And Playing the Role of Herself...  (Part 3)

For disclaimers, see part 1


I eyed my reflection in the full-length mirror critically.

Black had been my mood when I began dressing, and black had been the result - black, three-inch heeled boots, black leather pants that laced up the front and a short, black, silk camisole that stopped nowhere near the almost indecently low waistband of the pants. I'd used product to slick my hair back and a touch of black eyeliner to bring out the color and unusual shape of my eyes, and the overall effect was...

"Badass, slutty ho," I muttered to myself, and shrugged.

Well, I'd wanted to get noticed tonight, wanted a mainline of self confidence right to the jugular after a week of cool, mechanical civility from Robyn that had battered my emotions - and along with them my self esteem - into near submission.

This would definitely get me noticed.

Hell, maybe after the party, I'd go out, find myself a woman, and get this whole first-time thing taken care of. Maybe if I did that enough times, Robyn would see that this wasn't a damn experiment for me, and she'd let me back in her life...

I snorted at my reflection. "Yeah, right Caid, that's so you."

Okay, so I wasn't looking to get laid - at least not by a stranger - no matter what the outfit said to the contrary. There was something, though, about dressing this way, about knowing you looked good and that people were staring at you, wanting you...

I grabbed my keys and grinned ferally at my reflection, feeling my self-confidence come back in a rush.

You go, ho.


"Lagavulin, rocks," I said briefly to the short, thin man standing behind one of the five bars set up on different floors of the enormous concrete and glass structure that was Scott Ziem's house. Scott was one of 9P's executive producers, and he was throwing this bash in celebration of the end of our second season, which we'd wrapped that afternoon.

The bartender nodded and went about filling a heavy glass tumbler with ice and splashing a generous portion of scotch over the top. He handed me the drink and a napkin with a polite, "Ma'am."

I smiled my thanks and stepped aside, nodding at a couple I didn't recognize as they took my place at the bar. I sipped my drink, enjoying the cool, earthy flavor on my tongue, and glanced around. Like the main level below, the walls and furnishings were blindingly white, and I had to stop myself from squinting. To my left, a white stucco wall overlooked the main floor, and I walked over to lean against it, watching the flow of guests below and the silent, white-shirted staff that wove through the crowd with practiced ease.

A loud, undistinguishable techno beat poured from hidden speakers, although thankfully not as loud on this level as it had been on the main floor. I'd been mingling for an hour and a half with that heavy thudding in my ears, and finally I'd come up here to escape it, to escape the press of people and small talk and just...breathe.

I idly contemplated going home. I'd caused a stir, raised some eyebrows, received the appreciative looks I'd been hoping for, and now I was tired, my head hurt, and the person I really wanted to see was probably a no-show.

And my pants were starting to chafe.

"Goddamn, Harris, I heard you were prowling around, looking like a cross between a Harley vixen and a playboy bunny, but I guess I had to see it to believe it. Shit, girl, you've been holding out on us."

I smiled and turned towards the voice, propping my elbows against the wall and regarding the small woman standing at the bar with amusement.

A former LAPD detective, Magda Chu was one of the three police procedure consultants that 9P employed. Of mixed Chinese and Mexican descent, she had dark, hooded eyes, a small, dainty nose and a wide mouth - a face that was intriguing rather than beautiful, and I had to admit it had always intrigued me. We weren't close, but we got on well, and the smile I gave her was genuine.

"Magda," I greeted her, watching as she accepted her drink from the bartender and made her way across the room towards me with the careful attention of the slightly drunk. "Been here long?"

"Long enough," she grinned, and leaned against the wall next to me, blatantly eyeballing me from head to toe. "Christ," she said after a moment, and shook her head.

"I'm going to assume that's a compliment, and say thank you," I said, and sipped my scotch. "Where did you come from, anyway?  I didn't see you downstairs."

She nodded towards a set of glass doors and the balcony beyond. "Out with the other outcasts, smoking my filthy cancer sticks. And yes, it was definitely a compliment."

I smiled, and tilted my head. "Can I bum one?"

She raised her eyebrows in surprise, but immediately reached into her jacket and pulled out a pack of Marlboro Lights. "I didn't know you smoked."

"I don't, usually...once or twice a year, I guess. Sounded good just now." I nodded towards the balcony. "Join me?"


I pushed off the wall and straightened to my full height that, with the boots, was nearly a foot taller than she was. She looked up at me and blinked. "Christ," she said again, before leading the way out onto the balcony.

There were other small groups of people on the balcony and I nodded to those I knew, not surprised at the pungent smell of marijuana in the air. Magda walked over to the railing and leaned against it, shaking out two cigarettes and handing me one. We smoked and chatted for a while, until Magda excused herself to find the bathroom. She left her cigarettes and lighter behind, and I tapped another one out and lit it, hoping she wouldn't mind.

"So this is where you're hiding! Shit, Caid, I've been looking all over for you."

The low murmur of conversation from the various groups of people around me stopped, and I turned my head to watch Liz sweep across the balcony, a pretty, dark-haired man that I assumed was her date trailing behind.

"Hey, Liz," I said and turned to face her, leaning my back against the railing. Her hair was parted on the side and fell in a shiny blond curtain over one eye, her pants were dark green and tight, and her blouse a scoop necked, short-sleeved white leotard that hugged her generous curves and had her companion's undivided attention. "Looks like you found me." I looked pointedly at her date, and she waved at him vaguely.

"Caid, this is Bruce. Bruce, Caid."

I nodded at him, got a glassy, vacant smile in return, and wondered for the thousandth time at Liz's taste in men. Liz plucked the cigarette from my fingers, and I frowned. "Hey!"

"Disgusting habit," she said, bringing the cigarette to her mouth and taking a deep drag before returning it to me, a smudge of bright red lipstick joining the deeper maroon of my own. "I thought we were quitting."

"We are." I tapped the ash off, took another drag and handed it back.

She took it, and nodded at the pack on the railing. "This is you quitting?"

"They're Magda's."

Liz grimaced with distaste. Liz and Magda were like oil and water. Liz was high maintenance, Magda was low patience, and their mutual contempt for one another was common knowledge. "You're out here with Magda?"

"Liz," I said warningly, having had this conversation before.

"I know, I know, you like her, you two are friends, blah, blah, blah." She sucked more smoke into her lungs and blew it out slowly, squinting at me through the smoke. "Shit, Caid," she handed the cigarette back to me, eyeing my clothes. "Those are great pants."

"Thanks." I smiled slightly and took a pull on the smoke. At the mention of my pants, Bruce transferred his attention from Liz's chest to my crotch, but the glassy expression did not change. I wondered idly if Bruce could speak. "Elona found them for me. Never thought I'd actually wear them in public, but it seemed like the night for it." I shrugged.

She looked me up and down again and pouted. "Elona never found anything like that for me." Elona Herst was Liz's personal shopper and stylist, and after hearing me complain one too many times about how I hated shopping, Liz had hooked the two of us up, and Elona had been shopping for me ever since.  "You might even be showing more skin that Robyn tonight, and that's saying something."

I coughed out a large cloud of smoke, breathed some of it back in and coughed some more. Liz handed me my drink, which I drained quickly and was finally able to croak out, "Robyn's here?"

I felt ill, and suddenly my impulse to dress to get noticed seemed childish, silly and slightly desperate. I'd been waiting for her arrival all night, but now I wanted nothing more than to get out of here without her seeing me.

Liz looked at me speculatively. "She and the tennis hunk came in about twenty minutes ago." She took the glass from my hand and handed it to Bruce. "Bruce, honey...could you be a sweetie and get me and Caid another drink?"

"Uh...yeah, sure baby."  He took the glass automatically and smiled at her adoringly.

She patted him on the cheek. "You're so sweet. I'll have a Pinot Grigio, and Caid? What were you drinking?"

"Lagavulin," I answered absently. Bruce's smooth, pretty forehead wrinkled in confusion, and I sighed. "Scotch," I clarified.

He nodded hesitantly, and Liz patted him on the arm. "Just ask the bartender for the scotch that starts with an "L", okay?" He nodded again and she gave him a gentle shove towards the balcony doors.

I shook my head as he walked away. "I don't get it, Liz. What do you see in these guys?  Don't you miss being able to converse with your date?"

"I'm not dating him for his conversation skills, Caid," she said in amusement. "He has other skills I value just as highly." She picked up the cigarette, still smoldering where I had laid it during my coughing fit, and dropped it in an abandoned glass along the railing. "Now," she continued, turning to me and crossing her arms, "tell me what in the hell is going on between you and Robyn."

Her question took me by surprise, and I paused before answering. "What do you mean?" I finally answered, trying to keep the defensiveness out of my voice. "There's nothing going on between me and Robyn."

She made a dismissing motion with her hand and glared at me. "That's crap, Caid. Two weeks ago, you two were laughing, were friends. Shit, the woman was insane with worry when you crashed your bike - she ran out of the party before I even finished telling her what happened. And now, you treat each other like strangers, and I don't think I've heard either of you laugh in a week. Something happened, and I want to know what it is."

"Nothing happened," I snapped. As always, when she used that imperious, you-will-do-as-I-say tone of voice, it pissed me off.

"Bullshit," she snapped back. We glared at each other for a moment or two, and her gaze softened a little. "Caid, talk to me. I know sometimes I'm a flake, and I'm not the most observant person in the world, but I can tell you're upset, and I don't like to see you upset."

"Liz..." I sighed and my anger drained away in the face of her concern. "It's between Robyn and I, something we need to work out. I'm sorry, that's all you're going to get."

She nodded, obviously still curious, but reluctantly letting it drop.

Bruce came back with our drinks, Magda came back for her cigarettes, and the four of us stood around uncomfortably while Liz and Magda glared at each other, Bruce stared at my pants, and I resisted the urge to chain-smoke the rest of Magda's smokes in an effort to distract myself from the fact that Robyn was roaming around somewhere close by.

Liz and Bruce eventually left to mingle downstairs, and after smoking one last cigarette with Magda, I decided that it was time to brave downstairs and make my getaway. I thanked Magda for the cigarettes and conversation and left her talking with a group of crewmembers that had recently joined us on the balcony.

I stepped through the glass doors and immediately froze when I saw Robyn leaning casually against the bar, holding a small glass and watching me with a predatory gleam in her eyes that immediately made me wary. Her eyes wandered down my body and back up again, and when she met my gaze again she downed the contents of the glass and smiled. It was not a nice smile.

I swallowed and forced myself to nod politely. "Robyn."

She looked, as she always did, amazing. I took in the off-white, wide-legged pants and a black corset-like blouse that ended just below her ribcage, and wondered if there was ever a time when she didn't look amazing. Probably not, I decided, and realized she was talking to me.

"Well you didn't waste any time, did you?" Her voice was loud and slightly slurred. "Looks like Magda is happy to help you out in your little 'exploration', hmm?" She pushed off the bar and walked towards me, wavering a little before catching herself and continuing on.

Robyn was drunk. Very drunk.

And about to babble my personal shit to twenty or so people who were watching us eagerly, just hoping this would turn into something worth retelling


I smiled brightly and stepped forward. "Can I talk to you for a minute?"

Without waiting for an answer, I walked past her, hoping she would follow. I crossed in front of the bar and headed down a darkened hallway, looking for some place away from prying eyes to ask her what in the fuck she thought she was doing. Extremely conscious that she was right behind me, I tried a few doors before I found one that was open. The room turned out to be a small bathroom - I flicked on the light and gestured for her to enter.

As soon as she was past me I closed the door and turned to face her, crossing my arms. "What the fuck are you doing, Robyn?" I asked angrily. "You want to cause a scene in front of twenty crew members, go right ahead, but leave me out of it. And fucking leave Magda out of it, too. She's got nothing to do with this."

She ignored what I'd said, running her eyes over my body appreciatively. Everywhere her eyes touched, I felt heat, and cursed my body's betrayal.

"I guess," she murmured, finally meeting my gaze with a mocking smile. "I really can't blame her. Hell, Caid, you might as well hang a sign around your neck that says 'fuck me'."  She tilted her head to the side. "Is that all you wanted? Hmm? Just a quick fuck to see what it's like? Because if that's all you want..."

She stepped forward quickly and pushed me against the door, slipping a leg between mine, then grabbed my hips and rocked me slowly against her thigh. I was too stunned to move at first, and then too overwhelmed with sensation to do anything but close my eyes and let my head fall back against the door with a groan. I felt feather light kisses along my neck, and Robyn laid her forehead on my shoulder, still rocking our bodies together gently.

"You make me so crazy, Caid," she mumbled softly. "Why do you make me so crazy?"

The strong smell of alcohol on her breath, along with the rambling quality of her question, finally brought my mind back into focus and with tremendous effort, I pushed her away from me.

She stumbled back a few steps, blinking at me blearily. "What's wrong?"

"Well for one thing, you're fucking plastered," I snapped angrily. I couldn't believe she was willing to do this, that she thought so little of me, of us, that this would be enough. And I'd almost let it happen. "I guess I know exactly where I stand now...we can't be friends anymore, but apparently it's ok to fuck me in a bathroom." I nodded curtly. "Okay, Robyn, I get it. You win. I'm out of your hair. Consider this done."

Robyn swayed a little, her forehead furrowed in concentration, trying to decipher what I'd said.

"Oh for fuck sakes," I said in annoyance. "Sit down before you fall down."

She immediately dropped onto the toilet seat, looking a little pale.

I shook my head, getting a grip on my anger. It wasn't going to do a damn bit of good when Robyn was this messed up; she probably wouldn't even remember this tomorrow. "I'm going to go find Josh, and get him to take you home. Stay here." She nodded like a child getting scolded, and I shook my head again and went in search of Josh.

I found him almost immediately - downstairs in the main room, surrounded by a large group of partygoers who were all trying to get close to the famous Josh Riley. Still angry from my encounter with Robyn, I pushed my way through the group none too gently and tapped him on the arm.

"Josh, can I have a minute?"

He looked over at me and did a double take. "Caid? Wow. Hey!" He grinned, grabbing my hand. Normally his hand grabbing was endearing, but now, it kind of annoyed me. Probably because Robyn did the same thing, and she was on the top of my shit list right now.

I forced a smile and tugged him towards the stairs. "Sorry, folks, I need Mr. Riley for a few minutes." The crowd reluctantly parted for us, and I continued to pull Josh along.

"Where are we going?" When I looked back at him, the grin was gone and he looked slightly wary. He pulled me to a stop. "Listen, Caid, I like you, but this is Robyn's decision, and if you're trying to get me to talk to her..."

Stopping him with a glare, I looked around and said with quiet intensity, "I don't want you to talk to her for me. As far as I'm concerned, there is nothing to talk to her about. I don't want anything from her. Nothing. Nada. Zip. She's made it very clear what I can and cannot have, and I choose nothing."

He pulled back in surprise. "Caid, what..."

I cut him off and pointed up the stairs, dropping my voice even further. "Robyn is drunk off her ass in a bathroom upstairs, and you need to get her the fuck out of here."

His eyes widened, and he glanced up the stairs as though he expected to see an inebriated Robyn come dancing down them. I looked at my watch, realizing I'd been gone almost five minutes. Maybe he would.

I gestured with my head and jogged up the stairs, Josh's light footsteps right behind me. At the top of the stairs I slowed and tried to act as casual as possible, meandering my way along the wall and turning down the hallway. I stopped at the third door on the right and knocked softly, then opened the door and poked my head in.

Robyn was still sitting on the toilet, her head pillowed in her arms on top of the counter. I opened the door wider and Josh crowded into the small space and stopped short, staring at Robyn in surprise.

"What happened?"

I rolled my eyes. "She drank too much. That's how people normally get drunk."

At the sound of voices, Robyn raised her head and looked up blearily, smiling when she saw Josh. "Joshie!  Hey, Joshie."

She held out her hand and he took it, giving her a look of fond exasperation.  "Robby, honey, I think we should get you out of here, okay?"

"Okay," she agreed happily, then frowned. "I think maybe I drank too much." She put her head back on the counter.

"Ya think?" I muttered under my breath.

Josh looked at Robyn for a moment, then over at me. "I guess I could carry her."

I shook my head. "Only if we can't get her to walk out of here. She already caused a minor scene - I don't think she'd want people to see you carrying her out of here." No matter how annoyed, angry or hurt I was, I wasn't about to throw Robyn to the gossip wolves. Spiteful just wasn't in me.

He frowned. "A scene?  Robyn?"

"Yes, Robyn. And she can tell you all about it when she sobers up. If she remembers."

Robyn's head came up again, and she looked at me. "Caid?"

I figured this was as good a time as any to try to coax her up, so I leaned over her and gently grabbed her hands. "Yes, it's me. We need to get you home, okay Robyn?  Can you stand up for me?"

She just stared at me, then pulled one of her hands from mine and placed it on my cheek. "Caid." A smile slowly spread across her face. "My beautiful Caid." After a moment, the smile faded, and she frowned. "But you're mad at me, aren't you?"

I froze for a moment and then gently pulled her hand away from my face and straightened, tugging her with me. "Come on Robyn, up you get."

She groaned and rose slowly to her feet with Josh's help, swaying slightly but more stable than I'd expected. She glanced around the room with interest, focusing on a small painting of butterflies that hung on the wall. "Ohhhhh...pretty." She reached out to touch it, but I stopped her hand.

"Robyn?" I tried to get her attention. She frowned at her hand in mine. "Robyn!" I repeated sharply, and she jerked her head towards me with a wince.

"What?" She sounded annoyed. Annoyed was good.

"We need to get to the car, but we're going to have to walk through the party. Can you make it on your own?" I asked, sounding as skeptical as I could.

She frowned at me. "Of course I can." She turned towards the mirror and straightened her clothes with slightly clumsy but still effective motions, then smoothed out her hair.

I hid a smile and looked over at Josh who winked at me.

He put his arm around her and she sagged against him slightly. "Okay, hon, let's go. We'll just go straight down the stairs and out the front - you'll have to call Scott with apologies tomorrow."

She nodded, and I pulled the door open and preceded them out into the hall. At the end of the hallway I looked back and saw the two walking slowly but steadily towards me, Robyn with a look of intense concentration and Josh smiling indulgently at her.

I waited and fell into step on the other side of Robyn, talking with Josh about the up-coming French Open and the Brazilian match I'd watched him play in. We took the stairs slowly, and Robyn leaned on Josh heavily, but it just looked as if they were being affectionate. A few people attempted to stop us, but I ran a little interference when that would happen, and finally we were out the door and walking down the drive to the valet station.

The fresh air seemed to help Robyn, and she pulled away from Josh and walked on her own, but when the valet brought Josh's car around and Josh helped her into the seat, she closed her eyes and leaned her head back against the headrest immediately.

I closed the door while Josh walked around the car and slipped in behind the wheel. He rolled Robyn's window down and just looked at me for a few seconds. "Thanks for helping out."

I nodded, and started to back away.

"I'll have her call you in the morning. I'm sure she'll want to thank you as well."

I glanced at Robyn's profile once and shook my head. "Don't bother. I don't think we have anything else to say." I turned away and walked back up the path before he could say anything further.

I wondered if Magda was still around. I could use a smoke right about now.

And another drink.


The only good thing to happen at Scott Ziem's party was Danny tracking me down and telling me that he'd found another woman celebrity who could actually play golf, and that my services wouldn't be needed at the Highland Hills Celebrity Golf Tournament. He seemed reluctant to tell me, but when I'd grabbed him and kissed him on the cheek in thanks, I think he realized I was okay with it.

That left me almost a month of free time and a serious need to get out of town to clear my head, so I packed up my backpacking gear and a week's worth of food, made a few calls, climbed in my truck and drove down to Idyllwild.  I found a small gas station just outside of town that would let me park my truck in their back lot for a week, then I shouldered my pack and the extra box of food I'd brought and walked the half-mile to the post office.

I was leaning up against the building, reading a book, my face shaded by a wide-brimmed nylon hat and sunglasses when two scruffy, dirty hikers walked up and eased their packs to the ground, arguing good naturedly about college football and the University of Wisconsin's chances this year.

Without looking up from my book, I said, "Eh, the Badgers are going to suck this year. Michigan looks good, though."

Both men stopped what they were doing and stared at me in surprise. One of them - a taller, younger, male version of me with brown hair, green eyes and stubbly growth over a strong, square jaw - stepped forward, a smile spreading on his face. "Michigan blows chunks. Bunch of pansy-assed mama's boys."

I put my book down and pulled off my sunglasses, letting them hang on the leash around my neck. "All Wisconsin's got is a bunch of dairy cow lovin' cheese freaks." I climbed to my feet, brushing off my shorts, and smiled into eyes so much like my own. "And Badgers?  What the hell kind of mascot is that?  A badger is just an overgrown ferret. The University of Wisconsin Overgrown Ferrets."

I grinned at my brother, who whooped in delight and smothered me in a tight, smelly bear hug. He lifted me off he ground and staggered around for a minute while I yelled at him to put me down, and finally as a last resort I poked him in the ribs. He yelped like a girl and dropped me immediately, taking up a defensive stance to protect his ribs.

"No fair," he said, grinning at me.

I grinned back. "Heya, Per. It's good to see you." I wrinkled my nose. "But boy, you smell. I hope you're planning on taking a shower in this town, because I don't want to share my campsite with the stench that's wafting off of you."

He looked quickly at my backpack leaned up against the wall, then back at me, taking in my hiking attire. "You're coming with?" he asked hopefully, looking again at the pack.

I smiled. "Through to Big Bear, if it's okay with you two..." I looked pointedly his friend who was staring at the two of us in consternation. "Wanna introduce me?"

"Dude, of course it's cool." He said, still smiling at me in happy amazement.

I looked at his friend again and then back at him with a raised eyebrow. "Dude, introductions?"

"Oh, yeah, right. Sorry." He turned to his friend. "James, this is my sister Caid. Caid, James."

James was a few inches shorter than me, with a strong, stocky body, pale blond hair, blue eyes and ruddy, sunburned skin. He stared at me, then seemed to shake himself and stepped forward to grasp my hand awkwardly, as though I'd break.

"Hi," he said shyly, sneaking glances at my face as he stepped back.

"Nice to meet you, James." I looked at him questioningly. "Would you mind if I tagged along with you and Perry?"

"Uh, sure...I mean, no, I wouldn't mind at all." He stuffed his hands in his pockets and smiled hesitantly.

"Great." I gave him a friendly smile and glanced over at Perry. "And now, seriously dude, we need to find you two some place to shower."


I adjusted the flame on the stove, set a pot of water on to heat, and settled onto a thin pad I'd laid near the stove, stretching my legs out with a groan.

"How ya feeling, grandma?" Perry teased me from where he was stretched out on his back a few feet away, his baseball cap tilted over his eyes.

"Shut it, Periwinkle. You're supposed to respect your elders," I replied as I pulled off my boots and wiggled my toes with a sigh. "God, that feels good."

Perry pushed the cap back and propped himself up on his elbows, grinning at me. "I'm sure that James would be happy to rub any part of you that aches."

I stuck my tongue out at him, well aware of doting looks that James was starting to cast my way. "Where is he, anyway?"

Perry waved his hand at the ridge behind us. "He wanted to try to catch a shot of the sunset from higher up."

I'd learned over the past few days that James was quite the shutterbug and nodded, not surprised at Perry's explanation of his whereabouts. I leaned back on my elbows, mimicking Perry's position, and we were both quiet for several minutes.

"Caid?" Perry said eventually.


"Is..." he paused, and I looked over at him questioningly. "Is everything okay with you? You seem...I don't know...kinda down, and real quiet..."

I sighed, and pulled myself up into a sitting position, wrapping my hands around my knees. "Ah. Noticed that, did you?" Perry was a perceptive kid, and we'd always been close, despite the twelve-year age difference. Our other brother, Sebastian, was two years older than me, and we rarely spoke. Sebastian did not approve of my choice of careers, but then Sebastian did not approve of much.

"Mmm." He nodded in affirmation.

I stared at my feet, wondering how to explain what was bothering me. It never occurred to me not to tell him; Perry and I had always been honest with each other. "Well," I rocked back and forth a few times, "I think I may have gone and fallen in love."

I heard him sit up, and glanced over. He was watching me with interest. "No shit?"

I smiled slightly. "Mm-hmm, I'm pretty sure."

"You think, and you're pretty sure? What does that mean? I mean, you've been in love before, right?  You and the nerd were together for what...a year or two?"

He was referring to my year and a half long relationship with Toby, a software developer with an abundance of brains and a few minor social skill problems.  "He wasn't a nerd," I scolded mildly, feeling obligated to defend my longest relationship to date. "And yes, I loved Toby, but I don't know if I was ever in love with him. This is...different."

"Different," he repeated. He thought about that for a bit. " it's different. How, exactly, is this not a good thing?"

"Hmmm, well...that's where it gets a bit complicated." I hugged my knees tighter. "My...ah...affections, are not particularly welcome."

"What?!" He sounded genuinely shocked, and I smiled. "What kind of idiot wouldn't want you? Who is this guy?"

"Ah. Hmm. Yeah. Um...that's part of the complicated bit." I paused, rocking back and forth, and glanced over at him again. "It's not a he. It's a she."

His eyes widened, searching my expression to see if I was joking. "No shit?"

"No shit."

"Wow," he said, nodding slowly. " this..." he hesitated. "Uh...are you..."

"Gay?" I finished for him.

He nodded.

"It's a distinct possibility." We were quiet for a few minutes, and I finally asked, "Would it bother you?"

"Hmm?" Perry blinked, and looked over at me. "Oh, shit Caid, of course not. I guess it doesn't even surprise me all that much." He grinned at me. "But James is going to be devastated."

I let go of my knees and leaned back on my hands, rolling my eyes. "He'll get over it."

Perry looked at me for a moment and then shook his head. "Male or female, I still don't get how someone wouldn't want you."

I laughed quietly. "Well, thanks for the vote of confidence." I paused, thinking of Robyn and the heat I'd seen in her eyes on more than one occasion. "And honestly, I don't think it's an issue of want..." I sighed in exasperation. "That's the other complicated bit, and hell, I don't even understand it. If I ever figure it out, I'll let you know."

Perry rolled onto his hands and knees and crawled over to scoot in beside me and put a comforting arm around my shoulders. "I'm sorry, Caid. Whoever she is, I still think she's an idiot."

I smiled sadly. "Me, too."


"Oh, god," I moaned in ecstasy when the first needles of hot water touched my skin. I ducked my head under the spray, humming in pleasure as the water sluiced six days of dirt and sweat away.

From Idyllwild and the still snow-covered San Jacinto mountains, down an 8,000-foot plunge into the ninety plus degree heat of the desert west of Palm Springs, then back up into the San Bernardinos; we'd hiked nearly one hundred miles in six days and my body was feeling it.

We'd made it to Big Bear Lake late in the afternoon, and after doing a small load of laundry so that we'd have clean clothes for the evening and the following day, we checked into an inn where I'd made reservations before I hooked up with Perry and James in Idyllwild. We each had a room of our own, and had split up to shower and rest before meeting back up for the big steak dinner I'd promised. Tomorrow we would pick up the rental car that I had reserved, drive back to Idyllwild to pick up my truck, and head back to LA.

I finally stepped from the shower after soaping my body twice, washing my hair three times, and just standing under the hot spray for several minutes. As I padded around my room naked, there was a quiet knock on the door, and I hurried to pull on the complimentary robe hanging in the bathroom.

The worried faces of Perry and James looked back at me through the peephole, and I pulled the door open immediately, frowning. "Hey guys...I thought we said seven?"

Perry pushed the door open further and walked by me, and James followed, his eyes widening slightly when he saw my state of undress. He stopped in the doorway, uncertain, and I waved him in.

"It's okay, come on in, James," I reassured him, pulling the belt around my waist a little tighter and closing the door after he walked through.

"Caid, did you tell anyone where you were going?" Perry said abruptly.

I raised my eyebrows at his tone, and crossed my arms over my chest. "I didn't actually talk to anyone directly, but I left messages with Connie and Liz and I mentioned to a few more people that I'd be out of town...why?"

"Because apparently, you're missing."

I blinked. "What?"

He looked around my room, found the remote, and turned on the TV, flipping through the channels. "We went down to the bar just now and saw it on the local news..." He continued to flip.

"Saw what?  Perry, what are you talking about," I asked, starting to get annoyed.

"There." He pointed at the TV. A woman reporter stood next to a road in the desert, talking earnestly to the camera, above a line of text on the screen that read "Actress Missing." The picture panned out and swung to the right, showing a battered, burnt out pickup truck.

My pickup truck.

"What the fuck?" I said, and grabbed the remote from Perry to turn the volume up.

"...blood found on the front seat and steering wheel has now been confirmed to be that of the actress, and local police are looking into the possibility of foul play. Samantha Dwyer, Channel Five News, off of I-10 west of Palm Springs."

"What the fuck?!?" I said louder, and looked around frantically for the cell phone that I'd carried with me on the hike, but never turned on. I found it, flipped it open and turned it on, waiting impatiently for it to power up.

Perry picked up the remote where I'd dropped it on the bed and continued to change channels, stopping at another station just as another "Actress Missing" headline showed up on the anchor's left. I sank down on the bed, cell phone forgotten, watching with morbid curiosity.

"The search for actress Caidence Harris continues today in the desert west of Palm Springs. An abandoned car belonging to the actresses was found by two hikers early Thursday morning, stripped and badly burnt, in ravine just off of I-10 west of Palm Springs. Blood found on the steering wheel and seat of the car has now been confirmed as Harris', and law enforcement officials are expected to expand the investigation to include the possibility of foul play.

The picture changed to a publicity still of me, then a few quick 9th Precinct clips in the background as the anchor continued. "Harris reportedly left LA on Monday morning for a several day camping trip, and was last seen at a gas station in the Riverside area.

"Members of Harris' family could not be reached for comment, but friends of the actress say they are optimistic, despite the disturbing new blood evidence, and several have gotten together to offer a $500,000 reward to anyone who has information about the actresses' whereabouts."

The picture changed again to show Liz, Josiah, Danny and Robyn, sitting at a table at some type of press conference. They looked solemn and drawn, and the affect on me was like a punch in the stomach.

"Oh, fuck," I whispered. "Shit, shit, shit..." I jumped up and looked around frantically, my brain going in a thousand directions at once. "I need to...I need to..."

"Hey, Caid, easy." Perry's hand on my arm finally calmed me down, and he handed me back my cell phone, which I had dropped when I lunged off the bed.

I took a calming breath, then another. Think, Caid, Think. What do you need to do?

Perry was thinking the same thing. "Okay, we need to tell them that obviously you're not missing, and that you're healthy and alive."

I looked at my cell, and then up at Perry.

"Caid?" He said cautiously, worry clear in his face.

I shook myself. "I'm fine, just thinking."

"Um..." James' voice was hesitant, "I think the first thing you should do is go to the police department up here. I think you need to actually go there in person, because with a $500,000 reward, I bet they're getting tons of prank calls, and they might not believe it if you call."

We both turned to him in surprise. The kid made a whole lot of sense, and it started my brain working again. I needed to let the police know, and then I needed to start making some phone calls.

"Good idea, James." I smiled at him and he blushed. "Okay, um..." I looked down at myself. "I need to change, and then we'll go." Perry nodded, and I grabbed my clothes off the bed and headed for the bathroom.


"Jesus, what a mess." I stopped my pacing and dropped into one of the chairs in my room, running a hand through my hair. It was past eleven; James had long since gone off to bed, and Perry was watching TV, sprawled across one of the beds with two pillows propping his head up.

As I'd been doing for the past six hours, I thought back over the strange sequence of events that caused this whole mess and shook my head. The truck being stolen by several joy-riding teenagers who had been too scared to fess up. Traces of blood from my mountain biking incident still on the steering wheel and seat. The messages I'd left for Connie and Liz hadn't specified where I'd be hiking, or who I was going to be with. Reserving the rental car and hotel rooms with credit cards using my middle name, Renee, which I often used when traveling.

"It's not really your fault, Caid," Perry said, flipping absently through stations. "Although you should have left an itinerary with someone," he added mildly.

I deserved the rebuke, and nodded. "I know."

We watched TV for a few minutes, and Perry stopped on a station with an "Actress Found" tagline.

The anchor looked happy as he reported, "Actress Caidence Harris, thought to be missing after her car was found abandoned along I-10 earlier this week, has surfaced in the Big Bear area, unharmed. The search, which had been concentrated in the desert west of Palm Springs where the vehicle was found, has been called off. John Isaac is live at the Mountain Inn in Big Bear where Miss Harris is reported to be staying. John?"

The picture cut to a tall, well-groomed blonde man standing on the steps of the inn where we were staying.

"Thanks, Chris." The man glanced at a notepad in his hand, and then looked back up at the camera. "Well, it's been a tense, emotional few days for friends of actress Caidence Harris, but it all ends on a happy note tonight." The man was replaced with pictures of Perry, James and me getting into a police cruiser outside the Big Bear Lake Police Department. "The actress walked into the Big Bear Lake Police Department earlier this evening, safe and unharmed, and after talking with San Bernardino County officials, it appears that an unfortunate and rather bizarre series of events were to blame for her feared disappearance..."

I tuned the man out, thinking of the three hours we spent in the Big Bear Lake Police Department, first convincing the young deputy on duty that the tired, jean and t-shirt clad woman sitting at his desk was indeed a missing celebrity, then answering questions and talking via phone with agencies in Palm Springs who were heading up the investigation of my "disappearance". During lulls in activity, I had begun to make some necessary phone calls, one of them being to my agent and publicist, Connie Reynolds. The less than scathing, almost positive press the story was getting was all due to her agency's expert handling.

The news program moved on to another story, and Perry changed the channel again, settling finally on ESPN. I pushed myself out of the chair and resumed pacing, stopping at the window and pulling the curtain aside slightly to look out at the parking lot. There were only three news trucks there now where earlier there had been more than ten, and I guiltily thanked a seventeen-car pileup on I-5 and a mid-western politician's unfortunate choice in sex partners for pushing the story of my reappearance out of the limelight.

The phone rang, startling us both. We looked at each other, then at the phone. Perry reached for it hesitantly. "Should I get it?"

I shrugged. "I guess."

He frowned at my lack of clear direction and reached for the phone. "Yeah?"

I wondered if a reporter had finally bribed someone into giving out my room number, but Perry looked up at me, listening, and didn't hang up immediately. I walked over to sit beside him on the bed, watching him curiously.

"Um, I think that's fine, but let me check and make sure," he said, and covered the mouthpiece with his hand. "Elizabeth Stokley is downstairs, demanding to see you. The guy at the front desk is asking if he can have someone show her up. He said they can get up here without anyone seeing."

I raised my eyebrows. "Liz is here?" He nodded, and I waved my hand at him. "Yeah, yeah, of course. Send her up."

"So, I finally get to meet Elizabeth Ann Stokley?" Perry asked when he'd hung up the phone.

"Looks like it," I replied absently, still mulling over the fact that Liz was here. When I had called her earlier from the police station, her emotional and tearful response to hearing I was okay had overwhelmed me, and her being here now reminded me again how much upset and worry I had caused.

There was a gentle knock on the door and both Perry and I rose from the bed. I crossed the room and pulled open the door, and Liz flew at me, catching me in a tight embrace and whispering fiercely in my ear, "Don't you ever do this to me again. Do you hear me? Never again..." she let out a choked sob, and held on tighter.

"Hey, shhhhh," I held her tightly with one hand and stroked her hair with the other, fighting back tears of my own. "I'm so sorry, Liz. God, I'm sorry."

Finally, Liz sniffed and pulled away slowly, running her eyes over me worriedly. "You're really okay?"

"I'm fine." She didn't look convinced. "Honest, Liz, I'm fine. It was all one big...misunderstanding."

She snorted, and smacked me hard in the arm.

"Ow!" I rubbed my arm. Liz was a lot stronger than she looked. I was going to have a bruise in the morning.

"Goddamit, Caid," she fumed, and hit me again. "If you ever scare me like that again, I'm going to kill you."

Perry's laughter drew both of our attention, and we looked over to where he had been standing and watching our interaction. "It's nice to see someone beat up on Caid for a change," he said with a charming smile at Liz, and I rolled my eyes.

"Liz, this is my brother Perry," I told her, still rubbing my arm. "Perry, Elizabeth Stokley."

Perry stepped forward and shook her hand. "A pleasure, Miss Stokley."

Liz released his hand slowly and cocked her head to the side, eyeing him speculatively. "Well aren't you a handsome one. And those eyes...just like Caid's," she mused.

I watched in open amusement as Perry mumbled a thank you, blushing to the roots of his hair. "Liz," I admonished gently, "play nice."

She turned to me with a cocked eyebrow and an innocent smile. "I always play nice, Sugar." She looked back at Perry and smiled. "Call me Liz."

"Uh...sure...Liz," he managed, still blushing, but regaining some of his usual confidence. "Caid talks about you often...thank you for being such a good friend to her."

"Ohhh," Liz laughed melodically. "And charming, too." She glanced over at me. "Caid, you could take lessons from your brother."

"I'll keep that in mind," I said dryly.

She smiled and looked back at Perry. "And Perry, despite her many flaws, your sister is a very good friend to have."

She really could be very sweet.

"Now." Liz looked at her watch with a graceful flick of her wrist. "It's late, and Paula is waiting for me in the lobby, hopefully getting us a place to sleep." Her gaze ran over me from head to toe. "The police in Palm Springs told me you were fine, but I had to see for myself."

"I'm fine, Liz," I assured her, and after a pause, "Thanks for caring."

She nodded briskly, obviously done with emotional outbursts. "How are you getting back to LA?"

"I rented a car..."

"You'll drive back with us," she said firmly. "Let's have breakfast downstairs at eight and all those poor reporters prowling around can take pictures of you happy and alive and eating pancakes, then they can go off and report on something more interesting."

"There are three of us...Perry's friend James is with us too." I warned her.

She shrugged. "Plenty of room for six, it'll be fine."

I nodded, and frowned. "Six?"

"Ah." Liz said, frowning a little. "That's the other thing. Robyn is with us. She didn't come up here with me because she is under the impression that you are angry with her and don't want to see her, but she's come all this way to make sure that you're alive and in one piece, so maybe you could call a time out in this stupid little feud and talk to her for a few minutes, hmm?"

"Robyn is here?" I managed as calmly as I could, but the narrowing of Liz's eyes told me she'd noticed the slight waver in my voice.

"Yes, she is, and I'm going to send her up," she said with finality.

"Okay..." I said faintly, and Liz looked at me suspiciously for a moment before walking to the door.

"Perry, would you mind walking me down to the lobby? I hate walking around by myself in hotels."

"Of course." He literally jumped to the door to open it for her. Then he stopped, and turned to me. "I'll probably just head to my'll be okay?"

I smiled slightly. "Yeah, I'll be fine, thanks. See you in the morning."

"'Kay." He opened the door for Liz, who paused before going through it.

"It's good to see you, Caid. I'm glad you're okay."

I nodded and smiled at her, trying to convey my gratitude. "Thanks, Liz."

I watched the door close behind them and just stood for a moment, taking a few deep breaths to try and still the fluttering in my stomach at the thought of seeing Robyn. Robyn was here. I wondered what that meant, and forced myself not to read too much into it.

I busied myself with straightening out the pillows where Perry had been and calling the front desk to request a wakeup call for seven. At the knock on the door, the fluttering in my stomach came back full force, and I paused to take a few more deep breaths before walking to the door and pulling it open.

Her hair was pulled back from her face in a messy, loose ponytail and she wore faded jeans, loafers, and a black, short-sleeved mock turtleneck blouse. Her face was drawn, and she looked at me guardedly, fidgeting with the large black purse slung over her shoulder.

"Hi," she said finally, her voice a near whisper.

She looked so good I nearly cried.

"Hi," I responded quietly, and stepped back, gesturing for her to enter.  

She did so hesitantly, sliding the bag from her shoulder and depositing it near the door before turning to watch me as I closed the door softly. We looked at each other for several long moments, and then she stepped forward and raised a hand to brush my cheek with her knuckles and stroke lightly with her thumb. I stood still as she ran her other hand through my hair and down my arm, tilting her chin up to kiss my forehead.

I closed my eyes at the contact, not moving, but when she tugged me forward into her body and wrapped her arms around me, I let my arms drift up around her waist and held on tightly. We both sighed at the same time and she kissed my hair, whispering in my ear, "God, I'm so glad you're safe."

I tightened my arms briefly, then stepped back, missing her warmth instantly. "I'm sorry I worried everyone."

She smiled slightly, brushing my cheek again. "It was quite a bit more than worry, Caid." The smile faded and her face took on a haunted look. "We though you..." She dropped her hand abruptly and turned away, walking a few paces towards the window before turning around.

"Do you remember the first time we met?  When they told you I'd be sharing your trailer?"

I remembered it well. The first time I'd looked into those eyes and lost my breath, the first time that voice and flowed through me like honey, the first time another person's presence had left me completely and utterly befuddled. I nodded slowly, confused at the turn the conversation had taken.

"I wanted you from the first second I saw you." She smiled in remembrance. "I'd seen you in pictures, and on TV of course, and knew you were attractive, but something about meeting you in person...I think it was the eyes," she mused, tilting her head, "or maybe that mouth..." her eyes dropped to my mouth, and then looked back up to meet my startled gaze.

"I remember thinking it would be fun to try and get you into bed." She smiled wryly, adding honestly, "I'm something of a pig when it comes to sex...or at least I have been in the past."

"Robyn," I said, "I don't..."

She shook her head and held up a hand. "No, please. Let me finish this. And then you can kick me out, or tell me I'm a bitch, or whatever." When I stayed quiet, she continued. "After a few months, I decided that maybe getting you into my bed wasn't such a good idea after all; it wasn't worth the risk when we were working together and hell, I could barely get you to talk to me anyway - you just giggled a lot and occasionally said really bizarre things."

I stuck my hands in my pockets defensively, embarrassed to know that I had appeared just as stupid as I always felt around her.

"Then one day you started talking to me. You were funny, and smart, and sweet...and I started to really like you, and I was still crazy attracted to scared me, I guess. I have friends, and I have lovers, and I haven't wanted both of those things from one person in a long time." She paused, pushing a stray piece of hair behind her ear. "I lied to you about going out of town that weekend because I was scared. When you told me you hadn't been with a woman, I used it as an excuse to push you away because I was scared. What I did last weekend at the party...treating you that way," she looked at me sadly, "was because I was scared, and it was easier to be an asshole than to admit how much I care about you."

She stopped, and took a deep breath before continuing. "But being scared of how I felt about you was nothing...nothing," she repeated intensely, "compared to how fucking scared I've been for the past three days. The thought of losing you," she shook her head, "it terrified me. Petrified me. It still does. But it made me realize that what you said the other night, at my house, was true. It's worth the risk. This," she gestured between us, moving towards me. "This is worth the risk. You," she came to a stop in front of me and laid a hand on my chest. "You are worth the risk. I don't want to lose you again, and I'll do whatever you want, take whatever you're willing to give. I know I've probably fucked things up royally, but I hope that we can at least be friends, and maybe, someday, something more."

I stared at her stupidly. She'd taken my breath away again - this time with words.

When I didn't respond right away, she gave me a pained smile. "Ah, well." She cupped my cheek.  "At least now you know. Would you at least think about what I said? I'd like to be friends at least, if nothing else." She trailed her hand down my arm and squeezed my hand.

I still hadn't said anything, and she smiled sadly. Finally, when she moved towards the door, I managed to say something.

"Stay," I whispered. I held tightly to her hand, not letting her move any closer to the door. "That's what I want."


"You said you'd do anything I want," I said, louder now. "I want you to stay. I want to hold you...I want to fall asleep with you...when I wake up tomorrow morning, I want you to be the first thing I see." I pulled gently at her hand, bringing our bodies back together. "That's what I want." I looked into her eyes. "For starters."

The tenseness in her face slowly faded and she raised an eyebrow, a smile twitching at her lips. "For starters?" Her thumb absently stroked across the back of my hand, raising goose bumps on my arm.

"For starters," I agreed. "Tomorrow, we'll see what happens." I took her hand and placed it on my hip. "Deal?"

She smiled, warm and content. "Deal."


The strident ringing near my head tore me out of deep sleep and I slapped at the noise, thinking it was my alarm clock and puzzled when the noise didn't stop. I blinked a few times, noticing a flashing red light, attached to a phone.

Ah. Phone. Ringing. Right.

Pleased to have solved the first puzzle of the day, I frowned when the noise continued, finally realizing I needed to answer the phone. I grabbed at the receiver, snagging it with clumsy fingers on my third try, and brought it to my ear as I rolled onto my back.

Or at least tried to roll onto my back.

"This is a Mountain Inn courtesy wakeup call," a pre-recorded voice said in my ear, but I was too busy remembering why there was a warm, soft body at my back and a gentle hand rubbing circles under my shirt to pay much attention. "Thank you for staying with us at the Mountain Inn, and have a great day."

"Uh-huh," I mumbled absently and replaced the receiver carefully, torn between staying where I was and allowing the soft caresses to continue and rolling over to verify that Robyn was actually here.

"Good morning," a low voice murmured in my ear and I closed my eyes at the rough, husky sound. I'd wondered for ages what that voice would sound like in the morning; it was much, much better than I'd ever imagined. She dropped a kiss on a very sensitive place behind my ear, sending shivers through my body, and tightened her arm around me.

I stroked the skin of her arm, lacing our fingers together and squeezing her hand tightly to my body before releasing it and slowly rolling over. She shifted a little to allow me some room, and I finally settled with my head on her bicep with our faces just inches apart.

"Good morning," I said softly, lifting a hand to trace the features of her face in wonder - her eyebrows, her cheeks, her jaw, her lips... "I can't believe you're here," I whispered in amazement, rubbing the pad of my thumb along her lower lip.

She kissed my thumb and leaned in to brush her lips across mine gently, lingering for just a moment before pulling back. She smiled, the corners of her eyes crinkling. "Thank you for letting me stay."

I leaned in and brought our lips together softly as she had done, sucking gently on her lower lip, swiping lightly with my tongue. "You're welcome," I answered after I'd pulled back, pleased at the quick intake of breath I had caused and warmed by the lazy desire I saw on her face.

She closed her eyes and gathered me closer, slipping a hand under my shirt and tracing languid patterns on the skin of my back with her fingernails.

"Mmmm...that feels good," I murmured, and snuggled into her neck, breathing in her scent. We had fallen asleep fully clothed, and I found myself wishing she had worn a different shirt; the mock turtleneck covered far too much of her long neck. Parts I wanted to explore.

My arms were pinned between our bodies, but I wiggled one hand free and hooked the collar of her shirt with a finger. I tugged it down, trailing kisses along her neck, lingering at the hollow of her throat, then back up and along the underside of her jaw.

She took a shuddering breath and the fingernails on my back stopped. "Caid..."

"Mm-hmm?" I answered vaguely, intent on my exploration.

Her arms tightened and we rolled until Robyn was lying on top of me, our mouths close together. "You're killing me," she said softly, leaning in to flick her tongue along my lower lip, and then my upper lip. I opened my mouth in response and she took advantage, kissing me slowly and thoroughly until my head swam.

She pulled back with a groan and one final nip on my lip; I looked up at her, dazed. She smiled in sympathy. "We don't have time to do this properly..." She dipped down to nuzzle my ear, her voice sending tremors through my already aroused body. "And I really want to do this properly..." She pulled back a little and kissed the tip of my nose, "so I'm going to roll back over and just hold you for a little while longer, and you're going to behave yourself, okay?"

I nodded mutely, panting, my head still swimming in a Robyn-induced haze. Good God. It was insane what one kiss from this woman could do to me.

She rolled onto her back and patted her shoulder invitingly. "Come 'ere."

I moved over, then paused and looked up at her hesitantly. "Could I...could I hold you?"

She smiled slowly and nodded. "I'd like that."

She scooted down a bit and tucked her body against my side, laying her head on my shoulder and her arm across my stomach. I let her settle in then put my arms around her and kissed her hair, sighing. "This is nice."

"Mm-hmmm..." she mumbled, wiggling a little to get closer.

I kissed her hair again, and stroked the bare skin of her arm. "Whenever I've been with..." I paused, wondering if this was proper snuggling conversation, "...guys...they always did the holding..."

"Ah..." she gave a low laugh. "One of the many perks of being with a woman." She put her hand on my stomach and rubbed lightly. "And it's okay to talk about, you know," she added, reading my pause correctly. "I know you haven't been with a woman, but I'm assuming you're not a virgin..." She stopped and lifted her head quickly to look at me. "You're not, are you?"

I laughed at the trace of panic in her voice. "No, I'm not." I stole a quick kiss while her lips were so close. "It's safe to say I've got the mechanics down fairly well."

She relaxed back onto my shoulder with a chuckle, and we were quiet for several moments before she asked, "How long..." she paused, and I could feel the slight shake of her head. "I'm sorry - it's none of my business."

"How long since I was with someone last?"

I felt her nod. "Do you mind me asking? You don't need to tell me..."

"Well, I suppose, if we're going to do this properly," I said, using her phrase from earlier, "then it sort of is your business, isn't it?" I thought for a bit, remembering the two-week fling that had been a last ditch effort to convince myself that I wasn't gay. "I guess Christmas, year before last."

She raised her head again, staring at me in surprise. "But that's..." she frowned as she calculated, "that's over a year and a half ago. Surely it can't have been that long?"

I raised my eyebrows at her incredulous tone. "I'm afraid so." She shook her head in disbelief, and I asked hesitantly, not sure I wanted to know the answer, "I gather it hasn't been quite that long for you?"

She dropped her gaze from mine and lowered her head back on to my shoulder. "No," she said quietly, making circles on my t-shirt with her finger. "Last month." She paused. "The weekend I told you I was going out of town."

 "Ah." was all I could think of to say.

Ouch. That one stung more than I expected it to. And brought a bit of reality into my idyllic morning.

I kissed her hair one last time and gently moved my arm from under her head, then sat up and swung my legs over the side of the bed, running a hand through my hair.

"Caid?" she asked worriedly, placing a hand on my back.

I looked over my shoulder at her and smiled reassuringly. "It's okay - just brought to mind some realities that I didn't think about last night."

"Realities?" she repeated, sitting up slowly, looking tousled and beautiful and all I wanted to do was to lay back down with her; to feel her against me again, but instead I was going to ask for something that might keep me from ever doing that again.

"I've learned lots of things about myself over the years, Robyn," I said quietly, turning on the bed to face her. "And one of those things is that I'm not very good at sharing. I know that maybe you're used to something...different...but I know from experience that I don't work that way." I took a breath. "So if that's not something you want as well, then maybe we should just...stop." I looked down at my hands, afraid of what she would say.

She raised my face to hers with gentle fingers under my chin and smiled softly. "I may have been a pig, Caid, but in the few relationships I've had, I've always been a monogamous pig. I'm glad you said something, because I want - and expect - the same thing."

"You do?" I asked, the smile growing on my face.

She leaned forward and kissed me gently. "I do."

"Sweet." I said without thinking.

"Sweet?" She looked at me with a quizzical smile.

I laughed and shook my head wryly. "God, too much time with my brother and his friend this week. Smack me if I say 'dude' or 'awesome.' Or 'check it.' Really smack me if I say 'check it.'" She laughed and leaned back on her hands, smiling at me, her eyes warm with affection.  The "Robyn Rush" took me by surprise, and I acted on impulse, pushing her back on the bed and crawling on top of her, kissing her intensely.

She let out a muffled huff of surprise but responded immediately, opening her mouth to deepen the kiss and pushing my shirt up roughly to run her hands up and down my back. Her fingernails scratched up my spine, not lightly, and I arched against her with a gasp.

"God..." I pulled my mouth away from hers to breathe, just as a knock sounded at the door. Both of us froze for several moments, staring at each other. I rolled to the side, flopping heavily on my back and staring at the ceiling. "Goddamn." Whether I meant it as a curse for the person at the door, or an expression of amazement at how Robyn affected me, I wasn't sure.

"Jesus Christ, Caid...where did that come from?" Robyn asked shakily, laying an arm over her eyes.

I rolled my head to the side to look at her, answering honestly, "I have no idea."

She smiled and grasped my hand, squeezing gently. "Well, feel free to do that again, anytime."

"Anytime?" I grinned.

"Within reason, Miss Harris," she answered dryly. "For instance, now is not a good time, so you should stop looking at me that way."

There was another knock, and Perry's muffled voice came through the door. "Yo, Caid. Wake up!" More knocking followed.

Robyn raised an eyebrow. I sighed and sat up. "My brother," I explained as I stood, reaching down to grasp her hand and pull her to her feet.

 She nodded and ran a hand through her hair, looking around the room. "Do you have a brush or something?"

"In the bathroom," I said over my shoulder as I walked to the door. Perry knocked again, harder this time. "I'm up, I'm up!" I said loudly, and pulled the door open, catching Perry in mid-knock. "Jeez, Per, I'm up already."

"Took you long enough," he said, stuffing his hands in his pockets. His hair was still wet from a shower, and he had what looked like a small nick from a razor on his jaw.

I leaned against the door. "Have a little trouble with the razor this morning, Periwinkle?"

He scowled and pushed past me but stopped dead at the sight of Robyn coming out of the bathroom with a baseball cap in her hands.

"Can I borrow this?" she asked me, and smiled at Perry.

"Holy shit," Perry said.

I'd had similar reactions on several occasions, so I could sympathize.

"Perry," I pushed the door shut and stepped around him, resisting the urge to go over to Robyn and slip my arm around her. "Close your mouth and don't stare. This is Robyn. Robyn, my brother Perry."

Robyn put the hat on her head, tucked her hair behind her ears, and stepped forward, extending a hand. "Perry, nice to meet you."

He took her hand absently, staring at her despite my warning. "You're Robyn Ward."

She laughed lightly and allowed him to continue shaking her hand. "That I am."

"Jesus, Perry," I said in exasperation, "would you quit staring?" My sympathy with his reaction was waning.

He dropped her hand immediately, and looked over at me with a scowl. "I wasn't staring."

"Were too."

"Was not."

"Were too."

Robyn's laughter stopped the argument before Perry and I could make complete idiots of ourselves, and I glanced over at her sheepishly. "Sorry," I mumbled.

She just smiled. "I've got three sisters, I've been there." She glanced at her watch and looked over at me apologetically. "I should get to my room...I have a change of clothes, and I should take a shower..."

Still humming with tension from our earlier activities, my brain had no trouble immediately picturing Robyn naked in the shower and I felt my pulse speed up. Some of what I was thinking must have been plain on my face, because a slow smile spread across Robyn's face. "Within reason, Miss Harris, within reason," she murmured as she walked past me and patted my stomach.

She stooped to pick up her bag at the door. "I guess I'll see you both downstairs..." She looked at her watch and raised her eyebrows. "And we'd all better hurry. Liz would hate for any of us to be later than she is." With a final smile and a lingering glance at me, she left, the door closing slowly after her.

I couldn't have stopped my smile, even if I'd wanted to.

Hot damn. What a great way to start the day.

"Damn." Perry's awed voice drew my gaze. He was staring, much as I'd been, at the door that Robyn had just left through, and now he shook his head and said again, "Damn. I heard you and Liz last night talking about a Robyn, but I had no idea..." He backhanded me on the arm. "You didn't tell me you were friends with Robyn Ward," he accused with a miffed expression on his face.

"Hey Perry," I feinted towards his face with my hand and poked him in the stomach when he raised his arm to cover his face. "I'm friends with Robyn Ward. Now get the hell out of here so I can take a shower."

"Ha-ha." He eyed me suspiciously as he sidestepped towards the door, guarding his stomach. "Jeez, I just about hit the floor when I saw her in here." He frowned. "What was she doing in here, anyway?"

I was tempted to tell him everything. Frankly, I had the urge to run up and down the halls, pounding on doors and letting everyone know that Robyn Ward liked me. Thirty-four years old and I wanted to turn cartwheels and tell everyone my secrets...Sheesh.

I realized, though, that until Robyn and I talked about how open we were going to be about this, I probably shouldn't go blathering on about how Robyn and I had just been rolling around on the bed, making out like teenagers. The thought stopped me for a second - I'd never had to worry about that before.

"Borrowing a hat," I said casually and herded him towards the door, feeling a twinge of guilt about the semi-truth. "Now go, I'll see you downstairs. And you might want to warn James...I don't want his head to explode."

Perry was laughing as the door closed behind him.


Breakfast was an interesting affair, with lurking photographers, overly solicitous wait staff, eager autograph seekers and a visit from several police officers under the guise of updating me on the investigation into my stolen car, but what was more likely an attempt to see Liz and Robyn in the flesh. In addition to that, Liz's flirted outrageously with my younger brother and James continued to cast puppy-dog like, adoring looks at me despite the presence of Robyn and Liz; two much more worthy targets, in my opinion.

Like I said, breakfast was an interesting affair.

I was also a little bothered by Robyn's ability to act as though we were nothing more than friends, and not particularly close friends at that. I know she'd had more practice than me in this area, but I didn't know how she was able to act so normal when all through breakfast I was fighting the nearly overwhelming desire to leap across the table and tear her clothes off.

I escaped back to my room after breakfast with relief, gathering my things and zipping the last of my toiletries into various pockets of my pack when someone knocked on the door.

"Yeah, Perry, I'm almost rea...dy"

Robyn leaned against the doorframe, dangling my baseball cap on a slender finger. "I came to return this." She shrugged off the wall and stepped towards me, pushing me back into the room and tossing the cap on the bed behind us. She kicked the door closed with her foot, slid a hand around the back of my neck, and pulled me into heated kiss that left me gasping.

"God." She broke the kiss and wrapped long arms around me. "That's all I've wanted to do for the last hour."

I ran my hands up and down her back gently and kissed the side of her head. "Glad it's not just me."

She chuckled. "No, it's definitely not just you."

We stood for a minute, holding each other, and then I pulled back, tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear. "This is a little strange for me...I'm not sure how to act," I admitted. "I don't know who I should tell, who I shouldn't tell..."

"I know, Caid." She sighed. "I'm sorry. Don't take this the wrong way, okay?" I nodded cautiously.  "I think we should wait and see where this goes before we start telling people about it. And not," she interrupted as I started to say something, "not because of the gay thing. Although honestly, Caid, in our business, we do need to be careful. But right now, this is about you and me, Caid. No one else. I don't want to jinx this, and honestly, I'd like to have you to myself for at least a little while. Do you understand?"

I nodded slowly, thinking about what she said. What she was asking for wasn't unreasonable; it actually made a lot of sense. This was going to be complicated enough without getting other people involved - maybe we should take the time to figure out what there was between us before telling people.

"Caid..." Robyn moved away from me smoothly as Perry knocked and pushed open the door that we hadn't quite shut. "Are you ready?" He stopped and smiled at Robyn. "Oh. Hi."

She smiled back, and walked to the door. "Thanks for the hat, Caid. See you downstairs."

"Yeah," I said, watching her go. "See you."


Perry, James and I stood next to the limo as Liz's driver Walter pulled Robyn's overnight bag from the trunk and started up her driveway.

"That's okay, Walter, I've got it." Robyn stopped him with a hand on his arm. He looked at her uncertainly, and she stepped over and took the bag, slinging it over her shoulder with a smile at the older man.  "Thank you, Walter."

"Of course, Miss Ward." He nodded, and walked around the car and slipped into the driver's seat.

The three-hour drive back from Big Bear had been uneventful, but slower than expected due to unusually heavy Sunday morning traffic. Liz had spent most of trip on the phone to various people, Paula had worked on her laptop, Robyn had conversed easily with Perry and James, and I had made a few phone calls and tried not to think about how goddamned sexy Robyn's voice was, or how good it had felt to wake up with her that morning.

Robyn turned to face the three of us. "James, Perry," she held out a hand to each, smiling. "It was good meeting the two of you. Try to take it easy on Caid here for the next few days, hmm?"

James blushed and Perry grinned rather stupidly and said, "It was nice meeting you too, Mi...Robyn. And don't worry. Caid's still pretty spry for her advanced age. I think she'll be able to keep up with us." He quickly jumped back to avoid the swipe I'd taken at his stomach and ducked into the limo. James followed him with a grin.

"Little shit head," I mumbled and shook my head.

Robyn laughed lightly and adjusted the bag on her arm, looking up towards the house. I looked down at the driveway, following a tiny crack in the cement with my eyes, and finally looked up to find she had turned her attention on me. She tipped her head towards the house. "Walk me up?"

I nodded and we walked together up her drive and onto her porch, neither of us speaking. I didn't know where to go from here, where we stood, or what to expect. We'd expressed an attraction and interest in each other, but now what?  Did I ask her out? Did we date? Were we girlfriends?  Wasn't there some joke about a lesbians and dating and U-Hauls?

We stopped at her front door and she reached inside her purse and pulled out a set of keys. She fit the key in the lock and paused, not looking at me. "I leave on Wednesday. For two months." She opened the door and ducked inside to turn off the alarm and drop her bag, then stood in the doorway, watching for my reaction.

The Lynne Wesson movie. I'd forgotten all about it. Shit. "Two months?"

She nodded. "The shooting schedule is going to be crazy, and I'm really going to need to immerse myself into character and try and avoid distractions..." She fidgeted with the doorknob a bit and crossed her arms across her chest. "Listen, Caid. What I'm trying to say, and doing a bad job of, is that I'm not going to be able to communicate much for the next two months. I know we just...started something here, but maybe it would be a good idea for us to put this on hold until I get back."

Put this on hold? Was she freaking kidding me?

I put my hands on my hips. "Are you're going to change your mind in two months? Have you changed your mind already? Is that what this is?  A graceful way of backing away again?"

"No, Caid. God no. Of course not," she said, obviously startled by my anger. "I just..."

"Ah." I suddenly realized what the problem might be.

She frowned. "What does 'ah' mean?"

"It means I think I know why you're doing this. You're not going to change your mind, but you think I will. You still don't trust that this isn't just some fad for me, do you?"

"No, that's not it, either." She uncrossed her arms to run a hand through her hair. "I'm not going to lie to you, Caid. Yes, I'm scared that once we get involved, you'll decide that it's not for you, and I'll end up hurt. I told you, though; I think it's worth the risk. What I'm talking about now has nothing to do with that." She sighed. "Look. I don't want to mess this up. I know this is new for you, and I don't want us to feel rushed because I'm leaving, and maybe we do something you're not ready for..."

She was doing this because of me. She was concerned about me. I smiled, and stepped towards her. "Back up."


"Robyn, back up. Into the house. I want to kiss you, and I don't think you want Liz or your neighbors to see that quite yet. And I don't want to give Perry and James a cheap thrill."

She took two quick steps back, then another two to her left, so that she was out of the doorway. I followed her into the foyer and closed the door partway behind us before stepping in close and putting my hands on her waist.

"Robyn." I kissed her gently. "I've been putting how I feel about you on hold for almost two years. I'm tired of it, and I really don't see the point. I appreciate your concern, but I'm a big girl, and I'm not going to get rushed into something I don't want, or something I'm not ready for." I kissed her again, wanting much more but keeping it light, mindful of the car full of people waiting for me outside.

Her eyes fluttered open as I drew back, and she frowned. "What do you mean, almost two years? I haven't even known you for two years. We only met..."

"September 14th, 2002," I interrupted matter-of-factly. "At ten twenty-three in the morning. You had on jeans, a rust-colored tank, and tennis shoes. You smiled and I nearly passed out." She blinked in surprise and I smiled slightly. "You're not the only one who started wanting that day. In fact, I wanted so much that I acted like a complete moron whenever you were around. Hence the giggling and saying really bizarre things."

"Oh," she said faintly.

"Now..." I nibbled at her lower lip. "Will I see you before you leave?"

Her smile was slow and sweet. "You'd better."


I stepped out onto the large wooden deck of Liz's Malibu beach home, taking a deep breath of moist ocean air. The sun was dipping low in the west, just kissing the watery expanse of Pacific that stretched to the horizon, turning the sky gold and the water a deep purple. The sound of the surf, gently breaking on the beach below, was soothing and I leaned against the deck railing with a sigh, resting pleasantly tired muscles and enjoying a bit of relaxation after a hectic day.

Showing two college-aged men the exciting sights of greater Los Angeles had turned out to be a full-time job. Mann's Chinese Theater and Liz's star on the Walk of Fame, dinner at Spago's, clubbing on The Strip, and now a day at the beach with private surfing lessons...I was wiped, and we still had a movie premiere that I'd talked my way into tonight, and tomorrow a tour of the network studio and a couple hours on the set of a currently shooting movie before finally dropping them off at the airport for an afternoon flight back to Madison.

Maybe after all that, I'd finally have a chance to see Robyn. I hadn't seen her in over twenty-four hours, and now that I'd felt what it was like to touch her, I couldn't wait for my next touch. But Robyn's pre-filming preparations and my hectic schedule with Perry and James were combining to make it very possible that we wouldn't see each other before she left, and that was frustrating the hell out of me.

The sound of the door sliding open and closed behind me brought me out of my thoughts, and I glanced over as a glass was placed on the railing beside me.

"I...uh...I asked Perry, and he said you liked scotch..." James said, picking nervously at the label of the bottle of beer in his hand.

"I do," I said with a smile, picking up the glass and swirling it a few times before taking a sip. "Thanks, James."

He watched me drink and, apparently satisfied that I did indeed like scotch, leaned against the railing and faced the water, mimicking my position. We leaned in silence for a few minutes, drinking and watching the sun dip lower. "It's beautiful here," he said eventually. "It was really nice of Liz to let us use it."

"Yeah." I took in another deep lungful of air. "I love it here. I think she's crazy not to use it more. It's a great place to get away."

"Is it..." he paused, and looked over at me, "is it like that a lot?  All those photographers?"

He was talking about the scene that greeted us when we returned to my house after dropping Robyn off the day before - a herd of photographers and news vans blocking my drive, surrounding the limo as we pulled up, making it nearly impossible for us to get to the house. Liz had offered the beach house immediately, knowing how much I hated that kind of attention.

"No, it's not usually like that for me. It's just fallout from my supposed'll die down in a couple of days. It's like that for Liz, almost everywhere she goes, and for Robyn sometimes...but no, I don't usually rate that kind of attention."

He glanced away when I looked over at him. "I don't know why," he said quietly. "You're just as pretty as they are."

I laughed, but quieted quickly when I noticed his wounded expression. "Thank you, that's sweet of you to say."

"Well it's true," he mumbled.

I smiled and sipped at my drink. "You did great out there today - a real natural," I commented, wanting to change the subject. The day we'd just spent surfing seemed like a safe enough topic.

He smiled shyly. "You too. You're really...uh...athletic. And great in a swimsuit."

Perhaps not such a safe topic after all. I think it was time to have a little talk with James about how he had absolutely no chance with his best friend's much older, probably a lesbian, sister.

I put my drink on the rail and turned to face him, but before I could say anything, he quickly lunged forward and planted his lips on mine.

To say I was startled would be an understatement, and it took me a moment to react. I put my hands on his shoulders and pushed him away, annoyed that he tried something and annoyed with myself for not nipping this in the bud.

"James, no," I said firmly. He cringed like a kicked puppy, and I stifled my annoyance with a sigh. "James, this is not happening."

"But," he started.

I shook my head, stopping him. "But nothing. You're a nice guy, James, but this isn't happening. I'm practically old enough to be your mother, for one thing, and honestly, you're not my type."

"What is your type? I'm not tall enough?  Not famous enough?" he asked, sulking now.

I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. Sometimes men were such babies. "I would hope you know me a little better than that, James. I'll tell you what my type isn't. It's not friends of my brother's who are barely twenty-one, okay?" This time I allowed a little of my annoyance to creep into my voice, and he slumped dejectedly against the rail. I softened my tone. "I'm sorry if I did something to give you a different impression..."

He shook his head. "No, you didn't...I was just..." He shrugged. "I dunno...hoping, I guess."

"I'm flattered, James. Truly. And some girl is going to be very lucky to get you someday."

Ugh. Did I just say that?  Cheesy, cheesy, cheesy. After school specials, here I come.

"But not you, huh?" His tone was resigned.

I smiled slightly. "No, not me."

We both turned and watched the final rays of sun fade to purple, and the sun dip below the horizon. After a few minutes, I bumped him with my shoulder. "Piece of advice?"

He glanced over. "Sure."

"Next time, save the tongue for the second kiss."

He looked embarrassed for a moment, but saw that I was smiling. He laughed and clinked his bottle against my glass. "I'll try to remember that."


"Come on, Caid, four more. That's it,'ve got it. Two...and one more...alright, nice job!"

Shawn plucked the twenty pound dumbbells from my hands as though they were toothpicks, smiling down at me with a practiced, encouraging smile. "Take a sixty second break and then we'll go for another fifteen."

I groaned and let my arms dangle behind my head, arching my back over the exercise ball I was laying on top of for my tricep curls. "You're evil, you know that, right?"

"That's what you pay me for." He smiled again, this time a little less professional and more genuine. "You're the one who wanted a last minute, butt-kicking workout. I'm just giving you what you wanted."

"Well, I'm an idiot," I mumbled, and I raised my hands up to receive the dumbbells again, blowing out a few deep breaths before lowering the weights behind my head slowly, and then raising them up again.

I was on my tenth rep when the muffled tones of my cell phone interrupted my concentration, and I paused.

"Oh no you don't. Five more, Caid, and then you can answer it," Shawn said, picking up the phone from where it sat on my towel and waving it enticingly in front of my face.

I scowled, too breathless to call him all the names running through my mind, and pushed out five more reps as fast as I could, my arms shaking crazily on the last two. He finally handed me the phone after taking the weights from my hands, and after a moment of fumbling, I finally got the thing open.

"Yeah," I gasped, closing my eyes and draping a sweaty arm across my face.

There was a moment of silence, and then a low, husky voice asked, "Am I interrupting something?"

I didn't think it was possible, but my heart rate picked up even more, and it took me a moment before I could respond. "I'm at the gym. Trying to work off some...frustration," I panted finally. I knew the smile on my face was giving Shawn some ideas, but I couldn't help it. "Where are you?  I thought you had a dinner thing tonight."

Robyn had called while I was on my way to the airport with Perry and James, telling me the bad news that her presence was required tonight at a dinner party at her agent's house, and she didn't know when she would be home. Perry and James were in the car with me so I couldn't yell and scream in frustration as I'd wanted to, but the moment I'd dropped them off, I'd called Shawn and asked for a workout that would leave me exhausted and wanting my mommy.

I could hear the smile in her voice when she answered my question. "I told Mark I'm not feeling well. I think I might have gotten food poisoning this afternoon. So...I find myself suddenly free for the evening."

I sat up. "Tell me you're not kidding."

She laughed. "I'm not kidding. When can you get over here?  I'll cook you dinner."

"Give me an hour," I said, reaching for my towel and ignoring Shawn's look of disapproval. "Tops."

She laughed again, low and breathless. The sound tickled down my spine as though she were here, touching me. "Hurry."

I snapped the phone shut and stood, giving Shawn a smile that made him blink. "Looks like I won't need that workout after all."


I slammed the car door and headed up the drive, forcing myself to walk instead of sprint like I wanted to. I felt giddy with anticipation, like a teenager with a first crush, and when Robyn opened the door in a sleeveless, button-down shirt, long denim shorts and no shoes, the smile I gave her made my face ache.

Her return smile was dazzling, her eyes shining with welcome. "Hey, you."

"Hey." I suddenly felt shy, wanting to hug her but not knowing if it would be welcome.

She put an end my wondering by tugging me into the house by the hand, shutting the door behind us, and pulling me tightly against her.

I sighed and wrapped my arms around her waist, burying face in her neck. "I missed you."

She tightened the embrace and rubbed her face against my hair. "I missed you too, baby," she whispered. "It's crazy how much."

We stood, just holding each other and not speaking, as long minutes passed. Finally she pulled back, cradling my face in her hands, and placed a gentle kiss on my lips. I leaned into the kiss, savoring it for what it was; not a kiss for passion's sake, but rather a reconnection - an affirmation - of things already said.

"Come on," she said eventually, stepping away but not letting go of my hand. "Let me get you a glass of wine and you can watch me cook you something fabulous."

I followed her downstairs and into the kitchen where she seated me on a barstool along a counter in her kitchen and handed me a glass of white wine.

"Can I help?" I asked

"Nope...sorry, I'm a bit territorial about my kitchen," she answered with a smile that said she wasn't sorry at all.

I made a mental note to not mess about in her kitchen.

"You like shrimp, I hope?" At my nod she pulled a bowl of medium-sized shrimp out of the refrigerator and set it on the counter, then splashed olive oil into a pan, added a bowlful of sliced garlic and set it to heat.

We talked of random things as she pulled various cups of liquid out of the refrigerator, transferred the cooked garlic to a paper towel, and briskly tossed the shrimp with salt and pepper, moving with a confidence and economy of motion that nudged something in my memory.

When I was twenty, I spent the summer on the wait staff of an upscale resort outside Rice Lake, serving pricy dinners to sun burnt tourists. The overall atmosphere of the kitchen had been hectic and chaotic, but the area around the head chef, Jean-Marie, had always seemed calm, and I had admired the way he inhabited the space around him, as though the pots, pans, knives and other utensils were an extension of his person.

Robyn moved around her kitchen the same way; as though her actions were second nature, an extension of herself.

"You've done this before," I commented, and she raised an inquisitive eyebrow in my direction, not pausing in her preparations. I gestured at the sauté pan now filled with shrimp that she was absently shaking with casual flicks of her wrists. "Cooking. Where'd you learn?"

She smiled, her face softening. "My mom was a chef...still is, actually, although now she mostly handles front-of-the-house. She and my sister are both restaurateurs - they have restaurants in Santa Barbara and Santa Monica." She gave the shrimp another expert flip. "My sisters and I knew our way around a kitchen before we were out of elementary school."

"Tell me about your family," I requested, realizing that I knew almost nothing about her. We had talked, certainly, but never about our pasts or families.

She scooped the shrimp out onto a platter and placed the pan back on the burner, adding the garlic back into the pan along with a plateful of some kind of chilies and stirring absently. "My family." She smiled again with obvious fondness. "Well, I have three sisters - one older and two younger. Trish, that's the oldest, is part-owner of the restaurants with Mom. She runs the place in Santa Monica, and lives there with her boyfriend Enrique; Diane, she's two years younger than me - she works in a law firm in San Francisco, and Lori - the baby. She's a stay-at-home mom with two little boys and a third on the way. She and her husband Will live in Santa Barbara, near my parents."

A few cupfuls of liquid went into the pan, along with the already cooked shrimp and some spices. She turned the flame down a bit before turning to pull two plates out of a cupboard above her head and unplugging a rice cooker that had been quietly steaming away on the corner of the counter. " I said, she's a chef and runs the restaurant in Santa Barbara, and my dad used to model - that's how I got into it - and now he plays a lot of golf and tennis and occasionally helps out at the restaurant."

"So that's where you grew up? Santa Barbara?" I asked, watching the play of muscles under the tan skin of her forearm as she flipped and stirred the contents of the pan a few more times before removing it from the heat. I let my eyes travel from her forearms up over the swell of breast, the long, elegant neck, sharp chin, full lips, straight nose, finally resting on obsidian eyes that stared at me with a heat that caused my breath to hitch.

We stared at each other, conversation forgotten, until finally Robyn blinked and looked away, drawing a shaky breath. "Christ, Caid...those eyes are lethal."

She stood for a moment more, staring at the stove, and then pulled a few large spoons out of a drawer and began doling out generous portions of brown rice topped with the shrimp and chili mixture, along with greens and cooked carrots, onto the two plates. Looking over her shoulder at me, her expression now bland, she picked up the two plates and nodded towards her wineglass on the counter. "Could you bring mine, and the bottle?"

I nodded and did as she asked, tucking the bottle under my arm and picking up her glass before following her out of the kitchen and into what I'd guess was the living room - the huge room with the wall of two story windows looking out over the flickering lights of the San Gabriele valley that were just starting to come on. A small table had been set up near the windows, with a deep burgundy tablecloth, two place settings, and two tall candles.

She set the two plates down and took the wine bottle from under my arm, placing it in a ceramic wine cooler on one end of the table. Then she took her wine glass from my hand and placed it on the table, gesturing for me to sit down while she lit the candles. Finally she sat down across from me and put her napkin in her lap, meeting my gaze for the first time in several minutes.

"This is nice, Robyn. Thank you," I offered, trying to get us back to the ease we shared in the kitchen before she caught me staring.

"I hope you like it - it's something my mom was tweaking for the restaurant last time I went home. Please," she waved at my plate, "eat."

I leaned over the plate, breathing in deeply, and grinned. "If the smell is anything to go by, it'll be fabulous, as promised." I picked up my fork and took a bite. "Oh, God." I closed my eyes and chewed slowly, savoring the heat of the chilies along with the sweet of the shrimp. It was, indeed, fabulous. "This is wonderful."

I opened my eyes and found her leaning back in her chair, watching me with a slight smile on her face.

I paused mid-chew and swallowed. "Aren't you eating?"

She smiled fully now, teasing and light. "It's more fun to watch you. Most people I cook for don't appreciate it quite as much as you seem to. Nice to see so much enthusiasm."

"Well," I speared another piece of shrimp, "then the people you've cooked for are idiots. Honestly, Robyn, this is fantastic." I put the shrimp in my mouth and again closed my eyes at the burst of flavor. I chewed for a moment, and swallowed. "You can cook for me anytime."

She gave me a delighted smile and picked up her fork.

I learned more about Robyn over dinner; I'd always been good at getting people to talk to me, and Robyn, it turned out, liked to talk. She grew up in Santa Barbara and had a dizzying number of aunts, uncles and cousins still in the area; she was close with all her sisters but from how she spoke about Diane, the two of them were especially close; she broke her arm and three ribs falling out of a tree when she was seven, lost her virginity to Duane Resin on prom night when she was seventeen, and most of her family, like the rest of the world, had no idea that she was gay.

I'd practically licked my plate clean while she talked, and I picked up my wine and leaned back in my chair, pleasantly full. "So only Diane knows?"

She nodded, playing with her food. "I know...sounds strange, doesn't it? It just always seemed easier not to say anything...and it never really mattered. I never wanted to bring anyone home to meet the family, I guess."

I digested that, wondering what it meant for us. The fear that I was going to end up being just another "thing" in an apparently long list of things once again surfaced, and I squashed it as best I could.

"There's a little more, if you'd like it," Robyn said finally, after a long silence.

I shook my head and smiled. "I'm stuffed, thank you. That was great."

I followed her into the kitchen with my plate and silverware; she took the items out of my hands and turned to put them in the sink with hers. I'd wanted to touch her all through dinner, and I finally gave in to temptation, stepping up behind her and snaking my arms loosely around her slim waist, resting my chin on her shoulder.

"Dinner was wonderful," I murmured in her ear, closing my eyes and breathing in the scent of her hair. "And so are you."  She leaned back against me, placing her hands over mine. I kissed her cheek, and then trailed my lips to her ear, nibbling gently. "You taste good, too."

I could feel her smile, and she turned in my embrace, settling her arms on my shoulders, her hands joined behind my head. "How do you manage to be so sweet," she said, kissing me softly before pulling back, "and so goddamn sexy at the same time?"

I gave her a pleased smile and leaned in to brush our lips together again, meaning for the kiss to be brief but quickly losing myself in the softness of her lips and the feel of her tongue stroking hesitantly against mine. Her hands went into my hair, encouraging me, and she purred deep in her throat when I pushed her hips against the counter and deepened the kiss. We kissed for several long moments before pulling apart, breathing heavily.

I leaned into her, touching our foreheads together as I caught my breath. "You're one hell of a kisser, Ms. Ward."

She gave a breathy laugh and ran long fingers through the hair at the nape of my neck. "Oh, honey...I'd say you have some skills of your own."

We stood quietly against each other for a few moments more, and then she grasped my hand and slid out from between the counter and me, leading me into the other room and gesturing for me to sit on a large leather couch in front of the fireplace. I sat down and watched as she put on some soft, instrumental guitar music and turned on the gas fireplace before retrieving our wineglasses and coming back to the couch.

"A fire when it's eighty degrees outside?" I teased, and she paused as she handed me my wine.

"Do you mind?  It doesn't put out that much heat and I like watching it..."

"I was just teasing," I interrupted her. "It's nice."

She smiled, and lowered herself onto the other end of the couch, tucking her feet under her.

I hid a frown at her being so far away - I wanted to touch her, but if she felt the need for some distance, I didn't want to push. We watched the fire for a while, and I had to agree with her; it was nice to watch a fire, regardless of the time of year.

"So what about you?" she asked eventually. "Turnabout is fair play...tell me about your family. I know you have an extremely handsome twenty-two year old brother...any other siblings lying around?"

I paused, swirling my wine, before answering. "Just one...I have an older brother, Sebastian. He's a tax attorney - lives in Tampa."

There was no warmth in my voice, and she raised her eyebrows. "You don't get along." It was statement, not a question.

"That would be putting it mildly." I took a sip of wine, trying to think of how best to describe the antagonism between my eldest brother and me. "Would you like the short version, or the long version?"

"I'm not in a hurry to be anywhere...why don't we go with the long version?"

"Okay," I said with a wry smile. "Just remember that you asked for it." I paused for a moment, wondering where to begin. "My father is a the late sixties, a family practitioner in Milwaukee. He had married his high school sweetheart and opened up his own practice -everything was going along nicely until, as a favor, he hired the daughter of a family friend to help around the office...a year later he'd divorced his wife and married his young employee, who was pregnant."

"So, young employee was..."

"My mom," I answered with a quick nod. "The whole thing was something of a scandal, I guess, since mom was only eighteen, so dad sold the practice and moved his young bride and new baby to Madison, where he set up shop again, and they had another kid," I pointed to myself, "and they lived in, what seemed to me when I was young, happy bliss until I was about twelve. That's when they found out that mom was pregnant again. Mom was thrilled, but dad wasn't so happy - they started fighting constantly - but things progressed as they usually do, and eventually Perry was born."

I held my glass to my chest and drew my feet up under me as Robyn had done. "A few weeks after Perry's first birthday, dad filed for divorce and ran off to Chicago with his twenty-four year old receptionist. Dad was nothing if not consistent," I said, unable to keep the trace of bitterness out of my voice.

"Oh, Caid...that must have been awful." She scooted over until our knees were touching and took my hand, her eyes full of empathy.

I stroked my thumb across her knuckles, liking the feel of her hand in mine, and way our hands looked together. "It was...hard for us all, but it was especially hard on Sebastian. Mom asked for full custody, and dad didn't fight it, basically removing himself completely from our lives. Sebastian worshiped dad, and after he left, Sebastian just...he completely changed. He was angry all the time, screaming and yelling at mom and me, saying it was our fault, getting into trouble, picking fights..." I shook my head in memory. "That was a really fun time, let me tell you."

She squeezed my hand. "So he never really got over it?"

"Nope, he never did..." I looked into the fire. "And then he married into a rich, incredibly religious fundamentalist Tampa family, and went from being an angry, hurt kid to a bigoted, self-righteous asshole." I shook my head. "It's hard to love someone who hates everything about you, and Sebastian has made it very clear that my job, my life...everything about me is evil. Jesus," I said with a pained laugh, "when he finds out I've...that I'm a lesbian, he will seriously blow a gasket." I shuddered at the thought, and Robyn squeezed my hand again.

"I'm sorry, Caid," she said simply.

I smiled wryly and finished the rest of my wine in a gulp. "Me too."

"Do you ever...see your father? I can't believe someone would just cut their kids off like that."

"Hard to believe, isn't it? When he first left, I was pretty angry too, but unlike Sebastian, I was angry at dad, and not mom. He left when I was thirteen, and I didn't see him again until I was I see him once or twice a year, I guess. Sebastian might see him more, I don't know - dad is definitely a topic I don't want to discuss with him. Perry has met him a few times, but mom remarried a couple of years after dad left, and as far as Perry's concerned, his dad is Larry, mom's current husband."

She shook her head, stroking my hand. "I'm sorry," she said again, and leaned forward to kiss my forehead. "I wish you hadn't gone through that."

"Mm..." I closed my eyes at her tenderness. It had been a long time since I'd told anyone that story and I was glad it hadn't sent her screaming into the hills. Or maybe it had, and she was just being nice. I opened my eyes. " that you know the whole sordid tale, still interested in starting something with me?" I tried to keep my tone light, and not sound too pathetic.

She cupped my face and forced me to look at her. "I'm not that easy to scare away, Caid. I don't care about your family, I care about you."

I turned my head and brushed my lips against the hand cupping my cheek. "Lucky me."

"And don't you forget it, missy," she said, and tweaked my nose, lightening the mood. "I'm going to get a little more wine. Would you like some?"

I handed her my empty glass when she stood and she crossed to the table and divided what was left in the bottle between the two glasses. I put my feet on the floor and stretched my legs, still feeling the slight pull in my hamstrings from my surfing adventure.

"So where does your mom live now?" Robyn asked from across the room.

"She and Larry are still in Madison, although they travel almost six months out of the year. They run a travel tour company - hiking tours to Switzerland, biking in France, sailing the Greek Islands...that sort of thing. They're out of the country now until August."

"That sounds like fun, how long have they been doing that?"

"Um...let's see...maybe eight, nine years? Since Perry was about thirteen, I guess. They used to take him with them."

"Have you ever gone?" She perched herself on the arm of the couch and handed me my wineglass.

"I went on a bike tour through Germany with them the time they started it, I was pretty busy trying to pick up acting gigs...just never seemed like I had enough time."

She motioned for me to move over and then slid in beside me on the couch, curling her feet up and tucking them under my thigh. I could feel the slight chill through the thin linen shorts I was wearing.

"Comfortable?" I asked with a smile and a raised eyebrow.

"Very." She wiggled her toes and grinned at me, the force of it hitting me like a punch.

 I loved it when she smiled like that.

This wasn't the practiced smile she gave the cameras and the public. No, this one she gave out sparingly, and only to a select few, and lit her entire face up...hell, her entire self. It was open, inviting and completely captivating. The image robbed me of breath and brought an ache to my chest, and I reached out to trail slightly trembling fingertips down her cheek, shaking my head.

"You're so damn beautiful, Robyn. Sometimes I look at you, and I can't breathe."

Her body stilled, and I wondered if I'd said something wrong. I withdrew my hand slowly. "I'm sorry..."

Her eyes didn't leave my face as she gently placed her wineglass on the table, and then did the same with mine. Her hands went to the buttons of her shirt and she slowly unbuttoned them, one by one, revealing glimpses of tanned skin and peach colored lace. I watched her hands in equal parts fascination and trepidation, and when she was done, I looked up to meet her gaze. She smiled slightly at whatever petrified, excited, confused look I had on my face, then her expression became serious again and she took my hands in hers and turned them over, kissing one palm, then the other.

"I want you to touch me, Caid," she said softly, and placed my hands on the smooth skin of her stomach.

I drew in a shaky breath at the first touch of my hands on her heated skin. I was trembling, and I could feel the echoing tremble under my fingers. "Robyn..." My voice was hesitant, unsure.

"Shhh..." She leaned forward and kissed me, slow and deep, then leaned back against the armrest of the couch, the action parting her shirt completely. "There's no right way or wrong way, Caid. Just...touch me."

I dropped my eyes to take in the sharp angles of her collarbone, small breasts covered by almost shear, peach colored material, and the long, flat planes of her abdomen where my hands rested. She was slender - too slender, I thought briefly - and my hands easily spanned her waist. I brushed tentatively with my thumbs, and raised my hands to run my fingers over the ridges of her ribs, feeling each one. The slight tremors under my fingers gave me confidence and I stroked my hands down her stomach, swirling fingertips into the hollows just above the waistband of her shorts; the hollows that had so intrigued me last time I saw them as she walked up my drive three weeks before.

I paused for a moment, remembering in a rush what I had wanted to do then.  Don't think, Caid.

She gave a tiny gasp of surprise and pleasure when I lowered my head and kissed one hollow, then skimmed my lips across her stomach to kiss the other. I felt her hand in my hair, stroking softly and then spasm briefly when I ran my tongue around her navel, dipping in quickly and then sucking gently on the surrounding skin. I laid my cheek against the smooth, warm skin of her belly. "You're so soft," I whispered, letting my fingers play over her skin for a moment before turning and bracing my hands on either side of her, kissing my way up the middle of her body and finally capturing her lips. The gentle kiss soon turned urgent, and when I pulled away, we were both shaking.

Her hands gripped my upper arms tightly, and her breathing was uneven. " make me feel so much..."

I balanced myself on one arm and ran my hand from her shoulder to her chest, hesitantly cupping her breast and lightly stroking my thumb across material of her bra, feeling her nipple harden in response.

She sucked in a breath and her hands dug into my arms painfully. ", I don't want to rush you...we need to stop..."

I raised my fingers to her lips, silencing her, and replaced the fingers with my lips for a brief kiss. "I want you, Robyn," I whispered. "Jesus, so much it hurts. I want to make you feel." I looked at her pleadingly. "Teach me. Show me."

And she did - helping me slowly undress her, whispering breathless words of direction an encouragement, guiding my mouth to her neck and breasts, and much later, my hand to her sex, holding me tightly against her as she shuddered, muscles tightening in release around my fingers.

She continued to hold my hand against her as she slowly relaxed, and I had no objection, enthralled by the feel of her warmth around my fingers and the slick evidence of her desire. Finally she moved her hand and I withdrew, lowering my body next to hers.

"That was...amazing," I said softly, and kissed her forehead. "Thank you."

She let out a strangled laugh and opened her eyes, looking at me with a slightly dazed expression.  "I think it's me that should be thanking you."

"So that's good, right?" I asked hopefully, shamelessly asking for reassurance.

She laughed again, and this time when she opened her eyes, they were filled with gentle humor. "Yes. Very good. did just fine." She smiled at me and stroked my cheek. "Just fine."

"Good." It wasn't the fireworks-exploded-and-I-lost-touch-with-reality kind of praise that every lover hopes for, but it was enough. I smiled contentedly, thinking practice makes perfect, and gathered her up in my arms, nuzzling her hair. "Mm. You feel good."

She shifted onto her side and laid her head on my chest with a satisfied sigh. "You feel good, too." She reached back and tugged at a blanket that was lying across the back of the couch, pulling it on top of us and settling in once more, her hand making lazy circles on my stomach under my shirt.

After a few minutes the circles moved upward and she brushed her palm across my breast, then came back to circle my hardening nipple with a fingertip, the scrape of her fingernail across the material of my bra sending tiny shockwaves of sensation straight to my groin. I bit back a groan.

"Why is it," she said in a raspy whisper, "that you have so many clothes on?" She tipped her head back and sucked my earlobe into her mouth. "Hmm?"

I could only shake my head as the material of my bra was pushed up, freeing my breasts, and my nipple gently rolled between her fingers. "Oh..." She gave my other breast the same treatment before my shirt was pushed up and her mouth, moist and hot, replaced her fingers. I closed my eyes and sucked in a breath, arching against her. "Jesus...Robyn..."

She rolled until she was on top of me and pushed my shirt up further, sucking and nipping at my breasts, her hands and mouth seeming everywhere at once. I was lost in a haze of sensation and arousal, and when she stopped and lifted herself off me, I whimpered in dismay.

"Caid." Her voice was rough with emotion and need, and my eyes flew open to find her standing naked above me, holding out a hand.

I took her hand and wordlessly followed her as she turned off the gas to the fire, blew out the candles, and led me up the stairs to her bedroom where she undressed me, reverently kissing each newly revealed piece of my body as though it were a gift.

"Beautiful," she said softly as her eyes roamed my body. She ran her hands up my arms and across my shoulders, pausing a moment to knead the muscles there. "So strong." The hands continued their trek, down over my breasts and ribs to where they came to rest on my hips. She looked into my eyes, pausing as though to make sure she had my attention. As if there was any doubt about that. "You're beautiful, Caid."

She took my hand again and pulled the covers on the bed back, then pushed me down and slowly lowered herself on top of me. The feel of our naked skin touching for the first time pulled a low moan from both of us.

"So good," she whispered as she settled on top of me. "I knew you'd feel so good..."

She took her time, her hands stroking and kneading, and her teeth, lips and tongue igniting fires across my skin. Sensation overwhelmed me, and left no room for nervousness or doubt...I drown in the sweetness of it, coming with a shuddering gasp as her fingers filled me and she swiped her tongue across my clit.

The tremors of my orgasm still echoed in my limbs as she kissed her way up my body, bracing herself on her hands above me. "You're amazing," she whispered, kissing my forehead. "Incredible." She placed a soft kiss on each eyelid. "Perfect." She hovered above my mouth, our breath mingling, and traced my upper lip with her tongue. I groaned and surged up to bring our mouths together, tasting myself on her lips. The wave of heat that rolled through me at the thought made me ache, and I needed, right then, to taste her.

Her eyes widened in surprise when I pushed her over and reversed our positions, but she murmured her approval when I ran my tongue down her neck to her breasts, spending several minutes in languid exploration before continuing down her body, remembering areas where she was most responsive and discovering new ones that brought a intoxicating mixture of moans and tiny gasps.

When I eventually touched my tongue to her wetness, she hissed and grabbed the back of my head, guiding and encouraging as she had done before, and when she came against me this time, I needed no reassurance that it had been good.

I circled her waist with my arms and lay my head on her stomach, listening as her breathing and heart rate slowed, marveling at the feel of her, the heat of her skin and her taste on my lips. She ran her fingers absently through my hair for a few minutes, and then tugged gently.

"Come up here, you."

I placed a wet, openmouthed kiss between her legs that made her twitch, and inched up her body, placing more kisses as I went. After one final kiss on her smiling mouth, I settled in beside her, propping my head up on my hand and watching her watch me.

She sighed contentedly and rolled on her side to face me. "I thought you said you were new at this," she said, stroking my cheek.

I smiled slightly and kissed her fingers. "I'm a fast learner with the proper motivation. And you," I kissed her fingers again and caught one between my teeth, biting gently before releasing it. "You are some kind of motivation."

"Lucky me." She leaned in for a lingering kiss and then pulled back. She hesitated, and then asked quietly, "Stay?"

I smiled and kissed her forehead. "I'd like that."

"Good," she drawled, tracing random circles on the skin of my shoulder with a finger. A slight push sent me sprawling onto my back and she contemplated my naked form with lazy, half-lidded intent. "Because I'm not even close to being done with you."

I grinned.

Hot. Damn.


Sometime before dawn an insistently full bladder woke me, and after carefully extricating myself from Robyn's arms, I rose and padded to the bathroom. On my way back to bed, I reached to switch off the floor lamp - the one we'd left on, too comfortable and too spent in each other's arms to turn off - but paused, captivated by the sight on the bed before me.

She was on her stomach with her face towards me, one arm curled above her head and the other beneath her pillow. She'd kicked most of the covers off during the night, exposing leanly muscled shoulders, the long expanse of her back, one perfect globe of buttock, and one smooth, slender leg.

I stared at her in wonder.

She was amazing; delicate and strong, sharp angles and softness, the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. I drew in a shaky breath, wanting her with an intensity that astounded me. Sex before had been adequate, often pleasant, and sometimes I'd even considered it very good. But never had it come even close to what I'd experienced with Robyn. Never had I felt so close to someone, and been so satisfied, but still left with this anticipation, this...craving.

Even now, exhausted and sated, just thinking of her, watching her, stirred my desire again. I longed to reach for her, to run my hands over her skin, her hair...I swallowed hard at the rush of emotion that swept through me, surprised that arousal wasn't at the forefront. Instead, it was overwhelming tenderness.

I sighed resignedly.

I was in deep, deep trouble.

When I had talked with Perry about my feelings for Robyn, I had been unsure; putting the label 'love' on it for lack of a better way to explain what I was feeling. But now I was sure. Sometime during the night, the feelings I had for Robyn had intensified into something very deep, very strong, and very frightening.

I was in love with her, no doubt about it now.

I dropped heavily into the softly upholstered wing chair next to the floor lamp and sighed again.

So. I'm in love her. In love with a famous, closeted actress who has a boyfriend who's not really her boyfriend, calls her affairs 'things' and who has never cared about any of her past lovers enough to bring them home to meet her family. You sure can pick 'em, Caid. 

I sat for a long time, contemplating my new lover and the plethora of ways she could hurt me. Eventually, I turned off the light and slipped back into bed, wiggling around to get comfortable and draping my arm across Robyn's back. This would either be the best thing that ever happened to me, or a spectacular crash and burn that would fuck me up for a good, long time. But either way, I was happy now, and determined to enjoy it for as long as it lasted.

Continued in chapter 13

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