Part 6

Lauren floated across her apartment and pressed the play button on her answering machine as she flopped down on her bed with a contented sigh. Ash had just dropped her off and told her she needed some time to get things ready for tonight. So she had a few hours to kill. She knew she should be working on her thesis or studying. She hadn’t cracked a book all weekend, but some how she couldn’t bring herself to care. She wouldn’t have traded one minute with Ash for anything. The answering machine beeped and began to play.

Beep. "Laur? Where are you?" Rachel’s voice demanded from the machine. "It’s 8 am and you’re not home? Oooh, where did you spend the night? I know Ash had to carry you home last night. Details, girl! I need details! Call me ASAP!" She hadn’t checked her machine this morning, so that one was old news. She had talked to Rachel right before going out with Ash so she could disregard it.

Beep. "Lauren, dear? It’s your mother. I just wanted to know how the show went. Give me a call when you get the chance. Bye." Oh, mom! You have no idea! Lauren thought. You’re going to totally flip when I tell you that Ash has agreed to come visit with me! You’ll probably have a coronary on the spot! Not only am I coming home, but I’m bringing a famous musician that I’m desperately in love with. She frowned. Well, maybe we’ll leave that last part out… for now.

Beep. "Laur? It’s about 3 o’clock. I guess you’re not back from your lunch date with Ash. I know you said you’d fill me in at lunch tomorrow, but I’m dying here! So, would you give me a call and release me from my misery? Pretty, pretty please? Bye." Rachel’s voice was pleading and Lauren grinned.

Beep. "Miss O’Shea? You have been chosen to receive…" Lauren reached out and quickly hit the skip button. She hated telemarketers.

Beep. "Lauren? This is Roger from the study group. I just wanted to let you know that we’ve moved our meet time to 4 pm on Tuesday. If you have any problems, please let me know as soon as possible." Lauren sighed. Guess I won’t be going to that guest speaker’s lecture after all, since that’s when it’s scheduled. Oh well, the group hasn’t gotten together in a week and we really need to touch base.

The machine clicked and Lauren hit the erase button. She glanced at the clock and decided she might as well call Rachel. It would help kill the time while waiting for Ash. Her stomach flip-flopped with anticipation at the thought. She grinned as she picked up the phone and dialed Rachel’s number.


"Hey, Rach. It’s me," Lauren said, flopping back on the bed and staring at the ceiling.

"Laur! It’s about time you called me!" Rachel scolded.

Lauren laughed. "Well, I’m calling you now, so be nice or I won’t tell you anything!"

"Okay, I’ll be good." Rachel promised. "Now, where have you been? Have you been out with Ash this whole time?"

"Yeah, we went down to the Market and had lunch and then did some window shopping."


"Yeah. Why does that surprise you?"

"Sorry, Laur, but I’m having a hard time seeing tall, dark, and dreamy doing something as normal as window shopping," Rachel related.

Lauren chuckled. "She is human, ya know."
"Uh-huh. So you say…" Rachel stated doubtfully.

"What do you mean by that?" Lauren asked defensively.

"Whoa, easy there girlfriend," Rachel soothed.


"What I meant was that Ash just seems so, so… I dunno… beyond doing something so mundane as shopping. She’s just seems so sophisticated and trying to picture her tagging along while you go into a shopping frenzy is enough to blow my little mind," Rachel explained.

"Are we talking about the same person here?" Lauren asked puzzled by Rachel’s description.

"Yeah. I’m serious, Laur. She just seems so stand offish and kind of formal," Rachel said.

Lauren laughed. "She’s not stand offish, Rach! She’s warm and caring and has a wicked sense of humor."

"If you say so, Laur. Guess you know her better than I do," Rachel agreed. "Maybe she’s different when you guys are alone. But I’m telling you, when she’s around other people she comes across as being very reserved."

Lauren thought about it. "Hmm, yeah. I guess I can see your point. She’s a really private person, Rach. I don’t think she let’s very many people get close enough to see past her public mask."

"Well, it sounds like you’ve managed it pretty well," Rachel said smugly.

Lauren felt her face heat up and a huge grin split her face. "Yeah, I guess I have."

"So, you going to tell me about the whole confessing your love thing?"

"Umm… sure. What do you want to know?" Lauren said evasively.

"Oh come on!" Rachel said exasperated. "Details! Did you tell her first? How did she react? When did she tell you? And where exactly did you end up sleeping last night? And did you just sleep or…?"

"Okay, okay," Lauren laughed. "One question at a time!"

"Fine. I’m waiting."

"Let’s see…" Lauren pondered the barrage of questions. "I told her first. It was after we went to lunch on Saturday when she dropped me off to get ready for the show."

"And you didn’t tell me until now?" Rachel shouted in outrage.

"No. I didn’t get the chance. So, chill or I won’t say another word," Lauren warned shaking her finger at the phone.

"Okay, I am cooling my jets as we speak," Rachel assured her. "I guess that explains why you totally freaked when you saw Ash with that bad bleach job bitch."

"Yeah. I had just confessed my love for her and walk out to see her with another woman. I think my brain blew a circuit. Thank the gods Ash came looking for me to explain!" Lauren said with conviction.

"I’m glad she did too. I was really not looking forward to having to beat the shit out of her for hurting you. I would have probably died in the attempt," Rachel joked.

Lauren giggled. "Oh Rach! I have this picture of you trying to take Ash out and her just standing there giving you a bored look with one eyebrow raised! Priceless!"

"Gee thanks!" Rachel said with a touch of sarcasm. "Here I am, trying to defend your honor and all you can do is think how cute Ash would look as she kills me!"

"No, no, Rach, really. I’m sorry." Lauren giggled attempting to sound sincere.

"Uh-huh. Well, anyway, back to the matter at hand."

"And that would be?"

"When did she tell you?"

"In the park last night."

"Oh… is that why I found you two rolling around on the ground like a couple of dogs in heat?"

"Hey!" Lauren said in outrage. "We were not!"

"Yes, you were," Rachel assured her smugly.

"Were not!"

"Uh-huh. You should be happy I came along when I did or I have a feeling the neighborhood would have got quite the show."

"Ummm… Really?" Lauren asked with a wince.

"Really. So, you want to tell me how you went from being furious and ranting about what a bitch Ash was to practically ripping her clothes off in 20 minutes?"

"She came out to explain about Judith and…" Lauren’s mind brought up the image of Ash’s desolate, tear streaked face as she pleaded with her. She swallowed the lump in her throat and said, "Oh Rach! You should have seen her face! She was so sincere and she was crying."

"Crying?" Rachel interrupted. "Ash was crying?"

"Yeah," Lauren said nodding. "Tears were trailing down her face and my heart felt like it was going to break at the sight! She said she thought she had known what love was and then she met me and knew she had been wrong. Isn’t that romantic?"

"Wow," Rachel breathed in awe. "That is some line. Do you think she’d mind if I borrowed it?"

"Rach! It was not a line!" Lauren defended angrily.

"Okay, okay," Rachel soothed. "Gee, we’re not a little defensive now are we?"

"Sorry, Rach. I can’t help it," Lauren apologized contritely.

"Okay, I’m sorry too. I’ll try to not take any more potshots at Ash. I think I’d like to keep my head firmly attached to my shoulders," Rachel vowed.

Lauren giggled and relaxed. She knew she had overreacted to Rachel’s comment, but she really couldn’t help it. There was something so vulnerable about Ash that just brought out the she bear in her. She knew Rachel would laugh her fool head off at that idea, but it was how she felt. After their conversation this afternoon she had the distinct impression that Ash had been hurt a lot in the past and that’s why she fought so hard to keep people at a distance. She had the uncontrollable desire to hold Ash in her arms and shelter her from the cruelties of the world.

"So, where did you sleep last night?"

Lauren was pulled out of her musings by Rachel’s question and a bashful smile crossed her face. "Umm, I woke up to find myself sprawled across Ash in her bed."

"What? Oooh, tell me more!" Rachel enthused and Lauren pictured her jumping up and down in excitement.

"That’s about it, really. I asked her how I ended up there and she explained how I had conked out in the gallery and she carried me up. She said she didn’t have a key to my place so brought me there. She was really kind of cute about the whole thing. Kind of bashful. Like she was afraid I’d be offended or something."


"And nothing." Lauren shrugged. No way am I going to tell her I woke up wearing one of Ash’s t-shirts and not my dress! "Nothing happened, Rach. We just slept and some time during the night we both gravitated to the middle of the bed and ended up cuddling."

"Was it nice?"

"Oh yeah!" Lauren enthused remembering the feel of Ash’s warm muscular body under hers with a flash of desire. "Best damn pillow I’ve ever had!"

Rachel laughed. "When’s she leaving?"

Lauren sighed as her mood plummeted. "Tomorrow morning. I guess Ben convinced her that she should wait until morning since there’s a storm coming in and he didn’t want her driving in it."

"Are you going to see her tonight?"

"Is that a rhetorical question or do you really need me to answer it?"

Rachel chuckled. "Yeah, I guess that was pretty dumb, huh?"

"Yep. But the answer is yes. Ash wants me to come over to the boys’ place for a romantic dinner. Guess they went out of town to celebrate."

"Oooh, so you’ll be all alone with probably the sexiest woman I’ve ever seen and she loves you! So what do you want to happen?"

"What do you mean?" Lauren asked evasively.

"You know. She’s invited you over for a romantic dinner, don’t you think she has certain expectations on how the evening is going to end?"

Lauren sat up suddenly at the idea. "Oh shit! Do you really think so?"

"Don’t you?"

"Umm… I guess I never really thought about it," Lauren murmured. Duh, Laur! Ash is a beautiful woman who is obviously worldly. She could have anyone she wants! Do you really think she’s not going to expect the night to end with you in her bed? Lauren berated herself. Now that the idea was planted she could admit to herself that she wouldn’t mind ending up there. Butterflies started dancing in her stomach as images of Ash making love to her flashed across her mind’s eye.

"So, what’re you going to do?"

"I’m sorry, what?" Lauren asked even though she had heard the question, but her brain was too busy with the erotic images of Ash to compute it.

"I said, what are you going to do?"

"I… I don’t know. I guess I’ll just do what feels right at the time," Lauren said still slightly dazed with the idea of making love to Ash.

"Laur, promise me you won’t sleep with her just because you’re afraid she’ll be disappointed if you don’t. Do what’s right for you for once, okay? If she really loves you, she’ll understand and being willing to wait," Rachel said in a serious tone.

"Okay, Rach, I promise," Lauren promised. A wicked grin surfaced as she said, "But I can’t promise that I won’t just rip her clothes off and take her!"

Stunned silence.

"Rach? You still there?"

"Um, yeah, I’m here," Rachel said slowly. "Boy, she sure has got your motor running hasn’t she? I’ve never heard you talk like that about anyone!"

"Yeah well, I can’t seem to help myself. She’s just so damn sexy, Rach. I find myself finding any excuse just to be close to her and touch her," Lauren explained with an aggrieved sigh.

"I can definitely understand that. She has a body to die for!"

"Yeah, that’s true," Lauren said thinking about Ash. "But to tell you the truth, Rach, it’s her mind I’m hopelessly in love with. She’s just so complex, it makes my head spin."

"Okay, Laur, you go ahead and be in love with her mind, but you sure lucked out to have that mind wrapped up in such a tasty package!" Rachel teased.

Lauren laughed. "Yeah, it doesn’t suck does it?"

"Nope. You’ll have to tell me if what they say about musicians is true."

"Oh? What do they say?" Lauren asked with a puzzled frown.

"Oh, you know, that they have talented hands," Rachel deadpanned.


"What? I mean think about it, Laur. She must have some seriously dexterous digits to play classical guitar, so it just seems natural to assume that those self same hands would be pretty amazing doing other things," Rachel said suggestively.

"You are so bad!" Lauren scolded.

"True. But you have to admit the idea has merit."

Lauren giggled. "Okay, I’ll give you that one."

"So, you going to test the hypothesis and let me know the results of your research?" Rachel teased.

"Hmmm, maybe," Lauren said coyly.

"Okay, I can see I’m not going to get anything more concrete than that," Rachel lamented with and exaggerated sigh. "Do you know when you’ll be able to see her again?"

"We haven’t really discussed it. Though she did say she’d go with me to go visit my mom," Lauren said.

"Really? When?"

"Never really set a date, Rach. Mom wants me to come home for Turkey day and I told Ash that, but that’s like a month and a half away! I don’t think I can wait that long to see her again!" Lauren wailed.

"Oh, I don’t think she’ll wait that long, do you?" Rachel asked with an amused chuckle.

"Gods, I hope not!"

"Well, I guess you’ll just have to ask her. I bet she’d come for Halloween and that’s only a couple of weeks away. Why don’t you invite her?" Rachel offered logically.

"Yeah! That’s a great idea!" Lauren enthused. "Then I could introduce her to Katie too! Do you really think she’d come if I asked?"

"You can’t be serious?" Rachel asked surprise evident in her voice at her friend’s insecurity. "Wild horses probably couldn’t keep her away, Laur. I saw the way she looked at you last night when she carried you upstairs. I think she’ll agree so fast it will make your head spin!"

"Thanks, Rach. You’re great for my ego," Lauren said.

"Yeah well, I do what I can," Rach said deprecatingly.

"Well, I should let you go and go jump in the shower," Lauren said glancing at the clock.

"Okay. What’re you going to wear?"

"Is your mind always on clothes?"

"Yes. Sometimes it’s on how to get women out of them and sometimes it’s on how to make sure a woman keeps them firmly in place."

"You’re hopeless!" Lauren gasped through her laughter.

"Yep, most assuredly. But really, what are you going to wear?"

"You have a one track mind," Lauren said as she rolled off the bed and strode over to her closet. "I asked Ash because I wasn’t sure how formal this thing was…"

"And what did she say?"

"She just shrugged and said she didn’t care what I wore. That I’d look beautiful to her even if I was wearing rags!" Lauren said feeling all warm and fuzzy inside at the memory.

"Wow! She really said that?" Rachel asked incredulously.

"Yeah," Lauren assured in a soft voice.

"Then I suggest you go for comfort and ease of removal. You know, no pesky buttons or hooks. Something you can get off in a hurry," Rachel advised.

"Geez, Rach! Are we back to that again?" Lauren laughed, rolling her eyes.

"Sorry, but if a drop dead gorgeous woman said that to me, I don’t think I could contain myself! So, I’d try to dress appropriately just in case the need arose!"

"Okay. I think, I’ll agree on the comfort option, but I’m not really sure the easily removable option will be necessary," Lauren said with amusement.

"Sure, sure, whatever you say," Rachel said but her voice lacked conviction.

"I’m going to go now, Rach. Have a good night and I’ll see you for lunch tomorrow," Lauren said.

"Okay. Talk to ya then. Bye."

"Bye," Lauren said, clicked off the phone and tossed it on the bed. She stared into her closet, trying to decide what to wear. "Well, I guess it’s time for Ash to see the real me," she said as she came to a decision. She pulled out a pair of comfortably broken in jeans, a dove gray t-shirt, and her favorite green and blue plaid flannel shirt. She laid them out on the bed and scrutinized them for a moment. Finally she gave a satisfied nod to her selection and headed for the bath to take a shower.


Ash collapsed gracelessly onto the couch with a satisfied smile on her face. She had come back to the boys’ and had managed to get everything ready for tonight faster than she had expected. She relaxed and closed her eyes to go through her list once more. Satisfied that she hadn’t forgotten anything, she let her mind drift to Lauren and an overwhelming surge of love and warmth that always came when she thought of the young woman who had stolen her heart flowed through her. I can’t believe this is happening. I keep expecting to wake up and find myself back in my own bed in Montana. I really need to thank Ben for nagging me to come here for the show. ‘Cause if I had blown him off, like I wanted to, I never would have met Lauren. And boy! Am I ever glad I did! She’s just so…Ash frowned as she tried to think of some way to describe to her. …so, wonderful! I thought for sure she’d find out about my past and not want to have anything to do with me. I mean, who would want to be with a potentially violent and to be honest, not very nice person? But it didn’t seem to faze her at all! She shook her head in amazement. She just took it in stride and said she loved me anyway! She loves me! Ash felt her heart swell with the thought. And waking up with her in my arms was probably the best feeling in the world! I don’t think I’ve ever slept better! She frowned as that thought penetrated. It was true. She had never slept more than a couple hours at a stretch since she had left home. But there was something about Lauren that made her feel safe and she slept like the dead. She hadn’t even heard the boys moving around. Usually any slight sound would wake her, but she had slept soundly until the sun coming through the blinds had awakened her. I could definitely get used to that! I wonder if she feels the same way? She thought about it, going over the events of the last couple of days she had shared with Lauren and all the things that they had talked about. I think… I think maybe she does! Boy, that would be great! To wake up every morning to be greeted by those beautiful green eyes. She frowned as she realized that scenario wouldn’t be happening any time soon. She was leaving in the morning and Lauren would be going back to her normal life. Insecurity shot through her. What if she decides she must have been out of her mind to think she was in love with me? What then? Ash fought down the sudden wave of panic. No! No, you know she’s not like that. She cares about you, you blockhead. You’ll just have to make sure she has no reason to have second thoughts. Ash felt her equilibrium begin to right itself.

Ash opened her eyes at the sound of a phone ringing. She turned her head to look at the phone on the kitchen counter and frowned when she heard the ring again and realized it wasn’t coming from it. Her cell phone suddenly came to mind and she shot up and dashed down the hall to the guest bedroom. She rounded the corner into the guest bedroom and slammed her shin into the baseboard of the bed and swore as she dove for her duffle and her ringing phone.

"Gray," she said breathlessly, answering the phone on the fourth ring.

"Ash? You okay? You sound out of breath?"

Ash cradled the phone to her ear and sat on the bed to rub her aching shin. "Yeah, Lu, I’m fine. I was just in the other room when the phone rang."

"You didn’t have it with you?" Lu asked with disbelief evident in her voice.

"No, I didn’t," Ash said in a tone of voice that she hoped would end that line of questioning.

"Okay. Well, the reason I’m calling is I was wondering when you were going to be here tomorrow?"

"Any specific reason why?"

"I got a tip on Sullivan. Seems he likes to frequent a certain titty bar on Monday nights, because drinks are half price. Cheap bastard. I was thinking it would be a good time to try and nab him."

"Oh. Well, I was planning on being there by noon or so," Ash answered as her mind started formulating plans on how to capture Sullivan.

"Sounds good. I’ll be expecting you then," Lu said and then added. "So how’d the show go? Was Judith there?"

"It went fine and yes," Ash answered succinctly.

"I guess that means you’re not going to tell me any details, right?" Lu asked sounding disappointed.

Ash sighed and closed her eyes. "A lot has happened, Lu. More than I really have time to go into right now." She thought about telling Lu about Lauren. She so much wanted to share her joy with everyone, but was still feeling wary after her bout of insecurity.

"Okay. Maybe you can fill me in when you get here," Lu said.

"Sure, Lu. I’ll call when I hit town," Ash said opening her eyes and rising from the bed.

"Sounds good. Later."

"Bye." Ash closed the phone and looked at it with a frown. Hearing Lu’s surprise at her admission of not having it with her, made her realize that the damn thing had practically become a part of her over the years when she had been a bounty hunter and it was never out of arms’ reach. You never knew when a tip was going to come in and so she had the thing with her 24-7. When she had gone back to Montana she had never bothered to break the habit of carrying it with her. She hadn’t even realized she didn’t have it with her until she heard it ringing from the other room. She tried to remember when she had taken it off and not bothered to put it back on, but the memory eluded her. She realized that her mind hadn’t been on anything but Lauren since she met her and the thought unnerved her. Her ability to stay focused and on top of things at all times had been a point of pride to her and the idea that an admittedly alluring woman had made her basically lose all rational thought made her shake her head in self disgust.

"You need to step back and have a reality check, Gray," she admonished herself as she tossed the phone back into her duffle. "You’re going to be in Spokane tomorrow walking into a potentially lethal situation and you can’t afford to be mooning over some skirt while you do it!" She felt a moment of shame for thinking of Lauren in those terms, but then brushed it aside. She stood, staring at nothing as her mind worked through the conflicting emotions. She sighed, "You need to get your priorities in order. You know very well that Lauren means more to you than just being some skirt to kill time with. Forget about Sullivan and Spokane until tomorrow. Tonight, just focus on having a good time with Lauren, because you don’t know how long it’s going to be until you can see her again."

She looked at her watch and saw that it was almost 7. The food should be here any minute. As soon as it arrives, I can go get Lauren. The thought restored her buoyant mood and with a spring to her step she walked back to the living room to sit on the couch and wait for the delivery of the dinner she had ordered.


Lauren swung the door open and a welcoming smile lit up her face as Ash came into view. "Hey, stranger, long time no see."

"Hi," Ash grinned as stepped forward and pulled Lauren into her arms needing the reassurance of the reality of Lauren’s love.

Lauren eagerly returned the embrace and felt Ash shiver against her. "Hey, you okay?" she asked, tilting her head up so she could see Ash’s face.

"I’m fine," Ash assured as she gave Lauren a soft, sweet kiss. "Now." She studied Lauren’s loving face and the feel of her body against hers. Wanting to fix it in her mind, so while she was gone she could pull the memory out and remember how glorious it felt to be loved by her.

Lauren gave her an endearing smile as she played with Ash’s silken hair. "Are you sure?"

"Yeah," Ash said softly as she rubbed Lauren’s back. "We better get going or the food is going to get cold."

"Well, we can’t have that," Lauren laughed lightly. She knew something was bothering Ash. She just hoped she could get her to tell her before the night was through.

Ash stepped back bringing Lauren with her, then reached around her and closed the apartment door. She wrapped Lauren’s arm around hers and giving her a crooked grin, escorted her down the hall.

"I hope you like Italian," Ash said as she opened the door to the boys’ apartment and ushered Lauren in.

"One of my favorites," Lauren said as she stepped into the room and gasped. The entire room was lit up with flickering candlelight from dozens of candles placed throughout the room. The round coffee table was draped with a lace tablecloth and was situated in front of a cheery fire with throw pillows placed to sit on. A bottle of champagne sat chilling in a bucket of ice to one side and a dozen white roses made up the centerpiece. Soft romantic music played softly in the background. She felt her eyes well up with tears as she turned to look at Ash, who gave her a bashful smile and rocked back on her heels. "Oh my god!" she whispered in a stunned voice.

"Do you like it?" Ash asked hesitantly as she came over and gently took Lauren’s hands in hers.

"Like it? I love it!" Lauren whispered as she felt the tears begin to fall. "No one has ever done anything remotely like this for me."

Ash reached up and tenderly wiped Lauren’s tears away. "They’re loss. You deserve this, Lauren, and so much more."

Lauren felt like she was going to pass out from sheer happiness. She reached up and gently cupped Ash’s face in her hands, staring intently into the bluest eyes she had ever seen and letting herself fall into their welcoming depths. She rose up and gently pressed her lips to Ash’s soft mouth and a shiver of delight shot through her at the contact. "You are the most romantic, loving woman I have ever known, Ashlin Gray. How did I get so lucky as to catch your eye?"

"I’m the lucky one, Lauren," Ash vowed in a deep, emotional tone as she gazed into forest green eyes seeing the promise of love and comfort in their depths. "We should eat before the food gets cold."

"Hmmm?" Lauren asked dreamily still lost in the allure of Ash’s eyes.

Ash chuckled and led her towards the table. "I said, I think we should eat."

"Okay," Lauren said agreeably and took her seat.

Ash sat down next to her and pulling out the bottle of champagne, deftly filled their glasses. She set the bottle back into the ice bucket and raised her glass. "A toast," she said. Lauren picked up her glass and looked at her expectantly. "To chance meetings and hopes for the future."

"To fate," Lauren agreed clinking her glass against Ash’s. "And hope."

They both drank to the toast and set their glasses down.

"I ordered chicken Alfredo and veal Parmesan. Which would you prefer?" Ash asked lifting the lids off of the two entrees and setting the lids aside.

"Hmm, how about we split them?" Lauren offered. "They both smell delicious."

"Okay," Ash agreed with a grin. She fixed the plates and with a flourish set Lauren’s before her.

"Thank you, ma’am," Lauren said giving her a playful smile.

"Your most welcome," Ash said with an officious nod.

Ash watched Lauren out of the corner of her eye as she picked up her fork and took the first bite. Lauren’s eyes closed and she moaned with pleasure. "I take it the food meets with your approval?" Ash teased as she sampled the fare. It was good and she was pleased.

"This is divine! Wherever did you get it?" Lauren enthused as she attacked her plate with relish.

"Can’t give away all my secrets now can I?" Ash said with a crooked smile. "How am I going to tempt you to have dinner with me again if I tell you where to get the food on your own?"

Lauren glanced up from her plate and gave Ash an impish grin. "Trust me, Ash. It’s not the food that will keep me coming back for more."


Lauren saw the heat rise on Ash’s face before she quickly bent her head and diligently began to eat. "I didn’t mean to embarrass you, Ash."

Ash peaked up at her through her bangs. "That’s okay, Lauren. I don’t mind," she said with a tiny shrug. And realized that she meant it. "It’s nice to have someone around who feels comfortable enough around me to tease me. I haven’t had that in a long time."

Lauren smiled. "Well, I plan on being around for a long time, so I guess you better prepare yourself for some serious teasing!"

Ash grinned. "Good! I’d like that."

A companionable silence fell as they took the edge off their hunger by devouring the delicious dinner. Lauren marveled at Ash’s precise and economic movements as she ate. The graceful motion of Ash’s hands mesmerized her as they manipulated her utensils. Rachel’s comment about talented hands floated to the surface and she quickly averted her eyes.

Ash noted Lauren’s fascination with her hands and then the blush as her eyes suddenly dropped to study her plate intently. Hmmm, wonder what she was thinking to cause that blush? "You know, you’re beautiful when you blush," Ash remarked in a calm voice.

"Wh… what?" Lauren stuttered startled by Ash’s voice. "I am?" she asked looking up to meet Ash’s smiling face.

"Mmm, definitely," Ash nodded seriously.

"Thank you," Lauren said feeling the heat rise once again under Ash’s admiring regard. She needed to get the attention off of herself, so thinking quickly she asked the first question to pop into her head. "What’s your middle name?"

Ash eyebrow rose at the sudden change in topic but answered, "Jane. Yours?"

"Elizabeth," Lauren said as she relaxed now that the conversation had turned to more mundane topics.

"Hmmm," Ash said a thoughtful look crossing her chiseled features. "That means your initials spell LEO." She smiled her crooked smile and asked, "Does that mean you’re a lion?"

"Rachel would say only in the pride department," Lauren remarked.

Ash laughed at the answer and Lauren’s face beamed.

"Can I ask you a personal question?" Lauren asked as she wiped her mouth.


"Is Ashlin a family name or something? I’ve never heard it before," Lauren said as she set her elbows on the table and rested her chin in her cupped hands.

"You could say that. My family is rather unique in the way it names its children. All our first names are the last names of ancestors," Ash explained as she began stacking the dishes.

"Oh? So what ancestor were you named after?" Lauren asked, truly fascinated.

"My maternal grandmother’s maiden name," Ash answered as she gathered the dishes and stood. "I’m going to take these into the kitchen. Be right back."

"Okay," Lauren said with a nod. Ash strode away towards the kitchen and Lauren had the distinct impression that Ash was uncomfortable discussing her family. Maybe she has bad memories too. That would explain why she left home when she was 17. So, strike family from the small talk category.

Ash returned and lowered herself to sit across from Lauren with the table acting as a barrier between them. She was suddenly nervous and was hoping Lauren wouldn’t notice her unease.

"So, what about you? Is Lauren a family name?" asked Ash as she put her arms out behind her and leaned back.

Lauren felt her mouth go dry as Ash’s t-shirt tightened across her full breasts when she leaned back. The flickering light from the fireplace played across her striking features and Lauren felt her body begin to tingle at the sight. "No, actually, I was named after my mother’s best friend in med school," she answered absently.

"Oh? Your mom’s a doctor?" Ash asked unaware of the effect she was having on Lauren as she gazed into the fire.

"No, she’s a veterinarian. So is my brother, Darby. He finished school last year and joined mom in her practice," Lauren continued. She had no idea what she was saying, so caught up in the spell Ash’s beauty had cast on her and the effects it was causing in her body.

"That must be an interesting job. And your sister, Katie, right?" Lauren murmured an affirmative. "What does she do?"

"She’s a senior in high school. She’ll graduate in the spring," Lauren replied. She couldn’t resist the need to touch Ash any longer and slowly began to crawl towards her.

"Oh," Ash said and turned her attention from the fire to ask another question, but her thought was completely derailed by the sight of Lauren sensuously crawling towards her with desire written across her expressive face. Her green eyes met hers with stunning intensity and Ash felt her knees go weak and her heart speed up. She couldn’t look away as Lauren reached her and straddled her hips.

"Do you have any idea how crazy you’re making me?" Lauren demanded quietly in a voice rough with desire as she brought her arms up and wrapped them around Ash’s neck. She began running her hands through Ash’s thick hair as she stared into startled blue eyes.

"I… I… umm…" Ash stuttered, trying desperately to come up with an answer, but the feel of Lauren’s hands teasing her hair and her closeness was making her dizzy and unable to think.

"Kiss me, Ash," Lauren pleaded half afraid Ash would push her away.

The request sent a spark to ignite the slumbering fire of Ash’s desire. She brought her arms up and captured Lauren’s lips with hers as she wrapped her in an impassioned embrace and slowly lowered them to the floor. Her senses were whirling at the feel of Lauren’s weight resting all along her length and the fury of her kiss. Her hands began to explore Lauren’s luscious curves of their own accord.

Lauren felt like her body was on fire and each feather light touch of Ash’s hands was stoking the fire higher and higher. She moaned as her tongue explored Ash’s sweet mouth. Her heart was racing out of control as she guided her hands between them and lowered them to cup Ash’s full breasts.

Ash froze when Lauren’s hands touched her. Panic replaced passion and she grabbed Lauren by the shoulders and gently pushed her back. Lauren’s eyes popped open and gave her a puzzled look.

"I… I’m sorry," Ash whispered softly not able to meet confused green eyes, as she disentangled herself from Lauren and quickly stood. She turned her back and ran her hands through her hair in frustration. She placed her hands on the mantle of the fireplace and bowed her head, struggling to sort out the myriad of emotions flooding her senses.

Lauren sat there dumbfounded by Ash’s sudden withdrawal. She studied the broad back and bowed head of the woman she desperately wanted to make love to. Why had Ash suddenly withdrawn? She analyzed the last few moments and her eyes widened. She freaked when I touched her breasts! But why? Her kiss was passionate and she seemed willing. So why did she panic when I touched her? Lauren quietly rose to her feet and came to stand behind Ash. She was afraid to touch her. Afraid Ash would bolt if she did. "Ash? Honey, what’s wrong?" she asked quietly.

Ash shook her head. "I’m sorry, Lauren. It’s not you, it’s…." her voice trailed off and she rested her head on the mantle and closed her eyes. How do I explain to her that I’m scared out of my mind? That her touch makes me feel things I never have before? That I desperately want her to touch me, but I’m afraid I’ll never get enough?

Lauren stepped closer and reaching out with a tentative hand began to rub Ash’s lower back in a soothing, circular motion. "Ash, it’s okay. I’m sorry I frightened you," Lauren said softly.

Ash turned her head and gazed into Lauren’s concerned face and green eyes that had regret written in them. Ash felt a lump rise in her throat and swallowed. She turned and swiftly drew Lauren into an embrace.

"I’m sorry, Lauren," she murmured into her sweet smelling hair. "I was… no… am frightened. You make me feel things I never have before and I panicked. I’m sorry."

"It’s okay, Ash. I understand," Lauren soothed as she held Ash close and listened as Ash’s heartbeat began to settle into a more normal rhythm. "I’ve never felt this way before either. I just couldn’t stop myself from wanting to touch you. To express to you how much I love you through my touch. I’m sorry I rushed you."

Ash gently raised Lauren’s head until their eyes met. "Can we slow down just a little?" Lauren smiled in agreement. "Believe me, Lauren, I want you touch me and oh, how I want to touch you! But I need some time to get used to the idea."

"That’s fine, Ash," Lauren said. "We’ll take it at your pace, okay? You just lead the way and I’ll happily follow."

"Thanks, Lauren," Ash said with relief as she gave her a quick kiss. "Thank you for understanding."

"Your welcome," Lauren said as she took Ash’s hands in hers and gently guided her to the couch. She sat and patted the seat next to her in invitation. Ash grinned and sat down next her, turning so she faced her. "Can I ask you something really personal?"

Ash nodded. "Sure. I think we’ve reached the point where you’re entitled to ask whatever you want," Ash said with a wry grin.

Lauren chuckled. "Okay." She thought about it a moment. She couldn’t think of a subtle way to ask, so decided blunt was best. "Have you had very many lovers?"

Ash’s eyebrow went up. "No. That obvious, huh?"

"You’re kidding right?" Lauren said in disbelief. "If I had to go on just the way you kiss, I’d say you were an expert." Ash blushed and Lauren gave her hand a squeeze. "No, the reason I thought you might be… inexperienced is because of the way you panicked."

"Oh," Ash nodded in understanding. "To tell you the truth, Lauren, you’ll be my first," she admitted quietly.

"What?" Lauren gasped. This incredibly desirable and beautiful woman was telling her she was a virgin? No way!

Ash shifted uncomfortably and stared down at their linked hands. "Umm, I’ve never been with anyone," she confessed in a small, quiet voice.

Lauren stared at her as the meaning of her words slowly sank in. "What about Judith? I thought you said you had a relationship with her?"

Ash shook her head vigorously in denial. "I did have a relationship with her. I just never slept with her."

"Oh," Lauren said flabbergasted by the reality of Ash being a virgin. "So there’s been no one? Never?" she asked. She knew she was repeating herself, but she just couldn’t wrap her mind around the idea.

"No. No one. Never." Ash confirmed as she ran a hand through her hair and sighed. "I guess you weren’t expecting this, huh?"


"Do you still want to be with me?" Ash asked tentatively.

Lauren’s eyes widened. "Oh, Ash! Of course, I do!" she quickly reassured her and saw Ash’s shoulders relax. "Ash, honey, look at me." Ash peaked up at her through her bangs and Lauren felt her heart constrict at the look of naked vulnerability and hope written across that beautiful face. "I love you, Ash. Nothing is going to change that. Certainly not you being a virgin! Of course the reverse could be true."

"What do you mean?" Ash asked.

Lauren shrugged sheepishly. "Maybe you don’t want to be with someone who’s been around the block a couple of times."

Ash frowned at the statement, trying to discern what Lauren meant. The light went on and she chuckled. "Well, I figure one of us should know what the hell they’re doing! So, I guess it’s a good thing you do, because I sure as hell don’t!"

Lauren’s face lit up and she let out a joyous laugh. "You, my dear, are truly priceless."

"I’m glad you think so," Ash stated with a crooked grin.

"I do," Lauren assured her. "So, now what?"

Ash shrugged. "I don’t know. I’m the beginner here, remember?" she teased.

Lauren slapped her playfully on the thigh. "Okay, smarty pants! What do you want to do?"

Ash gave it considerable thought. She leaned back on the couch and opened her arms invitingly to Lauren. Lauren gave her a delighted smile and quickly curled up in Ash’s arms, tucking her head under Ash’s chin. "I definitely want to do this," Ash said hugging Lauren for emphasis. "And I definitely want to kiss you again."

"Mmm, I think that can be arranged," Lauren murmured as she rested her head on Ash’s breast listening to the comforting beat of her heart.

"I’d really like to…"

"You’d really like to what, Ash?" Lauren gently prompted when she heard her hesitate. "You can tell me anything, honey. I’m not going to judge you or make you feel bad about voicing what you want," Lauren reassured her softly.

"I’d really like for you to spend the night with me," Ash said quietly. "I want to wake up with you in my arms, Lauren."

Lauren swallowed the lump in her throat caused by Ash’s confession. She composed herself and tilted her head up to meet Ash’s eye pouring every ounce of love she could into her gaze. "I would like that too, Ash. Waking up in your arms was probably the most wonderful experience I’ve ever had and I wouldn’t mind repeating it as often as possible."

Ash bent her head and kissed her. Unable to express what she was feeling in words. Hoping Lauren could sense her absolute joy and love through her touch. She leaned back and asked, "Dance with me?"

Lauren nodded and Ash rose from the couch and walked over to the stereo. She spun the cd changer to the one she wanted and turning, beckoned to Lauren with a shy smile. Lauren grinned and walked over to her. Ash pulled her into her arms as the song began.

Martina McBride’s "I Love You" flowed from the speakers as Ash led Lauren across the floor. Lauren felt her heart swell at the selection as Ash held her close and their bodies molded together to move as one. Lauren was so caught up in sheer bliss that it took her a moment to realize that Ash was singing along to the song. Her voice was deep and rich and flowed over Lauren like a caress. She tilted her head to look up into Ash’s face and gasped as she found herself drowning in deep blue eyes that poured every nuance of the song directly into her soul.

The song came to an end and Ash fell silent gazing into moist green eyes.

"You never told me you could sing," Lauren whispered.

"I don’t very often, but I couldn’t think of any other way to tell you how much you mean to me," Ash replied quietly.

The cd player whirled and Garth Brooks "Shameless" came on. Lauren gave her an inquiring look and Ash grinned sheepishly.

"Well, it’s true. I am shameless when it comes to loving you," Ash said as she dipped Lauren dramatically.

Lauren laughed at Ash’s antics. Ash brought her out of the dip and leaned down to brush her lips to hers before sending her out in a spin. Lauren beamed happily and succumbed to the joy of dancing with someone who was so in synch with her it was almost like dancing with herself. Or the other half of my soul. Lauren smiled even wider if that was possible at the thought.

They danced through 5 more songs before mutually consenting to take a break. Ash went into the kitchen to scavenge for drinks and Lauren walked over to look out the French doors. Rain was coming down in sheets and Lauren shivered.

"You cold?"

"Hmm?" Lauren said as she turned her head to meet Ash’s eye. "No, I was just looking out at the rain and was thinking how glad I am that you’re not out driving in it."

Ash peered out the doors at the rain and nodded in agreement. "Guess Ben was right. I’m glad he talked me into staying over."

"Mmmm, no other reason?" Lauren asked seductively as she stepped into Ash’s arms and looked up at her in question.

Ash pulled her close and said, "Oh, you’re more than enough reason."

"You make me feel so special," Lauren sighed.

"You are special," Ash said as she tenderly caressed Lauren’s cheek with her sensitive fingers.

Lauren bit back a flippant remark when she saw the sincerity reflected in Ash’s eyes. "Thank you," she said quietly.

Ash nodded and gave her a quick hug before guiding her over to the table and pulling out a chair for her. Lauren sank into it and accepted the glass of water Ash offered. "Ash?"

"Hmm?" Ash asked as she took her seat.

"Do you have any plans for Halloween?"

"No, why?"

"Well, I was hoping you might consider coming here and celebrating it with me," Lauren said hopefully.

"Nothing would please me more," Ash stated as she brought Lauren’s hand up and kissed it.

"My sister Katie will be here and I’d really like you to meet her," Lauren said happily.

"That would be…" Ash was interrupted by the phone ringing. She glared over her shoulder at it in irritation. "Now who the hell could that be?" she growled as she rose from her seat and stalked over to the phone, not even considering that she could let the machine get it.

She yanked it off the wall in the middle of the second ring and growled, "Gray-Richards residence."

"Hello, darling. Are you alone?"

Ash stiffened at the sound of Judith’s voice. Rage began to rise and color her vision as she said in a low, menacing voice, "No, I’m not alone. How did you get this number?"

Lauren saw Ash’s back stiffen and rose from her chair. She watched Ash’s profile and saw the animation drain from her chiseled features as her public mask slipped down and her face went blank. Lauren began walking towards her at the sight. She suddenly wanted to pull Ash into her arms and offer what comfort she could. Ash’s cold tone when she asked how the person had got the number, changed the want to need and she hurried over to Ash and slipped her arms around her waist.

Judith let out a small laugh. "Why, darling, I just let my fingers do the walking. Now please tell me your not dallying with that scrawny little redhead you made such a fool of yourself over at the gala last night? You need a real woman to fulfill your needs, darling. Someone who can keep up with you and match your passion." Judith purred in a low, seductive voice.

Ash felt Lauren wrap her arms around her and the rage began to fade as Lauren’s comforting presence loosened its hold. She rested her free hand on top of Lauren’s and gave them a gentle squeeze in gratitude as she returned her attention to the phone. "It’s none of your business who I spend my time with and for your information you were never woman enough for me," she stated coldly.

Judith gasped but quickly rallied. "Oh, now I know you don’t really mean that, darling. I know how much you want me. I could see it in yours eyes last night. Why don’t you send the little girl home and I’ll come over and show you what a real woman can do for you."

"You’re sick, Judith," she snarled and felt Lauren’s hold tighten at the name. She reached around with her free hand and pulled Lauren around her body and hugged her close. "You have nothing I want. I have everything I need right here. Don’t call me again. Good-bye." She slammed the receiver back into the base without waiting for a reply. She bowed her head and inhaled the sweet scent of Lauren and let her comforting presence calm her.

Lauren held Ash close as she listened to Ash’s heartbeat begin to slow and her body begin to relax in her embrace. "Are you okay?" she asked softly.

"I’m fine," Ash murmured tiredly into Lauren’s silken hair.

"Are you ready to call it a night?" Lauren asked.

Ash’s eyes popped open in panic. "Are you leaving?"

"What?" Lauren looked up and saw Ash’s fear. "No, honey, I’m not going anywhere. I just thought maybe we should go to bed," she explained rubbing Ash’s back soothingly.

"Oh," Ash said with relief.

"Come on. Let’s blow out all these candles so we don’t have to worry about the building burning down while we’re asleep," Lauren said as she stepped back and walked to the nearest group of candles and began blowing them out.

"Good idea," Ash agreed with a grin and began blowing out the candles in the living room.

When all the candles were extinguished, Ash offered her hand to Lauren by the light of the fire in the fireplace. The firelight played across Lauren’s soft features and Ash’s heart sped up at the simple beauty of the woman who loved her. "Miss O’Shea?"

Lauren gave her a tender smile as she took her strong hand in hers. "Lead the way, Miss Gray. I’ll follow," she said meaning more than what the words conveyed.

Ash ducked her head and gave her a shy grin as she led her down the hall and into the guest bedroom. She turned to flip on the light, but Lauren’s hand on hers stopped her. She gave her a questioning look, the streetlights outside giving her just enough light to see Lauren shake her head.

"Leave them off," Lauren whispered as she pulled Ash further into the bedroom and pushed the door closed.

"Okay," Ash said as she followed Lauren willingly to the foot of the bed where she stopped.

Lauren reached out and gently took Ash’s hands in hers and brought them to rest gently on her breasts. Ash’s heart skipped a beat as her hands softly cupped Lauren’s warm, soft breasts. "Lauren, I…"

"Ssh," Lauren shushed stepping forward and resting her hand lightly over Ash’s mouth. "I want you touch me, Ash. I promise not to rush you into anything, honey, but I think you need to relax a little and listen to your heart instead of your head."

Ash swallowed and nodded. "Okay. I’ll try," she said nervously as she took a deep calming breath.

"Good. Now can I touch you?" Lauren asked.

Ash nodded and almost jumped when Lauren’s hands slid under her t-shirt and ran up her back in a feather light caress causing her whole body to begin tingling. Her hands began to gently knead Lauren’s breasts as she lowered her head to rest on Lauren’s shoulder.

"Is this okay?" Lauren asked softly.

"Buh… better than okay," Ash moaned as she turned her head to nuzzle Lauren’s neck.

Lauren let her head fall back to give Ash better access as she raked her nails lightly over the sleek muscles of Ash’s back. Ash’s curious exploration was making her body burn with desire. Ash softly nipped and kissed her neck as her hands slid down Lauren’s stomach and circling around her waist found the edge of her t-shirt and slid her hands under it to run up her bare back. Lauren bit back a groan at the sensation of Ash’s warm hands caressing her bare skin as she pressed her body closer to Ash. She didn’t think she could take much more of this delicious torture before forgetting her promise and throwing Ash down on the bed and ravishing her.

Ash felt Lauren’s shiver under her touch and paused in mid motion to ask in a throaty voice, "Are you okay?"

"Gods, yes!" Lauren sighed nodding her head, but when Ash’s caresses changed from seductive to soothing she lifted her head and rested it lightly against Ash’s warm chest. She struggled to get her raging hormones under control before tilting her head up to meet unsure blue eyes alight with dampened passion. She gave her a warm smile and gently rubbed her back reassuringly. "Are you sure you’ve never done this before?" she asked in a breathless voice.

Ash chuckled softly. "Pretty sure. Guess I’m a quick study." She tenderly trailed her fingers down Lauren’s face in a feather light caress.

"Oh, you definitely get an A, love," Lauren assured her bringing her hands up to tease Ash’s hair.

"Mmm, that feels nice," Ash whispered as she tilted her head back and luxuriated in the feel of Lauren’s hands in her hair.

"I think we should get ready for bed, don’t you?" Lauren asked softly.

Ash bowed her head to look at her and said, "Okay. Umm, do you…? I mean, should I…?" She sighed in frustration and gave Lauren an imploring look.

Lauren laughed kindly. "Why don’t you help me take this off?" she suggested, fingering the edge of her shirt.

Ash’s eyes went wide. "Umm, are you sure?" she asked hesitantly as she gently took the hem of Lauren’s shirt in hands that trembled with anticipation

"Yes, I’m sure," Lauren assured and waited patiently for Ash to gather her courage.

"Umm, okay," Ash whispered as she slowly lifted Lauren’s shirt. Lauren raised her arms above her head as Ash continued to lift her shirt. Ash’s stomach was doing flip-flops as the shirt rose and exposed more and more of Lauren to her ravenous eye. She gathered the shirt in her hands and guided it up Lauren’s outstretched arms and finally off. She stepped back with the shirt dangling forgotten in her right hand as her eyes gazed upon Lauren’s bare torso for the first time. Lauren was absolutely stunning. The dim light from the window outlined the gentle curve of her shoulders, the fullness of her breasts still tantalizing encased in a lace bra, and accented the cut of muscle in her smooth abdomen.

"Breathe, honey," Lauren quietly commanded, amusement coloring her tone.

Ash sucked in a lungful of air and let it out explosively. She couldn’t keep her eyes from roaming over Lauren’s exquisite form. "You are absolutely perfect," she whispered in a slightly dazed voice.

"Thank you," Lauren said as she calmly reached out and began lifting Ash’s shirt. Ash’s arms went up automatically and Lauren realized with the shirt halfway up that there was no way she would be able to pull Ash’s shirt over her head. She giggled.

Ash gave her a puzzled look. "What?"

"Seems we have a problem," Lauren commented.


"Yes, you, my dear, are a giant and I am, shall we say, vertically challenged," she explained as she turned Ash and gently pushed her down to sit on the end of the bed. "Much better."

Ash chuckled. "You are quite the problem solver, sweetheart."

"Mmmm, I can be with the right incentive," Lauren replied as she pulled Ash’s shirt off and tossed it over her shoulder. Her eyes feasted on the delicious expanse of Ash’s sleek muscular torso. Her hungry eyes traveled from broad muscular shoulders to the black sports bra that affectively hid its treasure. Down a firm, flat stomach that was marred only by a long scar that began at her diaphragm and continued down to disappear under the waistband of Ash’s jeans. She frowned at the scar and reached out to gently trace her finger down its length. Ash’s skin quivered under her touch, but she didn’t pull away. "What happened?" Lauren asked in a voice that trembled slightly.

"I got hurt and they had to open me up to fix some damage," Ash said matter-of-factly looking down to watch Lauren’s small, gentle hand touch her scar in a sympathetic caress.

"Was it bad?" Lauren asked letting her hand come to rest and looking up to meet Ash’s gaze.

"Bad enough," Ash shrugged. "I got better." She smiled her crooked grin and tapped Lauren gently on the nose.

Lauren wrinkled her nose and smiled. "Well, I’m glad you’re okay. Am I going to find many more war wounds?" she teased in a half serious voice as she began to inspect Ash playfully.

Ash squirmed when Lauren hit a ticklish spot. "Yeah, a few. Hope you don’t mind scars, because I have quite a few."

"Mmm, scars are sexy," Lauren stated as she ran her hands down Ash’s muscular thighs and knelt down to grab Ash’s booted right foot. "But not sexy enough that I want you to go out and collect anymore, alright?"

"I’ll try not to," Ash replied in an amused voice as she watched Lauren pull off her boots. Lauren set the boots aside and reached her hands up Ash’s right pant leg to grip the top of her sock and slowly pull it off. Ash felt her heart jump at the erotic signals that flooded her brain from the light touch of Lauren’s hands. Lauren removed her other sock in the same manner and then placed a gently kiss on Ash’s instep. The soft kiss sent an electrical jolt through Ash and she jumped.

Lauren gave her an inquiring look. "Yes?" she asked softly as she kneaded Ash’s foot.

"I never knew taking of my boots could be so arousing," Ash gasped.

Lauren gave her a wry smile and after placing one more quick kiss on Ash’s foot, released it and stood. "I’ll take that as a compliment."

"You should," Ash confirmed nodding.

Lauren unbuttoned her jeans and paused to meet Ash’s eye. Confirming that she had Ash’s undivided attention she slowly shimmied out of her jeans to stand before her in nothing but high cut bikini briefs and her bra.

Ash licked her lips at the sight. She felt her hands rise of their own volition to touch Lauren’s exposed stomach. Lauren stepped forward bringing Ash’s trembling hands into contact with her warm skin. Ash fanned her hands across Lauren’s stomach feeling the play of muscle under silken skin.

Lauren rested her forearms lightly on Ash’s shoulders giving her curious partner full access to her body. She watched the play of emotions flicker across Ash face. They ran the gambit from nervous and tentative to wonder and curiosity in the span of a few minutes. Ash’s exploration became bolder as she brought her hands up to lightly brush Lauren’s nipples causing them to harden in reaction. Lauren gasped and leaned into the touch.

Ash’s breath was coming fast as she watched Lauren’s pleasure at her touch. Lauren bowed her head to rest her forehead on hers as she arched her back into Ash’s curious touch. Ash trailed her hands up Lauren’s breast and across her shoulders in a feather light touch. Her hands slid down Lauren’s back and she pulled her gently towards her. Lauren’s lips found hers and kissed her hungrily. Ash slowly sank back on the bed pulling Lauren down to rest on top of her. Her senses were on overload as she sucked and nipped Lauren’s sweet mouth. Her body was on fire and she felt like she would spontaneously combust at any moment from the heavenly feel of Lauren’s sweet body under her questing hands. She couldn’t touch or taste Lauren enough.

Lauren thought she’d go mad from the waves of pleasure that were rocketing through her body. She slid her hands down between their bodies and unbuttoned Ash’s jeans and began to work them down her hips. She rained gently quick kisses on Ash’s face and worked her way across her jaw and down her neck. Ash’s hands gripped her waist tightly as a moan escaped her lips. Lauren continued her trail of kisses across Ash’s throat and down between the valley of her breasts as her hands slowly slid Ash’s jeans down her muscular thighs. She sat back resting her weight across Ash’s hips and looked up to see Ash watching her with an unreadable expression.

"Honey?" Lauren asked concerned. She reached out and gently laid her hand on Ash’s cheek. "Are you okay?"

Ash continued to stare at her for a few moments and then blinked. "Emotional overload," she croaked trying to give Lauren a reassuring smile, but knowing she failed when Lauren frowned. "Hey, it’s okay. I just… I dunno… blew a circuit or something."

"I’m sorry, Ash. I got carried away," Lauren apologized stroking her cheek lightly.

"Don’t apologize, Lauren. It’s not your fault that I froze," Ash said with a touch of self-mocking evident in her voice.

"Well, it’s partially my fault," Lauren teased. "I was the one who blew you’re circuit breaker."

Ash gave her a small smile. "Well, I guess that’s true."

"Okay," Lauren said decisively as she scooted down Ash’s long frame and swiftly removed Ash’s jeans with one quick yank. Ash blinked at her in surprise and Lauren chuckled. "Why don’t you find us some t-shirts to put on? I’m going to go use the little girl’s room. I’ll be right back."

"Okay," Ash said as she sat up and followed Lauren’s retreating form with an appreciative eye. Lauren disappeared through the door and Ash flopped back on the bed grabbing her head. You are an idiot! she admonished herself. That woman is absolutely divine and wants you! She yanked her hair in frustration. You better figure out how to overcome your fear before she loses patience with you and finds someone else! She sighed heavily and rolled off the bed. She squatted down and rummaged through her duffle. Finding what she wanted, she stood and yanked off her bra and threw it with force back into the bag at her feet. How long will Lauren be willing to stand the frustration? I know I’m beyond turned on right now, so I have a pretty good idea how she must be feeling! She slipped out of her boxers and pulled on a fresh pair. Damn! But I want to do this! Why am I so afraid to just let go? She grabbed her tank top and pulled it over her head.

"Hey, you got something for me to wear?" Lauren asked softly as she brought her arms around Ash’s waist and hugged her.

Ash leaned into the hug and pulled Lauren’s arms more securely around her. "Sure."

Lauren kissed Ash lightly between the shoulder blades and smiled at the shudder that coursed through Ash’s body. She stepped around Ash and gave her an inquiring look. "What have you got for me?" Ash held up a black t-shirt with what looked like a Harley Davidson logo in the dim light on the front. "Perfect," Lauren stated and unceremoniously unhooked her bra and drew it off. She reached for the t-shirt and saw the slack-jawed stare pasted across Ash’s face. "Thanks," she winked taking the shirt from Ash’s loose grip and pulling it over her head.

Ash blinked trying to banish the memory of Lauren’s succulent breasts. They were perfectly round and full with small pink nipples that had hardened when the cool air of the room had hit them. Her creamy skin looked so soft and inviting, that she had a flash of longing to run her hands and lips over every square inch of its delicate surface. She blinked again and forced her mind to focus on Lauren’s patiently waiting face. She felt the heat rise to her face and she ducked her head to hide the blush from Lauren’s knowing green eyes.

"Come on, love. Time for bed," Lauren said softly as she took Ash’s hand in hers and guided her to the bed. She leaned down and pulled back the covers. She gently pushed down on Ash’s shoulders until she sat and swung her legs under the blankets. Lauren pulled the covers up and bent down to place a tender kiss on Ash’s brow. Ash’s eyes followed her as she came around the other side of the bed and climbed in.

Ash turned her head on her pillow and watched as Lauren settled down on her side of the bed. She frowned at the vast distance between them. "Lauren?"

"Yes, honey?" Lauren asked as she rolled over on her side to look at her.

"Are you planning on sleeping way over there?"

Lauren’s face flashed surprise. "Do you want me to lie closer to you?"

Ash nodded shyly as she reached out with her left arm and tugged on the front of Lauren’s shirt.

Lauren grinned and quickly scooted over to cuddle up against the warm body of Ash. She rested her head just above Ash’s breast and tucked her head under her chin. "Better?" she sighed in contentment as she wrapped her arm around Ash’s waist and gave her a hearty squeeze.

"Much," Ash said as she ran her left hand up and down Lauren’s back in a soothing rhythm. "Sweet dreams, love."

"Mmmm, sweet dreams," Lauren yawned as she closed her eyes and let the soothing rhythm of Ash’s hand and the steady beat of her heart lull her to sleep.


Ash woke to the delightful feel of being totally pinned under Lauren. She inhaled deeply and was rewarded by the sweet aroma of Lauren’s hair that rested just under her chin. She slowly opened her eyes and gazed down at the sleep tousled head. Lauren’s head was still nestled under her chin, but Ash became aware of the delicious tingle coursing through her body caused by Lauren’s hot breath exhaling across her left nipple. I better get up before I decide I never want to! She kissed the top of Lauren’s head and then slowly began to extricate herself not wanting to wake her.

She rolled from the bed and stood to gaze back on the sleeping woman. The morning sun’s touch made her hair look like burnished gold. Her face was peaceful in repose and a small grin graced her lips. Ash reached out and gently pulled the covers up to keep off the morning chill. Gods, how I love you! I don’t know how I’m going to stand being away from you. Her mind paused to analyze that. She didn’t want to be away from Lauren. She needed to be near her. Lauren made her feel calm and grounded. Something she hadn’t felt in so long that she figured she never would again. Well, I guess I’ll just have to help Lu capture Sullivan quickly so that I can get back here! She bent at the waist and kissed Lauren’s forehead before turning and heading towards the bathroom for a shower.


Lauren woke feeling wonderful. She reached out a hand and frowned when she found nothing but the pillow. She opened her eyes slowly to see that Ash was gone. Resting on her pillow was a single white rose and a folded note with Lauren’s name inscribed across it in a bold hand. She picked up the rose and brought it to her nose to inhale its delicate fragrance as she scooted up to lean against the headboard. She picked up the note and something fell out of it. She frowned as she picked it up to see what it was. It was a personal phone card in Ash’s name. She played with it absently as she opened Ash’s note and began to read.

My dearest Lauren-

First let me apologize for not waking you when I left. You were sleeping so peacefully that I just didn’t

have the heart to wake you. I’m leaving you my phone card so you can call me without having to worry about the expense. The pin is 1221. My cell number is 406-396-3279. Please call me. I’d love

to hear your beautiful voice.

Thank you for the best 3 days of my life. I’m looking forward to adding many more to my memories.

I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve left something in your care. I’ll pick it up the next time I see you.

You are my muse and my heart.



Lauren lowered the note and wondered what Ash had left in her care. She glanced around the room and her heart stopped when it spied Ash’s guitar case sitting on the chair next to her neatly folded clothes. Her eyes welled with tears as she brought her hand to her mouth in shock. She couldn’t believe Ash had left it behind in her care. She swallowed the wave of overwhelming joy and loneliness that washed over her as she stared at the guitar case and thought about what its presence portended.

"She’s really coming back," Lauren whispered elated. She flopped back on the bed and hugged Ash’s note to her breast letting her mind flow back to memories of last night and the feel of Ash’s warm muscular body against her. She sighed in quiet happiness and closed her eyes. She drifted back to sleep with the memory of ice blue eyes alight with passion gazing at her with love.


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