Chapter 9

They’d nearly made their way back to the B&B, the autumn sun had almost set, and a blanket of stars was beginning to peek out from behind the thinning clouds. They sat in the forest on a stone bench that was not 30 yards from the resort's large back lawn, taking a break from their walk. The glow from the kitchen window was barely visible through the trees and the smell of the river and wet foliage seemed stronger now, in the waning light, where their eyes were spared the sensory overload of orange, red and bright yellow leaves.

Jacie’s hands were stuffed deeply into her pockets as she stared into space. The haunted expression on her face was starting to scare Nina.

"Hey," Nina began gently. "Are you okay?"

Jacie just stared at her with anguished eyes, not wanting to believe the words but knowing they were true simply by the way Nina had said them. "How," she stopped and cleared her dry throat. "How do you know this? About Gwen, about me, about what happened that last day?"

Sympathy shone in Nina’s eyes. She hadn’t wanted to hurt Jacie, but Jacie deserved to know the truth. "Gwen came by the house after you stormed off in Katy’s car. She was beside herself and she pulled me into the bathroom and spilled her guts. I was–" Nina glanced down at her hands. "I was devastated that you thought so little of me that you’d believe I would sleep with you one night and hope to strike up a romance with some strange guy the next."

This time it was Jacie’s turn to look away. "But you said–"

"I said I needed time, Jacie. And it didn’t take long for me to figure out that you were what I wanted," Nina said in a firm, but gentle voice. "I just never got the chance to tell you."

Jacie closed her eyes. "Jesus Christ," was all she could think to say. The direction of her entire life had changed because of a lie? How do you respond to someone telling you that you threw away happiness with both hands?

Nina could see that Jacie was at a loss for words, but that was all right. She was content to carry the conversation for a while. "When your uncle called Katy the next day and said he had her car, I thought there was a chance." She let out a sigh. "But you’d already gone and he swore he didn’t know where. He said he'd come by later that week and box up your stuff."

Jacie covered her face with her hands.

"I never spoke to Gwen again after that day." Nina shook her head a little and sighed. "I-I was a mess for a long time. I told Audrey and Katy about Gwen going to your parents, but not what happened between you and me. I think they figured there was more to the story, but I just couldn’t talk about it."

Jacie laid a comforting hand over Nina’s, and Nina smiled, weaving their fingers together.

"When Katy heard what Gwen had done, that was enough for her. She told Gwen to go to hell and never wanted to hear her name again. I think she was a little lost without you, and even though she wouldn’t admit it, she missed Gwen, too. Later that spring she moved in with some guy who lived across the city.

"Audrey was pissed at Gwen for betraying you, and hurt that you didn’t feel like you could trust us enough to tell us that you were gay. She hurt for me having lost my best friend and she hurt for Gwen, too, saying that Gwen didn’t really understand what she’d done. Audrey tried to get Katy and me to mend our fences with Gwen, but that never got very far and I think that only served to push us all farther apart. Maybe… I think she and Gwen stayed in touch for a while, but I’m not sure."

Nina shrugged one shoulder. "We moved out of the house and for the first time started leading separate lives. That first year after everything happened I ran into Audrey on campus a few times. And we’d stop and say hello. But…" She made a face. "I dunno. It wasn’t the same. The closeness was still there, but it was buried so deep. Things were awkward. I’d totally lost track of Katy by the time I graduated and then I left Missouri all together to get my Masters in Museum Studies."

"My leaving split you all apart?" Jacie asked, mortified. Her stomach had already been churning, but this news threatened to make it rebel outright. Especially during those first years on her own, she had enviously pictured the Mayflower Club as steadfast friends, having barbecues at each other’s houses, even their children playing together.

"No." Tenderly, Nina squeezed their joined hands. "That wasn’t your fault,’ she insisted, trying to make Jacie understand. "It’s true that things were never the same after you left. But," she searched for the right words. "I couldn’t really see this then, but we were all growing apart little by little. It was gradually happening before you left and probably would have continued even if you’d stayed."

"Still," Jacie whispered bleakly. "God, I’m so sorry."

Nina’s throat constricted at the emotion in Jacie’s voice. "I wanted you to know the truth about what happened." She sniffed. "And now you know. I didn’t tell you to make you sad."

It was fully dark now and the air had taken on more of a chill, their breaths sending clouds of vapor from their lips as they spoke.

Nina shivered and Jacie’s arms ached from the want of holding her, but she still wasn’t totally confident that a hug would be welcomed. "If I’d known that Gwen was lying… Things would have been different, Nina. I swear." She gritted her teeth together. "I can’t say I’m sorry enough."

Nina shook her head slowly. "That’s not true. Yes, you can. I accept your apology, Jacie." She drew in a deep breath, her heart rate picking up a little. "And now I hope that you’ll accept mine."

Jacie blinked.

Nina tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, her stomach tightening at what she was about to say. "I figured you’d headed to your uncle’s farm that night." She smiled sadly. "We… all of us always had so much fun there, swimming and sunning like summer would never end."

"But you didn’t know for sure or you could have–"

"I knew."

Jacie’s eyes widened.

"I called and spoke to your aunt. She said you’d been sitting in Katy’s car in front of the farmhouse for the past four hours. She wasn’t sure what to do."

"But if you knew–"

Nina’s chilled fingers pressed against her lips stopping her. "If I knew, then why didn’t I do something?"

Jacie just nodded.

Nina licked her lips and blew out a long breath. "I don’t have a good answer for that question. The truth is that I was hurt and angry that you didn’t trust me or trust what I was so sure we had together." Nina squeezed her eyes shut, a tear snaking down her cheek, glistening in the starlight. "I knew you were there suffering, thinking that I was waffling on my sexuality and that I was willing to start dating someone else, and a big part of me thought that’s exactly what you deserved."

Jacie didn’t say anything, but she snuggled a little closer to Nina, offering her silent support.

"I guess… I guess I thought you’d lick your wounds at your uncle’s farm and then come back home the next morning and I could explain the whole thing to you. I shouldn’t have taken a chance on losing you, Jacie. But I was so angry! I never imagined that you’d actually," she sighed, "well, that you’d never…." Her voice trailed off.

Jacie looked hard into eyes gone violet in the twilight. She shifted on the bench until she was facing Nina and lifted one hand, gently caressing Nina’s cheek with the knuckles. "I didn’t think I had anything to stay for. But you’ve got to believe me," she insisted, her words brimming with conviction. "I’d give my whole life to be able to turn back the clock and change everything about that day. I’d have talked with you the morning after we’d made love instead of allowing my insecurities free rein. I would have believed in us more than anything else. And most importantly, Nina, I wouldn’t have let you go. Not for anything. "

Nina sniffed, her vision blurring. "I’m sorry I didn’t fight for us. I could have stopped you from leaving, but I didn’t."

Jacie shook head and her voice cracked as she spoke. "You don’t have anything to apologize for." Nina gave her a doubtful look, but she repeated firmly, "You don’t. But I’m sorry I didn’t strangle Gwen when I had the chance."

Nina snorted, glad at the humor, black though it was. "I nearly did. Audrey and Katy heard me yelling at her in the bathroom after she told me what she’d done and how she’d lied to you. They stormed in and barely kept me from doing something crazy. I felt like I’d lost my mind."

"I know the feeling," Jacie murmured wryly. "It’s scary as hell."

Nina allowed a small smile to ease across her face. "You’re more open than you used to be." She only just stopped herself from tuning her head to kiss the warm palm that cupped her cheek. "The Jacie I knew never admitted to being afraid of anything." She thought for a few seconds. "I like the change."

"I finally grew up."

Nina’s heart ached for not being there to see that, for not sharing all those glorious and heartbreaking moments between then and now. But she was tired of hurting for the past.


"Nina," the auburn-haired woman said at the same time.

They both stopped and smiled.

Jacie cocked her head to the side. "Me first, okay?"

Nina’s stomach fluttered nervously. "Okay."

"Do you…" Inexplicably, Jacie found herself blushing. Oh, God. "Do you like women?" she asked in a rush, suddenly feeling like an insecure 16-year-old who didn’t know how to talk to a pretty girl.

Nina looked at her blankly.

"I mean, do you think you could have a romantic relationship with a woman?"

"Nina! Jacie!"

Both women’s heads snapped sideways. It was Audrey’s voice in the distance.

"Where are you two?" Katherine called out, as she walked alongside her cousin, her eyes scanning the B&B’s large back lawn.

"Should we hide?" Nina asked earnestly. Their conversation was just getting to where she’d prayed it would go.

"Are you kidding?" Jacie responded in a hushed voice. "Those two have noses like bloodhounds. They’d find us soon enough."

The women stood up, each shifting from foot to foot, increasing the blood flow to their cold legs and bottoms.

"Did you just ask me if I was a lesbian?" Nina said quickly, hoping she understood the question correctly and that she’d get her answer to the question she asked Jacie before they were interrupted.

"Uh huh. Sort of. But I need to do something before you answer." Jacie threaded her fingers into Nina’s soft hair and pressed their mouths together in a quick, but passionate display of affection. Each woman was instantly flooded with warm memories of their first kiss. Hot tongues collided and a low moan tore from Nina’s throat as she was literally kissed senseless, the wave of raw want coursing through her veins as powerful as anything she’d ever experienced.

When the sound of footsteps and calling voices got too loud to ignore, Jacie pulled away and looked into Nina’s dazed eyes. Then she gave Nina’s lips another kiss, this time tender and whisper soft, just because her mouth was so near and too inviting to resist.

"What…" Nina felt dizzy and she thought for a moment that her knees would give out. "What was that for?"

A flash of white teeth in the moonlight, and Jacie gave her a hopeful, lopsided grin. "That was just in case you’re still deciding about the whether or not you could like women thing." She shrugged sheepishly. "I’m willing to work to convince you." But the fact that Nina hadn’t socked her in the nose was a pretty good sign.

Audrey rounded the corner of the wooded path and stopped abruptly when she nearly collided with Jacie, who was intently watching Nina. For her part, Nina's fingers were barely grazing her own lips in wonder.

"There you guys are." Audrey put her hands on her hips. Everyone had been looking for them for hours. "Where have you been?"

"Nina?" Jacie looked at her in question. Her heart felt like it was going to pound right out of her chest. Even her toes were crossed. "You didn’t answer."

Her eyebrows lifting, Katherine’s gaze traveled back and forth between Nina and Jacie. "What’s going on? Jesus, we thought you both had skipped out on us. Gwen’s breaking out champagne before dinner and you’re going to miss it." She rocked back on her heels. "We’ve been talking and she’s more like I remember her from before school. Not such a… well…"

"A bitch?" Audrey supplied.

"Yeah," Katherine agreed grimly. "She seems more like one of us again. More like a lesser bitch."

Only vaguely aware that the cousins were speaking, Nina took a step closer to Jacie. She trailed her fingertips down Jacie’s arm. "The answer is yes, Jace." Her voice had an impish, seductive quality that turned Jacie’s knees to water. "But feel free to continue convincing me later tonight, if ya want."

Jacie landed back on the bench with a loud thump. She turned her face towards the heavens and let out a soft sigh that signaled a nearly dizzying level of relief. One that Nina instantly echoed.

Then Jacie suddenly shouted a jubilant, "Yes!"

"Wahh!" Katherine stumbled backwards until she hit a tree. The action sent down onto her head a shower of the cold water droplets that had collected on the young tree’s leaves and branches. "What the hell was that?" she spluttered, her eyes scanning the woods for a bear or mountain lion or some other fanged creature. She shook her head like a wet dog, her spiky blond hair remaining utterly stiff throughout the vigorous movement.

"I–" Jacie let out a breath that was equal parts pure bliss and disbelief. She looked at Nina and grinned, her smile widening when it was instantly mirrored. "I’m just happy to be here with you guys."

"Aww," Audrey murmured. "We love you, too, Jacie. Now let’s go drink Gwen’s champagne. We’ve got something to tell you, and we need to do it before we get back to the house."

They began slowly walking back toward Charlotte’s Web.

Katherine hated to bring it up, but she knew if she didn’t, Audrey would. "I uh… just happened to be in Gwen’s closet earlier today when I found something."

Nina’s eyebrows jumped. "You just happened to be there, huh?"

"Of course," Katherine insisted, completely nonplussed. "I was in her closet… and in her suitcase… when I found something."

Jacie wrapped one arm around Katherine’s shoulders and the other around Nina’s, the way she’d often done in the fourth grade when they were walking home from school. The motion was so natural she barely realized what had happened before it was done. "Why do I think I’m not going to like what you found?" she murmured, her feet lightly splashing along the path.

"Because you’re not." Audrey frowned, already knowing what Katherine was going to say. However, the gesture wavered when Nina grasped her hand, connecting them all together in a chain as they walked.


"To the Mayflower Club," Gwen said, lifting her champagne glass. The room was wreathed with nostalgic smiles, and the women drank a toast. Whatever happened later, the seemingly unbreakable bonds of their youth were still worth toasting today.

They’d decided to wait until after dinner to drink their champagne and now their bellies were full and they were lounging on chairs and loveseats in the beautifully furnished parlor. The fireplace crackled peacefully, casting the room in a golden glow and sending the light scent of hickory into the air. And Katherine had out the photo albums that she’d brought.

"Oh my God, Audrey," Nina laughed delightedly as she glanced at a photo, "I didn’t remember you having big 80s hair."

"Look," smiling, Gwen pointed at the picture, "you were awesome, Audrey, you had your collar up and a banana clip in your hair! Plastic shoes, too?"

"Pink ones."

"Very boss," Gwen commented sincerely, pouring herself another glass of bubbly. She was starting to feel its effects and she relaxed deeper into her chair, sinking into the soft leather. She was still no closer to catching her blackmailer. Over the course of the evening, she’d changed her mind about the most likely suspect three times, finally settling on Nina.

When Jacie had come back from her endless walk with Nina, Gwen knew that Nina had told her everything by the way Jacie’s dark gaze bore a hole through her during dinner. Just thinking about the venom in that look still made her blood run cold. Jacie was clearly the angriest with her, but because of that, she wondered if Jacie wouldn’t rather rub her nose in what she was doing rather than remaining anonymous. No, being deliberate and patient was more Nina’s style than any of the others.

Audrey primped her curls, her voice pulling Gwen from her thoughts. "I borrowed that banana clip from you, Gwen. But I still rocked."

Katherine snickered. "Yeah, how could we have forgotten how like… how like totally tubular you were."

Katherine’s Valley Girl accent, one none of them had ever had as teenagers, caused Gwen and Jacie to burst out laughing.

"Be quiet, Katy," Audrey shot back. "At least I didn’t have a tail."

Katherine gasped, her hand unconsciously moving to the back of her head. "That was a low blow, cuz."

"Katy might have had a tail," Jacie grimaced, remembering, "But you had the most bodacious ta tas of us all." She could hardly finish what she was saying before she was laughing, too.

Audrey’s face turned beet red.

Jacie bumped shoulders with Audrey, trying hard to control her laughter. "They’re to the max, Audrey," she chimed in, surprised at what a good time she was having. Dinner had been… hard. But Nina had taken her aside and reminded her that the past couldn’t be changed, but what happened in the future was up to them. It was a nice way of saying that it was time to "get over it." And she was forced to admit, knowing that she had the chance to start again with Nina was making it easier to forgive Gwen. When she wasn’t fantasizing about stuffing her into the lit fireplace with a sharp metal poker. Now she was merely dreaming of wedging her in there by hand.

Gwen had peppered them all with poorly veiled and mostly bizarre personal questions at dinner, most of them having to do with their finances. But despite the game of 20 questions, the evening had been pure fun. Audrey and Katy were as fun and as feisty as ever. And Gwen had traveled the world and told them charming and surprisingly unpretentious stories about why some of those trips were important to her. They all gushed over their children and Katy was adorably ga-ga over her boyfriend. And then there was Nina. Jacie looked at her watch. Wasn’t it time to kiss Nina again?

Audrey turned to Jacie with a wide smile on her face. "I can’t wait to tell Ricky that a hot lesbian who used to be my roommate thinks my boobs are bodacious." She looked about ready to burst. "He’ll love it!"

Nina and Jacie shared amused smiles. Then Nina cleared her throat. "Guys, I have something I want to tell you."

Jacie raised her eyebrows in question, and Nina answered by giving her a tiny nod. She wanted her friends to know.

Nina drew in a deep breath, a little surprised that she wasn’t more nervous. She would love for them to be supportive and happy that she felt comfortable enough to share this part of herself with them. Her lips curled into a genuine smile. But if they weren’t cool with it, life would go on. Damn, she was glad she wasn’t 18 anymore. "Jacie isn’t the only lesbian in the room."

Katherine and Audrey shot to their feet and, at the same instant, pointed accusing fingers at each other. "I knew it!" they shouted in unison. "It’s you!"

"Oh, God." Gwen just shook her head.

Nina rolled her eyes. "It’s neither one of you."

But Audrey and Katherine continued giving each other a very skeptical once over, just to be sure.

Nina lifted her chin. "It’s–"

"It’s Gwen," Jacie inserted smoothly, leaning back in her love seat and raising her glass to toast the tall redhead. She blew her a kiss.

"I knew it!" both Audrey and Katherine shouted again, this time pointing directly at Gwen.

Gwen gasped so violently that she began to choke on her own saliva.

Jacie gave Gwen a slow, seductive wink. "Why don’t you pull out your membership card and show Katy and Audrey? I know they’d like to see it."

"There’s not really a membership card," Audrey said, trying to gauge Jacie’s sincerity. Then she leaned over and whispered to Katherine, "Right?"

"How would I know?"

Once again they traded skeptical looks.

"Jacie!" Nina reprimanded, trying not to smile and sounding very much like the mom that she was. "Not nice."

Jacie grinned unrepentantly and happily ignored Gwen’s glare.

"Gwen’s not gay," Nina started, then paused and scratched her jaw. "At least I don’t think so."

"Of course I’m not," Gwen wailed, throwing her hands in the air. "I’m married, for God’s sake."

Both Jacie and Nina just shrugged, making it clear that they considered that a pitiful offering of proof.

"Anyway," Nina swallowed. "I’m the one who’s a lesbian. There." She nodded a little and blew out a long breath. "Wow. That felt really good. Why I didn’t say it that way to begin with, I’ll never know," she said wryly, waggling her fingers at the cold champagne bottle, which Jacie lifted from her swollen cheek and discolored eye and dutifully passed her way.

"You are not!" Katherine blurted out. "No way, I’m not buying that."

Audrey snorted. "What she said, Nina. No way."

Nina couldn’t believe her ears. "I am, too!"

"Yeah," Katherine scoffed, rolling her eyes. "Right."

"I’m gay, guys."

Katherine gave Nina a direct look. "You are not."

"What do you mean, I’m not? I would know if I’m gay. And I’m gay. Way, way gay!" Nina insisted, stamping her foot in frustration.

Audrey and Katherine actually laughed.

Nina’s eyes turned to slits. Without warning, she sprang to her feet and stepped directly in front of Jacie. "Hi, Jacie."

Baffled as to what Nina was doing, Jacie dutifully replied with a "Hi–", but before she could finish Nina gave her a sweet smile and straddled her lap. Everyone in the room heard Jacie’s dry swallow. "Wha- What are you doing?"

Nina ignored the question and raised her hands to tenderly run them through Jacie’s hair. "So soft," she murmured to herself. Then she smiled warmly at her friend. "May I kiss you?"

Audrey and Katherine’s jaws hit the floor while Gwen silently cheered.

Nina’s thighs were tightly bracketing Jacie's and Jacie could feel the warmth of Nina’s body through the denim that covered their legs. Automatically, she raised her hands and let them rest on Nina’s hips. "You... um… you want to kiss me?" Her voice cracked a little at the end.

"Very much so," Nina said softly. She buried her hands further into Jacie’s hair and let her fingers lightly scratch Jacie’s scalp, her belly clenching with desire as she looked deeply into her friend's earnest, rapidly darkening eyes.

Jacie licked her lips, her gaze momentarily darting sideways to her friends, who looked like two deer waiting to be smashed by an oncoming truck. "For them?"

Nina thought about the question carefully. She’d started this to prove a point, trusting that Jacie wouldn’t mind. But now… of its own accord, one hand left Jacie’s hair and traveled lightly down the delicate soft skin of her throat, feeling Jacie’s thundering heartbeat. Then her fingers moved again, dancing across Jacie’s collarbone. She let herself feel the nearness of her friend and the heat of her body, and she moaned softly. She allowed the scent of Jacie’s skin and perfume to sink into her blood and overwhelm her senses, willingly losing herself in the loving brown eyes that were riveted on her own. And in the tiny space between that heartbeat and next, the answer became crystal clear. "For me."

Jacie gave her a dazzling grin and leaned forward just a hair. But it was all the invitation that Nina needed. They wrapped their arms tightly around one another and when their lips and tongues came together in an explosion of affection and unconcealed hunger, the glass dropped from Katherine’s suddenly limp hand.

With their mouths still hanging open at the sensual display, the cousins looked at each other as if to say "duh!"

Gwen closed her eyes, saying a small prayer to whoever might be listening. As far as she was concerned, second chances were rarer than miracles and more precious than diamonds. And she hoped with her entire heart that these four women would give her one of her own.


By nine-thirty that evening, the effects of the champagne had Audrey’s head spinning and Gwen fighting to avoid an all out bout of depression. She’d gone upstairs and made the mistake of checking her email for messages from Malcolm. Instead, she’d found another blackmail demand. She sat alone, facing the fire, running the words over and over in her head.

The newest demand was more urgent and nastier than the others. And for the first time, her blackmailer had given her a firm deadline. Before it was always just soon or something equally vague. And she’d always complied, transferring the funds from her own checking account to a PayPal address, afraid to death that her world would be irrevocably turned upside down. And now, as if to cap off her failure thus far this weekend, she suddenly had only until Monday to produce the cash or be exposed.

Only 20 years of etiquette learned at the knee of the most demanding mother-in-law on the planet kept her from swilling her drink directly from the bottle.

Katherine and Jacie were playing a rousing game of cards on the coffee table, laughing and arguing over their favorite sports team. Katherine’s cell phone rang in the middle of a sentence, and she shot Jacie an apologetic smile. Absently, she dug through her handbag, sitting on the floor at her feet, and answered the phone without bothering to look at who was calling. "Hello."

Katherine felt the blood drain from her face. She winced inwardly, aware that Jacie and even Gwen had noticed her reaction to the call. "Hi," she said tightly, easing out of her seat and excusing herself from the room, very aware of Jacie’s concerned eyes on her back.

"What are you doing?" she ground out as soon as she rounded the corner and stepped into the hall. "We agreed that I would call you when I was alone tonight."

Her features softened as she listened to the voice on the other end of the phone. "Yes, of course I missed you." A small smile appeared. "I love you, too." She leaned against the wall, making sure that her voice was low. "This is going to be the first weekend we haven’t spent together in months." Her cheeks turned pink at her lover’s racy comment. "Ooo… I like that sound of that. Okay, well–of course not!" she screeched, clamping her hand over her mouth when she realized what she’d done. "Of course I haven’t told her," she repeated, this time more softly. "I promised that I wouldn’t. Though I have to tell you, I feel shitty about it." She sighed. "Something is up with her, but I don’t think she knows what’s going on."

Katherine closed her eyes guiltily, thinking of Gwen as she listened. "Relax, I’ll keep my promise," she finally said. "But when I get back we’re going to talk about this. I was wrong. I can’t keep doing this. Things have gone too far." She rubbed her temples as her boyfriend tried to convince her otherwise. "Bullshit," she broke in angrily. "I shouldn’t have agreed to this in the first place. You said that she deserved it and that nobody would get hurt, but being here with her today has shown me that that’s not true. Christ, I feel like pond scum!"

Just then, Katherine looked up to see Jacie standing uneasily at the end of the short hallway. She swallowed hard as her friend cocked her head to the side and regarded her with a mixture of curiosity and worry. "Uh… are you okay?" Jacie mouthed silently.

Katherine nodded quickly before turning her back on her friend. "Call me later tonight, okay? And I’ll tell you about my visit so far." A pause. "I love you, too."

Jacie could hear the smile in her words.

"Bye." Katherine squared her shoulders and turned back, pressing the 'off' button on her cell phone. She tried not to look as ashamed as she felt. For few seconds, she didn’t say anything, unsure of what the other woman had heard. "Jacie–"

Reddish-brown eyebrows lifted in question. "Yeah."

Katherine’s words came out in a tumble. "Everything is fine. It’s just one of those relationship issues." She shrugged. "You know how it is. No big deal."

Jacie looked visibly relieved. Katherine having man troubles was nothing new. "Men are pigs?" she offered gamely, hoping to lighten the awkward moment.

A bubble of laughter erupted from Katherine. Tentatively, she smiled and stepped closer to Jacie. "Normally, I’d agree with you. But this guy’s special, so he’s worth the trouble." She let out a slightly shaky breath. Jacie hadn’t heard enough to know what was going on. Thank God.

Katherine scrambled for something neutral to talk about. "So tell me what’s up with you and Nina?"

Even though she was filled with hope for the future, things still felt too raw between her and Nina to even consider discussing it. At least this soon. "No."

Katherine took the refusal in stride, expecting nothing less from Jacie than blunt honesty. "So, tell me more about your business then?"

The lame change of subjects was painfully obvious, but Jacie let it pass, deciding that whatever Katherine was dealing with wasn’t really any of her business anyway. "Are you sure you want to hear about small business entrepreneurship and the exciting world of tiling?"

Katherine smiled wryly. "Of course not. But since that’s the world you live in, I’m willing to give it a try. Just lie to make it more interesting if you have to. I’m not getting any younger, ya know."

Jacie chuckled. "You’re on."

Back in the parlor, Nina and Audrey were discussing Nina’s recent move back to St. Louis, while Gwen was staring into the fireplace, not even trying to join in the discussion.

Nina leaned closer to Audrey and whispered, "What’s wrong with her?"

Audrey shook her head. "I have no idea. She was fine until she went up to her room a little while ago."

"Hm." Nina’s brow furrowed, and she dropped her voice even lower. "What happened between you two back in school? There must have been something because you were always trying to get us to patch things up, even after what she did to Jacie. I always figured that you two would be the only ones of us to work things out eventually."

Audrey took a slow sip of her drink, feeling the tingle of alcohol all the way down to her toes. She opened her mouth to tell Nina what happened, but stopped when she again caught sight of Gwen’s gloomy profile. For the first time in years, all she felt when she saw or even thought of Gwen was pity and loss. "It was nothing, Nina," she brushed off, not wanting to give Nina another reason to resent their host. "We just lost touch."

"Tell her." Gwen’s unexpected voice startled them. She turned her chair, flung her legs over one arm, said a mental "fuck you" to her mother-in-law and took a swig right from the bottle. "Go on, Audrey. Nina knows my worst. Why not talk about another one of my sins?" She hiccupped. "I have a heaping pile of them, you know."

Audrey shifted uncomfortably. "Gwen, I don’t–"

"Fine," Gwen said easily, brushing off Audrey’s reservations with a wave of her hand. "I’ll tell her."

Jacie and Katherine entered the room just as Gwen began.

"It was 1985, right?" Gwen glanced at Audrey, who nodded, an unhappy expression on her face. "Right."

"What’s going on?" Jacie whispered as she sat down next to Nina.

Craving the physical contact, Nina laid her hand on Jacie’s leg and gave it a gentle squeeze. "I think Gwen’s a little drunk and she’s going to tell us what happened between her and Audrey."

"Gwen screwed with somebody else?"

"I dunno." She squeezed Jacie’s leg affectionately. "Shh."

Gwen filled her glass several fingers high and drained it. She lifted her chin and her voice held just a hint of a slur. "There was a new show opening at the Blagbrough Galleries downtown. Malcolm’s parents drove us over because anyone who was anyone was going to be there. They wanted to show off Malcolm, who was graduating that year. I remember wishing I could just stay home and sleep that evening. Tucker had an ear infection and had been awake for two days straight." Despite telling what was obviously going to be an unhappy tale, she smiled a little at the mention of her son’s name. "And I was dead tired. But my father-in-law insisted that we attend because he knew the gallery owner." She sneered a little, her resentment showing. "So that was the end of the discussion."

"Malcolm never stood up to his parents?" Katherine asked, keenly interested in what Gwen was saying.

"Oh, he did," Gwen assured her. "We both did. But that would take years and years. In the beginning… well, we were both so young and we wanted to show his family that our marriage wasn’t a mistake, despite the hurried circumstances." She gazed enviously at her friends. "Neither Malcolm nor I were ever the rebels that you girls were and more than anything I wanted to fit in." She lowered her gaze. "No matter the cost."

Smelling like dish soap, Frances Artiste entered the room with her apron draped over her shoulder. She breathed a sigh of relief. No one was arguing. "Can I get you ladies anything?"

"Is there more of this in the refrigerator?" Gwen held up an empty bottle of champagne.

Dumbly, Frances nodded and made a mental note to head to the liquor store in the morning.

Mollified, Gwen nodded. "Please, Mrs. Artiste, call it a night. We’re all fine here, right?" She glanced questioningly at the other women.

"Fine," Nina agreed. "Have a good night."

"Dinner was great," Jacie chimed in. "Thanks."

The other women murmured their agreement.

"Where was I?" Gwen began, letting one leg fall limply off the chair.

Frances took this chance to flee the room.

"You were nowhere, Gwen." Audrey suddenly stood and faced the fire, the flickering light reflecting off glassy, honey-brown eyes. "Except drunk." She felt a little tipsy herself and was angry that Gwen’s story was affecting her so. "Can’t we find something better to talk about? The past is dead. Let’s leave it buried."

Gwen blinked with exaggerated slowness. "The past always comes home to roost," she said seriously, looking hard at Audrey. "It’s not dead at all. It’s alive and it’s an octopus with slimy, slithering tentacles that go on forever. And one day," Gwen put her hands around her own throat, "when you’re going along happy as can be, one of those putrid tentacles sneaks up on you from behind and wraps around your throat and…." She began to squeeze her neck, causing her face to turn bright red.

"Holy shit," Jacie exclaimed, giving Gwen a look that screamed 'keep the hell away from me.' "You are one creepy-ass drunk."

But Gwen took the comment in stride. "I’m just heading this off at the pass in case any of you get any bright ideas and try to bleed me dry."

"What are you talking about?" Katherine made a face. "You’re making no sense. Bleed you dry?"

"Nuh huh," Gwen said in a singsong voice. She shook her head wildly, then shook a chastising finger at Katherine. "I’m not telling yet."

Nina and Jacie looked at each other and shrugged.

Then Gwen snapped her fingers. "Oh yes, we were at the Blagbrough Galleries."

"I’d barely gotten inside when I spotted Audrey. She must have just arrived because she still had her coat thrown over her arm." Gwen recalled the moment their gazes met, the warmth that entered Audrey’s eyes upon seeing her and the overwhelming sense of anxiety that she felt when she came face-to-face with her not so distant past. A past she was supposed to have thoroughly outgrown.

Gwen laughed, but there was no humor in the gesture. "It all seems simple now, what I should have done. I was happy to see Audrey. My first reaction was to give her a big hug. But my second reaction, the overpowering one, was to panic. Here was someone who knew all my secrets. Who knew the real me. Not the me I spent my days pretending to be."

She stopped speaking for a moment, seemingly lost in her memories. Just when the other women were about to say something, she started again. "Audrey hurried over me, all smiles and excitement. And she started asking me how I was doing and all about the baby and if I was taking classes again." Gwen drew in a steadying breath and lifted her eyes from the bottom of her glass to met Audrey’s intent stare. "And then I promptly acted as though I didn’t know you at all. I even tried to walk away from you while you were still talking to me."

For a few seconds the room was still, the silence broken only by the sounds of five women breathing and the occasional pop and hiss of the fire.

Audrey looked away, feeling a stab of pain and remembering the confusion and anger she’d felt at Gwen’s snubbing.

"Jesus, Gwen," Nina moaned, her heart going out to Audrey.

"But Malcolm, who didn’t need to earn his place in the family the way I did, remembered Audrey and used her name when saying hello," Gwen continued. "He didn’t understand the way I was acting or how I could forget a friend and so I changed my story on the spot and told my in-laws that Audrey was an acquaintance from school."

Jacie’s lips twisted. "An acquaintance?"

"It was the level of contact I thought my mother-in-law would find acceptable, and by this time the gallery owner and the artist himself had all joined us. I felt like I was in a pressure cooker." Gwen rubbed her temples with an irritated hand and forced herself onward. "Audrey was wearing a red vest and black slacks and Malcolm’s mother looked down her nose at her and gave her our drink order, thinking she was one of the waitresses." She bit her lip for a second before admitting in a soft voice, "I was horrified, but I didn’t have the nerve to correct her."

The women shot Gwen varying degrees of disgusted looks, and Katy leaned forward in her seat, seething inside over her cousin’s humiliation.

Gwen wished she could stop here, but that night things had simply gone from bad to worse with no stops in between. "Then Vice Principal Rodriguez showed up and–"

"For God’s sake, Gwen," Audrey snapped. "I wish you all would stop calling him that. We’re all adults now. Not to mention that I’ve been sleeping with the man for nearly 20 years. His name is Enrique."

"Okay, okay," Gwen replied, concerned and a little wide-eyed over Audrey’s outburst over something so seemingly benign. "Enrique started making doe eyes at Audrey and I just about wet my pants on the spot. I didn’t know they were…" She gestured aimlessly. "Together. Then he gave her a little bow and gallantly took her coat." This time even Gwen herself winced. "And Malcolm’s father promptly gathered all our coats and handed them to," she glanced sideways at Audrey, "Enrique, along with a five-dollar tip."

Nina lifted an eyebrow and sneered. "Let me guess the rest of story. You didn’t speak up then either. And you blew off Audrey for the rest of the night to suck up to your in-laws."

Gwen just studied her hands.

"Enrique was angry, but didn’t want to cause a scene," Audrey inserted, causing all eyes to shift to her. "We hadn’t been dating long and he was there to keep me company while I did a write-up on the show for the school newspaper." She closed her eyes. "As we were walking away, I heard Mrs. Langtree ask Gwen if the Mexican was the same sort of acquaintance that that chubby girl was."

Gwen’s head snapped up, and for a second, the room swam. "I didn’t know you heard that."

Audrey cursed the tears that were pooling behind tightly shut lids. "I heard. And so did Enrique." Then, to everyone’s surprise, she let out a snort of laughter. "He threw all your coats out into the street."

Katy grinned. "Good for Vice Princ–" Audrey’s look of warning stopped her dead in her tracks. "Good for him."

"Mm." Gwen quirked a tiny smile. "I always wondered what happened to them. We all froze on the way home."

Audrey moved back to the love seat and Jacie and Nina quickly made a space between them so she could fit in. "Why were you so ashamed of me, Gwen?" she asked, residual hurt still coloring her voice. "I would never have done something to embarrass you. I knew how the Langtrees’ opinions mattered to you."

Gwen swallowed hard and pushed her way onto unsteady feet. "You still don’t see?" She set down her glass and headed towards the stairway. At the base of the steps she turned back. "I was never ashamed of you. Of any of you. I loved you all then and I always will."

Gwen felt like crying, but the tears wouldn’t come. "I was ashamed of me."


Jacie reached out and curled her hand around Nina’s. They were lying in their room’s only bed, each facing the other, a thin sheet pulled up to waist level. A gentle rain tapped against the window's glass and the occasional flash of lightning briefly lit the room in an ethereal shade of blue.

Nina was wearing an ancient, soft cotton St. Louis Cardinals jersey and a pair of soft white bikini panties. Jacie had turned her back to allow her friend a moment of privacy while she changed into her pajamas. She was even a little proud of herself for not peeking. But when she turned around and saw Nina, her hair tussled from undressing, smooth legs sticking out from high-cut panties, it took every ounce of Jacie’s willpower not to pounce on her and ravage her on the spot. Repeatedly.

Jacie raised herself up onto one elbow and rested her head in her hand. "Do you think Gwen did this on purpose?" Her voice was quiet, and Nina barely heard it above the rain. "The one bed thing?"

Nina fingered the sheets. They were baby-soft and held the fresh, clean scent of detergent. "Maybe. She seems pretty sorry about everything that happened. And I noticed that Audrey and Katy had their own beds. Maybe she’s just trying to make up for things." She glanced up at Jacie. "Are you mad about it?"

Jacie grinned. She brushed the back of Nina’s hand with her thumb. "Do I seem mad?"

Nina grinned back, her eyes roaming over Jacie’s body, which was clad only in a tank top and shorts. "No," she said softly, "what you seem is sexy as hell."

Jacie’s smile grew. "Look who's talking?" She flopped onto her back and regarded the ceiling, but didn’t let go of Nina’s hand. "That kiss tonight, Nina," she let out a breathy sigh and closed her eyes, reliving the moment, "I still haven’t recovered!"

Nina fanned herself. "Me neither."

"This is nice." Jacie raised Nina’s hand to her lips and gently kissed it. "Just being together."

"It is," Nina agreed wholeheartedly. "I’ve wanted it for so long and now it’s actually happening." She shook her head a little. "It still feels a little like a dream."

"You know how some things aren’t as good as you remember them? Or how sometimes over time you build them up in your mind to be better than they were in real life?"

Nina’s heart lurched, suddenly fearing that Jacie was going to say that’s how she felt about seeing her again. "Yeah?"

"This is nothing like that." The excitement in her voice was obvious. "I can’t even explain how wonderful I feel."

Nina laughed softly in relief. "I feel the same way."

Jacie turned her head to look at her friend. She had a million questions, but one had been weighing on her mind even before she saw Nina again. "Tell me about Robbie and…" she paused, knowing she was about to poke her nose into something Nina might not want to discuss. "Well, I guess," Nina lifted her eyebrows in question and Jacie promptly chickened out. "Tell me about him."

Nina squeezed their joined hands. "And his father?"

Jacie winced. "It’s not my business, I know but–"

"Shh," Nina soothed. "I want you in my business, Jacie. So it’s okay."

Jacie relaxed a little.

"You met Robbie, so you probably saw that he’s a handful." She chuckled. "Actually, he reminds me so much of you, Jace. He’s brave and a little crazy and an irrepressible dreamer."

Jacie let go of Nina’s hand and lifted her arm. She held her breath, hoping Nina would accept the unspoken invitation. I want to be closer to you.

She needn’t have worried. Nina snuggled tightly to Jacie and curled a possessive arm around her chest, never wanting to let go. She let out a deep breath. "I met Robbie’s father in Hawaii about ten years ago."

"Why were you in Hawaii?"

"I had just ended a two-year relationship with Carol, a woman who I worked with at the Detroit Historical Museum. I’d tried so hard to make things work and was sure that this time I’d found someone I could settle down with permanently. But…" she hesitated as she mulled over the right words. "But she wasn’t a ‘permanent’ sort of a woman, I guess. One day she told me that she wanted us to see other people. We were living together by then."

"She’s a moron."

Nina chuckled softly, her breath warming Jacie’s shoulder. "I held my ground and said no. Monogamy is important to me. And she left me the next morning."

"Make that a moronic bitch."

Nina’s chuckle turned into an outright laugh. "Always sticking up for me, eh?"

Jacie let out a soft grunt of agreement. "Through thick and thin, Nina."

"Anyway, I sulked around Detroit for about six months after that, not doing much more than feeling sorry for myself, and one day, while I was walking downtown, I passed a travel agency. In the window was a beautiful photograph of a waterfall not far from Kaneohe Bay on Oahu. I needed… something. And so I took some of the vacation I had saved up and flew to Hawaii the next week."

Nina slipped her hand beneath Jacie’s tank top, feeling Jacie's ribs expand sharply when she began to gently stroke her belly. "I took a hike to the waterfall I’d seen in the photo, and at the falls I met another hiker named Tim. He was recently divorced and he was in Hawaii trying to make a new start for himself. Just like me."

"And you fell in love with him?" A tiny sting of jealousy accompanied Jacie’s words, fading only with the gentle reminder that Nina was in her arms right now.

Nina resituated herself so that she was mostly on top of Jacie and could look her in the eye. The position was so intimate the women were breathing the same air. "No," she whispered seriously. "It wasn’t like that at all. We each needed something from the other, and we didn’t do anything to put the brakes on the attraction we felt. I was still questioning my sexuality. I found men physically attractive but never really thought of making a life with one. The pull that a woman has on me…" She dipped her head quickly and brushed her lips against Jacie’s. "Well, nothing about my time with Tim changed that.

"He was interesting and funny and made me feel wanted. And I helped him forget about his ex-wife, if only for a little while. We danced till dawn, drank pina coladas, made love on the beach, and only lived for the moment. And when our vacations were over, we kissed each other on the cheek and said goodbye. Tim went home to Pennsylvania, I think, to try and reconcile with his ex. I went home to Detroit with a tan… and pregnant with Robbie."

"Wow." Concern shown in Jacie’s eyes. "Were you okay?"

Nina nodded, scattering her hair across her shoulders. "I really was. It was a little scary, knowing I’d have to parent all on my own. But I’d always wanted a child, and even though it would have been easier to do with someone I loved, I wouldn’t take back what happened even if I could. I love Robbie with everything that I am."

Jacie reached up and played with a lock of Nina’s hair, the silken strands falling around her fingers. "Does Tim know about Robbie?"

"We didn’t even tell each other our last names, Jacie. We were living some sort of island fantasy and there was no place in that for real life. So no, Tim with the pretty brown eyes, who I hope dearly is happy at home with his wife somewhere tonight, has no idea. I wouldn’t know how to find him even if I wanted to."

Jacie leaned up and bussed Nina’s chin. "Thank you for sharing that with me."

"Will you tell me about Emily?"

The words were far easier than Jacie thought they’d be. "She’s beautiful and smart and nothing like me."

"From your description of her so far, I can see that."

"Ha. Ha." Jacie tickled Nina’s ribs, enjoying the feeling of the other woman shaking with laughter. "That’s not what I meant. She loves to read and is mature for her age, something I never was. She’s a great kid and I can’t wait for you to meet her."

Nina felt a thrill as Jacie’s words skittered down her spine.

Jacie settled into her pillow as Nina retook her spot on her shoulder. "I met Emily’s mother, Alison, about ten years ago. Things were good between us. Then they were bad. Then they were good. A damn yoyo had fewer ups and downs than our relationship did."

Nina hugged her and Jacie greedily absorbed the warmth and caring, allowing it to act as a buffer between her heart and old wounds. "She wanted children and I didn’t. And she was angry with me all the time because of it. Finally, I let her convince me that my hesitancy with regard to starting a family was the real dilemma in our relationship and that if I’d just get over whatever my problem was, things would be wonderful between us."

Inwardly, Nina cringed.

"I was so tired of the fighting and even though I felt like I was jumping off a cliff, I-I guess I just wanted to be happy for once. So I gave in. We used a sperm bank and a few tries later Alison got pregnant. I don’t know what the hell I was thinking, Nina. Things were always so volatile between us. Having a baby only made our relationship problems worse. The bad times started overwhelming the good. And then the good times pretty much disappeared. But Emily," her voice held a note of true awe, "she was so tiny and so perfect. It didn’t seem to matter to my heart that Alison was the one who actually gave birth to her. I fell in love with her the moment I saw her, and she was my daughter. Thank God, we did a second-parent adoption right after she was born."

The rain intensified and a far-off clap of thunder punctuated Jacie’s words.

"I knew you’d be a wonderful mother someday, Jacie."

Jacie gave her playful pinch. "I used to pull the heads off your Barbies."

"But you always taped them back on," Nina reminded. "You have so much love to give... I always thought you’d be great with kids."

Jacie snorted softly. "You were the only one then. I did my best to stay with Alison, but in the end, the fighting got to be too much for me. But true to form, we weren’t finished fighting. We ended up in court duking it out over custody." She swallowed thickly. "That bitch Alison told the judge that I never wanted Emily to be born. And my daughter was sitting right next to her when she said it."

Nina closed her eyes. "God, Jacie."

Jacie had to clear her throat to speak. "Yeah. Anyway, we ended up with joint custody, but Alison seems hell bent on making that arrangement as painful as possible. If you want any relationship with me, Nina, you have to know that she’s going to make trouble. She hates me and–"

"Honey, you can stop worrying about that right now. Nobody can come between us unless we let them." She tightened her grip on Jacie. "Just let her try," she warned darkly.

Jacie buried her face in Nina’s hair. "I’ve been falling in love with you again every five minutes since I saw you again. You know that, right?"

Nina sniffed, her heart near bursting. "I love you, too."



"Why are your feet always so cold?"

Nina burst out laughing, glad when the intensity of their conversation took a sharp turn downward.

Jacie suddenly rolled them over and gently pinned Nina to the bed. There would, she knew, be time for more heart-to-heart talks later. For now, she wanted to revel in being so near to someone who could make her heart beat double-time with little more than a smile in her direction. "You should wear socks!"

Nina intentionally rubbed her feet up and down Jacie’s calves, causing her to howl. "You should kiss me, woman!"

Jacie stopped all movement and looked down into Nina’s eyes. "I should?"

"Oh, yeah," Nina breathed. "All night long."

"But I was going to get up and wash my hair. And do my nails. And... um… read. Yeah, that’s it. Read a good book," Jacie teased, delighting at the evil glint that invaded Nina’s eyes.

Nina raised a slender eyebrow. "The offer will only be good for the next 50 years, Jacie Ann."

Jacie’s eyes widened. "Forget my nails." She began kissing Nina. "I need to make up for lost time," she muttered against soft lips.

An hour later, both women were on their backs, panting softly. A thin sheen of perspiration coated Jacie’s skin and Nina had her arm thrown over her eyes. Their emotions had been running high to start, and that only served to add fuel to flames that wanted to burst out of control.

"I can’t take it anymore," Nina moaned unevenly. "I’m about to self-destruct from needing you." Then she gathered her courage and spoke her heart’s desire. "I want to make love to you. I don’t want to wait until we have a bunch of dates. I don’t want to wait until we’re more secure in our relationship. I want my mouth all over you. Now."

Jacie whimpered. Loudly. "You don’t think I’m turned on?" she countered raggedly. "I can’t just kiss you all night long and still live."

"Good." Nina rolled half onto Jacie and ran her hands up under Jacie’s tank top.

"Nina!" Reluctantly, Jacie captured Nina’s hands. "Nina."

"What?" Nina chuckled ruefully at her own lack of control as she hung her head and whimpered.

"I want to do this right. I don’t want to screw things up by moving too fast. I’ve had 20 years to dream about this and I don’t want to risk blowing it."

"Since when are you the logical one?"

"Since I had a second shot at the love of my life."

And that caused Nina to collapse right where she was. "But what if I get hit by a bus tomorrow? Life is short. Things happen."

"Don’t even joke about dying." Jacie pulled her even closer, trying not to feel Nina’s hardened nipples pressing into her own. She bit her lip in a bid for control herself, but couldn’t stop her hips from moving forward and seeking firmer contact with Nina’s thigh.

Nina’s eyes popped wide opened. "Make up your mind!" She scrambled away from Jacie as though her friend were on fire, then spoke from her side of the bed. "You’re trying to drive me insane."

"I can’t help it," Jacie complained weakly. Then her voice dropped to its deepest register, the tone and words causing Nina to visibly shiver. "I want you so badly."

"That was just mean." Nina blew out a frustrated breath. "I’m throbbing."

Jacie covered her ears with both hands. "Don’t say things like that. I’m so wet I’m about ready to slide off the bed."

Nina’s mouth began to water, and she scooted part way back to Jacie. "I could help you with that," she teased seductively.

Jacie’s eyes flashed with warning. "I know you could," she gritted out. Then without even realizing what she was doing, her hand slid into her own shorts. And she hissed, her face a picture of both pleasure and exquisite pain when her cool fingers grazed her aching clit.

A flash of lightning illuminated the room and Nina’s heart stopped beating. She was shocked that she hadn’t simply come on the spot. "What–" she licked her lips. "What are you doing?"

Jacie realized where her hand was and she froze. "Nothing," she lied.

"No, no, no. That’s not nothing. You’re touching yourself."

Mortally embarrassed, Jacie nodded.

"Right in front of me?"

Another nod.

Nina closed her eyes and swallowed hard. "Sweet Jesus." Lightning flashed and when she opened her eyes again, Jacie could see the fire in them. "Don’t stop."

Jacie’s hands were trembling. "Really?"

Nina’s voice was husky with desire. "Tell me that over the years you haven’t thought of what it would be like to see me touching myself."

Jacie’s nostrils flared, and the hand in her shorts began to move. "I can’t tell you that, Nina," she admitted tightly, a flush working up her chest and neck. "I’ve thought of it a thousand times."

Nina let out a shaky breath, her arousal close to peaking. Carefully, the way she would approach a spooked colt, she moved closer to Jacie, not stopping until she was lying alongside her, her lips pressed close to Jacie’s ear. "And when you thought of me touching myself, what were you doing?"

Jacie could only moan, her free hand clutching the sheets, her other hand working furiously.

"Were you touching yourself, too?"

"Yes," Jacie hissed, drawing out the word as she arched her back.

Nina sucked Jacie’s earlobe into her mouth, laving it with a warm tongue.

"Oh, God," Jacie moaned, her eyes slamming shut.

Nina’s mouth moved down from Jacie’s ear to the tender skin of her throat. She had to nearly sit on her hands to keep from caressing Jacie’s breast, but she was powerless to resist the salty skin in her mouth. She sucked hard on Jacie’s neck, using her teeth for good measure, her own moisture trickling down her thigh when Jacie bucked one final time and convulsions overtook her.

Unable to stop herself, Nina wrapped an arm around Jacie and murmured things she’d always wanted to say to her in her ear as she climaxed, ending with a heartfelt, "I love you." The way Jacie was panting, she expected her to need a few moments to recover. Instead, she let out a small yelp when Jacie quickly switched their positions and hovered over her with a predatory look in her eyes.

"Nina," she purred. "You are very, very bad." A drop of perspiration snaked down Jacie’s cheek and landed on Nina’s neck, branding her.

"I’m sorry?" Nina whispered impishly, feeling anything but contrite.

Jacie smiled a beautiful smile. "I’m not." Then her expression went serious. "But don’t think we’re through here tonight." She took one of Nina’s hands and slid two fingers into her own hot mouth, lavishly wetting them, and causing a tortured moan to be torn from Nina’s chest. Then she guided the fingers down Nina’s belly and in the direction of soft white panties. "Get to work."


It was well after midnight and Audrey was tucked into her bed, the night's champagne causing her to snore like a chain saw. Katherine sat in a rocking chair on the far side the room, her cell phone clutched tightly in her hand.

Slumping heavily in the comfortable chair, she was nearly asleep when the phone finally began buzzing in her hand. Startled, she jerked upright and fumbled to answer it. Before she could say a word, a soft baritone voice greeted her.


"Hi," she whispered, relieved to hear the familiar voice.

"I can barely hear you. Can’t you talk?"

Worriedly, she looked toward Audrey, who had suspiciously turned over in bed and stopped snoring. "I can talk. Just not here. Hang on." Tiptoeing across the room, she eased open the door and slipped silently into the hall. She heard the sound of muted laughter coming from Nina and Jacie’s room and so, not convinced that she was safe yet, she headed downstairs and out onto the built-in back porch that was located off the kitchen.

The wooden floor was cool against her bare feet and she shivered a little as she walked.

"So," she whispered as she took a seat on a padded lounge chair, "do you miss me?"

He let out a low groan. "I feel like I’m dying. I’m counting the minutes until you come home."

She sighed dreamily, well aware of how cheesy his words were but unable to stop herself.

"I’m sorry we argued earlier."

Katherine nodded, though he couldn’t see her. "Me, too." She considered everything that Gwen had revealed earlier that night. "And I think you’re right. At least for now."

"It’s all for the best, you’ll see, sweetheart." His relief was palpable, even over the phone.

Once again, Katherine pushed aside the guilt that was getting harder and harder to ignore. Trying not to picture the other women’s faces if they found out, she did her best to focus on their future. "I hope you’re right."

"I am," he said confidently. "I’m only doing this for us." There was only a second’s pause before he added, "I really love you."

Katherine could hear the smile in his words and her face instantly mirrored the emotion. "I love you, too, Tucker."

Next Part

Return to the Academy