For complete disclaimers see part 1.
If you’d like to tell me what a wonderful writer I am or that I royally suck, feel free at: XenaNut@hotmail.com
Come visit me at: wwwcoloradobardsplace.com or my publisher at: www.pdpublishing.com
Will pulled a face as he adjusted the headset again. Those things just weren’t meant to be comfortable. He wondered how his pilots did it every day, day in and day out, and still managed to have magnificent hair. Keller sat beside him, the tall, powerful brunette well in control of the Cessna they were using. Garrison was using the Bell 407 today, and couldn’t get away. The blonde had warned Keller not to “kill her baby”, whatever that meant, some sort of private joke between the two women, no doubt, before they left. Keller was a good pilot, adept and graceful, yet she seemed to take more chances than her partner. She’d get an evil twinkle in those baby blues, and the architect knew he was in trouble. She’d apologized profusely for making him lose his lunch the last time they flew tighter, and was behaving this trip.
It was their fifth trip, fifth fruitless tip, and Will was beginning to think maybe Garrison was right, and it was a fool’s dream to think anyone else could have survived the crash, and that they were floating around somewhere, or living on a modern day Gilligan’s Island. Will was a stubborn man, and very tenacious, but even he was starting to wonder when is enough enough. The trips were draining him financially, even with donations fro the public, that hope only held out so long, as did the funds. The worse part, though, was that his own hope was draining, resignation settling in. Dean was most likely dead, and his heart had been lying to him for almost a year. An entire year without his feisty, picky, fussy, primadona attorney.
Sighing heavily, Will looked down at the map that the girls’ friend had drawn up for them, little red makings and circles all over it, marking where they’d been. The map was a testament of how much he loved Dean, but also, and perhaps most sad of all, his determination not to believe what was so clear to everyone else: Dean was gone, and no amount of stubborn determination was going to bring him back.
“Look at those waves,” Keller said, eyeing the sea below, which was starting to curl in on itself. “Looks like a good storm is brewing. We should probably get back soon, Will.”
The architect nodded mutely, noting the unrest of the waters below. It was early May, and hurricane season was just around the corner.
Keller glanced over at her passenger, noting the lines around his mouth and eyes that had started to form over the past year, as well as the touch of gray at his temples. Everything was having such a profound effect on the man, and she just wanted to grab him and protect him from his own heart and hopes, which any fool could see were fading. She remembered when Garrison would come home at night, after the first couple of turns, and she’d be exasperated by the architect. His demands and earnest belief were exhausting and pushing the small blonde pilot to her limit. Now, Keller could see the toll taken on Will, and he wasn’t quite the man he was when everything had started. Feeling the need to comfort him, she reached across the small cockpit, covering his hand, which rested on the map that was splayed out on his lap. His sad gaze met her own, and they shared a moment, something passing between them of understanding and affection. Will squeezed the hand that held his before his own larger hand was released. The message had been clear and very appreciated. Even after everything was over with, he wanted to keep Keller and her family in his life. He’d never known truer, more wonderful people.
“Nonna, give me that.” Gloria took the heavy box from her stubborn grandmother, placing it atop the others in the storage unit the younger woman had rented. Inside were all of her daughter’s belongings, which she just couldn’t make herself part with. She hadn’t wanted to remove them from the apartment, but since her grandfather died, there was no way Gloria was going to let her Nonna live all alone in Milan, and she couldn’t leave her life in New York. Having only a two bedroom apartment, the dark-eyed woman had made the difficult decision to pack up Mia’s room and bring her Nonna to live with her.
“Watch yourself.” The older woman stepped back, watching as her granddaughter slid the storage door shut, locking it with a yank to the lock.
The past year had been a difficult one, watching Gloria fall apart then put herself back together, only to fall apart once more when Paolo had finally succumb to cancer. Lizbeth was amazed that her granddaughter still had a job to come back to, so much time off she’d had to take. Gloria wasn’t the same woman she was this time the year before. When she’d lost Mia, Gloria had shrunken inside, now just a machine who walked through life doing what must be done. She was existing.
“Gloria,” Nonna said, her voice soft, accent lilting in the early summer day. When she had her granddaughter’s attention, she continued. “Why you no have some fun, eh? I can take care of a myself.”
“No, Nonna,” Gloria shook her head, sighing deeply as she hailed them a taxi. There was no way she was going to make her grandmother ride the train, only in town a week. “I’ve got to work.”
Lizbeth shook her head sadly, groaning slightly as she tucked herself into the back of the yellow cab.
Denny stopped, bending at the waist to rest her hands on her knees, taking deep breaths to calm her racing heart and burning lungs. The island so early in the morning was an incredible sight to behold, the colors sparkling over the water, white sand beaches almost glowing pale in the birth of a new day. Rising to her full height, she rested her hands on her hips, gently summer breeze drying sweat-kissed hair, making her shiver slightly. Never a runner back home, on the island she found it to be calming, as well as gave her time to herself, a chance to think and find joyous, and so rare, solitude.
Blowing out a breath, she watched in awe as the sun slowly broke the surface of the distant watery horizon, making her squint at its brilliance. If someone didn’t believe in God, this would make them think about changing their mind. It seemed only a divine entity could create such breathtaking beauty. No wonder so many crazy stories were created to explain the unexplainable mysteries of life in Greek, Roman and Christian mythology. Never in Buffalo had she been able to see anything even half as spectacular.
Reaching behind herself, she untied the material of her pseudo bra, allowing her breasts the freedom to dry uninhibited by the tightly pulled cotton. She was a larger breasted woman, and the lack of a real, structured bra had taken its toll, her breasts aching and her back yelling at her from time to time. How on earth did women do it before the invent of the brazier? Smiling at the thought, she slapped the damp garment over a piece of drift wood that was often used as a seat, then untied the sarong at her waist, letting it fall to the sand at her feet.
The cool waters of the ocean felt marvelous against her heated skin, the brunette diving down into the depths , allowing her muscles to stretch and her body to soar. She caught sight of a few fish, just starting their day, their bright colors muted by the depths. Learning the hard way not to stray too far in the early morning hours, Denny made her way back to shore. The sight of a dorsal fin, not thirty yards from her during a late night swim had cured her of ever wanting to see Jaws again.
Like Aphrodite emerging from the waters, Denny broke the surface, water trailing down her long body in rivulets, kissed by the golden sunlight of dawn. She ran her hands over her face, then her hair, pushing the wet strands back to flop against her mid-back. She noted the way the rising rays were casting sharp shadows against the foliage that formed a barricade behind the beach, the rock facings winking in shadow and moss-covered landscapes.
“Wow,” she breathed, taking it all in. Truly a masterpiece.
Rinsed off, Denny decided to go bathe and start her day before the mad dash for privacy began. Grabbing her sarong and top, she flopped them over her shoulder, walking naked to the rock she’d placed her soap on, then headed into the jungle, heavily calloused feet barely registering any change in terrain. The warming months had brought warm rain with them, and the waterfall was doing overtime. The spill could be heard within half a mile of it, before the sound was eaten up by the dense foliage. Humming softly to herself, the brunette noticed the island starting to come to life, a few colorful birds watching her from their high perches, as well as unseen rodents scurrying into hiding.
Denny’s humming and steps faltered as she heard whistling not too far up the path. Quickly tying her sarong and top in place, she broke through the trees, frozen to the spot. Rachel was standing just beside the rock ledges that curved around to the waterfall wall, her back bare, and facing the brunette. She still wore her sarong, but was about to untie it when the blonde stopped, cocking her head to the side, almost as though she knew she were being watched. Denny watched with baited breath as Rachel’s green eyes met her own, the author slowly turning to fully face her, her top in her hands. They stared at each other for long moments, neither moving or saying a word.
Months ago Denny had started pulling away, but then she got so far, she had no idea how to come back. Now, standing face to face with the woman who haunted her waking and sleeping moments, she could do nothing but stay rooted to the spot, hungry eyes drinking in the precious sight that would sustain her. Rachel made no move to put her top back on, and blue eyes took her in from the waist up, beautiful, perfectly shaped breasts, small enough to remain firm, but large enough to make Denny’s mouth water. The skin was pale, rosy tips slightly puckered. She could see Rachel was breathing heavily, her breasts heaving with every intake and exhale.
Rachel couldn’t take her eyes off Denny’s, seeing the hunger and desperate want in their turbulent depths. It scared her and aroused her beyond anything she’d ever known. Her body was responding in ways that shocked her. Denny had made no movement, as though she were frozen, which surprised the blonde. She had expected her to run off like a frightened deer, as she’d been doing since Christmas. Something inside the author spoke to her, telling her to move, to go to Denny, so she did. The brunette swallowed visibly as Rachel got closer, until they were standing toe to toe.
Denny looked down into Rachel’s eyes, which seemed remarkably calm, though they were alive and burning. Denny wanted to speak, to say something to dilute the intensity of the moment, but it was almost as if her brain had shut itself down, her throat parched and lips numb. Her eyes slid half-closed as a hand came up, resting against her jaw, the brunette’s own hands traitorous as they encircled a slim waist, feeling the softness of Rachel’s naked flesh. She had no idea who initiated it, but her eyes closed the rest of the way as she felt soft lips against her own, just a touch, then a return touch, this time more solid, the fullness of the author’s lips pressing into her own.
Rachel brought the hand up from Denny’s jaw, entwining her fingers gently into long, wet strands of hair, made stiff from the saltwater of the ocean. The fit of their lips was perfect, softness like the blonde had never known. She could taste salt upon Denny’s lips, and wanted to taste more, yet had no idea how to precede. The warm hands at her waist moved, sliding up the length of Rachel’s strong back, kneading the skin and muscle as they went, until finally those hands and fingers were running through the strands of Rachel’s hair, running to the length, allowing the strands to fall back between Rachel’s shoulder blades before capturing the back of her head, the kiss deepening.
Denny stepped closer, feeling the warm softness of Rachel’s breasts press against her own, the blonde gasping slightly at the material of Denny’s top, made wet by her sea-wet flesh. Opening her mouth, the brunette silently asked for permission to enter, which was quickly granted. Rachel sighed into the kiss, feeling her heart lighten even as her body tensed, waves of budding pleasure spreading through her as she pressed their bodies together, needing to feel the steady strength of Denny against her.
Denny felt her own body begin to pulse, and knew she had to stop this before she couldn’t stop it. Breaking the kiss, she rested her forehead against Rachel’s, both breathing heavily.
“Damn it,” she whispered, eyes closed as her fingers continued to play in the golden strands of Rachel’s hair.
“I know,” the blonde agreed, stroking the tanned skin of Denny’s shoulders and upper back.
“I’m sorry, Rachel,” Denny said, a slight whimper in her voice. Her body was thrumming with need, though her brain was screaming. “I just can’t.”
“I know. I know.” Though Rachel was trembling, she could hear the pain in the brunette’s voice, and knew right now Denny needed her to be strong for her, and to be understanding. She gathered Denny’s head in her arms and pulled her gently to rest against her shoulder, holding her close. Squeezing her eyes shut, Rachel ordered her body to calm, her heart still racing, the ache between her legs and in her breasts painful. Her erect nipples had been made even harder by the cold, wet material of Denny’s covering, and now they were ultra super sensitive. How could Hell feel like such Heaven?
Denny allowed herself to be comforted, guilt of two varieties waging a battle within her. How could she do this to Hannah? How could she do this to Rachel? She tried to pull away, but was held fast, Rachel whispering for her to stay, so she did. She basked in the warmth, not only physical, of the smaller woman, needing it more than she ever had. A question arose.
“Do you think Hannah has moved on?”
The question was spoken so soft, and so unexpectedly, Rachel almost missed it. She thought about her answer for a moment. “I don’t know, Denny. We’ve been gone so long, surely no one has put their lives on hold for us. They can’t.”
Finally Denny did pull away, but only enough to look into beautiful green eyes, so filled with compassion, and … love? Denny threw that thought out of her head. It didn’t matter right then. “Am I a fool to hold on, Rachel?” she whispered, desperation in her voice. Rachel reached a hand up, pushing away a drying strand of hair from the perfect face before her.
“No. I think you’re a wonderfully loyal, loving woman who Hannah would be a fool to move on from.” She met the troubled blue gaze. “But ultimately you’ll have to understand that things have changed, for everyone. None of us are the people we were when we got here, and I’d wager no one back home is, either.” She returned the small smile she saw grace full lips that had been so wonderful only moments before. “Wash my back?”
Denny chuckled, stepping fully away. “I’d better not.” Rachel nodded in understanding, her own body still buzzing. “I’m going to start gathering breakfast for everyone.”
“Okay.” The author watched Denny disappear back through the trees until she was gone, then with a heavy sigh, returned to her morning bath.
“It’s been one year today since the tragic crash of flight 1049, hundreds of miles off course due to instrument failure, and ultimately it was determined engine failure. What has become of the Lucky Three in the twelve months since they were pulled from the waters of the Caribbean? Have they been able to lead normal lives? How are they dealing with the loss of their loved ones, who were left behind to face a watery grave? All over the country private memorials are attended by hundreds to commemorate the deaths of the other two hundred and sixty-three people who lost their lives in one of the most tragic plane crashes since flight 800. Join us tonight on Action News at-“
Reenie pushed the power button on the remote control, the TV clicking off. Turning back to her guests, she sighed sadly. “I can’t believe it’s been a year.”
“I know,” Gloria Vinzetti said, nodding. They turned to see Will, the man who had brought them all together, staring out the window of Reenie’s high-rise loft.
“You okay, Will?” the editor asked, sipping from her bottle of spring water. The architect nodded, but said nothing. They had all decided, on the one year anniversary, to get together and decide what, if anything, they wanted to do with the rescue expeditions. Should they continue, should they give up and accept the fact that their loved ones were gone for good. Milton Bryce, another man they’d met at October’s memorial also joined them, having lost his wife and two daughters on flight 1049.
“Well, I need to get to work here soon, so lets get talking,” Milton said with a heavy sigh, looking at the others in the room, meeting their eyes, all much like his: sad and empty. He’d lost his world on that plane.
Will sighed heavily, able to feel three pairs of eyes boring into his back. He knew they all waited for a report from him, of his and Keller’s last flight. Turning away from the window, hands resting on his hips, he reached up, adjusting his loosened tie. “I think we should stop.” The silence that filled Reenie’s loft was like the quiet of a tomb, each in shock at his calm, firm announcement. “I’ve been thinking a lot about this. Five trips,” he held up his hand, fingers spread wide, “five. All that time, energy and money, and for what? We’ve found nothing, hell, we haven’t even found nothing. It’s all just water, bleak, dark, cold and empty ocean. There’s nothing there.”
Reenie felt her heart fall. Though she had felt it was a fool’s errand to ever start searching, she had allowed her heart to fill with a small bit of hope. Hell, if three could survive it, why not three more? One more? Swallowing, she got her disappointment under control.
“What do the rest of you think?” the editor asked, looking at Gloria and Milton in turn. “Do you think we should stop?”
Milton felt his anger bubble up, exploding with red face and vein-ridden neck. “Goddamn it, Will! You got us all hyped up on this hair brained idea of yours, and now you just wanna give it all up?”
“I don’t see any other choice, to be perfectly honest. I can’t keep doing this every damn time. Do you have any idea what it’s like to go up there in that helicopter or airplane, your hopes flying as high as the engines will allow, only to fall short of anything but profound disappointment? Well, I can’t do it anymore. If any of you would like to volunteer to take a trip or two, then fine, do it. But I can’t. I won’t.”
“We need to make a decision. Garrison and Keller will be here soon,” Gloria reminded.
“She’s right,” Reenie said, like Gloria, sensing that a fight could break out between the two male types in the room. They had to deliver a decision to the rest of those who were funding the expeditions, and who had given their hopes and prayers to the small group leading the mission, resting them in their hands.
“I say we stop,” Will said, shoving his hands in his pockets. “I think it’s done.” It hurt like hell to say it, but it needed to be said. The hope and acute disappointment was eating him alive.
“Okay,” Gloria said, her words soft. They all knew none of this would have happened if not for the determination of Will, so she was willing to listen and agree. Reenie also nodded. Milton shoved away from the table and out onto Reenie’s balcony. The other three remained silent, filled with an assortment of emotions and feelings; guilt. Were they giving up too soon? Foolishness- was it crazy to ever think anyone else survived? Grief- the final connection to hope was being cut as they sat around.
With relief and dread, Reenie answered the knock at her door, knowing it was Garrison and Keller, come to get the final tally. The editor smiled as she let the pilots in, followed by their fifteen year old ward, Parker. “Come on in, ladies.” With a heavy sigh, she closed the door and leaned against it, eyes briefly squeezing shut before pushing away from it and joining the others.
Garrison looked around, getting a pretty good idea of what had been said before they arrived, by the looks on the three faces before them, and then that of Milton Bryce, standing in the doorway of the French doors leading to the balcony, a lit cigarette dangling from his fingertips.
“You guys are stopping the expedition,” the blonde pilot said, meeting each gaze in turn. Most looked away or simply nodded. Garrison was surprised to feel her heart break, somehow hoping that the group would decide to continue. She had wanted so desperately to find something, anything for them, even if it was just a piece of luggage for a last physical link. Sighing, she sat heavily in the chair Milton had vacated, Keller standing behind her, hands absently rubbing her shoulders.
“Are you sure?” the brunette said. No one answered. “Okay.”
“You are so full of crap, Dean! You did, too move that piece when I went to the bathroom,” Mia complained, staring down at the checker board they’d made in the sand, rocks as their pieces.
“I did not!” the attorney defended, looking to Denny and Rachel, who were busy eating bananas and staring at each other. “Ladies? Can you defend me, here, or are you too busy making oogly eyes at each other?”
“Huh?” Denny asked, realizing she was indeed being spoken to. She blushed deeply, knowing full well she’d been busted watching Rachel’s lips as she ate her lunch, the soft, pink tongue poking out now and then to snag a bit of runaway banana from her lip. “Oh, uh, didn’t see it.”
“Small wonder,” Dean groused, Mia giggling behind her hand. Rachel was also an unnatural color of red.
“Y’all might wanna consider folding everything up. Looks like we got ourselves an ugly coming.” At Michael’s words of warning, everyone looked up into the sky. The clouds were dark and brewing, distant rumbling indicative of what was to come.
“Oh, man,” Dean whined with a heavy sigh. He yelled out when he saw Mia take out three of his men. “Hey!” The girl gave him a shit-eating grin. Wiping out their board, he muttered. “Storm’s coming.”
“Better than being a plain loser,” the attorney mumbled, getting to his feet.
“Oh, that’s mature.” Mia followed him toward their shelters. They were schooled in the art of escaping a big storm, now, though every time one came in, they all held their collective breath, hoping it wasn’t a hurricane, or a tropical storm bigger than the first one that blew in. More than likely, nothing on the island would survive it.
Denny felt like a kid caught with her hand in the cookie jar. She had no idea she was so transparent. She and Rachel had kissed more than two weeks ago, and it hadn’t happened again, but she still felt that kiss all the way down to her toes. The brunette just couldn’t let it go, no matter how hard she tried. Thought she and Rachel were spending time together again, she still made sure it was with at least one other person there with them; she didn’t trust herself.
Everyone gathered what mattered to them, which boiled down to their soap, and the few scraps of clothing they had left. The few tools they’d made from stones and ticks were also gathered, taken to the nook behind the waterfall to wait out the storm. It didn’t take long for the island to be overtaken by severe winds and rains, the day turning cold and nearly impossible to see through the deluge. The skies opened up with a roar of thunder. As everyone settled in to ride out the storm, Michael spoke.
“Do y’all think we’ll get off here?” He met every gaze with mild curiosity. Pam sighed heavily.
“I sure hope so. My grandson is bound to be about two feet taller than when I saw him last.” This earned a round of chuckles.
“What do y’all say about making a boat again?”
“To fish with?” Dean asked, having a sinking feeling that wasn’t what the Texan had in mind.
“No. A boat to load us all up on, with water and food, and get out of here. Find civilization somewheres.” Again, he studied everyone in turn. Anyone agree?”
“Are you suggesting leaving the safety of the island for the unknown of the middle of the Caribbean?” Pam asked, brows raised in surprise, her voice dripping with sarcasm.
“I’m sayin’ that I don’t want to stay here forever, Pam. What if one of us got sick? Or something else?” he eyed the veterinarian, the question hanging in the air between them.
“Sick, yes, other, no.” Pam answered him with a slight shake of her head. The relief was palpable.
“Either way, we gotta get outta here. Who’s with me?” He was surprised by the silence that met him. “Come on, guys! Do you really wanna rot here?”
“We could still be rescued,” Dean said, though his voice was quiet, almost shy.
“Do you really think that, Dean? Can you honestly look me in the eye,” the Texan pointed at his own face, “and tell me y’all think some big boat is gonna float on up to the shore tomorrow and bam!” he clapped his hands, startling everyone. “Saved!”
“Don’t be an asshole, Michael,” Pam said, her voice a low growl. “We can talk about this without the theatrics. I mean, isn’t Dean here the queen?” She raised a single brow, Michael grinning slightly at the chuckles from the group. His smile quickly disappeared at the seriousness of the situation.
“We’ve got to be thinking, folks. If’n y’all wanna stay here, then stay. But I wanna start thinking outside this damn island. I wanna go home.”
“I’m with you, Michael,” Mia said, nodding with conviction. She turned hopeful eyes to Denny and Rachel. Rachel met her gaze, but said nothing.
“Why now, Michael?” Denny asked, bringing her legs up to wrap her arms around, resting her chin on her knees.
“I heard engines again the other day,” he said, looking bashful.
“What?!” Dean shot up from where he’d been lounging back against the wall. “Why didn’t you say anything?”
“Cause I didn’t want any of y’all to get upset.”
“Great!” Dean exploded. “We could have all looked for it, waved it down, something.”
“Dean, stop it,” Pam growled, glaring at him. She turned back to the Texan. “What’s your plan, Michael?”
“Well, as I see it, they gotta have a base around here somewheres, in order to be out here. I figure we got a shot to find them.”
“I don’t know if it’s wise, Michael. We don’t have anything to keep water
in. The only way to get fish to keep is to salt it, and that would make the
thirst worse. I just don’t know if it’s practical.”
Michael sighed, crossing large arms over his chest. He was irritated, thinking that more than Mia would stand behind him on this. He really thought everyone would be willing to leave the island, and didn’t want to admit they were right. He was still determined. “I still think we should build a boat.”
“Okay, how about this,” Denny said, tucking her legs under her and leaning forward to be heard over the increasing sound of the storm. “let’s compromise. If there is still no one here by, what,” she looked to the others, “say end of year? We start considering our options.”
“By end of summer,” he countered. The women and Dean exchanged looks.
“Okay. End of summer.”
“I’m glad that storm’s over.”
Rachel glanced over, watching as Denny climbed up on her ledge. The blonde nodded. “Me, too. It didn’t seem to do as much damage, either.”
“Yeah. We’ll have to make some repairs to the shelter tomorrow, but other than that…” The coffee shop owner settled in next to the author, sighing as she leaned back on her hands, looking out over the sunset.
“I’m not sure if Michael did more damage or more good with his outburst tonight.”
“Because now he’s got everyone thinking.”
“Including you?” Denny asked, tucking her chin into her shoulder to look at the other woman, who sat cross-legged.
“Yeah. I guess including me. I don’t know.” Rachel picked at some loose vegetation that had been swept onto the ledge during the storm. “I’ve been thinking a lot about Matt over the past months, and I think it’s best I let him go, once I get back. Let him find a woman who can be what he needs to be.”
“And what about you?” Denny had no idea why she asked that question, as when she got back, if she got back, she would have to attempt to reclaim her life with Hannah, and get back into the swing of things with DiRisio’s. She would have no room in her life for questions concerning Rachel Holt.
“What about me. Good question, Denny.” Rachel mirrored the brunette’s position, basking in the coolness of the night. It was humid and the air was heavy after the rain, but the breeze coming in off the ocean was cool and refreshing. The day time temperatures were definitely getting hotter and hotter. “I guess rebuild my career, decide where I want to go.”
“Will you stay in Oregon?”
“I honestly don’t know. I know my best friend, Reenie, has been trying to get me to move to New York forever, but,” she shrugged a shoulder. “I don’t know if I want to do that. I’m just not made for the big city.” She glanced over at Denny. “You’d go back to Buffalo.” A statement. Denny nodded.
“Yeah. I would.”
“You know, I wish I could have met you back home, me on some trip to New York to deal with my publisher, or something.”
Denny smiled. “Yeah. You walked into DiRisio’s, and I fell all over myself, unsure what the hell to do with a celebrity in my humble coffee shop.”
Rachel chuckled. “I’m hardly a celebrity, Denny.” Rachel felt slightly embarrassed, having been able to forget about that unwelcome part of her life while on the island. No one knew who she was, other than Rachel, a fellow member of the island family.
“Bullshit! You graced more covers of People magazine than Julia Roberts.” Denny liked the blush that covered the blonde’s face. She found it adorable. “No, I would have been honored to make a caramel macchiato for the great Rachel Holt.”
“I’m just me, Denny. Nothing special.”
“That’s not true, Rachel,” the brunette’s voice was soft, like a whisper on a breeze. Denny met the blonde’s gaze and almost got lost in it. Clearing her throat and looking out toward the ocean again, she continued. “You know, I was sitting next to Mia and her mom on the plane.”
“You’re kidding?” Rachel felt her heart break all over again for the sweet girl that they’d all fallen in love with.
Denny shook her head. Ironically enough, we were talking about you during the flight.” Again she met the author’s gaze. “Gloria was a huge fan of yours.”
Rachel had to look away, suddenly emotion rising to sting the backs of her eyes. She wasn’t sure what she felt, knowing that Gloria was now dead, and Mia had no idea who the blonde was.
“I didn’t mean to make you cry, Rachel. I’m sorry.” She reached over, touching the blonde’s shoulder.
“No, I don’t know why that touched me so much. God, that poor girl.” The blonde took several deep breaths, trying to calm herself. She knew she was getting close to her week of fig leaves, and was overwhelmed by sudden fear and grief. What if she did make it back home? What did she have to go back to? She got herself under control, feeling silly and insecure. Swiping at her eyes, she took a deep breath.
“I was wondering if maybe you’d talk to her, you know,” Denny shrugged, “tell her. It might help for Mia to be able to talk about Gloria a little. She really hasn’t thus far.”
“Do you think that might be a little too much?”
Denny shrugged. “I don’t know. I really worry about her. She doesn’t talk about anyone else, other than her great grandparents in Milan. I don’t know if she has anyone back home.”
“Yeah,” Rachel agreed with a nod. “Mia doesn’t deserve this. But then again, I guess none of us do.” She looked at the brunette. “You should be back home with Hannah, cuddling in front of the TV or something.”
Denny sighed. The crazy thing was, in the fantasy the blonde spoke of, she only saw Rachel in it. “Why did all this happen, Rachel? They say things happen for a reason, what was the reason for all this?” she waved her hand, indicating them and the island around them. “Why did all those people have to die?”
“I don’t know. You want to know the crazy thing, though?”
“I’m so sorry for everyone who died, and for those left behind, including all of your families, but for me, I don’t know.” She sighed, falling back to lie prone, hands tucked behind her head. “I feel like this whole thing, as nutty as it all is, has been good for me. I don’t know, I feel like I’ve grown in some way, as a person.”
“If you stop growing, you die,” Denny said, her voice soft as darkness began to reign, that time of night when secrets seemed to be more safe, honesty abundant.
“That is true. I always thought that’s what happened to my parents. They were too afraid to grow, too afraid to discover what the world was really like outside religion and rigidity.” They fell into companionable silence for a moment, surrounded by the sounds of the island as the small wildlife began to return after the storm. “Denny?”
“Yeah?” The brunette could no longer see Rachel, but could feel the immense heat that radiated off her smaller body. Her own body responded.
“I probably shouldn’t say this, in light of what we’ve been talking about tonight, but,” Rachel paused, almost at a loss for words to convey what she needed to say. “I really loved kissing you. I don’t know, it, it just made me feel so…” her brow knit. An author who had no words. “It just made me feel.”
“You don’t get to feel very often, do you?”
“No.” Rachel’s response was like a whisper on the wind, filled with sadness and longing. “I know we shouldn’t have done that, Denny, I know you have Hannah back home, and I know you love her. But I wanted to say thank you for that. It was beautiful.”
“It was,” Denny nodded, wishing she could see Rachel’s eyes at that moment. She loved the blonde’s eyes, not just for the amazing color, but also to read them, to see exactly what she was feeling and thinking. But then again, if she could, that may be the end of her resolve. What resolve? The brunette reached a hand out, tentative so as not to frighten the blonde with the sudden touch, also to make sure she wasn’t going to accidentally grab something she shouldn’t be grabbing.
Rachel gasped slightly at the feel of warm fingers brushing across her cheek, not expecting the touch. She brought her own hand up, covering that hand and closing her eyes; the touch was pure bliss. She heard movement, then suddenly the side of her body was engulfed in Denny’s body heat as the brunette scooted beside her.
Denny couldn’t deny herself the feel of Rachel’s skin, the smoothness of her face, inhaling the fragrance that was all Rachel. “How do you always smell so good?” she whispered, the breath from her words making the blonde shiver.
“Hardly. I haven’t had a stick of deodorant in months.”
Denny smiled at that. “It must just be you, then.”
Rachel could tell the brunette was near, could feel her breath against the side of her neck, gently blowing her hair off her face. Her hand left Denny’s and followed the arm it was attached to until eventually she was touching a shoulder, then a neck, then her fingers curled around to the back of Denny’s head.
“I’d really like it if you’d kiss me again.”
Denny said nothing, instead leaning in, intending to only drop a soft, brief kiss on full lips, but she was a fool to think she wouldn’t lose herself again. The hand at the back of her head moved to the back of her neck, squeezing slightly as Denny was pulled closer to the author, feeling the blonde’s right breast brush against her arm. At first the kiss was a simple touching of lips, softness brushing against softness, exploring.
“Denny,” Rachel whispered against the brunette’s lips, not asking nor telling, just stating. She felt the coffee shop owner lower herself slightly, their upper bodies almost making full contact. Rachel opened her mouth, inviting Denny inside, sighing at the feel of the brunette’s soft tongue caressing her own.
Denny pushed everything out of her head, only allowing herself to take in what she was feeling and tasting. Her brain threatened to pull the plug on her bliss by bringing up images of Hannah’s face, taunting her with the realization that she was having trouble remembering just how her partner tasted and felt, instead replacing those thoughts with how Rachel tasted, and how soft she was. Even as she pushed the part of herself down, the part who screamed traitor, she couldn’t help but be frightened by just how badly she wanted to make love to Rachel in that moment. How badly she wanted to show Rachel that she could feel a hell of a lot more than just a simple kiss.
Rachel’s head arched back instinctively as soft lips left her own and began to trail along her jaw line, Denny’s heavy breathing in her ear as a wet tongue flicked at her earlobe. That swipe made Rachel’s eyes shoot open, her fingers clutch Denny’s shoulders.
“Denny,” she whispered, half moan half plea for the brunette to listen to her. “Denny, baby, wait.”
“What?” As soon as the word was out of her mouth, Denny knew why Rachel had gotten her attention. Sighing with frustrated resignation, her forehead fell to Rachel’s shoulder, her body still thrumming, electrified by the woman beneath her. “God, this is torture.”
“I’m sorry. I don’t want you to do something you’d regret. I’m sorry, Denny. I never should have said anything.” Rachel felt suddenly cold as Denny pushed herself to sit beside the blonde, scooting some to put a little distance between them.
“No,” the brunette said, scrubbing her face with her hands before running them through her hair. “I’m sorry. God, that was dumb.”
Denny’s taste still fresh on her tongue, Rachel took a deep breath. “Maybe we should get some sleep.”
“You go ahead. I’ll be in later.” With that, Denny climbed down the rocks, disappearing into the inky darkness.
“Keller, calm down.”
“Calm down? Why the hell should I calm down?” the pilot did feel herself calming down, however. She stopped pacing, looking to her partner, who was already in bed, sitting up against the headboard, sheet tucked at her waist. “Why the hell would he give up? I don’t understand this.”
“Because we haven’t found anything in a year, Keller. What do you expect the poor man to do? We’ve given him the best discount we can, but it’s still expensive. Plus, to be honest, I think Will’s dying inside. He’s a sensitive guy, and I don’t think he can take any more.” Garrison’s voice remained calm, matter-of-fact to try and keep her excitable partner calm. It was a trick she’d learned over the years. It usually had a calming affect on Keller.
“I just,” the tall pilot plopped down to the bed, stretching out on her side of the bed, facing Garrison. “My gut tells me to keep going. I don’t know why, but it does.”
“You really think so?”
“I do.” Keller nodded to emphasize her point, reaching out to play with the hem of Garrison’s tank top. “I think we should make one more pass, just one last go of it. We only have one or two places left on the map, anyway.”
“True. I doubt Will would go for it,” the blonde warned, reaching out to smooth dark strands of hair out of Keller’s beautiful blue eyes.
“So then let’s just do it, Garrison. We can afford this one trip, on us, just to make sure. It would make me feel a hell of a lot better.” She studied her partner’s eyes, knowing that ultimately it was Garrison’s decision. She handled all the financial stuff of their business. The blonde nodded.
“So let’s do it, baby,” she scrambled up to straddle Garrison’s legs, caressing the side of her face with calloused fingertips. “Just one last flight to ease my gut.”
“Or I could just get you a nice shot of Pepto Bismol.” Garrison grinned, kissing the fingers the grazed over her lips.
“We’ve got summer rushes, baby. How are we going to find time to do this?”
“I don’t know. It may not happen tomorrow, but some time soon, within the next couple months, I really want to do this.”
Garrison looked into Keller’s eyes, and she saw the truth in her words. She really believed in this, and Keller wasn’t one to be frivolous. Finally she nodded. “Okay. We’ll do it for Will.”
Keller grinned, that adorable lopsided grin that made Garrison’s heart melt, even after more than ten years together. “Yeah. We’ll do it for Will.”
“I love you.”
“Nuh uh. I love you, more.”
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