Sedona Rain

Chapter 11

Morning came earlier than usual for Samantha, and even before getting out of bed, she felt the exercise from the day before in her legs and feet.

"I never knew I had so many muscles," she complained as she rolled to the edge of the bed and sat up. "You would think with all the practicing I do with Tae Kwon Doe and the wall, everything would be limber." Sitting with her legs dangling, she stared at Alex in disbelief. "Why aren't you complaining about a sore body?"

"Guess I'm in better shape than you are." Sapphire eyes sparkled with mischief, as the dark-haired beauty walked to the bed and handed Samantha a tube of cream for sore muscles.

"We're going to buy you a pair of hiking boots before we leave for the trip; that's one of your problems. You can't be climbing rocks and stepping on stones all day in those sneakers of yours and not expect your feet and legs to feel the abuse the next day."

"Now you tell me," Samantha whimpered. "At least my arms seem to have taken the exertion without screaming too much. You could have let me in on your little secret before I had the sore feet and muscles."

"Sorry." Alex bent down and kissed Samantha's head. "I'm sure the Jacuzzi last night kept the aching to a minimum. Would you like me to kiss the sore spots and make them all better?"

"You do and I can guarantee we will not be leaving for a camping trip this morning." She drew her lover closer, her arms wrapped firmly around Alex's waist. "Just you, me, and nature, huh?"

"You got it, kiddo, just the three of us. So, it's time to get up, dressed, and going. We have supplies to pick up from downstairs, a few more things to purchase in town, and of course, breakfast."

"Of course, breakfast; that's the most important part," Samantha exclaimed as she let loose of the taller woman and got out of bed.

"I wouldn't go that far, Samantha, but it is high on the list."

After a long discussion over not taking a change of clothing, Alex finally got through to Samantha that they would be "roughing it", no bells and whistles, just the necessities, and after a small amount of begging, Samantha got her writing equipment added to the list.

"Bards!" An exasperated Alex gave up, shaking her head. "When you're going to find time to write, I have no idea, but by all means take the tools of the trade. Other than that, are we ready?"

"Yes." Samantha packed her small journal and pens in her backpack and lifted it onto her shoulders.

"Will you be able to travel easily with that on your back?"

"Yeah. Why?"

"Because we're going to be adding more to it. You know, food, matches, water, survival stuff."

"How much more, Alex?"

"A few pounds, but it'll diminish as we use the supplies up. I'll take the brunt of the weight, but I will need you to carry a little more than you have in there right now. Do you think you'll be able to manage?"

"Sure, it will be on my back so that takes a lot of the weight off. No problem, I can do anything once!" She smiled at her lover and gave the signal that she had everything she needed.

Since the dining room was already open, it seemed like the best place to eat, and when they were finished with breakfast, Alex lead them to the storage room where Gary kept the camping equipment. Everything needed for a weekend with nature was stockpiled in the tiny room. Alex filled Samantha's backpack first with the smaller items, such as cooking utensils, a pot, matches, rope, and knife. She then added some packages of freeze-dried foods. Each of them picked up a sports bottle with a filter that enabled them to purify their drinking and cooking water. The last item Alex loaded onto Samantha's back was a sleeping bag. She then asked if the load felt too heavy or cumbersome to deal with.

"No, I think I'll do just fine. Now I know we're supposed to be roughing it, but I see a roll of camping toilet paper over there; could we please take that and some hand wipes with us?"

The taller woman laughed, but she reached up and retrieved a roll of the camping paper and a few packages of the waterless hand wipes. "Nothing like taking a tenderfoot with me into the depths of nature. How would you ever survive in the forests of the Amazon, far from civilization?"

"Why in Tartarus would I want to survive in the forests of the Amazon? Do I look like a native to you? Besides, Miss Camper-of-the-Year, have you ever gone traipsing through the Amazonian jungle?" Emerald eyes sparkled with the challenge as she waited patiently for a reply.

"Actually . . . no . . . but I think I would survive just fine. I have done some extensive hiking and camping in my day." Sapphire eyes met the question with a hint of rascality. "Besides, you would never be in the Amazon forest alone; I would always be there to protect you."

"My dark hero, always around to save me." There was a smile on the fair face, but the sentiment went heart deep.

"You betcha! Now let's go get a few more goodies to eat and buy you a pair of decent hiking shoes."

On the way out of the room Alex grabbed a flashlight and some batteries. She waved them at Samantha. "Just to be on the safe sideÁÁdon't want you to be afraid of the dark." She smiled at her lover and closed the door behind her.

It didn't take long to pack up the Jeep, and soon the weekend adventure was about to begin. Alex informed Gary that they would be somewhere in Secret Canyon and told him if they hadn't shown up back at the Resort by Sunday evening to come looking for them. Secrecy was always a part of her little hiking expedition in the past, but this time she had Samantha to think about as well. She didn't want them to be caught out somewhere with no one knowing where to even begin a search if something went amiss.

A few hours later all the extra supplies were purchased and packed, and Samantha was sporting a new pair of shoes.

"I'm sorry I didn't think about your feet and legs before we got here, Samantha." Alex apologized.

"That's okay, I've got the right equipment now," Samantha answered.

"Yes, but you should have been able to wear them for a few days and break them in before needing them so desperately. At least the salesperson seemed knowledgeable enough to fit you properly and promised that they wouldn't cause blisters. He will be one sorry so-and-so if they do." The dark-haired beauty put her hand on the smaller woman's thigh. "We're almost there; I know you're going to love this place. There are all sorts of caves riddled throughout the area and it's so off the beaten path that there are hardly any other hikers around.

They had traveled down Highway West 89A until turning onto Dry Creek Road, and now Alex was turning onto a dirt road with a sign that read FR 152.

"Just a few more miles and we'll reach the parking lot where I told Gary we would leave the Jeep. In case of an emergency, he'll know where to begin looking."

Panic filled sea-green eyes as they flashed up to meet those of her lover. "Emergency?"

"Samantha, I don't anticipate any problems, but we are going to be out in nature, and it would be stupid to not have at least one person know where we started out."

The blonde relaxed back into her seat. "You're right, of course; it's just that the word emergency has such a panicked ring to it."

"Okay, sorry for the use of such a strong word. I forgot how easily words affect you, my bard."

From where Alex was parking the Jeep they could barely see a marked sign reading "Secret Canyon #121."

"We're here. Let's get packed up and on the go."

They helped each other on with the backpacks and sleeping bags, making sure to attach their filled water bottles to their pant loops. Alex's camping shorts pockets were filled with small incidentals: matches, Swiss Army knife, a snakebite kit, and a compass. Samantha's camping shorts pockets were filled with hard candies, antiseptic wipes, lip balm, and insect bite ointment. The blonde made sure the toilet tissue, her journal, and a pen were all easily accessible. It was quite obvious what each of the women's priorities were.

The path was fairly easy to follow in the beginning, leading them through tall grass scattered throughout with yellow Blanketflower. A little further on, after crossing a dry wash laced with Jimsonweed, they passed a small stream bubbling merrily along at a quick pace. Looking up, they were constantly surrounded by the beautiful red rock cliffs that rose high above everything else and enclosed them in a world of wonder and beauty.

A short distance down the path it forked, and the two women decided to take the trail that looked less traveled. It had them weaving and twisting along the rocky cliffs, interspersed with Scarlet Creeper, and they continued on an uphill climb. Since they had nowhere special in mind to go, they paced themselves, enjoying the fragrance of the seasonal flowers, which included the blue Machaeranthera with its brilliant azure petals and yellow center. If they listened closely they could hear the cries of the Bluejay and the song of the Painted Redstarts, while occasionally catching a glimpse of a native Black Hawk flying high overhead. After a while the path wound back around and then started to descend, plunging them into a section of deep woods.

"I don't think I've ever seen so much beauty in one place," Samantha murmured as they walked side-by-side on a trail leading them through the pines. "I mean, there's the lake and woods in Washington and the ocean and beaches in California, but this is so different."

"It's like being in a world that civilization has yet to have found, isn't it?"

"That's it exactly, Alex. It's like we're explorers; the first ones here to see all these wonders of nature."

The tall trees were filtering the amount of sunlight they allowed to drift through, and in Samantha's bardic imagination, she spotted many a fairy ring as they walked through the fragrant woods. The sounds of the woodland birds created a symphony of nature as the lovers walked unhurriedly through the lush undergrowth on the forest floor.

About the time Samantha's stomach started rumbling, they found themselves at the end of the path, which filtered into an almost dry creek bed. Had it not been for the daily showers, it would more than likely have dried up long ago. Alex looked at her watch.

"I see you managed to bring that little item of civilization along with you?" Samantha teased.

Acknowledging the sarcasm by merely a raised eyebrow and a smile, Alex asked, "Do you want to stop for some lunch now or continue on down the wash and see where it leads?"

"I don't know. What time is it?"

"You want me to cheat and look at this timepiece on my arm that you've just been sarcastic about or give you the time by the sun?"

"No fair, Alex, I already saw you look at your watch; we can play that little game later in the afternoon when I'm sure you haven't already cheated."

"Clever girl, aren't you? Believe it or not, we've been walking around for about two-and-a-half-hours; it's a little after one. We could have some lunch and rest for a bit and then travel back up toward the cliffs if you want."

"Hey, I'm just along for the hike; you're the tour guide. Time really does fly when you're having fun; I wouldn't have thought so much time had elapsed. I'll go along with whatever you say."

"Oh, that can be riskyÁÁwhatever I say?"

"Within reason." The blonde smiled over at her lover.

"There you go, putting restrictions." Alex stopped and took her backpack off then helped Samantha off with hers. "I'm really not a tour guide here, Samantha. This is virgin territory for me as well; I've never been back through these woods."

"That's fantastic! Now we're someplace where neither one of us has ever been before. I like that idea; it makes this even more special."

"It doesn't take much to make you happy, does it?" She gave her lover a kiss on the cheek. "Seriously, Samantha, I do know that sometimes, though it seems we've been traveling forever and the time speeds by, the trails occasionally backtrack on themselves. So, even if it takes us two to three hours to get somewhere, there's always the possibility that another path would take us back quicker. I've been trying to keep an eye on where we've gone so we don't get totally lost."

"Getting lost would definitely not be a fun way to spend the weekend." Samantha agreed.

"Let me tell you now so I don't forget later." She pointed to one of the large red rock towers. "See that turret up there, Samantha?"

Sam's eyes followed the pointing finger. "Yes."

"Okay, the Jeep is parked directly south of that spire, so if anything . . ."

"It's enough to know that it's there, Alex. I'm sure I won't ever have to use that information."

The following couple of hours were spent having a leisurely lunch, talking, and enjoying the scenery. After eating, they piled up a bunch of pine needles and threw one of the sleeping bags over them, making a soft area to lie down and talk some more. During one particularly quiet moment, Alex made a quick move to sit and put her fingers to her mouth to keep Samantha from speaking. Then she motioned for the blonde to sit up and pointed down the creek, while leaning over and whispering into her lover's ear. "Look down there to the right, Samantha, an entire family of deer."

It didn't take long to see what her lover was pointing at. Not more than fifty feet down the creek bed stood a doe and two fawns, nibbling on the shrubbery. A bit further down in the same direction they could barely see the antlers of a buck.

"They're absolutely beautiful," Sam whispered back to Alex. "Thank you for bringing me here."

The answer to the thank you was a sweet kiss to her lover's cheek. She pulled Samantha back down onto the bedding beside her. Baby kisses caressed the fair cheeks that were pink from the afternoon sun. "Ya know, Mom once told me, in one of our mother-and-daughter talks, about the way she felt when she and Kelley first got together. I always thought she was exaggerating about the feeling of never wanting to let Kelley out of her sight. I used to think to myself that surely she couldn't mean that she wanted to have physical contact with her constantly. Now I know exactly what she was trying to convey to me. Whenever you're near, I feel the need to be beside you, to touch you, caress you, and to tell you how much I love you." Alex, with her arms around her world, drew Samantha closer and kissed her passionately. "You know, I've had good sex before . . ."

"Oh, you have, have you?" the petite woman teased.

"Samantha, I'm being serious."

"Yeah," blonde locks nodded in affirmation, "I know."

"But with you it's almost like . . . an obsession . . . it's not just sex, its nourishment." She sighed deeply, "Now listen to who's sounding deep and bardic."

"I know what you're saying, Alex; I feel it, too. It's like when you're touching me, we're complete."

"Exactly," Alex agreed.

For minutes they laid quietly, side-by-side, facing each other and simply looking into each other's eyes. Letting their hearts do the talking through their windows to the soul.

Finally, two small hands could no longer keep still and began to roam the taller woman's body. When Samantha slipped her fingers under Alex's shorts and squeezed the firm round buttocks, the raven-haired beauty felt the material between her legs become suddenly damp as a shudder ran through her body, and she started to sit up.

"Samantha, as much as I want to . . ."

The smaller woman ignored the protestation and pushed Alex onto her back. She rolled on top of her and muttered into her lover's ear, "My turn." Then she sat up and straddled her mate, while she unbuttoned and unzipped Alex's shorts.

Two strong hands quickly clasped the smaller ones. "Samantha, we need to keep moving if we're going to find a place to make camp before sunset. You want to see the sunset, don't you?"

"Nice try, Alex." Samantha jerked her hands away from those that were not wholehearted in their objections. "We have plenty of time; this won't take long. Consider it my dessert." With the shorts unzipped, she slipped a hand between the material and her lover's body, bypassing the curly locks and encroaching on the moistened area below.

She smiled and gently pushed on the center of her lover's passion. "Now, I'm sure it won't take long," she teased. Slipping one finger gingerly between the nether lips and up inside the cave of desire, her thumb began gently massaging the already growing nub situated above the entrance. "Don't you think we ought to get these shorts off? They're awfully wet, Alex. You don't want to become chafed; you don't seem to have any underwear on to absorb the dampness." Again she grinned down into the face she loved, and seeing no signs of resistance, continued removing the hindering clothing.

Alex had already taken her outer shirt off and was wearing only a sleeveless tee, but seconds later that, too, was lying on the ground beside them.

"You know, I've never made love in the woods," Samantha began then looked over to where the family of deer was still grazing, "especially with a live audience." She giggled before leaning over and taking one of her lover's now hard nipples in her mouth. "Ah. Dessert."

Under the watchful and warm eyes of the afternoon sun and with the help of a gentle breeze to cool their passions, the two continued to make love beneath the tall pines, oblivious to the stares from the animals unfamiliar with the mating habits of humans.

After they had taken the time to appreciate each other, they lay on their backs, drinking in the fresh air and playing imagination games with the clouds.

Alex was the first to suggest they dress and get started. They had spent more time than anticipated having lunch.

The duo followed the creek bank for a little while longer and filled their half-emptied water bottles with the crystal clear liquid. Almost an hour had past as they continued walking through the woods, trying to identify the ferns, flowers, and wild mushrooms they encountered along the way. Soon the wooded area gave way to a small grove of red-barked manzanita trees. Searching the area, Alex spotted what looked like a natural trail that led further up into the rocks.

"I've always appreciated the pine trees and ferns more than these little buggers," the dark-haired beauty mumbled stepping around one of the small trees.

"Be careful not to get too close; they enjoy eating clothing and love the taste of skin," Alex warned as she pointed to the tiny trees lining either side of the newly found path.

"Will do, especially since you didn't let me bring any change of clothes."

"Don't go there, Samantha! I might just have to introduce you to a manzanita tree." She gave the "I'm only kidding" sign, and they continued on toward the cliff facing.

"Look up there, Samantha," Alex pointed a little way in front and above them. "That looks like it might be a nice size ledge and a cave."

"What about bears, Alex? We saw deer here, so I know there's wildlife. Are there bears?"

"None to really speak about. In a few of the areas there have been brown bear sightings, but I don't think this region is one of them."

"You don't think?"

"Samantha, if you're uncomfortable with doing this, we still have time to head back toward the Jeep, and we can sleep in a nice soft bed instead of on the hard ground, out in the open air, under the stars, with not another soul around . . ."

"Okay, okay, I definitely get the picture. No bears to be afraid of. Gotcha!"

Within minutes they had started to climb the face of the rocks that would lead them up to a ledge approximately six feet above their heads. Luckily for them the facing was not slick but had many handgrips and crevices. Samantha went first and Alex watched carefully each advance the smaller woman made.

"You're really rather good at that, you know, Samantha?" the raven-haired beauty shouted up to her mate before joining her in the climb. "You're almost there. I'm going to go ahead and start."

Hand and foot coordination was definitely a plus when trying to climb the irregular cliff wall. When Alex pulled herself onto the ledge, Samantha was sitting there taking a picture.

"Did you get my best angle," Alex asked as she finished scrambling onto the ledge.

"Every angle is your best," Samantha complimented. "Just look at the view from here. You were right; a little longer down on the floor of the forest and we would have missed the sunset.

"Thanks for the bit of confidence. I think there's plenty of time now to set up a camp. This is a nice size ledge, and it looks like there's even an indentation we can use for a fire pit."

The women took off their backpacks and deposited everything they needed for the evening into a pile close to the fire pit. With part of the water from their bottles, they reconstituted the evening meal. All that was left to do was to heat it. Together they scavenged around and found enough felled wood to support a fire, and while Alex was busy priming for the cooking stage, Samantha sat down with her journal.

"I can either see Bell Rock from here, or there is another formation that is very close to it in structure." Samantha pointed to the east and Alex followed the blonde's direction with her eyes.

"I'm not really sure, Samantha."

"Well, I've had this poem running through my head since the day we visited there, and I think I'll write it out while your finishing up there. Is that okay with you?"

"Sure, there's nothing you can do to help. The kindling has caught, and we just need enough of a flame to start cooking.

Samantha sat down with her journal in her lap. The rhyme had been flowing through her head all day and it was a relief to get it down on paper.

Bell Rock Rock

I sat within the silence in the blazing autumn sun

A concert was beginning for an audience of one

My soul began to listen to a different drummer's beat

I found myself a rocking in the sweltering autumn heat

'Twas a song just written for me, and my soul began to sway

Though my ears could hear no music, I could feel it anyway

The energy ran through me as each note was deftly played

Now the melody escapes me, but the feeling will not fade

The bard finished writing, sighed deeply, and put down her pen. She picked up the journal and reread the poem.

"Want to hear what I wrote, Alex?"

"Sure . . . you sound like I wouldn't want to hear it, why?"

"I don't know, because it's poetry?"

"I want to hear anything you pen, Samantha. Go ahead, read it to me, while I put these pots over the fire. It shouldn't take long to heat everything up."

The blonde began reciting her poem. She read the title out loud and then stopped and tilted her head, as if listening to something almost inaudible. "Did you hear that?"

"What?" Alex wanted to know.

"That drumming sound."

"No. All I heard was the title of your poem."

"Okay, must have been the way the wind was whistling past my face." The small blonde began again. "Bell Rock Rock . . . there . . . there it is again, Alex . . . listen."

Alex tilted her head, closed her eyes, and concentrated. "I don't hear anything, honey. Why don't you just go ahead and finish the poem. Maybe nature is accompanying you." She smiled in the direction of her mate.

"You're smiling, but it's kinda giving me the creeps." The blonde shivered and then looked again at the bit of creativity in her hand. "Okay, here goes . . ."

For the final time, Samantha began the poem elicited by the peace and serenity of the area. Again she heard the slight beating of rhythmic drums, muted instead of echoed by the surrounding canyon. She did not look up until she had uttered the last word of the poem and then looked into the stunned face of her lover.

"Was it that bad?" The poet questioned.

"Um . . . no . . . um . . . the poem was really good, Samantha; it captured the magic that surrounds this area." She looked down at what she was now cooking and stirred the pot of vegetable stew.

"So, what's with the inability to answer then, Alex? Why the weird look, huh?" Samantha already knew the answer to her question; she just wanted Alex to admit to it.

"I guess it's just that when you were reading your poem . . . I . . . nah . . . it was the power of suggestion."

"What was the power of suggestion? Just tell me." Samantha walked over to the fire and placed her hand on Alex's arm. "You heard it too, didn't you?"

The taller woman nodded yes, crooking her head to listen to the wind.

"I don't hear anything now." She looked down into eyes confused as her own.

"I heard it the entire time I was reading. It was as though the beat was following my words." She shivered and held her arms out for her lover to see the goose flesh that was covering them. "It gave me the willies! What do you supposed caused it?"

"Probably the way the wind was rushing though the trees, hitting the caves, or bouncing off the rocks."

"Yeah, right. Alex the wind does not make drum sounds."

"Well, maybe there's another hiking party somewhere in the canyon today and they're drummers. Yeah, that sounds reasonable." She smiled thinking perhaps she had finally hit on a logical explanation. The she laughed nervously. "Listen to us, thinking we're the only visitors to this entire area. I'll bet that's what it was, drummers practicing their Indian drumming."

"Is that so?" The blonde was none too sure of Alex's certainty. "Then, oh wise camper, tell me why we don't hear them any more?"

The air was hushed and silent as the two strained their ears to catch the distant sound of drumming . . . of any sound . . . but now, not even the birds were singing.

"Whatever, Samantha." Alex waved it off. "Let's just wait and see if it returns again before the evening's over." Quickly changing the topic she pointed to their bowls. "I think this stew is warm enough to eat, wanna bring those over?"

They sat together with legs dangling over the ledge pointing out what was most important to each of them. Samantha gave Alex an incredulous look when the dark-haired woman took the bowls and wiped them out with leaves.

"I know we're roughing it, Alex, but . . ."

"Samantha, we're going to need the water in our bottles for drinking, not for washing dishes, unless you want to climb back down to the creek bed to clean up tonight?"

"No." The blonde admitted. "It's just I've never had my bowl cleaned with a leaf before. You going to do the same with the pot?"

"Yes, that's what I intended. They really get fairly clean this way, look." She held out one of the bowls for her lover to inspect.

"Not surprisingly, Alex, you're right." When they were finished, she placed the bowl inside the finished pot along with the other one. "It's so quiet out here. At home, there's always the rush of the waves beating on the shore. Here there's a silence so still you can hear your heartbeat."

"This is beautiful country. Why don't we figure where we want to sleep and put the sleeping bags down and then look around a little before sunset?"

"Great idea."

The main choice was between setting the bedding inside the cave or outside on the ledge. Samantha wanted the full impact of sleeping under the stars, so they agreed to place them close to the entrance in case it rained but just outside the mouth of the alcove. Alex had a small battery operated camping lantern that she turned on as they slowly entered the cavern. When proceeding through the entrance, the statuesque brunette found the need to duck, but once inside, the area opened up showing ceilings that reached slightly beyond her six feet. Beyond the irregularly shaped cave the women entered, they spotted two tunnels leading further into the heart of the red rock. One of the passages went forward with a sharp turn to the left and the other forward and just slightly to the right.

"You know, it's weird that these caves are so close to the cliff dwellings we saw, and yet there is no acknowledgement of ancient habitats in this Canyon."

"I would imagine this might have been more of a spiritual place," Alex commented.

"Why would you think that?"

"I don't know," the dark-haired beauty shrugged her shoulders as the two continued to walk toward the left turn. "It just seemed like a logical reason to me, I guess."

"Look at this, Alex." Samantha bent down and picked up a stick that had some kind of moss stuck to it. "Kind of resembles a torch, dontcha think?"

"Yes." Alex admitted. "It would be a great torch if it's dry enough and the stuff on it doesn't burn too quickly. Want to try it and see? It would save batteries." She took the torch from Samantha and used the matches she had in her camp shorts to see if it would catch. They were in luck; the moss was dry enough to catch with the first try.

"That's great. It really throws a lot of light into the cave." Samantha acknowledged. "Where do you think something like this would lead?" she asked, pointing further down the tunnel.

"It seems to be following the outer rim of the mountain." Alex guessed.

The passage was fairly level with perhaps a slight decline. As they continued to walk, Alex began to notice that the passage was shrinking in size. "Looks like we might be running out of tunnel up here a little way. Isn't it remarkable how these rocks are spotted with caves and tunnels like this? Unfortunately, this one looks barren." She turned and spun the torch around to see if there was any writing on the walls. There was none, so she asked Samantha if she had had enough adventuring for the evening and if she was ready to see the sunset.

"I've already cheated and looked at my watch," Alex confessed. "We should have just enough time to get back out there before old Sol goes down."

Alex was definitely right on the time frame; just as they were emerging from the cave, they caught the last glimpses of the sun as it began its descent below the rocks of the Secret Canyon. The brunette carefully extinguished the torch so they would be able to use it again tomorrow when they explored the other side of the cave. After placing it back inside the cave, she walked over, stood behind her lover, and draped her arms over the smaller woman's shoulders.

"So, will this do for one of your memorable sunsets?"

"Most definitely, Alex." Samantha leaned back onto Alex's chest. "But it goes so quickly once it hits a certain point."

"That it does, Samantha, almost like it was dropping from the sky." She could still smell the fragrance of cologne in Samantha's hair as she inhaled fully. "I love the way you smell."

The blonde giggled. "Oh, yeah. Especially after I've been walking around in the woods the entire day. I must smell fragrant."

"As a matter of fact, you do," Alex countered as she drew her lover close and sniffed. "You smell like fresh air and pine."

Unfortunately, there were no pine needles to soften the hard ground the sleeping bags were now unrolled on for the evening. They sat down and Alex brought out the wineskin she carried in her backpack.

"Open your mouth, Samantha."

Being quite experienced at aiming the stream of liquid that was quickly escaping from the skin, she maneuvered the elixir so that not a drop was lost as it found its way into Samantha's mouth.

"Ah ... that tastes marvelous. What a way to end an evening. Watching a sunset made for the movies, sitting at the top of the world, drinking the nectar of the gods, and all with the person I most want to be with in the entire universe. Who could ask for anything more?"

Alex grinned, took a drink of wine, and edged closer to Samantha. "My sentiments exactly," she agreed. "I take it you think today was successful?"

"Absolutely!" The blonde beamed from ear to ear. "This is beautiful country out here in the middle of nowhere, Alex."

"That it is, my love, that it is." Alex agreed. She gave Samantha another mouthful of wine and took another for herself. "Just how tired are you?"

"What did you have in mind?"

"Maybe just lying back and doing a little star gazing."

"Sounds good to me," Samantha replied. "Astronomy was one of my favorite subjects in high school."

Once the sun fell below the rocks of the canyon, the sky darkened quickly. Before long the stars were peeking through the velvet sky like so many tiny spotlights.

Samantha turned to Alex with a serious expression. "I don't want to spoil the evening, but I have a question."

"Okay?"

"Do you think we'll be bothered by any animals, sleeping out here in the open like this?"

There was no hesitation in Alex's answer. "We're pretty safe up this high, Samantha. If we were sleeping on the ground, we might expect to have night visitors, but not up here. Besides, I'm here to protect you."

Samantha giggled and put her arm around Alex's waist. "Silly me, I forgot. At least I feel better after asking."

"Good," Alex exclaimed. She then changed the subject as she volunteered to begin the heavenly discussion by pointing into the night sky, "There's the Big Dipper."

"That may be the common name for it, but what did ancient civilizations call the constellation?" Samantha did the arched eyebrow look with a slightly sarcastic grin, as she gazed into Alex's face.

"Did I ever mention that astrology was not one of my most studied of subjects?" Alex admitted.

The smaller woman laughed, and Alex held her close, while they looked up into the evening sky. "Why don't you fill me in on the folklore and all that stuff? I'm a captive audience."

"I can do that," Samantha boasted. "Well, at least you had no trouble finding it. Let's see, the ancient Greeks referred to it as the Bear, and the Romans called it Ursa Major or the Great Bear; I guess they agreed on something, huh? Let me think ... I'm sure you already know that it's one of the most visible and best known of the constellations and that it shows up in the Northern Hemisphere all year long. The story goes that Calisto was changed by Zeus into a bear because of jealousy and put into the night sky. I don't know much more about that one."

"Well, that happens to be the only one I do know anything about. The last time I was here in Sedona, I was speaking to an old Lakota Indian at one of those vista points I told you about, where the Indians sell handmade jewelry. It was getting close to dusk and we could already see some of the stars peeking through the early evening sky. She told me that the Lakota call the constellation Wichakiyuhapi." She laughed and apologized for the possible mispronunciation.

"As if I would know the difference," Samantha giggled back.

"Anyhow, that name for the constellation means Dipper. They consider it the dipper used to carry water for the sweat lodge and pipe ceremonies that take place up in the sky. When an Indian dies, the same dipper is used to carry their spiritual essence across the Milky Way, which they call the Road of Spirits, and deposit it at its final destination in the spirit world. The very same configuration of stars is called by different names as they perform different functions for the Lakota men and women."

"Wow." Samantha looked up at the constellation and tried to imagine having her spirit body carried across the stars as it journeyed to its final destination. "That's really interesting."

Alex squeezed Sam gently. "That's all I know, so I guess it's your turn again."

"Okay," the blonde chimed in. "My favorite is Cassiopeia. I'm sure you've heard of her."

"Yes," Alex admitted. "But I don't know the story behind the lady in the rocking chair." She pointed up into the now dark night sky. "Actually, I can even point her out."

Samantha followed Alex's fingers and smiled. "You got it; the great big 'W' in the sky. Some call it a rocking chair, but in mythology, it's labeled a throne."

She sighed deeply and then began her story. "Okay, here we go back to the Greeks. Queen Cassiopeia was married to King Cepheus of ≠thiopia, and they had a beautiful daughter by the name of Andromeda. Now all the stories differ a little from here, except for the fact that they all maintain that Queen Cassiopeia was an extremely vain woman. Some say that she bragged about her own beauty; some say it was about Andromeda's beauty and others state that she boasted about the two of them. One day while they were walking along the shoreline she went a little overboard and gloated that their beauty far surpassed even that of the sea nymphs. One of the water creatures overheard the boast and went running to Poseidon. The angry god threatened to send a raging flood upon the land and a sea monster, Cetus, to retaliate. King Cepheus was beside himself and asked an oracle what he could do to stop the slaughter of his people because of his wife's vanity. He was told he must sacrifice his daughter by stripping her naked ..."

"That sounds interesting," Alex interjected.

"Alex!"

"I'm sorry, go on."

"Where was I? Okay, he had to strip her naked and chain her to the rocks by the shoreline where the monster would come and devour her. But the sacrifice was thwarted when Perseus, with his winged sandals, came flying over her on his way home from slaying Medusa. Instantly he fell in love with the beautiful Andromeda. He spotted the monster Cetus coming toward her and vowed to save her if he could have her hand in marriage. King Cepheus agreed, and Perseus, using the Gorgon's head, turned the monster to stone. When Cassiopeia and Cepheus died, Poseidon gave them a place of honor in the sky near one another. Athena placed Perseus and Andromeda among the stars when they died. The lovers were placed near Andromeda's parents, the King and Queen. Of course Cetus, the sea monster, was already up there waiting for the beautiful woman he never got to devour in life, and to this day, he chases Andromeda around the sky, with Perseus, carrying the Medusa's head, continuing to guard his lover."

"So then Cassiopeia never was really punished for being a vain bitch?" Alex asked at the end of the story. "She got put up into the heavens anyway?"

"Kind of. Some say Poseidon's punishment was to humiliate her and condemn her to spend half of eternity upside down, which is why sometimes the constellation looks like a 'W' and at other times it looks like an 'M'. When she is upside down, that's a very undignified position for a Queen to be in."

"Oh, I see." Alex snickered. "Could it be the direction you're looking from when you stare up into the night sky?"

"Alex! Must you always look at everything from the practical side? It's a myth."

"Oh, yeah, I forgot. Point out the lovers to me, will you?"

Samantha studied the now pitch black sky, tracing the stars with her fingers. "There they are." She pointed in the direction she wanted Alex to look. See, there's Cassiopeia, and if you just move a smidgen over, you can see the two lovers."

"Enough about the stars, how about the two lovers down here on this ledge?" Alex turned to face Samantha and pulled the smaller woman into an embrace. "I would rather concentrate on the relationship at hand than to go back in time to the days of gods and warriors."

Samantha eagerly wrapped her arms around the taller woman's neck. "You have my undivided attention," she hummed.

The night was cool, but not cold, and the anticipation of making love beneath the stars produced warming thoughts.

"Want to get naked under the constellations?" Alex whispered into Samantha's ear.

Her answer was nonverbal as she changed her position and began to unbutton Alex's shorts.

"I guess that's a 'yes.'" Alex pulled away and quickly finished taking her shoes, socks, shorts, and top off. She turned to help Samantha with her undressing only to find that the blonde was lying back on the sleeping bags devoid of clothing.

"Now that's a sight to be placed into the heavens for eternity," Alex declared, before she positioned herself on top of the naked beauty.

"I thought I would be cold, but I think you could take the chill out of the arctic night air." Samantha giggled. "Did we come out here to be with nature or to discover how many new and unusual places we could find to make love?"

"I think the answer to that is, 'yes!'" Alex ran her hands down the smooth curves of her lover's body, feeling the skin ripple when she touched a particularly erogenous spot. There was no giving of the ground beneath them, so precautions would have to be taken not to end up with bruises by the time they were finished.

"I don't know if this is just an excuse, but having you out here in the wilderness all to myself is definitely a turn on," Alex murmured into her lover's ear.

Samantha smiled up into eyes that showered love down upon her. "I don't know either, but I feel the same way. I think the scenery brings out the animal in us." She again placed her arms around Alex's neck and drew her into an embrace.

Lips, marginally chapped from exposure to the elements all day, ignored the slight tactile discomfort, as they quickly proceeded into the realm of desire. Long, muscular fingers played harmoniously down the blonde's torso, causing miniscule peaks to appear wherever they roamed.

A symphony of moans and breathless whispers filled the night air as the seduction continued.

Currents of electricity traveled through both bodies as a game of tag and tell ignited primordial cravings.

"People try to kid themselves as to why they're attracted to each other," Alex interjected between kisses. "The animal instincts we still harbor are more a part of our DNA than we usually care to acknowledge. I'm intoxicated by the mere thought of you." She kissed the smaller woman's shoulder. "The smell of you is stimulating," she whispered into Samantha's ear. "And your scent grows stronger the more impassioned you become, driving me absolutely crazy with a hunger that needs to be fed."

Her body remained stationary while her hands traveled skillfully down the pliable body beneath her, coming to rest on the golden mound of fleece. As one hand encompassed the entire area and slowly applied pressure, the raven-haired beauty confessed, "We aren't all that different from the creatures of the wild, Samantha. We have merely been tamed into thinking we're civilized."

Her fingers traced an outline around the mouth of Samantha's nether lips, as they tenderly begged leave to enter into the moist den of pleasure that resided therein. Seconds later admittance had been granted, and Samantha's body rocked, gently at first and then fiercely as climax became inevitable.

Straddling her lover's thigh, the taller woman pushed her passion against the warm skin, sliding up-and-down as her fingers continued with their in-and-out motions, seeking to quench Samantha's thirst and her own simultaneously.

"Tell me, Samantha, let me hear you add your voice to the forest rhapsody. You're mineÁÁtell meÁÁtell the world," Alex pleaded.

Inner muscles tightened around the givers of pleasure, and Samantha's body let loose a flood of love's nectar. Nails dug deeply into the skin on Alex's back as a bodily shudder began. Total release and the outcry of one singular word "Alex!" rang through the canyon.

"Alex," Samantha repeated, breathing heavily. "Oh, Alex. I amÁÁI am yours." She opened her eyes and searched for the emotion behind the look that greeted her; it was so heart wrenching.

"Are those tears glistening in the moonlight?" Samantha questioned as she gently wiped one away. "They are . . . "

"Tears of disbelief and joy," Alex admitted, grabbing and kissing the small damp hand. "I love you, Samantha."

"Disbelief? Why would you say disbelief?"

"Because I could never have imagined that I would be at the top of the world, making love to the most beautiful woman in it, with her shouting that she loved me and that she was mine. If I died tonight, I'd die a happy woman."

Samantha pushed Alex over and sat up staring down into the face she loved. "Well if you died tonight I would be anything but a happy woman. I would be a miserable wreck. I don't want to ever hear that little statement again, okay?"

"I was just trying to tell you how happy I am. Come here." She pulled Sam back down on top of her and encased her in loving arms. "Never leave me, Samantha, promise."

"Alex promises are . . ."

"Just say the words, please. Promise."

"Okay, I promise, Alex." An impish grin came across the blonde's face. "In fact, maybe I should add, you'd have to pay to get rid of me."

"Then I guess my fortune is safe, because I will never pay you to leave." Alex chuckled.

The lovers embraced, and when Samantha started to shiver from the cool breeze, Alex suggested they crawl inside the sleeping bags on which they were lying.

Safely nestled in each other's arms they stared silently up at the night sky. Traces of love remained on their bodies and in their thoughts. A long day of physical activity, both adventurous and emotional, relegated the lovers to the state of exhaustion. They closed their eyes and slept.

Chapter 12

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