I Found My Heart in San Francisco

Book 9: Intentions

By S X Meagher

Part One

The stately black BMW 735i sat in the circular drive for a long while, the occupant reluctant to leave the cozy confines of his leather-appointed cocoon. Something about the car--practically any car, for that matter--made him feel safer, and more in control, than nearly any home he had ever lived in.

His hands gripped and released the steering wheel, uncertain as to whether or not he would be welcomed, or even allowed, into his own home. Accuracy is your business, he upbraided himself, let's be accurate. It's not your house. It's never been your house. It's Cat's house…bought with her money…decorated with her money…maintained with her money…all hers.

He looked up at the imposing edifice, where he had spent the better part of the last 22 years. The best years of my life, he admitted, sadly. And now, now I don't even know if I'll ever sleep another night in my bed. Taking in a calming breath, he exited the car and walked up to the front door, his shoes crunching loudly against the stone drive. Don't even think about using your key, he reminded himself. That would not be appreciated.

Ringing the bell, he stood awkwardly at the entrance to the home, hoping that Catherine was home. Afraid of being rebuffed, he hadn't called ahead. The door opened and he cocked his head a little, unfamiliar with the woman who stood in the doorway.

"Is Catherine at home?" he asked, not knowing what the accepted practice was for an estranged husband trying to visit his wife.

"Who is calling?" the woman asked, a trifle formally.

"I'm uh…" he paused, unsure of his correct title. He finally opted for, "I'm her husband," then noted the slight widening of the woman's eyes.

"Please, come in, Mr. Evans," she said immediately. "I'll see if she's home."

Well, it's obvious that she hasn't given the staff an order to shoot me on sight, he decided, but she also didn't tell them to welcome me with open arms.

He cooled his heels for several minutes, wandering around the living room, picking up photographs and staring at them as though they contained the images of strangers. He didn't recognize the seemingly happy family that gazed back at him from pictures spanning the years of his marriage. Did these represent the truth? he wondered, holding a photo of him, Catherine and Jamie, taken when their child was around three. Or is this the truth? He looked around the house that he was no longer welcome to explore, thinking that the previous happy times had probably been illusory.

"Hello, Jim," Catherine's soft voice called out as she crossed the room. "Did I know that you were planning to visit?"

Ouch! "No, I uh…I'm going to the airport to leave for Washington, and since I was in the neighborhood, I thought I'd stop and say goodbye."

"That's nice," she said, wearing the same face she had pasted on for the last 22 years to meet every one of his clients. "Well, goodbye."

She started to guide him to the door, but he stopped and gave her a pleading look. "Have you talked with Jamie since yesterday afternoon?"

"Yes, as a matter of fact I have," she said, the pleasant half-smile still affixed to her face.

"Did she tell you that she and I are going to try to start over?"

"Yes, she did, Jim. I'm glad for that, to tell you the truth." Continuing to politely, but determinedly, push him towards the door she said, "I don't see what that has to do with us, but I'm glad for it, nonetheless."

"But, Catherine," he said, trying not to lose any further ground, "our problems were mostly because of the problems with Jamie. Can't we start again, too?"

She cocked her head quizzically, asking, "Did you ever see that doctor I suggested? You really shouldn't rule out a physical cause for your delusions, Jim."

Turning on the heel of her handmade Italian shoes, she started to walk back in the direction she had come, traveling just a few feet before his pleading voice stopped her once again. "Catherine…Cat…please, don't throw me out. I came here to apologize…really."

Turning only her head, she gave him a pointed glance and said, "That wasn't your stated purpose."

Shoving his hands into his pockets, he let out a frustrated sigh. "For God's sake, Catherine, I'm nervous. Give me a chance, will you?"

She turned completely and gave him a weary look. "When is your plane?"

"Not until one," he said. It was currently 10:30, giving him a good hour and a half to kill.

"Would you like some coffee? Perhaps some juice?"

"Coffee would be great," he said, his relief evident at being offered some level of hospitality. "I've missed Marta's coffee."

"Marta's not here, Jim," she said over her shoulder. "She's out shopping. Helena will make it for us."

When she returned, he was sitting on one of the couches, feeling like it was all right to get comfortable. He gazed at her somberly and launched into his spiel immediately. "I want to apologize to you, Catherine," he said, his eyes locked onto hers. "I not only treated Jamie terribly, I used information that I had obtained about you to try to make her hate you as much as she did me." He looked down at his hands, feeling so adrift that he barely recognized them as his own. "I know that what I did is unforgivable, Catherine, but I swear that I would do anything in the world to make it up to you."

"I don't think that's possible," she said softly. "Trust is a very fragile commodity, Jim. It can only be broken so many times before it becomes irreparable. I think we've passed that number this time."

He looked over at her, seeing so many familiar items scattered about the room--some they had purchased together, some of them gifts from him--and felt as though he was sitting in a stranger's home. His wife suddenly looked like a very different woman as well, all of the familiar warmth gone from her brown eyes. "Is there nothing left?" he asked, unable to look at her again. His head had dropped, and he gazed at his shoes as he awaited the pronouncement of his fate.

"Of course there is," she said immediately, sending his heart soaring, but it fell back to earth when she qualified, "We'll always be connected through Jamie."

"I see," he acknowledged, feeling the tears coming and knowing that he would be unable to stop them. He stood and fumbled in the inner pocket of his suit, pulling out two sealed envelopes. "I know that Jamie and Ryan will be here this weekend for the volleyball tournament. I haven't had time to contact Ryan personally, but I'd appreciate it if you'd give these to her and Jamie."

He handed the envelopes to his wife, then began to turn for the door, knowing that his composure would dissolve if he had to see the absence of any connection in her eyes once again.

"Good luck in Washington, Jim. I'd appreciate it if you'd do your best to support the arts in any way you can."

He blinked at her, amazed at the formal, businesslike tone. "I…I'll do my best," he said, not having any idea what else to say. His feet moved, and he got halfway across the living room before his eyes made the mistake of landing on one of their wedding pictures. It was a posed, formal portrait, taken at Catherine's parents' home, the site of their wedding. The innocent, joyous looks on their faces grabbed him and he stopped abruptly, reaching out with a shaking hand to grasp the picture. "Can I…can I have this?" he asked, unable to turn around.

She didn't respond immediately, instead, coming up along his side to look at his face. "Why do you want it?" she asked softly.

"I want to remember who I was," he said, the words nearly incomprehensible through his tears. "Who we were." He began to cry so hard that he had to lean against the piano to support himself.

Catherine's veneer of disinterest collapsed, and she went to him, gently running both of her hands down his back, trying to offer some comfort. "It's okay, Jim," she soothed, turning to scowl at Helena when she tried to enter with the coffee. "It will be all right."

"No it won't," he gasped. "It will never be all right again. I'll be lost without you, Cat. I swear I can't make it alone."

"Of course you can," she insisted, having a better grip on reality than her husband appeared to. "We've basically been alone for years. We've barely been roommates for the last year."

"That's not what I want," he sobbed. "That's never been what I wanted. I was just trying to give you the space that you wanted."

She cocked her head thoughtfully and let his words sink in. "Maybe the way we've been hasn't been the way you've wanted it to be," she conceded, "but I refuse to be the woman that you come home to when you can't do any better." Some of the rage that she had kept carefully bottled up started to erupt, and she continued, her voice growing stronger and more forceful. "I've been giving you second chances again and again since Jamie was five years old! She's grown and gone now, Jim, and we don't have to keep up the façade any longer. She knows about you-she knows about me, thanks to you," she added bitterly. "It's over!"

Her rising anger seemed to quell his sorrow, and he was soon able to stem his tears. "Why can't we go on like we had been?" he asked in a pleading tone. "We always had a nice time together when we went out, Catherine. I was always proud to escort you to every function that you asked me to go to-isn't that worth something?"

Having a hard time believing that he was serious, she gazed at him for a long minute, finally shaking her head in disgust. "I don't want an escort, damn it! I want a husband! I want someone to love me, and care for me, and want to share my bed! I want to be desired again, Jim. I will have that again. Or for the first time, if you were never sincere in your affections." She knew this last statement was a little unfair, but at the moment she honestly wasn't sure if he had ever loved her or if it had always been a marriage of convenience and opportunity.

He looked as though she had slapped him, actually staggering a bit as he stared at her with wide eyes. "How can you even say that? I loved you enough, and I loved our unborn baby enough, to get married a good five years before I wanted to! I discarded every bit of my youth to be the best damned father that I could be! I didn't do that just for Jamie, Catherine! I did it for us! How can you look at me and say that I didn't love you? My God, Catherine, how can you say that?" He looked more wounded and more distraught than she had ever seen him, and she immediately regretted her harsh statement.

"I'm sorry," she said softly. "That was wrong of me. I know that you loved me as well as you could…it just didn't last long."

"That's not true!" he cried. "I loved you then and I love you now! Just because I slept with other women, didn't mean that I didn't love you! I know you have a hard time believing that, but it's true! The sex that I've had with other women is no reflection on you or the love I still have for you."

She turned on him, her eyes blazing with anger. "How can you say that! How can you have the nerve to say that cheating on me has nothing to do with me? How can you say that?" She was nearly panting, her rage spilling out in waves. "You've destroyed my self-confidence, Jim Evans! You've made me feel unattractive and old before my time! I've squandered my youth on you!"

In all of their years together, they had never, ever, yelled at each other like this. Throughout all of their arguments, there had always been a level of civil restraint that had characterized their interactions, and neither of them had any idea how to deal with the maelstrom of feeling that was flying around the room at the moment.

Feeling like a small boy being scolded by his mother, he mumbled, "I…I didn't know that you felt like that."

"You didn't know?" She grabbed his lapels and gave him a good shake, her anger shocking him speechless. "You didn't know?" She continued to glare at him, fire sparking in her brown eyes, her hands still clutching his suit.

"No, no, I didn't know," he insisted, backing away from her to escape her reach. "I knew you were angry and disappointed at first, but you never really seemed to care that much."

"Didn't care." She said the words like they were foreign to her. "Didn't care," she said again, shaking her head in amazement. "I was a 25-year-old woman with a five-year-old daughter who thought the sun rose over her daddy's shoulder. You and I didn't have the closeness or the intimacy that I had always dreamed of having, but I believed we were happy, Jim. I believed that you desired me." She faced him and stared intently into his eyes. Unconsciously he shrank back from her, the pain that he saw reflected in the brown depths too much for him to bear. "The first time I caught you, I honestly thought that I would have preferred to die than face that rejection." Her voice was quiet, but filled with fifteen years worth of unexpressed misery.

"I didn't know," he whispered, wishing he could turn back the clock and make it up to her-anything to take away the pain that filled her eyes. "You seemed more upset about the…other thing."

Her eyes flickered closed as she shook her head in amazement. "Forgive me for having a tough time deciding what was worse," she spat, her voice dripping with sarcasm. "Finding out that my husband was snorting cocaine, or realizing that he was getting high in another woman's bed!" She advanced on him again, standing toe to toe as she said, "I loved you enough to spend all of my energies helping you overcome your drug habit without anyone finding out. I honestly believed that the drugs led you to make choices that you wouldn't have otherwise made. You proved me wrong, Jim, time and time again."

His eyes were tightly closed, and he looked like he wanted to put his hands over his ears to block out her words. "I know I did. I know that you don't believe me, but I honestly thought that you understood my…need. The other women didn't mean anything, Catherine. You're the only woman I've ever loved!"

"Given the choice," she said dryly, "I might have preferred to be one of the women that you didn't love."

His shoulders slumped dramatically. "I suppose this means that you'll file for divorce."

She shook her head, saying, "Not yet. I'm not in the mood for a fight right now. And knowing you, that's exactly what I'll be in for."

His head started to shake, increasing in intensity until his hair was flying around his head. "No, no, no," he insisted. "I won't fight you, Catherine. I would like my cars, but you can have the rest. I would never be able to enjoy Pebble Beach without you, and this place has too many memories to even think about living here alone."

"I'd love to have that statement in an affidavit," she said, her tone harsher than she wished.

The hurt that filled his green eyes was nearly palpable as he quietly said, "All right." He turned to leave, one hand still clutching the photograph.

Surprising herself, Catherine reached out and placed a restraining hand on his shoulder. "Wait, Jim. Please." He turned, regarding her with grief-suffused eyes, his head cocked a little in question, and she said, "Stay and have coffee with me. I hate to think of you sitting in the airport alone."

He nodded, surprised and somewhat heartened by her offer. While Catherine went to fetch the coffee, he dried his eyes with his handkerchief, wondering where his legendary control had disappeared to.

She had obviously decided that a change in topics was called for, because when she returned, she focused on his move to Washington. "Where will you be living, Jim?"

Just the question caused tears to form again, and he silently cursed himself as he swiped at his eyes in frustration. "I'll be at the Hay-Adams for a while…It's easier than having my own place."

"That's a nice hotel," she said, finding the conversation more than a little strained. "Will you take anyone with you?"

"Yes. I'm bringing two associates from the firm. I doubt that I'll sponsor much, if any, legislation, but I'll still need to conduct a lot of research. I need people that I can trust, who don't have an agenda to foster."

"That's good. At least you'll know someone."

He gave her a look of incredulity, amazed that she would even think that associates of the firm could make up for the loss of his family. "I regret agreeing to do this," he said softly, staring at the carpet.

"Really? I would have thought that this would be quite beneficial for the firm."

"It is," he said somberly, his eyes boring into hers. "Sometimes the firm isn't the biggest consideration, Catherine."

Since when? she wanted to say, but bit her tongue since they were trying to be civil.

He saw the look of doubt in her eyes and added, "I'm learning-for the first time-that my life can't be fulfilling if it's centered around work. It's just not enough."

She cocked her head again and gazed at him for a moment, trying to gauge his sincerity. "I'm sorry that you had to learn that the hard way, Jim, but it's a valuable lesson."

"Yeah," he mumbled. "As though it matters now."

"It will still be good to know, Jim. I know you're upset now, but you will go on. I hope you enter your future relationships with that perspective."

"I don't want future relationships, Catherine," he said earnestly. "I want us back."

"You can't have that, Jim. I'm sorry." She actually did look sorry, but she also looked completely determined, and he knew that he didn't have a chance.

"Does Jamie know?" he asked tentatively.

"Not in so many words," she admitted. "I don't tell her much about us. It's not good for any of us."

"You've always been the more mature one," he commented, drawing a knowing glance of agreement from his wife. "Will you tell your friends?"

"Again, no. I don't want to tell a soul until we decide what we're doing, Jim. I don't want to feed the rumor mill one minute earlier than I must."

He nodded, knowing that his wife hated gossip. "I won't tell anyone either, Catherine. I'll just tell my staff that you have too many commitments to join me in Washington."

"That's not that odd, anyway, Dear," she said, unconsciously reverting to her usual term for him. "Many senators live alone in hotels and apartment buildings in Washington."

He laughed bitterly, admitting, "That's because most of them are about the caliber of husband that I am. If you really love your spouse, you go with them."

She nodded, knowing that he was probably correct. "I'm sure you'll do fine there, Jim. You've never backed off from a challenge."

"I've never been so ill-prepared emotionally to face one, either," he said softly, his hair falling into his eyes as his head dropped again.

She fought the urge to push the errant strands back into order, and instead gave him a small smile. "You'll get through this. It will just take a while to adjust."

He sighed and stood, looking awkward as he loomed over her. "I've spent years trying to have my own life-apart from you and Jamie. It always made me feel safer to have something that was mine alone." He shook his head as he admitted, "Well, I've got it now." He turned and walked towards the door, pausing when his hand grasped the knob. "It stinks." Without turning back, he walked out the door, their wedding portrait nestled securely against his chest.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Ryan was riding down to Palo Alto with the team, so Jamie decided to go down early to spend the afternoon with her mother, and she arrived just after noon. For a change, she used her key to enter, feeling more comfortable at her family home than she had since she left for college three years previously.

She strolled around the first floor, poking her head into the kitchen and seeing a stranger standing near the sink. "Hello?" she said tentatively.

The woman turned quickly and blinked at her. "Miss Evans?" she asked warily, wondering how many more of the family members she would meet that day.

"Yes. Jamie, please," she said immediately, extending a hand.

The woman smiled and said, "Marta told me that you did not like to be too formal." She shook Jamie's hand and said, "I'm Helena. I've just been here a week."

"It's good to meet you, Helena," Jamie said, smiling pleasantly. "Is my mother at home?"

"Yes. I believe she is upstairs. Shall I tell her that you're here?"

"No. No, thanks. I can find her." She turned and headed upstairs, looking in the usual places that her mother spent her days. When she didn't find her in her office or the small, but well-stocked library, she decided to look in her room. A light knock heralded her arrival, and she waited patiently as she heard her mother cross the room to open the door, which was, surprisingly, locked.

"Yes?" Catherine asked, opening the door warily. "Oh, Jamie!" she said, wrapping her arms around her daughter. "I'm so glad to see you."

Leaning back in the embrace, Jamie lifted a hand and brushed it across her mother's cheek. "You've been crying," she said softly, not often having seen such obvious evidence of tears .

"Your father was here earlier," Catherine informed her, sighing heavily as she did so.

"What did he do to you?" Jamie asked sharply, her eyes narrowing.

"Oh, Honey, don't worry. He didn't do anything. It just made me sad to see him. As much of a sham as our marriage has been, it's still hard for me to face that it's over. We've managed to be friendly to each other through the years, for the most part," she sniffed, dabbing at her eyes with a tissue. "I lost my husband many years ago, but now I feel like I'm losing a friend. My oldest friend," she added sadly. "It's so much harder than I thought it would be."

Jamie tucked her arm around her mother's waist and guided her to a small love seat near a window. "How could it not be hard, Mom?" she asked softly as Catherine's head dropped to rest on her shoulder. "You've been married for 22 years."

"It's funny, Jamie," she said softly, her thoughts drifting to her conversation with her husband. "We yelled at each other at the top of our lungs today." She cocked her head slightly as she added, "Things might have been different if we could have done that at the very beginning." She pursed her lips as she reflected, "We've always been so careful with each other."

Jamie nodded, seeing how an overly polite relationship could be counterproductive in a marriage. "Jack and I were that way for the most part," she admitted. "When he broke up with me, I think our entire conversation took less than five minutes. No argument, no yelling. He said it was over, and I accepted his decision." She shivered noticeably as she said, "Lord, what a mistake it would have been to marry him."

"You would have had a marriage like mine," Catherine said softly. "Now I'm hoping that one day I can have a relationship like yours."

Jamie smiled at her, giving her knee a tender squeeze. "That's exactly what I wish for you, Mom. I want you to have someone who loves you like you deserve to be loved. Someone who thinks you're the center of their universe."

"I'm so glad that you have that, Honey," Catherine sighed. "Nothing can make a mother happier than knowing her daughter has someone in her life who loves her well."

"Then you should be downright giddy," Jamie chuckled softly, giving her mother another squeeze.

"Having you and Ryan care for me makes me giddy, Honey. I don't know how I'd get through this without you."

"We're with you permanently, Mom. We're a team."

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Jamie's cell phone chirped as she and Catherine were leaving the room. "Hello," she said.

"Hey, James, Mia," the perky voice sounded. "I need some advice."

"Sure, Hon. What is it?"

"I want to come down and see the girls play tonight, but I don't want to look like I'm chasing Jordan…even though I am," she chuckled softly.

"Ooooh," Jamie said, "What's up with her, anyway? Has she called you?"

"Nope. Not a word. It's weird, James, I know that we really hit it off the other night, and I sat around all day on Tuesday waiting for her to call. I really thought she'd ask me to come to the game to watch her."

"Is that why you weren't at the party after the game?" Jamie asked, suddenly understanding why Mia had made herself so scarce.

"Yeah. I thought it would work better to act like I didn't think it was a big deal-but it clearly hasn't worked! I'm really frustrated, James. What does the lesbian rulebook say about this situation? Can I call her?"

"Hmm…I haven't received my copy of the rules yet, Mia. Why don't you just come down to the game and sit with us? Maybe you can stay with your parents tonight, and since Stanford is so close…"

"Good idea, James. I'll come down and sit with you." She paused for a second and said, "Oooh, it might be weird to see Conor, though. Jesus! I've gotta start dating outside of this incestuous little circle!"

"You parted on good terms with Conor, Mia. It should be fine."

Her friend sighed and reluctantly agreed. "I guess you're right. Gosh, James, if I was anywhere near ready to settle down…"

"I know, Mia, but you're not. It's really better not even to have the temptation."

"Yeah, I know you're right. At least Jordan's where I am in terms of being serious. Or even further behind," she added wryly.

"As I've told you, I don't know Jordan really well, but I'm pretty confident that she's not ready to settle down."

Mia laughed softly. "I'm not even sure she wants to date, much less settle down!"

* * * * * * * * * * * *

"Jamie," Catherine said when they reached the kitchen, "Should we have the O'Flahertys over for a little dinner tonight as well as tomorrow?"

"Sure, that would be nice. I'm not really sure who's coming tonight, but I can give Martin a call."

She found him at work and he agreed that he and Maeve would love to come, but that none of the other family members would be able to make it, since they all had to work until at least five. The drive down to Palo Alto was almost always a tough one, but crawling through stop and go traffic after a long day at work was a sacrifice that Ryan didn't expect her brothers to make.

After having a bite of lunch, Jamie decided that she needed to take care of one little matter and now was the perfect time to do it. Marta had prepared their lunch, but as soon as the women were served she'd gone into her room to allow them to enjoy their meal alone. The servants' quarters were just off the kitchen, and when Marta was not in the kitchen proper she could usually be found in her spacious room. Jamie knocked and heard the softly accented voice reply, "Come in."

She opened the door and stuck her head in to find a smiling face looking at her questioningly. "Do you need something else, Querida?"

"No, no, Marta," Jamie smiled. "I wanted to talk to you for a minute. Do you have time?"

"Si, si," she replied as she motioned Jamie into the room. There were three bedrooms in this section of the house, each with its own bath, and Marta clearly had the best of the bunch. She predated Jamie's nanny Elizabeth by five months, so she had been able to have her pick of the rooms 22 years earlier, when she had joined the staff.

After immigrating to join her sister in Palo Alto, Marta had come to work for the Evanses as her first job in the States. Jamie had always wondered why she had never shown any interest in men or dating, but Marta seemed content with her life. Her job was only to cook the meals for the family, and since Catherine ate out so often, Marta might only cook once or twice a week now that Jamie was gone. She'd had to cook for quite a few large parties, but she seemed to thrive on running a busy kitchen and appeared to get a great deal of satisfaction from successfully handling a big affair. Her interests seemed to revolve around visits with her sister, and her devotion to her church. She had belonged to a large Catholic parish in San Mateo for over 20 years and was very involved in many aspects of parish life.

"What is on your mind, Little One?" Marta asked in her flawless English.

"Let's speak Spanish," Jamie suggested. "I don't get a lot of practice."

Marta had worked with Jamie extensively when she was a child to perfect her grammar and accent. It had been hard for the child to keep her languages straight, since Italian is so close to Spanish, but Marta was an excellent teacher as befitted her many years of teaching English as a Second Language classes at her church.

Seamlessly switching to her native tongue, Marta looked at Jamie carefully and asked, "What is it, Little One?" applying her usual pet name for Jamie.

Clearing her throat nervously, Jamie began, feeling a little tentative since she was afraid that Marta would not take well to her news. "I don't know if you know this, but I live with a woman named Ryan. Ryan O'Flaherty," she added, thinking that neither "Ryan" nor "O'Flaherty" sounded very good with a Spanish accent.

Marta nodded and said, "Yes…the woman you brought here for dinner this summer," an enigmatic look on her handsome face.

"Yes, that's Ryan. I'm sorry I didn't introduce you then, Marta, but that was a…that was a difficult night," she said, shivering at the memory.

"Do not be concerned, Jamie," Marta assured her. "I took no offense."

Jamie smiled at the older woman and continued, clearing her throat nervously. "She's…she's my very good friend, and I want you to get to know her. She's going to come down later today and stay here this weekend. I wanted you to know…" she said, clearing her throat again.

"Yes?" Marta urged, gazing at her sympathetically. "What would you like me to know?"

"Well, I…ah…she's very important to me…and…ah…"

"I know that you love her, Jamie," Marta said softly as she placed a hand on the younger woman's knee.

She looked up in surprise but saw only acceptance from her old friend. "Do you understand…how…how I love her?" she finally got out.

"Yes, I understand these things." She looked down for a moment and said, "It is not my way, Jamie. I do not know what causes a person to love someone of their own sex. But it is the way for you, and I can see that. If it is your way, and you are loved by this woman, then it is what you must do." She paused for a moment and turned her face to gaze into Jamie's eyes. "You are well loved, are you not?"

Brushing a tear from her eye, she nodded mutely. "I am," she said haltingly. "Very well loved." She took a deep breath and asked, "But how did you know? You've never even spoken to her."

"You act like a woman who feels loved, Jamie. It shows," she said, shrugging her shoulders.

Letting out a relieved sigh, Jamie reached over and grasped the strong, warm hand of her old friend. "Thank you for understanding, Marta. Somehow I knew you would support me."

"I know love, Jamie. There is no greater power on earth, and I'm very happy that you finally have it." She opened her arms and Jamie tumbled in, just as she had when she was young. "I am very glad that you did not marry Jack, even though I liked him very much. It was obvious that it was not right for your heart."

"Why am I spending so much money on a therapist?" she laughed softly. "I could have figured this out just by talking to you."

"I know you and I love you, Querida, but I would never tell you who to love. You must follow your heart."

Jamie gave her a gentle squeeze as she got up and ran her fingers through her hair. "Thanks for knowing me, and for supporting me, Marta."

"It's my pleasure, Jamie. Oh, one more thing," she added. "If you are patient with your father, I believe he will come to see who you really are. It may take a while, but I have faith."

"But how…?"

"The house is big, Jamie, but it is not that big," she laughed as she stood and tousled her hair.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Mia came barreling into the gym at 7:15, having taken nearly two hours to get to Palo Alto. She quickly found the O'Flaherty rooting section, the small group consisting only of Jamie, Martin, Maeve, Caitlin, and Catherine. As the curly-haired woman climbed up into the stands, she noticed that Cal was beating BYU two games to one. The score of the current game was 12-6 in favor of Cal, so it was obvious that the end was near.

As Mia sat down, Jamie introduced her to Martin and Maeve, and within seconds, Caitlin was flirting shyly with her.

Stanford's game began at the conclusion of the Cal/BYU match, but since there was a separate admission for each match, the Stanford crowd was still outdoors, lining up to see the beloved Cardinal. Since the gym was so quiet, Jamie noticed that, for the first time, she could clearly hear the setter calling out instructions to the team. With the score at 14-7 the setter passed the ball high in the air to Ryan. Jamie laughed aloud when she heard her cry, "Boomer!" as Ryan glided into position to kill the ball decisively with a powerful spike. As usual, Ryan seemed to know exactly where Jamie was in the crowd, and she gave her a smirk as she caught her eye. "Oh, oh," the blonde said aloud. "I've got to be more careful when I use my little pet names around Jordan."

* * * * * * * * * * * *

After congratulating the players from BYU, Ryan headed across the floor, a shyly grinning Jordan in tow. As Ryan was congratulated, Jordan shot Mia a smile and said, "I was hoping to see you again. This is a nice surprise."

You could have called me, you big dope, she thought, but said, "I decided to come down for the weekend, and since I'm so close, this seemed like it would be fun. You really play well," she said, even though Jordan had not touched the ball in her presence.

"Thanks," the blonde blushed. "Um…well, it was nice to see you again, Mia. I have to go change so I don't miss the bus."

Jamie had one ear on their interchange and she piped up, "Come to the house, Jordan. No sense in going back if you just have to come down again tomorrow."

"Really?" she asked, hesitantly. "Are you sure…"

"Mom?" Jamie said, getting her mother's attention. "Would it be all right if Jordan stayed over with us?"

"Oh! I assumed she would, Honey," Catherine said. "Didn't I mention that? I told Marta to prepare enough for eight." Looking past Jamie, Catherine looked at Jordan and said, "I'm sorry for not inviting you personally, Jordan. Can you make it?"

"Sure," Jordan said, blushing a little.

"Uh, Mom," Jamie said, "that's only six…seven if Mia comes by."

"I know, Dear," she said, rather proud of herself, "but if Jordan eats as much as Ryan…"

"No one eats as much as Ryan does, Mrs. Evans," Jordan insisted. "She's a freak of nature."

"It's Catherine, Jordan," she decreed, giving the tall blonde a warm smile.

"Me too?" Mia asked, her sunny face curling into a grin.

"Of course, Mia, you should have been calling me Catherine for years now."


Jordan gave Mia a tentative look and asked, "Will you come to Jamie's? I'd like to spend a little time with you if you can manage it."

"Um…sure. I didn't get a chance to tell my parents I was coming down. They're not expecting me." All you have to do is ask, Jordan, and you've got a very friendly roommate for the weekend.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Jamie waited for Ryan, and Mia offered to give Jordan a lift, so the others took off since Caitlin was getting fussy.

Jamie and Mia were patiently waiting when Ryan and Jordan came strolling out just a few minutes after they entered the locker room, their sweats replacing their wet uniforms. A reporter for the student newspaper was in attendance, and he snagged the women for a few post-match comments as Jamie made faces at Ryan behind his back. "Real mature, Cupcake," she said as she kissed her a few minutes later.

"Cupcake, huh?" Jordan teased.

"Feel free to tell the announcer at her next tournament, Jordan," Ryan instructed. "Paybacks are a bitch, Baby."

* * * * * * * * * * * *

They pulled up into the large circular drive just behind one another. Jordan didn't say much at first, standing still as her clear blue eyes took in the entire place. Jamie walked ahead, and the tall blonde gave Ryan a dramatic open-mouthed stare as she took in the mansion. Ryan laughed and said, "Given the look on your face, I would have given anything to see my father's when he took this monster in."

Jamie knocked on the door, deciding to announce their presence so as not to overwhelm the staff. When the door opened, she guided her companions inside. Doffing her jacket, she said, "Helena, these are my friends, Ryan, Jordan, and Mia."

Helena stuck her hand out to grasp Ryan's offering and shook the hands of all three young women. Accepting their coats, she bustled away, indicating, "The others are in the kitchen."

Jordan finally found her voice and said, "Umm, your house is really…nice, Jamie."

Sliding her arm around Jordan's slim waist, Jamie said, "I know it's terribly ostentatious, but thank you anyway."

She led the women into the kitchen where Martin and Maeve were sitting rather stiffly. Ryan sensed her father's discomfort at being in this palatial setting, so she made an inquiry. "When will dinner be ready, Catherine?"

"About 20 minutes or so. We're just having soup and sandwiches. Is that enough for you girls?"

"Perfect," Ryan decreed. "How warm is the pool?"

"It's 82," she said. "Would you like to take a dip before dinner?"

"I would, and I bet Jordan would, and I bet Mia would, and I know Caitlin would," she said, giving Catherine a winning smile.

A few minutes later, Jamie had secured suits for the adult women and Caitlin had been stripped bare. As Ryan jumped into the deep end, Jamie stood back slightly and observed Mia checking Jordan out. The lanky blonde looked absolutely fabulous in the too-small suit that Jamie had provided for her, stretching the bright gold bikini to its limits. "Put your tongue back in your mouth," Jamie joked, elbowing her friend playfully.

"I'd rather put it into her mouth," Mia said, rolling her eyes dramatically. "She's tasty!"

"I don't normally have the need, or the desire to look at other women, but I've gotta agree with you on that one, Mia. Jordan could stop traffic."

"Whew!" Mia fanned herself playfully. "She makes my wheels squeal." She took a running dive into the pool, ostensibly to cool off, as Jamie shook her head and joined her, trying to land close to Ryan to give her a big splash.

The girls were all playing so joyously that within minutes Martin and Maeve lost their shyness and were acting like their completely typical selves. Marta and Helena brought the food out to the pool house and opened the wide double French doors to the space. It was fairly warm out, about 70 degrees, but they lit the large gas heaters that surrounded the pool anyway, and the adults were able to relax comfortably while the younger women played.

Caitlin particularly wanted to be with Mia and Jordan, since they were the new members of the Caitlin Appreciation Society, and to Ryan's delight, Jordan was very pleased to carry the happy baby all around the pool, even though she claimed to have no experience with babies whatsoever. When Jordan placed her on her shoulders and swam around like a shark, Caitlin was in heaven. She looked like she was riding Shamu as the water rushed over her chubby little legs, and she giggled so hard that tears rolled down her cheeks. Jordan got tired fairly quickly, since she had to be underwater to make the trick work, but she kept it up much longer than she would have normally chosen, just to hear Caitlin laugh.

Jamie hopped out and loaded up trays with soup and the little tea sandwiches that Marta had prepared, placing them on the deck of the pool so that no one had to get out. Jamie and Mia kept the baby entertained while Ryan and Jordan attacked the food-both women nearly starving since they hadn't eaten since lunch. The adults watched in amazement while the hungry athletes snarfed up every bit of food they could get their hands on. Martin got up twice to fill their plates again, and as Ryan finished he admonished her, "Siobhán, you stay out of the deep water. I don't want to have to jump in and rescue you if you start to drown."

Jordan caught her eye, and Ryan realized that her friend had never heard anyone call her by her first name. She swam up alongside her and threatened, "If the whole team starts calling me Siobhán, you are toast, Blondie."

"Why, Siobhán, I mean Ryan, why would you assume that I would mention this?" she asked innocently.

As Ryan pushed her under and held her down for a moment, she casually asked her father, "You don't mind if Jordan drowns, do you?"

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The young women went from the pool to the spa and back again at least 20 times. The baby stayed in the pool with one of them, since they agreed that the 104-degree water would be too much for her delicate system, but Caitlin didn't mind a bit. Four babysitters was just about right for her tastes, and she enjoyed the newer members of the gang so much that she hardly even begged for Ryan to hold her.

At around ten Martin decided that it was time to depart, since Caitlin was starting to tire. She cried a little when she was taken from the warm pool, but she was so thoroughly exhausted that her tantrum faded out very quickly. Martin had her wrapped up in an enormous towel as he bent to kiss his daughter goodnight. "We'll see you tomorrow, Sweetheart," he promised. "And we'll have a much bigger contingent to root you on."

"Now Martin, remind everyone that we'll have another little dinner here tomorrow night," Catherine instructed.

"Catherine," he protested, "we can't keep imposing like this."

"Imposing?" she asked slowly. "I thought I was part of the family," she said with a note of hurt.

He looked totally abashed as he quickly amended his statement. "I don't know who was speaking before, Catherine. Of course we'll all be here," he said firmly as he leaned in to kiss her cheek.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The pool denizens dreaded getting out since the ambient temperature had dropped to around 60, and the house looked uncomfortably far away. After Catherine had seen her other guests to the door, she came back out and offered, "Shall I warm the sauna for you, so you can dry off?"

At Ryan and Jordan's bright-eyed looks, she laughed, "I think that's a yes."

Several minutes later, the foursome made a mad dash for the generously sized sauna in the pool house. Ryan got there first and started to strip off her suit, but Jordan gave her a pleading look and shook her head discreetly. Ryan was a little puzzled, but she didn't want to make her teammate uncomfortable, so she left her suit on and the others did the same. The hot sauna felt so unbelievably delicious on her now chilled skin that a shiver of pleasure ran up her spine as she collapsed on the teak bench. She decided that it didn't really matter if she was dressed or not-this felt great.

The sauna had been custom built, and the benches that covered all four walls did not stint on space, allowing even the tall women to stretch out completely. Jamie suggested, "Why don't I turn down the heat a little and bring some cushions in so we can stay longer?"

"You're a genius," Jordan sighed. "It must be my Scandinavian heritage, but I absolutely adore saunas. I could stay in here all night."

"Be right back," Jamie promised, as she lowered the temp to 105 and carried in an armful of cushions. Another trip to the table Marta had set up yielded a large plastic pitcher filled with fresh lemonade and glasses for everyone.

They all sat up to drink some of the tart beverage, and as the temperature dropped Jamie brought her cushion over to snuggle next to Ryan. "Not too hot to be close, is it?"

"Never," Ryan smiled, "I love to be hot, to tell you the truth."

"Makes sense," Jamie whispered into her ear. "You always make me that way."

"Behave," Ryan whispered back, giving her partner a playful little slap.

"So, Mia," Jordan asked, "does your family live around here?"

"Yeah. Actually, you could walk to my house from here, if you didn't mind getting hassled by the Hillsborough police," she added, chuckling a little.

"Is it against the law to exercise?" Ryan asked lazily, thinking it odd, but not altogether unbelievable, that the town would prohibit such conduct.

"No, but there are no sidewalks or streetlights, and anyone walking around after dark is immediate cause for suspicion. My mother likes to take our dog out for a walk at night, just to make the police nervous," Mia laughed.

"Mia's mom's a bit of a free spirit," Jamie informed the others.

"That's putting it kindly," Mia reminded her. "She's a hell-raiser."

"Were you adopted?" Ryan asked dryly.

"Funny, Shevun, or whatever your real name is."

"It's Siobhán," Ryan said, pronouncing the name properly, with just a hint of her Irish accent coming to the fore, as it always did when she used a Gaelic name. "I think it's a lovely name-quite suited to me, as a matter of fact. It means 'gift from God'."

"You are that," Jamie beamed at her, getting temporarily lost in the deep blue eyes that blinked slowly at her.

Ryan didn't hear or care if their friends had any further comments about her name. She grasped Jamie's chin with two fingers and held her steady while she zeroed in for a tender, slow kiss. The world actually faded away for a few moments as her body focused only on the delightful sensations that suffused her senses: Jamie's soft warmth, the faint scent of her citrusy perfume, the incredible softness of her lips, and her warm, lemon-scented breath.

A jolt of desire shot through Ryan's groin as Jamie's tongue slid into her mouth, and she heard a small moan escape her lips as she welcomed her lover in. Months of experience with her fiery partner told Ryan that Jamie was feeling amorous, and she knew that they could rapidly cause a scene. Not wanting to embarrass themselves or their guests, she pulled back a little and rubbed a calming hand down Jamie's back. "Soon," she whispered into her partner's flushed ear, drawing a small groan of protest.

There was not a sound coming from Jordan or Mia, and Ryan pulled away to spare a quick glance. Jordan was lying down, her eyes closed, seemingly oblivious. Mia, however, was shooting Ryan a lethal glance, and she mouthed, "Stop that!" Properly chastised, Ryan nodded, giving her a "can't help myself" shrug.

Mia sat up and gave Jordan an appraising look, then asked, "Hey, Jordan, do you like flowers?"

"Flowers?" she asked slowly. "Yeah, I guess I do. Why?"

"Jamie's mom has a really cool formal garden back behind the pool. Are you dry enough to go for a little walk before I have to leave?"

Immediately getting to her feet, Jordan smiled and said, "I love flowers. Let's go."

Feeling frisky, and not caring if her friends knew it, Jamie asked, "Um…will you be coming back in?"

"Probably not," Mia said. "I think I'll put my clothes back on. Why?"

"I'd like some quiet time with Ryan, and I uh…wanted to know how um…quiet we could get."

Ryan gave her a startled look, but she certainly didn't mind, so she didn't protest.

Jordan smiled at the pair and said, "I'm going to get dressed, too. It's a little chilly out to be in even a dry suit. You two can be as quiet as you want."

Mia really would have preferred to have her friend remain in the bikini, but she realized she couldn't have everything, so she contented herself with being alone with her.

"Thanks, guys," Jamie said, puckering up for a kiss. Mia dutifully gave them each one, ruffling Jamie's hair as she did so.

"We'll close the outside doors," Mia informed her. "Let the games begin!"

"See you two tomorrow," Jordan said. "If you go for a run, come and get me, Boomer, okay?"

"Will do," Ryan sighed. "Looks doubtful at the moment, but I won't forget you."

"Will I be able to find my room?" Jordan asked right before she left.

"Yes, I'm sure your light will be on and the bed will be turned down. When you get to the top of the stairs, turn right and go to the first open door. Do you need pajamas?"

"Hardly," Jordan chuckled. "I'm a natural kinda girl."

Mia watched her walk out, hoping that she would get to see her au natural very, very soon.

As the pair left, Ryan snaked her arm around her partner and pulled her down for a warm hug. "You're getting quite bold with your wishes, my pet. What happened to the shy woman I knew just a few months ago?"

"I'm still shy about some things," Jamie mused, "but I feel really comfortable around Mia, and I know you feel comfortable around Jordan, so I just decided to be myself."

"I like your self," Ryan cooed, nibbling on a slightly salty earlobe. "I've missed your self."

Jamie looked up at her, realizing with shock that they hadn't made love since Ryan returned from her trip to Oregon five days ago. "God, Ryan, what with your illness, and all of the things that have been going on, we've really been missing out on our close time."

"I know," Ryan said. "But that's how long-term relationships are. When you haven't been intimate in a while, it makes being together special."

Jamie rolled onto her side and studied her partner seriously. "When you were single you didn't have to put up with some of this stuff, did you?"

"If, by 'this stuff', you mean the emotional roller-coaster we've been on with your father, of course not. I didn't care enough about anyone to get involved with their families. Ally was the closest I felt to any person that I slept with, and I don't have any idea what her parents do for a living. It's just not the same, Jamie."

"But do you ever miss that, Ryan? Do you ever miss just being able to find someone and have a good time, without worrying about them emotionally?" She looked very tentative as she asked this question, and Ryan was puzzled by it.

She trailed her fingers down Jamie's face, chasing a single drop of perspiration that trickled down her cheek. "What's up, Babe? That question doesn't sound like it's coming from your most secure place."

Jamie looked up at her and asked earnestly, "Just tell me. Do you ever miss that? Do you ever wish you could meet someone hot and take her to bed?"

"Jamie," Ryan said softly, "the last woman I bedded like that was before Tracy. That's been almost a year. I was tired of the game before I even had a thought that I could be with you. I didn't stop whoring around just because I knew that you wanted me to. I stopped because it wasn't pleasurable for me any more."

"I don't like it when you talk about it as whoring around," Jamie said, a sad look on her face.

"That's what it feels like to me now," Ryan said. "It didn't feel like it then, because I thought that's what sex felt like. But now that I've known what making love is, the way I used to act seems like a very poor, very cheap imitation of the real thing." She wrapped her arms tightly around her partner and murmured, "It hurts me to think that you could even question this, Love. I know I express how much our intimacy means to me. Why have you forgotten that?"

Jamie sighed and nestled her head against Ryan's shoulder. "I haven't forgotten, Ryan. I…I'm just a little confused tonight."

"Why? What has you confused?"

"I guess it's from this afternoon with my mom. We spent a lot of time talking, Ryan, and she told me some things that I didn't know before. I guess what upset me the most was when she told me that the first time Daddy slept with someone else, she was completely devastated. She had no idea. She thought they were deeply in love. She thought he was happy and satisfied with her." Peering up at Ryan with a frightened, worried look, Jamie said, "It scares me that she didn't have any idea. I guess I was under the impression that they had just drifted apart-not that he went out and found someone while they were seemingly happy."

Ryan nodded. "Okay, Love. I can see that would make you feel very sorry for your mom, but I don't get why it makes you worry about me." The blue eyes were wary, and Jamie could see a glint of hurt in them.

"I'm sorry, Ryan. I told you, I'm just confused." Jamie let her hand drop onto Ryan's stomach and rubbed her gently. "I can't understand how you could do that to someone that you loved." She shook her head. "It's more understandable to me if there are major problems in the marriage, you know? But just screwing someone else because you can shocks me to the core."

"I agree that it's a terrible betrayal," Ryan said slowly. "I also don't understand why you doubt me because of it."

"I don't doubt you," Jamie said, but she realized that she wasn't being entirely honest. She sighed heavily and said, "There are just a lot of similarities between our situation and my parents'. They got married when they were around our ages, Daddy had been with a lot of women, and he hadn't really been in the market for marriage." She looked up at Ryan and said tentatively, "Neither were you. You've told me many times that you were not interested in settling down until you were through with grad school. I just worry that you'll feel trapped-like he did."

Ryan sat up, consciously separating herself from Jamie. She looked like she was about to speak several times before finally taking a breath and doing so. "I'm doing my best not to take offense at what you're saying, but it's really a struggle." Her hands were tensed into fists, and she looked like she was poised for a fight. "I don't mean to be cruel, Jamie, but it insults me greatly to be compared to your father. He and I might have a similar history, but I'm not overly controlling, I'm not manipulative, I'd never hurt an innocent person just to get my way, I'd never try to ruin someone's reputation just because they were in my way, and I'd never hurt my spouse just to make myself appear better by comparison. I'm not like he is, Jamie, and I can, and I will, keep my promises to you." She stood to leave, but Jamie grabbed her firmly by the seat of her swimsuit and refused to let go.

"Please don't leave, Ryan, please."

"I don't want to say anything that I'll regret," Ryan ground out through her clenched teeth.

"I'd rather have you say something rude than leave me right now. Really." There was a look of abject begging in her eyes, and Ryan acquiesced.

"All right. I'll try to be polite." She sat down across from Jamie, feeling too hurt to be close.

"I shouldn't have said anything," Jamie admitted. "I need to work those fears out on my own. Telling you everything probably isn't a good idea." She looked very sad as she said this, and Ryan immediately felt bad about her reaction.

"No, I got carried away," she admitted. "I shouldn't get so upset when you're just trying to work something out for yourself. I have to show you a little more patience." Ryan's head dropped, and Jamie crossed the room to sit next to her.

"Is it okay if I sit here?" She was feeling a little tentative, but knew that they always processed things better if they could stay close physically.

"Yes. Of course. Sorry I got angry. It just hurts me when you say things like that, Jamie, and I react by getting angry."

"That's understandable," Jamie nodded, upset with herself for wounding her partner. "I wouldn't like it if you had said the same thing to me." She sighed heavily and added, "I think there's still a part of me that feels morally superior because I've been sexual with so few people." She leaned back against the wall and said, "It's not a part of myself that I'm proud of."

"Understandable," Ryan sighed, realizing that Jamie might feel that way given the negative messages she had received about sex while growing up.

"No, it's not, Ryan. It's a part of myself that I want to change. It doesn't come out very often, but it's destructive for us when it does. I mean, I know that it's coming up now because of my father, but that's no excuse. Really, it isn't."

Ryan finally smiled at her, sliding an arm around her as she did so. "Let's call a truce, Babe. I know that I'll always be faithful to you. You can have your doubts, but do me a favor and try not to tell me about them unless you really have to, okay?"

"Okay," Jamie said quietly, resting her head on Ryan's shoulder. "I don't have doubts about you, Ryan. Really I don't. I'm just confused when I try to figure out how someone I'd always looked up to could have been so duplicitous. If I could have been so thoroughly fooled, I wonder about my ability to judge people and their behavior."

"That really does make sense," Ryan said softly. "I'm sure my foundations would be shaken if I found out that Da had cheated on my mother. I'll try to keep that in perspective, Jamers."

"I think little things like this will come up for a while, Hon. I'll just do my best to talk to Anna about it rather than hurting your feelings."

"Deal," Ryan said, leaning over for a kiss to seal the bargain.

"Ready for bed?" Jamie asked. "You must be beat after your match tonight. You really played up a storm."

Ryan stretched-sticking her arms straight out to ease some of the stiffness that had settled in her shoulders. "I am tired, but I need a little connection tonight," she said, drawing her finger down her partner's thigh in a simple pattern. As she spoke, she expanded the territory that she covered, moving a little higher, into more sensitive spaces.

"What kind of connection were you thinking of, Sweetheart?" Jamie cocked her head playfully and began to trail her finger down the tasty-looking cleavage that was so conveniently located.

"Well, we're almost naked…we're already a little sweaty…we're alone, and no one will disturb us…I think this would be a perfect place to connect a little bit, don't you?"

"Oooh…you want the intimate kinda connection," Jamie said, playfully acting obtuse.

"That's my favorite kind," Ryan whispered. "I'm just a little afraid that we'll have a stroke if we stay in here. It's cooled down, but it's still pretty hot."

"Oh, there are plenty of places we could go in here if you want to stay. Let's go use that fabulous shower to cool down a little bit. Then I can heat you up anywhere you wish."

They spent a long, leisurely time in the shower, letting the warm water wash away some of the lingering tension that their little squabble had created.

"Oooh…perfect," Jamie smiled when they re-entered the sauna. It was warm, but dry, reminding her of sub-Saharan Africa on a nice spring day. Turning to Ryan, she cocked her head and asked, "Will you be comfortable here?"

Ryan arranged the cushions on the long, wide teak bench, nodding thoughtfully to herself. "Looks great," she decided as she spread a slightly damp towel over the cushions. She lay down on her side, moving against the wall to allow her partner plenty of room to join her. As she patted the cushion invitingly, Jamie lay down next to her, moving up until their faces were level.

"I'm really sorry for being so rude earlier," Jamie said softly. "You don't give me any reason to doubt you. I'm just struggling."

"I understand," Ryan soothed as she tenderly brushed the damp hair off her forehead. "You've had your moorings rocked. It will take you a while before you trust yourself again."

Jamie nodded, her smile growing as she took in Ryan's comment. "You really understand," she sighed. "It's not you that I doubt…it's myself, and my judgment."

"I do understand. I just have to remind myself that this is an internal struggle for you and doesn't reflect what you feel about me. That's hard sometimes," she admitted. Her big blue eyes blinked shyly as she said, "My feelings get hurt."

Wrapping her arms around her partner, Jamie kissed her gently and said, "I know, Sweetheart. I hate to hurt you, but I know that I do sometimes." She gazed at her somberly and promised, "I never mean to hurt you, Ryan. I swear."

"Oh, Jamers, I know that," Ryan soothed. "Neither of us wants to hurt the other, but we've hurt each other before, and we'll hurt each other again. It's unavoidable. What matters is that we try to learn from it."

"I've learned that I love you very, very much," Jamie said softly, her eyes beginning to tear at the emotion she felt flowing from her heart. "You're my life, Ryan."

Moving closer, the dark woman smiled gently and tenderly kissed every hint of a tear from the misty green eyes that she loved so much. "Sometimes it's almost too much, isn't it," she asked rhetorically. "It feels like your heart might just burst."

Jamie nodded, a smile showing through the tears that continued to fall. "It's too much sometimes," she agreed. "But it's a good too much."

"Yeah," Ryan smiled, her voice low and warm. "That's the perfect way to put it." As Ryan spoke, her head dipped just enough to allow her to kiss her partner, trying to reveal the depths of her love through the gentleness of her touch. One kiss became many as the passion that so often lurked just under the surface of Ryan's personality started to flare.

Soon she was fully astride her smaller partner, her body moving sensually against Jamie's as the kisses covered her face and neck. Jamie felt like she was standing naked in the simmering desert heat, with cool, fat drops of life-giving rain touching her parched skin.

Lifting her head to breathe, Ryan met Jamie's unfocused gaze. "I've been putting this off for as long as I can," she whispered, her own eyes filled with wanton desire. "I don't know why, but I'm completely fixated on your breasts today." She shifted her body just enough to allow her tongue to reach the flesh. Her head hovered just over the normally pale skin, now pink from the heat and the lingering effects of the warm shower.

"Tell me," Jamie urged, loving to hear Ryan put words to her yearnings.

Ryan smiled, and said, "It started when you got out of the shower this morning. I don't know why, but I had a very hard time stopping myself from taking your bra off as soon as you put it on." Her shoulders shrugged slightly as she admitted, "I don't know what the reason was…I just needed to have my mouth on one of those little beauties."

"They're always interested in visitors," the smaller woman chuckled. "You should have dropped in."

"No time." Ryan shook her head roughly. "I didn't want to nibble and run. I just had a feeling that I'd get carried away."

"That's one of your best traits," Jamie reminded her.

"I'm glad I waited," the dark woman said. "Now I can take my time and love them like they deserve to be loved." She placed her soft tongue at the bottom of her partner's breast and slowly licked up the warm, pink skin, passing gently over the stiffening nipple and continuing in an unbroken path until she reached the very top. Unable to resist, she nipped at the skin just above the breast, making a light mark with her teeth.

"They liked that," Jamie sighed, a shiver running down her body.

"When we were in here with Jordan and Mia, you had a nice bead of sweat that started just under your ear," Ryan related. "I watched it slide down your neck and pass through the hollow between your collar bones. It started to pick up speed when it got here," she indicated, her finger recreating the journey. "Then it stopped for just a second, just a heartbeat, really, before it slid right between your breasts." She looked up at Jamie with longing in her big blue eyes and said, "I wanted to be that lucky, lucky little drop of moisture. It was all I could do to behave myself. I wanted to tear that sexy suit off of you and nuzzle my head between your breasts until you cried for mercy."

Jamie reached down and placed her hands on the outside of the pink flesh and gently compressed it. Her eyes were blinking slowly, her desire for her partner pounding in her veins. "Jordan and Mia are gone," she whispered. "Make your dreams come true."

The soft pink tongue peeked out of Ryan's mouth, then moved sensually along her moist lips, readying them for the feast. Her head dropped as her hands covered her partner's, helping her to squeeze the sensitive flesh firmly, both women moaning in tandem as Ryan's lips captured a painfully erect nipple.

She used her mouth and her tongue and her teeth to stimulate the tender breasts in every possible way, loving them more thoroughly and with more enthusiasm than Jamie could ever remember. The sensations pulsing through Ryan's body were nearly as powerful as what Jamie experienced. Every few minutes, the dark head would have to lift so that Ryan could concentrate on her breathing just to avoid feeling lightheaded.

Jamie's hands were laced through her hair, clutching the dark woman to her breasts with reckless abandon. Her arousal was nearly painful by this point, and as much as she was enjoying the overwhelming sensations, she longed to touch her partner in the same way. Finally unable to suppress the urge, she forced Ryan onto her back and began to love her, making Ryan moan and twitch under her assault.

Their bodies were tingling, chests heaving with effort and arousal, both so sensitive that they wavered back and forth along the line between pleasure and pain.

Shifting her hips, Ryan maneuvered one of Jamie's strong thighs between her own and began to glide against her, the delicious sensation building so quickly that she barely had time to bend her head to pull a rock-hard nipple into her mouth. She sucked firmly as her climax hit her hard, flashing through her body with a frighteningly fierce intensity.

Jamie held her tight, soothing her by running a hand down her back for a few moments. She knew that Ryan needed some time to rest, but her own need was so fierce, so demanding, that she made an offer, "I'll give you a million bucks if you'll lend me your tongue for a few minutes." Ryan's low chuckle caused her to clarify. "I'm good for it, Baby. Name your price. I just need that tongue immediately!"

"You've got it," the larger woman growled, her body coming to life as she easily tossed Jamie onto her back. She was already sliding down her body as the blue eyes locked on Jamie's to assure her, "No charge."

Knowing that her lover needed satisfaction, Ryan got right down to business, focusing on loving the writhing woman into a much-needed climax. Her preference was to tease her partner until she was nearly beside herself, but she knew she could always go for another, more leisurely tour a little later in the evening. I love having a multi-orgasmic partner. Everyone gets what they want.

After just a few minutes of Ryan's skillful ministrations, Jamie cried out loudly, her exhausted body barely able to summon the strength for respiration.

It took a substantial bit of time, but Jamie could finally speak again. Ryan rolled off of her, and she stared up at the teak ceiling, murmuring, "I love women." Ryan's chuckle make her laugh as well, and she clarified, "I love you above all women, but I love women!"

She said this so emphatically that Ryan laughed once again, turning her head to gaze at Jamie, sharing a smile. "You've just begun to plumb the depths of your new affiliation, Love. There's much, much more to come."

* * * * * * * * * * * *

It was after midnight when they ran laughing across the lawn and reached the kitchen. The were both thirsty from being in the sauna for so long, even though the heat had been turned down to the lowest setting. Ryan was amazed at the assortment of beverages that the massive refrigerator held, and she had to think for a bit to decide. After chugging a 20 ounce bottle of cranberry juice, they started to make their way up to bed, holding hands as they walked towards the stairs. They stopped abruptly when a soft voice asked, "Going up to bed, girls?"

"Oh! I didn't know you were still up, Mom," Jamie said as a blush climbed up her cheeks. "We were just um…sitting in the sauna and…"

"It's all right, Dear," Catherine assured her. "I'm very pleased that you feel comfortable enough to relax and enjoy yourselves. There was no way I was going to bed with you two still in the sauna, though. I was going to give you another ten minutes, and then I was going to send Helena out to check on you!"

"That would have been… interesting," Jamie laughed, imagining the eyeful Helena would have received just a few minutes earlier.

"Better her than me," Catherine laughed.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

"Hmm…Jordan's not in her room yet," Jamie said as they climbed the stairs.

"She wasn't out back. She's probably walking Mia to her car," Ryan said sleepily as she shuffled into Jamie's room. "Boy, I'm tired! Whew!"

"Sleep in tomorrow. You've got a big day tomorrow, and you need your rest."

"I will if I can. It's just such a habit for me…"

"I'll cuddle you extra tight," Jamie promised. "Then you'll be so warm and content that you won't have any desire to leave me."

"That sounds like the best cure for early rising that I've ever heard," Ryan agreed, placing a kiss on her partner's nose.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Continued in Part Two

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