I Found My Heart In San Francisco

Book 2: Beginnings

By: S X Meagher

Disclaimers: None needed, since this is an Uber story. The characters in this story come from my imagination and belong to the author. But if anyone in the legal department of MCA/Universal is looking for similarities between this story and a certain syndicated show, rest assured that no monetary gain will result from its publication. However, if anyone would like to offer me a hefty advance, please disclaim the disclaimer.

Sex/Love: I never have and I never will disclaim either love or sex. I’m overly fond of both but if you aren’t, look elsewhere.

Graphic Language: The language in this book is no more graphic than you will hear on an average episode of The Sopranos.

Continuing Story/Serial Warning: This is the second part of a looooong series. If you have not read Book One: Awakenings, I strongly suggest that you do so–since you will have very little clue as to who the heck the people in this book are. A new book will be published every other month (or so) until I run out of ideas or my girlfriend confiscates my laptop. I’m naming each of the books sequentially for the letters of the alphabet. If you can think of a hot story title that begins with Z, please let me know. (No rush, I’m nowhere near that point!)

Well Written Speech Disclaimer: The AIDS Ride begins with a speech that kicked off AIDS Ride 6. I do not know the author, so I can't credit him/her, but it's a lovely little piece that I wish I could take credit for.

Feedback: I enjoy hearing from people who have enjoyed the story. If you have a comment or a question please let me know. Specific feedback is greatly appreciated. If a particular character or scene worked or did not work for you, let me know. I might even kill someone off if you ask really nicely. You can email me at sx_meagher@mindspring.com

Acknowledgements: Primarily to my beloved, Carrie. Without her support and encouragement this book would not exist — and I doubt that I would, either.

I am greatly indebted to JTD for the gift of her time and her insight. She often seems to know my characters better than I do, and has helped me to learn to listen to them. Nat helped me tremendously with details about Cal and the East Bay in general. Stacia waded through my atrocious grammar and punctuation, and suggested changes too numerous to count. Day, the Wonder Woman, flew through the final draft in record time, catching many errors that I had missed. And Ly stroked my ego, made me laugh, and provided free psychoanalysis.

I was motivated to create this work by the plethora of talented writers in the Xenaverse. I’ve read hundreds of stories, but the following writers have been particularly inspiring. If you haven’t read their work drop my story and read them first. I’ll still be here when you get back…promise.

NeNe Adams; Sharon Bowers; Vivian Darkbloom; DJWP; Melissa Good; L.N. James; Journs; JTD; Katrina;L J Maas; B.L. Miller; Tonya Muir; C. Paradee; Penumbra; Della Street and SwordnQuill.



Chapter One

"Are you sure I'm not dreaming?"

"Mmm, I can't guarantee anything at this point. All I know for sure is that my dream just came true."

The small blonde woman lying on the sun-warmed boulder laughed gently, her mist-green eyes twinkling as she took in the beautiful sights that surrounded her.

From a purely artistic perspective most would say that the stunning vista that spread as far as the eye could see was the most interesting feature of the landscape. The crest of Mt. Tam, a popular destination for bikers, hikers and naturalists, would top the list of the most beautiful attractions in the entire San Francisco Bay Area. And when one added a spectacular sunset, the vote would be nearly unanimous.

On this warm, dry April afternoon the sunset did not disappoint. The usual fog bank had held off a bit this day, allowing the inhabitants of the area a magnificent and rare view of the crimson and gold orb as it sank into the sea. But, the sunset lost some of its luster in the golden-haired woman's eyes, the spectacular display paling in comparison to the loveliest sight that her eyes had ever welcomed.

The object of her slavish devotion rolled onto her side, ebony hair sliding along the warm rock as she did so. Eyes bluer than the Mediterranean blinked languidly at her admirer as her lovely face broke into a dazzling smile, showing twin rows of bright white teeth. "Seven months," the woman's deep, melodic voice hummed. "In seven months you have changed my life forever."

"It does seem longer, doesn't it?" her smoothly-muscled companion asked. She sat up and stretched a bit, filling her lungs with the cool, vapor-laden air. "It feels like I've known you forever, but at the same time it's like we just met."

The dark haired woman pulled up into a sitting position also and draped her long, muscular arm around her friend's shoulders. "I remember when we met," she said, chuckling to herself as the scene re-played in her mind. "We could have saved a lot of time if I had acted on my first impulse." Her perfectly-shaped right eyebrow twitched in challenge and the blonde went for the bait.

"And that was?" she drawled lazily.

"I remember sitting at my desk in that psych class, and when the professor announced that my partner for class projects was Jamie Evans I had a momentary thought that it might be a man. And that was not why I took a class called The Psychology of the Lesbian Experience," she said in mock indignation.

"Well, you do pretty well in the androgynous name competition too," Jamie laughed. "When I saw that my partner was Ryan O'Flaherty I was totally bummed! I wanted to meet a real live lesbian!"

"Disappointed?" Ryan purred.

"Never. Not then, not now, not ever," she pledged as her head inclined and nuzzled against Ryan's tanned neck. "You?"

"No…not in the least. Which brings me to my first impulse," she hummed against her friend's fine blonde hair.

Jamie sat up and tilted her head a tiny bit in question just as Ryan's head dropped to meet hers. Their lips touched in a soft, gentle, languid kiss that slowly but inexorably began to grow in intensity. With a sharp intake of air Jamie pulled away and leaned her forehead against Ryan's. "I think I would have learned everything I needed to know if you had done that," she said softly.

"No," Ryan demurred. "As tempting as it was the time we spent building a friendship is what has allowed us to be here today. And as painful as some of your experiences have been over the last seven months I think all of them were necessary."

Now Jamie sat up completely and turned to watch the sunset for a few moments. "I suppose you're right," she mused. "I just wish I hadn't had to hurt another person in the process."

"You didn't know how you felt when you agreed to marry, Jamie. You're not the kind of woman who would toy with a person like that. And as soon as you knew it wasn't right, you broke it off."

"That's a little bit of revisionist history, but I appreciate that you're my champion," she said as she turned to give her friend a smile. "I did the best I could at the time."

"That's all any of us can do," Ryan said firmly, patting Jamie on the thigh and calling a halt to the still-painful discussion.

Even though the air was beginning to chill, the warmth of their burgeoning connection made them all but oblivious to the changing weather. "I don't ever want to leave," Jamie whispered as she continued to nuzzle Ryan's warm neck.

"I don't either," Ryan agreed. "But continuing this discussion on a nice soft bed doesn't sound so bad, does it?" she inquired with a crooked grin as she leaned in to steal several light kisses.

Jamie felt every molecule of breath leave her chest as the implication of that question hit her. Her months of often-painful indecision had finally culminated today in her profession of love for the gentle woman at her side and had learned that her feelings were requited. She had planned this day for weeks and had run through the scenario hundreds of times in her mind. But she now realized, to her horror, that she had never gone further in her planning than the initial revelation. She had absolutely no idea how to respond to Ryan's question and the fear clearly showed on her face as Ryan once again took her in her arms and soothed, "Don't worry, Jamie. Nothing will happen that you don't want. I swear we'll go at your pace."

"I…I don't…I'm…I'm not sure…" she stammered, feeling completely foolish and more than a little immature.

But Ryan rescued her from her plight, hugging her firmly and placing a tiny kiss on her forehead. "You are a precious gift to me, Jamie. I'll do everything in my power to make you comfortable. Please don't worry about a thing," she assured her.

"Thank you," Jamie whispered softly. As she lifted her head she took a quick glance at the darkening sky and said, "I am worried about one thing though. I'm worried that we'll never get off this mountain if we don't get going."

"Now that's a valid concern," Ryan agreed as she looked around and took in the deepening gloom, seemingly for the first time.

They rose and stretched for a few minutes before climbing astride their mountain bikes for the short trip to their destination. As they rode in the fading, watery light Jamie reflected on the events that had led them to this day. She smiled as she considered that Ryan's offer to train her to participate in the California AIDS Ride had been the catalyst that had allowed them to come to know each other so well. Working with Ryan several times a week in both the gym and on the road had helped lay the foundation of a friendship that had steadily grown into something much more, and Jamie thanked God every day that their paths had crossed and then merged.

They arrived at the small, elegant hotel just as full darkness settled in. Ryan had seen the façade many times but she had never ventured inside. As she now did so she observed that the hotel was constructed in a style reminiscent of a 16th Century English manor house. It was the type of place that she never would have selected on her own, but she felt strangely at ease with Jamie at her side. They were obviously not the first bike riders that had gotten stuck on Mt. Tam since the courteous staff was very attuned to their potential needs. Jamie efficiently handled the arrangements at the front desk while Ryan spoke to the bellman about securing their bikes. The staff didn't bat an eye when they indicated that they had no luggage, and the clerk at the front desk thoughtfully offered to send up a basket with essential toiletries. After their business was taken care of they decided to walk along the beach as neither wanted to lose the ephemeral magic of the day.

When they reached the ocean they both removed their shoes and socks and rolled their bike pants up to guard against a dousing by the shallow surf. Holding hands in the cool moonlit night they walked along, feeling the warmth of their new bond. "Do you remember walking along this beach at Christmas break?" Ryan asked, breaking the silence.

"Of course I do," Jamie replied with a bright smile as she squeezed her hand. "It's one of my favorite memories. Something changed for me that day, even though I tried not to acknowledge it."

"What do you mean?"

"It makes sense to me now, since I know I was falling in love with you, but at the time I was a little confused by how warm and peaceful I felt when we walked down the beach together. I was having a really tough time at home and things were not going well with Jack, but after a few hours with you I felt whole again." She gazed up at Ryan with a peaceful smile on her face and closed her eyes as her tall partner bent to kiss her.

"You're starting to chill," Ryan observed as she wrapped her long arm around Jamie's shoulders. "It's time to go back." She noticed the reluctance in her partner's face so she placed her fingers on her chin and gently tilted her head back. "Remember my promise, Jamie. Nothing will happen that you aren't comfortable with."

She gave a slight nod and cuddled up against her warm body as they turned to head back to the hotel.

When they arrived back at the inn Jamie stopped at the front desk and arranged to have dinner sent up to their room. While she was occupied Ryan used her calling card at a pay phone to call home. "Hey, Rory," she said when her brother answered.

"Hi, where are you guys?"

"We're still in Marin. We got stuck on the top of Mt. Tam and just didn't have time to make the last ferry. We found a hotel on Stinson Beach so we're staying over."

"Do you have the money for that?" he asked. "I'm happy to come get you guys."

"No, I don't want to put you out, we'll just stay over and go for another long ride tomorrow."

"It's really no trouble, Ryan. I could be there in less than an hour."

"That's okay, Rory, we're kind of having fun," she explained rather lamely. "It's nice to stay in a hotel once in a while."

There was a moment of dead silence on the other end until Rory finally said, "Ryan, is that really you?"

"Of course it is," she laughed. "Who else would it be?"

"Umm, some imposter that throws their money away on hotels?" he ventured.

"You're too funny, Rory," she said with a short laugh. "Tell Da that we'll be home on the last ferry tomorrow night."

"Okay, Ryan, take care of yourselves. I love you."

"I love you too, Rory," she said, wrinkling up her nose at Jamie who was making eyes at her.

As she hung up Jamie said, "I think that's so cute. I don't know anyone else who tells their brothers how much they love them."

"Well, the boys don't do it to each other," Ryan replied with a goofy grin. "That would be odd even for us. But each one of them still kisses Da goodnight. It's just always been acceptable to show each other how you feel."

"I think I'm going to learn an awful lot from being around the lovin' O'Flaherty's," Jamie said in a relatively poor Irish brogue.

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

Since they had no luggage they showed themselves up to the room. As she opened the heavy carved door Ryan stood at the opening and stared for a minute. Their room was absolutely adorable and much more elegant that any hotel room she had ever been in. Ryan couldn't imagine that all of the rooms were this spacious and lavishly decorated, so she guessed that Jamie had secured one of the best. The big fireplace crackled with a recently lighted fire, lending the room a decidedly romantic flavor. But even though the room was generously sized, there was just one big bed in the center of the room. Ryan immediately noticed that Jamie was staring at it like a deer in the headlights, and she nearly had to push her to get her to cross the threshold.

She didn't think she needed to repeat her reassurances since Jamie would obviously only be reassured by her actions. So she wrapped her in her arms and said, "Go draw a bath to stretch out those legs. I'll wait for dinner to arrive."

Jamie gratefully did as instructed. Ryan lay back on the bed and allowed the feeling of contentment and excitement to build. She wasn't at all sure what would happen between them this evening, but she knew that eventually her patient approach would reassure Jamie. If it kills me, I'm not going to put one bit of pressure on her, she vowed to herself. I'm going to let her take the lead and go at her own pace. While she reflected on the way Jamie's soft lips had tasted she sighed deeply and thought, But just because I'm going to let her take the lead doesn't mean that I can't hope she'll come out of that bathroom stark naked and ready for love!

Even as Ryan was dreaming about the possibility of an intimate evening her inexperienced companion was lying in the tub, her body shaking despite the warmth of the water. She knew that Ryan was a completely trustworthy person and that she would, without question, honor her pledge to go as slowly as Jamie needed. But as she shivered away she realized that the problem wasn't with Ryan, it was with herself.

I just don't want her to think I'm a big baby, she thought glumly as she sat up to add more hot water to the tub. I mean, I know that she's patient–God knows she's patient!–but her opinion of me means so much…I don't want to disappoint her.

The water was now so hot that she feared it might scald her, but still she shivered. Come on, Jamie, she commanded, get your head on straight. You should be enjoying every minute of this experience!

Jesus! Just lie back and let some of this in! She tried to do just that, spending a few moments doing some deep breathing exercises to help clear the stress from her body. Every anxious thought was intentionally put away as she tried her best to summon the joy and elation that Ryan's acceptance had brought. Okay…okay, she mused as the warm feelings started to flood through her body. This is working…this is most definitely working. The warmth seemed to start at her toes and work its way up, spreading to her limbs, and lodging in her chest. The delight that she felt when Ryan had first acknowledged that she loved her started to grow and expand until it filled her chest to bursting. She had to stop herself from crying out in bliss as she recalled the mesmerizing power of Ryan's soft lips.

Mmmm, soft isn't the right word, she mused as her tongue delicately traced her lips, trying to savor the remembrance. Soft isn't nearly enough. She searched her vocabulary for the correct term but quickly realized that she was unaware of it since she had never in her life felt anything so soft. Soft…yet firm and resilient, she mused. A combination of heat and warmth and softness and silky sweetness that…my God! she cried to herself as she sat up quickly. Just thinking about her lips makes me more aroused than I can ever remember being! What will it feel like when she…Oh shit! she cried as she started to shiver again. Don't go there, Jamie, she mentally rebuked herself. You need to take some baby steps here…enjoy what you feel comfortable with…Ryan will not make fun of you…she loves you! That thought did the trick as the anxiety abated once again and she sank back down in the tub to meditate on that one thought. She loves me! She loves me!

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

After a bit the food arrived and Ryan forged Jamie's name on the bill, adding a generous tip, as she knew her friend would. She knocked lightly on the bathroom door and announced, "Dinner's here."

"That's too hard a choice," Jamie moaned through the door. "How can I decide between soaking in a hot tub and eating a delicious meal?"

"One fact might tip the scale," Ryan mischievously replied. "I'm alone with the food." She laughed out loud when she heard Jamie immediately get out of the tub. "I thought that might motivate you. Oh, and I found nice big robes in the closet," she said as she tried to open the door to toss the robe to her friend. She was a bit dismayed to find that Jamie had actually locked the door. God, does she think I'll molest her? Getting her comfortable might be a harder task than I thought! Jamie opened the door a crack and accepted the robe, and Ryan politely did not mention the locked door.

When Jamie emerged, all pink and scrubbed, Ryan was wearing the other robe and beginning to dig into a sumptuous dinner. "I guess I made it out just in time," the blonds said to her perennially hungry friend.

Her months of experience had prepared Jamie well for ordering dinner and she was pleased to see that Ryan almost failed to finish every bite. Her friend's appetite was legendary and a chill ran down Jamie's back when she considered that Ryan's prodigious appetite wasn't limited to food. Even as she tried to dismiss this thought Ryan was polishing off both plates as expected. After digesting her dinner for a few minutes Ryan went to take a soak while Jamie relaxed in one of the cushy upholstered chairs, fully sated and just a little nervous. The inn sent up toothbrushes and other essentials and she set about washing out their under things in the sink adjacent to the bathroom. When Ryan came out of the steamy bath the laundry was done and Jamie hung it over the rod in the bath.

She went to brush her teeth, casting sly glances at Ryan to see where she was going to sit. She let out a sigh of relief when Ryan chose one of the chairs, delaying the trip to the bed for another moment or two. When she had nearly brushed the enamel off her teeth she reluctantly went back into the sitting area and took the other chair. The tension was rolling off Jamie in waves but Ryan was unsure of how to calm her down. Finally she decided to broach the loaded topic. "Are you ready for bed?" she asked neutrally.

"No, no, I'm really not tired," she lied. Ryan nearly laughed when she took in the exhausted face but she held her reaction in check to avoid embarrassing her friend.

"Would you like to lie down and relax a little?" she gently asked.

Jamie knew she could not delay the inevitable so she screwed up her courage and said, "Ryan, I hope you're okay with this, and I really want you to tell me if you're not, but I'm....um..."

"What is it, Jamie?" Ryan asked gently as she crossed over to her chair and squatted down to look into her eyes. "You can tell me anything."

All of a sudden Jamie was unable to meet the penetrating gaze that seemed to burn into her. She was terribly embarrassed but she knew she had to get it out sooner or later so she decided to jump off the cliff immediately. "I'm not really ready to um…love you...ah…physically, or, well… at least completely," she stammered.

Ryan placed her warm hand on the even warmer cheek and leaned over to kiss her gently, "I think I'd be happy with nothing more than we had today, " she said with a winning smile. "I love you, Jamie, all of you, but I'm willing to wait for however long it takes for you to feel comfortable with sex." She sat back on her heels and regarded her friend for a moment as she asked, "You do want to progress to having sex eventually, don't you?"

"Oh, yes," she said sincerely as she nodded her head forcefully. "Of course I do."

Ryan leaned back in for another sweet kiss and asked, "Are you comfortable with me kissing you?"

"Very," she dreamily replied as she draped her arms loosely around her neck and kissed her back.

"Then I'm a happy girl. Remember that kissing is my favorite activity," the grinning brunette said with an eyebrow wiggle as she tweaked Jamie's nose. She got up and went back to sit in her own chair, noting with approval that her friend looked much more relaxed. "Are you sure you're not just a little bit tired?" she asked gently.

Her shy blush and sheepish grin were accompanied by a tiny nod of her blonde head.

"Do you want me to call the desk and have them send a roll-away bed up?"

"Um…do you think you could sleep with me and not…" Jamie stammered as she glanced toward the bed nervously.

Ryan slowly blinked her eyes trying to understand the implication of this question. As it became clear she looked at Jamie with a hurt look in her eyes and said, "God, I know I've got a reputation but I'm not a rapist!"

Jamie jumped from her chair and knelt down next to Ryan. She looked into her big blue eyes and hurriedly explained, "I was only going to ask if you could sleep with me and not be too uncomfortable," she insisted. "I am worried about pleasing you, Ryan, and I am really worried that you won't be able to be patient with me. But it would never cross my mind that you'd force yourself on me."

Ryan closed her eyes as she placed her hand upon Jamie's smooth cheek. "I'm sorry that came out like that. I'm nervous too, you know."

"You're nervous?" she asked in surprise. "What do you have to be nervous about?"

"Thanks," Ryan replied with a false smile. "Now I feel better."

"Well, I just mean that you've been with…you know…um…lots of…"

"I know, I know," Ryan admitted with an embarrassed scowl. "That's exactly what I'm nervous about." She took in a deep breath and blew it out as she admitted, "I'm worried about your opinion of me, Jamie. I know you've always considered sex to be a very big step and that it has to be part of a deep commitment for you. I'm worried about your opinion of me for having slept with so many women. Your respect means a great deal to me," she said as she looked up at Jamie with a fragile look on her beautiful face.

"Oh Ryan," she said softly as she reached up and wrapped her arms around her neck. "I respect you completely. You're one of the most moral and upright people I know." She sat back and added with a bashful smile, "I worry that you'll think I'm too inexperienced. Maybe we should get some of these feelings out in the open."

"Okay," Ryan said. "I'll start. This might take a minute though. Do you want to sit down?"

Jamie cast a quick glance at her chair but all of a sudden it seemed much too far away. "Can I perch here?" she asked, indicating the wide arm of Ryan's chair.

"Of course," Ryan said, as she turned a tiny bit to accommodate her friend. Jamie sat upon the arm and used the free space that Ryan had created to lean back against the back cushion. It was a little uncomfortable, but she wanted to be close while still maintaining a little separation.

When Ryan was sure the smaller woman was settled she began, "I think that one of your most endearing qualities is your devotion -- both to people and principles. I really admire that you decided you needed to reserve your sexual expression for people that you love and that you stuck with that decision through what must have been a lot of pressure. I didn't know Jack very well, but I can't believe he didn't pressure you to give in sooner than you wanted to."

"Well, in his defense I have to admit that he never tried to talk me into it. He just gave me incredibly pathetic looks and sometimes he made a show of how he couldn't stand up after we had been kissing for a while."

"One more good thing about being a woman," Ryan said dryly, only her dancing eyes giving away her playfulness. "No obviously incapacitating signs of arousal."

"But your point is well taken, Ryan. There was an incredible amount of pressure put on me in high school. I never felt physically intimidated but one guy tried to force his hand down my pants after a party during my freshman year."

"And that didn't intimidate you?" she asked in amazement, knowing that it certainly would have intimidated her at that age.

"Nope. Just because I hadn't seen testicles didn't mean I didn't know where they were," she declared with a wiggling eyebrow.

"You didn't!"

"I most certainly did! And I acted like I had inadvertently elbowed him right in the jewels so he couldn't even get mad! But I've got to tell you, guys lose interest really fast when they're doubled over in pain."

Ryan crossed her legs exaggeratedly as she said; "Remind me not to make you mad!"

Jamie gave her a kiss on the cheek as she got up and returned to her own chair. "Are you done praising me?" she asked.

"Not by a long shot," Ryan replied with a brief shake of her head. "I could go on all night but I'll try to keep it brief." She shot Jamie a sweet grin and continued, "I feel really special that you want to share your sexuality with me. The fact that it's precious to you makes it even more precious to me. I guess that's part of my worry," she conceded. "I fear that you'll feel like I've demeaned or devalued myself by being so promiscuous."

"Okay, let's set some ground rules right now," Jamie said briskly. "I do not think of you as promiscuous. I don't think you're a slut, either. Have you enjoyed having sex with lots of women?"

"Yeah, very much so."

"That's my point. You were doing something that you enjoyed, and I assume you didn't feel guilty about it at the time, right?"


"So, you chose to be very expressive, with consenting adults, you were up front with them all, and you didn't feel guilty about it. What's wrong with that? Just because that would not work for me doesn't mean that I judge you for it, Ryan. We're very different people with different sex drives. And I've got to admit that I'm pretty interested in tapping into some of your drive," she added with a slightly embarrassed grin.

"Are you really?" Ryan asked with her own little grin curling up the corners of her mouth.

"Well, yeah," Jamie said. "I don't know a thing about how to love a woman. I'll freely admit that I'm scared spitless about what to do with you when we get to that point. Knowing that you've done just about everything reassures me in a funny way. It's kind of like when you taught me to ride your bike. You were so confident and gentle with me, and I just have a feeling you'll be the same way with lovemaking."

"I'll always be gentle with you, Jamie," she promised, gazing steadily into her eyes. "Thanks for reassuring me," she added shyly. "I think I was feeling a little insecure about your opinion but you've really made me feel better."

"You're welcome," she said through a deep yawn.

"Still not sleepy?" Ryan teased.

"Okay, I am a little tired," she admitted, although she made no move toward the bed.

"Do you want to sleep together?" Ryan asked gently. "If you don't feel comfortable I really don't mind asking for a bed to be brought up."

"I think I'd like to sleep with you, but I don't want to make you uncomfortable," she insisted.

"I'd be very comfortable sharing your bed," she said confidently. "But what should we sleep in?" Ryan asked as she looked around the room for ideas.

"That's a very good question," Jamie replied. "I don't have the slightest idea. The hotel didn't happen to send up any underwear did they?" she asked hopefully as she gazed at their wet things hanging in the bath.

"Nope," Ryan said as she walked over to the sink and delicately sorted through the toiletries. "Maybe we could cover ourselves with toothpaste," she said helpfully as she held up the tiny tube.

"Well, smarty pants, does your pledge of chastity still hold if we sleep in that bed naked?" she asked as she pointed at the inviting bed.

Ryan's eyes grew wide as she stared first at the big bed and then at her friend, "Um, I've always found that sleeping in a big, bulky terry cloth robe is very pleasant."

"I really appreciate your patience, Ryan. I mean I know you have a strong ah...drive and I know this won't be easy for you."

"Well, I think I've done pretty darn well for myself this winter. How about a little appreciation for that?" she asked petulantly as she strolled back to her chair and flopped down.

"What do you mean?"

"I haven't had the companionship of a woman in ...let's see...two months," she stated proudly. "And aside from that one little pressure release it was three months before that."

"What?" Jamie gawked, a bit incredulous. "I mean I know you and Tracy didn't, but what about after her?"

"I told you about the night I went to visit Ally. But right after that, you told me how you felt about me. If there was any chance in the world that I could be with you I wasn't going to blow it."

"But I wouldn't have known if you just had casual sex, Ryan. And besides I didn't have any claim on you."

She leveled her gaze and stared deeply into her friend's eyes for a long moment. "I would have known, Jamie. Casual sex didn't have any interest for me once I thought I could have a real relationship with you. Actually, Ally called me the week after our little chat about being together. I had dinner with her but I told her all about you and explained that I couldn't have sex with her or anyone else until I knew where I stood with you. And let me correct one little thing, Jamie, you've always had a claim on me," she said as she crossed over to her chair and kissed her soundly. "You just didn't always know it."

"Whoa," Jamie said as she pulled away from Ryan's smiling face. "I think we need to set some ground rules for the physical side of this relationship, because that kiss almost made me forget my principles!" Ryan returned to her seat as Jamie began, "Let's start with tonight. Will it bother you to snuggle in bed?"

"It'll bother me if we don't!" Ryan said with wide eyes.

"You don't know how relieved that makes me," Jamie said winsomely. "Part of the reason I eventually decided to sleep with Jack was just so we could lie in bed and cuddle. But even though he did it, you could just tell it wasn't his idea."

"You are in luck, Ms. Evans. I am a certified cuddleaholic. I absolutely, positively love to cuddle and I do it with every person who will let me. And it doesn't have to be connected to sex either. I cuddle Caitlin when we nap together, and I've even been known to snuggle up to Duffy when I'm feeling touch deprived."

"Excellent," she gleefully replied. "Since we're not going to have sex right away I think we need to stay away from each other's umm…erogenous zones," she said with a fierce blush. "Is that okay?"

"Jamie, do you really think I could touch your erogenous zones and stop there? That's an obvious rule."

"How about hugging?"

"I'm in favor of as much hugging as I can get."

"Done," she agreed. "What else should we cover?"

"How do you feel about indirect hugs, say for instance, sitting on my lap?" she asked with a crooked grin.

"Don't you mean sitting on each other's laps? Shouldn't this be an equal partnership?"

"That's a very good point," Ryan said as she walked over to the chair and climbed aboard Jamie's small lap. "Umm, I like this," she enthused as she tried to ignore the strangled breath Jamie was trying to take. "How about you?"

"HELP!" she finally cried, much to Ryan's howling amusement.

"I'm not putting you down Jamie, but I weigh a lot more than you do. It just makes sense that I'll be the sittee and you'll be the sitter. Let's switch."

As soon as they did so, Jamie enthusiastically agreed that lap sitting was not only allowed, it was a clear requirement. "God, this feels good," she mumbled into Ryan's terry cloth-clad shoulder. The rhythmic trailing of Ryan's hand through her hair, the clean sweet smell of her skin and the warmth of the fireplace were combining to relax her so thoroughly that she feared she would fall asleep right where she lay. "We could just stay right here," she sleepily suggested.

"I could do that," Ryan agreed as her fresh minty breath ruffled the blonde hair hanging over Jamie's eyes.

"I've never felt safer or more secure," she said softly. "I just don't think you could make me any happier."

"Mind if I try?" she asked with a dangerously raised eyebrow.

Jamie felt most of her sleepiness leave her body as she cautiously shook her head.

Ryan pulled her in a little closer and effortlessly stood. Jamie's arms tightened reflexively around her neck as they crossed the room to stand by the bed. Squatting down just a bit Ryan reached down with her free hand and deftly pulled the covers back. She leaned over and softly deposited the small woman right in the middle of the bed. As Jamie released her hold she kissed her lightly and ordered, "Don't go away." Dashing around to the other side of the bed she quickly got in and drew the covers over both of their bodies. She adjusted her robe and scooted over to the middle of the bed, enveloping Jamie in a tender full body hug. When it became obvious that Ryan was only planning on hugging her, the smaller woman felt all of the tension leave her body as she relaxed into the warm, reassuring hug. After a moment she gave Ryan a sweet smile and said, "Now I really don't think you could make me any happier."

As Ryan bent to taste her lips she lightly rubbed noses and threatened, "Don't tempt me!"

They luxuriated in the tender embrace, soaking up the sensations of warm, clean, relaxed bodies, and gentle kisses.

Feeling a bit emboldened, Jamie slid her hand behind Ryan's head and pulled her close for a number of mind-numbing kisses. Ryan could feel her control begin to slip so she regretfully pulled away and gasped, "We need some kissing rules, and we need them quick!"

"Okay," Jamie agreed with a giggle. "What do you have in mind?"

"I think we need to stick to fairly chaste kisses," Ryan said thoughtfully. "I have lots of self-control if I don't get started, but it tends to fade away once my motor gets running."

"I can live with that," Jamie replied. "Let's make it a rule. Chaste kisses only," she said with a giggle as she practiced on a willing Ryan.

The first rule was shattered approximately three minutes after it was instituted. Ryan pulled back from a searing kiss and tried to focus her eyes. "What happened?" she asked groggily.

Jamie smiled up sweetly at her, "I got carried away?" she said by way of explanation.

"Do we try to live by the rule or would you like to make a friendly amendment?" Ryan asked with a definite leer.

"I think we had better try to live with the rule, much as I hate to. I really don't feel ready yet and I want it to be special when it happens."

"Oh, I guarantee it will be special," Ryan said with an even bigger leer as she broke the rule one last time.

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

After the lights were turned off they moved around a little trying to get comfortable in their bulky robes. It was tough to find a good position but they finally settled down with Jamie lying on her left side with Ryan spooned up against her back. Ryan's right arm was tucked around her waist and their heads rested on the same large fluffy pillow. "You have the sweetest smelling neck," Ryan murmured sleepily as she felt some of the tension of the day draining from her body. "You're the first person I've ever met that could give Caitlin a run for her money."

Jamie smiled at the compliment but Ryan couldn't see her face so she added a little squeeze of her hand to make sure she knew it had been heard. "This is an awfully nice way to sleep, isn't it?" Jamie asked a few moments later.

"The best," Ryan agreed as her warm breath tickled the back of her partner's neck. "The first night of many thousands," she pledged.

Ryan felt her eyes grow heavy as Jamie's slow, deep breathing caused her to relax even more fully. But just as she was about to drift off she got a stab of anxiety in her chest, causing her to flinch perceptibly. "Are you okay?" Jamie's now alert voice asked.

"Yeah, just had that falling sensation I sometimes get when I'm half asleep," she said, in a partial truth. As Jamie settled back down Ryan tried to slow her racing heart. Yeah, Ryan, she said to herself. This is about falling. Only this time the falling sensation is falling in love! She reassured herself as best she could but a nagging doubt was burrowing into her subconscious. God, I know I could make love to Jamie a million different ways–and I'm sure that I won't have any problem pleasing her physically. But this isn't about that! I've been with so many women…but none of them really mattered to me. I tried to please them but I concentrated on my sexual prowess to do so. I can't rely on that with Jamie, though, she acknowledged. She's not going to base her opinion of me on how many orgasms I give her. She's going to love me based on the real me–on how open and connected and intimate I can be with her. She sucked in a deep breath as her stomach did a little flip. This is scary! She tightened her hold a little and nuzzled her head against Jamie's neck, willing the sweet smell to help calm her racing heart. It's okay, she repeated again and again. She loves you and she'll work with you to be more intimate. It will work out if you try hard enough, Ryan. She loves you enough to take that risk. She was still reassuring herself 15 minutes later as she drifted off into an exhausted slumber.

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

Ryan's convulsive hold on Jamie's waist woke her abruptly an hour later. She's twitching as bad as Duffy does when he sleeps, she mused with a little smile as she gently patted her arm. Boy, I hope that's not a normal occurrence, she added with a start. I could get bruised from those big muscular arms grabbing me all night.

As soon as those words hit her brain Jamie's stomach clenched nervously. I can't get nervous every time I think of her touching me! she complained to her balky stomach. I want her to touch me, she argued with herself. I really do! she added to the part of herself that scoffed at her previous statement. It's just that I'm anxious about the physical part. After a pause she admitted, Okay, okay, I admit that's a pretty big part. But I know I won't have much trouble loving her in every other way. She's just so easy to love, she thought with a contented smile. She's so easy to talk to and share things with. I know we'll be okay as long as we can keep doing that, she thought decisively. She'll help me figure out how to love her physically. She giggled quietly as she added, At least I picked an expert!

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

Just before dawn Jamie awoke to feel the most exquisite sense of contentment she could ever remember. She was pressed up against her friend's warm side and she smiled to herself when she felt Ryan's fingers tangled in her hair. Ryan was lying on her back and to Jamie's intense interest her robe had opened slightly during the night. The right half of her tempting left breast peeked out at Jamie and nearly begged to be touched. She felt an overpowering desire to do just that and felt herself almost automatically give in to the pull. Her hand moved slowly toward its target, being careful not to wake Ryan. She cautiously reached out to move the robe just a tiny bit further open. Then she slid her hand into the garment and was rewarded with a deep rumbling laugh. "I'm not going to vote for you as sergeant-of-arms," Ryan said as she turned to face the thoroughly embarrassed woman. "You obviously have no respect for the rules," she said with a big smile as she reached up and lightly touched Jamie's lips with her own.

Jamie dropped her head onto Ryan's terry cloth-covered chest. "God, I'm so embarrassed," she moaned into the fabric.

"There is nothing to be embarrassed about Jamie. This is all really new for you and you're just trying to feel comfortable." As she lifted Jamie's chin away from her chest she said seriously, "If you want to touch me, it's perfectly all right with me. I won't even think of it as a sexual touch. It can be like a little science experiment," she suggested.

"No. I...I...I'm too embarrassed now. It was only because you were asleep that I wanted to," she admitted shyly.

"Do you want me to pretend I'm asleep?" she asked, only partially kidding.

"No. I'm sure I'll have other opportunities," she replied with a small smile.

"More than you will be able to count. I promise," Ryan said as she gazed lovingly into her eyes.

A few more minutes of cuddling and then they each took a long shower and got back into their bike clothes. After a delicious breakfast in the lovely little dining room they retrieved their bikes and took off.

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

Through the late winter and early spring they had chosen Sunday as their big ride day. They started months ago at 30 miles and had slowly progressed up to 75 miles. As they pedaled away from the inn Ryan asked, "Do you want to do our long ride today, or do you need a day off?"

"I think I feel pretty good. Yesterday was strenuous but we didn't really ride that far. It might be good to stress ourselves a little today. Do you want to stay in Marin, or go back to the city and ride?"

"I'd like to stay over here," Ryan said with a shy grin. "It feels kind of magical. And besides, I already told Rory we'd take the last ferry back tonight."

"You are so sweet Ryan O'Flaherty. Stop a minute so I can give you a proper kiss," she demanded.

Ryan did so immediately. She stood waiting for Jamie with a completely open and willing smile on her face. Jamie got as close as she was able while straddling her bike. She leaned in and wrapped her arms around her friend while she stretched to her full height. She placed several gentle kisses on Ryan's soft lips and just let the warmth of the hug seep into her. "It's so hard for me to believe this is really happening," she said as they broke apart. "I've wanted you for so long, it's just amazing."

"How long have you known?" Ryan asked curiously.

"I've known in my conscious mind since the day after Jack broke up with me." She was a little embarrassed, but she continued, "You were kissing Tracy goodbye in the kitchen, and I felt such a wave of desire for you that it just about knocked me out. And the whole time I was with Jack again I was waging war with my desire for you."

"What about your subconscious mind?" she inquired.

"Anna and I have talked about this a lot," she said reflectively. "My knees got so weak the first time I saw you. I remember it like it was yesterday," she said fondly. "I still remember what you were wearing. You turned around in your desk and gave me one of those fantastic smiles. I think I was lost from that day on."

"I remember that day too," Ryan said. "When I turned around my first thought was, 'Wow'. But after a couple of seconds I thought you were probably straight. I do have a confession though," she said as she looked down at the ground.

"What's that?" Jamie asked.

"I could tell how flustered you were and I was kind of playing with you. I thought it was so cute, and I thought, 'maybe she's not too straight'," she admitted with an embarrassed little chuckle.

"I figured you knew," Jamie said as she gave her a little squeeze. "I'm not very good at hiding my feelings." She looked up at Ryan in question, "But you stopped flirting right away. Why?"

"The next time I saw you was when we went for a drive in your car. You were so sweet to me I just couldn't play with you. I liked you too much to risk hurting you," she said simply.

"I'm glad you didn't play with me," Jamie said. "If you had, we probably wouldn't be here today. And I'm very glad we're here today," she added as she gave Ryan one final chaste kiss in adherence to the rules.

They rode off into Muir Woods again, riding steadily for over an hour. They stopped for a water break and stretched a bit, but then got right back on and rode for another hour. This time they rested for 15 minutes or so. Their goal was to ride for 35 miles before lunch and they were doing very well. They had a few energy bars left over from the day before and they munched on them as they forced more water down. After a quick trip to a nearby restroom they started off again.

The terrain had flattened out quite a bit as they got closer to Mill Valley. The easy ride allowed them to converse as they rode side by side on the packed earth trail. "When did you start having feelings for me?" Jamie asked as she rode up next to Ryan.

"Well, I thought you were cute from the very beginning, as you know," she grinned. "But I really do have the ability to compartmentalize people. I removed you from the 'potential' category right away. To be honest I never gave it another thought until your birthday," she said with a little smirk. "That friendly little kiss you gave me was a little friendlier than I expected."

"What did you think? Did you like it?" Jamie asked hesitantly.

"I liked it a lot more than I should have," Ryan said with a grin. "I actually had to give myself a good talking to in your bathroom! It was one of those nights that I wished I didn't have such a firm moral code."

"But that wasn't when you thought you might have feelings for me?" Jamie asked, a little confused.

"Well, yes and no. If you hadn't been who you were we might still be in bed, but I couldn't get past the fact that you were straight and engaged. But that was one of the first times I thought that it was too bad that we couldn't be together," she explained. "The day I broke up with Tracy was when the idea really lodged in my brain," she revealed. "I was having dinner with Conor and he asked me if I was interested in you. I gave him my usual spiel about not dating straight women, but he wouldn't let go of it. He asked if I would date you if I could." She laughed a little at the memory. "I said I'd be all over you."

"So did you think about it again?"

"Yeah. Several times, in fact. The night we went bowling together for one." She laughed a bit a she admitted, "Remember when I almost took a header on the ball return?" At Jamie's nod she continued, "You and I had just made some strange, intense eye contact that totally threw me. I hardly knew where I was!"

"I remember that too," Jamie agreed with a fond grin. "I wasn't sure if I was imagining it or not but it felt really intense. I think that's why I let the boys talk me into drinking so much," she mused. "My emotions felt out of control that night and I think I wanted to suppress them."

"You should have seen me trying to ignore my feelings when we slept together that night," she muttered with a visible shiver. "You really expected a lot out of me, young lady," she said with a mock scowl.

"Well henceforth you don't have to hide your desires," she promised.

"Hey, that's not the only time I felt desire for you," Ryan continued. "The St. Patrick's Day Massage was a night that will live on in my memory! I woke up that morning and you were asleep next to me. I wanted so badly to reach down and kiss you." She blushed a little as she added, "I was leaning over to smell you when you woke up and almost caught me."

"You were…smelling me?" Jamie asked with a wary look on her face.

"Yeah. Smell is very powerful for me. I associate things with smell more than my other senses. I could just get a little hint of your scent and I wanted more. I'm glad you didn't catch me though. That's kind of a hard thing to explain, 'Gee, Jamie, I was just smelling you. No big deal.'"

"Smell, huh?" she mused. "I think I remember touch more than smell. That's why I was trying to touch you this morning. I just had the strongest urge to feel your skin," she admitted shyly.

Ryan slowed down and eventually stopped by a deep grove of redwoods. "Would you like to stop here and engage in a little sense imprinting?" she asked with a gentle encouraging smile. "We could each indulge our favorite sense."

Jamie felt her mouth go bone dry at the look of raw desire on Ryan's face. Eventually she choked out, "We might as well stop, since I have no strength left in my legs." As she got off her bike she looked up at Ryan in wonder, "How do you do that? I'm going along just fine and then you just knock me out with one look."

"Hey, don't look at me," she replied defensively. "You started it! The look on your face when you said you wanted to touch me almost knocked me off my bike."

When they had walked their bikes deep enough in the grove to avoid detection they approached each other a little hesitantly. Ryan took the lead as they removed their helmets and gloves. She approached Jamie cautiously but decisively and stood very close as she leaned over just a bit. Her eyelids fluttered closed as she tilted her lovely face just enough so that a shaft of light that had broken through the redwoods illuminated her features. The moment was terribly fleeting but in that single tick of the clock Jamie was absolutely certain that the most beautiful woman ever created stood before her. It was all she could do not to reach out and touch that magnificent face but she held back, afraid to ruin the moment.

Jamie felt her breath catch, and she stood completely still, except for the rapid thumping of her heart. Ryan moved another inch and took in a massive breath, starting just under Jamie's flushed ear. With a deliberate pace she started to move, one slow sensuous inch at a time. Her eyes were still closed but her adorable nose twitched slightly as her nostrils flared just a bit. The slow, seductive smile that curled her lovely lips gave clear testimony that she was enjoying herself, but as the smile grew wider Jamie's knees grew weaker. She had to close her own eyes as Ryan began to move around her body, sniffing behind her neck, the top of her head, each cheek, under her chin, down her chest and slowly back up. Their bodies did not touch at any time, but as Jamie felt that warm breath tickle her exposed skin she was certain that she was being stroked with the gentlest touch on earth. The entire journey lasted just a minute or two, but Jamie had never felt more thoroughly loved. Her skin tingled with sensation and actually felt like it was glowing by the time Ryan was finished. Ryan's striking blue eyes remained closed as she raised her head and filled her lungs one last time. "I will always remember this moment," she promised as her eyes slowly opened to focus on Jamie's.

Jamie practically fell into her arms and let her lips express the feelings welling up in her chest. Her heart felt as though it would explode with emotion and she realized with a start that loving Ryan O'Flaherty was going to be a completely different experience than she had ever even dreamed of.

The mixture of their kisses and the display of Ryan's desire emboldened her and she felt her hands move up to grasp the broad muscular shoulders. She closed her eyes and lightly ran her fingertips down the tops of her arms, coming back up on the undersides. She placed her hands on the protuberant collarbones and traced them through her jersey. Then slowly, hesitantly, she moved her hands downward, brushing along the tops of both breasts simultaneously, as she gazed curiously up at Ryan's face. She let out a small sigh as her fingers circled each firm mound, and then gently cupped each breast in her small hands. Her eyes were closed again and Ryan's now did the same. She held the breasts gently, lifting them just a touch to feel their weight in her hands. Fingers shaking, she drew her thumbs up the center of each weighty breast to lightly brush the now rigidly firm nipples. As she began to circle each point with her thumbs Ryan sharply sucked in a breath through her teeth.

Jamie felt her burgeoning desire pounding through her entire body. She was completely unable to stop herself as she threw her arms around Ryan's neck and latched onto her mouth hungrily. She felt the warm lips part just slightly and she allowed her tongue to slide into the inviting moist heat. She was shaking violently with a mix of passion and fear as all control left her. Her legs collapsed and she felt herself begin to sink to the ground but Ryan resisted gently but firmly. Those strong arms gripped her around the waist and held her up until she could stand again. She had not let go of Ryan's lips and she slowly felt that sweet mouth break into a grin. "Are you sure that you're the one who wants to go slow?" was the gently teasing question.

"No, I don't," she moaned as she rested her head on Ryan's chest. "I want to throw you down on the ground and ravish you for hours. I've never, ever come close to feeling like this before, Ryan. I just don't think I can stop!"

"There's no one I'd rather be ravished by," Ryan whispered. "But you had some reservations about going further and I want you to be certain before we do."

"Oh why did I fall in love with the voice of reason?" she moaned again. "You are so mature," she said with a hint of exasperation in her voice.

"Jamie, I'm using every bit of self-control that I have at my disposal to stop myself from tearing your clothes off right here," she said with a smile. "But because I know that we will have the rest of our lives to love each other I can wait, even though it's incredibly hard. And I do mean incredibly hard," she insisted.

"Do you really believe that?" Jamie asked softly with a look of wonder on her face.

"Believe what?" Ryan asked.

"That we'll be together the rest of our lives?"

"Of course I do! Don't you?" she asked in confusion.

"Yes. I do, Ryan. I just wasn't sure if you were able to commit to me that completely," she said hesitantly.

"Jamie, I would not have let this get this far if I wasn't completely serious. I've never loved a friend only because friendship means so much to me. There is no part of me that would jeopardize what we have just for sex. I can have sex with anyone. But I can only love you," she said softly as she placed a tender kiss on Jamie's quivering lips.

Now it was Ryan's turn to kiss the tears from Jamie's eyes. They kissed softly and held each other for long minutes before they finally broke apart. Ryan smiled and said, "We'd better find someplace to stop for lunch. I really don't think I can ride in this condition. This is just payback for making fun of Jack's inability to stand up when he was turned on."

"Yeah. I don't think God had bike seats in mind when he designed a woman's sexual response."

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

They found a cute little restaurant with an outdoor eating area in Mill Valley. They were contentedly eating their sandwiches when Ryan asked, "Do you ever think about why you took 'The Lesbian Experience?' "

Jamie laughed a bit as she replied, "Is that a tactful way to ask if I had any glimmers of doubt about my avowed heterosexuality?" Upon Ryan's slight nod she responded, "I've talked about that a lot with Anna," she admitted. "I know I didn't think about it consciously, but I must have had some subconscious questions. I mean," she observed wryly, "there were a lot of classes offered at eight a.m."

"You've never talked about any boyfriends before Jack. Did you date a lot in high school?"

"Yeah, I guess I did. I enjoyed dating when I was a sophomore. I went out with some guys who I really liked but a lot of the other girls were already having sex and the cool guys mostly drifted off to them. By junior year boys were beginning to tire of the 'let's see who can deflower Jamie' game, and I was totally sick of it. I felt like I spent most of my dates fighting them off, and that wasn't a lot of fun for me."

"Did you want to have sex with any of them?" Ryan asked, tilting her head in question.

"I would have to say no," Jamie replied thoughtfully. "I didn't feel that they were interested in me as much as they were in my body. I knew I would feel shitty about myself if I gave in just because they wanted me to, so I didn't do it."

"You were pretty mature for a high school kid," Ryan replied with admiration.

"Partly, yes, I was mature. But in retrospect I think I may have just not had any spark with them. On the other hand I know that I never felt desire for any of my girl friends either. So maybe I was just slow to mature sexually."

"Were you attracted to Jack sexually?" Ryan asked carefully, a little wary of bringing up the topic.

"Yeah, I was. Well, at least more than I ever had been with a guy. But after a lot of thought I'm beginning to think that maybe I was just settling for Jack."

"What do you mean, settling?" Ryan asked, intensely curious as to how her lover was processing her changing sexual expression.

"As you can probably guess, Anna and I have spent an awful lot of time talking about this," she explained with a chuckle. "I suppose the honest answer is that I liked him more than I had ever liked a guy. I was sexually aroused by him; at least, I was before we started having intercourse," she rolled her eyes at this. "Should that have been a clue? Anyway, I think that Jack might have provided me with an excuse to never have to date another guy. He was cute and smart and I knew he would be a good husband and a good father. My father was crazy about him, and it just seemed to fit."

"It sounds a little like a merger rather than passion," Ryan observed.

"Ryan, I've already felt more passion for you than I did the whole time I was with Jack," she said somewhat sadly.

"Then you are in for a treat, young lady," she said as she tweaked her nose. "You ain't seen nothing yet."

Jamie just batted her eyes at her friend, terribly charmed by her blatant teasing. "I can't wait," she smiled.

"Umm, I was wondering," Ryan started, uncharacteristically hesitant in her approach. "How have you…well, what I mean is…"

"What is it, Ryan?" Jamie asked as she reached out and covered her hand.

"Well, I guess I want to know…um…how this is all sitting with you. I mean, I know you had a hard time when you were first aware that you were attracted to me…and I um…"

Now Jamie grasped her hand tightly, gazing into her eyes with unwavering attention. "I don't know what this all means, Ryan," she said slowly. "But at this point I don't much care. I've tried to avoid labeling my behavior or myself. I'm not sure that will always be the case but for right now all I know is that I love you and I want to be with you. That's enough for me."

"You want to be with me for…how long?" Ryan asked, her eyes clouding a little.

Now Jamie's face lit up in a smile so contagious that Ryan's face matched it before the smaller woman said a word. "Well, I thought we could use this lifetime just to get to know each other a little bit," she mused. "Then the next two or three lifetimes could be dedicated to working out any little tiny problems that come up. Around the fourth or fifth…"

Ryan turned her hand and grasped Jamie's. "That's enough for now," she said sweetly. "We can decide on the fifth lifetime when we get a little closer. I don't want to rush things."

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

After lunch they rode for another three hours, stopping for water and bathroom breaks only.

During one such break Ryan offered to stretch Jamie's back out. The smaller woman stood close and linked her hands behind Ryan's head, as instructed.

As Ryan rose to her full height Jamie chuckled a little as she said, "I'm awfully far from the ground. How tall are you, anyway."

"Mmm, I'm not sure," Ryan replied. "The last time I was measured I was 6'2", but I think I've grown an inch or so since then."

"You're still growing!" the significantly smaller woman gasped as Ryan gently lowered her to the ground.

"No, not now," Ryan laughed. "It's been a few years since anyone had cause to measure me. It's not that important to me, so I've never bothered to do it again."

Jamie stepped back a few feet and gave the lanky woman a long look. "It's funny," she finally said. "You're in such perfect proportion that you don't look like you're really tall. But when I stand next to you, my face only reaches your...umm...chest," she mumbled, a flush coloring her cheeks.

"All part of my plan," Ryan said with a mischievous grin as she and Jamie cast glances at the spot in question.

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

By five o'clock they were back in Sausalito ready to board the ferry. "Do you think you could give me a massage on the deck?" Jamie asked as they climbed aboard.

"I'm happy to rub your legs if we can find a seat, but a complete massage might find us swimming back," she said wisely.

"Oh, I don't know," Jamie replied blithely. "San Franciscans are a pretty jaded bunch." She smiled at Ryan's bemused grin and sat quietly for a few minutes, watching the other passengers get settled. "Can we sleep together tonight?" Jamie asked, breaking the silence. "I hate the thought of being away from you all night."

"Um...where do you want to go?" Ryan responded, knowing their options were rather limited.

"Can't we go to your house? Nobody needs to know yet."

"I can't, Jamie. Da has a rule that we all follow. No overnight dates in the house. He obviously doesn't mind if we sleep over at someone else's house but he thinks it makes it uncomfortable for the others if we do it at home."

Jamie pursed her lips and nodded briefly. "I understand Ryan, she said quietly, obviously disappointed. "It is different now between us, isn't it?"

"It's a delicious difference," Ryan agreed as she planted a firm kiss on Jamie's mouth.

"Mmmm…" she mumbled as they broke apart. "People are staring," she whispered.

A devilish grin settled onto Ryan's features as she stayed right where she was and said, "I'd stare too if someone as gorgeous as you was sitting next to me." But when Jamie didn't answer right away Ryan immediately said, "Hey, I'm sorry if that bothered you. I just wasn't thinking."

"No, no, don't apologize," Jamie insisted as she patted her on the leg and gave her a small smile. "This is just so new…I want to keep it between us for a while."

"No problem," Ryan said lightly. "Besides, if people see how good you kiss they might start a riot."

The grin that curled Jamie's lips was absolutely luminous. "Really? Are you serious?"

"About the riot? Absolutely!" Ryan replied with wide eyes.

"No, silly, about the kisses," she asked shyly. "Do you really like the way I kiss you?"

"This is important to you, isn't it?" Ryan asked gently, searching Jamie's eyes for confirmation.

"Yes, it is," Jamie replied, only a tiny bit ashamed to admit this.

"Okay, I'll tell you," Ryan said, furrowing her brow for a minute. "Now remember, we've only been doing this since yesterday afternoon."

"I know," Jamie replied tentatively, now upset with herself for asking the always forthright woman to reveal her true feelings.

"And it generally takes a while for people to get used to each other physically," she warned ominously, still thinking.

"I know," Jamie said, her voice tremulously rising in pitch.

"Okay," Ryan said decisively as she turned to gaze directly into moss green eyes. "I'd have to honestly say that the first kiss you gave me on Mt. Tam was more pleasurable in every way than the sum total of every kiss I've ever been given." Seeing the relief flood her partner's face she continued, "And every subsequent kiss has caused my appreciation of your technique to grow exponentially."

"Oh, Ryan," she said with a shaky voice. "I know you mean it when you use math terms to describe something."

"I most definitely mean it," she vowed, her eyes fluttering closed. "And if we weren't on this ferry I'd beg you for another example."

Before her eyes could open Jamie's soft lips captured hers for a long, emotion-laden meeting. "Let 'em riot," she purred as she punctuated her statement with a final buss.

"Wow," Ryan breathed rather helplessly as she collapsed back against the hard plastic seat. "A lifetime of those might be more than my body can withstand."

"We'll train constantly to keep those little lips in shape," Jamie teased as she also sat up fully. After a moment she asked, "Will you tell your family about us?"

"I was planning on it, unless you don't want me to," Ryan replied. "I don't keep a lot of secrets from them, and knowing Da he'll figure it out pretty darn quick anyway."

"No, it's fine with me if you tell them. Do you think he'll be happy?"

"I guarantee he'll be happy. As will each of the boys. They're all crazy about you, Jamie, not that I blame them," she added with a big smile. "I guess we can't sleep together at your house either, huh?" Ryan asked, already knowing the answer, but desperately trying to think of alternatives.

"No. Not until I want to tell everyone. Cassie would figure it out really fast. You know, I think she was the first one to really suspect something between you and me. I guess I owe her an apology for telling her how wrong she was."

"You most certainly do not owe her an apology," Ryan said indignantly. "She wasn't trying to help you figure out something, she was just trying to pry into your personal life. She's not a friend, Jamie."

"I guess you're right." she nodded. "Luckily she's going to New York for the summer. Her dad got her an internship with Time/Life. I think I'm going to tell her that I don't want her to come back to the house when she returns."

"How will your parents and Mia feel about that?"

"I don't think Mia will care. She's pretty sick of her too. I'm leery of telling my parents, though. They'll really want to know what's up."

"Do you think you could stand her for another year?"

"No, I don't. She'll be in the way of you spending time there, and I'm not going to give that up for anything," she said firmly.

"I guess this is another good reason to delay having sex. Once we start I know I won't want to stop. And having to search around for a place to be together is just too stressful. It makes it seem like we're doing something wrong, and I don't ever want you to feel that way, Jamie," she said sincerely.

"Hey, I thought you weren't going to date any more girls who didn't have a place where you could go?" she teased.

"You're the exception to a lot of rules," Ryan grinned as she kissed her on the tip of her nose. "Is that okay?" she asked referring to the tiny kiss.

"No problem," Jamie assured her. "Half of the people are staring at us openly and the other half are trying to figure out how to toss me over to get their hands on you."

"Wrong focus," Ryan insisted. "They're trying to determine if these muscles are just for show before they make their move on you."

"You're too cute," Jamie said as she patted her thigh. "After Cassie leaves will you sleep over sometimes?"

"Of course I will. As much as you want," she promised. "I have to make sure you're getting your daily cuddle quotient."

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

After they disembarked from the crowded boat they walked through the parking lot of the Ferry Building, slowly making their way to their cars. Ryan helped load Jamie's bike on her Boxster, and Jamie returned the favor with the truck. There was nothing to do except say goodbye, but neither could bear to make that move. "We could sleep in the bed of the truck," Jamie said as she looked longingly at the six-foot long surface.

"It's really going to be hard for me to let you go," Ryan said with a catch in her voice as she wrapped Jamie in her arms tightly, secure in her actions since no other people were close by.

"We could get a hotel room," the smaller woman mumbled into her chest.

"For how long?" Ryan asked gently as she ran her fingers through her hair. "We have to come back to reality sooner or later, Jamie. It might as well be sooner."

Jamie just snuggled closer letting herself be enveloped by the strong body. After a long while she picked her head up and Ryan leaned down and kissed her sweetly. They finally drew apart and hugged each other fiercely. After one more lingering kiss they got into their cars and started to drive off, but Jamie immediately beeped her horn. Ryan hopped out of the big truck and ran over to the Boxster. Jamie didn't say a word but she pulled her dark head down and tasted every millimeter of Ryan's soft lips. She gently patted her cheek and quickly put the car in gear before she could talk herself out of it.

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

Ryan pulled up in front of her home at eight o'clock. She was exhausted from the long day but completely energized at the same time. Conor was alone in their father's room watching TV. She just wanted to go downstairs and collapse, so she made her expression as blank as possible when she entered the house.

"Hey, that was some bike ride, huh?" Conor greeted her with a little hug and followed her into the kitchen.

"Yeah, we got stuck so we had to stay over. I didn't want to ride down Mt. Tam in the dark."

"Rory said you had to stay in a hotel. Did you have enough money for that?"

"Ahh…so it would seem," she drawled.

"We would have been happy to come get you, Sis," he insisted.

"I know, but it worked out fine. We got a good ride in today too." She went to the refrigerator and got a big glass of milk. "I'm going to bed, Conor, see you tomorrow," she said without emotion.

As she turned to walk down the stairs a smiling face leaned over the staircase chanting, "Ryan's got a girlfriend, Ryan's got a girlfriend."


Chapter Two

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