I Found My Heart In San Francisco

Book 13 Monogamy

By: S X Meagher


Part 5

On Thursday night, Jamie lay nestled in Ryan’s arms, listening to the steady, slow beat of her heart. "I love listening to you breathe," she sighed, making Ryan chuckle mildly.

"I’m kinda fond of it myself," the dark woman murmured. "I’d miss it if I stopped."

Reaching up a few inches, Jamie managed to get her fingers up under Ryan’s last rib, a sure-fire tickle spot. Amid the startled laughter, she said, "I’m so excited about seeing your first game tomorrow. I went to the store and loaded up on film, just for the occasion."

"Oh, no!" Ryan cried, her chagrin only partially faked. "Is this gonna be like ‘first day of school’ pictures that Da always made us pose for?"

"Yep. I’m gonna take at least two rolls of you. I think I’ll have you in those action poses like they do on the real baseball cards."

"Well, that will assure that I win the biggest dork competition on the team," Ryan teased. "Oh, well, it’s nice to be the best at something."

Jamie hugged her tighter and said, "You know I’d never embarrass you in front of your teammates. I’ll make sure I have you pose in private."

"It’s a deal. I won’t complain about the pictures, if you don’t make me look like a nut in front of my teammates."

"There’s only so much control I have over that, but I’ll do my best," Jamie said, dissolving into laughter when Ryan returned the favor and tickled her mercilessly.

* * * * * * * * * * *

On Friday morning, the junior Senator from the state of California met his old golfing buddies near the driving range of the Olympic Club. The first to arrive was Adam Christopher, Mia’s father, and one of Jim’s oldest friends.

Even though they were close, they rarely spoke for more than thirty seconds on the phone – and it was rare to even do that; they usually had their secretaries make arrangements for them to play golf or go sailing. The status quo didn’t change once Jim left for Washington, and as his friend rolled up in a cart, he considered that he hadn’t spoken to Adam since he had left. Thus, they had not discussed the tumult of the carjacking, nor had they broached the subject of Jim’s divorce.

The tall man had absolutely nothing in common with his daughter, physically, Jim mused as Adam walked towards him. He was broad shouldered and lanky, with blue eyes and a shock of fine, straight, blonde hair that constantly tried to fall into his eyes. Having recently spent a little time in Mia’s company, Jim decided that even though the pair looked nothing alike, Mia had inherited a good portion of her father’s laid-back attitude.

Adam was the prototypical California beach bum when Jim met him during their freshman year at Stanford. Very easy-going, with a razor-sharp mind, the young man had impressed Jim immediately with his ability to glide through Stanford without obvious effort. Always up for a party or a road trip, Adam had been the one to introduce Jim to both marijuana and a long line of beautiful women.

Women found Adam completely irresistible – possibly because he acted like he was fully able to resist every one of them. He was always fun-loving and attentive when he was in a woman’s company, but he never sought them out – preferring to make a woman chase him – which many did. Jim learned a lot from watching his worldlier friend, and by the time they were ready to graduate, they had cut a wide swath through the field of eligible women in Palo Alto.

Things didn’t change much when they entered law school together. Their brothers of Sigma Chi were not at all surprised when hard-working Jim Evans was accepted to the law school, but many jaws dropped when Adam Christopher was admitted as well. Most of their frat brothers assumed Adam would ride a surfboard for most of his life, with a healthy supply of women to tend to his needs; but that wasn’t Adam’s plan.

Beneath the carefree exterior was a very competitive, ambitious young man, and when he entered law school that side of his personality started to emerge. He focused his talents for the first time in his life, and was soon near the top of his class … usually a spot or two above his frustrated friend Jim.

Near the end of their first year of law school, Adam met the woman he would marry. A more diametrically opposite pair it was hard to imagine; but for the first time, Adam did the chasing. Anna Lisa Poncirolli was a full-time employee working in the law library, and from the first time he saw her, Adam set his sights on wooing and winning the attractive young woman’s heart.

Anna Lisa was a lovely young woman with dark, curly hair, her eyes so dark as to appear black in low light. Her olive-toned skin and petite frame contrasted starkly with the tall, fair, blonde man, and their physical differences were not the only ones that revealed themselves.

Anna Lisa was not a Stanford student – her immigrant parents could never have dreamed of being able to afford the tuition, but that didn’t stop the determined young woman. She had talked her way into a job at Stanford when she was fresh out of high school, and had been spending the last four years taking evening classes through Stanford Extension. It wasn’t the same as earning a degree, but she was learning a great deal and improving her mind, which was her main goal. There were many ways the young woman could have obtained a degree, including the affordable city college route, but she saw the respect that Stanford graduates were afforded, and she cast her lot with the school, even though she had neither the grades nor the money to be admitted into a degree program.

At first, Adam’s friends assumed that he was stooping below his social class with his determined pursuit of the young, working-class woman. But as more of them got to know her, their opinions quickly changed when they saw what a perfect, albeit mismatched, pair they made.

After a whirlwind courtship, Adam had his prize; and he and Jim subsequently exchanged best-man duties at each other’s weddings. Adam and Anna Lisa were married in August of that year, and ten months later, their son Peter was born. Mia came along ten months after Jamie, and to Jim’s knowledge, the pair had been happily married throughout.

Adam approached and gave his old friend a hearty handshake. "You look great!" he exclaimed, slapping Jim on the back. "I always knew that senators led a charmed life. You’re the living proof of that, Jim. Jesus, you look ten years younger!"

"Thanks, Adam," he said. "I wouldn’t let this get around, but it’s the truth. I haven’t had a schedule this relaxed since we were in law school. Oh, I have most of my evenings filled with receptions and speeches, but it’s not the grinding pressure of practicing law. I don’t know how I’ll ever go back," he said, shaking his head.

"Well, you can cross that bridge when you come to it. I’m sure there will be plenty of opportunities that come from this. Besides, you could always retire and spend the rest of your life sailing, if you wanted to."

Jim decided to get the topic out of the way, so he said, "I could have a year ago, pal, but I don’t have Catherine’s money to prop me up any longer. The divorce will be final in five months."

"Tough break," Adam said, giving his friend another pat on the back. "How’d it go for you?"

"It went fine," Jim said. "Well, as fine as a divorce can be, I suppose. It was the most amicable divorce in California history near as I can tell. I defaulted."

"You what?"

"Hey, people are trying to play golf; lower your voice," Jim said. "You obviously heard me. Catherine initiated the idea … I made a proposal … she incorporated my proposal into her petition, and I defaulted. The judge granted her petition, and in a few months it’s final."

"Jesus," Adam gaped, "Catherine is obviously the person to divorce if you’ve gotta divorce someone. What did her attorneys say?"

"She has the most disappointed attorney in the entire bar," Jim said. "She paid the guy for about two hours of work, as a matter of fact. All he had to do was review the document I sent to her and file it."

"Wait a minute," Adam insisted. "Are you sure that’s a good idea? I mean, it’s great that you got a good deal, but what if it gets out that a senator screwed his wife over in a divorce? I mean, look what the press did to Newt Gingrich when they found out about him filing when his wife was in the hospital."

"Adam, Catherine did not, in any way, get screwed over in this divorce. I asked for my cars and the gifts she’s given me. That’s it."

"Are you insane?"

"No, no, I’m not," Jim said. "I make a very good living … or at least I did when I was with the firm. If I can’t figure out how to live on a million bucks a year, I ought to be ashamed of myself."

"But you’re used to so much more!"

"Yes, I am, but I’ve had a great ride for 22 years. She doesn’t owe me more than that, but she very generously transferred title to my apartment in the city, so at least I’ll have a place to hang my hat."

"Unbelievable," Adam muttered. "That’s going to be some adjustment, Jim. Not to say it’s not a nice apartment, but …"

"Look, Adam, she’s been much more patient than I deserve. Believe me, she’s put up with more shit than most women would tolerate. She should have kicked me out on my ass fifteen years ago." He was shaking his head at himself, his remorse showing in a way his friend had never seen.

"This has really shaken you up, hasn’t it?" Adam asked with sympathy.

"Yeah, it has," Jim said quietly. "It’s been a hell of a year."

"All the mess with Jamie sure must have made it worse," Adam said, acknowledging he was aware of the facts, but trying not to pry.

"Yeah … that was a wake-up call, Adam. You don’t step back and think how lucky you are until you almost lose a child. I’ve had more nightmares than I can count."

"Mia says she’s doing well now," Adam said, not having any desire to talk about the details he had learned from the media and his daughter.

"She’s great," Jim said. "I’m actually in town mainly because we’re having a birthday party for her this Saturday." He looked at his friend and said, "Six months ago I was fixated on her revelation that she was in love with another woman. After everything that’s happened, I kick myself when I think about how stupid I was. She’s a wonderful young woman, no matter who she loves, and I’m damned lucky to have her."

"I’m glad to hear that, Jim," he said, with a smile curling up the corner of his mouth. "I’ll try to remember that when Mia pushes me to the edge of my sanity."

* * * * * * * * * * *

The softball tournament was in San Jose, and since Jamie didn’t have any classes scheduled, she waited until traffic was bearable, then went down to Hillsborough to pick up her mother.

Catherine was waiting for her – dressed and ready to go when she opened the front door. "Shall we?" she asked, picking up her purse.

"We’re not in that big of a rush, Mom. Let me go say hello to Marta."

Smiling at her own eagerness, Catherine stepped aside and consigned herself to waiting until her daughter had greeted the cook. I couldn’t be more excited if Ryan were my own child.

* * * * * * * * * * *

They arrived in plenty of time, and caught up with the team right before they went to an empty field to begin to limber up. "Have you grown since this morning?" Jamie murmured into Ryan’s ear when she sidled up behind her.

"Nooooo," she said, turning to give her partner a dazzling grin. "Why, do I look taller?"

Jamie gave her an appraising look, starting at her head, caressing her long body with her eyes until she reached her black cleats. "You look like you’ve got six feet of legs alone," she insisted, dropping her gaze to give the long limbs another look.

"It’s the pinstripes," Ryan said, giving Catherine a smile as she arrived. "Good morning, Catherine," she said. "Have you ever seen so many softball teams in one space in your life?"

"How many are here?" she marveled, giving Ryan a hug in the bargain.

"16. A lot if them are very good, too – Florida State, Nebraska, Iowa State, Ohio State. It should be a good tournament."

"Do you have time for some pictures?" Jamie asked. "I’d like to get you before you’re dirty."

Ryan shot a glance at Marge Hellencamp, one of the assistant coaches, and mouthed, "When do we take the field?"

"Fifteen minutes," she replied, then added a wink when she saw Jamie and Catherine.

"I’ll be back," Ryan said, grabbing a bat with one hand, then grasping Jamie with the other to lead her back behind where the team buses were parked.

"Is this the best we can do?" Jamie asked, as Catherine chuckled.

"This will be fine," Ryan said. "You can shoot towards the berm over there. It’ll be a nice, green backdrop."

"All right, stretch, hold that bat like you know what to do with it, and strike a pose."

"Such an attitude," Ryan said. "Was she always so domineering, Catherine?"

"I’m afraid so," Catherine said. "She’s always been a natural leader."

"Nice spin on it, Mom," Jamie said sweetly as she framed Ryan in the viewfinder. "Most people would say I’m bossy." As she concentrated on her task, Jamie mused, "You’re so darned cute in that outfit. It was made for you."

Catherine cast a long glance at her daughter-in-law, noting the traditional baseball-style white uniform with the crisp blue pinstripes. The pants were very snug, not a wrinkle showing down the long, lean legs. Dark blue stirrups covered plain white sanitary socks, with low-rise, black cleats on her feet. A neat, dark blue mock-turtleneck was covered by the sleeveless jersey, with Ryan rakishly leaving the top two jersey buttons unfastened, letting even more of the dark sweater peek out.

A large, dark blue "9" backed with gold covered Ryan’s broad back, and a similarly colored "Cal" was emblazoned in script across her chest. As the tall woman loosened up by swinging the bat, the Cal grew distorted, then snapped back into place, with each completed motion.

"Okay, I think I’m ready," Ryan announced. "Is my hat straight, Catherine?"

Moving forward to twitch the bright gold cap a half an inch to the left, Catherine said, "That’s a cute hat. I like the little blue bear paw on the back."

"I like it, too," Ryan said. "I’m the only one who wears it, though. Everyone else wears visors."

She said the last word with distaste, causing Jamie’s head to cock in question. "Uhm … how does that make it a uniform? Isn’t uniformity a critical element?"

"No. We have our choice of cap or visor. I guess I should wear the visor, so I look like everyone else, but the bill on the cap is longer. Keeps the sun out of my eyes better."

"Well, I’m always in favor of protecting those baby blues, so I vote for the cap," Jamie said.

"My sentiments exactly," Ryan said, tossing her long braid over her shoulder.

Working quickly, Jamie managed to take an entire roll of film of Ryan, getting her to pose with both bat and glove. As the tall woman ran to take the field with her team, Jamie looked at her mother and said, "Well, my work here is done. Think she’d notice if we took off?"

Catherine knew that it would take an act of God to get her daughter to leave before watching Ryan play, so she merely smiled at her and nodded her head in the direction of a game in progress. "Let’s go watch that one while Cal warms up."

They found spots in the stands and watched for a few minutes, with Catherine’s eyes growing wide as she watched the pitcher for Kent State face a short, slim player from Santa Clara. "How on earth does she make her arm contort in that fashion!" she exclaimed. "That’s not human, Jamie!"

"I don’t understand it myself," Jamie said. "It looks like your arm would pop out of the socket every time."

Since Santa Clara was a local team, the stands were filled with many parents and local fans. The atmosphere was fairly casual, with people standing around chatting with each other and catching up with old acquaintances. Catherine observed two sets of parents decked out in Santa Clara gear sitting on folding chairs next to the stands. The fathers were studies in anxiety, looking like they were playing the game – even though they were sitting down. They twitched and grimaced when a particular play didn’t go their way – and neither had any problem with yelling loudly when disappointed.

The mothers sat between the men, chatting with each other, with hardly one eye on the game. Catherine noticed that each woman paid rapt attention when one of their daughters was at the plate – calling out words of encouragement to the girls – but other than that, they could have been having lunch at an outdoor café.

"Come on, Kelly! Get your head in the game! You know better than to swing at a ball in the dirt!"

Catherine gaped at the man closest to her who had hollered out. The girl in question was not his child, and she was astounded that he had the temerity to chide her. Leaning over to speak to Jamie, Catherine said, "The atmosphere is quite odd, don’t you think?"


"I mean, it looks like these people are all members of some big club, even though they’re fans of different schools. Why would that be?"

Jamie thought of a conversation she and Ryan had recently had about team sports. "Ryan says that by the time you reach college, most people have been focused on their sport for ten years – kinda like Jordan," she added. "Most of them have very supportive families who get involved; chauffeuring the kid around, raising money for their team. They all belong to a club team, or an AAU team, and are either playing their sport, or preparing themselves to play. It’s very focused for most of them."

"But it wasn’t like that for Ryan, was it?"

"Mmm … in a way it was – for soccer; but even with that, she didn’t do all of the clinics and club teams that most people do. Remember, she went to Ireland for most of the summer, so she wasn’t available to do most of that. Plus, playing three other sports didn’t give her much time."

"I can’t see Martin getting involved like these parents seem to. They look like the outcome of the game is important to them – rather than being happy that their daughter is enjoying herself."

"Oh, Ryan says she’s seen parents try to hit an umpire who makes a bad call," Jamie revealed, shaking her head in puzzlement. "She says that, for some reason, softball is the sport that parents get most involved in – and get the angriest over."

Just then, one of the fathers jumped up from his seat and signaled to the young woman named Kelly, motioning her to the end of the dugout. He appeared to be lecturing her, and Catherine shook her head in amazement. "Some of these people need to find their own hobbies."

"I agree," Jamie said. "Martin and the boys attend the games, as you know, and they care about them, but not like this! Ryan never feels pressure from her family – and I think that’s why she still loves sport so much. It’s just pleasure for her."

"That’s how she plays, too," Catherine said.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Regrettably, Ryan didn’t get to experience pleasure, even though they played two games. The day got cooler as the late afternoon game began, and the equipment manager brought out stadium coats for the players to wear when they were on the bench. "There’s a couple of extras lying there," Jamie joked as her teeth chattered. "Think they’d notice if I went down there and grabbed them?"

"Let’s go inside and have some coffee," Catherine suggested, pointing to the two-story snack bar, located right in the center of the complex. "I think we might be able to see the field from there."

"I’m gone," Jamie said, scampering down the bleachers, seeking warmth.

When they settled at one of the Formica-topped tables, Jamie said, "It must be cold, when Ryan puts on a coat. Oh! Doesn’t she look cute?"

Catherine gazed at the lanky young woman, who now appeared to be at least seven feet tall. The navy blue coat covered her body all the way down to her calves, enhancing the illusion of her endless length. Jamie smiled as the back-up infielder stood next to Ryan at the end of the dugout. Lupe Moreno stood 4 foot 10, and weighed about ninety pounds – with her uniform and coat on. The discrepancy between Ryan’s substantial height and bulk and the diminutive woman was striking, and Jamie thoughtfully pondered what it would be like to be so tall.

"Jamie, look! Ryan’s taking off her coat. I think she might be going into the game."

Pulled from her musings, Jamie watched her partner begin to limber up. Thinking about the line-up, she decided that she was probably set to replace the first baseman, Jackie, who had not had a hit all day. It was the bottom of the seventh, and the score was tied. Cal had a player on second base, and one of their best hitters was up. Jamie was almost disappointed when Julie, the catcher, hit a home run on the next pitch, winning the game for the jubilant Cal players, but prohibiting Ryan from taking a turn at bat.

"I guess I shouldn’t be so selfish – but I want to see my sweetie play!" she groused.

"With as many games as they have scheduled, I think you’ll get your desire soon enough. Now, let’s go congratulate the victors!"

* * * * * * * * * * *

After the game, the girls dropped Catherine off in Hillsborough and headed on to Noe, managing to make it in time for dinner with the extended family. They ate at Martin and Maeve’s, and for a change, both Tommy and Annie were off work, and were able to join them. Over dinner, Annie spoke of the near-constant decision making process that she and Tommy were going through about whether to move to Niall’s. "Here’s the worst part," Annie revealed. "Niall can only guarantee that we can stay there for a year. He’s not planning on charging nearly as much as the mortgage and interest are, since the place isn’t fully finished. But once it’s done, he wants to either move in, or charge market rates. He wants to keep working on it during the entire time, too," she said, her displeasure with that arrangement evident.

"That doesn’t sound like much of a deal," Jamie said.

"No, but it’s so much nicer than what we have," Annie said. "Getting a big place like that for less than we pay now might be worth the trouble."

Martin narrowed his gaze and looked at Conor and Kevin. "Has Niall had tests to see if any of the paint in the house is lead-based?"

Annie and Tommy exchanged looks, and before anyone else spoke Tommy was already shaking his head in dismay, anticipating the answer. "No, he hasn’t," Conor said. "He doesn’t think there’s lead, but he’s afraid of getting bad news, which he would then have to disclose."

Martin turned back to Annie, raised one eyebrow, and gave Caitlin a pointed look.

Annie shrugged and looked at Tommy as she said, "Well, I guess that makes up our mind for us."

"Don’t let it worry you," Martin insisted. "We’ll find a solution if we all put our heads together."

"I don’t know, Martin," Annie said, shaking her head. "The dot com boom has hit Noe with a vengeance. I can’t imagine anyone but high-tech millionaires in the neighborhood eventually."

"Please!" Martin said, lifting his hand. "We’re eating here, love. Wait until my dinner settles before you speak of that blight!"

* * * * * * * * * * *

At the conclusion of the tournament in San Jose on Saturday, the girls decided to stop at Catherine’s for dinner. They left early, and when they got back to Noe, Niall and Conor were watching the Warriors on TV. Jamie and Ryan kept the lads company for a while, and as usual, the men needed a snack by the time the first half was over. Jamie offered to go make popcorn, and a minute after she entered the kitchen, Niall came in to join her. "Hey, Niall," she said. "What’s going on at the house this weekend?"

"Ehh … not much," he said. "Now that Tom and Annie aren’t going to take the place, I feel like I ought to stop working on it."

"You know, I don’t think you need to do half of the stuff you’re doing. Why don’t you stop?"

He cocked his head and asked, "Truth?"


"’I can’t see myself living there, Jamie. I mean, if I had a girlfriend who I was serious about …"

"You’re a long way from that, Niall."

"Yeah," he said, looking sheepish. "I won’t get married for years, and I don’t wanna live over there by myself. I’ve got my ma to cook for me, she does my laundry for me, and I’ve got my brothers to entertain me when I’m bored. I don’t know what got into me in the first place." He shook his head glumly and added, "Don’t tell anyone, okay?"

"Our secret," she said solemnly, not bothering to mention that everyone had already guessed why Niall was delaying his move. "But my question remains, Niall. Why keep working on the place if it’s not what you want?"

"I don’t know," he said. "I guess I keep thinking that I might change my mind again. Besides," he said with a grin, "it’s fun doing the work with everyone. It doesn’t seem like work when we all do it together."

"You have a point," she said. "Nonetheless, if you don’t want to live there, doesn’t it make sense to sell the place now – before you put any more money into it? I mean, what you’ve done so far is great, Niall, but you’re not going to get your money back from doing much more."

"Ehh … I guess you’re right," he said. "The mortgage for this place is hurting me bad."

Ryan came into the kitchen, asking, "What’s hurting you, Niall?"

"The mortgage," he said. "Jamie and I were talking, and I think maybe I should sell the place."

"Really? Why now?"

"Well, Jamie has a good point. I’ve done everything that needs to be done, and from now on I’m not going to do anything more than break even. If I’m gonna sell, I might as well sell now."

Ryan shrugged and said, "Conor knows some good real estate agents. Ask him for a referral."

"Okay," Niall said. "I might do that."

"I think you might be surprised at how much the place is worth, Niall," Ryan said. "Very pleasantly surprised."

* * * * * * * * * * *

Later that evening, Ryan sat up in bed, her laptop on her raised knees. "Hey, Jamers?" she asked.

"Yeah?" Jamie was sitting on the loveseat, reading a very dry article on the money supply, and she was grateful for every interruption.

"How would you like to take a long walk?"

"Uhm … okay," she said, checking her watch. "It’s a little late, but I’ll do it if you need to."

"No, no, not now," Ryan said. "I was thinking of July."

Getting up to sit by her partner, Jamie said, "You’re asking me in January if I want to take a walk in July? What’s up, babe?"

"I was wondering if you’d be willing to do the Avon Breast Cancer walk with me in July," she said. "I thought this could be a nice substitute for the AIDS Ride. I’m sure we’re both in good enough shape to be able to do it without too much training – and I’d really like to show my support for the fight against breast cancer."

"That’s San Jose to San Francisco, right?" the smaller woman asked.

"Yeah. There’s one in LA in October, and that would be the one I’d prefer, but I don’t know what we’ll be doing in October. I’m pretty sure we’ll be in town in July."

"You’re on, baby," Jamie said. "Sign me up!"

Ryan beamed a grin at her and hit "send". "All done. I had a feeling you’d agree."

"You know me well – and that’s just how I like it." She got up and walked over to the bed, sitting on the edge and stroking Ryan’s cheek for a moment. "I’m proud of you," she said, gazing into her eyes. "I know what a sacrifice it is for you to give up the Ride, and I’m so pleased that you’re thinking of your health and your enjoyment – rather than only your commitment. I know how hard this is for you, Ryan. Thank you."

Ryan smiled sadly, putting her arms around her partner and pulling her close. "I can’t only think of myself any longer," she said. "We’re partners, Jamie, and the decisions I make affect you, too. It’s been hard for me to start thinking like your partner, but I’m gonna try my best to do so from now on. I know how important it is."

"You’re the best partner in the world," Jamie whispered, nuzzling her face against Ryan’s neck. "I’m a lucky, lucky woman."

"I think we’re both pretty lucky," Ryan said, "and participating in the Breast Cancer Walk is one way of showing support for women who aren’t as lucky as we are."

* * * * * * * * * * *

When she rang the bell to Ally’s apartment on Saturday night, Sara felt the same butterflies in her stomach that beset her every time she was anticipating seeing her friend. It wasn’t fear, or nervousness – it was just a heightened sense of expectation that kept her a little off-kilter.

Ally buzzed her up, and when she reached the apartment, she stood, rather awkwardly, gazing at her shyly. "I uhm … never quite know how to greet you."

"Really?" Ally moved closer and tilted her head a little. "Why’s that?"

"Well … we’re clearly at the point of giving each other a kiss … but you told me that you like to be the one to make the first move. I don’t want to invade your space if I might make you uncomfortable."

Ally draped her arms across Sara’s shoulders and leaned over until their foreheads touched. "You’ve got such a sweet heart." Straightening up, she said, "Giving me a kiss when we meet is no big deal. It’s the ‘let’s kiss with salacious intent’ kiss that I have trouble accepting."

"Great. I can deal with that." She reached up and pulled Ally close, kissing her cheek quickly. "Hi. I missed you."

"I missed you, too," Ally said, looking down at the floor with that mixture of shyness and sexiness that Sara found absolutely irresistible. "Uhm … is there anything you want to do? Or would you like to hang out and talk?"

"Let’s talk. That’s what I miss when we’re apart."

They sat on the sofa together, both a little shy. "Uhm … how did it go for you when you stayed over?" Sara began.

"It went well … very well, as a matter of fact. I’m not usually that able to open up and let someone get that close. I thought it was a very, very good sign. My psyche trusts you."

They talked for a long while, with Sara filling her in on her week at work, and Ally telling her about a few clients she was working with. As the evening wore on, the pair began to draw ever-so-slightly closer, until they were right next to each other.

Sara blinked up at her, looking into Ally’s gray eyes. "Uhm … you said earlier that you didn’t mind my giving you a quick kiss. How should I let you know I’d like one of those other kinds … you know … the salacious ones," she said, adding a sexy grin.

"Well, gosh, I’m not sure …" Ally looked a little nonplussed, obviously not used to having this question come up.

"Why don’t I give you a signal, and you can decide whether you’re able to comply." Sara scooted closer, and closed her eyes, then tipped her head back, letting her lips part gently. "Does this give you the thought that I might want one of those … naughty kisses?"

Ally let her eyes roam all over the lovely face – taking in the smooth, soft skin and gentle features. "Uhm … yep. I think that’s a sign that most people with a pulse would pick up on."

"Now, you don’t have to kiss me if you don’t want to," Sara said, her eyes still closed, her lips glossy in the dim light. "I want you to know that I’m very, very interested in kissing …"

Her speech was cut off abruptly by the pair of warm lips that covered her own. Then a moist, determined tongue slipped into her mouth, making her purr with pleasure. Ally kissed her slowly, thoroughly, investigating and probing. The heat between them had been growing all night long, and by now it was nearly combustible. Sara wrapped her arms around her friend and started to explore the taut muscles her fingers encountered, but slowly, Ally began to force her onto her back. Soon, she was lying on the couch, much of Ally’s body lying atop hers, both of her hands held at the wrists in an iron grip.

Sara was swooning at the sensation of being rendered so totally under the larger woman’s control, via nothing more than Ally’s powerful body and one strong hand. All she could do was open her mouth to the relentless exploration, but that was all she had a mind to do at the moment, and she doubted that her plans were going to change in the near future. Ally was fulfilling every fantasy that she didn’t know she’d had, and Sara let herself luxuriate in the experience.

The smaller woman squirmed under the weight that lovingly bound her, surprised when Ally immediately released her hands, then sat up and looked at her with concern. "Did I hurt you?"

With a wicked smile, Sara crossed her hands at the wrist and placed them above her head. "No, but I’m gonna hurt you if you don’t get right back here this moment."

Laughing gently, Ally climbed back on top of her very willing captive and proceeded to kiss her until both women were moaning and grinding against each other. It was clear that both were losing control, but neither seemed able, or willing, to stop.

Lifting her head a fraction of an inch, Ally ran her free hand down Sara’s side. "Your blouse is so pretty, I’m afraid I’m going to wrinkle it beyond repair if I don’t get up." The look Sara gave her was one that questioned her sanity, and with a wry laugh, Ally offered another option. "I guess we could take it off you, couldn’t we."

"You’re a genius." Sara wanted to grab the silk blouse and rip it to shreds, but she recalled that Ally needed to undress her. So she lay passively, waiting as Ally knelt on the floor beside her. Soon, the smooth, knowing hands began to unfasten what seemed like a thousand buttons, allowing some cool air to hit her burning skin.

The look on Ally’s face was unspeakably adorable – a mixture of childlike curiosity and unbridled lust – and Sara’s heart began to race even faster than it had been, the excitement of what lay ahead of them almost palpable.

As soon as the buttons were unfastened, Ally’s hand settled on Sara’s belly, her fingers beginning to move, but going so incredibly slowly that Sara almost begged her to speed it up. "You have the most deliciously soft skin," the husky voice rumbled as Ally’s head dipped while she rubbed her cheek languidly against the writhing woman’s exposed skin. With a sexy smile, Ally lifted her head and let her hand trail up to the edge of the vivid purple bra that cradled Sara’s breasts. "Is this for a special occasion, or do you always wear such tantalizing lingerie?"

"I love sexy undies," Sara said, her eyes closing as Ally’s fingers climbed one firm mound. "They’re a little treat I give myself."

"Where’ve you been all my life?" the larger woman sighed. "Half the women I date go braless and wear boxer shorts. That’s my look." She chuckled at her double standard, but her smile faded as she slid one arm under Sara’s head and pulled her close for another kiss. Her large hand caressed a tempting breast, both of them moaning lustily.

"God, that feels divine," Sara gasped, her hips twitching, as Ally’s fingers plumped her nipple, then gave it a significant pinch.

"Not too hard?" Gray eyes were level with hers, and Sara saw the devilish look that the larger woman ineffectively tried to hide.

"I think you wanted that to be just a little too hard," she teased, wrapping her arms around Ally’s neck and pulling her down for a hard, rough kiss. "I think you like to watch me squirm."

"Mmm … maybe just a little," the grinning woman admitted, her eyes darkening with desire. "Do you like to squirm for me?"

"Gosh … I’m not sure," Sara lied. "Maybe you’d better try a little harder."

Immediately, both hands covered her breasts, nearly taking Sara’s breath away as Ally squeezed them with abandon, making the nipples pop up like ripe berries. As she circled both nipples with her thumbs, Ally purred, "I think you like to squirm. Your hips haven’t stopped moving since I touched your breast." Kissing her deeply, she waited to catch her breath and added, "I love the way your body moves … so sexy and womanly."

"It’s about to move off this couch," Sara murmured, "and head right into your bedroom. Are you ready for that?"

Ally nodded, but there was enough hesitation for Sara to notice. "I … I’d love to make love to you," the sandy-haired woman whispered. "Let’s go to bed."

Sara slipped her arms around the powerful neck as Ally effortlessly lifted her and carried her into her bedroom. After placing her down on the bed, she murmured, "Don’t move, now," then walked around the room lighting candles and turning on some sexy, slow jazz. "I prefer country, but it’s not good music to make love to. It’s better music to break up to," she said, chuckling nervously.

Walking back to the bed, she stared down at Sara, her eyes nearly ablaze with longing. "I can’t believe how lucky I am to have a woman like you in my bed. I’m so happy to be able to share this with you, Sara."

Sara opened her arms in invitation, but Ally grasped her hands and kissed them. "Lie still and let me love you," she said, a warm, but somehow sad smile on her face.

Warning bells rang in the brunette’s head and she sat up in alarm. "Hey, hey." She stroked Ally’s cheek, whispering, "Is this what you want? I’m certainly not complaining, but isn’t this what you wanted to change?"

The larger woman looked away, shaking her head. "It’s okay. Really. I want to make love to you."

"To me? Not with me?"

"I uhm … I think … it’s a little soon for me, Sara. I don’t think I can let that barrier down yet." She bent and kissed her again, staying close as she whispered, "But I want to make love to you. I can see how turned on you are, sweetheart, and I really want to touch you. Let me take you where you wanna go."

Sitting up straighter, Sara wrapped her arms around her friend and whispered fiercely, "I only want to go if you’re ready to go with me. I want to make love together, Ally."

"Oh, Sara." The tall woman stood, and walked over to the window, looking down at the street. She braced her long arms along the frame, letting her head drop. "That puts so much pressure on me. I might not be ready for months … Damn, I might not ever be ready." She leaned against the wall and slowly slid down it, her long legs splaying apart as she sat on the wood floor, looking thoroughly disconsolate.

Walking over to her, Sara sat right next to her on the floor and grasped her hand. "Doing this the same old way isn’t going to help you, sweetie. We need to do what’s comfortable until we’re ready to move on." She reached over and tilted Ally’s chin towards her. "And you will be able to make love again. I’m certain of that."

"That makes one of us." With a sigh, Ally got up and extended a hand to Sara, pulling her to her feet.

"C’mere, babe," the smaller woman said. She sat on the edge of the bed and Ally joined her, looking only vaguely uncomfortable. "What do you feel comfortable doing?"

"Mmm … I feel comfortable kissing, and I loved touching your breasts."

"How would you feel about me touching yours?"

The sandy head shook. "No, not yet. I don’t think so."

"Okay. Now, does touching me and kissing me turn you on?"

"Hell, yes!" Her gray eyes were wide, making Sara laugh a little.

"Just checking, Ally. I want to make sure I’m reading your signals correctly." She kissed her cheek and teased, "You looked like you were about to eat me up with one big bite, but you can never be too sure."

A warm grin settled on Ally’s face, and she leaned over to kiss Sara gently. "I really like you."

Cocking her head, Sara asked, "Do you like me enough to try something?"

"Uhm … sure, I guess. What is it?"

"Why don’t we take off some of our clothes and get into bed? I think we might be able to make a little progress and still make you feel safe."

"Progress, huh?" she asked with a grin. "You’re pretty goal oriented there, counselor."

"Hey, I’m all about goals. Wanna try?"

"Sure. How many clothes do I have to take off?"

"Well, I was gonna get down to my underwear. You can choose how much you’re comfortable with."

"I can go that far," Ally said, starting to pull her knit shirt over her head. She was wearing a sports bra, which didn’t do a thing for her breasts, but Sara was loath to complain. She watched Ally slither out of her jeans, fascinated by the flexing muscles in her powerful legs. When they were both in their undies, they got into bed, snuggling up to each other, face to face. "Now, what?" Ally asked.

"Let’s try a few things," Sara said. "We did well kissing, but it was clear that you needed to be in control. Are you willing to let me kiss you back?"

"Uhm … yeah. I’m willing to try."

"That’s my girl," the brunette said, grinning widely. They started to kiss again, and this time Ally allowed Sara to reciprocate. The smaller woman didn’t push it too far, not being nearly as aggressive as she wanted to be – doing her best to honor Ally’s needs. It was going very, very well, with both women kissing and being kissed until they were breathless. "You have the sexiest way of kissing me," Sara breathed. "You make me feel so desired."

"Mmm … you are. I want you so badly, Sara. But I can’t …"

"Hush, now. We’re going to concentrate on what we feel comfortable with – not with what doesn’t work quite yet." She took Ally’s hand and put it on her breast. "Would you like another squeeze or two?"

"Definitely." Ally’s eyes closed as her fingers grasped and tugged on the firm flesh, her eyes opening widely when Sara’s fingers started to palpate her through her sports bra. "Ung … I’m not sure …"

"Relax for a minute, baby. Touch me … kiss me … try to get back into the feeling."

Ally sucked up her courage and tried her best. She kissed Sara ravenously, gripping her breasts with a great deal of force – willing herself to savor the experience. "Oh, yeah," she growled as Sara returned the favor, making her toes curl as her flesh was roughly compressed. "Squeeze ‘em hard."

They continued their not-so-gentle play, the ferocity of the sensation helping Ally to continue. Gasping for breath, Sara pulled away a bit, then slipped her hands under the covers. "The panties have got to go," she murmured, staring right into Ally’s eyes. Purple bikinis were soon dangled above Ally’s head. "I’m afraid you’ve pushed me over the edge, you sexy thing." She tossed the garment across the room, then pulled Ally to her and kissed her firmly while one hand slipped between her own legs. She let out a gasp right into Ally’s mouth as her practiced fingers found her wetness and started to slide all around her throbbing clit.

Ally’s pulse was nearly audible as she watched the smaller woman touch herself. Screwing up her courage, she stuck her thumbs into the waistband of her shorts and pushed them off, throwing them across the room to fall near Sara’s. "It’s contagious," she muttered, kissing Sara voraciously as she stroked herself.

They continued to kiss and suck on each other’s tongues, moaning insensibly as they pleasured themselves. Sara was racing ahead, and she gasped loudly as her climax hit her hard. The soft, almost cat-like purring sounds that she made as she continued to stroke herself with a whisper soft touch caused Ally to go over the edge soon after, her orgasm marked by a burst of air that exploded from her lungs, along with several low growls. "Hot damn!" she purred, feeling spent and satisfied. As the larger woman struggled to breathe, Sara grasped her hand and brought it to her mouth, sucking Ally’s wet fingers in and licking them lasciviously before the startled woman could react. Wide gray eyes stared at her, then the smile settled on her face again. "I’m gonna have all I can handle with you, aren’t I?"

"You bet your rock-hard butt," the brunette said, giggling fiendishly.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Later that night, the pair lay in bed, feeding each other ice cream, with the mischievous Ally managing to drip as much onto her partner as she got into her mouth. "Hey! You’re gonna get that on my bra," Sara chided her playfully.

"You could always take it off," Ally reminded her, one eyebrow lifting in challenge.

Sara shifted to be able to look into her eyes. "You know I will if you want me to."

Ally laughed nervously, a little surprised that Sara continued to meet every one of her dares. "I uhm … think we’ve gone as far as we should go tonight."

"You know what?" Sara asked, tilting her head.

"No. What?"

"I do, too. I’m perfectly content, and I feel very well loved."

Sucking on the spoon thoughtfully, Ally’s brow furrowed. "Do you? I mean … I enjoyed it, too, but it wasn’t really making love."

"Sure it was!" Sara sat up and moved around until she was facing her friend. "I was enormously turned on – by you. I was about ready to explode, Ally – and that was all because of the way you were kissing me and touching me. Yes, I was the one who made myself come, but it was definitely a team effort, babe. I usually have to use a vibrator to come when I’m alone – but I was sizzling tonight – and that’s entirely because of you. That’s making love, Ally." She wrapped her arms around the larger woman and kissed all around her mouth, licking at the tiny dribbles of ice cream as she did so. "I’m going to remember this night as the first time we made love. It meant a lot to me."

"Me, too," Ally said, sighing deeply. "It means so much to me that you’re willing to go at my pace."

"Hey, we’re a team, remember? A team wins or loses together – and we’re gonna win, Ally, you just wait and see."

"I believe you," Ally said. "I also believe that we just snarfed down an entire pint of ice cream."

"We deserve it. Tonight calls for a celebration, and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate than to eat a pint of chocolate brownie ice cream. Now, turn off the light and cuddle me, will ya? I’m about to freeze!"

"Oh, I can warm you up," Ally said. She flipped off the light and found herself wrapped around the smaller woman – the act feeling so completely natural that she had to take a minute to recall that this was far from natural for her. Damn, I don’t know how this is happening so fast, but I’m falling in love with this woman. What a marvelous feeling, she sighed, burrowing her face into Sara’s neck and kissing the tender skin for a few moments before they both peacefully fell asleep.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Continued in Part 6

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