Disclaimers in Part 1

Chapter Eight

On Saturday morning Jamie got up extra early to make sure she had plenty of time to attend the rugby game. Her studies went better than she expected, and she found that she completely lost track of time. She had to rush to get to the Noe Valley by 1:30 and was disappointed to learn that all of the players had already left. Martin and Caitlin met her at the door, and both welcomed her enthusiastically. Tommy was playing and Annie was working, so Martin had agreed to handle babysitting duty while Maeve prepared the post-match picnic at her home. "We'd best get moving, Jamie," Martin suggested. "They like to start on time."

He was driving Maeve's car since the car seat was already in place, and they all piled in for the short drive to the Driscoll house. Martin ran in to help his sister-in-law carry the enormous basket which was loaded to the brim with snacks for the players. During the trip to Kezar Stadium in Golden Gate Park, Martin explained the overall objective of the sport, which seemed easy enough, but he started to get bogged down with the details of the innumerable rules. Maeve stepped in to help.

"Here are the simple facts, dear," Maeve explained patiently. "Each side tries to run or kick the ball over the goal line. The other side tries to tackle them and steal the ball. It's such a jumble that it's almost impossible to tell who even has the ball most of the time. It just seems like an organized street fight to me, and I've been watching matches my whole life. I spend half of my time praying that they all come out of the match in one piece, and the other half filling up water bottles for them."

"Do you enjoy watching them?" Jamie asked.

"Well, I must say I enjoy watching more when my sons and nephews aren't on the field. Oh, I should say niece and nephews," she amended with a laugh.

"That's all right, Maeve," Martin reassured her. "After 15 minutes you can't tell the men from the women anyway when the field is wet like it is today."

They arrived at the well-tended field just before two o'clock. Martin told Jamie that they were in a city league that played throughout the winter and spring. The field was lighted for night play and most of their games this spring had been on weeknights. This Saturday afternoon game was a rarity and was also their final game of the season. Martin proudly explained that today's game was for the championship of their division.

Their team consisted of all of the boys in the family plus Ryan and a few family friends to insure that they always had the required 15 healthy players. As the spectators approached the field, they saw 'Team O'Flaherty' performing some easy stretches to get ready for play and Jamie had to really concentrate to spot Ryan amidst the crowd. However, as they got closer it was almost as if the tall rangy woman could sense Jamie's presence. That dark head turned and locked eyes with Jamie as a brilliant smile lit up her lovely face. Jamie returned the smile and added a wink for good measure as Ryan ran over.

Jamie was carrying Caitlin, and both blondes happily greeted Ryan when she approached. Maeve came over and gave her niece a gentle hug while she asked, "Now what's this secret you promised to reveal today?"

Ryan slipped her arm around her aunt's shoulders, led her about five feet away, and replied. "This is kind of a secret," she said quietly. "I want you to keep your eyes open for a very special woman today, Aunt Maeve," she informed her.

"And who might that be?" she asked.

"Against all odds, I've finally convinced the most wonderful woman in the world to fall in love with me," she said with a wide smile. "She might come to see us play, so I want you to keep an eye out for her. She's a little shy and I don't want her to be overwhelmed with all of the family, but I know you'll be discreet," she confided.

"Ryan, Sweetheart, that's wonderful!" she cried. "But how will I notice her?"

"You can't miss her, Aunt Maeve. She's easily the most beautiful creature you'll ever hope to see." She gave her aunt a kiss on the cheek and ran right by her smirking lover, calling out a casual, "Glad you could come, Jamie."

The blonde just shook her head as the chuckling woman ran back to her mates. As Ryan jogged away, Jamie mused that the view she was now afforded was well worth the effort that she had expended getting to the match on time. The whole team wore what Maeve informed her were the jerseys of the Irish national squad. The long-sleeved garment was a bright kelly green with a white collar and a white badge with three shamrocks embroidered over the breast. Very brief, wide-legged white cotton shorts and knee-length kelly green socks completed the uniform, and Jamie wished she had brought Mia or some of her other straight friends to see how the O'Flaherty boys filled out the little shorts.

Still, no matter how many gorgeous hunks of O'Flaherty thigh flashed before her eyes, she truly noticed only one body in the crowd. Ryan looked as cute as she had ever seen her in her little outfit, and the energy just flowed from her body as she jumped around trying to stay loose in the damp, foggy wind. The black-shirted referees ran onto the field, then a whistle blew to begin the game. From the opening moment until the end of the first half, a little more than 45 minutes later, Ryan never stopped.

She was a complete blur most of the time, running all over the 110 yard long field with absolutely no regard for her body. Jamie winced and grimaced every time she was tackled, and it seemed that she was tackled more than anyone else. Martin assured her that it was just because her lover was the fastest player and carried the ball more often than the others, but she hated it nonetheless.

To Jamie's amazement, Martin informed her that there were no time outs during play, but the clock did stop when there was a penalty or after a "try," which she likened to a touchdown in football. Every time there was a break in the action, Ryan would run by and give her aunt a questioning glance. Jamie noticed that each glance was met with a shrug of Maeve's small shoulders. After one such exchange, Ryan came close and said, "She has the most adorable smile you've ever seen. Her eyes crinkle up and sometimes she gets a little wrinkle across the bridge of her nose. Think gorgeous!" she added, as she ran back to the game.

Jamie knew that Ryan was toying with her, and that the game included somehow duping Maeve, but she wasn't exactly sure what the game was. Her curiosity finally got the better of her, and she sidled over to Maeve asking, "What's that about?"

"Oh, ahh, I suppose Ryan wouldn't mind if I mentioned this to you," she said quietly. "She says she's fallen in love, and she's expecting her young lady to come to the game. She wants me to keep an eye out for her."

"Really?" Jamie asked with a smile.

"Do you know her, Jamie? Can you point her out to me?"

"Can't help you there, Maeve. You know how secretive Ryan can be. By the way, how did she describe her?"

"Oh, you know Ryan. She said she was the most beautiful woman I would ever see," she laughed.

"Well, Ryan does tend to exaggerate," she modestly agreed.

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

Play began again, and by half time the players were all caked in mud and dirt and grass. Ryan had her hair tied back in a tight braid but even it was covered in mud. During the break, the players lounged on the ground while they gulped sports drink and relaxed a bit. Jamie had no idea what the score was; there was no official scoreboard, so she was a little surprised when Martin informed her that the O'Flaherty's were leading by 21 points. "How can you tell?" she asked.

"You have to pay attention," he said as he cocked his head just a bit. "Haven't you been watching, Darlin'?" Jamie just shook her head as he laughed at her puzzlement. "The game takes a little while to get used to," he admitted.

When Ryan got up to hit the field, she gave her aunt another set of attributes. "She has a great body, very athletic and fit. Beautiful hair, almost the color of the sun, with perfect, golden-toned skin."

Play began again and the frantic pace never abated. Jamie paid rapt attention this time and began to figure out the scoring system. She proudly called out the score to Martin after every point scored, and he praised her effusively. But, in yet another quirk of the unfamiliar game, no one except the referees knew how much time remained, and the game ended rather abruptly for Jamie's taste. The teams graciously shook hands, then the O'Flaherty's came back to their side to celebrate. They wiped off as much muck as they could, but they were still disgusting, sweaty messes.

Ryan plopped down near Jamie and her aunt, allowing Caitlin climb all over her. Maeve crouched down next to her and said, "I'm sorry, dear, but I could not find your friend."

Ryan adopted a deeply dejected look as she said, "Maybe I was wrong. Maybe she doesn't love me." She looked up at Jamie, who was trying to hide a smile, and asked, "What do you think, Jamie?"

"Well, a person would have to love you an awful lot to want to get near you right now," she agreed as she scrunched her nose in distaste.

"That's true," Ryan conceded. "If a woman could stand to kiss me now, that would be an irrefutable sign of her love."

Jamie gave her an indulgent smirk and sank to her knees right in front of the whole flock of O'Flahertys. Ignoring the shocked glances from each and every one, she tossed her arms around Ryan's filthy neck and dipped her head to plant a scorcher on the dirt-flecked lips. Ryan gathered her into her arms and pulled her down into her lap, tickling her unmercifully as Jamie giggled wildly.

"It's true," Ryan cried loudly for all to hear, squirming under Jamie's return tickle, "this unreasonably gorgeous creature has fallen in love with me."

Jamie laughed along with her partner as all, of the cousins teased Ryan about snatching away the only straight girl she had ever brought home. But Maeve didn't find the development funny in the least. She crouched down next to the women and gave each of them firm hugs as she wiped the tears from her eyes. "I'm so happy for you both," she said with a catch in her voice.

Martin came over to the group and patted Maeve on the back as he agreed. "Could you wish for a better mate for our Siobhán?"

"This is all-together the best news I've heard in an age, Martin," she said happily. "Although I didn't expect Ryan to be the second one of the group to give her heart away. Let's get moving, the lot of you!" she exhorted the assembled men who let out a collective groan.

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

The party moved from the field back to the house after everyone stopped at their respective homes for showers. By six o'clock the barbeques were going, and the house was packed to the gills with O'Flaherty cousins, aunts and uncles. The boys verbally replayed the match for the uncles and aunts who had been unable to attend, and Jamie was thrilled to notice that every reprise included generous praise for her lover. She found it totally charming that the men appreciated their only female cousin and let her play on their obviously important team. Rory set her straight on her misperception when he explained that not only was Ryan welcome, she was the vital link to their success.

"Ryan plays the "fly back" or the number ten position," he explained. "The ten is a bit like the quarterback in football. She makes all of the tactical decisions concerning whether the ball will be kicked or run with, plus, since she's easily the fastest player, she advances the ball better than anyone on the team. When you add in the fact that she's absolutely fearless, you get the accurate picture of what she means to us."

"I guess I just assumed that you let her play because she was fast and agile," Jamie admitted.

"No, Jamie," he said with a big smile. "You'll soon learn that there's not much our Ryan does where she's not the best. Believe me, it was sometimes no fun to have your little sister beat you at everything you tried to do. Luckily for the rest of us she acts so darn matter of fact about everything that you don't feel as humiliated as you would if she lorded it over you."

Jamie reached up and gave him a friendly hug as she said, "You know, Rory, one of the things that most attracted me to her was seeing how crazy all of you were about her. No one knows her as well as you guys do, and if you were all wild about he,r I just figured I had to get to know her better."

He looked at her soberly for a moment and wrinkled up his brow before he leaned over and softly said, "She's precious to all of us, Jamie. We all made a vow to our mother that we'd love and protect her for the rest of her life. I can certainly tell how much you love her, but I'm not sure that you realize how fragile she can be."

She looked up at him and cocked her head quizzically, urging him to go on. "I'm not even sure that she realizes it sometimes," he said. "She acts as though she's been too busy or otherwise occupied," here he blushed a little at the obvious reason for her preoccupation, "to fall in love. But it's only because she's so afraid of having her heart broken. I think you're a wonderful choice for her, Jamie, but if there's any doubt in your mind about your commitment to her, please don't lead her on. I just don't think she could bear another broken heart." He looked down at Jamie with nothing but love and concern on his handsome face. A tiny part of her thought that she should be insulted by his meddling in their business, but her more mature side took over almost immediately. She stood on her tiptoes and wrapped her arms around his neck, placing a gentle kiss on his now deeply blushing cheek.

"I swear, Rory, if I wasn't wildly attracted to your sister I'd want to be with each of you boys. I really appreciate your concern for Ryan, and I want you to know that I've made the same vow that you have. I've promised her that I'll love and protect her for the rest of my life, and I don't renege on my promises."

He was still blushing a little as he said, "I guess I'm just concerned because I know you were recently engaged to a man and I um…"

"It's okay, Rory," she reassured him. "I made a mistake, but even though I was quickly realizing that I was deeply attracted to Ryan, I wasn't the one who broke off the engagement. I'm like a loyal little dog. Once I follow you home, you have to take me to another county and throw me out of the car to get rid of me," she said with a gentle laugh.

He placed his large arm around her small shoulders and tilted his head until it lightly rested upon hers. "Believe me, Jamie, if Ryan tried to toss you aside, the lot of us would knock some sense back into her straightaway!"

With her unfailing ability to sense where her lover was at all times, Ryan zeroed in on her and sidled over to remove her brother's arm from Jamie's shoulders. "This is why I never brought a woman home before," she informed Jamie while she shot a broad smile at her brother.

"You can't blame a lad for trying," Rory smiled back at her.

"Well, lucky for me I have the whole summer to cement my position in her heart. When you come back in the fall, she'll be firmly under my spell," she said confidently.

"Pretty confident, aren't you?" Jamie asked as she snuggled up against her side.

"Yep. I'm going to devote every bit of my energies to making you the happiest woman in the Bay Area."

"You're gonna have to aim higher than that," Jamie teased as she tilted her face up for a kiss, "since I'm already the happiest woman in the world."

As Ryan slid her arms around her and placed several warm kisses on her pink lips, Rory rolled his eyes and walked away, unnoticed by the cuddling twosome.

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

By 10:30 the party showed no obvious signs of slowing down except for Caitlin, who was removed by Tommy from Ryan's protective embrace and taken home to her own bed. Ryan glanced around for her lover and found her once again in the corner, this time with Kevin. As Ryan approached, Jamie gave her the tiniest of headshakes, and she immediately rerouted and went into the kitchen to help her aunts with the clean up. Jamie came in as they were finishing and slipped her hand into Ryan's, leading her discreetly away from the crowd and down the stairs.

"Every time I look up you're in the corner with one of the boys!" Ryan groused. "What gives?"

"I've been welcomed and warned by every male member of your family except for Duffy!"

"Welcomed and warned?" Ryan asked with a confused look.

"Yes. 'Welcome to the family, Jamie. You're a wonderful girl and we're very happy that Ryan chose you, but if you hurt her, we'll track you down and kill you!'"

"They didn't!" she gasped as she dropped to her bed.

"Oh, yes, they did," Jamie assured her as she sat across Ryan's knees and kissed her cheek. "Oh, they were more tactful than that, but the message was the same."

"Jamie, I'm sorry," she murmured.

"Sorry? You have nothing to be sorry for. I think it's completely adorable that all of them care for you so much. It's reassuring to know that you have over a dozen people watching out for you when I can't be on the job," she said as she tweaked her nose.

"You know, every day you give me another reason for why I made such a good decision in choosing you. Most women would be intimidated or insulted by that, but you take it as a reassuring gesture. That's really wonderful," she said happily.

"That's all true, Ryan, except for one small detail."

"What's that?"

"I chose you!"

Ryan nodded her head agreeably as she conceded, "I suppose you're right on that point. So let's say I made a wise decision in accepting your proposal."

"I just want to keep the record straight," she said as she pushed her taller lover down and covered her body with her own.

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

When Cassie Martin returned from her date that Saturday night, she stared at the small note lying on the hall table.

I'm staying at my parent's tonight. I'll be home late Sunday,


We'll just see about that, she thought with a smirk as she dialed the phone. "Hello, Mrs. Evans?" she asked sweetly when the phone was answered.

"Yes," replied the cultured voice, just a trifle thick from her usual evening pastime.

"It's Cassie Martin, Mrs. Evans," she stated as she thought, I hope she's not too drunk to have noticed if Jamie's there or not.

But Catherine was only a bit inebriated since it was only nine o'clock. Her voice snapped to attention and became sharper as she asked, "What is it, Cassie? Is anything wrong?"

"No, not at all," she said calmly. "I just need to ask Jamie something. Is she there?"

"No, she's not here," Catherine replied, sounding a little confused. "Why do you think she is?"

"She left a note saying she was going to your house, Mrs. Evans," she said slowly. "Oh, I hope I didn't cause any trouble by calling you."

Even though Catherine had consumed quite a few drinks her quick mind honed in on a critical point. "Why didn't you call Jamie on her cell phone, Cassie?" she asked suspiciously. "That's always the best way to reach her."

"Oh, that's right. Silly me," she said absently. "I just call her so rarely that I forgot about her cell phone. I certainly hope I haven't caused you any alarm, Mrs. Evans."

"Actually you have, Cassie," she said rather sharply. "I'll call Jamie to make sure she's all right. And then, of course, I'll ask her to call you back. Are you at home?"

"Um…yes, I'm at home, but it's really not necessary, Mrs. Evans."

"Nonsense. If it was important enough for you to have to call here, it's important enough for Jamie to return your call. Goodnight, Cassie."

Catherine slumped back into her chair and tried to gather her thoughts. She didn't want to get involved in any adolescent squabbles between her daughter and Cassie, but there was a glimmer of a chance that Jamie had been on her way home and had gotten into an accident. So she hit the speed dial and waited for six rings before her daughter's happy sounding voice answered. To her own surprise, she immediately hung up. She sat in her chair and stared at the receiver that she still held in her small hand and considered her actions. She realized that she didn't have any interest in checking up on Jamie; she had just wanted to know that she was safe. Once she was assured of that, she really had nothing to say. Although I suppose Cassie will be waiting for a return call from Jamie, she thought absently. A sly smile curled up the corner of her mouth as she rose to pour herself another Scotch. Let her wait!

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

As the last of the relatives left the house, Rory bade everyone goodbye. Brendan had offered to take him to the airport in the morning, so he decided to sleep at his brother's apartment and allow Ryan to use his room for the night. Jamie gave him a big hug and a kiss and quietly promised to watch over Ryan in his absence. She left the rest of the family to say their goodbyes and went downstairs to get ready for bed.

20 minutes later Ryan came down, red eyed and a little glum. "Are you all sad that Rory's leaving?" Jamie asked as she wrapped her arms around her.

Ryan just nodded, her lips pursed together tightly.

"You poor little thing," she soothed as she led her to the loveseat for a little comfort. Jamie sat back in the corner against the cushions and urged her lover to rest her head in her lap. Running her fingers lightly through her hair, she gave her the physical comfort that she obviously needed. She didn't think there was much to actually talk about since it was clear that Ryan just had a hard time being away from any member of her family for a significant time period. She thought about her own family and realized that she often couldn't remember if her mother was even in the country; and her father traveled so often for business that it wasn't odd for him to be away for weeks at a time when she was a child. She reflected that she and Jack had planned on being apart for a whole year while he clerked for a federal judge, and was struck with the realization that things would be very different with Ryan. There's no way in the world I'd let her be away from me for a whole year, she thought with amazement. Why didn't it seem odd to me at the time? I thought it was perfectly natural to see my fiancé only on weekends and to plan to have him be gone for a year. God, I can hardly stand to be apart from Ryan overnight!

As if she read her thoughts Ryan murmured, "Don't wanna go upstairs," in her adorable little five-year-old voice.

"I know, Sweetie," she soothed. "I don't want you to go either, but we're still close. I'll just be downstairs if you get lonely."

Ryan struggled to her feet and went into the bath to get ready for bed. Jamie heard her muttering to herself the whole way, and she was once again charmed by her companion's complete vulnerability with her. When Ryan came out, Jamie offered to take her to bed and tuck her in. She accepted with a dropped chin and a shy little grin that peeked out via her sparkling blue eyes. On the way upstairs they stopped in Martin's room for their goodnight kisses. He gave Jamie a curious glance while he hugged his daughter, and she mouthed that she'd stop in on her way back down.

The next stop was Conor's room. He was just leaving the bathroom that he and Rory shared, and he likewise gave both women a hug and a kiss. He looked very tired, and as soon as he entered his room the lights went out. Jamie led Ryan into Rory's bed and sat on the edge ruffling her hair through her fingers. "I love you, Ryan," she said softly as she leaned over for a tender kiss.

"I love you too, Jamie," she said sadly. As Jamie got up to leave she turned for one last look and felt her heart nearly break at the wide-eyed, childlike expression on her lover's face. She blew her a kiss and started to close the door but Ryan instructed, "Leave it open, please. I want Duffy to be able to come in and cuddle."

On the way back downstairs Jamie stopped in Martin's room and quietly closed the door to be able to speak without her keen-eared lover noticing. "What's with the Princess?" he asked with a furrowed brow.

"She's very sad that Rory's leaving," she confided. "She seems quite fragile tonight, and I think she needs some comforting."

"But you're honoring my rule about not sleeping together, correct?"

"Of course, Martin. We wouldn't dream of going against your wishes."

"Well, you know, Jamie," he said as he slid an arm around her shoulders, "the rule was designed solely to maintain family harmony. But the only member of the family who would notice is Conor. If you could manage to be a bit stealthy there's no reason for him to find out."

"So you really wouldn't mind?" she asked excitedly.

"How can I put this delicately?" he mused. "I feel uncomfortable having my children acting like married people before they're willing to make a public commitment. But it sounds like you're asking to give Siobhán some comfort rather than…"

"Absolutely, Martin," she said as her blush rivaled his. "Besides, given Ryan's mental age tonight, the last thing on her mind is…" she said with a wink.

After another good night kiss she crept up the stairs, being careful to avoid the third step that had a definite squeak to it. Quietly entering the room, she slowly closed the door as she heard Ryan give a start. "It's me, Honey," she whispered.

Ryan quickly sat up and gazed at her with a puzzled look. "What…" she began, but Jamie quickly silenced her with a gentle kiss as she slid into the full sized bed.

"Your father said we could sleep together as long as all we did was sleep," she teased as she snuggled up next to her.

"You asked?" Ryan's expression was so amazed that Jamie had to laugh.

"No, no, Honey, I just said you needed some comfort tonight. He actually made the suggestion. He loves you very much, Ryan, and we wants you to feel better."

Ryan sniffled a little at the thought of Jamie and her father trying to find a way to care for her. Jamie scooted up on the bed and drew Ryan in close so that her dark head rested against her soft breasts. Ryan sighed so deeply it was nearly comical, but she immediately nestled snugly against Jamie's tender embrace, so that there wasn't a millimeter of space between them. Moments after settling down, her deep, even breathing lulled Jamie into a sweet, dream-filled slumber.

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

She woke long before the sunrise, but it took her a moment to get her bearings. The feel of Ryan's body against hers was still unfamiliar, and it took her a second for her brain to get the message that she wasn't wrapped around Jack; but when she allowed her senses to really open up, there wasn't a doubt in her mind who shared her bed. The first thing that caught her attention was the alluring aroma that emanated from Ryan's body. The scent was almost indescribable, but she was sure she could pick it out given a thousand choices. There was something just so Ryan-like about the scent; it was sweet and spicy, complex and simple, sexy and innocent.

But even without her scent, the way Ryan's body felt was so different from Jack's that it continually surprised her that she could mistake one for the other. Where Jack was hard and strong, Ryan was soft and supple. He carried much of his weight in his broad shoulders and chest, and the dense muscles felt heavy and oppressive when he lay against her. But Ryan's softness just molded against her so perfectly that she felt more like a comfortable extension than a separate person.

Jack was an athlete too, and his breathing pattern was very similar to Ryan's. They each drew long, slow, deep breaths with a surprisingly long pause between each one. As she tilted her head just enough to rest her ear against Ryan's chest, she noticed that their heartbeats were also similar: steady, slow and strong. Even though Jamie had enjoyed resting her head on Jack's chest, the sensation of doing so to Ryan was a much richer one. Lying on Ryan's chest was like being enveloped in a warm maternal embrace. There was something so soft and warm and reassuring about hearing that strong heartbeat and having those amazingly supple breasts just inches from her face that nearly made Jamie swoon with pleasure.

Jamie knew that she had only slept for about five hours, but it felt so wonderful to have Ryan wrapped around her that she actually hated to go back to sleep. There was something so unspeakably delicious about feeling her warm body caressing her that her overwhelming urge was to remain awake and luxuriate in the sensation. Ultimately, the warmth and the comfort that flowed from their tender connection pulled her back down into slumber despite her best efforts to remain alert.

For the next two hours they repeated the cycle over and over again. One would awaken and change position to make their connection even more air-tight. The other would quickly wake, and they would spend a few minutes in a deeply sensual dance, moving slowly and tenderly against each other until sleep reclaimed them. Neither had any inclination to actually break the spell, but when Ryan heard Conor start the shower she finally spoke the first words of the day. "I hate to say it, but you should probably go back downstairs. Once Conor's out of the shower, it'll be hard to sneak away."

"Mmmm," Jamie's deep morning voice rumbled. "Don't wanna leave."

"I don't want to either," Ryan sighed as she let Jamie's kisses weaken her determination.

After ten minutes of increasingly sensual touching, she realized that they were much more able to comply with her father's wishes when they were actually asleep. "I've got to get up," she mumbled as she pried herself away from her frisky lover. "Way, way too tempting." She sat on the edge of the bed and shook her head quickly to order her thoughts. "You can stay in bed for a while, I'll go have breakfast with Conor and Da."

"No, no," Jamie insisted. "If you get up, I can get up." She started to struggle to her feet, but she was still so tired that she leaned heavily against Ryan as soon as she was vertical.

"Honey, go back to sleep," Ryan insisted. "There's no rush."

"But I want to be with you," she mumbled into the fabric that covered Ryan's chest. "I like you."

A very amused chuckle greeted that remark. "I like you too," Ryan agreed. "But you still can go back to sleep."

"Uh-uh," she insisted as she shook her fair head.

Ryan started to back out of the room, but Jamie clung to her like a drowning woman. Her hands were clasped firmly around Ryan's neck, and she let herself be dragged along as Ryan continued to move. "Jamie," she soothed. "Your bed is calling you…"

"Uh-uh," she said again. "Only your mouth calls to me." With that she tightened her grip and plastered herself against Ryan's body. They were now in the upstairs hallway, just outside of Rory's room. Ryan stumbled a little and was stopped abruptly by the railing. Giving in to the warm, sensuous kiss, she sat on the railing and enjoyed Jamie's mouth for several seconds. They were so involved that they almost didn't hear the muffled thump and sharp gasp that echoed up from the living room. Ryan tore her mouth away and looked over her shoulder to see her father gathering up the laundry that he had been carrying. She turned and gave her partner a dramatic eyebrow lift as she calmly drawled, "Morning, Da."

"Ahh, good morning girls. I didn't see you up there," he said nervously, not making eye contact. "Ready for some breakfast?" He was busily trying to refold the neat piles he had been carrying, but it was obvious that he was flustered at seeing them in the rather passionate embrace.

"Sure," Ryan said smoothly. "Be right down."

Jamie's hands had dropped to her sides as soon as they saw Martin, and she now gave Ryan a very guilty look. Her partner just pushed her gently into the bedroom and said, "I think that made him a little uncomfortable. Let me go smooth things over, okay?"

"Oh, Honey, I'm sorry I did that." Jamie looked terribly contrite,e but Ryan was having none of it.

"Nonsense. We were doing nothing wrong, Hon. He's just got to get used to it. It's an adjustment for him too."

"You sure?" Jamie asked, obviously hoping to be reassured.

"Positive. Now will you go back to bed?"

"Yep," Jamie agreed as she hopped back in. "I'm staying in bed until he goes to work!"

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

Ryan strolled into the kitchen and grabbed a piece of crisp bacon that her father had just prepared. She placed a kiss on his cheek and climbed aboard a tall stool, staring at him thoughtfully the whole time. Martin was concentrating on his cooking as though it was terribly mesmerizing, but he looked up quickly when Ryan asked, "Want to talk about it?"

"It?" he said absently, trying to avoid this particular talk.

"Um hmm," his daughter replied. "The big 'it' that's making that pancake batter so utterly fascinating."

He uttered a small, nervous laugh as he turned to face her. "I hate to be so transparent," he grumbled.

"It's okay, Da," she said reassuringly. "This has got to be hard for you. It's completely understandable."

He smiled at her with a look of utter relief on his handsome face. "Is it really, Darlin'? I've been worried that maybe I'm not as open minded as I like to think I am."

That admission took Ryan aback, and she blinked slowly as she tried to comprehend exactly what he meant. "Do you think it bothers you because I'm with a woman?" she asked slowly, as she tried to keep the hurt from her voice.

He looked very uncomfortable as he pursed his lips and said, "I…I'm not sure, Siobhán. I've just had a bit of a hard time adjusting…I…I'm not sure."

Conor's heavy tread echoed through the dining room, and father and daughter paused as he entered the kitchen. Taking one look at their faces and sensing the tension in the room, he turned on his heel and marched right back out. Martin smiled at his son's retreating form and said, "The lad has an aversion to serious talks, doesn't he?"

"Yeah, he's the smart one," Ryan grumbled, now wishing she had not brought the topic up at all.

Seeing that he had upset his daughter, Martin wiped his hands and pulled up another stool right next to hers. He sat down and waited until she made eye contact to say, "I'm sure this is temporary, Sweetheart. But you might have to have a little patience with your old father."

Ryan gave him a small smile and nodded her head. "I can be patient," she said. "I just don't understand why it would bother you. It certainly isn't a surprise that I'm a lesbian."

"No, of course it isn't," he agreed. "I've known that you were…you know…with women…for years now, but Tracy was the only woman you've ever brought home."

"Did it bother you to think of Tracy and me…together?"

He blushed a little as he conceded, "Yes, it did a bit."

"I could have reassured you on that one, Da, we didn't have sex!"

"You didn't?" he asked, slightly stunned. "Why not?"

"For the same reason I haven't had sex with Jamie," she explained. "I was trying to find out if Tracy was right for me, and I wanted to concentrate on building a relationship before I muddled the issue with my raging hormones." She looked at him with a very serious expression as she related, "About five years ago, you told me that sex was much more special if you waited for the person that you loved. I obviously didn't heed your advice then, but I'm giving it a go now. I'll let you know how it works out," she said with a charming grin.

"So how do I get over feeling odd about you two?" he asked plaintively.

"I don't know," she said honestly. "I guess we just see how it goes."

Jamie snuck her head into the room and asked, "Is this a private conversation, or can I join in?"

Ryan opened her arms as she gave her a wide smile. Jamie walked over and snuggled into her embrace as she sat on the tiny edge of the stool that Ryan vacated for her. "You're welcome to join us," she said as she rested her chin on Jamie's shoulder.

"I was just telling Siobhán how happy I am that she's found you Jamie. You're the best addition to the family that I could ever dream of," he said as he bent to kiss her cheek. As he stood, he gave his daughter a reassuring smile and a kiss.

Jamie blushed a bit at the praise and turned her head to Ryan as she said, "That's one of the nicest morning greetings I've had in a long while."

"They're only going to get better," Ryan's deep voice burred against the back of her neck, sending a good-morning shiver down her spine.

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

After breakfast Jamie decided to go to church to see her grandfather, but Ryan couldn't spare the time. She grabbed a liter of water and went downstairs with Duffy to get to work. She was completely amazed to feel a soft kiss on her neck after what seemed to be just minutes later, but Jamie assured her that it was nearly noon. Pulling her lover onto her lap, they spent a few minutes kissing before Ryan patted her butt and sent her on her way. After changing into khaki shorts and a sky blue tank top, Jamie went upstairs to make lunch, coming back a few minutes later with two sandwiches and one happy dog. They spent a few minutes sharing their lunch while Jamie related the message of the sermon and gained a promise that they could spend some time with her grandfather after finals. After their meal was finished Jamie said, "When I was upstairs with your father, he acted just like he always does. How did your talk go this morning?"

"It went okay," Ryan said, thinking about the whole exchange. "But he is a little uncomfortable with us. I think he needs some time to let the change sink in."

"Is he uncomfortable with it because we're women? Or just because we were being too affectionate?"

"Not sure," Ryan said. "I don't think he knows, either. But he's willing to talk about it, so I'm sure it will be okay eventually."

"Hmm, has he ever seen you kiss anyone before me?"

Ryan thought about that for a minute, eventually smiling up at her partner. "You know, I don't think he has. God, that's gotta be kinda rough on a parent. I mean, he knows I've been having sex for a long time, but it must be weird to actually see evidence of the way I feel about you."

"Yeah," Jamie said with a chuckle. "Your intentions were pretty clear this morning, too. That kiss was way friendly."

Ryan laughed as she reminded her, "You started it, Smarty-pants. I'm just a slave to your desires."

"We're both prone to losing control," Jamie agreed. "But to be fair to your father, I think we should tone it down in front of him. It's kinda rude."

"You're right, as usual," Ryan agreed. "I don't want to have to avoid showing affection, but our passion should probably not be on display."

"You know," Jamie said thoughtfully. "I wonder if that's the real reason behind the 'no overnight dates' rule. I bet your brothers wouldn't mind a bit."

Ryan laughed quietly as she nodded her head. "You know, I've never considered that. But I know Conor would love to have another woman in the house even if she was in my bed! And Rory's so casual about things that he wouldn't bat an eye. I think we may have stumbled upon one of Da's weaknesses."

"Well let's make sure we don't exploit it," Jamie declared as she patted Ryan on the cheek and released her to resume her studies.

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

Ryan got up from her chair at three and lay down on the floor. After performing an elaborate series of stretching moves, she was right back at it. Jamie loved watching her concentrate, and Ryan's trance was so deep that, for a change, she didn't even notice that she was being observed. She was wearing her cute little wire-rimmed computer glasses as she sat in front of her monitor, fingers flying over the keys. Jamie was fairly computer literate, having had her own system since she was in grammar school, but Ryan acted like her computer was just an extension of her brain. She could find the most obscure site on the Internet in a matter of moments, and Jamie suspected that she could make a good living in the software business if she chose that path. Still, even though she was a prodigy with computers she didn't seem to love them with the same passion that she held for science and math. She actually never looked more content than when she was sitting in front of her computer working on a particularly difficult problem. The look of joy and excitement that graced her beautiful face when she solved whatever issue was vexing her was truly a thing to behold, and Jamie smiled when she thought of spending the whole next year watching her plow through her studies. There was just a tiny part of her that felt a little left out, since she had absolutely no idea what Ryan was talking about when she tried to share her discoveries; but she was happy to witness her joy even if she didn't understand it.

Since Ryan was so engrossed, Jamie had no choice but to get caught up on her own work, and they were both surprised when Martin called them for dinner. "Dinner?" Ryan said as she lifted her head. "Did we have lunch?"

"Yes, dear," Jamie said as she tried to roll her away from the screen by tugging on her chair.

Ryan dug her heels in and said, "I've almost got this figured out. I need a few more minutes," and turned her laserlike concentration back to her computer.

Shaking her head, Jamie climbed the stairs with Duffy and informed Martin of Ryan's statement. "I've heard that excuse a thousand times or so," he nodded. He was busily arranging the repast on a pair of platters but he stopped for a moment and reflected. "You know, Jamie, she's been like this since she was a tiny little thing. I used to wonder at the mothers at the park complaining about their children never paying attention to their schoolwork. It was all I could do to get her to stop for dinner when she was working on her little math problems."

"I don't remember doing much math homework when I was small," she mused.

"Ha! She wasn't doing homework," he laughed. "She could easily handle her homework at school and keep one ear open to pay attention to the teacher. She's always been able to seemingly devote her attention to two or even three things at once. No, she was working her way through her brothers' math books by the time she could read. I'll never forget her explaining some difficult concept to Brendan when he was studying for the SAT's. He was nearly 17 and she was 11, sitting on his lap in the dining room, patiently explaining whatever was vexing him. She's truly a prodigy, you know," he said proudly.

"I…I really had no idea," she said with a stunned expression on her face. "I just assumed she liked math and was good at it."

"No, I don't think math is something she likes," he said reflectively as he gazed into space for a moment. "It's more than that for her. I don't pretend to understand it, but I know it's much more than a simple affinity." He furrowed his brow for a moment, trying to explain his idea. "We started noticing that she was different when she was just learning to talk," he recalled. "She was very slow to talk, the slowest of all of the children. Fionnuala was actually quite worried about her, but the doctor assured us that she was perfectly fine. She just had three older brothers who did whatever she asked as long as she pointed!" he said with a fond smile. "Anyway, Conor was in first grade when she was just turning 2. She was usually on his lap or being carried around by the lad, and it seemed that she was learning his school lessons right along with him. One evening Fionnuala was working with Conor on his math homework. She asked him what two plus two plus one was. He fumbled around for a bit, but just couldn't figure it out. Fi noticed that Siobhán was getting frustrated, and before you know it she cries out, "Five, Cono! Five!"

Jamie's eyes had grown wide and her mouth dropped open in amazement.

Martin laughed and informed her, "That's just the look Fionnuala had on her face when she came into the living room carrying the little scamp! Her first sentence turns out to be a math solution!"

"That's truly amazing," she muttered, still in shock.

"Oh yes," he agreed. "She amazed the teachers in school. After kindergarten they wanted to jump her ahead a year or two since she was so advanced. But Fi was so sick," he said, his eyes taking on a sadness that Jamie had rarely seen in him. "We both knew she had very little time left, and it just seemed unwise to cause any more disruption in the children's lives. It would have been very hard for Rory to have his little sister in his class and, aside from math, she was perfectly suited for first grade."

"What did you do?" Jamie asked. "How did you keep her interested in school?"

"Well, she was terribly lucky to have a wonderful teacher in first grade."

"Sister Kevin?" she asked, remembering the teacher who helped Ryan pick her new name.

"The same," he said with a fond smile. "She obtained some teaching materials for fourth and fifth graders and let Siobhán work on them on her own when the others were having their math instruction. It worked out very well and it let her figure things out on her own, and that probably helped her in the end. Sister Kevin spoke to each of Siobhán's subsequent teachers, and they each followed her advice. It worked out brilliantly."

"Wow, that really was smart," she agreed.

"Yes, but we had another go-around when she was in high school," he informed her.

"How so?"

"Did you know she earned a perfect score on the SAT's in math?" he asked, knowing that his daughter would not impart this type of information voluntarily.

Conor came in while they were talking and added, "Tell her the amazing part, Da." Unable to wait, he turned to Jamie and said, "She took the SAT's when she was a freshman in high school as part of a program to identify kids who could benefit from entering college early. She sucked at the verbal part," he laughed as his father cuffed him on the head for that comment and continued, "but when she got an 800 on math, they just went nuts!"

"She did not…suck," Martin said with a sour look on his face. "Her verbal score was in line with a 14 year old. Nonetheless, they tried to talk me into letting her skip the rest of high school and go on to college, but there was no way she was ready for that emotionally. I thought she'd be a much happier adult if she stayed with her own class."

"Plus, she sucked in every course that wasn't math or science," Conor had to add as he dashed from the room to avoid another pop.

"Did she want to go?" Jamie asked as Martin shook his head at his mischievous son.

"I don't think she had any interest, really," he admitted. "She loved sports as much as she loved studying, and she knew she wouldn't be allowed to compete in college when she was 14 years old—even though she probably could have!" he laughed. "I'm sure she'd have a doctorate or two by now if I'd let them rush her through, but she's got plenty of time to make her contributions to the world. It was more important to me that she have an environment where she could mature at her own pace. Although after her senior year, I certainly did regret my decision," he grumbled.

A thought dawned on Jamie and she asked, "Why didn't Ryan have academic scholarships to college?"

Martin shook his dark head again at that question. "She could have gone to any school in the country, Jamie. M.I.T., Cal Tech, the Ivy League, North Carolina, they all wanted her. The people from Stanford would have given their eyeteeth to get her. Their soccer coach courted her like a lovesick suitor! But she wanted Cal and she wanted the athletic scholarship. I'm not sure why it meant so much to her, but it truly did. When she decided to attend USF, they were more than happy to find some money for her, but she didn't think that was fair. She felt that accepting money at that late date would take a scholarship away from someone else, and she just couldn't do that. Personally, I think she set things up the way she did to punish herself for all of the troubles that befell her. I think she still accepts all of the blame for the whole incident."

"But what does she have to feel guilty for?"

"I think she feels like she should have known better than to be vulnerable with that girl," he said, unable to even speak Sara's name.

"But that doesn't make any sense!" she protested.

"Jamie, one thing you'll learn about my little one. Once she makes up her mind about something, it's nearly impossible to change it, no matter the evidence."

Jamie nodded slowly, having figured that trait out already. But she was determined to one day make Ryan see that the troubles she experienced in high school were the result of vindictive, small-minded kids, and that she was truly blameless.

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

After dinner the boys insisted that they would clean up so that the students could get back to work. They went back downstairs and hit the books until nine o'clock, when Jamie realized that she was getting too tired to continue. "I'm gonna head home," she said through a yawn.

Ryan looked up as though she had forgotten that her lover was even there. "I'm sorry I haven't paid more attention to you," she said sincerely. "Are you sorry that you spent the day here?"

Jamie came over and straddled her lap, facing her squarely. "Of course not, Ryan. I had a really nice day. I had to study anyway, and it was so nice to look up and see you every time I took a break. You're the best view in town, you know."

"Why don't you stay over again? Your roommates think you're at your parents don't they?"

"Yeah. But I would normally come home on Sunday night. Besides, I don't have any clean underwear for tomorrow."

"Well, I want you to do what you want, but I have some tiny little underwear that's too small for me. I bet it would fit you just fine."

"Okay," she grinned. "I'll go sleep in Rory's room so you can use your computer."

"Great," said Ryan. "Then we can drive to school together in the morning."

"Will you wake me up? I don't have an alarm on my watch."

"I'll get you up an hour before we have to leave. Then we can have breakfast."

She knew how serious her partner was about her studies when she was seemingly content to receive a single kiss goodnight. But before she left Jamie had to lean over and kiss the dark head that held so many secrets that she was looking forward to discovering.

Chapter Nine

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