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
Part 19 (Conclusion)
“Welcome back, and thanks for joining me on Conifer Talks. I’m sitting here next to one of the hottest young authors of her generation, Rachel Holt.” The talk show hostess turned to look at her guest. “Now, Rachel, before the break, you mentioned that you’d recently bought a house.”
“Yeah. I bought a place in the north west.”
“You had disappeared for quite some time,” Maureen Conifer said, chin resting on a loose fist. “Where did you go?”
Rachel tried not to squirm in the armchair, as always, hating the intense scrutiny on her. She had initially wanted to turn down Maureen’s invite to the show to promote her new book, but her publisher wouldn’t hear of it. They insisted.
“Well, I need some time by myself. Things were pretty crazy when we got back,” Rachel explained, crossing one leg over the other, hand absently straightening her skirt as she did.
“So where did you go? Your editor, Reenie Bazilton is out of New York. And you gals are pretty good friend, right?”
“Yes,’ Rachel hedged, wondering where the line of questioning was going. One thing she hated most about interviews were all the personal questions. Rachel was a very private person, and hated having to stay on her toes for an hour. Even so, Maureen Conifer was the only journalist she’d ever allowed to interview her, trusting her ethics, and a sense of mutual respect.
“Well, I wondered if perhaps you had escaped to the Big Apple to throw off the hounds for a bit.” The talk show hostess smiled. Rachel chuckled, shaking her head.
“No. I actually rented a small cottage in Colorado for awhile. It gave me a chance to write in peace.”
“Speaking of,” Maureen took Rachel’s book from the small table placed between their armchairs. “Lost In Paradise, the name of your newest novel, which will be out on shelves Tuesday.” The hostess turned to the audience. “And everyone will be getting a signed copy today.” She waited until the crowed died down before continuing. “This novel, in my opinion, is your best work to date, Rachel.”
“Thank you.” The blonde couldn’t help but feel shy and a little overwhelmed by all the attention.
“Now, the two year anniversary of the crash is today. What are your thoughts, all this time later? I mean, this time last year, you and the other Island Six were still lost at sea.”
Rachel nodded, sipping from the glass of water provided by the props man. “It’s very strange. It’s funny you mentioned, that, because I was actually thinking about this very same thing this morning when I arrived in LA. So much has changed since I boarded that plane. My life has certainly changed,” she said, placing a hand to her upper chest, mindful of the microphone clipped to her shirt there. It’s been a time of growth and healing for me.”
“Well, I certainly think that shines through in your writing, Rachel. This novel, I’m assuming, is a fictitious account of your time with, what you’ve been quoted as calling, your ‘island family’. So tell me,” Maureen said, a twinkle shining in her blue eyes, “what parts are true?”
“Oh, no, no, no!” Rachel laughed, sitting back in her seat. “I am not going to tell you that.”
“Oh, come on!” the talk show hostess baited. “The kite made with fig leaves? The masher? What is real and what came from your imagination?”
“My lips are sealed.” Rachel grinned.
“Okay, okay. I see I’m not going to get anywhere with that. Tell me a little about your time there, Rachel. Was it paradise, or more like hell?”
“Which day?” A round of chuckles arose through the crowd. “We had our days where it was amazing, the most beautiful place in the world. And,” she shrugged, “we had our days where it was really hard. The day you got a skull-splitting headache and there wasn’t a thing you could do about it. Or days when you missed your family so bad you could taste it. Especially those with us who had children back home, thinking their parent was dead. It was really hard on them.”
“No doubt. Why the title, why Lost In Paradise?”
“I don’t know,” Rachel’s voice turned somewhat wistful, thinking back to her state of mind during the writing of the novel. “I guess because I felt like I did lose parts of myself those fourteen months. When I got back, I just wasn’t quite sure who I was anymore.”
“And it must have had a harsh effect on your life. Not long after you returned, you and your husband, Matt Frazier.”
Rachel cleared her throat. “I refuse to talk about that, Maureen. That part of my life is over, and it’s a private matter.”
“Fair enough. Alright, well, let me ask you one thing,”
Rachel nodded, a little nervous at what the talk show hostess would ask. She tried to steel herself.
“What do you miss most about the island? If anything.”
The blonde smiled, her answer automatic, no thought required. “The Island Six. I miss my island family.”
“We miss you, too, darlin’.”
Rachel’s eyes widened, the deep twang resonating through the studio over a loud speaker. She turned in her chair, looking desperately for the owner of the voice. The crowd’s uproar finally made Rachel turn to her right, her hand going to her mouth. Michael walked out onto the stage, a grin on his face and single red rose in his hand. Dressed in Wranglers, flannel shirt and Stetson, the handsome Texan opened his arms wide, the blonde flying into them.
“Oh my god, I’ve missed you!” she exclaimed, voice muffled against his chest, which she swore had gotten bigger. She started, feeling a tap on her shoulder. Pulling slightly away from Michael’s embrace, Rachel’s eyes filled even more when Mia, grinning, handed her a second rose. Engulfed by the girl, Rachel became overwhelmed as Dean sauntered onto the stage, rose between his perfect teeth. The author laughed through her tears, taking the flower from him, and accepting a kiss and hug. Pam walked out, arms already opened wide, ready to accept one of her other children into her arms. Rachel cried against her shoulder, unable to get herself under control.
“Hello, sweetheart,” the veterinarian said into her ear, the blonde barely able to hear above the cheers from the audience. Rachel pulled away, trying to clear the tears from her eyes as she sobbed. Her breath caught as she spotted her over Pam’s shoulder.
Denny couldn’t take her eyes off the author, her own rose twisting between her thumb and forefinger. She watched as Rachel hurried over to her, almost knocking the breath out of her with the force of her embrace.
“Oh, god, Denny,” Rachel whispered, burying her face in the brunette’s neck. Denny held her, feeling her world righted for the first time since the day she’d watched Rachel climb into that plane and fly out of her world. The rest of the word disappeared, only Denny’s warmth against her existing, for five straight minutes. Finally the blonde pulled away, looking up into Denny’s own tear-streaked face. She reached up, briefly touching her cheek, dimly aware that Maureen was sending them to a commercial break.
“And, we’re clear!” a crew member announced.
Rachel turned on the hostess. “I can’t believe you did this to me!” she accused, tears still flowing down her face. Maureen’s face couldn’t have been more alive with her smile, having to hold her own emotion back. It had been a gamble, not entirely certainly how Rachel would react, but it couldn’t have been better. Ratings were going to be through the roof!
Rachel found herself surrounded by her family as prop people quickly took away the two armchairs, replacing them with a long couch and five more glasses of water, microphones waiting for them.
“Hey, baby girl,” Dean said, taking Rachel in another hug, careful to not smash the roses she held. She hugged Dean back, then looked at everyone, her face about to split wide open with the grin. She noticed that everyone had been crying, too. It took everything she had to not bat the makeup girl away as she touched up her artwork.
“I can’t believe you guys are all here. My god, I’m so stunned.” Rachel found herself the middle of an Island Six sandwich, the group hug lasting until they were told to take their places.
Everyone was fitted with a microphone, Rachel flanked by Dean and Mia, Dean immediately taking the blonde’s hand. He squeezed it, leaning down to whisper in her ear. “You look beautiful.” He gave her a kiss on the cheek, then wrapped his other hand around Denny’s who sat on the other side of him. She grinned, ever grateful to get that call from him on a lonely May night.
The Island Six stayed for the rest of the show, telling amusing stories about their time on the island, as well as sharing details of their current lives. Rachel couldn’t remember the last time she’d been so happy. Denny was on the other side of Dean, and she swore she could feel her presence there, and had to fight against leaning forward to look at her. But all in all, she felt giddy.
Dean smiled out at Will, who had been planted out in the audience, along with everyone else’s families. He was thrilled to be amongst his faux family again. He loved every single one of them, and though his life was a happy one, nothing made him feel so completely happy as to have Will and the Island Six all in the same room. He couldn’t wait to introduce them all.
Mia could feel fresh emotion in her throat, ready to burst the first moment she was allowed. It felt so amazingly right sitting there next to Rachel and Michael, the big Texan’s arm around her shoulders, Rachel’s hand wrapped around her own. She was nervous to be on national TV, but it just didn’t seem to matter.
Michael felt like a proud father all over again. Beautiful Mia sitting next to him, his protective nature immediately kicking in. He kept glancing down the line, seeing all the familiar faces, yet everyone looked so different. Even still, the camaraderie and bond was still there, still as strong as ever.
Pam, sitting on the other end of the couch, rested her hand on Denny’s shoulder, feeling the warm strength beneath the gorgeous brunette’s shirt. Their thighs were touching along their length, and Pam couldn’t keep the smile from her lips. She couldn’t wait to introduce Tracy and Luke to everyone, and vice versa.
Denny sighed in contentment for about the third time. Everything she’d been searching for clicked into place the moment everyone began to file into the Green Room, put through makeup and hair. It had been emotional for all of them, not much said, just tight hugs and meaningful kisses. Denny had been so excited to see the blonde for the first time, yet nervous. She was afraid she’d feel the same way, and afraid she wouldn’t. Not having any clue what to expect, Denny had held onto the rose she’d been given and had awaited her cue. She had actually been slated to go on after Michael, but Dean had insisted she trade places with him and bump Mia up. He said she should make a ‘dramatic entrance’. So, she had.
When she’d felt Rachel against her, their bodies melding together, Denny had wanted to cry just from the sheer bliss of it all. It was like nothing she had ever felt before, never knowing anything to wonderful or right in her life.
The show was brought to the end, and as the audience members milled about, talking to the Island Six, and swarmed Rachel, Michael walked over to Dean, who stood with a tall man with a handsome face and sandy-colored hair. He put a large hand to the attorney’s shoulder.
“Hey, Dean, come with me fer a minute. I want y’all ta meet my kids.” Dean followed the mechanic to a group of three, still sitting in their seats. Dean smiled at all of them- a very pretty teenaged girl, a young boy and good-looking twenty-something. “Dean, this here is my eldest boy, Alan, my little angel, Jennifer, and my youngest, Conrad.”
“I’ve heard so much about you three,” Dean said, giving them his biggest smile.
“Kids, this here is Dean.”
“It’s so nice to meet you, Dean,” Alan said, taking the attorney’s proffered hand. Jennifer smiled and gave him a quick hug, remembering how fondly her father had talked about the handsome man. Conrad, somewhat shy, shook his hand, nodding acknowledgment.
Will, who had followed behind, was quickly introduced to the big man, then his kids.
“It is an absolute pleasure, Will,” Michael said, taking the architect’s hand in both of his. “Dean sure loves you an awful lot.”
Will smiled. “It’s very mutual. I’m so sorry about your wife.”
“Thank you.” Michael tipped his hat.
“Hey, we’re all talking about getting together for dinner,” Mia said, walking up to the small group. Dean put his arm around the girl’s shoulders, pulling her into his side. Her arm automatically went around his waist.
“Hell, yeah!” Michael said, nodding.
Denny stood off to the side, watching as the studio began to clear, the Island Six standing in a small group, Rachel cornered by the producer of Maureen Conifer’s show. The blonde glanced up, nodding at the something the man was saying, her gaze meeting that of Denny’s. They shared a smile, then the author gave her full attention back to the man.
“So we’re talking about dinner, everyone catching up. You in?”
Denny turned to see Pam standing next to her. The brunette gave Rachel one last look, then nodded. “Yeah. That would be good.”
“It’s so good to see you, Denny. I’ve really missed everyone.”
Denny gave the veterinarian her full attention, giving the her a tight hug. “I’ve missed everyone, too. It’s been a helluva year.” She grinned, the older woman nodding in agreement.
“Amen to that!” Suddenly Pam squeezed Denny’s shoulder then walked away. Confused, the brunette realized that Rachel was walking toward her. Taking a deep breath, she turned toward her.
“Hi.” Rachel looked up into the blue eyes that had haunted her for so long. She reached out, briefly touching the brunette’s arm. She wanted to hug her again so badly, but dozens of eyes were on her, and she didn’t feel comfortable.
“We’re all talking about going out for dinner, catching up. You interested?”
“Definitely.” Rachel looked into Denny’s face. She looked good, her eyes bright and alive. Skin smooth and much softer than the deeply tanned, almost leathery appearance the last time she’d seen her. She looked casual in jeans and a capped sleeved tee shirt. “You look good.”
Denny smiled, making her face all the more beautiful in the blonde’s eyes. “Thank you, Denny.”
“Congratulations on your book. I’m so proud of you.” Denny gave the blonde a quick hug, knowing they had to be careful. What she really wanted to do was take Rachel in her arms and never let her go again.
“Listen, I’ve got a better idea. I’ve got a suite downtown. Why don’t you all come over?”
Denny smiled with a nod. “Sounds great. I’ll tell everyone.”
The Ambassador Suite on the fourteenth floor at the Regent Beverly Wilshire was more than any of the remaining Island Three could take in one look. Rachel was used to it, as her publisher had put her up there many times over the years. All eyes were open wide as they took in the 1800 sq. ft. space, the rich, luxurious appointments and huge marble bathroom. Will and Dean were also used to such luxuries.
“Good god almighty,” Michael breathed, “And I thought the Blue Room was nice!”
“That’s the Green Room, there, Red,” Dean smirked.
“Well, them walls was painted blue.”
Rachel chuckled, walking over to the phone. “Who’s hungry?” A round of agreement, she ordered ten large pizzas to accommodate the six islanders, as well as Will and Gloria. She remembered the appetite Michael had. “Make yourselves comfortable, guys. Please, enjoy all this opulence, cause I know I certainly won’t.”
She saw Denny open the French doors leading to the balcony and followed.
Denny was surprised to hear the soft voice, but it put an instant smile on her face. “How are you?”
“I’m okay. And you?” the brunette asked, crossing her arms over her chest. She wasn’t sure what to do, how to act, what to say. Her wonderings about if she’d feel the same way the next time she saw Rachel flew out the window. Not a thing had changed. In fact, if anything, time and distance had made the feelings more acute.
“I’m good.” Rachel walked over to her, taking her arms and pulling them open, stepping into the space she’d created. Denny held the blonde tight, resting her cheek against the soft, blonde hair, shorter than it had been last time she’d seen Rachel. It reached to just about her shoulders, one side tucked behind an ear. Rachel could hear Denny’s heart beating, and wondered if it mirrored the rhythm of her own. “I’ve missed you,” she finally allowed herself to say. Eyes closed, Rachel inhaled the scent that she could never forget, now just enhanced with clean clothing and the slightest hint of perfume.
“I missed you, too.”
“Let’s not lose contact again, okay?” Rachel asked, not lifting her head from where it rested on a strong shoulder. She felt Denny’s nod, and whispered okay.
“Ladies, want to join us?” Will asked, feeling sheepish and shy, interrupting what was obviously a very personal moment. Dean had filled him in on Denny and Rachel, and the attorney’s thoughts that the two women belonged tighter. Seeing them, he couldn’t say he disagreed.
Denny looked up, nodding. “Yeah. What’s up?”
“Dean brought some champagne. He wants to celebrate the reunion.”
“Sounds wonderful,” Rachel said, giving the brunette one final squeeze before letting her go, following Will inside, just before the popping of a cork.
Dean handed out glasses of the bubbly, then held up his own. “I have to admit, over the last ten months, I’ve missed all of you more than I ever thought possible. My life, though full and wonderful, just hasn’t been the same without my island family.” He turned to the author. “Rachel, the best of luck with your newest venture, as I’ve heard it’s wonderful and can’t wait to delve into its pages. Denny, good luck on your recent move into the northwest, I know it’s been a long road for you. Literally.” He winked, Denny chuckling. “Michael, to you and your beautiful children, which I noticed are absent. Pam, I’m so proud of you.” He leaned over to the woman, who was standing next to him, giving her a kiss on the cheek. “Way to go, mom,” he said softly. “And finally to my Sweets, Mia. Here’s to a beautiful young girl, her whole life ahead of her.”
Glasses were raised.
Michael sat on the couch, Mia sitting next to him, head on his shoulder. Pam had snagged Rachel to sit next to her on the loveseat, showing her the photo album she’d brought with her, and made the other four look at in the Green Room at the studio before they’d gone on. She showed her pictures of Luke and Tracy, things they’d done over the past year, her new house and home state.
Denny lay on the floor, her head on a couch pillow, hands tucked behind her head. She was listening to Dean talk about his tenure with WorldWin, his voice filled with the pride of shutting down a company who had been illegally logging in Maine. His eyes were lit up, his face flushed. Will, who’s lap Dean’s head rested in, was smiling down at the attorney, his fingers running through his partner’s thick hair.
“That’s wonderful Dean. I’m so proud of you.” She heard Rachel’s lilting laughter, and blue eyes flickered over to see the blonde pointing at something in the album, Pam explaining. Denny didn’t care what was being said. She couldn’t take her eyes off Rachel, visually caressing her face, the soft skin of her neck, the lush softness of her hair. Even as Rachel asked the veterinarian questions, green eyes met Denny’s, holding her gaze. Denny felt her stomach flop, heart pound and breath catch. The pull that had led her to the author on the island had returned, and it was strong. In the hours since she’d first walked out onto the stage on the talk show, until now- in a hotel suite surrounded by the people who mattered most in her life, and half-eaten pizzas scattered around- she felt an overwhelming longing grip her. Somewhere inside she knew that the people surrounding her would be in her life for the rest of her life, but that Rachel would play a starring role.
The thought both comforted and scared her. Though it had been through no fault of their own, what had happened with Hannah had devastated Denny in its complicated confusion, and she felt partially responsible for it. Her guilt had slowly melted away, leaving her with a sense of emptiness. The time alone on the road had helped to heal that, now filled with a sense of who she was at a core level again, as well as a new life in Hermiston, Oregon, where she’d been for just over a month. She liked the area, liked the job she had as the manager of a bookstore, and most importantly, liked herself.
She’d spoken with Hannah a few times since she’d left the east coast, happy to hear Hannah had moved on with her life for a second time, as well. They’d spoken about the money situation, and Denny had been stunned a week ago when she’d received a check in the mail for thirty-seven thousand dollars. Hannah had broken the account she’d put the money in from the sale of DiRisio’s, explaining in her note that the money belonged with Denny, and she no longer wanted it. Denny had used it to buy a small, yet very cute house in her new town, indicative that she was indeed, ready to finally find a place to call home.
It had taken her almost a year to find peace within herself, and find out who she was again. Now, once again complete and happy, could she possibly allow her heart to feel what it was trying to? There wasn’t even anything stating that Rachel had any room in her life for anything other than the wonderful feelings they were both obviously feeling. She could see it in Rachel’s eyes, every time the blonde looked at her.
Or maybe Denny was simply chicken shit and trying to talk herself out of it. Over her journey, she had kept to herself, even in the towns she visited and worked in. She had made few friends, preferring to observe and absorb, and wanting no women in her life. It had been so long, she was almost afraid to make room in what had become a safe, secure life, for someone else.
As she looked over at Rachel while lying on the floor of the blonde’s hotel suite, she was surprised to feel much of the fear fading. In its place, she felt good old fashioned, simple love.
“What’s on your mind?” Dean asked, noting the soft, serene smile that had graced his beautiful friend’s lips. He followed her gaze, not surprised in the least to find he was looking at the beautiful author, sitting next to Pam. Denny glared at him, knowing all too well how that devilish mind of his worked. “So, Rach?”
“Dean,” Denny growled, warning in her tone. Dena, of course, ignored her.
“Yes, Dean?” the blonde said, looking up from the snapshot of Pam’s new house.
“Are you dating anyone?” the attorney asked, feeling a steely gaze on him.
“Why, you interested?” Rachel asked, a brow quirked.
“Not exactly,” the attorney drawled, nodding toward the woman on the floor, who had shot up to a sitting position. “But I know someone who is.”
“Do you, now.” Rachel’s eyes snapped to Denny, seeing the fury and embarrassment in her eyes, which made Rachel’s heart soar.
“Dean, I am warning you,” Denny hissed between clinched teeth. Dean got the message, shutting up, confident in the fact that he’d gotten his own point across. He smiled prettily, amused by Denny’s bared teeth. “Well, as fun, and humiliating, as this has been, I have a plane to catch.”
“Oh, no, Denny. You have to leave?” the blonde asked, all humor vanishing, leaving her feeling suddenly devastated. She jumped up from the couch, as did everyone else.
“Don’t you dare be a stranger, Denny,” Michael said, walking over to the brunette.
“You, either, big guy.” She accepted his tight embrace, returning it with vigor. In the Green Room, the five had exchanged phone numbers and promises to never allow another year to go by without contact. Mia was next in line, the girl wanting to cry as she knew Denny’s leaving was the beginning of the end of the most wonderful day she’d had in a year. Dean and Will nearly broke ribs with their enthusiastic hugs, and Pam and Gloria wished her well.
“I’ll walk you to the door,” Rachel said, taking Denny’s hand. In the small alcove at the door to the room away from the others, Rachel looked up into Denny’s eyes. She brought her hands up, resting them on Denny’s shoulders. “I can’t believe you have to leave so soon.”
“I know. I’m sorry. I was only able to get today off from work. New job, you know…”
“Yeah, I know.” Looking up into sad blue eyes, Rachel smiled, resting her palm against Denny’s cheek. “Please, please stay in touch, Denny.”
The brunette nodded. “I will.”
“Hang on a sec,” the blonde hurried into the bedroom, scribbling her phone number and address down on a piece of hotel stationary. She folded it, tucking it into Denny’s hand. Leaning up, she pressed her lips to Denny’s in a lingering kiss. Backing away, she tried to smile bravely, feeling as though her heart were breaking all over again, just as it had the day she’d had to leave Denny on the island. “Take care of yourself.”
“You, too.” Denny could feel her throat tighten with unshed emotion, which she knew would catch up to her on the plane. She grabbed the blonde in a tight hug, quickly turning away and leaving the suite. Rachel closed the door behind her, resting her forehead against the cool wood.
“You okay, honey?” Dean asked softly, placing a gentle hand on the blonde’s shoulder. Rachel said nothing, just turned and buried her face in his neck.
Denny enjoyed her job, working with books and back in a position of management. She was good at it, and loved it. And, it had nothing to do with coffee or food! It was a nice change.
The day was long, Denny putting in some overtime to help out when one of the girls was a no call/no show. She didn’t mind, as it had kept her mind busy, not giving her a minute to think about anything or anyone. But now, the warm, early June night facing her as she walked out to her car, the brunette glanced up into the sky, noticing the stars winking down at her. Digging her keys from her pocket, she walked over to her Dodge Dakota, unlocking the black truck and climbing inside.
Sitting behind the wheel, Denny sighed, her body tired, but her mind still whirring. She folded down the sun visor, smiling at the picture of the Island Six, taken behind the studio four days ago. Reaching up, she plucked the snapshot from the paperclip that was holding it to the visor, running a fingertip over everyone’s face. Her gaze settled on Rachel. Every day she’d looked at the blonde’s number and address, long ago memorized, wanting so badly to call. She had no idea what had stopped her. She hadn’t heard anything from the author, either.
Putting the picture back in its place, Denny revved the engine to life and pulled out of the parking lot. Deciding she wasn’t ready to go home yet, she drove around the are, taking in the sights of her new hometown. She loved Oregon, the beauty of the state was incredible. It was so different than New York, and a very nice change.
Deciding she was hungry, Denny stopped at a fast food restaurant drive through, then decided to go for a drive. Window down, she loved the feel of the wind in her hair, and the freedom of the road before her. She drove for about twenty minutes before she realized she was on I-84 West, and alone on the road. Denny squeezed the steering wheel, feeling her palms begin to sweat as she made up her mind. Glancing at the clock on the dashboard, she saw that it was after ten at night. It was crazy, it was outright mad, but she wasn’t going to stop this time.
Music blaring, Denny felt her heart pounding with every mile, her need almost overwhelming. It was amazingly peaceful, the weekday traffic lessening the further she went, passing town after town, only to find herself on another lonely stretch of road. It was very much like the journey she’d just completed, though this time she knew where this drive would end.
Rubbing her eyes, Rachel closed her laptop, finished for the night. Setting the computer aside, she decided it was time to hit the sheets. Walking around the beachfront cottage, she made sure all doors and windows were locked, the sound of the incoming waves comforting in the small beachfront town of Seaside, Oregon. Flipping off the lights as she went, she stripped out of her tank top and shorts, readying for bed in the nude. With a heavy sigh, she slid between the sheets. The rain was beginning to fall, the sound as beloved and comforting as that of the ocean.
Denny turned the windshield wipers to a faster speed, amazed at how the Heavens just seemed to open up and let the angels cry. Glancing at the dashboard clock, she saw that it was almost two in the morning. She was exhausted, and hoped she was doing the right thing. She turned up the radio, Pink Floyd’s The Wall filling the truck’s cab. Her head bobbed along with the music, letting it fill her with confidence and assurance.
Denny looked at the directions she’d printed out from the internet two days ago, making sure she was in the right neighborhood. Seeing a house number, she saw that she was heading in the right direction. Pulling up to a single-story beachfront house, she pulled the break and cut the engine.
Rachel started, something pulling her from a deep sleep. Looking around her dark bedroom, she tried to figure out what it had been. Hearing the rain still pelting down around her house, she thought maybe that was it. Maybe the rain had increased, tugging at her subconscious. Then she heard the slam of a car door.
Looking at her bedside alarm clock, she saw that it was almost a quarter of three. Lying her head back to the pillow, the blonde figured it was the neighbors, knowing they came and went at odd hours. That thought was dashed when she heard footsteps hurrying up the walk toward her front door. Sitting up, the author flicked on the lamp, then shoved the covers aside, tugging on her shorts and tank top. Listening, sure enough footfalls on the deck that stared at the front door and wrapped its way around the cottage.
Padding her way toward the front door, Rachel glanced out the window, noting a dark-colored vehicle, which looked like a truck or SUV. A knock sounded on the door, making the blonde’s heart jump. Pushing aside the filmy curtains that covered the flanking windows of the front door, Rachel cried out in surprise and concern. With trembling fingers, she unlocked her door, pulling it open. Denny stood on the other side, her clothing and hair plastered to her body and head, just from the short walk to the door.
Denny didn’t know what to say, torn between feeling bad and elated. From the look of the blonde woman, she’d been asleep, and who wouldn’t be at such a ridiculous time of morning?
“I’m sorry,” she said, bringing a hand up to push her bangs out of her eyes. “I had to see you.”
Rachel looked the brunette over, noting Denny’s nametag still penned to her shirt, khaki pants clinging to her legs and polo shirt emblazoned with the name of a popular bookstore almost black from the saturation.
“Oh, Denny,” Rachel breathed, reaching out and taking her hand, tugging her into the house. She said nothing as she led her inside, closing and locking the front door behind them before leading her back through the house to her bedroom. She got her towels and a tee shirt, instructing that she take a hot shower so she didn’t die of pneumonia.
Denny did as she was told, feeling foolish. Even so, it felt amazing to be standing in a shower stall in Rachel’s house, in her very presence. She smiled, eyes closing, as she could smell Rachel’s shampoo as it was lathered through her own hair, knowing that probably not long before, Rachel had been standing in the very spot where she was.
Rachel could feel her heart pounding, taken off guard by the arrival of Denny at her doorstep in the middle of the night, just because the brunette had to see her. It had been almost five days since they’d seen each other last, since Denny had walked out of Rachel’s hotel suite in Los Angeles. She had wanted to call so many times, once actually had the phone in hand, Denny’s phone number at the tips of her fingers, but she’d chickened out. Would Denny want to hear from her?
Rachel had heard about Hannah, Dean filling her in on what he knew, which wasn’t a great deal. Just that things hadn’t worked out, and Denny had left, setting out on her cross country journey. She wasn’t sure how Denny felt, considering the blonde knew how much Denny loved Hannah, and how much she had tried to stay true to her while they were on the island. Rachel had felt guilty about that for a long time before realizing she had to let it all go. By that point, Denny was very much out of her life, so couldn’t let it hurt anymore.
The shower turned off and Rachel felt her heart lurch again. Swallowing, she leaned back against the pillows, trying to act and feel as casual as possible. Yeah right. Denny entered the ring of light created by the single bedside lamp. The tee shirt fit her, which was good, since it was huge on the blonde. She was using Rachel’s brush to comeback back her long, dark hair.
“Feel better?” Rachel asked, at a loss for anything else to say. The brunette nodded.
“Yeah. Thank you.” She sat shyly on the side of the bed, looking down at her bare legs. She felt strange, sitting on Rachel’s bed in the blonde’s own shirt, and panties. “I’m really sorry, Rachel. I shouldn’t have-“
“Hush.” The blonde’s voice was soft, soothing as she pulled the covers back, patting the space on the mattress. “Come here.”
Swallowing nervously, Denny set the brush aside and did as she was told. She slid down into the cool sheets, softly instructed to lie on her side, back to Rachel, which she did.
“Sleep now, Denny. We’ll talk later.” Rachel leaned up, placing a soft kiss on the back of the brunette’s neck, then wrapped her arm tightly around Denny’s middle, holding her protectively against her.
Denny opened her eyes, disoriented. Mild light poured into the room in slanted bars from the louvers on the windows. She felt another presence with her, immediately knowing who it was. Turning her head to the side, she saw Rachel sleeping next to her, on her side and facing the brunette. Denny turned to her own side, feeling the blonde’s gentle, even breathing on her face. She studied her face, the smooth skin, gently arched brows relaxed. Dark blonde lashes caught some of the light that managed to come in. Denny’s gaze fell to Rachel’s mouth, the lips curled into the slightest smile. She had wondered if maybe she’d put that smile there. She’d be lying if she said she didn’t hope.
Bringing a hand up, Denny lightly traced Rachel’s brow, fingers running along the side of the blonde’s face, barely brushing the blonde strands that rested there. Suddenly green eyes were looking into her own, searching, visually exploring. Denny met her gaze, fingers brushing along Rachel’s jaw until she finally cupped the blonde’s cheek.
Rachel was getting lost in the blue of Denny’s eyes, her pulse about to burst out of her veins. She needed to be touched so badly, needed for Denny to touch her so badly. She could only pray this wasn’t a dream.
Denny wanted to tell Rachel everything that she felt, everything that she’d been feeling since the moment she’d laid eyes on her as she’d passed her in First Class. She wanted to tell her she loved her, needed her, wanted her. Her throat was so dry, not allowing anything to pass, not allowing her to utter a sound. Staring into the blonde’s beautiful gaze, she thought that perhaps she saw everything she wanted to say reflected back at her.
Rachel scooted closer, Denny’s body heat nearly burning her. She needed contact so desperately. She pushed Denny to her back, settling her body atop hers and resting her head on the brunette’s upper chest. Denny’s eyes squeezed shut as she wrapped her arms around the author, holding her close. She could feel hot breath almost burning her through the thin material of her shirt. She could feel the softness of Rachel’s breasts against her, the wonder of the bare skin of her arms and legs against her own. She could smell her hair, smell her skin, and smell… her arousal?
Rachel thought a hug was what she wanted, but as she felt Denny against her, her mind began to cloud, breath catch. Opening her eyes, she saw the inviting skin of Denny’s neck before her eyes. She heard a soft sigh as she placed a soft kiss at the juncture where neck met shoulder. Liking the subtle reaction, she decided to do it again. Again, Denny sighed, her arms tightening around Rachel’s neck, the hand that had been cupping the back of her head releasing it, fingers running through the strands instead.
Denny could feel her heart picking up, Rachel’s lips moving up her neck in a slow trail, the barest hint of a tongue at her earlobe. The brunette guided Rachel to her, needing so desperately to feel her mouth.
Rachel whimpered softly into the kiss, the softness of Denny’s lips, the feel of a warm hand moving down her tank top-clad back, coming dangerously close to the hem. She pushed herself up slightly so their bodies were a better fit, both gasping at the feel of breast against breast, only two thin layers of clothing separating them. Denny teased Rachel with her tongue, the blonde sighing as she responded, a hand coming up to caress the skin of Denny’s face and the side of her neck. Denny, for her part, slid her hand up under the tank top, feeling the heat radiating from the skin of the blonde’s back. She luxuriated in the smoothness of the expanse of skin, running her fingers up the length of her spine, feeling the delicate bones and muscles in her shoulder blades as Rachel adjusted herself, pushing herself up to her forearms so she could have better leverage as the kiss deepened.
Denny accepted Rachel’s tongue, her other hand joining that under the blonde’s shirt, both hands running down her sides, Rachel sighing into her mouth as they ran along the sides of her breasts. Never in her life had Denny wanted to make love to someone so badly. She felt like her very life depended on being with Rachel, sharing that part of herself with her, showing her how she felt.
Rachel raised herself slightly, a silent invitation, which Denny gladly accepted. The blonde broke the kiss, eyes closed as she rested her forehead against Denny’s shoulder as gentle hands cupped her breasts, fingers squeezing, palms rubbing across her erect nipples.
“Oh, Denny,” she gasped, finding the brunette’s mouth again. She gladly went as Denny pushed her to her back, rolling on top of her. Wrapping her arms around the brunette’s neck, Rachel pulled her close, parting her legs when she felt an insistent leg press against them. They both moaned as Denny’s thigh made contact with the saturated panties that covered Rachel’s need.
Denny left Rachel’s mouth, lips and tongue exploring her neck, teeth tugging playfully at the neckline of the tank top. Rachel ran her fingers through the soft, thick hair at he back of Denny’s head, her head rolling to the side as she allowed herself to absorb all the sensations. Suddenly a very hot mouth enclosed over her cotton-covered breast. She cried out softly, arching her back as Denny flicked at her nipple, then tugged playfully before leaving it. The sudden loss made her groan, the cool, rain-scented morning air cool against the wet spot made on the shirt.
Denny reached down, lifting the tank top as her hand ran up Rachel’s side, kissing all the newly exposed skin. Rachel helped her remove the shirt, baring the gorgeous breasts Denny remembered so well.
“Gorgeous,” she whispered before taking the other nipple into her mouth, batting at it with her tongue.
Rachel couldn’t stay still, her body alive and on fire. She pressed her hips up into Denny, who’s thigh was still pressing against her. She tried to fin purchase against her, but the brunette removed her leg. Concentrating on Rachel’s breasts with her mouth, Denny ran her hand back down over the blonde’s stomach, feeling the satiny material of her panties. Rachel’s legs parted in invitation, Denny reaching her hand down to cup her through the almost non-existent material of her soaked panties.
“Oh, god, Denny. Oh yes, touch me,” Rachel almost panted, crying out when Denny used a single finger to run along her sex, stroking her engorged clit.
Denny couldn’t believe how ready Rachel was for her. She left the most perfect breasts she’d ever seen, loathe to do so, but she knew her attention was needed further south. Getting to her knees, she looked down at the woman who had stolen her heart so long ago, marveling at how beautiful she was, how perfect she was, and how amazingly in love with her the brunette still was. Rachel met her gaze, seeing the love in her eyes. She sat up, cupping Denny’s cheek. Rachel’s kiss was so soft, so gentle, so filled with what neither of them had been able to say, it almost made Denny cry. She lifted her arms as she felt her tee shirt raised, the garment tossed to the floor. She closed her eyes, head falling back as Rachel pulled back, taking in what was revealed to her.
Rachel thought she would have been shy or embarrassed, never making love with a woman, nor touching one as intimately as she longed to touch Denny. Her eyes were hungry for the brunette’s body, mouth watering to taste her, to touch her. She cupped Denny’s breasts, feeling their weight and unbelievable softness. They felt wonderful.
Denny was taken over by the need to taste the blonde. Her eyes opened, and the look in them made Rachel gasp. Gently pushed back to the bed, Rachel lay down, lifting her hips as Denny tugged her panties down over her legs. Freed, she opened her legs once again in invitation, not sure what Denny would do. It didn’t matter, as long as she touched her.
The brunette pushed her own panties down, kicking them off onto the floor, not caring where they landed. She slid down the bed, nudging Rachel’s legs further apart with her shoulders so she fit better between them. Rachel’s head fell back, a long breath escaping her lungs as realization of what Denny was about to do entered into her sensual haze. Never had anyone’s mouth been on her before, and at the first touch of Denny’s tongue swiping through her sex, Rachel released a long, guttural groan. She was lost in a world of pleasure as Denny feasted, the blonde’s hands pressing on a dark head, eyes closing and breathing becoming ragged and harsh.
Denny hummed, the feel and taste of Rachel against her mouth was wonderful. She wrapped her arms around the blonde’s hips as she strengthened her strokes, entering her with her tongue. She heard Rachel cry out, so continued until she replaced her tongue with two fingers, moving her mouth up to Rachel’s clit, suckling her.
Rachel was on sensation overload, her entire body becoming taut as her orgasm began, Denny sensing she was close, so increasing her attention. Finally the author cried out, burying her fingers into Denny’s hair, pressing her down into her. The waves of pleasure crashed over her, seemingly endless. Finally Rachel’s body fell back to the bed, limp, little whimpers escaping her throat as she tried to calm down. Denny climbed back up her body, lavishing the flesh she found with kisses and small licks until she was cradling the blonde against her, whispering soft words to her and caressing the side of her face.
Rachel’s eyes opened, and looking into Denny’s, seeing her need, the blonde felt a second wind take her over. She pushed Denny to her back, claiming the brunette’s mouth in her own. Denny was surprised by the sudden aggression, but welcomed it. She felt a tentative hand on her breast and arched up into the touch, her body begging to be released. Rachel left her mouth and began to explore her neck and upper chest, tracing her collarbones with her tongue.
“Oh, baby,” Denny gasped, her nipple tugged between two fingers. “Oh, yes.”
Rachel wanted to taste and feel every part of this wonderful woman’s body, a woman who had made her feel, both physically and emotionally, when no one had ever been able to do that before. She wanted so badly to return the favor and tell Denny what words couldn’t express.
The feel of Denny’s skin was incredible, softer and more wonderful than Rachel ever fantasized it would be. She used her mouth and hands to explore, making the brunette shiver when she ran her nails over the inside of one thigh. The heat that was pouring from Denny was incredible, and it drew the blonde in, her hand feeling the slick insides of her thighs.
Denny gasped, not expecting to feel Rachel’s fingers flitting dangerously close to her sex. Her clit jumped in anticipation. “Please touch me, Rachel. Oh, god, I need you to touch me.”
Rachel was surprised by the desperate plea in the brunette’s voice. She kissed her, slow and sensual, seducing her all over again, even as her fingers began to trail through the dark patch of hair, which was saturated by Denny’s need. Her fingers pushed passed the swollen lips of Denny’s sex, suddenly engulfed in a liquid inferno.
“Ohh,” she breathed, feeling her own arousal rise once again. “God, you’re so wet, Denny. Feels so good.”
Denny couldn’t respond to the words that had been whispered against her mouth, her legs spreading and hips beginning to move with the rhythm Rachel set. She reached down, guiding the blonde inside her, both moaning at the sensation. Denny grabbed the back of Rachel’s head, holding their mouths together as Rachel thrust into her. Soon the brunette was breathing too hard to kiss, but Rachel stayed with her, their panting mingling as Denny neared her release. She cried out with a gasp, thighs closing in around Rachel’s hand.
Rachel felt a sense of wonder and awe flow through her as she watched Denny’s face as she climaxed, eyes squeezed tightly shut, mouth open in an almost pleasure/pain grimace, every muscle in her body straining. She peppered kisses all along her face and neck, brushing damp hair away from her face.
“You are so unbelievably beautiful,” she whispered, kissing her softly on the lips. Denny returned the kiss as best she could, her entire being seeming to have seeped out with her pleasure. She had just enough strength left to pull Rachel to her, cradling her head against her shoulder. Rachel wrapped an arm over the brunette’s middle, her thigh nestling between Denny’s. She needed to be as close as possible. “I love you, Denny. I really wanted to tell you that in LA. I just didn’t know.”
“Didn’t know what?” the brunette asked, fingers playing with soft, blonde hair.
“How you felt. If what you felt on the island was real.”
“Yes, it was very real. I wanted to tell you the same thing. I felt like so much of me was missing when I watched you get into the plane and fly out of my life.” Denny met Rachel’s gaze as the blonde propped her head up on a hand. She traced the brunette’s facial features with a finger.
“It tore me apart. I’ve been so lost.” Blonde brows drew as she remembered.
“I love you, Rachel. Always have.”
The author smiled, feeling like her entire world had clicked into place. “We have a lot to talk about, don’t we?”
“Yeah. We do.” Denny leaned up, placing a soft kiss on waiting lips. “I can’t lose you again, Rachel,” she said, shaking her head. “I denied myself for too long out of some sense of guilt. When I got back to Hannah,” she sighed, marveling at how amazingly right it felt to be in Rachel’s bed. “it was wrong. From the very start, it was wrong. She tried, and I know I hurt her, but I knew that it just wasn’t her anymore. I fell in love with you on that island, but I tried to deny that, knew I had to move on with my life. The funny thing is,” she chuckled ruefully, “it had moved on without me.”
“I’m sorry, Denny,” Rachel whispered, seeing old hurts still reflected in those blue eyes.
“Don’t be. It’s over. It’s all over. I’m right where I want to be.”
“Do you? Want to be here? With me?”
Denny smiled, reaching up to cup Rachel’s face, nodding slightly. “Very much so. You’re the part of me I left on that island. I finally feel whole again.”
Rachel blew out a small cry, taking Denny into an almost painful hug. “I need you, Denny. God, I need you.”
“I’m here, baby. I’m not going anywhere.”
The tree was decorated, the lights lit. The rain had finally stopped, though it was still cold. The house smelled of turkey and freshly baked bread. Laughter filled the living room, gifts opened by the fire.
Rachel sat against the corner of the couch, where the back and arm met, Denny tucked between her legs. The author had an arm wrapped lightly over her stomach. They watched as Rachel’s nephews opened their gifts from their aunts, Rachel and Denny. The blonde rested her chin against the top of Denny’s head, contentment making her spine tingle. Never had she knew happiness and love like she did that Christmas, her two sisters and their families deciding to go to their house this year. Reenie had flown in two days ago to share in the joyous holiday spirit. Life was good.
They’d decided to move into Denny’s house in Hermiston, saving Rachel’s Seaside home for weekend getaways. Denny still managed the bookstore, loving every moment of it. Rachel had even held a book signing there. Denny’s raise that year reflected the owner’s gratitude.
Tracy was laughing as her new boyfriend, Taylor, was trying to keep up with Luke’s sign language lesson. The man’s hands waved less than gracefully as he tired to mimic the boy, Pam chuckling in the corner, where she was waiting on the pies to finish baking.
It had been a crazy year, but the veterinarian had never had such a productive one. Her house was decorated just perfect, and she was finally situated in a small animal clinic just outside their small town. She even had her eye on a man who’s Great Dane was a patient of hers. She watched her grandson grow more every single day, and often wondered just what drug she’d been on, not wanting to be part of that. And knowing the true, pure acceptance and love of her daughter was a greater Christmas gift than the snowblower outside with the red bow wrapped around it. She knew Tracy had no ideas she’d seen it, but she had, and was forever appreciative for the chance she’d gotten, the second chance she’d gotten. She’d never blow it again.
The kids had made out good, new clothes and stereos and them crazy little MP3 players that Michael would never understand. Good thing for the helpful lady at the store or he’d still be standing there, trying to figure out just what in hell Conrad had been going on and on about.
He stood back, a smile of pride on his face as he watched his three kids, and Alan’s new wife, all comparing what they’d gotten, trying to swap maybe a little less desirable gifts with the others. It was a good thing, a real, real good thing. Michael Dupree was a happy man. There was only one thing missing.
The big Texan glanced up out the window into the clear, Texas sky. He saw a star wink at him, and could swear he heard the laughter of his Melissa.
Dean never thought he’d see the day that he and Will would leave the city, but they had, and it was a wonderful move. Warwick was a wonderful place, and Keller and Garrison had been more than helpful in leading them toward good real estate, and giving them an instant social circle. The gals and the attorney got along famously, just as Will knew they would.
He sat across from Parker, watching as the seventeen year old kicked his butt at a friendly game of chess. She was smart, and oozed a certain charm that made Dean want to lay down his queen to her. They’d all just come back in from a brutal snowball fight, and the attorney was still trying to unthaw. He watched as Will walked toward him, mischief in his eyes.
Holding up a small sprig of mistletoe over is head, Will leaned down and placed a soft kiss on Dean’s lips.
“Merry Christmas, baby,” he whispered. Dean smiled.
Milan was such a wonderful place, and Mia would never forget her trip there for Christmas. She was surrounded by every family member she’d ever heard about, plus some! They just seemed to come out of the woodwork to spend the holiday with their American family.
She’d received her Christmas present from Denny and Rachel just before her and her mom had left for Italy- a plane ticket to go visit them. She was beside herself with anticipation, the trip set for after the new year, before classes started up again.
The teen glanced at her mother, who was enraptured by something one of the cousins was telling her, gray colored back to Gloria’s former black wonder. She looked twenty years younger, and was so alive and full of life. Mia loved watching her mother come back to life since her return. From what her Nonna had said, Gloria had all but died when she thought her daughter was dead. Alive and well, that’s what both of them were.
It was a good time, a real good time.