by Fritz

See disclaimers at Part One



The agreed upon time for Sawyer's visit was the second week in February. She would drive up on Tuesday night and planned to stay through Sunday. The month of January was filled with communications between the two women, Erin using the excuse of wanting to take care of the details of the renovations so they could commence the work upon Sawyer's arrival. The plan was to repaint Number 5, Sawyer's usual room, and to wallpaper and paint its bathroom. With the extra help, Erin felt they could also repaint the hallways upstairs. Sawyer, while insisting that she did not care which color was chosen for 'her' room, spent a few days deciding among three shades of blue which, to Erin, seemed remarkably similar. With the final choices of colors and wall coverings made, Erin purchased all of the necessary materials at the local hardware store.

There were few guests at the inn in January. Erin, busy with plans for the renovation, was able to leave some of her usual tasks to Daphne, the young woman who helped out part-time at the inn. A true free spirit, Daphne had fled what she described as an oppressive home life with her family in Philadelphia when she was 18 years old. She was on her own and hitchhiking her way to California as the place farthest away from home that she could imagine. When the driver of her latest ride tried to get a little too friendly for her comfort, she made the man pull over on the interstate. She jumped out and tried to hitch another ride. Since it was 4:00 in the morning at the time, that proved difficult, and she ended up walking to the nearest exit, the one for Blanchard's Ferry. As fate would have it, Jack was pulling onto the interstate at the same time, headed out for a quick day's fishing. He saw the girl walking and stopped to see if she needed help. Wary of strangers given her recent experience, Daphne refused to talk to him. He finally convinced her he meant no harm, and he drove them back to the inn. Giving in to the compulsion to care for stray pets and stray teenagers, Erin and Jack let Daphne stay at the inn for a few days to decide where she wanted to go next. Refusing any idea of charitable hospitality, she started helping out around the inn and proved herself to be a diligent, responsible worker. Now, three years later, she lived with a roommate in town and had declared that Blanchard's Ferry was about as far away from Philadelphia as the fates wanted her to be. Her flighty side came out now and again, but, overall, the Foresters found her assistance invaluable.

February finally arrived, and the last guests checked out on the Monday before Sawyer was to arrive. Erin, Jack and Daphne spent the morning rearranging the furniture in Number 5, placing the large bed and dresser in the middle of the room and covering them with tarpaulins. They also removed the tables, chairs and other items from the hallways, spreading them among the other rooms.

Jack left on his trip that afternoon, his itinerary planned to the last detail. Erin teased him about not deciding beforehand which gas stations he would visit. Her brother admonished Erin, "Don't do anything I wouldn't do," as she bid him farewell.

Erin shared a quiet dinner with Daphne in the evening, then the younger woman took her leave. It was always a mystery what Daphne did with her time off from the inn. The only thing Erin could be sure of was that her vacation would not be spent in Philadelphia.

Waking earlier than usual on Tuesday, Erin attributed the change in schedule to being alone at the inn, even while her mind raced with the thought that Sawyer would be arriving tonight. With hours to waste and her mind on nothing but the tall lawyer, Erin set about preparing the areas to be refurbished. As the hours passed, she sanded the trim, wiped down the walls, and even patched a few cracks she found. She never lost an opportunity to chide her brother for leaving town when the hard tasks had to be done, but, in reality, she enjoyed losing herself in the work. She took one break for a quick lunch and only stopped when she realized that she had done all of the prep work she could do. As she glanced around for a final check, she heard the distinctive sound of Sawyer's Boxster coming up the drive.

She walked down the stairs, glancing at the old grandfather clock in the hallway. It's only four o'clock. She wasn't supposed to be here until tonight. Confusion at the timing segued into panic at her appearance. Oh, God, I'm a mess! Her attempts at figuring the logistics of the quickest shower in the history of the Western Hemisphere were interrupted by a knocking at the front door. The blonde realized she had no choice but to admit her guest.

"Hey," the lawyer said as Erin opened the door. "Weird to find the front door locked." She glanced up and down as she stepped into the hallway, taking in her host's appearance. "Start without me?"

Erin grinned, always amazed at the elation she felt simply being in the tall woman's company. "The door's locked because I'm here by myself. And I'm just doing some prep work."

Sawyer reached out and ruffled the younger woman's hair. A cloud of dust and a shower of paint chips fell from her head to the floor. "Yeah, but is it all prepped out?"

"It isn't, and, don't take this the wrong way, but what are you doing here?"

"You invited me, remember? They do say the mind is the first thing to go . . ."

"I know, goofy, but why are you here early?"

"I got away from the office a little early, that's all. Decided to get on the road after lunch instead of later."

Stop questioning, Forester, and be happy you have a few unexpected hours with her. Erin reached out for Sawyer's duffle bag and headed into the parlor. "Well, I'm glad you did. Come on, we'll get you settled."

"Shouldn't we be going upstairs?"

"The rooms upstairs are a mess," Erin said, as she led the way to the back section of the house. "Most of the stuff from your room and the hallways is spread out in the other rooms. Besides, I didn't think you would want to sleep with the smell of paint."

As they entered the back hallway, Sawyer, in an almost lecherous tone of voice, said, "Well, then, where am I sleeping?"

Erin, still leading and facing away from the other woman, blushed. Is she flirting with me? Don't go down that road. "Jack said you could use his room. I wish I had time to fumigate it, 'cause I know he has cooties . . . "

"You guys are too much. Cooties?"

"The most effective way of nailing Jack when he was about 10 was to tell him he had cooties. And sometimes, it still works now that he's 29."

Jack's room was at the end of the hallway, and Sawyer noticed that the door, which had been closed on her first visit to this section of the house, was open. The women entered, and Erin placed Sawyer's bag on the bed. The room looked much as Erin's had, with a bed, dressers, love seat, chairs and a computer on the large oak desk. However, just as his sister's room bore the indelible stamp of the woman who occupied it, this room clearly reflected the personality of its occupant. Jack's penchant (or obsession, according to his sister) for organization was evident, as nary an object was out of place.

Erin seemed to read Sawyer's mind. "Yes, if you move anything, even a millimeter, he'll know it when he comes back." The women shared a chuckle at Jack's expense. "Get settled, and, if you want, we can go into town for supper."

"I thought this was a working vacation," Sawyer said.

"Sawyer, I'm not going to put you to work as soon as you step in the door. I thought I would wait until tomorrow to make you work like a dog. You must be tired from your trip."

"I'll never understand why people think I'm tired after a drive. I was sitting in the car the whole time, not outside pushing it. You've started on the prep work, why don't we finish it up tonight?"

"Actually," Erin admitted, "I've finished the prep work."

"You've been a busy worker ant."

"Hey, is that a crack about my height?"

Sawyer reached out to wipe more dust and grime from Erin's shoulder. "No, just a crack about the fact that you're carrying most of the ant hill around with you. Come on, choose something we can work on. I'm anxious to see Picasso Blue on the walls of my room."

"You're becoming quite proprietary about Number 5. I never thought you'd make a choice on the color."

"I'm the one who has to see it every morning, or at least every morning I'm sleeping in that room."

"True, true. How about this, let me wash up a bit, I'll fix us something quick for an early supper, then we can get to work on . . ." Erin tried to think of one item they could take care of tonight. "I know. We'll wallpaper the bathroom in your room."

"See, now, after spending a few hours in the car, I'm always hungry. How did you know?" The women walked back toward Erin's room.

"Because I often catch you sticking your head in the refrigerator not long after you've arrived."

"Oh, so you know me so well because I make it so easy for you."

No, Erin considered, you haven't made it easy. But I hope you're starting to.

* * * * * * *

Dinner consisted of fried chicken, mashed potatoes and corn. Sawyer enthused about the 'something quick' supper, cleaning her plate and going back for seconds. As was her usual habit, Erin fixed plenty of the chicken, keeping leftovers cold for future meals. Sawyer had sampled the cold fried chicken on several occasions, as lunch on her hikes. She made a point of telling the younger woman that she finally found something better than Erin's cold fried chicken: Erin's freshly fried fried chicken.

After Sawyer did the dishes, the women moved upstairs to Number 5. Sawyer bashfully revealed that, although she had experience with painting, she was a neophyte when it came to hanging wallpaper. Erin brushed aside her concerns, saying the job would be an easy one, given the size of the room and the fact that there would only be wallpaper on the walls above the chair molding. The bottom portions would be painted after the wallpapering was complete.

The women quickly realized that Sawyer, given her height, would be the perfect one to hang the wallpaper, leaving Erin the duty of placing the paste on each piece. They worked well together, with an economy of motion leading to fluid and efficient labor.

Alison Christianson had told Erin the older couple had seen quite a bit of the lawyer over the last month, and Erin was working up the courage to ask Sawyer about the subject. After working for about an hour, Sawyer volunteered she had been to the Christiansons' house for dinner on Sunday and reported that both seemed to be in good health and spirits. Erin grinned, thinking she had never known the couple to be in bad spirits. Sawyer recounted recent time spent with the older couple, including her trips to the gym with Harry. It turned out he liked where she exercised and had switched his membership to hers from his old gym. She and Harry tried to meet at the gym about twice a week, depending on their schedules. Sawyer had also had lunch or dinner with Alison or both Christiansons several times over the last month.

"I'm glad you're getting to know them," Erin said, when Sawyer took a break in her monologue.

"If I haven't thanked you, then thanks for introducing us. I really enjoy spending time with them."

Erin grinned as she handed the last piece of wallpaper to Sawyer. "You're welcome."

The lawyer turned wallpaper hanger placed the last piece in position, then smoothed it with her hand. As gave the paper the final swipes with the brush, she called out to Erin, who had returned to the bedroom, "Does it bother you, my seeing Alison and Harry?"

Erin turned around. "What makes you ask that?"

Sawyer put down the brush and turned to wash her hands in the sink. "I thought . . . they're your friends, I don't want to . . ."

Erin handed Sawyer a towel to dry her hands and moved to the sink herself. "Sawyer, trust me, I'm not someone who is prone to jealousy. I wish I could see more of Harry and Alison. I get to the city occasionally and see them then. I'm really glad that you can spend so much time with them. I think it's good for them." And clearly it's good for you, too.

Sawyer returned the towel to Erin once she was finished washing her hands. As the women headed back downstairs, Erin noticed the tall woman was reaching over the front of one shoulder with her opposite hand and rubbing the muscles.

"A little sore?"

Sawyer kept up the rubbing, but seemed unable to provide any relief. "Yeah, I guess I had my arms in an awkward position, holding up the paper."

"I'm sorry, Sawyer."

They had reached the bottom of the staircase, and Sawyer stopped. "You're doing it again."

"Doing what?"

"Apologizing for what's not your fault. Why do you need to apologize for what I've done to my own body?"

"You're sore because you were doing my work."

"Erin, I'm wallpapering the bathroom that I use. I'm doing work that I volunteered to do. And, to be completely honest, I've been trying to get better muscle definition in my shoulders, so I've been working the hell out of them lately. That's probably why they hurt as much as they do. None of this is your fault."

"Okay, it wasn't my fault. It's your fault for not realizing 42 year old muscles can only do so much." Erin spoke as she walked into the parlor, headed for the kitchen. "But, even if I'm not to blame, would you mind if I suggested a solution?"

"Not at all," Sawyer said, as she finally abandoned her rubbing efforts.

Moments later, Sawyer was stretched out on her stomach on the bed in Jack's room. She had changed from her painting clothes into boxer shorts and a T-shirt and had pulled the comforter, blanket and sheet down and over to one side on the bed. At the quiet knock on the door, she called out for Erin to enter.

Erin took in the sight of the tall, dark-haired woman laying on the bed and had to stop to catch her breath. She assumed that this was Sawyer's usual sleeping attire. I guess she's ready for bed. God, I didn't just think that did I? I'm not going to get through this, I know it. As Erin walked toward the bed, Sawyer lifted up her head.

"What have you got?" she asked, tilting her head to indicate the item in Erin's hand.

Erin was still concentrating on breathing, but was able to reconnect the part of her brain that handled speech. "Lotion, to help with the massage."

"You're going to give me a massage?"

"Sure, I'm not the best at it by any means, but Jack hurt his shoulder a while back, and an occasional massage helped him."

"They give massages at my gym, but I never have gotten one."

The woman offered nothing further, so Erin moved to sit on the bed. "Um, it might be better if your shirt was off." Could I get any more cliched?

Sawyer seemed fine with the suggestion and rose up enough to remove her shirt. Erin averted her eyes, giving the woman some privacy. If you want to give her privacy, Forester, maybe you should leave the room.

As Sawyer lay back down, Erin noticed a grin on her face. What's that about? She pushed the thought to one side and concentrated on calming her shaking hands. She poured lotion on her hands to warm it, then started massaging the muscles of Sawyer's back and shoulders.

As she worked, Erin felt the firm muscles under soft skin. There were several knots which she did her best to relieve. If it ever occurred to her to define what she found attractive in a woman, Erin would have discounted any interest in muscular types. However, she found the taut, muscular shape in the expanse of Sawyer's body that she could see intoxicating. The extra effort spent on getting better muscle definition in her shoulders had definitely been successful.

She concentrated on her task, trying to keep the massage therapeutic rather than sensual. Might be working for her, but not for me, she thought. Her level of arousal was building by the second. Trying to get the best angle, without making the overly obvious maneuver of straddling Sawyer's hips, she finally ended up on her knees sitting on her heels close to Sawyer's side.

The smile remained on Sawyer's face during the massage, and Erin finally had to ask, "Why are you grinning?"

The grin became a laugh. "Maybe I'm just enjoying myself."

"I'm not that good, goofy."

"No, if you were, you would have come up with something more original than a massage."

Erin's hands stilled on Sawyer's back. Shit, please tell me she didn't just say what I thought she said.

"You didn't have to work so hard, Erin."

"Sawyer, I'm . . . ," she started, pulling her hands back.

The lawyer rolled over, sitting up and pulling the sheet over to cover her upper body. "So help me, if you say you're sorry, I'll . . ."

Erin was entranced with the view of a half naked, though mostly covered, Sawyer close enough to touch. Her heart, already racing, was beating so fast she was afraid it would explode in her chest.

"I'm not complaining, Erin, not in the least."

Given Erin's position, their faces were on the same level, and Sawyer reached out to caress the blonde's cheek. A slight tug was all that was needed to bring their lips together. The kiss was tentative, as first kisses tend to be. Even so, Erin was lost in the sensation, and barely realized that Sawyer had moved her hands around Erin's back, pulling the smaller woman close with only the sheet and Erin's shirt separating their skin. Sawyer slowly lay back, drawing Erin with her. Erin's mind finally processed that she was lying on top of Sawyer, and she pulled back.

"Is this . . . are you . . . do you . . ."

"Yes, yes and yes," Sawyer said.

God, is this really happening? Erin's thoughts were awhirl as she looked into the blue eyes before her, eyes that had darkened in shade. The desire she saw in them scared her, but also emboldened her. She leaned back down for another kiss, which quickly deepened. In contrast to their gentle first kiss, the next several became clashes of lips, tongues and teeth, with their hands eagerly joining in for the exploration. As Erin felt one of those hands slide under her shirt on her back, she had the presence of mind to realize their passion could easily get out of hand - like it hasn't already?, she thought - and she lifted her mouth from Sawyer's, bracing her forearms on either side of the other woman's face.

"Is something wrong?" Sawyer's voice was deep, with a hint of a crack in the words.

Erin swallowed and kept her eyes on Sawyer's as she spoke, lifting one hand to stroke the dark bangs from the woman's forehead. "No, nothing's wrong."

"Are you sure?"

Erin had to laugh. "You never quite believe the first answer I give to a question, do you?" She scooted down a bit to lay her head under Sawyer's chin. "I . . ." She hesitated, but the older woman did not speak, letting Erin set the pace for this conversation. "I need to slow down a bit."

Sawyer slowly stroked Erin's back, this time on the outside of her shirt. "Okay, if that's what you need."

"I'm sorry . . ."

"Nothing to apologize for, so don't."

"I feel like I set this whole thing in motion, set up this nice little seduction . . ."

"Gee, is that what you were doing, seducing me? Never would have caught on." The sarcasm of this statement was not lost on Erin.

"Yes, and obviously I wasn't as sneaky as I thought I would be."

"I have to tell you, the fried chicken was a dead giveaway," Sawyer said.

Erin chuckled, and lifted her head to look at Sawyer's face. "But now that it's here, I'm . . . well, I'm just . . ."

"Just what?"

"I've waited a while for this, and I don't want it to be over so quickly. Does that make sense?"


Erin returned her head to its previous position, Sawyer resumed the stroking motion against her back, and the women reveled in the closeness. I'm so happy just to be here with you, like this, Erin thought. Of course, it can only get better. Any concerns she had about their compatibility as lovers had been washed away by the few moments of passion they had experienced.

As Sawyer's breathing evened out, Erin realized the older woman was falling asleep. Suddenly very tired herself, she lifted her body off of Sawyer's. The lawyer groaned at the lack of contact. "Hey, you don't have to go."

"Yes, I do." Sawyer raised a bit off of the bed, and Erin reached for the discarded T-shirt, placing it over the woman's head and down her body with little help. She then knelt down by the side of the bed. "We're both tired, and I'm gonna go sleep in my room, 'cause I just don't trust myself if I don't."

"You mean you'll try to ravish me?" Sawyer shifted over to her side as Erin pulled the covers up and put them over her body.

"You bet I would." Erin squatted next to the bed and placed a kiss on Sawyer's head.

"I don't have a problem with that," Sawyer mumbled. Her eyes drifted shut, and Erin stayed by the bed for a few minutes more, caressing the soft, dark hair. She finally stood and walked toward the door to leave the room. As she reached the door, she barely heard Sawyer's words. "Thanks for the massage, Erin, it really helped."

"You're welcome, Sawyer."

* * * * * * *

Sawyer woke Wednesday morning to the smell of frying bacon. Memories of the night before flashed through her mind. There was an underlying sense of panic at the situation, but the panic was overwhelmed by the emotions she recalled experiencing when she and Erin kissed. God, I could do that all day long. No, I can't . . .

Her thoughts were interrupted by Erin's voice. "Are you awake?" Sawyer looked up to see the younger woman standing in the doorway clad in a plaid flannel robe.

"How could I sleep with breakfast cooking?" Sawyer reached her hand out, beckoning Erin to the bed. The blonde moved toward the bed, sitting on the edge. This placed her thigh within easy reach, and Sawyer lightly caressed the limb, feeling the softness even through the rough, worn flannel. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I'm good."

"Sorry I fell asleep on you." Her sheepish look could barely be seen through the strands of dark hair that fell across her face. Erin reached out to push them aside.

"As I recall, I'd already slowed things down. I think you had no option but to fall asleep."

Sawyer took Erin's hand in hers, kissing the palm. "I'll stay awake whenever you want me to stay awake, Erin."

Erin was deeply touched by the consideration Sawyer was showing. I could really fall for you, Bennett. The thought caught her off guard, so she got up from the bed and segued to another topic of conversation. "Hey, you want breakfast or not? The fish are swimming by, and you're missing 'em!"

"I'm up, I'm up."

The plan for Wednesday was to paint Number 5. The ceiling was first, and the color chosen was Eggshell White, although Sawyer said that it looked like White White to her. The lawyer, given her height, volunteered for this task. Erin had spread plastic sheets all over under foot to protect the hardwood floor. The ceiling in the room was about nine feet high and, with an extension on the roller, Sawyer made quick work of it, even when she had to balance on the tarpaulin-covered bed. She wore an old baseball cap and shoved as much of her hair as she could up under the cap. She also made sure that Erin stayed out from underneath the roller as it moved, and, at the end of the work, the younger woman had to laugh at the white spots all over her friend. When Sawyer removed her cap and shook her hair out, Erin stopped laughing and felt a jolt of arousal at the sight. The gesture was not meant to be sensual in any way, but Erin found it to be very erotic. Sawyer glanced over to see Erin staring, and she moved slowly toward the other woman.

Erin stood stock still as Sawyer wrapped her arms around her and leaned her head down. Their lips met in a gentle kiss, and Erin noticed Sawyer kept a damper on the level of her ardor. It seemed as if her friend wanted to keep things under control and to prevent a recurrence of Erin's concerns of the night before. Touched by this tenderness, Erin felt the need to do some reassuring of her own. She lightly traced Sawyer's lips with her tongue, and entrance was quickly granted. Just as Erin considered lifting up and placing her legs around Sawyer's waist, letting their passion lead them wherever it could - like over to that bed or to the floor or to the wall, any of those work for me, she thought - Sawyer broke off the kiss. She brought her hand up to stroke Erin's cheek with the backs of her fingers.

"Nice to know last night wasn't a one time thing," Sawyer said.

"God, no," Erin replied, shocked to hear a husky tone in her own voice.

"We do need to finish this work," Sawyer said, as she disengaged from the embrace.

"What work?"

Sawyer chuckled, reaching down for the roller. "I'm heading outside to wash this out, okay?"

Erin could do little more than nod, thinking of heading outside herself to cool off a bit.

* * * * * * *

The walls of the bedroom and bathroom were next to be painted, the bedroom walls the chosen color of Picasso Blue and a lighter, but complimentary, shade of blue for the lower walls in the bathroom. Sawyer tried to point out the merits of painting the trim before the walls, but Erin emphasized her years of experience, noting she found it easier to keep the trim paint off of the walls rather than keep the wall paint off of the trim. Sawyer bowed to the 'foreman's decision.' The time Erin had spent on the preparation work paid off, as the painting went without a hitch. After lunch and another intense yet brief necking session in the kitchen, the women tackled painting the trim, including the windows, in both the bedroom and the bathroom.

Late in the afternoon, the paint was drying sufficiently to remove the tarpaulins from the furniture and the plastic sheets from the floor and to return the smaller pieces of furniture which had been placed in another bedroom. The carpets which covered certain areas of the hardwood floor were off being cleaned and would be returned later. Sawyer stood in the middle of the room surveying their handiwork and declared it a success. The women then went outside with the brushes and rollers. Erin was a stickler for cleaning up as you went, and Sawyer dutifully followed her instructions.

As they cleaned the brushes and rollers by the faucet in the back yard, Sawyer said, "Listen, we've got a while 'til dinner, but I don't think we have to start on the hallways today, do you?"

Erin put on her best 'I'm thinking about the answer to the question even though the answer is obvious' face and replied, "No, I think we've done enough for one day."

"I'm gonna run to the hardware store, I think we need a bigger brush for the hallways."

Erin was puzzled, since she felt she had purchased all of the items they would need. "Are you sure?"

"You're right. It is annoying to hear that 'sure' thing. Yes, I'm sure. I also need to pick up a couple of things at the pharmacy. Why don't you take a shower and rest? You've earned it today."

"Thanks, boss. Hey, wait, I'm the boss."

"No, you're the boss of painting and wallpapering. I'm the boss of resting and relaxing."

"Okay, you've convinced me. Do you know where the stores are?"

Sawyer rolled her eyes dramatically. "Geez, Erin, I've been to this town so often in the last couple of years, I feel like a native. Yes, I know where the stores are. Get inside, it's cold out here." Erin laid the brushes and rollers out on a tarp on the back porch to dry and stepped toward the back door, the tall woman following her. As Erin turned toward the back of the house, Sawyer moved to the front. She called out, "And take your time in the shower, the steam and water will do wonders for your muscles!"

"Yes, boss," she called back.

* * * * * * *

Erin took Sawyer's advice, lingering in the shower far longer than usual. She stepped from the shower, feeling refreshed and much less grimy. She put on a T-shirt and slipped under the covers on her bed, hoping for just a few minutes of sleep. She dozed off and on, conscious enough to hear the Boxster returning and Sawyer entering the house. She heard the door from the kitchen open and the sound of footsteps walking down the hallway. She was suddenly filled with nervous anticipation, as the steps seemed to stop right at her closed door. If you come in here now, I won't say no, she thought. However, the next sound she heard was not the door opening, but the footsteps continuing down the hallway to Jack's room. A minute later, she heard the shower in the other bathroom start. Oh, well, there's always tonight, she thought, as she drifted off to sleep.

The sleep this time was deep, and her next conscious thought was rolling over to find that it was already after 7:00 p.m. She pulled herself out of bed, walking over to the chest of drawers and pulling out underwear, socks and jeans. She reached for a sweatshirt, then changed her mind and moved to the closet. Perusing her options for a few minutes, she finally pulled out a yellow oxford cloth shirt, slightly worn to the point of being comfortable but crisply ironed. Sneakers finished out her ensemble.

As she stepped into the hallway, she glanced down toward Jack's room, expecting to see Sawyer there. The door was open, but the room was dark. Where'd she go? She suddenly noticed the aroma of garlic and tomatoes sifting out from the kitchen. She walked down the hallway, pushing open the kitchen door. As she entered the room, she saw Sawyer leaning over the stove stirring something in a pan. The lawyer was casually dressed in a denim shirt and black chinos, with her ever-present boots.

"What are you doing?"

Sawyer looked up, chagrined to see the younger woman there. "You didn't take nearly long enough. I was supposed to be further along." She stepped over to the entrance to the dining room, pushing open the door. "But, since you're here, please come in."

Erin was surprised, but intrigued at this turn of events. She walked past the taller woman and stepped into the dining room. One of the smallest tables over by the window was set with a lace tablecloth, china, wine glasses and silverware, with a single red rose in a bud vase placed in the center.

"Oh, damn, I forgot, stay here." Sawyer dashed back into the kitchen, returning a second later with a box of matches. She walked to the table and lit the candles there, then moved around the room, lighting other candles that had been strategically placed. Finally, she walked back to the doorway and turned off the overhead light. The effect was, to Erin, quite romantic.

"I found all this stuff, the dishes and such, and got some extra candles today. I hope it's okay."

Erin was struck again with the shy persona that seemed such a part of her friend. "Of course it's okay," she said, reaching out to stroke the other woman's face. She reached up and placed a chaste kiss on Sawyer's lips.

"I know you are technically the host, but let me take care of things tonight." Sawyer gestured for Erin to precede her to the table, then came around to pull out her chair. "Sit. Can I get you some wine?" Erin nodded, then sat down. Sawyer moved to the next table over where a bottle of wine was sitting open. The older woman came back to the table and poured a generous amount into Erin's glass.

"Hey, are you trying to get me drunk?"

Sawyer stopped pouring and shifted away from the table. "No, no, I swear . . ."

"I'm kidding, Sawyer. This, all of this, is wonderful."

"I wanted a treat for you, Erin." She put the bottle of wine on the table, and squatted down next to the chair. She took one of Erin's hands in her own.

Erin asked, "Who's seducing whom tonight?"

The shy smile that graced Sawyer's face was captivating, and Erin found herself falling under the spell cast by the tall woman. "I think you've done enough of the work here, it's my turn now. If we get no further than we did last night, I promise you, I'll be fine. I want you to be comfortable."

I'm so comfortable right now, I'm not sure I'll make it through dinner, Erin thought.

"Hey, gotta go, food burning!" Sawyer jumped up from her position to dash back into the kitchen. A few moments later, she popped her head around the door. "Do you like spaghetti?"

"Who doesn't like spaghetti?" Erin asked rhetorically.

"No red blooded American I know. It's my special meat sauce, well, special in the sense that it's mine and it's about all that I can cook for dinner, other than macaroni and cheese from a box." Her head popped back inside the door. She returned with two small salad plates and a large bowl of green salad, placing them on the table. She dashed back into the kitchen, returning with a basket full of garlic bread. As she moved back into the kitchen, Sawyer asked, "Parmesan or no Parmesan?"

"None for me, thanks," Erin called out, hoping Sawyer could hear her as the door to the kitchen swung closed. The lawyer returned a moment later with two plates filled with pasta and sauce. She stood by the side of the table.

"I guess we should have had the salad first, then the spaghetti, but I'm not that patient a cook or that patient an eater."

"This is fine," Erin said. She moved her salad plate to one side, and Sawyer placed the dinner plate in front of her.

The meal progressed smoothly with very little conversation between the two women. Erin did take the opportunity to lavish praise on the chef, insisting that she share the recipe for her 'special meat sauce.' Although the candlelight made it difficult to tell, it seemed Sawyer actually blushed at the compliment.

The hard labor of the day made both women very hungry, and the meal was quickly consumed. Erin offered to clean since Sawyer had cooked, but the tall woman insisted on doing it herself. She took the dinner plates to the kitchen and returned with dessert: several Oreo cookies on a plate. Sawyer said that she could have been more imaginative about dessert, but she felt Erin would enjoy the cookies. Erin laughed, saying that Oreo was her favorite. They had not finished the bottle of wine, and Sawyer asked whether Erin wanted more wine or Irish coffee as an after-dinner drink. Erin chose the coffee, thinking it would keep her awake and relax her at the same time.

As Sawyer cleaned up in the kitchen, again refusing any offers of help, Erin picked up the plate of cookies and moved into the front parlor. Settling on the couch, she set the plate on the side table, but not before snagging a couple of cookies. Several minutes later, Sawyer returned with two steaming mugs.

"I didn't want to make them too strong, so let me know if you need more whiskey," she said, placing one mug in her friend's hand.

Erin sipped, loving the mix of whiskey and coffee. "It's perfect, just like everything else tonight."

The lawyer settled on the couch at Erin's side, sipping her own drink. The plate of cookies was passed back and forth until all were gone. The Irish coffee had the desired effect on Erin, and she found herself lying back against the couch, her face turned toward Sawyer.

"You're staring," the tall woman said.

"No, I'm just observing."

Erin reached out to twirl a long piece of dark hair around her finger. Seeing that Sawyer had drained her mug, Erin took it from her hands and placed both mugs on the side table with the empty plate.



"I'm really comfortable now.


"Really. And please don't ask me if I'm sure."

Sawyer chuckled, and Erin moved deliberately toward her, capturing her lips in a searing kiss. She relocated from the couch to Sawyer's lap, silently seeking permission to continue by looking the tall woman in the eyes. Seeing only acceptance, she leaned in, bringing their upper bodies into contact. As the heated exploration of each other's mouths continued, Sawyer reached between their bodies to Erin's shirt. The younger woman shifted back a bit, allowing Sawyer to unbutton her shirt slowly, agonizing button by agonizing button. As the shirt tail was pulled from her jeans, Sawyer's hands slid against her flesh, almost singeing her with their heat. She gasped and pulled away from the kiss.

Sawyer froze. "God, I'm sorry . . ."

Erin silenced her by placing her fingers against Sawyer's bruised lips. "No apologizing tonight, okay? I think this might be better accomplished elsewhere, say my room."

Smiling, Sawyer said, "I guess it might spoil the mood if I suggested Jack's room, huh?"

"Ugh! Bad idea," Erin exclaimed, jumping from Sawyer's lap and taking the tall woman by the hand. She led them back through the dining room.

Sawyer could not resist continuing the tease. "I could suggest Number 5."

"Too much paint," Erin replied. By this time, they had reached the kitchen, headed for the back of the house.

"How about the Boxster?"

Erin came to an abrupt stop with her hand on the hallway door. She thought for a moment, then turned to Sawyer with a devilish grin. "Maybe later." She tugged on her soon-to-be lover's hand and led them to her bedroom.

* * * * * * *

Thursday morning dawned crisp and clear, and Erin was awake for the whole experience. Of course, she experienced it inside, lying on her back in her bed, her body completely wrapped up by Sawyer's taller frame, the dark head nestled on her shoulder. Normally not an early riser, she found herself wide awake and attributed that to the unaccustomed feeling of sleeping with another person. Or maybe this just feels so good, I didn't want to waste any more time sleeping, she bemused.

The previous night had been . . . Jack had a favorite phrase for the really good things in life: 'absofrigginglutely fanfriggingtastic.' Erin felt that applied and then some. There was no discomfort, although, as they removed their clothing, Sawyer displayed a surprising shyness about her body. "I'm not as young as I used to be, you know," she had said. Erin had spent a couple of moments verbally extolling the virtues of regular exercise, where the results were the gorgeous body before her. Then she spent the rest of the night closely examining and worshiping that body. All shyness disappeared, and the women reveled in their passion and each other until spent, finally coming to rest in their present positions.

Erin spent several more minutes simply enjoying the sensations of lying in bed with Sawyer: the slow, even breaths blowing across her skin; the comforting beat of Sawyer's heart felt against her side; and, the security of the arm draped across her waist and the legs intertwined with her own. Her arms were loosely wrapped around the woman, and she realized one hand, of its own accord, had been stroking Sawyer's back. Erin knew she should rise and start the day, but she stayed in bed, wanting and willing Sawyer to wake and share these intense emotions. I think we're so tangled together that I can't get up without waking her up anyway. She finally decided to go back to sleep and stopped the hand that had a mind of his own from its stroking.

"Hey, I liked that," said the groggy voice from her shoulder. Erin smiled and, this time, ordered the hand to continue its work. The voice mumbled its appreciation.

"I thought you were still asleep," Erin said.

"Nope, I'm up. There's painting to be done, you know." Sawyer sounded less than enthusiastic about the task.

"I know, but we don't have to if you don't want to," Erin replied.

Sawyer finally lifted her head and glanced down at Erin. "Let's see, painting or spending the day in bed with you. Hmm, what's a girl to do?"

Erin smiled, not only at the sentiment, but at Sawyer referring to herself as a girl. Her thoughts were interrupted by a grumbling from the other woman's stomach. "I think your stomach has chimed in with another alternative: breakfast. Didn't you feed that monster enough last night?"

Sawyer let a lecherous grin slowly form on her face. "Oh no, I don't think it got fed nearly enough. I think it's going to need more." Erin blushed as she realized the double meaning behind the words. I'm not sure I'll ever see all of the aspects of your personality, she thought about her new lover. I've seen the serious side, the playful side, the shy side, the "unsure" side, and now I get the brazen hussy side. Sawyer's grin shifted to one of contentment as she gently brushed her fingers across the blush on Erin's cheek. "You are so beautiful."

Erin felt caught up in the intensity of Sawyer's gaze as their eyes locked. No, you're the beautiful one, she thought. The emotion she felt in the presence of this woman threatened to overwhelm her. She felt compelled to put words to the feeling and opened her mouth to speak when Sawyer's stomach grumbled again, this time very loudly.

Sawyer's head dropped, chagrined at her body's rebellion. Both women laughed, and Erin said, "I think you need to eat, I mean, I think I need to feed you, or . . . You know what I mean!"

"Yes, yes, I do," Sawyer said, leaning in for a quick kiss as she rose. "I'm gonna get a shower. Meet you in the kitchen, okay?"

Erin got out of bed and headed for her own bathroom. "Sounds good to me."

After breakfast, the women tackled the duty of painting the upstairs hallways. There were no windows in the hallways, and Erin had decided that the ceiling did not need repainting, leaving just the walls and trim. Again, the 'foreman' ruled, and the walls were painted before the trim. The morning was filled with glances between the new lovers, some shy and blushing, some rather blatant. The work progressed quickly despite the distraction of each other's presence, or perhaps because of it.

Erin brought up cold fried chicken, sodas and more Oreo cookies for an indoor picnic lunch. While lunch was consumed, there was very little conversation between the women, but the glances continued. In fact, there had been almost no talking since they started working, a sharp contrast to their banter of the days before. As they got back into painting, Erin decided to broach the subject.

"Are you okay?" she asked, as Sawyer was standing on the ladder painting a corner of the wall she could not reach with the roller.

The tall woman stopped to look down. "Yeah, I'm fine."

Erin hesitated for a second, then continued. "I'm not going to ask if you're sure, but you seem awfully quiet."

Sawyer stepped down from the ladder, placing the bucket she had been using on the floor with the brush laying across its lip. "I guess I'm . . ."


"A little nervous," she said, as she looked down at the floor. "I know we have this work to do, but . . ."

A salmon could make it upstream against the toughest current faster than it takes her to express a thought, Erin mused. She tried not to let her impatience show.

"But there are other things I'd rather be doing." At this statement, she raised her face, and Erin saw the need and desire burning in those blue eyes. She swallowed the question of "what things?" which had formed in her mind before it left her mouth. The answer was rather obvious.

However, Sawyer could not sustain the look and blushed as she glanced away. "But I don't want you to think that . . . well that . . ."

That salmon has spawned and has great-grandchildren by now, Erin thought. "I don't mind thinking that . . . well that . . ." She reached out and lifted Sawyer's chin with her fingertips. "What do you think I've been thinking about all day?"

It seemed as if, at those words, Sawyer left any bashfulness behind, and she lunged for Erin, actually lifting the smaller woman against her body and crushing their lips together. She was about to push Erin against the wall, but the younger woman managed to mumble something about wet paint through their kiss, and Sawyer shifted directions. She carried Erin to Number 5 and fell upon the bed, or rather the uncovered mattress, never letting go of her cargo.

Two heated bodies joined at a frantic pace. Sawyer pulled back at one point, ever considerate of Erin's comfort, but the smaller woman had no intention of stopping or even slowing. Each hungered for the other on a raw and base level. Hands grabbed and kneaded, stoking the fires of an exquisite passion. Mouths kissed, licked and even bit, as mutual satisfaction was quickly reached. Erin barely had time to catch her breath, let alone to notice they still had most of their clothes on, before Sawyer was kissing and caressing her again. The tall woman moved a bit slower this time, managing to undress Erin and bring her to a slow, tender climax.

As their ardor cooled, both women lay on their backs, and Erin started laughing.

"What's so funny?"

"We're in Number 5," she said, between laughs.


Erin slowly regained her senses, lifting her body up over Sawyer's. "I've had many a fantasy about this room. Or you in this room. Or actually you and me in this room."

"You have?"

"You betcha. Only what happened didn't really match my fantasies."

The tall woman looked crestfallen, so Erin quickly amended her comment. "I mean, it was much better than my fantasies."

"It was?"

"Yes, and don't ask me if I'm sure."

Sawyer smiled at the joke. Erin said, "But I think I might try to reenact one of my fantasies now."

She leaned over, removed the rest of Sawyer's clothing, and did just that.

* * * * * * *

Despite the diversion in Number 5, the walls of the hallway were finished, leaving just the trim. Realizing that they would have plenty of time to complete the work before Sawyer's departure on Sunday, Erin suggested they take a break for the rest of the day and take Friday off as well. Sawyer started arguing the Protestant Work Ethic, but Erin silenced those objections with a kiss.

The day was a bit warmer than usual for February, or actually less cold than usual, and, as they sat in the kitchen drinking Cokes, Sawyer suggested a walk. Erin knew the tall woman stuck to a rigorous workout regimen and asked if she would not rather run.

"I don't run," Sawyer said, in a tone that suggested she had just been insulted.

"Sorry," Erin replied.

The tall woman relaxed. "No, I'm sorry. It's just that everybody who hears I work out expects me to be some mad jogger or runner. I've tried to do it, but I think it's boring. To do it effectively, I'd have to run for an hour or two. So I get my cardio work in other ways, like the stationary bike or the elliptical trainer."

"Oh, yeah, there are few things more exciting than sitting on a bike, pedaling away and getting nowhere," Erin said.

"It's not boring, I swear. Besides, I usually try to use the machines at the gym that have TV screens. You can watch TV or surf the Web while you workout."

"You spend your time on the Web?"

The lawyer quickly glanced around, as if trying to avoid spies that were lurking hidden in the corners of the room. "Yes, I do. You know the TV show that Jack likes? Well, don't tell him, but I like it, too."


"Yes! And there are thousands of web sites devoted to the program."

"I know, I think Jack has visited each and every one of them, several times in fact."

"It's fun. Don't knock it 'til you've tried it."

Erin did her own glancing around, then confessed, "I have tried it."



"You little sneak, you didn't say."

"Jack introduced me to the fan fiction, you know what that is, right?" Sawyer nodded. "He felt I would be interested in the stories, for obvious reasons, so I started reading them. And I've even caught a few episodes of the show, but I'm not as into the show itself as Jack is. But I find I'm sort of hooked now on the fan fiction."

"The stories, especially the romantic ones, can be very . . . compelling."

"Yes that's the word, compelling. Come on, let's go for a walk."

The town of Blanchard's Ferry was small, and although the inn was situated at the eastern end, the main street was a leisurely walk away. The women continued their conversation as they walked around the town, discussing favorite stories and authors. Sawyer was amazed that they shared this interest.

After much heartfelt persuasion (which Erin considered more akin to childish pouting), Sawyer convinced the younger woman to stop for dinner at one of her favorite restaurants. The owners were acquainted with both women, Erin as a resident of the town and Sawyer as a frequent visitor. They stepped out of the restaurant after dinner to find the weather had turned a bit colder. The walk home turned into a run in their efforts to stay warm.

"I thought you didn't run," Erin was able to pant out as they entered the front door.

Sawyer was bent over, trying to catch her breath. "And this is why. I'm not sure I can stand, let alone take another step."

"If I'd known this would wear you out, I would have called the town's one and only taxi to bring us home. I had plans for us for tonight, but if you're worn out . . ."

Amazingly, the tall woman suddenly found a reservoir of energy. She stood up straight, and Erin could see a gleam in her eyes. "Plans? What plans?"

"I think there are still some Oreos left. Care to share them in my room?"

"So that's why you skipped dessert after dinner. I need to think about that . . . yes." This time, Sawyer took Erin's hand, tugging her toward the kitchen. "But you are very lucky."

"How so?"

"If I wasn't using this time to remember how to breathe, we'd never make it past the kitchen."

"There's always the Boxster," Erin said as lecherously as she could.

"You are a wicked, wicked woman, Erin Forester."

* * * * * * *

"You have almost no gray hairs."

Sawyer was already awake, but this disjointed comment made her feel she was still dreaming. The sun had barely risen, as evidenced by the slanted sunlight coming through the shades on the windows on the east side of the room. The ethereal mood was enhanced by the light pressure of fingertips running through her hair and over her scalp.

She turned her face to see Erin lying on her side, bracing her head up with one hand. The gentle caresses through Sawyer's hair continued and threatened to lull her back to sleep.

"See?" Erin's focus was on Sawyer's hair, running her fingers through the dark locks. "There's one," she announced, singling out one strand on the side just above Sawyer's ear. "But I can't find many more. I've always thought that maybe you color your hair." She looked now into Sawyer's eyes. "But I don't think you do. This color seems so . . . so you."

"Nope, this is what the good Lord gave me."

"How can you be 42 and not have any gray hairs? Jack's already spotted a couple, and he's only 29."

"I'm not 42."

"What?" She tugged gently but firmly on the strand of hair held in her fingers. "You told me you were 42."

"Ouch. I told you that last year. Now I'm 43."

"Since when?"

"My birthday was last week."

"Why didn't you tell me, goofy?"

Sawyer managed to shrug one shoulder. "I dunno. Gotten used to not doing anything about it."

Sensing she had finally hit upon an avenue to delve further into the puzzle that was her new lover, Erin prepared to question Sawyer on this. However, the tall lawyer rolled over onto her side away from Erin, snuggling most of her face against the pillow. Taking the physical cue, the younger woman decided now was not the time to press.

She snuggled up against Sawyer's back, swinging one arm around her waist. "Happy Birthday, even if it is a little late."

She barely heard the mumbled thanks. Deciding a change of subject was definitely in order, Erin picked one she hoped would bring back the lawyer's playfulness. "We're not working today, right?"


"I think the temperature's supposed to be about what it was yesterday. Do you want to go for a hike this afternoon? Is it warm enough?"

The response was instantaneous. Sawyer's head popped up so fast she nearly conked Erin in the head. "You wanna?" The tone was that of a child, not a 43 year old.

"Yes, I wanna. How hard can it be? It's just walking, right."

"Well, walking, sure, but walking with a purpose." Sawyer rolled over to face Erin.

"What purpose?"

"Why, to get where you're going and then get back, of course," Sawyer said, as if it should be obvious to a child.

"Of course," Erin agreed, realizing that it likely did not make sense to her since she was not a child.

"Have you got some good shoes, not sneakers, but boots or something?"

"I think I could dig a pair up." Why did I come up with this idea?

"Excellent!" Sawyer's bad mood evaporated in her enthusiasm. She put her arms around Erin and pulled her close. "But we don't have to go now, do we?"

"Did you have something else in mind?"

Sawyer's response was decidedly nonverbal. Oh, Erin thought, that's why I came up with the idea.

* * * * * * *

Later in the morning, the women finally left the bed and headed for the kitchen. Sawyer insisted it was her turn, and she fixed a huge breakfast of eggs and bacon.

"I thought you said you could only cook spaghetti and macaroni and cheese," Erin teased, enjoying every bite of the meal.

"Those are what I fix for dinner," Sawyer answered. "If I could fix breakfast for dinner, my repertoire would grow exponentially. I guess it's cliched, but breakfast has always been a big meal for me. Especially with hiking - need a lot of energy for the trail," she said.

Leaving Sawyer to clean up the kitchen, Erin went outside to check on the brushes and rollers. With her penny-pinching brother as a partner, she had chosen to reuse a few brushes from previous renovations. Those brushes, although cleaned thoroughly this go-round, now looked unusable. She realized another trip to the hardware store was in order, especially since Sawyer's 'trip' on Wednesday had simply been a ruse.

She went back into the house through the kitchen door, but did not spot Sawyer in the kitchen, parlor or dining room. She almost headed upstairs, but then decided to look in the back of the house first.

"There you are."

Sawyer was still wearing her T-shirt and boxers, sitting on the desk chair in Erin's room, leaning over with her finger poised at the power button on the computer. She sat up, crossing her legs and trying to appear nonchalant.

"Just resting while getting dressed," she said, leaning back in the chair.

"Yeah, it's tough getting out of that outfit." Erin had noticed that, if left to her own devices, Sawyer would wear her shirt and shorts all day long, even if it meant keeping the heat up throughout the inn.

"Comfort is far more important to me than fashion," Sawyer said as she stretched her legs out.

"Or modesty," Erin said, trying very hard to remain focused with those long legs extended in front of her. "You can use the computer if you want."

"Can I?"

"Sure. I need to go to the hardware store and get another couple of brushes. I think that should do us. We can go on the hike when I get back, since you're not quite dressed yet. Go ahead and play while I'm gone."

"Well, I do need to check my e-mail. Might be some important work things piling up."

"Work things, right. I think you just miss your favorite web sites."

"Okay, maybe that, too." Sawyer's chagrined look amused Erin to no end. You are such a kid at times.

The lawyer leaned over and turned on the computer. "Are you sure you don't need help going to the store?"

Yeah, right, at least offer before I go out into the cold on my own. "No, I think I can handle it. Here, let me give you my password so you can get on the net. You'll find most of the sites bookmarked." Erin walked over to the desk as Sawyer sat up to turn on the monitor. Reaching past the other woman's arm, Erin wrote down the password, then handed it to Sawyer. The woman looked at the writing a moment, trying to make sense of the letters and number, then smiled when she realized the connection.

"It's my name backwards with the number 5."

"Yep," Erin said.

"You could have just told me that."

Erin placed her hand on Sawyer's shoulder. "Wanted to see if you could figure it out, goofy."

"It's really sweet, Erin, using me for your password."

Erin shifted to give Sawyer a hug around her upper chest from behind. The emotion of the moment swelled in her heart, and the words flowed from her without thought.

"I love you, Sawyer. I'll see you in a bit."

She kissed the older woman's temple, removed her arms, then moved out of the room. She never noticed the look of sheer panic that came over Sawyer's face and remained for several minutes thereafter.

* * * * * * *

Erin came back into the house carrying the brushes and a small bag. After finishing at the hardware store, she had stopped at the bakery to buy a special dessert for tonight's dinner. I hope she likes eclairs. Is there anyone who doesn't like eclairs?

She walked into the kitchen and placed the eclairs into the refrigerator. As she was moving toward the door to the back part of the house, the door swung open and Sawyer stepped into the kitchen.

"Hey, did you have any trouble with the computer?"

Sawyer did not respond, but moved over toward the table. She had dressed, wearing jeans and a sweater. Erin mused that she missed the boxers and T-shirt.

"I'm sorry about this, Erin, but something's come up at work. I checked my e-mail and it turns out I've got to get back to the office."

It took a moment for the meaning of the words to sink into Erin's conscious mind. "You mean you have to leave?"

"Yes, I'm afraid I have to go."

"Right now?"

"Yes, right now." Sawyer's voice was strained, and Erin's first thought was that the strain came from disappointment at having to leave. However, a dreadful feeling ran through her body, causing her to shiver. That feeling centered around the thought that Sawyer was not being completely honest.

"Is something wrong? I mean . . ."

"No, it's just work. I've got to go."

"It can't wait until next week?" As the words left her mouth, Erin realized how pathetic she sounded.

"It can't."

Sawyer moved out into the dining room, and Erin followed. The younger woman then noticed the duffel bag packed and sitting in the parlor. Why didn't I see the bag on the way to the kitchen? Because I wasn't looking for it.

Sawyer's motions were fluid and continuous, as she grabbed her bag and walked into the hall. She retrieved her jacket and put it on, then reached for the door handle.

"Thank you for everything, Erin. I had a great time."

"Sawyer, wait, I . . ."

"I can't, I've got to go." She was out of the door before Erin could say anything else.

Erin stood in the front hallway, literally in shock at this turn of events. What just happened here? She heard the Boxster start up and head out the driveway. As the sound faded, she moved toward the front door, turned and slid down it, landing on the floor. Tears slowly leaked from her eyes as she sat, unseeing, one thought running through her mind. What happened?

* * * * * * *

"Erin, I'm home," Jack called out as he entered the inn. He put his bags down in the hall and closed the front door. Concerned about his sister's mood in their telephone conversation a couple of days ago, he had cut his trip short to return home. The only thing that Erin would tell him was that Sawyer had been called back unexpectedly to the city.

As he moved toward the parlor, Erin appeared, slowly walking down the stairs and wiping her hands on a rag. She was not making much progress on the white paint covering her hands.

"What are you doing home?"

"I'm glad to see you, too."

"It's great to see you, but you weren't due back for another two days."

"I just decided to drive home, no big deal."

Erin continued wiping her hands as she reached the bottom of the staircase, attacking the paint more aggressively than before. "I hope you didn't do this for me, I'm fine." He noticed that she was almost rubbing the skin off in her efforts to remove the paint.

Jack opened his arms for a hug, but Erin stood back. "No, I've got paint all over me." The rubbing became even more frantic.

"I really don't care." Jack made no special effort, just kept his arms out and let the natural affection he had for his sister show on his face. "I missed you, Erin."

Her agitation slowed somewhat. "Did you come home because you missed me?" Her voice sounded quiet and vulnerable, asking for unconditional acceptance and love. And Jack gave that to her.

"Yes, I came home 'cause I missed you."

Tears now springing to her green eyes, Erin dropped the rag and fell into Jack's arms. As she cried, she tried to sputter out what had happened with Sawyer.

"She left, saying it was work . . . but I think she was lying. I don't know why she would leave, we were getting along so well . . . I've tried to call her . . ."

Jack placed his arm around her shoulders and walked them both toward the kitchen. He left Erin at the sink and went into the pantry to bring out a can of turpentine, pouring the liquid onto another rag he had taken from under the sink. Slowly and carefully, he rubbed the rag over Erin's hands, removing the paint. She flinched a bit as the turpentine stung her reddened hands, but the discomfort was soothed when Jack put her hands under the tap, turning on the cold water. He squirted a bit of the dishwashing soap onto her hands and washed them clean. Finally, he reached for a dishtowel to dry them. Erin quietly soaked up the gentle attention from her brother, always amazed at the compassion that was so much a part of his nature.

He took her hand and led her into the parlor to the sofa. Sitting down, he pulled her onto his lap and put his arms around her. Erin thought she had shed all the tears she could, but she started crying again quietly as she buried her face in his chest.

After several minutes, she was still, and Jack thought that she had fallen asleep. However, the barely muttered "thank you, Jack" reaching his ears let him know she was still awake.

"Do you want to talk about it?"

"Yes, but it's hard."

When Erin said nothing else, Jack asked what he thought was a rhetorical question. "Did you . . . I mean, were you and she . . ." Or he tried to ask the question.

"Yes, we made love."

Jack felt a pang of juvenile embarrassment at discussing his sister's sex life, but pushed it to one side. "What happened?"

Erin lifted her head to look at her brother. "You want details of what we did?"

He was pleased she could find a bit of humor in the situation. "No, I didn't mean 'what happened' with that. I assure you, guys don't ever want even to think of their sister having sex, let alone get descriptions. I meant, you said she left."

"We were having a wonderful time, at least I thought so. She's so closed off, you know?"

Jack nodded, and Erin placed her head back against his chest.

"She was loosened up, enjoying herself, playful, all of that. And, though you don't want details, trust me, when we . . . well, it was amazing."

The tone of Erin's voice, as always, told Jack so much more than her words did, even if her words were clear enough in this instance. It was clear that his sister had fallen in love with the lawyer.

"Then one morning, I went out to the hardware store, I came back, and she said she had to leave. She checked her e-mail, insisted there were things she had to take care of at work immediately, and left. She just . . . left."

"Did something happen before you went to the store?"

"No, in the morning, when we woke up, we had . . . more details that you don't want. We didn't have much more to do upstairs, so we were taking a day off. We were going to go for a hike. I was checking something outside and came back in to find her sitting at my computer. I said she could use it, and I went to the store."

"Have you called her?"

"I've tried to. The office number goes to her voice mail, where I left several messages, and I've left messages on the answering machine at home. The cell phone just rings until that very kind voice comes on and tells you the party you're calling isn't answering. Like I couldn't figure that out. She hasn't returned my calls."

"Are you sure she went home?"

"At this point, I have no idea where she went. She did say she had to get back to the office. If she didn't go there because she didn't have to, then she was lying to me, wasn't she?"

Jack was at a loss as to what to do to help his sister. His inclination was to track down the lawyer and knock her around a bit until he got the answers Erin wanted. He knew, however, that would only make him feel better. Harkening back to their childhood though, he could not resist making the offer. "You want me to go and beat her up?"

The gesture had the desired effect. Erin laughed, then straightened up, relocating to sit at Jack's side on the sofa. "No, you don't have to. Thanks, though."

Jack stood up and stretched. "How about I get changed and we go out to dinner? My treat."

"Boy, I must really be bad off if you're offering to pay for a meal," Erin teased, referring to her brother's pecuniary nature.

"Hey, I'm supposed to be taking care of my little sister, who is not bad off, by the way, so I can pay for at least one meal."

"Do I get fries with my hamburger?" Erin managed to pull herself up off of the couch.

"Ha ha," Jack answered, as he moved to pick up his bags. "You not only get fries, I'll even spring for a large drink, not just a small one."

"A true sign of how much you love me."

Jack stopped and turned around, appearing suddenly somber. "I love you more than almost anything in this life, Erin. You've always been my touchstone, my support. I guess I'm supposed to be the strong one, but I couldn't have gotten through the tough times in my life, losing Dad, losing Mom, without you. I'm gonna do my best to help you through this. I love you very much."

"I love you, too, Jack," Erin said, pulling him into a tight embrace.

No more words were spoken as Jack picked up his bags and headed for the back of the house. Erin walked toward the front windows, looking out over the yard. Her eyes fell on the spot vacated so abruptly by Sawyer's car, and her thoughts wandered to their last happy time together. She pulled her arms around her body, recalling the last embrace she had given to her lover sitting in front of the computer. "I love you, Sawyer."

Suddenly, she was stuck on those words, on telling Sawyer how she felt, and on feeling the body under her embrace. She tensed up when I said that. Why didn't I realize it then? Maybe I wasn't thinking, just feeling. I 've been stumbling around with exactly what my emotions were about Sawyer, when I finally figured out how I felt, I wanted to tell her. Erin had finally admitted to herself that her feelings for the tall lawyer ran far deeper than mere friendship. Why didn't she say it back?

Erin turned from the window and ran through the kitchen, sprinting to Jack's room. She opened the door without knocking, discovering her brother standing there clad in only his boxers.

"I love you, Jack," she called out breathlessly.

"Erin, you scared the hell out of me! I'm getting changed!"

"Yeah, yeah," she said, finally noticing his state of dress, or rather undress. "It's not like I haven't seen it before. I love you, Jack."

"I love you, too, Erin. I thought we covered this already."

"See, that's what you say. When I say it, you say it back. Or at least you do if you feel the same way."

Jack sat down on the bed, his modesty forgotten, as he looked to his sister for an explanation of her behavior.

"I told her, Jack. I said that I loved her."


"The last day." Erin walked to Jack's desk and his computer as she relived that moment. "I told you, she was sitting at the computer, I was leaving for the store, and I hugged her in the chair." She put her hands down on the back of his desk chair, then flipped around to face her brother. "I said, 'I love you, Sawyer.'" I didn't realize it at the time, but she tensed up, I could feel it in her body. And she didn't say it back."

Jack, being older by several months and far more experienced in relationships than his sister, imparted his wisdom. "Well, Erin, sometimes, the other person just can't say the words. Life isn't always like those romance stories you read on the Web." He did not want to voice what he feared was the real reason Sawyer did not respond: that she simply did not love Erin. What other explanation was there for the lawyer's actions?

"No, Jack, I think she didn't say it because she didn't expect me to say it. I think that she has some problem hearing the words."

"Maybe you're right. Maybe she's been down a bad road before. What did she tell you about any previous relationships?"

Erin hesitated, suddenly finding the carpeting in Jack's room utterly fascinating. "Um, were we supposed to talk about that?"

"Not necessarily, but it might help."

"We talked, I thought that we knew each other, but I don't understand what's happened. I let her get to know me, and you know that's not easy for me."

Jack was pensive for a moment, then quietly said, "Maybe she didn't do the same, Erin."

"What do you mean?"

"Maybe she didn't let you get to know the real her, maybe she played a part, said what she thought you wanted to hear to . . ."

"To what, Jack?"

Jack looked at his sister, remaining silent.

Erin sat down on the bed next to her brother. "Say it, Jack."


"What you're thinking."

"I . . . I'm not . . ."

"Go ahead, I think I need to hear it."

"Okay, maybe she did what she did to . . ." Jack's mind moved quickly to come up with a phrase that was politically correct, not overly crude and not hurtful. "To get you into bed. And it worked, too."

"You think she was using me." It was a statement, not a question. Erin fell back to lie on the bed as the implications of Jack's words hit home. "And when I said I loved her, she realized I'd taken it too seriously."

Jack turned around to look at his sister. She had thrown one arm across her face, and he knew she was seconds from another crying jag. "Stop hurting yourself, Erin. Stop making it worse by analyzing it. Just let it go. Let her go."

Erin moved her arm from her face, unshed tears pooling in her eyes. "I can't, Jack." The pain in her voice broke his heart. "I'm going to see her, Jack, I've got to find out what happened."

"Don't do that to yourself, please."

Erin finally rose from the bed. "I know this was more than just a fling, for me definitely and for her, too."

As she walked out of her brother's room, she thought, Now, if I can only convince her that she feels the same.

* * * * * * *

The offices of Kaplan and Gibson occupied the entire twenty-fifth floor of one of Corinth's newest office buildings. As she stepped off the elevator, Erin swore the lobby still held the smell of fresh paint and new carpeting. The predominant theme was wood, from the gleaming cherry hardwood floors, to the matching trim and railings that led to the large darkly stained reception desk. A young woman sat at the desk, talking on one line while two others were ringing. Erin patiently waited for the woman to finish with her calls before she looked up at the new arrival.

"Can I help you?"

"Yes, I'm here to see Sawyer Bennett."

The woman picked up her phone, apparently dialing an extension number. "Your name?"

"Erin Forester."

"Sawyer, Erin Forester is at the front desk to see you." Erin could not hear the lawyer's response, but realized that there had been no response when the receptionist restated the information. The woman then hung up the phone, telling Erin that Sawyer would be right out.

Erin walked over to the massive windows on one side of the reception area, noting the continuation of the cherry wood theme in tables, chairs and bookcases. A very legal, respectable ambiance, she thought. She took in the view from the windows which would have been spectacular, but was marred by another skyscraper standing directly in her field of vision. After a few minutes, she noticed Sawyer's reflection as the lawyer walked up behind her.

Without turning around, Erin said, "You know, for all the money it took to put up this building, you think they could have moved that other one aside or something."

"You're right. My office is on this side. The lucky guys are the ones on the other side. They've got a view of the pools and tennis courts at one of the downtown hotels."

"Poor you." Erin took a deep breath and turned around. "I'm sorry to come by without calling, but you haven't returned . . ."

Sawyer stepped to one side, and motioned toward a side door. "Let's go to my office, okay?"

Erin nodded and followed the tall woman. Sawyer opened the door for her, then led her down the hall past several secretarial stations. Finally, she turned toward one of the offices, and Erin noticed the placard boldly announcing this space as belonging to 'Sawyer Bennett.' As she gestured Erin in first, Sawyer asked, "Do you want coffee or a Coke or anything?"

"No, thank you."

To say the decor in the office was Spartan would be an understatement. The only objects adorning the walls were two diplomas, one for college and the other for law school. There were two tall bookcases to one side of the office which were filled, oddly enough, with books. The window covered the entire wall of the far side, and the ledge below it held a clock and several files. Two cloth-covered arm chairs sat in front of the large desk which was toward one side wall and literally covered in file folders and papers. A tall leather chair and a credenza holding a computer monitor were behind the desk. Erin's eyes fell on the model Boxster she had given Sawyer for Christmas sitting on the credenza, and she realized that this was the only personal item the office held. She tried to find hope in the sight of her gift, but the nervous anxiety that had gnawed at her since this trip began only worsened upon actually seeing the other woman. It left little room for optimism.

She turned to see Sawyer closing the door. "Have a seat, please." Erin removed her coat and held it in her arms as she sat in one of the arm chairs, hoping that Sawyer would sit in the other. Instead, the lawyer went around the desk and sat in the leather chair.

Jesus, I feel like I'm visiting a lawyer, Erin thought. I suppose I am. There was no warmth from Sawyer's attitude, and Erin knew she would not see the playful humor that marked their recent time together. All business. Well, I can do that, too.

"I want an explanation. I deserve an explanation."

"I told you, I had to come back to work."

"I don't believe you."

"Are you calling me a liar?"

"Yes. And it doesn't explain why you haven't returned my calls."

"Erin, a situation has come up here, and I've been very busy."

"You're lying. I think I know what this is about."

"Do you now?" Sawyer's look indicated her mood had shifted from businesslike indifference to sarcasm.

"Yes, I do. I think you ran because you were scared."

Sawyer swivelled her chair to look out of the window. "Scared of what?"

"Of being loved."

Sawyer stood and walked over to the window. She kept her back to the other woman and stared out the window for several minutes. Erin, feeling that she had found the true reasoning for Sawyer's actions, waited for the vindication she felt was inevitable.

When Sawyer turned around, however, the look on her face indicated no vindication would be forthcoming. Her face was stone, impassive and unfeeling. The look in her eyes was nothing short of malevolent. Erin braced herself, fear creeping into her heart, but she could not have prepared herself for what came next.

"Look, the amenities offered at your inn were wonderful, don't ever doubt that. Although I'm a little surprised that you've pursued it like this. It was fun while it lasted, but I grew bored."

"You don't mean that."

"Have I misunderstood?" Sawyer walked to the front of the desk, sitting back on it and facing Erin. "Are you here with pictures or tapes, threatening to expose me to my partners as a deviant, unless I pay up?"

Erin was sure she looked as confused as she felt.

"God, I have blundered," Sawyer continued. "Was this more along the lines of a business arrangement?"

The younger woman heard the words, but could not grasp their meaning. Business arrangement? "What do you mean?"

" I suppose I did leave without paying." She got up and headed back to the other side of the desk. "Will cash do?"

"Paying for what?"

Sawyer laughed. "The naivety is a good touch, but not necessary here. For your 'services,' of course."

The anxiety which had gripped Erin on her drive turned into nausea. She felt the bile rise in her throat and tears spring to her eyes. "You think I'm some sort of . . ."

"I'm sorry, I suppose your other customers aren't as rude as I've been, you don't have to pursue them for your fee."

"I don't want your money," Erin managed to say. "Why are you doing this?"

"How much?" Sawyer reached down to open one of the drawers in her desk and pulled out her wallet. "I'm afraid I don't have a lot of cash on me. Let's see. $100? $200? You were one sweet lay, that's for sure."

God, please don't pull out the cash, Erin begged silently. The lawyer could not read her mind this time, though, and started counting out $20 bills. She held the cash in her fist and stood in front of Erin.

Garnering all of her strength into the effort not to throw up, Erin could barely rise from the chair as Sawyer held out the money. The scene took on a surreal cast as she could not tear her eyes from the cash in Sawyer's hand. She said, "I think you're right, there has been a misunderstanding."

"Is it not enough? I mean, if you expect me to pay for each time we . . ."

Erin seemed to have lost control of her body, or at least her hand, as it reached out and something between a slap and a punch landed against one end of Sawyer's mouth.

The bills fluttered to the floor. With the tip of her tongue, Sawyer licked the blood from the cut at the corner of her mouth, but she otherwise seemed unfazed. "Again, you and the inn provided quite an entertaining time. I'll be sure to recommend you to all of my friends."

The chill that comment sent down Erin's spine frightened her. She glanced at Sawyer through narrowed eyes, praying one last time to see the playful, romantic lover she thought she knew. Playing a part, Jack was right. There was nothing recognizable about the callous woman in front of her.

"Don't bother. We're not that desperate for business at the inn. And I'm not that desperate either." She gathered up her dignity along with her coat and left the office, leaving the door open.

Sawyer walked over and closed the door. As she had so often, she ignored the tears running down her face.


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