The Challenge
By Janet Lynne

Part 4

-7-


The dawn light began to shift from gray to pinkish-yellow as Marty rose and pulled open the blinds, casting her sleeping partner in a soft light. As she looked out onto their property, her gaze fell upon her two sisters, who were sitting huddled quietly together under their wedding blanket, facing the east.

"Zac," she called quietly.

Her mate stirred and mumbled, "Hm?"

"Come see this."

He rose from the bed and stood sleepily by his partner's side. As they watched the serene scene, the sun rose above the Organ Mountains, and Ryan reached out solemnly, offering up a handful of tobacco. She turned her hand and let the sacred herb fall to the earth, scattered by the light wind. Then she turned to face her mate, letting their blanket fall to the ground, which revealed that they were both dressed only in their under clothes and their wedding necklaces. Wordlessly, Janna climbed into Ryan's lap, facing her, and they embraced.

Marty respectfully pulled the blinds and she and Zac turned away from the window and hugged.

Janna pulled back slightly from Ryan's embrace and leaned back in for a tender, loving kiss. They shared their love that way, quietly and respectfully, for several minutes before slowly rising. Ryan wrapped them in their wedding blanket and they walked back to the house.

When they entered the family room, they smelled the delicious aroma of coffee brewing and could hear quiet conversation coming from the kitchen, so they made their way in there.

Two dark heads looked up as they entered and smiled their greeting.

"Morning, Zac, Marty."

"How is Grandfather Sun, this morning, Puma?"

"He's glorious, Red HawkÖjust glorious." Ryan smiled and looked down at her smaller mate as she answered.

"It was a beautiful sunrise." Marty supplied, quietly.

Janna answered, "Yes, it was."

"Join us for breakfast before you take off?" Zac held up his coffee cup.

"YesÖwe need to put a little more clothing on and we'll be right back." Ryan grinned as she turned her mate and they headed down the hallway toward their room.

As they slipped t-shirts on over their sports bras, and pulled on running shorts, Janna quietly remarked, "Ryan, this past week has been one of the happiest of my lifeÖone of the top two. I'm sorry we're leaving here."

"I know, baby, I agree. It's been incredibly wonderful. Special beyond words." She gazed deeply into Janna's eyes. "We created our baby here, Janna!" She pulled her wife close as tears threatened to spill and Janna wrapped her arms tightly around her tall mate, filling both their beings with the love she felt for her.

A few minutes later, as they sat at the sunny kitchen table with Zac and Marty, Ryan shared a bite of pancake with Janna, then leaned forward and gently licked the syrup from her wife's lower lip.

"Mm, good." She leered gently at her wife, who sighed.

"Geez, I watched you two do that at your weddingÖyou're still eating that way?" Zac shook his head incredulously, though with a small smile.

"Why the hell wouldn't we be, Zac? You think because we've been married a whole six months that we're not in love anymore? Hell, we're more in love now."

"RightÖwe only knew each other for two months before getting marriedÖwe've had six months to get to know each other better, toÖ"

"Fall more deeply in love." Ryan finished Janna's sentence and Janna nodded, grinning.

"Christ, now they're finishing each other's sentences." Zac could only shake his head, while his fiancé smiled warmly.

Shortly, as Janna helped Marty clear the dishes from the table, Ryan leaned closer to her brother and said softly, "Hey, yesterday, while you were at work, when we were in the hot tubÖ"

Zac raised his eyebrows and grinned.

Ryan smirked and continued, "We came for forty-five minutes, bro."

Zac's mouth dropped open. "You're shittin' me, Ryan."

Ryan grinned. "Nope. Ask Janna."

Zac glanced at Ryan's mate, who was talking to Marty over by the sink, and whispered coarsely, "I can't ask Janna about that!"

"Well, it's trueÖit's called Tantra Yoga, dude. Check it out." She smiled widely and called over to her mate, "Hey, JannaÖdid you bring any Tantra books that we can leave with Zac?"

Janna turned around and grinned at her playful wife, then elbowed Marty. "Um, in fact, we were just discussing something of that nature. Marty has some books for us to take home."

"Cool! Thanks Marty."

"You're welcome, Ryan, though I'm not sure you two need them." Marty's brown eyes sparkled with amusement.

Janna fixed them each another cup of decaffeinated coffee and rejoined her mate at the table as Zac got up.

"You just had to tell Zac about that, didn't you?" She met her mate's eyes with a mock glare.

"Well, yeah, baby, I meanÖI was proud of us."

"And of course, it doesn't hurt to increase your stud rating, does it?"

"Of course not, baby!" Ryan used her big, warm blue eyes to tug at Janna's heart, and successfully so, as she got a hug and a kiss.

Marty and Zac returned to the table to share one last cup of coffee with their sisters. "So, you're not driving straight home, are you?" Zac asked.

"No, we don't actually have to be home until FridayÖwe have a game that night. We thought we'd go up through Santa Fe and Taos, then by the Grand Canyon, and across Nevada home. My little New Age girl here wants to check out Area 51."

"And don't forget Roswell, love. That's our first stop today." Janna's eyes sparkled at the thought of visiting the United States' UFO Central.

Marty looked curiously at Janna as she asked, "Janna, are you interested in the Star People?"

"Oh, yes. Very much so!"

"You might be interested in talking to a good friend of mine, then. She's Lakota, and her tribe members are the keepers of the ancient Star Knowledge. I should give you her addressÖor, do you have a computer?"

"Yes! We just got one."

"Then I will give you her email address."

Ryan groaned. "Oh, God, now she'll be on the damn thing even longer every night."

"What's the matter, Sis, is the machine cutting into your private time?"

"Goddamn right it is, Zac. Shit." Ryan half smiled at Janna to let her know that she was joking. Mostly.

"Oh, honey, I'm not that bad! I try to get all my correspondence and work done while you're working."

"I know, baby. Actually, I kind of enjoy the thing myself."

"Discovered Internet porn, huh, Sis?" Zac grinned.

"Zac, what the hell do I need with porn?" She looked at Janna as she added, "Honestly? I get laid twice a day most daysÖum, I mean, I make love with my beautiful wife every day." She ducked to avoid Janna's playful slap.

"I don't guess you do need Internet porn, then, Ryan!"

Marty handed Janna a slip of paper. "Janna, here's my friend's email, and ours too."

"Oh, good. Let me give you ours."

She wrote their shared address for Marty.

Zac grabbed the paper as she handed it over. "Oh, how cuteÖ'rjnz'." He grinned at his sisters. "You two share an email address!"

"So what's yours, Zac? 'asshole@army.wsmr.mil'?"

"So funny, Ryan!"

"No, honey, I think that would be, 'ltcolasshole@army.wsmr.mil'!" Janna laughed, and Marty joined her.

"Oh, ha ha, so very funny, ladies." Zac drained the coffee from his cup and looked at Marty. "Honey, we need to get on the road."

They all stood, and as Ryan gazed at her brother and his mate, both looking very sharp and spotless in their military uniforms, a lump formed in her throat. Zac experienced the same sensation and stepped forward, scooping his sister into his arms.

"Ryan, it was great having you here. You're welcome any time. Any time, Sis."

Ryan kissed her brother's cheek as she felt the tears leave her eyes. "We'd like to come out every year, if you'll have us."

Marty stepped up and joined in the embrace. "We would love that. And next year you will have your little one with you."

"Oh, shit, that's right. GodÖ" Ryan suddenly became too choked up to continue and was grateful when she felt her soulmate's hand on her shoulder.

"And don't forget a certain wedding sometime in October." Zac added with a smile.

"Definitely not!" Janna smiled warmly at their hosts. "Zac, Marty, we had a wonderful time. Thank you so much for making us feel so welcome, not to mentionÖ"

Zac grinned and lifted his hands, "Don't mention it, Janna. It was my very great honor. Really."

"Thank you, Zac." Janna replied sincerely.

They shared a family hug and then, regretfully, Zac and Marty had to leave for the base.

"You two drive safely, now. No speeding." The MP said seriously, concern marking his voice.

"Are you kidding? I'm married to a former traffic copÖshe watches me like a hawk."

"Hey, in my work I've had many the unfortunate occasion to see just how horribly speed can kill. You're goddamn right I don't let you speed, baby." She grinned at her wife as she added, "Little Leadfoot."

"Hey!"

"Yeah, Janna, I thought your tribal name was White Owl!" Zac laughed.

"It is, thank you very much!" She poked her mate and then was scooped into her warm embrace as she added, "We will drive carefully. We're taking our time getting homeÖdon't worry. You two be safe as well."

"We will."

They shared another family hug and then the Norden-Zamoras walked the soon-to-be Zamoras to their Jeep and saw them off.

Ryan threw her arm around Janna's shoulder as they walked back into the house. Somewhat hesitantly, she asked, "Um, sweetheart, I know you're anxious to get on the road, but, umÖ"

"Yes, my love, I would love to play a little firstÖwe missed that this morning. UmÖwhy don't we combine it with our shower?" Janna's eyes sparkled as she looked up at her mate.

"Janna, sweetheart, you know me better than I know myself, don't you?" Ryan's adoring gaze nearly turned Janna's heart to butterÖthe small portion that her wife had not already melted previously, that is.

"I know us, love. With the added benefit of feeling what you're feeling through our link." She winked at her mate and they both began tugging their shirts off as they made their way to the guest bathroom.

Janna stood in the large, tiled stall, letting the warm water stream down her back. As she enjoyed the soothing warmth, she felt her wife enter the shower behind her. She stepped forward so that Ryan could wrap her arms around her, and she did so, pulling Janna against her chest.

As she leaned back into Ryan's warm embrace, Janna felt something hard, but pliable, poke against her backside. She smiled when she realized what it was and said, "I didn't realize our friend had made the trip with us."

Ryan smiled against Janna's hair. "Mm, hm. I thought I'd surprise you. Do you mind, love?"

"Mm, noÖI love our toys, Ryan. You know that." She linked her fingers with Ryan's, which rested on her waist."

"Good, babe. Um, it's safe, isn't it? For the baby?"

"It's fine. The baby is way up inside my uterusÖtucked away safe and sound."

"Good, baby, 'cause I wanna love you goodÖokay?" Ryan nuzzled Janna's neck and nipped at her soft skin.

"Oh, God, yesÖanything you wantÖanything, my love." Janna panted breathlessly as Ryan's hands began to roam and moved up to caress soft, full breasts.

"Thank you, love. I love you so much, Janna." Ryan used her touch to communicate her love as well, kissing her neck while tenderly caressing Janna's breasts, before moving one hand down to tangle gently in her curls.

"RyanÖ"

"Hmm? Bend over, baby."

Janna complied, resting her hands on the tile seat in front of her and leaning over, trembling with anticipation as she did so. When her partner was ready, Ryan gently thrust her strap-on appendage between Janna's legs and began to slowly, gently rub her outer folds with it.

Janna quickly became weak from the clitoral stimulation and murmured, "God, Ryan, do you know how much I love that?"

"I do, baby." Ryan drawled silkily as she gently grasped Janna's waist and continued the slow thrusts, feeling her pleasure build along with her mate's.

After a few minutes, Janna muttered, "God, RyanÖnow, please."

"Okay, baby, here I come." Ryan pulled back somewhat so that she could enter her wife with the blue silicone plaything. As she did so, slowly, a deep moan was coaxed from Janna.

The tall, dark cop began to thrust into her partner rhythmically, feeling the desire within both of their bodies build quickly. She skillfully managed to stimulate both of her partner's most sensitive spots and soon had Janna moaning incoherently.

"Ryan, yesÖoh, GodÖ" Janna threw her head back and Ryan leaned forward, laying against her partner's back, caressing her with her breasts.

"Yes! Oh, God, baby, here I comeÖ"

Ryan brought her hands up to caress Janna's breasts again as she increased her tempo and Janna quickly succumbed, plunging deeply into the pleasurable void, and bringing Ryan with her.

They moaned each other's names loudly in unison and rode the waves of pleasure together. Ryan held Janna tightly against her body until they were both able to breathe normally.

"Fuck, babyÖ" Ryan finally panted.

"Ditto. God, RyanÖthat was so good. JesusÖshit..."

"Christ, baby, it must have been goodÖyou're swearing for me." Ryan smiled as she lovingly ran her hands along Janna's torso, then stood up and withdrew the appendage slowly from her mate.

"Oh, GodÖ."

Ryan deftly removed the toy from its harness and said, "Come 'ere." She coaxed her mate to stand and turned her to face her, then wrapped her arms lovingly around her.

They embraced tightly and alternately kissed and mumbled sweet nothings to each other until the hot water ran out. Again. They washed each other gently, tenderly, under cold water, which was very cooling on superheated skin and kept hands from roaming anew. One hour later, they were on the road, journeying toward home.

-8-

"And, honey, how about that gift shopÖI got so many cute things!" Janna babbled on happily about their visit to Roswell's UFO Museum as they readied for bed.

"Mm, hmmÖI'm looking forward to seeing you in that tight little shirt you got." Ryan smiled through her leer as she pulled her bra off over her head.

"I'll bet you areÖmaybe I'll wear it to bedÖ" Janna grinned with a raised blonde eyebrow.

"Oh, noÖthis is what I want you to wear to bedÖ" She deftly stripped off her mate's matching sports bra and pulled her close.

"Honey, this is what I nearly always wear to bed anymore."

"Mm, yep, and I'm very glad for that." Ryan said as she buried her face against Janna's neck.

"You're the reason for that."

Ryan mumbled against the soft skin of Janna's throat, "Did we make love this morning?"

Um, yeah, loveÖin the showerÖwith the toy."

"MmmÖyes, we did, didn't we? God, that was nice, Janna." Ryan pulled away from Janna to gaze into her eyes, and dropped her hands to her wife's waist.

Janna linked her hands around her tall partner's neck as she replied, "Yes, love, it was. I'm glad you get as much out of it that way as I do."

"Oh God, babyÖI really do. I'm as sensitive down there in front as you are." She leaned down for a kiss and savored Janna's lips. The kiss continued, even as Janna led Ryan to the bed and pushed her down onto it.

Ryan fell onto her back and happily pulled Janna down on top of her, wrapping her legs tightly around her smaller mate. Between kisses, Janna mumbled, "I wanna love you with it now."

At the suggestion, Ryan's blood to began to boil in earnest and she nearly threw Janna off herself in her eagerness. "Sure, baby, let me get it."

"I'll get itÖyou stay right here." Janna lightly kissed the tip of Ryan's nose and then seductively licked her bottom lip.

"Ohh, JesusÖ" Ryan waited eagerly while her mate unpacked the device. Being made love to in that fashion was a gesture that she had never extended to anyone except for Janna, and she had quickly learned to enjoy it immensely.

Very shortly, her small, sexy mate, having quickly seduced her in fine fashion, had Ryan moaning her wife's name so loudly that she had to muffle Ryan's mouth with hers. The neighbors in the rooms to either side of theirs on the upper floor of the quaint inn in Santa Fe would have been most appreciative, at the late hour, had they been aware of the effort, as Ryan tended to be spectacularly vocal.

~~~~~~~~~~

The warmth of the sun felt good through the chilled morning air. Ryan stood behind Janna with her hands on her shoulders as they stood gazing respectfully at the ancient dwelling before them.

"Janna, this feelsÖ"

"Familiar."

"Yes. Do you thinkÖ"

"I do." Janna nodded before adding, "I know I've lived in a pueblo before. I have conscious memories of living in a cliff dwelling, but this feels very familiar too." She looked back at her wife. "And I've never been to Taos before."

"Neither have I. I've visited some of the Four Corners Area cliff dwellings, and felt very at home thereÖlike I do here."

Janna glanced around them, noting that there was no one else nearby. "Let's try something, Ryan. Let's center ourselves and see if we can pick up on anything about that life."

"You mean, try to experience a regression, right here...like this?"

"YesÖI've done it before. Give it a try. Just breathe deeply, ground yourself, and quiet your mind. Then visualize your first and third-eye chakras expanding. Hold the intention of experiencing any past life that took place here."

Always ready to try new experiences, Ryan replied, "Okay, loveÖlet's give a shot. Should we not touch?"

"Actually, I think it's okay if we touch like we areÖas long as you don't find it distracting."

Ryan leaned forward and whispered into her mate's ear, "I'll have to hold my self in check, then." She kissed Janna's hair before pulling back.

"Now that is distracting, Ryan." Janna calmed her pounding heart with a series of deep breaths and then sent a grounding cord down into the planet, connecting with Gaia, the Earth Spirit.

Ryan did likewise and soon felt a deep sense of serenity. She felt both anchored to the planet and deeply connected to her mate at the same time. As she consciously visualized her sixth chakra expanding, her subconscious, or rather, truly conscious, self took over.

Janna felt peaceful as well, and though she was aware of her partner's strong, connecting presence, was able to expand her awareness, to open herself to her past life experience.

Slowly, a vision of a Native man, dressed in leather shirt and pants, and holding a tiny boy, coalesced in her mind's eye. It was Ryan. She knew it was Ryan, could sense itÖhis eyes were the same, though not blue.

Janna looked down at her own body and noted that she wore a dress of soft leather and beaded leather shoes. A small girl was wrapped around her leg, holding tightly. Janna was filled with the love that she felt for her family, so much so that she thought that her heart might burst.

As Ryan stood with her eyes closed, breathing slowly and deeply, she received a vision of a beautiful Native woman with black hair hanging down her back in a single braid. A girl of perhaps three years clung to her as she gazed at her mate. Her soft brown eyes were filled with love and Ryan felt the warmth of the woman's love for her fill her soul. Suddenly, she realized that she held a small child, and turned her head to meet the serious gaze of a baby boy.

The Navajo woman pulled her car to a stop in the small lot next to her shop. As she got out, she noticed a couple standing some distance away, opposite the pueblo site. She called to her daughter, "Amanda, will you open up, please? I will be right in."

"Sure, Mom." The girl left her mother standing by the car and left to open their small shop.

As the woman gazed at the other two women, her vision shifted and she saw a Native man and woman, both dressed in old-fashioned beaded leather clothes, with two small children, gazing peacefully at their home. She slowly made her way toward them and as she did so, her vision shifted again, back to the two women. The tall part-Native woman rested her hands protectively on her blonde mate's shoulders as they both stood serenely with eyes closed. She stopped a respectful distance away and waited quietly for them to return from their journey.

Ryan and Janna each, simultaneously, took a deep breath and slowly let it out as they opened their eyes. When they did so, they saw a Native woman standing a short distance away, looking at them. She met their gaze and smiled warmly before saying, "Welcome home." Then she smiled again and turned away, making her way over to the small cluster of nearby shops and entering one.

"My God, JannaÖthis is truly the Land of Enchantment!" Ryan gasped as she pulled Janna against her chest.

"Yes, love...it definitely is." Janna blew out another breath before turning to Ryan. "What did you see, Ryan?"

"I saw you, loveÖas a beautiful Native woman with big brown eyes. And I saw a little girl and a baby boy."

Janna swallowed hard as tears filled her eyes. "Ryan! I saw youÖas a strong man, holding a baby boy. We had a little girl, who was holding onto my leg. I loved you all so muchÖI can still feel it."

"I can feel it, too, Janna. Jesus Christ, babyÖthat was unreal. Absolutely fuckin' unreal." Ryan shook her head in disbelief as a huge grin appeared on her face.

"No, baby, the miracle of it is that it was real. My God, that was special." She wrapped her arms around her wife and hugged her tightly.

Ryan returned the loving squeeze and nuzzled Janna's hair, not caring that other people were now in the vicinity. "And who was that woman, Janna?"

"Obviously a very perceptive person. Let's go into her shop, honey."

Janna followed Ryan into the small Navajo jewelry and gift shop. The woman who had spoken to them was behind the counter and nodded as they entered, smiling at them. Ryan met her gaze and smiled as she and Janna browsed amongst the offerings of pottery.

The woman watched them as they shopped, interested in the enigmatic couple, because she sensed the deep bond that they shared, and knew what a rare gift it was. As well, she sensed that they were knowledgeable in the spiritual arts, if not shamen themselves. When they came to the counter to look at the jewelry, she noted their matching wedding bands of silver and turquoise, admiring the artisanship.

As she continued to gaze at the close couple, she received several brief, psychic flashes of images. In the first, she saw Ryan and Janna entwined in love. In the second, she saw Ryan lying crumpled on the ground, bleeding from the head and leg, and in the third, she saw the two women lying blissfully in a bed with their sleeping children. She sensed that the images represented the past, present, and future, and gathered that the couple would be traversing a difficult road in the very near future.

When she saw Janna leave briefly to look at smudging supplies, the woman approached Ryan, who continued to look at necklaces. The dark cop looked up into the Navajo woman's serious gaze and noted her concern.

The woman began, "Forgive me for interfering, but I can see how strongly bonded you and your partner are, and I want you to know that it is strong enough to withstand any challenge...if you believe in it." She emphasized the last several words as she continued to gaze seriously into Ryan's eyes, and Ryan nodded.

"Yes, I believe it is. Thank you." She held out her hand and the shopkeeper grasped it, nodding in return. Ryan cleared her throat then, before saying, "I'd like to get this necklace for my wife." She pointed to a turquoise Kokopelli figure on a sterling silver chain.

The storeowner smiled as she put the item into a small bag. "KokopelliÖthe little minstrel and trickster." She looked up into Ryan's eyes. "Many believe he brings good luck."

Ryan returned her serious gaze as she replied, "Then I'll definitely take it."

At that moment, Janna returned with several smudge sticks and bags of resin incense. She smiled at the shopkeeper and then said to Ryan, "Honey, I found some wonderful copal incense." She looked at the storeowner and smiled as she said, "This is not easy to find at home. I'm so glad we came in here."

Ryan added sincerely, "I am too."

Janna looked expectantly at her mate and asked, "Are we ready, honey, or do you want to look at anything else?"

"We're ready, love."

Janna glanced at the owner and said, "I guess we'll take these then."

The woman smiled and said, "Your wife has already paid for theseÖenjoy them and use them in good faith."

Janna looked at Ryan questioningly and Ryan looked at the woman. "Thank you, butÖ"

"I insistÖplease. Paid in full. Good luck to you."

Ryan nodded and said sincerely, "Thank you. We'll stop in later this year when we visit this area again."

The woman understood the sentiment behind Ryan's statement and smiled warmly as she said, "I will look forward to that."

Ryan took Janna's arm and as she guided her out of the store, Janna said, "You will tell me what all of that was about, won't you, Ryan?"

"Yes, I will, love. After we visit the pueblo."

They spent the rest of the day exploring the ancient dwelling and the rest of the beautiful Taos area, with Janna catching Ryan in a pensive mood several times. As they drove back to Santa Fe, into the setting sun, Ryan told her all that had transpired between herself and the Native woman, and Janna, too, became pensive.

~~~~~~~~~~

"Janna, I will not let something a stranger said to me ruin the last day of our vacation. Now please, stop dwelling on it." Ryan spoke calmly but with a note of firmness marking her voice.

Janna's brows were set into a deep furrow as she turned in the passenger seat and looked at Ryan.

"How can you not take this seriously? She is the second person that warned youÖfirst, your Grandfather, and now, yesterday, her. Ryan, I'm scared, and I think you should be too."

"Janna, I'm not scared, because I believe in the strength of our love...and I know that you do too. Now, come onÖlighten up. We're almost there." Ryan refocused her attention on the mountainous terrain that she was driving through and noted the sign announcing that the Grand Canyon was only five miles distant.

Janna sighed deeply. "I do, loveÖI believe in us. But the fact remains that something very serious apparently looms on the horizon for us. I'm afraid of what that might beÖnot of it's consequences." She caressed the hand that lay on the gearshift knob. "I know we'll be okay in the long run, Ryan, but what about the near term? I'm afraid that one, or both of us, may be hurt." She swallowed a sob as she continued, "Ryan, if something happens to you, I will not be able to handle it. I don't ever want to see you hurtÖin any way."

"Janna, honey, please. I will be fine. No matter what. No matter what happens in the near future, I know that eventually, we will be fine. I've seen it, Janna. I saw the love between us as old ladies. That's the future that I believe inÖwith all of my heart." She lifted Janna's hand to her lips and softly kissed it, sending her love to her mate at the same time through their bond. "Janna, I firmly believe that I can handle anything that may happen to me, and that you can as well."

Janna felt the gift that Ryan sent through their link and sighed again before saying, "I feel your love, Ryan, thank you. That means so much to me. I promise, I'll try not to worry."

"Thank you, loveÖjust remember, we've been given the very special gift of knowledge. That in itself will help us when we need it."

Janna only nodded her agreement, and turned her head as a solitary tear trailed down her cheek. She gazed out the car window, not really seeing the glorious landscape that greeted her, while her soulmate felt her pain.

A half hour later, Ryan and Janna stood side-by-side on an overlook at the south rim of the magnificent Grand Canyon, awestruck at its beauty and grandeur, despite the fact that both of them had visited it before. In the bright, mid-day sun, the colors of the distant canyon walls appeared washed out, in light, varying hues of pink and purple, while the nearby walls, spires and peaks of layered, striated rock were colored in shades of yellow and brown.

Ryan wrapped an arm around her mate's shoulder, oblivious to the presence of other tourists, as she remarked, "It's awesome, isn't it, baby? Its immensity blows me away every time I see it."

"Yes, it's gorgeousÖawe-inspiring. I wish we had the time to hike down into it today." I need to do something to take my mind off this worry.

Ryan detected a note of sadness in her mate's voice, and felt her worry as well. I shouldn't have told her about what the Navajo woman said. I wish I could do something to take her mind off of this. "Honey, we can stay, if you'd like. The only reason we're not spending more time here is so we can get home for our game tomorrow nightÖbut I can call Sharon and tell her we were held up and won't make it." She looked down into her wife's beautiful green eyes and asked, expectantly, "What do you say?"

Janna grinned, warming Ryan's heart, and rested her head against Ryan's shoulder as she replied, "And risk her wrath? Ryan, you wouldn't need a telephone to hear her scream!" She lightly kissed Ryan's warm shoulder, then added, "And I would fear for your safety when we did eventually return." She reveled in her mate's loving warmth for a few moments before finally adding, "It wouldn't be very responsible of us, honey, and I really don't want to let the team down. I appreciate the offer, RyanÖI really do, but let's get home."

"Okay, babyÖwhatever you want." Ryan kissed her mate's head and sighed deeply. "Let's find a quiet place to sit for a while, huh?"

"Sure, love."

They walked the trail that hugged the south rim until they found a barely-used trail down and followed it carefully down to a quiet ledge. There, they sat quietly, spooned into their favorite position, Ryan behind Janna, and gazed quietly at the majesty that surrounded them.

As the peace and the quiet energy of the area settled onto them, both their souls were soothed and they were soon overcome by the strength of their love. It blanketed them protectively and filled their beings.

Ryan took a deep breath and let it out slowly, releasing fear that she hadn't realized she was holding onto, and Janna did the same. She relaxed back more deeply into her wife's embrace and felt her mate's incredible love for her envelope her body as it caressed her soul.

They sat enjoying the blissful serenity for long minutes before Ryan murmured, "Have you ever hiked down to the bottom, love?"

"No, I haven't. I was here first as a kidÖMom's a hiker, but Dad isn't. We only stayed a few hours, and we only visited because my grandparents insisted that we had to see it." She smiled. "Dad is just not into the beauties of nature." She sighed happily before adding, "Then I was here again when one of my bands toured the South. None of them were hikers eitherÖI don't think we stayed for more than an hour." She turned slightly in Ryan's embrace as she asked, "Have you, love?"

"Mm, hmm. When I was a teenager, a group of us hiked down and camped for a week. It was an awesome experience. Janna, I could spend a lifetime exploring this canyon. I want to come back oftenÖbring our kidsÖcamp, hike, fish."

"We will, Ryan. Let's plan on it." A pair of ravens flew gracefully by and Janna remarked, "I wonder if Raven has the same medicine as Crow?"

"I don't know, loveÖthey're in the same family, aren't they?"

"Mm, hmÖyes."

"What's crow's medicine, JannaÖhis message?"

"Crow is the shape-changer, so his message is to shapeshift your reality. Create your life to be exactly as you want it to be."

"Mm, a good message for us, I'd say." She hugged Janna tightly to her and nuzzled her hair. "Let's not let fear rule us, Janna. To live in fear is to be ruled by it. Let's not give it that power over us. Let's take this one day at a time and handle whatever comes our way...go with the ebb and flow of the Universe."

"Mm, yes. I'm there with you, love. One hundred percent." She grasped Ryan's hands where they rested around her waist and brought one to her lips. "I love you, Ryan."

"Love you, baby."

Ryan kissed the soft, exposed neck in front of her, and worked her way around to Janna's throat. Janna threw her head back, giving her wife ready access, and then turned slightly so that their lips could meet. Tongues met and danced sensuously and Janna turned fully around to straddle Ryan's lap. Ryan removed the ever-present camera from her mate's neck and set it carefully aside. Then, there on their private ledge, in view of only the ravens and hawks, they kissed passionately for many minutes, until Ryan felt she could no longer contain either her roaming hands or her ardor.

She mumbled against Janna's mouth, "I want you babyÖcan we get outta here?"

"I need you too, Ryan, so yes, let's go."

They stood and embraced as they took one last long gaze at the incredible miracle of nature that spread out below them and for many miles in three directions. Before turning to hike back up the short trail, Ryan reached into her pocket and pulled out a handful of tobacco. She held her palm out over the canyon and silently thanked it and its companion spirits for their beauty and energy and then turned her hand over, letting the dried green bits of leaf be carried away on the wind.

Janna grasped Ryan's hand and led her up the canyon wall to the rim trail, and the hordes of tourists, and they made their way quickly to the Explorer.

Ten minutes and several miles later, Ryan pulled the Explorer off the highway and onto a dirt road that led into a quiet patch of forest. She drove in perhaps a mile and pulled the truck as far off the dirt road as she could. She looked around carefully, noted that they seemed to be quite alone in the dark, quiet pine forest, and turned to her wife.

She was met by a wide grin that matched her own as Janna said, "In the back seatÖnow, Puma."

"You first, baby."

Janna got up and quickly scrambled over the console, and Ryan followed. Sitting next to her wife, she pulled her into her arms, saying, "I love you so much, Janna. Let me show you...let me show you that nothing can ever hurt us."

"Show me, Ryan."

Ryan gently captured Janna's lips with hers and savored them as if for the first time. As she kissed her wife tenderly, she gently ran her hands under Janna's polo shirt and caressed the skin of her back. Janna did likewise and soon the kisses became more fervent. Ryan sat back and pulled Janna's shirt off over her head, then reached around and unhooked her bra as their lips met again. As they kissed deeply, Janna pulled Ryan's shirt off and was about to attend to her sports bra when she was deterred by a hot hand trying to gain access to her shorts. She giggled and leaned back so that her sexy mate could unzip her cargo shorts. Ryan unzipped the fly successfully and pushed her mate down onto her back.

Ryan wedged herself in between Janna's legs, eagerly eyeing the prize that awaited her, but was frustrated by the tight space.

"God damn, there's not enough room in hereÖknew I should've bought the Expedition." Ryan muttered as she tried to position herself between her wife's legs.

"It's okay, babe, just take your time." She gasped as a hot mouth kissed her underwear and then an even hotter tongue stroked her through the cotton. "Oh, God, babyÖ"

"Mmm. Do you like that, love?" Ryan's voice rumbled sexily through her anatomy, waking up every nerve and nerve ending in the vicinity.

"Oh, my GodÖyou know I do. Do it againÖplease."

Ryan complied and Janna moaned loudly, which encouraged Ryan to slowly, sexily, draw her underwear down off Janna's hips.

Ryan eyed her wife lasciviously and muttered, "God, Janna, I want you."

"I'm yours, baby, help yourself."

Ryan did so, burying her face into her wife's golden curls and quickly coaxing serious moans from her.

Janna ran her fingers through Ryan's hair, pulling her closer as she enjoyed the intimate contact.

"RyanÖbabyÖGodÖ"

Ryan continued the loving strokes, bringing her wife very close to climax as Janna began to moan unintelligibly.

The Ranger spotted the SUV parked to the side of the access road and stopped her truck a few yards behind it. She exited and cautiously made her way up to the dark green vehicle. Probably more horny teenagersÖthey're as bad as the animals hereabouts in the springtime, she thought, and grinned as she noticed that the truck was rocking slightly. Then she heard two distinct voices and she thought, Two women? All right! But I'm afraid I'm still gonna have to rain on their parade.

When she reached the truck, she tapped the side lightly a few times before stepping up to the open front driver's side window. She heard a muttered curse and bit back a smile before clearing her voice and saying, "Excuse me. Park Ranger, here. I'm sorry, but you're parked on a fire access road and I need for you to move on."

She was answered by a deep, somewhat strained, "Hold on." And then was surprised when an extremely attractive dark-haired woman stuck her head out from the back seat, looking very sheepish.

"Sorry, RangerÖwe didn't know." She glanced back at her hidden partner. "My, uhÖmy spouse and I were just enjoying your beautiful forest here."

She bestowed a brilliant, rakish grin on the Ranger, who smiled and replied, "I gathered that."

Ryan lowered her head to the front seat back and laughed. "We'll move. Sorry."

"That's alright. I'll, uh, be back around in a half hour or so. You'll want to be gone by then."

Ryan smiled warmly at the short brunette and said sincerely, "Thank you."

"Don't mention it. Enjoy your stay." She grinned as she turned away and started back toward her truck.

"Oh, we will."

As she passed the rear of the SUV, she heard a sweet voice say, "Thank you!" And then heard a chorus of giggles, in two different timbres of voice. She shook her head and laughed aloud as she climbed into her truck and thought, I sure hope Emily doesn't have to work late tonight.

Ryan lay atop Janna and laughed uncontrollably. "Oh, shit, baby. Jesus, did she bust us!"

"I know. I feel like a teenager!" She threw her arms around her mate and exclaimed, "I haven't had sex in a car since I was a teenager. What about you, love?"

"Twenty-three, twenty-four, I think." Ryan shook her head and tried to contain her amusement. She gazed down into her wife's merry eyes and sighed. "Should we finish this?"

"I would like that, yeah."

"Okay, baby, but we only have a half hour."

"That's alrightÖI'm nearly there and you won't take long." Janna grinned up at her wife before stealing a kiss.

As it turned out, Janna was right.

Part 5

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