Disclaimers in Part 1

Chapter Twenty-One

A sharp, tingling sensation woke Ryan just a bit after dawn. She groggily tried to focus but quickly gave up, and settled back into sleep. "Ouch," she said moments later, as her eyes flew open, and she found the source of her discomfort.

Jamie's hand was lying on her breast, thumb and index finger curled around a very hard nipple. As her hand twitched reflexively in sleep her fingers compressed, sending a wave of sensation through the tender nub.

Ryan was about to remove the offending appendage when the hand flattened out, changing the sensation from pain to comfort. Jamie was sprawled across her body, her golden head resting on her chest. Ryan did a quick inventory and found that one of her own hands had strayed into forbidden territory, and she slowly extracted it from its resting place inside the back of Jamie's panties. Just as she slid out green eyes locked onto her "Caught ya," she said mischievously.

"You'd better check on your own hands before you go throwing stones," was the gentle reply.

Jamie did so, blushing deeply as she removed her hand from its soft pillow. "Sorry," she said sheepishly.

Ryan lifted her chin with two fingers. "Jamie, you never have to apologize for touching me. Don't ever be sorry for expressing your love, or your desire," she said fervently.

"I...I...I'm not sorry that I touch you, I'm just sorry that I tease you. I know this is hard for you, Ryan. God knows it's hard for me, too," she added with a laugh. "I had no idea how hard it was going to be, though. I almost exploded yesterday afternoon."

"I hate to admit it, but this is one thing the nuns were absolutely correct about."

"What's that?" Jamie asked, wondering how nuns figured into this discussion.

"They said that the easiest way to get into trouble was to be in a compromising position with someone. They said it was just too easy to go that next step. They called it 'avoiding the near occasion of sin.' "

"I don't think there is anything sinful about how I feel for you," Jamie said sincerely.

"I couldn't agree more," Ryan said as she gave her a tender good-morning kiss. "Although some of the things I want to do to you are positively wicked," she added with a leer.

After they had packed up they sat down to breakfast, where Jamie was quite surprised that Ryan ate only a bowl of oatmeal. "Are you feeling okay?" she asked solicitously, as she gently placed her hand on Ryan's tummy.

"I feel marvelous," she replied brightly. "I'm just saving room for something," she added mysteriously.

"Well, if you're saving room for something, I know it's gotta be good," Jamie replied confidently.

Minutes later they left Lake Cachuma, and enjoyed a relatively flat, quick pace. They had not even reached the first pit stop when Ryan signaled that they had reached their destination. They had just entered Solvang, a terribly cute little Danish-style village. Nearly every shop was open, even though it was just after six. There was a constant stream of riders going into a sporting goods shop, and Ryan pulled up in front. "Watch my bike for a minute, okay?" she said over her shoulder as she walked inside.

She emerged moments later, carrying an aerosol can of bike polish. Jamie looked at her quizzically and said, "This is what you saved room for? Petroleum-based solvents aren't really good for you, Honey," she joked.

Ryan shook her head solemnly and said," No," as she pointed at a little bakery with a faux windmill on the roof. "That's what I saved room for."

Jamie's eyes lit up as they walked their bikes over to the little shop. The aroma was overpoweringly good, a mix of coffee, cinnamon, sugar and just about everything else Jamie loved. The display case was packed with freshly-baked goods of all varieties. Most were familiar to Jamie, who had spent some time in Denmark two years ago. She searched her memory for which of the pastries had been her favorites, finally deciding that, judging from the aroma, she couldn't go wrong no matter what she chose.

Ryan was leaning over the case and Jamie was actually afraid that she would drool on the clean glass. She sidled up to her and said admiringly, "You manage to top yourself almost daily in the surprise department, Ms. O'Flaherty."

"Shhh, I'm concentrating," Ryan said with mock severity. "I've only got ten bucks on me, and I don't want to make a mistake."

"Ten bucks! Ryan, most of these pastries are only a dollar! Are you really going to eat ten of them?"

"Unless I can get you to create a distraction while I grab an armful, yes, I'm only able to eat ten of them," she said dejectedly.

"You know, I can never tell when you're kidding about things like this," she said good-naturedly. "But if you are serious, I've got some major cash on me, so have at it."

As it turned out, Ryan was kidding, but not by much. She ate a cheese and a cherry Danish, two cinnamon crisps and a light little cream puff, while Jamie limited herself to a cherry Danish and a cinnamon crisp. They each had a delicious cup of coffee, their first of the trip. After they had finished, Ryan jogged off in search of a bathroom; Jamie got back in line and bought three more pastries for her lover to snack on later in the day. She was hiding them in her bike bag when Ryan returned, energized and ready for the day.

They rode only a few more miles until the first pit stop. They spent a few minutes drinking water, as Ryan advised Jamie of the impending problems climbing the Gaviota Pass.

"This next one is kind of tough," she warned. "It's a long seven miles with anywhere from a two to a five percent grade. But the real problem is the narrow shoulders on a couple of bridges. I get off the bike, turn around, and make sure that no trucks are coming. If it's clear, I ride across if it's a long bridge, or I sprint across if it's short. Promise me that you'll be careful, okay?" she asked seriously, placing her hands on Jamie's shoulders and looking intently into her eyes.

"I promise I'll be careful. I don't have the thrill-seeking gene like somebody I know," she replied, as she found her favorite tickling spot and gave it a few good twitches.

Ryan's prediction was accurate. The climb was not really all that bad, but Highway 101 is terribly busy, every hour of the day. Jamie hated having the semi's fly past her on the narrow road, but she summoned all of her concentration to focus just ahead of her, knowing that Ryan would keep an eye out for the road ahead.

They dismounted and walked their bikes across two of the small bridges, then rode across a longer one, after waiting for traffic to break. When they reached the top of the pass, there was a brake test area for trucks, so they knew that a big downhill was coming. For a change, Ryan didn't go down at breakneck speed. She stayed just in front of Jamie, all the way down the four-mile drop.

They reached the second pit stop at mile 44. Today's theme was Bath Time, and all of the crew wore shower caps, towels and slippers. They rested for a while, since the stop was later than normal because of the pass. They were now right on the ocean, and they would stay close to it for the rest of the ride. The cool ocean breeze and cooler temperatures were terribly refreshing, but Jamie knew that they came with a price--they would be riding into that breeze for most of the rest of the ride.

They pedaled through the wind, and finally arrived at their lunch stop--the University of California at Santa Barbara. As they rode along the beautiful eucalyptus-lined streets of the campus, they were greeted by dozens and dozens of elementary school kids, college students and local residents who came out with signs and banners welcoming them to Santa Barbara. Jamie fought tears every time they encountered a spontaneous display like this. She knew that Ryan really appreciated it too, from the adorable little grin that she always had when she waved back.

The cycling team from the college was on hand to welcome them at the lunch site. "Jeez, look at the thighs on that woman," Jamie said in awe as they sat on the grass eating lunch.

"Her calves aren't bad either," Ryan said with an appraising glance that began at the woman's head and slowly traveled all the way down to her feet.

"Hey," Jamie said as she poked her in the ribs. "Keep those looks for me, kiddo."

"Everything I have is for you, Jamie," she said sweetly. "My interest is purely professional."

After a moment Jamie turned and faced Ryan squarely, "Do you really think I'm going to be enough to keep you interested for the rest of your life?"

"Where did that question come from?" Ryan asked, slightly perplexed by the unexpected query.

"I don't know," Jamie replied a little defensively. "I just didn't like the way you looked at that woman."

"Then we need to talk about this," Ryan declared. She sat up straight and put her hands on Jamie's knees. She closed her eyes for a moment, to compose her thoughts, and when she opened them she gazed deeply into Jamie's eyes. "I pledge my fidelity to you alone, Jamie. I will never touch another woman in a sexual way. I swear to that, and I would never make such an important promise that I couldn't keep."

"I know, Ryan," she said as she wrapped her arms around her neck. "I'm sorry. I'm just feeling a little sensitive today."

"No, don't brush this aside, Jamie," she insisted. "I really want you to understand this. I think you and I are different in this area, and I want you to understand me." She pulled back from Jamie's embrace and held both of her hands. "I love women. I love just about everything about women. I get a lot of pleasure out of seeing a beautifully built woman. But I look at other women like works of art. My pleasure comes from seeing their bodies, and the way they carry themselves. I don't objectify them or think about having sex with them any more though. I just admire the female form. I don't think I can stop doing that, Jamie. And I'm not sure that I would, even if I could," she said resolutely. "But you're the woman I want to be with. You're the woman I want to touch intimately. You are more than enough woman for me, and you always will be," she said fervently. "I find everything about you beautiful. Not just your face or your body. It's your spirit that I love, and that will always be the same, even as we grow old," she slid her arms around her partner and kissed the tears coursing down her face. "You're the last woman in my life," she whispered as she bent to kiss her tenderly.

"Oh Ryan, you are so sweet to me," she said through her tears. "Thank you for putting up with my insecurities."

"I don't understand why a jewel like you is insecure, but I don't consider talking about things like this 'putting up' with you. We're still getting to know each other, Jamie. And I want to spend the rest of my life getting to know you...at the cellular level," she said with a crooked little grin.

"Only you could weave biology into an expression of love," Jamie said teasingly, kissing Ryan on the nose. "And I hope you know that I don't doubt your love. I just get insecure when I think of the other women you've been with. I just worry that I won't measure up," she added with an embarrassed little look.

"Jamie, Jamie, Jamie," Ryan said, hugging her close. "I've been eating from McDonalds and Burger King for all these years. You're the finest five-star restaurant in the world compared to those other women. I could never miss those empty calories. Each meal was indistinguishable from the next." She rocked her slowly in her arms and added, "You, and only you, are what gives me true sustenance."

Jamie fought back the tears again as she kissed Ryan's face, "I truly think that you are the sweetest woman on earth," she said adoringly.

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

After lunch, they rode on the lovely system of bike paths that traversed Santa Barbara. Ryan explained how far the system went, and showed Jamie some of the spurs that cyclists could take to cross town. "How do you know so much about the system?" Jamie finally asked.

"I was down here a couple of years ago for a tournament, and I stayed on campus. I borrowed a bike, and rode all over when we weren't playing."

"What kind of tournament were you in?" Jamie inquired.

"Basketball," she replied simply.

"I didn't know you played basketball," she said with surprise.

"Sure you did. I told you one of my concussions was during a game."

"But I didn't understand that you played on a real team. I thought you were just fooling around. Was this in high school?"

"Nope. College."

"You played college-level basketball?" she said suspiciously. "And you've never mentioned that you play?"

"Guess not," she said over her shoulder as she took off with a laugh.

It's gonna take me years to get all of her secrets out, Jamie thought. But I'll get 'em eventually.

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

Their next stop was the town of Carpinteria. The Rotary Club, the City Council, several hundred residents, a radio station and a large group of local merchants were there to greet them. Big boom boxes provided loud music, and as people milled about waiting for massages and food, a number of people danced energetically to the booming sounds of the music. They were right on the beach, and they watched paragliders, surfers and body boarders work the waves. Jamie was happy to just plop down and take a rest, but Ryan was buzzing with energy. She spotted her old friend Karen, and motioned her over. They chatted for a while; when it became obvious that Ryan was wired, Karen asked, "Hey Jamie, do you mind if I work some excess energy off your girlfriend?"

"I guess that depends on how you plan on doing that," was the dry reply.

"Just a little dancing is all," she replied innocently.

"Be my guest," Jamie said with a flourish.

"Do I get a vote?" Ryan asked

"Nope," Jamie and Karen replied simultaneously.

Karen took her hand and led her over to the largest boom box. They started to jump around energetically, bleeding off energy. Jamie watched with fascination thinking, I don't know what's better, dancing with her or watching her dance.

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

After they were back on their bikes, Jamie said, "You know, it was fun watching you dance. You and Karen really look cute together."

Ryan cocked her head at her as she replied, "It didn't bother you to see me with her, did it?"

"Not at all. I meant what I said. It was cute." After a beat she added, "Why didn't you want to date her seriously? She really looks like your type, now that I've been around her."

"She's too much my type," she admitted wryly. "We would've driven each other crazy. She has more energy than I do in some areas, and she had even less interest than I did in settling down with one person. She slept with someone else on the ride!" she said indignantly.

"Why did that bother you?" Jamie asked, really curious.

"Because we were having sex every night! I'm not used to people looking elsewhere while I'm actively bedding them," she said with a twinkle. "And it was in our tent! I had to go sit on a picnic bench, and wait for them to finish so I could go to bed. Then, to add insult to injury, she still wanted to do it with me later that night!"

"And you, of course, said no, right?" Jamie asked innocently, as she batted her big green eyes.

"Well, she obviously wasn't satisfied, so I had to show her what she had missed," Ryan explained with a wry chuckle.

"It doesn't bother you to talk about your old flames, does it?" Jamie asked.

"No. Does it bother you to hear about them?"

"No, it doesn't," she said reflectively. "I like thinking about what a player you used to be. And I stress the 'used to be' part of that statement," she warned.

"My membership in that group has been voluntarily and irrevocably terminated," she replied, in complete agreement.

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

The next 12 miles were torturously slow ones. The wind had freshened and blew in their faces the entire time. It seemed as though they had done the entire ride in one day rather than six, and the remaining miles loomed ahead of them like an unbreachable wall. Ryan rode directly in front of Jamie, trying to be a foil, but it really did not help much. Several times during the worst of it, Jamie rued her decision to take on this adventure, but after a few minutes of grousing she would look up ahead and see her determined partner, grinding away, and her mood would improve immediately. They rested much longer than normal at the last pit stop, dropping to the ground under the shade of a small tree after they had consumed two bottles of sports drink. Neither spoke for the entire time they lay there, and after a good half-hour's rest, Ryan stood and extended her hand, pulling Jamie to her feet. They headed out for the last ten miles of the day with grimly determined faces.

They arrived at Buenaventura State Beach significantly later than normal. Both felt more tired than sweaty, so they skipped their evening shower and took a quick nap. The nap was actually more like a quick coma than anything else, since neither heard their boisterous neighbors setting up camp, singing Barbra Streisand tunes at full volume.

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

Almost as soon as they left the tent, Jamie could sense that the mood over the camp had a different feeling than every other night. They stood in the longish line observing the assembled riders; after a few minutes Jamie tilted her head up and said, "I've been trying to think of what this reminds me of. I think I've got it."

"What's that, Hon?"

"It feels like the last days of high school," she decided. "You know, you're all aware that it's almost over, and you know that even though you claim you'll stay close, it will be the last time you will see some of your acquaintances."

"Yeah, I guess it does," she agreed halfheartedly.

"It's not like that for you?"

"I didn't have any friends by the time I graduated from high school," she said flatly. "And the thought of never seeing most of my classmates again was pure bliss."

Turning in her direction, Jamie placed her hands flat against Ryan's chest. The look on her face was one of sheer incredulity. "Ryan, everyone loves you!" she insisted. "I know you had troubles, but surely…"

"No. No one," she declared, her face impassive, but her eyes reflecting the lingering hurt.

"But how…"

"Not now, Jamie," she said firmly. "This night is hard enough for me without dredging that stuff up."

For the hundredth time, Jamie mentally rebuked herself for her unerring ability to find topics that greatly upset her partner. Quit prying into her past so much! she chided herself. She tells you plenty, but she only does it when she's ready. Leave the poor thing alone!

Trying one of the two things that always seemed to brighten Ryan's mood, she peeked down the table and commented. "Mmm, brownies for dessert."

"Where?" Ryan asked sharply.

"Right over there," she pointed, indicating a large platter nearly filled with the treats. "I'm not really in the mood for chocolate tonight," she said with a casual dismissal. "You can have mine."

A sweet smile and a little squeeze of her hand greeted her offer. "It's okay, Hon. I'm not mad at you for asking about my life. You don't have to give me cookie reparations."

"Would you like my brownie?" Jamie asked with her own smile.

"Mmm, let's just say this for the record. When I turn down a brownie, it's time to take me to the emergency room."

"It makes me happy to make you happy, Sweetie. So do us both a favor, and accept my peace offering, okay?"

"Hrumph! The lengths I have to go to please you!" she muttered, trying to hide a grin.

"St. Ryan of Mayo," Jamie decreed. "It's got a ring to it."

"Mmm, I think I prefer St. Ryan of Killala," she decided. "The town could use the tourist business my shrine would bring in."

"Yet another saintly act," Jamie insisted. "Always thinking of others."

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

After they received their food, they were searching around for a place to sit when a voice called out, "Hey, 'O' ".

Ryan looked around and identified the speaker, then turned to Jamie to ask, "Mind if we sit with the wild girls?"

"Ahh, no, I think I've shown that I have a soft spot for wild girls," she grinned.

They walked over to a table of six women. Jamie guessed they were a little older--in their late 20's to early 30's-- and they clearly knew Ryan well. She went from woman to woman, kissing each on the lips, before she began to introduce her partner. "Jamie, this motley crew is a small part of The Lavender Menace, one of the teams I trained with a couple of years ago. Everybody, this is Jamie Evans, my…" she cast a devilish grin at her partner before decreeing, "fiancée."

"What?" the women responded, almost in unison.

"Yep. We're tying the knot on Monday," she related. Ryan caught the shocked look on Jamie's face, but she just beamed a smile at her and gave her shoulder a little squeeze.

The assembled women spent quite a while dragging the whole story out of Ryan. Jamie sat at her side, responding to direct questions, but finding herself very happy just to watch her partner interact with the group. She recognized at least one of them from the off-road ride Ryan had taken her to up on Mt. Tam, and as she regarded each of them, she had to admit that they were the most stereotypical looking lesbians that she had seen Ryan with. They all had very short hair, much shorter than her own, and two of them had hair of a color rarely found in nature. Their casual poses allowed her to detect that at least three of them didn't shave their legs, and all of them had some type of body ornament, either tattoos or a visible piercing.

Even though she hadn't met a lot of Ryan's friends, she decided that, based on looks, her partner would not have a lot in common with these women, but there was some deep bond that reflected her connection to them. She was a little more boisterous and a lot more full of herself—boasting about her conditioning, and her preparedness for the ride--but it was all done with such a teasing, playful sense that it was very well received. It took a minute for the realization to dawn on Jamie, but she finally recalled what it reminded her of. It's like any group of jocks, she mused. They build themselves up and tear each other down, but it's done with an affectionate teasing that's really cute, she decided. Yet another side of the enigmatic Ms. O'Flaherty, she thought affectionately as she watched her perform.

"So, Ryan," a woman named Cathy said. "I hear Tiffany's been looking for you. Hey!" she cried when her neighbor poked her in the ribs. "O's cool with it, aren't you?"

"Yeah, it's fine," she agreed with a bemused chuckle as she slung an arm around her partner. "Jamie already told her to take a hike."

"Good for you, Jamie," a woman named Brenda opined. "She's trash!"

"Oh, she's not that bad," Ryan said, always trying to give people the benefit of the doubt.

Six pairs of eyes rolled at that comment. The women struggled to their feet, patting Ryan and Jamie on the back as they passed. "We'll see you two over at the stage," Brenda said. "We want to catch all the announcements about tomorrow."

"Okay, see ya," Ryan said as they departed.

"Tying the knot?" the amused voice at her side softly wafted up to Ryan's ear.

"Yep. That's exactly how I think of it," Ryan said confidently.

Jamie snuggled close and snuck her arm around her partner's waist. "Why haven't you told me that?" she asked. "I mean, I know we've both been looking forward to next week, but I didn't know…"

"You didn't know how much it means to me emotionally?" Ryan asked as she turned to look at her.

"No, no…I guess I do know that," Jamie mused. "I'm not sure what I mean. Maybe it just surprised me to hear you talk about it in those terms."

"Just because we've not planned a formal ceremony doesn't mean that it's any less meaningful for me, Jamie," Ryan insisted as she grasped her hands. "This is our honeymoon, Honey. I'll admit that I didn't spend much time thinking about my wedding day when I was young, but the commitment still means a lot to me. You've held my heart for a very long time. But on Monday I'm giving you my body also. This means more to me than I can say."

Once again her partner's ability to take her breath away had Jamie struggling to calm her heart. She found herself unable to answer at the moment, her words uncharacteristically abandoning her. So she turned her head and leaned heavily against Ryan, letting the emotion pass between them for a long time.

She jerked into an upright position, however, when Tiffany passed right in front of them, chortling with some comrades as she did so.

Jamie smoothed her hair into place and passed her brownie over to her partner along with a kiss on the cheek. "I think it's so sweet that you don't trash people," she said, very pleased that Ryan had not even commented on the woman's presence.

"Oh, I do," Ryan laughed. "I can be positively wicked. They just have to hit a hot button. Tiffany didn't ever do that."

"Do you have any idea why she's so angry with you?"

"Yeah, a pretty good idea," Ryan mused, as she nibbled on her gooey brownie. "Part of it is that's just her personality. She's very confrontational—always ready to pick a fight. She works at San Francisco General now, with a lot of the people we met the other night, and she's never been well liked there. I met her on one of the bike rides up in Marin. She wasn't at the hospital when I trained that group."

"So she hangs out with the women we met tonight?" Jamie asked, trying to fit the snotty woman into the friendly, relaxed group that she had just been introduced to.

"Kinda. She doesn't really fit in with this crowd, but she was in the group when I volunteered to train them for the ride."

"You trained the whole group?"

"Yeah. Nothing like I did with you, though. I just helped them with the actual riding part. Many of them were mountain bikers, and they were unfamiliar with road bikes and how to get ready to do a long trek like this. We used to go on long rides on Saturday and Sunday, and then get dinner together. Tiffany knew how I was—without a doubt," she insisted. "Everybody knew that I was sleeping with Alisa. Remember her?"

"Yeah," Jamie smirked, the image of the lovely Latina kissing Ryan after the off-road ride on Mt. Tam still burned into her brain.

"Right. Anyway, Tiffany knew that, but she still tried to get me to go to her apartment after almost every dinner. I went a few times—really—just a few times," she insisted. "I was still seeing Alisa, and she knew that, and everything seemed fine. When we got our registration packets for the Ride she asked if we could bunk together. That seemed fine with me; I actually didn't care who I slept with. Well..." she blushed a little and added, "You know what I mean. But she obviously thought it meant something. The night before the ride ended she told me that she wanted to be exclusive with me. I didn't feel the same way at all, and I tried to explain that in a gentle way, but she was furious! I actually thought she was going to hit me! I went to watch the entertainment, hoping she'd cool down, but when I got back to the tent all my stuff was lying in a heap outside the flap. Luckily, they let me sleep in the medical trailer, or I would have had to sleep on a picnic table!"

"Wow, she was furious," Jamie agreed, her brow furrowed slightly. "Did you ever talk to her again?"

"I tried to," Ryan explained. "When we got home, I called her several times, but she never picked up, and she never returned my calls."

"Her loss, Sweetie," Jamie decided. "If you didn't love me, I'd still want to be your friend. I'd take whatever little piece of yourself you'd give me."

"I give you everything, Jamie," she said with a very serious look on her face.

"I know you do, Love," she agreed completely. "And it's the best gift I've ever received. Someday I hope I'm worthy of it," she added, leaning in for a gentle kiss.

"I don't give myself away to someone who I don't think is worthy of my love," Ryan assured her. "You're the woman I want…heart and soul."

"That's just what you've got," Jamie agreed, tasting the rich chocolate that lingered on her partner's smiling lips.

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

They began to make the rounds, saying goodbye to everyone they recognized. Each stop took a few minutes, as Jamie snapped photos of people she hadn't yet captured. They had all obtained their commemorative booklets for the closing ceremonies, and they had their new friends sign the booklets as a keepsake. The stop at Karen Joncas' table took quite a while as they chatted companionably. Jamie got a particularly cute shot of Karen sitting on Ryan's lap, giving her a big kiss on the cheek, as her grinning lover smiled right into the lens.

When they got up to leave, Karen said, "I hope you can cook, Jamie, because 'slim' here is down about 15 pounds by my estimate." She gave her friend a pat on the butt to test her theory. Grabbing a handful she amended her estimate, "Maybe 20!"

Ryan laughed and admitted, "I am a little low. I've been having a tough time getting filled up, especially in the mornings." She was about to add something to her statement when she caught the glint in her former lover's eyes. "Don't even go there!" Ryan ordered, playfully cuffing her on the head.

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

When they had spoken to everyone around the dining area they made their way to the stage. Ryan loved this night, as they were all able to say thank you to the volunteers and organizers of the ride. But it was always very bittersweet, and she knew this year would be worse than most, since she had been so emotionally vulnerable throughout the week. The tears flowed freely when the various crews were introduced for a rousing thank you. Jamie's hands were sore when they had finally thanked the hundreds of men and women who had made the ride the wonderful experience that it had been.

They walked around the camp perimeter one last time, hand in hand, silently soaking up the experience. When they returned to their tent, the emotion was still too high to speak, so they held each other for a long while, each reflecting on the experience. Finally, Ryan gave her partner a chaste kiss on the cheek, mumbling, "It's too tempting tonight," before she rolled over with her back to her Jamie and went to sleep.

Chapter 22

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