Please see part 1 for all disclaimers.
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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