by Radclyffe

Shadowland by Radclyffe

Chapter One

The setting sun was almost below the water's edge as Kyle pulled off the curving road onto the overlook. She brought the cycle to a halt along the shoulder, well away from the few cars stopped to watch the sunset. She turned the engine off, a long leg down on either side of the heavy machine for support, and pulled her helmet off. Absently, she ran a hand through her dark, wavy hair as she stared out over the ocean. The waves created a soothing, steady rhythm as they crashed and broke on the rocks below. She loved to ride this stretch of coastal highway, even though it was often crowded with tourists who slowed her progress. The road was demanding and she could lose herself for miles in the steady drone of the engine and the hypnotic ribbon of macadam sliding beneath her headlights. While her conscious mind was occupied with the mechanics of driving, her unconscious thoughts would surface, often illuminating some problem that was plaguing her. She didn't question the process; she rarely questioned the workings of her own mind.

Tonight was different. She was aware of a simmering unrest, which had not been dissipated by the twenty-mile drive on the tight, tortuous turns. She wondered how long it would take to identify the source of her unease. She knew from experience that these feelings usually meant something in her life was awry, but she had learned to be patient until the pieces fell together. Being most comfortable with action, she found introspection unsatisfying and frustrating.

Sighing slightly, she reached a hand into the left inside pocket of her leather jacket and found her cigarettes. She fingered one out of the pack, holding it lightly between her lips while she fished the black and gold lighter from the right hand pocket of her tight black leather pants. The tiny flare of flame lit her features for an instant as she touched it to the tip of the cigarette. A chiseled profile, squared chin, and straight, slightly high nose were highlighted briefly in the glow. As the lighter snapped shut, the image disappeared, and her figure became a silhouette against the deepening sky. Kyle hunched her shoulders slightly against the cold wind streaming in from the sea and focused her gaze on the plumes of white spray, which wafted up from a large clump of rocks just offshore. In the silence around her, she could hear her own questioning thoughts.

Why are you out here tonight? Where are you headed?

It had been many weeks since she last made a Friday night journey into the city, seeking the comfort of women together in one bar or another. More often than not, she returned home alone in the quiet hours before dawn, her soul strangely soothed by the memory of others like herself that clung to her all the long ride home. Sometimes she unlocked the second helmet she always carried on the side of her Harley and brought home a woman to fill the emptiness in her body as well as her spirit.

Tonight it was more than just her usual urge for company. She had been unsettled and short-tempered for the last few days, and she knew as she thought about it that she hadn't been herself for weeks. It wasn't the solitude of her life—she was used to that after seven years. She had several good friends, which was more than most people could say, and work that she enjoyed. Her sexual life, if not constant, was fulfilling, and she could have had more if she cared to. She didn't. Recently she was aware of a disquieting sense of frustration that threatened to disrupt the comfortable routine of her life. She hadn't intended to go out tonight, but as if by pre-arrangement, she had set about getting ready as soon as she came into the house from her shop. Without conscious thought, she had showered and donned a crisply ironed white shirt and her leather pants. She tucked a slim leather wallet, contoured to her form from years of use, into her right rear pocket with her license and enough cash to last the weekend. A fresh pack of cigarettes went into the left inside pocket of her favorite leather jacket and the lighter into her pants. She pulled on the jacket and zipped it partway up as she headed through the kitchen. It was as she set the timer, which controlled the floodlights subtly tucked under the eaves of the house, and carport that she realized she was setting out for the city. Still, she had driven twenty miles before she had allowed herself to think about why.

Kyle took a last drag from her cigarette and dropped the butt near the toe of her boot. Carefully she dug a little hole in the gravel of the turnoff and pushed the bit of trash into it. With her heavy black boot, she meticulously covered it with a small mound of stones. She pulled her left leg up to rest on the black tank of her cycle and rested her chin on her knee.

As she had been sitting there, the water sounds gradually surrounded her and separated her in the darkness from the cars steadily streaming along behind on the highway. The pieces had inextricably begun to fall into place. It had started with the newspaper. Not long ago, she had been to the women's bookstore looking for recent novels from her favorite women's press. Disappointed to discover she had all of the newest books, she picked up a few newspapers rather than return home empty-handed. Once at home, stretched out in front of the fireplace with a brandy, she looked through the things she had purchased. The second magazine she picked up was one she didn't recognize by name, but the subtitle, "Woman-to-Woman Encounters," had caught her attention. She quickly discovered that the short stories, articles and poems inside contained some of the most graphic erotica she had ever read in the women's press. It was more than that which surprised her, however. The entire publication was oriented toward issues involving sexual power. Kyle read the magazine cover to cover, and a few days later she went back to the bookstore and picked up the two previous issues.

Looking up at the dark, star-filled sky, Kyle suddenly realized the sun had set without her notice. She also realized something else. She had carefully taken note of the exact address of the bar, which advertised in every issue of the newspaper she had read with such interest. As she started the powerful engine and pushed the bike around to face the highway, she repeated the address to herself one more time.

Chapter Two

As Kyle drove through the city, the streets were almost empty, which was unusual for a Friday night. She was used to the crowded avenues and alleys from the years that she had been a city dweller. Even now, many years after she had moved north where the air was cleaner and the stars could be seen at night, she was at ease on the fast-moving streets. She found the address she was looking for in an area mostly frequented by men, but she was sure that the advertisement had specifically said "women." And it was too late now to turn back. Looking up, she saw the sign she had been seeking. In faded letters the logo was clear, "Leathers." Kyle pulled her bike into line with the others already parked there and switched off the ignition. She took a deep breath and made her decision. This was what she had come for, and she was not turning back.

Her footsteps echoed hollowly on the empty pavement as she approached the door. She looked in vain for the sight of a familiar face. No one approached. The door to the bar was slightly ajar and music wafted out into the street. It was a song she recognized from the popular music station. At least she wouldn't feel completely out of place. She took a quick breath as she shouldered through the door into the darkness beyond.

Kyle was not a stranger to new surroundings. She moved through the small crowd near the door as she had so many times before in other strange bars. The room was long, with a bar down the right side and scattered tables off to the left. There was a small dance floor in the center of the room made smaller by people standing about and chairs pushed askew. She walked directly but unhurriedly toward the bar and found a free space. Women leaned against the scarred but polished surface and moved about in the shadows opposite her. At first glance, it looked much like any other lesbian bar on a Friday night.

It wasn't until she caught the bartender's eye and ordered a beer that she looked more carefully around the bar, casually surveying the crowd. With an elbow against the bar and her legs stretched out in front of her, her eyes traveled as she took her first sip. Her vision had adjusted to the semi-darkness of the bar, and as she looked out across the dance floor through the softly wafting curls of cigarette smoke, she focused on the figures before her. Initially it seemed there was a strange sameness about everyone. Then she realized it was because everyone was clothed in some form of leather or denim. Leather jackets, vests and tight jeans abounded. She smiled slightly to herself, realizing that she had unconsciously chosen exactly the right thing to wear. Knowing that outwardly she appeared to be like everyone else made her feel more comfortable, even though she felt anything but confident in this new theater. Nevertheless, the sight of women standing about in groups talking or simply watching each other as she was doing, brought the usual thrill of excitement she always associated with the bars. This was the stage where anything might happen, or anyone might become a player.

After she finished her first beer and started on her second, she began to relax. In a detached, almost objective way, she picked out the women who were attractive to her. One woman in particular stood out from all the rest. She was across the room near the jukebox, standing with several others. About Kyle's age but slightly taller than Kyle's five feet seven inches, she was slender, with an athletic body accentuated by tight blue jeans and a denim shirt open between her breasts. Her blonde hair was medium length, brushed back over her ears, and falling to her collar in the back. Her sleeves were rolled up, exposing a thin leather band encircling her left wrist. As she talked she moved her hands, and Kyle imagined the strength in her well-muscled forearms. The strangers gaze flickered about the room, but she seemed to take little note of the women around her. Her eyes glanced over Kyle's face without stopping.

Kyle felt strangely inhibited. Under other circumstances, she would not have hesitated to introduce herself to someone she found attractive, but tonight she felt uneasy about making the first move. She had a feeling there were rules here she didn't understand. As the evening wore on, she began to see a pattern emerging. When one woman approached another, a distinct polarity developed which was unfamiliar to Kyle. While one woman was clearly the aggressor, the other appeared passive. Yet Kyle, watching with the objectivity of an observer, soon saw that the interplay was not completely one-sided. Often the woman who had initiated contact would leave, apparently her overtures rejected. Obviously, roles existed, but they were not nearly as clear-cut as they first appeared. Kyle had been there for over an hour before her first experience with this ritual occurred.

A woman materialized from the shadows by Kyle's side. There was an almost imperceptible pressure against her left thigh as the woman spoke softly to her.

"Are you just looking tonight, or are you playing?" the voice said in her ear.

Startled, Kyle turned toward the woman beside her and replied, "I'm not sure I know what the game is."

The woman laughed in surprise. "You'd never know that from looking at you."

"Actually, this is the first time that I've been here," Kyle said, turning slightly to study her companion more carefully. She was an inch shorter than Kyle, with curly dark hair and warm, dark eyes. She was dressed in the requisite leather vest and blue denim shirt.

The woman gave Kyle an obvious once-over, extending her right hand casually. "My name is Chris."


Chris shook Kyle's hand warmly before turning her back to the bar to face out across the dance floor. "There's a pretty good crowd for a Friday night, better than I would've expected."

Kyle replied, "I'm not sure what I expected."

"Are you here by yourself, then?"


"Well, from the looks of you, probably not for long."

Kyle laughed. "I think for tonight I'm just watching."

Chris shrugged. "Will you have another beer?" When Kyle nodded her assent, Chris ordered two and took a long pull on hers before speaking again. Finally, she said, "I'm not much on initiations, but I'll tell you anything I can."

Kyle nodded slowly as she sipped at her beer. "Well, I think I get the general idea, but I'm not real sure what the ground rules are."

"It's not much different than any other bar," Chris replied. "It's just that most of the women here have a certain kind of interest, if you know what I mean."

"I think I understand that," Kyle said. "A certain sexual interest."

Chris continued rather hesitantly. "Well, I guess because of that, things kind of work out in a...a certain way," she began. "If someone is interested in you, they're not likely to come up and say, 'Would you like to dance?’ More likely than not they're going to stand next to you and maybe not say anything at all. Maybe they're trying to find out how much you know about what's going on."

Kyle shook her head and said, "I don't think I know exactly what you mean."

Chris tried again. "Some of the women here will feel most comfortable if they take the lead and you follow. Others prefer it if they are told exactly what to do."

"How do you know who wants to do what, then?" Kyle asked, genuinely unclear as to what Chris was trying to tell her.

Chris laughed a little and continued. "After a while it's easy to tell what people are interested in. If you remember what it was like ten or fifteen years ago, it's not all that different now. You probably remember what it was like when the 'butches' always asked the 'femmes' to dance. Even if the femmes did turn out to be butches in bed, they never let on in public."

Kyle smiled as she recalled those times, not unfondly. There had been a certain security in knowing what was expected of you.

"Sure I remember, but it seems that things have changed in the last few years. After all, haven't we been trying to get away from those old roles?"

"Well, things never change that much, " Chris replied. "The sort of thing that goes on in the leather scene doesn't really have a lot to do with the old butch and femme roles, but it does have a lot to do with what these women want to express physically. It's all more up front here."

Okay," Kyle said, definitely interested, "That's clear enough. How do you tell someone else exactly what you're in to?"

Chris surveyed the crowd before them, and said, "Look at that woman leaning against the pole over there."

Kyle followed Chris direction and noticed a woman dressed predominantly in leather -leather pants with a wide, studded belt, heavy black motorcycle boots and a leather jacket covered with zippers. She appeared to be alone and yet she looked at no one.

Chris said, "Well, what do you think?"

"She looks pretty butch to me—like she'd be the one to call the shots," Kyle replied.

"But she isn't," Chris said. "If you look more carefully, there's a few things that tell you just what she's looking for. For instance, her keys are on the right and she's wearing a leather bracelet on her right wrist."

Kyle nodded in agreement, as Chris continued. "She's a bottom, not a top. That means she wants someone to approach her and to tell her exactly what they would like her to do. She wants someone else to take charge."

"Does that mean she's passive, then?" Kyle asked, with surprise in her voice.

"Not necessarily. It just means that in the beginning, at least, she's willing to let someone else determine how things happen. You’d be surprised how often the bottom actually calls the entire scene."

"What if someone approaches her that she's not interested in?" Kyle asked. "Does that mean she has to go anyway?"

"No, not at all. She doesn't reply with the correct answers or she just says, 'No'."

"So she does have something to say about it then?"

Chris appeared startled for a second. "Of course--if she doesn't agree, nothing can happen."

Kyle thought about it and then said, "What if I see someone I like and I want to go talk to her?"

"It depends on how you go about it, " Chris answered. "It could mean you just want to get to know them, or you might be letting them know you’re interested in them sexually. It’s all in how you present yourself."

Kyle reached for a cigarette, slightly daunted. "Certainly seems like a complicated way to get to know people," she said.

Chris nodded. "It seems strange at first, but I think you'll find out it's just another way of saying how you feel." She finished her beer and turned to face Kyle. "I can’t stay, but I hope you do. Maybe you’ll find what you’re looking for.

Is that why I’m here? Am I looking for something?

Kyle returned her gaze intently. "I'll be staying."


As the night grew later, Kyle could more easily recognize the subtle signals passing between those around her. She was so involved in watching the others that she failed to notice the woman approaching until her vision was suddenly blocked by the figure before her.

Kyle was startled by the feeling of another body so close to hers. With a sharp intake of breath, she recognized the woman she had seen earlier at the jukebox. So close to her now, Kyle could see that her hair was indeed blond and her eyes a deep blue. Kyle found she had to look up at the woman, who was several inches taller. The stranger looked back at her intently, her hands thrust deep into the pockets of her jeans, her long legs nearly straddling Kyle's. Kyle was at once uneasy and intrigued. When she glanced upward into the woman's eyes she was amazed to see the insolent confidence there. Unaccountably, Kyle dropped her eyes. In that second, she fully realized that she did not know what to expect next.

"Have you figured it all out yet?" a cool voice questioned.

Kyle's head snapped up, heat rising to her face. "I'm not a tourist!" she replied angrily. She might be out of her element here, but she certainly wasn't a sightseer!

"Oh my! Touch a sore spot, did I?"

Kyle started to turn her back—she couldn't believe this woman. Who did she think she was, coming up uninvited and giving Kyle a hard time? She would have told her to "fuck off," but she had learned a little patience over the years and she knew it wasn't worth it.

A hand closed firmly on her upper arm.

"Wait a minute! We're still talking." There was just a hint of laughter in the voice, as if at a private joke that Kyle had missed.

"I don't think we have anything to say. Do you?" Kyle answered, reaching for a cigarette. She felt a little cornered, with her back to the bar, and she needed the ritual of lighting a cigarette to give herself time to think. As she pushed her hand into her pocket for her lighter, a match flared before her.

"That's up to you, isn't it?" the woman said softly, cupping the flame in her long tapering fingers.

Kyle frowned slightly as she pulled on her cigarette, drawing the smoke deeply into her chest. She exhaled slowly, searching the perfectly sculpted, perfectly remote face. "Somehow I thought you were the one calling the shots."

The blond nodded, touching the match to her own cigarette. "Very good - but only if you want me to. Only if you let me—understand?"

Kyle sighed, looking directly into the blue eyes that were calmly searching her face. "I'm afraid that I'm going to disappoint you."

Suddenly the woman smiled, a flickering luminescence that dispelled the aura of aloofness surrounding her until now. Just as quickly, it was gone. "I don't think so."

Kyle felt foolish. This was a woman like her, a woman in a bar filled with other women, all of them linked by a single common bond. What had she been expecting, she wondered, that these women would be so different from all the other lesbians she had known? She had been so caught up in the mystique of the dress and the attitude of these leather-clad figures that she failed to recognize the women beneath the costumes. Her body relaxed as her old confidence returned.

"My name is Kyle," she said.

"I know."

Kyle raised her eyebrows slightly.

"Chris informed me."

"I'm slow tonight," Kyle said, shaking her head.

The woman was standing only inches away from Kyle, and her next words were spoken so softly only Kyle could hear them. "I'm not rushing you." She had not changed her stance, still standing boldly in Kyle’s view. Kyle realized that this stranger was presenting herself to her, a gesture at once arrogant and vulnerable.

Kyle took advantage of the moment and appraised the figure before her. She had the lean look of a runner as opposed to her own more muscular build. The blond hair which had first caught Kyle's eye was subtly layered and fell naturally back from her forehead, outlining the clean lines of her face. Her cheekbones were sharply sculpted, accentuating her nearly perfect features. Her blue eyes returned Kyle's gaze with penetrating directness.

Kyle forced herself to continue her slow survey, despite her natural urge to look away when she found the stranger watching her. The woman's slim torso was covered in faded denim, her collar and the first several buttons opened to reveal her upper chest. The merest suggestion of breasts pushed against the worn fabric. The shirt molded to her slim waist and her jeans outlined her hips and slender thighs. A well-worn black leather belt rode low over her pelvis. Kyle took note of the few keys hanging from a leather strap on her left hip and a leather band buckled around her left wrist. Kyle's study was interrupted by the woman's steady voice.

"Like what you see?" Her voice was low, intense, intimate.

"Yes," Kyle answered honestly.

"Come dance with me then." It was not a request.

The room came sharply into focus as a low, pulsating beat filled the air. This is it, Kyle. Do you really want to do this?

Without a word, she followed the woman onto the dance floor. There were other couples there, but they quickly faded from Kyle’s awareness as the stranger stepped close, taking Kyle firmly into her arms. As they moved easily together in the crowded space, Kyle felt for the first time the strength contained in her companion's deceptively lithe body. The sheer physicalness of the other woman's embrace awakened her desire. The hand in the curve of her back held her confidently while the woman insinuated one tight thigh securely between Kyle's own. As they danced, the woman's breasts molded to hers, the nipples hard beneath the fabric of her shirt. Kyle’s nipples stiffened in response, painfully taut and aching. The hand on her spine pressed Kyle’s hips rhythmically against that slow-moving thigh, seemingly focusing all the heat of their two bodies into one point between Kyle’s legs. She moaned without meaning to. Kyle could almost feel those long fingers on her skin. Never had she responded so quickly nor so certainly to another's touch. Her mind lost contact with the sounds and forms around her as their bodies sought to fuse, pulsating inwardly to the beat of the music. As Kyle slid her hands down to the woman's hips, striving to pull her closer, hoping to ease the aching pressure, the woman's voice penetrated her swirling thoughts.

"You don't get it for free," the denim-clad stranger whispered. Her breath was hot against Kyle’s ear.

"Tell me the price then," Kyle responded instantly, wanting only for the exquisite torment not to end.

"Later," came the reply. The woman reached one hand up into the hair at Kyle's neck and spread her fingers in the soft curls there. "Come home with me. Now."

For an instant reality intruded. Kyle knew nothing of this woman except the sensations her presence instilled in her body. The blond slipped a hand between them, grasping Kyle’s nipple, sending a flood of arousal directly to her clitoris. Oh, Jesus, god! Kyle’s eyes nearly closed with the sweet torture. The demands of her body obliterated any thought of caution, and she answered to it.


Kyle allowed herself to be led from the bar by the woman's touch on her back. She followed her out into the night on shaky legs.

"What about my bike?" Kyle asked hoarsely as they reached the street.

"We'll take it. I'll tell you where to go," the woman said.

Kyle took a deep breath of the cool night air, hoping to clear her head for the drive. She was uncomfortably swollen inside her tight leather pants. She unlocked both helmets and handed one to the woman.

"What's your name, " Kyle asked quietly.

The woman stared at her for an instant, and for a moment, Kyle thought she wouldn’t answer. "Dane."

Kyle nodded wordlessly as she straddled her motorcycle. She kickstarted the engine and felt Dane climb on behind her.

"Do you know where Church is?" Dane asked, her voice cool once again.

Kyle nodded in acknowledgment.

Dane reached around Kyle's waist and placed both hands in the angle formed by Kyle's thighs and pelvis, commanding, "Drive."

As Kyle maneuvered her bike quickly through the nearly empty streets, she was aware only of the engine throbbing rhythmically beneath her and the pressure of Dane's hands. By the time they reached Church Street and Dane signaled for her to pull over, she was trembling. She needed Dane's hands against her naked flesh, unencumbered by the barrier of leather and denim.

She followed Dane into the vestibule of one of the buildings, scarcely taking note of her whereabouts. Dane led her up a flight of stairs and into a darkened apartment. Once inside the door, Dane said, "Wait here."

Kyle was aware of lights being turned on in other rooms and the sound of soft music. She stood and waited, not thinking at all. When at last she heard Dane's sure footsteps approaching, she body stirred in anticipation. The effect this woman had on her was inexplicable, and in the moment, she didn't try to understand. She was responding purely with her senses, and she liked it. She didn’t want to think.

Dane took her hand, saying, "This way."

Kyle moved behind her into a bedroom lit solely by a soft blue light in a recessed ceiling track. She could make out a small table next to a large rectangular bed which dominated the otherwise bare room. When Dane turned suddenly to face her, Kyle stood absolutely still.

Wordlessly Dane reached for the buttons on Kyle's shirt and began to slowly unbutton them. She was careful not to touch the skin laid bare by her motions. She pulled the shirt out of Kyle's pants and stripped it off her arms.

"Your boots," she said. She stepped back to give Kyle room to bend over. Kyle hesitated only for a second, and then she unbuckled each of her heavy black boots and pulled them off. Naked except for her leather pants, she stood before Dane, waiting. Dane reached out a slender hand and traced the muscles in Kyle's shoulders and arms with a finger. She placed both palms flat against Kyle's chest and pressed, softly massaging the muscles beneath the smooth skin. Her hands moved down to Kyle's abdomen, carefully avoiding her breasts, until she stood with her thumbs together in the middle of Kyle's firm body, her fingers splayed out against Kyle's sides.

The slow, wordless survey of Kyle's body rekindled the fire simmering in her belly. Kyle felt herself swell and flow in response. Her chest was covered with a thin film of sweat. Still, she waited silently.

"Lie down on the bed," Dane instructed, her voice perfectly controlled. "Face me."

When Kyle complied, Dane came to stand at the foot of the bed, her eyes traveling from Kyle's leather-bound crotch slowly up to her face. Her eyes locked onto Kyle's, and she could read the wanting there.

"You can say anything you want to me right now," Dane said, "but after this, no more. I won’t hurt you, but I won’t stop until I’m done."

Kyle looked back at her steadily, searching for a clue as to who this woman was. Dane’s face was clear and strong, and Kyle sensed only honesty.

"I'm all right."

Dane nodded once and then moved purposefully to the side of the bed. She reached somewhere beneath the frame and pulled out soft padded leather shackles attached to short chains. She deftly bound Kyle's left hand and ankle, and then moved to the other side, repeating her actions. When she was done, Kyle was securely but not painfully bound with her arms and legs spread.

Dane stood once again at the foot of the bed between Kyle's outstretched legs. With her gaze fixed on Kyle's face she unbuttoned her own shirt, slowly baring her upper body. Small high breasts accentuated the finely muscled torso, and a pulse beat close to the surface in her throat. Silence enclosed them in the cone of blue light.

Kyle was bombarded with conflicting sensations. The feeling of being helplessly bound was at once frightening and exhilarating. She wanted this woman on top of her, she wanted her inside of her, she wanted more than she could put words to. Her inability to actually seek her own release made her even more acutely aware of her desires. Her clitoris strained against the seam of her pants, threatening to explode just from the constant contact as her hips rocked back and forth. She stifled a groan as she stared transfixed at Dane's body, so close to her and yet so completely untouchable.

After what seemed like hours to Kyle, who had lost all sense of real measure, Dane moved to the head of the bed. From there Kyle was totally exposed to her view but she, in turn, could barely see Dane. Dane placed her hands firmly on either side of Kyle's face with her fingers curled around Kyle's lower jaw. She moved her fingers not ungently over the flesh and bones of Kyle's face, imprinting the physical sense of her in her mind. With one hand under Kyle's chin she pulled her head back, exposing Kyle's neck to its fullest.

"Keep your eyes closed," Dane said tersely when she saw Kyle's eyes searching her face. With her hand still firmly controlling Kyle's head, Dane traced the vulnerable structures of Kyle's throat, feeling Kyle's breath flow in the fragile windpipe and her blood ripple through the pulsating arteries just below the skin. With her fingers pressing the muscles on either side of Kyle's neck, Dane leaned closer to Kyle's face. She ran her tongue lightly from Kyle’s collarbone to her ear. When she spoke, her voice was barely a whisper.

"I don't want you to move. Just keep remembering my hands around your throat while I’m making you come."

Kyle’s hips jerked at her words. She bit her lip to stifle a cry. She had never felt so physically vulnerable in her life. The restraints on her arms and legs were barely perceptible and yet she was totally immobilized. Now, with her throat exposed, locked in darkness, she felt as if she had lost control of her very life. Despite the helplessness of her position, she was powerfully excited. The merest touch was going to set her off.

Dimly, in the last part of her thinking mind, she knew she could break the spell of her own bondage by a word to Dane. But she didn't want to. She wanted to feel what Dane aroused in her. She wanted to know how far into her physical self Dane could take her.

A slight motion near her feet told her that Dane had moved onto the bed. She sensed that Dane was close to her, but she did not open her eyes. Suddenly a sharp sensation centered in each nipple as Dane's hands caught her breasts, squeezing the erect nipples sharply. Kyle gasped at this sudden contact, her back arching, pressing more of herself into Dane’s hands.

Still Dane held back, forcing Kyle to focus all her sexual energy in the two points beneath her fingers, kneading and massaging until she brought a moan from Kyle's parted lips. Only then did she trail her fingers ever so lightly down Kyle's abdomen, watching the tense muscles contract at her touch. Deftly she pulled the snap at Kyle's waist and slid the zipper down on her leather pants. Leaving Kyle for an instant, she released the buckles on the ankle restraints to free Kyle’s legs and remove the last vestige of her clothing. Just as quickly, she re-secured her ankles. Now Kyle lay bound and completely naked before her. The dark triangle of soft hair between Kyle’s legs was glistening with pearly fluid. Dane could almost taste her.

Kyle waited for the next contact from Dane, the entire surface of her body sensitized with need. Where was she?

What Kyle could not sense in the heady mist of her own desire was the control that Dane now exercised on her own raging senses. The image of Kyle lying helpless before her, ripe with readiness, was powerfully erotic. Her clit had been twitching urgently since she first restrained her. Dane ignored her own rising passion so that she could concentrate on bringing Kyle to the razor's edge of ecstasy, and the restraint it required of her was enormous. Dane longed to press herself full-length against Kyle's naked body and feel her move beneath her. She held back, knowing it was not yet time. Soon.

Kneeling upright between Kyle's spread legs, Dane slipped the leather belt from around her waist. She placed it vertically down the length of Kyle's body so that the soft tongue of it rested in the moist fold between Kyle's legs. With the thin barrier of leather between them, she rested her body fully upon Kyle for the first time, her hands pulling Kyle's hips up to meet her own as her tongue sought Kyle’s mouth.

The weight of Dane's body pressed the edges of the belt against Kyle’s distended clitoris, and the roughness against the sensitive tip pushed her close to orgasm. She pulled against her restraints for the first time, wanting desperately to feel Dane with her own hands. Her mouth opened to pull Dane inside and still she could not get enough. She wrenched her head away from Dane's seeking lips.

"Please, no more," she groaned against the sweat-covered skin of Dane's neck. "Please, let me come."

"I'll decide," Dane whispered harshly into her ear, thrusting her denim-clad hips tantalizingly against Kyle's body.

Kyle sobbed deep in her chest and turned her face once again to Dane, claiming her lips.

As their mouths found each other and their tongues met in a probing duel, Dane lifted her body slightly and slipped one hand between their bodies. Her fingers slipped into Kyle's wetness, and Kyle moaned into her mouth. Then she was inside of her, and Kyle's muscles contracted around her hand. Slowly Dane pressed further, feeling the flesh open beneath her. With her thumb she beat an insistent rhythm against Kyle’s clitoris. She closed her eyes tightly and clenched her jaw, determined to resist her own rising need. Kyle, however, would not be denied. Kyle's body arched and bucked as her inner self closed down on Dane's hand, ripples of sensation flooding into her thighs, coiling through her belly. A strangled cry escaped her lips as the pounding in her head fused with that of her body in one tidal wave of unbound fury. Dane gripped her firmly, riding out the raging storm as time hung suspended.

Kyle's body had barely begun to relax from the paroxysms of pleasure when Dane reached up and released the restraints on her arms and then her ankles. Kyle was dimly aware of Dane gently massaging her wrists and then rolling her over onto her stomach. She was drifting on the edge of consciousness when Dane straddled her hips from behind.

Suddenly Kyle was jolted back to the moment by the pressure of Dane's body moving against her and Dane's ragged breath in her ear. Kyle pushed her hips upward to meet Dane's downward thrusts, reaching an arm back to encircle Dane’s neck, pulling her close. All of her energy immediately focused on bringing Dane the same pleasure she had just experienced. Dane’s hips jerked erratically as her fingers clenched Kyle’s upper arms. There would be bruises. When Dane stiffened against her, moaning uncontrollably, Kyle closed her eyes, triumphant.

Chapter Three

Kyle opened her eyes to the gray light of early morning. There was no hint of sunshine through the shutters on the window and no noise in the building. She lay quietly without moving, adjusting to the strangeness of her surroundings. Dane lay naked beside her, close against her back. She slept deeply, the slow, steady rise and fall of her breasts comforting against Kyle’s skin. Even in sleep, Dane related to Kyle's body possessively. She held Kyle as if she always had, without question. Oddly, Kyle felt comfortable with her nearness, even though she almost always slept alone.

Her thoughts returned to the evening before as the events and sensations replayed in her mind's eye. Dane had collapsed as her climax ebbed, silent except for her uneven breaths, her body trembling like a thoroughbred after a hard run. Her cheek lay softly against the moist skin of Kyle's neck, her fingers now gentle on Kyle's upper arms. Kyle was exquisitely satisfied knowing that Dane had found satisfaction in her. Just thinking about it now made her clitoris swell and throb. She wanted it again. She wanted Dane's touch; she wanted Dane to take her outside herself again. And she wanted the ultimate satisfaction of stirring Dane to the point where she lost control. Dane’s orgasm was her power. Kyle's body responded to her mental images with a flood of excitement, and she unconsciously pushed her hips back against Dane's body.

Dane stirred slightly and moved closer. Kyle lay very still as Dane's hand moved over her abdomen to rest against her breast. She wasn't sure Dane was awake until she felt the slight pressure against her breast become a gentle massaging motion and fingers tugged lightly at her nipples. They remained pressed close together, back to front, as Dane slowly caressed her. Kyle shifted slightly as Dane slid her hand into the soft hair between her thighs, parting her, finding her clitoris, beginning the circular motion that caused it to stiffen further. Kyle whimpered softly with each teasingly slow touch, wanting to ask her to press harder, but knowing instinctively that she would be denied. She would wait, as long as it took. Finally, Dane leaned up on one elbow, her hand still between Kyle’s legs, and looked at her.

God, she’s beautiful, Dane thought.

Kyle stared wordlessly into Dane's blue eyes, her breath catching. Her own desire was reflected there. She held the hypnotic gaze as Dane slowly stretched out on top of her, her thigh gliding easily between Kyle's.

"Oh," Kyle cried softly as Dane’s smooth skin rubbed over her clitoris. The friction triggered spasms down the shaft into her pelvis. Her thighs tightened around Dane’s leg.

"Don’t," Dane warned.

Kyle wanted to surrender to the sensations stirring in her body, but she willed herself to hold on until Dane gave her permission. She closed her eyes as her hips rocked in cadence with Dane's, their passion fusing and becoming a force of its own. For many moments they remained suspended on the brink of desire, holding back the moment of release as the intensity heightened. Kyle began to slip beyond the point of control, the distant pulsations beginning to grow, eclipsing reason.

"I’m coming," she whispered, her hands clutching Dane’s back.

"Wait," Dane gasped, even as she thrust harder against Kyle’s thigh. She was nearly blind with the pounding pressure threatening to explode her entire body. "Oh, Jesus," she gasped as the fire burned along her legs, into her spine.

Her words robbed Kyle of the last vestige of restraint. As her back arched and her thighs clenched around Dane's in the first seconds of orgasm, Dane groaned deeply, going off with her. For one instant, as the titanic contraction fused their bodies, their souls were one.


When Kyle awakened again, Dane was propped up beside her, smoking a cigarette, the covers resting across her naked thighs. As Kyle stirred, Dane looked down at her.

"Good morning," Dane said softly.

"Hi," Kyle said, stretching languorously, " What time is it?"

"Umm—about ten, I think."

Kyle laughed. "Indulgent, aren't we?"

"Do you mind?"

Kyle turned shyly toward her and rested her head against Dane's bare shoulder.

"Not at all. You?"

Dane twined her fingers in Kyle's thick hair. "Absolutely not." She was silent for a moment, and then said, "Are you hungry?"

"I think I might be, as soon as my body wakes up."

"Do you have to be anywhere this morning?"

"Nope! You?"

Dane sighed. "I usually make it a point never to work on Saturday, but today I have an appointment."

Kyle knew absolutely nothing about the woman beside her, except how she felt about her physically. She wasn't sure how personal to get with her. Some women were more comfortable after a night of lovemaking just saying good-bye in the morning, careful never to dispel the mystery of a brief encounter by dealing with the ordinary chore of living. Kyle herself had often felt uncomfortable with a stranger in her house in the morning. The woman she had desired in the early morning hours might not be someone she wanted to face across the breakfast table.

Cautiously she asked, "Would you rather I left?"

Dane looked down at her curiously, her surprise at Kyle's straightforwardness concealed by an old habit of keeping her thoughts to herself.

"No. I'd rather you made some coffee."

Kyle stared back at her in amazement, unable to read anything in Dane's smooth features.

"All right."

As Kyle slid out from under the covers and reached for her pants from the pile of clothing on the floor, Dane began, "The kitchen—"

Kyle interrupted her as she pulled on the soft worn leather. "I'll find it."

Dane smiled, admiring Kyle's naked back as she left the room. She smoked another cigarette and listened to the sounds emanating from the kitchen. Soon she could smell coffee brewing. She was amazed at how much she was enjoying these first moments with Kyle on a nonsexual basis. Usually she found her bed partners disappointingly boring, and often discovered she hadn't a single thing to say to them. She had gotten into the habit of finding some excuse to get them out of her apartment as quickly as possible. Her reluctance to become involved with anyone had enhanced her reputation in the bar as a loner. Dane found this an agreeable situation as it released her from the pressure of being sociable. No one expected it of her. She remained something of an enigma to the women in the bar and because of that, she felt unaccountable to anyone.

This morning was surprisingly different. When she had awakened next to Kyle, it seemed natural. Kyle's calm acceptance of the events of the past twelve hours and her unhurried approach to the morning put Dane at ease. For the first time in a long time, Dane wasn't sure of what was going to happen. That was both exciting and disquieting.

Her thoughts were interrupted by Kyle returning with two steaming mugs of coffee. Dane pulled the blankets back for Kyle to crawl under. She accepted her coffee gratefully and stretched one leg out over Kyle's.

"So, how are you this morning?" Dane ventured.

"Fine," Kyle said. She sipped her drink and continued. "I guess you know last night was new for me."

"You mean sleeping with a woman?" Dane said, purposely being obtuse.

"Of course not!" Kyle flared. Looking quickly at Dane, she caught the twinkle in her eyes and laughed.

"Very cute! No, I meant sleeping with a woman in quite that way."

Dane nodded, serious again. "I knew. Did you enjoy it?" Again, she surprised herself. Why does it matter? She came; she got what she was looking for. What else is there?

"Yes, I did. It wasn't what I expected."

Dane studied her face curiously. "Oh? What do you mean?" She usually wasn't interested in how other women felt about their encounters with her. They all seemed to have their reasons for seeking her kind of company, and she rarely took the time to understand why. They had come home with her; sometimes it was good and sometimes it wasn't. With Kyle, it seemed to matter. She no longer could remember how she had felt at the beginning. She had changed so much since then.

Kyle thought carefully for a moment before answering.

"In some ways it was more than I anticipated," she began. "It was more natural than I had thought it would be, for one thing."

"Oh?" Dane replied, raising an eyebrow, instantly defensive. "Did you expect it to be unnatural?"

Kyle caught the hint of sarcasm in Dane's voice but continued unperturbed. "No—I guess I thought it would be more contrived. Somehow, I couldn't imagine feelings just flowing when there were so many other things going on. The roles we both played—the separateness of our positions. I thought I would be too conscious of the external things to relax."

Dane relaxed, somewhat assured by Kyle’s frankness. Thank god she’s not feeling guilty. "It can seem artificial, I guess. I've never thought of it quite that way because I like all the externals. I like creating the mood, setting the scene. I like being in control." She realized she had never talked about these things with anyone she'd had sex with. In fact, only a few friends knew how she felt. Kyle certainly had a strange effect on her—but it wasn't unpleasant.

"I found out I like it, too," Kyle responded. I especially like it when you’re in control! She sighed and stretched, enjoying the contented way her body felt.

Dane reached over to the bedside table and picked up her watch.

"Damn, I'm going to have to get up soon."

Kyle turned toward her, "Oh?"

Dane smiled and kissed her lightly on the nose. "Work, remember? I'm self-employed, so I'm afraid I have to work when the work is there," she said as she swung her legs over the side of the bed.

Kyle watched her move about the room, enjoying the long, strong lines of her body. She liked Dane's unselfconsciousness about her nudity and the graceful way she moved. She was in splendid shape and Kyle took advantage of the opportunity to imprint each small detail of her form in her mind.

"What do you do?" Kyle asked.

"Dogs," Dane replied, her head in the closet searching a shirt.

"What?" Kyle asked, not sure she had heard clearly.

"Dogs," Dane repeated, turning toward her with a smile. "I breed dogs."

Kyle looked about her in surprise.


Dane laughed. "No—I own a kennel. I only keep one here, and he's been away at a show." She pulled clean jeans from a drawer, glancing over at Kyle. "I'm going to shower."

"Want company?"

Dane surveyed Kyle's face for a moment. "Yes."


The water flowed over their bodies in soft rivulets, outlining the curve of breasts and thighs. Four hands entwined in soapy circles as they gently caressed each other, first front to front, then turning about each other in an unchoreographed dance. They took turns washing each other's hair, laughing as the suds made white sculptures on their faces. Moving close together, their forms blended into one as the warm shower cascaded about them. Kisses exchanged at first lightly, then more deeply as tongues found lips, thighs fitted to thighs, breasts nestled against breasts. Finally, it was Dane who broke the contact.

"One minute more in here and I'll never leave," she whispered.

Kyle sighed regretfully, feeling their tenuous connection break.

"Besides," Dane continued, "I'm starving."

Kyle stepped back a little and shook the water from her eyes. "It's breakfast that you want, then?"

"Well, actually, it's you I want right now, but I have to go."

Kyle sighed. "Yes, ma'am."

As she stepped out of the shower, Dane laughed. If only she knew.

They shared their first breakfast together on the run. While Kyle dressed, Dane poured juice and put bread in the toaster. They munched toast while scrambling eggs and rinsed the dishes as they finished off the coffee. Silence descended as they both gathered their things to leave.

Kyle zipped her jacket and watched Dane slip a wallet into her jeans and pick up her keys from the table. When Dane turned toward her at last, Kyle couldn't read the expression in her eyes. She wasn't sure where to begin.

"Dane," she ventured softly.


"Will I see you again?"

Dane hadn’t expected this. She sighed slightly. "I don't know. Do you want to?"

Kyle nodded, not saying anything.

"Maybe you should think about it a while," Dane responded. "What happened last night - the way we were together- it might not be what you really want." She hesitated for a second. "And it is what I want."

Kyle answered carefully, sensing that Dane would withdraw at the slightest misunderstanding. "You'd know I was lying if I said I understood why last night felt right to me. But it did, and I'm not turning my back on that. For no reason I can clearly explain, I want you to touch me again."

"You'd better be sure what it is you want, before you find yourself somewhere you don't want to be," Dane said darkly. For a moment, her mind was clouded in memory.

"And do you know exactly what it is you want?" Kyle queried.

Dane reached for the door and said quietly, "I thought I did—until now."

Chapter Four

Dane drove the familiar route to her kennel lost in thought. The image of Kyle, resplendent in black leather, driving away on her motorcycle was still fresh in her mind. It had been a strange encounter. She realized she had enjoyed the night with Kyle more than any she could remember recently. Kyle was surprisingly receptive to her brand of lovemaking, and it had been easy to fall into a scene naturally with her. Still, she was wary. Kyle was on the threshold of a whole new sexual arena, and Dane knew from experience that the process of adjusting was a long one. She wasn't sure she wanted to be placed in the role of teacher. Teachers were usually replaced as time went on. When the lessons were over, the students moved on, leaving the teachers drained if they were lucky, broken if they had been foolish enough to care. Her life of casual encounters suited her. She was comfortable with the limitations, and also the freedom such anonymous liaisons afforded her. She hadn't wanted more than one night with anyone in a long time. She sensed that Kyle might be capable of awakening long-dormant needs within her, needs which she had learned to ignore.

As she pulled her van into the small lot beside the low building bearing the name "Daneland Kennels," she resolved to let the issue rest. She would probably never see her again anyhow.

She got out of the van and stretched. It was a full-blown spring morning and the clear air and blue skies lifted her spirits. She whistled a little as she let herself in a side door with her key.

"Hey, Boss," a voice called, as she closed the door behind her. "There's someone out back to see you."

"Hi, Anne. Sorry I'm a little late."

The tanned young woman, dressed casually in a plaid flannel shirt, work pants and heavy work boots, smiled back.

"Well, it is Saturday morning," she replied. When she stood up, the keys which dangled from a belt loop on her right hip jangled. "I understand that, but I'm not sure our friend out back does."

Dane's heart lifted. "Is he here already?"

"They got back about half an hour ago. He's very sassy, too. If he gets any more pleased with himself, there'll be no living with him," Anne replied, laughing.

"Where's Caroline?"

"She went out for coffee. She'll be back in a minute."

Dane headed toward the back door.

"Tell her I'm out back. I want to talk to her."

Behind the low sprawling building, secluded from the highway, were fenced-in runs where the dogs could be safely let out. As Dane stepped into the largest area directly behind the office, a large dog turned at her approach. Dane laughed as she saw the familiar form. "Baron!" she called as the powerful animal raced toward her, barking excitedly. She braced herself as he approached, used to his exuberant greetings after each of their separations. When he pushed his head into her chest, she rubbed his ears and heavily muscled neck fondly. He tried to return her affections by licking her neck, threatening to topple her over with his weight.

"Enough!" she commanded after a moment, staggering back. He sat down immediately, his eyes fixed on her face, his body still trembling with excitement. She moved to the top step and said quietly, "Baron, come."

He responded instantly, pressing close up against her left leg. She stroked the soft short fur on his back while she lit a cigarette with her other hand.

"So you did it again, huh, boy?" she said. "I sure missed you while you were gone, but you have to do this once in a while. You're too good to just stay home and keep me company. Besides, I know you love getting out there and strutting your stuff. Not letting it go to your head, are you?"

He put his large, heavy head on her knee and half closed his eyes as she stroked him. She smiled, remembering how small and cuddly he had been as a puppy. It was hard to believe that he had grown into such a magnificent animal, his body nearly the perfect example of his breed. Despite her pride in him as a champion show dog, she loved him best for his gentle loyal spirit. He was special to her far beyond his worth as her kennel's premier stud dog. He was her dog, before all else. They sat contentedly together, enjoying one another's company in the warm, still morning.

The door opened behind them, and Dane looked up.

"Hi! Glad to be back?" she asked.

"Oh God, yes! I'm getting too old for the circuit. Sleeping in vans and eating at McDonald’s is killing me, to say nothing of my home life. Anne threatened to take a lover if I left again before June."

Dane laughed affectionately at the tall, slightly gray-haired woman who sat down beside her. Caroline had been her friend for many years and was the only one she would trust to handle her dogs at shows.

"After all this time you don't really think Anne would stray, do you?" Dane queried.

Caroline sighed and studied her boots for a moment.

"You know, three years isn't very long, as these things go. And I am twelve years older than she is. I still worry about it. I don't think I could start all over one more time."

Dane placed her hand lightly on her friend's knee. "You could, and you would, if you had to. But Anne is a lot more mature than her age, and she's had enough experience to know what she wants."

"You should know!" Caroline retorted good-naturedly.

"Are you ever going to forgive me for getting there first? After all, it's you she chose to be with." Dane didn't mind a bit that she had lost a lover to her closest friend. It happened all the time, and as much as she had enjoyed Anne, she hadn't cared when she had left. It avoided complications.

"Oh, I forgive you," Caroline said, meaning it. "I still can't figure out what she saw in me though—especially compared to you."

"Oh, I can," Dane replied seriously. "You loved her—I didn't."

Caroline looked sharply at Dane, surprised by the coldness in her voice.

"You sound like you have something against love."

"Not so," Dane said, twisting her finger in Baron's rich coat. "I don't have any problem loving this guy."

Caroline snorted. "Small wonder! He's an absolute sweetheart. He'd die for you, and he never asks for anymore than a few strokes." She scratched his black muzzle and smiled. "He just gets better and better. The judges pretend to look at the others, but there was no competition. He just presented himself and stole their hearts."

"It scares me when I realize how really great he is," Dane agreed. "Sometimes I forget he's a lot more than just my dog."

"So how have things been around here?" Caroline asked.

Dane replied nonchalantly, "Nothing, the same old routine. I've put in a bid for a puppy bitch out of Kitty Graham's new litter. I thought we were ready for a little expansion."

Caroline nodded her assent. She had a large financial investment in Daneland Kennels, but she was totally comfortable allowing Dane to make all the decisions regarding their breeding program. Her own talent was in training and handling the dogs.

"Sounds good. But I didn't mean on the dog scene. I've been gone six weeks. What's been happening with you?"

"Not much."

"Come on, Dane. This is me—the big C. You know I love details. Something, or someone, must have happened while I've been away. Give me a break. All that time with straights, I'm dying for a little gossip. Come clean."

Dane wouldn't ordinarily tolerate any intrusion on her private life from anyone, but with Caroline, she couldn't put up a fight. They had been friends too long, and as much as she hated to admit it, sometimes she needed to talk to someone.

"Well," she began cautiously, "the bar scene hasn't changed much. More new faces all the time. And it's getting so you can't tell who's for real and who's just there for the show. There's so much leather everywhere these days I'm not sure what's going on." She paused. "Remember when a handful of us carried signs that said, 'Radical dykes, in five years we'll be everywhere'? Well, now it is everywhere. Except I'm not certain it means the same thing anymore."

Caroline laughed. "I know what you mean. Every time I walk down the street, I see handkerchiefs and keys all over the place. I'll be damned if I can tell whether they're for real or not. But at least women are talking about it—and more and more are thinking about it. That's some kind of progress."

"Yeah, I guess," Dane muttered. "I met this woman—a real novice, totally uninitiated. But she was so cool about the whole thing. She'd thought about it, and then went out and tried it. Just like that."

"Well, what's wrong with that?" Caroline said. "That's what we've been saying all along, right? It's just another way that people relate. Not for everyone—but so what?"

Dane lit a cigarette and slowly inhaled. "Yeah, but this was different. She wasn't some kid out for an adventure—she thinks, you know. And she talks."

"You mean she wasn't just a nice body in your bed for a night?"

Dane looked at Caroline, surprised once more by her old friend's ability to understand her.

"I guess so."

"So, what did you do with her?" Caroline asked, aware that Dane hadn't talked about anyone in particular for a long time. She had always hoped that Dane would get serious about someone again, but it had never seemed to happen. Dane kept her feelings deeply hidden, even from Caroline.

"Nothing," Dane said.


Dane smiled ruefully. "Well, I brought her home, of course."

"Of course!"

"Cut it out!" Dane said. "I'm not that much of a stud, you know. It's not like I have a different woman in my bed every night!"

Caroline nodded. "I know. But, you don't do too badly. So, then what happened?"

"She left. And I came here to see you and Baron."

Caroline looked into Dane's blue eyes with surprise. "This was last night?"

Dane nodded. "Uh-huh."

"Well, come on, woman—tell me! What's she like?"

"I don't know, just a woman."

"Just a woman! There is no such thing. Is she young, old, tall, short, fat, thin, butch, femme, right, left—"

Dane grinned. "She's gorgeous, actually. Black hair, gray eyes and a great body. Rides a motorcycle, likes leather, and she has a brain."

"Sounds nice."



"So what?" Dane asked, pretending not to understand.

"So what are you doing about it? Do you have her number? Are you going to call her?"

Dane was silent for a moment.

"No, I don't have her number. And no, I'm not going to call her."

"Why the hell not?" Caroline asked impatiently.

"Because I don't feel like it!" Dane replied shortly as she stood up and stretched. Baron got up immediately and looked up at her expectantly.

"I think I'll take Baron through his paces," Dane said as she walked away. "He's been taking it easy too long."

"And you've been hiding too long," Caroline muttered at Dane's retreating figure.

Chapter Five

Kyle closed the door gently behind her and surveyed the room before her. Benches lined the walls, piled high with half-finished pieces and dismantled forms. Paint cans and brushes were neatly stacked in one corner and a central worktable lay buried under current projects. A fine layer of wood dust covered everything, and particles big enough to touch floated lightly on the still air.

She slipped on her coveralls and tuned the radio to the station she was looking for, the one that played all the 'oldies'. As was often her habit when she had something on her mind, she sought refuge in work. She began hand sanding the top of a table, her thoughts drifting. Scenes from the bar kaleidoscoped in her mind, and she was back in the smoke-filled room, music and bodies swirling around her. Dane's face appeared before her, imperious in her aloofness, just a hint of a smile lifting the corner of her mouth. Kyle stepped into her arms again, and they danced. The moment flickered by too quickly as they took the cold ride on her cycle through the dark early morning streets. The strangeness of their silent entrance into Dane's house and the delicate balance of their love exchange stirred unfamiliar emotions. She was excited and yet uncertain. How was she to reclaim that moment of intense union with a woman she barely knew? Somehow, she sensed she would not see Dane again, and that thought saddened her.

Rarely had she been so moved by someone physically, only to have it end so quickly. Usually her sexual involvements were superficial, engaging little of her emotionally. She never missed the deeper aspects of a relationship--she had friends for that. But with Dane, it had not been the kind of sexual encounter she was used to. By the very nature of their exchange, she had been changed. By allowing Dane to restrain her, and then to control her, Kyle had granted Dane a degree of trust she never shared with casual lovers. Why she had done it didn't matter -- the fact was that she had done it, and she had been touched in some way so fundamental to her being that she felt empty now in the ordinary light of day. She wondered if she would ever be content again without that kind of intensity. She feared Dane had released a hunger that could easily consume her.

She sighed and lightly dusted the top of the table. The swirling grain appeared and rewarded her labors. When she applied a light oil, the wood took on a dark warmth before her eyes. She set the piece aside to dry and began on another. She worked steadily for a long time, lulled by the old romantic tunes that filled the air. When she finally straightened up, she grimaced at the cramp in her lower back.

"Too much activity," she thought to herself, remembering the night before. "Still, it was worth it."

The phone rang and startled her back into the present.

"Hello?" she said, resting one hip up on the counter.

"Hi! Where are you?" a familiar voice said.

"In the shop."

"Oh no, my friend. Not on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. The wine is chilled, the sun is coming around to the deck, and I have been deserted. When can you be here?"

"Where's Roger?"

"Roger who?"

Kyle laughed. "The handsome man you live with."

"Oh, him. He has some terribly important something or other to do at the hospital. I've written him off for the day. So are you coming over, or what?"

"Well, I'm right in the middle of finishing that table."

"It doesn't have to be done until next weekend."

Kyle sighed. "I know, but…"


"Oh, all right. I'll be there in an hour."

"Thirty minutes."

Kyle laughed. "I'm leaving now." She hung up the receiver, off pulled her coveralls, and headed for the door.


Twenty miles south of Kyle’s coastal community, Anne pulled the jeep out onto the highway and reached for Caroline's hand. "I'm glad you're home."

Caroline squeezed Anne's fingers lightly and smiled over at her.

"So am I, babe. I missed you."

Anne deftly negotiated the heavy expressway traffic, smiling softly.

"Oh yeah?"

"Yes—your sparkling conversation, your great dinners, your wonderful backrubs, and—"

Anne looked over at her lover. "And?"

"And your tender services."

"Let's talk about that some more!" Anne said lightly, as she drove off the exit toward their apartment.

"I've got a better idea, Caroline replied.


Caroline smiled. "Let's not talk at all."

Anne nodded as she pulled into a parking space and switched off the ignition. Once in the apartment, Anne went directly to the kitchen and opened the bottle of champagne she had placed there that morning. The shower was running in the other room as she filled a plate with cheese, crackers and fruit. She arranged iced glasses on a tray and folded linen napkins into small brass rings, completing the arrangement with small candles.

She carried the tray to the bedside table in their room and sat down on the edge of the bed to remove her boots. Caroline walked in with a towel draped around her and smiled at the top of her lover's curl-covered head.

"Leave your jeans on."

Anne looked up, her face flushed. She stood and unbuttoned her shirt, stripping it off to expose her small firm breasts. Caroline came to stand before her, turned her back, and handed Anne her towel. Anne slowly dried Caroline's back, gently rubbing the nubbly cotton down the soft curves of her thighs. When she was done, she folded the towel neatly and placed it on a chair.

Caroline stretched out on the satin comforter covering their bed and reached for one of the glasses of champagne. She sipped slowly, her gaze traveling appreciatively over Anne's body.

"Why don't you pull the drapes," Caroline said softly. "And light the candles."

Finished, Anne looked at her questioningly.

"Would you like some of this very nice champagne?"

Anne nodded, not moving.

"You'll have to earn it first."

Anne gently climbed onto the bed and stretched out between Caroline's parted legs, resting her face softly against the inner curve of Caroline's thigh.

Caroline laced her fingers through the wispy curls on top of Anne's head and guided Anne's face toward her. As Anne began to kiss her lightly, Caroline closed her eyes and took another sip of the cool, bubbly liquid. Yes, it was very good to be home.


Kyle turned her motorcycle up the tree-lined drive leading to a wood structure nestled at the top of the knoll. The house commanded a view of the ocean far below, while blending imperceptibly into the hillside where it stood. Kyle walked around the side of the house to the deck in the rear. Mounting the steps to the raised platform, she smiled at the fashionably dressed woman stretched out in a recliner in the sun.

"Hi, Nance," she said as she climbed to the top step.

"Hi yourself," her friend said, shading her eyes with one well-manicured hand. "Could you pour me some more wine?"

Kyle grinned. "Sure." The wine bottle stood chilling in a gold-plated bucket, and an empty glass of expensive crystal stood beside it on the tray. She refilled the half-empty glass by Nancy's chair and then poured a second for herself.

They reclined in silence for a while until the small trim woman beside her sat up with a sigh.

"So, where were you last night?"

Kyle looked up in surprise. "What do you mean?"

"I called at eight this morning—I know you never sleep late. And no one answered. Therefore, you must have been out somewhere last night."

"How do you know I didn't get up early and go out this morning?"

"Kyle!" her pretty companion said, pretending to pout.

Kyle laughed. "All right. I spent the night in the city."

"Oh?" Nancy inquired, arching her neatly contoured brows. "A little wanderlust?"

"Is it all right if I go out once in a while, Nance?" Kyle asked, suddenly not sure she wanted to talk.

"Of course. I'm always trying to get you to go out!"

"You mean you're always trying to fix me up with someone!"

"Well, what's wrong with that?" Nancy feigned a hurt look and reached for a cigarette. She looked expectantly at Kyle, who reached into her pocket on cue and pulled out her lighter.

Kyle leaned forward and touched the flame to her friend's cigarette, catching the twinkle in her eyes. "Don't be dense, Nancy. " Kyle answered. "First of all, I can choose my own companions. Secondly, half the time the people you're trying to fix me up with are men."

Nancy drew deeply on her cigarette and looked out over the two acres of her prime coastal property.

"Men aren't all that bad, you know."

Kyle sighed. "Nance, we've been having this conversation since our freshman year in college. I never said men were bad—I just don't feel the same way you do about them."

"I can remember when you didn't mind sleeping with them."

Kyle could tell her old friend was in a mood to bait her. Whenever the subject of Kyle's sexual preferences came up, they went through the same arguments. Underneath Nancy's superficial-appearing exterior, Kyle knew there was a very complex woman. They often didn't agree, but they did care for one another. Not only were they business associates, they were close friends.

"It's not that I mind sleeping with men, Nance. You know that. It's that I prefer women. There is a very real difference. Women are not substitutes, alternatives or second choices for me. They're…"

"…a positive first choice," Nancy finished for her. "Did you read that somewhere, or are you writing propaganda for all the lesbian groups in the area?"

"Nancy!" Kyle exploded.

"Oh, all right," her friend replied contritely. "I know, I know. It's important to you—that distinction. I just don't see why you have to be so hard-line about this gay thing. You could settle down with some nice, unassuming guy, get a few of the advantages it would bring, and have a lover on the side."

Kyle knew Nancy was serious and tried for the hundredth time to explain.

"I don't want to do it that way. I don't want to live with someone I don't love. I want the person I live with to be the only one. And I don’t want to hide!"

"Isn't that a little unrealistic? After all, people aren't perfect, you know. No one person would ever be enough."

Kyle knew very well that her business partner had affairs outside her marriage, and she also knew that Nancy's husband, Roger, was aware of them. Roger and Nancy had agreed years ago that both of them were free to explore as long as they weren't serious about anyone. It seemed to work well for them, and Kyle respected that. But not for her.

She shook her head stubbornly.

"It's not right for me."

"Oh, Kyle," Nance said in exasperation. "You're impossibly romantic!"

Kyle smiled and refilled their glasses.

"No, I'm not."

"Do you think you're going to find the woman of your dreams in those bars you go to—when you can't stand the silence of your own home any longer?"

Anger flashed in Kyle's eyes. Nancy was getting a little too close to the quick today, of all days.

"It's not as easy for me to meet people as it is for you, you know. I can't just go to some respectable university function and pick someone up."

"Touché," Nancy replied softly. She leaned back in her lounge chair and sipped her wine. "All right. So you have to go to gay bars to meet gay women. Did you?"


"Is it any different this time than all the other times? Did you find someone you can stand to be with the next day?" Nancy knew she was pushing Kyle's limits, but she didn't care. She had watched Kyle struggle with her loneliness for years, and she truly wanted to see her friend find some kind of happiness.

"Can you always stand them the next day?" Kyle retaliated.

Nancy laughed. "Usually I don't have to worry about it. They have to go home to their wives. Besides, I asked you first."

Kyle drained her glass and reached for the bottle.

"The wine is gone."

"In the kitchen. I put two more on ice." Nancy followed her friend's muscular form into the house, noting with a practiced eye the sensuous way she moved. She thought about how Kyle's body would feel on top of hers, and she knew she would like it. She also knew Kyle would never consider such a thing with her. Roger and Kyle were friends, and Kyle, unfortunately, was a woman of integrity.

Kyle returned carrying a fresh bottle of chilled white wine. She removed the cork, filled their glasses again and leaned her back up against the railing of the deck.

"Nancy," she said seriously, "Why are you always going on at me about this? I don't bother you about your life, do I?"

"Why should you? I have a great home, plenty of security, all the money I need and a husband who doesn't mind my—ah--flirtations."

"I don't believe for a second that's all you want," Kyle replied. "You're intelligent, talented, warm and loving. All those nice things you have can't be enough, or you wouldn't be sleeping with every good-looking, horny guy you meet."

"I haven't slept with all of them, Kyle," Nancy said demurely. "Not yet."

Kyle laughed. "Oh hell, I give up."

"Good! Now tell me about your latest. Was it any different?"

"Yes, for me at least."

Nancy waited expectantly. "Well?"

Kyle turned to look down across the bluff to the ocean, stretching for miles before them. "I went to a leather bar last night."

Nancy sat up straight in her chair. "Do you mean an S /M bar?"

"I guess you could say that."

Nancy was surprised, and intrigued. "So, tell me."

"I met this woman. I went home with her. A lot happened. I felt differently with her than I've ever felt before. I felt things about myself I never felt before."

"Did she beat you or something?" Nancy asked in amazement.

"No, it wasn't like that. It was like being in another world. We were making love, except so much more was happening. I almost didn't know myself. It was physical, and emotional, and something else, too."

"What else?"

Kyle sighed in frustration. "I don't know. And I don’t know how I’m going to find out."

Chapter Six

Kyle looked up from the chair she was stripping and sighed.


"Hmm?" Nancy replied absently, her mind on the design she was outlining on a tabletop.

"About that party tonight—"

"Yes," Nancy murmured, still engrossed in her painting.

"I don't think I can make it."

Nancy looked up quickly. "Bullshit. You don't want to."

Kyle tossed her stripping knife onto the counter. "It's not that I don't want to; I just don't feel like meeting a lot of straight doctors from the hospital."

"Well, all those straight doctors have wives, you know."

"I don't want to meet somebody's wife!" Kyle said. "I don't even want to meet the doctors who are women. Roger does know a few female doctors, doesn't he?"

Nancy laughed. "There might be one or two of those! I don't usually notice! So, will you come?"


"It's been a month since you went into the city. I know, I've counted. You must be ready for a little diversion by now."

Kyle looked uncomfortable for a moment.

"Actually, there was something else I wanted to do tonight. I read about this meeting in the city. It's a discussion group. I thought I might go."

"Oh, that sounds like lots of fun!" Nancy said sarcastically. "You could spend Friday night sitting around talking about how tough it is being gay, or single, or green, or whatever tonight's topic is."

"Oh, give me a break, Nance!"

Nancy was suddenly serious. "Well, what is it about, then?"

"It's about power, and how we use it."

Nancy looked at her astutely. "You mean sexual power, like S/M? Right?"

"That's part of it."

"Are you serious about this thing?"

"I'm serious about finding out about it."

Nancy turned back to her design. "Well, I suppose I'll have other parties."


Dane strode rapidly across the room, her voice tight, her back stiff with contained anger.

"There is no way, no way, that I'm going to some discussion group tonight!"

Caroline sighed resignedly and led the dog into the open crate.

"Why not?"

Dane turned toward her, blue eyes flashing.

"Because it's always the same thing. A bunch of intellectuals sitting around discussing the 'politics' of power and what they think about it. It's always what they think, never what they feel. It's an academic discourse by people who are afraid to do more than just talk about it. And they always have such a superior attitude about anyone who actually does something to find out what it's like."

Caroline looked at her friend in surprise. The vehemence in her voice was startling. Dane was usually so cool.

"That's not fair, Dane. Anne and I are going—and we do more than talk about it."

"Good! You can be the guinea pigs, then."

"How do you expect women to discover how they feel if no one who knows something will get it out in the open? It's like refusing to talk to straights about being gay. Ignorance doesn't go away by itself!" Caroline crossed her arms and sat down on the corner of the desk.

"Let them come to the bar, then, and see what it's all about if that's what they really want," Dane persisted.

"Maybe they're afraid to," Caroline said quietly. "It's as threatening to some of them to go to a leather bar as it used to be for all of us just to go to a regular gay bar. Just because you had to find out by yourself doesn't mean it still has to be that way. Maybe you can help other women understand."

Dane stared at Caroline. "I don't feel like telling a bunch of strangers what I do in bed!"

Caroline looked at her in exasperation. "You don't have to. But you could talk about why you do what you do in bed. Come on, Dane, what are you afraid of?"

"I'm not the one who's afraid!"

"Then why not come?"

Dane sighed. "I'll think about it, okay?"

Caroline smiled. "Okay."


Kyle checked her reflection in the mirror for the tenth time. She couldn't believe how nervous she was about going to this discussion group. She had participated in group sessions on lesbianism a few times and it was fine. Tonight she felt different. She was a newcomer, not at all certain what to expect, and she was afraid she would stand out. Still, she wanted to go. She wanted to know if other women were as affected as she had been by her brief exposure to sexual power roles. The memory of that night still elicited an intense longing whenever she thought of it. And she seemed to think of little else! Her denim-clad figure stared back at her from the glass, the same person that always stood there. But, tonight she seemed different even to herself. Who was that woman in there?

When she pulled her cycle in between several cars at the address the notice had given, she realized it was someone's apartment. She hadn't expected the meeting to be in somebody's house. She hoped she wouldn't be the only one there who didn't know anyone. Maybe this isn’t such a good idea.

A young woman in a tee shirt and blue jeans opened the door when Kyle rang.

"Hi!" she said, smiling up at Kyle.

"Hi," Kyle said, a little uncertain. "I saw this notice about a discussion group."

"Right," the woman said, extending her hand. "I'm Jean. Come on up."

Kyle shook the shorter woman's hand.

"Thanks, I'm Kyle. Uh—I guess I should tell you, I'm not sure I should be here. I mean, I don't know much about it."

The young woman laughed. "That's the idea. No one will ask you anything. You can talk or just listen. It doesn't matter."

"Okay," Kyle said, telling herself to relax.

Jean led her into a large living room where five or six women were already seated. To Kyle's relief, they all looked like regular dykes to her, the kind of women you might meet in any bar. Several women looked over at her and nodded before returning to their conversations.

Kyle sat on the floor with her back against a couch and surreptitiously took stock of the other women. There was a wide age range, and they were all dressed casually. Blue jeans and leather boots abounded, and she could see a few leather wristbands, mostly on the right. A few more women came in, one carrying several six-packs of beer.

"Hi, everyone. I'm Diane. Help yourself to the beer." She passed the bottles around and seated herself next to Jean. She looked around the room for a moment, and then began.

"There used to be a group in the area, some of you may have heard of it, which was started by some women who were interested in exploring alternative ways of relating to each other. Not everyone was gay, but everyone was interested in the exchange of power."

"You mean S/M, don't you?" one woman asked.

Diane nodded. "Basically, yes. Except that term is sort of limiting, because not everyone has the same ideas about it. Some women take it to mean B/D - bondage and discipline, some see it as rigid master/slave roles, while others mean only a polarity of power specifically around sex. There are lots of different ways of expressing power in a relationship, which is what we're here to talk about." She laughed. "Which is as good a place to start as any, I guess. Before we talk about specifics, I think we should find out how we see the central issue—power."

Kyle was intrigued to hear the differing opinions that the women in the group had about the role of power in relationships. At first it seemed as if everyone had a different idea, but as the discussion grew, it became clear that everyone agreed on one thing. All relationships were based on some kind of exchange of power, no matter what you called it. Sometimes it was very subtle, like who made the first move in lovemaking, while in other relationships, it was more obvious and often based on sexual roles. Kyle tried to sort out her thoughts as the conversation flowed back and forth. It was obvious that some of the women had more experience than others, and she noticed two women sitting across from her who seemed to have thought a lot about it. They talked easily about their own relationship and how they perceived the exchange of power in their own lives.

Kyle listened with interest as the older of the two responded to someone's comment that too much emphasis was placed on sex by 'power-oriented' women.

"Sexual feelings are a much bigger part of any relationship than most women care to admit. It's not just how you make love, or how often, but how you react physically to everything around you. Appreciating the way your lover looks in leather is sexual. Fantasizing about strangers in the subway is sexual. Feeling strong when you wear boots is sexual. Those feelings are there all day long; it's just that we don't call them sexual."

"Are you saying that women aren't sexual enough?" Kyle asked, intrigued by the woman's train of thought.

Caroline smiled at Kyle, who had been silent up until now.

"I'm saying that women are much more sexual, naturally physical, than we appreciate because we put too much emphasis on definitions. And our definition of sexual is very narrow. If we don't call something by a particular term, then it can't be. We end up limiting ourselves!"

Other women began talking, and Kyle found she was rapidly acquiring more questions than answers. Nevertheless, as she listened she felt she was making contact with an important part of herself. She was amazed when Diane said it was after eleven and time to wrap it up. Kyle was disappointed that the evening was ending. Most of the women agreed to meet again, and Kyle made note of the date.

She found herself following the couple who had been across from her all evening down the stairs.

"Hi," she said, catching up to them on the street. "I really liked what you two had to say tonight."

Anne turned toward her, smiling. "It's a start. I'm Anne, by the way. And this is Caroline."

Kyle nodded to both of them and then stopped in front of her motorcycle. They stopped with her, apparently in no great hurry.

"I'm glad that women want to get together and talk about it," Kyle said.

Caroline laughed and slid her arm around Anne's waist. "Some of us even like to do more than talk about it."

Kyle grinned. "I got that impression."

"We're going to the bar for a while. Are you?" Caroline asked.

"I was thinking about it," Kyle replied. "I’m still not sure what this all means for me."

Caroline shook her head. "Relax! It's just a bar. Besides, the only way to find out about anything is to go find out."

"Don't get her started!" Anne said affectionately. "Really, though, Kyle, you can meet us there. It's nothing heavy. We can all have a beer or something."

She didn't have any reason to rush home, and she agreed to meet them at 'Leathers'. As she started her motorcycle and buckled on her helmet, she admitted to herself that she was hoping to run into someone else there tonight.

Anne and Caroline were just getting out of their car as Kyle pulled up on her cycle, and they walked over to meet her.

"Have you been here before?" Caroline asked.

"Once. A month or so ago," Kyle replied.


Kyle shrugged a little sheepishly. "I had a great time."

Caroline looked as if she was about to ask another question, but Anne tugged her arm.

"Come on, hon. Don't put her on the spot," Anne chided gently.

Kyle laughed and Caroline joined in.

"She's right," Caroline said as they walked toward the door. "I never know when to quit. It's just that I'm really interested in how women feel about the whole thing."

Kyle nodded as she paid her cover charge. "That's okay. I feel the same way. If I didn't, I wouldn't have come to the group tonight."

They bought drinks and claimed one of the few unoccupied tables. Kyle looked around at the many women already there but saw no one she recognized. She had a fleeting wave of disappointment, but, at the same time, the old excitement returned. Her pulse stirred just being there.

"How come you went to the discussion group?" Kyle asked as they relaxed with their drinks.

"What do you mean?" Caroline replied.

"Well, you obviously know pretty much how you feel. I mean, you're not newcomers to these ideas. Why bother?"

Anne looked at Caroline. "I think it's because we still have things to learn about our own relationship, and ourselves. Sometimes sharing ideas with other women makes us see ourselves in a different light. And sometimes, it helps us to change things in our own lives."

Caroline nodded. "It's like we're always exploring new parts of our life together. How about you?" she continued. "Did it help?"

Kyle thought about it for a moment. "Everything is new to me. I feel like I'm coming out all over again. I haven't thought much about my own life for a long time. I never thought about whether I liked the way my life has worked out." She fell silent, surprised at her statement.

Anne and Caroline both nodded in agreement. Suddenly Anne turned to her lover.

"Are you ready to dance with me yet?"

Caroline laughed. "Sure."

Kyle watched them for a moment as they made their way through the growing crowd to the dance floor, and then returned to her beer. She was still thinking about the things she had heard earlier when a voice at her elbow startled her back to the present.

"Back again, huh?"

Kyle looked up into Dane's face, quite near as she bent over their table. She looked as good as Kyle remembered, only tonight she was dressed in full leathers, from her pants to the sleeveless vest that covered her otherwise bare chest.

"Hello. Yes, I'm back." Her voice was suddenly dry, and she hoped she wasn’t grinning like a fool. It was hard to hide her excitement at suddenly seeing her again.

Dane sat down in an empty chair next to Kyle. She drained her glass and set it in front of her, absently making patterns out of the wet rings it left on the tabletop.

"This your first time back?" Dane finally said. Have you found other lovers? Has someone else touched you the way I did?

"Yes," Kyle said, watching Dane carefully. She seemed so distant; Kyle wasn't sure how to approach her.

Dane looked up and caught her eye. She smiled slightly and pushed her glass out in front of her. "Want another beer?"

Kyle lifted her bottle and shook her head. "I'm still working on this one. I had a few earlier."

"Oh? Have you been here awhile?"

"No. I was at a meeting earlier. A discussion group."

Dane groaned. "Not you, too."

"What do you mean?" Kyle asked in surprise.

"Oh, my friends were trying to get me to go to one tonight." Dane sighed and looked around the bar. "Not for me. I'm tired of all the talk." Her expression said she was more than tired.

My god, we were as close as I’ve ever been with anyone and now I can’t reach her! Dane seemed barricaded by anger. Or was it something else? Maybe talking wasn’t the answer.



"Want to dance?"

Dane smiled suddenly. "Yes."

They danced to one song after another, not talking. They let the music guide them into and out of each other's arms, first close, then moving apart to the rhythm of the sound. Finally, damp with sweat, they returned to the table. Anne and Caroline were already there, another round of beers in front of them.

"Glad you could make it to the group tonight, Dane," Caroline said caustically.

"Ran short on time," Dane replied tersely as she reached for a beer.

"I'll bet, Caroline said sarcastically.

Kyle looked from Dane to Caroline, confused. Anne appeared uncomfortable and tried to change the subject.

"I see you two have met," she began.

Dane looked up quickly as Kyle answered.

"Yes, we've met. Are you two all danced out?"

Anne smiled, her hand on Caroline's arm. "We're just taking a break, right, babe?"

When Caroline failed to answer, Anne followed her gaze. Her heart sank when she saw who approached. Oh, Christ, not tonight! And not with Dane here! She looked quickly at Dane, whose back was to the newcomer.

Kyle glanced up at the dark-haired woman who stood beside the table. A perfectly ironed white shirt tucked into tight-fitting leather pants outlined her thin, rangy figure. Her sleeves were rolled up to mid-forearm exposing sinewy tendons and taut muscles. Everything about her was austere, razor-sharp. She stood slightly behind Dane's right shoulder, slim, long fingers hooked lightly around a wide black leather belt, surveying the group.

"Hello Anne, Caroline." Her voice was smooth, yet somehow dangerous.

Dane's hands tightened around her bottle at the sound of the familiar voice behind her. She forced herself not to turn, but reached slowly into her pocket and pulled out a cigarette. Only Kyle noticed the slight tremor in her hands as she lit it carefully and inhaled deeply.

Caroline looked anxiously at Dane and then over at the new arrival.

"Hello, Brad."

"I thought you might introduce me to your new friend here," the cool, slightly husky voice continued, her hand resting lightly on Kyle's shoulder. Kyle shifted in her seat to face the woman, surprised.

Anne quickly said, "This is Kyle, Brad. Kyle, this is Terry Bradley, ‘Brad’ to most of us."

Brad pulled a chair from an adjoining table and sat down on Kyle's right. She stretched her legs out and tipped back slightly in her chair. She ran her gaze slowly over Kyle's face, lingering on the tanned triangle of skin exposed by Kyle's open-collared shirt.

"Hello, Kyle," she said softly. Suggestively.

Kyle stared back at the dark eyes which held her own, unable to pierce their cool veneer.

She nodded, acutely aware of Dane's stiff silence to her left.

Brad smiled slightly, a crooked grin, which softened her features for an instant. Just as quickly, the smile disappeared, and she turned her attention to Dane.

"And how is the legendary Dane Jorgensen these days?"

Dane acknowledged Brad for the first time by tipping her glass slightly in her direction.

"Same as always, Brad. Fine."

Brad laughed, her gaze shifting to Anne and Caroline.

"I haven't seen much of you two lately. Is the dog business keeping you busy?" Her voice was friendly, but Kyle thought she detected an edge to it.

"Don't you keep up anymore?" Caroline said nonchalantly. "Business has been good. We just wanted to come out for a good time tonight." She looked pointedly at Dane, trying to gauge her friend’s response to Brad's presence. She knew very well that Dane went out of her way to avoid Terry Bradley. And she knew why.

"Oh, yes," Brad said slowly. "I did notice that Baron took Best in Show in Georgia. Things can't be too bad. Still a one dog show, though."

Dane stared at Brad, her face tight. "Baron deserves it, and you know it."

"Oh yes, I know it." She regarded Dane contemptuously, her hand dropping onto Kyle's thigh. "And how about you, Kyle? Are you into dogs, too?"

"No--furniture," Kyle replied. She shifted slightly but Brad did not move her hand.

Dane stood up suddenly, her body tense. She looked down at Kyle and Brad, her eyes dark and impenetrable.

"You should be careful how you choose your company, Kyle. Some people aren't worth the effort."

Kyle looked up in surprise. "Dane--" she began. What the hell is going on?

"What's the matter, Dane? Lost your competitive spirit?" Brad asked, a hint of challenge in her voice.

Dane smiled tightly. "I'm not competing with you, Brad. I don't have to." She turned abruptly and walked away, disappearing quickly into the crowd.

Anne and Caroline looked at each other, and then turned to Kyle.

"We're leaving soon, Kyle. Would you like to stay at our place tonight?"

"Thanks, no," Kyle said quietly. "I'd rather head home, too."

As Anne and Caroline stood up to leave, Brad's grip tightened on Kyle's leg.

"You don't have to leave so early, do you?"

"I'm afraid I do."

"Some other time, then," Brad said lightly, removing her hand.

Kyle stood up. "Perhaps."

Brad sipped her drink slowly, smiling to herself in satisfaction.

Chapter Seven

Dane drove rapidly through the city, her mind careening from image to image—Kyle, her face soft with sleep, awakening by her side; Brad, so arrogant, so close to her, taunting her as only Brad could do. She shook her head and switched on the radio, hoping the music would drive her thoughts away. It had been months since she had last seen Brad, but the effect was still the same. Her mere presence made Dane feel helpless, impotent. And then she had put her hands on Kyle. So damn sure she could have anything she wanted! And Dane believed that she probably could. She hated her lack of control at these moments, face to face with her own weakness. Anger boiled close to the surface, threatening to consume her. She pulled her car abruptly into an empty space, realizing for the first time that she had driven almost unconsciously to the old familiar neighborhood. She sat for a second staring up at the three story Victorian set back from the street, majestic in its own particular way.

Even as she hesitated, she knew what she would do. There were too many emotions tearing at her—anger, despair, helplessness—memories so painful it hurt to breathe. She wasn't ready to face all the feelings pounding in her head, and there was only one sure way she knew to push them away. She carefully locked her car and tucked the keys in her pocket. She crossed the darkened street, slowly climbed the steps to the front door and knocked firmly.

The door opened to reveal a large woman, her features accentuated by the short, close crop of her hair. Her dark eyes searched Dane's face quickly, noting the agitation Dane tried to hide. She stepped back and motioned Dane into the large, well-furnished room.

"It's been a long time, Dane. Things must be going well for you these days." Her voice held a bite of sarcasm. She knew perfectly well that Dane visited her only when she was in the depths of some emotional turmoil. She also knew Dane would come to her only when driven to it. Only at the point of extreme stress could Dane tolerate exposing herself in quite this way to anyone.

Dane nodded, having nothing to say. In a way, she hated this woman. She represented Dane's failure. When she could not control her own life, her own needs, she was forced to look into the face of her own torment and see her failures reflected there. When she could not intellectually bring order to her world, she sought physical escape. When she could not live with her own hidden vulnerability, she sought physical punishment.

"What's your safe word?" the woman said sharply, having no desire for conversation. Already she felt the excitement that Dane's presence always aroused in her. Dane was so cool, so controlled, so perfect in everyone's eyes. But she knew; she knew Dane as no one else would ever know her, for she had seen the depths of her despair. And before long, she would witness Dane's surrender to it.

"The same," Dane replied tightly. She followed the woman as they moved through the spacious house toward a rear staircase. They climbed to the third floor where a single door faced them. Dane watched the familiar figure sort through a ring of keys and unlock the door. Dane entered first in response to the woman's gesture.

The room was surprisingly warm. She stood in blackness for a moment, knowing that the darkness was enhanced by the absence of windows. A soft, red glow suddenly suffused the room as a switch was turned on behind her. Dane began to sweat slightly, and her pulse quickened. She did not turn around when she heard the door close resoundingly behind her. She waited. The lights were arranged in recessed ceiling tracks in such a way that much of the space around her was in shadow. There was a deep carpet on the floor and some kind of soundboard on the walls, which absorbed almost any noise. No one would here her cries. No one would witness her defeat. Left alone with her own thoughts in the womb-like atmosphere, Dane quickly lost track of time.

"Take off your clothes."

Dane started slightly at the voice, which cut through the silence from somewhere in the shadows. She reached for her vest.


Dane's right hand, trembling slightly, worked each snap free on the damp leather. She pulled it off and dropped it. She raised first one slender leg and then the other to remove her boots. Next she released the buckle at her waist and freed the buttons on her fly to bare her naked flesh. The heat, the soft red light, and the stillness closed in around her as she pushed the smooth leather down her legs to bare herself completely.

The woman in the shadows smiled triumphantly. Dane was physically exposed to her, helpless and without protection. Soon she would be emotionally naked as well.

Moments passed and still Dane stood unmoving in the center of the room. Her mind slowly emptied itself of all thought as the sound of her own heartbeat became louder in her ears. She tensed slightly at the touch of a hand on her back, but she did not turn. The darkness became total as a soft, close-fitting leather hood was pulled over her head and fastened snugly around her neck. Her eyes were completely covered, but there were ample spaces for her nose and mouth, making it warm inside but allowing easy breathing. Something was pressed to her nose.

"Inhale," the voice directed.

Dane did and almost immediately felt a wave of heat wash over her. Her head began to pound, and her skin tingled. She was aware of being pushed firmly forward, her body seeming to move without her guidance. The hood blocked her keenest senses, her sight and hearing, and isolated her from her surroundings. She was forced now to experience events through her skin—to open the natural barrier of her body and to feel through it. They stopped suddenly, and Dane felt thick, soft straps being buckled around her wrists and ankles. Her body was pulled off balance, first one way and then another as her limbs were secured to a scaffold. She hung suspended in such a way that her feet barely touched the floor. Her arms were stretched out over her head, the leather restraints taut, just verging on painful. She floated in the silent blackness.

Her master walked softly to the side of the room, seated herself on a stool at a small bar, and studied her handiwork. Dane's finely muscled back and small, firm buttocks looked tantalizing in the muted red light. She forced herself to wait for a few moments, knowing this would enhance Dane's sense of disembodiment. She poured brandy into a glass and sipped it slowly. Finally, she opened a small cabinet set into the wall and removed the largest of her braided cats, a treacherous whip when handled by someone less practiced than her. Her hand closed around the heavy leather-wrapped handle, her entire being focused on the pale, naked, hooded form before her.

Dane had drifted so far into her own inner world, that, at first, she did not recognize the odd sensation on her thigh. When the second blow, harder than the first, landed across her buttock, her head snapped up in response. She forced herself not to tense her back muscles, knowing from experience it would make the cutting strokes more painful. She tried to focus on the way her skin felt after the blow had landed and the immediate flash of pain had passed. There was a tingling heat left behind which felt like a bright, raw light. Soon she lost count of the strokes falling more rapidly and harder across her upper back and shoulders. Her mind, divorced from ordinary sensation, became suffused with the cumulative agony of the blows, releasing her deeply buried fears and terrors. As she opened herself to the physical pain, it seared through her mind with a cleansing flame, exorcising her demons. She held onto consciousness by a thread, dimly aware that the woman out there would not stop until bidden. Only someone as experienced as Dane would dare to go so far, or to ask so much of her body. She pushed herself, taking more than she ever had before, until at last her mind began to close, finally purged. Only then did she utter a single word, agreed upon by both of them long ago.

Hearing that word, barely audible, Dane's voice was so hoarse, the woman wielding the torturous whip pulled herself up short. She shook her head, realizing she had been delivering her blows in a near frenzy. She was amazed for a moment to realize how nearly out of control she had become. She gazed at Dane's figure, slumped within the confines of her restraints, and felt a begrudging respect for her. It was only her own practiced discipline which had guided her during the last few minutes, and her considerable skill with the cat that had prevented the whip from flaying Dane's back open. Still, she knew that the deeper, delicate blood vessels had broken open. Dane’s back was a mass of welts, already beginning to darken from the blood pooling in the wounded tissue beneath the skin. Dane had been silent throughout, as she always was, and her master for the moment could not help but admire her.

Her head clear once more, the woman dropped the whip and strode quickly across the room. She released her restraints and laid Dane not ungently on the floor. She checked Dane's pulse, finding it steady and strong, and removed the hood. She left Dane there to find her own way out whenever she regained consciousness.


The highway flashed beneath Kyle's headlights as the bike raced into the darkness. She drove the treacherous, twisting road by second nature, fleeing from her uncertainty without thought to her destination. When she pulled off the road, gravel flew behind her rear tire and the bike only stayed upright as a result of its own momentum. There were cars lining both sides of the long drive and lights blazing everywhere in the elegant house on the hilltop. She ground the bike to a halt, taking a long breath. She avoided the brightly-lit front door and went around to the rear, seeking the relative comfort of the shadows there.

It wasn't until she had mounted the steps to the deck that she saw the figures embracing in the semi-darkness. A woman pulled away from her partner at the sound of Kyle's step.

"Jesus, Kyle! Is that you?" Nancy cried.

Kyle halted quickly. "Yes. I'm sorry."

Nancy pushed the young man with her toward the house. "Go inside," she whispered. She took Kyle’s arm and pulled her across the deck, away from the crowds just inside. "What are you doing here?"

Kyle slumped against the railing. "I don't know."

Nancy took her friend's arm. "Never mind. Are you all right? What happened?"

Kyle laughed without humor. "Nance, I don't know. Everything is crazy. Is there anything to drink?"

Nancy searched Kyle's face with concern. "Of course. Come inside."

"No," Kyle said quickly. "I didn't mean to crash your party."

"Don't be stupid," Nancy said in exasperation. "It's a bore, anyway."

Kyle laughed again, this time meaning it. "I could tell."

"Oh, him. Just a diversion. Roger is deep in some heavy conversation somewhere. Sit down. I'll be right back."

Kyle sighed and lowered herself gratefully into one of the deck chairs. The moon was out, and the surf pounded somewhere far below. She closed her eyes, not wanting to think about anything.

"Here," Nancy said, settling herself at the foot of Kyle's chair. "Drink."

Kyle reached for the glass and smiled at Nancy. "Thanks."

They sat close together for a while in the moonlight. Finally, Nancy placed her hand on Kyle's arm.

"So, what happened? Did your discussion group turn into a free-for-all?"

Kyle smiled. "No. It was fine. I went to the bar afterwards and there it turned into—I'm not sure what. Dane was there, and she seemed fine when we were dancing! But then Brad turned up and everyone got uptight. And then Dane stormed off, and Brad came onto me, and…" her voice trailed off.

"My, my. Sounds like fun," Nancy said with the merest trace of envy. "Who's Dane? And who is Brad? I thought you'd quit men."

Kyle laughed, drinking deeply of her wine. "Dane is the woman I told you about—the one I met last month. And Brad is a woman, too."

Nancy leaned back against Kyle's knee and sighed. "Clearly, I missed the real party. So why did you dash madly out here?"

"Because everything went to hell. Something was going on and I didn't know what. Dane turned into ice as soon as Brad showed up, and Brad was—"



"And you weren't interested," Nancy finished for her. "Was she crude and unattractive, or what?"

"Oh, not at all. She's attractive. It was more than just the way she looked—which was great. She was so damned confidant. The way she came on to me--like how could anyone resist? She got my attention."

Nancy looked intrigued. "She was really that good, huh?"

Kyle sighed, "Yeah."

"So, why are you here, instead of somewhere with her? You're not getting all moral, are you? After all, you never minded one-nighter's before."

Kyle thought about it for the first time, acknowledging her attraction to Brad.

"Maybe I would have, if it hadn't been for seeing Dane first. I felt like I never got a chance to really connect with her; and then Brad showed up, and everything changed. Dane acted like I just automatically wanted Brad, just because Brad wanted me." She was suddenly angry. "Like I couldn't choose for myself. The two of them acted like I was some prize to be taken by the strongest." She drained her glass and refilled it from the bottle Nancy had placed beside them. "Fuck them!"

Nancy smiled, relieved to see Kyle getting her spirit back. "Oh well. Who needs any of them anyway? Men or women—it's all the same. One pain in the ass after another."

Kyle realized for the first time that Nancy wasn't having a very good time that evening either. "Things aren't going so well for you either, I guess," she said sympathetically.

Nancy laughed bitterly. "Oh, you know. Typical party. The men are all getting quietly drunk and eyeing every female in sight. And the wives are sitting off by themselves bitching about their husbands."

"Why do you bother with it then?" Kyle asked seriously. She knew Nancy could change things if she wanted to. She had everything going for her—looks, brains and a strong will. She didn't understand why Nancy continued in a life she obviously didn't find fulfilling.

"Oh, it has its rewards," Nancy replied in a light tone.

"Sure," Kyle responded, "that's why you were out here with some—what was he, a med student?"

"Busboy," Nancy answered. "And don't go getting so high and mighty with me, Kyle Clark. You're not all that much different from me. We're both casting about in the dark."

Kyle was surprised at Nancy's brief flare of seriousness, and nodded. "You're right," she sighed. "Great partners, aren't we?"

"We might be," Nancy said quietly. Why haven’t you ever tried, Kyle?

Kyle was about to respond when a male voice penetrated the darkness.

"Nancy? What are you doing out here?"

Kyle looked up at the solid male form beside her chair.

"Hi, Roger. Sorry, I dragged Nancy out here to keep me company."

"Kyle!" Roger said in surprise. "I'm glad you could make it. Nancy said you were tied up."

Nancy laughed, slightly drunk, "No such luck."

Kyle covered quickly. "No, I just had to be somewhere else earlier. How are you?"

"Fine, fine," he said heartily. "Great party, isn't it, sweetheart?" He looked at Nancy uncertainly.

"Oh, yes, great," she replied. She stood up and smoothed the soft material of her clinging dress down over her thighs. "I guess I should go check on our guests." She looked pointedly at Kyle. "You will come in, won't you?"

"I'm not really dressed for it, Nance," Kyle said.

"Oh, bullshit. You look great."

"Okay. In a minute."

Roger sat down as Nancy entered the house.

"How have you been, Kyle?"

Kyle looked at him fondly. "I'm fine, Roger. The shop is busy."

"I figured. Nancy spends a lot more time there lately."

Kyle wanted to avoid talking about Nancy with Roger. She had never wanted to be in the middle of her friend's relationship, no matter what she thought of it.

"I guess you've been busy, too," she said noncommittally.

He nodded and stood up. "Well, you know how it is. Why don't you come in?"

Kyle pulled herself up out of the chair, feeling the soothing effects of the alcohol at last.

"I guess I might as well."

Chapter Eight

Anne turned at the sound of the key in the side door. She stared at Dane's drawn face and the dark circles under her eyes, instantly concerned.

"Hi," she said. "I didn't expect you today. Things are really quiet. Why don't you take the day off?"

Dane walked toward the rear door to the kennels. "There are some things I want to check," she said tersely.

Caroline looked up as Dane entered. She had been cleaning out one of the runs and was just getting ready to bring out one of the young bitches they were planning to show in the late spring.

"Hi," she said tentatively.

Dane walked over and pulled a heavy jacket down from a hook by the door. "Hi," she said, knowing it sounded abrupt. She did not need them fussing at her today!

"Dane--" Caroline began.

"Later, okay? I want to work out with Troy."

Caroline watched her friend in silence as she led a beautiful two-year-old dog into the large training run behind the building. She followed Dane out and sat down on the rear step to watch. She loved to watch Dane train the dogs in protection. Dane was one of the few recognized authorities in the country certified to train animals in the difficult skills necessary for the dogs to compete for a Schutzhund degree. It was an art that few Americans really understood, and Dane was an expert at it.

Dane took the dog, a heavy, well-muscled animal, through some preliminary exercises first. He followed her every move, his calm dark eyes fixed on her face. She had been working with him for some time, and he had already distinguished himself by earning the Schutzhund I degree. He was by nature a well-controlled animal and had acquired an even deeper level of self-assurance through Dane's careful training. Caroline watched them moving together, Dane signaling her desires by silent hand commands. Caroline appreciated once again her partner's skills. For some reason, though, Dane seemed more tense than usual. When she signaled Troy to attack, she staggered slightly as he propelled himself at her heavily protected sleeve. Caroline could see the sweat on Dane's face as Troy pulled with his considerable weight against her. They continued in their physical combat until Dane commanded him to release. He did so immediately, watching Dane expectantly. She went down on one knee and hugged him, running her hands over his sleek back.

"Good boy, Troy, good boy," she said breathlessly. "That's a good boy."

She took him back inside with Caroline close behind. Dane eased the jacket off slowly and dropped it on a chair. She leaned back against the counter, trying to catch her breath. Her back hurt everywhere that her damp shirt touched, and there was a sharp, stabbing pain each time she took a deep breath.

"Looks like Troy wore you out," Caroline observed, acutely aware of Dane's exhaustion. She couldn’t hide her concern. The dogs never tired her like this! "You okay?"

"Fine, said Dane, regaining her composure. She continued to lean on the counter, and hoped that Caroline couldn’t see her legs shaking.

Caroline decided to get right to what was on her mind. "When are you going to stop letting her get to you?"

Dane glared at Caroline and reached a hand into her pocket for a cigarette. Her hand shook as she lit it. "She doesn't get to me."

"Oh, sure," Caroline said sharply, "that's why you left in such a huff last night."

"I just don't care for Brad's brand of company, okay? I'm tired of her arrogance and her fucking ego."

Caroline sighed. "It's been three years, Dane. Can't you let it go?"

"You know damn well what she did!" Dane exploded. "She drove me over the edge and then just walked away. No one—no one should do that to someone they love. Or say that they love."

Caroline remembered those precarious few months in Dane's life. She hadn't been certain that Dane would be able to survive the demons Brad had awakened in her. But she had. Caroline would always respect her for the way Dane had struggled to hold her life together after Brad had left.

"Damn it, Dane. You beat her. You beat her at her own game. You made it without her." She waved an arm toward the kennel. "She doesn't even show dogs any more!"

"Baron beat her," Dane said quietly. "He's made this kennel—and she knows it. Before I got him, Brad was the big name around here. Now it's us." She shook her head. "But she still thinks she can beat me in everything else." Maybe she’s right.

"You mean Kyle?" Caroline said astutely. She had seen the way Dane had looked at Kyle when they were dancing. A stranger might not have noticed, but Caroline did. She knew Dane was more than just physically attracted to Kyle.

Dane tensed. "Kyle is nothing to me."

"Oh, come off it, Dane. What are you so damned afraid of? If you ask me, Kyle is pretty interested in you, too."

Dane turned away, staring out the window over the counter. She didn’t want to hear this. She didn’t want to even think it. "She doesn't know what she wants right now."

Caroline disagreed. "You'd better give that woman a little more credit. She does know what she wants—she just may not be sure who she wants."

Dane turned back abruptly, her blue eyes flashing. "Well, Brad is the master, right? Who better to show her what she wants!" She winced visibly as another sharp pain shot through her chest. "Shit."

"What's the matter?" Caroline cried, moving quickly across the room.

Dane closed her eyes for a moment. "Nothing. I'm fine." She wiped the beads of perspiration off her face with her sleeve. She gazed affectionately at her friend, aware of Caroline's concern. "Really--it's okay."

Caroline knew her friend very well. "Oh, Dane. Not again."

Dane smiled weakly. "Yeah." She was in trouble.

Caroline took her arm firmly. "Come on. We're going to my place."

Anne checked the rear-view mirror and caught a glimpse of Dane's face. She couldn't tell if Dane was asleep or not. Her head rested against the back of the seat, her eyes closed. No one had said anything since Caroline marched into the office, saying, "Close up. We're leaving."

Anne looked over at Caroline. She was staring out the window, her face expressionless. She had been holding Anne's hand tightly ever since they got into the jeep. Caroline turned, as if feeling Anne's eyes upon her. She smiled softly and shook her head slightly, motioning toward Dane. Anne sighed, thinking it was not going to be a good day.

When the three of them entered the apartment, Anne went immediately into the den, closing the door behind her. She knew Caroline and Dane would need privacy.

Dane followed Caroline into the bedroom wordlessly. She was emotionally and physically too exhausted to protest. She hated to admit it, but she knew she needed Caroline right now.

"Take your clothes off and lie down," Caroline said as she walked into the bathroom. She opened the medicine chest and pulled out several jars. When she walked back into the room, she stopped short, drawing a sharp breath. Even from a distance, she could see the condition of Dane's back. Dane’s flesh was swollen and discolored from her shoulders to her hips. Caroline couldn't imagine the discipline it must have required to accept all of that punishment.

She sat down on the side of the bed, placing her hand tenderly in Dane's hair, the only place she wasn’t afraid to touch her. "Why does it have to be so damn much every time, Dane?" she asked gently.

Dane lay quietly, trying to dissociate her mind from her aching body. "It takes that much."

"To do what?" Caroline asked as she began very carefully applying a soothing ointment to Dane's back. She knew from experience that her ministrations would only help temporarily, but it was an excuse to keep Dane quiet for a while. And it was also a chance for them to talk. Perhaps if Dane would talk to her, she might not need this.

Dane tried to relax, but even the slight pressure of Caroline's hand sent lancets of pain through her sensitive muscles.

"Every time it gets harder," she began hesitantly, trying to capture the thoughts that she avoided much of the time. "I can't seem to let go of everything in my head unless I push my body further and further. It takes so much more physical sensation to clear away my feelings. And I can’t just let them eat me alive."

Caroline continued to stroke Dane's back gently, closing her mind to the sight of her friend's beautiful body in ruins. "What about when you make love? Doesn't that help?"

"Once in a while. With Kyle—" Dane stopped, not having meant to speak of Kyle.

"Kyle?" Caroline said in surprise. "Have you slept with her?" Suddenly things made more sense.

"Once," Dane said, her voice muffled by the pillow.

"So, Kyle was the one you were telling me about last month?"

Dane nodded, calmed by Caroline's touch. "Everything just happened so naturally. I didn't think about it, we just fit so well."

"Why didn't you ever call her?"

"She's a novice, Caroline. She's just beginning to understand --about herself, about the whole thing. I don't want to bring someone else out. I've had enough of that."

Caroline winced but continued. "You mean like with Anne?"

Dane laughed as much as her protesting muscles allowed. "Will you stop? You know very well it's okay about Anne. I love you two together. You're good together. Anne and I would never have made it."

"Do you want to make it with anyone?"

"I don't know anymore. I'm used to the way things are. I meet someone, we do a scene and then it's over. It's easier that way."

Caroline hesitated, not sure how far to go. "Maybe what's easier isn't always what's best. Maybe if you had someone you could really reach, you wouldn't need this."

Dane sighed. "I'm afraid I'll always need this."

"Who is she?"

"Caroline--" Dane began.

"Damn it, Dane. You're my friend. I love you. Why can't you tell me who does this to you?"

Dane rolled gingerly over onto her side, facing Caroline. "It's personal."

"Oh, come on--and this isn't?"

Dane reached up and touched Caroline's cheek gently.

"I can't. I'm sorry."

Caroline sighed, accepting defeat. "She must be something."

"Yeah. A top's top." Her voice was at once bitter and begrudgingly respectful.

Caroline ruffled Dane's blond hair, her voice sad. "Right."


Nancy shook Kyle's shoulder firmly. "Wake up, you. It's after noon."

Kyle protested sleepily and tried to roll away. "No, it's not. It's the middle of the night."

"Wrong. Wake up!"

Kyle opened one eye and peered up at Nancy. "Is the party over?"

"Yes, thank God. And Roger's gone to some meeting upstate until Monday. So get up--I want company."

Kyle groaned and sat up, looking about the room. "Where are my clothes?"

Nancy feigned ignorance. "I don't know. Where did you leave them?"

"Nance!" Kyle said threateningly.

Nancy laughed. "All right. They're in the dryer. I'll have them out for you in a minute."

Kyle fell back gratefully into the pillows. "Good. Wake me up when they're done."

"Oh, no you don't! You're getting up. Here's my robe. We're having breakfast, and then we're going to the shop."

"Oh, fun," Kyle said.

"And then we're going out."

Kyle looked up in surprise.


Nancy smiled. "To that bar you always hang out at."

Kyle stared after her friend as she left the room.

Chapter Nine

Nancy pirouetted before the full-length mirror in Kyle's bedroom.

"Well, how do I look?"

Kyle nodded appreciatively as she supervised her friend, who somehow managed to look elegant in blue jeans and a flannel shirt.


"Are you sure I can't wear your leather pants?"

"No!" Kyle exclaimed. "First of all, they're too big for you. Secondly, I don't trust you in them."

Nancy tried to look innocent. "What do you mean?"

Kyle laughed. "I'm not sure I could stand the competition!" She was suddenly serious. "Are you sure you want to do this?"

"Why not?" Nancy said lightly, searching through Kyle's closet for a jacket. "How much different can it be?"

How much different indeed, Kyle thought, shaking her head.


Brad saw Kyle the moment she entered the crowded bar. She smiled to herself and took note of Kyle's pretty companion. Another new one!

Carrying her beer, she threaded her way through the crowd and settled into the shadows against the wall. She considered how much things had changed these last few years. What once had been primarily a men's bar had slowly been usurped by women. More and more women congregated here, dressed in leather and stalking the night with sexual appetites previously attributed to their gay brothers. Partly it was due to the increased publicity of bars such as this, and partly to women's increasing awareness of their own sexual diversity. The sexual horizons of gay women seemed to be expanding. As the voices of women previously on the fringes of the sexual spectrum were heard, more and more women moved away from the mainstream to explore previously taboo areas. Brad found that she rarely had to look long for company. Now she had only to seek a challenge, and Kyle represented a challenge. Sensing that Kyle was involved with Dane heightened the thrill. Nothing intrigued Brad more than a battle with Dane, especially in the sexual arena. Since they had parted, Dane's reputation had flourished. She was known as a demanding but safe top. Women trusted her to take them unharmed through a scene, although she never let anyone top her. Brad welcomed the opportunity to reestablish her own superiority. Seducing Kyle would certainly be satisfying, and if it hurt Dane, all the better. As she slowly sipped her beer, Brad waited for an opening to make her first move. She was in no hurry; she enjoyed the game as much as the winning.

She watched Kyle and Nancy wend their way through the crowd to the end of the bar. When she got the bartender's attention, she motioned her over.

"Let me have another beer," she said, "and send two down the bar to the women at the end. With my compliments."

The bartender nodded and moved away. When she set the bottles down in front of Kyle, she leaned over toward her.

"From your friend over there," she motioned.

Kyle followed the woman's gaze. She flushed when she saw Brad staring coolly down the length of the bar at her. She tried to ignore the excitement stirred by Brad's lean, leather-clad figure.

Nancy watched the exchange with interest. "What's happening?"

Kyle turned back to face her. "We just got drinks--from Brad."

Nancy looked down the bar and immediately saw a dark-haired woman, dressed in a black leather vest and pants, staring pointedly at them. Nancy stared back, but Brad's features never changed. Brad raised her beer to her lips, her eyes locked on Nancy's face.

"Whew," Nancy said, finally breaking away from the woman's hypnotic face. "She is something."

"Uh-huh," Kyle said, keeping her eyes on the bar in front of her.

"So, now what happens?" Nancy asked eagerly.

"Damned if I know," Kyle said.

Nancy looked surprised. "Aren't you supposed to do something?"

Kyle looked at Nancy in exasperation. "What do you want me to do? Take my clothes off?"

"Well, you'd better think of something," Nancy said with a surreptitious glance over her shoulder. "Here she comes."

Brad stopped in front of the pair, appearing to tower over them even though she was smaller than them both.

"Ladies," she said smoothly. She stood casually, her legs slightly apart, her beer bottle dangling from her fingers, resting against her thigh.

"Hello, Brad," Kyle said, meeting her gaze evenly.

"Having a good time?"

Kyle nodded. "Thanks for the beer."

"My pleasure," Brad said, turning toward Nancy and extending her hand. "Hi, I'm Brad."

Nancy accepted Brad's hand easily. "Nancy."

"I was wondering if you two would like to go to a bar with a little more, ah—action."

Kyle looked at Brad in surprise. Before she could answer, she felt Nancy's hand close on her arm.

"Sure, why not?" Nancy said quickly.

"I don't know—" Kyle said. "There's a good crowd here tonight."

Brad continued unperturbed, finishing her beer and placing it on the bar. "I just thought you might be up for a change."

"Come on, Kyle," Nancy persisted, "we don't have any plans."

Kyle shrugged, intrigued. "Okay."

Brad smiled. "I'll drive. It'll be easier."

Nancy and Kyle followed Brad out into the night. None of them noticed the woman watching as they drove off in Brad's Mercedes sports coupe. As Brad maneuvered easily through the downtown traffic, she looked over at Kyle beside her.

"Ever heard of 'Encounters'?"

"No," Kyle said.

"You'll find it interesting. Your friend here is cool, isn't she?"

Nancy, who had been leaning forward in the backseat, answered quickly. "You don't have to worry, Brad, my dear. I'll be just fine."

Brad laughed and looked over her shoulder at Nancy. "I'm sure you will be."

They parked on a deserted street in what looked like a warehouse district. The broad, pothole-filled street was empty, and all the factory buildings on each side were dark. There were a few parked cars, but no one on the sidewalks. As they followed Brad down the block, Kyle felt a wave of apprehension. She felt responsible for Nancy, for one thing, and she realized she didn't know Brad at all.

"Listen," she said, as they stopped in front of a ground floor door unmarked except for a small sign which said 'Private Club', "I don't know about this."

Brad smiled at her as she pushed the door open. "Don't worry. You're with me."

There was no time to reply as Nancy followed Brad up the dimly lit stairway toward the light on the second floor. Kyle followed.

"Hi, Brad," a woman seated behind a small table at the head of the stairs said. "These women with you?"

Brad grinned and handed the woman twenty dollars. "Yes."

The woman added the bill to a stack in front of her, passed Brad her change, and nodded. "Have fun."

They entered a large room with a bar off to one side and a central stage ringed with tables. Brad led them to an empty table at the edge of the floor and went for drinks.

Kyle sat down with Nancy and looked around. The room was diffusely lit by soft, red lights, giving everything a surrealistic glow. Directly in front of them was a raised platform of some kind, with stout beams forming a scaffold. Women were seated at most of the tables and leaning against the bar. Everyone was dressed in heavy leather. There were more leather collars, studded bracelets, chaps and boots than she had ever seen in one place before. More than a few of the woman were clearly packing, the outline of synthetic penises evident under tight denim and leather pants.

"Christ, Kyle—" Nancy said in a soft voice, "that woman doesn't have a shirt on!"

Kyle followed Nancy's gaze and saw a small, dark woman standing by the bar talking to several others. She wore a thin leather collar around her neck and another on her right wrist. Except for her shimmering leather pants and boots, she was naked. Her well-formed breasts glinted with small gold rings through each nipple.

Kyle swallowed, her mouth suddenly dry. "You're right about that, Nance."

Nancy looked at her, amazed. "And I thought I was liberated!"

Brad returned with their drinks and sat down. "It's early yet. Things should pick up in a while."

As she spoke, another woman walked past leading a pale young woman by a short leash connected to wide leather shackles binding her wrists together in front of her. The bound woman's face was obscured by a hood which entirely enclosed her face except for holes over her nose and mouth.

"You mean there's more?" Nancy said, with just a hint of sarcasm.

Brad laughed, appreciating Nancy's aplomb. "Oh, yes--much more."

Kyle noticed several doorways toward the rear of the long room. Women wandered in and out of the darkened areas beyond.

"What's back there?" Kyle asked.

"Scene rooms," Brad said, enjoying her role as guide. "There's space for playing-- whatever game you like."

Kyle nodded, lighting a cigarette carefully. "And privacy?"

Brad laughed. "If you want that, you can go upstairs. Very private. But, that's part of the fun--getting to watch."

Three women moved across the floor toward the small stage in front of them.

"I think you'll get the idea in a minute," Brad said softly.

Kyle and Nancy watched silently as the woman with the leash stepped up onto the platform. Her hooded companion, led by a third, stood waiting docilely. In response to a quick nod from the woman above them, the "attendant" led the hooded figure onto the stage and carefully secured her ankles with soft loops of leather to hooks protruding from the upright beam. The top then handed her a key with which she released the wrist cuffs. She stretched the younger woman's arms out, binding each with short lengths of chain to hooks embedded higher up on the frame. She stepped back diffidently, awaiting her next instruction.

Kyle was uneasy. She turned toward Brad, who was following the activity with interest.

"Is this for real?" Kyle asked in a whisper.

Brad looked at her intently for a moment, her face expressionless. "You tell me, Kyle. What is real?"

Kyle stared back, unsure how to reply. The pressure of Brad's thigh against hers under the table was having an effect. Despite herself, she knew she was wet. The hushed silence of the room and the haunting tableau before them heightened her arousal. She struggled to ignore the pressure between her legs.

"Do you know them?" she asked at last, hoping her voice sounded steady.

Brad nodded, placing her hand gently on Kyle's tightly muscled leg. As her fingers trailed lightly up and down the rough denim, she answered, "The two on the stage are lovers. The one in jeans, the attendant, is a friend."

Kyle tried to ignore the presence of Brad's hand as it sent tiny shivers up her leg. She forgot her next words as the top stepped down from the stage and motioned to the attendant. The attendant opened a large canvass bag, handing the top a short crop with a stout handle connected to many long strands of leather. Just as quickly, the attendant stepped back into the shadows, leaving the two figures alone in the center of the stage. The room was eerily quiet as all eyes focused on the stage.

Suddenly the top arched her arm, and the sharp crack of leather broke the silence. The bound woman stiffened with the blow, but made no sound.

"Jesus," Nancy breathed in surprise. She grabbed Kyle's arm. "Let me have a cigarette, will you?"

Kyle handed her one, saying, "You quit."

The crop arced again, and Kyle had to force herself not to jump. Brad's hand rested against the material stretched tightly across her crotch, and Kyle felt naked, so intense was the contact. She didn't realize for several moments that the stinging blows were actually falling against the bound woman's leather-covered hips rather than her bare back. Still, the effect was overpowering. The act of dominance was real; the act of submission, no matter how staged, was real. The absence of true physical punishment was immaterial. The scene had been set, the roles defined. The stark declaration of power exchanged was inescapable and compelling. Kyle stared, transfixed, her mind clouded with lust. With every fall of the lash her pulse quickened; her clitoris twitched in response to the rhythmic pressure of Brad's hand upon her. Finally, unable to bear the enticing pressure of Brad's touch any longer, she pulled back in her seat, removing herself from the exquisite torment. She looked into Brad's face, knowing Brad was aware of what she was feeling.

Brad reached over and softly stroked her face with one long, delicate finger. "You all right?" she said softly.

Kyle nodded, wanting nothing more than for Brad to continue touching her. Just the exquisite pressure of the rough seam of her jeans felt like it might make her come.

Brad leaned back in her seat, her hand dropping back into Kyle’s lap.

"Keep watching," she said. "There's more."

The scene continued for what seemed like hours, the crop falling in rhythmic cadence through the cone of light surrounding the central figures. The bound woman silently endured the blows, her body straining with each contact. Finally, as quickly as it had begun, the punishment stopped. The attendant moved quickly out of the shadows and deftly released the restraints, encircling the woman with her arm. She led her to the edge of the stage and moved away again. The top reached up and released the straps at the back of the woman's hood. She pulled it off, running her hands gently over the woman's face. Her hands dropped to the smaller woman's shoulders, and as she pressed, the submissive went down on her knees and lay her head against the standing's woman's crotch. They stood unmoving, statue-like, in the center of the room.

Kyle hadn't realized she was holding her breath until the quiet voice behind her caused her to exhale explosively.

"You never give up, do you Brad?"

Three heads turned as one to face the woman behind them. Kyle noted the quick smile on Brad's face.

"Did you expect me to, Dane?"

Dane stood looking down at them, cold fury turning her eyes to steel. Kyle had moved in her chair, but not before Dane saw Brad’s hand against the damp fabric of her crotch.

"Why don't you sit down," Brad continued, motioning to an empty chair.

Dane hesitated a brief moment and then sat between Brad and Nancy, facing Kyle. Her eyes swept Kyle's face without a trace of emotion.

Nancy broke the silence by standing up. "I could use another drink. Kyle?"

Kyle nodded gratefully, "Please."

"And what are you drinking, Dane?" Nancy asked.

Dane stared up at Nancy in surprise. "Scotch."

Nancy smiled at her. "I'll just get us all a refill. Want to help carry, Brad?"

Brad laughed and stood up. "I'm always ready to help a lady."

Kyle stared at Dane, whose eyes were focused on some point across the room.

"What's going on, Dane?" she said after a moment, tired of the tension, confused by Dane's icy behavior. Released now from the hypnotic pull of the scene, she was beginning to think clearly again. Her body was still pounding with arousal, but at least her mind seemed to be working.

"Don't you know?" Dane spat out. Jesus, she practically had you coming in your pants at the table!

"No, damn it, I don't," Kyle said in an angry but subdued tone. She shook her head in frustration. "You were angry last night, and you're still angry."

Dane looked at her at last, her face softening for an instant. "I'm sorry. I guess you couldn't be expected to understand. It's something between Brad and me."

"I gathered," Kyle said dryly. "But what has it got to do with me?"

"I'm not sure," Dane confessed, suddenly feeling tired. "Brad just seems to keep turning up in my life--just when I think I'm rid of her."

Kyle looked at her compassionately. "I don't understand, Dane. Maybe someday you'll tell me. But don't put me in the middle of it. I ‘m not the enemy, and I don’t want to be."

"Then what do you want?" Dane said angrily. "Brad?"

"I don't even know Brad!" Kyle protested.

"You don't know me either."

"You're right. But I've touched you. I've held you and been held by you. I've trusted you with my body, and with my feelings. That counts for something. To me, at least."

Dane looked at Kyle in wonder. "Does it?"

Before Kyle could answer, Nancy and Brad returned with their drinks. As they sat down again, Kyle sensed that Nancy had captured Brad’s attention. Brad barely glanced at her or Dane.

"Well," Nancy said, taking a large swallow of her drink, "wonderful party. I'm so sorry I'm not properly dressed." She looked mischievously at Kyle. "Leather pants would have been so nice!"

Kyle smiled, grateful for Nancy's presence. "You're incorrigible."

"True," Nancy conceded. "I've talked Brad into giving me a tour of those intriguing rooms in the back. Want to come?"

Dane looked at Brad quickly. "Brad--" she began.

"Oh, don't worry, Dane," Brad said lightly. "Nancy will be quite safe with me."

Nancy rose, pulling Brad's arm. "Oh, come on, Brad. These two are just no fun."

Brad shrugged in Kyle and Dane's direction, allowing herself to be led away.

"Oh, boy," Kyle said. "That's Nancy."

"She okay?" Dane asked.

Kyle shook her head. "I'm not sure. I mean, yes--she can take care of herself."

They sat in silence, a silence that intensified Kyle's desire to break the barrier between them. Finally, Dane leaned toward her.

"Will you come upstairs with me?"


Dane nodded, waiting.

"Yes," Kyle agreed, accepting that for now, at least, she would only reach Dane on her own terms, in her own territory.

Chapter Ten

Silence surrounded them as Kyle pushed Nancy's sleek Ferrari through the tight turns of the darkened highway. They had met back at their table an hour or so after going off separately and had left shortly thereafter. The good-byes exchanged between the four women had been formal and terse. Nancy, for once, had been strangely subdued.

"Cigarette?" she asked Kyle finally.

Kyle reached automatically into her jacket pocket and pulled out two. She handed one across to Nancy, who lit both of theirs.

"You quit," Kyle said after a moment.

Nancy smiled slightly as she softly blew out a thin stream of swirling smoke. "I think I just started again."

"You okay?"

Nancy nodded. "Weird. But okay. You?"

Kyle laughed without humor. "No, but I'll tell you about it some other time." Her emotions were still too raw and painful to put into words. She knew she had to be alone with them awhile before she shared them, even with Nancy.

Nancy accepted Kyle's silence, knowing her friend's deep sense of privacy. She, however, wanted to talk.

"Is it always like that?" she began at last.

"Like what?"

"So intense--so exposed. I mean, I felt like I didn't have a private thought."

Kyle laughed grimly. "That whole place is designed to strip away privacy. The people don't count--just the sensations. No, it's not always like that. I've never been anywhere like that before. Believe it or not, Nance, it's usually the same for us as it is for you. A lot of strangers trying to find one face, one soul, they recognize in a crowd."

Nancy looked at Kyle quickly, concerned by the hollowness in her voice.

"What the hell happened to you in there?" she asked sharply.

"I found out I was just another person who didn't count," Kyle said tightly.

"I don't think so, my friend," Nancy replied softly.

Kyle looked at her, her anger suddenly surfacing. "How would you know? To you people are just bodies anyhow, right? You said it yourself--men or women, it doesn't matter. It's just another experience."

"Not fair, Kyle. You're not just another body, and neither is poor old Roger, for that matter."

Kyle sighed and pulled the car to a stop in Nancy's driveway. "I'm sorry, Nance. It's not your fault. You were just catching the bad end of my anger."

Nancy reached over and touched her friend's arm. "I know. Come on, let's go sit on the deck, look at the stars and get drunk."

"Sounds perfect," Kyle said tiredly as she followed Nancy up the stairs. She sat in a lounge chair and watched the sky revolve overhead while Nancy got them something to drink. She shivered, but she knew the chill came from somewhere inside herself. The breeze from the sea was actually quite warm. She feared the cold within would turn her heart to stone, but she didn't know how to stop it. Her tears fell softly in the darkness, unnoticed, until she felt Nancy's fingers lightly on her cheeks.

"Tell me, sweetheart. What is it?" Nancy murmured gently, sitting softly on the end of Kyle's chair.

Kyle reached for the glass in Nancy's hand and swallowed deeply before speaking. "I don't know how to say it," she began, feeling helpless in her confusion. "I'm not sure what I feel."

"Tell me what happened, then."

"We went upstairs after you and Brad left--to one of the private rooms," Kyle began softly, remembering as if in a dream. "We made love--no, that's not right. We had sex." She stopped as the bitterness welled up inside of her.

"I've always wondered about that distinction," Nancy said lightly. She knew Kyle needed to talk, and she also knew how hard it was for her old friend to do that.

"You know there's a difference!"

"Yes. But only the first couple of times. Then, after the romance dies, it's just two bodies together," Nancy replied.

"Not for me!" Kyle insisted.

Nancy sighed, "I know. That's your problem. You expect the honeymoon to last forever. And you’ll be heartbroken when you find it doesn’t. So tell me--what was wrong with it?"

Kyle frowned as she searched her pockets aimlessly for her lighter. She must be getting drunk if she couldn't find her lighter. It was one of those little possessions she thought of as a talisman, her good luck charm.

"Damn," she muttered.

"Here, I've got a light." Nancy lit them both another cigarette, refilled their glasses and sighed. "So, continue. What happened?"

"We went into this room, it was dark. There was a small light under a ledge up near the ceiling. It turned everything into shadows."

"Sounds marvelous," Nancy said with a touch of envy.

Kyle laughed. "I can't stand you!"

"I know. Then what?"

Kyle sighed. "I didn't know what to do--big surprise. So I just stood there. Dane closed the door and locked it. She didn't say anything--she just started to take my clothes off."

"Was she rough with you?"

Kyle shook her head. "No. Just the opposite. She touched me like I might break apart--her hands were so gentle--but she didn't say anything. I said her name. She put her fingers over my mouth to silence me. She seemed so far away, like a stranger. I tried to touch her, but she wouldn't let me. She pushed my hands behind me--" her voice faltered, but she continued. "She handcuffed them behind me. I couldn't touch her. Her face was in shadows; she could have been anyone!" Her tears started to fall again as she remembered how she felt. Alone. Wonderfully gentle hands stroking her skin, soft lips caressing the hollows of her throat and shoulders—but she had felt so alone! She could not touch back, she could not return the tenderness.

She wiped her sleeve angrily across her face. "She made love to me, and after a while, I didn't care that I couldn't see her or touch her. I just wanted her to keep touching me. I wanted her to be everywhere--inside of me, all over me. I didn't care who she was, I only wanted it to go on."

"Jesus," Nancy muttered, draining her glass, "that sounds good to me."

"Fuck you!" Kyle said angrily, trying to extricate herself from the chair. Her long legs got tangled in the webbing as she tried unsteadily to rise. Suddenly, they were both toppled to the floor, the chair overturned on top of them. Nancy ended up between Kyle's legs, her wineglass still held high in one hand, unspilled. She laughed delightedly and wrapped her free arm around Kyle's thigh. "You're drunk, Kyle."

"Am not," Kyle replied as she attempted in vain to sit up. "But you're an unsympathetic son of a bitch!"

Nancy laughed again, righting the chair. "I am not. You just have everything all backwards, that's all."

Kyle pushed herself up on her elbows and shook her head. "What does that mean?" She recovered her glass and filled it, nudging her toe into Nancy's leg. "Huh?" she said belligerently.

Nancy looked at her seriously for a moment. "You really want to know?"

Kyle nodded.

"What you told me about you and Dane tonight--it's what you've been looking for. You asked for someone to make love to you that way."

"What do you mean?" Kyle said in confusion.

Nancy continued. "You went to that bar because you were interested in power, or S and M, or whatever it is you all call it. You wanted to relate to someone differently-- more basically, more physically, more real-ly. Is real-ly a word?"

"I guess so," Kyle said dumbly. "So?"

"So, that's what you got. That's what Dane did. She dominated you. She defined you. She said you are this and I am something else. I am the controller, the giver, the doer, the—what do you guys call it?"

"The top."

"Yeah--that sounds right. The top. You told her to be that, and she was." Nancy reached for another cigarette and lit it with a flourish. "See?"

Kyle looked at her. "How did you know all that?"

"I read a lot."

Kyle laughed. "I can't stand you."

"I know." Nancy twisted around on the deck and leaned against the wall next to Kyle. Kyle slipped an arm around her as Nancy emptied the last of the wine into their glasses. They sipped it slowly as they watched the stars revolve overhead. Sometime, much later, they staggered into Nancy's bedroom, both of them falling asleep almost instantly.

Chapter Eleven

Dane awoke to a cold nose in her ear.

"Go away," she muttered, pushing the huge head away with one arm. She tried to regain her dream, a dream filled with soft, tanned skin, warm tender lips. Just as she began to drift again into Kyle's deep recesses, the covers were tugged off her, leaving her shivering.

She sat up suddenly. "Damn you, Baron!"

Baron sat happily at the foot of her bed, the blankets in a tangle around him. He almost seemed to smile at her as he panted excitedly.

Dane swung her legs over the side of the bed as she pulled the covers back up over her bare legs. Just as she reached for a cigarette, the phone rang.

She snatched the receiver up angrily and snapped, "Hello."

"Well, a nice hello to you, too," Caroline replied. "Are you awake?"

"No!" Dane shouted as she drew on the cigarette. Immediately she began to cough. "The only one up around here is Baron."

Caroline laughed. "It's seven o'clock. We'll be ready for you in an hour. Are you alone?"


"Then you shouldn't have any trouble getting ready on time. See you." Before she could lower the phone, she heard the click on the other end.

"Is she up?" Anne asked as she walked in from the bathroom, toweling her hair.

Caroline looked over at her fondly. "Sort of. Sounds like she's in a bitchy mood, though."

Anne sighed. "So what else is new?"

"Does she seem that way to you, too?" Caroline asked.

As Anne pulled her tee shirt on, the blue one with 'Daneland' printed above a large dog's head, she scowled over at her lover. "These last few weeks she's been unbearable. I don't think I've done one thing right around the kennel. I can't even answer the phone properly!"

Caroline went to her, wrapping her arms around Anne's waist. "You know it's not you, don't you?"

Anne stared at her for a moment, the hurt in her eyes giving way to softness. She kissed Caroline very lightly on the lips and rested her head against her shoulder.

"I know, but it still bothers me." She often felt left out of what was happening around the kennel, and the personal closeness between Caroline and Dane didn't help. "Do you know what's wrong with her?"

Caroline stiffened slightly, not wanting to discuss Dane's personal life. Anne felt her response and pulled away angrily.

"Oh, sorry. I didn't mean to infringe on your special relationship with Dane." She turned away, afraid Caroline would see the tears quickly brimming in her eyes.

Caroline stepped closer to her, her hands gently resting on the younger woman's stiffened shoulders.

"Babe," she said softly. "Hey, babe—" she repeated as she turned Anne to face her again. "It's not that our relationship is so special, it's just that Dane hates to have anyone know what's going on with her. It takes a long time for me to get anything out of her."

Anne nodded and wiped her eyes. "I know that. It's just that sometimes I feel like I don't even belong there with you two."

Caroline hugged her tightly. "Anne, oh, Anne. You are the most important thing in the world to me--don't you know that yet?"

Anne smiled up at her. "I'm being stupid, right?"

"Yes, but you have a point. My relationship with Dane is special, but I don’t want it to take anything away from you and me. And if I knew what was bothering her, I'd tell you. But I don't. She's stopped talking to me, too--ever since that night a few weeks ago when she left here to go out to the bar."

"Is she seeing someone?" Anne asked as they locked their door and headed toward the van marked Daneland Kennels.

"Not that I know of," Caroline sighed. "I certainly wish she would. She needs someone."

Anne laughed shortly. "Dane?"

Caroline looked at Anne, remembering how young she really was. "Probably more than most of us."


Dane climbed into the back of the van and leaned up against one of the dogs' crates.

"When are we showing?" she asked abruptly.

Caroline glanced at her in the rear view mirror.

"I'm fine, thanks. And we show at one o'clock. The Schutzhund exhibition is at three. You are going, aren't you?"

Dane stared moodily out the window. "I have to. Troy is counting on it."

It was the biggest specialty show of the season, and it was important that their kennel be well represented. Caroline was showing three of their own and another of Baron's sons from another kennel. In addition, Dane was to show Troy in an exhibition of advanced obedience later that day. All of them were edgy, especially Caroline. She was planning to have Anne show one of Daneland's new bitches in a point show for the first time. Anne seemed to have a talent for showing, and now that their kennel was expanding, Caroline needed help. Still, she was nervous, and she wanted Dane's support.

"We're all counting on it, Anne murmured, her own anxiety showing.

Dane looked over at Anne, as if seeing her for the first time. A tender look crossed her features, and she smiled.

"All set for the big day, chicken?"

Caroline drew a sharp breath as Anne turned quickly in her seat toward Dane. Dane had not called Anne that for years. Anne stared at Dane for a moment, trying to find the strong, tender woman who had led her so gently into awareness just a few years before. She saw only the sharp edges of Dane's pain etched across her face and the scars of many wounds hardened in her eyes. Her heart ached for the woman who had held her so long ago, and whom she had loved fiercely in return.

"Yes, I'm ready." Her smile was sad.

Caroline watched the exchange, seeing for the first time not the young woman she had fallen in love with, but the mature woman she had become. She reached over and grasped Anne's hand.

"Do you know that I love you?" Caroline asked softly.

Anne squeezed her hand. "Yes."


The show was crowded and hectic. People milled about with their dogs, half of which barked at every passing animal. Latecomers rushed about trying to find the appropriate rings, and harried judges struggled to keep the events on schedule. Dane watched from a ringside chair as Caroline brought out the first of their young bitches. She was just two years old and in fine condition. Dane was proud of her, for she represented one of the first products of her own breeding program.

"Nice looking bitch," a cool voice said from behind her chair.

Dane stiffened imperceptibly and turned to look up at Brad.


Brad placed her hand lightly on Dane's thigh as she knelt down beside her chair to watch the event. She smiled to herself as Dane pulled her leg hastily away.

"So, how have you been, Dane?"

"Fine." Dane kept her eyes on Caroline and the bitch, Maia, determined not to let Brad see her discomfort.

"Seen much of Kyle lately?"

Dane stared straight ahead, her jaws clenched. "No."

"Too bad. She's quite a woman."

"How would you know?"

Brad laughed. "Well, I don't know quite all of her yet, but I will."

Dane faced her then, her blue eyes bright with anger.

"Are you so sure of that?"

"I might not be, if it were anyone else but you she wanted. You're too much of a fool to know what to do with her. But I'm not. She'll come around."

Dane stood quickly, catching Brad unaware. She looked down at her, raging inside, her hands clenched tightly at her sides. She wanted nothing more at that moment than to drive Brad's insolent face into the ground.

"You're wrong about her, Brad. She's too good for both of us." She stepped quickly around Brad's surprised figure and stalked away from the ring.

Brad laughed as she straightened up, still looking at Dane's retreating back.

"Why don't you leave her alone?" Caroline asked angrily. She had seen the end of their encounter as she brought Maia back from the ring.

"Why, Caroline," Brad said soothingly. "What have I done?"

"You know damn well what you've done. You bait her and push her whenever you can. Why don't you just let her be?"

"Because she's too much fun to let go of. Besides, it'll teach her some discipline."

"You bitch!" Caroline said, seething with rage. "You tried that once and nearly killed her."

Brad smiled coolly at Caroline. "Don't forget, she asked for it."

"Not like that, she didn’t! What you did to her--" Caroline took a step toward her as Brad turned to leave, but was halted by a tug on her arm.

"Let her go, Caroline. You can't change her. Dane will have to find her own way to deal with her," Anne said quietly.

Caroline gazed from Brad’s retreating figure to her lover, allowing her anger to dissipate. "My god, when did you grow up? Have I missed it all these past few years?"

Anne slipped her fingers into Caroline's and smiled a little ruefully. "I think you've been so worried about how young I was, and that I might run off in a frenzy after someone else, that you never noticed it was you I've always been crazy about."

Caroline closed her eyes for a second. "All right, lover, you win. But, we have two more dogs to show. And--"

Anne took a deep breath, "You'd better go see to Dane."

Caroline kissed her swiftly, not caring how straight the crowd of people around them might be. "You're right again. I'll catch up to you later. And I won't forget what I have in mind for you."

She found Dane back at the van, sitting on the tailgate smoking a cigarette. Caroline sat beside her, slipping her arm lightly around her waist.

"Maia won, Dane."

"Good. She deserved to."

"Anne's showing next. I know she'd like you to be there."

Dane nodded, her face set. She stared blankly ahead, her body as taut as a finely tuned bowstring. "I'll be there."

"Can't you just close her out, instead of the rest of the world?" Caroline said softly.

"I can't. She reminds me of what I am--or what I'm not anymore," Dane said bitterly.

"No!" Caroline shouted. "She does not make you who you are—she can't do that. You were nearly destroyed, and you've come back from it. I know what that took. I was there, remember?"

Dane stood and shook her head at Caroline. "It doesn't matter. There's nothing left of me. She wants Kyle and she'll have her, because I have nothing to offer her."

"Oh, Dane--you're so wrong. Won't you try, just try with Kyle?"

"I can't, Caroline. I can't fight Brad for her--besides, I don't care anymore."

"You mean you don't want to care anymore, Caroline said harshly.

Dane shrugged, her face not revealing the despair that threatened to choke her.

"Come on, let's go watch Anne them show how it's done."

Chapter Twelve

Kyle found a seat on a shady knoll above the show ring. She had been strolling about, watching the events, and trying to figure out what was happening. She realized that the animals were grouped by sex and age, but exactly what made one a winner eluded her. They all looked perfect. The obedience trials being held in the ring below were much more interesting for her. The dogs were given a series of commands, sometimes separately and sometimes in a group. As one, they responded with flawless control. The dogs were powerfully built, obviously intelligent, yet perfectly attuned to their handler's commands. Kyle found the bond between animal and master exciting. It seemed so much deeper than love alone.

As she watched the choreographed movements below, she flashed on her last night with Dane, recalling the great distance between them even as they were so intimately connected physically. She knew now that she longed for some invisible chain that would link them even in their separateness. She hadn’t seen her since, despite her hope that Dane would appear at the bar or call her.

She sighed, lit a cigarette, and was reminded of her lost lighter. It still aggravated her to be parted from it. She lost track of time as she followed the events below her, relaxing in the heat of the late afternoon. Suddenly the sight of a familiar figure approaching the ring interrupted her reverie. An announcement was made, but she lost the words in the wind. Dane's figure, however, was unmistakable. She wore black jeans and a short-sleeved, open-collared white shirt. Close to her side was a very handsome, muscular dog. As Kyle watched, her attention divided between the beautiful animal and Dane's equally beautiful face, Dane put the animal through some preliminary maneuvers. The crowd murmured with appreciation at the dog's split-second responses to Dane's commands. Even from a distance, Kyle could see that Dane controlled him purely by hand signals. Then a man entered the far side of the ring. The dog remained, tensely alert, as Dane walked slowly away. The stranger approached Dane rapidly, his arm raised aggressively. Instantly the dog responded to a signal from Dane and attacked. Kyle drew a sharp breath as the dog raced toward the man, only to exhale quickly as the powerful animal drew up short between the stranger and Dane. He held the man at bay with threatening growls and short rushes toward him, but never touched him. At Dane's command, the dog slowly moved the intruder toward the judges' table, whereupon Dane called him back to her side. The crowd was obviously pleased and gave a brisk round of applause. Dane then walked to the side and returned with a heavy protective garment covering her left arm. At still another signal, the dog launched himself ferociously at her, all semblance of restraint gone. Kyle shuddered as she saw Dane's slender body rock from the shock of contact as she threw her arm up at the last second. The dog's heavy jaws clamped around her arm as he brought his considerable weight to bear against her. Their struggle seemed endless as woman and dog joined in a contest of strength and will. Then, as quickly as it had begun, it was over. Dane raised her right arm, and the dog immediately released, sitting with his eyes fixed on Dane's face. She praised him with a vigorous pat on his solid shoulder as she led him from the ring.

Kyle walked up to her as Dane was finishing a conversation with one of the judges.

"That was very impressive," Kyle said softly as the judge turned back to the ring.

Dane looked at her in surprise. "What are you doing here?"

Kyle smiled. "Just happened to be in the neighborhood?"

Dane smiled, but her eyes were cool blue slate. "Way out here?"

Kyle shrugged. "Actually, Caroline told me about the show a few weeks ago after a discussion group."

Dane grimaced. "Still going to those, huh?"

"When I can."

"Learning anything?" Dane asked, starting to walk away. Kyle followed.

"Some. You'd be surprised at the things that women think about, and do, for that matter."

"Would I?" Dane said, stopping to look at Kyle. "There's not much I haven't seen."

Kyle was not intimidated by Dane's curtness. "Oh, I'm sure of that. I only meant to suggest that a lot of women who might not ever act out their feelings about power nevertheless think about it. And recognize some of those same elements in their own lives."

"Great," Dane replied, reaching for a cigarette. "I'm so happy that more women appreciate my life-style." She lit her cigarette and leaned to light Kyle's as well. She was startled by Kyle's quick grasp on her wrist.

"That's my lighter," Kyle said.

Dane, too, stared at the black and gold lighter in her hand. Nonchalantly, she dropped it into Kyle's palm. "I know. You left it upstairs at 'Encounters' when we were there."

"Why did you keep it?"

"I don't know--a souvenir? My bedpost is full." Dane said coldly. Because it’s yours

Kyle stepped back as if struck, quickly searching Dane's face with dark, angry eyes. "You're a son of a bitch, Jorgensen." She turned her back and started away.

Dane looked after her for a split-second, suddenly sorry for her words. "Kyle, wait!" she called before she had time to think. When Kyle turned back, Dane could see that her face was pale.

"Look, I'm sorry." Dane wanted to tell Kyle it soothed her just to reach in her pocket and find it there. She just couldn't bring herself to say the words.

Kyle sighed and resumed walking beside her. "Why do I feel like you're always trying to push me away? Do I have to humiliate myself by telling you I want to see you?"

Dane continued staring straight ahead, acutely aware of Kyle's body so close to her own. "I thought you'd have other things to occupy your time."

"Do you think I spend all of my time looking for a bed partner?" Kyle said quietly, determined to get through to Dane.

Dane laughed. "When you aren't busy fighting off the offers."

Kyle laughed, too. "I do go out--mostly just to test my own feelings. To see if what I've been thinking is real to me when I'm actually living it. But I don't need to sleep with someone to find that out."

Dane sighed as she put Troy up into his crate in the van. "You think too much, Kyle."

"Sometimes. Are you done here today?"

"Just waiting for Caroline and Anne to come back."

"Tell them you’re leaving with me. I'll make dinner at my place." Kyle surprised herself with her own words, but as soon as she said it, she knew she wanted more from Dane than occasional encounters in bed.

"Today?" Dane asked in surprise.

"Right now."

Dane laughed and shook her head. "Why do you think I'd want to do that?"

"I don't. I just know I want you to."

Dane stared at her for a second, unable to read anything in Kyle's deep grey eyes except honesty. Answering the need that welcoming gaze stirred in her, she replied quietly, "All right."

Chapter Thirteen

Dane relaxed behind Kyle on the large cycle as they moved effortlessly down the highway. The wind felt good in her face, as did the softness of Kyle's leather jacket under her hands. She wasn't thinking about anything, and it was a surprising change not to have to. She was content to let Kyle lead the way. They turned up a gravel-covered side road into the woods. As they rounded a turn, Dane was startled to see a house tucked unobtrusively into the hillside. There was a second smaller building behind the first, with a neatly stacked pile of firewood under the sloping side roof. Kyle pulled her bike under the shelter of the overhanging eaves.

"This is home," she said simply.

"It's beautiful," Dane said.

Kyle smiled shyly. "Thanks."

"Have you lived here long?" Dane asked as she lifted one denim-clad leg over the bike.

"Seven years. But I didn't finish building it until four years ago. I moved from room to room as I built."

Dane looked at her with admiration. "It's great."

Kyle turned to unlock the side door and said over her shoulder, "Can you build a fire? It gets cold up here when the sun goes down."

Dane looked up at the sky and realized for the first time that the sun had nearly set.

"I can manage."

"Good. There's wood by the fireplace. Start it up while I get us a drink."

Dane followed Kyle into a spacious living area that seemed much larger than it really was, primarily due to a large wall of glass which looked out over the hillside below. The living room was down several steps and centered on a large natural stone fire pit. Several oversized chairs and a low table of finely crafted wood created a comfortable sitting area before it. She got the fire going easily and settled herself into a comfortable leather chair. She was amazed at how relaxed she felt, and how unconcerned she was at being there. For once, she didn't have to do anything. She liked the change.

Kyle came in quietly and handed her a glass. "Brandy okay?"

Dane nodded silently and took the heavy glass filled with dark, swirling liquid.

Kyle settled herself in front of Dane on a large cushion on the floor, her back lightly resting against Dane's knee.

"As soon as I unwind a little, I'll fix us some food. Hope you like simple cooking," she said as she stretched her legs toward the warmth of the fire.

Dane looked down at Kyle's face, in profile to her. The dancing flames made little changing patterns of shadow across Kyle's boldly planed face, blending softly into the waves of her tousled hair.

"No rush. I like the fire."

Kyle nodded and settled herself a little more firmly against Dane's leg.

"I'm glad you came," she said after a while.

"Are you?" Dane murmured, mesmerized by the reddish glow of the fire and the warmth of Kyle's back against her leg.

"Uh-huh." Kyle reached up her right arm and curled it softly over Dane's thigh. The brandy was relaxing her, and she didn't want to lose contact with Dane's presence. She replenished their glasses from a bottle by her side, and they sat in companionable silence.

Dane stretched her legs out a little. Kyle pushed her back up against the chair, her head coming to rest gently against Dane's inner thigh. Dane reached down almost without thinking and curled her fingers softly in Kyle's thick hair. She leaned her head back against the worn leather and closed her eyes. She may have drifted for a while in the soothing heat from the fire and the warmth of Kyle's body against hers. She was startled to feel a soft caress on her neck. She opened her eyes to find Kyle kneeling upright between her outstretched legs, looking down at her.

"Did I wake you?"

Dane smiled up at Kyle, not moving. "Wasn't sleeping, just drifting."

Kyle smiled gently then, also. "Good. Close your eyes again."

Dane did as Kyle wished, feeling as if she were hypnotized. Kyle's hands gently traced Dane’s face and throat, warming her wherever Kyle touched. Kyle leaned into her a little as she stroked her face, the heat from her body penetrating the denim covering Dane’s thighs. Dane stopped herself from reaching out to draw Kyle close, so exquisite was the slow rise of her desire. She didn't want to hurry. Still, when Kyle tugged Dane’s shirt out of her jeans and gently loosened the buttons over her breasts, Dane couldn't prevent herself from sliding her hands along Kyle's hips to pull her against her own body. She opened her eyes to see Kyle's eyes upon her, cloudy with desire.

Kyle smiled slightly and shook her head. "Close your eyes."

Dane stared at her for an instant, her need clearly showing in her face. Still, she did as she was bidden. She wouldn’t have done it for anyone else. There was no one she trusted that much.

Kyle pushed Dane's shirt down off her shoulders, tethering her arms in the tightly stretched sleeves. Dane knew she could free herself if she tried, but the effect of being restrained was not unwelcome.

"Oh," she moaned, as Kyle brought her lips gently to Dane's exposed breast. Dane's senses swirled as Kyle's tongue made intricate fiery designs over the sensitive skin of her nipples. Her back arched as she sought to push more of herself against Kyle's warm mouth. Even as Kyle's lips and tongue worked her nipples, she could feel Kyle reach between their bodies to pull open the buttons on her jeans. She lay quietly as Kyle slipped an arm under her to raise her hips enough to push her jeans down. The warmth of the fire caressed Dane's thighs as Kyle lay gently down upon her again. The denim of Kyle's jeans was rough against her skin and as Kyle insinuated herself more firmly between Dane's legs, Dane gasped at the contact of the material against her swollen flesh. She couldn't prevent herself from pushing up against Kyle, seeking even more contact. A cry escaped her as Kyle quickly pulled back from her, breaking the exquisitely tormenting pressure.

"Oh god, Kyle, don't stop," Dane gasped hoarsely. She started to lift her head, but Kyle held her back with one hand firmly in the hair at the base of her neck.

"Wait, Dane--wait," she whispered as she softly slipped her free hand up between Dane's legs.

Dane cried out, strangling on her own desire, as Kyle's fingers, feather-light, stroked her, drawing all of her passion out in a flood upon her hand.

"I can't. Oh, please, I can't," Dane moaned, her hips writhing upward, seeking to bring Kyle inside of her. Her breath caught in her throat as she felt Kyle enter her fully, the weight of Kyle's body resting upon her. Her lips sought Kyle's hungrily. Kyle entered her mouth as deeply as she filled her body, and Dane cleaved to her as her mind and body fused in the explosion that rippled through her.

When Dane's breathing quieted and her body ceased to quiver, Kyle gently slipped her hand out of Dane's moist depths, drawing a soft moan from Dane. She lay her head down on Dane's chest and sighed contentedly. Dane pulled her arms free of her shirtsleeves and wrapped them tightly around Kyle's body. They lay together wordlessly until the room began to chill.

"Fire's almost out," Dane whispered into Kyle's hair.

"Yours or mine," Kyle murmured against Dane's skin.

Dane laughed and pushed herself up on her elbows. "Ours. Needs more wood."

Kyle looked around and got up with a sigh. "I'll get it."

Dane watched her as she bent to throw more logs on the fire, wanting her close again.

"So where did you learn to do that?" she asked finally.

Kyle turned to look down at her, a satisfied smile on her face. "What, make love?"

Dane shook her head. "Not that. Take control so easily. If I didn’t know better I’d say you just topped me."

Kyle lay down beside her in the large chair and pulled Dane near.

"Some things I come by naturally."

Dane laughed and fitted her body more closely to Kyle's. As they slept, the fire burned brightly.

Chapter Fourteen

Kyle hummed softly to herself as she rubbed the coarse wire brush over the surface of the oak table. She smiled as she recalled Dane's reaction to her shop. They had awakened still wrapped about each other in the big chair. Kyle had insisted on feeding Dane before she brought her back to town, and as she cooked, Dane wandered about the house.

"What's out back?" Dane called as she stood by the large windows overlooking the valley below.

"My shop," Kyle called from the kitchen.

"Can I see?"

"Uh-huh. I'll give you a tour after breakfast." Kyle carried plates into the adjoining dining area. Dane's hair was still damp from the shower, and she wore one of Kyle's old shirts. Despite the fact that it was too big for her, it didn't hide the fine lines of her shoulders and back. Kyle suddenly wanted her with an urgency which surprised her. She cleared her throat.


Dane turned toward her, smiling, her eyes clear. She looked somehow younger today.


"Will you please come over here and eat? Because if you don't, I'm coming over there and the eggs will get cold."

Dane grinned and stood still. "I love cold eggs."

They came together in the sunlight streaming through the windows, grappling furiously on the soft carpet. Hands pulled at buttons, legs tangled, lips sought taut nipples and sweet flesh. Murmurs of pleasure, soft cries of surprise, satisfied sighs filled the air about them. In another moment they lay gasping in a heap on the floor, exhausted by the intensity of their encounter.

Suddenly, Kyle began to laugh. She pushed Dane away from her and leaned up on one elbow. "You're wonderful-- but I'm still hungry!"

Dane grinned at her. "I doubt the food had time to cool off!"

After breakfast, Kyle brought her back to the shop. Dane exclaimed over some of the old pieces, now partially restored.

"How could people cover this beautiful wood with paint?" she asked as she ran her hand over the dark grain of a table top Kyle had just finished stripping.

"It's easier than maintaining it naturally, I guess. I'll never understand it."

"So, this is what you do, huh?" Dane said as she leaned back against the counter. "You bring things back to life."

Kyle looked at her quickly, struck by the seriousness in Dane's usually light voice. Dane's eyes, usually so inscrutable, appeared wounded and vulnerable. Propelled by a wave of tenderness, Kyle lay her head gently against Dane's shoulder, her arms lightly around her waist. For an instant Kyle glimpsed the fragile woman beneath the impenetrable exterior.

"If I'm lucky, sometimes I find a treasure just waiting for someone to look beneath the surface. It doesn't always happen, but when it does, it's like a gift."

Dane kissed her hair gently, and sighed.

"What if there's so much of a barrier built up over the years--that the heart is gone?" She said this so softly that Kyle could barely hear her.

Kyle didn't raise her head but pressed her lips gently into the hollow at the base of Dane's slender throat.

"The heart can always be found if you work slowly and carefully. And I'm very patient."

Dane lifted Kyle's chin with her hand, kissing her tenderly on the lips.

"How can you be sure?"

" I can feel it."


The door to the shop burst open and Nancy flew in, shattering her reverie.

"Hi!" Nancy called, flinging her sweater over a chair.

Kyle looked up from the table and grinned.

"Hi yourself."

"You look wonderful today. How come?" Nancy said as she pulled coveralls over her expensive designer jeans and skin tight tee shirt.

"What, do I usually look like a troll?"

"No, you just don't usually look so content. Did you have a good weekend?"

Kyle nodded. "Uh-huh."


"And it was nice," Kyle said, returning to the bench.

"I hate it when you keep secrets," Nancy pouted. She began to arrange her brushes and paints, looking over at Kyle slyly. "I had a nice weekend, too."

"I'm glad."

"Brad says 'hello.'"

Kyle stopped in mid-stroke and turned to her friend in astonishment. "When did you see her?"

"Saturday night."


"At the bar, of course. Did you think I had her out to the house for dinner?"

Kyle couldn't believe it. "You went to the bar? Where was Roger?"

"Home. I told him I was coming over here."

"Damn it, Nancy," Kyle exploded, "what if he had called here?"

Nancy smiled sweetly at Kyle. "You would have thought of something."

Kyle stared at her, half outraged and half ready to laugh. "I can't believe you! Why?"

"Why what?" Nancy asked, purposely being obtuse.

"Why did you go there?" Kyle persisted.

"I don't know, really," Nancy answered seriously. "I just wanted to. It's different and exciting, and I felt like having fun. Brad is a lot of fun."

"Oh, sure," Kyle said sarcastically, recalling her own encounters with Brad. "I don't trust her."

When Nancy didn't respond, Kyle looked at her with sudden suspicion. "Did you sleep with her?"

Nancy was silent for a long moment, then she sighed. "No, but I'm pretty sure I could have. She's a little hard to figure. I felt like if I had wanted to she would have been willing, but she never pushed. It's not like with men—they're so single-minded sometimes. So easy."

"Nancy," Kyle began, aware of a deep unease where Brad was concerned. "I don't think you know what you're getting into here. Brad is no one to fool with. She's into some very heavy sexual trips. I'm not so sure it's safe."

Nancy snorted. "Oh, come on! You know I can handle myself. Do you think I've never had any experience with kinky sex?"

"It's not the same, and you know it! Promise me you won't get into anything with her without talking to me about it first, okay?" Kyle was unaccountably alarmed by the thought of Nancy and Brad together.

Nancy laughed, "Yes, Mom!"

Kyle still felt uncomfortable, but she decided she would just have to trust her friend to be sensible.

Chapter Fifteen

Dane slipped out the door to watch Caroline and Anne in the training run. Anne was handling one of the dogs they were getting ready to show. Dane nodded in appreciation as Anne took the dog smoothly through his routine, showing his good points to advantage and down playing his few faults.

Caroline watched her lover with a critical eye. "Don't stretch him out quite so much—he's long enough as it is. And keep his head up—it shows his shoulders off more."

Dane observed for a few more moments and then walked down to join her friends.

"Who's watching the desk?" she asked.

Anne looked over at her and smiled. "I plugged the phone in out in the back room and left a note at the front desk for anyone who came in."

Dane laughed. "All bases covered. You look good, too. There's only one problem."

Both of them looked at her with concern.

"What?" Caroline asked, ready to defend Anne.

"Who's going to take care of things around here when you both go off to a show? You know I can't be trusted. I'll have all of our appointments screwed up in no time."

"Well, actually," Anne began, "I have this friend who needs a job. I thought maybe I could teach her the desk, and she could help out cleaning the runs and things."

Dane arched her brows and looked from Anne's expectant face over to Caroline.

"I guess she's got it all figured out."

Caroline shrugged. "Looks that way."

Dane smiled. "Tell her to come see me. We can talk about it."

"Great!" Anne exclaimed. "I'll go call her."

As she rushed off, Dane laughed. "Getting to be quite the business woman!"

"Getting to be quite a woman, period," Caroline replied, her face glowing. She led the dog into his run and returned to join Dane on the rear steps.

"I haven't seen much of you since the show last week." She studied Dane's profile for a moment, noting that she looked more rested and relaxed than she had in a long time. When Dane remained silent, Caroline could no longer contain herself. "Oh come on! Tell me what happened!"

"When?" Dane asked, as she fished about in her jacket for a light. Her hand came upon a small object in the inside pocket of her denim jacket, and she pulled out Kyle's lighter. She stared at it for a moment, a slow smile playing over her face. Kyle must have put it there the night Dane spent with her.

Caroline followed Dane's gaze and asked in a puzzled voice, "Present?"

"Nope, a souvenir."

Caroline looked exasperated. "Dane, you're being dense! What happened after the show?"

"I told you. I went to Kyle's for dinner."


"And we ended up having breakfast, okay?"

"Okay!" Caroline felt like dancing. "So are you seeing her again?"

Dane nodded slowly. "She's coming into town this weekend. I told her I'd meet her at the bar."

"Progress at last," Caroline exclaimed.

Dane turned to look at her, her eyes solemn. "Don't jump to any conclusions, Caroline. We're just going to have a drink. I told you before I don't want anything serious like that again. Besides, I don't really know how she feels about all of this yet. She may decide it's not right for her."

Caroline knew she had to go slowly with Dane over the issue of her sexual preferences. It was Dane's most touchy spot. "Dane," she began carefully, "you've changed a lot in the last few years, we all have. You're more flexible than you used to be."

"What do you mean?" Dane asked, suddenly wary.

"I mean that none of us is strictly power-oriented all the time. Sexually maybe, but not in all the aspects of our lives."

"It's still important!" Dane said defensively. "The needs are still there, it still has to be dealt with, especially for me."

"What makes you think Kyle can't deal with it, that she doesn't feel those things, too? Is she into vanilla sex or what?"

Dane laughed. "Hardly. She's subtle, but it's there. She surprised me the other night."

"Oh?" Caroline asked expectantly.

"She brought me back to her house, she set the scene, she—" Dane hesitated, "she carried it off very well."

Caroline sighed. "I suppose that's all you're going to tell me."

"Yep," Dane replied.

"So, where's the problem?"

"I'm still not convinced it's an important issue for her."

"God, you're stubborn. The woman shows up at Leathers on her own, because she's interested. She comes to the discussion groups regularly because she's interested. She goes home with you, she makes love to you. Besides that, she's gorgeous. What more do you want?"

Dane's face looked set. "I don't know. I keep trying to find out, but I still don't know."


Kyle dressed especially carefully that night. She wanted to look just right, and she laughed at herself. She felt like a teenager getting ready for a date. Well, she was getting ready for a date! She pulled out her jeans, and then discarded them for her black leather pants. She had them on and then couldn't decide on a shirt. Finally she took everything off and settled on a pair of black jeans and a loose white silk shirt. She pulled on her boots and grabbed her leather jacket on the way out.

The ride to town was exhilarating, both because of the beauty of the shore road at night and her own anticipation at seeing Dane again. She must have daydreamed half the way because before she knew it, she was pulling her bike into line with several others in front of the bar. She was surprised to see that the room was already crowded. When she finally made her way up to the bar, the bartender came over to her immediately and handed her a glass of brandy. Kyle stared at her.

"From a friend."

Kyle took the glass and sipped from it slowly, turning unhurriedly to survey the room. She saw her then, against the wall by the jukebox. She was standing much as she had been the first time Kyle had seen her, half in shadow. Her slender figure was encased in soft leather, and Kyle could make out the swath of black around her left wrist as her hands moved slowly while she talked. Kyle's heart pounded, but she forced herself to look away and scan the room. No one there stirred her the way Dane did. She doubted any one ever would. She knew she should wait.

The brandy warmed her even as the air seemed to glow with the excitement and the sexual energy of the women around her. She felt herself fuse and meld with the charged atmosphere as real time slipped away. Hours passed, or it might have been minutes, as her anticipation slowly eclipsed her perceptions. The suspense of waiting was finally broken by a voice at her side.

"You look good tonight," Dane's cool voice murmured in her ear.

Kyle started. She had not seen her approach. "I'm glad you like it."

"I do." Dane moved closer to her, shifting in the crowd so that her slender legs straddled Kyle from the side. She pressed her hand against the soft curve of Kyle's back.

"You left something of yours behind the other day," Dane said.

Kyle looked up at Dane in surprise, unable to read anything in Dane's blue eyes. As she started to protest, Dane handed her a small lighter, gold with black edges, exactly the opposite of her own old favorite.

Kyle closed her fingers around it. "Thank you."

Dane nodded and turned to the bar. "Sandy," she called.

The bartender, hurriedly mixing drinks, looked over at her.

"A bottle of brandy, please. And another glass." She filled her glass and poured more into Kyle's. "We should have a fire."

Kyle looked into Dane's face, her own features flushed. "We don't need one."

Dane smiled then, her gaze softening. "Dance?"

Kyle nodded, following Dane's lead through the crowd. The music was fast, pulsating with a rhythm that seemed to reflect her own internal fires. When the songs slowed, she moved into Dane's arms easily, slipping her fingers into the hair above Dane's collar. Dane's body fit into every curve of her own. Dane's hands were possessive on her back, sliding firmly to her hips. She pulled Kyle tightly against her as they moved sensuously together. When they finally parted, they were both shaking. Wordlessly, Dane led her back to the bar.

Dane handed Kyle her brandy and raised her glass in a quick salute.

"It's time to leave," Dane said, watching Kyle carefully. "We'll take the brandy."

Kyle's reply was interrupted by a voice beside them.

"Very nice scene, Dane," Brad said sarcastically.

Kyle saw Dane stiffen and reached out without thought to touch her arm. Dane pulled quickly away and turned to Brad.

"Leave it alone, Brad," Dane said, her eyes like stone.

Kyle wanted to take Dane's hand and pull her away, but she feared Dane's reaction. Something was happening that she didn't understand.

"I don't think so," Brad said just as quickly. "You seem to have something I want."

"No," Dane said tightly. "Not this time."

Brad grasped Dane's left arm in a vice-like grip. "Do you want me to show you how it should be done?" She forced Dane off balance with the strength of her hold on her. "Or do you still remember?"

Dane stared at Brad's hand on her arm, suddenly back in another room, in another time. She shook her head, feeling her throat constrict.

"No," she murmured, so softly that Kyle could barely hear her. "There's nothing you can do to me now."

"I can still do it, Dane. Because you still want me to," Brad replied, her eyes fixed on Dane's tense features. "I can, and I will--if you don't leave."

Dane looked at Kyle, her eyes clouded with anguish. "Kyle," she whispered, "I'm sorry."

Dane turned quickly and pushed her way to the door. Kyle stared dumbly at her retreating back for a second, then bolted after her.

"Dane," she called as she finally reached the street, only to see Dane pull away in her grey Camaro. Kyle stared up the street after the fading headlights, stunned. Finally she unhooked her helmet from her bike and straddled the wide tank. As she rose to kick-start the engine, Brad came up beside her.

"You're not leaving, I hope."

Kyle stared at her, her eyes blazing. "I don't know what hold you have on her, or what you've done to her. But you're nothing compared to her."

Brad's laughter followed her as she roared away.


Dane raced through the streets, riddled with pain. She could still feel Brad's hand on her arm, searing her flesh. She could see Kyle's eyes on her, confused and questioning. She wanted to be done of it; she wanted to bury her pain and expunge her fear. She pulled quickly to a stop behind a line of cars and strode across the street in a fury. Her knock was answered at once.

The woman stared out at her, her smile cruel. This time she said nothing, merely stepping back to allow Dane entrance.

Dane slipped inside, shedding her jacket on the bench beside the door.

"Let me have something," she said tersely.

The woman studied her for a moment, then nodded.

"Go upstairs. It's open."

Dane climbed the stairs, her mind closed to all thought except her need to escape. She entered the warm room and methodically began to remove her clothes. When the woman returned, she was naked.

"Give me your arm," the woman commanded.

Dane stared at her for a second, then held out her left arm. The strap was tight where it wrapped around her upper arm. She flinched at the sharp point of pain that pierced her skin. She looked away. Her chest burned before the soothing calm overtook her. Her mind began to drift and she had to strain to hear the voice beside her.

"Are you ready?"

Dane nodded mutely and allowed herself to be led again to the scaffold against the wall. She waited calmly in a haze of shifting light, slowly disconnecting from her physical self. When the first blow came, she felt the pain, but it seemed to be happening to someone else. As the lash cut swatches of fire across her back, she acknowledged them with a slight shudder. Still, the pain failed to penetrate to her core. She could still see Brad's face, hear her voice—where was Kyle? She searched the blackness around her, but she couldn't find Kyle. She felt then the vice-like grip of Brad's hand on her arm. Something hurt her, somewhere inside, and she knew it must be Brad - tearing at her soul. No! She wouldn't let her do it again, she wouldn't be broken again. She wouldn't ask her to stop--not this time. Brad would never do that to her again! She heard the snap of the cat, far away, and wondered whom Brad was disciplining now. She felt something tremble inside, but it didn't hurt. It didn't hurt anymore. It was someone else! She laughed as she realized she was free--no one could touch her anymore! She sighed and closed her mind to the sound of the lash, grateful at last for the peace.

The woman lowered her aching arm. The room was quiet. The red glow of the lights reflected off Dane's naked back and streamed to the floor. As she stared at Dane uncomprehendingly, she realized she had lost herself in the frenzy of her strokes. She took a step forward, instantly returning to reality.

"Dane," she whispered fearfully. Quickly she released the restraints. She caught Dane's limp body before she could slump to the floor. Her hand on Dane's back came away damp. She pressed her fingers gently against Dane's neck, finding the rapid, thready pulse. She covered her with a blanket from behind the bar and closed the door behind her.

Chapter Sixteen

Caroline reached across Anne in the dark, trying to find the phone. She glanced at the bedside clock as she pulled the receiver toward her.

"Hello," she said thickly, trying to clear the sleep from her throat. It was four o'clock in the morning.

"Caroline?" a deep voice said.


"I have a friend of yours here who needs your help--now. Do you know Divisadero?"

"Yes--but who?" Caroline cried, sitting up in bed and shaking her head at Anne, who was awake now, too.

"The 2000 block. She'll be in a grey Camaro."

The line went dead before Caroline could reply.

She leapt out of bed and fumbled for her clothes.

"Anne!" she cried, searching for the car keys on the bureau. "Get dressed! Dane's in trouble!"

Anne pulled on her jeans and sweatshirt and raced outside behind Caroline. "What happened?" she cried as Caroline maneuvered their jeep through the deserted streets.

"I don't know. Someone called. Said she was in trouble."

"Where?" Anne asked, frightened.

"Up this block somewhere. Do you see Dane's car?" Caroline said frantically.

"Over there! On the left!"

Caroline screeched to a halt beside the familiar car.

"It's empty!" Anne said.

Caroline leapt from the jeep as Anne followed. She pulled on the passenger's door and it opened. She could see by the overhead light a blanket-covered figure in the rear seat.

"Oh god," she moaned, as she pushed the front seat forward. "Dane!"

Anne looked in the window and gasped. "Caroline, there's blood all over the seat!"

Caroline leaned into the rear seat, suddenly calm. "I know." She checked for a heartbeat and sighed with relief. "Can you follow us home? I'll drive Dane's car."

"Shouldn't we go to a hospital?"

"No," Caroline said, straightening up and heading for the driver's side. "Do you know what they'd do to her?"

Anne stared at Caroline, then raced back across the street to the jeep.


Kyle paced her living room, staring at the phone. She had called Dane's number, and the kennel, all day. No one answered. The tape at the kennel said someone would return her call shortly, but no one ever did. She looked at the clock. It showed nine o'clock. Where the hell was she? Or was she just not answering the phone? Goddamn her! It wasn't going to be this easy. She couldn't just race away into the night and expect Kyle to sit at home waiting. Kyle snatched her jacket off the hook and strode angrily to her big Harley. The gravel in her drive spewed out behind her as she pushed the bike toward the highway.

She looked for Dane's car along the crowded street as she pulled in front of the bar. She paid her cover and searched the room furiously. She didn't see Dane.

"Beer," she tersely to the bartender, and pulled a cigarette from her jacket pocket. She fumbled her lighter from her pocket and smiled grimly at the shiny new gold surface. She drew a deep breath and surveyed the bar again. She recognized no one. She was on her third beer when a woman made her way across the room and stopped before her.

"I'm Chris—we met here a few months ago."

Kyle nodded, smiling slightly. "I'm sorry, I wasn't thinking. How are you?"

Chris shrugged and replied, "Okay." She looked at Kyle uncertainly for a second, then continued. "Listen, you're a friend of Dane's, aren't you?"

"I know her."

The woman looked around and lowered her voice unnecessarily in the noisy room. "Some of us were wondering, well--you know how it is. There are always stories, and most of us never believe them. But, still, you never know, sometimes when you go home with someone you don't know--" She stopped and looked at Kyle expectantly.

Kyle felt fear rise in her throat but she stared back calmly. "I don't know what you're getting at."

Chris looked embarrassed. "Some people heard-- there's talk." She cleared her throat. "We heard there was a bad scene. That Dane got mixed up with a heavy top and that there was trouble. The rest of us, we worry, you know. No one knows who it is."

Kyle tried to quiet her racing thoughts. "I don't know who it is."

Chris shrugged and started to turn away.

"Wait!" Kyle called, grasping her arm. "Do you know two women—Anne and Caroline—friends of Dane's?"

Chris frowned. "I've seen them in here."

"Do you know where they live?" Kyle asked, her heart pounding.

Chris shook her head. "I don't know them that well. Wait a minute--I went to a discussion group at their place once. I don't know if they still live there."

She gave Kyle the address and stared after her as Kyle turned and shouldered her way hurriedly toward the door.

Caroline tried to ignore the persistent ringing of the doorbell. She sat at the table in a worn sweater and faded jeans. She looked like she hadn't slept in days.

"Hon," Anne asked tentatively as she poured more coffee, "shouldn't I answer that?"

"I guess," Caroline answered. She looked over at Anne and realized that the younger woman was as exhausted as she. "Never mind, babe, I'll get it."

When she opened the door, Kyle took a step toward her, then stopped abruptly.

"Is Dane here?" she asked quietly, instantly aware of Caroline's state.

"Yes." Caroline said tonelessly.

"Is she all right?"

Caroline looked at Kyle, considering her answer. Finally, she sighed and opened the door. "No. Come upstairs."

Kyle followed her upstairs and into the kitchen. She saw Anne cast a frightened glance in Caroline's direction.

Caroline saw it too. "It's all right. Is there more coffee?"

Anne nodded and moved silently to pour Kyle a cup.

Kyle sat down at an empty chair and pushed some of the clutter aside. She thanked Anne for the coffee and looked pointedly at Caroline.

"Can I see her?"

"She won't know you're here."

Kyle shook her head. Fear twisted in her guts. "I don't care, I want to see her."

"Caroline, no!" Anne cried.

Caroline continued to look at Kyle. "It's not pretty. Are you sure you want to?"

"I'm sure," Kyle said, needing to know.

"I'll come with you."

"I'm all right," Kyle answered tightly.

Caroline shook her head. "I'll come with you." She led Kyle down the hall to the rear bedroom. There were no lights coming from the partially closed door.

"Just a minute," Caroline said as she entered the room and lit a small dim light off to one side. The room was mostly in shadow. Caroline called to Kyle and slipped tiredly into a chair in the darkness along the wall.

Kyle pushed the door all the way open and approached the bed. She looked down at Dane for a long time. She sank slowly down on the floor beside the bed. She pushed her back up against the wall and reached her hand up into the golden hair framing Dane's face. She closed her eyes and gently let the strands fall through her fingers. She thought about Dane's satin-soft skin in the firelight and how it had glowed with perspiration as they made love. She thought about the sharply etched muscles in her back and hips as she rose above Kyle in ecstasy. She traced the fine lines of Dane's face and remembered how she looked just before orgasm. She sat still for a long time, listening to Dane's quiet breathing. When she felt the strength return to her limbs and the anger flood her heart, she stood up and stared down again at Dane, burning the image into her soul.

Dane was lying on her stomach, her face on the pillow, her arms curved upwards. A sheet covered her, stopping just above her buttocks. A raw, open wound extended from the base of her spine to the top of her shoulders. Kyle could make out the pattern of crosshatches from what must have been a thick whip, even as the single lash marks blended into one. The bleeding had stopped, leaving behind patches of crusted coagulation between islands of swollen flesh. The sinewy planes of her perfect body were obscured by fluid pooled in the layers of injured tissue.

Kyle turned and walked into the kitchen. She looked at Anne, her grey eyes as cold as a winter sky.

"Do you have any scotch?"

Anne nodded and got up. "I think so."

Kyle sat back down at the table and lit a cigarette, turning the small gold lighter aimlessly between her fingers.

Caroline switched off the hall light behind her and sagged into a chair, pushing her graying hair out of her eyes.

"Are you sure you can take care of her?" Kyle asked tonelessly.

Caroline nodded. "I have before. Never like this, but I can manage."

Kyle took the scotch from Anne and swallowed what was in the glass. She closed her eyes for a second. "Who did this to her?" Her voice was harsh, her pain unconcealed. I’m going to find her. I’m going to kill her!

Caroline looked at Kyle, her eyes bright with sympathy. "Dane did it, Kyle. I don't know whose hand held the whip. She's never told me. But she sought it; she allowed it."

Kyle swallowed. "She's done this before? I never saw a scar—her body, it's—" her voice broke, "her body is perfect."

"It's never been like this before. She always knew when to stop. Something must have happened. There's a track mark on her arm."

"Drugs?" Kyle asked, wanting to scream but knowing she must finally understand. "Is that what this is?"

"No!" Caroline cried. "Not for years. Before, with Brad—oh god, if you knew how hard Dane has struggled, how far she has come."

"Don't you think I want to know?" Kyle shouted, her voice breaking at last. "Caroline, I have to know. For a moment she lets me close and then she's gone. I can't even hold her now! She's lying in there, her body is battered beyond knowing. What must her heart be like? Don't you realize I have to know?" Kyle closed her eyes then, the tears she had held back for hours burning hot trails down her cheeks. She saw Dane again in her mind and sobbed. "Oh god, Caroline. Please help me!"

Caroline wrapped her arms around Kyle's shoulders, rocking her like a child. "Come on, Kyle, come into the den. We'll talk."

Chapter Seventeen

Caroline spoke softly, taking Kyle back in time. "Dane first began to explore sexual alternatives—S/M relationships—about ten years ago. It wasn't nearly as easy to do then as it is now. It was mostly the men who were into it. Most lesbians were very prejudiced against any woman who wanted to redefine her sexual boundaries and polarize roles. I don't have to tell you the arguments that any role is oppressive to women and an extension of the male-power structure. None of that stopped Dane. She did a lot of experimenting with heavy roles in the early days—there wasn't much else to do. She met Brad because of the dogs. Dane had some experience with show dogs because her family had been into it. Brad owned a small kennel and Dane started working there. That's how she and Brad finally got together. I was teaching at Brewster, and I saw Dane fairly infrequently."

Caroline noted Kyle's surprise. "English literature. I don't miss it a bit." She poured them both some more scotch. "Anyhow, Dane and I would get together every few weeks or so, and she would talk to me about S/M, what it meant to her. I have to admit I was pretty opposed at first. I felt the way most people did—that one of the best things about being a lesbian was that we could redefine ourselves as equals. No more role designations, divisions or limitations. I saw any sort of polarization as a threat to our new-found freedom. We argued, I from an intellectual point of view—Dane from an emotional, gut level." Caroline laughed sadly. "That's always been one of the big differences between Dane and me. I can keep the world at a distance. Sometimes I can hide behind my own rationalizations. Dane just lets everything bounce into her and tries to take it all. She said she could feel something inside of her that wanted to get out, some need to get more in touch with her inner self through physical experiences. She thought that S/M would do that for her. She was into the pretty stereotypical thing at first—heavy leather, straight top or bottom roles, not much beyond limited sexual encounters. Even though her ideas weren't very defined in the beginning, talking with her got me to look at my own feelings a little differently. I at least became a bit more supportive. Around this time she started seeing Brad pretty seriously. Brad was--well, she wasn't much different than she is now. She's a user of people. People to her are just tools for her amusement. I can't figure her out, really, but I don't think she feels, or cares about, anything. Of course, sadomasochism was a perfect outlet for Brad, especially when things were still so secretive --subterranean almost. She could play any game she designed, be completely in control. And Dane became her pawn."

She paused and looked at Kyle. "Do you happen to have a cigarette? This is harder than I realized it would be."

Kyle handed her one. "I'm grateful to you for telling me."

Caroline shrugged. "Something's got to be done about Dane. Maybe this will help." She drew on the cigarette and coughed. "Just don't tell Anne about this. She'll kill me. I quit two years ago. Well, Dane and Brad got into a very heavy S/M relationship. Brad was the top, of course. I think the sex was pretty rough—Dane would never tell me much. She laughed grimly. "As often as I tried to get the details. Brad really controlled Dane's life--their whole relationship was very role-directed. Brad delighted in having Dane at her total command—her own personal toy. She also had ways of keeping her control over Dane. Brad had a sideline in selling drugs. Made a big point of being clean herself, but she'd sell anything to anyone. She liked Dane to get high because it made her even more compliant. It strengthened Brad's hold on her. It was infrequent at first, but in the last year they were together, it was pretty heavy. Dane was using regularly, and Brad kept her supplied."

Kyle stood up in disgust and began to pace around the room. "I'm sorry, Caroline, I just don't understand it. How could Dane do that to herself. How could she let someone do that to her? Maybe it is true what everyone says about S/M! Maybe we are all sick!"

Caroline shook her head. "You don't have to be into power to do drugs, and you don't need drugs to like S/M either. There are plenty of people who like S/M in bed, and who are just like everyone else the rest of the time. Sometimes fucked up, sometimes not. Certainly Dane can be self-destructive. It's there in all of us really--maybe in some people more than others. I don't know. I'd never call Dane weak, but sometimes it seems as if she just can't bear her own feelings. I know she's trying to block some kind of pain when she does this to herself. She's trading the emotional pain for a physical pain she can live with--until this time."

Kyle ached just thinking about what Dane must have suffered. "Go on," she said hoarsely.

Caroline took a deep breath and studied Kyle carefully. "It must have been five years ago now, Brad began to get tired of her game with Dane. It had gotten too easy. Brad was bored. She became more cruel to Dane just for a little pleasure. This is not something Dane would ever tell you herself. She wouldn't want you to know this. I don't know if you understand enough about power roles yet, but Dane would feel that this knowledge of her would make her powerless in your eyes. In order to express our power needs, physically or emotionally, there has to be an understanding between two people. Power is given, not assumed. There can be no top without the consent, the belief in her, by the bottom. If the top doesn't feel that the bottom believes in her dominance --in her power--then there can be none. It's a fluctuating balance which is created by the two people who have agreed to participate. That's why the roles are anything but rigid. Reversal is easy, if consent is mutual. Dane would never feel that you could believe in her, that you could grant her the power that she needs to express, if you knew the truth. Do you understand?"

Kyle nodded. "The very first time with Dane I knew that if I weren't a part of what was happening, with her, that it couldn't happen. But there's more to her than just her sexuality! She's also strong, tender, honest, and -- vulnerable! I care about her for a lot more reasons than just sex."

Caroline nodded, "I think you probably do. But you've got to remember that Dane needs to feel a certain way, especially with a lover. She may not always want to be actively involved in a power role, but she's got to believe she can if she needs to. It's part of who she is--and most importantly, it's who she wants to be. If she feels she has lost that power with you, she'll never let you close to her."

"Tell me the rest," Kyle said quietly.

"Brad took Dane to the 'Encounters'—it's a place—"

Kyle interrupted, "I've been there."

"Dane was pretty drugged up, and things had been going badly with Brad for a long time. I think Dane was desperate to keep from losing Brad. I don't know if she feared losing her drug connection or her connection to herself. At any rate, Brad decided that Dane needed to be punished. She didn't really need a reason. 'Encounters' was the perfect showplace for Brad. It provided her with all the entertainment she required. It was crowded; people were ready for a scene. Everyone was interested in Brad and Dane. They were such an intriguing couple. At any rate, Brad strung her up naked on the center stage. She did it herself. No assistants. Chains, handcuffs, neck collar, the whole thing. She wanted to display her power and she did. She used a thin cat on Dane, one that inflicts a lot of pain but leaves very little mark. Dane wanted to please her, and I guess the drugs made it easier for Dane to take a lot of punishment. Brad beat her to her knees, and then she made her crawl. She told Dane she was done with her, that Dane wasn't woman enough for her, that Dane couldn't take it. Dane pleaded with her, humiliated herself in front of everyone. And Brad walked out. I don't know who took Dane home, but someone finally had the sense to call me. I brought her to my place. I wasn't very experienced. I didn't know what to do for her. I made a mistake. I took her to the hospital. They put her in the drug de-tox center. It was bad. I'm surprised she ever forgave me for that."

Caroline finished her drink and got up to search for another bottle. Kyle sat staring out the windows, noticing for the first time that the sky was beginning to lighten with the predawn glow. She lit another cigarette and stretched her cramped muscles.

She didn’t look up when Caroline returned.

"When she got out she finally called me. She was hollow. She seemed to echo with emptiness. She didn't see anyone; she didn't go out. She got a job working for a small-time breeder out in the valley— a small operation, but Dane was bright and she made contacts. Eventually she moved up and started her own line. By then, I was spending more time with her and had started handling. I found out I loved it. We started fantasizing about having our own business. Dane was consumed by the work. It was all she had to keep her straight. After a year or so, when we were just getting the kennel off the ground, Dane started to go out again. She never got involved; she never let anyone top her. But she was never like Brad. She never abused anyone or tried to humiliate them. She met Anne when Anne was just starting to come out. She was a gentle teacher. She was everything to Anne that Brad had never been to her. But she remained aloof. She never let Anne close to her. Anne spent a lot of time with us. I fell in love with her." Caroline looked at Kyle, her eyes troubled. "Dane always said she didn't mind--when Anne turned to me for the affection Dane couldn't give her. I'll never know for sure. I only knew I wanted Anne. Dane's had other women, but never anyone more than a few weeks. She's afraid. Afraid that if she loves someone she'll lose herself again, like with Brad."

"And what about this other thing—this punishment she inflicts on herself?" Kyle asked numbly.

Caroline shook her head. "It happens every so often. Usually when something really gets through to her. She's generally so damned controlled! When she's unable to deal with someone getting too close, or she wants someone to be close, she drives the feelings away with physical pain. I guess it's easier for her that way."

"And you think that's healthy?" Kyle exclaimed. "My god, I could never do that to her. I can't imagine how anyone could. If that's the bottom line in this kind of relationship, there's no way I could do it. I might enjoy possessing her, controlling her, even pushing her limits physically—but I could never do that to her."

Caroline held up her hand. "Wait a minute, Kyle. What happens between Dane and this top is not the usual thing! There are always extremists, no matter what issue you're dealing with. Some women enjoy physical punishment--usually within safe limits. For some, it heightens erotic pleasure, intensifies sexual experiences, but there are only a few who really like to get heavy about it. And they're usually involved with someone they trust very much--someone who is experienced enough to know their own limitations and the needs of their partner. What goes on between Dane and this other woman is not ordinary. Whoever she is, she's a true sadist. She must truly find pleasure in dominating Dane in such a brutal way. Until this time she's been very careful. The punishment has been severe, but Dane has never been injured. Something went wrong this time. Someone lost control. I suspect it was Dane. If I only knew what happened," Caroline said in frustration.

Kyle got up slowly and crossed to the windows. She watched the waves on the bay sparkle in the early morning sun.

"I know what happened," she said, her eyes still fixed on the bay. "We were at the bar. Dane had set a scene. We were both very into it. Brad must have been watching us for a while. I never saw her until she came up to us. Suddenly, it was like I wasn't there anymore. Something was happening, but it was between Brad and Dane. Dane told Brad to leave and Brad challenged her. She told Dane that Dane couldn't stand up to her. She said --she said that Dane still wanted Brad to control her. Dane seemed to really freak out when Brad grabbed her arm. She turned pale, and suddenly she was gone! I didn't know what the hell was going on."

Caroline shuddered. "I do. It's symbolic, I guess, but I'm sure Brad knew how much it would affect Dane. Dane never likes Brad to touch her. Dane never shot up herself. Brad always did it for her."

Kyle felt sick. "God, how can anyone be that cruel? How can she do it to her?"

"She does it because she knows she still can. Don't you see? It's still the same dynamic. Dane lets her do it. And then she hates herself for what she sees as her own weakness. She must have gone to—to whomever it is she goes to—because she wanted to forget her own powerlessness. Having you see it happen must have made it much worse for her."

"But I went after her!" Kyle cried, "She didn't have to run from me!"

"But how could she stay?" Caroline persisted. "She must have felt humiliated in your eyes."

"That's crazy!" Kyle protested. "Sex is one thing—love, feelings—that's something else."

"Not for Dane," Caroline said.

"So now what am I supposed to do?" Kyle said, slumping into a chair. "How do I reach her now?"

Caroline shook her head. "I don't know. I guess you'll have to wait for Dane to realize that she's still worth loving."

"I can't just sit around while she tortures herself! She may never let me in!"

"What else can you do?"

Kyle got up, her face set. "When she's well, tell her I was here. Tell her you talked to me. Tell her I know. And tell her that I want her—that I'm waiting for her. Will you do that?"

Caroline nodded as she watched Kyle walk determinedly from the room.

Chapter Eighteen

Kyle worked in her shop from first light until well into the night, day after day. She burned with an inextinguishable anger, even as her heart ached with despair. She didn't go out. She couldn't stand the thought of going to the bars and being surrounded by women when she felt so alone. When she couldn't sleep at night she rode for miles on her Harley, sometimes parking on an overlook, staring out at the ocean until the sun came up. Nancy came to the shop most days, but never questioned her about her silence. If Kyle had been more aware of Nancy's presence, she would have found it odd.

Thoughts of Dane were never far from her mind. She watched the days on the calendar turn into weeks, and still no word from her. She called Anne at the kennel several times to ask how Dane was doing. The last time she called, Anne sounded especially harried.

"Caroline and Dane are at our cabin in the mountains. I haven't heard a thing from them in three days. There's a show coming up next week, and if I don't hear something soon, I'll have to cancel our entries. I can't possibly handle everything myself."

"Can I help?" Kyle asked. She knew Anne must be having a hard time through all of this herself.

"What do you know about handling dogs?"

Kyle laughed. "Not a thing. But I suppose I could walk them around or something."

"Give me a few days," Anne replied. "If they don't show up, I'll call you."

Kyle had said fine. She immersed herself again in her lonely routine. Late one morning Nancy came in and stared at the amount of work waiting for her to finish.

"God, Kyle. How did you get so far ahead of me? There must be a dozen pieces here."

Kyle glanced up absently, then gaped at her.

"Nancy! You look awful. What's wrong?" Kyle couldn't believe how thin and drawn Nancy looked. She was stylishly attired as usual, but it didn't hide her worn appearance.

"Nothing," Nancy said, looking away uncomfortably. When she reached for her coveralls, Kyle detected a fine tremor in her hands.

"Bullshit!" Kyle exploded. "What's going on?"

"I said it was nothing!" Nancy snapped. "You haven't been looking so great yourself."

Kyle dropped her sander and walked over to Nancy. "I know. I've been a bitch to be around. Come on, let's go up to the house and talk."

Nancy stared at Kyle, her eyes angry.

"I don't want to talk. I came here to get some work done, all right?"

"No, it's not all right," Kyle insisted. "Have you been seeing Brad?" she asked harshly.

Nancy looked away. "Once in a while," she said sullenly.

Kyle's heart began to pound and she felt almost ill. "What is she giving you?"

"Oh, come off it, Kyle. Don't be so uptight! I've known you to try a few things now and then!"

Kyle shook her head. "Try a few things, sure--who hasn't. But we're not talking about that, are we? How often are you seeing her?"

Nancy looked uncomfortable. "A few times a week."

"Nancy!" Kyle said in alarm. "Do you have any idea what that woman is capable of?"

"She's a hell of a lot more interesting than any of the men I've met in the last few years! So what if I have a little fun! No one's getting hurt. Roger hardly knows I'm gone. Besides, I still put out for him when the thought crosses his mind--which isn't all that often."

Kyle couldn't believe that Nancy could be so blind. She wanted to tell her what she knew about Brad, but she couldn't bear to reveal Dane's past.

"Nancy, listen to me. Brad doesn't care about anyone. Don't you realize she's just using you? If you let her control you, she'll use you until she's tired of you, and then toss you aside!"

Nancy tossed her head in defiance. "You're wrong, Kyle. I'm not your precious Dane—I'm not as easy as she was to beat!"

Kyle took a step toward her, very nearly out of control. If it had been anyone other than Nancy, she would have struck her.

"Whatever Brad told you about Dane, she was wrong. She doesn't know her. She never has. She never cared to." Kyle stared at Nancy, knowing that she should try again to reach her old friend, but her anger overpowered her. "Go home, Nance. Go home before we say things we'll never forgive."

Nancy left without another word.


Anne was about to hang up when Kyle finally answered the phone.

"Yes," Kyle said.

"Kyle? It's Anne. I've been trying to reach you all week. Did you mean it when you offered to help at the show?"


"Can you come to the kennel in the morning—around six? I've decided to go to the show without them. We might as well try."

"Where is it? I'll be there." Anne gave her directions and said good night. Kyle wondered at herself as she got ready for bed. Dogs! What did she know about dogs!

Anne was loading the crates into the van with another young woman when Kyle arrived.

"Hi!" Anne called. "Kyle, this is Lynn. She's going to watch the shop while we're gone."

Kyle nodded to the young woman. "Any word from Caroline?" She wanted to ask about Dane, but she couldn't bring herself to. Dane obviously didn't want to contact her. She wouldn't humble herself further by continuing to ask about her.

"No," Anne said worriedly. "It's not like her, either. Come on, I'll introduce you to your charges."

Kyle followed Anne into the roar of the kennel, almost expecting to see Dane at any moment. Pictures of dogs covered the walls, and Dane and Caroline were in many of them. Kyle's heart lurched just from seeing Dane's face in a photo. She looked away and hurried after Anne.

"This is Troy, and that's Arno, and this is Falon," Anne said, standing before three monstrous-looking animals.

"Do I shake hands?" Kyle asked, wondering what she had gotten herself into.

Anne laughed. "They're really very gentle. Except Troy hates all other males, of any size, so you have to be firm with him. The other two won't give you any trouble at all. Come on, I'll tell you all you need to know while we drive."

It sounded simple enough as Anne outlined it. All Kyle had to do was get the correct dog to the correct ring at the correct time so that Anne could show it. Then Kyle could take the one that had finished showing back to the van. When she saw the morass of people and dogs milling about the show grounds, she felt her confidence disappear.

"It'll be fine," Anne reassured her as she maneuvered the van into a relatively shady corner. She rummaged around and handed Kyle a show schedule. "I've outlined where you have to be and when. Don't worry. The dogs are pros—they'll know what to do."

"Right," Kyle said without conviction. Nevertheless, she was soon seduced by the excitement of the show. The first time she led Troy over to the show ring she felt as proud as if he were her own.

"Okay Troy, old boy—go get 'em!"

She watched Anne carefully and thought Troy looked splendid. She couldn't believe it when the judge, who had carefully compared Troy with another dog for several minutes, chose Troy's competitor.

Anne laughed at Kyle's outrage. "Oh, him! I knew that would happen. He likes them long in the back and Troy's not. Troy happens to be a perfect standard, but judges aren't always objective. But we know we won, don't we, boy?"

Kyle was still grumbling to herself as she exchanged Troy for Falon. This time she was not disappointed.

Anne was jubilant. "God, will Dane be happy! These are Falon's first points, and it's only her second show!" She stopped when she saw Kyle's face. "I'm sorry, Kyle. I haven't even asked you how you're doing." They sat down in the shade near the van since they had a few minutes before the next event.

Kyle shrugged. "I'm not sure what I'm doing, really. I had hoped Dane would call, but I guess that was stupid." Her voice betrayed her bitterness.

Anne nodded sympathetically. "It's not stupid. There's just not much you can do, really. I've never seen Dane like this before. She started back to work a couple of weeks ago, and she hardly talks at all. She spends all her time with the dogs. Sometimes she even stays at the kennel all night. Caroline was getting frantic. Finally she got Dane to agree to go to the mountains for a while. That was almost a week ago."

"Is Dane okay physically?" Kyle asked.

Anne was silent for a moment. "She's not doing any drugs. If that's what you mean." She sighed. "She's healed on the outside, I guess. Who can tell with her what's happening on the inside."

They got the last animal and headed back for the final entry. They were almost there when Caroline rushed up to them.

"Oh, babe!" she cried, hugging Anne fiercely, "I'm so sorry! We left early this morning, and the damn jeep broke down. What a mess!"

Anne kissed her quickly, her face glowing. "It's okay. Kyle saved the day!"

Caroline turned quickly to thank her. She stopped when she realized Dane had joined them. Kyle was staring at Dane, her face pale. Anne tugged Caroline away toward the ring.

Kyle searched Dane's face. She looked thinner. There were lines about her eyes that hadn't been there before. Her gaze were clear, but so distant! There was no trace of warmth in the blue eyes that glanced over her, no tenderness in her smile.

Finally Kyle found her voice. "Hello, Dane."

Dane shifted her gaze, unable to bear the sadness she saw in Kyle's face.

"Thank you for helping Anne. I'm afraid she's had to do too much alone these past few weeks," she said finally.

"She seems to have managed very well," Kyle replied. "She's really quite good at all this."

"I know," Dane said quietly. She cleared her throat and forced herself to face Kyle again.

"Kyle," she began with difficulty, "about the last time we met. I'm sorry about what happened. I'm afraid I blew our scene."

"My god, Dane," Kyle gasped in amazement, "do you think I care a damn about that? Do I have to tell you how much more than that you mean to me?" Her voice pleaded for Dane to hear her, her eyes searching the rigid planes of Dane's handsome face for some sign that she felt anything for her.

Dane shook her head, her expression betraying none of her inner turmoil. How much she wanted to say she was sorry she had failed her. And how ashamed she was.

"I got your message," she said woodenly. "You must know you deserve better. I'm sorry you had to find it out quite like that." She hated to think that Kyle had seen her like that, so pitifully weak. She looked away.

"Damn it, Dane!" Kyle started to protest. This was ridiculous. She needed to make Dane understand how much she cared about her.

Dane interrupted her. "Tell Caroline and Anne I'm taking the jeep back to the kennel." As she turned away she said, "Good-bye, Kyle."

Chapter Nineteen

Slowly Kyle's pain and frustration turned to a seething anger, feeding on itself, threatening to consume her. She sometimes didn't see anyone for weeks. Nancy turned up at the shop erratically, often leaving again without completing much work. They rarely talked, and even when they did, they avoided all mention of their personal lives.

Kyle stopped going to the discussion groups. When Caroline called to ask about her absence, Kyle replied bitterly that she'd heard all there was to hear. She knew Caroline was worried about her, but Kyle gave her no room to talk. Finally, Caroline stopped calling.

Eventually Kyle began to go to Leather's again. She stared at the women around her, feeling none of the old sense of communion she once shared with them. Nothing stirred her heart. She reached out to no one. Late one night she saw Dane across the room. She was ensconced in her old place by the jukebox, looking aloof and distant. She glanced at Kyle once, briefly, her face betraying no recognition. Kyle was forced to turn her back, so exquisite was the pain. When the anguish dissipated, the steely anger returned. She had to erase the lingering image of Dane's face from her mind. She ordered another beer and looked over the crowd. She carefully avoided Dane's small corner of the arena. Her attention focused finally on a young woman standing alone, her back against a pillar. When her eyes fell on Kyle, who was staring at her pointedly, she looked quickly away. Kyle smiled slightly to herself and lit a cigarette. She smoked leisurely, finished her beer and ordered two more. She carried them both unhurriedly through the crowd until she was at the young woman's side. Up close she could see that she was indeed young. Her smooth features were unlined, and her blond hair fell in childlike wings about her forehead and temples. She continued to stare ahead, waiting for Kyle to initiate contact.

Kyle handed her the beer. "Yours is warm," she said in a low voice.

The woman immediately tossed her half-empty bottle into the receptacle behind her and took the cold one Kyle offered.

"Thank you," she replied.

Kyle smiled slightly and ran her finger lightly down the young woman's exposed forearm, stopping at the thin black leather band which circled her wrist.

"Are you serious about this?" Kyle said softly, hooking her finger under the bracelet. She realized she was enjoying this new approach, even though emotionally she felt detached.


Kyle slipped her hand beneath the edge of her companion's jeans at the hollow of her spine. The muscles there tensed at her touch.

"I need to know your name," Kyle said, gently kneading the firm flesh under her hands. When she felt the young woman hesitate, she thought she understood.

"Any name, it doesn't matter." Kyle realized that it didn't. She didn't need or want to know anything about the woman other than what was necessary to complete the scene. Kyle wasn't interested in her as a person, beyond the roles they would both soon play.

"It's Jean."

Kyle nodded, leaning into Jean, her thighs insistent against the smaller woman's hips.

"Well, Jean, are you tired of the bar tonight?"

"I've seen everything I need to. Now that you're here."

"I'd like to take your clothes off, somewhere quiet and private. There might be other things I'd like to do." Kyle was going by instinct now, playing out a fantasy which was somehow real. She was vaguely aware that she was not really physically aroused, but still she was excited. She was excited to be in control, to be creating the events moment to moment. "Do you understand?"

"I understand," Jean replied. "May I make one request?"

Kyle nodded.

"Please don't mark me."

Kyle hid the shock she felt. For an instant she saw Dane again, lying on Caroline's bed, her back a river of ruin. She felt physically ill.

"I agree," Kyle said after a moment.

She drove to Jean's apartment with Jean clinging to her on the rear of the big motorcycle. Once there, Kyle directed Jean to take them to her bedroom, leaving the lights off. Kyle lit a bedside candle with a flick of her lighter. She undressed Jean herself, slowly and carefully. She turned her about in the flickering light, stroking her body, studying her reaction. She could tell the younger woman was excited--she trembled at each light caress of Kyle's exploring hands.

When Kyle had satisfied herself visually, she placed Jean face down on the bed, removing the pillow to be sure she could breathe.

"You'll need a safe word. Anytime you want me to stop, or something happens which hurts you in a way you don't like, you must tell me," Kyle said gently as she removed the heavy belt from her leather pants. She bound Jean's hands securely to the upper part of the bed frame as Jean told her safe word. By doing so she entered into a contract of trust with Kyle. She trusted Kyle to respect her limitations, her boundaries, regardless of how Kyle might feel. And Kyle, in turn, trusted Jean to be the guardian of her own body. Only Jean could know when her limits had been reached.

"May I give you something?" Jean asked quietly.

Kyle leaned back from the bed. "Yes."

Kyle opened the closet and looked where Jean had described. She removed a short-handled crop with multiple fine leather strands at the end. Her heart plummeted when she closed her hand around it. She knew Jean was asking her to use it on her, and she wasn't sure she could. She found it more and more difficult to look at Jean's naked back without seeing Dane, again and again. She knew the scene was hers; she could refuse. But she also knew that there was Jean's pleasure to be considered. The top's responsibility, ultimately, was to create a scene which both partners would find pleasurable, within acceptable limits for them both.

She started with the stout handle, the leather strands entwined in her fingers. Slowly she traced each muscle, each bone in Jean's back and shoulders with the edge. She could hear Jean gasp at each new contact. Suddenly Kyle realized that in this instance it was the suggestion of pain, the illusion of power, which was so erotic, rather than the actual infliction of punishment. She began to relax a little and found that she was enjoying the sense of power Jean had given her. When she finally did use the crop for what it was intended, she wielded it gently, causing no real discomfort. The effect, however, was instantaneous. Jean responded to each light blow with a soft groan, and her hips moved against the bed convulsively. When Kyle judged that Jean was near to the peak of her arousal, she straddled her body, one of her leather encased thighs between Jean's naked ones. She slipped one hand beneath Jean's pelvis seeking the moisture she knew she would find. She brought her other hand in from the rear and completed the circle. She was inside and outside of her at once, controlling Jean's body to the very end. When at last Jean came with a shuddering groan, Kyle felt her own pent-up tensions dissipate. She felt no need to reach orgasm herself; it was enough that Jean had. Her own body seemed removed from the scene. Indeed, the excitement had primarily been the feeling of power she drew from the encounter. When she left, Jean was asleep.


Kyle quickly discovered that what she had always heard was true. Experienced tops were always in demand. Ruefully, she found that she no longer had to search for partners. Whenever she entered the bar, someone was more than willing to accompany her home. She developed considerable skill in creating and controlling a scene. She learned to recognize what excited another woman by the way she responded to Kyle's first advances. Kyle quickly came to appreciate the subtle signals which indicated the degree of a woman's experience and the level of control she would give to Kyle. To her amazement, she found she was becoming quite accomplished with a variety of crops and whips. Her unease at being the source of physical pain abated as long as she was sure her partner found pleasure in it, and Kyle trusted the woman to know her own limits. Kyle had no desire to abuse or humiliate anyone. She never went with anyone young or inexperienced, and she never used drugs in association with a scene. She was even careful not to drink too much so she could be sure she never lost control.

She rarely felt any desire in a purely physical way for her partners, beyond the need to lose herself for a few hours in the intensity of the scene. She often remained completely dressed, and she never allowed anyone to top her. Without realizing it, she was becoming the archetypal top. Aloof, cool, physically distant. She could create a scene, give pleasure in the way her partner wished, and walk away untouched herself.

She often drove home over the empty miles of highway with an overwhelming sense of loneliness. She would see the woman she had just made love to in her mind, and she felt nothing. There was no one who moved Kyle inside, no one who could penetrate the barriers she herself had created. Once home, she couldn't sleep. She would sit with a brandy before the fire, watching the intricate patterns of red and black coals, wondering what was happening to her. Eventually her encounters became less frequent as her sense of detachment grew. The brief intimacy reminded her too painfully of how much she longed to really touch someone, and be touched in return.

Chapter Twenty

It was a cool fall evening in October. Kyle had just brought in a load of wood and started a fire. The phone interrupted her just as she carried her brandy into the living area.

"Hello," she said absently.

"Kyle, this is Roger." Kyle noted instantly the anxiety in his voice. Before she could respond, he went on hurriedly. "Is Nancy there?"

Kyle cursed under her breath. She hated to lie. "Uh, Roger--" she began.

"Never mind," he sighed. "I know she isn't. I've known for a long time that she wasn't with you or any of the other friends she said she was visiting. I should have done something before this, but I was afraid. I was afraid if I questioned her, she would just leave for good."

Kyle empathized with him, but she really didn't know what to say. "Hell, I'm sorry, Roger. Maybe she just got held up somewhere."

"You don't understand. She didn't come home last night at all. And there's no sign that she's been here today. I wouldn't have called you if I knew what else to do."

Kyle sighed. "Roger, why don't you come over here. You sound like you could use some company."

Roger hesitated. "Kyle, do you think you could find her? Ask her to call me or something. I need to talk to her, to know she's all right."

"But I don't know where she is," Kyle said in frustration. She realized that she had nearly excluded Nancy from her life completely. Suddenly she felt very selfish. She had been so absorbed by her own pain, she hadn't even tried to reach Nancy. "I'm sorry."

"Kyle," Roger continued, "I thought you might know where she goes at night."

"Why should I?" Kyle said, hating the feeling of being caught in the middle of Nancy's and Roger's problems.

"She's seeing a woman, isn't she?" Roger asked quietly. "It's different this time, not like her little flings with men used to be. She's so preoccupied she doesn't even pretend to hide what she's doing. I always felt before like she just wanted a little diversion, but this time something's changed." He stopped, obviously distraught.

Kyle decided to be straightforward. She really didn't know what else to do. "Look, Roger--Nancy has been going out to some women's bars. I thought she was just curious, looking for something new. I don't know if she's actually involved with anyone. We haven't really been talking much lately." She sighed and continued. "I'll try to find her. I can't promise she'll listen to me. But I'll look for her, okay?"

"Thank you," Roger said in relief. "I'll be at home."

After he hung up, Kyle stared at the fire and finished her brandy. It was time, she thought, to do something for someone else. She couldn't help Dane. It had been much too late. Maybe it wasn't too late for Nancy. She got up and carefully prepared for the journey.

She looked for Nancy's car outside Leathers. It wasn't there, but Brad's Mercedes coupe was. Kyle half-hoped that Nancy wasn't with her. As soon as she entered the bar, she saw them. Brad and Nancy were sitting at a table in the rear, nearly in shadow. Even from a distance Kyle could see that Nancy was drunk, or high on something. Kyle walked directly to them and pulled up an empty chair from a nearby table. Brad looked at her in surprise, a slow smile playing across her lips.

"Why, Kyle. Do sit down. What are you drinking?"

"Beer," Kyle said, noting the glazed look in Nancy's eyes. She had never seen her so disheveled before. Kyle's anger, simmering like a buried coal for so long, began to flare within her.

"Nancy," she said, touching Nancy's arm lightly, "are you all right?"

Nancy stared at Kyle, looking confused.

"Of course she is," Brad replied as she handed Kyle a bottle of beer. "She's just a little tired out. Right, Nancy?" She laughed and rested her hand possessively on Nancy's back. She eyed Kyle with interest.

"Isn't this a little beneath you, Brad?" Kyle said, her voice like flint. "She can't be much of a challenge for you, can she? A novice, and straight at that." Kyle tipped her bottle to her lips and watched Brad carefully. She could detect no reaction behind Brad's impenetrable facade. "I suppose after a while you lose your edge. You can't really get it up to top someone who's really a challenge." She thought she detected a flash of anger in Brad's dark eyes.

"There's never been anyone here who could compete with me," Brad said smugly. "Ask Dane, she'll tell you how good I am."

Kyle's hands clenched around her bottle at the mention of Dane's name, but she was determined to maintain her self-control. Everything depended upon it.

"There is now, Brad. I'm the only woman left who can top you." She offered the challenge, knowing Brad would find it hard to refuse.

"What makes you think I'd let you?" Brad replied, clearly intrigued. No one had ever dared to suggest it.

"Because you know I can," Kyle said flatly. "And if I can't," she continued, making the final gamble, "you can have me—any way you want."

At last Brad's composure cracked. She leaned forward, an eager hunger on her face. "And how is it decided. If you succeed?"

Kyle leaned forward until her face was very close to Brad's. "I want you on your knees to me, Brad. I want to hear you beg." Just like you had Dane.

Brad laughed. "You're a fool. But even a fool can be interesting. When?"

"Right now," Kyle replied. "But not here. At Encounters."

Brad leaned back in her chair and stared at Kyle in amazement. What an advantage Kyle was giving her! Everyone at Encounters would see Kyle fail. And Brad could have her, right there in front of everyone! It was too good to turn down.

"Let's go," Brad said, standing. She looked coldly down at Nancy, who had been trying to follow their conversation. "I'm sure the 'lady' will find someone to look after her."

"Go tell the bartender to call her a cab, Kyle ordered, her voice harsh.

Brad stared at her for a second, and then grinned. "All right."

When she returned, Kyle led her through the crowd to the door.


As Caroline pulled the jeep into the curb she noticed Dane staring past her out the window. She followed her gaze and saw two women pull away down the street.

"Who was that?" she asked.

"No one," Dane replied. She hadn't seen Kyle in months, but her figure was unmistakable. As was Brad's. Dane had been avoiding the bar the last few months. She couldn't bear to see Kyle, night after night, and watch her change. Dane recognized the hardness in her face and the emptiness in her smile. Even as rumor spread about the 'new top', Dane sensed what was happening to Kyle. It had happened to her. The coldness that slowly smothered all feeling, the walls that surrounded all tenderness, until only emptiness remained. She wanted to warn Kyle, to tell her to keep searching, not to give up. Someone would come to love her--as Kyle had come to her. But she couldn't. She was paralyzed by her own anguish, her own sense of failure. And so she had stopped going out, to avoid watching once again the inevitable ending to the age-old drama. The destruction of hope, the death of the innocence of the heart.

"Come on," Caroline said, standing by the side of the car, holding Dane's door open. "I finally got you here. Let's go get a drink."

Dane looked up, surprised to realize she had been drifting again. She seemed to lose track of things so easily these days. "Right," she said, easing her long legs out of the cramped space under the dash. "I'm with you."

They were there only a short time when Sandy approached them.

"Look you two, I'm sorry to bother you, but I've got a problem."

Caroline and Dane both looked at Sandy in surprise.

"What's the matter?" Dane asked.

"It's that woman over there--Brad's, uh, friend. Brad left her here and told me to get her a cab. But I can't get anyone to drive her home. She lives way up the coast. Do you know somewhere she can stay? I hate to lay this on you, but I'm here until three, and she's already wasted."

Dane looked over, recognizing Nancy. "I'll go talk to her," she said.

"Wait a minute," Caroline said, grabbing their beers. "I'm coming with you."

Nancy looked up blankly when they joined her. "Hi there," she said, her voice slurred. "Come to rescue the damsel in distress?"

Caroline smiled at her compassionately. "Are you all right, hon?"

"Oh, sure," Nancy replied, searching in her purse for a cigarette. "Just fine. I've been deserted-- and insulted too, I think."

Dane reached over to light her cigarette. Nancy stared at the small black and gold lighter.

"Where did you get that?" she questioned.

Dane looked at the small object cradled in her palm. She smiled slightly. "From a friend."

"Some friend," Nancy snorted. "That 'friend' just left here with my -- whatever she is." She swallowed the rest of her drink and looked questioningly at Dane. "Buy a lady a drink?"

"In a minute. Tell me what happened here first," Dane asked.

"Damned if I know," Nancy said. "They were making some sort of bargain or something. I'll do this if you do that--it didn't make any sense. Kyle--" her voice broke suddenly. "Kyle was acting like some damn avenging angel. Out to save my honor." She looked at Dane astutely, her eyes clear for a second. "Or someone's honor."

Dane swallowed tensely. "Tell me what she said."

"Dane," Caroline said, afraid for Dane, "let it go."

"No!" Dane said vehemently. "Kyle doesn't know Brad. She doesn't know what she's capable of." She turned back to Nancy, her eyes hard. "Think! What did Kyle say?"

Nancy shook her clouded her head. "She said something about being the only left top-" she stopped, giggling. "No, that's not right. The only top left? I know—the only one left who could top Brad." She laughed without humor. "That's a bitch, isn't it? Top the perfect top."

Dane stared at her. "What else?"

"Something about if Kyle couldn't, Brad could do whatever she liked."

"Oh, Christ," Dane groaned. She turned to Caroline, her face set. "Can you take Nancy home with you?"

Caroline looked at her friend in alarm. "Of course, but where are you going?"

"I'm going after Kyle."


"I know where," Dane said grimly.

Caroline grabbed Dane's arm, wanting to protect her. "Don't get into it, Dane. It's not your affair!"

"Oh, but it is, Caroline," Dane replied quietly. "It always has been."

Chapter Twenty-one

Kyle maneuvered Brad's Mercedes quickly but calmly through the familiar streets. Brad sat silently beside her, studying the frozen planes of Kyle's granite-like face. She was disquieted, inwardly uncertain. She slid her hand under the passenger seat and detached a small, slim container secured there. Kyle glanced over as Brad removed a small plastic bag from the box.

"No drugs," Kyle said tersely. "I want to be sure you remember every detail."

Brad stared at her, amazed. Kyle continued to watch the road. Brad hesitated for a moment and then replaced the contents of the container and slipped it back under the seat.

By the time they reached the Encounters, it was crowded. The tables ringing the center stage were full. People slipped in and out of the shadows near the scene rooms, while others jostled each other for a place at the bar.

"Nice crowd," Kyle said nonchalantly. She was relaxed, sure of herself. She even began to enjoy the anticipation of what was to come. She ordered a drink and turned to Brad. "I left my motorcycle bag on the back seat of your car. Get it for me."

Brad's head snapped up, and she started to protest. Then she smiled. All right, if that's the way Kyle wanted to play it. She could have her chance. It would make Brad's victory all the sweeter. She left to retrieve the heavy black tank bag.

Kyle finished her drink leisurely, keeping her eye on the center stage. When several women approached it, preparing to start a scene, Kyle strode over to them.

"I'd like you to wait," she said quietly. "I have something planned for Brad."

The women stared at her. Kyle looked resplendent in tight leather pants, heavy biker boots and a white shirt open between her breasts. The top took note of the leather wristband on Kyle's left arm and the keys dangling from a strap on her left side. She nodded curtly. "All right--but it had better be good."

"Oh, it will be," Kyle said as she turned away. She knew the word would circulate quickly through the bar that a heavy scene was planned. She stepped onto the stage, feeling many eyes upon her, and checked all of the restraints hidden in the shadows with care. When she turned around, the room was quiet.

Brad returned with Kyle's bag, instantly aware of the change of atmosphere. When heads turned to stare at her, she felt perspiration break out on her back and under her arms. Now there was no turning back. Kyle awaited her on the steps of the stage. Brad walked toward her, her head high. Damn, she would not lower her eyes in front of everyone! As it was, Kyle had the advantage, being taller, and now she appeared almost statuesque, standing solidly above her.

"You can leave now, Brad," Kyle murmured as she took the bag from Brad's hand. "It's your last chance."

Brad knew how badly she would lose face if she turned away. She had to beat Kyle at her own game. If she refused to acknowledge Kyle's dominance, she would win. No one would ever dare challenge her again. Kyle was the only one who had ever come close to taking her place in the dark shadow world of their nighttime lives. Not even Dane had garnered such a reputation as a top.

"No," Brad said. "I still don't think you can do it."

Kyle merely nodded. Someone turned all the lights down, leaving the two of them outlined in the hazy red glow on center stage.

"Take your jacket off. Fold it neatly and lay it over a chair," Kyle commanded.

Brad responded, not diffidently. She returned to stand before Kyle, her eyes belligerent.

Kyle turned slightly to one side, motioning for Brad to mount the stage. She heard matches flare behind her, bottles shuffled about on the tabletops. She stopped Brad midway between the side posts of the scaffold. She positioned Brad so that she faced the room.

"I want you to see them watching you," Kyle said softly, her eyes cold. She placed her bag on a small ledge in the shadows and slid the long zipper down. The sound was magnified in the dark, quiet room. She removed wide, well-padded leather shackles, attached to short chains. She hooked the chains to the rings set into the wooden arches and returned to Brad.

Slowly, purposefully, she slipped a long, slim object from the inner pocket of her jacket. When the blade of the knife snapped open, it caught the reflection of the overhead lights and glittered in her hand. A murmur passed through the crowd. Brad's eyes fixed on the blade in astonishment.

"You haven't got the guts," Brad whispered, so softly that only Kyle could hear her.

"Oh, but I do," she replied, her eyes locked on Brad's.

Kyle deliberately cut each button off the front of Brad's shirt with a practiced flick of her wrist. When the shirt fell open, exposing Brad's small firm breasts, Kyle leaned forward. She slipped her hand into the leather waistband of Brad's pants, creating a space between Brad's abdomen and the soft material. With her other hand, Kyle turned the knife sideways and slid the flat of the blade straight down along the underside of the zipper, leaving the gleaming black handle nestled against Brad's stomach.

"Stand very still, now," Kyle warned mockingly as she stepped back. Methodically she stripped off the remains of Brad's shirt. While Brad stood naked from the waist up, the knife protruding from the top of her pants like a misplaced phallus, Kyle carefully applied the restraints to her ankles and wrists. She stood behind Brad, her face close to her ear.

"You can get out of these anytime you like. It's your safe way out." She waited a heartbeat. "And if you do—I win."

Brad swallowed, all of her senses centered on the cold steel that lay along her skin, threatening to twist its razor-sharp edge against her at the slightest movement. It won't work, she told herself. But still she felt the restraints on her arms as if they were bands of iron. Could she get out?

Kyle stepped around her to the side and pulled the knife free of Brad's body with a wrenching motion, as if pulling it from her depths. She heard someone gasp and realized with satisfaction that it was Brad. Sweat beaded on Brad’s breasts and began to trickle in uneven streams down her sculpted torso. Under the red lights it looked like blood.

Kyle smiled grimly as the room receded from her view. She saw only the form before her, helplessly within her power. And as she stared at Brad's body, she saw Dane, and the raw, oozing wounds. Rage threatened to usurp her reason. She shook her head; she knew she needed all her concentration now. With the tip of the blade, all of which was visible to the crowd in the blackness of the room, she outlined Brad's breasts with intricate movements, lightly scratching the skin, never deep enough to draw blood. The blade was everywhere—now nearly piercing the nipple, now close to the soft vulnerable underside. At any moment Brad expected to feel the sharp lancet enter her body. The steel flashed as Kyle moved it rapidly from hand to hand, finally bringing the point to rest in the hollow at the base of Brad's throat. Kyle pushed hard enough that Brad needed to arch her neck away to relieve the sharp pressure. Brad was scarcely breathing. Her heart hammered wildly in her chest as the slim blade flickered against her skin.

"I could end this now," Kyle said, so that only Brad could hear. "It would be quick, and you'd only feel the smallest point of pain. Like a needle driven into your arm."

Brad's head reeled. Kyle knows! She must know about Dane—and Nancy?

Kyle moved closer, her breath hot against Brad’s ear. "But I don’t need drugs to control you. That would be too good for you, Brad. Too simple." Kyle ran the fingers of her free hand down the planes of Brad’s taut abdomen, smiling with grim satisfaction as the muscles quivered under her touch. "I want much more from you. I want your soul."

Brad felt the ice in Kyle’s voice like a cold hand around her heart. In the center of Brad's being, fear burgeoned like a living beast. She finally understood that the game they played was not a game, and the stake’s were their lives. She gasped again as Kyle inserted the blade along the sides of her legs and slashed the leather open to her knees in one powerful thrust. Her skin was untouched, but it felt as if her flesh had been flayed open. Kyle released Brad's wrists for a moment and turned her so that her back was exposed to view. Just as quickly, she lightly refastened the shackles.

Kyle moved away from the naked woman before her and pulled out a cigarette. She lit it off the gold lighter in her pocket. She stepped into darkness and selected a small cat from her bag. She knew that Brad could hear her but that she could not see her.

Kyle moved from the shadows to the front edge of the stage, gauging the distance. She tested the cat with a quick flip of her wrist. The snap of the whip sliced the thick air before her, and she noted with satisfaction that Brad flinched at the sound. At first her strokes were teasing, glancing off the contour of Brad's back and buttocks, stinging for an instant and then gone. As the force and rhythm of Kyle's delivery increased, Brad twisted slightly in her restraints, seeking to escape. Despite her rising panic, Brad began to be aroused. The tension of the knife ritual, the powerlessness of being restrained, and the tantalizing pinpoints of flickering pain created by the whip were having a sexual effect. Even as she resisted, her body betrayed her, swelling and pulsating to the rhythm of the cat. She moaned slightly, trying to ignore the pressure in her thighs and pelvis. Just as suddenly as it started, those tormenting kisses of fire raining down on her back stopped. She felt deserted, isolated in her desire, bereft of the source of her pleasure. She bit back a cry, a plea for Kyle to continue.

Dane pushed her way past the crowd on the stairs and tossed a bill to the bouncer. As she started to brush past her, the heavyset woman grabbed her arm.

"Just a minute," the woman said. "There's a heavy scene going on in there. Take it easy."

Dane nodded and slowed her headlong rush. Nevertheless, she moved her way insistently through the crowd until she could see the stage. When she did she stopped short, her heart pounding. Kyle stood before Brad's suspended body, lightly hefting a heavy braided whip. Even in the subdued lighting, Dane could make out the flush on the skin of Brad's back, indication that Kyle had been working on her a while. As she watched, Kyle's arm arced, and the cat landed with a smart blow across Brad's lower back. Dane could barely stifle a moan as she saw Brad's body jerk away with the intensity of the pain. Instantly, Dane was transported to another dimly lit room, the echo of the leather striking flesh resounding in her own body. She felt herself flinch at each blow; she felt the pain suffuse her mind. She remained motionless, reliving the moment of her own destruction.

At first, Brad fought the pain, determined to withstand any punishment Kyle could deliver. She would not be subdued, she would never give in! But Kyle had primed her well. Kyle had already brought Brad past the point of pain to the beginning of arousal. Even as Brad’s mind rebelled, her body made the inevitable transition from rejection of pain to the acceptance of pleasure. The lash on her back became a soothing caress, the swelling of her injured flesh the blossoming of desire. Her body no longer moved to escape the blows, it sought them, each stroke driving her nearer to orgasm. So close, she was so close to exploding! She forgot her need to resist Kyle's power--she welcomed it. There was no thought, only sensation. Her mind dissolved into liquid fire as the exquisite ripples of release began building deep in her belly. Brad’s hips began thrusting with the rhythm of the contractions; her neck arched back in rapturous agony. Her moans penetrated the darkest corners of the room.

Kyle's mind was numb; her eyes blind. She no longer felt the people pressing close to her, she couldn't hear Brad’s cries. Her arms had become the vehicle for her anger, the whip the embodiment of her own pain. The rhythm of the blows echoed the fury in her heart. At last she could drive the demons from her soul with the power of the cat.

Dane grabbed Kyle's arm, twisting her off balance. "Kyle!" she shouted. "No!"

Kyle's glazed eyes fell uncomprehendingly on her face. When Kyle tried to wrench her arm away, Dane brought her other hand down hard on the shaft of the whip.

"Look at her," Dane cried. "Kyle, look at her! That was me, don't you see! It could still be me! Don't do this. Oh god, Kyle, don't become like them. Don't do what they did to me!"

Kyle's vision cleared. She saw Dane's face before her, wounded but fiercely strong as well. And she looked to Brad, collapsing against her restraints, dangling at the end of her own desires.

She tossed the heavy instrument of torture at Brad’s feet, sick of herself. As she turned away," she said in a thick voice that echoed throughout the room, "Someone else can have her. I'm done with her."

As the crowd parted to let them through, she closed her mind to the sound of Brad calling her name.

Chapter Twenty-two

Kyle sank into the seat of Dane's car, exhausted. She didn't know where they were going—she didn't care. She had reached the nadir of her despair. A sea of remorse engulfed her. She had become what she most hated--a user of people, an abuser of power. She had indeed become what she loathed most in Brad--a sadist unaffected by another's suffering. A hand that held the whip without tenderness, without feeling. She had wished only to give pain, no longer seeking the delicate balance between pleasure and the physical boundaries of pain. She had tested herself and she had failed.

Dane watched the emotions play across Kyle's face, feeling her agony and her guilt. She wanted to reassure her, to tell her that it would pass. Kyle was not lost, not yet. Dane knew only one way to prove it to her, the only way she herself would understand. If she could show Kyle now that she was worthy of Dane's trust, she could free her. She would give Kyle her body; Kyle already had her heart.

Dane pulled her car up in front of her apartment and went around to open Kyle's door.

"Please come inside," Dane said quietly.

Kyle followed her, unprotesting. Dane led her into her bedroom and turned the switch that subtly lit the room. Kyle stood still in the center of the room, remembering the only other time she had been there. It seemed like a lifetime ago. Where along the way had she lost herself?

Dane came to her, her eyes searching Kyle's face. Kyle stared back, questioningly. Without a word, Dane sank to her knees before Kyle, her hands lightly grasping Kyle's thighs, her head bowed, supplicant. She pressed her face against the soft leather covering Kyle's groin. There was no one else in the world she would do this for. There was no one she had ever wanted so much. This was not sex; this was salvation.

Dane began to slide the zipper down, her mouth slightly open to touch the flesh her hands exposed. Suddenly, Kyle grabbed Dane’s hands, pulling her to her feet.

"No," Kyle said breathlessly. "That's not what I need."

"Then tell me," Dane said. She swallowed, remembering the image of Brad’s humiliation. "Anything." The ultimate trust.

Kyle shook her head, her eyes locked on Dane's. "No, Dane. You top me." Take me back, Dane. Make me yours

Dane turned away, fear and uncertainty twisting in her belly. "I can't." How can you trust me when you’ve seen my weakness? How can you put your life in my hands?

"You can," Kyle said without moving. She waited, scarcely breathing, afraid that Dane would abandon her, leaving her victim to her own demons. Dane was the only point of light in the dark landscape of her soul. Only Dane could lead her out of the night.

"Dane," she whispered in desperation, "Please. I need you to." Free me

"By your leave," Dane whispered, turning to face her. Give me permission

"Yes," Kyle said softly. "Anything." I trust you

Dane's hands were gentle on Kyle’s body as she undressed her, reverent. The restraints she passed around Kyle's wrists were as soft as satin. Dane stood silently before Kyle, slowly stripping herself bare. She stood boldly, triumphantly, naked before her captive lover. Kyle had given her this power, returning her soul.

When Dane lay down upon her, Kyle ached to enfold her in her arms, but she could not. With her body restrained, her spirit soared, welcoming Dane into every corner of her being. Kyle closed her eyes and knew only the feather-light caresses of Dane's lips against her skin. Her body surged upward against Dane, seeking to fuse with that which she could not hold. Dane's hands were on her face, in her hair, enclosing her breasts. Dane’s fingers on her nipples sent currents of pleasure into her already tensely swollen clitoris. Dane’s tongue traced molten patterns of fire down Kyle's quivering body. She kissed the soft triangle at the base of Kyle's thighs, never touching the pulsating center of Kyle's raging desire.

Kyle writhed in search of Dane's caresses. She whimpered, desperately needing the relief of Dane’s fingers on her clitoris. Finally, she could bear it no longer. "Please," she begged, "oh god--please, Dane--touch me now."

Dane lingered for a moment, holding Kyle's passion like a fragile bird in her hand. When the power of their common desire rose within her, filling her, she lowered her mouth to Kyle's moist warmth. She brought her slowly to climax, teasingly, tormentingly, until Kyle's orgasm could no longer be contained. At the moment the wild fluttering beneath her lips turned to pounding spasms, Dane pressed her fingers into her, claiming Kyle completely. Dane’s fulfillment at that moment surpassed any she had ever known. Her tears mingled with Kyle’s essence.

When Kyle quieted, Dane removed the restraints and stretched out beside her, cradling Kyle in her arms. She was satisfied, having consummated her need in Kyle's pleasure. Kyle had entrusted her with this moment, and she had not failed. She drifted for a while in the first peace she had known in years, until she was surprised into wakefulness by Kyle's touch on her body.

Kyle turned Dane slowly but firmly onto her stomach. She stared down at Dane's back, then rested her fingers against the testament of Dane’s pain. She traced each ridge of healing flesh, her hands trembling. Her tears fell on the vision of Dane's torment. She kissed the unscarred places on Dane's sides and shoulders, then tenderly moved her lips over the ravages of her once flawless skin. When she had finished caressing each hurt, seeking to heal each wound, she turned Dane over to face her. She leaned above Dane, her fingers gently stroking her face.

"I love you," Kyle whispered.

Dane sighed, her soul free at last.

"I love you."


Caroline looked up from her first cup of coffee of the morning at the two leather-clad figures behind Anne. Her sigh of relief was audible.

"Just tell me you're both all right--then tell me everything," she said in way of greeting.

Dane glanced at Kyle, who grinned at her, shrugging. Dane straddled a chair at the table and pulled one over next to her for Kyle.

"We're both all right," Dane said. Her tone suggested understatement.

Caroline stared from one to the other, aware of the glow in Dane's eyes that had been absent for years. Kyle looked tired, but relaxed. And from the way Kyle's eyes kept returning to Dane's face, Caroline was certain Kyle looked tired for a very good reason.

Kyle turned to Caroline, her face suddenly serious. "Is Nancy still here with you?"

Caroline shook her head. "Her husband came to pick her up early this morning. I would have called him last night, but she was so strung out, I thought it was better that she stay with us until morning." She looked carefully at Dane, knowing how sensitive she was about certain subjects. "She's been into some pretty heavy drugs. I think she'll have a hard time for a while."

"Nancy's tough. She'll make it, as long as she stays away from Brad," Kyle said, her expression pained. "I haven't been much of a friend to her lately. I could have prevented this."

Dane shook her head. "I don't think so, Kyle. Brad--" Dane stopped for a second, drawing a long breath. "Brad can be very enchanting when she chooses. And she reads people's needs very well. She knows how to find their weaknesses, and she uses them. Then, with the drugs—" Dane looked away quickly.

Kyle's hand strayed to Dane's back, and she gently stroked her, knowing her flesh as her own. She didn't try to stop Dane from remembering. She knew it was the only way for Dane to be free of it. All she wanted was for her to realize that Kyle loved her, and respected her, regardless of what had happened before. Dane needed her respect, probably more than her love. Kyle had shown her that last night, by entrusting herself to Dane sexually, and emotionally.

Caroline couldn't believe it! Dane was sitting there, obviously reliving the dark road she had gone down with Brad, and at last, she did not travel it alone. If love could truly purge old wounds, Dane finally had a chance to heal.

"When someone has a need, a need they can't even define, and another person not only calls it by name, but answers it--that's pretty tough to resist. I don't think anyone could have stopped Nancy from getting involved with Brad," Anne said as she joined them. "Or you either, Dane--back at the beginning. What counts is that you made it through it, right?"

Dane smiled at Anne as Caroline watched, open-mouthed. Even Caroline rarely confronted Dane about her past quite so openly.

"How come you never said that five years ago, Chicken?" Dane asked.

Anne shrugged. "I was just a kid then—what did I know?"

They all smiled, the tension of the last tumultuous hours beginning to fade.

"Dane," Kyle asked quietly.

"Hmm?" Dane replied.

"The woman you went to--for discipline. Who is she?"

Dane shook her head, smiling sadly. She reached for Kyle’s hand, drawing it to her thigh, covering it with her own, connecting them. "Her name doesn't matter. She's what remains when love dies, and we no longer believe in its return. All that's left is anger and then, not even that. Just the need to define ourselves, our existence, by the power we can wield over someone else. She's the person either of us might have become if we hadn't risked loving one more time."

They kissed softly, two women bound, at last, by love.

The End

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This story is a work of fiction and is not intended to represent any particular individual, alive or dead. This work may not be printed or distributed for profit without the express written permission of the author.

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