For Disclaimers See Chapter 1:


Copyright 2000 by Texbard

Feedback Welcome:

Join my Updates/Chat List:

Or my Updates Only List:

Chapter 7

(posted March 13, 2001)


"Oh, cool!" Carson surveyed the 425 foot hill of pink granite in front of the parked Four-runner. She studied a brochure they had picked up in the interpretive center. "So Enchanted Rock is the second largest batholith in the U.S.?"

"Depends on what you read. It is the second largest exfoliation dome in the U.S. Stone Mountain in Georgia is the largest." Kennedy smiled and took a deep breath, inhaling the faint scent of mesquite carried on the light breeze that blew in through the open truck windows. "It was sacred to the Tonkawa tribe. They thought the rock was inhabited by spirits that built ghost fires on top, and that the spirits groaned at night. The groaning is actually the rock cooling off at night, and the noise is made by the rock contracting after expanding in the sun all day long."

"Ghost fires?" The blonde shivered with anticipation. Carson loved mysteries and tales of the supernatural. "Well come on . . ." She opened the door and stepped out into the graveled parking lot. "Let's go!" She strapped on her daypack and smiled. "I'll meet you at the head of that little foot path over there."

Kennedy frowned as she watched Carson walk away. Wonder what's up with that? Carson had been alternately talkative and introspective for most of the drive from Austin. She shook her head slightly and slowly exited the vehicle, before carefully buckling her own pack around her hips, bouncing up and down slightly on her heels to settle its weight.

She approached the paralegal, who was leaning against the railing, her face tilted up and back slightly, her eyes closed. The sun washed over her lightly tanned features and she sighed contentedly, as she felt Kennedy move in beside her and slide one arm around her shoulders. "Nice day," Carson murmured, her eyes still closed, absorbing the warmth of the afternoon rays on her skin.

"Yeah, it is." Kennedy nibbled her lower lip pensively. "Everything okay?"

Damn, the blonde mentally cursed. She can already read me way too well. It was indeed a very nice day, after a very nice morning that had turned into a shorter repeat performance of the night before. They didn't get away from Austin until close to noon, and now it was almost two o'clock. She had hoped to save her own petty insecurities for some other time, not wanting to spoil what precious little time they had together.

"Carson?" A wavering alto voice brought her back to the present.

"Yeah, everything's fine." Her voice was flat and unconvincing.

"But . . ?" The attorney refused to let the issue rest.

"Just wondering . . . I mean . . . last night . . ." She paused and took a deep breath. "Was that your first time since Angela died?" The words came tumbling out, unbidden.

Pale blue eyes blinked and then softened, as Kennedy stepped around and stood in front of her new lover. She rested her hands loosely against Carson's waist and peered intently into uncertain grey eyes. "Yes, it was." She tilted her head to the side. "Why do you ask?"

"I thought so." The blonde's attention strayed off into the distance, somewhere over Kennedy's shoulder. "I . . . um . . . just wondered if you had any regrets . . . or anything?" And if I did okay, she added silently.

Oh, I see the problem. The taller woman studied the unspoken question on Carson's face. She leaned in until her lips were mere inches from a pink ear. "No regrets, baby. Last night was one of the best nights of my life. Not to mention that this morning was pretty spectacular too. You . . . um . . ." A long finger traced a slightly flushed cheek and Kennedy smiled. ". . . let's just put it this way. I'm going to have a very hard time concentrating on hiking today, because I'm going to be really really tempted to just pull you behind a rock somewhere and ompphh . . ." A firm hand clapped over her mouth.

"I get the picture." Grey eyes twinkled and Carson drew Kennedy into a hug. "Thank you," she whispered, her lips faintly brushing against the side of Kennedy's neck. She pulled back and grinned evilly. "So . . . we climbing to the top of that?" She gestured toward the hill.

"That's the idea." The brunette bent down to tighten a lace on one of her hiking boots.

"Race you to the top!" The paralegal giggled and took off.

"Hey!" Kennedy jumped to her feet. "No fair!" She bounded toward her friend, not stopping until she was a few paces behind her.

They settled into a rhythm, their leg muscles straining to carry them up the hill, their lungs taking in deep breaths of clean fragrant air. It was a glorious day, warm and sunny, perfect for shorts and t-shirts. Several other hikers were also scattered across the hill, as well as the many who had already reached the summit and were milling around the relatively flat top of the rock.

Carson slowed down a bit and looked over her shoulder and then up ahead, gauging her distance to the top. She looked back again at Kennedy's bronzed face, and watched closely, following the brunette's gaze that was pinned on points well south of her own face. "Hey." She wiggled the body part in question. "Eyes on your goal, Nocona."

"Oh, darlin'," Kennedy purred . "They are." Her eyes trailed down further as she watched shapely muscular calves contracting with each of Carson's steps. She groaned internally. It was going to be a long afternoon.

After a short time they reached the top. "Wow." Carson looked around, slowly turning in a three hundred sixty degree circle. "It's beautiful." Stretched out for miles around them was the gently rolling Texas hill country, covered in live oak, black hickory, mesquite scrub, and various other forms of vegetation. Way off in the distance they could see the tiny silver sliver of Inks Lake. The sky overhead was a bright vivid blue and light puffy cumulus clouds floated by, occasionally blocking the intense sunlight. It was a typical late October day.

"You're beautiful." Kennedy wrapped her arms around Carson from behind and squeezed slightly, before resting her chin on the blonde's head. "Where to, my dear?"

Carson pulled a map from the pocket of her hiking shorts and unfolded it, studying the topography and several trails that branched out from the backside of Enchanted Rock. She hummed slightly under her breath as she looked at a key guide to see how many miles each trail was, and how long on average it took to hike them back to the parking lot. "Don't know." She tapped at the piece of paper. "You've been here before. What do you suggest?"

"What I suggest, we'd get arrested for and hauled into the Llano County Jail." She laughed lasciviously and tightened her hold. "But since I'd rather not have the scandal all over the Austin paper by tomorrow morning, I'll settle for this trail right here." She pointed to a thin blue line that snaked down one side of the hill and then curved out through the park in a wide arc leading back to the main trailhead.

"Is it a nice trail?" The blonde felt full lips nibble at the back of her neck, and resulting goose bumps raced across her skin. "Kennedy," she sighed in mock exasperation. "Honey, can you please behave?"

"Aww." The attorney reluctantly made one last pass at the nape of Carson's neck. "If I have to." She relaxed her grip. "And yes, if I recall it's a really nice trail. Lots of tall trees and a haven for rabbits, squirrels, and white-tailed deer."

"Oooo." Carson smiled. "Deer? It's been a long time since I've seen deer in the wild."

"May be a good chance of it today," Kennedy remarked off-handedly. "This time of year, in the middle of fall, they tend to be out a lot feeding, storing up fat for the winter when the pickin's are a lot scarcer."

"That would be so awesome." The blonde turned in Kennedy's arms and grinned from ear to ear. "Come on." She anxiously tugged at the attorney's belt. "Let's go look for deer."

"Hold on a second." The brunette resisted, instead leading Carson across the top of the rock to a slight out-cropping. "Let's sit for a minute."

"Okay." Carson waited until Kennedy was seated firmly in the middle of the flat space and then sat down beside her. She looked curiously at the strong profile. Kennedy's eyes were closed and her legs were loosely crossed, her hands resting leisurely against her thighs. She was very quiet, and the blonde's brow furrowed. Carson finally sat back herself, giving her friend whatever space she seemed to need. She slowly looked around, drinking in the beauty all around them.

After about ten minutes, Kennedy opened her eyes and smiled indulgently at her friend. "Sorry about that, I just . . ." She's going to think I'm insane. ". . . was trying to connect a little bit."

"Is it a Comanche thing?" The blonde idly tugged at a stubborn tuft of grass that clung to a crack in the rock.

"Partly." Blue eyes narrowed in thought. "And partly a Kennedy thing. I spent a long time ignoring my heritage. My people have a long history of honoring and respecting the land. Seeking guidance and signs from it. My father tried to teach me these things, and I was a poor student until my college days. Being in New Mexico was good for me. Helped me connect to that part of me I had shoved aside."

"So what were you doing just now?" Carson scooted closer, until their legs were touching. "Seeking anything in particular, or just meditating in general?"

"I . . . um . . . was seeking wisdom, about us, I guess." A large hand came to rest on the paralegal's thigh, and Carson detected the faintest hint of a blush on her friend's cheek. "Carson, I told you all about Angela, and how immature that love was. Before her, I had a long string of short meaningless relationships. I was a run-around of sorts. Hurt a lot of people because I was into recreational make-out sessions, and a few times, recreational sex. Although I can count on one hand the number of people I've actually had sex with."

"Really?" Carson's voice was soft. "Me too."

"I know." The attorney smiled for a moment and squeezed her new lover's leg. "Anyway, you . . . I want to get it right with you . . . do right by you. I can't deny what I had with Angela. She was special. So are you. But it goes deeper with you, do you understand?"

"Deeper?" Grey eyes peered uncertainly into blue.

"I don't know if I can explain it. I feel more with you. Want more with you. Want to give more. Maybe it's because I'm older now. Maybe it's because I did lose someone I love, and now that I've found that again, I don't want to take it . . . take you . . . for granted." Kennedy sighed. "I don't want you to ever think I'm comparing you to anyone from the past, including Angela. Last night. This morning. She never even crossed my mind."

"Not once?" Carson's voice ended on a high-pitched note.

"No." Kennedy softly stroked the fine blonde hairs on Carson's upper leg with her thumb. "I was with you, Carson. Totally with you. Angela will always have a place in my heart and in my memories. But you hold my heart in the present. I want to make new memories with you. And I really really hope you hold my heart for a very long time into the future."

The blonde swallowed hard and remained silent, her eyes conveying a profound hope she couldn't give voice to. Kennedy saw it there and smiled. "You and I, we're sort of just starting out. I want to know so much more, Carson. Not just on the physical level, but what's inside you. I want to know what makes you smile . . . makes you laugh . . . how to comfort you when you're sad . . . how to encourage you. I want to know you completely, sweetheart. I want to take my time with you, and not miss a thing. What we have, it's a good thing, don't you think?" Blue eyes mirrored the hope on Carson's face.

"Yeah." Carson whispered. She lifted Kennedy's hand and kissed it softly. "I do."

They sat for several minutes, gazing at each other, the surrounding countryside fading away into the background. Something passed between them, as they crossed the line together from hopeful infatuation to the joyful solid knowledge of love reciprocated. Kennedy broke the spell first, as she reached out and trailed her fingertips lightly along Carson's jaw line. "Hey. You ready to go hiking?"

"I think . . ." The blonde felt herself hauled up to her feet. "I'd follow you just about anywhere."

"Really?" Dark brows arched in surprise. "Hold that thought for later."

"Um . . . okay."

They made their way down the steep slope that led to the hiking trail. Kennedy was deep in thought, trying to form just the right words to ask Carson to move to Austin. Finally, she relaxed. Calm down, Shea, she chastised herself. She said she'd follow you anywhere. If she really means that, a move two hundred miles down the road really isn't such a huge step. Everything in good time. They reached the trailhead and she gently grasped Carson's hand, as they quietly took in the autumn afternoon.


"What a neat little cave," Carson exclaimed around a mouthful of trail bar. She swallowed and took a sip from her water bottle. "Well, not a cave exactly, but it is a nice secluded area."

They were taking a break during the last two miles of the six-mile trail. It was very late afternoon and the hottest part of the day, the temperature hovering around ninety degrees. Kennedy had hiked off trail several yards, through a grove of live oak, and found the three-sided rock alcove they were seated in. The cool shade was a welcome respite from the heat. The alcove was an indention in a rock wall that was part of Enchanted Rock itself. There was a short narrow passage through part of the rock, which would put them closer to the main trailhead if they decided they wanted to shorten the hike.

"Yeah." Kennedy was reclined lazily back, her weight on her elbows with her long legs stretched out in front of her. "I thought I remembered this spot being right off this trail. Been a while. Came out here a few years ago with Valerie." She grinned mischievously. "'Course, it's a lot more romantic with you here."

"Yeah?" Carson waggled her eyebrows and scooted closer, allowing herself to be captured and pulled into Kennedy's arms.

"Oh, yeah." The brunette found Carson's lips and explored for a long moment. "Definitely more romantic."

The blonde relaxed into Kennedy's touch, and her breath caught sharply as fingertips lightly traced her ribs before circling her breasts through her t-shirt. "Mmmm." She broke off and opened her eyes, to find her lover studying her chest intently. She giggled. "Kennedy, honey, it's okay to touch if you want to."

"They . . . um . . . feel a little different than last night." Dark brows furrowed.

"Oh, so you're an expert on them now, are you?" Carson gently teased. "Kennedy, I have a sports bra on. It flattens things a bit and re-shapes them. Don't worry. They're still the same under there. I could sort of tell last night that you like them."

"Like them?" A sexy grin played at Kennedy's lips. "I love them. And I do intend to become an expert."

"Good." The blonde shyly brushed her fingers across the curves of Kennedy's own breasts. "Because they really like you, too."

The attorney sighed softly and pulled Carson closer, abandoning herself to emotions that were new and familiar at the same time. She found a strange comfort in Carson's arms, one that she couldn't explain. It was as if they had been lovers for years. She pulled back and allowed the warmth she was feeling to show in her eyes. "Did I know you in another lifetime?"

"Don't know." Carson tugged at the neckline of her lover's t-shirt, unconsciously tracing her collarbone before raking her fingers back through dark disorderly locks. "I'm not sure what I believe about all of that stuff anymore. I do believe in some sort of after life, and a spirit world that we can't see on this plane. Although I always thought that somewhere out there, someday, I was going to meet my soul mate."

"Do you still think that?" Kennedy caught the wandering fingers and intertwined them with her own.

"Yeah." Grey eyes grew very thoughtful. "Yeah, I sure do. Maybe I already have."

"Maybe." A soft alto voice echoed her words.

"Hey." The blonde smiled, breaking the somber mood. "You ready to hike some more?"

"Yeah." They got up and carefully stuffed trail bar wrappers back into their packs before donning them and replacing their hiking boots and socks. They'd removed them to let their feet have a rest while they were in the alcove.

As they made their way back through the trees toward the trail, Carson forged ahead, but an almost inaudible rustling noise caught Kennedy's attention and she paused, turning around. A slight shaking of branches and a soft interplay of shadow and light, and suddenly a large white buck appeared from a thick tangle of brush.

The brunette felt her heart skip a beat, and a tight sensation in her chest, before she took a deep breath and relaxed. Well hello there. Been a long time. She stood stock still, blue eyes locked with dark liquid brown. She blinked and he was gone.

A rush of emotion washed over her. The first and only other time she had seen the buck was right after Angela died. Only it was in Big Bend, hundreds of miles away. It mattered not. She knew he was the same one. He was her supernatural guardian, her spirit guide.

She had been in so much pain at the time, and had very little sense of direction. When she went home to Alpine she had spent a lot of time in silence, moping about the house or simply sitting out on the porch, her soul shattered into a thousand pieces. Her father had talked to her, trying to help her see Angela's death as a crossroads in her life, and not a random tragedy. She could still hear his words, short and certain. "It's time Kennedy."

He meant it was time for her to go on her vision quest, something that had traditionally been pursued by young Comanche males as they reached adulthood. Parker had set out on one shortly before his eighteenth birthday. Kennedy had always assumed she wouldn't because she was a girl. Not so, according to her father. He had encouraged her from her late teens to seek out spiritual guidance, seeing the restlessness in his daughter that would do her good if channeled in the right direction, but do her harm if not harnessed properly.

Reluctantly, at first, she agreed. Although she secretly stuffed herself for two days in preparation for the three to four days of fasting to come. Then early on an October morning, she set out for the backcountry of Big Bend, carrying only a sleeping bag, a water bottle, matches, a pipe, and some homegrown tobacco. She had foregone the more traditional moccasins and breechcloth of her ancestors for sensible hiking boots and camping clothing, but the idea was the same.

She was to spend time alone, in silence, fasting, smoking, and praying, clearing her heart and her mind to allow the spirits to work. It was hoped on a vision quest that a young person would receive guidance for their life path, and that perhaps some wild animal would manifest itself as the young person's supernatural guardian. Such a supernatural guardian could be called upon throughout a person's life, in times when direction and guidance was needed.

Her time alone had at first been even more painful than the prior month of mourning, as she allowed the grief of losing Angela to come to the surface and spill over. Her prayers became long sessions of wailing, as she choked out bitter tears not only for the loss of her lover, but also for the waste she felt her life had become. Finally on the third day, a sense of peace overcame her. She had no more tears to cry.

On that night she had gone to sleep, burrowing completely inside the sleeping bag. It had been a deep, dreamless sleep on a dark and silent night. She heard none of the sounds of the forest around her. It was the first time she had slept through the night in over a month.

The light of dawn had warmed her through the thick down covering, and she had emerged to a crisp fall morning. The sun dappled the leaves overhead, which were just starting to turn in rich shades of red and gold. The air was thick with the scent of cedar, and the patchy sky overhead was an almost unnatural shade of blue.

She remembered that morning so clearly. She had sat up on top of the sleeping bag. Her body felt so light, although surprisingly enough, she was not hungry. She had gone beyond hunger. As she tamped the last bit of her tobacco into her pipe, he had appeared to her, breaking through the trees and standing before her some ten yards away.

She had seen many many deer in the Big Bend area, but never a pure white buck. His antlers were so heavy she wondered how he managed to hold his head up. But hold his head up, he did. Proud, strong, tall, and very wise. All traits that one on a vision quest could be given from their spirit guide. They had locked eyes and it was as if she could almost hear the buck speak to her.

Her law degree was not a waste. Her life was not a waste. Angela's death was a tragedy, but for a very short time, she had known what love was. She knew, instinctively, that she needed to take her education and use it for good. On that morning she had begun to mentally plan the law practice that she now owned.

She knew the buck was her spirit guide, for life. She also knew that he would not appear to her unless she really needed to think about something, or perhaps needed to see something that was right in front of her eyes. Like my soul mate, maybe?

"Kennedy!" Carson's breathless voice brought her back to the present with a shock. "Come on. Deer. A bunch of 'em right out here on the trail. You're missing it."

She turned slowly and reached out, cupping Carson's face with her hand. "No. I'm not missing a thing."

"You okay?" Worried grey eyes searched Kennedy's face, trying to read the mixed emotions she saw there.

"Never been better." She grasped Carson's hand and held on. "So . . where are these deer?"

"Shhhh." The blonde frowned. "Right through there, see?"

"Yeah." Kennedy peered through the trees at several does that were grazing in the tall grass just off the trail. "You . . . um . . . you didn't by any chance see a large white buck with those deer, did you?"

"No." Carson chuckled. "Large white buck? I think you've been in the sun too long today, or maybe watching too many nature specials on TV."

"Could be." She looked back over her shoulder one more time. "Carson, have you ever heard of Indians going on a vision quest?"

"I think so." The blonde looked up at her. "Why?"

"I believe it's time I told you about mine." She held out her hand again. "Walk with me?"

"Sure." Carson held on tight, as they emerged onto the main trail. The deer moved back, but continued to greedily graze, warily watching as the two women passed by, talking quietly together.

Kennedy hesitantly shared her vision quest story with Carson, leaving out the emotional parts where she had cried until she thought she would break open. She basically told about seeking guidance to move on after Angela's death, and to discover what she should be doing with her life. Finally, she told of the buck appearing to her. She left out the part about seeing him again on this particular hike. She still felt overwhelmed by the experience, and needed more time to process it, choosing to keep that part to herself.

"I've never told anyone about the white buck." The brunette absently tucked a lock of errant hair behind her ear. "In fact, I've never told anyone at all about my quest. Not even my father. Most people that go on them don't ever talk about them, other than to tell others the basic procedure for going on one."

Carson pondered that and peered over at her friend. They were almost back to the parking lot and the sun was sinking lower in the sky, although they still had a few hours of daylight left. "Why did you tell me about it?"

The attorney thought about the buck appearing to her again. She knew in her heart that it wasn't a coincidence. After five years of being alone, he had chosen to come to her at a time when she was in a new relationship, the first one she had been in since losing Angela. It had to be a sign of some sort. She fervently hoped that it was a blessing on her relationship with Carson. "It's a part of my life." She shrugged. "You're a part of my life. I was just thinking about that whole soulmate thing. I feel . . . well . . . I feel close to you. I've never had anyone in my life I wanted to share it with before."

"I see." The blonde reached out and clasped Kennedy's hand. "Thank you. Especially since I'm not even in your family. That means a lot."

"You mean a lot." She squeezed Carson's hand. "And I beg to differ. In a very short time, you have become as close to me as family. Closer."

Carson felt a giddy rush of adrenalin, and turned that thought over in her mind, wrestling with a decision she had been debating. "Kennedy. We're going to dinner tonight at the beer garden, right?" The paralegal paused as they reached the end of the trail, drawing Kennedy over to a park bench under a tree.

"Yeah." Blue eyes grew concerned. She allowed herself to be tugged down onto the bench. "Why, is something wrong?"

"No. Not exactly." Carson looked down at her hands, which were folded in her lap. "I've been thinking, and I wanted to talk to you before dinner. Because I want dinner to just be fun."

Alarm bells went off and the brunette felt a knot clenching in her gut. "Okay." God, please don't let her be having second thoughts. Maybe the buck came to me to give me courage to face her leaving me. "What's up?"

"I figure that one way or another, my firm is history, right?" The paralegal looked up, staring off across the parking lot toward the top of the hill. The sun glinted off the granite, creating hundreds of sparkles.

The question was totally unexpected, but Kennedy felt relief flood her system. "Yeah, sweetheart, I'm afraid so. It certainly won't ever be the same again after everything breaks."

"So whether I help out your friend Mike or not, eventually, all those folks at my office will be without jobs." Carson looked back down at her lap.

"Thought you didn't want to think about that this weekend." The brunette reached out and rested her hand on Carson's leg.

"Can't help it." Anguished grey eyes met blue. "I just wish . . ." Her voice grew quiet and she trailed off.

"What do you wish, baby?" Kennedy watched one tear escape from Carson's eye, and she caught it with her finger.

"I wish that there was a way that all the innocent people could be assured of getting good jobs somewhere else. I think I'd be willing to help, if only I knew that none of them were going to be hurt permanently." She sniffled and accepted a handkerchief that Kennedy produced from her daypack. "Thank you."

"Hmmm." The brunette's eyes narrowed. "Let me work on that. There might be a way to make it relatively painless. Maybe the whole firm doesn't have to fall."

"Really?" Carson sat up a little taller.

"I can't make any promises, but let me talk to Mikey on Monday and see if between the two of us we can come up with something." Kennedy paused and then her voice grew very gentle. "How much is your job tied to Tony?"

"We're considered to be a team." The paralegal sighed. "I do a little bit of work with some of the associates under him, but for the most part, my job goes hand in hand with his."

"Hmm." Kennedy grunted, acknowledging something she had already guessed at. "Sweetheart, even if we can work out something to salvage jobs for some of your firm, there isn't going to be any job there for Tony. He'll be damned lucky if he doesn't do some prison time, if he's up to the stuff Mikey thinks he is. Is there a place for you with someone else in your office if he's not there anymore?"

"Don't know." The blonde closed her eyes. Come on. Ask her. She swallowed. "I've been thinking about that, too. Even if there were a place for me there, it would be really hard to stay there with everyone knowing I'm the one who ratted Tony and Nick out. I'm thinking they wouldn't want me there. And I'm also thinking my legal career in Dallas is probably toast too. No one is going to want to hire me."

"Maybe Mikey or Heidi could pull some strings for you somewhere. And . .. I still have some friends up there too." Kennedy pushed her own desires aside, giving her friend every chance to keep the life she had, if that's what she wanted.

"I was wondering . . ." Carson's own stomach flipped over. "I really like Austin. Have liked it ever since I went to school down here. I wouldn't want to get in your way or anything, but I thought . . . if you didn't mind . . . I was thinking I might look for an apartment down here, maybe try to find a job in Austin."

The silence was deafening, and the blonde closed her eyes. Guess I asked that question way too soon. She didn't have any more time to think, as long arms wrapped around her, and she found herself engulfed in a rib-crunching hug. "Ummphh . . . Kennedy . . . can't breath. Honey . . ."

"Oh. Sorry." The attorney relaxed her hold. She pulled back and gave Carson her most dazzling smile. "You read my mind." She let out a long relieved breath.

"I did?" Carson frowned in puzzlement.

"Yeah." Kennedy sat back against the bench and leaned her head way back, looking up at the sky. She smiled again and then looked at Carson, casually draping her arm along the high wooden back of the bench. "I've been trying to figure out all weekend how to ask you to move here."

"You have?" The blonde grinned, a reflection of Kennedy's expression. "I wouldn't be in your way or anything?"

"In my way? Are you kidding?" The attorney pulled Carson against her side, rubbing her far shoulder. "These past few weeks, in between the weekends, I wanted you with me so badly, it hurt. Plus I think if you and I really want to get to know each other better, we need to end up in the same city at some point. Long distance can be fun, and romantic, but it's not the real day-to-day life that allows you to truly get to know someone."

"It has been pretty hard to say good-bye to you." The paralegal rested her head on Kennedy's shoulder. She felt the brunette's lips brush across the top of her head. "I know I probably can't move until everything is resolved with my firm, but at least I can start gearing myself up for it. I may want to take a little time off between jobs, maybe go see some of my out-of-state friends. My two best friends live in New York and Colorado, and I haven't seen either of them in several months. I think I'm going to need a vacation after all of the mess in Dallas is over."

"Of course. Take your time, sweetheart." Kennedy stroked the wavy blonde hair. "I'll be here to help you in any way you need me to."

"Would you like to go on a vacation with me?" Carson sat up and turned her body toward her friend. "Maybe after Thanksgiving?"

"You know, I was thinking earlier this week that some time off might be in order for both of us." Kennedy idly tugged at the hem of Carson's shorts. "Maybe somewhere warm and sunny. Go sit on a beach somewhere in early December."

"That sounds perfect." Grey eyes took on a faraway look. "I know a wonderful little beach down in the Virgin Islands, on St. John. It's one of the most beautiful places on Earth."

"Well then." Kennedy stood up, pulling Carson with her. "Why don't we go to dinner and make some plans, and celebrate your future move?"

"And after dinner?" The blonde gave her friend her most innocent smile.

"Oh, I think after dinner we might need to move the celebration somewhere more private, say to our room at the bed and breakfast." She waggled her eyebrows.

"Good answer." Carson stood on her toes and quickly pecked Kennedy's lips. "Come on, I hear a tall mug of German beer calling my name."

They made their way to the Four-runner and drove back to the bed and breakfast to clean up. Both women took quick separate showers and then playfully shared the vanity area in the bathroom, blow-drying their hair and brushing their teeth. They passed on make-up. Kennedy's naturally dark features required minimal touch-up, even for such occasions as going to trial or courting new clients. Carson's face was a lighter golden tan, with a bit of a pink tinge to her nose and cheeks from being in the sun all day.

Soon they were walking down the street to the most popular beer garden in town, and were promptly seated at a corner table on the outdoor patio. A German band played lively music on a stage off to one side, and waitresses dressed in traditional German blouses and skirts whisked by carrying impossibly large trays of full beer mugs with seeming ease, not spilling a single drop.

Carson accepted a frosted stein and gulped thirstily at the nutty-flavored dark liquid. She sighed and swiped a foamy moustache from her upper lip. "Ahhh. I needed that."

Kennedy took a more cautious sip from her own mug and her eyes grew wide with delight. "Wow. I can't remember the last time a beer tasted this good. In fact, I can't remember the last time I drank beer at all."

"Careful there." The blonde teased. "You don't have your beer tolerance built up. I'd hate to have to carry you back to the inn."

"Are you insinuating that you could drink me under the table, Blondie?" The attorney raised one perfectly arched eyebrow.

"No, just reminding you that your system isn't quite as used to alcohol as mine is." Carson smiled charmingly.

"So you are insinuating you could drink me under the table." Kennedy grinned back. "You know, if I didn't have plans for you later that call for me being relatively sober, I just might be tempted to step up to that challenge. It's not like I have to drive anywhere until tomorrow."

The paralegal blushed and blinked. "Did you say something? You lost me on the 'plans later' part."

The brunette chuckled and bumped her leg against Carson's under the table. "Darlin,' I'd like to get lost with you on that particular part for the better part of the night."

"Um . . ." Pink cheeks turned bright red. She ducked her head and absently rubbed the side of her very warm neck, unable to come up with a response.

"You know, I've said it before, but you really are cute when you blush." Kennedy smiled fondly at her lover. "Sorry, sweetheart. I think last night you may have created a monster." She leaned forward until they were almost nose-to-nose. "Can't get enough of you."

Passionate grey eyes looked into dark blue for a long moment. "That's okay." Carson recovered and licked her lips slowly for emphasis. "There was a lot more stuff in that book I still need to test out."

Kennedy's middle clenched, and she swallowed hard. "Please, baby. I would love to be your own personal laboratory."

"Good." The blonde reached out with one finger and slowly dragged it down her lover's neck, coming to rest at the pounding pulse in the hollow of her throat. "Of course you know, sometimes you have to do an experiment more than once."

"Yeah. Gotta make sure you take all your variables into account, huh?" Kennedy captured the finger and drew it to her lips, giving it a gentle kiss. "By the way, what book have you been reading, anyway?"

"Promise not to laugh?" Carson hesitated.

"Laugh?" Kennedy smiled. "Are you kidding? I want to send the author a personal thank-you note."

Carson giggled, but nonetheless looked very pleased with herself. "Well in that case, I guess I can tell you. It's actually a book written by a bunch of lesbians to teach men how to make love to women."

Kennedy almost spewed beer across the table. "Seriously?"

"Seriously." The blonde reached out and caught a tiny dribble of beer on her lover's chin. "I forget you've never been with a man. They tend to want to cut to the chase, and leave all the other really nice stuff out. Very few of them are willing to spend hours just touching and kissing."

"Oh." The attorney's thoughts strayed along those lines for several moments. "That's a crying shame, especially where you're concerned. I can't wait until you move to Austin. I'd love to spend hours cuddling up with you."

"Count on it." Carson smiled warmly. "Speaking of moving, if I were to start boxing up some of my non-essential stuff, do you think I could ship it down to you and keep it in your guest room or your storage shed, just until I find a place of my own of course."

"No problem." The brunette hoped Carson might just decide to stay with her, and not look for an apartment. Let her have some space, Shea, she argued with herself. Maybe she needs to have a place she can call her own. Plenty of time to work toward actually living together. Why don't you try just having a normal dating relationship first? Would that be so bad? She sighed imperceptibly. But I'd really love to wake up with her every morning.

"You sure?" Carson studied the torn expression on her friend's face. "I can rent a storage space somewhere if it's too much trouble."

"Oh, no. Sorry, I got distracted for a minute. Please. You can store anything you want to with me, for as long as you want to." Including yourself, forever. Her silent thoughts surprised even herself, and Kennedy fumbled with the menu as a diversion. "Oh good. They have veggie burgers here for us non-bratwurst eaters."

"Tcchh." The blonde shook her head in mock-admonishment. "We drive all the way to Fredericksburg to get some authentic German food, and you order a veggie burger. What am I going to do with you?"

"Speak for yourself." Kennedy's most feral expression claimed her face. "I did not come here to eat authentic German food. It's what you're going to do with me, and me with you, that I came here for."

"Oh." Warm heat flooded Carson's skin. "Me too, me too." She nervously picked up the dessert menu and scanned it. "Oh, look. They have double German chocolate cake here. You want to look at the dessert menu?"

"No thanks." Blue eyes lazily drifted over Carson's form. "I've been looking at it all day long."

"You are so bad." The blonde laughed softly, allowing their knees to brush under the table, skin lingering against skin.

"But I'm so good at it." Kennedy winked. "We could order some of that cake to go and take it back to our room to share in front of the fireplace. The inn keeps ice cream and whipped topping in the refrigerator for the guests to partake of at will. How does that sound?"

"Oooo. Now you're talking." Carson flashed her lover a sexy grin.

The waitress came and took their orders. They continued with the teasing banter, occasionally lapsing into more serious conversation about Carson's coming move, along with wishful planning of a vacation to somewhere warm and sunny. Their food arrived and Carson made leisurely work of devouring a full plate of bratwurst, German potato salad, and more traditional green beans, which she substituted for sauerkraut, a dish she detested. Kennedy nibbled on her veggie burger, along with her own helping of potato salad.

Later they sat back and enjoyed the live band and even got up with other diners to participate in some traditional dancing. In between dances, they both managed to consume a fair amount of the dark German beer. Finally, as they sat together listening to the music, Kennedy leaned over and whispered into Carson's ear, "I think I'm ready for my dessert now."

The blonde felt a gentle fluttering in her stomach. She smiled and merely nodded. They collected their order of chocolate cake and ambled out onto the sidewalk. The street was mostly clear, and Kennedy reached out, taking Carson's hand.

"Look at all those stars." Carson looked up at the glitter-dusted sky, enjoying a rare treat she could never see under the harsh night lights of Dallas. "Wish I could sit out on my balcony at home and see a sky like that."

"After you move here, you can see them every night at my house. The lake is nice and dark at night." Kennedy grimaced as the words left her lips, realizing the implication. Damned beer. Her normally careful reserve was greatly compromised by the comfortable buzz she was enjoying. "That is, any night you come out to the house to visit me, you can see them."

"Well in that case, I'll have to visit real often." Carson was enjoying her own buzz, mixed with a growing anticipation of reaching their room. "Bet we can see the sky from that little veranda off our room, too."

"Absolutely." Kennedy squeezed the smaller hand she held. "I'm kinda glad we didn't wait until tonight."

"Me too." Carson smiled into the darkness. "I think I would have been really nervous during dinner. It was nice, last night. Being spontaneous like that."

"Yeah." The brunette chuckled. "Although I'm not sure which would have been worse today. If we'd waited I would have been wondering all day what it would be like with you. Instead, it was killing me all day, because I knew what I was looking forward to."

"So . . ." They reached the inn's front door and Carson waited while Kennedy punched in the security code on the outside keypad. "How about you go up and start that fire in the fireplace, and I'll hunt around in the kitchen down here for some ice cream and that whipped topping."

"Um . . ." The attorney pushed the door open and held it for Carson to pass through. "Sounds great. Take your time. And knock before you come in, okay? In fact, if you want, why don't you look around down here a bit? Read some of the brochures on the history of the inn and the town and all?"

"Okay." Carson frowned in puzzlement. "Kennedy, honey, they have some of that fire-starter stuff up there. You don't have to use a flint and striker or anything. I know you're proud of your camping skills and all but really, I don't think it will take you that long to get a fire going."

Kennedy laughed softly. "Not worried about that. I still have a surprise for you, and I need a little bit of time, that's all."

"Oh." The blonde smiled sheepishly. "In that case, go on. But when I get up there, I may need a few minutes to get my own surprise together. You might have to go out onto the balcony or something to wait."

"I can do that." Kennedy leaned in and captured Carson's lips in a long sensual kiss. She pulled back, enjoying the slightly dazed look on her lover's face. "As for that fire, darlin', it's already burning, believe me."

Grey eyes slowly fluttered open. Carson licked her lips, tasting a faint hint of the peppermint Kennedy had taken from a dish at the restaurant. "Go on. I'll be up in a bit."

Kennedy pecked her lips one more time and then walked across the polished hard wood floor of the inn's entryway, allowing her hips to sway a bit more than usual. She could feel Carson's eyes on her and she grinned. It was going to be a wonderful night.

The blonde waited until her lover disappeared up the stairs. Her whole body tingled, and she floated into the kitchen area to search for the rest of their dessert. She opened the freezer door and spied a large container of homemade vanilla ice cream. The cold blast of chilled air washed over her and she felt it in strong contrast to her heated skin. She chuckled to herself. Maybe I should just crawl in there for a little while, before I spontaneously combust.

"Hey there." A cheery voice startled her and she jumped, quickly closing the door.

"Hi." Carson recognized the woman as the person who had checked them in earlier that afternoon. "Lisa, correct?"

Warm hazel eyes greeted her. "Yeah. Good memory." The woman flipped long wavy honey-colored locks over her shoulder. "So tell me. How did you manage to catch the elusive Miss Nocona?"

"Huh?" The question came out of nowhere, and Carson almost dropped the container of whipped cream.

"You must be doing something right." Lisa sat down at the small table and motioned toward the chair across from her. "Might as well take a seat. I just got through delivering a basket of special things Kennedy ordered for your room. She's got something pretty nice up her sleeve."

"Um . . ." Carson shuffled over and sat down. "She did say she had a surprise for me."

"You're the surprise. At least to me and my partner." Lisa picked up an apple from a bowl on the table and bit into it. She chewed and swallowed, leaving Carson hanging. "Kennedy's been visiting here on and off for five years. She always brings a friend, and they always request one of our rooms with two twin beds. It's always been obvious the friends were platonic. I about swallowed my own tonsils when she called last week and requested the honeymoon suite."

"Honeymoon suite?" Blonde brows shot into Carson's hairline. "Buh . . . buh . . ."

"Relax." Lisa smiled at the blonde's obvious confusion. "That's just what we call it, because it's our most romantic room. Although lots of women do come here after their joining ceremonies, and they always stay in that room."

"Oh." The paralegal found her voice and selected an apple of her own, tossing it up and catching it.

"Kennedy saw it once, when we gave her the tour of the place on a slow weekend." Lisa gazed intently at Carson. "I still remember the look in her eyes. She said if she ever found 'the one,' she was going to bring them here and stay in that room."

"Buh . . ." Carson scrubbed her face with her fist. But she reserved that room before we ever slept together. The thought sent her mind reeling. "She really said that? She said 'the one'?"

"Yep. She did." Lisa grinned. "We couldn't wait to meet you, because you must be the one."

"Um . . ." The blonde smiled shyly. "Maybe. Listen, I probably need to collect the ice cream to go with this whipped cream, and get on up there."

Lisa watched as a flustered paralegal grabbed the ice cream from the freezer. Carson almost escaped when she heard Lisa clear her throat. "Aren't you forgetting something?"

"Forgetting something?" I'm starting to sound like a damned parrot. She spun around.

"You might want these." Lisa handed her some ice cream bowls, a dipper, and a couple of spoons. "That is unless you weren't planning to eat it from bowls."

"Of course we're eating it from bowls. How else would we . . .? . . . Oh." Carson blushed furiously at the knowing look Lisa gave her. "Never mind. Thanks." She accepted the utensils and beat a hasty retreat for the stairs.


The door loomed before her, daring her to make a move. She raised her hand, but could not bring herself to form a fist and knock. Knocking and stepping through almost seemed tantamount to stepping into her future. When my present is still so untidy. And the past sometimes haunts me in the middle of the night.

Carson sighed heavily and turned around, pressing her back against the wall next to the door and slowly sliding down the smooth floral wallpaper. Her bottom hit the floor and she sat down on the hard wood, crossing her legs and hanging her head, the ice cream sitting on the floor in front of her, and the whipped topping and utensils cradled in her lap.

She could hear muted instrumental jazz music seeping softly from behind the door. Come on Carson, the most beautiful woman in the world is on the other side of that door and she wants you. Me. I'm the one. The chill those three words sent down her spine was at once exhilarating and terrifying. What if I do something somewhere down the line to disappoint her?

Carson had lost a lot in a very short period of time. Her mother and father, which was the same as losing her entire family, since she was an only child. She was facing the prospect of losing her job. She'd lived in Dallas for most of her life, and she was considering leaving it. She'd lost the home she grew up in because she had to sell it after her parents died.

She had even lost her childhood pet, Samson, a cat that had lived with her parents after she went away to school. He had been old and set in his ways, and after her father died, there was no way she could take him to her apartment and mix him with Allie and Roma. And she couldn't bring herself to take him to a shelter or leave him with someone else, because he would have been sad and confused after spending all of his sixteen years living with her parents. So she had taken him to the vet and had him put to sleep. Her head told her it was the most humane thing to do, but her heart ached. She had little time to mourn his passing, however. She had bigger things to mourn at the time.

Suddenly she felt tears well up in her eyes, and spill over, blurring her vision of the ice cream and the bowls. Poor little kitty. No one even took time to miss him. She fervently wished the tears would wash away her confused emotions as well. She loved Kennedy. And she was petrified at the thought of somehow losing her, too. One more loss, and they can just haul me out to Terrell* and leave me there indefinitely, she chuckled bitterly.

She smoothed out the legs of her black denim shorts and tugged agitatedly at her forest green polo shirt, tucking it in more securely. So what are you going to do Carson, just sit out here in the hallway for the rest of your life? Run away? And why am I so afraid?

She thought about that and slowly, an answer came to her. Because I've never gotten a relationship right in my whole entire life and I don't know what the hell I'm doing. And I really want this one to work. Because I'm really in love with her and already, I can hardly remember what it was like to not have her around. And I don't ever want to know what it feels like to be without her.

So why am I sitting out here while the one I love is just on the other side of that door? She sniffled and started to stand up, when the door opened and a surprised alto voice addressed her from above her left shoulder. "Hey, I was wondering where you were."

Kennedy studied her lover's slumped posture and frowned. "Carson, why are you sitting out here on the floor?"

Because my cat died. They were the first words that came to mind, and she was relieved she managed not to say them out loud, further confusing Kennedy. Plenty of time to tell her about Samson some other day. She knew that wasn't really what her tears were about. "Carson?" The voice was closer, next to her ear, and a strong hand caressed her shoulder. She released a shaky breath, grasping Kennedy's hand and resting her cheek against the warm tanned skin.

"Sometimes it just all gets to be too much." She continued to rub her face against her lover's comforting hand.

"What gets to be too much, baby?" Kennedy dropped to her knees and sat back on her heels, joining her friend on the floor.

"I feel like my life is completely out of control. Every time I turn around, something else . . . or someone else . . . is taken away. My folks. Our house. Now my job." She closed her eyes as she felt Kennedy sit down next to her, and long fingers gently massaged her neck.

"Hey." The brunette worked on a particularly tight knot at the base of Carson's skull. "Sweetheart, what brought all of this on? I dropped you off at the kitchen and you were in a pretty darned good mood. Did something happen in the last fifteen minutes?"

Carson thought about her conversation with Lisa. "Kennedy, why did you bring me here?" The fingers at her neck stilled and she felt the taller woman physically shrink away from her a little. Oh dear God. That did not come out the way I intended it to. "I didn't mean that to sound the way it did."

The fingers resumed their attentions. "You wanna tell me what's going on? And . . . um . . . can we move this inside the room? We are the only room on the third floor, but there is always a slim chance that someone might walk up here, and while you look fine, I'd really rather not be seen like this."

Grey eyes tracked to the left and Carson finally noticed what Kennedy was wearing. Which was not a lot. "Wow." She smiled, much to the brunette's relief. "Wow."

"Surprise." The attorney gave her a crooked smile and hesitantly studied Carson's face, searching for some sign that everything was going to be all right.

"I'll say." Curious fingers reached out, exploring smooth soft material. "That feels really nice." Kennedy was wearing a pair of very tiny red silk boxers, with a matching red tank top made from the thinnest softest brushed cotton Carson had ever felt. The neckline scooped low, revealing the top swells of her breasts, not that the tight fit left much to the imagination in the first place. "You look . . ." The blonde shook her head, unable to come up with an adequate adjective. She let her eyes speak for her.

Kennedy smiled, reading the hesitant passion on Carson's face. "Thought I'd get something a little more appealing than the plaid flannels." She held out her hand. "So, inside? We can just sit on the couch and talk. For as long as you need to." She retrieved the ice cream and dishes, and helped Carson to her feet.

They stepped into the room and Carson stopped. "Aww, Kennedy. It's beautiful. You've gone to so much trouble and . . . I'm sorry. I've ruined your evening." A fire was blazing in the fireplace, and small white floating candles were placed randomly throughout the room, the only other light. The low jazz saxophone music played from the CD player, and a bottle of champagne was chilling in an ice bucket next to the couch. The ceiling fan hummed quietly overhead, and the white lace comforter on the bed was scattered with pink and red rose petals. The veranda door was open, leaving only the screen between the room and the rapidly cooling October night air. True to her expectations, Carson could see the stars, along with a silvery half-moon.

"No." The brunette stepped over to a side table and then turned back around, handing her lover a single red rose. "You're here with me, and that's all that matters. I'm sorry you're having a hard time, Carson. I'd like to help if I can."

The blonde sniffed at the fragrant flower and closed her eyes. It's okay. This is Kennedy here. She's not going to pressure me. "You asked me earlier if anything happened after you left me at the kitchen." She moved to the couch and sat down. "Sit with me?"

"Of course. Just a minute." Kennedy took the ice cream and whipped topping, and placed them in a mini-fridge that was hidden inside a cherry wood cabinet. She set the bowls and spoons on the low glass and iron coffee table and sat down. "You wanted to know why I brought you here?"

"That's not exactly what I meant." Carson grimaced internally at the obvious hurt in the pale blue eyes. "Lisa and I chatted for a bit while I was downstairs, mostly to give you time to do all this." She gestured around the room with a sweep of her hand. "She said something to me that she probably shouldn't have. But there's no going back now. It just scared me a little, I guess."

"What did she say?" The low voice had a growling edge to it, Kennedy's hackles up at the thought of anyone hurting Carson, with words or otherwise.

"She . . . um . . ." The paralegal bit her lower lip and plucked at the fringe on an afghan that graced the high back of the couch. "She told me about the first time you saw this room, and what you said about it."

"What I said about it?" Dark brows furrowed. "Oh." Kennedy closed her eyes. "God, she shouldn't have told you about that. I had forgotten all about it."

"Oh." After all her fears, Carson looked almost disappointed. "So I'm not the one?"

"Sweetheart . . ." Kennedy scooted closer. "Come here." She gently urged Carson down, until the blonde was reclining on the couch with her head pillowed on Kennedy's muscular thigh and a long arm draped across Carson's stomach. "Do I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you're the one? No, although I have a very good feeling about us. Do I love you? Absolutely. Do I have every hope that things work out between us for the long haul? Most definitely."

"Kinda takes some of the pressure off." Carson smiled and shivered, as she felt her lover playing with her hair. "That feels really good."

"Carson, I don't ever want you to be afraid of me, or of our relationship." Short wavy hair rippled through her fingers. "You aren't going to wake up tomorrow and find me gone. I'm here for you. Always. Even as a friend in the unlikely event that the rest doesn't work out. At the same time, I'm not going to push you any further ahead than you want to go."

"I feel like some sort of schizophrenic." Carson laughed ruefully. "Part of me was afraid of your expectations, and part of me was afraid I'd do something stupid and lose you. Like I wanted to be 'the one,' and at the same time, the thought of it frightened the bejesus out of me. Kinda crazy, huh?"

"No. Not crazy." Kennedy gently caressed her lover's face. "You're a very brave woman who has been through a hell of a lot in the past few years, not to mention the past few weeks. Sometimes I forget that being in a relationship with a woman is a relatively new thing for you. I just sort of drift through the days when you're not with me, in a happy-induced fog, waiting until I can call you, or e-mail you. I forget that you're dealing with new feelings, and at the same time, you've got a pretty full plate with the rest of real life."

"You know, I think having you has probably kept me sane these past few weeks." Carson smiled up affectionately, watching the firelight reflected in her lover's eyes.

"Now there's a scary thought." The brunette chuckled. "I think that's the first time I've ever been accused of helping someone keep their sanity."

"No, seriously." The blonde shifted, curling partway onto her side, the enticing waistline of the silk boxers at eye level. She reached out, absently hooking one finger inside, pulling slightly at the placket, which was closed with three small flat red pearlized buttons. "You have been a rock for me. Every time I thought I was going to absolutely lose it over the situation with Nick and Tony, I always had my next encounter with you to look forward to, and I could always pick up the phone and talk to you."

"Glad to hear it. I want you to always feel free to call me if you need me." Kennedy ignored the tiny tingles of pleasure Carson's inspection of her clothing was causing. "Now . . . what are we going to do about your fears concerning us?" She cupped Carson's face, which was painted dark golden in the low light. "Was last night too soon, sweetheart?"

"No." The blonde sat up, scooting around until she was curled up against her lover's side. "I needed that, so much. I felt so close to you, and I needed to feel connected to you physically. I'm just afraid of so many things."

"Like what?" Kennedy rubbed Carson's back and smoothed blonde bangs out of her eyes.

"That I'll do something to lose you." She frowned, her emotions a strange mix of fear, anger at herself, and frustration at not being able to adequately explain her feelings. "I love you, Kennedy. I've never felt this strongly about anyone before. It terrifies me that anyone could come to mean so much to me so quickly. All my life I've waited to really fall in love. When it finally happened, it snuck up on me so fast, I still haven't caught my breath. Part of me feels so giddy I swear I could fly. Another part is still trying to grasp that all of this is real."

"It's very real." Kennedy's heart hurt for her friend. She acknowledged that they probably couldn't be trying to develop a relationship at a worse time, with Carson dealing with so much else. But they had met when they did, and she couldn't help but believe that everything happened for a reason. "Carson, I'll repeat what I said earlier. I'm not going anywhere. As for us, for our relationship, why don't we try to take it one day at a time? We don't have to know right now what is going to happen in the future. We have some big hurdles to jump first. The stuff with Nick and Tony has to be resolved. You need to get moved, if that's what you really want to do."

"I do." Carson nuzzled her face against Kennedy's collarbone. "I want some normal time with you, even if all we do some Saturday is clean house and do laundry."

"Oh, I think I can manage to make our Saturdays a little more exciting than that." Blue eyes twinkled. "Sometimes we might mix it up, maybe muck out the barn or scrape barnacles off the bottoms of the boats."

"How romantic." Carson poked a finger into her lover's ribs. "I did not get my C-card** to go diving for barnacles, thank you very much."

"You dive?" Kennedy had always wanted to get certified, but had never found the time to do it. "I've always thought it sounded like so much fun."

"It is and I do. I did my final dive checkout right here at Lake Travis, as a matter of fact. The shop in Dallas where I took the classes always takes beginners there. It's a good, deep lake, with a lot of temperature, flora, and fauna variables. Plus they have that roped off dive park out at Scuba Point." Warm memories of one of the proudest moments of her life came bubbling to the surface. "There's a perfectly good local dive shop out on 2222 near the loop. You should do it. You'd like it. It's a thinking person's sport. Lots of biology and physics to learn. You can't be a reckless person and expect to live long as a diver."

"Ahhh." Kennedy chuckled. "Good thing I didn't try it in my twenties, then."

"Were you really that wild?" Carson recalled the stories of bull-riding, pot-smoking, and beach bashes in Galveston. "I mean, reckless, per se?"

"Let's just say I took my share of chances." Mischief danced in Kennedy's eyes. "I got put in jail once during high school for skateboarding down Main Street behind a pick-up with a ski rope."

"Oh, God." Carson covered her face and winced. "Helmet?"

"Nope." Kennedy unconsciously raked her fingers back through her dark hair, grateful she had no permanent closed-head injuries to show for her formative years. "Didn't wear one with my Harley for a long time, either. But I do now."

"You have a Harley?" The blonde sat up. "Get out! Where?"

"I keep it in Alpine. Austin isn't really that safe for motorcycles anymore. Plus it's a nice little diversion to look forward to whenever I go home." She smiled. "It's a laser red and black Heritage Softail Classic***. I love the feel of the wind in my face. It's hard to explain. I get an almost sexual rush from it. Maybe it's having all that power between my legs."

Carson grinned, studying the primal expression on her lover's face. "Don't know if I could take much more power than you already have there."

"Oh, darlin' . . ." Kennedy waggled her eyebrows. "If you're talking about last night, that power was you, not me. Baby, you had my body humming in ways Harley Davidson never dreamed of."

"Really?" The blonde tilted her head in question, still unsure of just how she was doing in the physical arena.

"Oh, yeah." She paused, catching a clue, and her voice grew gentle. "Carson, it's not so much the way you touch me, although rest assured what you've done so far felt really good. It's the fact that it's you touching me. You can just look at me a certain way, and it's enough to make me melt on the spot. But when you touch me . . . Whoa . . . forget melting. I think evaporation might be a better description. It's that good. That hot. It's knowing it's you doing it, more than anything. Your touch turns me inside out."

"Hmmm . . ." Carson decided to test that theory, slowly tracing a dipping line from one shoulder, down across Kennedy's breasts, and back up, ending with a gentle exploration of the sensitive skin at the back of her neck. She watched in fascination as tiny muscles just under the surface twitched in her wake, and a trail of goose bumps followed her fingertips.

"Baby . . ." Kennedy caught the wandering hand and kissed it softly. "Why don't you go change into your pj's, and let's start this part of the evening over? Maybe share that cake and ice cream, and see what happens from there."

"Now there's a plan I can handle." The blonde leaned in, sharing a gentle heartfelt kiss with her lover.

"Carson, if all we do is eat cake and ice cream, just know that's fine with me, okay?" She stroked her lover's blonde hair, doing her best to convey the love she felt, ready to put a damper on the lust if need be. "To answer your much earlier question, I brought you here to spend some time alone with you, away from everything else. I love you, Carson. I want you to be comfortable with me, and with the things we do together."

"Thank you." Grateful grey eyes finally sparkled with a genuine smile. "Just hearing you say that makes it so."

Kennedy watched her lover, as she picked up her suitcase and then went into the bathroom, closing the door behind her. She got up and retrieved a few extra logs from outside the screen door, tossing them into the fireplace and arranging them to her satisfaction with a poker. She moved to the CD player, setting up five extra ones on continuous play, and then went back out on the veranda.

The night air held just the slightest hint of a chill, and she shivered slightly as her body adjusted to the lower temperature. The veranda was on the back side of the inn, away from the prying eyes of anyone who might be walking on the street out front. Kennedy looked down at her scanty attire and smiled. She did say red was her favorite color, didn't she?

She walked over and leaned on the railing, looking up at the stars and breathing in the air, which carried vague traces of spicy cooked bratwurst from the various nearby restaurants, along with the sweeter scent of the cedar trees that were in the inn's back yard. The strains of John Coltraine reached her ears, the heady music boosting her mood back up to a slightly more tolerable level, where she could at least think clearly.

Helpless. That was how she felt. She thought about how the weekend had begun, with Carson's arrival at the Austin airport, and her lover's very fragile condition. The next day they went on the tenuous shopping trip to buy the various things Carson needed to upgrade her own security, including the cell phone and paper shredder. The talk with Mikey hadn't helped things. And then we made love for the first time that same night, last night.

She smiled. It had been good. Sweet. Hot. More than she could possibly have hoped for, especially for their first time. My God, she breathed softly. No wonder she's about to fall apart. She's been through way too many emotions in the last forty-eight hours for any reasonable person to endure unscathed. Kennedy vowed silently that Carson was going to set the pace for the rest of the evening. Even if we just cuddle in front of the fire, which really wouldn't be so bad, now would it?

She heard bare feet padding toward her on the painted wooden deck, and she turned, opening up her arms in silent invitation. Carson smiled back at her, flicking the tie on the inn's complimentary white terrycloth robe she wore. They met in a long comfortable hug, the contact soothing ragged nerves and beginning to restore the close feelings they had shared for most of the day. "Hi." Carson finally looked up, smiling warmly at pale blue eyes that were really almost silver in the moonlight.

"Hi yourself." Kennedy ruffled the blonde waves and ran one hand up and down the nubby cloth that covered Carson's arm. "Where's your pj's?"

"Under here." The blonde blushed. "I didn't think there was enough to them to walk out here without the robe."

"Oh?" A dark head cocked to one side in curiosity. "Less than what I have on?" She looked down at her own attire.

"Um . . . yeah." Of their own volition, Carson's hands had begun to unconsciously wander up and down her lover's cotton and silk-clad sides. "I think you and I were on the same wave-length when we were thinking about tonight."

"Mmmm." Kennedy pulled Carson back against her, wrapping her arms around the compact body and rubbing her back. "Guess plans change sometimes."

"Maybe." Sharp white teeth nipped at dark skin, causing the brunette to jump. "Maybe not." The paralegal quickly kissed the spot she had just nipped. "Why don't we go eat that chocolate cake in there?"

Kennedy felt Carson tugging at her hand, and she willingly followed the smaller woman back inside. Her mouth flew open in mute surprise as firm insistent hands pushed her down to a sitting position on the couch. Carson leaned over her and planted a lingering kiss on her lips. The brunette caught a quick glimpse of something shimmery peeking out from the robe, before her lover stood back up.

"Stay put," the paralegal admonished her. "I'll get the cake and ice cream, and be right back."

"Yes, Ma'am," the alto voiced drawled, an octave lower than usual. Affectionate eyes watched as Carson opened the refrigerator cabinet and the blonde head disappeared behind the door.

"Kennedy?" A muffled voice called out.


"Have you ever played whipped cream Twister?" Two grey eyes popped into view over the top of the door, blinking innocently back at her.

Oh boy. Things were definitely looking up. "Um . . . no. Have you?"

"Yep." A sexy smirk joined the eyes, and Carson stood up with the whipped cream container and ice cream balanced in the crook of one arm. "Unfortunately I didn't think to bring the game with me."

"We can improvise?" Kennedy's voice caught halfway through the statement, much like a pre-pubescent boy.

The blonde finally laughed. She glided smoothly over to the couch and sat down, dipping up ice cream and whipped cream into a single bowl. "How about we just share this along with the cake?"

"I can do that." Kennedy smiled and then opened her mouth, as Carson offered her a fork-full of cake. "God." She licked her lips. "You know I don't eat dessert very often. I may be on a sugar high for hours."

"Good." Carson placed a dollop of whipped cream on her lover's lips and then slowly removed it with her own lips, ending in another long kiss. She pulled away. "I'd like to have you up for a few more hours."

The brunette felt her libido kick into overdrive, and she reached out, willing herself to maintain her wits for a several minutes longer. "Carson, don't take this wrong, but did something else happen while you were in the bathroom changing? When you went in there, I figured my original plans for the evening were history. Not that I minded." She added hastily.

"Sort of." Blonde lashed blinked slowly over dark grey eyes. "I think I actually tend to panic more when I'm not with you. I get to thinking about all the 'what if's' and worrying about all sorts of things. But then when I'm with you again, it all goes away. You're so good at telling me how you feel, honey. And you always seem to know exactly what to say. When I'm with you, all those little nagging fears seem to dissolve. You're a very comfortable person for me to be with."

"You don't know how good that makes me feel." Long fingers brushed Carson's thigh. "Just know that I plan to be very careful with you. Especially tonight, after everything that's happened this weekend. I'll go along with whatever you want to do, Carson. You lead, sweetheart, and I'll follow."

"God I love you." Carson dipped into the ice cream bowl and slowly fed her lover a bite of the cold creamy concoction. "Right now, I'd like to finish eating this cake. Then maybe I can find something else to nibble on." She winked and laughed softly, as she heard Kennedy growl quietly at her words.

They continued to share the dessert, gradually growing bolder and more confident with the exchange, spending a good deal of time cleaning ice cream and whipped topping off of each other's face and neck. When there was nothing left but cake crumbs, Carson sat the bowl and saucer aside, and crawled on top of Kennedy, straddling her lover and settling down across her lap. They shared several kisses, lips and tongues exploring with reckless abandon.

Kennedy's breathing accelerated, and she needed more contact. She pushed at the thick terry at Carson's shoulders and her eyes pleaded with the blonde. "Please, baby. Can we take this off?"

Grey eyes locked with blue, and Carson slowly untied the belt, teasing Kennedy as she let the robe slide down until it stopped at her elbows. She turned her head to one side and a small smile played at her lips, as the brunette reached out and carefully helped her remove the offending barrier, the robe dropping to the floor at Kennedy's feet.

"My God." Hungry eyes roamed over Carson's body. "If I'd known you had that on under there, I'm not sure we would have ever made it to the cake."

Carson chuckled softly. "I take it you like?"

"Oh, yeah." The paralegal had on a purple clingy top, made of stretchy shining lycra that almost, but not quite, hugged her body like a glove. It was held up by two thin straps and came to a V at her cleavage. She wore matching purple panties, and Kennedy couldn't help herself, she reached around, rewarding her lover with a leer when she discovered that it was indeed a thong. "You certainly have made a quick study of me, haven't you?"

"Not exactly." Carson leaned in for a quick kiss. "More like I'm taking mental notes as we go along."

"So tell me, baby. What have you learned so far?" The brunette kissed her back and then sampled an inviting earlobe. She took the lobe into her mouth and flicked it with her tongue, before gently sucking on it.

"You're a very visual person." Carson closed her eyes as her body began to go limp.

"Got that right." Blue eyes made another leisurely tour of her lover's fit shape, along with inquisitive wandering hands that outlined all the dips and curves before her.

The blonde realized the questions were turning into a game, and her skin heated up in response. "You also seem to have an affinity for breasts."

"Uh-huh." Kennedy's thumbs snuck up, brushing across Carson's nipples, which immediately responded, the combination of the clingy material and the slow firm strokes causing her to whimper and push herself into Kennedy's touch. "What else?" Full lips closed around one nipple, the brunette drawing it into her mouth, soaking the material against her tongue as she applied gentle steady suction.

"And . . . um . . . God that feels good." The blonde lost her concentration, as Kennedy pushed one strap down, exposing her neglected breast. She moaned in the back of her throat as she felt her lover's mouth, this time directly on her skin, quickly bringing her toward a place where speech would be impossible. "Um . . . I picked out the thong because you really seem to like my behind. You're always swatting me, and I notice you watching me when I walk sometimes. And when we kiss or make love, you do pay a lot of attention to me back there."

"Like this?" Firm hands engulfed Carson's butt cheeks, kneading them as Kennedy continued to lavish attention upon her lover's breasts.

"Yeah," Carson squeaked. "Just like that."

"You do have the most delectable ass." The brunette's hands continued to play, as her lips strayed upward, capturing Carson's lips again, conveying with her tongue things she'd like to be doing points much further south. "God." Kennedy pulled her lover tightly against her body, feeling the younger woman grind her center against Kennedy's stomach, which was taut with anticipation.

"Kennedy . . . Kennedy." The blonde breathed her lover's name, forgetting any other word for several long moments, as her body 's reactions began to escalate beyond her control. She finally grasped the other word she was trying to remember. "Bed."

Without speaking, the brunette stood up, taking Carson with her. They stumbled toward the bed, somehow managing to lose their clothing in the short trip across the floor from the couch. Their eyes remained in continual contact as they undressed each other, sharing unspoken emotions that would not be denied.

Kennedy knelt down at her lover's feet, slowly slipping the thong panties down firm legs, pausing to kiss the smooth skin in several spots along the way. Then she slowly kissed her way back up, placing one very intimate kiss between Carson's legs. She heard the blonde whimper quietly, and she kissed her again, much more intently, and then stood the rest of the way up. She cradled Carson's face in both hands and planted another kiss on her forehead. "You're sure this is okay? I don't want to . . ."

"Kennedy." The blonde silenced her with a kiss. "If you don't get in this bed with me right now, I'm going to have to go on without you."

A wide grin slowly spread across Kennedy's face and she carefully pushed Carson back onto the thick petal-strewn comforter. "Now that is something I might enjoy watching." She hovered over her lover on her hands and knees, leaning down and kissing her thoroughly. "Some other night."

She lowered herself the rest of the way down, as her hands and lips began to explore every inch of Carson's body. Their earlier play on the couch had left both of them more than ready, and she knew it wasn't going to last as long as she wanted it to. She could feel Carson moving against her hand, which was stroking the blonde's inner thighs, moving closer and closer to where they both wanted it to be.

As the brunette watched her lover responding to her, she was filled with emotions that threatened to choke the breath from her lungs. Flashes of everything that had happened to Carson over the past few weeks disturbed her vision . . . Carson crying on the phone the night that Nick propositioned her . . . the forlorn look on her lover's face when she discovered the camera in her computer monitor at work . . . the photographer following them around the fairgrounds . . . Nick threatening Carson in her office . . . the revelations during their meeting with Mikey.

No one is going to hurt you, baby, not if I can help it. Anger and strong feelings of protection surged up, and she almost lost sight of what they were doing. You've got me, Carson, for as long as you'll have me. She opened her eyes and found confused grey ones peering up at her with concern.

"Everything okay?" Nimble fingers pushed dark locks back out of Kennedy's eyes. "You seem distracted."

"Sorry, sweetheart. Got a little caught up in the emotions." The brunette leaned down, and Carson felt the sweetest tenderest kiss they had ever shared. Kennedy's hand resumed the gentle touches and reached their goal, causing the blonde to cry out at the combined sensations. The attorney buried her face into the crook of Carson's neck, and the blonde turned her head, kissing the silky black locks, and stroking her lover's back.

"Kennedy, what's wrong, honey?" She reached down, wrapping one hand around her lover's biceps, feeling the tension in the long lean muscles, almost as if the dark-haired beauty were at war with herself.

"Please." Soft lips nibbled at salty sweet skin. "Need more." Her face pressed into Carson's neck again. Kennedy released a long trembling breath. "Wanna be inside. Please." Two hesitant fingers teased her partner, making her desires clear.

Carson slowly ran her fingertips down her lover's arm until she reached her hand. "It's okay." She gently pushed Kennedy's hand closer to where she wanted to be. "I need you, too."

"I love you," the brunette mumbled against Cason's skin, as she slipped inside. Both women moaned softly at the more intimate touch. "Feels so good . . ." Kennedy brushed her lips across Carson's mouth. ". . . inside you." She resumed the steady stroking motions, this time more deeply.

Then they were lost in each other, and the firm and loving touches, quiet moans of pleasure, the sensation of soft moist skin, that drove both women quickly toward a precipice. Kennedy felt Carson's thigh press between her legs, and she rocked against it in a rhythm matching the one of her own hand. A lingering glance, and their lips met again, as they jumped over the edge together.

Kennedy felt as if her bones had all dissolved, and she collapsed into Carson's waiting arms. Light fingertips played against her back and the blonde murmured loving words into her ear. "Shhhh. It's okay, honey. I'm right here."

The brunette raised her head and moved up, placing a gentle kiss on Carson's lips. She lay back down with her head against the blonde's shoulder, enjoying the feeling of Carson's arms wrapped tightly against her back. "I . . . I can't . . ."

"No need to talk." The paralegal sensed that her lover had not come all the way back down yet. "Just let me know if you're okay, alright?"

"Yeah, fine." Kennedy gasped out. "How about you?"

"Perfect, except for being worried about you." Carson shifted, allowing Kennedy to slide down against her side, relieving the blonde of most of the taller woman's weight.

"Sorry, sweetheart." The attorney fought to find her voice. And her brain. "Didn't know things were going to get that intense. I just . . . God I love you so much. Needed to be as close as I could get. Was . . . that was okay, wasn't it?"

"That was the nicest it's ever been for me." Carson smiled and kissed her lover's head again. "No one has ever asked for permission before."

"Really?" Kennedy rose up on her elbow, her other hand tracing circles around Carson's navel ring. She idly observed the skin around the tiny stud, wondering how long it would take to be completely healed. "You mean the guys you've been with just got down to business without taking your feelings into consideration at all?"

"That's probably not a completely fair assessment." The blonde rolled onto her side, facing her lover. "I think they assumed, by the physical signs, how wet I was, whatever, that I was ready. But no, none of them ever asked me if it was okay first."

"No one ever hurt you, did they?" Dark brows furrowed, the protective feelings surfacing again.

"No." Carson reached across, smoothing the skin on her lover's forehead. "Nothing like that. Just never was particularly enjoyable for me. Until just now with you." She smiled and ducked her head to hide the blush she felt on her face.

Kennedy breathed a mental sigh of relief. "Why was it different with me?"

"I think it's what you said earlier. I wanted to feel closer. Needed to feel you closer." Carson found her courage and looked up, meeting Kennedy's gaze. "And you seemed to need it so much. I wanted to give that to you. Wanted that connection. You asking was about the sweetest thing anyone has ever said to me in bed."

"I just never assume." The brunette continued to trace patterns against the skin of Carson's stomach. "A lot of women don't like penetration. And some of them have had very bad experiences in the past, and it's an emotional barrier for them. I would never presume I could take that without asking first. If it's not bringing pleasure to the person I'm with, it's not pleasurable for me either."

"You're so considerate." The paralegal pushed Kennedy onto her back and curled up against her with her ear pressed against her chest, listening to the strong steady heartbeat. "It's one of the first things I came to appreciate about you. You really are always so careful of me and my feelings."

"My father taught me something very important, Carson." Kennedy drew the covers up and settled back into their warm nest. "If something . . . or someone . . . is valuable to you, you do your best to take care of it. Make sure you never do anything that might cause it to break. You are of great value to me."

"Remind me to thank your father." Carson yawned and closed her eyes. Slowly, sleep claimed her and her body relaxed completely in Kennedy's arms. "Love you."

"Love you too, Carson." The brunette lay awake for a much longer time, processing the events of the day. She thought again about her visit from the white buck. Why did you come to me? She considered the precious body she held and smiled ruefully. I think you are the one, Carson. Unfortunately, I don't think you're ready to hear that just yet. She smiled. No matter. Kennedy knew, and that was enough for now. I'll be here, baby, ready to say it as soon as you'll let me.

Then another thought occurred to her, and she frowned at the blonde head. Who the heck did she play whipped cream Twister with? Kennedy lay awake a while longer.


Continued in Chapter 8

*Terrell, Texas, less than an hour's drive east of Dallas, is home of one of the Texas state mental hospitals.

**C-card stands for "certification card." It's the ID card you get after you've become a certified Scuba diver. No reputable dive shop will rent equipment or sign you up for a diving excursion without seeing your C-card first.

***Go here to see a picture of Kennedy's Harley, go here if you're on the chat list:

Or here if you're on the updates only list:

Return to Main Page