See part 1 for disclaimers

Chapter Four

The next week generally followed the pattern of the previous one. Ryan still arrived by seven, parking her motorcycle a block away. They had breakfast together and usually could manage an hour or so during the middle of the day, but with finals so close that was getting a little harder to pull off.

Ryan had never fallen behind in her schoolwork and it made her uncomfortable to do so now, so they decided to try to learn how to study together. Every night after a quick dinner they headed over to the Biosciences Library for a couple of hours of concentrated effort.

Each night started out promising enough but within twenty minutes or so Jamie would look up to find her companion just staring at her with a vacant, lovesick expression on her beautiful face. Jamie would give her a playful scowl and point firmly at her books. Another twenty or thirty minutes later, however, found the same goofy look coming her way and she would indulgently nod and follow Ryan to their secret spot.

The Biosciences Library was a very large building, five stories tall and usually jammed with people. But since Ryan spent so much time in the place she knew where the quietest nook was. So she would lead Jamie to the most distant part of the stacks and pounce on her with abandon. It was certainly not an ideal solution—the dusty, old, little-used books in this section could have brought on an allergy attack and there was no place to sit. But it was quiet and that was all that they cared about at that point. They would spend five minutes or so gently kissing and hugging, with Jamie putting every bit of effort into making sure that the kisses were loving enough to satisfy her partner but innocent enough to allow Ryan to go back and study.

But even with these little intimacy breaks, by nine o'clock each night Ryan's gaze locked onto her and she refused to be dissuaded. They would pack up their books and walk back to the bike where they would jump on for a quick trip to friendly territory. They both decided that the sexual energy at the bar was a little too dangerous so they spent their evenings at Mama Bears. They had to endure a little teasing from Babs that became worse every night until Ryan revealed that they had no place else to go. Quickly taking pity on her friend, Babs turned off the lamps flanking a low velvet loveseat and guided the women over. "It's nice and dark now girls, have fun!"

They dropped down into the sofa and spent a nice half hour languidly exploring each other's mouths. That night and each night thereafter Jamie made it a point to buy coffee or cocoa and some little snacks, telling Ryan, "If we're gonna take up this much space we've gotta eat something!"

By Friday night they were both much more comfortable with the way things were working out. Ryan was comfortable being turned on most of the night since Jamie seemed to be relaxing quite a bit. And she was fully able to release her pent up desire as soon as she got home.

Early Saturday morning Ryan answered the phone to hear a very chipper-sounding girlfriend. "I had a scathingly brilliant idea," she said excitedly.

"Do tell," Ryan urged.

"Remember my father's city apartment?"

"Yeah, you've mentioned it."

"I've got keys," she stated rather dramatically.

"But doesn't he use it sometimes?"

"Yeah, but usually just on a weekday, like if he has a real late meeting in the city. It saves him having to drive home and then come right back the next morning."

"So your plan involves what? Sleeping over?"

"Umm, that's a little adventurous," she mused. "But a nice long afternoon of studying in bed and smooching sounds pretty good to me. How about you?"

A deep winsome sigh was sufficient response.

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

Ryan was sitting on the deck--anxiously awaiting her date when Jamie pulled up at two o'clock. She was grinning like a two-year-old as she ran down the stairs and Jamie just had to spend a moment taking her in when she hopped into the car. "You are so incredibly beautiful today," she enthused as her eyes ran up and down Ryan's long body.

The day was clear and warm and Ryan had taken advantage of the temperature. She wore a v-necked red knit short-sleeved shirt with small horizontal lines in shades of blue. It was quite tight, hugging her voluptuous form firmly, and it ended a good two inches above her navel. Her long legs were covered by dark blue stretch chinos. The pants did not have pockets, but if they had, Jamie would have been able to call heads or tails on the change she carried. Jamie hungrily observed that her girlfriend looked like she was about to burst forth from her tight clothes and she hoped fervently that a poor quality thread had been used on the seams.

Ryan laughed at her dumbstruck expression and removed the band from her wrist to pull her hair back in a ponytail for the windy ride. "Yet another generous compliment," she said lightly as she patted Jamie on the thigh.

"Wow!" she mumbled as she leaned over and kissed her roughly, right in plain view of the neighbors.

Ryan had to struggle just to focus after that scorcher and she privately mused that she would need to be on her guard all day.

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

The drive to Telegraph Hill was quick and pleasant on this lovely Saturday. They pulled into the subterranean garage and left the Porsche in the tandem space marked 'Evans'.

Never having been in a building with personalized parking spots, as they waited for the garage elevator, Ryan mused, "Nice place."

"Thanks," Jamie replied, even though she had no real connection to the place.

Moments after entering the brass-toned elevator they were deposited on the first floor of the lavishly decorated building. Jamie immediately steered Ryan towards the uniformed man sitting at a large circular workstation. Ryan held back, letting her partner do her thing.

Jamie's habitual need to engage every member of the service industry in a private conversation had become a little joke between them and when the smaller woman returned she smiled at Ryan and reminded her, "Doormen need love too."

As they walked across the polished granite floor Jamie cast a narrow eyed glance at her partner's squeaky running shoes but as expected Ryan just had to scuff her feet a tiny bit more in response. The little pink tongue that stuck out of those luscious mauve lips was a surprise but most definitely a welcome one.

The generous lift whisked them to the top floor in seconds as Ryan fought with her ears to keep them open against the pressure. "They should supply gum in the lobby," she grumbled as she followed her partner along the sumptuous beige and maroon paisley carpet. The key slid into the lock and opened with a click, allowing Ryan to follow Jamie into the apartment that just screamed 'MAN'.

"Wow," Ryan mused as she looked around the obviously expensive but equally obviously masculine apartment. "My father would die to live in a place like this."

"Wanna take a look around?" Jamie asked.

"Sure. I love to see how people who have taste furnish their homes," she said with a cute little smile.

"Mother furnished the place of course," Jamie said as she pointed out the two generous bedrooms, each with its own bath. Next was the sunny dining room with the very modern brushed aluminum glass-topped table and deep maroon Ultrasuede covered chairs with frames that matched the table base. Modern impressionistic art lined the walls and Ryan noted that every print had been signed by the artist and numbered. Tiny slatted aluminum mini-blinds covered the generous windows and with a smirk Ryan slid her finger across one of the slats to illustrate that they were dust-free.

"Does your father have a staff just for the blinds?" she asked.

"No, but he's a neat freak so I'd guess he has them cleaned every week," Jamie admitted.

Next she led her to the living room and its matching black leather sofas that sat on the edge of the cranberry and slate gray tweed area rug. Small modern chairs in a shiny gray material filled out the living room perfectly. Ryan turned to her partner and mused, "There's more sitting space in here than we have in our whole house." But her tone was matter-of-fact so Jamie merely agreed rather than trying to discern if that fact bothered her.

The kitchen was last on the tour but Ryan decided she like it the best of the whole place. It was even more modern than the rest of the apartment but there was a lot more color in the small, windowless room. Bright, wild modern art filled the stark white walls, making the room look bigger and more interesting. The cabinets and the appliances were uniformly stainless steel, but the counters were black granite. The floor was a dark gray stone of some sort and Ryan found that she liked the hard surface even though she mused it would be hard to stand on for long periods of time. But she needn't have worried about that fact. The kitchen actually looked as though it had never been used. Opening the Sub-Zero refrigerator Ryan nodded to herself, commenting, "Wine, beer, sparkling water, Pepsi, orange juice, oh…there it is," she declared, emerging with a jar of salsa in her hand. "Food!"

"Hey, he's a guy," Jamie shrugged as she went back into the living room.

"Is this just your dad's place?" Ryan asked as she joined her on the black sofa.

"Yeah, I'd say so. They stay here together occasionally, but I don't think mother has ever been here alone. He uses it as a quick place to shower or take a nap if he has an important meeting in the evening. A lot of his time is spent wooing international clients so he sometimes has a teleconference at midnight or even three or four a.m. When he has those it just makes sense to stay here rather than drive down to Hillsborough."

"Yeah, that makes sense," Ryan agreed. "So both of our fathers have to sleep away for work sometimes, huh?"

"After a fashion," Jamie agreed as she snuggled up to her partner. They nuzzled against each other for a few minutes trying to keep things light. But the mere thought of all of those luscious curves in those skin-tight clothes compelled Jamie to begin running her hands all over Ryan's body. "You are so delectable looking in this outfit," she whispered.

"Glad you like it," Ryan's deep voice rumbled back. "You don't think this shirt is too tight do you?" she asked in an innocent tone.

Jamie blew out a laugh as she sat up and smirked at her partner. "I'd like you in Caitlin's clothes, you silly goose!"

"Hmm," Ryan mused. "She has a hot little yellow terry cloth number I might borrow. Would I look good with little embroidered ducks dancing across my chest?"

"I don't know about ducks," Jamie whispered, "but I'd like to take a turn across that dance floor."

"My, my, Ms. Evans, you are the little minx today," Ryan teased as she tried to lighten the mood again. "Hey, is it just me, or is it hot in here? I'm dying of thirst."

"Oh-oh, my bad," Jamie replied as she hopped up and headed for the kitchen. On the way she made a stop at the thermostat to turn on the air in the seldom-used unit, joining her partner moments later with a sheepish grin and two large bottles of mineral water. "Sorry about that," she chuckled as she handed one over to her sweating lover.

"To tell you the truth I didn't notice until about two minutes ago," Ryan laughed. They managed to gulp down most of the liter bottles without pause, trying to hydrate themselves.

"Wanna go to bed and cuddle while we do a little studying?" Jamie asked when they had finished their drinks.

"Sure. Although I doubt we'll get much done," she warned as she picked up her book bag. They chose the guest room and together removed the bedspread and blanket before they kicked off their shoes and made themselves comfortable.

Several minutes later they were busy studying—but not their books. Jamie was terribly intent on trying to examine Ryan's skin through her clothes and, even though she wasn't very successful, neither was complaining. Ryan was surprisingly in control since she had been expecting a full frontal attack. She was just about to call a halt to the proceedings when they both froze in wild-eyed shock.

"Jamie?" boomed a voice from the entryway.

"MY FATHER!!!" she mouthed as she scrambled to her feet. "Get in the closet!!" she demanded. Before Ryan could utter a sound her partner was dashing out the door and running down the hallway to meet her father.

GET IN THE CLOSET!!! Not for you or any other woman on earth!! Ryan fumed in outrage. But her love for the gentle woman she had held in her arms just moments earlier got the better of her and she silently put her shoes back on and climbed under the king-sized bed. Never the closet! she righteously declared.

The minutes ticked away and with each sweep of the second hand Ryan felt her temper rise. She wasn't angry that Jamie was unwilling to reveal the nature of their relationship to her parents. Her years of experience with friends and kids on the Teen Talk Line had given her ample evidence of how difficult that step was. But she was still nearly speechless that Jamie had denied her very existence! There were at least one hundred ways to handle this situation and she honestly thought that her partner had chosen the worst one. And as each scenario flashed through her mind she grew more and more agitated.

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

"Daddy!" Jamie nearly shouted when she reached the living room. She had managed to straighten her hair into a reasonable facsimile of its usual order and she offered up a silent prayer of thanks that she was not dating a lipstick lesbian.

"You're the last person I'd expect to find here, Jamie," he said happily. "But it's a very nice surprise."

"I was over here…um…in the city …um…working out," her mind rapidly constructed a reasonable lie. "And I've got plans in the city later tonight so I stopped by here for a little nap."

"Oh, I didn't wake you did I, Cupcake?" he asked solicitously.

"No, not at all, I was already awake. I've been here for a while," she honestly replied.

He walked into the living room and noticed the two water bottles on the coffee table. "My, you must have been working out," he laughed. "That's an enormous amount of water for one girl to drink. What were you doing that was so energetic?" he innocently asked.

"Uhh," she fumbled, All of my saliva's in Ryan's mouth didn't seem like a good answer, so she opted for a lie. "I was on a long ride. Guess I got dehydrated."

"I didn't see your bicycle on your car. Is it up here?" he asked, looking around quizzically.

"Oh, no, I rode with a friend and left it at their house." God, I'm already using 'their' as a substitute for 'her' and I don't even know the secret handshake!

"Well, I must say I'm proud of the effort you're putting into this ride, Jamie. I didn't know that you had this kind of determination."

"Thanks," she said weakly, trying to figure out how to get out of the house. "Why are you here, Daddy?"

"I played golf with some clients at the Club and I've got a big charity dinner to attend tonight. I thought I could catch a nap before I have to get into my tuxedo."

"Well don't let me stop you," she urged. "I was about to get going anyway."

"I'd rather spend the afternoon with my daughter any time," he beamed. "But if you're ready I'll walk you down to your car."

"NO! No, really, that's not necessary. You go on and lie down."

"Jamie, I'm only 45," he chided. "And besides, I had to park behind you in the tandem spot. Let's go down together."

" 'Kay," she said weakly. "Um…I left something in the bedroom. Be right back." She scampered into the room, closing the door almost in his face. Silently padding over to the closet she opened the louvered doors and practically fainted when she saw that it was empty. But when she turned she saw a dark head peeking out from under the tailored bed skirt. Dropping to her knees she whispered, "He wants to walk me to the car. Then he's going to take a nap. Wait ten minutes after you hear him get back and then come down to the lobby. I'll drive around until you get there, okay?" Her eyes were wild with fright so Ryan swallowed her displeasure at the rude treatment she'd been subjected to. She merely nodded and blew her terrified lover a silent kiss.

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

Ryan lay on her back waiting for the door to open again. It took much longer than she expected but she finally heard it open and close quietly. She set the timer on her watch, since her sense of time was obviously off, and settled back down to wait. But no more than two minutes had passed before she heard a gentle knock on the front door. That must be Jamie coming back for something, she mused. She pricked up her ears, listening intently for information. That better not be Jamie, she thought with horror as a woman's shrieking, giggling voice wafted to her ears. Please let that be her mother, she prayed, but she had a pretty good idea that the voice was not, in fact, Mrs. Evans.

"Oh! Stop that! I said stop that!" the young-sounding woman cried. "OOOH! Put me down!" she cried again. Luckily her cries were playful as Ryan mused about what she would do if she sounded serious. That would be quite the introduction: Mr. Evans, unhand that woman! Who am I? Never mind who I am, just release that innocent young thing, you beast!

The playful cries continued into the master bedroom where Ryan heard a loud thump as he obviously granted the woman's wish to put her down. Now loud giggles replaced the screams, but moments later she heard the woman dart down the hallway, with the heavier footsteps of Mr. Evans right behind her. "Come back here," he cried as he obviously chased her around the apartment. Please, oh please don't let her run in here, Ryan begged as she heard them dart down the hall again.

The chase continued back and forth between the bedroom and the living room. She hoped that he would finally catch her in the living room since it was on the far end of the apartment, furthest both from the bedroom she was in and the front door. After a good ten minutes of shrieks and laughter the chase seemed to stop. Now she heard only an occasional cry. Hmm, if they're going at it in the living room I could get out. I think I'll sneak over to the door and crack it open for more information.

When she did so she actually blushed to hear the woman's voice come through the apartment in a rough moan, "Oh God! Yes! Do it, Baby! Oooooh God, you're so big!"

Do they really believe that line? She marveled as she grabbed her book bag and tip-toed out the door only to stop in shock when she turned to find Jamie's dad, pants around his knees, humping a woman right on the elegant carpet runner, not ten feet from her. She had never felt so much like a deer in the headlights and her first instinct was to crawl back under the bed and wait until Mr. Evans left for his dinner. But she had a small glimmer of hope since they were facing away from her. Even though a part of her wanted to poke her own eyes out after seeing Mr. Evans' bare ass, the position of the lovers guaranteed that either Mr. Evans would have to turn around or his 'date' would have to sit up a bit—and neither prospect seemed likely. So she swallowed her fears and crept soundlessly across the hall. But to her horror the very young, curly-haired redhead struggled into a semi-upright position, bracing her torso on her locked arms. Ryan was exactly halfway across the hall but since it was just as far to retreat as to move on she continued. Opening the door an inch at a time she slid out without detection. "Whew! That was close," she mumbled aloud. But her relief was short-lived when she realized that she had to use all of her acting talents to appear normal when she faced her girlfriend in a few minutes.

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

"Where in the hell have you been?" Jamie cried when she slid into the Porsche moments later.

"He was running around the apartment for the longest time," Ryan truthfully replied. "I couldn't leave until I knew he was…occupied."

"Jesus!" she moaned as her head dropped onto the steering wheel. "My entire life flashed before my eyes when I heard him come in."

"Because…" Ryan drawled, her ire beginning to rise again.

"He might have seen you…I mean us," she explained lamely.

"That would be tragic," Ryan snapped. Grabbing the door handle she flung it open as Jamie was slowing for a stop sign. Before Jamie could even blink she was walking briskly down the street, a determined set to her broad shoulders.

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

Stuck on Lombard Street on Telegraph Hill, penniless, no change for the phone, and mightily pissed off was the best description of Ryan's state. How dare she! How dare she! She's actually ashamed of me!

She was striding down the street, nearly oblivious to her surroundings. Her internal homing device was leading her in the right direction but she was clearly not paying conscious attention. Telegraph Hill was probably the most distant point from her house in the whole city and she knew she had a couple of hours of walking over the hills before she reached home. There was only one good thing about her situation; it would give her a chance to cool down and reflect a bit on the whole terrible afternoon.

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

As soon as Ryan fled, Jamie pulled the Boxster up to the curb and sat numbly for a few minutes, trying to decide what to do. What in the hell is she so upset about? She knows I'm not ready to tell my father! And to have him find us in the bedroom together would be a horrible way for him to find out! She felt her head hit the steering wheel as she tried her best to open her mind and try to see the incident from Ryan's perspective, but she was having a devil of a time getting past her own hurt. Without warning it hit her—Ryan would not have acted that way if she hadn't been deeply wounded. Going over and over the scene she realized how terrible it must have felt for such a proud, self-assured woman to have to sneak out of an apartment just so her lover's father wouldn't find out about her. Jesus! she cried as she thumped her head against the wheel repeatedly. How could you have done that to her!

As the minutes passed she was yanked from her reverie when she was struck by the thought that Ryan could not have had any money. She didn't have any pockets in those pants. And her book bag is right here! Oh shit! I let her get out on Telegraph Hill to walk all the way to Noe! That's criminal! Throwing the car into gear she pulled into traffic, nearly getting sideswiped by a passing car. Shit! she continued in her rant, ignoring the close call. She had loafers on too, so she couldn't even run if she wanted to. Making up her mind immediately she started to slowly prowl up and down the streets that would lead Ryan to Market, the obvious choice to crisscross the city. She crept down Sansome, Montgomery and Geary, looking at every pedestrian that she passed. Knowing that Ryan could have been walking very fast she decided to proceed to Market and patrol it until her peripatetic lover appeared.

It didn't take long to get over to Market in the light Saturday afternoon traffic but the street itself was a mess, as it was at almost any time of day. The MUNI buses stopped constantly, blocked traffic fully, and were a general nuisance. The constant stream of tourists--who also drove the street--made it a nightmare much of the time, and this day the added issue of street repair made the trip even worse than normal.

After just a few blocks Jamie spotted her partner's dark head bobbing down the crowded street. She missed her for a few blocks since Ryan was moving faster than traffic, but finally pulled up at the corner that she would cross in a few feet. "Ryan!" she cried, but either the street noise blocked her out or her lover was intentionally ignoring her. "RYAN!" she tried again but the pedestrians had a walk light and the tall woman strode off again.

They played this cat-and-mouse game for another few blocks with the same result. Her patience was starting to fray as she realized that Ryan was intentionally ignoring her. She cut around a pack of slow cars, nearly going into opposing traffic to do so. But she finally got well in front of the dark haired form she could see approaching in the distance. Just when it seemed like she would intercept her Ryan crossed to the other side of the street, neatly avoiding her waiting friend. "GOD DAMN IT!" Jamie shouted to no one in particular.

Now she had to turn across traffic, try to get ahead on a side street and then double back. But this task was much harder than it sounded and it took her almost 15 minutes to execute it. Just when she was about to yell her name again a MUNI bus pulled up to the curb, obscuring her view and preventing Ryan from seeing her even if she wanted to. Now frustrated beyond good sense she pulled up to the first spot she could fit in and parked. It was clearly not a legal space and she knew she would get a ticket at best but she was not going to be ignored like this when she was doing her best to apologize. She started running in the proper direction but now she had lost her even though there was really only one way to go. "RYAN!" she cried as she stared up at the heavens in supplication. She scanned the street in both directions and caught just the top of her head--once again--across the street. "I'll kill her!" she yelled as she raced back to her car.

The officer who was writing the ticket was pleasant enough. And he assured her that she was a very lucky woman since he was about to call a tow truck. She tersely thanked him for the $105 present and once again took off, now madder than a hornet. This time she took no chances. She raced ahead of traffic, flaunting several sections of the vehicle code, but she got a good two blocks ahead of Ryan. This was a less-populated section of the busy street and she pulled up next to a bona fide parking meter. Finding quarters in her wallet was another stroke of luck and she fed the meter before taking off running back toward her lover. Playing it safe she watched both sides of the street but did not notice her until she was nearly even with her--on the other side of the street of course. "Oh, no you don't!" she declared as she darted across the street--against traffic. She dashed a few feet, neatly bobbing and weaving to avoid the, thankfully, slow-moving glut of cars, then ran the rest, escaping another close call with a Yellow Cab. Her heart was racing from excitement and anger when she finally caught up with the brunette. Without thinking, she impetuously grabbed her shoulder and hauled her around forcefully, forgetting for a moment who she was approaching so aggressively.

Ryan later swore that she had not known that Jamie had been following her. She vowed that she'd had no idea that a friendly hand was roughly grabbing her on the noisy, rather seedy street. And she pledged that she was truly, truly sorry for grabbing the startled woman by the throat and slamming her up against the plate glass window of a Subway sandwich shop so hard that her teeth rattled and her eyes rolled up in her head.

"Jamie!" she cried in horror when the frightened face that looked up at her was not the armed attacker that her body had prepared her for but the normally gentle visage of her lover. "Oh my God!" she cried as the small woman sank to the ground. A crowd gathered, mumbling among themselves about the big woman hitting the small one for no reason at all.

Jamie was conscious but terribly stunned as she sat on the filthy concrete and tried to gather her senses. "I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry!" Ryan gasped, running her hands all over her lover's face and shoulders, trying to determine if she was seriously injured.

A few rough shakes of Jamie's head allowed her mind to clear enough to finally make eye contact. She leveled her gaze and asked the most hurtful question that had ever reverberated against Ryan's ears. "Did you know it was me?" she demanded.

The looks of shock, horror and astonishment that crossed her partner's face were enough to reassure her but Ryan cried again and again, "NO! GOD NO! I would never, never, ever hurt you, Jamie! Don't you know that! My God, what do you think I am?" Now the tears started to flow as Ryan collapsed on the ground right next to the still-shaken woman. She cried disconsolately, attracting stares from everyone within ten feet, many of who were witnesses to the whole scene. Jamie shakily got to her knees and wrapped her arms around her lover, murmuring comforting words to her as the sobs shook her body. It took a long while to calm the emotionally devastated woman but finally they were both able to walk. Several of the witnesses made snide remarks about what had caused the lover's tiff but they ignored them all, trying to maintain what small amount of dignity they still had.

The car was only about a block away and they made the trip in silence. They were both fully aware that each had hurt the other grievously but neither was exactly sure what she had done. Both were sure they were relatively blameless in the big scheme of things, but again, they did not want to make a terrible situation worse so they both held their tongues. When they reached the car Ryan insisted that she be allowed to drive due to the bump on the blonde's bump on the head. Jamie allowed the taller woman to take the keys and did not protest when they went to the O'Flaherty house.

Ryan pulled in front of the garage and got out to help her shaky friend into the house. Regrettably, Martin, Conor and Brendan were all present although all were speechless when they saw their faces. Ryan just shook her head in reply to their silent questions, leading Jamie straight down to her room. Once she got her settled on the loveseat she dashed back up for an ice bag. Three sets of anxious eyes were waiting for her and she spent just a moment trying to reassure them. "Nothing serious," she insisted. "We had a fight and then a bunch of misunderstandings. I was walking and she grabbed me unexpectedly from behind and I threw her against a window. She's got a bump on the head but nothing major."

Now all three mouths dropped open to match the wide eyes. Ryan had to admit that the truth was pretty bad but she didn't like to withhold information from her family, even information that made her look like an asshole. "I've got to go back down," she said as she filled a big plastic bag with ice. "Give us some time to work this out, okay?" Three heads nodded gravely as she ran back down stairs.

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

"How could any day that started off so nice end up so horribly?" Jamie asked plaintively when her lover returned, ice bag in hand.

"I don't know," Ryan replied as she sat next to her and gently applied the ice to the sizeable knot forming on the back of the smaller woman's skull. Ryan was inordinately glad that they were at least speaking now, but she was loath to go into all of the issues that had made the afternoon so tumultuous.

"Can we just not talk about it all?" Jamie asked timidly. Ryan nodded her complete agreement, looking rather uncomfortable as she sat on the edge of the piece. "I'd love it if you'd hold me," she said softly.

Ryan thought that some physical closeness was a very good idea and she hastened to comply. She sat very close and put the bag of ice on her shoulder, urging Jamie to sit back and rest her head up against the bag.

After ten minutes or so a small voice said, "The cold is giving me a headache. Can you take it away for a while?"

"Sure," Ryan soothed. "Wanna lie down on the bed and cuddle a little?"

"Sure," she said softly, allowing her tall partner to help her from the loveseat. Ryan climbed up on the right side of the bed and waited for her lover to get in. They were both fully clothed but had kicked off their shoes. After a few minor adjustments they were as comfortable as they were going to get and within minutes both were sound asleep, the excitement, anger and hurt combining to drain each of them physically as well as emotionally.

Seconds after they had nodded off Ryan jerked into a sitting position, scaring Jamie half out of her wits. "What's wrong?" the smaller woman cried.

"It's dangerous to sleep with a head injury!" Ryan said, in a very agitated tone.

"It's okay, Ryan," Jamie assured her. "I didn't lose consciousness you know. It's just a bump…really," she insisted as Ryan slowly sank back down onto the mattress.

"You're sure?" she mumbled through a yawn.

"Positive," Jamie said as she started to lightly rub her partner's back.

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

It was nearly eight o'clock when Ryan slowly woke, hungry, groggy and stiff from the uncomfortable position they were in. During the nap Jamie had migrated closer and closer until she was sprawled across Ryan's body. The weight prohibited the larger woman from moving at all and her body was unhappy about the two-hour-long straightjacket. But stiff as she was, she was unwilling to wake her partner. They had an awful lot of issues to work out and many wounds to heal and she wasn't in a hurry to get to any of them. There was a certain simple beauty to casual sex, she mused. I didn't get my emotional needs met very often but I also didn't ever get stomped on. She knew in her heart that being with Jamie was worth any amount of pain but she had to admit that today's pain would require an awful lot of pleasure to equalize it.

Jamie slowly woke a few minutes later. "Mmm, what time is it?" she croaked out in a sleep-roughened voice.

"Little past eight. You wanna get up?"

"Yeah," she mumbled. "I'm kinda hungry." She rolled off and let out a sigh. "Kinda stiff too," she admitted. After a moment to recall that she had been sleeping on another human being she turned to her lover. "You must be stiff too with me draped across you all evening."

"Little bit," she agreed, feeling uncommunicative and wary.



"Feel like talking?"

"No. Not really."

"Feel like being with your family?"


"Want me to go home?"

"Only if you want to."

"Will you talk if I stay?"

"Not sure."

Jamie got to her feet and padded into the bath. She spent a moment ordering her hair and washing her face with Ryan's nice-smelling soap. When she went back into the bedroom she announced, "I'm willing to hang out if you'll at least try to talk with me. But I don't want to just bang my head against the…" She stopped abruptly when she saw the hurt, pain-filled eyes before her. "Ryan," she said gently as she squatted in front of the bed to maintain eye contact. "We need to talk."

"I'll try," was her terse answer as her eyes flitted everywhere but Jamie's.

"That's all I ask." She held her hand out and Ryan grasped it, getting to her feet and performing a few stretches to work out the kinks. The tall woman spent a moment putting on a pair of socks and her running shoes, made a trip to the bathroom and was ready to go. "Let's walk over to 24th Street for some dinner, okay?"

A reserved nod was Ryan's only reply and Jamie mused that her efforts to talk were less than overwhelming. But she decided to be patient and allow a conversation to develop over time. A very brief explanation to an anxious looking Martin and they were walking downhill to the business district of the Noe Valley. Ryan didn't say a word on the walk but when they reached their destination she asked, "What are you in the mood for?"

"Umm, something comforting," Jamie ventured. "My tummy's kind of upset."

"How about 'Peasant Pies'?"

"I'm not familiar. What is it?"

"A little shop that sells home-made pot pies. They're really good," she said with her first smile of the evening.

Ahh, that's the key, she mused as they walked along. She can never maintain a bad mood when food's involved. But to her surprise and displeasure Ryan was able to maintain her bad mood all through their delicious dinner. She wasn't openly hostile and would answer direct questions, but she was guarding her emotions very carefully and Jamie wondered if it wouldn't be better to just go home and let her stew.

But after dinner Ryan suggested they head over to The Dubliner for a pint. Maybe alcohol is the key, Jamie hoped as she quickly agreed.

A pint of Harp Lager seemed to be the solution she was pleased to note. They grabbed a tiny table in the rear of the bar and as soon as Ryan took a sip of her beer she was verbal. "I think we each have some things to say and I have a feeling that some of them will not be pleasant to hear. So I propose that we each give our laundry list of why we're upset. I promise not to comment or dispute anything you say if you'll do me the same courtesy." She was staring at Jamie with an open, unwavering gaze.

"Okay," she replied softly. "I'll do my best. Do you want to start?"

A quick shake of her dark head was the answer. "I'd prefer if you do."

"Okay," Jamie said slowly as she took in a deep breath and tried to order her thoughts. She nodded briefly and considered her list, "Okay, I'm most angry that you jumped out of the car with no money. I really wanted to go home and just think about what happened, but I couldn't leave you once I realized that you didn't have any way to get home. If I hadn't had to chase you I wouldn't have gotten this knot on my head," she said with a grimace as she reached up to gently touch the lump. Ryan was still silent, still completely passive. "While I was following you I believed you were intentionally avoiding me. I thought you heard me and were just in a funk and refused to stop for me. That's why I asked you if you knew it was me when you tossed me against the wall. I had been chasing you since Montgomery Street, Ryan. I parked the car once and got a $105 ticket for being in a bus stop. I had been practically driving on the sidewalk to get your attention and since I believed that you were intentionally avoiding me I was a little rough with you when I finally caught you. I know that hurt you and I just want you to understand why I said that." She reached over and grasped the strong, tanned hand that lay on the table, the dim candlelight dancing in faint patterns against her skin. Pulling the hand to her face she gently kissed the palm before placing it back down onto the table. "I love you, Ryan, and I know how much you love me. In my rational mind I know that you would never harm me physically. I was just out of my mind with frustration." Grasping and cradling the warm hand again she said, "I'm very sorry I hurt you and I hope you can forgive me."

After a few moments Ryan's gaze gentled and she asked, "Finished?" At Jamie's small nod she asked, "Do you mind if I kiss you?"

"In here?" she asked hesitantly as she looked around at the very heterosexual crowd.

Ryan just nodded with a small smile on her face. "This is the Noe Valley," she reminded her.


"The Noe Valley is the biggest lesbian neighborhood in the city. People are very used to lesbians here. It's very common to see women being affectionate."

"I didn't know that!" Jamie cried. "I swear you've never told me that!"

"Is that a yes?" she asked, blue eyes twinkling in the low flame.

"Of course," she said softly. "You never need permission for that, Ryan."

Ryan smiled down at her as she lifted a bit in her seat and leaned over the table, capturing Jamie's lips for one chaste, gentle kiss. "Thanks for the apology," she smiled as she lowered herself back into her chair. "My turn?"

Jamie nodded silently and steeled herself for the blow she feared was coming. "I felt like you were ashamed of me," she said quietly. "When your dad came in there were a number of options you could have chosen but you picked the most humiliating one for me. I'm proud of my love for you and I'm proud that you've chosen me to love. It hurt me deeply that the first time you had the opportunity to introduce me to your family you not only didn't do so, you tried to make me disappear." She paused to let her complaint sink in and then continued. "I'm sorry that I left you so abruptly. But I was hurt and I didn't think I could hide my feelings so I thought it best to just go. In retrospect, that wasn't a kind thing to do. I should have let you drive me home. I'm sorry for that, Jamie."

Her partner reached for her hand again and gave it a gentle squeeze.

Ryan brought her small hand up and gave it a kiss. "Thanks," she said, acknowledging the forgiveness. "My only other issue is how hurt I was when you asked if I knew it was you that grabbed me. That really hurt, Jamie, but I accept you apology and I think I understand why you said it. And just for the record," she said as she squeezed her hand and stared right into her eyes, "I had no idea you were following me. I was in a real fog--I almost got lost getting to Market!" she laughed.

"Finished?" Jamie asked. At Ryan's nod she leaned over the table and puckered up. "Thanks," she said softly as Ryan rose to kiss her lightly. "Now what?"

"Well," Ryan speculated as she reflected on the work they had done, "now we discuss each of our points. But I need a fresh pint to get to the point. You?" she asked as she held up her empty glass.

"Not yet," she prudently replied, having decided to nurse her pint as long as possible.

Ryan hopped up and carried on a few minutes of banter with the bartender, a woman that Jamie remembered from St. Patrick's Day. She made a show of refusing Ryan's money, demanding a kiss as payment. Ryan willingly complied, giving her a friendly kiss on the lips. Jamie was quite glad to find that the casual touch did not make her jealous in the least. When Ryan sat back down she took a deep breath and said, "The only open issue is how you felt when your father came in."

"I know," Jamie nodded, taking a bit sip of her beer. "I admit that I freaked, Ryan. And I couldn't be sorrier that I didn't use my rational mind and introduce you. But I'm just not ready to come out to everyone yet. Please don't think I'm a wimp, Ryan, but I'm just not ready. I have to feel comfortable first and I think that will still take a while. Do you understand?"

Leaning over, she gently kissed her cheek and nodded slightly. "I understand," she said. "I mean, I had a terribly supportive family and I lived in a lesbian neighborhood and it was hard for me. I don't want to rush you, Jamie. I just want you to promise that you'll work toward being open with everyone."

"I promise, Ryan," she said as she reached over and took a big gulp of Ryan's beer. "Does that also address your earlier issue about feeling that I was ashamed of you?"

"A little," she admitted, taking a matching gulp. "I guess it would have made me feel better to have you at least introduce me as your friend. Being told to get in the closet was really harsh, Jamie."

"I know, I know," she muttered, dropping her head into her hands. "It was just a panicked reaction, Ryan. There's no one on this earth whom I could be more proud of. You are just an extraordinary woman. I promise you'll be sick of me singing your praises to everyone I know. But right now this fear is about me--just me."

"Okay," Ryan agreed, draining her glass. "Another?"

"I'll buy this one," she said with a grin. "One kiss a night from other women is your new limit, Hot Stuff." With that she sauntered over to the bar and ordered another Harp, this time from the other bartender, who gladly accepted her money.

When she sat back down Ryan said, "I promise I'll give you as much time as you need to be open about our relationship, Jamie. Just let me know if you need my support."

"Constantly," she admitted as she rested her head on Ryan's shoulder. "I've got to say, Ms. O'Flaherty, that if I'm gonna fight with someone, you'd be the one I'd choose. If I could have had a discussion like this with Jack we'd still be together."

"Good thing for me he couldn't manage it, then," she said in mock alarm.

"It wasn't just him," Jamie honestly admitted. "I couldn't manage this without your help. You're just so emotionally evolved," she said. "It's like you're a member of some super race of highly evolved creatures sent here to educate the lower animals."

Ryan picked up her glass and inspected it. "You've had enough," she firmly decreed.

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

Around eleven Brendan popped his head into the bar. He made eye contact with the bartender and gave her a quizzical look. She smiled back and pointed to the rear corner of the place. When his eyes followed hers he smiled and stuck his head back outside. "Conor!" he called down the street. "They're in here!" His brother loped down the block from the bar he had been investigating. When he arrived Brendan asked, "Should we go in or just go home and tell Da they're okay?"

"Let's go in. I got thirsty looking all over the neighborhood."

They entered the dark space but stopped almost immediately when they caught sight of the couple. Neither man had seen Jamie since Ryan's announcement and they were both a little uncomfortable with this new dimension to their relationship. Neither was unhappy with the development, but it was a major change and they were each uncertain if it would be awkward. The young lovers were at the rearmost table, in the darkest part of the bar. Their chairs were shoved close and Jamie was cuddled up to their sister's side, her blonde head resting on Ryan's broad chest. Ryan was obviously speaking to her, her breath slightly ruffling her fair hair. A sweet slow smile bloomed across Jamie's coral-tinted lips and she laughed a bit at something Ryan said. They were oblivious to every other patron and when the boys walked up Ryan looked up at them like they were the last people she expected to see. "Uhh…hi, guys," she finally got out.

Jamie shot up, embarrassment evident on her flushed face. "Hi," she squeaked out.

Ryan noticed the change in her mood and immediately sought to reassure her. "Have a seat, boys. The least you can do is buy your new sister-in-law a beer."

Both men grinned in response and went to the bar to buy a round. When they returned each kissed Jamie on the cheek and toasted her with enthusiasm. "Welcome to the family," Brendan said, gracing her with the patented O'Flaherty high wattage smile. "I couldn't be happier for you both."

Conor chimed in gallantly, "If I can't have you Ryan's the one I'd pick."

"Thank you both," Jamie said, now very much at ease. "I'm sorry about earlier today, guys. We just had a terrible afternoon, but everything's fine now."

"How's your head?" Brendan delicately asked.

"Head?" she asked, rather confusedly. "Oh! My head! Well, enough of these little babies can obviously soothe a silly little bump," she said as she hoisted her glass.

"Well, I'm glad you're okay," he said. "Da's worried about you both, you know. But I assume he'll figure we found you if we're gone long enough."

"Call him," Jamie urged, handing Brendan her cell phone.

He accepted the device and made the call, assuring Martin that all was well. "Okay, Da, I'll tell her," he said as he hung up. Handing the phone back to Jamie he announced, "Da says you're to stay over tonight. Rory's out of town on a gig and his room is being prepared even as we speak."

"No argument from me," she said as she tried to stifle a yawn. "Last thing I need is a DUI. A $105 ticket is enough for one day."

"What in the heck happened to you two?" Conor finally demanded, tired of being discreet.

Ryan laughed at his usual directness. "We had a fight when we were down around Telegraph Hill this afternoon," she said, skimping on the details. "I got mad and pulled my usual."

Both boys supplied, "You took off."

"Yeah," she said with a blush. Turning to Jamie she related, "It's kind of a habit. Anyway, Jamie knew I didn't have any money so she tried to track me down. She thought I knew she was on my tail and when she finally caught me she grabbed me from behind. But I didn't know she was looking for me and when I felt a stranger grab me…" She let them imagine the end to the story.

"God, Jamie," Conor said with wide eyes. "You're lucky she only tossed you against a wall. She could have easily broken your nose or your jaw. You should never, ever surprise her like that."

"Now you tell me," she laughed. "I mean, I know she's trained in the martial arts…I guess it just didn't dawn on me."

"It's not a joke," Brendan insisted. "She can hurt you badly before she even knows what she's doing. Years of training like she's had just don't go away."

"I'll remember," she said with a smile as she grasped Ryan's hand. "I knew she was lethal with women," she teased. "I just didn't know it would be me."

Ryan leaned over and kissed her gently. "I'm going to do my best to take myself off high alert status," she promised. "You're too precious to ever take a risk with."

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

It was after midnight when they climbed the short hill to the O'Flaherty home. Brendan kissed the girls goodnight and continued on up the street to his own apartment just a few blocks away. When they entered the house Martin was already in bed but there was a note in the kitchen that welcomed Jamie and stated that Rory's room was ready for her. "Oh yeah, like you'll use it," Conor teased, regarding the 110 pound appendage that his sister had grown.

"Oh yes she will," Ryan declared. "Da doesn't want us to sleep together so we won't."

But Jamie had been remarkably quiet during this discussion and when Conor made eye contact with her he noticed that her conviction seemed quite a bit weaker than his sister's. "We'll see," he smirked as he gave each of them a kiss goodnight. "Have fun, lovebirds."

Ryan shot him a glare as she escorted her partner downstairs to find some acceptable pajamas. She rooted through her drawers and chose the same outfit they had shared before. A t-shirt and flannel pants for herself and the matching flannel shirt for Jamie. Turning to hand the shirt to the suddenly quiet woman she was rather shocked to see her peeling off her sweater. Ryan didn't mind the display, in fact she welcomed it, but since it wasn't in character she assumed it was because of the drink. So she tossed her the shirt and scampered into the bath to change, hoping that Jamie would be decent when she returned.

Her wish was granted and when she opened the door Jamie was lying across her bed--outside of the covers that had been neatly turned back. "Can I tuck you in?" she asked rather seductively.

"Why don't you let me take you upstairs?"

"Uh-uh," she demurred. "I don't want Conor to hear us."

"Umm…how noisy is it to tuck someone in?" she asked weakly.

"Wait and see," she purred as she patted the mattress. "Come on." She was crooking a finger to draw her tall friend close and Ryan gulped audibly when she saw the lustful look in her eyes.

She tentatively approached and sat down on the edge of the bed rather gingerly. The alcohol was working very well at loosening Jamie's inhibitions but it did nothing to dull her reflexes. She lunged for Ryan and tumbled her onto the bed, kissing her with a wild fury.

As the intensity of the encounter grew even stronger Ryan had an idea that she thought would take care of the situation even though not in the fashion she would prefer. So in a brilliant counter-attack she flipped her partner onto her side and spooned up against her back. "I want you to slide your hand down and touch yourself, Baby," she whispered, her words tickling Jamie's sensitive ear. "I'll be right upstairs, thinking of you, and wishing you were in my bed, touching me everywhere," she breathed, smiling to herself when she felt the goose bumps rise on Jamie's neck. "I love you, Jamie," she added, kissing her softly on the cheek.

"I love you too, Ryan," she murmured, turning to kiss her on the lips. "I miss you already."

Ryan quietly exited and walked to Rory's room, legs shaking so badly she could hardly stand. Holding up her left hand she smirked and informed it, "You've got your work cut out for you, Lefty."

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

Not so early the next morning Ryan sauntered downstairs in her pajamas. Her father was busy making his traditional after-Mass breakfast and he greeted her warmly when she appeared in the doorway. "Good morning, Darlin'," he said. "Did you have a good rest?"

"Just fine, Da," she agreed as she gave him a kiss. "Any word from Jamie?"

"No, not a peep. Breakfast will be ready soon though. Would you like to go wake her?"

"Sure. Do I have time for a shower?"

"No, not if you want your breakfast hot. Get on with ya," he ordered.

She obediently followed his command, walking downstairs and peeking in the door. As she paused in the doorway to watch her girlfriend sleep she reflected on the sweet-looking woman's recent behavior.

She knew that discovering their lesbian identity was a very difficult thing for many women and she sensed that Jamie was still suffering a bit from her very recent breakup with Jack. Given that she had so little sexual experience, it also made sense that she would be unsure of her desires. Even so, it was a complete shock to have her deny Ryan's very existence like she had yesterday. Ryan, though glad to cut her a good deal of slack, was still a bit hurt from being denied so rudely. But regarding her young partner as she slept made her concerns seem very small and insignificant.

When the sweet face was in repose, Ryan had the chance to study her in a way she wasn't often able to do. She smiled to herself as she gazed at the tousled hair, so childlike as it draped over her eyes. And the smooth planes of her completely unlined face made her look so innocent and young--much younger than her 21 years. It was her eyes that made her look her age. Those clear, sharp, perceptive eyes that sometimes seemed to gaze right into Ryan's soul. But when the eyes were concealed, the face could have belonged to a sixteen-year-old. A sixteen- year-old with a drop-dead gorgeous body, she smirked to herself. They didn't have sixteen-year-olds like that when I was in high school, she decided regretfully.

Walking over to the bed, she sat on the edge and softly brushed the golden blonde hair from her eyes. Seconds later the surprisingly awake green orbs blinked at her and gentled into a sweet smile. "Hi," she squeaked as she tossed her arms above her head and stretched like a happy cat. "Time to get up?"

"Yeah, if you want a hot breakfast. Da's just about ready for us."

"Okay," she agreed but Ryan placed a hand on her chest, stopping her progress abruptly.

"Are we okay?" she asked quietly, trailing her fingers along Jamie's cheek.

"We're fine, Ryan," she said firmly. Grasping her hand she kissed the curved fingers gently. She pulled the hand back a bit to gaze at it carefully. "Is this my competition?" she asked with a chuckle.

Ryan gave her a slightly puzzled look but caught on quickly. "Nope, this is," she said, holding up her left hand. "Righty gets involved too but Lefty is indispensable." Raising an eyebrow she twitched her head in the direction of Jamie's hands. "How about you?"

One hand shot up as she revealed, "Right hand only. And I'm guessing that yours has a lot more miles on it," she smirked.

"Yeah," she mused, blowing on the fingers. "The odometer's about to turn over on mine. Yours got a workout last night though, didn't it?" she asked, trying to make sure there were no hard feelings.

"Not much of one," Jamie said with a wry laugh. "I think I was finished by the time you hit the stairs!"

Ryan smiled back at her and gently grasped her right hand. Bringing it close to her face she waved it back and forth in front of her nose a few times. "Smells delicious," she intoned with a sexy smile. "I can't wait to taste for myself." Leaning over she placed a gentle kiss on the shocked face and informed her, "Let's get moving. Breakfast calls!"

Jamie stared after her, feeling unable to move as the thought of her lover tasting her flooded her brain. Paybacks are a bitch, she moaned as her feet hit the ground.

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

Even though she knew her breakfast would get cold, she could not go upstairs in her abbreviated pajamas. She took a lightening quick shower and got back into yesterday's clothes, but in lieu of her own sweater she added one of Ryan's big t-shirts, as much to smell her fragrance as anything else.

Running upstairs, she was pleased to see that Brendan had joined the group. All of the men greeted her warmly but Martin got up and wrapped his arms around her for a lingering hug. "I'm so happy you've chosen my little one," he murmured into her ear. "I couldn't wish a better partner for her."

She was shocked at this display of sentiment but very grateful. She was especially pleased by the way he had phrased it--as if she had done Ryan a favor just by choosing her. Blushing furiously she sat next to her lover at the table. Ryan informed her, "You've been officially given Conor's place at the table, Jamie. First change we've had in 17 years."

Now her blush grew even more furious as she took in the four smiling faces gazing at her. "Thank you, Conor," she got out as Ryan leaned over to kiss her.

"Oh, I like this arrangement much better," her tall lover commented with a wide grin. "Finally some kissing at breakfast!"

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

After breakfast they cleaned the kitchen in a much more cursory way than dinner called for. The women went onto the deck to soak up the remarkably bright sunshine, accompanied by a very happy Duffy. The big dog had taken to Jamie more than they had ever seen him do with anyone else. He followed her around the house as though he were her dog, causing all of the men to compliment his good taste. As soon as Jamie chose a chair he tried to share the cushion with her, so today she anticipated his needs and chose the chaise lounge. Once she was settled she patted the cushion and Duffy hopped up, lovingly nuzzling against her thigh for long minutes. "He obviously doesn't acknowledge that you prefer women," Ryan scoffed as she smiled at his antics. Leaning over to pet him as she grabbed a chair she whispered, "I know just how you feel, Duff. I fell for her the first time I saw her too."

"I'm going to become an ego-maniac if I hang out here too much," Jamie declared. "All I get are compliments!"

"That's all you deserve," Ryan said, somewhat seriously.

To deflect the focus from herself Jamie said, "I'd better put some sunblock on. Do you need any?"

"Huh-uh," Ryan advised. "It's in my medicine cabinet."

Jamie returned moments later, rubbing her SPF 15 in as she walked.

"I guess your tan lets you stay out as long as you want, huh?"

"I don't really have a tan," Ryan said. "And I do use sunblock. I usually put it on my face, neck and arms as soon as I get out of the shower. Then I don't have to worry about it all day."

"But, you're very tan," she complained.

"No, I'm not," Ryan insisted. "Check it out." She pulled her t-shirt up with one hand while the other pushed her flannel pants down past her hip. Although there was about one shade of color difference between her tummy and her hip, Jamie had to agree that the untanned skin was pretty darned tan.

"But…I just assumed that because you're outside so much…"

"Nope. I'm just dark-skinned. All of us are except Rory. He got my mothers' coloring."

"But I thought the Irish were fair-skinned," she insisted.

"Most are. But the O'Flaherty's are what they sometimes call 'Black Irish'. I'm not sure if it's a compliment or not though. It's not much of a thing now but people used to look down a bit on the darker-skinned people. They used to say that they weren't pure Irish. I'd always heard that the coloring came from the sailors in the Spanish armada that came to Ireland in the 1400's. But I read an interesting web site not long ago that says that couldn't have happened. So I don't know where it comes from but I like it."

"I like it too," Jamie agreed enthusiastically. "Especially for California. Again, I believe it's part of your super-evolved genes. Your family moved to a sunny climate and your skin immediately adapted."

"Good theory, but it doesn't explain why my great grandfather was known as 'Black Jack O'Flaherty, the Terror of Tralee'." This last was said with one raised eyebrow and a rakish grin on the dark face.

"The 'Terror of Tralee'! What was he, the czar or something?"

Ryan laughed and replied, "No, just a local bare-knuckle fighter who packed a wallop."

"Wow! Do you know a lot about your family in Ireland?"

"Some," she agreed. "I only go back to Black Jack's father on my father's side, but I know of five generations on my mother's side all from the same tiny town. They were as far from nomads as you can get!"

"What do you know about this Black Jack character?" Jamie asked, obviously very interested.

"Not a lot. Only that his reputation was so fierce it filtered down to my father's generation. They didn't go to Tralee much but when they did people cut a wide swath to avoid offending any of the boys."

"Wow, that is a fierce reputation. Was he a professional?"

"Of sorts," she admitted. "It certainly wasn't like it is here with governing bodies who watched over boxing but it was how he made his living—such as it was."

"So…he wasn't successful?"

"Oh, he was very successful at boxing. But much of every purse went straight to his liver. I assume he also used his skills on his wife and children, too. Not a nice man, from all reports," she said soberly.

"God, that sounds horrible," she cried.

"Ahh, different time, different culture. The Church and the husband ruled with an iron fist. I doubt that their lives were much different from many in their town," she said with a resigned shrug of her broad shoulders.

"But that's so sad," Jamie insisted. "To drink and abuse your family."

"Sure it's sad," she agreed. "I'm just saying that it wasn't uncommon."

Her face had grown even darker and Jamie sensed that she was finished with the discussion for the moment. To move to lighter topics she asked, "Your skin does get darker in the summer doesn't it? I seem to remember my first thought of you being how white your teeth looked against your tanned face."

"Yeah, it does," she admitted. "I use block every day but I'm outside so much that I darken up in the summer. I almost got the lead in 'West Side Story' because of my skin color," she said with a laugh.


"Yep. My senior year the drama department was casting for Maria. My music teacher begged me and begged me and I finally agreed to audition. We had a decent number of Latinas but none of the women who could sing wanted to do the play. The drama teacher loved my audition and I probably would have done it but word was out about my lesbianism and the principal not so tactfully suggested that they should go with another girl."

"They wouldn't let you be in the play because you were a lesbian?" she cried loud enough to wake Duffy and cause him to start licking her face.

"Umm, not just because I was but it was a factor. There was a lot of controversy about me and a lot of the girls were uncomfortable with me and I think she just thought it was easier to avoid the mess."

"Easier for her!" Jamie cried, outraged at the cruel way her lover had been treated.

"I didn't care that much," Ryan lied. "And just after that things started to go down that made that little slight seem like a day at the beach." Now her face had become a dark mask and Jamie scolded herself for her unerring ability to find a topic that would depress her lover.

"Well, you would have been fabulous!" she said forcefully. "And I bet you still know some of the songs, don't you?"

"A few," Ryan replied with a smirk. "I'll serenade you some night."

"Some night soon," she soothed as she wrapped her arms around Ryan's neck and pulled her over almost into the chaise. "When we're in bed, just after we've made love. I want to see you all sweaty with a satisfied grin on that beautiful face, singing to me as we fall asleep." The luminous grin and dancing eyes that greeted this wish made her reassess her ability to improve her lover's mood. Not bad, she smirked. Not bad at all.

Chapter 5

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