I Found My Heart In San Francisco

Book 13 Monogamy

By: S X Meagher


Part 11

Ryan rolled her eyes, but winked over the roof as she handed the keys to the valet parking attendant in front of the restaurant. If she had been alone, or if Jamie had not had on heels, she would have never consented to the twelve-dollar fee, but she was feeling magnanimous, considering it was Valentine’s Day.

As soon as they stepped inside the large space, they both unconsciously gasped in delight as they took in the huge chandeliers that ran the length of the main room. The massive lamps looked exactly like jellyfish, trailing long, glowing tentacles over the heads of the diners. Their eyes met in a shared memory as their thoughts returned to their last morning in Eleuthra, when they had been startled to have a sizeable jellyfish pass right before their eyes.

Unable to stop themselves from staring at the dramatic interior, Jamie’s eyes took in the huge coral-tinted columns, covered with something that looked like kelp; while Ryan’s gaze flitted to the dramatic, lengthy marble bar tucked away on the right side of the room.

When Jamie was able to tear her eyes away from the spectacle, the host, who was well used to diners being unable to focus on him, greeted her. "Good evening," he said. "Have you a reservation?"

"Yes," she said. "Evans for two."

He scanned his list, and she caught the twitch in his brow when he came to her name. "Mrs. Evans?" he asked cordially. "Will Senator Evans be joining you?"

"Actually, Mrs. Evans is my mother," Jamie explained, gracing him with her most confident smile. Gripping Ryan’s hand, she added, "She made the reservation for the two of us."

"Marvelous. Come right this way," he said, leading them up a graceful, curved staircase covered with black beads that resembled glistening, fat caviar eggs. Ryan’s mouth was nearly hanging open as she took in the strands of coral and barnacles that draped over the wall sconces leading up to the mezzanine.

Once they were situated in the most private corner of the space, he bade them have a pleasant meal and disappeared, leaving a stunned Ryan and an amused Jamie looking over the half-wall to survey the diners below.

"Happy?" Jamie finally asked her partner.

"I feel like I’m in the ocean again," the brunette managed to get out. "Look at the fish scales on the hood over the kitchen!"

"It is spectacular, isn’t it? Mom was right, as usual."

Coming back to reality, Ryan cocked her head and asked, "What was that about your mom making the reservation?"

"Oh, I wanted to make sure we got a special table, so I asked her to call. She knows the maitre d’."

Ryan rested her chin on her hand and gazed at her partner for a long minute. "You two are quite the pair. I pity the poor soul who gets in the way when you have a goal."

The waiter appeared as Jamie was going to respond, and they spent a few minutes discussing his recommendations for appetizers. Ryan listened with less than half of her attention, content to stare out over the assembled diners and people watch. No business diners were in attendance – only couples and a few foursomes. She noticed a table or two of gay men, and was watching one pair share an order of oysters when Jamie’s voice called her back. "Does anything on the appetizer list appeal to you?"

Ryan grinned at her and said, "Order for me? You do a much better job."

The waiter bit back a smirk and turned his attention back to Jamie, waiting patiently while she rattled off the items she’d like. After settling on two glasses of wine, he was off, and they were once again able to focus on each other.

"Do you like for me to order for you?" the blonde asked.

"I prefer it. You know what I like, and you know what goes well with other dishes. I’ve never been disappointed with what you’ve chosen, so why not?"

"Okay," she said. "Just know that I’ll gladly step aside if you want to take over."

Ryan gave her a rakish grin and said, "You can be the top when we’re out, as long as I take my rightful place when we’re making …" The waiter arrived with their wine, and Ryan finished her statement non-verbally, with a slight twitch of her eyebrow and a crooked grin. As he left, she took a sip of her wine, savoring the various notes of the complex bouquet on the back of her tongue. "Oh … this is nice," she purred. "You’ve started to show me what the big deal about wine is, and I’m very grateful for that."

"It’s the least I can do," Jamie said as she clinked her glass against Ryan’s and tasted her own selection. "You’ve awakened my senses to so many pleasures in the past few months that I have to return the favor." She held her glass up to the light and observed the color of the wine, and the way it clung to her glass when she swirled it. "Nice, indeed," she said. "Want to taste mine?"

"We don’t have the same thing?" Ryan asked.

"No. We’re both having Bourgogne blancs, but I thought the one I chose for you would go better with the appetizer you’re having."

Ryan cocked her head slightly and sighed, her eyes growing slightly hooded as she reached across the table and grasped Jamie’s hand. "Being with you is such a sensual experience," she murmured. "I feel so alive when we’re together – like every nerve is singing with pleasure."

Jamie bit her lower lip as her eyes fluttered closed. With a matching sigh, she gazed at her partner and said, "You have the most beautiful way of expressing yourself. And even though you might deny it, you’re the most romantic person I’ve ever met."

Ryan blushed becomingly, averting her eyes to once again look out over the restaurant. "The ceiling is simply stunning," she murmured. "How did they ever afford that kind of tile work?"

Glad that Ryan hadn’t looked at the menu, Jamie mused, You haven’t seen the prices, honey. They could afford to move the Sistine Chapel over here! "They didn’t have to," she said. "This was the old Elks Club, and that was the mosaic that used to be over the pool. They added a floor, and curved the walls to give the room the cave-like feel that it has. Didn’t they do beautiful work?"

"They sure did," she said, unable to take her eyes from the space. "I should bring Conor over here to see the workmanship."

"I like the sea urchin chandeliers," Jamie mused. "And they did such a nice job with those huge windows. They actually look like waves."

"You know, the food could suck, and this place would still be worth a visit," Ryan said.

As she spoke, a plate was placed in front of her, and she decided that even if the food was inedible, it was certainly gorgeous. On the frosted glass plate was centered a sea urchin shell, and Ryan delicately flicked at the ingredients. "What am I eating?" she asked as she picked up her fork and tried to decide how to attack her plate.

"Those are truffled mashed potatoes; with crab and a sprinkling of orange salmon caviar. I don’t think you’ve had truffles before, but I thought they would be fantastic with crab."

Ryan took a tiny bite, letting the earthy musk of the black truffle settle onto her palate. The sweet, fresh flavor of the crab hit her next, followed by the bright, salty burst of the caviar that practically exploded in her mouth. The tangy caviar soothed the richness of the other ingredients, leaving a clean, yet complex feeling in her mouth that she decided she could grow very fond of.

While all of this sensory information was flooding her brain, her body was unconsciously performing her usual paroxysms of delight. Jamie fully expected her to moan and slide to the floor, but the dark woman managed to remain upright in her chair and attract little attention.

"I haven’t even tasted mine, but with that face, I’ve got to have a bite of yours," the blonde said, reaching across the table to snitch a forkful.

Ryan watched the fork travel back across the table, then saw the precious morsel disappear between her partner’s coral-tinted lips. "I think that’s the biggest sacrifice I’ve ever made for you," she sighed as she watched Jamie’s face contort into a multi-layered expression of pure pleasure.

"Oh my God," the blonde husked as the flavors burst against her taste buds.

"That’s the same look you get on your face when I first touch you with my tongue," Ryan whispered in her sexiest voice.

"Check!" Jamie looked around for their waiter, but Ryan grasped her hand and pulled it to her lips for a kiss.

"Don’t rush, baby. Think of this as foreplay."

Jamie twitched in her seat and roughly shook her head, trying to force some blood back into her brain from whence it had settled near the apex of her thighs. "That’s a foregone conclusion," she murmured throatily. She sank back against the cut velvet cushions of her chair and tried to concentrate on her own dish.

A shimmering seafood pyramid glistened in the soft light, the quivering mass of seafood aspic holding floating chunks of shrimp, scallops and lobster. It was centered on an oversized plate, surrounded by a bright yellow saffron vinaigrette and a sprinkling of salmon caviar. As she took her first bite, she closed her eyes and nodded slowly, her mouth curling into the half-grin that Ryan so loved. "This is fine," she purred. "You need a little bite." Loading up her fork with a healthy portion, she reached across the table to offer it to her partner. Ryan scooted her chair closer and accepted the bit from Jamie’s fork, pursing her lips as the tines slid from them. Before she could blink, Ryan had shifted her chair even closer, then brought her place setting and wine with her – so that their chairs were touching.

"We need to share," she announced soberly. And so they did, feeding each other, sipping each glass of wine in turn as accompaniment to the dishes. By the time they were finished, they were practically sharing the same chair, but neither moved when the dishes were removed from the table. A few of the diners on the mezzanine shot surreptitious glances at them, but they were hidden from view from the crowd on the first floor, for which Ryan was very grateful.

They were lost in each other’s eyes, nearly drowning in the depths that reflected their love, their desire, and their utter happiness at being together, when a sharp flash of light nearly blinded Jamie. She blinked up in surprise, trying to focus through the spots that clouded her vision. In a split second, Ryan was on her feet, stalking the short distance to the table behind them to glare at a woman who was trying to quickly put her disposable camera away.

Folding her arms across her chest, and summoning every shred of intimidation she could muster, Ryan fixed the flustered woman with her laser-like gaze and demanded, "How much do you think you’ll get for that little prize?"

"Get?" the flustered woman asked, looking to her husband for protection.

"Well, taking our picture while we’re trying to have a nice, romantic dinner implies that you want to do something with it. I’m asking what your plans are."

Now Jamie was beside her, holding onto her arm in case Ryan tried to deck the woman. "I … I don’t have any plans," she stuttered. "I only wanted to show my friends that I saw you."

"I can’t imagine why that would be so, but if you’re telling the truth, I’d like to offer an alternative." The energy was rolling off of her, and the woman looked more than a little intimidated. When she didn’t speak, Ryan offered, "I’ll ask someone to take our picture with you. Then you can show your friends that you didn’t only spy on us and invade our privacy – you actually spoke with us. Surely, that’s worth more than a shot of the back of my head." The woman looked confused by this offer, and shot a glance at her husband who shrugged his shoulders. "In exchange for that, you give me the camera," Ryan said. "I’ll have the pictures developed and returned to you. Minus, of course, the shot of us when we didn’t know we were being photographed."

The woman was nearly frozen with indecision. She was slightly embarrassed, but the prospect of having a posed shot with these two who had been the topic of conversation around the water cooler at her office in Los Angeles for several weeks was too tempting to pass up. "All … all right," she said, as Ryan signaled for their waiter.

"Will you take a photo of us with these … people?" she asked, handing him the camera.

"Of course," he said, feeling the tension that rolled off the young woman.

The other couple stood, and Ryan led Jamie to stand next to the man. She then guided the woman next to Jamie and stood on the other side of her. She nearly spit when the woman slid an arm around both her and her partner, then tilted her head towards hers, but she honored her pledge and even managed a thin smile. When the waiter handed the camera back, she held it tightly and asked for the woman’s address. Looking longingly at the camera, the fledgling paparazzi had the nerve to say, "Why don’t you let me have them developed? I promise I’ll throw that other picture away …" Ryan’s glare increased dramatically, and she bit off the rest of her statement and began to write her address on a slip of paper.

"Thank you," she said insincerely as she placed her hand on the small of Jamie’s back to lead her back to their table.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Luckily, the other couple was on the verge of leaving when the woman took the picture, and they departed moments after Jamie and Ryan sat back down. Ryan gave her partner a look filled with sorrow – so like the haunted, anxious gaze that had settled on her face after the car jacking. She looked like she was on the verge of apologizing, but Jamie lifted a hand and placed two fingers against Ryan’s lips to stop her. "You handled that beautifully, and no, it didn’t ruin my evening," she insisted. Ryan tried to contradict her, but she held firm. "It really didn’t. Actually, in a weird way, it enhanced my appreciation of you. If that’s possible," she added with a playful wink.

"Please, go on," Ryan said, summoning a half-smile.

"Okay," Jamie said, making her voice as bright and cheerful as possible. "I got to see how quick you are to protect me and come to my defense. By the time that flash finished clicking, you were across the room," she said, "and I know that was because you thought I’d be upset … right?"

"Right," Ryan nodded, her smile increasing steadily.

"I got to see how quick-witted you are, too," she continued. "It was fascinating to see you figure out how to get that camera away from her without force – that was sweet."

"Force was next on my list," Ryan said, with a note of chagrin in her voice. "She wasn’t gonna leave here with a picture of us on the night I …" She pulled back from the brink, mentally slapping herself as she realized she had almost blurted out her plans for the evening.

"On the night you what, sweetheart?" Guileless green eyes peered over at her, and Ryan cudgeled her brain to come up with an acceptable answer.

"On the night I got to share Valentine’s Day with you for the first time," she said, wincing at the inelegant way that sounded, even thought it was the literal truth.

"But she will get a picture of us, if you follow through on what you said you’d do."

"True," Ryan said. "But that one was posed. We both knew it was being taken. I just didn’t want to have a photo taken when we were so unguarded. It’s too personal."

"So, you do think she’ll try to sell it," Jamie said, an unhappy frown on her face.

"Yes. She probably will," Ryan said. "But she and her husband are in it, and it would be hard to crop them out without making it look like it had been doctored. That’s why I had her stand between us," she said, an eyebrow twitching. "Now if she sells it, she’ll know what it feels like to have strangers coming up and pointing at her in the grocery store. Justice," she added firmly.

* * * * * * * * * * *

An elegantly dressed man hurried over to the table, apologizing profusely even as he approached. "I am so very sorry, Ms. Evans," he murmured. "I’m Banks Rein, and your mother and I are well acquainted. If you will allow me to, I’d like to offer your meal compliments of the house."

"It’s nice to meet you," she said. "This is my partner, Ryan O’Flaherty."

He grasped Ryan’s extended hand and began to lift it to his lips. A startled look from Ryan, however, caused him to change his plans and shake it lightly. "I’m very pleased to meet you, Ms. O’Flaherty."

"It’s not necessary to pay for our dinner," Jamie demurred. "We’re used to being harassed by now."

"Frankly, I’m shocked that someone would have the nerve to invade your privacy like that. I’m very, very sorry for the intrusion."

"Don’t give it another thought," she said once again. "It’s not something that you could have controlled."

"You’re equally as gracious and charming as your mother," he said as he took her hand and kissed it gently.

Ryan watched him walk away, giving him a narrow-eyed glance. "Do you like to have your hand kissed?" she asked, still looking in his direction.

"I don’t mind a bit. It’s pretty common in Europe, so I’m used to it."

"Hey, I’m more European than you are," Ryan said, "and he almost got more of my hand in his face than he wanted."

"Ireland’s a whole other Europe," Jamie teased, grasping Ryan’s hand and kissing the inside of her wrist, making the buss as delicate and sensual as she could manage.

"On second thought …" Ryan murmured with her eyes half closed.

"I knew you were open minded," Jamie nodded as she released her hand.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The entrees were as spectacular as the appetizers, and the wine that Jamie chose perfectly complemented both of their selections. Ryan was about ready to curl up on the table for a nice long nap now that her stomach was full and the wine had so thoroughly relaxed her. Regrettably, she had to sneak down to the kitchen and arrange to have the ring placed into their dessert. She excused herself to use the facilities, grimacing when Jamie pointed her away from the stairs, and towards the rest rooms on the second floor.

"I want to see what the place looks like from down there," she said, and Jamie nodded, sparing a smile for her inquisitive nature. Before she got to the stairs, she ran into the maitre d’ and pulled him aside. "I’m trying to arrange to have a ring baked into my partner’s dessert."

"We’re making heart-shaped fallen chocolate cakes tonight. They’re fantastic. Let me take care of it for you," he offered. "I’ll make sure that it’s handled properly. It’s truly a madhouse in the kitchen tonight."

She extracted the dark blue velvet covered container from her pocket and handed the ring over, smiling when he exclaimed, "Goodness! What a beautiful piece! Ms. Evans will be thrilled."

"I sure hope so," Ryan said, still slightly worried that she had made the right choice.

"She will," he said, grasping her hand and beginning to lift it to his lips. Suddenly, he stopped himself and flipped her hand around and caught it in a handshake, smiling as he scurried away for the kitchen.

"How did you get to the rest rooms without me seeing you?" Jamie asked when Ryan returned.

How much wine did I have? Ryan thought to herself. I’m not thinking things through! "Uhm … I decided I didn’t have to go. I spent a minute looking around up here a little bit. Did you see those wall light thingies?"

"The sconces?" Jamie asked.

"Okay … if you say so. Whatever you call them, they’re awesome!"

The waiter approached and asked, "Can I interest you in dessert?"

"Oh, I should say no," Jamie began as Ryan’s eyes widened. "But, I could be persuaded."

Whew! This is nerve-wracking!

The smaller woman surveyed the menu, then turned to the waiter and said, "The chocolate cake for my partner, and the passion fruit cake for me."

"I think you should have the chocolate cake, too," Ryan said, her eyes widening again.

Jamie lowered the menu and stared at her for a moment. "Uhm … why?"

"You love chocolate," she said, even to her own ears the argument sounding lame.

"Yes, yes, I do. But I had golden pike for dinner, and I’d prefer something to cleanse my palate of the oiliness of the pike. You, on the other hand, had the lamb shank, which chocolate would complement quite well. Don’t you think so, Robert?" she asked the waiter, who she was now on a first name basis with.

"I would tend to agree," he nodded, smiling at Ryan.

Okay, now I have to figure out how to get the damned ring onto a spoon and feed it to her. I can do it, I know I can! "All right. Passion fruit it is. I guess that’s appropriate for Valentine’s Day, too."

"We’d like some champagne, Robert. This is a very special occasion, so we’d like something special. Do you have any recommendations?"

He pursed his lips for a moment and said, "I can’t recommend one bottle that would perfectly suit your dessert choices. The passion fruit and chocolate have very little in common."

He looked so sad at this admission, that Jamie took pity on him. "Ignore our dessert choices then. Bring us the most extraordinary bottle of champagne that you have."

"That I can do," he said, looking positively giddy.

As he dashed away, Ryan rested her chin on her braced hand and said, "Extraordinary, huh?"

"This is a very special occasion, Ryan O’Flaherty," the blonde said. "This is the first of many, many Valentine’s Days we’ll spend together. I want to start off right."

"No arguments," Ryan said. "It is a special night." Her eyes darkened with emotion, and she took Jamie’s hand in hers. "I love you so very much," she whispered. "I know our love with continue to grow, but my heart is already filled to bursting. I don’t know where more love can fit."

She had such an adorable expression on her face that Jamie couldn’t resist the urge. She had to rise a few inches and lean across the table to kiss her lover soundly. She was about to lean in for another when she noticed Robert returning. Sitting up, she gave him a warm smile to show she didn’t mind being interrupted. "A Krug brut blanc de blanc," he said with obvious pride. "Clos du Mesnil, 1988. A truly wonderful year."

He opened the wine soundlessly, and poured an ounce or two into Jamie’s glass. She let the wine sit on her tongue for a moment, then gently swirled it around. "Oh, Robert," she said in a tone that she usually reserved for Ryan alone. "This is glorious."

Beaming a smile at her, he started to pour, but Jamie stopped him with a hand on his arm. "I’d like to wait until dessert arrives," she said. "It will stay cold in the ice."

He looked aghast and said, "Then I’ll bring you another bottle! It will be ruined if it sits open for that long."

"No, really, it’s fine," she said firmly. He looked like he wanted to argue, but ultimately controlled himself and left the table.

Jamie looked around the restaurant, her eyes narrowing as she twitched her chin towards the staircase and said, "Doesn’t that woman remind you of Brendan’s girlfriend?"

Ryan’s head swiveled around, and as it did so, Jamie plopped Ryan’s ring into the open bottle of champagne, hoping that her partner’s sensitive hearing hadn’t picked up the sound.

"That chubby, middle-aged woman with the mousy brown hair?" The dark eyebrow lifted, as she said, "Yeah. They could be twins." Looking pointedly at the champagne, Ryan added, "You’ve had enough. Tell your new friend to put the cork back into that baby."

A startled squeal caught their attention, and they both turned to see a young woman throw her arms around a blushing young man and squeal once again. "Yes!" she cried. "Yes, I’ll marry you!"

Ryan turned back to her partner with an amused smirk on her face. "Sign of the season," she said. The young woman was so exuberant that her voice could be heard all through the mezzanine. "How did you know this was my favorite stone? It’s so unique! I love the square cut!" she added. "How on earth did you ever afford this, Sam? Three stones! Three stones!" she exclaimed again.

The young man looked completely stunned, and suddenly it hit Ryan that one good reason to look stunned was if you had not intended to ask the woman to marry you at all. She strained her eyes and saw the chocolate cake in front of the woman, and before she knew what she was doing, she was on her feet, crossing the room to stand in front of the couple. "Uhm … congratulations!" she said, trying to look calm as the puzzled couple looked up at her. "May I see your ring?" she asked, knowing that she had mere seconds before the couple called for security.

The nonplussed woman reluctantly extended her left hand, and Ryan nearly kissed it when she saw the ruby surrounded by diamonds. "It’s magnificent!" she gushed, "Congratulations!" Then she ran back to her own table, to try to explain to a startled looking Jamie why she had gone berserk. "It’s an old Irish custom," she said, trying to think of a reasonable one. "The sooner someone congratulates you after you get engaged, the longer your marriage will last."

"Well, they’ll see the next millennium in," Jamie dryly observed, thinking that perhaps they had both had enough to drink.

Robert returned with their desserts, and when he barely had the plates down, Ryan was digging in, looking more like an excavator than a diner. Her spoon slid through the still-warm cake until she finally felt it hit something metallic. She secured the ring onto the spoon, smoothing her fingertip across the edge of the utensil to make sure it was hidden, then extended the spoon towards Jamie, while Robert began to pour.

"No! I’ll do it!" Jamie said, eyes wide with alarm as she reached for Robert’s arm. But he had already filled Ryan’s glass, and was starting to pour hers. She looked up at him, then shrugged her shoulders and sighed. "Go ahead. Fill mine, too."

As he did, a heavy ring slipped through the neck of the bottle and landed in Jamie’s glass with a splat. Robert’s eyebrows lifted dramatically, then he gave Jamie a chagrined look and stood stock-still, waiting to be dismissed.

"Thanks," she said unenthusiastically.

Robert rocked back and forth on his heels for a moment, then left as quickly as he was able.

Ryan took one look at the frustrated expression on her partner’s face, then another at the chocolate covered ring on her spoon, then a third at the ring lying in the bottom of Jamie’s champagne flute, and she started to laugh. She laughed harder and harder, finally placing the spoon into her own mouth, and sucking the chocolate off of it while she giggled. Taking it from her mouth, she dropped it into her own champagne flute, then extended the glass towards her stunned partner. "Wanna trade?"

* * * * * * * * * * *

Ryan was still chuckling softly when the valet handed her keys over. The door closed with a thunk and she fastened her seat belt, then spared another amused glance at her partner. "This must be the first case of someone actually taking a ring back because the presentation was ruined. I didn’t even get to look at it!"

"I’m not taking it back," Jamie explained patiently. "That attempt was a complete failure, so we’re gonna try again when we get home."

"It wasn’t a failure," Ryan insisted. "It was funny."

"I’m not looking for funny, sport," Jamie said. "I’m looking for romantic. This didn’t cut it, and we’re gonna keep trying until we get it right."

Ryan rolled her eyes and gave in; knowing that the determined look on her lover’s face was insurmountable.

* * * * * * * * * * *

"Hi, Mia," Jordan said, her voice a little quieter and less animated than usual. "Happy Valentine’s Day."

"Hi, baby," Mia said as she put her earphone/microphone into the handset of the cordless phone and lay down on the loveseat in the living room. "How’s the sweetest, cutest Valentine I’ve ever had?"

"I’m okay," she said, sounding anything but. "It doesn’t seem like we’re celebrating when we’re apart, does it?"

"No, not really. I miss you so much," she sighed. "Las Vegas can’t come soon enough for me."

"Me, either," Jordan said softly, suddenly feeling like she wanted to cry.

"Hey, hey, talk to me," Mia demanded. "What’s going on? You sound very upset."

With another long sigh, Jordan said, "No, not very upset. Only a little. I talked to my mother today, and she’s decided to come to Sydney – with my brother and grandmother."

"Oh." Mia was quiet for a moment, not quite sure of how to react. She knew that Jordan’s relationship with her mother was strained at best, but she still had a vague thought that it might be important to her to have her family with her at the games. "Does that upset you? It sounds like it does."

"Mia," she said, her voice shaking with emotion, "how do you feel about me telling my family about us?"

Once again, Mia was silent for a moment, not being able to get a good read on Jordan. From the tone of her lover’s voice, she realized that her answer was important, so she decided to be as honest as possible and hope the answer was correct. "Honey, I haven’t given it much thought. I guess I figured you’d decide when and how you wanted to do it." There was stark silence from the other end, so she kept going. "I guess I thought I’d follow your lead. Any way you want to handle it is all right with me."

"Any way?" Jordan asked, her soprano voice even higher than normal.

"Sure. Any way. I want this to go as well as possible for you. Do you want me to be there when you talk to them? I will be, if it will help." She kept her voice low, and soothing, and as if her partner’s voice was coated with ice, she heard it begin to melt.

She began with a long exhalation, then asked with a healthy dose of incredulity, "Would you honestly do that for me?"

"Of course! Of course I would, Jordan. I’d do anything for you. I love you, you know."

"I … I don’t know why this is so important to me," Jordan’s raspy voice managed to whisper. "It means so much that you’re not ashamed to be my lover. It means so much, Mia."

"Oh, Jordy!" Taking a breath to calm her racing heart, Mia murmured, "How can you even think such a thing? I’ve already told my brother, and you know how much he means to me."

"I know," she murmured shakily.

"You’re the best person to ever come into my life. I’m so proud of you – proud of us, Jordan. Please believe me."

"I’m … I’m feeling bruised and battered today. I don’t know why, but I desperately need you tonight. This is so hard," she sighed.

"I know, sweetheart, I know," Mia soothed, wishing that she could crawl through the phone line and wrap Jordan up in her arms. "It is hard – harder than I ever imagined." She could hear Jordan give a little gasp, and she knew immediately what she was thinking. "But it’s worth it. It’s worth every lonely night to be your girlfriend, Jordan. I’m so proud of you."

"Thanks," she said, the tears straining her voice to the breaking point. "Thanks, Mia."

"Don’t you dare thank me for loving you," Mia soothed gently. "I’m so lucky to have found you, Jordan. You’re the best thing in my life."

"Me, too," the blonde sighed, her voice quavering.

"Honey? You sound like you’re freezing. Are you in bed?"

"Yeah. It takes me a while to warm up." She chuckled gently and said, "I’m in my usual sexy attire – long underwear, a turtleneck, and two pairs of socks. God, I didn’t realize I was such a delicate little thing until I got to Colorado."

"You’re my delicate little thing, and I wish I was snuggled up next to you, warming you up."

"I wish I was next to you so I could sleep naked and feel your skin against mine." Her voice had grown low and soft, giving Mia chills.

"Just a few days, Jordan, and you’ll have your wish. It’ll be warm in Las Vegas, and even warmer when we’re in bed together." She paused briefly and said, "Would you like to hear what I’d like to be doing if you were in my arms right now?"

"Right now?" the blonde asked, her voice cracking like a 12-year-old boy’s.

"Yeah," Mia purred. "Right now."

"Uhm … that would be nice," Jordan said. She paused for a second and asked, "Are we gonna have phone sex?"

"No," Mia said. "We’re gonna love each other. But this time we have to do it over the phone."

"I like the sound of that," Jordan sighed again. "I love loving you."

"I love loving you, too, baby. And tonight I need you to stand in for me and love yourself."

"I will if you will," Jordan said quietly, and Mia smiled when she heard the excitement in her voice.

"Oh, I will," the smaller woman promised. "I hope the girls don’t come home early, though – ‘cause they’ll get a show!"

* * * * * * * * * * *

Mia was still lying on the sofa in the living room when her roommates returned home, having made herself presentable after the more heated parts of her phone call had taken place. She scampered from the couch, grabbing at each woman’s left hand. "What?" she demanded when she saw that both were devoid of adornment. "No, Jordy, I can’t tell you what the rings look like on them, because they’re not wearing them! What in the heck is going on?" she demanded of her friends.

Ryan disconnected the earphone to avoid having Mia interpret and said, "Hi, buddy. No, we didn’t turn each other down. We had a little comedy of errors, and decided to take another stab at it once we were home. Piece of advice that I was given but chose not to follow," she said. "If you ever want to ask a woman to marry you – hand her the damned ring."

* * * * * * * * * * *

Ryan called dibs on the bath, and she spent her usual five minutes getting ready for bed. Jamie took a much more leisurely approach, so Ryan tried her best to beat her to the punch most evenings. As usual, the smaller woman left the door open while she was brushing and flossing her teeth and washing her face, so that she could chatter away. "What are the odds of us having the same idea for the same day – without ever having discussed it?" she asked, still amazed that things had worked out as they had.

"Well, the Valentine’s Day thing is a pretty big motivator," Ryan mused. "I mean, if you were planning on getting engaged anytime between January and April you’d probably do it on Valentine’s Day. Women really like that," she added.

That caused Jamie’s head to pop out of the bathroom, an amused smile on her face. "Oh, is that so? Do you speak from your personal perspective as a woman, Ms. O’Flaherty?"

"Well, no," she said. "I kinda don’t get it, but Mia assured me that it was a girl thing, and that I should give up and go along with it."

"Mia did this, huh?" Jamie said. "How did you happen to ask for her advice?"

She went back into the bath as Ryan answered, "I was going to ask you on your birthday, but she said that girls liked Valentine’s Day better for things like this."

"Hmm … I hate to bow to stereotypes, but in my case, she’s right. I’m glad that you followed her advice."

She closed the door to finish her tasks, and Ryan ran out of the bedroom, went down the hall, and snuck into her own room; rifling through her dresser until she found her prize. A few minutes later, Jamie walked out of the bath, ruffling her hair with her hands as she crossed to her dresser. She was wearing only a pair of lipstick pink bikinis, and Ryan decided that her choice of attire was perfect. "Leave those on," she purred, causing Jamie to snap to attention.

Her eyes went to the dark figure sprawled against the cushions of the loveseat, a vision of long black hair, sparkling blue eyes, bright red and black satin. Ryan was sitting against one arm of the piece, one long leg drawn up under herself. A red satin chemise topped a black satin thong covered with tiny red hearts. A vivid red rose was held lightly between her white, even teeth, and the look in her eyes spoke of love, desire, and passion waiting to explode from her voluptuous body.

Taking the rose from her teeth with an elegant hand, she offered it up to her partner as she said, "Happy Valentine’s Day, Jamie."

The smaller woman closed her eyes and patted the skin over her heart with the flat of her hand. "Looking at you makes my heart skip a beat."

"That’s the general intent," Ryan purred, gazing at her with frank, open longing.

"Let me slip something sexy on," Jamie offered as she started once again for her dresser.

"What you have on is the pinnacle of sexiness. You couldn’t possibly improve on it." Ryan patted the seat next to her and gave Jamie an encouraging smile.

She stood rather awkwardly, rocking back and forth as she tried to make up her mind. "Uhm … I’d rather …"

"Go on," Ryan said. "I don’t want you to feel uncomfortable."

Jamie went to her dresser and removed a sheer white camisole, the fabric nearly diaphanous. Slipping it over her head, she twitched her butt tauntingly, knowing that Ryan was staring at her.

"Ooo," the low, honeyed voice purred.

"You are so predictable," Jamie teased, sitting down on the small sofa, imitating Ryan’s posture.

"It’s not that I’m predictable," Ryan insisted. "It’s that you know me so well." She shifted slightly to be able to face Jamie fully. "As well as you know me now, I’m truly looking forward to eventually having you know every single thing about me – every dream, every hope, every wish, every desire." She slid off the sofa and dropped to a knee; taking Jamie’s trembling hand in hers, shaking her head as she realized how very nervous she was.

Surprising the brunette completely, Jamie slid off the sofa as well, and once again mimicked Ryan’s pose. Each woman on one knee, they faced each other, neither sure of who should begin, their carefully planned speeches evaporating under the pressure. Ryan lifted a hand and began to trace the graceful, smooth planes of Jamie’s face, smiling into the touch when her lover’s hand returned the caress. They shared whisper-soft touches, generously interspersed with warm, moist, lingering kisses.

Ryan finally lifted her head to speak, but found such complete and utter understanding in the verdant eyes that gazed back at her, that she immediately recognized that words were completely superfluous. She removed the ring that she had tucked inside the strap of her wristwatch, and smiled warmly when Jamie turned her hand to remove hers from the identical spot on her own wrist.

Without a word, each woman extended her left hand, the ring fingers lifting slightly as they each settled the ring into place. As they shared nearly identical smiles, their arms slipped around each other’s waists and tightened into a tender embrace. Jamie lifted her head, seeking Ryan’s lips, which were gladly delivered. They kissed – gently, softly, but with a depth of emotion that touched each of them to the core.

Jamie finally broke the silence, gazing up into Ryan’s bright eyes to whisper, "One lifetime isn’t nearly enough."

Ryan beamed a smile back at her, a hint of longing in her dark blue eyes, as she shook her head the tiniest bit. She wanted to speak, to share the joy that filled her heart, but she was completely unable to form her feelings into words. Finally realizing that she was more fluent in her actions than her words, she tightened her embrace and pressed her lips against Jamie’s, letting her body convey the feelings that words could never express.

When the lingering kiss ended, they let their heads rest upon each other’s shoulder, each woman breathing in the scent of her partner for long moments. Without thought, Jamie’s hands began to move, and soon they were gliding across Ryan’s body. The dark-haired woman matched her actions, her hands greedily feasting upon the delights of her lover’s body. But even though her hands were ravenous for the dips and curves they encountered, Ryan didn’t feel the usual thrumming of sexual desire coursing through her body. It wasn’t sex that she craved this night – it was love. She desperately wanted to merge with her partner, to somehow slip into her skin and feel her blood pounding through her own veins; to know each nerve, each muscle, each cell that made up the woman who held her spellbound.

Jamie seemed to echo her quest, her hands tracing a whisper-soft path over Ryan’s sensitive skin. The green eyes shifted up and locked onto gentle blue orbs and they stared, transfixed, looking into the essence of each other’s souls.

Ryan’s head slowly dipped, and she tilted her chin to allow her lips to press against her partner’s. Slowly, every other sensation faded away. The only thing that existed for the dark beauty was the pair of soft, sweet lips that she feasted upon. It seemed as though her very survival depended upon remaining fastened to the warm mouth, and her hands went to cradle her partner’s head to ensure the connection.

After a very long time had passed, Ryan regretfully pulled away, gazing at her partner for a moment before saying, "Let’s go to bed."

Jamie nodded and got to her feet, waiting for Ryan to rise and take her by the hand. When they reached the foot of the bed Ryan ran her hands over Jamie’s body and asked, "Can I undress you?"

The blonde head nodded. "Please," she whispered. With tender hands, Ryan slipped the scant covering from her partner’s body, smiling gently when her lovely form was fully exposed.

"So very beautiful," the dark-haired woman sighed. "You’re absolutely magnificent."

Blushing warmly, Jamie let herself be tugged onto the surface of the bed and into Ryan’s embrace. She rested her head upon the red silk that covered her partner’s breast, and relaxed into the gentle touch that once again began to work up and down her skin. Then Ryan lowered her head and began to kiss her once again, but this time her caresses fell upon skin rather than lips. Starting at the hollow of her collarbones, she worked her way to the tips of her pink toes; again, not trying to enflame Jamie’s ardor – seeking only to communicate the deep, abiding love that burned in her soul.

Ryan climbed on top of her lover’s body, supporting most of her weight on her forearms. For a very long while she gazed at her, her face composed, her look almost curious. Jamie’s hand reached up and tenderly brushed a few stray strands of hair from her eyes.

As often as she looked at her lover, Jamie’s opportunities to study her were relatively infrequent. As she did so now, she found herself nearly breathless – practically in awe of the dark beauty’s loveliness. But as her eyes searched the blue orbs, she was struck, not by their beauty, but by the complete confidence she saw in them. Placing her hand on Ryan’s cheek she said, "You’re not afraid any more, are you?"

A smile twitched at the corners of her mouth. "No. Not anymore." Admitting to the feelings she’d been trying to hide, Ryan said, "Even though I’ve been able to be intimate, I’ve been holding back a little." She lowered her head and kissed the moist, pink lips. "But tonight I finally feel free. I’m all yours, Jamie. Every part of me."

"I can tell," the blonde whispered. "It feels like it used to." She reached for Ryan’s lips and kissed her softly. "Maybe even a little better."

"That’s my goal," Ryan murmured. "To give myself to you completely every time we make love. It’s hard sometimes," she said, "but it’s so fulfilling when I can do it."

"I know it’s been hard for you," Jamie said softly.

Ryan’s eyes blinked slowly, and she said, "It has, but I could never let something so wonderful fade away. Being intimate with you is vital to me."

"It is to me, too," the smaller woman said. "That should be our lifelong goal. To always try to be as open and vulnerable with each other as we possibly can."

"I promise to try," Ryan vowed. She smiled gently and dipped her head once more, meeting Jamie’s lips tenderly. "Sealed with a kiss."

"I promise, too," the blonde whispered. Wrapping her arms tightly around her partner, she rolled her onto her side and kissed her for a very long time. "I love you so much," she murmured.

Ryan smiled warmly and said, "And I love you. More and more every day."

"A whole lifetime of loving you a little bit better with every day that passes: that’s my idea of heaven."

Holding her tenderly, Ryan nuzzled her face into her partner’s neck, composing herself enough to whisper, "I see heaven in your eyes."

* * * * * * * * * * *

Continued in Part 12

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