Please see part 1 for all disclaimers.
Adrienne arrived back at the large empty house feeling strangely unsettled. She couldnít seem to get the encounter with Tanner out of her mind. Something about the mixture of amusement and self-deprecation in the younger womanís 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 couldnít 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 hadnít 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.
Adrienneís 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 `hellosí 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. Youíve 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.
"Iím delighted to hear that. Iím calling to invite you to our open house next Saturday evening. Itís 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, Ió" Adrienne began, desperately seeking a polite way to refuse an invitation from the islandís 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. Weíll expect you around seven."
Constance Whitley rang off with a polite 'good-byeí, 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 eveningís festivities. She hadnít attended a public function in almost a year, and she wasnít 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 couldnít concentrate. When she realized she had read the same paragraph three times and still didnít 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 intersec≠tion 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 couldnít 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, isnít 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. "Youíre 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. Iíll 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 wasnít 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 BMWís. 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 wasnít 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, impec≠cably 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. "Iím Constance Whitley. Iím 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 hostessí 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 itís 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 Adrienneís. "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 typeósleek, 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 wouldnít 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 couldnít help but smile, despite her acute embarrassment. "Admiral Evansóhow nice to see you, sir. And it isnít `Commanderí anymore. Iíve retired."
"Nonsense, Commander! A long leave, I understand. Youíll 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.
"Iím 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?"
"Itís charming," Adrienne replied honestly. "Do you have a house here?" She realized she was quite happy to see a familiar face.
"Oh, no. Iíve known Constance Hughesówell, Whitley now, of courseósince she was a child. I visit here often. Sheís a wonderful woman."
"She certainly seems to be," Adrienne agreed.
"Itís a wonder, really, being widowed so youngówith a daughter to raise, as well as the entire Whitley fortune to manage. Sheís done remarkably well."
"I can see that," Adrienne commented noncommittally. She was truly fond of her ex-commanding officer, but she wasnít in the mood for light gossip at the moment. She suddenly felt very tired.
"Would you excuse me, sir? Iíd like to wander around for a bit."
"Of course, Commander. Iíll 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, isnít 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, itís `Commanderí 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, maíam." Tanner grinned disarmingly. She tossed a fairly good salute to emphasize her words.
Adrienne laughed despite herself. "Oh stop! And no, it is not `CommanderíóIíve 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. "Iím sorry! I always seem to say something stupid when Iím around you." She reached quickly to light Adrienneís cigarette. Adrienne exhaled the smoke slowly and smiled, her eyes on Tannerís worried face.
"Itís all right," Adrienne said quietly, "Itís just a very long story, and not one I'm fond of telling."
Tanner held up a hand and shook her head, "I understand. Itís 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, Iím 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 youíll regain it here on our peaceful island," she said darkly.
It was Adrienneís turn to stare, taken aback by the bitter tone in Tannerís voice and the obvious pain on her face. "Donít 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 thatís my story, isnít it?" she responded abruptly.
Adrienne thought perhaps she should have felt rebuked by the curt reply, but she didnít. She knew how important her privacy had become to her, and she could more easily accept it in others. Besides, she hadnít the energy to probe anotherís anguish, nor the strength to offer solace.
"Letís 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. "Iím a native. Canít seem to escape. Iíve tried New York, and Boston, but I always seem to return to the Point. I never feel really whole unless Iím 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 donít 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."
"Iíll 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 thereís food nearby?"
"Scads. Come onóIíll lead the way."
They were helping themselves to the ample buffet when Constance Whitley approached them with an engaging smile.
"I see that youíve 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 Adrienneís response.
"It was you!" Adrienne exploded angrily. "THWóthatís `Tanner Hughes Whitleyí isnít it?"
"Yes, butó" Tanner began, clearly confused. Now what have I done?
"You damn idiot! You nearly killed me today! Havenít 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. "Iím sorry. Today? I donít remember. I wasóuhm, a littleóout of touch this afternoon," she said with embarrass≠ment, remembering the afternoon's high she had shared with some friends.
"Well, perhaps the next time youíre drunk, or stoned, or whatever it is that you do, youíll do the rest of the world a favor and stay off the roads!" Adrienne ex≠claimed. She turned abruptly and stormed away. She didnít exactly know what incensed her more ó 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 couldnít seem to do anything right when it came to that woman. She went off to find another glass of champagne, still smarting from Adrienneís 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 Ėshe probably needed the help! Oh! What do you care! Tanner is obviously capable of taking care of her own needs.
Adrienne wasnít at all sure why Tanner had this disquieting effect on her. She hardly knew the woman! Still, there was something about the look in Tannerís eyes, something that verged on despair Ė 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. Adrienneís 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 couldnít identify it. She didnít 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 Tannerís 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 Ė 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 oneís 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 possessionóherself.
Surely, if there is sin, it must be thatóto 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 moveóunsure 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 stillóeven 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.
"Whereís your friend?" Adrienne asked.
"Asleep in my bungalow."
"What are you doing out here?" Adrienne continued, studying Tannerís set features. The effects of the alcohol appeared to have worn off. She looked tired, but composed. "Itís much too cool to sleep out here."
"Couldnít 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, isnít it?"
"The ocean relaxes me," Adrienne answered noncommittally. She took a deep breath and continued. "Listen, Iím sorry I went off at you back there at the party. Itís just thatÖ"
Tanner interrupted with a shake of her head. "No need. You were right. If Iím going to screw myself up, the least I can do is have the decency not to involve other people. Iím 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.
"Thatís not what I was trying to say to you!" she continued without really thinking. "I was worried about youóand angry at you, too. You could have really hurt yourself!"
"Why should you care?" Tanner said without rancor. "It doesnít really matter all that much."
"Oh, Tanner!" Adrienne cried. "Youíre so wrong. It matters so very much! You have a choice about your life, about what happens to you. You mustnít throw that away!"
Tanner looked at her questioningly. "We all have those choices, donít we? I just choose not to decide. C'est la vie, and all that."
"Itís 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. "Youíre not really talking about me, are you? Youíre talking about yourself. What things canít 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 didnít mean me, exactly. I just meant you Ė everyone -- should be more responsible."
"No you weren't," Tanner continued quietly. "Thereís something else youíre not saying, Commander Pierce. But you can keep your secretsófor 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 didnít 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 soóa long time ago. Itís been a very long time since I can remember wanting anything that badlyóso 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 youíre 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 donít know. I canít 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 Iím 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 Pointóto 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 Iím not sure. Maybe I just came here so I wouldnít have to face not knowing. Itís a nice place to hide, this island. After a while itís easy to forget that there really is another world out there."
"Was there someone you left behindóback there in California?" Tanner asked quietly.
"No," Adrienne said abruptly, turning her face away.
Tanner sighed. "Iím sorry. I always seem to hit some sore spot with you. Itís just that you donít 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 Tannerís 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 hadnít 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 couldnít 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 par≠ticular 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.
"Thatís the real secret, isnít it? The reason that youíre here at Whitley Point."
Tanner couldnít miss the thinly veiled anguish in Adrienneís voice, and she longed to offer her some comfort. "What is it?"
Adrienneís reply came softly. "I canít talk about it, not right now. Iím 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 Adrienneís 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 Adrienneís. Adrienne did not pull away under the pressure of Tannerís kiss. Tanner moved her lips gently over Adrienneís 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 Adrienneís 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 Adrienneís face, feeling Adrienne's heart beat in the pulse just below her jaw. Tanner rose slowly to her knees, caressing Adrienneís 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 Ė I didn't mean Ė I --" She reached out to touch Adrienne's arm, her hand trembling badly. "Please, I only wanted Ė"
Adrienne jumped to her feet, her eyes fixed on Tannerís flushed face. "Iím sorry, Tanneróyou just donít understand! I canítóIím sorry!" She turned away and began to run.
"Adrienne! Waitóplease! Just talk to me!" Tanner called after her. Adrienne didnít reply but continued to run until she was out of sight, leaving Tanner still kneeling in the sand.
Continue to Part 3
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