W. R. Haley
For disclaimers see Part 1
Feedback: Is welcomed and appreciated. Any constructive criticism will be embraced. I can be contacted at Ghstwrtr8@aol.com (I spelled my email address wrong before, I was have a senile moment! LOL)
Autumn sighed heavily; her hands on her hips sweat trickling down her back. She and the movers had finished moving in her meager belongings. Autumn had only brought her couch, a chair, her bedroom furniture, her dinning room furniture, bookshelves and her desk and chair. Autumn had decided to refurnish once she had finished refurbishing the old home. The raven haired woman surveyed her new home with a large smile as she walked through all the rooms.
“Autumn! So glad you are here!” Reginald Sanderson said with a huge smile as his niece was shown into his inner office. “I didn’t expect you till this afternoon,” the large rawboned man stood.
He opened his arms to hug his sister’s daughter. With a smile of her own Autumn hugged the tall man. Stepping back she gave her uncle a look over. His thick hair had not thinned at all but was considerably grayer now. Bushy white eyebrows hovered over sparklingly blue eyes. A large hawkish nose sat over his mouth. At 62 he was still ruggedly handsome.
“I told you I would be in this morning Uncle Reggie,” Autumn laughed.
“Did you get settled OK?”
“Yes, I started some unpacking this morning but I think I have a long way to go with the refurbishing,” Autumn ruefully shook her head, sitting down in the chair in front of Reggie’s desk.
“When I heard you had bought Harbour House I was a bit surprised. I didn’t even know that the place was still standing,” Reggie said sitting down on the edge of his desk.
“No it’s still in pretty good shape, considering that it’s been empty so long. It’s very well built. They certainly don’t make them like that any more. This morning I found out that under the carpet the previous owners put in, there are hardwood floors. So I think I’ll be pulling up the carpet,” Autumn told him, a smile warming her features as she spoke of her house. Reggie watched with an indulgent smile.
“So you don’t care about its history?” he asked, his lips twitching into a smile and his eyes twinkling.
“Oh about it being haunted?” Autumn scoffed. “Hardly, since I don’t believe in ghosts.”
“Good to hear Autumn. Still it is a sad history,” Reggie shook his head and moved around to his chair. “So, you set to start?”
“You bet, I’m looking forward to it Uncle Reggie,” Autumn assured him, sitting back in her chair. Glad to change the subject.
Great, first things first, I want to introduce you to my right hand,” he pushed a button and spoke into the intercom asking the voice on the other end to join them. “Ah here she is, Autumn I want you to meet Annie McCabe, I could not live with out her, she knows everything and everyone,” he stood, his arm held out to the woman who entered.
Autumn stood as well, facing the little round woman who had greeted her when she came into the office. The woman was in her midfifties and looked as if she had stepped out of a fifties sitcom.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you Mrs. McCabe,” Autumn said extending her hand.
“Missy, call me Annie, I don’t hold with that formal stuff,” Annie stated firmly, her dark eyes burning with intelligence and fire. Her brown hair was liberally sprinkled with gray. “So this scoundrel tells me that he’s really going this time and he’s done given over the firm to you.”
“Uh, yes, that’s right,” Autumn answered; a little surprised at Annie’s abruptness. Reggie watched the exchange with a barely concealed smile. Annie nodded and seemed to make up her mind about something.
“It’s about time the old coot got out of here. Now we can get some work done around here. Office hours are 9 to 5 Monday through Friday, Miss Autumn. I arrive at 8:45am on the dot. I take lunch from 12 to 1 and I don’t stay late or work weekends unless there is a big case,” Annie informed Autumn matter of factly.
“Okay, uh, that sounds good,” Autumn agreed, nodding her head. Annie nodded and made to leave before stopping at the door.
“Oh, by the by, my husband Nick, he’s a handy man if you’ll be needing someone to help out at Harbour House,” Annie told her. “I’ll have him come by to see you later.” With that she left the office. Autumn and Reggie shared a look.
“She’s something else,” Autumn finally said.
“Yes she is, but I couldn’t live without her and you won’t be able to either. Like I said she knows everyone and nothing in this town happens that she doesn’t know about.”
“Well, it will be a refreshing change from the secretaries that we had in the DA’s office.”
“That’s the spirit. Come on girl; let me show you around downtown.”
Autumn’s first real view of downtown Mason set her back in time. The buildings all had the look of storefronts from the fifties. She would not have been surprised to see a Studebaker or two parked in front of the bank. Downtown was actually a square. Four roads came into it and did a round about. On all four sides were businesses. There was a bank, a few antique stores, a hardware store, a diner, and business offices. Mrs. Daniels real estate agency and law offices were among the businesses in the square. In the middle of the square was a common area. A large tree sat majestically in the middle; there was also a small covered bandstand. Benches were sprinkled throughout the small park. A few of the benches were occupied with elderly men, chatting, whittling and two men were playing a solemn game of chess.
Reggie knew everyone they passed and he did not hesitate in introducing Autumn. All were very polite and friendly. It threw Autumn slightly, even though West Palm Beach by most standards was not a bustling metropolis it was considerably larger and people were not overly friendly. It was a refreshing change. Autumn could almost feel the tension that had been a part of her very being for the last few years start to ebb. Everyone she met had a comment about her house and all seemed to want to tell her that it was haunted.
“I guess everyone knows about my house,” Autumn commented as they continued their pass along the square.
“Your house is very famous here in Mason. Didn’t Roberta tell you about it?” Reggie asked.
“Roberta?” Autumn frowned not recognizing the name.
“Yes, Roberta Daniels, your real estate agent.”
“Oh, no she didn’t, but then I didn’t ask.”
“It’s a very interesting story, let’s stop for a cup of coffee,” Reggie said steering her toward the diner.
He opened the door for her and followed her in. It had a long counter with stools along the left side and two rows of tables in the center and a row of booths along the right wall. The diner was about half full and two waitresses worked the crowd. Autumn could see a cook behind the pass-through window; a stained apron and hat protected him from the splatter.
“Reggie you ole dog!” called the cook, a large red haired man. “What ya doing here during working hours!” he laughed heartily.
“Hey Mack!” Reggie called back. “John MacIntyre owns the diner with his wife Dora,” Reggie told Autumn softly. “I’m showing my niece around. She’s taking over the firm so I can go tour the country!” He led them toward an empty booth.
“Don’t forget to send me a post card from Branson!” Mack laughed again; he seemed to think everything he said was funny.
“I won’t. Hey Millie, can we get some coffee?” Reggie asked a waitress. The woman nodded.
“Excuse me, coke for me please,” Autumn said. “I don’t like coffee,” she shrugged looking at her uncle.
“That’s right I forgot, just like your father. How are your parents?”
“They’re fine, I just got a postcard from Paris,” Autumn informed him.
“So your father finally sold his firm?”
“No, he just made Don Eberhardt the managing partner.” She smiled her thanks to the waitress.
“Don is a good man. So what did he say when you told him you were leaving the DA’s office?” Reggie asked adding sugar to his coffee; he looked at his niece from the corner of his eye.
“He was fine with it,” Autumn sighed and took a sip of her drink. “But he wasn’t really happy that I didn’t want to join his firm. But I have no desire to do corporate law, I never did.”
Autumn’s father was a founding partner of a large law firm that specialized in corporate and international law. As an only child Autumn was expected to become a lawyer like her parents and join her father’s firm. She had become the lawyer but much to Joseph Flanagan’s dismay she had not wanted to join his firm. Autumn’s mother Sharon understood though, she herself had worked in the DA’s office early in her own career. Despite that, Autumn knew that both her parents loved her and were very proud of her.
“I bet it went over like a lead balloon when you told him you’re taking over my firm,” Reggie grinned. His grin turned into laughter when he saw the impish grin on Autumn’s face.
“I haven’t told him yet,” she said. Reggie shook his head and chuckled.
“Autumn,” he chided gently with a warm smile.
“I decided I would wait till they got home, it’s easier that way,” Autumn defended herself, sharing a laugh with her uncle. “Besides I left a message letting them know where I was and gave them my new number. I think they’ll be able to figure it out and he’ll be calm by the time I talk to him.” Reggie chuckled and shook his head fondly.
They spent the next half-hour talking about the town and the firm, Reggie giving her the run down on the locals. They talked of his plans for his retirement and the places he wanted to visit. Autumn realized how much she had missed her uncle as they spent the time together. They were in deep conversation about the renovations that she was planning as they left the diner. Autumn, who was looking back at her uncle, was startled into speechlessness as she ran into a solid object.
“I’m sorry,” she managed to say, her hand outstretched to keep the woman she ran into from falling.
“It’s okay,” a musically lilting voice said.
The voice held a hint of laughter. Autumn’s ears thrilled to the sound of it. Her eyes widened as she saw the owner. It was a blonde woman. She was slightly shorter than Autumn, not by much, maybe an inch or two. Her blonde hair was cut short in an attractive style that framed her face. Her nose held a sprinkling of freckles and there were laugh lines at the corners of her eyes. The eyes, a deep blue, burned into Autumn’s and through to her soul. Autumn lost her voice and almost forgot to breathe as she looked at the woman. The woman looked to be younger than Autumn’s 33 years. She was looking back at Autumn, her eyes widened as their gazes locked.
“No harm done,” she said, her voice held a slight tremor, or maybe Autumn had imagined it.
“I’m sorry I should’ve watched where I was going,” Autumn said, her voice sounding even huskier to her ears. “My name is Autumn Flanagan,” she introduced herself, surprised at her desire to know this woman’s name.
“I’m Stephanie Hudson,” the woman answered, extending her hand.
Autumn took it in her own. Stephanie’s hand was slightly smaller but it seemed to fit perfectly into Autumn’s larger one. Autumn felt a bolt of energy shoot from Stephanie’s hand into hers. She looked down surprised at their joined hands before looking up to meet Stephanie’s eyes. Autumn could see that Stephanie felt it too.
“It’s nice to meet you Stephanie,” she managed.
“Same here Autumn. I hope to see you around some time.”
“Sorry again,” Autumn stated again as she began to move away with her uncle.
“Not a problem,” Stephanie answered stepping toward the diner. The two reluctantly broke the eye contact that threatened to consume them.
* * *
It was late afternoon before Autumn finally arrived back at Harbour House. She sat in the driveway in her car and looked at the house. Autumn felt an overwhelming sense of homecoming and could not help but smile as she got out of the car. After changing and making a quick meal for herself she began to unpack. The first thing she set up was her computer and her home office.
The rooms were a nice size and Autumn’s mind whirled with all the things she wanted to do. Her office, she decided, would be painted a hunter green. It would show off the mahogany desk and bookshelves nicely. She could not wait to pull up the carpet to expose the hardwood floors. Autumn had already started a list of the things she had planned to start buying.
True to her word, Annie McCabe had her husband Nick stop by and Autumn arranged for him to start the next day. He would repair the porch, the gutter that was falling off and the shutters. Autumn could feel her pulse racing as she planned the things she wanted to do; she could almost see it in its finished state. It was very late before she finally fell into the bed and into an exhausted sleep.
The next morning the dark haired lawyer awoke with a smile. Her night dreams had been filled with pleasant images. Walking hand in hand along the banks of the small lake. Sitting on a blanket sharing a picnic lunch with a faceless woman. Sitting in a small rowboat with the same woman. Pleasant summer day images. Autumn could almost smell the fresh grass in the warm breeze. She stretched and rose easily from her bed still wearing a small smile. The fact that she was wearing strange turn of the century type clothing did not seem to alter the pleasant feelings that prevailed. Humming softly to herself she made her way to the shower, intent on starting her day.
“Whoa,” Autumn said softly to herself has she made her way down the hall after dressing.
With a frown she turned, rubbing her arms trying to get rid of the chill that seeped into her. Her eyes scanned the hallway trying to determine the source of the sudden chill air she passed through. Autumn’s eyes fell on the air condition vent. Satisfied, she turned back down the hall intent on getting her briefcase and getting to the office.
Autumn nodded to a few of the people she met yesterday as she entered Main Street Diner. There was a large breakfast crowd. Some people in business attire, some in the casual attire of the retired and quite a number dressed in the typical farmer’s uniform. Autumn made her way to the counter, intent on getting a Coke and a muffin for her breakfast.
“Good morning Mrs. McIntyre,” she greeted the stout blonde woman behind the counter. She wore a pink waitress uniform; her hair was piled high on top of her head, sprayed within an inch of its life, almost a bouffant. The dishwater blonde smiled brightly.
“Good morning Miss Autumn, on your way to the office?” she asked, her light, lilting southern drawl was almost musical.
“Yes ma’am I am. I just stopped by for one of the blueberry muffins my uncle has told me so much about,” Autumn told her, smiling when Dora’s face brightened.
“Well, I think we can set you up with one. Got a batch fresh from the oven. I’ll get you one; you all need a Coke too?” Dora asked. Autumn was pleased and surprised that Dora remembered.
“Yes please.” With a nod Dora went through the swinging door that gave access to the kitchen.
Autumn felt her presence before she saw her. Her skin almost seemed to hum as the blonde woman from the day before sat down next to her at the counter. Autumn turned her head and was once again struck dumb by the woman’s bottomless eyes.
“Good morning!” Stephanie greeted brightly with a smile that revealed a dimple. Autumn’s eyes were drawn to it.
“Good morning,” the attorney had no idea how she managed to reply. Her lips moved into a smile as Stephanie grinned. “I see no ill effects from our encounter.”
“No, I’m fine and dandy,” Stephanie laughed. The sound of it sent Autumn’s heart racing and she vowed to make it happen again. “How about you? Any bruises?” she asked cheekily.
“Nope, no bruises,” grinned Autumn.
“Glad to hear it,” Stephanie answered her blue eyes traveling the length of Autumn’s body. Autumn felt the heat from the look all the way to her bones.
‘If she’s not, she should be,’ Stephanie thought to herself.
“Why Miss Stephanie, what are you doing here so early?” Dora asked surprised. She placed the paper bag with Autumn’s muffin in front of her, followed by a large Styrofoam cup. Her brown eyes were warm as she looked at the woman next to Autumn.
“I have some business with Mr. Davis at the bank this morning,” Stephanie told her. “So I thought I would come in early and have one of your wonderful omelets this morning.”
“Well, I think we can set you right up Missy.” Dora chuckled. She pulled out her ticket book scribbled something on it and took the slip to the order window.
“So I hear you are Mason’s newest attorney,” Stephanie said quickly just as Autumn had opened her mouth to bid a reluctant goodbye.
“Yes, I’m taking over my uncle’s firm,” she told the other woman.
“So I hear. You’re from West Palm right?”
“Yes,” Autumn chuckled ruefully. “I guess news travels fast here.”
“Oh you have no idea. There is nothing small towns like more than gossip.”
“So what do you do Stephanie?” Autumn asked curious about the woman sitting on the stool next to her.
“I’m a writer,” was the quick reply.
“Really? Anything I would know?” Autumn asked even though she had thought Stephanie’s name had sounded familiar.
“Maybe,” she shrugged. “I write mysteries.”
“You write the Samantha Sloane series don’t you?” Autumn asked suddenly placing the name.
Samantha Sloane was a character in a detective series that had taken the literary world by storm. Each of the four books in the series had stayed on the New York Times Best Seller lists for months. “A modern day Sherlock Holmes,” was the blurb on the back of one of the books. Autumn had not read any of them; usually she preferred the fantasy genre but Sarah, her coworker in the DA’s office, had read one on her last vacation and had had nothing but high praise for it. So much so that Autumn had actually picked one up the last time she had visited a bookstore, fully intending to buy it till she had come across the new Robert Jordan book.
“Yes, that would be me,” Stephanie admitted almost sheepishly.
“So how long have you lived here in Mason?”
“Not long. Actually I am just staying with a friend while I work on my next book. He has graciously given me the use of his guesthouse. But I’ve enjoyed my time here and I’ve actually given some thought to settling down here. I’ve gotten some very good work done here.” Stephanie explained. Autumn’s heart soared at that thought.
“Well, I hope you do. What I’ve seen of it, it’s a great place,” Autumn told her.
“Yes it is, and it’s just gotten better,” Stephanie said, her voice low, her eyes unreadable as they searched Autumn’s gray eyes. Her words sent another shiver down Autumn’s spine. Autumn swallowed hard and blinked. A slight blush covered her features. Stephanie smiled.
“Well, uh, I’ve got to get going. It was nice seeing you again,” Autumn managed. She stood up and placed some money on the counter. Autumn could feel Stephanie’s eyes on her. She picked up her bag and soda, her eyes drifted back to the still seated woman. “See you later.”
“Count on it,” grinned Stephanie, aware that she was the cause of Autumn’s sudden nervousness. “Have a good day.”
“Thanks you too,” Autumn said before turning to leave. At the door she looked back and saw Stephanie still looking at her. With a sheepish smile Autumn waved and left the diner. She was still grinning as she let herself into her new office.
Autumn’s first day at her new firm passed uneventfully. Reggie spent the time with her going over pending cases and files for clients that had him on retainer. Her uncle informed her that beginning on the next day some of the clients would be coming in to meet her. For the next few days he thought it best that she meet the clients. Autumn readily agreed. Even as she paid rapt attention to the files before her a part of her mind was still at the diner replaying every moment of her encounter with Stephanie. The mere thought of the other woman caused her to smile and lose track of what her uncle was saying. Reggie noticed and suppressed a smile of his own.
At the end of the day, Autumn bid goodnight to her uncle and Annie and headed toward her house. Once more as she parked her car her eyes caressed the house. In the short time she had been living there she had fallen in love with her new home. She had liked her condo, but she had never felt the rush of pride that she felt when coming home to the house. Her mind whirled with all the possibilities for her home. With a huge smile she got out of her car and headed up the newly repaired porch steps. For the first time in years Autumn was looking forward to a weekend spent doing something other than paper work.
The rest of the week passed quickly for Autumn. She met almost all of her uncle’s clients and reassured them all that she would work just as hard as he did. Autumn was happy that only two clients had decided to go with a locally known lawyer. Reggie told her not to worry about it; he had not really wanted those particular clients anyway so she wasn’t missing anything by them going elsewhere. Work was progressing on the outside of her house and soon it would be ready for painting. Each morning she awoke refreshed with visions of pleasant dreams still swimming in her head. The only thing that threatened to mar the week was that she only saw Stephanie once, in the distance as the blonde woman walked along the square with a tall sandy haired man.
On Friday, bidding Annie a cheerful goodnight Autumn quickly headed home. Her uncle would be leaving early the next morning and Autumn had invited him over to her house for dinner. She would miss him. In the last few days they had reestablished the easy rapport they had had since she was a teenager. He had been one of her mentors in her quest for a law degree and she felt he had one of the sharpest legal minds around. Once home she quickly changed and set about preparing dinner.
Autumn turned on the small radio on the counter before returning to the butcher-block table in the middle of the large kitchen. It had come with the house and Autumn decided to keep it as it looked like it belonged. She sang along with the radio as her knife moved effortlessly through the onions she was cutting for the spaghetti sauce. Autumn raised her eyes slightly and looked around the kitchen. She was very happy with the large room. The wooden cabinets, once cleaned matched the wooden counter tops, each gleaming in their cleanliness. The kitchen had been redone by the previous owners but still held its classic lines.
Autumn was lost in thought, her mind planning the multitude of projects she wanted to start the next day when the strains of a Mozart concerto came through the radio. Frowning she put down her knife and went back to the counter and turned the dial. The pop music station she had been listening to came back into tune. With a small shrug she went back to the butcher block and continued chopping the things she would be putting into the sauce.
Once more as her knife moved through mushrooms the music coming through the radio changed with a slight squeal of static. With another frown she put the knife down and changed radio stations again. With one eye on the radio, almost balefully daring it to change she finished chopping and moved to the stove. The radio stayed on the station and after a few minutes she relaxed and began singing with the music again.
The changing radio stations were far from her mind as she spent the evening with her uncle. It passed pleasantly for them both and at the end of the evening they shared a long hug before Reggie left and headed home for his last night before beginning his retirement. Autumn was humming softly to herself as she made her way down the hall toward her bedroom.
As had happened a few times previously Autumn felt the cold chill as she moved down the hallway. Frowning she looked around again, once more her eyes falling on the vent. She reminded herself again to check it. Pushing it from her mind she readied herself for bed.
The morning dawned sunny, bright sunlight pouring though the windows. Autumn lay in bed; her eyes staring sightlessly out the window, enjoying the lazy feel of the morning. Her mind drifted to the dream she had had last night. Her nightly dreams had still remained vague images. Last night though had been a little more detailed than the previous. Kisses being exchanged tentatively under a huge tree. Walking hand and hand along the lake, passionate embraces in the boathouse. The features of the woman with her in her dreams were becoming a little clearer. Autumn could remember the woman as tall and angular with brown hair. Her face though still remained hidden.
With a yawn Autumn rolled over onto her back and pushed the covers off of her. A huge grin creased her features as her thoughts moved to the house. Autumn began by pushing all the furniture in the living room into the middle of the room. She had decided to paint before ripping up the carpet. Once that was done, she took a muffin and a soda onto the back porch.
The previous owner had added the back porch. It went along the back of the house and was open. Autumn could feel the breeze as it came through. She sat down in one of the deck chairs and propped her long legs up on the rail. Her eyes drifted over to the lake as she ate the muffin she had bought from Dora yesterday. Autumn happily surveyed the area, enjoying the sounds of nature and the feel of the breeze on her face. A movement caught her eye as she swallowed the last of the muffin. A figure was walking along the lake, walking toward her. For a moment a brief flash of her dream came to her, before she caught the glint of sunlight on golden hair. With a grin she recognized Stephanie. Standing she took her Coke and headed off the porch toward the lake and the approaching blonde writer.
“Good morning,” Autumn called out as she reached the lake. Stephanie looked up almost surprised, before smiling when she saw the tall dark haired woman.
“Hey! Good morning,” Stephanie greeted. Both women were grinning as they came to each other. “Nice morning isn’t it?”
“It’s beautiful. It’s very peaceful out here,” Autumn agreed. She looked around. “Do you live near here?” she asked.
“Yes, I live right over there. In my friend’s guest house,” Stephanie answered pointing over her shoulder, toward the east.
“I just bought Harbour House,” Autumn told her, indicating the house.
“Really?” Stephanie asked, exaggerating her surprise. Autumn laughed sheepishly remembering small town gossip. Stephanie smiled looking up at the woman. “I hear it’s haunted. Is that true?” she was grinning as her eyes studied the other woman.
“I doubt it,” Autumn scoffed. “But everyone seems to think so.”
“I guess you don’t believe in ghosts huh?”
“No, not really,” admitted Autumn wryly.
“Why counselor, how close minded of you,” teased Stephanie, trying to hide her grin.
“Well, give me a smoking gun, and a confession anytime,” Autumn laughed.
“So, no ghosts?” Stephanie asked almost regretfully.
Oh well, win some lose some,” Stephanie shrugged as the two women began to walk again.
“Do you walk every day?”
“Usually. I find a walk in the morning gets my creative juices flowing,” the writer told her companion. Autumn groaned inwardly, her fevered imagination stuck on flowing juices.
“So how’s the book going?”
“Okay,” Stephanie sighed her eyes forward, though she was very aware of the woman walking next to her. “Slow right now. I think I’m having a little writer’s block.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. Do you write everyday?”
“Yes, at least two hours a day, minimum.”
“Maybe you’re trying too hard. Maybe you need a break.”
“Could be,” agreed Stephanie, she looked at the woman next to her, taking in the paint spattered pants and tee shirt. “Are you doing some painting?”
“I was just about to start. The whole house is in need of work.”
“Are you doing it yourself?”
“Most of it. I hired Nick McCabe to do most of the heavy work. This is my first opportunity to do some of it.”
“I think it will be. A challenge, but fun I think.” Autumn agreed. She stole a look at the blonde as they neared her house.
“So need some help?” Stephanie asked suddenly.
“Sure!” Autumn readily agreed. “That is if you have the time.”
“I have lots of time. I think you may be right, I may need to take a break.” Autumn had stopped, her smoky eyes searching the blonde’s face.
“Great! I have to head over to the hardware store to pick up some paint, do you want to go?”
“All right. Let me run home and change into something better suited for painting.”
“Okay, just come over when you’re ready.” Autumn could not stop the grin that she knew was plastered over her face. Stephanie smiled and nodded.
“See ya in a few,” Stephanie told her, turning back and jogging back the way she had come. Autumn watched her, the silly grin still on her face. As Stephanie reached the end of the lake and moved onto the neighbor’s property Autumn turned and ran for her own house.
“Hey, what’s the hurry?” Michael Talbot asked almost running into his houseguest as she rounded the corner of the building.
He had just knocked on her door and not getting an answer began to go back toward his own home. The guesthouse was actually a small one-room cottage, with a small kitchen and bathroom. The living room doubled as the bedroom. Stephanie loved it. It was small but cozy and she had written her last book in the cottage and was well into her latest.
“Sorry Michael,” Stephanie said skidding to a halt.
“Where’s the fire?” his blue eyes sparkled as he took in her flushed face.
The two had been friends for years, having met in college. He had been raised in Mason and had come home, not to run the family farm, much to his father’s dismay, but to open a highly profitable antique store.
When Stephanie had been in the midst of a bad breakup and needed a safe quiet place to write and to heal Michael had offered her the use of the small cottage on his property. She had readily agreed and every year since then she had come out from her home in Chicago to write the latest adventure of Samantha Sloane. It was a situation that both enjoyed.
“No fire Michael, just in a hurry,” she told her friend, an impish grin lighting her face.
Her blue eyes looked over her friend. He was tall and thin with sandy brown hair that was just a little unruly. Michael’s blue eyes always held a twinkle and he looked as if he knew a secret.
“What’s her name?” he grinned touching Stephanie’s nose. Stephanie laughed.
“She’s a season?” he asked with a wry grin.
“No, silly, her name is Autumn Flanagan,” Stephanie’s eyes lit up at just the mere mention of the dark haired woman. Her voice seemed to caress the name. Michael noticed and tried to suppress his grin.
“Ahh, tall, dark and gorgeous,” he said nodding his head sagely.
“That’s the one,” agreed Stephanie. “I’m going to help her paint.”
“Manual labor on your first date?” he asked with a mock shudder.
“It’s not a date!” Stephanie protested with a laugh, going into the cottage. Michael followed her.
“Then why the hurry?”
“Because, she wants to get started.”
“Uh huh,” was Michael’s response as he settled himself on the sofa. The sofa could be pulled out into a surprisingly comfortable queen sized bed, much to the relief of Stephanie's back.
“Really,” Stephanie called out over her shoulder as she made her way into the bathroom.
“I don’t believe you,” Michael replied in a singsong voice. He laughed at the sharp retort that drifted to him from behind the closed door.
“I don’t know when I will be home,” Stephanie told her friend after she had changed.
“I won’t wait up,” Michael grinned before kissing her on the cheek.
“Funny,” Stephanie grimaced. “You are just too funny for your own good.”
“I know,” was the cheeky reply as Michael left just ahead of the blonde. “Have fun,” he called out to her as Stephanie moved off toward the lake and the dark haired woman.
Autumn was pacing in the living room, afraid that Stephanie had changed her mind. She nervously chewed on the cuticle of her thumb, a habit from childhood. Autumn had just decided that Stephanie was not coming when she heard a knock on the front door. Hurriedly she went to answer the door, a smile on her face as she greeted the other woman.
“I like your house Autumn,” Stephanie told her as they stood on the front porch. Autumn had given her a tour before they left. Autumn quickly locked the door.
“Thanks, I do too. I can’t wait to get it all finished.”
The two women moved toward Autumn’s car, a 1992 BMW convertible. It had been a graduation present from her father. She loved it and had no intention of trading it in anytime soon, even though it did have a lot of miles on it. Autumn unlocked the door and held it open for Stephanie.
“It definitely has great potential.”
“I think so too.”
The two women chatted on the quick drive into Mason. Autumn was surprised at how comfortable she felt in the presence of the other woman. With most people Autumn felt shy and uncomfortable but with Stephanie she felt very at ease , so much so that she found herself doing as much of the talking as her new friend. They both felt the beginnings of a friendship as they got out of the car and headed for the hardware store. They were in a heated, but friendly debate over the merits of the designated hitter. Both were pleased to find they were baseball fans but shocked to find that Autumn was a Braves fan and Stephanie was a White Sox fan. Each felt the other was misguided.
“So what colors are you going to choose?” Stephanie asked as they stopped in front of the shelf with the paint. Autumn sighed and looked at the choices in front of her. Stephanie chuckled at the helpless look Autumn gave her.
“Well, the only room I know for sure is the den, I want the walls a hunter green,” Autumn told her. Stephanie nodded and looked back at the shelves.
“Okay, one room down. What about the spare bedrooms? Any thought about those?” she asked.
“No, what do you think?”
“Well, I like this soft pale blue here,” Stephanie said pointing to the painting chart.
Autumn moved to stand next to her, so close that their shoulders were touching. Stephanie tried to keep her heart from pounding out of her chest.
“That’s nice, it would look good with a white trim and blue and white curtains,” Autumn pointed out.
“Sure would,” Stephanie agreed, surprised that her voice sounded so normal. “Okay two rooms down.” She smiled and Autumn shyly returned it.
“I think I like this color for my bedroom, it matches my bedroom furniture and my comforter,” Autumn said pointing to a color described as Gregorian gray. It was a blueish gray that Stephanie felt could match the color of Autumn’s quicksilver eyes.
“You’re right, that would look good, I can see sleeping in a room that color,” Stephanie said, blushing immediately as she realized what she had said, Autumn was grinning. “I mean, I could see how,” she began.
“I know what you mean Stephanie,” Autumn let her off the hook.
Okay, well, now, let’s see… what about the living room?” Her eyes went back to the chart and scanned the colors.
She pointedly ignored the grin that Autumn was trying to wipe off her face. “What about this one?” Stephanie pointed to a color that had caught her eye. Autumn moved closer to see what she was pointing at. Both women were keenly aware of the other next to her.
“I like it,” Autumn said softly, her breath tickling Stephanie’s ear, causing a tremor to move through her body.
The color that Stephanie had picked out was a soft dusty pink color. The official color was dusky rose. It was a pale color that would look good with the hardwood floors and wood furniture that Autumn wanted to place in the living room. After picking out a plain white for the kitchen, bathrooms and hallways they got a clerk to mix their paints for them. It was much later before they loaded the cans into the trunk.
“Would you like to pick up a sandwich before heading back out? I haven’t done much shopping yet,” Autumn said as they got into the car.
“Sure, we can get some thing from the diner and take it back.” Stephanie agreed.
With a grin Autumn backed the car out and headed toward the square and the diner. It was not long before they arrived back at Harbour House and began painting.
The two women fell into a rhythm. They started painting in the living room. While Stephanie worked on the trim, Autumn painted the ceiling a flat white. The radio played in the background; pop hits and both women found themselves singing along with the music. Autumn could not stop the grin that seemed permanently attached. She was very much enjoying spending the time with Stephanie, talk had been at a minimum, but it was not an uncomfortable silence, it was companionable. Autumn felt very comfortable with the blonde, she did not feel as if she had to work at anything, like she could be herself and Stephanie would not judge her.
“So, you decided to give up on the big city and move here huh,” Stephanie said later, breaking the silence. Autumn chuckled at the thought of West Palm Beach being a big city.
“Yeah, pretty much,” Autumn answered, putting more paint on the roller.
“Did you leave anyone behind, you know a husband, boyfriend,” she paused, “girlfriend?” Autumn looked over at the blonde who was paying careful attention to her task. Autumn grinned.
“No, girlfriend. You leave anyone behind in Chicago?” Stephanie chuckled ruefully and shook her head.
“Not very subtle huh?”
“No,” laughed Autumn.
“Well, now that ‘is she or isn’t she’ is out of the way,” Stephanie said smiling. “No, I didn’t leave a girlfriend behind. I have been blissfully single for about a year and a half now.”
Single?” Autumn said surprised. She looked at the attractive woman, who in their right mind would not want to be with this woman?
“Yeah, my last girlfriend and I had a difference of opinion. I thought that you weren’t supposed to sleep around when you were in a relationship and she thought the more the merrier.” Stephanie imparted her voice flat.
“Well, if you want my opinion, the woman was a fool and you are better off,” Autumn said firmly. Stephanie looked over at her and smiled gratefully.
“So what about you?”
“Me?” Autumn asked with a shrug. “Apparently I was emotionally unavailable to her and she decided that she would be better off with someone who didn’t have the conversational skills of a stump,” Autumn laughed just a little bitter.
“Well, so far I have discovered that you carry on a conversation better than a stump,” Stephanie supplied. “But not as well as a small tree, but you’re getting better,” she teased.
Both women laughed and shared a warm, almost speculative look. The look was broken by the loud sounds of heavy metal rock music blasting from the radio. Both women jumped and looked at the radio.
“The frequency here is awful,” Autumn said moving to the stereo. She turned it off and moved to the stack of CD’s. “I’ll just put in a few CD’s.” With her back turned she didn’t see Stephanie suddenly shiver and rub her arms. A frown marring her features, the blonde looked around the room, looking for the source of the suddenly icy cold air.
“I meant to tell you that is an impressive set up you have there,” Stephanie said, nodding her head in the direction of the entertainment center. It contained a large 36-inch television, a VCR, a DVD player as well as a state of the art stereo system. She laughed when Autumn blushed.
“I like to watch television, and I love movies and music so I needed good equipment,” she told the blonde, moving back to the roller.
Grinning the two women went back to the painting, chatting softly, enjoying just being with each other. It was much later before they finished the living room to Autumn’s satisfaction. With a groan the tall woman lowered herself to the plastic covered couch.
“These old muscles don’t seem to be able to take this anymore,” she groaned as she moved her shoulders to relieve the ache.
“Old?” Stephanie snorted, flopping down next to the dark haired woman. “You’re what 33?”
“Yeah, that’s old,” groused Autumn. “You wouldn’t know, you look about 12,” she teased.
“Yeah right, I’ll have you know that I am 30, smarty-pants,” laughed Stephanie. She was very aware of the woman sitting next to her. Stephanie looked around the room in satisfaction.
“We did a pretty good job,” the blonde commented.
“That we did.”
“What’s next?” Stephanie laughed when Autumn groaned.
“I think I’ve had enough painting for the day. I’ll work on the other rooms tomorrow. After the paint dries I need to start pulling up the carpet. There are beautiful hardwood floors beneath this,” Autumn told Stephanie, turning to look at the woman next to her. Her eyes were drawn to a speck of paint just under her ear on her jaw line. Autumn’s fingers itched to remove it; her lips ached to kiss the spot. She was surprised at the feelings.
“You want some help?” Stephanie asked nonchalantly. Her fingers toyed with a spot of dried paint on the worn khaki cargo pants she wore.
“Sure, I would gladly accept your help, but don’t you need to write?” Stephanie was pleased that Autumn wanted her help but respected her need to work.
Gina could never understand that and was often jealous of the amount of time that Stephanie spent in front of the computer. Not that she minded the money of course, just the time involved in making the money. Stephanie smiled at her thoughtfulness and touched Autumn’s arm lightly.
“I was planning on writing in the morning. I can come over after I am done for the day.”
“That would be great! Thanks Stephanie, you’ve been a great help.”
“Not a problem Autumn, besides what are friends for?” she asked her blue eyes boring into Autumn’s gray eyes.
“What indeed?” Autumn asked softly, her eyes locked with Stephanie’s. “What indeed.”
After Stephanie left Autumn took a long hot shower and dressed in a large T-shirt and flannel boxers crawled into bed. She turned on the small television in the corner of the room for back ground noise and picked up the current Patricia Cornwell novel she was reading. She wasn’t tired enough to sleep yet. Autumn settled in, found a channel that was showing something remotely interesting and began reading. She soon lost herself in the words she was reading.
“What in the world?” Autumn asked startled.
She put the book down and stood. Loud knocking on the wall had interrupted her reading. With a frown she moved to the center of the room, the knocking continued all around her. The light on the bedside table began to dim then brighten.
“What the hell?” She muttered going to the bedroom door.
As soon as she opened the bedroom door the knocking stopped. Uncertain, Autumn entered the hallway and walked carefully down the hall. Her eyes searched for the source of the knocking. Her frown had deepened as she moved through the house. All was silent; there was no noise throughout the house. With a trembling in the pit of her stomach Autumn went back to her room. Her gray eyes looked throughout the room and was disturbed that she was unable to find the source of the knocking. Suddenly she felt cool air come through the vent as the air-conditioning unit clicked on. Loud clanging and banging noises came through the vent for just a moment before stopping.
“Well, guess I’ll have to have Nick check out the AC,” Autumn said softly, satisfied that she had found the source of the noise. Feeling relieved she went back to her book.
* * *
“Autumn have you seen my paint brush?” Stephanie asked the next day.
She had come over around noon after spending almost three hours on her book. Stephanie had been greeted warmly and quickly put to work. They were painting the kitchen. Autumn, who was standing on the ladder working on the area around the cabinets turned to look at the blonde woman below her. Stephanie was standing in the middle of the room looking around, her hands on her slim hips.
“No, did you check over by the paint cans?” Autumn indicated the corner of the kitchen where the paint cans and extra brushes were sitting. Stephanie had been over there a few moments ago getting more paint. The blonde went and poked around.
“I didn’t bring it over here,” she muttered to herself. With a frown she looked around the room, in the corners trying to find the brush.
“You must have set it down somewhere, it’s okay, get another one,” Autumn told her. Muttering under her breath Stephanie opened the package and got another brush.
“So, how’s the book coming?” Autumn asked a little later.
“It’s coming along okay,” Stephanie told her. “I got some good pages done today.”
“That’s great Steph; I guess the block is gone.”
“No, it’s not gone, but it is getting better.” The two women fell silent as each lost themselves in their own thoughts.
“This looks great, Autumn,” Stephanie said once they were finished with the kitchen. The two women stood next to the butcher-block table and looked at the freshly painted walls.
“Yes, it sure does,” Autumn grinned looking down at the woman next to her.
Stephanie caught her breath at the sight. Her lips moved into an answering smile. They shared a warm look before Autumn broke the eye contact.
“Okay, let’s clean the brushes, take a break and start on the dining room,” Autumn said, clapping her hands. Autumn took the brushes to the sink while Stephanie put the excess paint back into the paint cans.
“Do you have any more paper towels?” Stephanie asked coming up to the woman at the sink. She held the empty roll in her hand.
“Yep, under here,” Autumn indicated with her knee the cabinet under the sink. Stephanie gently tapped Autumn’s hip to move her aside. She opened the door and looked.
“What in the world,” she muttered a frown creasing her features.
“What?” Autumn asked looking down. She laughed when Stephanie held up the missing brush. “What was it doing in there?”
“I have no idea, I certainly didn’t put it there,” Stephanie said. “At least I don’t remember putting it there.” Autumn shrugged again, smiling before taking the brush from Stephanie to rinse out. “Hey, Autumn, maybe the house really is haunted!” Stephanie’s eyes lit up. Autumn snorted.
“Yeah, that’s it,” Autumn shook her head.
“Ya never know,” Stephanie said moving back to the paint cans. Autumn just shook her head again.
“Okay break time,” Autumn declared drying her hands. She looked at the brushes drying on a paper towel. “Let’s grab a soda and go sit on the dock.” Autumn suggested. Stephanie smiled her agreement. Autumn took out two cokes from the refrigerator and handed one to Stephanie just as the phone rang. “Go on out I’ll be there in a second.” Autumn reached for the phone on the wall.
“You bet,” Stephanie opened the can and headed out the kitchen door.
“Hey, Sarah!” Autumn greeted warmly. Stephanie felt her stomach clench as she left the house at the warm tones in Autumn’s voice. Mentally chiding herself for feeling a twinge of jealousy she made her way to the small lake.
Stephanie stood on the dock looking out over the water. A gentle breeze tugged at her short locks playfully. She took a deep breath, filling her lungs with the fresh air. The sun’s rays beamed down, causing light to reflect off the water. Stephanie could hear the sounds of nature drift to her, birds chirping loudly. White clouds drifted lazily through the blue sky. It was a beautiful summer day and Stephanie felt at peace. Stephanie looked around and visions of she and Autumn walking along the lake came to her. The two of them sitting on the dock, holding hands, and sitting in a small rowboat drifting along the water. A smile tugged at her lips at the romantic visions.
The peace was suddenly broken as Stephanie felt eyes on her. Quickly she looked around, frowning when no one came into view. With a small shrug she turned to gaze over the lake again. Her mind went back to the playful visions, enjoying the pleasant thoughts. Once more she felt eyes on her, eyes boring into her, hating her. Gooseflesh rose on her arms and a slight tremor of fear fluttered in her belly. Her blue eyes scanned the trees on the far side of the lake, the trees on the backside of Autumn’s property. No one came into view. Stephanie shivered as the feeling intensified. With another shiver she turned to go back to the house. A scream came out as hands grabbed her.
“Stephanie! Are you okay?” Autumn asked her fingers tightening on Stephanie’s arms, surprised by the blonde’s reaction.
“Autumn, you scared the hell out of me!”
“I’m sorry, I called out to you, I guess you didn’t hear,” Autumn told her, her eyes wide. “Are you all right?”
“Yeah, I’m okay, sorry I yelled,” Stephanie said sheepishly, embarrassed by her reaction. Autumn smiled her eyes still concerned.
“Not a problem. Come on let’s sit down,” Autumn stepped back, letting her hands drop. The two women sat on the edge of the dock, their feet dangling over the edge.
“You forgot your soda,” Stephanie pointed out.
“Yeah, I guess I did, oh well,” Autumn just shrugged, her eyes gazing out over the water.
“We can share,” Stephanie handed over the red and white can. Autumn smiled her thanks. “I hope you didn’t cut your phone call short for my benefit,” Stephanie said, inwardly groaning. ‘Well that was obvious Steph, why not ask who it was,’ she mentally berated herself.
“No, not at all. That was Sarah, a friend from the DA’s office.”
“Did you like working at the DA’s office?” Stephanie asked taking the soda back.
She was curious about the woman next to her. Even though almost 6 inches separated them, Stephanie could feel the heat from the woman next to her. Stephanie felt her body react to the closeness, and her pulse raced.
“I did for a long time,” was the soft answer as Autumn kept her eyes ahead. Stephanie studied the firm profile, liking the way the breeze blew Autumn’s hair back, showing off the long lines of her neck.
“So what happened?” her question drifted to Autumn, whose eyes were sad as she thought of the answer.
“What didn’t,” Autumn snorted. “I became disillusioned with the system. It’s not like it is on TV Stephanie.” Autumn sighed accepting the can back from the woman. “I became disillusioned with myself; I became the person I didn’t want to be.”
“Do you want to talk about it?” Stephanie asked, her voice low, her eyes still on her companion as she took the can back.
“I don’t know,” Autumn sighed.
“Sometimes it can help to talk it out, and I’m a great listener,” Stephanie told her. Autumn turned to look at the woman next to her and smiled though her eyes were still sad.
“It started when I was assigned my first major case,” Autumn finally said after looking away. Stephanie watched her. “I had been assigned to sex crimes and mostly I had just been second chair on the big cases, but my record for the smaller cases was excellent. Greg, my boss took a chance and gave me the biggest case to come into the office in awhile.
“It was a rape case. Brett Lawson had been arrested and charged with five counts of aggravated rape and kidnapping. He would kidnap the women and keep them locked up in an abandoned warehouse; torturing and raping them repeatedly before letting them go. Lawson would release them stark naked along a deserted road. Since he wore a mask none of the women could identify him.” Autumn paused and took a drink of the soda, her mind on the past.
“How did he get caught?” Stephanie asked after a moment.
“Pure luck,” Autumn chuckled. “He had his latest victim in the back of his car and he was driving along the Bee Line Highway,” Autumn said naming a deserted stretch of road in Palm Beach County. “A sheriff’s deputy pulled him over because of busted tail light. Arrogant bastard threw a blanket over the woman and didn’t think the officer would notice the wiggling bundle in the back seat.” She shook her head ruefully.
“I worked night and day on that case. I was constantly at the police station bugging them, looking over the evidence that they had gathered. I would sleep only a few hours a night; often I would not even go home. Joanne, my lover, needless to say was not happy. But I had to put this guy away, he was pure evil and I knew he had to be taken off the streets. To say I was under pressure would be an understatement. The DA called me into his office on a weekly basis. My supervisor, Greg had me in on a daily basis. This case was going to make or break me.” Autumn fell silent as she remembered that time in her life.
“To top it off, Lawson developed some kind of attachment to me,” she shook her head. “He would stare at me whenever we were at court filing motions and such. He called me at the office from jail, repeatedly ignoring orders from both the judge and his attorney. Some how he got my home number and he called me there. I had to change my number twice.”
“God, how awful,” Stephanie muttered her eyes on Autumn’s profile.
“Yeah it was. Well,” she sighed. “All my hard work was for nothing, the case was thrown out on a technicality. Seems that the search warrant that had garnered most of the evidence against Lawson had not been administered properly. God what a mess. I just sat there as he was let go. I was devastated. I had to go tell the women he had destroyed that he was free. I had to go in front of the cameras and tell them that the case had been dismissed. It was the worst day of my life.” She smiled softly as she felt Stephanie’s hand grip her arm, giving her comfort.
“He had not been out more than a week before another woman was abducted and reported missing. This time he didn’t let her go, he killed her,” Autumn’s voice was flat.
Stephanie left her hand on Autumn’s arm, trying to convey her compassion. Autumn’s eyes were still on the water; she closed her eyes as sharp pain lanced through them.
“He killed three more before he was finally arrested. Greg handled the trial and he was sentenced. No one blamed me, said it wasn’t my fault, but I knew, if I had just tried harder, those three women would have been alive, it was my fault he was out.” Autumn’s voice was full of self-loathing, her right hand curled into a fist and she pounded it ineffectively against her thigh. Stephanie’s heart ached for the pain in Autumn’s voice.
“It was all my fault,” Autumn said softly, her voice thick.
“No, Autumn, no it wasn’t your fault,” Stephanie said moving closer to the woman, ducking her head to try to get Autumn to look at her. “You did every thing you could.”
“My head knows that, but my heart doesn’t,” said Autumn, her pain filled eyes boring into Stephanie’s. “I feel as if their blood is on my hands,” she looked down at her hands, almost surprised that she didn’t see blood on them.
“Oh Autumn,” whispered Stephanie wrapping one arm around the other woman and giving her a hug. Autumn soaked up the contact, letting the warmth from the blonde soothe her battered soul. After a moment they moved apart.
“So needless to say I was devastated. I withdrew, not talking to anyone. Joanne moved out, and then she moved back in, it wasn’t a good time for us. Greg assigned me some smaller cases, and I was assigned as second to some larger ones. I started to see as if for the first time, the win at all costs mentality that prevailed. I saw my colleagues offering deals just to get the convictions. I saw them bullying court appointed attorneys into accepting deals, not caring if justice was served as long as they got their win, it was a real eye opening experience for me,” Autumn continued her voice soft, eyes still looking off into the distance. Stephanie moved her hand from Autumn’s arm and took the other woman’s hand in hers, interlacing their fingers. Autumn gave the fingers a gentle squeeze.
“I threw myself into my work even more so then, winning case after case, getting assigned better and better cases, my star was definitely on the rise, till the Ryan case,” Autumn took a deep breath. “James Ryan was accused of the rape and murder of a twelve year old girl. It was a plum case, almost open and shut and I wanted it, I bugged Greg till he gave it to me and I dug into it. I was going to put him away, in my mind he was Brett Lawson and I would have no more blood on my hands,” Autumn’s voice was filled with passion as she spoke. “I was not going to let another dirt bag get away from me, there was no way.” She shook her head, her eyes falling on their joined hands; her skin tingled where Stephanie’s thumb was gently running along her hand.
“I had been overcome by that win mentality. Greg let me know that my future could rest on the outcome of this case. The DA let me know that my future in his office rested on my getting a conviction. I could see my career going up in smoke if I didn’t deliver. I could not lose two big cases and expect to be given another opportunity. I was not very proud of myself,” her voice dropped to a whisper and her head dropped down. Tears sprang to her eyes as the shameful memories flowed over her.
“I’m not very proud of myself, but some evidence came to my attention that cast some doubt on his guilt. But I was convinced that he was guilty, so I buried it. His court appointed attorney was young and inexperienced, I don’t think he ever read the piles of documents I sent over. So I kept sending boxes and boxes of papers, some didn’t even have anything to do with the case, hoping to keep him so bogged down that he wouldn’t find the evidence. I know he never brought it up so I don’t think he ever found it. I won the case and Ryan was sentenced to death. I rode the high for days. My first big win. It didn’t matter how high my conviction rate had been before, this was my first big win, my ticket, and it was all a lie.” The tears began to fall softly. All the shame and the guilt that had been in her heart washed over her. With a soft sound Stephanie moved closer and pulled the taller woman into her arms.
“What happened?” Stephanie asked once Autumn had regained her composure. She moved away slightly but still kept an arm around Autumn’s shoulders and her other hand held the brunette’s hand.
“The case was overturned on appeal and with the new evidence he was acquitted at the second trial, so an innocent man was spared, but my soul was not. I looked around and took a hard look at the corruption; the win mentality and I lost heart. I had no desire to be a part of it anymore. I felt that there was no such thing as justice, I wanted to leave, and I couldn’t live with myself anymore. Joanne had finally left me and I withdrew again. Then my uncle called me and offered me his practice. I jumped at the chance.”
The two women fell silent, letting the words echo around them. Autumn’s heart was heavy; she had no idea why she had unburdened herself to Stephanie. She was sure that Stephanie would withdraw from her and she would lose out on the friendship she had felt forming between the two. Autumn knew she would miss it.
“I’m sorry, for going into all that,” Autumn said moving to put some space between them.
“It’s okay, I asked,” Stephanie told her.
“Well, that’s my story, and I will understand if you run away screaming,” Autumn said ruefully, trying for humor.
“I’m not going anywhere Autumn I don’t judge you for any of that.”
“You don’t?” Autumn asked surprised her eyes wide as she searched Stephanie’s eyes for the truth of her statement.
“No, we all have done things we are not proud of Autumn. I don’t know what I would have done if I had been in your place, so I can’t judge you,” Stephanie told her sincerely. Autumn looked into Stephanie’s eyes and saw nothing there but affection, friendship, no judgment, and no disgust. She offered a tentative smile and Stephanie returned it brightly.
“Thanks,” she said softly. Stephanie grinned.
“Not a problem,” answered Stephanie just as softly. “Okay, break time is over, let’s get back on the ball.” She stood and reached down to help Autumn to her feet, wisely realizing that Autumn was at her emotional peak.
“If you say so,” Autumn said grumpily. Stephanie laughed and the two walked off the dock, their fingers still intertwined. Neither woman saw a man move from behind a tree and watch as they walked toward the house. The man watched till they entered the house before he turned and walked off, muttering to himself.
Autumn was smiling as she walked from the courthouse to the diner. She had just won her first case since coming to Mason. Granted it was a property line dispute, but it was still a win. Her client, a farmer, had offered to buy her lunch to celebrate, but she declined. She was meeting Stephanie for lunch. In the last few weeks the two women had been spending a lot of time together. Stephanie had been a big help to Autumn, helping her paint the interior of her home, tearing up the carpets and polishing the hardwood floors. Autumn was very pleased with the progress of her home. Nick McCabe had been a Godsend, she thought as she walked along the sidewalk, greeting the now familiar residents.
He had repaired the porch, gutters and roof of Harbour House. Then he had reinforced the dock and fence line. Nick had also recently begun painting the exterior. Autumn hired his son’s landscaping company to take care of the yard and was pleasantly surprised at how well it was all shaping up. The trees had all been pruned and the grass cut neatly. Autumn had planned on spending the weekend cleaning out the barn, which had apparently been used as a storage space for the last few owners. Once the house was completed Nick was going to start on the barn. Autumn imaged it painted like all the barns she had ever seen in her life, red with white trim. The lawyer had also decided that her next project would then be furnishing her home. She and Stephanie planned to start hitting antique shops soon. Autumn was grinning about the thought of spending even more time with the blonde writer when she entered the diner. Her eyes quickly searched the lunch crowd, looking for the crown of blonde hair. Autumn didn’t have to wait long; she spotted Stephanie sitting in a booth in the back talking to a tall man.
“Autumn! How did it go?” Stephanie asked with a bright smile when Autumn arrived at the booth.
“I won!” Autumn told her with a grin. The blonde’s smile got brighter.
“Autumn, this is my friend Michael, Michael this is Autumn,” she introduced. Autumn put her briefcase down on the seat and extended her hand. The sandy haired man took it.
“Very nice to meet you Michael, Stephanie has told me a lot about you,” Autumn said with a polite smile, her professional smile she called it. She fell into that mode meeting new people. Hiding her shyness behind her professional mask.
“Same here Autumn, she has told me so much about you I feel as if we have already met,” he grinned boyishly. He put Autumn at ease. “Well, I must be off, gotta reopen the store. Stephanie I’ll talk to you later, Autumn, it was nice meeting you,” with another grin and a wave at the two women he left. Autumn moved her briefcase and sat down opposite Stephanie.
“So you won! Congratulations,” Stephanie said with a large smile, she reached over and gave Autumn’s hand a gentle squeeze.
“Let me buy you lunch to celebrate,” the blonde offered. Autumn readily agreed. The two women settled into easy conversation and the lunch hour sped by. They were still chatting easily as they walked back to Autumn’s office. Neither woman noticed the battered green Ford pickup following behind them, its driver intently watching the taller of the two women.
* * *
“God, look at all this junk,” Autumn said in disgust on Saturday.
She stood just inside the barn doors, hands on her hips. The barn was full of broken furniture, boxes and old farm equipment. There was dust and cobwebs over everything. Autumn sighed heavily.
“Hey, don’t get discouraged, something here may be an antique,” teased Stephanie also looking around the barn. Autumn looked at her and sighed heavily again.
“Yeah, I’m sure, well let’s get started,” she said grimly and waded into the mess.
The two women started by sorting through the top layer. If it was broken or if they didn’t know what it was it went into the trash pile just outside the doors for Nick to take away. The pile outside was steadily getting larger as the pile inside was getting smaller. After a few hours they had managed to clear enough so that they could have an aisle going from the front to the back.
“What a mess,” Autumn grumped as she dropped to the ground next to Stephanie.
She brushed some dust off her jeans and leaned back against the tree they were sitting under. Autumn smiled her thanks at the bottle of water Stephanie handed her.
“But we are making progress.”
“Yeah I guess, but who knew it would be such a mess!” Autumn took a deep drink her eyes on the open barn door. “This may take longer than I had thought.”
“You on a time schedule?” teased Stephanie.
“No, but I didn’t want to make a career of this.”
“Stop being a grump,” smiled the blonde nudging Autumn’s shoulder with her own. Stephanie took a drink out of her own bottle of water.
“Sorry, I didn’t get much sleep last night,” Autumn told her companion. S he stretched out her long legs in front of her and sighed.
“Why?” Stephanie asked following suit. Her shoulder tingled where it rested against Autumn’s. Stephanie shifted slightly to get more comfortable against the tree; it brought her more in contact with the other woman.
“I was having weird dreams, they kept waking me up, but I couldn’t remember any of them. All I remember is the feeling.”
“What kind of feeling?”
“Fear, anger, an unsettled feeling, like I said, it was weird.” Autumn shrugged drinking her water again. “So, how’s the book coming?” she asked suddenly wanting to change the subject.
“Good, very good, I got some great work done this week.”
“I feel guilty keeping you away from it,” Autumn said softly, picking at the label on the bottle. Stephanie touched her arm giving it a gentle squeeze.
“Don’t be, I don’t usually write during this time of the day. Besides, I can’t spend all my time in front of the computer. I’ve tried that and I usually hit a big block.”
“All work and no play makes Steph a dull girl?” grinned Autumn.
“Yep, that’s it!” Stephanie laughed.
“Well, I’m glad someone thinks this is play.” Autumn frowned, her attention returning to the barn.
“Sure it’s fun!”
“Yeah right.” Stephanie nudged Autumn’s shoulder again, bringing another small smile to the dark haired woman.
“Seriously, Stephanie thanks for all your help.”
“It’s been my pleasure.”
“I’m glad you are so easily pleased,” snorted Autumn.
“I’m not that easily pleased,” Stephanie grinned roguishly causing Autumn to laugh.
“Well now, thanks for the tip!” both women laughed, enjoying each other.
They shared a look before Autumn shyly looked away. Stephanie sighed inwardly. Their flirtations had always ended like this, with Autumn suddenly shying away. Stephanie thought she would go crazy if things continued that way. The blonde felt that Autumn was just as attracted as she was.
“Anytime. Oh, Michael asked me to ask you to dinner tonight.”
“Tonight?” asked Autumn, trying to buy time for her rapidly beating heart. “Uh, sure, sounds good,” she agreed, her desire to spend time with Stephanie outweighed her shyness. Stephanie grinned.
“Great, come over about 7:30. It will be four of us, you and me and Michael and his new lover Brian, so it’s casual,” Stephanie told her.
“Where did Michael find a lover in this small town?” Autumn asked.
‘Same place I found you,’ Stephanie said to herself before answering.
“Brian lives over in Henderson, they met through mutual friends,” Stephanie told her, naming a large industrial town north of Mason.
“Seven thirty right?” Autumn asked.
Stephanie nodded. The two fell silent as they sat and relaxed, enjoying just being with the other. After a few moments Autumn drained the remaining water from her bottle and stood up.
“Well, time to get back to the grind,” she reached down and helped Stephanie to her feet.
Once up, Stephanie stumbled into Autumn, the taller woman’s arms went around her out of instinct. The two women stood still lost in each other’s eyes. Slowly Autumn lowered her head and gently touching her lips to Stephanie’s, unable to resist temptation any longer. All the flirtation had finally led them to this. Autumn knew she could no longer deny it. Stephanie sighed at the soft contact and pushed in closer, moving her lips against Autumn’s. Just as quickly as it began the soft kiss ended. Both women blinked and looked at each before stepping back, breaking the contact between then. With gentle smiles the women went back to the barn.
“You know,” Autumn began as they went back to work. “We’ve talked about my family, but you’ve never talked about yours.”
“What do you want to know?” Stephanie asked, opening up a box and peering carefully inside.
“You got any brothers or sisters?” Autumn asked, feeling a twinge of sadness at her status as an only child.
“One of each, an older brother and a younger sister. They live in Chicago. My brother is an engineer and my sister is a homemaker. Her husband works for the electric company and she stays home with their two kids.”
“What about your parents?”
“They are retired; they live in Illinois during the summer and in Boca Raton during the winter.”
“Snowbirds,” Autumn shook her head, like all full time residents of South Florida she knew the annual pilgrimages from the northern states were necessary, but she didn’t have to like them.
“Yeah, you wanna make something of it?” Stephanie asked a teasing glint in her eye.
“Nope,” Autumn grinned and bent down to pick up the box she had been going through.
“Nothing to make of it,” she called over her shoulder as she went outside. Stephanie chuckled and moved a box and something that looked like it belonged on the back end of a tractor. Underneath she found an old rocking chair. It was obviously old but it was in surprisingly good condition.
“Hey Autumn, look at this,” she called out to the woman who had just reentered the barn. Autumn went to her and looked down.
“An old rocking chair,” she said her eyes moving over the chair. It was very sturdy looking; it could use a good cleaning and maybe a coat of varnish. “It’s beautiful,” she commented looking at the intricate designs carved into the back and along the arms. Autumn reached out and lightly ran her fingers along the arm. “Let’s move it over here,” Autumn said pointing to a cleaned area. The two women quickly moved the boxes and junk around the chair and moved it away, more into the light where they could get a good look at it.
“I bet if you stripped it and put on a new coat of varnish it would look as good as new,” Stephanie told her friend. Autumn nodded her eyes still on the chair.
“You’re right, let’s take it up to the house, I’ll leave it on the porch and Monday I’ll get the stuff from the hardware store,” Autumn informed Stephanie. The two women each took a side of the chair and easily carried it to the porch where they left it. As they walked back to the barn, the chair, left alone on the porch began to slowly rock.
* * *
Autumn stood outside the door at Michael’s, nervously tugging on her shirt. In her left hand she held a bottle of wine. She ran a hand through her hair one more time before finally knocking on the door. Stephanie opened it almost immediately. Autumn caught her breath as she looked at the woman before her. Stephanie was dressed in light blue jeans that looked as if they were molded to her body, showing off her curves much to Autumn’s appreciation. The light green polo shirt complemented her tan, and her eyes shone. She was smiling brightly.
“Right on time!” she stepped away and motioned Autumn to enter.
Autumn looked around curiously. The living room was tastefully furnished in light airy colors; the overall feel of the room was cheerful. Stephanie allowed her eyes to look over the tall woman. Autumn was dressed in tight black jeans and a long sleeved crème colored cotton shirt. The sleeves were pushed up to reveal tanned forearms. Her hair was loose and fell lightly to her shoulders. When Autumn turned her gray eyes were bright and they burned into Stephanie’s. The blonde moved to her and wrapped her arms around the slim waist breathing in the fresh, spicy scent of Autumn. Her pulse quickened as Autumn returned the hug. As they moved apart Stephanie placed a quick kiss on Autumn’s lips.
“I brought this, I wasn’t sure what to we were having, so I brought a Zinfandel.” Autumn said nervously handing over the bottle.
“This is fine, come on, the boys are in the kitchen,” Stephanie took Autumn’s hand and pulled her toward the back of the house and into the kitchen.
Male laughter greeted them as they walked into the brightly painted room. Michael was at the stove; a rainbow colored apron covering his jeans and blue oxford shirt. A short, somewhat stocky man was leaning against the sink watching Michael with a smile on his face. He looked over, his brown eyes almost twinkling with merriment. His brown hair was cut short and a mustache lay neatly trimmed over full lips.
“Brian this is my friend Autumn,” Stephanie introduced the short man. He moved away from the sink and extended his hand.
“Pleasure to meet you Autumn. That’s my favorite season, I see that its Stephanie’s as well,” he teased his eyes cutting to Stephanie who was blushing. Autumn laughed, being put at ease at the man’s manner.
“Be nice,” Michael called over his shoulder before turning around. “I’m glad you could come Autumn.”
“Thank you for inviting me.”
“Well, if I wanted to see Stephanie I figured I would have to invite you,” he grinned cheekily. The blonde playfully swatted his arm Autumn just laughed again.
“Something smells wonderful,” she said as delightful smells drifted to her. Garlic being the predominate spice.
“Thank you, we are having penne pasta with a pesto sauce,” Michael told her.
“Sounds fabulous,” Autumn grinned, she loved pasta. “The last time I used a pesto sauce was on grilled pizzas.”
“Really?” Michael asked surprised, his eyes widening.
Autumn nodded and moved closer to him telling him the recipe. The two soon lost themselves in a discussion on cooking, a passion for them both. Stephanie and Brian shared a grin and shrugged. The other two seemed to almost completely ignore them as they talked. Autumn felt her earlier tension and nervousness leave.
“You’ll have to show me that recipe sometime Autumn,” Michael stated.
“Sure not a problem, I also have a recipe for garlic lemon chicken that will make your mouth water,” the dark haired woman said with a smile. Michael grinned. He had heard around town that Autumn was a little standoffish but he was finding her delightful. He looked over at Stephanie and gave her a small wink.
The two discussed recipes and cooking while Michael finished cooking. Shrugging her shoulders Stephanie and Brian left the kitchen to set the table. Autumn surprised herself by how relaxed she felt. She leaned back against the counter, crossing her arms and gave her full attention to the sandy haired man.
“Steph, she is gorgeous,” Brian said in a stage whisper as they set the table in the dining room. Stephanie could not help the grin that split her features.
“She is, but more importantly, she is beautiful inside, where it counts,” Stephanie replied, grimacing inwardly at how cheesy that sounded.
“And those breasts don’t have anything to do with it?” was the arch question. Brian laughed at the blush that stole over Stephanie’s face.
“Stop! You are so bad!” Stephanie couldn’t help but laugh. Brian joined her.
Stephanie was moving around the table, her back to the kitchen, making sure the silverware was straight when she felt Autumn behind her. She took a deep breath, trying to calm the butterflies dancing in her stomach, every fiber of her being reacted to Autumn’s presence.
“Brian, Michael needs you,” Autumn said her husky voice low, sending shivers down Stephanie’s spine. Stephanie was afraid to turn around; afraid Autumn would see the lust and desire in her eyes. The blonde caught her breath as she felt Autumn’s arms slip around her waist.
Brian gave her a knowing smirk before leaving the room.
“Hey you,” Autumn said softly in Stephanie’s ear, reeking havoc. Stephanie turned around in Autumn’s loose embrace. The two women looked at each other lost in the other’s eyes. A smile toyed with Autumn’s lips.
“Hey,” came the shy response. Stephanie felt her hands, almost of their own accord slide around Autumn’s waist, her fingers tingling at the feel of denim.
“I, Uh, I’ve been thinking a lot about that kiss,” Autumn managed her voice still low.
“I have too,” agreed the blonde. Stephanie lowered her eyes before bringing them back up, losing herself once more in the smoky gray depths of Autumn’s eyes.
“Good thoughts?” was the teasing question.
“Oh yeah,” breathed Stephanie with a rakish grin. “Very good thoughts. Or maybe bad thoughts,” she caught her breath at Autumn’s soft chuckle. The sound sent waves of desire coursing through Stephanie.
“Me too,” Autumn agreed.
The two fell silent as they looked at each other, each enjoying the closeness they shared. Autumn felt something click deep in her chest as she looked down at the woman in her arms. She knew then with a certainty that she wanted nothing more out of life than to be with this woman. In anyway possible, but she knew she needed to be with her. With that thought in mind, Autumn slowly lowered her head, her gray eyes on Stephanie’s lips, intent on tasting them. Stephanie knew she had stopped breathing as she watched Autumn come closer, her lips parted in anticipation. When Autumn’s full lips touched hers a small moan escaped. Slowly the women pressed closer to each other as their lips moved, silkily tasting.
Autumn, at the first touch, saw colors behind her closed eyes. Her lips moved slowly, tasting Stephanie, her tongue gently touched Stephanie’s lower lip, asking for entrance. With a moan from both women the kiss deepened, their tongues sliding easily over the other, tasting, touching. Autumn lost all sense of time; the only thing that existed for her was the woman in her arms and the kiss that was stealing her breath and her soul. A soft whimper escaped, neither sure who it came from. The kiss slowed as Autumn placed a series of small kisses along Stephanie’s lips and cheek, before resting her forehead on Stephanie’s. Each woman struggled to regain her breath and composure.
“Wow,” Stephanie whispered as her hands moved up and down along Autumn’s back. Autumn chuckled softly.
“You can say that again.”
“Wow,” both women laughed softly. Stephanie moved her head and kissed Autumn lightly, tenderly. “You are a great kisser!”
“Thanks, so are you,” grinned Autumn. Stephanie moved into the embrace and rested her head on Autumn’s shoulder. She could hear the pounding of the taller woman’s heart, glad that she wasn’t the only one affected by the kiss. They stayed like that; content to bask in their closeness.
“Dinner is almost ready,” Michael said brightly coming into the room; he grinned as the two women moved apart. His eyes twinkled as Autumn took Stephanie’s hand, and interlaced their fingers.
“Thanks Michael, is there anything I can do to help?” Stephanie asked, her mind on the tingle of her flesh where Autumn was touching her.
“No, everything is under control,” with another wink at Stephanie he went back to the kitchen. The two women turned almost immediately to each other and found themselves in each other’s arms, sharing another soul-searching kiss.
* * *
“Dinner was wonderful, Michael, thank you,” Autumn said politely sitting back in her chair.
She had been surprised by her enjoyment, not only of the food but also of the company. The conversation had been lively, mostly about Stephanie’s upcoming trip to Chicago and even though she didn’t talk much she still felt very much apart of the evening. Autumn shared another look with Stephanie. Neither thought that the frequent looks they shared had been noticeable, but Michael and Brian had caught them and shared a pleased smile each time.
“You’re welcome Autumn, I’m glad you enjoyed it. Stephanie will you help me?” Michael asked rising from the table. Stephanie rose also and following suit picked up her empty plate as well as Autumn’s. The two women shared another look as Stephanie followed Michael.
“Thanks Michael, Autumn was right, dinner was wonderful,” Stephanie complimented as they entered the kitchen.
“Anytime babe!” he grinned. Michael waited till Stephanie had deposited her burden on the counter before turning to her. “I like her Steph, I had heard that she was a little standoffish and all but I didn’t find that to be the case. Granted she doesn’t talk much,” he shrugged.
“She’s shy. I think it’s sweet,” Stephanie could not control her smile.
“You seem to be quite taken with her,” Michael commented, leaning against the counter. Stephanie followed suit.
“I am. Michael I can’t explain it. I have never felt like this with anyone.”
“Not even Gina?” he asked stressing the name. He had never gotten along with Stephanie’s ex-lover.
“Not even Gina,” was the definite answer. “I don’t know how to explain it Michael. I just want to be near her. I can feel her when she enters the room. I don’t have to even see her to know that she is there. I tingle when she is around,” she finished lamely throwing up her hands. Michael was surprised. This was definitely not like Gina.
“You tingle?” he asked with a grin. Stephanie laughed softly, shaking her head.
“Not like that you pervert,” she bumped his shoulder with her own. “Well, not completely like that,” she threw a side-glance at her smirking friend. “It’s like every molecule in my body is reacting to her, its like electric volts running through me. Like I said, I have never felt like this before.” The two friends lapsed into silence as they contemplated Stephanie’s words. “And she cares, Michael. She asks me every time I see her how my book is coming. She is so sweet about wanting to make sure she is not taking time from my work. Gina never wanted me to spend time on my writing, she just wanted to spend my money,” Stephanie said still somewhat bitter about her previous lover’s indifference to her career.
“Sounds like a keeper to me,” Michael said softly.
“Yeah me too,” agreed Stephanie. The two friends shared a smile before the tall sandy haired man pulled Stephanie into a hug.
The rest of the evening passed quickly for Autumn. There was more laughter and conversation putting Autumn more at ease as the night went on. It was almost with regret that she bid Michael and Brian good night. She was smiling as she followed Stephanie through the dark night toward the small cottage where the blonde writer lived.
“So this is where I work my magic,” Stephanie said as Autumn’s eyes scanned every portion of the small cottage. “Well most of it,” she grinned. Her heart skipped a beat when Autumn turned her gray eyes on her and smiled softly.
“I would have to agree to that.”
“Would you like something to drink?” Stephanie asked suddenly nervous.
“I have some wine,” Stephanie moved into the small kitchen very aware of Autumn’s eyes on her.
The dark haired woman was quiet as Stephanie poured two glasses of wine. Her eyes were unreadable as the blonde moved toward her. Stephanie found herself unable to look away. She stopped inches from Autumn and held out the glass. Without taking her eyes off Stephanie the raven-haired lawyer took it from her. Stephanie brought her glass to her lips and sipped, her eyes still caught in the swirling depths of Autumn’s eyes. With a small half smile Autumn followed suit. The only sound in the room was the soft sounds of their breathing. Each woman was very aware of each other.
“Did you have a good time tonight?” Stephanie asked softly, finally breaking the silence.
“Yes I did,” Autumn told her, surprised by how much she had enjoyed the evening.
“I’m glad. So what are your plans for tomorrow?” Stephanie took a step closer to Autumn.
“I hadn’t really decided yet. I should get back to work on the barn. Why?”
“I think you should take a day off. You’ve been working every weekend. It would do you good to relax for the day.”
“It would? Do you have something in mind?” Autumn asked taking a cue from Stephanie, taking a step closer to the other woman. Their bodies were almost touching, barely an inch separating them.
“Oh yeah,” Stephanie whispered, her eyes drawn to the lips tantalizingly close.
With a satisfied grin Autumn lowered her head and took possession of Stephanie’s mouth. Somehow Autumn found herself on the couch with Stephanie straddling her. Stephanie’s hands were tangled in her hair and her mouth was raking over Autumn’s lips taking control of the kiss, leaving Autumn breathless.
All thought fled from Autumn’s mind as she returned the kiss, her hands moved along Stephanie’s back feeling the heat though the blonde’s shirt. A groan rumbled from her chest as Stephanie’s lips moved along her throat. Stephanie smiled as her teeth grazed the sensitive flesh, causing another moan. Autumn’s hands moved to cup Stephanie’s face, pulling her in for a scorching kiss that caused both women to gasp raggedly once it was broken.
Autumn arched her back as Stephanie’s hand gently cupped her breasts, her thumbs grazing the already erect points. Stephanie chuckled softly enjoying the reaction to her touch. Stephanie lowered her head and kissed Autumn again, before kissing a fiery trail along Autumn’s jaw to her ear. She smiled again as the woman under her gasped when she took an ear lobe into her mouth.
“God Stephanie, what are you doing to me?" Autumn asked softly. Stephanie sat back slightly; looking down into the gray eyes that had so captivated her.
“Do you want me to stop?” she asked suddenly afraid that Autumn didn’t want this as much as she did. Autumn’s eyes flew open.
“Oh God, no, Steph, no,” was the ragged answer. She reached up and pulled Stephanie to her again, kissing the blonde deeply, leaving her with no doubt.
“Wait,” whispered Stephanie against Autumn’s lips, she placed her hands on top of Autumn’s just before they slipped under her shirt. She got up and pulled Autumn with her. The taller woman looked at her puzzled. With a sheepish smile Stephanie began taking the cushions off the couch. Grinning Autumn realized what she was doing and quickly pitched in. With Autumn’s help the couch was transformed into a bed. Stephanie climbed on the bed and kneeling in the center she beckoned Autumn to join her. She watched as Autumn slowly moved along the bed until she was kneeling opposite Stephanie.
Autumn’s eyes bored into Stephanie’s glittering blue eyes. Without a word she gently took the hem of Stephanie’s shirt and carefully lifted it over the blonde’s head. Her eyes back on Stephanie’s she threw the shirt aside. She slowly and deliberately lowered her eyes drinking in the sight before her. Stephanie’s bra did little to hide her attributes from Autumn’s penetrating gaze. She smiled as Stephanie’s breath quickened as she watched. Her hands ached to touch the golden flesh before her. Autumn looked back up at Stephanie’s face, her eyes falling into the blonde’s gaze.
Stephanie reached out and pulled Autumn’s shirt from the waistband of her jeans, moving a little closer. Their eyes still locked she pulled the shirt over Autumn’s head. Stephanie caught her breath as Autumn was revealed to her. Autumn took a deep breath, smiling as she watched Stephanie’s eyes devour her. Stephanie looked up and Autumn pulled the shorter woman to her. Autumn crushed her lips into Stephanie’s, possessing her mouth. Autumn could feel the heat from the other woman searing into her. Under her insistent hands Stephanie’s bra soon joined her shirt, followed shortly by her own. Her mouth moving over Stephanie’s she lowered them to the bed, covering the body beneath her with her own.
“You feel so good,” Stephanie managed to say, her hands straining to touch everywhere. Autumn’s silky skin burned into her. She breathed deeply of the heady spicy scent that was Autumn, her heart racing. Stephanie arched her back thrusting her breasts into Autumn’s hands, craving the touch. Autumn’s mouth moved from Stephanie’s lips to her throat, down to her shoulders, along her collarbone, before moving back up to her mouth. All thought was burned from her mind. The only thing that existed for her was the woman beneath her.
Stephanie felt Autumn’s hands going to the button of her jeans. She sighed as she felt them release and the zipper travel downward. Her mind imagined Autumn’s mouth following the path of her hand before the reality of what she was doing forced her back. Soon they were both nude. Stephanie gasped as the taller woman’s skin touched hers. The blonde strained to get closer to push her body into Autumn’s.
With a smile Autumn’s hand covered Stephanie’s breast, kneading it, rolling the nipple between thumb and forefinger, causing bolts of desire to shoot through them both. Autumn lowered her head and took the peak in her mouth. Stephanie cried out at the touch. Autumn’s tongue swirled around the puckered flesh causing it to tighten even more. Her other hand searched out the other. Stephanie heard moans and realized they were her own. Whispered words hung in the air.
Autumn moved, settling herself between Stephanie’s legs. The molten heat from Stephanie’s core burned into her stomach, causing tiny shivers to trail up and down her spine. She groaned as she felt Stephanie pressing herself into Autumn. Her tongue swirled around the erect peaks, teasing them, causing Stephanie to toss her head back and forth. Stephanie’s hands tangled themselves into Autumn’s hair, pulling her close, keeping her mouth on Stephanie’s breast.
The dark haired woman moved back up taking Stephanie’s mouth in a scorching kiss. Her tongue probed deep into the blonde’s mouth, exploring, tasting, and conquering. Autumn trailed her hand down, over Stephanie’s breast, down her trim stomach over her thigh, before moving back up toward the object of her desire. Her fingertips lightly grazed the blonde curls before she deftly parted the folds and encountered Stephanie’s molten core.
“Oh Autumn,” Stephanie moaned at the first touch.
Her hips began to move against Autumn’s hand. Autumn looked down intently at the woman beneath her, as her fingers lightly explored Stephanie’s womanhood. Autumn’s hand moved in a slow rhythm. Stephanie’s breath was coming in ragged gulps as her head was tossed back and forth, her eyes shut tight as she let her body soak up the sensations that Autumn was creating throughout her body. Autumn lowered her head and whispered in Stephanie’s ear. Describing to the blonde what her fingers were doing. Stephanie moaned again. Her hips moved against Autumn’s hand, straining for the release they knew to be theirs.
Autumn’s fingers moved over the tight bundle of nerves that was the center of Stephanie’s pleasure, causing the blonde to quiver. Stephanie’s ragged breathing filled the room, sweat formed on her upper lip. Autumn ducked her head and lightly kissed her lips, her tongue tracing a pattern along Stephanie’s mouth. Her tongue then moved over her chin, along her jaw and down her throat. Autumn lightly nipped and sucked at the tender flesh, as her fingers slid deep into Stephanie. The blonde woman’s hips came off the bed at the most welcomed invasion.
As her fingers moved rhythmically in and out, Autumn shifted and took an aching peak in her mouth, sucking it deep, letting it go and then repeating it. Sensations were coursing through Stephanie. She felt the pressure in her toes, moving up. The blonde felt the muscles in her stomach start to clench. Incoherent words escaped her lips as she felt her skin start to burn and a fire ignite deep in her belly. Suddenly without warning it burst forth, her eyes snapped open and a cry was wrenched from her. Spasms wracked her body as wave after wave of intense pleasure slammed into her. She grabbed Autumn’s wrist stopping all movement. Autumn felt the muscles inside constrict and hold her hand in place as Stephanie’s essence coated her fingers.
“Oh my God,” Stephanie whispered hoarsely, gasping for breath. Autumn chuckled and moved up to wrap her arms around the other woman, pulling her close. She placed a soft kiss on Stephanie’s sweat soaked forehead. Her heart was full as she held the woman gently.
“You okay?” Autumn asked softly, rubbing her cheek against Stephanie’s head, loving the feel of Stephanie’s hair.
“Oh yeah,” Stephanie nodded and chuckled weakly. She lightly rubbed the arm that was holding her, enjoying the feel of Autumn’s skin.
“Good I’m glad.”
“You know, I’ve never,” Stephanie swallowed. “Not like that.”
“Well I’m glad you did now.”
“Me too,” Stephanie chuckled.
She looked up at the woman holding her. Stephanie smiled and traced Autumn’s lips with a soft finger. Autumn smiled and gently nipped at the finger. Stephanie giggled and replaced her finger with her mouth. Not breaking the kiss she pushed Autumn back, settling over her. Her eyes sparkling she looked down at the woman beneath her.
“Oh the things I am going to do to you,” she said softly before kissing the woman again. “I don’t know where to start.”
“Oh really?” asked Autumn arching an eyebrow. Stephanie giggled and traced the glossy black eyebrow, placing a light kiss on it.
“Really,” Stephanie said firmly.
Her eyes were locked on Autumn’s full lips; lowering her mouth she placed soft butterfly kisses on Autumn’s lips, her chin, her cheeks, and her eyes. Autumn sighed as Stephanie’s mouth took possession of an erect peak. Autumn held Stephanie’s head in place as she paid lavish attention to the pebbly flesh. Autumn closed her eyes and let herself go with the sensations that Stephanie was creating.
* * *
“I think I have died and gone to Heaven,” Autumn said softly.
Her body was coated liberally with sweat. She raised a shaky hand and pushed a sweat soaked lock of hair out of her eyes. The blonde woman draped over her chuckled, her fingers roaming lightly over the taut stomach, tracing lazy patterns on Autumn’s skin.
“Me too,” Stephanie replied. The two fell silent as they basked together in the glow they had created for themselves. “This is nice Autumn,” she said after a moment.
“Yes it is,” Autumn looked down at the other woman, her eyes a dark smoky gray. She raised Stephanie’s chin and looked deep into her eyes. Autumn searched the other woman’s eyes seeing the answers to questions she was too afraid to ask yet. With a smile she lightly kissed Stephanie. Not deepening the kiss she moved till she had the other woman beneath her. “Yes it is,” she whispered against Stephanie’s lips. With a soft sigh she deepened the kiss, her tongue probing deep. Stephanie sighed as well and wrapped her arms around the taller woman and pulling her down.
Stephanie slowly opened her eyes. Sunlight was pouring into the small room. She touched the hand that rested lightly on her stomach. The blonde was laying on her side, with Autumn curled up behind her, spooning her, holding her close even in sleep. A smile stole over her lips as visions of the night before crashed into her. The night before had been intense and playful at the same time. They had made love till the early hours, falling asleep before dawn, exhausted by their efforts. Stephanie was content to lie there in Autumn’s embrace, watching the sun chase the shadows away. Her heart had never felt so full. She could not remember a time that she had felt this fulfilled. It was because of Autumn. She made all the difference. Stephanie sighed softly and snuggled closer, pressing her back into Autumn. She smiled when she felt the arm around her tighten.
“You awake?” a soft husky voice asked in her ear, sending chills down her spine. In spite of herself she smiled.
“Yeah,” she answered.
“Hmmm,” Autumn moved closer and took a deep breath her nose buried in Stephanie’s hair. She tightened her hold on Stephanie, pulling her even closer. “You smell good.” Stephanie laughed.
“I smell like sex.”
“Like I said, you smell good,” Autumn chuckled. Stephanie turned around in Autumn’s embrace until she was facing the dark haired attorney.
“You are a nut,” she giggled placing a kiss on Autumn’s chin.
“You bring it out in me.”
“Is that all I bring out?” Stephanie asked her voice low. Autumn felt it in her toes.
“No that is not all you bring out in me,” Autumn insisted, lowering her head and kissing Stephanie deeply.
Stephanie made a sound in her throat and pushed herself closer to Autumn. All further conversation was ended as their passion for each other flamed up again despite their tired bodies.
It was much later before they got out of bed. It was even later before they emerged from the shower, only to end up in the bed again. The air was filled with whispered words, soft gasps, and moans. The outside world ceased to exist for the two women as they spent the time discovering each other, discovering themselves in each other.
“We have got to eat something,” Autumn said with a laugh, trying to fight off the other woman as she stood in front of the refrigerator.
“I know, so come back to bed,” grinned Stephanie.
“Slut,” teased Autumn good-naturedly. She kissed Stephanie on the nose before turning her attention back to the refrigerator. “How can you live like this, there is hardly anything in here.”
“I haven’t been spending a lot of time here,” Stephanie peeked around Autumn looking into the appliance.
“True. Well, I think I can make us a couple of omelets how does that sound?” Autumn asked looking down at the woman. She grinned and gave into temptation by kissing the blonde woman soundly.
“Well if I can’t have you, then I guess an omelet would be the next best thing,” Stephanie grinned.
“Sex fiend,” growled Autumn.
Stephanie laughed and pulled the taller woman into an embrace. After a few shared kisses the two women pulled apart. Autumn placed a quick kiss on her lips before turning to gather the ingredients she needed from the refrigerator.
“I think you look good in my tee shirt,” Stephanie said eyeing the woman. She had given the taller woman an overly large baseball shirt to wear. Autumn looked down at the White Sox label across her chest and grimaced.
“Yeah well, I think I will have to get you a Braves shirt,” she grumbled good-naturedly. “Hey how about some music,” she suggested.
Agreeing Stephanie went to the small radio near her laptop computer and turned it on. Soft music filled the air. Stephanie looked longingly at the laptop, her fingers almost itching to put a few thoughts down. Autumn saw her looking.
“Hey, it’s going to take me a bit to chop up this stuff and make the omelets,” Autumn began. “Why don’t you try to get some work done,” she suggested. Stephanie turned to her, surprised.
“Are you sure?” she asked, not daring to believe.
“Sure, go ahead,” Autumn told her. She caught her breath at the radiant smile that Stephanie gave her. The blonde quickly moved to her side and kissed her deeply.
“You are the best,” she whispered before kissing the taller woman again.
“Wow, if I knew you would kiss me like that I would have suggested this earlier,” Autumn laughed.
Stephanie placed another kiss on her lips before moving back to her laptop. Autumn watched with a smile as she quickly booted up the computer, slipped in a disk and was soon lost in her make believe world.
Autumn hummed along with the music as she chopped up the peppers and onions for the omelets. She could not believe how happy she felt. The only other noise in the room was the tap of the keys as Stephanie’s hands flew over the keyboard. Autumn felt very comfortable, at peace. She felt right at home. Every once in awhile she would look up at the woman typing away. In the short time they had known each other Stephanie had become an integral part of her life. She could not imagine not being with the woman.
She surprised herself by daydream visions of the two of them making a life with each other. She had never done that before. Not even with Joanne, the one woman she was sure she had been in love with. But her feelings for Joanne were nothing like what she was feeling for Stephanie. Her heart was consumed with emotion. She wasn’t sure how the blonde woman felt about her, but she was willing to take what ever Stephanie had to offer. As she set about making a meal for them she realized with sudden clarity she was in love with the blonde writer. Autumn frowned slightly as the thought that Stephanie did not love her back crossed her mind. With a sheer force of will she pushed that thought away. If she didn’t then Autumn would deal with that when the time came. But for now she was content to bask in the emotions, and the presence of the writer in her life. There was plenty of time to put emotions in perspective. Right now, she just wanted to enjoy Stephanie.
“This is wonderful Autumn,” Stephanie said around a mouthful. “It’s almost sinful it’s so good.”
“What can I say, you bring out the sinner in me,” laughed Autumn.
“I’m glad I do,” was the soft reply. Stephanie leaned over and kissed the woman. She looked deep into Autumn’s eyes, loosing herself in their gray depths. Time stopped as the two women looked at each other.
Food forgotten, the two women found themselves in a tangle of arms and legs on the bed. Soft voices whispered to each other as they removed articles of clothing, searching for fevered flesh. They lost themselves in each other; time had no meaning as the day slipped into the afternoon, into the evening.
“I need to go,” whispered Autumn against Stephanie’s lips. It was late evening and they had spent the entire day in bed.
“Because, you need to get some work done, I have some briefs I need to go over for tomorrow and I have to work in the morning.”
“When you put it like that I guess you do have to leave,” Stephanie grinned. She placed soft kisses along Autumn’s throat, causing the other woman to moan. “Are you sure you want to leave. I can set the alarm,” her voice thrummed against Autumn’s throat.
“When you put it like that, how can I refuse,” laughed Autumn. Stephanie raised her head and chuckled.
“Stay the night with me Autumn,” she said softly her eyes searching Autumn’s face. “Please.”
“I would like nothing better,” Autumn said with all sincerity. Stephanie let a smile steal slowly over her face. Autumn caught her breath at the sheer beauty of it. “Stephanie, you take my breath away.” Tears sprang to Stephanie’s eyes.
“Where have you been all my life Autumn?”
“Waiting for you,” was the whispered answer.
Stephanie lowered her head and the two women shared a soft gentle kiss. Autumn rolled over, pinning the other woman beneath her. She broke the kiss and looked down, letting all of her emotions pour from her eyes into Stephanie’s. Without another word she began to make love to the blonde. Worshipping her body with her mouth, her hands, bringing her to the brink before pulling back and starting over again, denying her the release she craved.
Autumn moved down Stephanie’s body, placing small kisses on her trimmed tanned stomach. She slowly made her way down kissing every area but the one that begged for her touch. Stephanie gasped and gripped the bed when Autumn’s tongue slipped past her golden curls and touched her center. Autumn’s tongue flicked in and out, moving over the pulsating knot. Stephanie’s hips rocked with the rhythm set by Autumn’s probing tongue. Autumn slipped a finger easily into Stephanie, moving silkily deep inside, sending Stephanie into a frenzy of ecstasy. Too soon Stephanie felt waves of intense pleasure washing over her. She cried out Autumn’s name as she dropped over the edge.
* * *
Autumn was whistling the next morning as she made her way back to her house. Even though she did not get much sleep she still felt refreshed and full of energy. The day just started and yet she couldn’t wait for it to be over. She couldn’t wait to see Stephanie again. Autumn almost wished she could take the day off to spend with the blonde. As she walked along the lake, her mind went over her schedule, deciding that she could probably leave early. With a renewed purpose she set off at a quick jog.
Autumn was almost singing as she let herself into her house. Once the door was closed she was already stripping out of her clothes. Not paying attention to the now familiar icy cold blast of air in the hallway, she made her way to the bathroom. She quickly showered and got dressed. Her mind still full of images of Stephanie as she made love to her, Autumn opened the door to her study.
The tall woman stopped dead in her tracks, her eyes widening in surprise. Papers were strewn all over the floor. Files she had left on her desk were now emptied on the floor. Her mind searched for an explanation of how the papers ended up on the floor.
“What in the world,” she muttered.
Shaking her head she quickly gathered the papers and stuffed them back in the folder. Still muttering she stuffed them into her briefcase and left the room. She started to close the door when a fluttering paper caught her attention. A paper on her desk fell to the ground. Autumn opened the door completely and started to close it again. Another paper flew off the desk. Satisfied with her explanation Autumn left house. As her car pulled out of the driveway the rocking chair on the porch started to rock furiously, angrily.
To be continued...
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