The Dregs Of Summer

By Cephalgia

Author's Note: This little story is for my good friend Spike who asked for a breezy, "beach, sunglasses and bikini" story at the end of the summer and then waited patiently as she got one page at a time through the e-mail. I love you, Spiky. Thanks for keeping me writing. It's "writing lite", but I hope you like it.

Thanks also: To Reagan and Karen for looking the story over and putting my train of thought back on the track.

Feedback to:

Part 1

She adjusted her Ray-Bans as she turned her head to face the sun a little more fully. Toni loved the beach in September; no kids and only dedicated sun worshippers and surfers for company on the long stretch of Pacific shoreline.

Normally Toni wouldn't have been on the beach either, but having been a recent victim of company downsizing, she happily accepted unemployment and the opportunity to have the vacation she'd been denied for almost three years.

Just two more weeks and then I'll call those corporate headhunters back and get back to gainful employment, but just now I'm gonna soak up some sun and relax, she thought. She reached up and drew the mass of brunette hair away from her neck, feeling just a misting of perspiration there. The large towel draped over her beach chair was soft and comfortable against her skin and she sighed in contentment. Toni Parker loved late summer. It was like a frosty mug of beer in July. Several deep, thirst quenching swigs and all that was left was a half-inch of liquid golden sunshine from a can. The dregs of summer were like the dregs of that beer; not much left but pretty damn satisfying and tasty anyway.

She shifted her long, lean body in the chair stretching the relaxed muscles as she reached for the bottle of water sitting in the shade under her seat. The fabric of her green bikini complimented her tanned skin and showed off the leggy beauty to full advantage. As she straightened up and brought the water bottle to her lips though, all movement ceased.

Walking up toward her was a vision. It was if God had deposited an angel on her stretch of sand.

The woman was blond and wore a large floppy hat to protect a fair complexion. Her electric blue bikini top snugly encased pert breasts and Toni's mouth watered at the sight. Her vision wore a gauzy wrap-around skirt that blew lightly in the ocean's breeze. She walked along the shoreline where an occasional wave would slide up the beach to lap at her ankles. Spellbound, Toni stared as the woman moved closer, but kept her attention out to sea. She seemed to be in no hurry in her trek and Toni watched the play of muscles under smooth skin as the woman made her way across the sand.

As her vision of perfection drew up in front of Toni, the brunette closed her eyes and concentrated with all her might. Come on Trade Winds, I command you to assist me! To her great surprise, a brief gust of warm air blew up off the vast Pacific. She opened her eyes to see the gauzy skirt lift, revealing shapely legs beneath the bottom half of the blue bikini, and the floppy hat go flying.

Never one to waste an opportunity, Toni sprang from the beach chair and nabbed the hat in mid-air. The flimsy straw head cover would be her introduction to perfection.

"Nice catch," the woman said as she neared the brunette.

You sure are, Toni thought

Part 2

The small blonde woman reached for her hat, but Toni quickly pulled it behind her back.

"Can I help you?" she asked.

The blonde woman gave a small smile. "I believe you have my hat there. I'd like it back, please, I tend to burn pretty easily without it."

The brunette placed a puzzled look upon her face. "Hat...hat...can you describe this alleged hat?"

The blonde nodded, knowing when her chain was being yanked and deciding to play along anyway. "Let's see, it's straw, pale yellow with a green band on it. Seen anything like that around?"

Toni brought the hat out and inspected it carefully. "I might have. Can you tell me the name written inside of it for absolute positive identification?"

The puzzled look belonged to the blonde now. "Name? There's no name..." She stopped as realization dawned on her. "Oh...yes, it says Moss. Rae Moss."

Toni was satisfied with the answer. "No doubt about it, this hat belongs to you. You should be more careful; a perfect stranger might just wind up with your hat if you let it go flying like that."

"And are you?" Rae asked.

"Am I what?" Toni questioned back.

"Perfect," the blonde replied.

Toni blushed, but refused to let herself become disconcerted completely. "I have my moments," she said. "I'm Toni Parker by the way."

"Well, Miss Parker, I'm terribly sorry to meet you in your present unfortunate circumstances, especially when it's all my fault."

"Call me Toni," the leggy brunette said just before her brows knit together. "My present unfortunate circumstances?"

"Yes, your pending severe dehydration," Rae said as she nodded toward the sand next to the brunette. "Your water."

Toni followed the blonde's line of sight and saw her water bottle upside down in the sand and quite empty. She had dropped it unthinking in her quest to snag Rae's hat from the fickle breeze that had snatched it up in the first place. "That's not good," she noted.

"No, it's not," Rae agreed. "I'll tell you what, oh gallant rescuer of hats in distress, if you come with me I will buy you a drink at the juice bar up the beach a little way."

"You've got a deal, Rae. Hey, wait a second. I thought that place was closed down this summer. I came that way last week and it was all boarded up."

"'Was' being the operative word. I bought it 4 days ago. I'm not officially open but I think I can whip you something up if you'd like."

Not needing any further invitation, Toni picked up her beach chair and bag immediately. "Lead on!" she said jovially, glad to just continue to be in the company of the blonde. "So, is this new enterprise a family business?" she asked, hoping to learn more about the woman who had literally blown into her life.

Rae had already turned to head up the beach, but she stopped and looked back at the woman following her. "Well, it's a family business, but I don't have any relatives there, if that's what you mean." She winked at Toni as she turned back to leading the way to the juice bar.

Sweet! Toni thought as she mentally pumped her fist into the air. She was extremely happy she had Rae to lead her as she couldn't have led herself with her eyes glued to the gauzy skirt and the shapely feminine form in it in front of her.

Part 3

Toni was mesmerized by the blonde's form as they made their way across the warm sand to the beachside businesses near the road that ran along the vast shoreline.

Lifting her eyes from the enticing body in front of her, the brunette paid attention as they crossed the street, still busy with late summer traffic, to the row of sturdy wooden buildings located there. The place Rae had bought was not hard to find. "Jehovah's Juices" was one of a kind. As opposed to the conservative yet cheerful painted fronts of the adjacent businesses, the juice bar had a huge mural painted across it. It was a rendering of the part of Michelangelo's famous ceiling in the Sistine Chapel where God reaches out his animating touch to Adam. On Jehovah's Juices, however, instead of the finger bringing his creation to life, God now handed Adam a smoothie. The painting had initially been a big draw but Toni knew that the owner's habit of handing out religious leaflets with his drinks had doomed the place from the beginning. It hadn't lasted a full season. Apparently the buying public didn't like mixing Judgment with juice or Satan with smoothies.

Rae reached under a nearby flowerpot and retrieved a key. She noted the expression of concern on Toni's face and remarked, "Don't worry, it won't stay there once the place is set up. I only leave it there now when I'm going to be gone for just a few minutes. I just needed to get out of the paint fumes for a little while." She pulled wide a wooden, screened door then used the key to open a padlock on the heavier door inside. "Welcome to Rae's Place, a fact soon to be known to the outside world as quickly as I can replace the sign out front."

The paint fumes that escaped the opening were indeed powerful and Toni knew she wouldn't last long in the potent atmosphere. The paint fumes along with the blonde woman's presence combined to make her feel a little light-headed. She blinked her eyes rapidly in order to clear the fuzziness that had settled there.

"You all right?" Rae inquired. "It's a little strong to start with but I'll leave the door open here and go open a few windows in back. The cross breeze should help clear things out pretty quickly." As Toni moved in to the business, the blonde started toward the back.

"I'll be fine," Toni called after her. "It's probably just that I didn't think about packing anything besides water today. I didn't intend to stay on the beach so long but the sun was so nice and everything was too perfect to disturb, especially for something as paltry as lunch."

"I know what you mean," Rae said as she re-entered the room. Her mission must have been accomplished as a warm breeze now flowed in through the open front door. "It's easy to lose track of time out there on a day like this. I was in the process of doing just that when that gust blew my hat to you. The Pacific can be hypnotic, that's for sure. It's one of the reasons I moved out here." The blonde went behind a tall counter and began assembling the equipment she needed for the drink she had promised Toni on the beach.

"What'll you have?" she asked.

It was on the tip of Toni's tongue to say, "You, right here and right now" but she held back. Instead she simply said, "I like most everything. Surprise me."

"I thought my hat already did that," Rae countered as she reached into a stainless steel, refrigerated compartment behind her. "I'll make you my favorite, it's the house specialty."

"I'll be happy to try it," the brunette said as she wandered around the re-decorated room. "I love what you've done with it," she remarked as she indicated the refurbished area. On one wall was a mural of a sunrise over the Coastal Range which was only a little way inland from where they were currently. On the opposite wall was a mural of the sunset over the Pacific, exactly as Toni had seen it many times in her treks to the beach. "These are much better than the flowery wallpaper that was here before. Actually, these are fantastic; who did you get to do them? Had to be someone local, the perspective on the paintings is too good."

Rae joined her then, handing Toni a large plastic tumbler of thick purplish liquid. It resembled a milk shake more than a smoothie. The brunette took the tumbler and eyed the mixture suspiciously. She noticed Rae had the same thing in a tumbler of her own and waited while the blonde took a large swallow. A faint purple line appeared on Rae's upper lip and she licked it away, unaware how much that small move affected Toni. She gulped audibly and quickly took a drink of the chilled drink to cool the sudden heat she felt move through her body.

She forgot about the blonde momentarily as an eruption of flavors happened in her mouth. "Oh my God, this is incredible! What is it?" She took another large drink, torn between raving over the drink again and screaming in agony as brain freeze hit. "Oh God, oh God..." she whined as she clapped her hand over her right eye. "Oh God that's good, I mean," she amended as the sensation subsided.

"Brain freeze sucks, huh?" Rae surmised correctly. "Sip it slower to start," she advised. "By the way the murals are actually by a little known amateur from Minnesota."

"Well, I'd like to meet him and see more of his work," the brunette said as she admired the paintings once again.

"You've already met her; you caught her hat on the beach today and she just served you what I believe was probably your very first white chocolate huckleberry smoothie."

Toni smiled at the revelations she just heard. This just keeps getting better and better, she thought.

Part 4

Toni slid into a booth as she continued to sip on the delicious concoction served up by the blonde. She regarded the woman who had returned back behind the counter to clean up the equipment she had used in the making of their drinks.

"If all the drinks you make here are as delicious as this one, I'd say you're going to have a hit on your hands," she said to a smiling Rae.

"I hope so," she said with a sigh in her voice. "I put all my savings into this place and a fairly good sized loan too. Beachfront businesses don't come cheap around here. It's not like I bought a snow cone stand in Minneapolis."

Toni laughed. "No, not cheap at all. What made you come out here to start a business anyway? It's a long way from Minnesota to the California coast."

When she saw Rae hesitate with the story, she indicated the spot in the booth across from her. "Come on, I'd really like to know."

Rae moved toward her, wiping her hands on a thin white towel as she came. She slipped into the seat and looked straight at the brunette with a shy grin. Toni didn't care what the story was, as long as it took a long time to tell. She felt comfortable and relaxed around the blonde and didn't mind in the least spending more time with her.

"Well don't get me wrong, I love Minnesota, but way back when I was in high school, my senior class trip was to the Big Three...Marine World, Universal Studios and Disneyland. We had one day that was completely free and while most of the kids went shopping or back to Disneyland, a few of my friends and I talked a chaperone into heading off to the beach. This was in early May and the ice is barely melted on the lakes by then so the beach here was like a revelation. I fell in love with the ocean, pure and simple. I knew I'd be back one day. I went on to college and found myself majoring in

Indecision so I left in my sophomore year and went to work. I put away some money, made a few plans, talked my dad into co-signing a loan and by virtue of Greyhound Bus Lines, here I am. It took a few more years than I thought it would but I got here and that's what counts." Rae stopped here, noticing a glazed look coming across Toni's eyes. "Was it that boring a story?" she asked.

Toni's eyes refocused on her host. She was embarrassed at having been caught in a fantasy. She was listening to the story initially, but as she watched Rae's mouth, her mind wandered to what that mouth might feel like on her own and how it might taste. "No, no, not boring at all. I think it's a great story," Toni said, covering her inattention.

"Sure," Rae said in a tone that made it clear she knew if not exactly what Toni was thinking, she knew something close. Toni squirmed a little, making the blonde take pity on her. "What about you?" Rae asked. "All I know about you is that your name is Toni Parker, you like white chocolate and huckleberries and you could play centerfield on anybody's team in the Hat League."

"Not much more to know than that about me," Toni said. "What you see is what you get."

"As attractive an offer as that is, I'm sure there's more to your story. What do you do for a living?"

"Nothing at the moment," the brunette replied honestly. "I am a new member of the corporately dispossessed." At Rae's unsure expression, she clarified her statement. "I got laid off a little bit ago. Nothing I can do, it's all part of being middle management. Not high enough to make the decisions, not low enough to be protected by a union but just perfect for a company looking to trim costs. I got a couple weeks severance pay and a nice farewell party along with about 50 others. It happens."

"I'm really sorry, Toni, what are you going to do now?"

Toni smiled. "First, I'm going to thank my lucky stars I got laid off so I could be on the beach today and meet you. If you mean what am I going to do about a job, well...there are always companies who need someone with my fiscal and business experience. I'll land on my feet."

"I'm sure you will, but if you need a character reference, I'll be happy to provide one. Can't have your good deed go un-rewarded." Rae smiled at her booth-mate but the grin was short-lived as a look of panic took over. "Shit! I nearly forgot, I have to get downtown. I'm meeting a guy and buying a good second hand cappuccino machine. Cold juices and smoothies aren't going to be big sellers in the winter." She flashed an apologetic look at Toni.

The brunette stood and faced Rae. "I'll get out of here and let you get to your appointment then. Thanks for the drink and the company. I got a pretty good deal for just grabbing a straw hat." She extended her hand and it was taken by the blonde. "It's been good to meet you, Rae Moss. Hopefully we'll meet up again soon."

"I'd like that," the blonde responded. "I haven't had time to meet many people here yet."

Toni was reluctant to let go of the soft hand that fit so nicely in her own. She looked directly at the other woman. "Listen, Rae, before I decide which one of my personal belongings I'll 'accidentally' leave behind so I have a reason to come back again, let me try this more honestly. I'm interested in you. I found you attractive from the first moment I saw you and personable every minute since then. That feeling hasn't hit me in a very long time and I'd like to see you again and experience it some more. If I've misread the situation with you then I'd like to apologize. If I haven't, I'd like to ask you out."

Rae removed her hand from Toni's grasp. The brunette felt her heart sink as the business owner moved away from her and back behind the counter. Picking up a ballpoint pen, she scribbled something on a napkin emblazoned with a 'Rae's Place' logo. She walked over to Toni and handed her the napkin.

"That's my home phone number, I'm just in the apartment upstairs, and the number for the business. You haven't misread anything. Call me." She leaned forward and placed a quick peck on Toni's cheek. "Right now, though, I have to get moving or I'll miss my meeting."

Toni couldn't quite get the sappy grin off her face. "Oh... sure, I need to get going too. I'll call you soon." Rae escorted Toni to the front of the business where she gave a brief wave goodbye before closing the door after the brunette.

It wasn't often that Toni whistled anymore, but she did as she sauntered down the street that day.

Part 5

Toni fidgeted in the comfortable wingback chair in the living room of her apartment. She wasn't usually undecided in such matters, but when to call Rae was perplexing her. She wanted not to seem over-eager, but very interested at the same time. She wanted to appear popular, but available also. She wanted just the right amount of time to pass before she picked up the phone. Looking at her watch, she calculated it had been almost seven hours since she left the blonde's presence. That was long enough.

Toni picked up the napkin with Rae's number on it though it was completely unnecessary; she had committed the seven digits to memory almost immediately. As she began tapping out the number onto the keypad, she realized she was nervous. Nerves weren't something she'd had to deal with much. Usually she was calm and collected around beautiful women; her past experience accounted for that.

Then why do I feel like a kid calling for her first date ever? She didn't have time to answer herself before the line rang and was picked up almost immediately.

"Hello?" Rae said, in a voice that said she wasn't sure anyone would be calling for her.

"Um, hi, Rae," Toni began, suddenly realizing she hadn't prepared a witty or devastatingly clever opening line. Next time, more thought and less dial, she said to herself while searching for something to say to the blonde. "It's Toni. From the beach earlier?"

"Of course it is," Rae chuckled, "It's only been about seven hours since you were here. My hair is blonde but I assure you my faculties are up to snuff. How are you this evening?"

"Bored," Toni replied. "I find myself with nothing but time on my hands. Normally I would be home doing leftover work from the office, but…" She trailed off, feeling a little down over her employment status.

"You're bored, huh? That's too bad," Rae said sympathetically. "I wish I had time to get bored. I haven't stopped all day except for that fateful walk on the beach this afternoon."

"Fateful, eh? That's an interesting word," the brunette remarked. "How was it fateful?"

"Well, I was only hoping to catch a little fresh air and sunshine, but instead I found my dinner companion for tomorrow night."

Toni brightened at the blonde's boldness. "Gee, here I was trying to think of some way to ask you out and here you beat me to the punch. It seems fate is still involved here; tomorrow looks pretty open on my social calendar."

"Wow, lucky me. I'll tell you what, just so you don't arrive and think I lured you here under false pretenses," Rae spoke, "I'm going to tell you the truth. When I got my cappuccino machine today, the guy had just taken delivery of a great old leather couch. I couldn't resist. If you help me get the couch up the stairs to my apartment over the shop, I'll see to it you are amply rewarded."

Toni was intrigued. "What's the reward?" A thousand pleasurable things ran through her mind.

"Lasagna," the shop owner said, "for the main course."

Toni was already thinking about dessert.

Part 6

Seven o'clock was the agreed upon time for Toni to meet Rae at the shop the next day. The brunette actually arrived a half hour early but spent it sitting cross-legged on the beach across from the shop. The days were shorter and Toni watched as the sun made its slow descent to the horizon. The colors of the sunset became more and more spectacular the closer the orb came to the water line.

Pinks and oranges gave way to reds, greens and finally blues as the evening moved from a beautiful promise to a marvelous reality. So enraptured was Toni in nature's performance art that she almost missed the soft footsteps in the sand as they approached behind her. Without taking her eyes from the panoramic palette before her, Toni spoke in a low voice. "It's pretty damn amazing, isn't it? I could look at this every day and not get tired of it."

Rae dropped to the sand next to the brunette, their shoulders touching lightly. "Usually I watch it from the window in my apartment," she said almost reverently. Toni glanced briefly to her side and saw the genuine joy the blonde had at the sight of the day's end.

The very last remnant of sun slipped soundlessly under the horizon and Toni felt a slight shiver from the woman next to her. It was only then Toni noticed the shorts and tank top that comprised Rae's outfit. "Maybe we should be getting inside now," she suggested. "Once the sun goes down it cools off pretty quickly out here." She moved to her feet and reached out to give the blonde a hand in standing also.

"Thanks," Rae said as she brushed grains of sand from the back of her shorts. Toni wanted to assist, but held back. Instead, she took the sweater that had been tied around her waist and placed it over the shoulders of the shorter blonde woman. A brilliant smile was her reward from Rae as they started moving toward the shop across the road.

"I saw you from my window and realized by the way you just sat there watching that you must love the sunset out here as much as I do. I had to come out here to be with a kindred spirit. Hope I didn't disturb you."

"Nope, you didn't," Toni assured her. "When you enjoy something as much as that, you don't mind sharing. It's getting a little chilly out here in the evenings though. Summer is slipping away too fast for me."

"Yeah, pretty soon there won't be much point for you to come out to the beach at all," the blonde noted.

"I have a feeling there will be plenty to pull me down here. Sunsets aren't the only beautiful attraction in this area anymore." Rae blushed at Toni's words and they crossed the road in silence, making their way into the shop.


An hour later, two sweaty bodies had managed to finally maneuver the large leather couch up the stairs and into a surprisingly homey apartment. They dropped to the couch when it was moved to the spot Rae indicated.

"Jesus H. Christ on a crutch! I didn't think we were ever going to get this thing around that last twist at the top of the stairs," Toni panted. "If you decide to ever get rid of this thing, I suggest we just chop it up and toss it out the nearest window. Why didn't the delivery guys just bring it all the way upstairs to start with?"

Rae wiped her brow. "They mentioned something about a hernia...and not wanting to get one!" The women laughed together for a moment and Toni noticed a tempting aroma wafting from the tiny kitchen in the corner of the cozy home.

"That the lasagna?" At Rae's nod, Toni said, "Man, I wish I had some talent in cooking. I've lived off my ability to microwave for years now. That and fast food is the reason I'm still drawing breath today."

Rae moved off the couch and into the kitchen area. "Sacrilege! If you don't treat yourself right, who's going to?" She picked up a pair of padded oven mitts and slipped them on. She opened the oven door and withdrew a foil-covered pan. Magnetically drawn to the prospect of home cooking, Toni joined the blonde at the stove.

"Anything I can do?" she offered as Rae removed the foil to reveal cheese bubbling at the top of the dish.

"There's salad in the fridge and a bottle of cabernet open on the table. If you want to get those, I'll dish up over here."

"Done," Toni agreed. "Though I'm usually more of a tequila kind of woman." She put the salad on the table and poured the red wine into the glasses she found there. "How about some music?" she said as she nodded toward the CD player near the couch.

"Sounds good. I just got a new CD that I haven't really heard all the way through yet. Just hit the power and play buttons." Toni did as instructed and picked up the jewel case to look at the list of tunes. "Greatest Love Songs of the Twenties, Thirties and Forties? You into the retro thing?"

"Kind of," Rae noted as she brought the plates to the table. "My grandfather lived with us when I was young and he brought a huge collection of vinyl albums with him when he moved in. I got hooked on the old music."

Violins and soft horns emanated from the strategically placed speakers in the living room. Toni listened as a smooth baritone began singing a vaguely familiar tune. "Nice," she commented in a surprised tone. She listened to the words for a few moments.

I was meant for you,

You were meant for me.

Nature fashioned you and when they were done,

You were all the sweet things, rolled into one.

You're like a plaintive melody,

That never sets me free.

I'm content; the angels must have sent you,

And they meant you just for me.

Rae hummed along softly with the music and Toni felt the rightness of the whole situation. The night was turning out far better than she could have imagined.

Part 7

"No doubt about it, you sure can cook." Toni laid her fork down and pushed her plate away. "I am completely jealous of that." Two large helpings of lasagna along with a salad with French dressing had moved her to the point of bursting. The conversation had been easy, with each woman learning more about the other and liking what they learned.

Toni's physical attraction for the other woman was no less diminished, but it seemed she was finding more and more reasons to like her on several other levels. Rae was intelligent, well rounded and fun. Toni had known her for only two days, but she knew in her heart that Rae was a rare find. It was as if she had walked along the beach they both so loved and a pearl had washed up at her feet. The brunette knew a gift when she saw one and she wasn't going to refuse it.

"You have skills I would be jealous of I'm sure," Rae replied as she stood and picked up their plates. "I'll just put these in the sink for now. I never understood those people who feel a pathological need to wash the dishes right after they eat. I say, let the food settle. A dirty dish can wait, the time with your friends shouldn't."

"I agree," Toni said, "And as the friend in question, I thank you for spending the time with me." She piled the rest of the dishes in her arms and took them into the kitchen.

"That's impressive," Rae commented. "You've had some experience. Those dishes were handled pretty professionally."

Toni laughed. "I did a lot of things working my way through college. I worked my way up from dishwashing to waitress at a family style place. Before that I did spot work at a dry cleaners and on the weekends I did handyman work at an apartment complex. Had a paper route when I was twelve, too."

"Handyman work? How did you learn to do that?" the blonde asked as she led the way to the living room.

"There were six kids in my family and something was always broken it seemed. I liked to tinker with stuff and eventually I got to the point where I could take something apart and actually get it back together again. On occasion it even worked." Rae laughed appreciatively at the brunette's self-deprecating humor. "I've always liked to figure things out, I suppose. It started with small but intricate appliances and then intricate numbers fascinated me. That's when I knew I wanted to major in business."

"What exactly did you do for your company?" Rae asked. She settled on the sofa with Toni and turned to face her, tucking one leg under the other. The proximity of her hostess caused a pleasant stirring of Toni's libido, but she was content to just be in the company of her friend. There was no need and no reason to push anything along faster than it was going.

"I did anything they needed a middle management person for. I worked on some policy issues, day-to-day functioning of the business and oversaw a good bit of the financial aspects as well. It wasn't quite enough to save my job though when it came to crunch time. Seven years didn't count for much against some people who had been there for twenty years or more. To be honest I didn't really mind losing that job, but…" Toni trailed off, a pensive look on her face.

"But what?" Rae inquired. "What's bothering you?"

Her look of earnest concern touched Toni. God, has it really been that long since someone just cared what was happening with me? Toni thought. Yeah, I guess it has. That sad fact only made more poignant the thoughtful consideration Rae was showing. "It's nothing really, it's just that I don't relish putting myself back under the corporate thumb again. I used to think it was the most secure place I could be, but now I'm not so sure."

"I know what you mean. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to be my own boss and have my own place to run. I worry sometimes that I don't have the savvy to do it. If all there was to it was the business itself, it would be fine. You know, just the creating menu items, working with the public and that kind of thing. I guess I didn't realize what running a small business entails entirely. The licenses, insurance, permits and the tax business are all pretty complicated. It's taken me a lot of time and study to try to get it all down and I'm still not sure I won't make a royal mess of things," Rae said with a frown.

"All that stuff isn't very hard to understand once you've worked with it a bit," Toni reassured her. "You'll do fine, I'm sure, but I'll tell you what. If you'd like, I'd be happy to help you out with that kind of business until you feel like you are confident in everything."

Rae brightened at the offer. "Are you serious? You'd do that for me?"

Toni smiled at how easy it had been to make the blonde feel better and how much better she felt for having done it. Rae's happiness was important to her and it was really the first time she acknowledged it to herself. "Of course I would. We'll just call it consulting. It's the best of both worlds for me too; I can still be involved in somebody else's business and be my own boss too. Well, until I decide on another job out in the corporate world, at least."

"Shall we finish up the wine, and drink to seal the deal?" Rae moved to get the wine glasses, but was held back by Toni's gentle hand.

"I prefer to settle matters this way," the brunette said, pulling Rae into her arms. She looked into the blonde's blue eyes as long as she could before the purely wonderful sensations caused her to close her eyes and lower her lips to Rae's. The welcoming softness she found there caused her heart to soar. She released Rae when she felt a small shiver of pleasure pass through the woman in her arms. It wasn't until she sat back that she realized the tremor wasn't pleasure, but barely contained mirth.

"What?" Toni asked. She was perplexed by Rae's reaction. It wasn't the usual response to one of her kisses.

"Sorry," said a contrite Rae. "For a minute there I was back in Junior High School passing notes to my first crush. It just amused me."

The brunette narrowed her eyes trying to figure out what her hostess was talking about. "I still don't…"



"Sealed With A Kiss. It's what we put at the bottom of all our love notes. Just struck me as funny after all this time that something else would be sealed with a kiss."

Toni understood at last and laughed as she remembered the phrase. "God, I had forgotten all about that."

"Me too," Rae agreed. "Until now. Thanks for the memory."

"If you liked that one, you're going to absolutely love this one," Toni said as she reached for the blonde again. Rae met her halfway and their kiss revealed the growing mutual attraction they were feeling.

It definitely wasn't mirth that caused the shiver in Rae this time.

Part 8

Toni regretted leaving Rae that night. If Rae had been any one of the number of women who had paraded through her life, she might have pressed for the opportunity to stay the night. Sex had come easily and often for the brunette, but what she was feeling now was pretty rare. Rare? Let's face it, you've never been that close, that intimate, with a beautiful woman and not gone for the kill, she thought.

As she walked away from their final kiss at Rae's door, Toni had no doubt she was doing the right thing. The blonde was too special to be treated like a one night stand and their kisses were as far as Toni wanted to go until she explored the new feelings that had invaded her life. Then there was their new business partnership to consider. The brunette didn't want to let Rae down and if they got deeply involved before Toni could figure out what was in her own heart, it might cost the other woman her dream.

So Toni left the beachfront with a feeling of frustration below her beltline but a feeling of self-congratulations above the neckline. The next morning, when she woke up alone and wanting, she wasn't so sure she had anything to congratulate herself for.

The southern California day dawned clear and warm with the promise of a continuation of Indian summer. Toni rose and went for a run along her usual path. The four miles took her past a small park, the local elementary school and a Starbuck's. Usually she would pop in for a quick cup of coffee and a newspaper, then walk the rest of the way home, cooling down as she went. Today though, Starbuck's coffee held no appeal for her and she bypassed the coffee shop with barely a slowing on the last leg to her apartment.

Toni smiled as a memory of Rae flashed across her mind. Checking her watch she saw it was a little after eight and wondered how late the blonde might sleep in. There had been no mention of when they would get together again, but Toni didn't want to waste much time in making it happen. She was going to put her unlooked-for vacation to good use.

As she rounded the last corner to her apartment, she stopped short. There, on the concrete step to her apartment building's entrance, was Rae Moss holding a large silver thermos. The dazzling smile she flashed at Toni was enough to make her toes curl right in her running shoes. She winced at the tight feeling that movement caused.

"Something wrong?" Rae asked as she rose to her feet. "Are you hurt?"

"No," Toni assured her. "Must have picked up a pebble in my shoe or something. Well, this is a fantastic surprise. What brings you to the big city so early?" She retrieved a key from a lanyard hanging around her neck and opened the outer door to the building. "Come on up and tell me what I can do for you."

Rae followed the brunette inside and up a flight of steps. "I just thought you might like to taste the first offerings from the cappuccino machine. I think the thermos has kept it plenty warm," she said as she followed Toni into her apartment. "Nice," she said as she looked around.

"It's home for now," Toni explained as she moved to the kitchen and returned with two mugs. She sat in a wingback chair and motioned for Rae to take the one opposite her. "It was a convenient commute to my old job, but I don't suppose I'll hang onto it if I take a new job any distance away. Seems like all the big companies are moving out into the valleys or out to places like Bakersfield. There might not be much reason to hang onto it."

Rae unscrewed the top of the thermos and a fragrant aroma rose from the opening. "Hazelnut was what I had on hand; I hope that's okay by you." At Toni's nod, she poured the liquid into their mugs. "I guess I should tell you why I'm here." She took a sip from her mug and Toni did the same as she waited for the blonde to continue.

When Rae didn't continue, Toni asked, "Well?"

"Don't rush me; I'm thinking," Rae replied. "I've been trying to think of a reason ever since 5 this morning when got I up and looked at your address on the pad of paper on my kitchen table."

"There was a phone number on that pad, too. You didn't have to come all this way; you could have just called," Toni pointed out.

"Yeah, but I couldn't have done this over the phone." Rae set her mug down on the coffee table and moved to situate herself on Toni's lap. Taking the brunette's mug, she placed it down next to her own. Rae smiled as she dipped her head down to touch her lips to Toni's. The soft contact soon called for more and Rae increased the pleasurable pressure.

Breaking the kiss, Toni sighed. "That's the way to start the day off right." She smiled at the blonde who snuggled more securely in her lap.

"Did you like the coffee?" Rae asked.

"Yep, especially with the added sweetener," Toni answered, touching her fingertip to Rae's lips.

Rae laughed softly from her place on Toni's shoulder. "Crap!" she said as she sat up suddenly. "I do have a reason why I came by here. Remember the tax things we talked about last night?"

"What about them?" the brunette asked.

"Well, I found those papers I got from the state and I thought maybe I could ask you a few questions about them. I left them downstairs in my car."

"I guess it's your lucky day that I'm gainfully unemployed right now then, isn't it? Go ahead and get them and lets see what we can figure out," Toni offered. "Just prop open the downstairs door with the rock next to the step and let yourself back in when you've got them."

Rae placed a quick peck on Toni's cheek and moved quickly back to her feet. "I'll be right back. Don't go anywhere."

"Not damned likely," she said as simultaneously Rae left the apartment and the phone rang. Toni pick up the portable phone. "Hello?"

"Ms. Parker? Todd Dalton from Corporate Placement Services."

"Mr. Dalton, how are you?" Toni asked as she moved to the picture window. She looked down on the street, waiting for the blonde to emerge from the building.

"I'm fine, thanks. Look, I know this is sooner than we had discussed but it seems a position has opened up in the southern Imperial Valley office of Combs Industries that I think you'd be a perfect fit for. It's a great deal with salary, relocation reimbursement, stock options and 401K plan. It's not a job that will last long and we wanted to give you first shot at it."

"Combs Industries!" Toni exclaimed in disbelief. "Somebody must have died; getting in there can take an act of Congress. That company has interests in at least a dozen others besides making their own products." She looked down at the street as Rae's form emerged from the entrance. She smiled as Rae forgot to put the rock in front of the door and realized it as soon as the door shut behind her. Toni almost laughed as Rae stood with hands on hips looking at the door as if she could will it back open.

"Ms. Parker? Did you hear me?" The corporate headhunter's voice came over the line and Toni snapped back to the conversation.

"I missed that, Mr. Dalton. There was some interference on this end." Rae had moved to her car and retrieved a manila folder from the front passenger seat. Toni moved to the door to buzz the blonde back in.

"I said I need to know by Monday if you're interested in interviewing with them. After that time, I'll need to offer the chance to someone else. They need someone to relocate and get started out there right away."

Move…to Imperial Valley. Toni was crestfallen as she responded to her doorbell with a push of the button to open the door downstairs. She had just met Rae and now they wanted her to move a couple of hundred miles away.

"I'll…I'll think about it, Mr. Dalton, and let you know my decision on Monday," Toni said quietly into the phone. "Thank you very much for calling." She was replacing the receiver on the cradle as the door to the apartment opened up.

Rae noticed the troubled look on Toni's face immediately. "Bad news?" Rae asked as she stepped into the living room.

Toni fought to put on a brighter look. "Damn telemarketers, they start earlier all the time. Let's see what you've got there." As Rae opened the folder and gave her attention to the contents, the troubled look returned to the brunette's face. Now what am I going to do?

Part 9

Rae's questions about the tax documents were fairly simple to explain for anyone exposed to as much bureaucratic gibberish as Toni had experienced. Once the system had been outlined in plain English, Rae easily caught on to the details. She really had a quick mind and took in new things rapidly.

Toni could envision a great working relationship with Rae as well as a much more intimate association. The brunette could feel the debate starting within her already. Maybe there was a compromise to be found. Toni had heard of long distance relationships working out and maybe this would be one of those. Of course long distance was the last thing Toni wanted to be with Rae. The very last thing.

Rae stayed another hour before reluctantly heading back to the beach. She was expecting a delivery van in the early afternoon and needed to be there to meet it. Though Rae's visit had been unexpected, it hadn't been unwelcome and Toni was sorry it had been so short. After a lingering kiss at the door, Toni held onto the blonde's hand as she tried to walk down the hallway.

"Wait!" When Rae turned back at the brunette's request Toni furiously tried to think of a reason why she couldn't let go of the hand within hers. "You haven't said what time yet."

Rae tilted her head to the side and squinted her eyes. "What time for what?"

"What time I should pick you up for dinner. Maybe it's time we go out on a real date." Toni shrugged. "I mean, we've had a nice time together but I thought you might like to get dressed up a little and go out for a bit. Just to treat ourselves. We've worked pretty hard lately. Well, you have anyway and I…"

"Seven," Rae said, interrupting what was becoming increasingly something like babble coming from Toni. "It was a lucky hour for me with you last time." That was good enough for the executive. She ceased her rambling, turned Rae's hand palm up and placed a kiss there.

"See you at seven. Wear something hot," the executive instructed with a saucy wink. Rae raised her eyebrows in surprise, but the look was quickly followed by an expression of amusement.

"I'll do that. See you later." The blonde pulled her hand slowly from Toni's grasp and moved down the hallway, peeking back several times to see the other woman watching her. It was obvious Rae liked that. When the shopkeeper disappeared around the corner and out of Toni's sight, she shut the door. Like a teenager with a crush she moved to the picture window and watched Rae as she got in her car and drove away.

You're something special, Rae Moss. How am I going to be able to leave you? Guess I have all weekend to figure out if I really want to, Toni thought. With a sigh she turned away from the window.


Exactly at seven Toni pulled up to the curb outside Rae's Place. She left the comfort of her Lexus after doing a quick check of her look in the rearview mirror. Satisfied she had cleaned up pretty well, she took the single red rose she had purchased and knocked on the door of the business. Hearing a slightly muffled, "Come on in!" she opened the door and stepped inside. Rae was behind the counter writing in a large black ledger. She looked up from the book and flashed a dazzling smile at her date.

"Right on time. Punctuality is a very attractive quality." At that moment Toni could think of at least a hundred attractive qualities the blonde possessed. Looking absolutely beautiful in tight Levi's and a deep blue silk shirt was one of them. Speech wouldn't come so the brunette held out the rose to Rae. The blonde reached for the bud, but as she came within Toni's reach she was whisked into a powerful embrace and treated to a deep and passion-filled kiss. Though initially surprised, Rae responded with as much enthusiasm as her partner was showing. When the kiss finally broke, Rae leaned against Toni's chest.

"Not that I'm complaining mind you, but what was that for?" She slipped her arms around the brunette's waist.

"For following instructions so well," Toni replied in a slightly breathless voice.

Rae pulled back a little and appraised the look of the woman in her arms. "Well, I have to say you've done a damn good job in the 'looking hot' category yourself. That's some flattering outfit you've got on." Toni blushed but was proud that her carefully selected clothes had made an impact. She had settled on black jeans with a matching short black jacket. A red shirt set off the black and the brunette knew she looked good in it. She would have been embarrassed, however, if anyone knew how many discarded outfits were laying on her bed at that very minute.

"I just opened the closet and this is what fell out," Toni lied. She was the one then who was surprised when Rae reached up and pulled her down for another kiss. She ended the kiss and turned to reach for her own jacket that was draped over the back of a nearby chair.

"That was for catching what fell out," Rae said as she passed by the brunette. "I believe we have a date?"

"Oh…yeah," Toni mumbled, snapping out of her pleasurable haze. "Sure, let's get going."

"I thought we already were," Rae quipped as she stepped out the door.

Toni could only smile and follow behind.


XXanthos was one of the first restaurants to be fully owned and operated by a lesbian couple and they had been friends of Toni's for quite some time. Helena and Georgie had been partners so long that no one could remember referring to them in any way but as a couple. Using Helena's old Greek family recipes and Georgie's natural people skills, they had created a thriving business and an equally successful long-term relationship. Toni admired them more than just about anyone else she could think of.

"Toni!" Georgie greeted the couple effusively. "It's been far too long. Where have you been hiding?"

"Too long?" Toni laughed. "I swear you'd say that if I was in here yesterday. Where's Helena?"

The restaurant owner rolled her eyes and sighed. "Oh you know how it is in this racket. She's in the back dealing with a grape leaf crisis or something like that. I'll tell her you're here though, that will drag her out from her beloved kitchen. Now, who is your lovely dinner companion?"

Toni introduced Rae to Georgie and eventually to Helena who did appear shortly as promised.

The meal at XXanthos was superb and as they lingered over their after-dinner coffee, Toni was pleased with Rae's enjoyment of their evening and how well she got along with her friends. Helena especially seemed taken by the young blonde and promised to give her the name of reliable suppliers XXanthos used.

"This has been a wonderful evening and I really appreciate you bringing me here," Rae said as she settled back comfortably in her chair. "This is a marvelous place and Helena and Georgie couldn't be more special. I'll remember this night for a very long time."

"You make it sound as if you don't want to continue the night and go dancing with me," Toni said nonchalantly. "Of course if you're too tired, I guess I'll just have to understand."

"Too tired for dancing? Not on your life, lady. What did you have in mind?"

Toni appeared thoughtful. "There's a little club called the Rose without Thorns that's pretty good."

"I've heard about that place. Female DJ, right? All women and pretty wild?" At Toni's nod, Rae continued. "It sounds nice, but to be honest I'd rather not go somewhere crowded or noisy tonight. I'm up for dancing, but maybe just not that particular place tonight." Toni might have been disappointed, but like all good executives, she had already formulated a back-up plan.

"No problem. I know a little place with a cozy atmosphere, soft music and the service is impeccable. I have a few contacts there and we can get in with no cover charge. They even play your kind of music…those oldies you like."

Rae brightened at Toni's description. "Now that's more like it! Count me in."

Toni settled the bill and the couple said good-bye to Georgie and Helena. The brunette guided Rae to the car and opened the door for her. She turned to walk around to the driver's door, but was stopped as the blonde asked her a question.

"Hey Toni, I've been wondering about something. Why do they call that dance club the Rose without Thorns?"

Toni chuckled. "That's easy…no pricks!" She continued around the car and slipped into the driver's seat. They buckled up and started on their way.

"So," Rae questioned, "what's the name of this cozy little place you're taking me to dance the night away?"

"It's a little joint called Toni's apartment." She waited a moment as Rae came to understand what she meant. "Still want to go?" she asked. She hazarded a glance at her companion.

"I told you before, count me in," Rae replied simply.

Toni smiled and returned her attention to the road, urging the Lexus to go just a little faster on the trip home.

Part 10

Toni unlocked the door to her apartment and stepped back to allow Rae to enter before her. The lights were on but muted.

"Expecting company?" the blonde inquired.

"I might have been," Toni admitted sheepishly. "At least I was hoping."

Rae laughed. "You're pretty damn cute when you blush, you know that?" She reached up and gently touched the cheek betraying the brunette's feelings. Toni swallowed thickly at the contact.

"You're pretty damn cute all the time," she said in reply and lowered her head to place a gentle and lingering kiss on Rae's lips. When the kiss ended Rae leaned into Toni, her eyes closed and her breathing just a little erratic.

"You keep that up, Miss Parker, and I won't need the drink you promised me in the car. I could get intoxicated just on you."

Toni grinned and stepped back a little though she felt a little drunk herself. "I'll get us some wine. I picked up a nice bottle this afternoon. Why don't you put some music on while I get the glasses? I bought a few new CD's too while I was out. They're on the stereo." She nodded in the direction of her sound system, and then headed into the kitchen to get the wine after discarding her jacket.

Rae moved to the stereo and picked up the small stack of unopened CD's she found there. What she saw made her smile with happiness.

"Glenn Miller! Benny Goodman! The Best of Cole Porter! Oh Toni, you've got some of the best music ever recorded." She continued perusing the CD's until she found one that she knew she would love. "You don't mind if I play these?" she called out to the brunette.

"That's what they're there for," Toni called back as she deftly worked the cork from the bottle. Rae unwrapped her selection and was loading it into the CD player when Toni appeared with two glasses and the open bottle of wine.

"Find something you like?" she asked as she set the glasses down and proceeded to fill them with a rich red wine.

"Oh yeah," Rae agreed dreamily. She pressed the button to locate the track she wanted then turned to Toni. "I believe you told me we were going to dance." Toni could only nod and take the blonde into her arms. As the music started, Rae began to hum and then sing along softly, much like she had done in her apartment the night she cooked for Toni. She began to move rhythmically around the room with the brunette. The silky voice of Diana Krall filled the room, accompanied by Rae.

"There may be trouble ahead,

But while there's music and moonlight

And love and romance

Let's face the music and dance.

Before the fiddlers have fled

Before they ask us to pay the bill

And while we still have the chance

Let's face the music and dance.

Soon, we'll be without the moon

Humming a different tune

And then…

There may be teardrops to shed

So while there's moonlight and music

And love and romance

Lets face the music and dance."

The couple moved together as if they had done it a thousand times before. Toni had never considered herself a great slow dancer but apparently having the right partner made all the difference. They moved even a fraction closer and were so intimate the movements now seemed to come from one person instead of two. Toni was content as Rae's head remained nestled on her shoulder while they moved slowly. They continued dancing and a song came on with a slightly more upbeat tempo. They moved back a little and exaggerated their dancing.

"Just like Fred and Ginger!" Rae said.

"More like Ginger and Ginger," Toni replied as she swept Rae into a deep dip. As they returned upright, Rae began singing again to the catchy tune.

"Let's fall in love,

Why shouldn't we fall in love?

Our hearts are made of it, let's take a chance,

Why be afraid of it?

Let's close our eyes

And make our own paradise,

Little we know of it, still we can try,

To make a go of it.

We might have been meant for each other.

To be or not to be,

Let our hearts discover.

Let's fall in love,

Why shouldn't we fall in love?

Now is the time for it, while we are young,

Let's fall in love."

The song continued and slowed, as did the dancers. At the end Rae put her head back on Toni's shoulder and hummed as the song came to a close.

"I have," Toni said.

"Have what?" Rae asked, her eyes closed with the delicious sensation of being so close to the brunette.

"Fallen in love…with you," Toni said simply. It wasn't romantic or dramatic, but it was the truth. She knew it as soon as she said it.

Rae came to a complete stop as the music continued to swirl around them. Her body tensed. "What did you say?"

Oh crap! Toni thought. Too much, too soon, her mind screamed. Outwardly though, she remained composed. She leaned back and looked into the now open blue eyes of the woman of her dreams.

"I said I've fallen in love with you," Toni repeated. She waited in complete suspense as Rae gazed at her.

"That's what I thought you said," Rae stated as she resumed her place on Toni's shoulder. "Me too."

I'll be damned, Toni thought and began dancing slowly again.

Part 11

The couch was comfortable and welcome after almost an hour of dancing to some of Rae's favorite music. Before she met the blonde Toni hadn't given music from that era much of a chance, but now she found herself liking it more and more. It had something of a timeless quality that she admired.

"Have you considered playing this music at Rae's Place?" Toni asked. Rae was settled in next to her and they were sipping the good red wine Toni had poured earlier.

"Not really. I just never thought of this as anything but my preference. You don't think the clientele will find it a little…dated?"

Toni thought about it. "I don't think so. There are enough places down there that pander to whatever is current and trendy. I stopped going into a lot of places just because of the volume of head banging and hip-hop music. I don't mind it, but just in smaller doses and definitely not to where I have to shout out my lunch order so it can be heard. There's a big retirement community down there and I think they feel alienated from most of the businesses. You see them sitting on the beach or walking their dogs or watching their grandchildren, but you don't see them spending their money. Maybe it's time somebody gave them a place where they would feel welcome."

The idea was appealing to the shop owner. "I like it and I'll think about it. Hey, you sure you weren't in marketing? You seem to understand a thing or two about what would sell to the public."

Toni laughed. "There isn't anybody in a business who isn't in marketing. It's everybody's job to sell the product or service, even if they don't know it."

"I suppose that's right," Rae agreed, setting her now empty glass next to Toni's on the coffee table. "Do you consider yourself a good saleswoman?"

"I like to think so," Toni said. She half turned and wrapped her arms around Rae. "There's a service I'd like to sell you."

Rae smiled at the words. "Oh really? And what exactly might that be?"

"This," Toni murmured as she moved in for a deep kiss. Her tongue moved out to trace Rae's delicious lips, causing the blonde to open to her. The warmth shot through Toni's body and when the kiss finally broke, they were both a bit shaken.

"Sold," Rae whispered in a tremulous voice, holding tight to Toni. She continued to hold on as the brunette guided them to their feet.

"Rae," Toni said in a voice filled with emotion, "I want to make love with you. I love you and I want to be with you tonight. There's no one in this world for me but you and I want to show you how much I mean that."

The blonde reached for Toni and pressed a kiss to her lips that conveyed her innermost feelings clearly. "When I say 'sold' you can stop selling." She smiled and picked up one of the brunette's hands into her own. "Are you going to show me the way to the bedroom or do I have to find it myself?"

Toni led the way down the short hall to the door of her bedroom. Moonlight filled the room; there was no need for more illumination. She brought Rae to the bed and kissed her deeply again followed by several more smaller kisses. She felt Rae's hands on her shoulders and was pleasantly surprised when the blonde slipped her fingers inside the collar and down to the first button of Toni's shirt.

"I've wanted to do this ever since I saw you on the beach that first day. You standing there in that green bikini while you held my hat behind your back…do you even realize how beautiful a picture you made, Miss Parker?" She worked the buttons on the red blouse until every single one had been opened and tanned flesh was revealed to her.

"I'm glad you thought so because you definitely had my attention that day. I haven't been able to think of anything but you since then," Toni said as she leaned forward and nibbled at Rae's sensitive neck. "Nothing but you." She continued trailing kisses as Rae pushed the shirt from her shoulders.

"Too many clothes," Rae whispered. "I want to feel you next to me. No clothes, just you. I want to touch you so much." Toni's heart rate picked up at the words and together they made short work of the remaining clothing. Moonlight bathed the two women as they moved together, no impediment at last to the contact of their bodies.

Their kisses became more urgent and passionate. Small moans of excitement filled the room as well as ragged breathing. Toni broke away briefly to pull back the covers from the bed. Then she reached for the blonde and drew her down to the surface with her. They lay closely together, relishing the connection.

The brunette pushed on Rae's shoulder slightly, moving the blonde to her back. "So beautiful," she breathed as she lowered her mouth to Rae's breast. Using her tongue and teeth she teased first one nipple, then the other to rigid attention. Toni felt herself becoming wet from the foreplay and seeing the look of arousal on her partner's face. She had to know if Rae was feeling the same.

Slowly Toni traced her hand down from Rae's breast. The silky skin under her touch reacted as her fingertips passed by and when her hand at last reached between Rae's legs, the blonde nearly jumped at the contact.

"Oh God!" Rae cried out at the sensation Toni's fingers were causing. Instead of closing her legs though, she opened them slightly more, inviting Toni to explore further. The wetness Toni had felt, however, had already been more than enough invitation. She delved her fingers into the warm cleft.

Rae panted and swallowed thickly at the probing touch. "Yessss…" She nodded her head in approval of Toni's quest to give her pleasure. The brunette swept her fingers up and encountered Rae's firm clit. Using her middle finger, she stroked the sensitive nub until Rae's hips began moving under her hand.

"So good," Rae grunted as Toni increased the speed of her touch. "Go inside. Please, Toni, go inside," she almost begged. Toni could deny her nothing and slipped her fingers down and into the writhing woman next to her. She marveled at the bounty of heat and wet she found there. There wasn't much time to marvel though as Rae urged her to go deeper.

Toni complied and began a rhythmic stroking in and out. She moved her thumb so it made contact with Rae's clit as she pushed in. The combination of touches pushed Rae to the very edge and Toni watched as orgasm claimed her partner.

"I'm coming!" Rae nearly shouted and then speech was lost to her as wave after wave of pleasure claimed her. Toni stilled her fingers inside the blonde as orgasm subsided. She left them there until she felt Rae's body go completely limp. Moving up, she lay down beside the still, heavily breathing blonde.

A small smile crossed Rae's face as Toni leaned in to place a tiny kiss on her cheek. "I'm calling the Chamber of Commerce in the morning. I'm definitely nominating you for Businesswoman of the Year." Toni smiled in turn and dropped her head to Rae's shoulder and closed her eyes. Her own body was still trembling from the sight she had just witnessed.

"Give me a minute, Miss Parker, and I'm going to show you a line of products I'm sure you're going to be interested in."

Toni's eyes popped back open. There was no doubt about it; she was interested already!

Part 12

Rae was as good as her word and what started out as an overnight visit ended up lasting the entire weekend. Toni was surprised that she was so comfortable sharing her space with someone else. In times past she would be anxious for the other person to leave once the sex was over. Now it seemed like sex was just the beginning of the good times they had together. All these thoughts and more jumbled through the brunette's mind as she stood in line buying a pair of sweats and toothbrush for Rae.

Though thinking of Rae was more than pleasant, it only made the decision hanging over Toni's head that much more difficult. Now that she found Rae, could she leave her to explore the career opportunity of a lifetime? Would Rae hang in there if she did? Toni prided herself on being a decisive executive, but this was one call she was finding it impossible to make.

Toni woke up Monday morning wishing mightily for a time machine so she could relive the weekend over and over. Waking up with Rae in her arms had been so nice that she turned to pull her back once again. She was surprised to find the other half of the bed empty and Rae's pillow cold. Toni bolted from the bed wondering what she had done wrong and was determined to find the blonde. It wasn't much of a hunt as a very naked Rae walked into the bedroom at that moment, toweling her hair dry.

"Good morning, Miss Parker. Glad you joined the land of the conscious."

The vision before her made it difficult to speak and Toni wondered if it would always be that way. Always? When did I start thinking like that? The brunette's thoughts raced until she realized Rae had continued to speak.

"…and though I've had a great time this weekend, I need to get back to get some work done if I'm going to make my own deadline for the opening of the shop."

"Um, sure," Toni said, understanding finally hitting her. "Okay, let me take a quick shower and then we can head out. We can stop at Starbuck's and get some coffee on the way." She moved to go by the blonde, but a gently restraining hand on her arm stopped her.

"Good morning, again," Rae said as she kissed Toni soundly. They both felt the heat rising between them once more.

"So, you were going to take a shower?" Rae asked. "That sounds good to me." A look of pleased surprise crossed Toni's features.

"I thought you just took a shower," she commented.

"I did," confirmed Rae, "But you can never be too clean." She linked her arm through Toni's and tugged her to the bathroom.


Toni's Lexus eased onto the coastal highway, nearing Rae's home and business. Both women had been quiet on the trip back, seemingly lost in their own thoughts. Toni glanced over at Rae who was tapping her fingers slowly in time to the music coming from the car's radio. Her hair was golden in the morning sunshine and Toni could not resist reaching out to touch it. She was rewarded with a smile when she did.

Like a piece of lead, Toni felt the cell phone in her pocket. Next to it was the card with the phone number of Corporate Placement Services. She needed to make her decision today and it seemed she was no closer to knowing what to do than she had been in the previous few days.

As they pulled up to the building where Rae's Place was located, a large moving van blocked much of the street. Toni directed the Lexus around the truck and parked a short way up the street from the shop.

"What's going on here?" Toni asked as she pulled the keys from the ignition. She checked her rearview mirror and opened the door. Rae waited for her on the sidewalk as she came around the back of the car.

"I was going to tell you about this the other night after dinner, but you sort of distracted me a little bit. In a good way, I mean." She winked at Toni before continuing. "Larry and Madge own the little mom and pop grocery store that sits right up against my place. Last week Larry was diagnosed with prostate cancer. It doesn't look real good and Madge is pretty sure she wouldn't be able to run the store and take care of Larry too. They're selling out."

"Do you know the new owner? I mean, will they keep the same business? That little grocery store was a good compliment to your shop. I'd hate to see it turn into something that would be competition," Toni said as her brow furrowed.

"I don't have much say in it so I'm not going to worry. There are too many wonderful things happening in my life right now. Yes, that means you, Toni." Rae hooked a finger through a belt loop on Toni's jeans and pulled her in for a brief kiss, not caring who might see them. "Coming inside?" she asked.

"In just a second. I need to get something out of the car." Toni returned Rae's kiss and sent the blonde on her way with a brief pat on the backside. She watched as Rae went inside and then headed back to the Lexus. She leaned up against the trunk, her mind filled with conflicting emotions and ideas.

Combs Industries, Rae, dream job, Rae, corporate ladder, Rae, fabulous perks, Rae… Toni's thoughts began to shift. The beach, Rae, my own boss, Rae… Toni pulled her cell phone and the card from her pocket. Glancing at the card, she dialed the number.

"Mr. Dalton? Toni Parker, here. About that job with Combs Industries. Thank you for the opportunity, but I'm afraid I have to decline." She listened a moment. "Yes, I may very well be crazy, Mr. Dalton, that's true." She looked to the little grocery store where stocky men continued to load the van. "It's just that a great business opportunity has presented itself and I can't turn it down."

Rae came to the door of the business and looked out, obviously wondering what was keeping the brunette.

"I couldn't turn it down if I wanted to," Toni said, her eyes making contact with her lover. "Good-bye Mr. Dalton." She snapped the cell phone shut and tucked it back into her pocket. She smiled as Rae brought her hand up and crooked her finger at Toni.

As she walked up to the beautiful blonde, Toni glanced across the street to the where the ocean met the shoreline. Wonder if I'll ever get tired of seeing that? She glanced back at Rae. No, I don't think I ever will.

She reached Rae and wrapped her arms around her future. "What do you know about running a grocery store?"

The End

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