“Another martini, mademoiselle?” The bartender held up a crystal decanter of gin and swirled its contents. His motion caught the club's soft golden lighting, which reflected off the etched glass in prism-like patterns on the polished wooden bar.
Helen narrowed her eyes and lifted the toothpick that speared a lone remaining olive in her empty glass, twirling it in her fingertips. “No, thank you.” She studied the array of bottles on the frosted shelves behind him. “Sparkling water with lime for now, please.” She dropped the olive back into the glass and shifted, causing the green leather upholstery of the barstool to squeak as she crossed one long, elegant leg over the other and rested her supporting stiletto heel on the bar's foot railing.
The bartender nodded and quickly filled a glass with ice and the bubbly water, then placed not one, but two slices of lime on the rim and set it before her. “You expecting anyone?” He moved a few steps away to swipe up a puddle of water with a bar rag.
“Expecting?” Helen paused in mid-sip. “That might be too optimistic a term to apply to my situation.”
“I see.” He glanced over her shoulder. “I ask because a very attractive woman has been watching you from the doorway for the past five minutes.”
Helen nearly choked on her water and wiped a dribble from her chin with the back of her hand. Slowly, she turned in her seat and started to get up from the stool. “Charlotte. I'm so glad – ”
“No, no.” Charlotte held up a hand. “Don't trouble yourself on my account.” The words were curt and as Charlotte approached, Helen recognized the wariness in her eyes.
Helen looked down for a moment, then back up. “Charlotte, I'm so sorry. I –”
“Could I have a drink before we talk?” Charlotte interrupted and took the seat next to her, as she slid a small black wallet onto the bar.
“Of course. Whatever the lady desires, please, on my tab.” Helen motioned to the bartender, who had been feigning disinterest as he stacked clean glasses beneath the counter.
“Martini, please. Dirty. Stirred, not shaken.” Charlotte held out a credit card. “I'll get my own drink.”
“Yes ma'am.” The bartender quickly prepared the drink, adding a toothpick with three olives to the rim. “For the lady who knows her martinis.”
“Thank you.” Charlotte took a few tentative sips from the glass and with an approving non-verbal noise, drained half its contents before she placed it back down on the bar and finally turned in her seat to face Helen. “You're awfully self-confident for being such a bastard of an English woman.”
Helen took a deep breath and released it slowly, quelling an internal mixture of uncertainty and regret. “I deserve that.”
“Yes, you do.” Charlotte steepled her fingertips together, her elbows resting on the barstool's arms, and Helen was reminded of just how expressive Charlotte could be without saying a word. After a short, stormy glare, Charlotte reached into her pocket and retrieved a piece of stationary. “ ‘Meet me at the Bombay Club in New Orleans on Halloween evening.' No further explanation. Do you assume everyone to whom you send plane tickets will just jump up from whatever they're doing and come running to you?” With an angry motion, she crumpled up the note and mashed it flat against a drink coaster.
“I hold no such expectation, much less assumption,” Helen answered. She was out of her element and felt her way cautiously forward in the conversation, even as her insides shook with unfamiliar jittery nerves. “I only hoped – I – missed you, Charlotte, terribly.”
“Could've fooled me.” Charlotte took another sip from her martini and then bit an olive in half. Her lip-gloss, and the clear polish on her short nails shone in the low lighting, and a lock of dark hair fell across her forehead, obscuring one eye. She pushed it aside, as the wariness in her eyes gave way to hurt. “You don't call. You don't write. Just wham, bam, thank you ma'am, and then you disappear before dawn. I felt – God – I thought what we shared meant something.”
“It did mean something.” Helen looked down and grasped the stool's arms, nervously rubbing her hands along their surface. “More than you can possibly know.”
“Then why?” Charlotte leaned forward and Helen looked back up.
“It's complicated.” Helen reached across and tentatively touched Charlotte's hand, feeling it tense and then relax beneath her fingers. “I'm so sorry. I wish I could explain but I fear it would take days to give the explanation justice. Even then, my story would probably be unbelievable to you.”
Charlotte was quiet, her dark eyes intense as she gazed thoughtfully at Helen. Something in her expression softened and she looked down and flipped her hand over, tracing Helen's palm with one fingertip before she twined their fingers. Her touch was warm and, Helen hoped, inviting. Charlotte looked past their joined hands and Helen felt herself being appraised as Charlotte silently took in her dark silk stockings and the leather sling backs on her feet, then moved upward, lingering on the mid-thigh slit in her black skirt.
Their eyes met once more and Charlotte finally responded, her voice low and slightly rough. “You were bigger than life to me. I thought I was going to die there in that tiny airport, and then this doctor of ass-kicking came sweeping in to save the day. I would expect a story from you to be nothing less than unbelievable.”
A ball of inner tension began to unwind, and Helen felt her chest jerk a little bit as she took a breath. “I think I'll have that second martini now.” She looked over at the bartender, who had the good grace to acknowledge her and then look away while he poured the drink. Drawing strength from a sip of liquid fortification, she leaned closer and lifted her hand to touch Charlotte's cheek and gently stroke her soft skin.
It brought back a flood of bittersweet memories of a tropical evening washed in a salty, warm breeze. Helen closed her eyes and for a moment she was back in that place, hearing the curtains rustling at the open window and feeling the fresh clean sheets, smooth and soft beneath her, as Charlotte's breath and fingers caressed her skin. “You were a lifeline to me. I found comfort in your arms at a time in my life when there was no comfort to be had. I'm truly sorry I left without a proper goodbye.”
“When I woke up and you were gone, I felt – naked.” Charlotte's lips trembled with a brief smile. “Well, actually, I really was naked, but my soul – felt exposed – raw. I thought maybe I'd crossed some line you didn't really want to cross. That maybe you had second thoughts. Maybe that with a woman, you didn't want –”
“No. Oh, no.” Helen leaned closer still and placed a feather-light kiss to Charlotte's warm forehead. Her lips felt slightly moist as she drew in a lungful of citrusy perfume, the same scent Charlotte had worn so many months before. “I wanted everything we did – shared. It was incredible. I wanted to be with you, Charlotte, so very much. It was the timing – bloody rotten hell of timing. There were people depending on me, the world was in the balance, all my plans were coming together, but the obstacles seemed almost insurmountable and I –” Helen stopped and sat back. “I sound insane, don't I?”
“You are crazy. I'll give you that much.” Charlotte smiled again and took a sip from her drink. “I think it was the first quality that attracted me to you. I'm glad you didn't go running away because you realized you didn't like it with a woman.”
“No, not at all.” Helen tugged at the hem of her skirt and adjusted it as she uncrossed her legs. “It was ages ago, but that wasn't my first time to do the girl-on-girl tango. There was a circle of lesbian women with whom I kept company in Paris. My friend Gertrude introduced me to a few of them, and – never mind. Another story for another day.” Some things, Helen realized, might be too complex to explain on a first real date.
“Ages ago?” Charlotte laughed lightly. “You make it sound like you're the ancient mariner. How old are you, anyway, if I may ask?”
“That's complicated, too.” Helen dodged the question. “Let's just say I've been around the block a time or two.”
“More mysteries.” Charlotte shook her head and sat up, smoothing her hands down her bone-hued linen trousers. A pale peach silk blouse was tucked into them, it's short sleeves showing off nicely tanned arms. “So, Halloween in New Orleans. Why here and why now, after all this time?”
“I finally had time to get away for a little while, and neither one of us has the home field advantage here. New Orleans is romantic and Halloween is entertaining. It seemed like the right combination of elements for a reunion. I've wanted to phone you a hundred times since leaving Grande Comore. For personal reasons and more. My project would have benefitted greatly from your expertise in working with viruses, especially as they impact different species. Most of all, I just wanted to hear your voice. Not a day passed that I didn't think of you.” Helen searched Charlotte's face for forgiveness, but found accusations instead.
“I had my satellite computer. And e-mail address. I believe I gave that to you that night.” Charlotte scooted back and widened the space between them.
“I know, and I'm sorry. Things around me were spinning out of control. I had to stay strong. I was playing a very high-stakes game of chess and I couldn't take my eyes off the pieces for even a second. And you –” Helen swallowed hard and took a leap of faith. “You were the only person I had allowed myself to be vulnerable with in literally years. I was afraid, Charlotte – that night with you was a shelter from the storm my life had become. When I returned home, I was afraid to want what I desired – with you. It was too difficult. Not with the monumental task that was before me.”
“Feliz.” Charlotte scrutinized Helen, residual wariness lingering in her eyes. “He said something about funding a sanctuary for you. That was why you were on the island in the first place. Is that what you're talking about?”
“Yes!” Helen's hopes rose. After their first kiss, the reasons why they were both on the island had fallen to the wayside, un-discussed in any great detail. They had become too caught up in the wonder of discovering each other to waste precious time on shoptalk. That Charlotte remembered this after so long was encouraging. Perhaps she had also thought often of the time they shared together. “It is my life's work. And it has finally come together, thanks to him and to a team of very dear friends back home.”
“So your storm is past?” Charlotte finished off another olive.
Helen was certain she detected a sudden twinkle in Charlotte's eyes. “For now, yes.”
“And are you still afraid?” Charlotte leaned a little closer.
Helen plucked an olive from her own glass and held it out in offering. “I sent you the plane ticket, did I not?”
Charlotte moved closer still and took the olive between her lips, and with a subtle flick of her tongue she tasted Helen's thumb. The brief contact sent tingles up Helen's spine in another rush of memory and anticipation. “So.” Slowly, Charlotte chewed and swallowed, her eyes never leaving Helen's. “What else do you have planned for this mystery trip?”
Helen chuckled, a deep throaty laugh that bubbled up from her gut with unexpected joy. “Check, please.”
Out on the street, the early evening air was cool, with the tang of the dank Mississippi River on the light breeze that riffled through Helen's hair. Her heels sounded loud to her, clicking along the pavement as they meandered down Conti Street to Bourbon Street. They turned and made their way through a smallish, partly costumed crowd that would only grow larger as the sun set and the moon rose. As they passed a bar, a mix of jazz and blues music reached their ears and they paused to peer inside the doorway.
“Do you want to go in? Dance, perhaps?” Helen gestured toward a tiny dance floor where a few couples were moving smoothly to the music.
“I don't really dance, but I will if you want to.” Charlotte's voice was hesitant and Helen realized they were both unsure of themselves.
“Oh, thank God.” Helen laughed and took the lead as they continued their leisurely stroll. “I haven't danced in years. I just thought, you know, sometimes that's what people do on dates.”
“Is that what this is?” Charlotte crossed her arms over her chest but her tone was light, a hint of a smile playing at her lips. She bumped her hip against Helen's a few times as they walked. “A date? I don't get out much, but I don't think many dates start with a 26-hour plane flight from Cape Town with stops in London and Toronto.”
For a moment Helen felt foolish and wondered if she had gone too far in her efforts to rekindle their relationship, that is, if what they had shared even qualified as a relationship in the first place. Maybe Charlotte was more than tired; maybe she was weary of Helen as well. “I didn't think of all the flying, you must be exhausted. If –”
“Not tired at all. Thanks to your first class tickets, I slept like a baby from Cape Town to London. Woke up to hot tea and scones. All things considered, it was one of the better nights of sleep I've had in a while. One thing I'll say for Helen Magnus, she does know how to impress a girl. I can't wait to see what else you have on the agenda.”
“Seriously. If you're jet-lagged at all, we can simply go back to the hotel and order room service.” Helen paused as Charlotte tilted her head slightly, an amused expression on her face. “It's not – I don't want to assume that you want – what I mean to say is, the suite has two bedrooms, so if you don't want to –”
Charlotte reached over and took Helen's hand, holding it loosely as they walked. “Relax. I knew you booked a hotel. You had that valet meet me at the airport and take my bags away, remember? By the way, you're cute when you're flustered.”
“Oh. I forgot about that.” Helen couldn't decide which was more distracting, the rising heat she could feel in her own cheeks, or the delicate play of Charlotte's hand in her own. She decided the hand was winning. “For the record, I don't fluster often.”
“No? Well, given what I've seen of you in action, I can believe that. You seem rather the type that thinks quickly on her feet.” Charlotte glanced over at her. “So why are you flustered now?” She winked.
This only made Helen feel more off-balance. “Because, I was so afraid you wouldn't show at all, that I didn't plan anything beyond meeting you in the bar.” Helen's mind was a jumble of emotion and she searched for the right words. She was finding clear thought and Charlotte's light teasing to be incompatible. “Whatever possessed you to take me up on my offer after the way I treated you, I'm glad you're here.”
“Yeah? So am I.” Charlotte smiled and reached up with her free hand, pushing her own hair behind her ear, a gesture Helen found to be incredibly alluring. “Look, Helen, it's true the way you left me was pretty rotten, but the truth is, we both had big plans unfolding that would have necessitated us being apart for a while. I get that much. I just wish you would've had a little more faith in me. Whatever you were going through, I think I could have handled it. At least a note before you left would have been nice. Or, you know, you could have woken me up and had the guts to tell me you were leaving.”
“I know, and I can't apologize enough for that.” Helen's heart hurt, realizing she had treated Charlotte in a manner she herself would detest if their places were reversed– a one-night stand, sneaking away before dawn, and never calling again. “It's going to sound cliché, but I can't adequately emphasize how much it was me and not you. When we met, my life – my world – was a very dangerous place in which to live. What you saw at the airport that day was a typical day at the office for me. I had lived on the edge of death for so long, it had begun to seem normal.”
“But not even a note? Come on.” Charlotte didn't let go of her hand, but her voice cooled perceptibly.
Silently, Helen remembered every detail of that morning. She had woken up a few hours before dawn and had momentarily forgotten where she was. The sleep after their lovemaking had been dreamless and peaceful, but waking up with Charlotte had been confusing after so many years of waking up alone. Further, Charlotte's bare skin pressed against her naked back had added a sensual haze to her sleepy grasp for clarity. That had been confusing in a very different way.
Confusing for only a moment until she realized just how comfortable she was. As she weighed what she knew she would face in her future against the warm body at her back, she realized she wanted nothing more than to forget all responsibility – the Sanctuary – her team – the many Abnormals that depended on her for their very lives. A part of her wanted to leave all of that behind and spend the next month hiding away in the comfort of Charlotte's bed. And so she had run away as fast as she could.
“Helen?” Charlotte brought her out of her musings and she looked up and realized they were near Jackson Square. The Mississippi River was just across the way, its waters shimmering pale pink as the sun set somewhere behind them. “Sorry, it was just a question. If you don't want to answer –”
“No, it's alright. I was pondering that morning.” Helen squeezed Charlotte's hand and lifted it to kiss her knuckles. They kept walking, their linked arms swinging in time with their steps. “I ran, Charlotte, because I was afraid otherwise I might never leave. And I had to. I crept out of bed and into the next room, phoned the airport, and learned the only transport back to the mainland that morning was leaving in the next hour. So I gathered my belongings and left. I was afraid of my own feelings – afraid I might lose my resolve if I faced you. Now I regret how I left. You deserve better than that.”
“And your feelings?” Charlotte pressed a little harder and her brow furrowed as she looked over at Helen. Suddenly, she looked away and faced the river, her short, wavy hair blowing back behind her. “What were you feeling, exactly?”
“How many times can I say ‘it's complicated' before you slap me?” Helen found herself in a place she had been so many times before, a place that necessitated her circle of confidants remain very small. Full disclosure of the details of her life endangered not only herself, but also many others. Trust was not a gift she gave away easily. “I know you need answers, and I want to provide them, but I need some time. I don't want you to think I'm brushing you off when I say ‘it's complicated,' but it really is – complicated. I promise you, Charlotte, in time I will explain everything in order for you to understand why I behaved the way I did. Just please – not tonight. Will it suffice for now to say that while I've had a few one-night stands in my lifetime, what I felt for you – feel for you – is much much more than a passing fling?”
A peck on the cheek was her answer. “That'll do for now.” Charlotte replied softly, her lips pressed next to Helen's ear. She gave a tug to Helen's hand and jerked her own head in the direction of the square. “Come on. It sounds like there's a party over there but more importantly, I smell food and I'm hungry.”
“I'm sorry. I should have made dinner reservations for us.” Helen fished her cell phone out of her skirt pocket and opened up the maps application. “I can search for a restaurant nearby if you'd like. Locate a table where we can sit down.”
“Helen.” Charlotte stopped and turned to face her. “It's alright.” This time she went for Helen's lips. It wasn't a deep or lingering kiss, but the insistent pressure against her mouth was reassuring, and Helen had just enough sense remaining to return it, reaching up and cradling the back of Charlotte's head. It was sweet, echoing that first, surprising kiss they'd shared on Grande Comore.
As they separated, Charlotte reached over, touching Helen's face. “I'm here. It's okay. I kind of like this fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants thing we've got going. Let's go see what's happening over there, get us some food cart food, maybe a couple of hurricanes in Solo cups, and see what kind of trouble we can find. Sound good?”
“Sounds perfect.” Helen pocketed the phone and allowed Charlotte to lead her toward the beating of drums that boomed up through the pavement beneath her feet, exactly matching the beat of her heart. Charlotte skillfully cut a path through the crowd that separated them from the source of the delicious scents wafting across Jackson Square, all the while making certain that she didn't let go of Helen's hand.
Helen hadn't thought too much about the dynamics between them, but she realized that both of them were inclined to want to drive. For the moment, however, she realized she was enjoying being led about. It gave her the opportunity to observe the enticing sway of Charlotte's hips as she walked, and the sexy way she moved as she twisted and turned through the crowd.
Then there was Charlotte's arm extended out behind her, her hand clasping Helen's, their joined fists resting against the small of Charlotte's back. She could feel the play of muscles as Charlotte walked, and the slight brush of a butt cheek against Helen's hand from time to time as Charlotte changed directions. Memories of smooth skin and muscles beneath her hands came flooding back, and a longing slowly began to rise inside.
A charming smile increasingly graced Charlotte's lips as they chatted about everything going on around them – the musicians and dancers in the square, the adults and costumed children running around, and the plethora of food and drink offerings available from the carts lined up all along the street on one side of the square, which was actually a circle.
The idle chatter between them was a relief after weeks of worry that their meeting might go badly, or worse, that Charlotte might just throw the plane tickets away and tell her to go to Hell. Slowly, Helen could feel more tension melting away between them, replaced by a comfortable, playful way of relating to each other. More and more frequently, Charlotte leaned in to speak directly into Helen's ear so that she could be heard over the crowd, her easy laughter tickling Helen's skin. With one such amused exchange, Helen took advantage of the opportunity and slid one arm across Charlotte's shoulders, in a motion that felt completely natural.
As dusk gave way to darkness, lines began to form at each of the carts, and the crowd grew and gradually filled the area. Charlotte looked around and spotted a cart near the end of the row, and shrugged at Helen in question. “Appears satisfactory to me,” Helen responded. Charlotte squeezed Helen's waist, giving a little pat to her hip, and they continued their idle conversation as they made their way slowly to the front of the line. After they collected two orders of battered shrimp and French fries, and two cups of hurricanes, they stood for a long moment on the sidewalk, searching for a place to sit among the masses.
“Let's get out of the crowd for a while.” Charlotte guided Helen across the street from the square and past the French Quarter Visitor's Center, to the walkway along the riverfront. Half a block down, they found an empty bench facing the water and sat down to tackle their meal.
“Fish and chips, the fast food of my people.” Helen took a bite of shrimp, tearing the tail away and dropping it onto a napkin. She washed it down with a few swallows of the hurricane, its sugary contents a little foreign to her usual tastes. It was, she realized, a night for being out of her element and so she took another sip, this time savoring the fruity beverage as she committed the moment to memory.
“One of these days, I need to get back to London for more than just a plane change.” Charlotte finished her shrimp and set the carton aside. “That – don't take that as an assumption on my part,” she hastily added. “I like London, liked it even before we met.”
“I won't take it as an assumption, if you won't take it as an assumption that I set-up your return flight with an option to stopover in London.” Helen gazed steadily across at the twinkling lights on a passing barge, then gathered her courage and glanced over at Charlotte. “I wasn't sure where you stand with your research project, or how much leisure time you have, but I thought, just in case –”
“You know.” Charlotte scooted along the bench until their legs were pressed together. “I didn't drag you away from the square just to find a better place to sit.”
“No? I thought you were weary of the crowd.” Helen finished her hurricane and placed the empty cup inside her empty shrimp container, then reached over and rested her hand on Charlotte's leg. She could feel the warmth of her through the crisp linen trousers and the flexing of her thigh muscles as Charlotte leaned closer.
“I did want to get away from the crowd.” Charlotte's breath warmed Helen's cheek, and she felt a kiss just below her ear. “But what I wanted most was to get you alone. I was angry with you when I first arrived, but I'm not now. I wasn't planning to give you the satisfaction, but I can't help it. I've missed you, too, Helen. Every day. We've defeated international terrorists together, seen each other naked, and shared one amazing, passionate night. I don't want any more of this damned crazy awkwardness. I'd like to get back to us. Do you think we can find that again?
Helen turned and draped her arm across Charlotte's shoulders. “I think if we put a little effort into it, we can.” As she closed the distance between them, she allowed her emotions to take over. Her desire rose so quickly that it took her breath away, and she kissed Charlotte with the longing of all their months of separation, tasting her sweetness as their tongues swirled together. Slowly, she stroked Charlotte's thigh and squeezed it, then trailed her fingertips upward, her hand finally coming to rest, curled around Charlotte's rib cage just below a tempting breast.
Their chests rose and fell with some effort as they eased back, though their arms remained circled around each other. Charlotte moaned softly, then pressed her forehead against Helen's, their audible breath mingling warmly between them. “I think I'm ready to see that hotel room now.”
Helen smiled and pecked her on the nose. “That can be arranged.” She stood and held out her hand to Charlotte, pulling her up from the bench. They paused to share another lingering kiss beside the river, then Helen took the lead back toward the street where she held up a hand at a row of cab drivers just off the square. “Taxi!”
The cab ride was a blur of delighted discussion of the city's Halloween bustle and the creative costumes that littered the sidewalks, mingled with several stolen kisses. But despite vows to vanquish the awkwardness, as the driver pulled into the Windsor Court Hotel's circular driveway, both women grew silent and they exchanged a nervous glance.
Charlotte peered past Helen out the cab window and smiled. “Excellent choice, Dr. Magnus.”
“I'm glad you approve.” The driver opened the back door and Helen stepped out of the cab. She offered Charlotte a hand up but once they were both on solid footing, they released their hold and walked quietly side by side into the hotel lobby.
“Wow, nice.” Charlotte stopped and stared. Intricate rugs graced marble floors that gave way to cozy, plush conversation areas and ornate columns that supported artistically-decorated ceiling panels.
“I can't wait for you to see the room.” Helen gave her a nudge past the stately front desk toward a bank of elevators. They entered one of the cars and she pulled a key card from her skirt pocket and swiped it through an electronic reader, then pressed the button marked ‘P,' and the elevator began its ascent.
“Helen, that is not just a room, it's the penthouse, isn't it?” Charlotte frowned but it didn't last, and she smiled with a hint of anticipation in her eyes.
“If I'm going to court an unforgettable woman, it might behoove me to provide her with an unforgettable experience,” Helen replied in a near-whisper, then looked down and shifted uneasily from one leg to the other, realizing how glad she would be to get out of her heels and off her feet. As for the rest of the evening, she was guardedly hopeful despite the re-emergence of the maddening shyness between them. A gentle touch to her arm made her look up, uncertain of what she might find.
“You already did that, back on Grande Comore.” Charlotte tucked her hand into the crook of Helen's elbow, just as the elevator doors opened onto a small, elegant private lobby.
With another swipe of the card, Helen opened the penthouse door and they stepped inside. A fire was burning in the fireplace, and on a nearby sideboy there was a tea service set-up on a tray, complete with water in an electronic pot to keep it hot. “Oh, good, they remembered the tea I ordered.” Helen turned around. “Charlotte?”
“In here,” Charlotte's voice sounded from the adjacent kitchen. She emerged, carrying a platter. “They also left us Halloween cookies.” She held out an orange-iced sugar cookie that looked like a jack-o-lantern.
Helen took a bite and reached up, cupping her hand below her own mouth as a few crumbs escaped and fell to the floor. “Mmmm.” She nodded her approval and then crossed the room to a chair beside the fire, where she sat down and kicked off her shoes, feeling the rush of blood to her toes as she gingerly stretched out her arches after their prolonged imprisonment. “Dear God, that feels divine.” She wiggled her toes in contentment and glanced over at Charlotte, and smiled. “Do our accommodations still meet with your approval?” she teased.
Charlotte rolled her eyes and laughed. “Not too shabby. Look at that view.” She walked over to a set of sliding glass doors and opened one, letting in the scent of the river and the sound of Halloween revelers below, which was not really so noisy given the distance from the penthouse to the street. “You want a cup of tea?” She turned back around to face Helen.
“That would be lovely.” Now that they had talked and walked, and re-broken the ice, Helen found herself in a half-dreamy state, tempted to pinch herself to make sure it was all real, that Charlotte really was there in the same room with her after so many months of trying to ignore the emptiness she'd felt after their time together on the island.
Charlotte also kicked off her shoes and padded across the floor to the tea service. She reached behind herself and absently adjusted her panties beneath her trousers, causing Helen's stomach to flutter in anticipation. “Earl Grey, no cream or sugar?” Charlotte poured hot water into two cups and looked over her shoulder at Helen.
“Yes, please. I can't believe you remember that.” Helen smiled and received a warm smile in return.
“I remember everything.” Charlotte turned back to her task as she spoke, and Helen noted a slight shaking of her hand as she attempted to open a tea bag packet.
Thinking that perhaps her watching the tea preparation was making Charlotte nervous, Helen got up and wandered over to the suite's baby grand piano, opened the lid, and trailed her fingers along the keys, then sat down at the bench and began to play Tchaikovsky's “Autumn Song .” She heard a slight surprised intake of breath, but continued with the music, while remembering attending the composer's first concert in London with her father when she was a young girl. She wondered if it was a memory she would ever share with Charlotte.
“That's appropriate.” Charlotte approached the piano and set Helen's tea cup down on a small table nearby. “I didn't know you played.”
“It's been a long time, but yes, among other pursuits, I took piano lessons for several years. You might say I've been blessed with excellent time-management skills.” Helen finished the song and launched immediately into another.
“Lovely.” Charlotte sat down next to her on the bench and placed one hand at the small of Helen's back. “I'm not familiar with that one.”
“ MacDowell's ‘Sonata Eroica' .” Helen smiled at the encouraging touch. “ ‘Heroic'. Not to be confused with ‘erotic'.”
“Thanks for that clarification,” Charlotte drolly replied. With a little pat to Helen's backside, she got up and retrieved her own cup of tea, then returned to her seat on the piano bench.
Helen played out the last notes of the piece and then picked up her teacup, inhaling the familiar steamy scent. “I suppose I should drink this before it gets cold. Thank you for making it.”
“My pleasure.” Charlotte drained her own cup and wrapped an arm around Helen's waist, resting her chin on her shoulder. “Can't believe I'm actually here.”
“Neither can I.” Helen quickly finished her tea and set the empty cup on the piano. She felt Charlotte's hand on her thigh and turned, meeting her lips in a slow, promising kiss. “But I'm really glad you are.” She kissed Charlotte again, this time with more passion, raising both hands and cradling her face. Trailing one hand downward, she plucked at small pearl buttons and got a few of them open, then gave a tug to the blouse itself, freeing it from Charlotte's trousers.
She slipped one hand beneath the blouse and placed it flat against Charlotte's stomach, feeling the intake of breathe before Charlotte nipped her lower lip. “Is this alright?” Helen stroked her skin lightly and slid upward, curling her hand around Charlotte's ribs as she had by the riverside, this time feeling her softness without the barrier of clothing.
Charlotte's rib cage expanded beneath Helen's fingers, then she released a warm, quick breath against Helen's neck. “Uh-huh.” She nodded and sat back, her lips parted in a sensual smile. Her eyes searched Helen's in question, and then she scooted back and stood up, holding out a hand.
Helen accepted the invitation and rose to her feet, laughing lightly as Charlotte pulled her into her arms and they kissed for a long while. She could feel Charlotte's hands at her back, and a couple of pulls at her skirt's waistband, then the sound of the skirt's zipper being lowered. The garment dropped to the floor at her feet, and then Charlotte worked her way up, unzipping her blouse at the back and worrying two small hooks open.
With a sigh, Charlotte took a step back and grasped Helen's sleeves, pulling the blouse off and tossing it to the floor. “More beautiful than my memories.” Charlotte paused to drink in the sight of her and Helen could feel her skin warming, despite her near-nakedness. “No panties with your pantyhose? Naughty girl.” Charlotte pressed against her and quickly divested Helen of her bra. With a little noise of pleasure, she trailed kisses along Helen's shoulder, while her hands wandered in lazy patterns up and down Helen's back.
Helen's desire ratcheted up several notches and she closed her eyes, feeling a hand slip around front to cup her breast, sending a jolt of desire through her that almost caused her knees to give out before she steadied herself. “Would you care for a tour of the penthouse before we do this?” Despite her growing need, she couldn't help but tease Charlotte, whose own obvious need was adorable in its intensity.
“You're kidding, right?” Charlotte stopped just short of another kiss.
“Yes, I am.” A flat palm smacked Helen's behind and she grinned. Returning to the task at hand, she finished unbuttoning Charlotte's blouse, then removed it along with her trousers and bra. “Better,” Helen commented, and felt herself being backed toward the fireplace. “The Master suite is in the opposite direction,” she helpfully informed her determined companion, while looking down to make sure she didn't trip over anything.
“Later.” Charlotte continued leading their impromptu dance and reached her goal. They kissed again and Helen trailed her hands down Charlotte's bare back, grasping her backside and kneading firm flesh. She paused in her explorations and gasped, when Charlotte eased a knee between her legs. “I think the fireside will do nicely for the first round.”
“First –” Helen gasped again as Charlotte made more insistent contact. “Round? Dear God.”
A few hours later, Helen lay on her side with Charlotte spooning her from behind. Charlotte had one knee pressed between Helen's legs and she stroked Helen's hip idly with her fingertips. Both women were pleasantly sated and on the edge of sleep, as they exchanged sparse conversation and constant, comforting touches. They had left the living room fireside and now occupied the master bedroom, which also had a fireplace, it's hot glow blazing across the room from them.
Helen dreamily replayed their lovemaking in her mind. Her body had caught fire with surprising force, and they had taken turns pleasuring each other first in front of the living room fireplace, then in the suite's Jacuzzi tub, and finally in the big, comfortable bed they now shared. Her senses were still on heightened awareness, and she could feel every fiber of the soft, cotton sheets that draped their naked skin. Charlotte's scent lingered on her fingertips and in her lungs, and she sighed softly, remembering the moment she'd first surrendered to climax, lost in Charlotte's gentle, skillful touch, playing Helen's body like a fine instrument.
“I'd been dreaming of this night for a very long time,” Helen commented quietly. “The reality far exceeded the dream.”
“You flatter me,” Charlotte responded in a low, sexy voice. Helen felt a trail of soft, wet kisses up her spine and a final little shiver worked its way through her system. “Cold?” Charlotte paused and tugged the blanket up from the foot of the bed and arranged it over the sheet that covered them.
“No. Feels wonderful.” Helen rolled partway onto her back and drew Charlotte to her for a short kiss, followed by a longer one that touched places deep inside of her, tempting her senses with the possibility of allowing things to heat up all over again. But they were both tired and after a few tentative touches, they put a mutual, silent rein on their passion.
Charlotte rose onto one forearm and stroked Helen's face and then her hair, playing with the long dark locks. “What if I told you I think I'm falling in love with you, Helen Magnus?” She looked down, her eyes focused somewhere around Helen's breastbone, and she pressed her lips together.
Helen touched her chin and forced eye contact. “I'd say I'm glad one of us found the courage to express something we both feel.”
“Is that complicated?” Charlotte's face was earnest, her eyes searching Helen's for reassurance.
A sigh escaped Helen's lips and she immediately smiled to downplay its significance. Reaching up, she stroked Charlotte's cheek and then closed her eyes as Charlotte turned her head and kissed her palm, then held it against her face. “If I said ‘no,' I'd be lying to you. But I promise you I'll still be here when you wake up in the morning.”
“And tomorrow we'll talk?” Charlotte's expression was warmly affectionate, with no hint of pressure in her tone.
“Tomorrow we'll begin to talk,” Helen gently corrected her, brushing her thumb against Charlotte's face, relieved when she nodded her head a little in agreement. “The suite is reserved for us for three days and nights, Charlotte. If we need more time after that to work things out, nothing will stop me from finding it for us.”
“I want to be with you Helen,” Charlotte responded with conviction. “As often as possible.”
“And I want that as well.” Helen smiled and they kissed again, this time in promise of things to come.
“Goodnight, Charlotte.” Helen rolled to her side and felt her lover spoon up against her once more. Charlotte wrapped her arm around Helen and her hand came to rest against Helen's breast, cupping it protectively. Her nipple reacted for a moment, but then her body relaxed and she sighed contentedly, closing her eyes. “That feels nice.”
“Sweet dreams, Helen.” Charlotte placed a kiss at the base of her neck. “Love you.”
“I love you, too.” It had been decades since Helen had said those three little words to anyone who wasn't a close friend or family member, but she knew she felt them with complete sincerity. This was love, no doubt.
With a smile and a sense of inner contentment, she closed her eyes and gave herself over to the call of slumber. She could feel Charlotte's deep measured breaths stirring the hair at the back of her head, indicating she was already asleep, or close to it. There would be plenty of time to sort out emotions and discuss the future. It was complicated, not impossible.
The End? A Pause? I do not know yet.
Mail me maybe?