pried. If she wanted people to believe that she was no more than the rich playgirl she appeared, Todd saw no reason to challenge that image. But he remembered the nights lying beside her out on the beach, sharing their hopes, and their fears. Once upon a time, she had dreamed.
Tanner stared into the night. “I don’t know what you’d call it. I just don’t find the chase quite as much fun anymore.”
“Too easy?” He knew from his own experience that it was often his money and status that attracted others, not himself personally.
“Not that so much,” she continued with unaccustomed reflection. “I just don't enjoy winning any more.” She laughed at herself suddenly, shaking her thick, unruly dark hair out of her eyes. “Come on—let’s go find some other kind of action.” She didn’t feel like being serious tonight, and she certainly didn’t feel like thinking about the women that she had left in tears, or the broken hearts she had never wanted in the first place.
“I know just what you need,” Todd said with a grin, slipping his arm around her waist. “Come on!”
They joined a group of women and men in a room dense with smoke. Some people passed a joint, while others sat around a low table where lines of white crystals were carefully arranged. Conversation flowed as everyone sampled the various substances available. Tanner sat down with several friends and returned their greetings as she helped herself. She didn’t know who had provided the drugs and it didn’t matter. They were as much a part of the group’s party offering as alcohol. Tanner stayed a while and then followed the flow of people outside onto the expansive deck. She picked up another scotch on the way and settled comfortably into a lounge chair. She felt re-energized and couldn’t recall why she had been so bothered earlier. Nothing ever really changed.
The starlit sky illuminated the ocean and pristine shoreline, moonlight glinting off the cresting waves. The surf thundered distantly, a steady reassuring backdrop to the rise and fall of voices around her. Even though she had seen it thousands of times, it stirred her still, and for one brief moment, she longed to escape onto the sea.
A young redhead she had never seen before leaned over her and offered a joint. Tanner accepted automatically, then passed it back.
“Great party, isn’t it?” the girl said to her as she exhaled the smoke in a long thin stream.
“Sure,” Tanner replied, her stark features flickering with dark amusement. “First time out here?” The shapely youth looked to be eighteen – maybe.
“How did you know?” the redhead asked in surprise. She rested her hand casually on Tanner's bare forearm, stroking very lightly.
Tanner eyed her trim figure and pretty features appreciatively and grinned. “Because I know everyone on this island, and I’ve never seen you before. I’m sure I’d remember if I had.”
“Well, I know who you are,” her companion responded coyly. “I saw you at the Davis’ beach party last year. Except then you weren’t alone.”
“Really?” Tanner replied, playing the game that was second nature to her. “I am tonight. What’s your name?”
Tanner stared at her for a moment, noting the eager look in her eyes. How easy it would be – and how pointless. She shook her head, not wanting to pursue that thought. But the conquest didn't interest her either, even with such an attractive partner. And that was new.
“You should be careful, Jeanette—sometimes you get more than you bargained for at these parties,” she said as she gently disengaged the fingers from her arm.
“Look me up later—if you get lonely,” Jeanette called as she slipped into the crowd, already looking for the next interesting face.
Tanner closed her eyes, and imagined the sway of the deck under her feet, and the sound of the wind whipping the sails. The water surrounded her on all sides. So beautiful, so peaceful—so deadly.
“Find what you were looking for in Europe?” a low sultry voice very near her ear inquired, stirring her from her reverie.
Tanner looked up, her eyes still cloudy with memory, her speech languid and rich. “What makes you think I was looking for anything at all?”
The woman laughed, settling herself on the chaise next to Tanner. She placed her hand softly on Tanner’s leg. “Because you’ve been looking for something for years. That’s why you never stay in one place for long. And why you never stay with one person either.”
“You make me sound very mysterious,” Tanner said, draining her scotch and tracing a finger along the older woman's palm.
“Just hard to please.”
Tanner regarded her playfully. She was so close her breath warmed the skin on Tanner's neck. Tanner felt her body's automatic response. “I never noticed you had much trouble in that department.”
“I didn’t think you remembered.”
“I haven't forgotten, but my memory could use a little refreshing,” Tanner continued, shifting so that her companion's hand rested on her inner thigh.
The woman searched for a sign of welcome in Tanner's dark eyes, but found them as unreadable as the ocean's depths. She stood, tugging on Tanner’s hand. “Let’s go for a ride. Maybe I can improve your recollections.”
Whitley Point looked different to Adrienne by daylight. She awakened to early morning sunlight streaming through the open windows onto her bed. She showered, luxuriating in the cool stream of water that seemed to wash away more than the after-effects of a twelve-hour drive. She began to relax for the first time in weeks. The ocean beckoned to her, and she looked forward to a walk on the beach. The May morning was cool, and she pulled a sweater on over a tee shirt and jeans. She frowned at the loose fit of her clothes. She had lost weight, and at five-eight she had never had much to spare even when at her healthiest. That's behind you, now she reminded herself, wishing she could believe it.
She followed a well-worn path down toward the water, winding between rippling dunes that separated the beach from the inner island. As she walked, she noticed houses secluded behind clusters of trees that hadn’t been apparent the night before. Even by daylight, they blended unobtrusively with the landscape, and she noted appreciatively how the construction and clean simple design of the buildings preserved the natural beauty of the environment. It was obvious that someone had gone to considerable effort to protect the wild nature of the island.
The sound of the surf led her north, and when she rounded the last dune, she halted abruptly. Stretched before her was one of the most beautiful coastlines she had ever seen. In either direction, the beach undulated between the ocean and the rising sands for as far as she could see. On the seaward side of the island, the waves came in at full strength, cresting and breaking off shore. She stood still for some time, listening to the rhythm of the sea. Finally, she began to walk toward the far end of the island, following the irregular shoreline. The tide was on its way out. Sand crabs scuttled along the wet beach, disappearing into holes in the sand as she drew near. She used to make a game of trying to sneak up on them, but she had never gotten close. They were private creatures.
Now she didn’t impinge on their desire for solitude. She understood it. Lately she had begun to feel somewhat like the shy creatures herself. She avoided people as much as possible, and when she could not, she remained politely aloof. She had withdrawn into herself as instinctively as the little animals did into their sanctuaries in the sand. She was barely aware of her behavior, it had occurred so gradually over the past year. It had become increasingly difficult for her to maintain the kinds of relationships she had once enjoyed. She could sense the change in people's attitudes towards her, and rather than struggle with their discomfort and her own, she had simply adjusted to it.
Such thoughts were far from her conscious mind now, however. The gusting wind from the water invigorated her, and she wished she had worn running shoes. Adrienne smiled at the thought. She hadn’t run in months. It had once been a daily ritual for her—to rise early and run on the beach. It had helped her to face the hours of meetings and indoor obligations with equanimity. This morning she occupied herself instead with getting to know her new surroundings. The East Coast was very different from Southern California, where she had lived for the last fifteen years. The shoreline was lower, less threatening; the ocean somehow mellower. The ever-present power of the raging Pacific was absent here, but the sea nevertheless seemed fathomless, full of secrets.
Adrienne found herself wondering if the answers to her many questions lay hidden on the barren expanse of this shore. She had never felt so alone, so unable to confide in anyone. She didn't know how to voice her deep uncertainties. Almost out of necessity, she had learned to accept her solitude. The loneliness that accompanied it had become a familiar companion.
As she rounded a bend in the island, almost a mile from where she had started, she saw a large dark, shaggy shape rise up out of the ground not twenty feet in front of her. She stopped suddenly, stifling a cry of surprise, and stared at the apparition. After a moment she laughed quietly to herself when she recognized the square head and massive body of a Newfoundland. The dog stood motionless, surveying her with a calm but curious expression.
Adrienne advanced slowly, softly calling, “Hi there, pooch. What are you doing out here so early, huh?” The dog didn’t seem at all disturbed by her presence, but Adrienne was wary. She didn’t relish the thought of an early morning sprint down the beach with an angry dog at her heels.
She gasped in shock, close enough now to see a body crumpled in the sand on the far side of the vigilant animal. Images from a dozen movies -- the faithful companion guarding its master’s dead body --flashed through her head. She steeled herself for the horrible sight she was sure was to come, and advanced slowly, continuing to murmur in what she hoped was a reassuring voice to the dog.
“Oh, Christ!” she muttered when she was close enough to see that the figure, half-turned away from her, was that of a woman. The curve of hip and disheveled collar-length hair left little room for doubt. Instinctively, she looked over her shoulder, wondering if some psychopath still lurked behind the dunes. The beach was deserted except for the dog and the still figure before her.
The dog’s tail was wagging, and Adrienne decided she could risk a closer look. Taking a deep breath, she grasped an arm and rolled the body over. The pale face was framed with tousled black hair, scattered throughout with bits of twigs and sand. Her features were boldly sculpted, with a strong nose and square chin framing full, rich lips. Just as Adrienne reached out tentatively to touch the woman's face, nearly translucent eyelids fluttered open to reveal dark, unfocused eyes. Adrienne stood transfixed, staring down, captured by those eyes. For an instant there was a hint of innocence, and something lost, swirling in their depths. It wasn’t until the searching gaze settled questioningly on Adrienne’s face that Adrienne found her voice.
“God, you frightened me! Are you hurt?” she exclaimed.
“Eternally,” a husky voice replied.
Adrienne leaned back a little as a powerful wave of alcoholic fumes exuding from the prone figure hit her.
“Bull,” Adrienne uttered in exasperation, annoyed now at her earlier fears, “You’re not hurt—you’re just drunk!”
The dark-haired stranger made an attempt to sit up and fell back into the sand groaning. “Right now that amounts to the same thing,” she gasped.
The whole scene was so ridiculous Adrienne had to laugh. “How long have you been here?”
“That depends,” came the weak reply. “If today is still Saturday—a few hours. If it’s not, then you’ll have to tell me.”
“Must have been some party,” Adrienne muttered as she watched the young woman finally manage to attain an upright position. She wore a light cotton shirt that was half unbuttoned, and Adrienne hastily averted her eyes from the full curve of barely covered breasts beneath. She could see that the arms supporting the woman’s bowed head were firmly but sleekly muscled, as were the denim-clad legs. She looked to be in her mid-twenties, a good ten years or so Adrienne's junior. Adrienne was caught staring as deep brown eyes, now clear, suddenly fixed her with piecing intensity, and the pale face lit up with a brilliant smile.
“Hello, by the way. I’m Tanner.”
“Adrienne Pierce,” Adrienne answered somewhat stiffly, annoyed that she had been caught up in this absurd melodrama. All she had wanted was a quiet walk on the beach!
Tanner leaned her cheek on her knee and studied the woman standing ramrod straight before her. Blue eyes like chips of flint met hers coolly. The face seemed flawless except for the signs of strain that showed in the fine lines around her mouth and eyes. Tanner wondered briefly what was bothering her so much, but the thought passed quickly as her pounding headache penetrated her slowly awakening mind.
“Ugh!” Tanner grimaced. “If I look half as bad as I feel, I’m surprised you didn’t run immediately for the body bag.”
Adrienne thought Tanner looked remarkably attractive for someone who had just spent the night in a drunken stupor on the ground, but she certainly wasn’t going to say so. “Well, I can’t say much for your choice of sleeping places,” she commented dryly. “Besides, your dog may be good company, but she isn’t big on protection. She let me walk right up to you.”
Tanner managed a slightly flirtatious grin despite her splitting headache. She wanted to crack that ice-cold facade. She wasn't sure why it should matter – but it did. “Sam probably knew I would be safe with you.”
Adrienne remained impassive. Tanner was lovely to be sure, with her devilish grin and confident charm, but she was obviously trouble. “Now that you’re awake, and reasonably oriented in time and space, I’ll leave you to find your way home when you’re up to it.” She turned to go but was restrained by a surprisingly firm grip on her arm. Tanner had risen and stood unsteadily beside her.
“Wait a minute, please,” Tanner said anxiously. “I don’t even know where you live. I’d like to talk to you sometime when I can make a more civilized impression.”
Adrienne laughed softly. “I have a feeling you’re never entirely civilized. Besides, I doubt that we’d have much in common. I’m here on R and R—that’s short for reading and resting at this particular point in time. A sabbatical of sorts from the real world. I’m sure you’d find that dull.”
Tanner regarded her intently, the expression on her face impossible to decipher. “Actually, Adrienne, all of us on Whitley Point are attempting to escape life in one way or another. It seems that you’ve come to the right place if it’s the real world you want to avoid.”
Adrienne was surprised by the thinly veiled bitterness in Tanner’s voice, but she didn’t want to probe for its source. She didn’t have the energy for someone else’s problems. She could barely manage her own. “I didn’t mean it quite the way it sounded,” she said lightly. “I’m just not very interested in socializing these days. Perhaps we will run into each other some time. Take care of yourself,” she finished lamely as she resolutely turned to leave.
Tanner watched the tall, thin figure striding purposefully away for a few seconds and then called to her retreating back, “Good-bye—and thanks for rescuing me!”
Tanner thought she heard faint laughter, but Adrienne did not alter her step. Tanner continued to stare after her until she rounded the curve of the shoreline and disappeared from view. She ran both hands through her disheveled hair and straightened her shirt. Moving slowly in an attempt to reduce the force of the cannon barrage in the back of her head, she made her way over the dunes toward the main house. When she entered the kitchen, the housekeeper fixed her with a stern glance.
“And where have you been? You look like a vagabond!” May said, her annoyance clearly displayed in the flash of her dark eyes.
Tanner held up one hand and gave May a pleading glance. “Coffee, please, and don’t go on at me right now. I’m suffering enough, I promise you.”
“Hmph,” the older woman snorted as she poured the steaming liquid into a mug and set it in front of Tanner, who had slumped into a chair at the table.
May had been the housekeeper for Tanner’s family since before Tanner was born, and she considered it well within her responsibilities to bring Tanner to task for her behavior. In truth, May was often the person who managed to prevent Tanner’s escapades from coming to the attention of her mother. Tanner knew it, and she was grateful.
“Your friend was up here looking for you earlier,” May commented reproachfully. “I had Thomas give her a ride back to the mainland.”
"My friend?" Tanner looked puzzled for a moment, until she suddenly recalled the events of the previous evening.
“Thanks,” she sighed heavily. Now she remembered how she had ended up on the beach. For some reason she hadn’t been able to sleep with Lois in her bed. After they made love, Tanner had risen quietly, pulling on the clothes they had left in a pile on the floor in their eagerness to undress earlier. Lois had not awakened as Tanner left.
“Where’s Mother?” she asked.
“On the terrace. And you had better not go out there looking like that. Go shower and change your clothes.” She looked at Tanner with a mixture of fondness and concern. “Are you all right?”
Tanner smiled wanly and rose to her feet. “Sure,” she said, giving May a quick hug as she left.
An hour later, refreshed from her shower and dressed in a casual white linen shirt and loose drawstring pants, she climbed the winding outside stairs to the terrace. Her mother looked up from her reading as Tanner approached, and smiled.
Tanner stooped and kissed her lightly on the cheek. “Hello, Mother,” she said softly. Tanner was often moved to tenderness at the sight of her mother’s calm, gentle face. Somehow, she always felt soothed in her presence. They rarely spoke directly of personal things. Their relationship was more an unspoken kinship, but nevertheless, they were deeply bonded to one another.
Tanner stretched out in an adjoining chaise and leaned her head back with a sigh. The late spring sun suffused her with warmth.
Her mother rested her hand gently on Tanner’s suntanned arm and said quietly, “It’s so nice to have you home.” When her daughter didn’t reply, she realized she was asleep. She studied Tanner’s face, thinking how young she seemed when she was sleeping. The shadows that often flickered across her features and haunted her deep-set eyes were gone. Her mother recognized that seething unrest very well. It was the same barely contained energy searching for a focal point that had driven her husband for most of his life. It was the thing she had loved—and feared—most about him. It was the kind of passion that brought great achievement, or, when unchecked, self-destruction. She fervently hoped her daughter found some direction before she too became a victim of her own undisciplined desires.
Adrienne arrived back at the large empty house feeling strangely unsettled. She couldn’t seem to get the encounter with Tanner out of her mind. Something about the mixture of amusement and self-deprecation in the younger woman’s manner had captivated Adrienne. Probably because she's the first person you've met in months who's in worse shape than you, she chided herself, trying hard to forget the dazzling smile and flirtatious charm.
She let herself in through the sliding glass doors to the sun-filled bedroom, shaking her head impatiently. She recognized in Tanner the same wild recklessness that she had seen in so many of the young Californians who flocked to the bars and beaches, ready to try anything, or anyone, who happened along. If she had ever been that young, or that vital, she couldn’t remember any longer.
With a determined glance at the suitcases piled next to the door, she put herself to the task of unpacking. She hung her clothes neatly on hangers in the spacious closet, smoothing out her dress uniform and pushing it to the rear along with the rest of her regulation clothing. She wondered absently why she had brought them along. The force of old habits after so many years was hard to break, she guessed.
The afternoon passed quickly as she attempted to bring order to her new surroundings. She stowed her few supplies in the vastly oversized kitchen, and discovered to her delight an amply stocked bar courtesy of the absent owners in a small recessed area off the living room. She poured herself a brandy, wandered outside, and settled into a canvas deck chair. She looked out to the water, reminded of the many evenings she had spent this way at home, relaxing after a long day at the base. The only difference now was that she was alone.
She wondered if she hadn’t made a mistake coming here. Perhaps she should have returned to the West Coast and found some kind of a job. Certainly she was well qualified. She reminded herself of all the reasons she had decided not to do that. She needed time, she knew, to adjust to the new circumstances of her life. She sought some quiet course to order her days, and a calmness of spirit to face her uncertain future without fear. She hoped she could find that here, on this isolated island, where time seemed suspended.
Adrienne’s days settled quietly into a pattern of rising early to walk on the beach, followed by leisurely hours spent reading in the sun. She explored the island only enough to acquaint herself with the general store where she could buy the few supplies she needed. She nodded politely to the pleasant `hellos’ of the island's long-time inhabitants, but avoided conversation. If she was lonely, she did not recognize it as such. When she grew restless, she had only to return to the sea to find the comfort her soul craved. Her initial pallor, left over from weeks of inactivity in Philadelphia, was quickly replaced by a deep bronze tan. Her body too began to respond to the exercise and invigorating fresh air, and she began to feel healthy again. She wrote occasional notes to a few friends, and made the obligatory calls to her family, but other than that, she had little contact with anyone.
She was unpacking groceries from her car one morning when she was startled by the sound of her phone ringing. It was such a rare occurrence it took her a moment to realize what it was. "Surely, a wrong number," she thought, as she dashed for the phone.
“Yes,” she said, as she snatched up the receiver.
“Ms. Pierce?” a well-modulated voice inquired.
“Speaking,” Adrienne replied, puzzled. She did not recognize the voice.
“This is Constance Whitley, your neighbor to the north. You’ve settled in comfortably, I hope?”
Adrienne was nonplussed, wondering how the Whitleys knew of her presence. She should have realized that little escaped the attention of the Whitleys on Whitley Point.
“Yes, I have. Thank you,” she replied after a second.
“I’m delighted to hear that. I’m calling to invite you to our open house next Saturday evening. It’s rather a tradition on Whitley Point. Everyone on the island celebrates the beginning of the summer season at a barbecue dinner-dance at our home. I do hope you can attend.”
“Well, I—” Adrienne began, desperately seeking a polite way to refuse an invitation from the island’s most prestigious family. When she could think of none, she replied, “I would be happy to. Thank you for thinking of me.”
“Not at all, my dear. Dress is informal. We’ll expect you around seven.”
Constance Whitley rang off with a polite 'good-bye’, leaving Adrienne staring at the phone. “Damn,” she muttered under her breath. “Just what I do not want to do. But I guess I can't refuse the first family.”
As Saturday approached, Adrienne found her hard won peace of mind slipping away. She was nervous about the evening’s festivities. She hadn’t attended a public function in almost a year, and she wasn’t sure she was up to the social niceties. She was plagued throughout the day by a vague ache in her right arm and shoulder, the first time they had bothered her in weeks. Annoyed with herself, she tried to read, but she found she couldn’t concentrate. When she realized she had read the same paragraph three times and still didn’t know what it said, she tossed the book aside in disgust. She found herself craving a cigarette after six months without one.
“Oh, what the hell,” she exclaimed, grabbing her keys and stomping down the steps to her car.
She wheeled the vehicle around the cul-de-sac and headed toward the intersection with the main road. Just as she pulled out, a silver Jaguar hurtled around the curve and barreled down upon her. A horn blasted, and only her quick reflexes saved her from being broadsided. She yanked the wheel hard to the right, nearly forcing her car into a ditch. As she slammed to a stop, the sports car roared away. Adrienne caught only a glimpse of the rear of the car as it disappeared around a corner. She couldn’t see the driver, but the letters THW stood out clearly on the license plate.
“Damn!” Adrienne cursed, beginning to tremble slightly. She waited for her breathing to quiet and backed the car carefully onto the road. She drove at a sedate pace to the store, still shaken by the near accident.
“Good morning, Mr. Simms,” she said to the familiar face behind the counter. “Could I have a pack of Dunhills, please?”
“Sure thing. Beautiful sailing weather, isn’t it?” he responded with a smile.
Adrienne bit back a sarcastic comment, and looked out over the marina; after all, he was just being friendly. Impossibly blue sky, decorated with picture-postcard clouds, joined an expanse of brilliant ocean as far as she could see. “You’re right, the sea is perfect.”
“Do you do much sailing, Ms. Pierce?” he asked as he rang up the sale.
“I have. Not this summer, though.”
“Well, there are some nice little boats here you can rent if you ever get the urge.”
“Thank you. I’ll remember that,” Adrienne replied as she accepted her change.
She drove home along the beach road remembering the feel of the sails in her hands. Why not? You're strong enough now.
Some small part of her soul, long dormant, flickered to life.
It wasn’t difficult to find Whitley Manor. It occupied the entire north end of the island, and the main road stopped at its massive iron front gate. Adrienne followed a line of cars up the curving drive and parked her modest rental car beside a row of Mercedes, Jaguars, and BMW’s. She caught her breath when she saw the house.
It was hidden from the beach by a copse of trees, and though she had glimpsed it from the shore, she had never realized how impressive it was. Three stories and one of the few stone edifices on the island, it had been carefully designed not to detract from the landscape surrounding it. Sunken pools accented by recessed lights bordered a meandering flagstone walkway threading through gardens to the wide front staircase. A spacious porch led from the main level around the side of the house, with a second open deck one floor above.
Adrienne could see that the veranda was already crowded with guests. She handed her keys to the handsome young man who was parking cars and took a deep breath. She was here now; she might as well go up. She steadied her nerves and began to climb the stairs. She wasn’t looking forward to greeting a mass of strangers, especially alone. She had chosen a pale blue silk suit, comfortable, yet elegant in its simplicity. As she glanced over to the portico to the right of the drive, she saw a silver Jag with a familiar license plate parked halfway up on the lawn.
Well, at least THW made it here in one piece!
Anger surged quickly. She was still disconcerted over her near collision earlier in the day, and she didn't need any further reminders of life's fragility. She struggled to put it from her mind, and joined the flow of people heading to the rear reception area. A passing waiter offered her a glass of champagne, which she gratefully accepted.
The patio in the rear of the house overlooked a multilevel garden, impeccably groomed. Adrienne leaned against a pillar, attempting to get her bearings. She watched the people around her with interest. The men, for the most part, were dressed in slacks and jackets, the women in light evening dresses. Somewhere off to the side she could hear a band playing. A gentle hand on her arm interrupted her quiet surveillance.
Adrienne turned to find an aristocratic woman in her mid-forties standing by her side. She was dressed in an exquisite pearl-gray dress, set off by a simple emerald necklace. Adrienne stared at her for a moment, uncertain.
The woman smiled at her. “I’m Constance Whitley. I’m so glad you could come.” Her voice was soft, like her eyes, and Adrienne found herself holding her breath, half expecting this gentle apparition to disappear. Suddenly, she became aware of the slightly puzzled look on her hostess’ face, and she put out her hand in greeting.
“Thank you for inviting me. Forgive me for staring,” Adrienne continued. “It seemed for a moment that I had met you before.”
Constance laughed quietly, her eyes suddenly lively. “Well, perhaps it’s my rather ordinary face.”
Adrienne blushed, feeling foolish. “It is hardly ordinary, Mrs. Whitley.”
“Please call me 'Constance',” she said as she hooked her arm through Adrienne’s. “Come, let me introduce you to a few of your neighbors.”
Adrienne allowed herself to be taken in tow by this charming woman, nodding hello as she was introduced to one smiling face after another.
The men and women all seemed strangely of a type—sleek, well groomed and displaying the easy confidence that their wealth and position afforded them. They all seemed to know their place in the world, and it was obvious that it suited them.
Adrienne was sure she wouldn’t remember a single name. They were making their way through the crowd when a familiar voice boomed out. “Commander Pierce! Is that you?”
Adrienne jumped and then blushed as she saw heads turn in her direction. She recognized the large man in full dress uniform immediately. She couldn’t help but smile, despite her acute embarrassment. “Admiral Evans—how nice to see you, sir. And it isn’t `Commander’ anymore. I’ve retired.”
“Nonsense, Commander! A long leave, I understand. You’ll soon grow tired of civilian life and get back where you belong.” He took charge of her at once as Constance slipped away to see to her other guests. They walked over to the rail, out of the way of the throng of people milling about.
“How are you, Adrienne?” he asked kindly.
“I’m fine, sir, really. The sea air has always agreed with me.”
“Hmph,” he muttered. “Of course I know that. I remember when you were just a young ensign. Damn shame you're thinking of giving it all up. These things can be handled, you know.”
Adrienne looked away uncomfortably. “Please, Admiral. Not tonight.”
He looked chagrined and hastily changed the subject. “Quite right, quite right. How are you finding Whitley Point?”
“It’s charming,” Adrienne replied honestly. “Do you have a house here?” She realized she was quite happy to see a familiar face.
“Oh, no. I’ve known Constance Hughes—well, Whitley now, of course—since she was a child. I visit here often. She’s a wonderful woman.”
“She certainly seems to be,” Adrienne agreed.
“It’s a wonder, really, being widowed so young—with a daughter to raise, as well as the entire Whitley fortune to manage. She’s done remarkably well.”
“I can see that,” Adrienne commented noncommittally. She was truly fond of her ex-commanding officer, but she wasn’t in the mood for light gossip at the moment. She suddenly felt very tired.
“Would you excuse me, sir? I’d like to wander around for a bit.”
“Of course, Commander. I’ll look for you later.”
Adrienne retreated quickly down into the garden and found a seat on a secluded bench, separated from the stone walkway by a hedgerow. She sipped her champagne and tried to collect her thoughts. Seeing Admiral Evans had reminded her all too clearly of how far she had strayed from her previous way of life. She felt unnerved. Truly at sea, she thought bitterly.
“A bit much, isn’t it? The party,” a cool voice said at her elbow.
Adrienne turned to find Tanner, resplendent in a nearly sheer white blouse and silk tuxedo trousers, standing casually beside her. Tanner's athletic figure was well displayed in the finely tailored clothing. Adrienne stared at her, taken aback.
“So, it’s `Commander’ is it?” Tanner continued smoothly, taking a seat beside Adrienne on the stone bench.
Adrienne found her voice and responded dryly, “Were you eavesdropping?”
“Guilty, ma’am.” Tanner grinned disarmingly. She tossed a fairly good salute to emphasize her words.
Adrienne laughed despite herself. “Oh stop! And no, it is not `Commander’—I’ve retired.”
“Really?” Tanner continued flirtatiously. “I would think you have many good years of service left.”
Adrienne paled slightly and turned away, searching in her handbag for a cigarette. She was annoyed to find that her hands were trembling.
Tanner touched her arm quickly, instantly concerned. “I’m sorry! I always seem to say something stupid when I’m around you.” She reached quickly to light Adrienne’s cigarette. Adrienne exhaled the smoke slowly and smiled, her eyes on Tanner’s worried face.
“It’s all right,” Adrienne said quietly, “It’s just a very long story, and not one I'm fond of telling.”
Tanner held up a hand and shook her head, “I understand. It’s none of my business, really. There are things I'd rather not talk about, too. But I am very glad to see you again.” She lit a cigarette of her own, and they sat in comfortable silence for a few moments. They seemed strangely alone, isolated by the dense shrubbery, despite the people passing by just yards away from them.
“Better?” Tanner inquired finally.
Adrienne smiled, stubbing out the cigarette she discovered she didn't really want. “Yes, I’m sorry. I seem to have lost my sense of humor somewhere this past year.”
Tanner gazed intently up at the crowd on the veranda above them. “Perhaps you’ll regain it here on our peaceful island,” she said darkly.
It was Adrienne’s turn to stare, taken aback by the bitter tone in Tanner’s voice and the obvious pain on her face. “Don’t you find it peaceful here?” she asked gently.
Tanner laughed without humor. She lifted the champagne bottle resting by her side and filled Adrienne's glass. “Hardly, but then that’s my story, isn’t it?” she responded abruptly.
Adrienne thought perhaps she should have felt rebuked by the curt reply, but she didn’t. She knew how important her privacy had become to her, and she could more easily accept it in others. Besides, she hadn’t the energy to probe another’s anguish, nor the strength to offer solace.
“Let’s just say we both have our stories, and let it go at that,” Adrienne said quietly. “Do you live near here? I never asked.”
Tanner nodded. “I’m a native. Can’t seem to escape. I’ve tried New York, and Boston, but I always seem to return to the Point. I never feel really whole unless I’m near the sea.”
Adrienne nodded. “I know what you mean. I love it, too.”
“So you chose the Navy?” Tanner asked.
“Yes. Eighteen years. I don’t know if it was the uniform or the sea which attracted me the most at first,” Adrienne laughed. “After a while, it was definitely the sea.”
“I’ll bet you look absolutely smashing in a uniform,” Tanner said with a grin.
Adrienne looked uncomfortable. “You watch too many movies.”
“Nope. I read too many books.”
Adrienne laughed. “Oh, all right, you win. I did like the uniform.”
They both laughed, and watched in silence as the sky darkened, a spectacular sunset giving way to the soft glow of the moon and stars. The beauty was nearly painful, and Adrienne was acutely aware of the woman beside her. She glanced at the chiseled profile, wondering if Tanner felt it too. Don't, she chided herself, don't even wonder.
“Hungry?” Tanner inquired finally.
“Famished,” Adrienne replied, realizing it was true. “I take it there’s food nearby?”
“Scads. Come on—I’ll lead the way.”
They were helping themselves to the ample buffet when Constance Whitley approached them with an engaging smile.
“I see that you’ve met my daughter, Ms. Pierce,” she said when she reached them.
Adrienne looked quickly from Tanner to Constance, momentarily taken aback. “Of course! Now I know why I thought I recognized you earlier! The resemblance is striking!”
Constance smiled fondly at Tanner, reaching out to stroke her cheek gently. “You compliment me, Ms. Pierce.” She nodded graciously as she moved away, leaving them in an uncomfortable silence.
Tanner stood quietly, waiting for Adrienne to react. She was used to the response her status evoked, especially from women. Inevitably they either became exceedingly cold or insufferably solicitous. She was totally unprepared for Adrienne’s response.
“It was you!” Adrienne exploded angrily. “THW—that’s `Tanner Hughes Whitley’ isn’t it?”
“Yes, but—” Tanner began, clearly confused. Now what have I done?
“You damn idiot! You nearly killed me today! Haven’t you ever heard of speed limits?”
Tanner stared at her, dumbfounded. “What are you talking about?”
“On the shore highway this afternoon! You nearly ran me off the road,” Adrienne continued, struggling to contain her temper.
Tanner searched her memory and drew a blank. “I’m sorry. Today? I don’t remember. I was—uhm, a little—out of touch this afternoon,” she said with embarrassment, remembering the afternoon's high she had shared with some friends.
“Well, perhaps the next time you’re drunk, or stoned, or whatever it is that you do, you’ll do the rest of the world a favor and stay off the roads!” Adrienne exclaimed. She turned abruptly and stormed away. She didn’t exactly know what incensed her more — the fact that Tanner had nearly killed her, or the fact that Tanner might have killed herself.
Tanner was left staring after her. “Damn!” she cursed vehemently. She couldn’t seem to do anything right when it came to that woman. She went off to find another glass of champagne, still smarting from Adrienne’s attack.
It was late when Adrienne finally returned home. Admiral Evans had monopolized her attentions for most of the evening, insisting that she meet half the population of Whitley Point. She had attempted to make polite conversation with people she had no intention of ever seeing again, while her anger burned dangerously close to the surface.
Tanner had tried to approach her several times, a conciliatory look on her handsome face, but Adrienne managed to avoid her. The last thing she needed was another confrontation with someone who seemed to incite her own worst traits. Pointless anger would do neither of them any good. She had enough conflict in her life already. The last time she saw her, Tanner was being led away by an attractive blond in a low-cut evening gown.
Adrienne stripped off her clothes irritably, uncharacteristically tossing them aside. So what if she made a spectacle of herself, letting that woman hang all over her. She'd had enough champagne –she probably needed the help! Oh! What do you care! Tanner is obviously capable of taking care of her own needs.
Adrienne wasn’t at all sure why Tanner had this disquieting effect on her. She hardly knew the woman! Still, there was something about the look in Tanner’s eyes, something that verged on despair – or a deep anguish, that echoed Adrienne's own pain. She felt it, and she wanted to reach out to her.
Don't be ridiculous. You can barely look after yourself! She's probably just bored!
Tanner did seem adrift, probably as a result of never wanting for the things ordinary people struggled a lifetime to attain. Tanner had money, and privilege, but it didn't seem to have brought her happiness. Adrienne’s frustration, on the other hand, was far more dangerous. She didn't trust herself. She didn't trust her future. Without a clear idea of where her life was leading, she seemed in fact to have nowhere to go. It was a paralyzing circle of questions without answers.
Let it go. You can't help her. You have no right even thinking of it.
She collected her scattered garments, and hung them carefully in the closet. She pulled on a faded pair of fatigue pants and a shirt that still showed the faint marks of her insignia on the collar. Wide-awake, she wandered out onto the deck.
Overhead the sky was velvet black, punctuated by bright points of starlight. Adrienne leaned back in the chaise with a sigh, stretching her long legs out in front of her. She was agitated and restless. The sounds of the distant surf failed to have their usual calming effect. Her thoughts kept returning to issues she wasn't prepared to face. Months ago she had given up trying to figure out why her life had taken such an unexpected turn, culminating in her arrival at Whitley Point. She was here, far from the settled, predictable world she had grown used to. If there were some logic to it, some hidden reason to the events that had completely changed her life, she couldn’t identify it. She didn’t want to try. All she wanted was to learn to deal with what had befallen her. She thought she was succeeding, until she met Tanner. Now her hard won peace of mind was threatened by the reflection of her own loss mirrored in Tanner’s dark eyes. She rubbed her aching shoulder and pushed herself up.
If I can't sleep, I might as well walk. Anything to stop these endless questions.
Adrienne climbed down the stairs toward the beach. As she walked, night sounds surrounded her – the wind bending blades of grass, the waves, rushing to destruction in the shoals, the small living creatures fleeing her approach. She continued to think of Tanner. It was incomprehensible to Adrienne how someone with so much to live for could be so heedless of her own well-being. Especially recently, Adrienne had come to know the value, and the vagary, of life. It seemed to her now, reflecting on her own situation, that life was dangerously unpredictable, ready to spin away, out of one’s grasp, at any moment. She knew she would give anything to feel in control of her own fate again. Tanner's face flickered into her mind, something bitter and hard glinting in her beautiful eyes. It seemed to her that Tanner was squandering her most precious possession—herself.
Surely, if there is sin, it must be that—to throw life away as if it were nothing.
She hadn't meant to, but she thought back to her own beginnings. She had not come from a privileged background. Her parents were simple people who believed that if you worked hard enough you would eventually succeed. Adrienne had grown up believing that. Until a year ago, nothing in her life had proved that philosophy wrong. She had studied endless hours, being bright, but not gifted. She had proved herself in a male world, in a male field, by being the best -- by working the hardest. She had been convinced that dedication and fortitude would finally be rewarded. Everything in her life had confirmed that. She had succeeded; she had everything she had ever wanted. Then suddenly, without warning, it had all dissolved.
Now she was lost, uncertain of her next move—unsure of what the next day might bring. She questioned what remained for her now and struggled to accept a life without dreams, without passion. There had been a time, not too long ago, when the most important goal in her life had been to live through another day. Now she awoke to a sunrise that dawned on an empty day, and felt only pointlessness.
She shook her head angrily. Stop it! You should be used to times like this by now. You know damn well there are no reasons, no explanations, no answers. Stop asking!
She continued to walk, unmindful of any destination, lost in the memory of dark wounded eyes and ravaged lives. The beach was still—even the waves seemed to realize it was nighttime, breaking softly and rolling gently onto the shore. The half-moon cast soft shadows over the sand. Adrienne fell into step with the regular rhythm of the ocean, walking steadily along the edge of the tide pools. She half expected to come upon some shipwrecked sailor in this unreal world of sound and shadow. She was only slightly startled when her solitude was shattered by a husky voice calling out to her in the darkness.
“You do look good in a uniform.”
Adrienne could make out a still form hunched over in the protection of a gently rising swell of dunes. She approached silently and sat down on the moist ground.
“Where’s your friend?” Adrienne asked.
“Asleep in my bungalow.”
“What are you doing out here?” Adrienne continued, studying Tanner’s set features. The effects of the alcohol appeared to have worn off. She looked tired, but composed. “It’s much too cool to sleep out here.”
“Couldn’t sleep,” Tanner answered lightly. She could never figure out why the presence of another person in her bed disturbed her. She was always wide-awake after sex, unaccountably restless. “How about you? Pretty late for a walk on the beach, isn’t it?”
“The ocean relaxes me,” Adrienne answered noncommittally. She took a deep breath and continued. “Listen, I’m sorry I went off at you back there at the party. It’s just that…”
Tanner interrupted with a shake of her head. “No need. You were right. If I’m going to screw myself up, the least I can do is have the decency not to involve other people. I’m sorry.”
Adrienne stared at her, shocked by the hollowness in her voice. This was not the cocky, confident woman she had verbally jousted with earlier. She seemed so defeated! Adrienne much preferred her maddening arrogance.
“That’s not what I was trying to say to you!” she continued without really thinking. “I was worried about you—and angry at you, too. You could have really hurt yourself!”
“Why should you care?” Tanner said without rancor. “It doesn’t really matter all that much.”
“Oh, Tanner!” Adrienne cried. “You’re so wrong. It matters so very much! You have a choice about your life, about what happens to you. You mustn’t throw that away!”
Tanner looked at her questioningly. “We all have those choices, don’t we? I just choose not to decide. C'est la vie, and all that.”
“It’s not always that simple. Sometimes life slips through your fingers, and there's nothing you can do to stop it.”
Tanner turned, searching her face. Adrienne wasn't looking at her. She was staring out at the water, her face in the moonlight almost otherworldly - distantly beautiful, remote and untouchable. “You’re not really talking about me, are you? You’re talking about yourself. What things can’t you control?” Tanner continued to study her, aware of the tenor of pain in her voice. What is it? What has hurt you so much?
Adrienne looked away, her jaw clenched. “I didn’t mean me, exactly. I just meant you – everyone -- should be more responsible.”
“No you weren't,” Tanner continued quietly. “There’s something else you’re not saying, Commander Pierce. But you can keep your secrets—for a while.” She leaned back on her arms, watching the flickering shadows highlight the little creatures scuttling along the beach on their midnight errands.
“Did you ever feel like there was something you wanted, but you didn’t know what it was?” Tanner asked at length, her gaze still fixed on the sea.
Adrienne followed her gaze, caught up in the mellow tone of her voice. Moonlight glinted on the water in broken streaks of silver. “I think so—a long time ago. It’s been a very long time since I can remember wanting anything that badly—so badly I could feel it like an ache in my bones. Is that what you mean?”
Tanner nodded. “What was it you wanted?”
Adrienne laughed. “Probably not what you’re talking about. I wanted a career, a future. But tell me what it is you think you want.”
Tanner ran a hand through her already tousled hair and frowned. “I don’t know. I can’t seem to settle anywhere. I wander around, but I always seem to return to Whitley Point. I make love, but I can only sleep when I’m alone. I drink, or worse, but I only feel emptier. Nothing seems to mean very much to me.” She sighed and looked at Adrienne with a sheepish grin. “Pretty pathetic, huh?”
Adrienne smiled at her, touched by the wistfulness in her voice. “Confused, maybe. God knows, I don't have the answers. What makes life worth living is different for everyone. And sometimes it's very hard to know what those things are.”
“Is that why you came to Whitley Point—to find those answers?”
Adrienne shrugged, sifting sand through her long fingers, tossing bits of broken shells into the darkness. “I thought I did, at first. Now I’m not sure. Maybe I just came here so I wouldn’t have to face not knowing. It’s a nice place to hide, this island. After a while it’s easy to forget that there really is another world out there.”
“Was there someone you left behind—back there in California?” Tanner asked quietly.
“No,” Adrienne said abruptly, turning her face away.
Tanner sighed. “I’m sorry. I always seem to hit some sore spot with you. It’s just that you don’t seem to be the kind of person not to be involved." You're too beautiful, and too tender, to be so alone.
Adrienne shifted slightly in the sand so that she could look into Tanner’s eyes. They were warm, and welcoming. There was something about this woman that made her want to talk. She felt almost safe with her. Still, Adrienne hesitated, afraid of what she might feel. Tanner awakened thoughts that she had avoided for months. She hadn’t talked to anyone, not even Tom, about the events of the last year of her life. He was one of her closest friends, and she knew he cared about her very much, but she couldn’t bring herself to put words to her emotions. Because if she did, she'd have to face the pain, and the fear. Nevertheless, the honest concern in the Tanner's dark eyes gave her courage.
“There was someone,” she began slowly, trying to find the right words.
When Adrienne hesitated, Tanner urged her on gently, sensing Adrienne's struggle. “Is that the reason you left the Navy?”
Adrienne shook her head. “No. I...she left me for the same reason I left the service, something else. Something personal.” Adrienne felt no need to explain her relationship with Alicia. Somehow she sensed that Tanner had recognized her particular preference in partners. Certainly Tanner made no secret of her interests. But she still couldn't tell her all of it. She couldn't expose herself, couldn't bear the pity.
“That’s the real secret, isn’t it? The reason that you’re here at Whitley Point.”
Tanner couldn’t miss the thinly veiled anguish in Adrienne’s voice, and she longed to offer her some comfort. “What is it?”
Adrienne’s reply came softly. “I can’t talk about it, not right now. I’m sorry.” The last words came out in a choked whisper. Adrienne's eyes brimmed with tears she refused to shed, had never shed, not even in her darkest hours.
Tanner sensed her withdraw, and knew she couldn't ask Adrienne to go on. Her suffering was too clear. God, she hurts so much!
Tanner responded without thinking, offering the only comfort she knew. She leaned slowly towards Adrienne, her eyes never leaving Adrienne’s troubled blue ones, until their faces were only inches apart. At last they were so close that she had to lower her head slightly so that she could bring her lips gently down to Adrienne’s. Adrienne did not pull away under the pressure of Tanner’s kiss. Tanner moved her lips gently over Adrienne’s soft mouth, her tongue gently, tentatively, exploring. She didn't hurry, or touch her in any other way. She was lost in the sweet surprise of the moment. She could barely believe the tenderness of this simple kiss. It was not a new experience for her, and yet she felt all the wonder of the first time. There had been so many others since then, and no one had moved her quite like this silent, tormented woman. Her tongue slipped into Adrienne’s mouth, and the warm serenity of it was almost more then she could bear. She moaned softly, as her whole being flowed toward Adrienne. With one trembling hand, Tanner cupped the side of Adrienne’s face, feeling Adrienne's heart beat in the pulse just below her jaw. Tanner rose slowly to her knees, caressing Adrienne’s neck, tangling her fingers in the strands of blond hair near her collar. Her head was buzzing, and she was having trouble catching her breath. Her belly pounded with desire, her thighs quivered, and remotely, she heard herself groan. Suddenly the kiss was broken as Adrienne pulled away sharply.
“No!” Adrienne cried.
Tanner stared at her, shaking, her vision cloudy with need. “Oh God – I didn't mean – I --” She reached out to touch Adrienne's arm, her hand trembling badly. "Please, I only wanted –"
Adrienne jumped to her feet, her eyes fixed on Tanner’s flushed face. “I’m sorry, Tanner—you just don’t understand! I can’t—I’m sorry!” She turned away and began to run.
“Adrienne! Wait—please! Just talk to me!” Tanner called after her. Adrienne didn’t reply but continued to run until she was out of sight, leaving Tanner still kneeling in the sand.
Tanner sat on the beach until the sun came up. She was still thinking about Adrienne. Every time she thought about those soft lips against hers, the heat of Adrienne's mouth, the soft brush of skin against her palm, she felt another wave of desire. It was so strange! She didn’t understand why this woman, whom she hardly knew, could have such a powerful effect on her. But the sensation was undeniable.
She wasn't sure what to do. She was used to being pursued. Most often it was her name, or her status, or her reputation that attracted the women. She usually took the easy way out, giving in to someone else's attraction, only to withdraw quickly when the situation became too intense. This time, she didn’t want to pull away.
Her first instinct was to go to Adrienne and insist that they talk. She wasn't a patient person, by nature or by breeding. She was used to having what she wanted. And though she knew it wasn't wise to confront Adrienne, she almost didn't care. She wanted to unlock the secret that held Adrienne captive.
Tanner stood up in frustration and walked slowly up the path that led to her bungalow. When she entered she found Jean still asleep on the unmade bed. She shook her gently, calling, “Jean! It’s time for you to get up. Jerry will wonder where you are!”
The blond rolled over lazily and smiled, still drowsy from sleep.
“No he won’t. I’m sure he already knows where I am.”
Tanner frowned in exasperation. “Great! Just what I need—an irate husband crashing in here at six o’clock in the morning!”
Jean reached up for her with a grin. “He wouldn’t do that. He knows I’ll come home, as long as he doesn’t interfere with my little escapades.”
Tanner stepped back, out of Jean’s reach. “Wonderful. I’m glad you two have such an understanding relationship. But I’d still rather not end up in the middle of it.” She gathered up Jean’s dress and handed it to her. “Come on. Get dressed.”
Jean stretched leisurely, stood, and pulled the dress on over her head. She looked at Tanner with inquisitive eyes. “Where have you been?”
Tanner looked away. “Out for a walk.”
“Hmm. With that visitor from down the road?”
Tanner flushed and looked at her angrily. “What is that supposed to mean?”
Jean shrugged and picked up her handbag. “Nothing. I just noticed that you spent a lot of time watching her last night. And, if you ask me, my dear, you should forget her. She looks like a cold bitch to me.”
“Well, I didn’t ask you!” Tanner responded shortly. “Now, would you mind leaving before the entire household sees you?”
Jean kissed her sensuously on the lips as she made her way toward the door. “Certainly. But you’re a fool if you think that anyone at that party doesn’t know I spent the night with you.”
Tanner stared after her as she slipped out the door. She pulled off her shirt and threw herself down in disgust on the bed. Her last thought before she finally slept was of Adrienne’s face as she turned to run from her on the beach.
Adrienne had not spoken to anyone in the two weeks since Constance Whitley’s barbecue. She had even avoided the general store until necessity forced her to make the trip. She still walked on the beach each day, but she never walked north. She didn’t want to be reminded of the night on the shore with Tanner. She was angry with herself—angry for dropping her guard, angry for letting anyone breach the protective barrier she had so carefully erected around her feelings. How easily Tanner had penetrated her defenses! How easily she had come, with her dark eyes and wistful words, right into the center of Adrienne’s consciousness.
Now Adrienne found she could not get Tanner out of her thoughts! And she did not want to think! She did not want to think about San Diego, or Alicia, or her former career, or any of it! And she especially did not want to think about Tanner. Because every time she did, she was reminded of how gentle Tanner’s lips felt against her mouth, and of how sweet her touch had been on her face. Tanner’s sexual energy was compelling, and Adrienne knew desire again. A desire as unbidden as the desire to breathe. There was no good reason for it! It was purely physical. And that was what frightened her—she had not felt anything like it for so long that it was hard for her to accept. It there was anything she had been sure of, it was that such feelings had been obliterated by the trials of the last year. Now she wasn’t certain of anything—except that she had to avoid seeing Tanner again at all cost.
She read, she ate when she could remember to, and she tried not to think. She found that the tranquility of her solitary existence had disappeared. Her body longed for activity, and she grew intolerably restless. She felt that she would go mad if she didn’t find something with which to occupy herself. That was when she remembered her conversation weeks previously with Mr. Simms.
Early one morning, she packed some gear and a lunch and set out for the marina. She parked her car in the shade and went into the general store. She found the friendly proprietor unpacking cans at the far end of an aisle.
“Good morning!” she called. “I want to rent a sailboat!”
Mr. Simms looked up and smiled, dusting his hands off on his faded khaki pants. “That’s simple enough. Just walk on down to the office and talk to Josh Thomas. He’ll fix you up.” He pointed through the windows to the gray-shingled, all-purpose boat repair and rental building at the end of a wooden pier with sloops moored on either side.
Adrienne smiled her thanks and left. As she walked down the pier, she smiled, feeling almost happy for the first time in weeks. She was looking forward to being out on the ocean again. Her smile disappeared when she saw Tanner’s silver sports coupe parked on the pier close to the water’s edge. She almost left, and then shook her head angrily. “No!” she whispered to herself. “I can't keep running from her. Seeing her won't be a problem. I hope.” She pressed resolutely on, finding the manager of the marina overhauling one of the sloops hoisted up in dry dock.
Josh Thomas was a weather beaten, bearded man of indeterminate age. He had the look of a native about him, and when he called down a greeting to her, Adrienne recognized the distinctive New England accent. She introduced herself and told him what she wanted. He turned out to be a charming man who took her enthusiastically down to the dock and helped her choose a craft. He described to her in loving detail the particulars of the boat she wanted.
“That’s it, then, Ms. Pierce,” he said finally. “She’s all yours. Just be sure to keep an ear on the weather bulletins and get her in by nightfall. Summer squalls blow up quickly in these waters, and this harbor is difficult to navigate in the dark.”
“I will,” Adrienne replied with a smile. As she turned to climb aboard, she added, “By the way—isn’t that Tanner Whitley’s car over there?”
Josh looked in the direction she had pointed and nodded. “Sure is.” He laughed and shook his head. “She’s been out before sun-up every day for the last two weeks. If I didn’t know better, I’d think she was out poaching lobster pots!” He continued to chuckle as he walked away, leaving Adrienne alone with her craft.
Adrienne sailed slowly for the first hour, getting used to the pull of the sails and the unfamiliar waters. Finally, as the wind peaked in the early afternoon, she let her sails out and made a fast run with the wind, exhilarating in the freedom and power of the boat under her. Physically she felt wonderful, and the boat was so demanding under full sail that she didn’t have time to think about the disturbing events of the last few weeks. She anchored in a quiet cove on the lee side of one of the small islands that dotted the coast. She was starved and looking forward to the bottle of wine she had brought along as a treat. She stretched out on the deck after her meal, basking in the sun. She relaxed and allowed her mind to wander, free from the questions that plagued her most of her waking hours. She must have napped, for the next thing she knew, the wind had grown cool, and the boat rocked heavily on the tide. She opened her eyes and was surprised to find the sun already low on the horizon. She hastily gathered the remains of her meal and got under sail, anxious to make port before darkness. Even with a good wind it was almost dark when she sailed into Whitley Harbor. Josh Thomas ran to meet her on the pier and caught the towline she tossed to him.
“I was getting a little worried there,” he called. “It’s almost dark!”
“I know,” Adrienne replied as she jumped down onto the dock. “I must have fallen asleep in the sun. I’m sorry.” She smiled at him, feeling exhilarated. “It was wonderful out there!”
“Can’t argue with that,” he responded as he walked with her up toward the marina.
Adrienne waved good-bye cheerfully and started away. She saw the silver Jaguar parked where it had been that morning, and she turned suddenly, calling, “Oh, Mr. Thomas, is Ms. Whitley back in yet?” She was surprised by the frown that darkened his pleasant features as he responded.
“No, and there’s no telling when she will be. She’s a damn fool to think she can run in these waters at night. There’s too much of her father in her. She thinks the rules don’t apply to her. If she weren’t such a good sailor, we’d probably have found her washed up ashore somewhere too!” He saw Adrienne pale slightly and hurried on. “I’m sorry, ma’am. I think the world of Tanner, just like I did her father. She just makes me mad sometimes. I’ll try to raise her on the short wave if you like.”
Adrienne shook her head. “No, that's not necessary – I'm sure she knows what she's doing.” She hurried away. She doesn't need to know I was asking about her. I don't even know why I care.
Adrienne's time on the water had awakened some long-dormant joy, reviving her. As she drove home, she wondered about Tanner, about what solace she might be finding in her solitary forays onto the sea. That Tanner was running from something, too, Adrienne had no doubt. She could hear it in Tanner's voice, and see it in the depths of her dark soulful eyes. Despite her lingering thoughts of Tanner, and the uneasy memories of their kiss, that night she had the first full night’s sleep in days.
It became the new habit of her days to arrive early each morning with her gear and her lunch and to spend the entire day on the boat. She swam, she read, she sailed better than she ever had. She often saw Tanner's distinctive sports coupe parked on the pier, but she never saw Tanner. She didn’t mind—she had no desire to see her. With her days so full, she was able to ignore the lingering images of the two of them on the moonlit beach. When she would awaken from a dream where Tanner's touch still tingled on her skin, she quickly dismissed it as a natural response to her long weeks of solitude. She had been tired and discouraged, and Tanner had been there. It was nothing more than that. If some line from a song on the radio brought Tanner's husky voice to mind, she assured herself it was just a passing fancy.
May turned into June, the weather grew warmer, and as the days lengthened, Adrienne's strength returned. She felt fit and whole and nearly content. Life was as good as she dared hope it could be.
Adrienne made port one gray afternoon just ahead of a bank of storm clouds that were swiftly approaching from the south. It was sheer luck that she been sunning on the deck with the radio turned on in the tiny galley below. Through the open hatch she heard the Coast Guard weather station warning of fast moving squalls. She hadn't been that far from the harbor, but still she didn’t really relax until she was in sight of the marina. By that time the rain had started, and rising winds buffeted her sailboat from side to side. Most of the slips were full with boats seeking shelter from the threatening storm.
Josh Thomas was running hurriedly up and down the pier double-checking tie lines and adjusting bumpers between the ship's hulls and the dock. He waved her into one of the unoccupied moorings, shouting something she couldn't hear. She tossed him her bowline, and together they secured her own craft.
He lifted his yellow slicker above their heads in a makeshift tent, leaning close to be heard over the howling crescendo of the wind. “Glad you’re back! This one’s supposed to be a beaut! There’s gale wind warnings for small craft all up and down the coast. I sure wish the weather boys had let us know about this before I let all the boats out this morning! Most everybody is in now though.”
Adrienne ran with him toward the protection of the office building, glancing automatically up the parking lot. Like every day, the Jaguar was there.
“Is Tanner back?”
He didn’t answer until they were inside out of the wind. “No,” he replied, shaking the rain from his hair. “And I haven’t heard from her either. She probably put in at one of the other marinas.”
Adrienne tried to ignore the sudden twist of fear. Tanner was fine – of course she was!
He saw the anxiety Adrienne couldn't hide, and added hastily, “I’ll put out a call.”
Adrienne nodded, walking to the small window and peering out at the solid sheet of rain obscuring the boats moored not twenty yards away. She wondered if she could have kept a sailboat afloat in this weather. She waited as Josh went into the small adjoining room where he kept his short-wave radio. He returned shortly and placed the small set on the desk in the main office.
“Did you raise her?” Adrienne asked anxiously.
“Nope—but that doesn’t mean anything in this weather. She could be out there in the harbor, and she might not hear us.”
Adrienne stayed at the window, trying to see through the rain. “I’m sure you’re right. How big is her boat, by the way?”
“Forty footer. Beautiful craft. She built it mostly herself—calls it Whitley’s Pride.”
Adrienne smiled to herself at that. “It’s kind of big for one person to handle, isn’t it?”
“Yep. It would be for most people. But then Tanner’s not most people. She’s a good sailor; she’ll be all right.” He noticed for the first time that Adrienne was shivering from the cold. He said quickly, “How about some coffee?”
Adrienne was about to refuse, and then decided it sounded like a good idea. It might be a long evening. She certainly had no desire to drive in the fierce storm, and she admitted to herself that if she made it home, she would just sit and worry about Tanner. She thought back to the first morning she had run across her on the beach, hung-over, and charming in spite of it. Tanner was reckless and wild and dangerous, especially the latter. Adrienne found it frightening and infuriating at the same time.
Lord – why can't she stay out of trouble? And why can't I stop worrying about her?
The winds continued with the same swirling force, rocking the sailboats at their moorings and pounding the windows of the small office. Josh sat at his cluttered desk and sipped his coffee, the short wave radio a scratchy backdrop to their silence. He did not question Adrienne’s staying, and she did not offer any explanation.
She would stay, had to stay, until Tanner came safely into port. She didn't question herself too closely as to why. She sighed with a sense of helpless frustration and looked over at Josh, who regarded her calmly. There was something about his solid presence that she found strangely reassuring. He seemed as indestructible as the rocky shoreline of his native coast.
“What was Tanner’s father like?” she asked suddenly.
He sat quietly for a moment, thinking about her question. It was hard to describe a man like Charles Whitley. Where did you begin? “He was big—about six four, with dark hair and eyes. I imagine the ladies found him handsome - movie-star looks. He was very generous with his money, but he expected a lot from people. He expected everyone to be as determined and certain as he was. He was often disappointed.”
“Is Tanner really like him?”
Adrienne smiled. Tanner was movie-star handsome too. She quickly pushed that thought away. "How so?"
He smiled. “In a lot of ways. She’s got his fire – never does anything half way. Stubborn, a little bit of a risk-taker.” He frowned, not used to putting his thoughts into words. “I think she’d be a lot less angry at everything if her father were still alive. I don’t think she’s ever quite forgiven him for going out by himself and getting drowned. She hasn't been right since the day he died.”
Adrienne remembered the deep sorrow in Tanner's eyes. “Were they close?” she questioned softly.
Josh laughed. “That’s a mild word for it. He thought the sun rose and set on that girl. He had her down here on the boats before she could walk. She could sail better than most men by the time she was ten. Mrs. Whitley would go out with them for little cruises, you know, but most of the time it was just the two of them. The day he died Tanner wasn't with him. It was late in the season, and she was getting ready to go back to school. One of those fancy places girls go to in Boston. It was a bad looking day from the start, but he insisted. When he didn’t come in by dark, Tanner came searching for him. I almost had to tie her down to keep her from going out in the launch to look for him. She wouldn’t go home, just sat here listening to the Coast Guard station. They never did find the boat. A storm had come up in the late afternoon, and he must have gotten caught pretty far out. It’s hard to figure, with him being so experienced. Guess he must have been careless. Tanner kept insisting that if he had waited for her it never would have happened.” He sighed and shrugged his shoulders. “She got pretty wild after he died. She was only a teenager, but she refused to go back to school. Said she didn’t want to leave Whitley Point. She finished high school on the mainland with all the island kids. She went away to college because her mother insisted, but it didn’t last too long. She got into some kind of trouble. Never has seemed to be able to settle down.”
Adrienne leaned against the window frame, listening to him talk in his slow drawl, her mind conjuring up images of what Tanner must have been like as a teenager. God, she must have been so unhappy!
They were both startled as the radio crackled to life. “Whitley Harbor—this is THW four four hundred—come in Whitley Harbor.”
Josh jumped for the receiver. “Go ahead THW—this is Whitley Harbor—over.”
They waited tensely while static filled the air. He flipped the knob on the set impatiently several times and then spoke again into the microphone. “Whitley Harbor calling THW four four hundred, come in please.”
The set crackled again, and then Adrienne heard Tanner’s voice. “I’m …in .. one half miles...lost … sail. … Taking on..water...” Her voice faded out, to be replaced by the same monotonous static.
“Damn!” Josh swore. “I’ll call the Coast Guard and give them her range. This harbor is hard enough to maneuver in the best of times. If she's got one sail down, even with the engines it's gonna be near impossible.”
Adrienne watched him while he made the calls, her fear escalating. Tanner had come this far, surely she could navigate into the harbor. But with one sail down and in this wind?
“Mr. Thomas,” she asked quietly, “do you have something alcoholic?”
“How about whiskey?”
The radio sounded the harbor’s call letters, and the Coast Guard came through with a message. “Whitley Harbor, we have a small craft taking water rapidly, due east of Whitley Island, range one mile. Rescue procedures under way. Will advise, over.”
Josh acknowledged their message and stared glumly at Adrienne. He poured them both a stiff drink.
Adrienne swirled the little blocks of ice aimlessly in the dark amber liquid as she continued to watch the harbor. She thought about Tanner, and her father's tragic death, and felt for the first time that she understood a little of what hidden sorrows drove her. She could not have explained what it was about the troubled younger woman that called to her so deeply, but she was having a hard time denying it.
She was so lost in reflection that she didn’t appreciate the dim but persistent flickering across the water for some moments. Finally she realized that the steady glow was from the lights on a craft.
“Josh!” she shouted, “there are lights out there!”
“Where?” he cried, crowding next to her at the tiny window. He rubbed at the condensation with his large callused hand. "Where?"
“There, off to the left.”
“That must be her!” he shouted. “She’s dead center in the middle of the channel. She handles that boat like a lover, she does!” He saw Adrienne flush and added hastily, “Beg your pardon, ma’am. Just an expression.”
“I’m sure you’re right, Mr. Thomas,” Adrienne responded quietly. “I’m sure she does.”
Whitley's Pride came into view finally, maneuvering sluggishly with just the mainsail up, and that badly tattered from the beating it had taken in the fierce winds. As the boat approached the pier, both Josh and Adrienne ran out, mindless of the steady downpour that drenched them instantly. Tanner was clinging to the wheel, her clothes plastered to her, looking exhausted and ready to collapse.
Josh leaned out over the water with a boat hook and snagged the towlines, guiding the boat up to the pier. As soon as it glided in close enough, Adrienne climbed aboard and rushed to the cockpit. Tanner had tied herself to the wheel with a length of nylon rope to avoid being washed overboard in the gale. She was dazed, gasping for breath, and sagging within the confines of the makeshift restraints. Adrienne bent to untie the ropes that tethered Tanner’s body to the craft.
“Are you hurt?” she cried anxiously.
Tanner shrugged, her expression blank. She tried to speak, but her strength finally deserted her. Released from her supports, she slumped and would have fallen if Adrienne hadn’t made a quick grab for her.
Adrienne eased Tanner down beside her on the deck and tried to shelter her from the wind and icy rain. She slipped an arm around Tanner’s shoulders and pulled her close against her own body. Tanner shivered uncontrollably. Adrienne pushed the wet hair off Tanner’s face, aware for the first time how cold Tanner’s skin seemed under her fingers. Of course! She had been exposed on the deck for hours in the freezing rain in only a light shirt and jeans. She was hypothermic, dangerously cold —Adrienne had seen enough severe exposure cases in the Navy to recognize it.
“Josh,” she shouted, “never mind the boat! We have to get her inside, where it's warm. Can you help me carry her?”
He was beside her in a moment, and between them they half-dragged, half-carried Tanner to the shelter of the marina.
“There’s a little room in the back where I keep a cot and a kerosene heater for the winter,” Josh said, leading the way. They stretched Tanner out on the faded green wool blanket. She muttered in protest and tried ineffectually to push them away.
"Let me sleep," she demanded weakly.
“Light the stove, and bring the rest of the coffee – and the whiskey,” Adrienne said tersely, ignoring Tanner's plea. She was already busy pulling off Tanner’s deck shoes. She reached for another blanket from the foot of the cot and threw it over Tanner's shivering form. Lifting enough of the cover to maneuver, Adrienne stripped the wet jeans off Tanner's legs, noting absently that that was all she had been wearing. The shirt proved to be more of a problem. The material clung insistently to Tanner’s body, and Adrienne had to struggle to free Tanner’s muscular arms. When she finally succeeded, she actually looked at Tanner for the first time.
Tanner's eyes were closed now, and she looked terribly vulnerable in her nakedness. Adrienne drew in her breath sharply, unprepared for what she saw as Tanner's body came into sharp focus. Her breasts were full and firm, falling in gentle curves toward her sides. The nipples were a deep honey gold. She was well-muscled, tanned and toned.
Adrienne could sense her strength, and remembered the tenderness in her touch. Her eyes traveled down the flat planes of Tanner’s stomach to the slight swell of her hips hidden by the coarse material of the blanket. Adrienne wasn't thinking at all, but stood mesmerized for a brief moment by the simple beauty before her. She was jolted abruptly from her reverie by a soft cough and the sound of movement behind her.
She drew the blanket up to cover Tanner’s nakedness and turned to face Josh Thomas. She looked him directly in the eyes, and he returned her gaze evenly.
“Here’s that whiskey, and I'll have coffee in a minute. Should I try to get an ambulance out here? It’ll be hard on a night like this.”
“Call them and see,” Adrienne replied distractedly, her concern for Tanner paramount now. “I'll work on getting her warmed up. Thank god she’s young and healthy.”
She cradled Tanner’s head in her lap and brought the glass of whiskey to her lips. Tanner tried to pull away, but Adrienne managed to get a few drops past her pale lips. Tanner sputtered and coughed, protesting feebly, but Adrienne’s grip was firm. Just wake up enough to drink some coffee!
Josh came in with a mug of coffee. He stood patiently holding it while Adrienne tried to arouse Tanner enough to drink it. Tanner continued to shiver, her face ghostly white, a faint tinge of blue to her lips and fingers. "She's pretty well–frozen," Josh said worriedly. "The nearest emergency service is on the mainland, and I haven't been able to rouse 'em yet."
Adrienne laid Tanner's head down softly, and kicked off her own shoes. She tossed the light windbreaker she had been wearing aside and lifted the blanket. Settling on the cot with her back propped against the wall, she pulled Tanner into her arms. "Put the coffee beside me," she directed. With her arms encircling Tanner's shoulders, she pressed the length of her body against every part of Tanner's she could reach. Instinctively, Tanner curled around her, pressing one leg between Adrienne's, burrowing her face between Adrienne's breasts.
Josh moved the small kerosene heater closer, then retreated to the doorway. He wasn't sure why, but it felt like he should leave them alone. "I'll be in the next room – if I hear from the EMTs, I'll let you know. Call me if you need anything."
Adrienne didn't answer. She rested her chin against the top of Tanner's head, rocking her gently, willing her to wake up. She hadn't touched another person intimately in almost a year, and hadn't really expected to again. Odd – how it should have felt strange, but it didn't. Tanner fit naturally into the curves of her body, as if she had been lying with her for years.
After a while, Tanner began to stir restlessly, mumbling, opening her eyes to peer at Adrienne in confusion. Adrienne immediately began offering her sips of the coffee, hoping to both warm her and stimulate blood flow with the caffeine.
“Come on,” Adrienne insisted, “just a little more. That’s it.” She coaxed and pleaded and ordered Tanner to accept the hot liquid, murmuring encouragement to her as she stroked Tanner’s damp face. Finally, Tanner grasped her arm weakly and pushed at the hand that held the cup.
“Please,” Tanner gasped, “give me a minute. Josh's coffee might kill me before the cold does.”
Adrienne laughed and hugged Tanner tightly. “Are you really awake?” Adrienne whispered after a few moments of watching Tanner’s breathing becoming more regular and the color return to her face.
Tanner opened her eyes, finally able to focus, and regarded Adrienne solemnly. “I am—I think. Or this could just be a very nice dream.”
Adrienne couldn't look away from those dark, captivating eyes. For a minute there, it had feel like a dream. She hadn't been alone.
Suddenly, a visceral memory of Tanner's lips on her own churned through her belly. She remembered the heat, and the tender almost shy stroke of Tanner's tongue over her own. A rush of arousal, completely unexpected, pulsed through her. She hadn't meant this to happen - hadn't wanted it to happen. She had only meant to help heal her.
Adrienne shifted abruptly on the narrow cot, slipping out from behind Tanner's nude body. She sat on the edge of the cot, staring at the floor, forcing her breathing to quiet. When she was certain her voice was steady, she replied, "It’s not a dream, something more like a nightmare. You had a pretty close call today, but I’m sure you’ll be fine after a couple of days’ rest. When you’re feeling a little better, I’ll drive you home.”
“Can’t we just stay here?” Tanner struggled to keep her eyes open and sighed, pressing close against Adrienne's back. It felt so good when you held me. So safe.
“No, we can’t. You need a hot shower and a good night’s sleep. Neither of which you can get here.” Adrienne's fear and confusion were being replaced by anger. Goddamn her for being so careless! And Goddamn me for caring!!
Adrienne stood, breaking the contact that was rapidly becoming uncomfortable. "I'll bring my car down. It won't help for you to get soaked again. Can you get dressed?"
Tanner nodded, too exhausted to protest. She struggled into the dry shirt and pants Josh offered her from his locker, and obediently followed Adrienne to her car. She slept on the short ride home, and when Adrienne pulled up in front of Whitley Manor, she had to shake Tanner to awaken her. “Tanner, wake up. You’re home now—it’s time to leave.”
Tanner stirred slowly and gazed at Adrienne, a mixture of fatigue and need in her face. “Will you stay with me?” she asked softly. "Please."
Adrienne shook her head. “No. But I’ll call you tomorrow, okay?” She assured herself that was just a simple kindness. Anyone would do the same.
Tanner nodded and got out of the car without further protest. Adrienne watched her as Tanner made her way slowly around the side of the house to the path leading down to her bungalow. She hated to see her go, and didn't want to think what that meant. She only knew she couldn't get any closer to the lonely young woman and her secret pain. It was better to keep things uncomplicated, for both their sakes.
Adrienne slept poorly that night and woke before the sun was fully up. She busied herself around the house and fought off the urge to call Tanner. She'll be fine. She doesn't need you to worry over her. And you don't need something else to worry about either.
She went for a run, plagued the entire time by thoughts of Tanner. Finally, at nine o’clock she gave in to her persistent concern and called Whitley Manor. The phone was answered on the second ring.
“Whitley residence—may I help you?”
“This is Adrienne Pierce,” she said. “Is Tanner awake yet?”
“Miss Whitley is not in right now. May I take a message for her?”
“Not in?” Adrienne exclaimed, unable to hide the alarm in her voice. “Is she all right?” She could hear muffled voices in the background, and then Constance Whitley took the phone.
“Ms. Pierce? This is Constance Whitley. Tanner left quite early this morning. I’m afraid she didn’t leave word as to where she was going. She rarely does. Can I help you with anything?”
Adrienne sighed with relief. “No, thank you. I was just worried after last night that she might be ill.”
“Last night? I don’t understand.”
Of course! Tanner probably doesn’t make it a habit of informing her mother of her misadventures She recovered quickly, and continued smoothly. “I gave her a ride home last night, and she was soaking wet from the storm. I was worried she might come down with something.”
Constance laughed. “Well, I shouldn’t worry, Adrienne. Tanner is rarely ill. I’ll tell her that you called.”
“Thanks,” Adrienne said as she replaced the receiver. She stood with her hand on the phone for a few moments, wondering in exasperation why she even cared where Tanner was. If Tanner didn’t have enough sense to take care of herself, it certainly wasn’t Adrienne’s problem. She turned resolutely away, determined to forget the whole thing. She found to her supreme irritation, however, that her thoughts kept returning to the events of the previous evening. It frightened her when she realized that Tanner might not have returned at all. She decided that if she was going to keep wondering about her, she might as well check the marina. If nothing else, she could at least go sailing to occupy her mind.
The sky was unusually clear after the heavy storm, and it promised to be a beautiful day. Adrienne's spirits lifted as she neared the bay. She parked and walked down the pier. In the daylight it was easy to pick out Tanner’s boat. It was a beautiful craft, with a polished teak wood hull and maroon deck. The winches were all brass, and the cockpit had been centralized so that one person could handle all three sails. She could see several torn sheets and the remnants of the tattered jib, reminders of the previous night’s perilous journey. As she walked out onto the dock, admiring the fine workmanship, she heard whistling from below deck.
“Hello there,” she called. “Tanner?”
Tanner’s head appeared through the cabin hatch, and she grinned sheepishly at Adrienne. She looked pale and drawn, dark circles under her eyes, but her voice was cheerful. “Hi! Come aboard!”
Adrienne hesitated for a second and then climbed up to the deck.
Tanner climbed up from below to join her. “She’s a little worse for the wear, but no serious damage. I was just about to replace the jib.”
“How are you?” Adrienne asked dryly.
Tanner blushed. “A little worse for the wear, but almost sea worthy. Thanks for looking after me last night,” she said, her eyes serious.
Adrienne shifted her gaze away from those intently searching dark brown eyes. “You’re welcome,” she responded softly. She changed the subject quickly. “Your boat is beautiful.”
Tanner smiled with obvious pride and grabbed Adrienne’s hand impulsively, drawing her down into the cockpit. “Let me show you how she’s outfitted.”
Tanner took her on a tour of the boat, pointing out little modifications she had made that allowed her to handle it easily by herself. Adrienne was surprised to see that the cabin was completely stocked with food and wine, as well as a variety of books and CDs. The stereo system was elaborate, with speakers in both the fore and aft sleeping areas. She turned to Tanner, impressed. “It’s wonderful. All the comforts of home.”
“It almost is home to me,” Tanner responded. “I can sail anywhere and just drop anchor and stay there, if I want to.”
“It must have taken you a long time to get it into this kind of shape,” Adrienne commented.
Tanner’s face clouded for an instant, and then she shrugged. “I bought her just before my last year of high school, and I’ve been working on her ever since. It’s probably the only thing I’ve really accomplished since then.”
Adrienne didn’t know what to say, so she made a suggestion instead. “Listen, how about if I give you a hand refitting the jib.”
“Sure,” Tanner responded, her grin returning. “But only if you promise to come for a sail with me.”
“No,” Adrienne said quickly.
Adrienne regarded her for a moment, and then laughed. Suddenly she very much wanted to be out on this sailboat, in the sun, in the wind, away from her worries and her fears. “I don’t know. Why not? I’d actually love to go out on her.”
Tanner grabbed her hand again and pulled her toward the ladder. “Come on, then. Let’s get to work.”
They worked easily together, pulling down the torn sail and restringing the new one. They didn’t talk much, but Adrienne found the silence comfortable. It had gotten quite warm, and both she and Tanner were sweating. The physical exertion felt good. When they finished, she stepped back and surveyed their work with a feeling of accomplishment. She realized that she had missed that feeling. Missed life having some meaning beyond mere existence.
“Ready?” Tanner asked. When Adrienne nodded, Tanner asked, “Do you think you can handle the sails while I take her out of the harbor?”
“I think so.”
Adrienne quickly got used to the rigging and winches as Tanner maneuvered them efficiently out of the crowded harbor toward the open sea. Adrienne found Tanner to be a decisive and neat sailor, wasting none of the wind and setting their sails to full advantage. They barely spoke as the craft moved swiftly out into the ocean, cutting a clean line parallel to the coast. Tanner led them into a secluded cove near one of the many islands that dotted the waters, and they dropped anchor.
“Why don’t you relax for a while,” Tanner called as she headed below deck. “I’ll be right back.”
Adrienne made herself comfortable on the forward deck, and Tanner returned shortly with a tray of fruit and cheese and a bottle of chilled white wine.
“Brunch, anyone?” she called as she spread out a tablecloth and weighted it down with plates and two frosted glasses.
Adrienne smiled in appreciation. “Great idea,” she said. She accepted the wine gratefully and stretched her long legs out in the sun. She sighed and surveyed the boat. “She sails wonderfully.”
Tanner nodded. “I know. You’re pretty good yourself. This afternoon you’ll have to take the wheel.”
“I’d love to,” Adrienne answered instantly. “It’s been a long time since I’ve sailed anything this big.”
“You can handle her. Do you have your own boat?”
“Uh huh,” Adrienne replied as she helped herself to some fruit. “A thirty-eight footer. Just right for long weekends. I used to spend as much time out on her as I could.”
Tanner regarded her thoughtfully. “What did you do—in the Navy?”
“I was, am, a civil engineer. I went to college on the ROTC plan and went active as soon as I graduated.”
“Did you like it?”
“Engineering or the Navy?”
“I enjoyed the work, and I like the organization of the Navy. It was very secure—at least professionally. It offered a lot of opportunity, despite its restrictions. And, of course, as an officer, I had a great deal of freedom. We lived in a house off base, right near the bay. I worked a pretty steady forty-hour week. It suited me.” She finished self-consciously, realizing that she had said more than she had meant to. She had been so relaxed that she hadn’t given it a second thought.
“Was it a problem, being a lesbian?” Tanner asked.
Adrienne laughed. “Being a lesbian? Or being a lesbian in the Navy?”
Tanner grinned back at her. “You know what I mean. Were you paranoid about it?”
“Sometimes. I led my own private life, and no one seemed to care. There were other gays, of course, both men and women. We were discreet, we had to be.”
Tanner poured them some more wine and munched a cracker thoughtfully. “Sounds like a pretty good life in some ways.”
“There's a lot that needs improving, but I knew that going in. ”
“So—” Tanner began.
Adrienne laughed good-naturedly. “Must you always ask so many questions?”
“Can’t help it,” Tanner replied. “I love details.”
“I’ve noticed.” Adrienne commented dryly. "And what about you? What do you do when you're not sailing?"
Tanner shrugged. "I pretend to help run the Whitley Corporation."
"I go into the headquarters now and then, but it's not serious. My father left my mother in charge."
Adrienne looked at her closely, remembering Josh's story about Charles Whitley's death. "I'm sorry about your father."
Tanner stared at her, then down at her hands. It wasn't something she talked about. Ever. When she looked back at Adrienne, she found only compassion. And then the words came.
"We fought – the day he died. We were supposed to go out to together, but he didn't wait."
Adrienne saw her hands tremble. "What happened?" she asked quietly, knowing there was something.
Tanner stood, walked to the rail, looked out over the endless sea, recalling the scene vividly. Her voice was low, and she spoke quietly, as if recounting a dream. "He asked me why I had broken up with Todd. He reminded me how close our families were, and how much he liked 'the boy'." She laughed humorlessly. "I informed him I wasn't interested in Todd or any other guy."
She shrugged, looked at Adrienne with wounded eyes. "He hit me. I told him to go to hell." She drew a shaky breath. "That was the only time he ever struck me. As soon as he did it, he looked like he might cry. And then he was gone – out on the boat, and he never noticed the storm --"
Oh god – she must feel so guilty. "Tanner—" Adrienne began.
"No need to say anything. It was more than ten years ago. I'm over it now," Tanner said abruptly, moving to gather the remains of their lunch.
Adrienne watched her in helpless silence. She of all people knew there were some hurts words could not heal.
They finished the wine, each still lost in memories, while the sun rose high in the sky. Adrienne was caught off guard when Tanner sat up suddenly and stripped off her tee shirt. For a moment, Adrienne was captivated. Sunlight bathed Tanner’s tanned shoulders and pale firm breasts in a golden glow, highlighting her strong, yet feminine form.
Oh, god. She’s so lovely! Desire struck out of nowhere, and she looked hastily away.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Adrienne asked harshly.
Tanner stood up and pushed her shorts down. “I’m going swimming. Come on—it’ll wake you up.”
Adrienne realized that her heart was pounding as she tried to avoid looking at Tanner’s nakedness. Unbidden, images of Tanner lying on the cot the previous evening kaleidoscoped through her mind. She swallowed hard and managed to say evenly, “You go ahead. I’ll stand guard.”
“There’s no one here,” Tanner protested playfully. She reached down and attempted to pull Adrienne to her feet. “Come on—it’ll be wonderful!”
Adrienne jerked her arm away. “No!”
Tanner failed to appreciate the note of panic in Adrienne’s voice. She was a little high from the wine, and wanted only to put the past out of mind. She grabbed for Adrienne again, determined now to get her into the water. “I’ll just have to throw you in then,” she cried as she innocently grabbed Adrienne’s shirt and tugged it out of her pants. She was caught totally off guard when Adrienne slapped her, hard, across the face. Tanner rocked back on her heels and looked at Adrienne in amazement. A red welt rose on her left cheek, but it wasn't the blow that stung.
“Jesus, Adrienne! What do you think I am? I wasn’t going to rape you,” she said in a stunned voice.
Adrienne stared at her for a second, then turned and rushed to the rear of the boat. All she wanted to do was to get away. She grasped the rail in both hands, trembling, and fought for composure.
A few minutes later, Tanner, fully dressed again, came to stand beside Adrienne. “I’m sorry,” Tanner began, not sure exactly why she was apologizing. "I didn't mean to upset you – Damn! I was just so – happy – that you were here."
Adrienne turned to her, a trace of tears still on her face. She looked miserable, and that was harder for Tanner than the slap had been. Adrienne's distress made her forget her own indignation. She caught her breath and touched Adrienne’s face lightly, brushing a tear away with her thumb. “Will you please tell me what I did?” She wanted desperately to understand.
Adrienne replied in a choked voice, “I don’t know if I can.”
“Can we try? Please,” Tanner pleaded gently.
Adrienne shrugged, almost in defeat, and walked slowly back to the fore of the boat where she sat down, her arms wrapped protectively around her bent knees. Tanner sat as close to her as she dared and waited quietly. Adrienne stared past her, her thoughts drifting with the waves. There were so many things she might say, or should say, and yet she couldn’t find the words. She had never been able, in all of the last lonely and terrifying months, to express her feelings about any of it. How could she possibly explain it to Tanner, someone she barely knew? Yet for some strange reason, she wanted to try. She wanted to tell her things that she had never told anyone, not even Alicia or Tom. She wasn’t sure why, it just seemed important. She met the dark eyes that had never left her face. They seemed very calm, and surprisingly comforting.
“Tanner,” she began, keeping her eyes level with Tanner’s, “I have—I had—cancer. I don’t know why I didn’t tell you before.”
Tanner continued to look into Adrienne’s face, searching for understanding. “What does that mean exactly?” she said at last, her voice tight but steady. She was frightened by the thought of any harm coming to this woman. “I mean, I know what it means, but what does it mean for you?”
Adrienne smiled a little. How refreshing not to be met with pointless platitudes. And how typical of Tanner to barge right in.
She shrugged. “That’s a good question. I wish I knew the answer. No one has ever asked me before. Everyone usually thinks they know precisely what it means. For me, it meant having my right breast removed. And then six months of chemotherapy that made me feel like hell. Luckily my hair didn’t fall out, and I only threw up for the first few days every month, but I felt like I didn’t have enough strength to get through the day. I tried to work, but it was difficult for me to put in a full eight hours."
She paused for breath, thinking of those hectic first few months – wanting to continue her life as if everything were the same – when nothing was the same! She pushed both hands through her hair and looked at Tanner ruefully. "Everyone around me treated me as if I might shatter at any moment. I couldn’t stand their kindness. I just wanted them to treat me as if I was normal. But I didn’t really feel normal—I felt betrayed. Betrayed by something inside myself. Finally, I just stopped trying to go on as if everything were still the same. I took a medical leave – and I guess you know the rest.”
She stopped suddenly, aware that her words had been pouring out as if a dam had burst inside of her. She was surprised to find that Tanner was still regarding her intently, her face very serious. Most people were uncomfortable with the subject, and often couldn’t meet her eyes. "I'm sorry. You didn't bargain for all of that."
Tanner ignored the remark. “Is it gone now?” she asked, her tone soft and gentle.
Adrienne shrugged bitterly, confronting the issue that plagued her every day. “I don’t know. I know the statistics – but I don't know what they mean for me. They gave me plenty of figures – two years, five years, ten. No guarantees, just odds.”
“How long has it been?”
“So far, so good, I think. I’m due for a checkup soon. Every six months I have a chest X-ray, and a bone scan, and some blood tests. And a mammogram on the other side, of course.”
“Is that why you left the Navy?”
“Partly. I'm actually still on extended leave. I’ll have to make a decision about that soon.”
“What about your lover?” Tanner asked quietly. She saw the look of pain that flashed across Adrienne’s face, but she persisted. “Why aren’t you together now?”
Adrienne shook her head in resignation. “She was wonderful, at first. She came with me for the biopsy, and to the surgeons for the second opinion. She was there when I woke up after the mastectomy. It was only after I came home, after the worst of it seemed to be over, that she began to change.” Adrienne stopped, swallowing hard. She wasn’t sure she could face those feelings again. She thought she could live with the fear of her cancer, but it was so damned hard to live with everything else!
“And then what happened?” Tanner urged gently. She wanted desperately for Adrienne to keep talking, to let her close.
“She was afraid, I think. Afraid that I might die, afraid that everything we knew, everything we had planned, might disappear. I don’t think she could deal with the not knowing.”
Tanner thought she could understand that. But there must be something else. “Why did you leave? Didn’t you love her anymore?”
“Yes—I loved her. But I couldn’t live with her. She walked around me in the house as if I weren’t even there. She seemed to be afraid to be close to me. And…and I knew that she couldn’t deal with the way I looked.”
Tanner winced at that, but she kept her voice calm. “Did she say that?”
“She didn’t have to!” Adrienne snapped, her blue eyes suddenly cold. “She couldn’t bring herself to come near me. Not just in bed, but anywhere. She would find some reason to disappear any time I wasn’t covered.” Adrienne laughed without humor. “It made it hell trying to get showered in the morning. She pretended she just wanted to give me time to recover, to get my strength back; but I knew the real reason. She couldn’t stand to look at me. So, finally, I left. I went home to Philadelphia for a while, until my family almost drove me mad. They acted like I might fall over at any second! And that brings me at last to Whitley Point—the island hide away. You were so right, that first morning on the beach. I’m hiding here, all right, from everything I ever knew. And especially myself.”
“I’m so sorry,” Tanner whispered. She felt so inadequate it was like physical pain. She wanted somehow to ease Adrienne’s sorrow—to erase the rejection and fear she must feel. She had no idea how to even begin. Were there any words at all that could reach that terrible sorrow?
Adrienne stood up suddenly. “Why? It has nothing to do with you. I’m sorry that I slapped you. You had no way of knowing. I really just don’t like to be touched. It’s really very simple, Tanner. I have no future, and only the barest glimmer of a present. I’m just here for the summer. Think of me like any another tourist, escaping for a few months on your fairy tale island. When summer ends, I'll be gone. It will make it easier for us both.”
She turned resolutely away, making it clear their conversation was over.
They didn't talk at all on the way back to port. Adrienne handled the wheel with expert efficiency while Tanner silently set the sails for a fast run. Adrienne left hurriedly after a polite but distant good-bye, saying she was tired and wanted to get home before dark.
Tanner watched her all the way up the pier and continued to stare after her until she saw the car pull away. She was left with an empty feeling of something only half-completed. She and Adrienne should have talked more, but she had been afraid to try. Adrienne had closed her out, her self-imposed isolation complete.
Tanner stowed the lines and secured the deck automatically, all the while thinking of things she should have said to Adrienne when she had the chance. Now she wasn’t sure if she would get the opportunity again. She sighed in exasperation and headed for her car. Exhausted though she was after only a few hours sleep the night before, coupled with the emotional turmoil of her day with Adrienne, she didn’t look forward to an evening at home. She wasn’t sure she wanted to be alone with her thoughts. The memories of her unresolved past and Adrienne's painful present were not something she wanted to confront. She turned right and headed south toward the mainland.
Constance awakened sometime after midnight to the sound of a car pulling up in the drive. She was a very light sleeper, and on warm nights such as this one, she slept with her windows open. She lay listening to the familiar steps make their way around the side of the house to the lower walkway. She was surprised when she heard someone slowly climbing the outside stairs to the verandah. She reached for her robe and went outside. Tanner was sagged into a deck chair, her feet propped up on the rail. Constance could tell that she had been drinking. She sat down next to her daughter and looked ahead into the night. It had been a long time since Tanner had come here this late at night, and she recognized it as a sign that Tanner needed company, or that she wanted to talk. Constance was an undemanding comfort, offering her unconditional love, and occasionally her guidance, whenever Tanner could bring herself to ask for it. Tanner ran her hand distractedly through her windblown hair and sighed audibly.
“Mother,” she asked quietly, as if they had been sitting in deep conversation for hours, “if you had known that Father would die when he did, would it have made any difference to you?”
Constance forced herself to consider the question honestly. She was so amazed by it that she wasn’t sure she would be able to answer. Tanner almost never mentioned her father, and she never talked about his death. Constance replied softly, “What do you mean by 'a difference'?”
Tanner turned to her mother and asked pointedly, “Would you still have married him?”
“Oh, my god, yes!” Constance exclaimed instantly. “I would have married him if I thought we had only a month together!” She smiled slightly in the moonlight. “I loved being with him – and being married to him. He was the one I wanted, and I wouldn’t have traded that for anything.”
“Was it worth the pain of losing him?” Tanner persisted. She knew how desolate she had felt when he died – and could barely imagine how much worse it must have been for her mother. She knew, too, how difficult these questions were, but she didn’t care. She felt like she was drowning, and she had nowhere else to turn.
Constance took a deep breath and shuddered slightly. “I still can’t believe he’s gone. After all these years I still find myself wanting him, wondering how I’m going to survive without him. But I do. Strangely enough, I not only survive, I continue to take pleasure in life. It seems bittersweet at times, but it is pleasure nevertheless. Loving him was worth every bit of the pain of not being with him. And I can tell you something else—it would have hurt every bit as deeply if we had lived together two years, or twenty, or two hundred.”
“So you have no regrets?”
Constance smiled again softly. How like Charles his daughter was. Tanner wouldn’t leave anything alone until she examined it from every angle, and understood it in every detail. “I didn’t say that. If I had known we would not grow old together, I might have tried harder to share in his world—the world of business, which I never cared for. And I think I would have told him more often that I loved him.”
Tanner stood up a little unsteadily and walked over to the rail, gazing down over the dunes to the surf. “Mother,” she asked softly, “why is it so terrifying to need someone?”
Constance wasn’t sure to whom Tanner was referring. The wistful tone in her voice suggested she meant herself. Constance came up beside her and slipped her arm gently around Tanner’s waist. “When you find someone you really want to love, Tanner, you won’t be afraid anymore.”
Constance didn’t expect a reply, and could only watch helplessly as Tanner walked slowly down the path to her bungalow, disappearing into the darkness. Something had happened, something - or more likely someone, had awakened Tanner’s passion at last. Constance only hoped it was someone who would have the courage to embrace her daughter’s tumultuous soul.
Early the next morning Tanner returned to the marina, hoping to see Adrienne. She wanted to call her, but she feared the overture might only alienate Adrienne further.
“Josh,” she called as she entered the office. “You in here?”
“Yep,” he replied, coming out from the rear room.
She waved and leaned against the window. “Have you seen Adrienne today?”
“Nope. First day she’s missed in a while,” he remarked. “Might be she’ll be down later.”
Tanner looked doubtful. “Maybe. I’ll just go on down and check the Pride. She took some water the other night, and I want to make sure she’s tight now.”
“Good idea. I wasn’t sure I’d see either you or the Pride again.”
“Oh, come on, Josh! You know it takes more than a storm to beat me!”
He nodded sagely. “I know. But some day you’ll take one too many chances. Me and your lady friend were mighty worried the other night.”
Tanner stared at him. “What do you mean?” she asked.
“Well, she came in just ahead of the storm in the late afternoon. As soon as she found out that you were still out she plunked herself down and wouldn’t budge.”
Tanner had not even thought to ask why Adrienne had been there when she awoke. She had been too confused to think clearly. Why hadn't Adrienne said something to her yesterday? At this point she wouldn’t have minded if Adrienne had been furious with her. Even anger would have been preferable to distant silence.
“She was here all that time?” she said. She waited for me?
Josh nodded. “Sure was. Mighty fine looking woman.”
“Now, Josh,” Tanner laughed.
“I know, I know. I’m too old for her. She seemed pretty fond of you, though.”
Tanner grimaced. “I'm not feeling all that likeable these days.”
He laughed. “I’ve known you all your life. I can remember when you used to come down here with your daddy when you were just a little thing. I've always liked you.”
In the decade since her father died, Josh had become the closest thing she'd had to a friend. He was honest, and loyal, and completely without pretense. Most importantly, she trusted him. Tanner smiled, but shook her head. “But I’m not three anymore, Josh.”
Josh tapped his pipe out in the waste paper basket and studied her speculatively. “What’s got you all out of sorts anyhow? Adrienne?”
Tanner looked away uncomfortably. “Partly. I’m not sure I know how to handle her.”
He leaned his chair back on its rear legs and thought about that. He shrugged and replied, “Well then, don’t.”
Tanner looked at him in surprise. “What do you mean?”
“Don’t try to handle her. Let her come around on her own. You can’t force the wind.”
“But what if she never comes around?”
“She will,” Josh said matter-of-factly. He remembered the way Adrienne had held Tanner the night of the storm. “Just give her a little time.”
“Time?” Tanner repeated, almost to herself. “What if there isn’t any time?”
June passed, and Adrienne did not go near the marina. She missed sailing, but she didn't want to see Tanner. She had briefly considered leaving the island altogether, but something kept her there. She told herself it was the seclusion, and the sea, and the promise of bright sun and cool summer nights. She couldn't sail, so she ran – morning and night.
She hadn’t run since her surgery. It felt good to use her body, and it helped to clear her mind as well. It was difficult not to think of Tanner. Adrienne wondered what her days were like, and how she spent her nights. She knew that Tanner must be hurt that she was avoiding her, but she couldn’t see that she had much choice. Tanner was so intense, so determined, and so damned – attractive. Any relationship between them was bound to become too intimate. As much as she fought the urge, Adrienne knew that if she spent much time with Tanner, she would eventually give in to the temptation to touch her. And she couldn't, under any circumstances, do that.
The sun had nearly set when Adrienne prepared for her run on the beach. She stretched her muscles leisurely on the deck, appreciating the cool breeze beginning to blow in from the water. It was a welcome relief from the sultry heat of the day. Adrienne anticipated a good run. She started out at an easy jog toward the lighthouse on the southern tip of Whitley Point. Suddenly the sky exploded into a burst of color. Faint echoes of thunder – thunder? – pulsed through the night. Adrienne stopped and stared in astonishment at the strange sight.
Then, she laughed out loud. Of course! It was July fourth. She lived such solitary days that the ordinary events that marked the passage of time in more ordinary lives escaped her. She walked on toward the lighthouse, enjoying the display that continued over head. As she drew closer, she passed groups of children and adults reclining on blankets on the beach for the celebration. She also began to smell barbecue and her mouth watered. She realized that she was hungry. She got a hot dog and a beer at a makeshift refreshment stand and settled down on the sand amidst families who ate picnic suppers from coolers they had carried with them. She sat apart, but still somehow felt part of the festivities, watching the patterns of light and colors brighten the night sky. She heard a motorboat approaching and looked down to the shore, wondering idly where they would land.
“Damn fool’s going to run aground at that rate,” a nearby man grumbled.
Adrienne and the people around her stared transfixed as the lights on the powerful outboard grew brighter, the cabin cruiser heading straight into shore. Just when it seemed inevitable that the boat would crash up onto the beach, the driver cut the engine and swung the bow around hard, bringing the boat to rest on the very edge of the sand. Adrienne let out her breath in long sigh. She heard a female voice laughing and several figures tumbled from the boat into the surf, then staggered up onto the beach.
“Figures,” the same man said in a low angry tone. “She thinks she can get away with anything. And she usually does. Doesn’t do badly with some women either.”
“Shh! Someone will hear you!” his wife chided, glancing around in embarrassment.
Adrienne recognized Tanner then, emerging none too steadily from the water with her arm around the waist of a pretty young blond. She watched them coldly as Tanner flopped down on the sand, gasping, and pulled her companion down beside her. Tanner said something to her, and the other woman laughed. Several other partiers joined them, and someone passed a silver flask, its surface shining intermittently in the glow of the overhead spectacle.
The fireworks were nearly over, and Adrienne stood up, dusting the sand from her legs. She was irrationally angered by the spectacle Tanner was making of herself, and she didn’t want to watch it any longer. Without conscious thought, instead of turning toward home, she walked directly down the beach to where Tanner lay in the sand, and stared down at her.
“Nice entrance,” Adrienne commented sarcastically.
Tanner squinted up at her, her eyes unfocused. “Glad you liked it.” She held out a still burning joint. “Smoke?”
“No thanks. Why don’t you introduce me to your friends?”
Tanner pushed herself up on one elbow and made a sweeping gesture with her arm. “Everyone, this is Commander—no, my mistake—ex-Commander Pierce. She is living incognito here at Whitley Point. But beware—she is only here for the summer, so don’t expect too much from her.”
Heads turned briefly as Tanner talked, and a few people nodded hello before returning to their conversations. Adrienne sat down beside Tanner, ignoring the blond who clung possessively to Tanner’s arm.
“I want to talk to you,” Adrienne said in a low voice.
Tanner eyed her expansively. “Fine. So talk.”
Adrienne shook her head. “Alone.”
Tanner heaved herself to an upright position. “I have company.”
It was all Adrienne could do to keep her voice calm. “I can see that. I’ll just be a minute.” She was furious, and she didn’t want to consider precisely why. She let herself think it was Tanner’s arrogance and insolent tone, but she was struggling not to reach out and shake her.
Something in Adrienne’s voice penetrated the fog of Tanner’s brain. Tanner turned to her companion. “Would you mind, Sally? Please disappear for a minute.”
The pretty blond pouted for an instant, and then flounced away to join her friends.
“So?” Tanner asked, trying hard to sound alert. In reality she was so tired she thought she might pass out.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Adrienne hissed, her temper boiling. “You could easily have killed someone with that stunt. Including you and your friends.”
“But I didn’t, did I?” Tanner replied, swaying slightly. “I was just having a little fun. I always know how far to go. Just lucky, I guess.”
Adrienne felt sick and disgusted and incredibly afraid. “Tanner, for god’s sake, you have to stop this. Look at yourself! You’re a mess!”
Tanner ran a hand through her hair and pulled her wrinkled shirt into some kind of order. “Am I? I meant to dress for the party.”
“Get up. You’re coming with me.”
Tanner stared at her uncomprehendingly. “I can’t do that. I promised to take everyone for a midnight sail later.”
“Not tonight, you’re not,” Adrienne said with determination. “Say `good night’ to your girlfriend.”
Tanner called good night in the young blonde's direction. Sally might have heard her, but she didn’t reply. Adrienne reached down and pulled Tanner up by the arm. Tanner didn’t protest, but she had trouble keeping up with Adrienne’s brisk pace down the beach.
“Couldn’t we just walk instead of flying?” she gasped at one point, stumbling slightly.
Adrienne looked at her in exasperation and slipped one arm around her waist. “Come on,” she said as she tugged Tanner along. “We’re almost there.”
She managed to get Tanner up the back stairs and across the porch to a couch. She pushed her firmly down, saying as she turned away, “You can sleep here. I’ll get you some blankets.”
“But I’m much too high to sleep,” Tanner protested.
“Bull!” Adrienne said. “You look like you haven’t slept in days.”
“I don’t think I have. That’s the whole point.”
“Christ! You’re a bigger idiot than I thought,” Adrienne cursed, slamming the door on her way into the house. She needed to put a little distance between them. If she stayed she would say more than she meant to, and that was pointless considering the condition Tanner was in. She knew it was crazy to bring Tanner home with her, but she had been terribly afraid to leave her alone. Tanner was in no shape to look after herself, at least not that night.
What in god's name is wrong with her! She wasn't like this that day on the boat. She was kind, and gentle, and considerate.
She pulled pillows and a light blanket from the top shelf of a closet, trying not to think of Tanner's face the moment after she had slapped her. The shock, and the hurt. Don't be ridiculous. That has nothing to do with this. And if it did, she couldn't change it. Whatever Tanner needed, it was beyond her power to provide. Adrienne sighed. At least Tanner would be safe for the night.
Tanner lay back on the cushions while waiting for Adrienne, her mind whirling but her body slowly surrendering to exhaustion. She realized for the first time in days how truly tired she was. It was late. She could see the moon beginning to wane beyond the trees. Her body ached all over, and her head was threatening to explode. She wondered vaguely how she had gotten into this condition. She had only sketchy recollections of the past few days.
It had actually started out as just a lark. She had been bored and restless for days. Time seemed to stretch into endless hours of meaningless activity. She sailed, paid token visits to the firm offices on business, sat out on the deck with her mother, and prowled the mainland bars at night looking for company. More often than not she returned home alone. It wasn't a stranger she wanted in her bed.
Her mother didn’t encroach on her silence—she wouldn’t. And Tanner had not wanted to talk. What could she possibly tell her? That there was a woman who occupied her thoughts every waking moment, leaving only restless dreams and unfulfilled fantasies in her wake? That this woman was as unapproachable as a night creature on the shore? As soon as Tanner tried to draw near, no matter how gently, Adrienne withdrew into the shell of her silence.
Tanner was frustrated and angry. She had tried to be sensitive and undemanding — she had tried to be patient. She was attracted to her, she admitted that. But she would have waited, as long as it took, for Adrienne to trust her. But Adrienne had not called.
Finally Tanner had accepted the invitation of some friends to celebrate the holiday weekend with them. She found herself unable to share in the carefree attitude of her friends, and she tried to capture that same feeling of free-spiritedness by returning to her old methods of escape. Even as she slipped further and further away from reality, she still could not stop thinking about Adrienne. Her frustration only grew more pointed.
Tanner shook her head, realizing that she was much too befuddled to make sense of any of it. She tugged at the buttons of her shirt in an ineffectual attempt to get it off. Failing that, she managed to get her jeans unzipped, but they ended up twisted around her knees. She gave up.
When Adrienne returned, she found Tanner lying in a tangle of wet clothes. “It seems like I’m always putting you to bed,” she muttered as she pulled Tanner’s jeans off and tossed them aside.
Tanner made no protest as Adrienne pulled her upright to unbutton her shirt. As Adrienne slipped the garment down her arms, Tanner grasped Adrienne's shoulders and pulled her close. Her breasts, cool and still damp with sea water, pressed against the light cotton of Adrienne's tee shirt. Before Adrienne could push her away, Tanner kissed her.
Adrienne responded without thinking, allowing her body to do what her mind had been protesting for weeks. She kissed her back, her arms tightening around Tanner's muscular back.
Tanner moaned slightly as her tongue probed Adrienne’s parted lips, thrusting her hands into the long hair at Adrienne’s neck, holding her head as her lips roamed over Adrienne’s face and neck. She was mindless of Adrienne’s reluctant efforts to move away—she only pressed closer, the rough fabric of Adrienne’s shirt chafing her tender erect nipples. She wanted to lose herself, finally, in the warm shelter of Adrienne’s mouth and the comfort of Adrienne's body upon her.
Adrienne managed to break the embrace and held Tanner away at arm’s length. "Stop," Adrienne gasped, tearing here eyes away from Tanner's beautiful face, only to find she couldn't stop looking at her breasts, her strong arms, her flat tight abdomen.
Tanner shuddered, her dark eyes cloudy with need. “Please,” she whispered, “don’t go away. I want you so much. I have – for so long.”
God help me, I want you, too.
Adrienne groaned softly, defeated, and dropped her head against Tanner’s neck. She caressed the soft smooth skin with her lips, tasting the heady mixture of sweat tinged with salt. With one hand she cupped Tanner’s full breast, her thumb brushing the taut nipple, drawing a gasp from Tanner. Adrienne kissed her way slowly down the firm column of Tanner’s neck to her chest. She stroked the full curves of Tanner’s breast with her tongue, working teasingly toward her nipple, finally grasping it between her lips, sucking it into her mouth. She closed her eyes, surrendering to the sweet sensations. She had wanted Tanner this way since that first kiss on the beach. She had longed to feel Tanner yield to her caresses, had ached to run her hands over that golden body. It was useless to deny it now, and she was long past the point of rational thought. She could not have stopped even if she had wanted to. And she most desperately did not want to.
Adrienne grasped both of Tanner’s breasts in her hands, pressing her face to them with a deep groan, working both nipples around between her fingertips.
Tanner whimpered, and wrapped her legs around Adrienne's thigh. Adrienne felt Tanner’s pulse pounding there, and her heat and her wet desire. She didn’t think she could possibly feel Tanner enough, and she pressed her hips into her, hard, as her hands traveled up and down the muscular young body beneath her. She leaned up on one elbow and kissed her again, a deep demanding kiss. She explored the depths of Tanner’s warm mouth, stroking rhythmically with her tongue.
Tanner’s clutched Adrienne’s buttocks, pulling her closer, rocking her hips erratically along Adrienne's thigh. Suddenly Tanner pulled her head back with a small cry of surprise, breaking their kiss. She stared at Adrienne in a haze of need and desire. “I’m going to come!” she whispered urgently. “I can’t stop it!”
“Not yet!” Adrienne cried, wrenching herself away from Tanner’s shuddering body with effort.
Tanner moaned and tried to pull Adrienne down against her again. “I can’t! Please!”
“You can,” Adrienne soothed, running her tongue lightly down Tanner’s neck to her breast again. “You can. Just a little longer. I want so much more of you!” Her tongue made lazy circles of fire on Tanner’s abdomen as she shifted her own legs down onto the floor. She rested her head gently against Tanner’s thigh and parted the damp hair between Tanner’s legs with her fingers. Tanner cried out and thrust herself against Adrienne’s hand, trying to rub her swollen clitoris against Adrienne’s fingers. That motion finally broke Adrienne’s control. She moaned, deep in her throat, and brought her lips down around Tanner’s clitoris. Tanner sobbed incoherently as Adrienne stroked her lightly with her tongue.
“You’ll make me come,” Tanner panted. “So close – I’m so close already—“
Adrienne felt Tanner throb and grow harder. Tanner’s need was so clear she could not deny her. She licked her faster as she slipped her fingers inside Tanner’s warm depths, pressing gently forward as Tanner’s muscles spasmed around her. She held Tanner against her mouth as the sweet torture of her caress pushed Tanner over the edge.
“Uh huh – oh god, yes – that’s itohright there – don’tstop—“
Adrienne moved with the contractions of Tanner’s body until Tanner finally lay still, sobbing softly, exhausted, satiated. Adrienne gently withdrew her hand and stretched out beside Tanner on the couch, gathering Tanner's limp body into her arms. She kissed her tenderly on the forehead and brushed the damp hair from her eyes. They lay silently for a long time.
Finally Tanner stirred and turned to kiss Adrienne softly on the lips. Her hand caressed Adrienne’s face and pushed under the collar of her shirt. “I want you,” she whispered huskily.
Adrienne caught Tanner’s hand in her own, stopping her explorations, as she kissed her again. “Not now,” she said gently.
“I don’t know. Just rest now.”
Tanner sighed and pressed against Adrienne, want warring with supreme contentment. She meant to protest, but sleep claimed her first.
When Tanner awoke, she was alone. The sun was streaming in through the screens, directly into her face. She shielded her eyes with her forearm and waited for her head to clear. She had a pounding headache, but otherwise, she seemed to be in one piece. She opened her eyes tentatively and winced at the bright light. She took note of her clothes spread out over a chair, and when she saw them, all the events of the past evening rushed back to her. Suddenly she felt Adrienne’s hands upon her just as they had been a few short hours before, and she knew it had not been a dream. She sat up quickly, ignoring the flash of pain in her head, and looked around.
“Adrienne?” she called. Even as she did so, she knew instinctively that Adrienne was not there. Of course she wasn’t. Everything Tanner knew of Adrienne convinced her that what had happened last night would have shaken Adrienne’s carefully constructed world to the core. Adrienne would have gone off somewhere, thinking, searching for an explanation.
Something rational, no doubt. As if there is anything rational about this. And when she gets back she‘ll probably try to convince me that last night was some kind of fluke—an accident that should not have happened. Yeah, right.
Tanner swung her legs to the floor, ignoring the sudden lurching in her stomach. “Well, it won’t work,” Tanner muttered to herself as she got up unsteadily to search for the bathroom. “Not this time, it won’t.”
She turned the shower on full blast and stepped into it, shivering at the cold pinpoints of water that struck her. The feelings that Adrienne had aroused in her were too intense to be shrugged off. The desire still too fresh. She recalled vividly how much she had wanted Adrienne to touch her, and how much she longed to return that passion. Tanner was far from a passive lover—she wanted to excite, to please, to satisfy in return for the breathtaking pleasure she had received. She would not be denied that desire. She pulled an old shirt of Adrienne’s off a hook behind the bathroom door and went back out on the deck to wait.
Adrienne walked slowly up the beach toward the house. She had left when the sun came up, gently disengaging herself from Tanner so as not to awaken her. Tanner had looked so lovely asleep that Adrienne had hated to leave her, but she knew she needed some time out of reach of this woman. When she was near her she couldn't seem to think straight, and to her dismay her body seemed to want to continue the activities of the previous evening. She had looked at Tanner and grown heavy with desire.
Too much had happened too quickly, and she needed to sort it out. Now as she returned, she was no closer to understanding any of it. Oh, she understood her desire. How could she not? Tanner was impossible to resist with her sensual body and passionate demands. But Adrienne was too old to believe that desire was an end in itself. She had known desire, infatuation, lust—whatever one called it—many times in her life, but had rarely acted upon it. For some reason Tanner had been able to overcome all of Adrienne’s resistance with the force of one simple kiss. She had been powerless to stop, and at this point in her precarious life, she needed all of her control. She wasn’t at all sure what she would say if Tanner were still there when she returned. She wasn’t even sure what she wanted to say. She only knew that she was very frightened.
Tanner, waiting patiently on the deck, was in her own way just as frightened. She knew that somehow she must convince Adrienne to let her in, and she was at a loss as to how to begin. There was so much she wanted to say to her, but every time she tried, she was met with the cold wall of Adrienne’s fear. Tanner realized that Adrienne had lost more in the last year than Tanner had ever had—a lover, a career, a lifetime of plans. The thought was staggering, and Tanner was overcome with feelings of inadequacy. How could she ever hope to replace any of those things?
“Maybe I can’t,” Tanner sighed to herself, “but, I know what I feel for her. And I’m going to make her listen to me, finally.”
She must have dozed for a while because she was startled by the sounds of footsteps on the stairs. She looked up to see Adrienne crossing the deck towards her. She smiled shyly and said, “Hi.”
Adrienne smiled back. “Hi, yourself. How are you feeling?”
Tanner shrugged and replied, “Depends on how you mean it. Stupid, embarrassed, grateful and crazy.”
Adrienne laughed, throwing her hands up at the same time. “What on earth are you talking about?”
“Well, I feel stupid about my behavior the last three or four days—I’m not sure of the exact count because I’m not sure what day it is today. And very embarrassed that you saw me when I was so completely wrecked. Grateful that you dragged me away.” She took a deep breath and looked directly at Adrienne, and continued in a tumble of words, “And crazy about you.”
Adrienne looked away uncomfortably. She walked over to the rail and stood staring down at the dunes. When she turned back, her expression was impossible to read. “I can’t tell you how angry you make me when you do those things to yourself. You could injure yourself, or someone else, and I can’t believe that it does you any good emotionally. But I also know that no one can stop you, or change you. You’ll have to do that yourself. But I won’t pretend I can tolerate it for a minute. I can’t.”
Tanner looked at her thoughtfully, knowing that Adrienne was completely serious. She knew Adrienne was right, had always known it – but she just hadn't had enough reason to care before this. “I understand,” she said quietly. “I’ll clean up my act.”
Adrienne did smile at that. “You are so lovely, Tanner.” She shrugged helplessly. “I hate to say it, but I find you quite impossibly irresistible. But…”
Tanner raised an eyebrow. “But?”
“I don’t want a repeat of last night’s events,” Adrienne said flatly. “I won’t pretend I didn’t enjoy it. You know better than that. I was swept away, or off my feet, or whatever. I couldn’t say `no’ to you—I didn’t want to. But I want that to be the end of it.”
Tanner studied her, taking calm measure of the situation. She had no doubt that Adrienne meant what she was saying. She even thought she understood some of the reasons. Understanding didn't mean she had to accept it. “I don’t want it to end.”
“Oh, Tanner!” Adrienne cried in exasperation. “Don’t make this any more difficult than it already is!”
Tanner approached Adrienne where she leaned against the deck rail until they were almost touching. They were so close that she could see the tiny beads of sweat on Adrienne’s forehead.
“Tell me that you don’t want me,” she said softly, her dark eyes searching Adrienne’s face.
Adrienne’s gaze grew gentle as she looked at Tanner’s ruffled hair, liquid eyes, and full lush mouth. She took a deep breath, determined to remain resolute. “That’s not the point. Not for me at least. Lust has nothing to do with it—I don’t have room for this sort of thing in my life. You are a desirable woman. I’d have to be dead not to notice. But I still don’t want to be involved with this.”
Tanner rested her hand on Adrienne’s waist. “I want you, Adrienne.” Her lips were only inches away.
Adrienne stood absolutely still. “I don’t want you to want me. It doesn’t work for me anymore. I really don’t have the need for it anymore. Can’t you see how one sided it would be?”
Tanner didn’t answer. She simply moved nearer until her body was against Adrienne’s. Her tongue slipped gently into Adrienne’s mouth. She kissed her a long moment, and then she leaned away, studying Adrienne’s face.
“I don’t believe you,” she said quietly. “I can feel your body respond to me. If you can’t feel it, it’s because you don’t want to. I’m going to kiss you again, and this time I’m not going to stop.”
She slipped one naked thigh between Adrienne’s legs, and pressed into her again. Her lips met Adrienne’s and she thrilled to the answering surge of Adrienne’s hips against hers. She moaned slightly and moved her lips to the suntanned triangle of skin between Adrienne’s open collar, savoring the warmth and sweet taste of her. Her body soared as Adrienne cupped her butt in both hands and rocked Tanner against her. Tanner stifled a cry and buried her face in Adrienne’s neck. She knew that if she weren't careful, it would end the same way it did last night. She already felt the first faint twitches of orgasm building. She usually wasn’t so quick to reach such a critical state of arousal, but somehow Adrienne could bring her to the edge with just a touch. She wasn't going to be able to hold off for long, and she so wanted to please Adrienne too! She pushed away, breaking that exquisite contact, and fought to catch her breath.
Adrienne’s eyes were closed, and she was breathing rapidly. She opened her eyes, startled and confused. “Why did you stop me?” she asked urgently.
Tanner shook her head. “Because I’m too close. I don’t want to come. I want you. Come inside.”
Adrienne wanted to refuse, but she didn’t have the strength. She wanted Tanner desperately. Her arms ached to hold her, her lips hungered for the taste of her. And she couldn’t deny any longer her own almost painful need to be touched. She had to go with her. She had no other choice.
She didn’t resist as Tanner took her hand and led her toward the double doors to the bedroom. Only when they reached the threshold did Adrienne hesitate, suddenly afraid. She didn’t think she would be able to bear it if Tanner turned away from her in revulsion, or looked upon her with pity.
“Tanner,” she whispered, “I’m not sure I can do this.”
Tanner kissed her gently and pulled her forward. “Yes, you can. We can.” She pushed Adrienne gently down on the bed and stood before her, slowly unbuttoning her own shirt. When she was naked she eased herself up onto the bed until she was straddling Adrienne’s hips with her thighs. She pulled Adrienne's shirt from her shorts, stroking her abdomen softly with her fingertips.
Adrienne leaned back against the pillows, her eyes locked onto Tanner’s face. She knew she would see the truth in Tanner’s eyes. God, if she flinches, or looks away! She was barely breathing. If she had been physically able to, she might still have run away.
Tanner leaned toward her to kiss her again, her full breasts swaying as she moved. Adrienne gazed at them and gasped. “Oh, god,” she moaned as she caught both breasts in her hands. She ran her thumbs over Tanner’s erect nipples and raised her head to capture one in her lips.
Tanner pulled back a little. “Don’t make me crazy,” she ordered with a smile. “There are a few things I want to do first.”
She began to unbutton Adrienne’s shirt, slowly and carefully. Adrienne’s body stiffened beneath her, but Tanner merely whispered, "It will be all right. I promise."
Then she brought her lips to Adrienne’s and kissed her slowly and deeply. When she finally lifted her head again, they were both gasping for breath. Tanner rested back on her knees and lightly traced Adrienne’s face with her fingertips, slowly stroking her way down Adrienne’s neck until her fingers slipped under the collar of Adrienne’s shirt. Finally, she parted the garment and gazed down.
Adrienne’s left breast was not large, but round and youthfully firm. The nipple was small and taut, a deep rich rose in color. Where her right breast had been there was a faint red scar that extended from just under her arm nearly to the center of her chest. Tanner could see the well-defined chest muscle outlined just underneath the skin. There was no nipple at all. She wanted to touch her there, but she hesitated.
Adrienne watched Tanner’s face, trying to read her reactions. Tanner’s expression had grown serious, but she didn’t flinch or avert her gaze. She seemed to be studying her. Strangely, Adrienne didn’t mind. At last Tanner raised her eyes to meet Adrienne’s.
“Will it hurt you if I lie down on top of you?” she asked.
Adrienne laughed softly and shook her head. “No. I want you to.”
Tanner lowered herself slowly until her breasts were touching Adrienne’s chest, and their legs entwined. Her hands slid up Adrienne’s lean arms into her hair as she allowed her full weight to rest against her.
Adrienne held her tightly as their bodies merged. After a few moments she whispered into Tanner’s hair, “You feel so good against me.”
Tanner only moaned softly in response, pressing her face to the long curve of Adrienne’s neck, reveling in the wonderful sensation of being so close to her at last. Her body was still acutely aroused, throbbing in fact, but she was in no hurry. She wanted to remember every second of this first sweet meeting.
“Tanner?” Adrienne asked.
“Could I take my shorts off, please?”
“Not if it means you have to move,” Tanner replied in a husky voice. After a moment she rolled onto her side and sighed. “If you must, I’ll do it,” she continued in mock exasperation. She loosened the snaps and zipper with one hand, managing to kiss Adrienne as she did so. She finally reached down and pushed the garment aside, leaving Adrienne naked.
“Come here,” Adrienne demanded, pulling Tanner against her. She suddenly felt terribly exposed.
“In a minute,” Tanner murmured. She gently cupped Adrienne’s breast, encircling the nipple with her thumb and forefinger. She could almost hold all of it in her hand.
Adrienne gasped at the pressure on her nipple. “That's nice,” she whispered softly.
Tanner put her lips where her fingers had been, teasing and biting, her other hand resting on Adrienne’s chest just below her collarbone. She felt the muscles there tighten as Adrienne's excitement grew. She took her time. Moving slowly down Adrienne's body, alternately licking, kissing and lightly biting, she worked the other woman into a crescendo of excitement.
"Tanner," Adrienne murmured hoarsely, "I need you to touch me."
Tanner shifted her body so that she was lying between Adrienne’s legs. She smiled to herself, heady with the power she felt at arousing the woman she so desired. She began to kiss her then, light teasing kisses on her inner thighs. Adrienne moaned as Tanner stroked her with her tongue. Tanner kept up the slow steady rhythm as she drew her fingers over Adrienne’s buttocks, slipping in and out of her wetness. Adrienne thrust her hands into Tanner’s hair, guiding her. Tanner followed her signals and increased the pressure of her motions. After a few minutes Adrienne tugged Tanner’s face away and gasped, “Come up here. I want to hold you.”
"I want to make you come," Tanner protested softly.
Adrienne smiled, her eyes nearly closed. "I want you to make me come. In a minute. It feels so good – I don't want it to end."
Tanner moved up, slipping her thigh between Adrienne’s. She drew in her breath sharply at the touch of Adrienne’s body against her own engorged clitoris. Bracing her arms, she began to thrust downward as Adrienne matched her rhythm. Tanner whispered, “You’re beautiful.”
Adrienne’s lids fluttered and her eyes, glazed with passion, sought Tanner’s. Their gaze held as they moved more insistently against one another, more erratic now as each sought release. Adrienne struggled to keep her eyes open, wanting to see Tanner's face as she came, but her control failed her. She gasped and dug her fingers into Tanner’s back as her long-dormant need finally exploded with almost overpowering force. She cried out as a thousand nerve endings burst with sensation and fire streamed through her limbs.
Tanner held her tightly, trying to absorb every sound, wanting to memorize every tremor in Adrienne's body. So precious, so special, so – "Oh!" she cried in surprise as her clitoris twitched, lengthened and exploded in one endless spasm. "Oh, god—"
Much later Adrienne stirred and slid a little out from under Tanner’s weight. Tanner slept where she had collapsed, her face buried in Adrienne’s neck. Adrienne looked down at Tanner's hand on her chest, tanned and strong, lying across the ravaged plain of her body. For the first time, she didn’t hate that thin red line.
Tanner awoke in the late afternoon and lay with her eyes closed, getting used to the idea of Adrienne beside her. Adrienne’s chest rose gently under her hand with each breath. It was warm in the room, and Tanner felt lazy from the heat and the aftermath of love. She opened her eyes but didn’t move. She wanted to savor the feeling of being there with Adrienne a while longer, before conversation and activity broke the spell.
Adrienne was turned slightly away from her, curled on her side. Her hair, partially covering her face, fluttered gently in the breeze from the open door. Tanner noticed the tiny freckles on her shoulders from the sun and the downy hair on the sides of her cheek. A feeling of tenderness, so intense it surprised her, welled within her. She wanted to protect Adrienne, to keep her from harm, as if such a thing were truly possible. She wished that the force and depth of her feelings would be enough to shield her from injury. She sighed, knowing it was foolish, but part of her still clung to the desire nevertheless.
From this position Tanner couldn’t see the scar on Adrienne’s chest, but she remembered every detail of it. She had never truly understood before what that kind of surgery meant. She had heard about it and read about it, of course, and it had become such a common topic that it seemed familiar—until today. It wasn’t horrifying, or really even ugly. The strangest thing was the absence of the shape she was used to. Women’s breasts had always been a source of mystical beauty to her, long before she had begun to love women sexually. She remembered when she was young, watching her mother naked. Her mother's breasts had fascinated her. They were so soothing to look at, flowing and bouncing as she walked. She could recall looking down at her own flat chest and trying to imagine what it would be like to have such wonderful things on her own body. Now she tried to imagine what it would be like not to have them. She rarely thought of her breasts as separate parts of herself. They were just there, like her arms and her legs. Would losing one be like losing an arm? Would she feel unbalanced, out of touch with her physical self? She tried to imagine how she would feel letting someone else see her like that. Despite her strong ego, she knew that she was always a little insecure that a lover would find her less than perfect. How would she cope with knowing that she truly was less than physically whole? Tanner wasn’t at all sure she would have the courage to find out.
She looked at Adrienne, sleeping peacefully beside her. How brave she was! Tanner was proud that Adrienne had trusted her enough to take that chance. She cuddled closer, stirred by a new respect for the woman who had gone through so much and was still willing to risk more.
Adrienne stirred and sighed softly, turning toward Tanner in half-sleep. Her hand trailed softly over Tanner’s hip and up to her shoulder. Adrienne nestled her face against Tanner’s breast and gently kissed her there. Tanner extracted her arm from between them and settled Adrienne’s head in the crook of her arm.
“Hello,” she said softly.
“Mmm—hi,” Adrienne replied, burrowing her nose against Tanner’s nipple. Tanner giggled and kissed the top of Adrienne’s head.
“Are you waking up?” Tanner asked.
Tanner smoothed the hair back from Adrienne's temple, kissing her lightly. God, she felt good! “You know, I don’t think I’ve eaten for at least a month. I may perish right here in a few minutes.”
“That would be criminal,” Adrienne responded, kissing her again.
“Can I take you out to dinner, then?” Tanner continued.
“How about room service?” Adrienne joked. She really didn't want to face the world. Or to allow reality to dispel this brief moment of peace. She looked at Tanner, who smiled back, her face still dreamy with satisfaction. “I suppose we must get up,” she sighed.
“Just for a little while,” Tanner said, kissing her lightly. “I have to refuel.”
“I have to shower,” Adrienne said, coming fully awake at last. “I’m downright indecent.”
“I like you indecent.”
Adrienne sat up abruptly, turning her back to Tanner. She reached for a robe on a nearby chair. “I’ll go shower then.”
“I’ll come with you,” Tanner said quickly.
“No.” Adrienne said sharply. Tanner stared at her for a second and then sat up, wrapping her arms around Adrienne’s waist from behind.
“I want to.”
Adrienne leaned the back of her head against Tanner’s shoulder and sighed. “You don’t give up do you?”
"Has it occurred to you that having you see me naked might make me uncomfortable?"
Tanner tightened her hold, rubbing her cheek softly against Adrienne's hair. "Does it?" she asked quietly.
Adrienne suddenly saw them together, Tanner's hands and lips on her, her face tender and gentle. "No."
She reached for Tanner’s hand and pulled her along toward the bathroom.
The water was cool and they both gasped as it struck them. Adrienne began to shampoo Tanner’s hair, massaging her head and taking advantage of the opportunity to look at Tanner unobserved. Whereas previously she had only stolen glimpses of her, now she took the time to feast. Her gaze wandered over Tanner's sleek torso to her strong legs, lingering for a long moment on the dark wavy hair at the base of her smooth belly. Adrienne acknowledged the quick flush of desire, shaking her head in self-reproach.
She was acting like she was seventeen again! She had to remind herself that this could develop into a difficult situation if she didn’t keep a firm control over things. She had to make Tanner understand that anything serious between them was out of the question. How could she possibly become involved? She hadn’t anything to offer anyone - especially someone as young and vital as Tanner. She was startled by the touch of Tanner’s hands on her waist.
“That feels so good,” Tanner murmured with a sigh, lulled by the steady gentle pressure of Adrienne’s strong fingers in her hair. She allowed herself to be guided by Adrienne’s touch as she felt her body being turned in the stream of the water. She knew that Adrienne was studying her, and she was secretly pleased. She was wholly satisfied but arousal was just a breath away. She wanted Adrienne to desire her. She felt ripe and lush with the slow burning aftermath of their lovemaking and sought silently to pull Adrienne into that fire with her.
Adrienne sensed Tanner’s body grow soft and somehow fuller under her hands as she turned her slowly in the warm spray of the shower. She watched the rivulets of water run in curving trails over Tanner’s face and down onto her body. She pushed the wet strands of dark hair back from the strong planes of Tanner’s face, brushing her thumbs over Tanner's cheeks and down to the edge of her jaw. Tanner turned her head and captured Adrienne's thumb in her mouth, sucking gently.
"You're bad," Adrienne whispered, knowing she had to have her again. One more time.
She backed Tanner against the shower wall, lowering her head to capture a nipple in her mouth, her thumb still between Tanner's lips, her fingers splayed along Tanner's jaw, holding her head against the glass. Tanner moaned softly.
She alternately sucked and licked the tiny erect bud between her lips until Tanner's hips were twisting against her. She was lost in the exquisite sensation, pressing her face against Tanner’s breasts, her other hand in that tiny hollow just above Tanner’s buttocks.
Tanner gasped, almost a sob, her neck arched under Adrienne's hand. "You're driving me crazy. Nobody ever did this to me before."
Adrienne smiled to herself, bringing her hand to the smooth flat plane of Tanner’s abdomen, brushing her fingers through the wet curls below. "Oh yeah? Used to being in charge, are we?"
Tanner merely groaned, arching her hips, silently pleading.
"Patience, lover," Adrienne teased. When she stroked lower between the swollen lips, she found wetness that was not from the water streaming over them. She lingered, fingering her softly, enjoying her ability to arouse this passionate young woman.
Finally, Tanner begged, her legs quivering with need. "I can't stand it – please."
She slipped inside those warm folds, sliding deeply in and slowly out, her thumb pressing the length of Tanner's clitoris with each stroke. Tanner stiffened, her breath coming in short hoarse gasps. Adrienne stifled a moan as Tanner’s body contracted around her fingers. Somewhere a pulse beat rapidly against her hand. She tightened her hold as Tanner began to tremble in her arms. She tried to focus, tried to match her movements with Tanner's inner rhythm, but she was so excited now herself it was impossible to concentrate. Faster, harder now – some instinctive sense guiding her, she pressed inward, deeper. And then there was only Tanner, crying her name, clinging to her, coming.
"Don't come out," Tanner managed to gasp when she could breathe again.
They swayed, locked together for a long time, until finally, Tanner took a deep breath and grinned shyly. “Adrienne! If I don’t drown first, I’m going to fall down!”
Adrienne laughed. “I doubt it! You survived more water than this in that gale storm, remember?”
“That wasn’t quite the same thing,” Tanner murmured, circling Adrienne in her arms, holding her close. “I wasn’t nearly so aroused then!” A flicker of almost pain flashed across her face as Adrienne slipped from inside her, feeling the loss already.
"We're going to lose the hot water," Adrienne warned regretfully.
Tanner sighed and stepped back. “Well, let me have the soap, then.”
Adrienne looked at her, puzzled, but did as she asked. With the soap in one hand, Tanner reached around Adrienne’s body with the other and held her still. She worked the lather into swirls over Adrienne’s chest and belly. Lowering her eyes, she continued the soft circular motions as she traced the contours of the firm muscles under her hands. She cupped Adrienne’s breast in her hands and ran her fingers gently over the nipple. She followed the curve to the center of Adrienne’s chest and placed her hand gently on the flat surface where Adrienne's other breast had been. Tenderly she continued to work the soap up and down, moving along the pink scar with care. She sensed Adrienne stiffen slightly, and Tanner tilted her head back to look at her. Adrienne gazed down at her with a question in her eyes.
“What is it?” Tanner asked.
“You really don’t mind about this?” Adrienne asked, glancing down at her body.
“Of course I mind!” Tanner replied instantly, her eyes blazing. “I mind very much that you’ve been ill, and that you were physically hurt and emotionally violated! I mind that you had to live through it and that you still have to live with it now! I mind that I can’t change it or help it!”
Adrienne stopped the rush of words with her fingers against Tanner’s lips. She pulled her close, embracing her fiercely. “You have helped! Every time you look at me and still want to touch me, you help. You’ve helped me to feel whole again. I never thought I would want to touch anyone or be touched - ever again. Oh, Tanner! You help!”
Tanner's tears mixed with the water that streamed from her face. “I hate what happened to you,” she whispered.
Adrienne kissed her, murmuring the comfort she herself had longed to hear not so long ago. “It’s all right. Really, it’s all right.”
They drove to a restaurant that was a local favorite at the south end of the island. The maitre d’ greeted Tanner with polite familiarity and showed them to a secluded table that overlooked the harbor.
“Let’s have champagne!” Tanner suggested impulsively.
“Are we celebrating something?” Adrienne asked indulgently, smiling at Tanner’s enthusiasm.
“I am,” Tanner replied, glancing at her watch. “I’m celebrating the best eighteen hours I’ve spent in years.” She looked at Adrienne with a satisfied grin on her face and her meaning was clear.
Adrienne blushed and turned to look out the window. The last of the sailors and fishermen were bringing their crafts into the harbor under the setting sun. The scene was almost too idyllic for Adrienne’s comfort. She realized how easily she could be drawn into the languorous life of the island, and of exactly how much she longed to do just that. These last few hours with Tanner seemed like magic moments, lived outside the reality of the life she knew. She needed so badly to escape from the torment and uncertainty that had plagued her since she left California. For a while, with Tanner, she had. She felt like her old self again, confident and wholly alive. She had forgotten for the first time in over a year that her life was no longer hers to do with as she wished. Where once she had seen the future so clearly, now she saw only a blank screen filled with questions. How simple it would be to wander into that unknown void wrapped in the comfort of Tanner’s arms and the mystical timelessness of life on Whitley Point. She sighed, knowing she could not allow herself to follow this line of thinking much longer. That path inevitably led to disaster. She would not use Tanner in that way - taking from her with nothing to offer her in return. It was folly and she knew it.
She finally turned back to Tanner, whose eyes were intently searching her face. In a voice that came out sounding harsher than she meant, Adrienne said, “Don’t lose your head over this, Tanner. I’ll be leaving here soon.”
“Why?” Tanner questioned. Her voice was still with a calmness she did not feel. She had been expecting something like this. It was too much to expect that Adrienne would simply accept what had happened between them without resistance. For that matter, I haven't shown her much reason to trust me.
Adrienne looked at her, faint surprise registering in her cool blue eyes. “You said it yourself when we first met. I’m hiding - I have been hiding for the better part of a year. I can’t stay here just because I feel safe by the sea and protected by the seclusion. In the end even the beauty of this island, and you, cannot alter my fate. I have to get on with my life - whatever there is left of it.” She saw Tanner pale and added tenderly, “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to sound morbid, but I have to be realistic.”
“What’s so realistic about leaving one place for another just because you happen to be happy here?” Tanner replied, failing to temper the anger in her voice. “Is it only realistic when you feel miserable? Is there some reason that you think you don’t deserve to be happy?” She didn’t even try to conceal the bitterness in her tone. Adrienne was threatening to take from her the only peace she had ever found in her life, and she would not let it go easily!
Adrienne stared at Tanner in frustration. “I can’t talk to you rationally about this!” She gestured out the window to the placid scene below them. “You live in your own world, with its own special rules! My god, Tanner - do you even know what it means to go without anything?”
Tanner stared back at her, her face flushing. “Yes, I know! I know what it is to be without purpose, without dreams, without one honest feeling from one day to the next. I know what it means to wake up in the morning and wonder if there’s any point to it. And I know how to forget those feelings with alcohol and drugs. Do you think you have a monopoly on unhappiness?” She stopped suddenly, tears brimming in her eyes. "I may never have wanted for things, but since my father died, all I've felt is guilt and anger and helplessness."
Adrienne reached quickly across the table and grasped Tanner’s hand. “Stop! I’m sorry—really I am! I didn’t mean to attack you. It’s not you I’m angry with. I want to enjoy tonight with you. You have made me feel wonderful, and I’m grateful.”
Tanner shook her head, frowning, but she did not release her grip on Adrienne’s hand. “God, Adrienne! I don’t want you to be grateful! I just want you to accept it for what it is. You touch me somewhere no one has been able to reach for years. You take away the pain! And you make me want to give that back. I want to know you - I want to hold you, and laugh with you, and just – be with you. I think it’s called love.” She shrugged and fell silent. It was that simple to her. She knew what she felt and that was all that really mattered to her.
“I can’t love you, Tanner,” Adrienne said quietly. “I don’t have anything left to love you with. I’m tired; I have no place to go and nothing to offer you. I don’t even have a tomorrow to count on.” She slumped slightly, suddenly very weary. Too much had happened, too many memories had been awakened. And she could still feel Tanner's hands on her. She looked at Tanner, her blue eyes desolate. "Please don't make me hurt you, Tanner. Please."
Tanner signaled the waiter who appeared instantly at their side.
“Yes, Ms. Whitley?”
“A bottle of your very best champagne, Richard. And then we'll order.” As he nodded and moved away, Tanner turned back to Adrienne and said calmly, “You may choose not to love me, but you can’t stop me from loving you.”
Adrienne closed her eyes briefly, still holding Tanner's hand. She couldn't fight with her any longer, and she couldn't walk away, no matter how much she knew she should. Not tonight, not with Tanner looking at her with what could only be love in her eyes. Tomorrow – tomorrow she would sort this out.
Adrienne found that there was little comfort in doing the right thing. When Tanner brought her home from the restaurant, she said good night with a soft brush of her lips against Adrienne’s cheek, murmuring, “I’ll call you.”
"Don't," Adrienne had whispered softly.
And she had stood on the steps of this house and watched Tanner walk back to her car with her characteristic purposeful stride and wondered to herself why she was letting her go. All she really wanted to do was take her inside and undress her - slowly, and lie beside her in the silvery moonlight that streamed through her bedroom windows. She wanted to explore every curve and hollow of her body and kiss away the frown lines between her brows. She wanted to make her cry out again when her body could no longer contain her passion, and she wanted to hold her while she slept. But she knew she would do none of those things.
She would not be that selfish! Tanner was so young! She did not doubt the sincerity of Tanner’s emotions, but she truly believed that what Tanner mistook for love was just her great loneliness and need. Adrienne knew that Tanner was easily impassioned, quick to respond and eager to fill the emptiness of her life with something meaningful. Tanner would move on from this brief experience as the young did so often, as she should, and discover someone who could match her own vitality and relentless spirit.
Adrienne knew that she had little of that joy left. She would only be taking more than she gave, and she would surely come to hate herself. It was madness to get involved! So she watched Tanner pull away in her sleek silver sports coupe and had taken comfort in the rightness of her decision. Adrienne had not heard from her since.
A week passed, and when she awakened each morning she longed for Tanner beside her. She ached to see the softness of her face as she slept and to watch her dark eyes blaze with passion when they touched. She wanted Tanner's warmth, and her intensity and her desire. She tried to force the many images of Tanner from her mind, but she failed. No matter how she tried to occupy her thoughts, she could not escape her memories. She cursed her own weakness even as she longed for Tanner’s presence. She ran on the beach until she was exhausted, but still she found herself looking over the dunes for Tanner’s familiar form. She comforted herself with the thought that all things must pass. She had certainly lived through worse things than this.
Despite her determination to forget the young woman who haunted her waking hours and restless nights, her heart leapt when she saw the Jag pull into the drive in front of her house early one morning. Adrienne hurried out onto the front porch as Tanner stepped from the car.
“Hi!” Tanner called, an easy grin on her face. She leaned against the fender, her denim-clad legs crossed, her white tee shirt tight across her chest. Her black hair tousled, her arms loosely crossed, she was as dashing and dangerous looking as a young James Dean. “I’m going sailing. Want to come?”
“Yes! Let me get some things together,” Adrienne replied instantly, already turning to go back into the house. She hurried before she had time to change her mind. She was delighted to see Tanner and she didn’t want to think or question. She rushed about gathering her gear, feeling better than she had in days.
Tanner waited, her heart pounding. She didn't want to make a mistake. Adrienne was everything she had ever wanted – tender, vulnerable, strong, stubborn. Tanner desired her with a passion and an intensity that she had not imagined possible. She had thought of nothing but Adrienne for days. She had meant to give her time, hoping that Adrienne would change her mind, hoping that she would call. But she did not.
Tanner lay down at night, knowing that she would sleep little, her body on fire. She ached for Adrienne's touch. The sun would rise to find her staring out the window, longing for Adrienne in her arms. She fretted about the house so much that Constance finally grew alarmed.
She found Tanner out on the verandah early one morning, slumped in a lounge chair, staring moodily out over the dunes. Constance sat beside her, sipping her coffee. Tanner turned, surprised to see her, and smiled wanly. “Hello, Mother.”
“Good morning, darling.” Never one to avoid an issue when she had made up her mind to confront it, Constance continued, “I can’t help but notice that you haven’t been acting like yourself for days. Is there something I can do? I hate to see you like this.” She spoke softly and Tanner couldn’t miss the affection in her tone.
Tanner sighed and laughed ruefully. “Does it show that badly?”
“I’m afraid it does, sweetheart.”
“Would you think me very foolish if I told you that I was in love?” Tanner asked shyly.
Constance regarded her seriously for a moment. “Quite frankly, I would be delighted.”
Constance did not add that she had begun to wonder if Tanner would ever allow anyone close to her again. It seemed as if she had taken her father’s death as some kind of betrayal and had unconsciously avoided any intimate involvements since that time. She was quite sure she knew who had prompted this response in her complicated daughter, but there were certain subjects Constance considered too personal to broach until Tanner volunteered the information. She continued instead, “It appears that there is some difficulty, however?”
Tanner laughed with a hint of good humor. “Oh, Mother! What an understatement! Not just one—that would be too simple!” Her face became suddenly serious, and she added, “I think it’s a matter of trust. I have a feeling she doesn’t think I can weather a storm, let alone a hurricane, if one comes up.”
Constance laughed softly and reached to stroke her daughter's arm. “Well, my dear, she simply doesn’t know you well enough yet!”
“But how do you convince someone to trust you?” Tanner asked.
“I believe it develops slowly, as you face difficulties together and see them through. For some people it’s more than just a matter of faith, especially if they’ve been disappointed in the past. I’m afraid it often comes down to a matter of time.”
“Time!” Tanner responded angrily. “Must everything take so much time? I don’t even know where to begin!”
“You might begin by letting her know that you aren’t going to disappear, simply because everything isn’t easy at the moment.”
Tanner looked at her mother gratefully. She was right, and it was so simple! Adrienne expected her to disappear – to be dissuaded by Adrienne's resistance. And she had let Adrienne's fear keep her away.
Idiot! It's time to show Adrienne that I'm not giving up – and I'm not going away!
And so she had come, determined to prove herself, and her love. She looked up as she heard Adrienne’s front door closing. “Hi,” she said huskily, searching Adrienne’s eyes for some hint of her feelings.
Adrienne stepped down off the stairs and kissed her, quickly but firmly, on the mouth. “Hi,” she said as she turned and headed around to the passenger side of the car.
Tanner stood still for a second, slightly weak in the knees, and then vaulted for the door, grinning triumphantly.
They both waved to Josh Thomas as they stowed their gear and quickly set sail. This time Adrienne maneuvered them deftly out of the channel. Tanner moved effortlessly around the cockpit, adjusting the sails and luxuriating at being out on the sea again—and at being with Adrienne! She thought perhaps she loved Adrienne best here, on the sea, sharing the thrill and freedom of the sailboat flying over the water, the serenity of the secluded coves as their destination. When they were well under way and Adrienne had set a course for one of the infrequently visited islands, Tanner leaned back against the bulkhead and watched Adrienne at the wheel.
Adrienne enjoyed the attention. She felt unaccountably confident, when previously such scrutiny would have made her very uncomfortable. The spray off the bow blew onto her, drenching her cotton shirt. She wore no bra, and she knew that Tanner would notice the asymmetry of her chest beneath it. Amazingly, she wasn't worried. Tanner, after all, had seen it before. Instead she allowed herself to bask in the pleasure of Tanner’s appraising glance.
Her body stirred as she imagined Tanner’s hands upon her, and she glanced at Tanner sternly. "Stop it."
Tanner slouched a little more, her arms spread along the top of the rail, her legs parted insolently, her grin infuriatingly confident. "What?"
"You know what," Adrienne replied, trying desperately to hide a smile. "I'm navigating here!"
"Okay, okay! I was just looking!"
When they were well out from shore, Tanner began to peel off her clothes. Adrienne watched her fondly, envious of Tanner’s complete lack of self-consciousness. Even before her surgery Adrienne had seldom been uninhibited physically. Certainly Alicia was a rather understated person sexually. In Tanner though, Adrienne found such sensuousness totally natural. Unfortunately, she couldn't continue to divide her attention between the wind, the waves, and Tanner's breasts.
"That's it," Adrienne announced. "I'm finding a place to drop anchor." While she brought them into the lee side of a small, uninhabited island, Tanner dozed in the sun.
Adrienne stood for a moment savoring the view. Tanner lounged on her back on one of the padded bench seats, her sleek muscular body covered with a light sheen of perspiration. Even her breasts were a light golden-bronze. With the boat secured, Adrienne stepped silently across the deck and knelt at Tanner’s side. With one finger she traced the line of Tanner’s cheek, over the chiseled arch and along her jaw, brushing lightly down her neck. She held her breath, marveling at the strong steady pulse that seemed so close to the surface. She slipped her hand under one of Tanner’s breasts, squeezing lightly as her thumb circled the dark nipple. Tanner stirred in her sleep but did not awaken. Adrienne smiled to herself as she lowered her face against Tanner’s breast, her mouth finding the nipple, drawing it in. She teased with her tongue until she felt it grow hard between her lips. She moved from one breast to the other, gently stroking the Tanner’s belly, circling ever lower until her fingers reached the crisp moist triangle of hair nestled between Tanner’s legs. Tanner’s muscles twitched, her breath quickened, and Adrienne heard her gasp.
She's awake, and she's letting me have her. God, she's so beautiful.
She dipped with a feather-light touch into pools of moisture and out again. She pressed, she stroked, she teased until she could bear it no longer. She slipped her fingers smoothly inside Tanner’s welcoming warmth, feeling herself instantly enclosed by the responsive tissues. Despite the eager response, Adrienne moved slowly, allowing the engorged tissues to relax and accept more and more of her. Once fully surrounded, Adrienne began to rock slowly in and out, timing her movements to the beat of the pulsing tissues around her hand. She was soon rewarded by a flood of moisture accompanied by a low groan from Tanner.
“Adrienne," Tanner gasped, "kiss me please.”
Adrienne lifted her face reluctantly from Tanner’s breasts, nearly lost in the wonder of Tanner's body. Tanner’s eyes were glazed with need, and a high flush suffused her face and neck. Adrienne thought she had never seen a more stunning woman. Adrienne leaned over her suddenly and brought her lips down on Tanner’s, her kiss as hard as her hands were gentle. She forced Tanner’s lips apart with her tongue and plunged into her mouth with deep firm strokes. The force of Adrienne’s hunger took Tanner by surprise and set off an explosion within her. She cried out as her body clamped down convulsively around Adrienne’s hand, wresting her last shred of control from her. She screamed as the full force of the contractions struck, her hips nearly bucking off the bench. Exhausted by the wracking orgasm, she fell asleep cradled in Adrienne's arms.
Tanner opened her eyes to find herself alone on the deck. She smiled when she noted the towel that Adrienne had spread over her to shield her from the worst of the sun. She stretched contentedly, recalling the incredible pleasure that had put her to sleep. Adrienne's face flashed before her, and suddenly the only thing she wanted was to see her. She stuck her head down through the hatch but the cabin was deserted. She clamored up onto the bow to look around. She heard splashing and discovered Adrienne in the water.
“Hello there!” Tanner called.
Adrienne waved and smiled. “It’s wonderful. Come join me!”
Tanner dove gracefully off the bow and made a smooth arc through the water to surface near Adrienne. She flung her head back to clear the water from her face and reached for Adrienne.
“Hey, you! I missed you!” she exclaimed. She grasped Adrienne’s waist and attempted to kiss her, succeeding only in pulling them both under water.
Adrienne coughed and sputtered water and finally laughed. “Idiot! Not in the water!”
“Why not?” Tanner said, pulling Adrienne against her. She slipped one leg between Adrienne’s and the other around her, supporting her. She treaded water lightly to keep their heads above the surface. Adrienne fit neatly into the bend of her body. Tanner finally managed to kiss her.
Adrienne smiled, leaning her forehead against Tanner's. Her blond hair fanned out around Tanner's face, gently stroking her cheeks. “You make me want things I can’t even put words to,” she murmured.
“Words don’t matter. I can feel it,” Tanner answered. “Come up on deck with me. If I do what I want to do here, we'll both drown.” She slipped her legs free and swam towards the boat, one hand clasped in Adrienne’s.
Tanner spread a towel in the sun on the broad bow and pulled Adrienne down on it beside her. She kissed the salt from Adrienne’s lips and moved languorously down to her neck, alternately licking and kissing the remains of the sea from her skin. Adrienne arched her head and closed her eyes, content to give herself up to the pleasure Tanner was kindling with her tongue. Tanner did not hurry. She kissed Adrienne’s chest, her belly button, her tender inner thighs. She lost herself for long moments breathing in the musky sea smell of her. She wanted to immerse herself in the essence of Adrienne’s being. At last she rested her cheek in the crook of Adrienne’s thigh and satisfied her urge to taste her. Tanner followed the dictates of Adrienne’s body effortlessly, without thought -- speeding up, slowing, now harder, now softer – guided by the ebb and flow of blood and breath and muscle.
Adrienne swelled and throbbed and opened to her, as everything became swirling, pounding sensation. Adrienne’s thigh muscles tensed, and Tanner wrapped her arms around Adrienne’s hips to keep her precious hold during the earthquake she knew was coming. She was not disappointed as Adrienne’s legs tightened, her hips lifted and she cried Tanner's name.
Tanner continued to lick her until Adrienne quieted under her now gentle strokes and then crawled up beside her, gathering her into her arms. She pulled Adrienne’s head onto her shoulder and sighed. “Are you all right?” she asked.
Adrienne snuggled close and curled her hand in Tanner’s hair. “You are marvelous. And I know you could tell,” she whispered when she found her breath.
Tanner kissed her forehead lightly and murmured, “I love you.”
Adrienne sighed. “I don’t suppose there’s any use in trying to talk some sense into you, is there?”
“None at all,” Tanner responded.
Adrienne surrendered to the storybook world of Whitley Point – sun-drenched days on the sea, starry nights filled with lovemaking, and the never-ending delight of being with Tanner. Tanner. Attentive, deeply passionate, beautiful Tanner.
She refused to think of anything beyond the precious moments they shared. They dined out; they explored the mainland shops together; they shared the memories of their pasts and their childhood dreams. She made no plans; she wanted none. All she wanted was to continue in the love-filled haze that was the last days of August.
Tanner, for her part, exulted in Adrienne’s happiness. She needed no plans beyond the next moment with Adrienne. She had never defined what her future was to be, therefore she was not bound by the limits of any particular vision. She cherished each day for the miracle it appeared to be. Adrienne made no promises, no vows of love, and Tanner sought none. She needed no words to affirm what was obvious. When she and Adrienne made love, when they walked hand in hand on the moonlit beach, when they listened to each other’s silences, Tanner knew the peace she had always sought.
One morning in mid-August, reality walked uninvited into their lives. Tanner was on the bow as Adrienne brought the Pride smoothly into dock. Josh Thomas had seen them approach and had come down to catch the towline from Tanner. He looked up at her and said low enough that Adrienne couldn’t hear, “Some people up at the office looking for Adrienne.”
Tanner replied, “Who are they?” She was instantly alerted to the concern in Josh's voice. He was obviously displeased about something, and it was rare for him to comment on any one else’s affairs.
He simply shrugged.
Tanner shaded her eyes with one hand and stared up at the marina. Her heart plummeted when she saw a man in a Naval uniform coming down the dock toward them. She turned and saw that Adrienne had seen him too. Tanner hurried up front to the cockpit to join her.
“What’s going on?” she inquired anxiously. She was disturbed by the stillness that had settled over Adrienne. “Adrienne?” she asked again.
Adrienne started slightly and smiled ruefully over at Tanner. “The past has finally caught up with the present. You are about to meet my commanding officer.” She squeezed Tanner’s hand firmly. “Come on.”
She pulled Tanner with her to the side of the boat and they stepped down onto the dock, facing the elegant man who joined them. He smiled at Adrienne and held out his hand.
“Well! Finally caught up with you. How are you, Adrienne?” He shook her hand warmly, obviously glad to see her.
Adrienne returned his smile. “Really fine, Tom. What are you doing here?”
“I had some duty in Washington last week. I had a few days’ leave coming so I thought I’d stop by here.”
Adrienne nodded, not believing him, but seeing no point in arguing. Actually she had been wondering when she would be hearing something from the Navy. She hadn’t expected to see Tom arrive in person, but considering that they had been close friends for many years, she wasn’t all that surprised. “I see. Tom, I’d like you to meet a friend of mine-“
“Hold the introductions for a minute, Adrienne,” he interrupted. “There’s someone else here to see you also.” He gestured with a nod of his head back toward the office. Adrienne and Tanner both followed his gaze as a woman, also dressed in Navy whites, approached them. Tanner heard Adrienne’s quick gasp of surprise and the anger in her voice as she turned to Tom.
“Damn it, Tom! What are you trying to pull?”
Tom looked embarrassed but did not lower his gaze. “Now wait a minute! It was her idea to come along. There was no way I could tell her not to,” he defended himself.
By then the second officer, a stylish dark haired woman in her mid- thirties had reached them. Her eyes were fixed on Adrienne’s face. “Hello, Adrienne,” she said softly.
Adrienne stared for a moment into those hazel eyes she remembered so well, and then turned aside coolly. She grasped Tanner’s hand and pulled her forward slightly. “Tanner, I’d like you to meet Captain Tom Hardigan and Lieutenant Commander Alicia Ames. This is Tanner Whitley.”
Tanner nodded to them both, wondering how she could get Adrienne out of there. She wasn’t exactly sure what was going on, but she could sense Adrienne’s tension, and she wanted to talk with her alone. Another thing was certain; she wasn’t leaving Adrienne alone with them, especially not with Lt Commander Ames. An awkward silence ensued for several seconds as Alicia continued to stare at Adrienne, and Tom Hardigan stared out to sea, apparently trying to memorize the position of each sloop at mooring.
Tanner broke the silence first. “Excuse me, Adrienne, but we'll need to hurry if we’re going to be on time for our dinner engagement.”
Alicia’s eyebrows rose slightly as she suddenly began to scrutinize Tanner with much more interest.
Adrienne turned to Tanner, quickly hiding her surprise. She realized almost immediately that Tanner was offering her a polite escape. “You’re right. I had almost forgotten about it.” She forced a smile, and started up the pier, Alicia and Tom following after a second's hesitation. "I'm sorry," she continued. "I'm a little short on time right now. Where are you two staying? We should get together and talk—sometime.”
Tom glanced at Alicia uncomfortably and coughed. “Well, actually, we haven’t any place to stay as of yet. We were hoping you could put us up tonight and then we could get a place at a motel or something tomorrow.”
Tanner was seething. The last thing she wanted was to have Alicia anywhere near Adrienne, and especially not in Adrienne’s house! She spoke quickly, before Adrienne had a chance to reply. “Actually, Captain, Commander - we would be happy to accommodate you at Whitley Manor. We have several guestrooms that never get enough use now that we do not entertain as much as we once did. I’m sure my mother would be delighted to have you. I think those arrangements should be suitable?”
Adrienne looked at Tanner in amazement, almost not recognizing the calm, aristocratic tone in her voice. But, of course, she reminded herself, Tanner was the heir to Whitley Island and all that that entailed. Tanner had indeed been raised to assume that position even though it rarely showed in her manner. Even Tom and Alicia seemed to recognize that there was no way they could politely refuse this offer from her.
Tom looked at Alicia who smiled somewhat thinly at Tanner as she replied, “That’s a very generous offer, Ms. Whitley. The captain and I are grateful for your thoughtfulness. We have a car. We could follow you there.”
Tanner did not miss the touch of sarcasm in her voice but she chose to ignore it. “Fine,” Tanner answered. She took Adrienne’s arm and led her toward their car. She wanted to break into a run, but she knew that would not solve this problem. She and Adrienne couldn't run from the past, or the future, any longer.
Alicia’s eyes followed them as she and Tom walked toward their black rental car. “She looks well, doesn’t she?” she remarked.
“Better than I’ve seen her look in months,” Tom agreed. “This place seems to agree with her.”
“I can certainly see why,” Alicia answered. Obviously Adrienne had come to some sort of terms with her life. She looked marvelously fit, and there was no mistaking the way that handsome young woman had looked at Adrienne. If this was what it took to bring Adrienne out of the despondency that had threatened to stifle her this last year, Alicia was glad. Despite everything that had happened, she couldn’t erase the memory of eight years of happy living she and Adrienne had shared. She hoped that Adrienne couldn’t forget either. She settled back in the front seat of the car and contemplated what her next move might be.
Tanner gunned out of the marina parking lot with Alicia and Tom trailing in their rental car.
“What the hell is this all about?” she said as soon as they were alone. Her voice quivered with anger despite her best efforts to stay calm. Her hands on the wheel were clenched tightly, the tendons taut beneath her tanned skin.
Adrienne sighed, rubbing her eyes briefly, trying to dispel the tension. “Obvious, isn’t it? They are here to take me back, I would imagine.”
“That’s ridiculous!” Tanner shouted. “You’re not some escapee—you didn’t go AWOL or anything. Tell them to go the fuck away.”
Adrienne grasped Tanner’s hand, alarmed by her anger. God, why hadn't she seen this coming? And now, Tanner was involved too – just what she had wanted to avoid. Back when she still had some sense left.
“Tanner, slow down. These are my friends. Until eight months ago, they were the two most important people in my life.” She moved closer on the seat, placing her hand lightly on Tanner’s thigh. “I understand how you feel. I’m angry, too. They should have called, let me know they were coming, but I can’t just send them away.”
Tanner slumped slightly behind the wheel. “I know—I’m just frightened.”
“Of what?” Adrienne asked gently.
“You said it. They’ve come to take you away. I’m afraid you might go.”
“Oh, Tanner—” Adrienne began, her heart breaking at the anguish in Tanner’s voice. “You’ve always known I would leave someday—don’t make it any more difficult.”
“No,” Tanner said fiercely. “I haven’t always known that you would leave. Only that you said you would. For some strange reason, I thought you'd change your mind." She turned to Adrienne, her eyes wounded. "Must you leave just because you have something to stay for now?”
Adrienne bit her lip, because Tanner was right. The truth was she was more afraid to stay than she was to leave. Life without Tanner would be empty, but it would also offer some respite from the doubts that plagued her even during her happiest moments. She couldn’t help feeling that what she was doing was wrong somehow. “Can we at least talk later, when things have settled down a little?” she asked.
Tanner heard the plea in her voice, and her heart ached – for both of them. She forced herself to answer quietly. “Of course. I know it must be a shock for you to see Tom—and Alicia.”
Adrienne smiled wanly. “I have a feeling things are going to get a lot more interesting before this is done.”
Constance Whitley accepted the unexpected entourage with aplomb. She directed May to take Tom and Alicia upstairs to the guestrooms and turned to her daughter and Adrienne, who waited in the foyer.
“I hope you can join us for dinner, Adrienne. It will give you a chance to talk with your friends—on neutral territory,” Constance said.
Adrienne, taken off guard by Constance’s insight, laughed. “We might need a referee. How did you know?”
Constance smiled, her fine features flushing slightly. “I can usually forecast the weather in my daughter’s eyes, and right now there’s a storm brewing. In addition to which, I don’t imagine two officers travel all the way across the country for a simple chat.”
Turning to Tanner, Constance said, “Could you mix us a pitcher of martinis, Tanner? And I think I’d like them strong—your father’s recipe.” Then, grasping Adrienne’s arm, she added, “We’ll be on the verandah.”
Adrienne glanced at Tanner, who shrugged and headed for the bar as if to say, "Whatever my mother says."
Constance stopped at the far side of the wide porch, glancing down the broad expanse of the rear property towards the ocean. The top of Tanner’s bungalow was just visible in a stand of windswept trees near the shore. She and Adrienne stood side by side, silent, watching the sky turn a brilliant red as the sun touched the water's edge. Finally, she said, “Is there anything I can do?”
Adrienne looked at her fine features, so like Tanner’s, and smiled. She wondered where to begin, and wondered how much Constance already knew. “You must understand, Constance—Tom and Alicia have come here because they care about me. There is no mystery, really. I have been on extended leave for some time, and they hope to convince me to return to San Diego—and the Navy. It is a decision I have been avoiding all summer – and before that really. Under other circumstances, I would be delighted to see them.”
“Do you want to return to the Navy?” Constance asked quietly, without the slightest hint of criticism.
Adrienne sighed. “I miss it. This summer has been wonderful, but I can’t continue to live this way. I must make some plans. I must work. The military is a life I’m used to. It’s just that there are some—difficulties, which I need to resolve.”
Constance nodded, watching Adrienne's face carefully. “Tanner has been happier these past two months than she's been in years. She and her dog don’t seem to be residing on the dunes much these days. You’ve been very good for her.”
Adrienne stared at Constance, at a loss for words.
“Forgive me if I’m acting like a mother,” Constance continued. “Tanner doesn’t discuss her private life with me—but, she is very much like her father. He was a wild sort of man—quick to anger, unsettled in many ways, but he was a man of passion, and he loved deeply. It was a kind of love one could depend on. I have always known that Tanner would someday find someone to love, and when she did, it would be as he did—intensely, instinctively, and with honor. I hope that you consider Tanner in your decision.”
“Constance,” Adrienne began, moved by Constance’s compassion, “there are some things you may not be aware of. Tanner is young; she has a lifetime ahead of her. She is still finding her way—in her heart and in the world. She deserves a future as bright as her spirit, and I don't think that future is with me.” Adrienne stopped, torn by her own words. She believed what she said, but, god, how it hurt!
“There are not many things I am unaware of, Adrienne,” Constance said softly, placing her hand gently on Adrienne's arm. “I hope you’ll forgive him, but Admiral Evans has been a dear friend of mine for many years. He spoke to me, in confidence of course, but I am aware of your difficulties.”
Adrienne grimaced bitterly. “Then you must know how little I have to offer Tanner.”
Constance spoke softly, lost in memory. “Time is an elusive element. Sometimes an hour with someone you love very deeply feels like a lifetime. It seems to me now, looking back, that I loved Charles for an eternity. Measured in years, it was not long, but the emotions we shared sustain me still. I would not change the choices I made in my life because things turned out differently than I had hoped. I believe that in that way, Tanner is like me.”
Tanner, watching Adrienne and her mother from the doorway, heard her mother's quiet words. She realized for the first time what the last ten years must have been like for her, and she was embarrassed at how often she had shut her mother out of her life. She could imagine her mother's anguish so much more now as she contemplated the agony of losing Adrienne. “Mother,” she said softly, crossing the wide porch toward them.
Constance turned, her face alight with the pleasure she always drew from her daughter’s presence. “Have you made the drinks, love?”
Tanner nodded, her eyes on her mother’s clear brown eyes, her throat tight with long ago tears. “I hope I’ve succeeded in repeating the secret Whitley recipe.”
Constance laughed, slipping her arm around Tanner’s waist. “Some things, my dear, are inborn. Let’s test the theory, shall we?”
They went inside where Tom and Alicia joined them. Both officers had changed into leisure clothes. Tom looked trim and athletically attractive, while Alicia appeared softer and almost seductive in her silk blouse and slacks. The group settled into casual conversation as they sipped the drinks Tanner provided. When dinner was served, they enjoyed the meal from a dining room that overlooked the water. Tom Hardigan quickly engaged Constance in conversation, questioning her on the island’s development and the Whitley family history. Adrienne told Alicia of the summer events and caught up on news of friends from California. Tanner, sitting across the table from Adrienne, joined in both conversations occasionally, her eyes studying Adrienne and Alicia together. She wondered how much remained of the life they had shared together, and the love. They were obviously still close, and she fought the jealousy that she knew stemmed from fear. Fear that Adrienne would leave her—fear that what she had to offer Adrienne was not as strong as the pull of the life Adrienne had known.
After dinner Constance and Tom retired to the verandah to enjoy the breeze and the view, leaving Adrienne, Tanner and Alicia alone at the table.
Alicia leaned back in her chair and sighed. “I can certainly see why you’ve grown so fond of this place, Adrienne. The island—like its inhabitants—is very beautiful.”
Adrienne looked from Alicia to Tanner and nodded. “Yes,” she said softly, "quite beautiful."
Alicia continued, noting the flush that stole over Tanner’s cheeks, continued quickly, “Adrienne, I’d love for you to show me the beach." She gave Tanner a thin smile. "Would you mind very much if I took Adrienne away for a while, Tanner?”
Tanner stood up slowly, her eyes meeting Alicia’s blue ones coldly. “Not at all. For a while.” She touched Adrienne’s shoulder lightly and left the room.
Adrienne and Alicia were silent as they threaded their way across the dunes toward the beach. When they reached the water’s edge, they stood watching the waves break, their bodies buffeted by the wind.
“I’m glad to see you,” Alicia said softly, slipping her arm through Adrienne’s. “I’ve missed you these last six months.”
“I’ve missed you, too.”
“You know why I’ve come, don’t you?” Alicia continued.
“You’re both rather obvious,” Adrienne responded, beginning to walk.
“Oh, we both want you to come back, of course. But, it’s more than that. I want you to come home.”
Adrienne stopped abruptly. “Come home?”
Alicia smiled wistfully, “Yes, Adrienne, I want you to come home—with me, to me.” She hurried on before Adrienne could protest. “Oh, I know I’ve acted badly. I didn’t know how to cope—so I made a mess of things. I’ve done a lot of thinking. I think I can do better now. I’d like you to give me another chance.”
Adrienne turned to face the woman she had spent so much of her life loving, and her heart softened. “Alicia, nothing has changed. I’m still the same. I haven’t miraculously been made whole again.”
“But I’ve changed,” Alicia said, stepping close to Adrienne, her hands clasping Adrienne’s arms. “I love you still—I always have. I want us to be together again. I know we were good together. We have the house, and all our plans.”
“Those things may never happen now,” Adrienne said harshly, knowing it was time to say what had never been said between them. “I may not be able to do all the things we once planned. I may not have the time.”
Alicia shook her head stubbornly. “But we have memories, Adrienne. We have a past together. Don’t turn your back on those. No matter what happens, you would be with someone who knows you and who cares about you.”
“Memories,” Adrienne said softly. “Oh, yes, we have memories. Don’t think I’ve forgotten, Alicia. I haven’t. I never could. But, I’m not sure I want to spend whatever time remains to me hiding in safe memories.”
Alicia tilted her head up, her lips close to Adrienne’s. “Don’t you love me anymore?”
Adrienne felt an overwhelming tenderness for this woman she had held so many nights. They had loved together, grown together, struggled together, and finally come to a harsh parting. “Love you?” she whispered, her voice breaking. “Of course I love you. How could I not love you? I know you like I know my own skin—there’s a part of my heart that will always belong to you.”
Alicia stepped back from her and studied Adrienne’s face intently. “But you don’t love me in quite the same way any longer, do you?”
Adrienne was silent for a moment. “No,” she said at last.
Alicia was shaken by the finality in Adrienne’s voice, but she knew if she relented now it truly would be over. “Do you love this girl so much it can erase everything we’ve been to each other? Everything we’ve shared?” she asked sharply.
“No one could ever do that,” Adrienne said, meaning it. “But I love her. God, how I love her! I’m sorry if that hurts you, Alicia, but it’s the truth. She moves me in ways I didn’t think possible any longer. I can see forever in her eyes.” She stopped suddenly, realizing it was the first time she had admitted her feelings, even to herself.
“That’s not very fair to her, is it?” Alicia said harshly. “You know as well as I how tenuous forever might be. Especially for you.”
Adrienne recoiled, stung by the words, but knowing them to be true. She looked out into a night sky so black even the stars were obscured. Her heart ached for some surcease. "I know it’s selfish of me to want her. I know! But she makes it so easy to love her. When we’re together, tomorrow doesn’t seem so very important.”
“Not to you, perhaps. But what about her? She'll get over you if you leave now, but the longer you stay the harder it will be if --" Alicia stopped, unable to say it. She finished quietly, "What will happen to her then?”
Adrienne's voice was hollow. “I don’t know. I haven’t wanted to think about it.”
“Let her go, Adrienne—for her sake. I can accept that you feel differently about me now. I don’t care. I am so lonely without you. I can live without the passion, but I can’t live without you in my life. We could be happy together, even without the physical things. We have friendship, that hasn’t changed. Come home where you’re safe, at least. Let Tanner get on with her life.”
Adrienne turned to Alicia, tormented by conflicting emotions. Leave Tanner? How could she leave Tanner, when she was the only thing that meant anything in her life? But was it asking too much, that Tanner risk her future on someone who might not be able to share it with her? She knew Alicia cared for her, that she accepted whatever might happen. How could she ask Tanner to do the same?
“Perhaps you’re right. I don’t know; I can’t decide now. Give me time,” Adrienne said at last.
Alicia smiled in relief and took Adrienne’s hand, “Of course, love. I’ll wait.”
It was a beginning.
Tanner lay in the still darkness, awake. When finally she heard Adrienne’s steps on the stone path to her bungalow, she closed her eyes, waiting.
Adrienne entered softly, closing the door carefully behind her and snapping the lock. She crossed the room to the bed where Tanner lay naked in the hot August night, outlined in moonlight. Tanner’s back was to her, the contour of her hips and breasts as sweepingly graceful as the dunes. Adrienne undressed quickly and lay down beside her, pressing close. She slipped an arm around her waist and nestled her face in Tanner’s hair. She kissed the base of Tanner’s neck tenderly as she cradled one breast in her hand.
Tanner remained motionless as Adrienne gathered her as completely as possible. She felt Adrienne’s tears on her own cheeks and willed her peace with all the strength of her love. She was awake long after Adrienne's tears had stopped, wondering which of them Adrienne had cried for.
When Tanner awoke, Adrienne was gone. She lay still for a long time, remembering Adrienne’s touch, achingly aware of how empty her days would be without Adrienne beside her. She had always known what she risked in loving Adrienne—she had seen the loneliness in her mother’s eyes too many times not to know. It had never mattered. She didn’t want a guarantee; she wanted Adrienne—now, today, and for all the tomorrows they might share.
She rose and threw on her clothes. She ran out into bright sunlight, and hurried southward. With each crest of windswept sand she searched the shore for Adrienne’s familiar figure. She scrambled up the path to Adrienne’s house and knocked hard enough to shake the door in its frame. The house was empty, and when Tanner walked around to the drive, she saw that Adrienne’s car was gone. She considered going to look for her, but she knew it was pointless. She had said all she could. Adrienne must fight her demons alone.
Adrienne sailed out to the quiet cove where she and Tanner had spent so many afternoons – swimming, talking, making love. She dropped anchor, climbed up onto the bow, and watched the clouds stream across blue skies so perfect it was painful. She followed the waves as they dwindled into soft tongues of froth along the shoals. Her thoughts were all of Tanner, and every now and then she smiled at some memory. She missed her, especially here on the boat, where Tanner was in her element -- often moving about shirtless, diving into the cool clear waters, climbing out to lie indolently in the sun. Adrienne had been content to sit for hours, her fingers entwined in Tanner’s, doing nothing more than listening to her breathe.
She looked back over the magical months since she had first arrived on Whitley Point, and all the joy that Tanner had given her. It was more than she had ever hoped to have again, and in many ways, more than she had ever known before. Tanner's love had come at a time when she had forgotten how to dream, and for those brief weeks together, she had been blessed. She was, indeed, a lucky woman. Finally, she turned the craft toward home; her decision was made.
When she drove up the familiar lane toward the house she now considered home, she sensed Tanner was waiting. She climbed slowly up the outside steps to the deck, rehearsing what she would say. Tanner was sitting in the sun in a lounge chair, her head back, one arm curled over her head, partially shading her face. Adrienne stood for a moment, taking in every detail of her. She would remember each feature, she knew, for all eternity.
Adrienne brushed the tousled hair back from Tanner’s forehead, her fingers lingering for a moment. Tanner's face was pale, and she trembled slightly. “How long have you been here?” Adrienne asked.
“All day,” Tanner said quietly. She stood up and they both moved to the railing, facing the ocean. They stood close together, but did not touch. “You’re going to leave, aren’t you?” Tanner said at last, her voice strained.
“Yes,” Adrienne responded softly.
Adrienne looked away, choosing her words carefully. She wanted to leave no room for argument. She knew she had to convince Tanner beyond any doubt—and she knew only one way.
“I want to go home, Tanner. I want to go back to Alicia, to the life I knew. That’s where I belong—it’s where I’ve always belonged. This summer has been like a fantasy—a wonderful fantasy, but it’s ended for me. It’s over.” She said the words she had planned to say, closing her heart to the pain in Tanner’s face.
Tanner gripped the rail tightly and swallowed, suddenly dizzy. “Do you love Alicia?”
Tanner turned to her then, her eyes searching Adrienne’s face. “And me?”
Adrienne could not answer while she looked into Tanner’s wounded eyes. She looked away and replied, “I care for you, Tanner, you know that. But, it’s not love—it’s passion, perhaps, but it’s not the kind of love I need to live on. I’m sorry.”
Tanner shuddered as if she had been struck. She had been so wrong! All this time. She forced out the next words, trying to keep from screaming. “I see. Will you call me before you go?”
Adrienne very nearly relented at that moment. It was agony to witness Tanner's torment, and to know that she was causing it. She wanted to hold her so badly, and to heal the hurt she had created.
“It would be best if we said good-bye now,” Adrienne answered, her voice low.
Tanner gasped. It was too much. She grasped Adrienne’s arms, her face wet with tears. “Adrienne, please! You can’t mean this! You can't!”
I have to stop this! Adrienne stepped back firmly, breaking Tanner’s hold on her. “Go home, Tanner. Please, it’s over—just let it go.”
Tanner stared at her for a moment, and then she was taking the stairs two at time down to the beach. In a moment, she was gone. Adrienne slumped against the rail, exhausted. She had done it. And now she must leave - quickly.
Constance saw Tanner running hard up the beach and then heard the door of her bungalow slam shut. A few moments later her car careened down the drive and out of view. Constance’s heart ached for her daughter, and she despaired that she could not comfort her.
She walked out onto the verandah and found Tom Hardigan there, elbows on the rail, a faraway look on his face.
“Am I disturbing you?” Constance asked quietly.
He turned to greet her, smiling, then shook his head ruefully. “No, of course not. I was just thinking—or trying to.”
Constance nodded and stood beside him, strangely comfortable. At last she spoke. “I have a feeling Adrienne will be going back with you and Alicia.”
Tom inclined his head in agreement. “I used to think that was the best thing for her. Before I came here, at least. Now, I’m not so sure.”
“How so?” Constance asked.
Tom's eyes meeting hers. “The Whitleys are very charming—both mother and daughter.”
Constance met his gaze evenly and smiled in return. “Thank you, Captain Hardigan, but charm hardly seems enough.”
His face grew serious. “I’ve known Adrienne a long time—well before she and Alicia met. I have never seen her quite like this. This year has been incredibly difficult for her, as I’m sure you know; and, yet, she looks better right now—stronger, healthier, more alive—than I could imagine. And, forgive me, Mrs. Whitley, but I do not believe it is just the salt air that has brought about this transformation. Leaving may be much harder than she imagines.”
Constance sighed. “You’re right, of course. I respect Adrienne for her concern about my daughter’s future, but I’m afraid her perspective is slightly off balance. Tanner will most definitely not be better off without her.”
Tom frowned. “I’m not sure Adrienne is going to do well, either. I’d hate to see her lose her desire for life again. At least Tanner is young—she’ll get over it, I imagine.”
Constance shook her head. “No, Captain, you’re wrong. Tanner will survive, but she will not get over it. That is not the way the Whitleys love.” She said the last words with finality.
Tom Hardigan studied the elegant woman beside him, marveling at her serenity and deep understanding. “Does she take after you?”
“Only in appearance," Constance laughed. "She is her father, through and through.”
“He must have been quite a man,” Tom said, meaning it.
“Oh, he was that,” Constance said softly. She looked at him thoughtfully, sensing an unspoken question. “My husband has been dead ten years, Captain Hardigan. In that time, I have never thought of another man. There have been a few who were—interested. A part of my heart, my life, my dreams will always belong to him. Most men would find that intolerable, and I am not good at deceit.”
He nodded, his eyes never leaving her face. “But, if a man, knowing this to be true, were to desire your affection, in a serious way, you might consider it?”
Constance laughed. “I might consider it, Captain.”
He smiled. “Well—I am very glad to hear that.”
“Will you do me a favor, Tom?” she asked softly.
“If Adrienne is not happy — if, in fact, she is wrong in this decision, will you at least try to talk to her—for Tanner’s sake, and mine?”
“If it comes to that, I may be able to do more than just talk to her,” he responded.
It was dark by the time Tanner reached the mainland. She drove north on the coast road to a bar she visited occasionally. It was not crowded, and she was relieved. She wasn't looking for company, she just wanted to forget. She took a seat at the bar and ordered a scotch, which she swallowed down quickly, then signaled for another with a practiced motion of her hand. The bartender refilled her glass and moved away. A few couples sat at tables in the shadows, talking in low voices and slowly sipping drinks. Someone played fifties slow songs on the jukebox, and a woman in a cutoff sweatshirt and jeans danced with a much younger woman, the two of them alone in the middle of the room.
Tanner stared at her reflection in the long mirror behind the row of bottles opposite her. She recognized the face as her own, but it seemed like a mask to her. How could she appear to be whole when her entire being felt shattered? Tanner tried to imagine the dawn without Adrienne, the sea without Adrienne in the Pride, the night without Adrienne in her arms. She couldn’t make sense of it, despite how hard she tried. She remembered Adrienne’s words, but she couldn’t understand them either. Not love her? How could that be? How could Adrienne have touched her as she had, and not love her? Tanner trusted her instincts, and she could not believe she had been so wrong.
She sighed and drained the glass again, then lifted it in the general direction of the bartender. “It doesn’t matter what I think if she doesn’t want me. And she doesn’t,” she muttered under her breath.
“Talking to yourself now, baby?” someone next to her said.
Tanner turned, appraising the lithe blonde beside her. “Yeah. Hello, Sally.”
“Hello, Tanner. Haven’t seen you around much lately. Someone must be keeping you busy, huh?”
Tanner didn’t answer, intent on her drink.
“You alone tonight?” Sally asked, leaning heavily against Tanner as she pushed her leg against Tanner’s thigh and her breast into Tanner's arm.
“Yes,” Tanner answered hollowly.
Sally curled her hand around Tanner’s forearm, stroking lightly with one fingertip. “That’s nice. So am I. Listen, I’ve got some of your favorite friend in the car. Clean and pure. Why don’t we have some and then find a place to get reacquainted. I've missed you.”
Tanner stared at her, wondering why she felt numb where Sally touched her. In fact, she felt strangely cold all over. “No, thanks. I don’t want any.”
Sally looked at her in amazement. “You’ve got to be kidding. Listen, you don’t have to sleep with me. I can see you’re bummed out. But have some stuff—you’ll feel better.”
Tanner left a twenty-dollar bill on the bar and got up to leave. “No, it won’t make me feel better. Nothing is going to make me feel better.”
She didn’t rush on the way home—she drove slowly and carefully. She had nowhere to go in a hurry. When she finally reached Whitley Manor, she noticed the entire house was dark. She went through the front door and climbed slowly to the second floor. Her legs felt like stone.
Tanner moved by instinct to the familiar room, entering quietly. She stood for a moment, wondering why she had come, staring at the sleeping woman. “Mother?” she said softly, almost afraid to intrude on the stillness.
The figure stirred slightly, and Tanner averted her gaze from the naked profile exposed to her. "I'm sorry," she whispered, turning to go.
“Tanner?” Constance called softly. "What is it?"
“Can I talk to you?”
Constance reached for her robe and covered herself quickly. “Of course, my sweet—come in.”
As Tanner approached, Constance arose from her solitary bed and reached out in the darkness for Tanner’s hand. “It’s too warm in here. Come outside.”
Constance led her daughter out onto the moonlit deck. “What is it, love?”
Tanner leaned against a column, steadying herself. She worked to keep her voice even. “I’m so frightened.”
Constance slipped an arm around her daughter’s firm waist, pulling her close. “Tell me about it,” she said.
“It’s Adrienne,” Tanner continued, struggling with tears. “She’s going to leave.” Her voice broke suddenly, and she choked back a sob. “I don’t know what to do.”
"I'm so sorry, Tanner," she whispered softly, wishing there were some way she could shield her from the pain. Instead, she said the very thing that she knew would hurt her daughter even more, but believing it needed to be said. "Perhaps she needs to go. Perhaps it’s best.”
“No!” Tanner protested wildly. “It isn’t! I’m sure of it!”
“Tanner,” Constance began slowly, choosing her words carefully, “Adrienne might need to return to the familiar, to a world she trusts. Not everyone is brave enough to go on in the face of uncertainty. You may have to let her go, if you love her.”
Tanner shook her head violently, tears streaking her face. “No! I won't believe that. I can't! Adrienne is alive and she loves me. I know she does—even though she never says it. I’m not wrong.”
Constance sighed, seeing so much of her husband's stubbornness in her daughter. “Tanner, love doesn’t solve all problems. No matter how pure, sometimes passion doesn’t answer all of a person’s needs.”
“Adrienne needs me and I love her," Tanner insisted. "I have enough faith for both of us. If only she would trust me—I know it would be all right.”
“I think Adrienne is concerned for you, sweetheart. She doesn’t want to disappoint you.”
Tanner pulled away angrily. “Disappoint me? Why? Because she can’t offer me what I don’t want anyway? I’m not asking for promises—none of us can really keep them. I want her now, today. I can’t offer her any more than that, and I don’t ask for any more in return.” She turned away, her chest heaving with barely contained sobs. “Oh, why can’t she see that? I do understand—I don’t care about tomorrow—I care about today!”
“Tanner,” Constance began, stroking her shoulder, trying to calm her, “when I first met your father, I was engaged to another man. That man was kind and gentle and considerate. I thought marriage to him would be warm and comfortable. Then I met Charles. He was wild and impetuous and filled with a passion for life, and for me. That nearly frightened me away. I was afraid of not being able to love him enough. You are very much like him, Tanner. And I think Adrienne is afraid of what may become of you if she is unable to return your love.”
“But she already has,” Tanner said quietly. “In more ways than I could ask.” She was silent for a while, thinking of how her mother must have felt when her father died. She forced herself to consider Adrienne's death. Could she bear it? “How did Father finally convince you to trust him?” Tanner asked.
Constance laughed softly, her face alight in the glow of the moon. “He was never a patient man, Tanner. What he wanted, he went after, and he usually got. He was also the most sensitive man I ever knew. When I was with him I felt so alive! He made me want to explore the world, conquer all my fears. In the end, he didn’t have to do anything. He waited, he loved me, he allowed me to make up my own mind. I chose him because any other sort of life seemed too dull to contemplate.”
“Were you still afraid?”
“Yes, but I was more afraid not to love him.”
“What if Adrienne refuses to see that we are right for each other?”
Constance sighed, “I don’t know. Tanner, do you love this woman, truly love her, knowing that she may not live to share your life with you?”
“With all my heart.”
“Then, my dear, I’m afraid you must wait.”
When Tanner climbed the path to the main house the next morning, she saw immediately that the rental car was gone from the driveway. Suddenly she began to run. She burst through the French doors to the dining room where her mother was sitting with her coffee.
“Where are they?” Tanner demanded breathlessly.
Constance confirmed what Tanner already knew. “They left early this morning.”
Tanner gasped and lunged for the door.
“Tanner, wait!” her mother called after her.
Tanner didn’t reply. She was already running down the path to the beach.
Adrienne’s house appeared like so many others closed for the season. The shutters were locked, the deck furniture stored away. Tanner dashed up the rear stairs to the deck and rattled the bedroom door.
“Adrienne? Adrienne!” she shouted. “It’s Tanner. Open the door!” When she got no reply, she raced around to the front. Despite the fact that Adrienne’s car was gone Tanner was sure she must still be there. She took the front stairs two at a time, ready to break the door in if she had to. It was then that she saw the envelope taped to the door, the initials THW scrawled on the front in a bold hand. Tanner stared at it for a long time, not wanting to touch it. If she didn’t open it, didn’t read it, perhaps it wouldn’t be true. Maybe Adrienne had just gone for a walk on the beach, or out for a sail. She always went sailing when she needed to think.
Finally, Tanner took the envelope and sat down on the front stairs. She sat there holding it as the sun climbed high in the sky. At length she took a deep breath and slid the single sheet of paper from the envelope.
“My darling, Tanner,” it began, “forgive me for being a coward and saying good-bye like this, but I knew if I called you, you would ask me to stay. Anything I said to you in explanation would only hurt you more. Accept that I don’t have the courage to remain here with you, as much as a part of me longs to. I want you to know that had we met under different circumstances, if I could be more certain of where life might lead, nothing could have forced me to leave you. I hope you’ll try to forgive a soul less brave than yours. You have brought me joy, and I wish you all the happiness you deserve. —Adrienne.”
Tanner stared at the note for a long time, turning it slowly in her fingers. "You're wrong, Adrienne," she whispered through her tears. "I'm not brave. It was only loving you that made me strong."
Tom Hardigan drove down the now familiar coast road that led to Whitley Point with a light heart. He had been courting Constance Whitley from the West Coast at a slow gentlemanly pace for the better part of a year. He visited Whitley Point once or twice a month on long weekends. He and Constance spent time exploring the nearby coastal towns, visiting maritime museums, and discovering small out of the way antique shops. It was pleasant time they both enjoyed. Their evenings spent at Whitley Manor were filled with quiet dinners, moonlight walks, and conversation. Their nights were decorous—Tom slept in the guestroom in a different wing from Constance’s bedroom. He did not mind. He enjoyed Constance’s company more than any person he could remember, and he wouldn’t conceive of offending her in any way.
She had been honest with him, and he knew if she were to love him, it would grow out of their friendship. He found her lovely and he desired her, but most of all he wanted her to remain in his life—in whatever way she chose.
He turned onto the back bay road once he reached the island and drove north. He considered turning off at the marina but decided against it. He knew that Tanner avoided his company. She seemed to stay away from the house purposefully while he was there. She probably would not welcome an impromptu visit from him.
His lighthearted mood was momentarily deflated. They had never discussed it, but he thought that Tanner somehow held him responsible for Adrienne leaving. It wasn't true, but there was no way her could convince her of that. Not that he would try. She was much too bitter for him to even broach the subject. He felt for her, but the thought of seeing Constance made it impossible for him to be gloomy for long. As he turned into the drive, his spirits soared. He carried his travel bag up the broad stairs and rang the bell.
May answered and smiled a greeting. “Mrs. Whitley is in the garden, sir. You know the way?”
Tom smiled. “Of course.” He walked through the house and down the rear steps to the garden. Constance was absorbed in pruning a late blooming bush and did not hear him approach.
“Hi,” he said, bending to kiss her cheek. She turned quickly toward him, her face alight with pleasure. She returned his kiss with her own, placed quickly but firmly on his lips. “Hello. Did you have a good drive?”
“Wonderful, as usual. How have you been?”
Constance shrugged, her voice surprisingly melancholy. “Nothing changes here, Tom, you know that. I attend the local social functions - the benefits, the charities - and I entertain at the appropriate times. Sometimes it seems rather silly for me to continue to play the society matron when those times have passed. If Charles were still here, as head of the Whitley family—the true Whitleys, as it were—it might be different.”
Tom nodded. It always surprised him that he didn’t mind more when Constance spoke of her late husband. Sometimes he felt as though he and Charles had been friends in another lifetime. “Are you getting just a little bored?” he asked lightly.
“Perhaps," she answered honestly. "You know, Tom, Tanner loves this island, this place, much more than I ever did. Like with Charles, it seems to be in the Whitley blood. I have often thought of simply moving back to the mainland—Washington, perhaps—and leaving this place to Tanner." She pulled off her gardening gloves, and slapped them absently against her thigh. "I have some distant relatives there, and Tanner is much more the heir to this island than I. I've always believed she has what it takes to guide the corporation the way Charles would have wanted it.”
Tom followed her up to the house, listening intently as she spoke. “Why haven’t you tried it then—at least on a trial basis—say six months out of the year or something like that?” He went directly to the bar and busied himself mixing drinks as he talked.
Constance looked at him with a rare grin on her usually composed face. “I don’t suppose you have any ulterior motives for prompting me, do you, Captain Hardigan?”
Tom flushed as he hastily stirred the martinis. “Well, I am in Washington for meetings and the like quite often.” He became suddenly serious and continued, “And there has been some discussion of my being permanently posted to Washington sometime next year.”
It was Constance’s turn to blush. Tom hoped it was from pleasure at the news that he would be closer—perhaps much closer. He brought her the martinis, sitting beside her on the couch. “But, you haven’t answered my question. Why haven’t you tried it?”
“I considered it this winter. Winters can be desolate here on the coast. But, truthfully, Tom, I didn’t want to leave Tanner. Not then.”
“How is she?” he asked. He didn't usually inquire so directly, because he knew that Constance guarded Tanner's privacy ferociously. Only once had Constance ever broken that confidence – she had been so worried about Tanner during those first few weeks after Adrienne left that she had finally called him to ask if he thought Adrienne's decision was final. He had reluctantly informed her that it appeared that way. They had talked for a long time, and by the time they finished she seemed calmer and he had promised to stop by the next time he was in Washington. He had been visiting regularly ever since. And Constance never spoke of that night again.
Constance answered quietly, clearly distraught. “If you didn't know her, you'd think she was fine. She is functioning surprisingly well. In fact, she seems to be settling down. She’s not dragging strange girls home with her any longer—in fact, sometimes, I wish she would! She seems so lonely. And the drinking—and the drugs she thought I never knew about—has stopped. She bought the marina a few months ago, you know, and a good deal of the land adjoining it from the developers who had been managing it. She wants to run it herself, and perhaps create an international yacht club there.”
Tom looked impressed. “I’d say it sounds like she’s turned her life around.”
“Oh, Tom, that’s just it. It does seem wonderful, until you really look at her. Tom, she never smiles anymore. She sleeps very little—I’m not sure when she eats. She sees no one except Josh Thomas and a few sailors at the marina. The spark is gone, Tom—the most wonderful thing about her is missing. It’s as if her wild, passionate love of life left the day Adrienne did.”
Constance was close to tears, and Tom was alarmed. He had never seen Constance lose control in any situation. He moved closer and slipped his arm around her waist. “I don’t know if it will do any good, but I’ll talk to Adrienne.”
“I hope she’s ready to listen,” Constance replied, resting her head on his shoulder, "because I'm afraid Tanner is never going to recover."
Tom decided there were some things he needed to discuss with Tanner as well. Early the next morning he drove down to the marina, knowing that Tanner would be there. He parked his car and walked down the pier toward the office. He noticed the construction under way and could see the foundations of a clubhouse and well-designed private quarters under development. He thought approvingly that the plans looked good—the harbor needed modernization, and it was obvious that a great deal of thought had been put into the planning. The same concern for preserving the environment that permeated the entire island was evident in the work progressing around him. The buildings, sleek and contemporary as they might be, fit inconspicuously with the terrain, neither disrupting nor detracting from the natural beauty of the cove. Tanner had clearly inherited her father’s love for this island. Constance was right. She was, in fact, born to it.
As he approached, he saw Tanner striding up from the construction site, and he noted instantly how thin she was. She wore khaki work pants and a light blue denim shirt, the sleeves rolled up to her elbows. She had a sheaf of architectural plans rolled under one arm. Her color was good, she had obviously been outside a great deal, but her face was drawn and tight. She did not smile when she saw him.
Nevertheless, Tom continued toward her and held out his hand. “Tanner, how are you?” he said.
Tanner stared at him for a moment, then took his hand in a firm grasp. “Busy.”
“I can see that. It looks very impressive.” Tom searched her face for some hint of her true feelings, and finding no clue in her hooded eyes and expressionless face, he decided to say what he had come to say.
“Tanner, I’d like to talk with you. Do you have a moment?”
Tanner regarded him steadily, wondering just why she resented him so much. She knew in her heart that it was not his fault that Adrienne had left her. Still, the sight of him reminded her of all she had lost, and she couldn’t forgive him for being a part of Adrienne’s world. He, at least, could see her, talk with her. She shrugged. “Sure.”
She turned away, heading instinctively to the water, her only source of comfort. When she couldn’t stand the confines of the marina office or her own barren bungalow, she sailed. Only there, alone on the water, could she find any semblance of peace. She leaned against the rail at the edge of the cove, and Tom joined her.
“I want to talk to you about your mother,” he began quietly.
Tanner stared straight ahead, but her jaw clenched. “What about her?”
Tom took a deep breath and looked directly at Tanner. “I’m going to ask her to marry me.”
Tanner turned to him, open amazement in her face. “You can’t be serious!”
Tom smiled slightly. “Oh, but I am—very serious. I love her, Tanner. I want to live with her, share our lives together. Weekends now and then are not enough.”
Tanner winced, as if his words were arrows directed at her very soul. She would be so grateful for just a weekend with Adrienne. But, that was over. Adrienne was gone.
“And Mother?” she asked directly. “Does she feel the same way?” She was surprised to see the look of uncertainty flash across Tom’s handsome features.
“I don’t know. She cares for me, I believe,” he began slowly, almost to himself. “I think she is lonely here on Whitley Point.” He held his hand up, stopping Tanner’s protest. “Oh, she loves you, and she loves the island, too. There’s no doubt of that. But I think the main reason she's stayed all these years is not because you needed her so very much, but because she needed you. You are a reminder for her in so many ways of your father. And she loved him so very much that she didn’t want to lose all that remained of him.”
He squared his shoulders, unconsciously adopting an aggressive military stance. “But she deserves more than memories; she deserves a chance to live again. Maybe without all the passion she knew with Charles, but at least with someone who cares for her, someone who cherishes her. And I do.”
Tanner stared at him, her jaw slightly agape, surprised at his insight and sensitivity. She realized she didn't know the first thing about Tom Hardigan. All he had been to her was a painful reminder of Adrienne. She thought about her mother, quietly bearing her grief with dignity, somehow always there when Tanner had needed her. She swallowed hard and nodded. “She has been lonely, I know. And I've never been much company for her. I’ve always been too wrapped up in my own private unhappiness. Lately, it’s been worse.” She looked at Tom and tried to find the words that came so hard to her.
“Do you really think she would be happy away from Whitley Point?”
Tom smiled at that. “Not for long, I don’t imagine. Constance is more of a Whitley than she realizes. I hope to be stationed in Washington, D.C. next year. And if Constance agrees to marry me, we would never be far from Whitley Point, or from you.”
"You don't have to worry about me," Tanner stated quietly. "I have everything I need right here."
Tom seriously doubted that. It wasn't hard to see the emptiness in her eyes, or to the hear the bitterness in her voice. He wanted to offer some comfort, but knew that there wasn't any.
Tanner laughed suddenly, a spark of her old self reappearing for an instant. “I feel like the father of the bride, standing here having this conversation with you! We must, after all, let Mother decide.”
Tom grinned back. “You’re right. Now that I have permission, I can ask her!"
Tanner regarded him in astonishment. “You are crazy!”
“You bet,” he said quickly.
Suddenly Tanner's face grew still. “Tom, how is Adrienne?”
Tom hesitated a moment, and then decided to be totally honest. “If you ask me, and no one does, I’d say lousy. She and Alicia are living in their old house together, but I don't know what's happening between them. They’re friends, that’s only natural. Adrienne doesn't talk to me about it, or anyone else that I know of. She's working well – better than ever really, but that seems to be the only thing that keeps her going. In fact, I’d say she’s long overdue for a promotion.” Tanner was very pale, and her hands on the rough-hewn fence rail were shaking. He'd probably said more than he should have, but her anguish was so sharp, and so clear, it hurt him to look at her. “She looks well physically, but there’s something missing. She's going through the motions, Tanner, but I’d say she left her heart and soul on Whitley Point.”
Tanner closed her eyes, struggling to bury the pain. When she opened them, Tom was heartened to see something hard and determined force its way through the wounded confusion.
“Tom,” she asked urgently, “what should I do? If I thought she’d come back, I’d fly out there tonight. I've wanted to, so many times. I wanted to call – even did a few times, then hung up at the last second. Because she said she didn't want me. She said she didn’t—” she faltered for a second, and then continued. “She said she didn’t love me.”
Tom tried to imagine how hurt Tanner must feel, and didn’t really want to know. “Tanner,” he said, “I think Adrienne truly believed that leaving you was the right thing to do – for you. She met you when she was just barely beginning to recover, and I think she was afraid she would die, and you would be alone.”
Tanner drew a sharp breath, the thought still piercing her with agony. “Does she think that would be worse than living without her now, knowing that she is halfway across the country, and won’t even see me?”
“I don’t know, Tanner," he replied, thinking that he had let Adrienne down. She had sacrificed a chance for happiness, and he had let her. I’ll ask her. It’s about time somebody did.
After Tom left, Tanner finished up the work plans for the next day, leaving notes for Josh and instructions for the contractors. She considered sleeping on the Pride that night, as she usually did when Tom was visiting, but then decided there was something more important than her own lingering discomfort with him. Something she should have done weeks ago. She went directly into the main house where Tom and her mother were having a cocktail.
“Mother,” she said after a brief hello to Tom, “I’d like to talk to you.”
Both Tom and Constance looked surprised, but Constance rose immediately. “Of course, dear. Shall we walk in the garden?”
Once they were out of Tom’s hearing, Tanner turned to her mother. “Mother, are you happy here?”
Constance was startled. “Happy? Why, of course I’m happy. This is my home.”
Tanner shook her head. “That’s not what I meant. I meant, are you happy here?" She stopped for a moment and then drew a deep breath. “Is this the life you want? Enough of a life?”
Constance studied Tanner for a moment, not seeing the reflection of her husband any longer, but the strong, forthright woman her daughter had become. “I love the island; I always will. But, I must admit, I do get lonely. Sometimes I think my life ended when your father died.”
Tanner shook her head vehemently. “No! That is not true. It must not be true. You are alive, and Father is gone. You owe it to yourself to make a life for yourself. You deserve that.”
Constance tilted her head and smiled almost shyly at Tanner. “And do you think I should make that life with Tom Hardigan?”
Tanner shrugged. “That is only for you to say. But he does seem to care for you." With another sigh, she admitted, "And I like him.”
Suddenly serious, Constance asked, “And what of the island? There is still a lot that needs looking after here.”
Tanner straightened her shoulders and reached for her mother’s hand. “I shall look after things here, Mother. It’s the one thing I’m good at.”
“And you, Tanner? Who shall look after you, my dear?” Constance said softly.
“I don’t know, Mother. For now, it must be only me.”
Constance held her daughter’s hand tightly in her own, hoping fervently that Tanner was wrong.
Tanner and Josh were bent over a drafting table outside the marina office, reviewing the plans to remodel the piers and dredge part of the channel to accommodate larger ships. Tanner planned to have a world-class marina with room for large cruisers as well as sailing boats. That meant restaurants as well as shore side accommodations where people could stay before or after charters.
Tanner had already purchased a base fleet of sailboats, due to arrive in the spring, which she intended to lease for charter. The developers, of course, were delighted to see a move toward modernization on Whitley Point. The long-time inhabitants, worried at first that such changes would ruin the serenity of `their’ island, were reassured when they saw the designs for the new installations. Tanner had been adamant about preserving the integrity of the shoreline, and that the renovation of the harbor area would restore much of its nineteenth century charm.
Tanner found the work challenging, and she felt for the first time that her energies, and her talent, were being put to good use. She assumed more of the financial management of the project, as well as having the final say over all the design plans. It was a job that could quite easily consume all of her time, and it nearly did. And that was exactly what she wanted.
Being totally involved with work was the only way she could keep her mind off Adrienne for a little while. She thought of her constantly, a continual ache that never abated. As the months passed with no word from Adrienne, she besieged herself with questions. Would Adrienne tell her—would anyone tell her—if Adrienne were ill? What should she have said, to make Adrienne stay? What could she say now, to change her mind? Please come back, I'm dying without you?
It tormented her, not knowing. So she worked and at least took comfort in exhaustion.
Josh nodded, pleased, when he looked at the designs the draftsman had constructed to Tanner’s specifications. “I like it—I sure do. I thought you’d have a time finding mooring space for the big boats, but you did. It’s going to be dandy!”
Tanner smiled at his obvious delight. “I’m glad you approve. I can’t make a move without your consent, now that you're my new my general manager.”
Josh beamed, a happy man. “Remember, eight, nine months ago, you asked me if I liked you?”
Tanner nodded, remembering what had prompted the conversation. God, it seemed like a lifetime ago that she had awakened, soaked and nearly frozen, to discover Adrienne holding her for the first time. She saw herself as if from a distance, so arrogant and foolhardy. So fucking blind to the things that really mattered. She shuddered, and pulled herself away from the memories. “I remember.”
“Well,” he said thoughtfully, “I think I can say with fair certainty that you’ve turned out real well. You're a fine person, Tanner Whitley.”
“Thank you, Josh," Tanner said softly. "Coming from you, I almost believe it.”
Josh studied her quietly, knowing that she suffered from some deep hurt in her soul. He also knew why, and that there wasn’t much anyone could do for it. He looked past her up the pier, and whistled low. “Well, well—here comes the Navy again.” He muttered something that sounded like, "Always bringing trouble."
Tanner wheeled around, instantly concerned when she saw Tom Hardigan coming down the pier. She was certain that her mother had mentioned he wasn't expected until next week. She hurried to meet him.
“Tanner, I—” he began, looking uncharacteristically solemn.
“What is it?” she cried, her heart pounding. “Is it Adrienne? Is Adrienne all right?”
Tom held up one hand. “Slow down a minute.” His face was suddenly alight with pleasure. “Why don’t you ask her yourself?”
Tanner looked beyond him to another figure in uniform, and she thought her heart would cease to beat. Adrienne came slowly down the pier toward her. Tom excused himself, knowing no one heard him. Josh discreetly rolled up the plans and disappeared into the office.
Tanner was riveted to the spot, afraid to move lest the spell be broken and Adrienne disappear. Adrienne stopped a few steps from Tanner, searching Tanner's face for some sign that she was welcome. What she found was the deep well of love in Tanner’s eyes that could never quite be concealed. But there was something else there, too. Pain, and bewilderment. Adrienne’s breath caught in her throat. Tanner was trembling. “I’m so sorry for hurting you, Tanner. Will you ever forgive me?”
Tanner studied her, still uncertain of Adrienne’s presence. Why had she come? Was this a quick visit, an attempt at some kind of friendship? Tanner was afraid to hope, and even more afraid to feel. She knew she could not bear another disappointment. "There's nothing to forgive. I understand why you left."
"Do you?" Adrienne asked quietly. She was suddenly at a loss for words. Those reasons that had been so clear to her eight months ago seemed to crumble in the wake of the hurt she had caused. "I needed to come east for some meetings –" she faltered and fell silent.
“Can you stay — for dinner?” Tanner asked cautiously, afraid to make any assumptions.
“I’d like that. Actually Tom spoke with Constance already, and we'll be staying there tonight." She wasn't sure if that news pleased Tanner or not, and she hurried on, "Would you show me around the marina first? Tom's been telling me of some of the changes you've been making.”
Tanner nodded, still shocked at Adrienne's presence. “Of course.”
They walked around the harbor, Tanner quietly pointing out the renovations under way and describing her plans. Adrienne was impressed, both by the scope of Tanner’s design and the enthusiasm she displayed. The young woman she had known had matured in her absence, her wild streak tamed. Tanner's simmering anger seemed to have quelled. Adrienne was suddenly afraid that perhaps Tanner had outgrown her passion for her as well. The thought made her ache, but she knew that the changes in Tanner were for the best. She would have to hope that there was still room for her in Tanner’s heart.
“It’s wonderful,” she said, meaning it. She glanced at Tanner with a new respect. “You must be very proud.”
Tanner flushed with embarrassment, but she was pleased as well. She took Adrienne’s hand. “Come inside—I want to show you the model of how things will look someday.”
She led Adrienne to the office. Josh Thomas looked up as they entered and rose stiffly from behind the desk. He eyed Adrienne coldly, nodded, and left the room.
Adrienne raised one eyebrow and followed his retreat with her eyes. “Guess I’m one of his un-favorite people,” she remarked.
Tanner looked uncomfortable. “Josh is a little protective of me. Sorry.”
Adrienne shrugged. “He has a right to be. I can see why he finds you special.” She looked at Tanner, the love she felt for her very clear in her face.
Tanner hurried to the drafting board and began explaining the plans to Adrienne, who tried to listen attentively but found her mind wandering instead to the curve of Tanner’s neck as she leaned over the table, and the slight smell of the sea that clung to her, and the soft golden glow of her skin. She sighed and stepped away from the woman beside her, afraid if she didn't she'd take her into her arms right there in the office.
“Tanner? Would you mind if we saved the rest of this for another day? I’m tired—it was a long flight. I think I’d like a bath and a long drink.”
Tanner glanced at her in surprise, noting for the first time that Adrienne, although tanned, was thinner than she remembered, and there was a hint of shadows under her eyes. Her heart lurched with sudden fear. Was she ill again? Is that why she had come?"
“Adrienne,” she said, her anxiety palpable, “are you all right?”
Adrienne looked startled for a second and then understood. She impulsively pulled Tanner to her, hugging her briefly. She looked straight into Tanner’s dark eyes, reading the concern there. “I’m more than all right. The doctors tell me I’m in perfect condition—and all of my latest tests were absolutely normal. Okay?”
Tanner closed her eyes in relief, and then grinned weakly. “Okay. But you are a little thin!”
Adrienne kissed her lightly on the forehead. “From missing you," she whispered. She placed one hand on Tanner’s cheek and caressed her neck softly. Then she leaned into Tanner and kissed her with fierce intensity. Tanner closed her eyes and clung to Adrienne, savoring the taste and smell of her. At length Adrienne lifted her lips away from Tanner’s and murmured throatily, “I’ve missed you so much.”
Tanner sighed, lowering her cheek to Adrienne’s shoulder, her arms around Adrienne’s waist as if to prevent her from vanishing. “It’s been so long. I had almost stopped hoping.”
They swayed together, bodies touching, listening to one another breathe, each searching for some sign from the other. Finally, Adrienne said, "Come on—I want to see the rest of the island. I didn’t realize how fond I had become of this place.”
Tanner took the shore road home, driving slowly, neither of them saying much. It was enough for the moment to be near one another amidst the beauty that had surrounded them that magic summer.
They found Tom and Constance seated comfortably on the verandah, talking and enjoying a late lunch. Constance greeted Adrienne warmly and had the maid show her upstairs to the guestroom. Tanner said she would be back as soon as she showered and changed. Her face glowed with an excitement she couldn't hide, and her step was light as she bounded down the path to her bungalow.
Constance laid her hand on Tom’s arm and glanced at him fondly. “I suppose I have you to thank for this?”
He grinned, boyishly pleased with himself. “In part. I did talk with Adrienne, and she admitted she was miserable. I told her that she wasn't alone in her feelings. She finally explained that she wouldn't even consider coming here until she'd had her next check up. So far she’s doing fine.”
Constance sighed with relief. “Thank goodness. The change in Tanner is remarkable. I haven’t seen her truly smile in months.”
Tom sipped his martini and cleared his throat. “I have some news of my own, Constance.”
“Oh?” She looked at him questioningly.
“I’ve been cleared for a transfer to Washington in the spring. I’ll be posted there permanently.”
Constance laughed with delight. “But that is wonderful, Tom! I’m so happy for you!”
“I was hoping you’d be happy that I will be close—to Whitley Point.”
She answered softly, “Oh, but I am.”
Adrienne coughed to announce her presence and crossed the deck to join them. “Forgive me for eavesdropping, but I couldn’t help overhearing. I’m delighted for you, Tom. That’s a very impressive promotion.”
“Thank you,” Tom accepted graciously. He looked from Adrienne to Constance and continued, “I have some other news as well. Papers crossed my desk a few days ago which concern you, Adrienne.”
“Oh?” she said as she reached for the martini pitcher. “I’m not being court-martialed, I hope.”
“Far from it. Your promotion just came through – and about time, too. As of next week, Captain Pierce, it will be official. Congratulations!”
Adrienne looked at him in astonishment. “My god, Tom, did you arrange this promotion?”
“Absolutely not—they asked my opinion, and I gave it to them. You deserve it.”
“Deserve what?” Tanner said as she climbed the outside stairs to join them.
Adrienne attempted to signal Tom to silence, but he continued unperturbed. “Adrienne has been promoted to Captain, Tanner.”
Tanner stared at Tom for a moment and then she turned to Adrienne. “Congratulations,” she said softly.
Adrienne shrugged and offered Tanner a drink. “Thank you. It’s really just a paper promotion. I’m sure my life will proceed pretty much as it has.” She smiled slightly and added, “But, I’m pleased.”
The four of them talked, the easy companionable conversation of friends. Eventually, Tom mentioned that he had a few business matters to discuss with Adrienne, and they left Tanner and Constance to watch the sunset together.
Tanner sat beside her mother, lost in thought.
Constance rested her hand gently on Tanner’s arm. “Where are you?”
Tanner started slightly at the touch, then shrugged. “I was thinking about Adrienne’s promotion. I’m sure now she’ll never want to leave the Navy. I’m proud of her, I really am. But I, I – had hoped --”
Constance nodded knowingly. “Don't jump to conclusions, Tanner. Find out what she wants.”
Tanner noted a wistful note in her mother’s voice. “Are you in love with Tom, Mother?” she asked.
“Oh, Tanner. I don’t know if `in love’ is the right term for it. People your age fall in love. People my age are friends. But I’ve grown very fond of him—he’s a marvelous man—quite sensitive and gentle. I do miss him when he’s gone.”
“Have you slept with him?”
“Tanner!” her mother cried, “One does not discuss one’s sexual life with one’s children.”
“Oh, Mother—don’t be ridiculous. I know you must have sexual feelings. Certainly mine are no secret.”
“That’s no reason to discuss them before dinner!”
Constance studied Tanner for a moment and then she laughed. “I actually don’t know.”
“No,” Constance said softly.
“I don’t know that either,” her mother replied, her eyes clouded with memory. “You may find this hard to believe, but your father was the only man I ever made love with. I feel odd thinking of another man that way.”
“Odd,” Tanner said gently, “or guilty?”
Constance looked at her in surprise. “What do you mean?”
“Mother, Father is gone. You wouldn't be unfaithful to him if you love someone else, desire someone else. You’re alive—you have a right to your life. You have honored his memory for a long time. It’s all right to move on. And, Mother, if you ever decide to leave Whitley Point, it’s all right, too. I love it here—I doubt I’ll ever leave. I’ll be fine.”
Constance’ eyes fell on her daughter, overflowing with love. “Will you be?”
Tanner answered quietly, “Yes.”
After an evening of conversation, they had retired, each to their separate rooms. Adrienne couldn’t sleep, knowing that Tanner was so near. She had come without any real plans, only knowing that she needed to see Tanner again. Now, with her fifty yards away, she hesitated. She couldn’t go to her in fairness without making the decisions she had avoided for many months. As she lay awake in the still room, tossing and turning, she heard soft footsteps in the hall. Her heart pounded; it was Tanner! Slowly she realized that the footsteps had passed by her room and proceeded down the hall to the room where Tom was sleeping. She heard Constance’ voice and then Tom’s deep one. A door closed and the house was silent again.
Adrienne got up and threw on a light shirt to cover her nakedness. It was an unusually warm night, and she stood on the small deck outside her room, thinking. She thought about Alicia, knowing she would always care for her, and knowing that both of them deserved more. She considered her life in California, and found it acceptable. Acceptable, she thought. Is that all she could ask from life? She thought of how dark her days had been without Tanner. She thought of how the look of love in Tanner's eyes made her heart soar. She thought of Tanner sleeping in the night, not a hundred feet from her, and of how much she wanted her. And then she stopped thinking, and listened to her heart.
Tanner was not asleep. She lay on top of the covers in the warm room. The shutters were open, a faint breeze rustling the curtains. Her mind was on the woman who had filled her dreams every night for months. She could scarcely believe Adrienne was here. She didn’t hear the footsteps outside until the door to her room opened. She held her breath, her body tense.
“Tanner?” Adrienne called softly.
Adrienne crossed to the bed and lay down facing Tanner, reaching out to stroke her cheek. “I have to talk to you,” she began urgently.
Tanner pulled Adrienne close, her restraint vanishing in the face of desire too long denied. “Not now,” she rasped, her lips silencing Adrienne's faint protest with the force of her kiss.
Adrienne groaned, her body instantly aroused, and rolled onto Tanner, trying to touch every part of her. Her hands sought the breasts she had longed for every night, her lips caressed the places she knew would excite, her hips surged into Tanner's, calling her to the dance.
Tanner pulled at Adrienne’s scant clothing, wanting to feel her naked. She succeeded in opening her shirt, and slipped her hands inside. The rapidly building pressure between her legs was so strong, she scarcely heard Adrienne’s gasp as her fingers pressed into Adrienne’s firm flesh. Their bodies surged with an internal cadence beyond their control, passion answering passion. Sharp cries merged as restraint broke, and they clung together desperately, peaking one after the other, legs entwined, fingers stroking, sobbing against one another's skin.
“Oh god, Tanner,” Adrienne gasped. "I love you so much.
Tanner closed her eyes, held her close, and clung to hope.
When Tanner awoke the sun was high, and the room was aglow with early morning light. Adrienne was pressed against her, her head on Tanner’s shoulder, her hair a golden spread across Tanner's breasts. Tanner stretched her cramped muscles slowly, not wanting to awaken her sleeping lover. Nevertheless, Adrienne stirred and sighed. She opened her eyes and smiled. She caressed Tanner’s shoulder and brushed her cheek across one soft nipple.
“Good morning,” Tanner whispered.
“Mmm—what a lovely way to wake up,” Adrienne murmured. She pressed her lips against the small bud of Tanner’s nipple and teased it with her tongue. She smiled contentedly when she heard Tanner’s sharp intake of breath. She loved to please this woman, more than she thought possible.
Tanner attempted to sit up, despite the heady feeling Adrienne’s lips on her breast inspired. “Adrienne,” she pleaded at last, “wait. You know I can’t think when you do that.”
“So?” Adrienne chuckled, running her fingers down Tanner's abdomen.
Tanner groaned, her hips jerking with a will of their own. She struggled into a sitting position and Adrienne, displaced, was left staring at her.
“I want you,” Adrienne said, leaning toward Tanner again.
Tanner grasped Adrienne’s arms and held her away. “Adrienne, please. You don’t understand.”
Adrienne stopped, suddenly uncertain. “Last night – I thought you wanted me, too. Is there someone else?” she asked quietly, her heart pounding with fear.
"God, no!" Tanner cried, amazed that Adrienne could even think such a thing. She ran her hand through her hair, shaking her head in disbelief. “Not want you? Don’t you realize I’ve been out of my mind since you left? I can’t go to sleep without wanting you beside me. I wake up lonely, struggle through the day empty inside, because you’re not here. My god, Adrienne, of course I want you.”
Adrienne took her hand tentatively, pressing her lips to Tanner's palm. "What is it then?"
Tanner shook her head. “It’s not enough, Adrienne. I love you—I want to live with you, share my life with you. Seeing you every now and then—making love with you—it’s not enough. I'll die a little every time you leave. I just can’t do it.”
Tanner hated the words, but she had to say them. Even if it meant losing Adrienne forever she had to say them. A night, a few days, now and then, wasn’t enough. She wanted much more out of life.
Adrienne sat for a long time studying Tanner’s face, and when she spoke, her voice held tears. “I've always loved you, Tanner. More than I had thought possible. I left you because I was afraid I couldn’t love you enough—that I didn’t have enough—physically or emotionally, to give you. I felt selfish—how much I needed you. I still need you, and it doesn't frighten me any longer. Living without you wasn't really living at all. Let me love you today, Tanner, please."
Tanner shook her head again. “Today is not enough, Adrienne. I want all of your days, every tomorrow -- a lifetime.”
Adrienne laughed softly. “You don’t want much, do you?”
“I want it all,” Tanner replied, her gaze steady and calm.
Adrienne swung her legs over the side of the bed and sat up, holding Tanner's hand firmly. “Tom had some other news for me last night. I can have a transfer to the East Coast if I like, after I’m promoted. There’s a naval base about thirty miles north of here.”
Tanner remained still, but her heart was racing. “Do you want to transfer here?”
“It depends,” Adrienne responded. “I hate living on base.”
“I’m sure we could find you something suitable around here,” Tanner said quietly. “Perhaps something on Whitley Point?”
Adrienne turned to face her, her eyes full of love. “Well, there was one particular place I had in mind. That is, if you're willing to take a chance.”
Tanner gathered her into her arms and kissed her. “I never pass on a sure thing."
Adrienne turned into the drive with a sigh of relief. It had been a long day, full of meetings, site reviews, and submission of the final draft for a project she headed. She was glad to be home. As she approached Whitley Manor she smiled to herself. Home. It had taken her several months to get used to the idea that this was her home. After almost a year, she couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. She and Tanner moved into the main house when Constance relocated to Washington the previous month.
Adrienne reached the door just as the housekeeper opened it.
“Good evening, May. Is Tanner home yet?”
May rolled her eyes and pointed upstairs. “Packing,” she said with a laugh. “You’d think the two of you were leaving for a year, instead of four days.”
Adrienne smiled, tossed her brief case on the table in the hall, and went upstairs to the master bedroom she and Tanner shared.
“Hello, darling,” she called as she entered the room. She stopped abruptly and stared. Closet doors stood open with garments half off hangers. The entire surface of the large bed as well as several chairs was piled with layers of clothing. Tanner, looking frazzled, stood in the midst of the chaos, an open suitcase on the floor beside her.
“It’s hopeless,” she cried in despair. “I can’t figure out what to bring!”
Adrienne kissed her, barely hiding a grin. “Well, not all of this.”
Tanner slipped her arm around Adrienne’s waist and drew her outside onto the balcony. “What does the well-dressed woman wear to her mother’s wedding?” she asked.
“I’ve always liked you in blue.”
Tanner rested her head on her lover’s shoulder and sighed. “What are you going to wear?”
Adrienne laughed. “That’s easy—I’ll wear my dress whites.”
Tanner kissed Adrienne’s neck and suggested teasingly, “Oh, good. I’ve always liked you in uniform. Shall we walk down to the bungalow, Captain Pierce? We can always pack later.”
Adrienne slipped her arm around Tanner’s waist and started toward the stairs. “An excellent idea, Ms. Whitley, but only for a brief visit. I promised Tom I’d have the daughter of the bride at the ceremonies on time.”
As Adrienne walked arm in arm with Tanner to their favorite hideaway, she thought of how precious a single day could be when lived fully. She looked forward now to the promise of each tomorrow, and the joy she knew they would share.
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