the loose jeans
"Why are you fighting this?"
Cassie looked at her best friend coolly over the rim of her coffee cup, then slowly lowered her lashes, dismissing the comment with an ease that surprised her.
"Why must we always have this discussion?" she asked.
"Because I cant stand to see you wasting away like this," Kim said.
"Im hardly wasting away," Cassie replied, slowly pulling her eyes from Kim and glancing out the window at the approaching evening.
"You know what I mean."
"Yes, I know," Cassie said, letting out a long sigh. "I just dont know why its so important to you. The whole worlds not gay, Kim. I happen to like David."
"Oh shit! You cant be serious!" Kim jumped from her usual chair to stand in front of Cassie, blocking her view of the window. "Hes a farmer, for Gods sake! Not even organic. He probably votes Republican."
Cassie laughed, and tucked her legs more securely under her. "Im sure he does," she said calmly. "I still like him."
"At least Paul was an artist. At least you had something in common with him," Kim continued.
"Yes, we had something in common. We both preferred men," Cassie said dryly.
"At least Paul was sincere enough to finally admit that. Youre still living in denial regarding your own sexuality."
"Kim, Im so tired of having this discussion with you. Im perfectly capable of having lesbian friends without being a lesbian. I know you find this hard to believe," she added, "but not everyone is gay." She smiled at her friend gently. "I accept you like you are. Why cant you just accept me?"
"Because I know you, thats why. Youre thirty-three years old and one of these days youll stop trying to find Mr. Right." Kim looked at her for a moment. "Have you ever really looked in a mirror, Cass?"
Cassie put her coffee cup down, long weary of this discussion. "Shouldnt you be getting home? Lisas probably worried about you."
"Lisa wont be back from the city until late," Kim said. "And dont change the subject. Ive been there myself, Cass. God, when I found myself attracted to another woman, I nearly went crazy. I dated a dozen men, slept with half of them and convinced myself that I was in love with one of them."
"Yes. I went to your wedding, remember?"
"Yes. And why didnt you stop me?"
"I tried, if you recall," Cassie said, remembering how Kim had cried when she confessed that she had slept with a woman, and how Kim had cried again when she told her that she was getting married. And Cassie was hardly the one to try to talk her out of it. What did she know about it? She just remembered how totally unhappy Kim was and she told her to wait a few months before she decided anything. But Kim had been too scared to wait.
Now Cassie wished she had never told Kim about David. She knew Kim would only bring up this old argument. As sure as Cassie was that she would never enter into a lesbian relationship, she would never tell Kim that she found little attraction in men. Perhaps she was destined to live her life alone, without a husband, a partner, a companion. She was thirty-three years old and had never been in love. Had not even been close, she admitted. And Kim was right about David, they had nothing in common. He was just an attractive man that had asked her out, and she found his company acceptable. That was all. She would not sleep with him. She had not shared her bed with anyone in a very long time. That was something else she found unsettling. She had no desire for sex. She suffered through the few kisses she would allow her dates, but she always ended things when she felt the next step would lead to bed. This was something else she would not admit to Kim.
"Its all because of your father, isnt it?"
"Oh, Kim, please. Weve already been down that road. A hundred times," she added.
"Just because hes condemned me, I hardly think he would disown his own daughter."
Cassie stared at her, picturing herself telling her father, the Reverend Parker, that she was a lesbian. It would send him to his death. Or hers. But that hardly mattered anymore. It wasnt like they were close. It wasnt like she relied on him for anything. He was just the only family she had.
"Hes already condemned me, just for living here. That and my profession."
Kim sighed and lifted her arms in defeat. "How long have we been friends?"
Cassie smiled. "Twelve years."
"Thirteen. We werent even twenty."
"Both starving," Cassie added.
"Like were famous artists now," Kim said sarcastically.
"Were hardly starving."
"No. Weve done pretty well."
Cassie relaxed again, thankful the conversation was moving away from her personal life.
"How many pieces will you bring to the show next week?" Kim asked.
"I have seven or eight large pieces that are ready. At least that many more that Im still working on, but Ill save them for the fair in October," Cassie said. "I didnt have nearly enough last year."
"Well, if you would quit doing the small trinkets and concentrate on the sculptures, you could have quite a showing."
"Yeah, but its the small stuff that pays the bills," Cassie reminded her.
Cassie stood for a long moment, staring back at her reflection in the mirror. She brushed the hair from her eyes and let out a deep sigh. As a child, shed always wished for blonde hair but she was still cursed with that in-between color. Too dark to be blonde but not nearly dark enough to be brown. She took both hands and ran it through the sides of her hair, tucking the short strands behind her ears. She kept it too short. Perhaps that was why she had a tendency to attract more women than men. And she had to admit, she fit the perfect stereotype: short hair, little or no makeup. Casual. Natural. But it wasnt a sexual statement she was making. She had always worn her hair short and she had never been one for makeup, even during her college days when she actually thought about dating men.
Now, she simply didnt want the bother. Besides, she liked things natural. That was why she left most of her woodcarvings in their natural state. That was why she was a vegetarian.
But still, Kims words haunted her. She should just come right out and tell her. Kim was her closest friend. If she couldnt confide in Kim, then who? But she had avoided the subject for so long, it had just become second nature to her. And it hadnt been that many years ago that she had finally admitted it to herself. Gay. A lesbian. She lifted humorless eyes and stared at her reflection in the mirror. Yes, she could admit it now. Why not? It wasnt like she was going to act on it.
It had been at least five years ago before she had actually been able to consider the possibility. She was always more comfortable around women, yes, but that didnt mean she was attracted to them. But she wasnt attracted to men, either. And she had several lesbian friends, it was true. Did she have any straight friends? But in this small community filled with artists, wineries, organic farms and vegetarians, the lesbian and gay population was hardly closeted. And she knew a lot of them. Most of them. Despite her fathers warnings.
She remembered that day so clearly, the day Kim had told her she was leaving her husband, that she wasnt going to live a lie any longer. Her father had been home. He had overheard. Poor Kim. Her father had whipped out his worn bible and proceeded to quote from it with ease, his booming voice still able to send chills down her spine. He had sent Kim away, warning her to stay away from his daughter. Cassie stood up to him that day, one of only a few times that she could remember. Kim was her friend, she had told him, and he didnt pick her friends anymore. Guilt by association, he had boomed at her. They were all damned to hell and she best not be too close to them when the time came for God to clean up!
She lifted one corner of her mouth in amusement. She could smile now. The fear that her father instilled in her during her childhood was all but gone. She rarely saw him more than once a year. All they did was argue anyway. "An artist! By God, I raised you better. And living out here with them, thick as thieves, dont think I cant see it!"
She had bought her house in Sonoma County six years ago, when prices were still somewhat reasonable and he had come exactly twice to see her. To preach to her, she corrected. But she didnt want to go there. Not tonight.
She reached up to turn out the light, but not before she caught the sad reflection in her blue eyes. She loved him, but only because he was her father and she was supposed to love him. But she knew without a doubt that she did not like him.
She lay in bed that night, her thoughts going to her mother, but she stopped them, as she usually did. Instead, she thought about the carving she had started that morning. When she had found the piece of wood on the beach, she very nearly passed it by. It was small and she was looking for something much larger. But when she rolled it over, she saw that it was well weathered and very heavy. She had positioned it several different ways, trying to find something, an image that she could transform it into. Then she had looked out over the rocks and saw the seal, sunning itself, its wide eyes never leaving her and she stood the piece of wood up, its sleek curves mirroring that of the seal and she knew instantly what the driftwood would become.
She still thought it amazing that she could see things in ordinary pieces of wood. She had perfected her craft by doing hundreds of small carvings and selling them to the shops in San Francisco, but her real love was creating the giant wood carvings that sometimes took a month to finish. She had been lucky, selling enough of them to get by, gradually able to command the prices that she felt her work was worth. She sold all eleven pieces at last years county fair and was finally able to slow down and work mainly on the giant carvings that would each bring several thousand dollars.
She was finally satisfied with her professional life. Maybe that was why she could find little contentment in her personal life anymore. But she was used to being alone and this period of self-pity would pass, as it always did.
"Listen to this," Lisa said, pointing to the morning paper. "Says here that they are expecting the Labor Day Festival to draw nearly as many people as the County Fair this year."
"Thats good news for us," Kim said. "Did I tell you Steve bought three more of my paintings for his store?" she asked Cassie.
"No. Good for you." Cassie put her coffee cup down and motioned for a refill. "I guess hes not having any trouble selling them."
"The seascapes always do well, although Im getting bored with them," she said.
"Honey, take what you can get," Lisa said, reaching out a hand from behind the paper to rub her partners knee. Cassie smiled at the unconscious affection Lisa displayed. Lisa was the only one with a normal job but she knew full well the struggles of trying to make a living as an artist.
"I know, I just want to do something a little more exciting," Kim said.
"Then try it," Cassie encouraged. "The last thing you want is to get stagnant."
"Like you said, its the small stuff that pays the bills. I am working on something that is a little abstract, though not without form," she said. "Very different from what I normally do."
"I cant wait to see it," Cassie said sincerely. She knew Kim had wanted to try different styles for years now but had been afraid. She had made a name for herself in natural seascapes and didnt want to damage that.
"She hasnt even let me see it," Lisa complained.
"Thats because . . . good Lord, will you look at those legs," Kim whispered, staring down the sidewalk past the outdoor cafe.
"My, my," Lisa echoed quietly.
Cassie followed their gaze, her eyes locking on the back of tanned, muscled thighs. Khaki shorts prevented any other exploration and she only glanced at the thin, white shirt tucked neatly inside. Dark, nearly black hair was cut very short above the womans ears and Cassie watched as the stranger stopped and casually shoved both hands into her pockets as she looked around. Cassie turned back to the table and picked up her empty coffee cup, embarrassed for having stared.
"I dont recognize her. Must be a tourist," Kim said.
"With legs like that, she should be a model," Lisa added.
"Shes probably a dog," Kim said. "Wait until she turns around."
"Will you two stop," Cassie hissed under her breath. "Really, youd think youre never around women."
"Come on, turn around," Lisa said softly, ignoring Cassie.
"Jesus, Mary and Joseph," Kim whispered.
Cassie looked up and again followed their gaze. The woman had turned and was facing them. She was beautiful, staggeringly beautiful, and Cassie felt her breath catch in her throat as the woman walked toward them.
"You know, if we worked out, we could have legs like that," Kim said quietly.
"Yes, but that would mean wed have to exercise," Lisa said.
Cassie tried to pull her eyes away, she wanted to pull her eyes away, but they refused to obey. They left the beautiful face and lingered briefly on small breasts, wondering crazily if she wore a bra, then locked again on legs before making the return trip. She gasped when her blue eyes were captured by dark brown ones, and she found she could not take a breath until the woman mercifully released her and looked away.
Hadnt she always known, and secretly feared, that this day would come? That she would see some woman and feel that attraction, that pull that she couldnt resist. She could lie to Kim all she wanted but she couldnt lie to herself. She shuddered inwardly, acknowledging the fire that was simmering inside of her. For years, she had been able to keep these feelings at bay. But one look at this woman and her carefully constructed wall had crumbled. Thank goodness she was a tourist, a stranger. At least it was a woman she would never see again. Walls could be rebuilt.
"Hey, earth to Cassie," Kim said, poking her arm playfully. "You still with us?"
"Hmmm?" Cassie blinked several times, trying desperately to stop her hand from trembling as she again put her coffee cup on the table. "Sorry. What?"
Kim smiled and glanced after the woman who had now passed their table. "Nice, huh?"
Cassie nodded. "Yes. Attractive." She tried to convince herself that she had been looking at the woman with envy and not desire. It was a start to rebuilding that wall, anyway. "Perhaps we should take up jogging," she said lightly. "We could all stand to lose a few pounds."
"Perhaps we should take up something else," Kim said with a wink.
"Please dont start," Cassie said. "Im not in the mood."
"Kim, leave her alone," Lisa warned.
"Thank you," Cassie said quietly. She rested her elbows on the table and stared at Kim. "Do I need to bring up David again?"
"Please dont," Kim said with a laugh. "I dont want to spoil breakfast."
But it was already spoiled for Cassie. She drove home with the windows open, wishing for a cigarette, something she had not done in years. The rolling hills sped by without notice as she stared straight ahead, her mind on only one thing.
How could one simple glance at a woman bring such fear to her? Perhaps she wasnt as immune to her fathers words of eternal damnation as she thought.
"I wasnt attracted to her . . . I was simply looking at a beautiful person," she said out loud. She shoved her sunglasses on to avoid seeing the truth reflected back at her from the mirror and drove on in silence, convinced she would be over this by evening.
But when she got home, she called David. They had not made plans this weekend. She had told him she would be too busy preparing for the upcoming art show but now she wanted his company. She would invite him over to dinner and she would let him kiss her and hopefully, she would feel something, anything to make her forget the way her pulse had raced earlier today.
"I dont really miss the meat in here," David said, taking another piece of the lasagna.
"Whats to miss?" Cassie asked dryly.
"Oh, come on," David said with a smile. "Dont you ever just want to plop a nice, juicy steak on the grill?"
Cassie eyed him coolly over her wineglass, then raised her chin. "I dont particularly care for dead cows bleeding on my grill," she said. "I prefer the smell of roasting vegetables."
David shook his head but smiled. "I dont think I could go without meat for too many meals, but once in awhile is fine," he said.
Cassie had told herself she would try with David, so she let that comment go unanswered. Instead, she filled both of their wineglasses and pretended to enjoy his company.
"How long have you been this way?" he asked as he swirled the Merlot.
She raised her eyes slowly. "What way is that?"
She shrugged. "When I was old enough to start cooking for myself."
"My father said I was going through a phase and it would pass," she said. "Actually, one of my high school teachers described what a slaughterhouse was like and that pretty much did it for me."
"Well, you just dont think about it."
"Well, we should think about it." She set her wineglass on the table, preparing to launch into a speech. "And if not only for the cruelty to the animals, what about all the agricultural land and water that is devoted solely to raising and feeding cattle when we should be growing food for human consumption."
"Whoa, now," David said, raising his hands. "I dont want to get into an argument with you. We have different opinions on this one, Im afraid."
She leaned back and tried to relax. "Yes, I guess we do. I dont suppose you want to discuss organic farming?" she asked with a smile.
"Lets dont," he said. "In fact, I wanted to ask you about your work. You dont know how many times Ive been to Potters and have never thought to ask about the squirrel they have sitting on the counter. Then today, there was this woman asking who had done it and I was surprised to hear your name. You said you did wood sculptures and I guess I had no idea what you really did."
"I gave Carl that squirrel four years ago," she said. "I generally do larger pieces now."
She didnt want to talk about her work. She didnt want to share this with him, she realized. He would not understand how each piece became so very personal to her, even the small trinkets, as Kim called them.
"How is it that youve lived here six years and weve just now met?" he asked.
Just lucky, I guess. But she stifled her grin and answered tactfully.
"I doubt we have any of the same friends." They had literally run into each other at the grocery store, him knocking her flat on her backside as he had hurried into her isle. His way of apology was to offer her lunch. Cassie was too embarrassed to decline.
"You hang out with artists, I guess?"
She shrugged. "Im an artist. I do know some of the local farmers, though." She raised her eyebrows and grinned. "I hang out at farmers markets, too."
"Buying only organic vegetables, no doubt," he said sarcastically.
She stared at him for a moment. "No doubt," she said dryly, realizing that she didnt like this man in the least. Why had it taken three dates for her to figure it out?
After dinner, she offered to make coffee but he declined. He wasnt too fond of French vanilla, he said. She was thankful.
"We can sit and visit, if you like," he offered.
"Actually, I have some work to do, David. I hope you dont mind, but Id like to call it a night."
"Oh, of course," he said immediately. "Im glad we got to spend some time together. I know how busy you are."
He walked over and took her hands and she steeled herself for the kiss she knew was about to come.
"Thanks for dinner. I enjoyed it." He lowered his head to hers, but she stepped back.
"Listen, David . . . Im sorry," she said, pulling her hands away. "This isnt going to work."
"What do you mean?"
"Us. This." She smiled at him. "Were just . . . too different. And Id like to be able to meet you on the street someday and consider you a friend and not an ex-boyfriend, you know what I mean?"
He sighed and shoved his hands in his pockets. "I guess. I feel kinda lost out there anyway. I mean, Im nearly forty. I picked a hell of a time to start dating again. Half the women in this town are gay or theyre into saving the earth and picket my farm because I wont go organic or theyre vegetarian and despise me because I keep a few cattle . . . oh, I didnt mean you, Cassie."
She smiled. "Its okay. No offense. I havent taken to picketing farms yet."
"Well, let me get out of here. Ive enjoyed meeting you, if nothing else," he said.
"Thank you. Im sure Ill see you around town." She waited politely beside the door until he had started his car and driven off.
She leaned against the closed door and shut her eyes. The only good thing to come of the evening was that she had not thought about the woman she had seen earlier that morning. She shoved away from the door. Not much, anyway.
Cassie sat down and picked up the piece of wood and started carving. She found that people liked to watch her while she worked and it helped sell the smaller carvings that she now had lined up on the table.
Her booth was roped off, a large 10 x 12 area, with tables lining three sides. The fourth side was reserved for the giant carvings she had positioned there. She sat under the shade of an umbrella and looked around at the milling crowd, still small at this early hour but growing. She recognized a familiar figure walking towards her and she lifted a hand in greeting.
Paul ducked gracefully under the rope after dodging a family of five.
"Quite a crowd already," he said after placing a friendly kiss on Cassies cheek. "Jeffs worried he didnt bring enough."
Jeff did beautiful pencil sketchings and framed them using salvaged wood from old barns in the area. Jeff was the man that Paul had fallen in love with.
"So, things are working out for you two?" she asked.
"Yes. Things are wonderful, Cass. Ive never been so happy."
"Well, I was hoping that was the reason I hadnt seen you in awhile," she said.
"Im sorry," he apologized. His face showed genuine dismay and Cassie smiled and took his hand.
"Oh, Im teasing, Paul. I know how happy you are. Its written all over your face."
"And how are you doing? The last time we talked, you seemed so down."
"Down? Did I? No, just preoccupied with my work, most likely," she said, trying to convince him as well as herself.
"Well, I better get back. I just wanted to say hello. Good luck today," he called.
She watched him go, smiling as he hurried back to Jeff. Now there was a man she had something in common with. He was an artist, a vegetarian, and he didnt get on with his parents, either. And so she had tried with him. There just hadnt been any passion between them. They were always the best of friends and could talk for hours, but whenever they tried to move their relationship to another level, it stalled. Their kisses were nothing more than affectionate. They were never in any danger of losing control. Actually, it was almost as if they had to remind themselves that they were supposed to be dating. Then he met Jeff and it all made sense to them. Well, it explained Pauls actions anyway. It didnt exactly explain Cassies.
When she thought about it now, it was almost a relief that Paul had met Jeff. If there was ever a man she thought she could be with, it had been Paul. He was a gentle, soft-spoken, kind man. But it was nearly exhausting trying to invent feelings where there were none.
"These are beautiful."
Cassie raised her head and smiled at the couple who had stopped to admire her carvings.
"Thanks. Youre welcome to pick them up," she offered.
The woman touched a fawn, one of Cassies favorites and she saw her eyes light up and knew instantly that they would buy it.
"How do you do it?" she asked Cassie.
Cassie stood and carried the piece she had been working on. "It starts like this," she said, holding up the wood she had just begun carving. "This is going to be a squirrel. At least, if I have enough wood left for the tail." She picked another piece out of the box under the table and showed it to them as well. "This was supposed to be a squirrel, too, but as you can see, no tail."
"How did you learn how to do this?" the man asked.
She shrugged. "Some people can paint . . . I carve." How did she tell someone that it just came naturally?
Out of the corner of her eye she glimpsed a woman admiring the large golden eagle standing nearly three feet tall from its base. She turned to watch the woman, to see her reaction to her work and she actually felt her breath catch in her chest. Its her.
"I really like the deer. How much is it?" the woman asked.
Cassie swallowed with difficulty and made herself smile at the couple. "Seventy-five. All of these smaller ones range up to one twenty-five." Then she pointed to the end where an assortment of larger squirrels sat. "Except them. The larger squirrels there are all two hundred."
"Is seventy-five too much, Mark?"
"No. If you like it, well get it," he said.
Cassie turned again to watch the woman squatting beside the eagle, unmindful of the sign that warned her not to touch. Her sunglasses were shoved casually on top of her dark head and her sleeveless shirt showed off well-muscled arms. Cassies eyes traveled from her thick, dark hair to smooth cheeks tanned a golden brown, on down to small waist and even darker legs. Cassie had the same reaction to her the second time around. Heat assailed her body and she was afraid. Jesus.
"You do take checks?" the man asked.
"Oh, yes." Cassie forced herself to wait patiently while the man wrote out a check.
"Thank you. Ill wrap that for you, if you like." She wrapped the fawn gently in newspaper and taped one of her cards on the side.
As they left, she turned and was startled to find the woman watching her.
"Your work is exquisite."
The voice was not what Cassie would have expected. It was softer, gentler than the imposing woman standing before her with only a hint of the huskiness Cassie imagined. Words refused to form, so Cassie kept quiet.
"You are Cassandra Parker, right?" the woman prompted.
"Cassie, yes." Cassie paused only briefly before taking the womans offered hand, and she dared to meet her dark eyes, if only for a moment.
"Luke Winston." The woman released Cassies hand much too slowly.
Cassie frowned slightly, and the woman paused, as if waiting for Cassie to question the unusual name. She pressed her lips together, refusing to ask the obligatory question. It wasnt as if she cared.
"Im looking for a couple of pieces for a client," Luke explained. "One outdoors, one in."
Cassie motioned to the remaining six that she had. "Only the two largest eagles have been finished for the outdoors, Im afraid. And the totem. I can put a finish on one of the others, though, if theres one you like."
"No," the woman said, moving away from Cassie, again circling the smaller eagle. "This one belongs inside, anyway."
"Im working on another eagle," Cassie said unexpectedly. "In flight, six foot wing span," she explained. At the womans expression, Cassie smiled. "It just sort of happened and I have no idea how Ill transport it, if I even want to sell it."
"That may be more of what theyre looking for," she said, again turning towards the golden. "This one is beautiful, really." She looked up and caught Cassies eyes and her voice softened. "I want it. I have the perfect spot for it."
"For you? Or your client?" The thought of this woman having one of her pieces was causing all sorts of emotions to sift through her body.
"I feel drawn to this one. Like it was meant for me," she said quietly. "Do you ever get that feeling?"
Cassie nodded, her eyes locked with this stranger. She opened her mouth, hoping her voice would follow. "Most of my work is from driftwood, small and large. I see a piece and it pulls me, tells me exactly what it needs to be." Cassies voice was equally as quiet.
The woman was staring at her, as if she wanted to say something and Cassie raised her eyebrows.
The woman looked away and shook her head. "Nothing," she said, almost to herself. Then she looked back and their eyes held, and Cassie was powerless to look away as they stared at each other.
"Hey, girl," Kim called, breaking the spell. "Oh, I didnt know . . . oh," she said again, seeing the woman. "Well . . . Ill let you finish with . . . whatever youre doing," she said and grinned wickedly at Cassie.
Cassie glared at Kim, although she was thankful for the interruption. She watched as Kim shoved her hand towards the woman.
"Im Kim Monroe. A friend," she said pointedly and Cassie winced.
"Luke? Parents wanted a boy?" Kim asked the question that Cassie had not.
Luke smiled at Cassie before answering. "My mother wanted a Lucinda." She opened her waistpack and pulled out her checkbook. "You do take out-of-town checks?" she asked.
"Yes, of course," Cassie said.
"With all proper identification," Kim added.
"Dont you have your own booth to run?" Cassie asked under her breath.
"Lisas got it under control."
"I guess I should ask how much it is," Luke said.
"Two thousand," Cassie said confidently.
Luke smiled and met her eyes again. "I would have paid at least four."
Cassie gave a smile that didnt reach her eyes. Four?
After boxing it up carefully, Cassie offered to get help to carry it, thinking of Paul.
"No, not necessary," Luke said. "I think two of us can manage. Im parked fairly close," she said.
Cassie looked at Kim with pleading eyes but Kim smiled and rubbed her lower back before sitting down.
"Ill hold down the fort. You run along," she said to Cassie.
"Thanks a lot," Cassie murmured, then bent to take one end of the box.
"I hope you put one of your cards in there," Luke said as they made their way through the crowd. "I think I can get you a sale on that eagle. Money is no problem, by the way."
"Thats nice to know. Maybe I should let you price it then," Cassie said lightly. "I have no idea what to ask for it."
"Theyve just built a home over on Russian River. Logs, totally natural. They have this enormous deck that reaches nearly to the waters edge. Theyll love your stuff," she said. "Theres a perfect spot for one of your large eagles."
Luke was watching Cassie, so she tried not to labor as she helped carry the cumbersome box. Finally Luke grinned.
"Do you need to take a break?"
"Please," Cassie panted.
"Sorry about that."
They sat the box down and Cassie rested her hands on her hips, trying to catch her breath, noticing Luke didnt seem winded in the least.
"You work out," Cassie stated unnecessarily. Her eyes moved over Lukes upper body, resting on her biceps. Luke shifted her weight and casually crossed her arms, watching Cassie watch her. "The most exercise I get is carrying driftwood back to the house," Cassie admitted to this stranger.
"It started out as a relief to . . . my life, I guess. It became addicting," she said. "But then, it beat the alternative."
Cassie waited for her to explain but Luke didnt and Cassie was polite enough not to ask.
"Youre really very talented," Luke said unexpectedly. "Im sure you hear that all the time."
"Mostly from people who cant afford to buy my work." Cassie shifted from one foot to the other nervously, making a pretense of scanning the crowd. "But I do okay here."
"Surely youve tried the city," Luke said, casually resting her hands on her hips, her shirt straining across her chest.
"Yes," Cassie said, pulling her eyes away from Lukes shirt. Her breasts. "I started out in San Francisco. I still have several shops that carry my carvings and they do quite well there but I find I work much better out here," Cassie managed. "Its peaceful. I dont feel like Im always in a hurry anymore."
"Yes, I know what you mean. Its nice out here. Hard to believe were only an hour or so from the city."
Cassie nodded, again looking into the crowd to avoid having to look at her. It wasnt fair, she thought. No one, especially a woman, should have the power to affect her so. She took a step back, suddenly feeling crowded by this womans nearness.
"Im ready if you are," Cassie said, wanting nothing but for this encounter to be over and done with.
"Okay. On three." Luke bent easily and grasped her corner, waiting for Cassie to do the same.
Cassie watched as Luke bent. Against her will, her eyes were drawn to those brown legs and she was lost as her eyes ventured higher.
Cassie jerked her head away and met dark eyes that held just a hint of amusement and she blushed crimson. Jesus!
"Sorry," she murmured and hurried to pick up her end, silently cursing herself.
Luke smiled, flashing even, white teeth. "Its okay," she said lightly.
Cassie kept her eyes averted as they made their way to the parking lot and Luke was true to her word. She paused beside what appeared to be a new Lexus SUV, as black as the womans hair.
"I appreciate you helping me." Luke slid the box carefully inside, then slammed the door shut.
"No problem. It was worked into the price," Cassie said as lightly as she could manage.
Luke flashed her a grin. "Well, Ill let you get back. Your friend is probably waiting."
Again she placed her hands casually on her hips and again Cassie had to drag her eyes away. She raised them to meet Lukes and forced a smile, which faltered only slightly when Luke extended her hand.
"It was nice meeting you, Cassie. I feel like weve met somewhere before though. You look so familiar."
"No. I dont think so." Cassie took her hand briefly, then pulled away. "I would have remembered. And thank you. I hope you enjoy the eagle."
"Oh, I will. Its very beautiful." Lukes voice softened to nearly a purr, her eyes never leaving Cassies. "I hope we run into each other again."
Suddenly Cassie didnt want to leave and she hesitated as the womans voice enveloped her. She swallowed, willing her feet to move, willing her eyes to pull away. Do something!
"Well . . . goodbye, then." She turned and made herself walk, not run, her back positively burning where she assumed dark eyes were looking.
She ran both hands through her hair in frustration as she faded into the crowd. Why was Luke Winston able to make a mockery out of her life without even trying?
Luke Winston. Such an odd name for a woman so beautiful. She closed her eyes tightly. Not beautiful. Just an attractive woman. Just a stranger that she would never see again. With any luck.
"Hey, about time," Kim called. "Ill need commission, I think." She pointed to the empty spot where the totem pole had been.
"You sold the totem?" Cassie asked, her eyes wide. She had been trying to get rid of it for three years. "How did you know what to ask?"
Kim bit her lower lip. "How much did you want for it?"
"A thousand," Cassie said.
Kim broke into a smile. "Good. I got fifteen hundred."
"Well, I knew to ask less than the eagle."
"The eagle took me twice as long to make," Cassie explained.
"Hey, so post signs next time," Kim said. "It was an older gentleman with four teenagers in tow. He wanted it for a lodge or something. Now, the details." She lowered her voice and grinned. "That woman is gorgeous, with a body to go with it. God! Her check says shes from the city. Whats she doing here two weekends in a row?"
"How should I know," Cassie said crossly, looking away from Kim.
"She didnt offer and knowing you, you didnt ask."
"Why would I ask? It doesnt concern me," Cassie said.
Kim tilted her head and grinned. "In all the years Ive been doing this with you, that was the first time youve ever offered to help carry one of those out of here," she stated, waving at the remaining pieces.
"Im sure youre mistaken. Ive done it . . . several times." Damn!
But Kim only smiled. "Sure you have. Did she make a pass at you?"
"Of course not! Why would she?"
"Oh, come on. Surely you could see the way she was looking at you," Kim teased.
Cassie turned cool blue eyes to Kim. "Dont," she said quietly. "I will not have this discussion with you here."
"Im just teasing."
"Yes, well dont."
Kim placed her hands on her hips and stared at Cassie. "Cant you just let go for once? Must you always have this shield around you?"
"I dont know what youre talking about," Cassie said, searching for her piece of wood, something, anything to appear busy.
Kim handed her the wood silently.
"Youre never going to enjoy life," she said, raising her hands around her, "if youre so goddamned afraid of having feelings."
Cassie faced her squarely. "I dont know how to have feelings," she said quietly.
Kim shook her head. "Just let go for once, Cass. What are you afraid of?"
"Im afraid of life. It comes from years of living with my father," she said.
"Oh, Im sorry," Kim said. "I didnt mean . . .. "
"No, I know I have a problem. I cant seem to feel anything for anyone," Cassie said. Her expression softened. "I dont mean you. Youre my best friend. I feel that," she said, touching her chest. "I just cant seem to find anyone . . . for me. And yes, maybe I am afraid. Im afraid of men because my father warned me about them my whole life, how theyre only after one thing. And Im certainly afraid of women, because Ill rot in hell from that kind of love for sure," she finished, tears now brimming in her eyes.
"Hey, Im sorry," Kim said gently, giving her a quick hug. "Im sorry."
Cassie brushed an errant tear from her cheek and smiled slightly. "I need a good therapist, I know."
"Maybe you just need a good lay," Kim said, and Cassie laughed with her.
Cassie studied the two bottles of wine in her basket, then reached for one more. Another advantage of living in Sonoma County was the wine selection. And after spending two weeks of forced solitude in her workshop, she was ready to break loose a bit. She felt like cooking, too. She had barely taken time to eat, much less cook, and cooking was her one means of escape.
She had spent nearly every waking hour working on the eagle in flight. As she had told Luke Winston, it just happened. She and Kim had struggled with the huge chunk of driftwood for hours, finally getting their friend Carl to assist them. His truck had barely held the wood and the three of them had managed to carry it into her workshop where it laid for months. She knew it would be an eagle, it could have been nothing else. The eagle was her favorite subject. But it had grown and grown, until its magnificent wings stretched out six feet. Now, after two months of lovingly chiseling and carving, it was finished. And she hated to part with it. But she had worked painstakingly the past two weeks on the off chance that Luke Winston would call, or at least the clients she had spoken of, and offer her an outrageous amount of money for it.
Now, she just wanted to relax. And the weather forecast seemed perfect. A storm was coming. Heavy rain was due by this evening and it would linger through tomorrow. She planned to cook and curl up with a good book and read, something she had not taken the time to do in months.
She was surprised at the dark clouds overhead as she loaded her groceries. The rain was not supposed to hit until later but already the first fat drops were wetting her face as she hurried inside her van. She rubbed her hands together quickly to warm them before pulling away, a smile breaking her face. The rain was as good an excuse as any to stay inside and avoid company. Mainly Kim. She had spoken to her only a few times in the last two weeks. Their conversation on the day of the festival still hung between them and Cassie knew that Kim wanted to talk about it. But Cassie, however, did not. She had grown accustomed to hiding her feelings. A trait that caused many to call her cool and aloof. In reality, she was anything but that. But it was a facade that grew on her and she had perfected it over the years. So much so, that she rarely shared her true feelings with anyone. In fact, she wasnt sure she even knew what her true feelings were anymore.
She headed down the rural road, which would take her to the acre lot she had purchased nearly six years ago. The house hadnt been in the best of shape, but the large work shed had been in nearly perfect condition. That and the eight mature apple trees had sold her on the place. Over the years, she had remodeled the tiny house more to her liking, re-doing most of the kitchen, her favorite room, and knocking out a wall and making the two small bedrooms into one large room for herself. She rarely had company and on the two occasions that her father had come to visit, he had made do with the sofa.
She had moved to Sebastopol for two reasons. One, because Kim had moved in with Lisa and had left a terrible void in her life. She found herself making the trip nearly every weekend to stay with them and she had fallen in love with the area. And two, because it was filled with artists. And art shows. So, she had saved every penny and bought the farm nearly a year after Kim had moved and she never regretted her decision. If nothing else, it had enabled her to escape her father. At least physically. Mentally, his words and preaching still haunted her.
"Those boys only want one thing, Cassandra. I will not have a daughter of mine seen out dancing, of all things. It will only lead to trouble, girl. You mind my words. Dont you ever let one of them touch you!"
She was lost in thought when the rain hit with dizzying speed. Her wipers could not keep pace with the downpour and she strained to see the road, leaning closer to the windshield and rubbing the now foggy glass with her hand.
The sudden jolting of the van made her grip the steering wheel tightly to keep it on the road and then she heard the unmistakable sound of a flat tire.
"Oh shit," she hissed. Cassie slowed, her eyes wide, trying in vain to find the side of the road, hoping she didnt drive off too far and land in the ditch, but far enough so that she wouldnt be hit by another car. It was impossible to see through the pounding rain and she eased off the road just a little farther.
Turning in her seat, she searched the back for the umbrella, cursing when she remembered leaving it beside the kitchen door the last time it had rained.
"Fuck . . . fuck, fuck," she muttered. She then looked for something, anything to shield her, wondering why she still believed the so-called experts. The storm wasnt supposed to hit for hours yet. She was totally unprepared.
She shook her head, then on a silent count of three, threw open the door against the wind, and went out into the downpour. Shielding her eyes from the rain, she surveyed the very flat tire on the passenger side, now sinking lower into the muddy earth as water ran off the road at an alarming pace.
"Well, shit," she said again under her breath, her soaked clothes clinging to her chilled body. How was she to attempt to change the tire in this weather? Providing she even knew how to change a tire. She had just passed one of the many dairy farms in the area. She supposed she would have to attempt to walk there. She shook her head, wondering why she did not have a cell phone like most normal people. Probably the same reason she didnt have a computer, she mused.
The blast of a horn startled her and she looked up, shocked to find the black Lexus easing to a stop. The passenger door swung open and Cassie stared inside.
"Get in before you drown," Luke Winston yelled to be heard above the storm.
Cassie hurried to the door, then hesitated, glancing at the leather seats.
"Im soaking wet," she said unnecessarily.
"No kidding. Get in."
Cassie hopped in and slammed the door as water ran from her wet hair into her eyes and down her face. Luke pulled in front of her van and stopped.
"Are you okay? What happened?" she demanded.
"Just a flat," Cassie said. "Do you have a phone? Can you call someone?"
"I doubt youll get anyone to come out in this storm," Luke said. "Where do you live?"
"About another five miles," Cassie said, finally wiping at her rain soaked hair and daring to look at her rescuer. "But this storm . . . I hate for you to have to drive in it."
Luke bent her head and looked out at the weather, frowning. "I live just ahead," she said. "You can come home with me until this lets up some. Then we can see about getting your tire changed."
"You live . . . here?" Cassie asked, the surprise evident in her voice.
"I have a house here, yes," Luke said, starting to pull away.
"Wait," Cassie said, her hand reaching out lightly to grab Lukes forearm. "I mean . . . I hate to impose," she said lamely. She most definitely did not want to go to this womans house.
"Youre not imposing."
"Ive got food . . . Ive been shopping," she stammered.
Luke gave her an amused smile. "I wasnt expecting payment."
"No. I mean, Ive got things in the van that need to be refrigerated."
Luke cocked her head and raised an eyebrow. "Ive got one of those."
She leaned between the seats and Cassie pressed herself against the door, her nerves on edge, this womans nearness immediately causing her senses to reel.
Luke turned back around with an umbrella in her hands.
Cassie stared at it silently for a moment, then looked up into dark eyes. "I dont really see the point," Cassie murmured, lifting one corner of her mouth in a smile as a raindrop ran down her nose. She hurried back into the storm, putting into one bag the things that would spoil and rushed back to Luke.
"Im so sorry . . . your seats," she said, trying to wipe the rain off of the leather.
Luke took the canvas bag from her and put it in the back. "Dont worry about the seats. Now, strap in," she said, motioning to the seatbelt.
Luke turned down a dirt road only a few hundred yards past Cassies stranded van, a road Cassie had passed hundreds of times before. Luke wiped at the windshield with her hand as they splashed through the mud, jarring them in their seats.
"Hell of a storm," Luke said, almost to herself.
Cassie nodded silently, wondering what in the world she was doing riding with Luke Winston, going to her house, no less! She kept quiet, hoping that Luke could see the road because she could not. The wipers tried frantically to keep pace with the rain, and Cassie glanced at the woman beside her, noting how strong her hands seemed as they gripped the steering wheel. Her fingers were long and smooth with neatly kept nails and Cassies eyes were glued to them. She felt a strange sensation travel through her body as she watched those hands and she pulled her eyes away, closing them briefly as she listened to the rain pound the vehicle.
She was surprised when the sound subsided, and found that they were under what appeared to be a carport of sorts. Luke cut the engine and they sat for a moment, staring at each other.
"I didnt know you lived out here," Cassie said. "Ive never seen you around town."
"Ive been building," Luke explained. "I just recently started staying here."
It wasnt actually a carport, Cassie noted when they got out. It was more of a covered shelter built into the side of the building. She looked around as Luke reached in the back for her bag. It looked more like a barn than a house.
Cassie followed her inside, pausing to wipe her muddy shoes on the mat before entering the most unusual house she had ever seen. She stood there, arms wrapped around her chilled body, and glanced at the large expanse of the building.
"You need to get out of those wet clothes," Luke was saying and Cassie brought her eyes back to the woman standing before her.
"In there," she said, gently pushing Cassie toward a door. "Take a hot shower. Ill bring you some clothes. Afterwards, Ill give you the nickel tour if you want."
Cassie nodded silently and opened the door to the bathroom, much larger than her own. She slowly turned a circle, looking at the impeccably clean room, wondering if it had ever been used before. Then she faced the mirror and groaned. Her hair was plastered to her head and her wet shirt and shorts clung to her body. She looked frightful.
She turned from the mirror and stripped off her wet clothing. She stood under the hot spray of the shower, thinking foolishly that Kim would find all of this very amusing. She smiled. Actually, she found it quite amusing herself. Here she was, calmly showering at the house of a woman that she had secretly prayed she would never see again. A woman whose mere presence sent her pulse racing.
When she stepped out of the shower, she was surprised to find her wet clothes gone, replaced by a pair of gray sweats and an Oakland Raiders jersey. As she pulled the sweats over her naked body she groaned. Luke had not only taken her wet clothes, she had taken her bra and panties as well.
She found a comb in one of the drawers and brushed her wet hair back. It would dry soon enough and she stood there, in clothes one size too big, delaying her departure from the sanctuary of the bathroom. She met her eyes in the mirror and tried to smile. She would have to go out eventually. She could get through this, she told herself. Right?
"Of course you can," she murmured quietly. "Shes just a woman."
Cassies stomach rumbled as soon as she stepped out and smelled whatever Luke was cooking. She found her at the opposite end of the house, the kitchen separated from the rest only by a nearly ten-foot long bar. As she walked toward Luke, she looked around, astounded by the unusual house. It was simply one very large room, the ceiling reaching up some twenty feet or more. Floor to ceiling windows covered the entire back wall and Cassie watched the rain splatter them, wondering at the view on a clear day. Opposite from the kitchen were stairs going up into a loft. The bedroom, Cassie assumed. Tucked neatly under the loft was a large stone fireplace. And beside it, looking out towards the patio was her eagle.
"Feel better?" Luke called.
"Much. Thanks for the clothes."
"I put yours in the dryer," she said. "Feel free to look around."
The only area of the room that was not impeccably neat was a desk, complete with a computer, printer and fax. Blueprints were strewn about and Cassie looked back to Luke.
"Youre an architect," she stated.
Cassie looked back at the room. "And this . . .."
"I like space," Luke said. "I cant stand being crowded by walls and low ceilings." She stirred the pot one more time and put the lid on and joined Cassie. "I finished it about six months ago but I was too busy to move in. Actually, Im not all the way moved in yet. I still have a house in the city that hasnt sold yet so I havent had to clean it out. Ill probably do that within the next few weeks, though. My realtor says she thinks shell have a contract on it by the end of the week."
"This is beautiful," Cassie said. "Its most unusual."
"I like it. Ive been working on it for nearly two years. I was more than ready to have it finished." Luke pointed to the loft. "Id take you up and show you the bedroom. The view is incredible but we wouldnt see much today." She walked back into the kitchen. "Something to drink?"
"Yes," Cassie said, walking into the spacious kitchen for the first time.
"Nonalcoholic, Im afraid." She opened the refrigerator and peered inside. "I have juice, apple-strawberry. Club soda, a nice sparkling apple cider made right here in Sebastopol and plain old Coke," she said, looking at Cassie expectantly.
"How about the nice sparkling apple cider?" Cassie pulled out one of the barstools and sat down, watching Luke as she reached for two wineglasses, her eyes drawn to Lukes flat stomach as her shirt pulled up. Luke had changed, too. Gray cotton shorts replacing her earlier jeans. Cassie swallowed and pulled her eyes away, feeling a hot blush on her cheeks as Luke handed her a glass. She took it quickly and shrank back away from her.
"Wineglasses but no wine?" Cassie asked. "Youll be run out of Sonoma County if anyone finds out," she said with a smile.
"Yes. A bit like moving to Santa Fe and not liking Mexican food." Luke paused, as if deciding whether to continue or not. "Not liking it wasnt my problem," she said. "Beer, whiskey, wine . . . I liked it all. Too much. So, I quit."
"Totally, yeah. Thats when I started working out. I ended up trading one addiction for another." Lukes face broke into a smile. "And its become that. Ive got a small gym out back. Just the basics, but enough to keep me satisfied."
"How long now?"
"Since Ive had a drink?"
"I was thirty-two. Six years now, I guess," she said. She pulled out a stool at the opposite end of the bar and Cassies eyes followed her. They studied each other for a moment, silently.
"You have the most incredible eyes," Luke said softly. "Bluest Ive ever seen."
Cassie felt her heart catch, then race, sending fire through her body. Her eyes widened as Luke watched her.
"Im not a . . . Im not gay," she finally stammered.
Luke laughed and snapped her fingers. "Damn! I keep forgetting that rule not to compliment straight women."
Cassie blushed crimson. "Im sorry. I just thought I should . . .. "
"Warn me? In case I had designs on you?" Luke laughed again, a deep, husky laugh that Cassie found enjoyable, despite her embarrassment. "Youre perfectly safe. Trust me," Luke said.
"Im sorry," Cassie said again, now totally humiliated. "You probably have a . . . someone . . . in the city."
"Actually, no. Im just not looking." She got up to stir the pot again and Cassie forced her eyes to remain on her empty wineglass. "Usually it just screws up a good friendship," Luke said. She turned back around to Cassie. "But I thought you were . . . you know, gay."
"No, Im not," Cassie heard herself say, surprised at the ease that statement came to her.
Luke shrugged and put the lid back on. "A good day for chili," she said. "Vegetarian, though. I hope you dont mind."
Cassies lips parted in surprise. She was a vegetarian, too? She shook her head. "No, I dont mind at all."
Cassie got up to get a second bowl of chili and carried it to the bar. Luke apologized again for not having a dining table.
"It is supposed to go over there," she said, pointing to an open spot. "But now Im not sure I want one. Ive gotten used to having the space."
"Unless you entertain a lot, I find theyre a waste," Cassie said. The chili was wonderful, thick and spicy and she dipped the homemade bread into it.
"How long have you lived out here?" Luke asked.
"About six years. Kim, the woman you met at the fair, moved out here when she met Lisa. I came to visit them all the time." Cassie laughed. "Im sure Lisa was glad when I finally moved here. I was becoming a permanent fixture in their spare room."
Luke grinned. "I thought you were going to tell me Kim wasnt gay either."
Cassie smiled. "No, Kim is definitely gay. She thinks the whole world is gay, they just dont know it yet."
Cassie nodded. She wasnt about to discuss this with Luke, however. "This chili is delicious," she said.
"Youve already said that. Twice. But I can take a hint," she said. "Well change the subject. I saw an adorable little squirrel you did. Its at the grocery store in town. Thats how I found out your name."
"Carl had a pet squirrel. Not really a pet. Just tame enough to sit in his hand and eat," Cassie said. "It just disappeared one day. Carl likes to think that it ran off for some wild sex or something. Most likely he became dinner for some owl or hawk, though. Anyway, I gave that to him as a remembrance of Chester," she said.
"I offered him several hundred dollars for it," Luke said. "But he said it absolutely was not for sale."
Cassie laughed. "No. Hes become quite attached to it."
"Thats why I came out to the festival that day. He told me who you were and that you had a lot of little critters for sale." Luke met her eyes then and Cassie got warm all over from her stare. "But I fell in love with your eagle. I never even looked at your smaller carvings."
"I feel something for eagles, I think," Cassie said. "Theyre my favorite subject, by far. So powerful, their stare so intense," she said quietly. She turned and followed Lukes gaze to the eagle standing guard by the windows.
"I would love to see the one youre working on now," Luke stated. "The one in flight."
"Ive finished it," Cassie said. "Though it will be difficult to part with. I want someone to have it that loves it for what it is. I dont want someone to just fork over a bunch of money and put it on display somewhere because it looks good."
Luke laughed. "All artists are the same. Ive become that way myself. At first, I would design a home just as ordered, plowing down all the trees and making a nice, flat area to build. But I cant do that anymore. Homes should blend with the environment and be a part of the land and add to it, not merely sit upon it as if theyre some sterile structure that doesnt really belong there."
"What was the house that Frank Lloyd Wright designed? Falling waterfall something or other?"
Luke stared at her again. "Fallingwater," she said. "1936, in Pennsylvania. Totally unbelievable. Hes the master, of course. But that house is what inspired me to design as I do. In the summer, when the leaves are all out, you can hardly tell there is a house there. Its built nearly on top of the waterfall and it appears the water is coming right out of the house."
Cassie smiled. "You love your work," she stated.
"Yes. As do you."
Cassie again felt warm from her stare and she had to look away. She carried her bowl to the sink, just now noticing how dark it was outside, but the rain had slowed to a steady drizzle.
"I think the storms let up," she said.
"Yes," Luke said from directly behind her. Cassie jumped, startled. She had not heard Luke get up. Cassie turned, their arms brushing and Cassies skin burned where they had touched. She moved away as Luke set her own bowl in the sink.
"I can run you home, if you like. Or you can sleep here and Ill take you to get your van in the morning," she suggested.
"Oh, I couldnt," Cassie said quickly. "Ive imposed enough."
Luke watched her intently. "You really are scared of me, arent you?"
Cassie swallowed. "Of course not." How could she tell Luke that she was afraid of herself? That she was afraid, that this time, she wouldnt be able to ignore this attraction? Afraid? How about terrified?
"Okay. Lets see if we can get you home, then."
Cassie sighed with relief. The sooner she left her company, the better. Her relief was short-lived, however. The tiny creek they had to cross, normally just flowing at a snails pace, was now a raging river out of its banks and Lukes headlights locked on the rushing water as it flowed across the road, carrying small limbs and branches with it.
"Shit," Cassie murmured. "I didnt realize it had rained that much."
Luke turned in her seat and Cassie could see her smile in the soft glow of the lights. "Well, guess Im stuck with you for the night."
Cassie clutched her neatly folded shorts and T-shirt to her and watched as Luke carefully turned them around and headed back to her house. Cassie stared straight ahead, not daring to look at this woman whose nearness affected her so.
She sat on the rug beside the fire and watched quietly as Luke stirred the logs, sending sparks up the chimney. The fire gave off a cheery glow and Cassie found herself relaxing, really relaxing for the first time that day.
"So, a minister, huh? Must have been tough." Luke laid the poker on the stones and sat down beside Cassie, although not too close to make her uncomfortable, Cassie noted.
"You dont know the half of it," Cassie finally replied. "He would have been perfectly at home in the Deep South. He was all fire and brimstone, for sure and could definitely could put the fear of God in you." She smiled slightly. "That was the problem, although he could never see it," she said. "I was so afraid of doing something that would send me straight to hell that I never learned what I could do to get me to heaven."
"What do you mean?"
Cassie leaned back on her elbows and stretched her sock-clad feet out to the warm fire. Kim was the only other person she had ever told about her father, but Luke was looking at her intently and she found she wanted to talk.
"I was eighteen before he would let me go out on a date. My senior prom and I had to beg for that." She tried to laugh but it came out as a choked cough. "I dont know if it was so much that I wanted to go or that I was supposed to go. He agreed only if he could take us and pick us up and if I promised no dancing."
This time she did laugh. "I was so afraid of boys and what would happen to me if they touched me, kissed me, that I was secretly thankful he was picking us up. You have to understand, from the time I was old enough to remember, he was telling me what they were really after. Although he never said what they were after, just that they were after it. I would catch something and become very sick if they kissed me, maybe even die. I would get pregnant if they touched any part of my body. And heaven forbid if I touched them. Blindness would strike me immediately!"
"Jesus," Luke whispered.
"Yeah. Really." Cassie took a swallow from her juice before continuing. "Of course, as I got older, I knew those things wouldnt really happen, but I was terrified nonetheless. I guess that was the reason I had no interest in boys." She glanced at Luke and smiled. "I was twenty-two before I slept with a guy. And it wasnt that I wanted to, really. I wasnt in love with him or anything. In fact, I dont think I even liked him all that much. But I was tired of being the oldest virgin at school."
"I see you still have your eyesight."
"Yes. I came out unscathed. Physically, at least. Emotionally, I felt . . . empty. I felt nothing," she said quietly. "Ive never been able to feel anything," she added softly.
They were quiet for a moment, then Luke stirred, leaning forward to nudge the logs again. Cassie watched her in the warm glow, watched her hands as they lightly gripped the poker. She had a momentary glimpse of those hands touching her and her chest tightened. She wished she could feel nothing now.
"You havent mentioned your mother," Luke said.
Cassie slid her eyes from Luke to the fire. "She left us when I was five. I know now that she left my father, but at the time, it was me that she left behind."
"Im sorry," Luke said quietly. "You dont have to tell me."
"No. Im okay about it now. I dont blame her in the least. I left as soon as I could, too."
"Do you see her?"
Cassie shook her head. "I havent seen her since the day she hugged me and walked out. I have no idea where she is."
"Your father never said?"
"She may have tried to contact me, I dont know. I would like to think that she did. But her name was never mentioned in our house." She paused again, then spoke softly. "I remember the first Christmas after she left. Her parents, my grandparents, came to the house. My father sent me to my room and he wouldnt let them in. They had presents for me, they said. But he sent them away and we never talked about it. I never saw them again either."
"Thats so very sad," Luke murmured. "But you still see your father?"
"Hes been up here twice in the last six years. I dont go see him. Well, I went one Christmas a few years ago, but that turned into one big Lets Save Cassandra weekend. We talk on the phone occasionally. Briefly. Thats about as much as I can take of his preaching."
"What about Kim? How did you meet her?"
"I met her in an art class my second year in college. We just hit it off right away. Kims been my therapist all these years. She knows all about my father. First hand."
"What do you mean?"
"When Kim discovered she was . . . a lesbian, she came to the house, she needed to talk."
"You still lived at home?"
"I lived at home until that week, yes. She had gotten married six months before. Just to prove to herself that she wasnt gay, I think. But, it didnt work out. She came over to tell me that she was leaving him, that she couldnt live a lie anymore, that she was ready to accept what she was. My father was home, listening. He nearly brought the house down with his bible quotes that day," she said and she managed a laugh. "Kims eyes were so big," Cassie remembered, smiling. "I thought she was going to pass out. He sent her away, forbid me to see her. That was the first time I had ever stood up to him. I moved out that week over his dead body and Kim and I lived together for nearly a year."
At Lukes raised eyebrows Cassie laughed. "No. We were just friends. Always."
"I take it your father never came to your house," Luke said.
"No. Never. He assumed I was living in sin. That I had become one of those. And when I moved up here with all these unnatural people, thick as thieves . . . thats one of his favorite sayings, he vowed he would never see me again. I think thats one reason I moved. I was perfectly happy having a long distance relationship with him over the phone. Its been two years since he was last here."
Luke was shaking her head and smiling.
"We grew up so differently. At opposite ends of the scale, I think."
"Youll be shocked," Luke warned.
"No more so than you were hearing about my life."
Luke sat back down, folded her legs and faced Cassie. "My mother was fifteen and pregnant when she ran away from home. Oklahoma. She made it to Berkeley, got a job as a waitress and lived in a run-down apartment building until I was born. She named me after her grandmother," Luke said. "But Im no Lucinda."
"No, youre not."
"My mother was a flower child," Luke said.
"Yes. A real hippie. In the 60s, we lived in a commune of sorts. Grew our own food and lived royally," she said and laughed. "We were all vegetarians and war protesters. We would load up the vans, kids and all, and go to peace rallies, protest marches, demonstrations. We hit them all."
Cassie smiled delightfully. "Go on," she said.
"Neal, that was my mothers man, hes the one that started calling me Luke. One day after a rain, I wanted to help in the gardens. I came back home covered head to toe in mud. As he was spraying me off with a hose, he asked what I had done with Lucinda. There couldnt possibly be a little girl under all that dirt, he said. I must be her brother, Luke." Luke shrugged now. "The name stuck. Thankfully."
"You dont know who your father is?" Cassie asked.
"No. He was just some farmers son that my mother lost her virginity to. She didnt love him. Thats why she ran away. Her parents wanted her to get married."
"Have you ever wanted to know?"
"Not really. Neal was all the father I needed. Theyre still together, living in sin," she said lightly.
"They never married?"
"Oh, no. They wouldnt even consider it."
Cassie stared at her for a moment, jealous of the freedom Luke seemed to have had as a child. "Does your mother know about you . . . about your life?"
"Does she know Im a lesbian? Yes. Shes the one who told me."
Cassies eyes widened. "What do you mean?"
"I was like you. Never went out on dates, never had any interest in boys. But there was this one guy that kept asking me out. He was the quarterback, Mr. Popularity and I was seventeen, thinking that it was time I started noticing them. So, I told my mother that I was going to go out with him. She wanted to know why. I remember looking at her for the longest time, wondering that myself. Then I told her that was what I was supposed to be doing at that age."
"Then she took me to see Aunt Susan and Aunt Darlene," Luke said.
"I dont understand," Cassie said.
Luke smiled and stood. "They werent really my aunts. They werent really sisters. They had lived at the commune with us, always together. They were lovers," Luke said. She walked over to her bookshelves and took down two framed pictures.
"And then it all made sense and I didnt have to go out with the quarterback." She handed Cassie the pictures before sitting down again. "Thats us in the late 60s. I was five, I guess. The other one was taken four years ago at a reunion."
Cassie smiled delightfully at the small, dark-haired girl in the picture, surrounded by an odd group of . . . well, hippies. The second picture showed Luke as Cassie knew her today.
"Thats my mother and Neal," Luke pointed. "Thats Susan and Darlene."
Cassie compared the pictures, the carefree smiles of the first picture captured again some thirty years later.
"So, youve never been with a man, then?" Cassie asked, thinking of Lukes earlier comment about the quarterback.
"No. Why would I?"
"But . . . how can you know for sure if youve never tried it?" Cassie asked.
Luke laughed softly, then leaned forward. "How can you be sure youre not a lesbian if youve never been with a woman?"
Cassie leaned back, away from Luke, away from her heat. "I see what you mean," she said quietly. She felt Lukes eyes on her, but Cassie refused to look. She stared into the fire, telling herself that was the only heat she was feeling.
"I think Im ready to call it a night," Luke finally said. "Will you be okay on the sofa?"
"Of course," Cassie said quickly.
"Ill go find you a sheet and blanket, then."
Cassie watched her climb the stairs, then heard her shuffling in the loft and shortly she came back carrying a pillow along with the blanket and sheet. "Good enough?"
"This is fine," Cassie said, tossing them to the couch. "Thank you for . . . everything. Rescuing me, feeding me, everything."
"Youre welcome," Luke said lightly. "Ive enjoyed your company. Feel free to put another log on, if you want."
She left her without another word and Cassie busied herself making up a bed on the sofa. The fire was inviting, so she did lay another log on before crawling under the blanket. She lay on her side, staring out at the rain, now only a fine mist. She thought she saw the moon breaking through and got just a glimpse of the patio beyond the windows, then darkness again. She snuggled deeper into the pillow and her body warmed. She caught a scent that was becoming familiar. Luke. It was her pillow from her bed, Cassie knew instantly. She breathed deeply, pushing her face into the softness before she could stop herself. Then she groaned and rolled over onto her back, her arms folded across her chest.
This is insanity, she thought. But that didnt stop her heart from pounding rapidly in her chest.
Cassies van was just as they left it, the tires now sunk low in mud. She stood with her hands on her hips, mentally going over her choices.
"I can pull it out," Luke said, interrupting her thoughts.
"Sure. Its not really stuck. Well just pull it out on the road and change the tire there."
Cassie felt like a helpless female as Luke tied a thick rope she had produced from her Lexus to each of their vehicles bumpers. In a matter of minutes, her van sat limply on the road, leaning slightly from the flat tire but no worse for wear. Of course, Cassie had never changed a tire before. She told Luke as much.
"Its past time you learn then," she said. "Suppose youre stuck on a deserted road, late at night and suppose a group of women come along--lesbians, no less--and theyve been drinking and they see you, standing helplessly beside your van. Bet you wished you had known how to change the tire then."
Cassie laughed. "Oh, stop. If that were the scenario, they would all hop out and have my tire changed in no time and Id be on my way, thankful it wasnt some farmers son that had stopped."
Luke laughed, too. "No doubt."
Cassie supervised as Luke lifted the tire with ease and fifteen minutes later was wiping her hands on a rag Cassie had found in the back of the van.
"All set," Luke said.
"I dont know how to thank you," Cassie said, then blushed as Luke raised a mischievous eyebrow.
"How about showing me the eagle, then?"
Cassie hesitated only a second before agreeing. What harm could that cause, she thought. She found herself glancing in her mirror frequently, feeling oddly comforted by Luke following her. She liked her, she admitted. They certainly had not lacked for conversation , last night or this morning. Which was unusual for her, Cassie thought. She was a loner by nature and usually took awhile to warm up to people, but she had thoroughly enjoyed Lukes company. And if she could just get past this silly attraction she was feeling, she thought that she and Luke could become good friends. Luke had not even hinted that she thought of Cassie as anything but that. In fact, she had said that she wasnt looking for anyone. Cassie smiled. It could be the start of a new friendship. And it had been awhile since shed added one of those to her life.
"My God. This is . . . incredible," Luke said a short time later as they stood in her workshop. She glanced at Cassie, then back at the eagle. "Words fail me," she said quietly. She reached out a gentle hand, as if afraid to startle the eagle and cause it to take flight. Cassie watched those fingers stroke the head lovingly and she drew in a quick breath. Again, she had the briefest image of those hands touching her that way and she shivered.
"Beautiful. So absolutely beautiful," Luke was saying and Cassie turned away, trying to busy herself. She was always embarrassed when she showed her work, afraid they wouldnt like it nearly as much as she did.
"So you like it?"
"Are you kidding? I love it. Its . . . magnificent. You have such a talent."
Cassie blushed at her praise, secretly pleased that she liked it.
"You do want to sell it?" Luke asked.
"I cant very well keep him in here," Cassie said. "What do you think I could get for him?"
"I wouldnt take less than ten thousand, maybe twelve," Luke said as she walked around the eagle.
Cassie nearly gasped.
Luke nodded. "I saw a bear. It was bigger than this but not nearly as detailed. A lodge out near Yosemite has it. They paid fifteen for it, they said." Luke turned and met her gaze. "I have a buyer for it," she said suddenly.
Cassies eyes widened. "Its a little cumbersome, with the wingspan and all. Hell be hard to move."
Luke nodded. "I have a buyer."
"Ive become attached to him. Im not sure Im ready to have him displayed somewhere with strangers touching him. Probably out front of some building with kids trying to climb on him. I dont think I could stand that."
Cassie walked to her eagle and brushed off a speck of dust from his head. She was being silly, she knew. Luke probably thought shed lost her mind.
But Luke was looking at her in an odd way, her smile gentle.
"What if I promise there wont be strangers touching him? And he wont be at a public place. Hell be at someones home, guarding their backyard."
Cassie slid her eyes from Luke back to her eagle. "You really think you can sell it for me? Your friends on Russian River?"
"Oh, they would love him."
Cassie nodded. "Okay then. I mean, I cant keep him here, thats for sure."
Luke looked around the shop for the first time and her lips parted in surprise. "Youve got tons of stuff here," she said as she walked over to a beaver that was chewing happily on a log. "This one is great, too."
"I want to take at least ten pieces with me to the County Fair next month. These are all but finished. They just need touch-ups here and there," she said, waving at the animals that stood in varying positions around the shop.
Luke walked to the workbench and gently picked up a fawn. "This is so delicate," she said softly. She glanced up and met Cassies eyes. "You have incredible talent."
"Please stop," Cassie said, blushing again. "Youre starting to embarrass me."
Luke turned the fawn around in her hands, then set it back down. "With the type of homes I design, I meet a lot of woodworkers, mostly men. They make beautiful cabinets, furniture, railings. Anything the home owner wants." Luke paused. "Do you ever work on commission?"
Cassie nodded. "I have on a few occasions."
"If youre interested, I could probably get you more business than you could handle. Most of the homes I design are totally natural." Luke waved a hand at Cassies workshop. "These pieces would fit perfectly."
"The problem Ive found with commissions is that the customer wants something other than wildlife and Im not at all comfortable producing that." Cassie wrinkled her nose. "Or fish. They always want carved fish stuck on a board. To me, it just looks like a dead fish." She, too, waved at the pieces scattered about. "I like to think that my animals are very much alive, all with different looks and personalities."
"Well, that is one good thing about working for commission. You can always say no. Of course, if you agree, that will really limit the time that you can devote to regular art shows and county fairs and such."
"Youre right, but the people who frequent those places usually can only afford the small carvings. Fortunately, it doesnt take me long to make them."
"Well, right off the top of my head, I can think of three or four clients who would be interested in your work. If its okay with you, Ill give them your business card."
Cassie hesitated only a moment. Did she want to be indebted to Luke? It didnt matter. She was no fool. It would be insane for her to turn down an opportunity like this.
So she nodded. "I would appreciate it."
"You have great talent," Luke said again. "And you should be getting paid for it. Truthfully, the eagle I bought from you was practically a steal. It was worth twice what I paid."
"Yes, but I wouldnt sell any if I priced them that high."
"No, probably not at the county fair." It was Lukes turn to hesitate. "I know its really none of my business, but have you tried the Internet?"
Cassie blushed. "I dont even own a computer."
Luke rolled her eyes.
"I know what youre thinking," Cassie said. "How can people exist without a computer? I hear it from Kim all the time. I just . . .."
"Ive never really used one. I wouldnt know where to begin."
Luke laughed. "Gotta start somewhere, sweetie. Next time weve both got a free evening, Ill show you my web page. You could fix one up like that for yourself. Itd be great advertising."
Cassie nodded uncertainly. "Well see."
"Okay. Well take baby steps with this then."
When they walked back outside, the rain was starting again. Before Cassie had time to reconsider, she invited Luke in for coffee.
Luke flashed a quick grin and nodded.
"Id love a cup. Im usually a bear without it in the mornings but I knew you were anxious to get your van so I didnt bother at the house."
As Cassie opened the kitchen door to her small, modest house she had an overwhelming urge to take back her invitation. After spending time at Lukes spacious home, her own seemed tiny in comparison. She wondered what Lukes reaction would be. But she neednt have worried.
"This is great, Cassie." Luke moved into the kitchen, her architects hands and eyes moving over the cabinets that had been built well before either of them were even born. "How old is this?"
"It was built in the 30s, they tell me. And he wasnt even a cabinet maker, he was a farmer. He and his son built the entire house. Its been remodeled a few times, me included, but no ones touched the cabinets," she said.
"Who would dare? I cant believe all the detail," she murmured as she bent for a closer look. "Custom cabinets, sure, even back then they had fine cabinet makers." Luke turned back to Cassie. "You had them refinished?"
"They were painted when I bought the house."
Cassie tried to hold back her laugh but the look of total disgust on Lukes face was too much.
"I know. You must be completely appalled. I couldnt believe it myself," she teased.
Luke smiled good-naturedly.
"It was a sin, whoever did it."
"Yes, I agree."
Cassie poured water into the coffee maker, then pulled out several varieties of coffee.
"I hope you dont do decaf," she said.
"Of course not. But I do tend to tamper with it a bit," Luke cautioned.
Cassie made a face. "And cream?"
Luke lifted one corner of her mouth wryly. "I add enough sugar and cream to disguise the coffee, Im not sure why I drink it."
"Well, youll have to make do with milk. I dont have any cream," Cassie said as she turned back to her task. She felt Luke move close behind her, peering just over her shoulder.
"Smells good," she said. "Do you mind if I look around?"
"No. It wont take you but a minute, though. The two bedrooms are now one and then the living room," Cassie explained, relaxing a little as Luke moved away from her. She returned a short time later.
"I like it," she said. "Its . . .."
"Quaint?" Cassie supplied.
"I was going to say cozy," Luke said. "I like your bedroom."
Cassie managed not to blush but she turned back quickly to her coffee, making a production of pouring two cups.
They sat at her small kitchen table and she watched, horrified, as Luke put an outrageous amount of sugar and milk into her cup. She sipped her own, enjoying the rich flavor but smiled as Luke made a satisfied moan at her own first sip.
"Sure you have enough sugar?"
Luke ignored her with a flick of one eyebrow.
"Tell me what youve done here. The sliding door to the patio is obviously new. What about in here?"
"The laundry room is through there," Cassie said, pointing to a door at the opposite end of the kitchen. "When I bought it, that was a large storage room, I guess. The connections were outside so I brought them in and remodeled that room and extended the patio. In here, just new flooring."
"Was your workshop here?"
"Yes. Thats the main reason I bought this place. The workshop was perfect. And I just remodeled a little at a time. The bedroom wall was the first to go," she said.
"I guess having one bedroom cuts down on company. Of course, that can be a good thing sometimes."
Cassie stared into her coffee, wondering why she was even considering confiding in Luke. Her relationship with her father was something only Kim knew about, and even then, Kim knew only what Cassie wanted her to know.
"I never admitted this to anyone before," she said quietly. "I think the main reason I knocked out the bedroom wall was so that my father wouldnt come stay with me." She looked up and met Lukes gentle gaze. "Is that terrible?"
"I dont think thats terrible. I guess that was easier than just telling him you didnt want to see him?"
Cassie sighed. "How do you tell your father that you dont like him and you dont want to see him? Hes the only family I have," she said. "And Im all he has."
"But?" Luke prompted.
"But its very hard for me not to hate him. I dont have any pleasant memories of my childhood. None. I cant recall a time of just being a kid and laughing and playing. Everything was always so serious. It was like I was being punished for something I had yet to do."
"Did you have friends in your neighborhood? At church?"
"Not really. He wouldnt allow me to play with the neighbors and the few kids at church, well, I think they were too afraid of my father. He sent more than one off crying."
"Im sorry," Luke said quietly.
A ghost of a smile appeared on Cassies face, then it was gone just as quickly. Something she had never told Kim now surfaced. Something she thought was better kept buried but the memory emerged now.
"Every night before dinner, we would read a chapter from the Bible. Sometimes short ones, sometimes not. But I had to memorize it, word for word, before I could eat. Some nights, it would be hours before I could do it. Some nights, I couldnt do it at all. So instead of dinner, he would lock me in his office and tell me not to ask to come out until I had it memorized."
"Cassie, Im so sorry," Luke whispered.
"I never could do it," Cassie said. "I would sleep on the floor, crying for my mother, wondering why she had left me there with him." Cassie brushed at an errant tear, unable to stop the pain and loneliness that suddenly enveloped her.
Luke reached out and captured her hand and squeezed.
"And you ask me if I think its terrible that you dont want him to come visit?"
"Do you think he even remembers doing that to me?"
"Why dont you ask him?"
Cassie pulled her hand away from Lukes warm one and shook her head. "Im sorry. I dont know why I told you all that. Kinda ruins a good cup of coffee," she said lightly. "Except yours. It was already ruined."
Cassie stood, intending to refill their cups, but Luke stopped her with a firm grip on her arm.
"If you need to talk, Im a good listener," she offered.
Cassie met her eyes and attempted to smile. "Why on earth would you volunteer for that?"
"Because talking about past pains is the only way to heal," Luke said gently. "And Im guessing youve not talked with anyone. Maybe your friend Kim?"
"Kim knows a lot but she doesnt know about that. Ive never told anyone about that. I was too ashamed. I dont know why I told you now," she said.
"You can talk to me anytime, Cassie."
Their eyes held and Cassie knew that Luke was being completely sincere. And it would be so easy to unburden herself, to dump it all on Luke and have her sort through it. But right now, she didnt want to think about it anymore, much less talk about it.
"Thanks. Ill keep that in mind."
"Okay. Well, thanks for the coffee, but I need to get going. Im meeting a new client this afternoon in Sacramento."
They both looked up at the same time as thunder rolled outside.
"Thanks again for your help," Cassie said. "For rescuing me and all."
"No problem." Then Luke grinned. "It was my pleasure."
Cassie watched her drive away, arms wrapped securely around herself as the rain fell softly. Luke was so very different from any woman Cassie had ever met. Perhaps that was why she found herself attracted to her. And yes, she could admit that now that Luke was safely out of sight.
After unpacking the groceries from her van and the ones she had brought from Lukes, she put on a pot of lentils to simmer and spent the afternoon in her shop, finishing up on the beaver and another, much smaller, eagle. She put off calling Kim until after dinner. There had been two messages from her on the machine. One from last night and one this morning. Knowing Kim, if she had even the slightest clue that Cassie had spent the night at Luke Winstons house, she would not let it rest until Cassie relayed every detail of the evening and every word spoken between them. But Cassie wasnt ready to share her new friendship with Kim. Kim would turn it into something it wasnt. So Cassie swore Kim would never know that she had not spent last night in her own bed. It was just easier that way.
And she tried to push Luke from her mind, but still, she stayed. It was her hands, Cassie thought, that drew her. She had lovely hands. Long, strong fingers. Neatly trimmed nails. Soft hands, although she had not actually felt them. Cassie dipped her own into the soapy water at the sink to avoid thinking of Luke Winstons hands. Her own were nicked and callused from working with wood all day long. She applied lotion constantly, but to no avail.
After three days of working non-stop, Cassie was finally able to get through the hours without constantly thinking of Luke Winston. It was progress. She told herself that eventually, if she were to be around her more, she would lose this infatuation she seemed to have for her and she could concentrate on the friendship that they had started. And that was really all she wanted.
After five days of neatly avoiding thinking about Luke and avoiding talking to Kim for more than a few minutes at a time, she felt that she was back to normal. Her days became routine again and she was certain that she would finish all of the pieces before the fair. She was just sanding down the beavers tail for the last time when she heard a noisy truck approach. She frowned. She was not expecting company. She stood and brushed the wood chips from her bare legs and went out into the sunshine.
It was a truck she did not recognize, pulling a flat bed trailer. She did, however, recognize one of the passengers. Her breath caught instantly at the smile Luke flashed her and she smiled in return, cursing her traitorous body as it melted under Lukes stare.
"I would have called but I couldnt find your card and I was too lazy to call information," she explained. "These are friends of mine. Jack and Craig. They live over in Guerneville." She pointed to first one, then the other.
"Hi." She shook their offered hands and said to Jack, "I think weve met. You look familiar."
"Yes. I told Luke we had one of your carvings. Nothing like the eagle shes described, though. Just a small one. A Stellers Jay," he said.
Cassies eyes widened and she turned to Luke. "Youve come for him?"
"Yes. Ive got a cashiers check for twelve thousand. How does that sound?"
"Twelve? Are you kidding?"
Luke shook her head. "I told you I had a buyer."
They stood facing each other and Cassie forgot about Jack and Craig. "I dont know that Im ready," she said. "I mean . . .."
"The longer you hold onto him, the harder it will be," Luke said quietly.
"Youre right, I know," Cassie said, unable to pull her eyes from Luke. "Its just that . . . this one has become kinda special, you know? Hes got his own personality."
Luke smiled gently and nodded. "Hell be well taken care of, I promise. No strangers touching him or climbing on him. Promise."
Cassie looked at Jack and Craig, feeling embarrassed. "Okay then," she said. "I guess I cant turn down twelve thousand dollars." At least she wouldnt have to worry about paying her bank note for awhile. Then she smiled. "I cant believe they paid that much."
"Its well worth it," Luke assured her.
Cassie stood by while they loaded her eagle onto the trailer. She felt very much the helpless female as she watched Luke lift her end. Her eyes lighted everywhere except on the biceps of Lukes arms as she strained to carry him. Right. The gently rippling muscles on Lukes shoulders did nothing for her, she told herself, but still she stared. Then her eyes landed on Lukes thighs as she stood, every indention of muscle outlined as they walked cautiously with her eagle. She mentally shook herself, dragging her eyes away and focusing instead on Jack as he walked backwards toward the trailer. Nothing. She left out a heavy sigh and allowed her eyes to again to settle on Lukes lean form, watching with envy, she told herself . . . not . . . well, certainly not with desire. Admiration. Much better. They wrapped her eagle with blankets before securing him with ropes and she was finally able to move, offering suggestions as to where to tie the ropes.
"Youll need to let me know where hell be," Cassie told Luke. "In case I want to drive by and look at him."
"Well, perhaps Ill take you there myself," she said. "Im sure you can have visiting rights."
Cassie smiled. "You think Im being silly."
"Not at all. You created him. You love him."
Jack and Craig were already in the truck and ready to go as they stood there facing each other. Cassie folded her arms across her chest as Luke shoved hers into her shorts.
"How have you been?" she asked.
"I wanted to call, but . . . well, I didnt want to impose. I thought . . .."
"You probably didnt want to call because you were afraid Id take you up on your offer," Cassie teased.
"Not at all. But I havent been around that much. Ive been in the city."
"Thats okay. Maybe we can get together for lunch or dinner or something," Cassie heard herself say.
"Id like that."
Cassie nodded, not knowing what else to say. As she looked into Lukes eyes, she thought she had been mistaken by their color. With the sun shining on her face, her eyes werent dark at all. They were nearly golden and Cassie found herself again being pulled to this woman. She nearly shivered from the heat that passed through her.
"What?" Luke asked as Cassie stared.
"Hmmm?" Cassie blinked, trying to focus, trying to clear her head.
Luke took a step toward her and stopped, just long enough for Cassie to take a nervous step backward. She clasped her hands together and turned to the truck, making a show of telling the guys goodbye. Luke watched her for a moment, then walked around the truck and opened the door. Before getting in, she looked back at Cassie.
"Youre okay, right?"
"Yes, of course. Im fine," Cassie said. "Drive carefully with him."
"We will. Later," Luke called and Cassie watched them drive away with her eagle.
Well, so much for putting Luke Winston from her mind for the past week. Just one look had brought back all of the feelings she had been trying to suppress. Heat . . . desire. She groaned and turned away. Not desire, she told herself. She wouldnt allow those feelings to surface.
"Just friends," she murmured. "Just going to be friends."
"What do you see?" Kim asked anxiously.
Cassie stared at her painting, so different from the natural seascapes that Kim normally created. She unconsciously rubbed her chin and turned her head to one side, studying it.
"I see the ocean. And cliffs." She turned to Kim with a smile. "Its like an abstract seascape," she said.
Kim smiled broadly. "Youre good."
Cassie laughed. "We took the same art classes." She turned back to the painting. "I like it. Something new for you."
Kim crossed her arms and studied the painting, too. "Yes. Different. But still a seascape."
"Theres nothing wrong with that. You love the ocean. It would be like me not carving eagles anymore. Theyre my favorite." Then she turned back to Kim. "Think of Cezanne. He must have painted the same mountain a hundred times. It was what he saw every day from his home."
Kim nodded. "Mont Sainte-Victoire," she said quietly. "Youre right, of course."
"But Kim, its good. Dont be afraid to try different styles. When our art stops being an expression of ourselves and is done solely for commercialism . . .."
"Its a sad day for us all," Kim finished with a smile. It was a quote they had heard many times from art professors.
"And it keeps us fresh," Cassie added. "If I did nothing but eagles, they would all begin to look alike. There has to be some variety."
"Yeah. Thats really why I did it. I couldnt muster up my usual inspiration anymore and Ive wanted to try an abstract for awhile, Ive just been afraid. I mean, what if it sucked?"
Cassie laughed. "It doesnt suck, Kim. Its just different for you. Try it at the fair. Put an outrageous price on it and see what happens," Cassie suggested.
"It took me forever to finish. I guess I could ask more than I usually do."
Cassie took another look at the painting. She normally wasnt too fond of abstract. She preferred things in their natural state, which meant a seascape should look like a seascape. But Kim had captured the colors of a sunset perfectly.
"You may have found a new niche."
"You think so? Really?"
"I really do," Cassie assured her. "Now, lets eat. Im starved."
They settled around the table as Lisa brought out a dish from the oven. She had her favorite apron tied around her waist and looked every bit the homemaker. Cassie and Kim looked at each other across the table, waiting for Lisas standard announcement before each meal.
"Its lentil casserole and I have no idea how itll taste. It doesnt look too appetizing, if I say so myself."
"Im sure it will be great," they said in unison, as they always did. And Lisa stuck her tongue out at them, as she usually did. Lisa had a penchant for trying new recipes. Whether they turned out good or bad, she seldom tried the same thing twice.
And actually, it was good. Cassie spread butter on the hot rolls and helped herself to seconds. She was hardly a guest in their house anymore, and she would do the dishes afterward while Lisa and Kim sat at the table and filled her in on the latest gossip. It was a routine that Cassie had come to love. After spending nearly every weekend with them after Kim had moved, they had all become accustomed to this time together. Once she had made the move, too, they continued to invite her to dinner at least once a week.
"Oh Cassie, youll never believe what we heard," Kim said. "You remember that gorgeous woman at the fair? The one that bought your eagle?" Then she laughed and shared an amused smile with Lisa. "Luke Winston is her name. You know who Im talking about?" she asked again.
"I know who youre talking about." Cassie gave her a wry glance before shoving the roll in her mouth.
"Know why weve seen her around lately?"
Cassie stopped chewing for only a second. It had been nearly two weeks since she had seen Luke, and she had spent that time trying to forget the way her body reacted when she was around her. When she reached for her glass of wine, she was pleased that her hand did not shake.
"Shes moved out here," Lisa said before Kim could.
It was ironic, wasnt it? Here they were, dropping this bit of news, Kim probably hoping that she could play matchmaker now, and Cassie not only knew that Luke lived here, she had spent the night at her house. Wouldnt they be surprised?
"Yes. Carl says shes an architect," Lisa said.
"Really?" Cassie murmured again.
"Caters strictly to the wealthy, from what I hear," Kim added. "Shes supposedly loaded."
"How nice," Cassie said. But then, she had already suspected that, judging by her home. And her casually dropping two thousand dollars at the Festival for her eagle. "Well, maybe youll become friends," she said.
"And just maybe . . .. "
"Dont start, Kim," Cassie said, pointing her fork at her. "If you do, Ill be forced to call up David and ask him out."
"Oh, please. You no more want to go out with David then I do," Kim complained.
"Youre right. I dont. And I dont want to go out with Luke Winston, either," she said.
"Kim," Lisa warned. "Let her be."
Cassie did the dishes, only half listening to their conversation behind her. She had been hoping that they wouldnt find out that Luke lived here. At least, not for awhile. But it shouldnt matter. It wasnt like they would see her out much. Artists tended to hang together, and she didnt think that Luke knew anyone here. Their paths might not cross too often. At least, thats what she told herself. Since Luke had not called her, Cassie assumed that she had changed her mind about wanting to get together. Perhaps it was for the best.
She was tempting fate, she thought, as she sat at a table at the local gay bar in Guerneville that Saturday night. Kim had talked her into it, as usual. And it wasnt like she hadnt been out with them before. In fact, she had many times. But when she saw Luke walk in with Jack and Craig, her heart fell into her stomach and she actually felt faint. She had missed Luke, missed talking to her, but running into each other at a gay bar was not how Cassie wanted to resume their friendship.
"Oh, God," Lisa gave an exaggerated moan and rolled her eyes. "Teresas here."
"Searching out her next victim, no doubt," Kim added.
Cassie only half listened. Normally, she would be joining in. Teresa never failed to ask Cassie to dance, and Cassie hated having the encounter with her. She never said yes. She never would. Teresa frightened her. She was over six feet tall, built like a truck and rode a Harley. But right now, there was someone else here that scared her more.
Kim stood and pulled Lisa with her. "Were going to dance. Will you be okay?" she asked. "You know Teresa will be making the rounds."
"Ill be fine," Cassie said, and motioned for them to go. She looked around, trying to find Luke. Apparently they had taken a table at the opposite end of the bar. She was thankful.
She watched Kim and Lisa as they danced close. She gave a silent laugh and smiled. They really were a perfect match and about as different as you could get. Kims hair was cut very short, bleached nearly white on top where gel held it sticking straight up. Lisas conservative brown hair reached to her shoulders, her natural curls tamed somewhat tonight. Kim was thin as a rail. Lisa, like Cassie herself, had to watch everything she ate or she ended up fighting an extra five or ten pounds before she knew it.
Cassies gaze followed her friends across the dance floor, and she was lost in thought. Thats why the deep, husky voice startled her.
"Whats a pretty girl like you doing sitting here all alone?"
Chills ran down Cassies spine, and she turned her head slowly, not at all prepared for the warm welcome she found in Lukes eyes. Her bones turned to jelly, and she found herself returning the smile as their eyes locked. Luke pulled out a chair and turned it around, her back to the table. Then she leaned her elbows on her knees and grinned mischievously.
"You know, if you hang out at gay bars like this, people will start to talk."
Cassie laughed. "Kim made me tag along," she explained.
Luke nodded. "Me, too. I had dinner with Jack and Craig. They thought I needed a night out."
Luke nodded. "Ive been busy. How about you?"
"Working, yes. Getting ready for the County Fair."
Cassie pulled her eyes from Luke and focused on the woman approaching. "Oh, no," she groaned. She reached out without thinking and wrapped her fingers tightly around Lukes forearm, ignoring the sharp thrill that ran through her. "Stay where you are, please," she whispered as she locked eyes with Luke.
"If you insist," Luke murmured.
"Hey, Doll. Lets dance."
Cassie raised her eyes to the puffy face of Teresa and shook her head. "Cant." She motioned to Luke. "Busy tonight."
Teresa shook a finger at Cassie, her cigarette dancing in Cassies face. "One of these days, Doll. Itll be my turn."
"I seriously doubt it," Cassie whispered as Teresa walked away. She turned to Luke. "That woman scares me."
Luke gave an exaggerated shudder. "Shit, she scares me, too. Could be the handcuffs on her belt," she said and they laughed together.
Cassie looked past Luke again, this time to Kim and Lisa as they made their way back to the table. The fates were definitely not in her corner tonight.
She turned quickly to Luke. "Listen . . . Kim . . . she doesnt know that were . . . that weve talked. That we know each other . . . at all," she stammered. "And I just cant deal with it . . . right now." She didnt expect Luke to understand her hesitation but Luke was nodding.
"She would think . . . that youre . . . that we . . .. " Luke said, pointing to first Cassie, then herself.
Cassie nodded. "Yes. You dont know Kim," she whispered hurriedly. She realized she was still clutching Lukes arm and she reluctantly released her.
"Then your secrets safe," Luke said quietly. "Although I was hoping wed have a chance to visit. Maybe . . .."
"Well, I thought that was you," Kim said, interrupting them. "Luke, isnt it?"
Cassie rolled her eyes and watched as Luke and Kim shook hands.
"And this is Lisa."
"Good to see you again, Kim. Lisa, nice to meet you," Luke said pleasantly.
"Join us," Kim invited. "Ill get you a drink."
Cassie opened her mouth to say that Luke didnt drink then closed it just as quickly, but Luke was already standing.
"Thanks, but Im here with friends. I just saw Cassie and thought Id say hello." She turned to Cassie and touched her shoulder lightly, giving her a quick wink. "Glad I ran into you again."
"My, but shes attractive," Lisa murmured.
"Dont start, Kim," Cassie warned without even looking at her. Her eyes were glued to Lukes retreating back.
"I wasnt going to say a word," she said and chuckled. "Not a word."
Cassie tried to pretend that her shoulder wasnt on fire where Lukes hand had so casually rested but it positively burned. She wanted to touch it but she didnt dare. And it wasnt fair, she thought again for the hundredth time. There was no logical reason for her to have such a reaction to Luke. Well, there was a logical reason, but Cassie refused to name it, refused to accept it. It was just something about Luke. Something that she couldnt explain. Something that she wouldnt dare explain.
Oh, but she liked her. She really did. Luke was charming. Luke was attractive and likable. Luke was a woman and a lesbian. Cassie sighed. A woman and a lesbian that she was insanely attracted to.
"It was nice of her to come over to talk, though," Lisa said, interrupting Cassies thoughts.
"Yes," Cassie said. "She seems nice." Cassie scanned the dance floor occasionally, hoping to see Luke dancing, thinking she could watch her unobserved. She did see Jack and Craig dancing once, but never Luke.
It was nearing midnight, and Cassie gave Kim The Look that said it was time to go. Kim had learned long ago not to argue. Cassie would simply refuse to go out with them the next time.
"Had enough?" Kim asked.
"I think so. Besides, Teresa is giving me the eye again," Cassie said lightly.
"I see someone else giving you the eye," Kim teased, motioning with her head.
Cassie looked up in time to catch the smile on Lukes face as she approached. Her heart fluttered, like an idiot, she chided herself.
"Were about to go, but I thought I could steal one dance from you," Luke said.
Dance? Cassies eyes widened and her mouth dropped open. "With me? Oh . . . I dont . . . I mean, Im not very good," she stammered.
Luke reached for her hand and pulled her up before Cassie could object. "Well, well be not very good together," she said. "I havent been dancing in years."
"But . . .."
"Just one." Lukes strong fingers locked around her own, ignoring her protest.
Cassie was amazed that her legs supported her. She was having a hard time breathing, and when Luke turned and slipped an arm around her waist, she was certain that she was going to pass out.
Cassie nodded, afraid to speak, and her body turned rigid.
"Relax. Youre all tense," Luke said.
"I am relaxed."
Luke smiled and pulled away a little. "You have this very large space around you, dont you?"
"What do you mean?"
"You know, personal space. Some people dont need very much, like me. Others need a lot of space."
"Yes," Cassie nodded. "I tend to require a large personal space." In truth, she never allowed anyone close, maybe Kim. Another side effect of her childhood, she suspected, and Luke was much too close.
But Luke pulled her closer again. "Kinda hard to do when dancing though," she teased, and Cassie could hear the amusement in her voice.
Cassies feet slid along with Lukes. She was on automatic, she realized. She didnt want to think. She didnt want to think about the arm around her waist or the warm hand holding her own. Soft. She didnt want to think about the strong shoulder that her own hand rested upon. And she certainly didnt want to think about the breasts that were only inches away from her own. Oh, dear Lord, she thought, Im going to faint. Her face was flushed, and she felt as if her skin were on fire. She felt perspiration trickle down her back and she breathed deeply, her feet still moving along without a care in the world.
"We didnt get a chance to talk," Luke was saying, and Cassie managed to nod at her. "I didnt want to make you uncomfortable in front of Kim," she teased. "Seeing as how we hardly know each other."
Cassie smiled and felt herself relax. She was thankful to Luke for the conversation. It beat the thoughts running through her head.
"I wanted to invite you over for lunch tomorrow," Luke said.
"I have something to show you." Luke spun her around quite nicely and Cassie managed to step on her foot only once.
"I sold my house, by the way. Ive been in the city on and off the past two weeks, cleaning and moving stuff out here. In between that, Im trying to squeeze in work. Thats why I havent had a chance to call you."
"So youll finally move in all the way, then?"
"I brought a few pieces of furniture with me and the rest of my clothes." Luke spun her around again. "So, lunch? About one?"
If Cassie had any sense at all, she would decline. Maybe seeing Luke and attempting a friendship was more than she could handle right now. Maybe she just needed to get her feelings under control before she saw her again.
"Okay," she heard herself say.
"Great." As the song ended, she pulled Cassie in close and whispered in her ear. "Youre a very good dancer, by the way. And," she added mischievously, "You appear to still have your eyesight."
Cassie nearly broke speed records pulling out of Lukes arms, murmuring thanks for the dance, and hurrying back to her table. She thought her legs would fail her at any moment. She could still feel Lukes hot breath on her ear, still feel her breasts as they brushed against her own.
But she slowed and took a deep breath as she approached the table. She hoped her face showed none of the emotions rolling around inside of her. Cassie smiled pleasantly at Kim and Lisa, and waited for their teasing.
For once, Kim appeared speechless.
"What? Nothing to add?" Cassie asked.
"God, shes cute," Lisa said.
"Yes," Cassie said, wagging her finger at Lisa. "But shes gay and Im not, so it doesnt really matter how cute she is." She tried to sound firm and convincing, but her voice cracked with nervousness. Thankfully, neither Kim nor Lisa commented further.
As they walked to the car, Kim put her arm around Cassie affectionately, ignoring her immediate stiffening, as she always did.
"I think you should invite her to the wine and cheese party next weekend," Kim said.
"And why would I want to do that?"
"She probably doesnt know many people out here. It would give her a chance to meet someone."
"Well, if I happen to see her again, Ill mention it," Cassie said, although she knew she shouldnt. If for no other reason, Luke did not drink wine.
Cassie spent a fitful night. Her fathers voice boomed at her constantly. "Unnatural!"
She tossed in her sleep, fighting off the soft hands of a woman that kept coming to her again and again. Then she wasnt fighting anymore. She was welcoming the hands upon her. She welcomed the soft caresses and the promise of passion that she had only dared to dream about.
She struggled out of her dream, pulling out of strong arms and away from too tempting lips that sought to capture her own. Her pillow was soaked with sweat, and she sat up, her body still hot, her heart still pounding. She tossed off the covers and walked through the dark house, sitting silently in the living room while she got herself under control.
"Just a dream," she murmured. "Doesnt mean anything."
She wished she still smoked. Her fingers itched to hold a cigarette, and she thought that this was the second time since she had met Luke Winston that she longed for a smoke. She leaned back finally and closed her eyes. It was just the dance, she told herself. Having Luke hold her like she had, just set her off.
No, she admitted. That wasnt it. She was . . . attracted to her. Sexually. She cupped her head with both hands and squeezed her eyes shut. She tried to muster up her usual attitude of indifference but it wouldnt come. The walls werent creeping back up. Instead, they lay shattered at her feet, exposing her to feelings she was certain she would never experience. And most likely, it was totally one-sided. Luke had never done or said anything to make her think differently. And the dance . . . she had simply been teasing her. Right?
No, she wasnt in any danger. She just . . . had to deal with this. A test, her father would say. She didnt actually believe it was a test, but still, she felt frightened by what she was feeling. She had nothing to compare this to. In all her thirty-three years, no one person had ever affected her so, had ever haunted her dreams. But deep in her heart, she always knew that if someone were to come to her, it would be a woman.
She crawled back into bed just hours before dawn and slept soundly until nine. It was a beautiful October day and she took her coffee out onto the back porch and sat in the sun. She was still tired, she realized a short time later when her eyes closed heavily.
She made herself get up and she moved to her workshop. As was her custom, she put in a CD, skipping her usual selection of soothing guitar music and choosing instead an early Tracy Chapman. She turned the volume up and selected a newly sharpened chisel from her assortment of tools, intending to work on the sleek back of the seal she had started. She soon lost herself in her work only stopping at the last possible minute to allow enough time to shower. She thought that maybe she should call Luke and cancel lunch, but that would hardly be fair. Cassie decided she was being silly. After all, Luke had done nothing wrong and the seal would be here when she got back.
But still she was nervous as she drove down the long drive to Lukes house. She wished she could be more nonchalant about their lunch date. She certainly did not want her uneasiness to show. She wanted to be friends with Luke, she really did.
Luke opened the door even before she could knock and all her plans fell right through the roof. Luke was wearing short shorts and a tank top. Cassies eyes burned as she pulled them away from her muscled legs and arms and tried to match Lukes lazy smile with one of her own.
"Im glad you came. Come in," Luke invited and she stepped aside to let Cassie pass. Cassie tried not to breathe as she walked past her, but she did. She caught the scent of her, the scent she remembered from last night, the scent she remembered from Lukes pillow, and she felt chill bumps on her skin. How funny, she thought, when her skin felt so hot.
"Im sorry. I just got through working out and I havent had a chance to shower yet."
It was only then that Cassie noticed the light film of perspiration on Lukes skin and her slightly flushed face.
"Its okay. Am I early?"
"No, of course not. Im just running late," Luke explained. "Make yourself at home while I take a quick shower."
Cassie nodded and looked away, suddenly extremely nervous.
"Ill finally get to see your . . . oh my God!" she gasped. She turned and clutched Lukes bare arm tightly, forgetting her nervousness. "Youve got him!"
She had glanced out the windows toward the patio, curious as to the view Luke had on a sunny day like today, and there he was. Her eagle.
"I told you I had something to show you," Luke said.
Cassie followed numbly behind her, her eyes locked on the beautiful bird ready to take flight.
"But you said you got it for a client," Cassie accused.
"No. I told you I had a buyer," Luke reminded her.
Cassie nearly shoved her out of the way, and she went out onto the patio, hands clutched to her chest.
"God, hes so beautiful. He belongs out here, not inside some stuffy building," Cassie said quietly, almost to herself.
"And, hes in love," Luke said.
Cassie turned around and looked where Luke was pointing. The first eagle that stood guard inside seemed to be watching.
"They stare at each other all day," Luke said, her face breaking into smile.
"Hes perfect here, Luke. He really is." Then Cassie turned on her. "How dare you pay me twelve thousand dollars! If I had known if was you, I would never have taken it," she said.
"I know. Thats why I didnt tell you," Luke said easily. "Dont underestimate your work, Cassie. Hes well worth every penny."
Cassie turned back to the eagle, then pulled out a chair to better watch him
Luke laughed. "I guess youll want to eat out here."
"Do you mind? Its such a nice day and . . . God, your view!" For the first time, Cassie looked past the eagle. Lukes house sat on a rise, and falling down the slope was a beautiful meadow, giving way to forest which eventually gave way to vineyards. It was as if she could see all the way to the Pacific. "How much land do you have?"
"Just ten acres," Luke said. "Part of the forest is mine, the rest belongs to the recreation area."
"No wonder you dont have any curtains or drapes in your house," Cassie said.
Luke smiled. "To quote Thoreau, it cost me nothing for curtains, for I have no gazers to shut out but the sun and moon, and I am willing that they should look in," she said quietly.
Cassie met her eyes as she spoke and their gazes held for a quick moment. Long enough for Cassie to feel the heat down to the bottom of her toes.
"Thats . . . nice," Cassie said softly.
"Well . . . let me shower and Ill get lunch," Luke said, and Cassie watched her walk away, wishing with all her might that she did not like Luke Winston. But she did. She liked everything about her.
While she was gone, Cassie inspected the deck, walking around her eagle. Her eyes slid along the natural wood railing, following the steps to the second level, lingering on the jacuzzi for only a brief moment before continuing past the deck. Luke had only begun landscaping. Small fruit trees, apple she thought, were planted close by. Flowerbeds were designed and built, but not planted, and only the planters on the deck held flowers. But still, it was very nice and inviting. She could tell Luke had spent numerous hours planning the deck and surrounding gardens. Once everything was planted and flowering, it would be a feast to the eye. Cassie wondered if Luke would have it finished by next spring. And if she would be around to see it.
"I went to the Farmers Market yesterday," Luke was saying as she pushed open the sliding door with her elbow. "This salad has a little bit of everything in it." Her arms were loaded with salad and two bowls and Cassie stood to help her.
"Ive got it," Luke said. "But theres pasta in the kitchen, if you could bring that out."
Cassie was glad to escape Lukes presence, if only for a moment. It allowed her time to collect herself. Lukes hair was damp from her shower, but her legs and arms were still bare, still tempting Cassies eyes.
Luke followed her back inside and took a pitcher of tea from the refrigerator.
"Is this okay?"
"Teas fine," Cassie managed as she grabbed the bowl of pasta from the counter.
They brought everything out from the kitchen, including hot French bread and Cassie settled at the table, her eyes alternating from the eagle to the view, anywhere but Luke.
"I wouldnt be able to get any work done if I lived here," Cassie said, determined to lose her nervousness with conversation.
"I know. Thats why I put my desk against the back wall." Luke tore off a piece of bread and handed it to Cassie. "Actually, I do most of my real work at night." Then she smiled. "Ive started painting again. Whenever the suns out like this, I haul all my stuff down the meadow and find something interesting to paint. Thats why Im running late today. Inspiration struck this morning."
Oh, God. An artist and a vegetarian? Cassie swallowed with difficulty, washing down the bread with tea.
"You paint? Just a hobby?" Cassie choked out.
"Oh, God, yes," Luke said. "Theyre for my eyes only. Stress relief."
"Id love to see some of your work," Cassie said.
Luke shook her head. "Im what your art classes would have called naive art."
Cassie raised an eyebrow. "Theres a fine line between naive art and impressionism."
"Monet was the impressionist. And trust me, mines naive," she said, but she smiled at Cassie. "I dont mind really. My talent is architecture. Thats where the pressure is. My attempt at art is solely pleasurable."
"You mean if I snooped around your house, I wouldnt find anything youve done?" Cassie asked.
Luke grinned wickedly at her. "Not unless youre nosing around my bedroom."
Cassie felt herself blush even though she tried her best not to. She shoved a fork loaded with pasta into her mouth to avoid speaking.
Luke laughed. "Ive embarrassed you. Sorry," she said.
Cassie shook her head. "No. I just embarrass easily. Must be my upbringing," she said lightly.
"And did I embarrass you when I asked you to dance last night?"
Cassie looked up quickly, catching amusement in Lukes eyes. "No, you didnt. Well . . . maybe a little," she admitted.
"And your friends? Did they tease you?"
Cassie laughed. "Actually, I think Kim was quite startled by the whole thing."
"Do they know youre here today?" Luke asked.
Cassie shook her head. "I didnt say anything, no. They did tell me to invite you to a party next Saturday. That is, if I saw you."
"Im sure you wouldnt be interested," she continued, wishing she had not brought it up at all. "Its a wine and cheese party and all."
"Ahh. I remember those," she said. She stared at Cassie for a second longer. "So, are you inviting me or what?"
Cassie hesitated, her eyes being held captive by Lukes. "Would you want to go?"
"Would it make you uncomfortable if I was there?"
Cassie shook her head. "No, of course not," she lied.
Luke flashed her a smile, making Cassie hate herself for wishing she had not mentioned the party. "Then I accept. Itll be nice to meet some people here. And Ill sneak in a bottle of apple cider."
"Its at . . . her name is Sandy . . . a friend of Lisas. Its in town, Im not really sure of the address," she stammered.
"Well, Ill get it from you sometime this week. Or I could pick you up and we could ride together." Luke motioned to Cassies plate with her fork. "Hows the pasta?"
"Delicious," Cassie said around a mouthful. Ride together?
Cassie found that they had lingered over lunch when she glanced at her watch and saw that it was past three. The entire loaf of bread was gone as well as most of the salad. The conversation had alternated between Lukes work and Cassies carvings. Luke seemed genuinely interested in Cassies art and asked intelligent questions and Cassie found she enjoyed telling Luke about her creations. Luke had her elbows propped on the table, resting her chin in one hand, watching her as she talked.
Cassie was suddenly all too aware of the eyes upon her. She fidgeted with her napkin nervously.
"I didnt realize the time," Cassie finally said. "Let me help you clean up before I go."
"I enjoy your company," Luke said unexpectedly. "I wasnt sure that I would."
Cassie looked up, surprised. "What do you mean?"
"You seemed so reserved when I first met you. Quiet. Nervous, almost." She stood and began gathering their plates.
"Im sorry," Cassie said. "Im not real good with strangers, I guess."
"Youre not afraid of me anymore, are you?"
Cassie avoided her eyes as she picked up the salad bowl. "No. Im not afraid of you," she said. "Should I be?"
"Of course not. Im harmless," Luke said. "Besides, I really hope we can be friends. Like I said, I dont really know anyone out here. Jack and Craig are the only ones Id really call friends. Others that I know in the area are just acquaintances."
"Well, theyre really all friends of Kim and Lisa. I just always seem to get invited."
"What do you mean?"
"The party. Itll be women? Lesbians?"
"Oh. Well, yes, mostly."
"But theyre really only friends of Kim and Lisa?" Luke asked with only a hint of amusement in her eyes.
Cassie cleared her throat nervously before answering. "Theyre my friends, too, I guess," she allowed. Then she smiled. "They dont really know what to make of me, I suppose."
"Because youre straight and all?"
"Something like that," Cassie murmured.
She helped with the dishes despite Lukes protests and left quickly thereafter with a promise to call about the party. Luke had written her phone number on the back of one of her business cards and Cassie shoved it in the pocket of her jeans.
As she drove home, she had the strangest feeling that her life was no longer hers to control. She was acutely aware of Lukes card in her pocket, and if she had any sense whatsoever, she would tear it to pieces and not see her again.
Cassie filled her wineglass for the third time, consciously aware that her eyes were searching for Luke but powerless to stop them. She rode to the party with Luke, despite her protests to herself and to Luke. Kim would jump to conclusions, she knew. Kim was already curious as to when Cassie had seen Luke to invite her. Cassie had been evasive, simply saying she had run into her and mentioned the party, but Kims eyebrows had shot to the ceiling when they had walked in together. Luke apparently had noticed Cassies discomfort and had politely kept her distance. Cassie had spotted her several times talking with different people, seemingly carrying on conversations as if they were old friends.
Now, Cassie found Luke talking to Trish, the only person to always arrive alone at parties. She never left alone, however. Cassie couldnt see what all the fuss was about. Trish was cute enough, she supposed, with thick blonde hair flowing well past her shoulders. But she wore too much makeup for Cassies liking. Not that she had a preference when it came to women, she added firmly. Now Luke was laughing at something Trish had said and Cassie felt a jolt of jealousy as she watched Trish lightly grasp Lukes arm and gaze adoringly at her.
Cassie looked away, embarrassed for having been staring and totally dismayed for what she was feeling. Jealous? She gulped down her glass of wine without tasting it and reached again for the bottle. Why should I be jealous? She was drinking too much, she knew, but it beat being completely sober and totally aware of what she was feeling.
"I see Lukes met Trish. Shall we take bets on Trishs next conquest?" Kim walked up beside Cassie and took the bottle from her hands, her eyebrows raised.
"I havent been the only one drinking out of it," Cassie lied.
Kim drained the last of it and set it aside. "It was nice of you to invite Luke, Cass. But Im kinda surprised that you rode together."
"Yeah, well, Im kinda surprised myself," Cassie said dryly.
"You may have to find your own way home though, " Kim said, motioning with her head to where Luke and Trish stood talking. "Or maybe Luke will just let you take her car. I dont think anyones ever turned Trish down before."
Cassie shrugged, as if uninterested. Trishs list of conquests was as long as her arm and if she wanted to add Luke Winston to it, it certainly was none of Cassies business. But then, when Luke looked up and caught her eye, Cassie was unprepared for the warmth in Lukes smile. Her body went warm instantly and she took in a deep breath, trying to still her racing pulse. Damn the woman.
"Then again, this may be a first," Kim murmured as she witnessed the look that passed between Luke and Cassie.
Cassie opened her mouth to protest, then closed it again. She didnt want to get into it with Kim. Not here, anyway. Instead, she swirled the wine around in her glass before taking a sip.
"I think Ill find another bottle," she said to Kim. "Excuse me."
She felt Kims eyes on her as she walked away, but she was much more aware of the dark eyes that followed her across the room.
She found solitude in the kitchen and rested her hands on the counter for a moment. She shouldnt have come. She had no business being here, really. Just because she was Kims friend, she was automatically invited, and she had long ago stopped feeling self-conscious about being the honorary lesbian at these gatherings. But still, she shouldnt have come. And least of all with Luke Winston.
She pushed away from the counter, and reached for the corkscrew and a bottle of Chardonnay at the same time. This was a wine party, after all. Why not try a new bottle?
"Need some help?"
Cassie very nearly dropped the bottle but she refused to turn around.
"No. Thanks," she said, again trying to manage the corkscrew. Warm hands closed over hers and gently took the bottle and corkscrew from her.
"Are you all right?" Luke asked as she expertly pulled the cork from the bottle.
"Of course. Im fine," Cassie said, ignoring the way her body trembled from Lukes touch.
Luke slid the bottle along the counter to Cassie, then stood with her arms folded until Cassie dared to look up and meet her eyes. She saw concern and . . . puzzlement in Lukes eyes and Cassie forced a smile.
"Im fine, really. I just felt like . . .."
"Drinking tonight?" Luke finished for her.
"Yes, actually." Cassie turned away and filled her glass. "You dont mind, do you?"
She knew Luke was watching her, but she wouldnt turn around.
"I dont mind. Youre not driving, and I wont be the one with the headache tomorrow."
Cassie turned around quickly, her eyes flashing. "Look, its none of your business." Cassie motioned to the door. "Why dont you just go back out and . . . and finish whatever youve started with Trish. Dont leave her alone for too long or shell move on to her next victim."
Lukes eyebrows shot up and she cocked her head to the side and watched Cassie for a second, then took a step toward her. Cassie stepped back until she was pressed against the counter, her heart beating painfully in her chest at Lukes nearness. Luke stopped, but not until their thighs were nearly brushing.
Luke spoke very quietly, her eyes never leaving Cassies. "Theres not really anything to finish with Trish. Shes not at all my type." Cassies breath stopped entirely as Luke lowered her eyes to Cassies lips. "Besides, somebody has to take you home."
Cassies lips felt burned from Lukes stare and her tongue came out to wet them as she waited for Lukes eyes to capture hers again.
"Dont feel obligated to me," Cassie said. "I can manage."
"Im sure you can," Luke said and finally stepped away, giving Cassie room to breathe again. "Well, Ill go out and mingle and leave you to your drinking."
She turned to go but Cassie called her back.
"Luke? Are you having . . . a good time?"
"Yeah. Im having . . . a great time," she said. "Thanks for inviting me."
When she left, Cassie pressed her fingers to her lips, feeling as if Luke had touched them with more than just her eyes. Oh, you are such a fool!
Why had she brought up Trish? It wasnt any of her business who Luke chose to talk to and . . . flirt with. The last thing she wanted was for Luke to think she was actually jealous of Trish. Cassie forced a laugh. As if she would be jealous!
She was thankful, actually. Maybe Luke and Trish would hit it off, maybe they would start dating. Then maybe Cassie could be satisfied with just a friendship with Luke. Maybe that would be enough.
She cursed herself when her hand trembled as she filled the wineglass again. She couldnt very well hide in the kitchen the rest of the night. She took the bottle with her and went back into the living room. She avoided Kim and Lisa, instead squeezing in next to Shelly on the sofa. She tapped her foot to the music and drank her wine, listening to the conversations around her but contributing little. She wondered where Luke was. For that matter, she wondered where Trish was, too. Perhaps they had gone somewhere quiet, where they could talk . . . or whatever.
When her bottle was empty, she accepted a glass of Merlot from Shelly with only a nod, her head already beginning to pound. She was well past her limit and knew she must stop. She had no idea what time it was, but she was ready to go home and get into bed.
Luke materialized just as her eyes were sliding closed. She squatted down in front of her, took her nearly full glass, and Cassie let out a weary sigh.
"Had enough?" Luke asked quietly, with only a hint of teasing.
Cassie nodded. "More than enough," she whispered painfully. "And Ive got to pee."
Luke grinned and stood, holding out her hand, offering it to Cassie. Cassie stared at it, wondering again how it could look so strong and soft at the same time. She finally took the offered hand and let Luke pull her to her feet. She was dizzy from her touch and the wine, and would have fallen if Luke had not grabbed her with both hands. They rested lightly at Cassies waist and Cassie gripped Lukes strong forearms hard.
"Im not used to drinking this much," she murmured.
"Its okay," Luke assured her. "Ive got you."
"Yes, thats what Im afraid of," Cassie whispered.
Luke laughed softly, the laugh that Cassie was growing to love and then lifted up one corner of her mouth. "Now, dont tell me youre afraid of me." She pulled Cassie closer, the hands at her waist tightening. Her breath whispered in Cassies ear and Cassie felt faint all over again. "I told you, Im harmless."
Cassie realized she was breathing hard . . . but at least she was breathing. She stepped back from Luke and managed a smile. "Youre making me crazy, you know that?"
"Im sorry. Youre just so damn adorable," Luke whispered.
"Adorable, huh? I dont feel very adorable right now. Ive had too much wine and I really, really have to pee."
"Okay. Ill wait here."
Luke gave her a push down the hall.
Cassie was afraid to walk, afraid she would fall. She still felt dizzy, although she wasnt sure if it was from the wine or Lukes presence. She wanted to think it was only the wine. "Maybe you could just . . . walk me over there?"
Luke chuckled slightly and nodded, leading her slowly toward the hall and the bathroom.
But Kim intercepted her progress with a worried look on her face.
"Hey, Cass. Are you okay?" Kim looked first to Cassie then Luke, who had a light grip on her arm.
"Im perfectly fine," Cassie said sharply. "Just a little dizzy."
Kim looked at Luke. "Wine?"
Luke nodded. "A lot, from what I can tell."
"Im fine," Cassie said again. "I may have had one glass too many but Im just going to pee and then were going home."
"Do you want us to take you home?" Kim asked.
"Im fine, Kim," Cassie insisted. Then she glanced at Luke. "Unless Luke would rather stay."
"No. Im ready to go myself. Ill take you home."
"Are you sure?" Kim asked Luke. "Because I can do it."
"Kim, go find Lisa. Its okay."
"Are you sure you dont need some help?" Kim asked as Cassie fumbled with the doorknob.
"Of course not. I can manage perfectly." She escaped inside the bathroom, now totally embarrassed. She heard Luke and Kim talking quietly outside, and strained to hear what they were saying. For some reason, Kim didnt want her going with Luke. This surprised her. She would have thought Kim would be pushing them together.
When she stepped out, Luke was alone, leaning against the far wall, waiting. Cassie closed the door and leaned against it, allowing herself to stare. There was no one watching. And God, Luke was attractive. Her hair was short and thick and very dark, and Cassies fingers itched to touch it. She clinched her hands at her side, afraid of what they might do. They stood there watching each other for what seemed like an eternity, then Luke pushed off the wall and moved just in front of Cassie, a lazy smile and warm eyes relaxing Cassie more than wine ever could.
"Yes, thanks." With Luke so close, she lost all her inhibitions as a traitorous hand reached out to brush at Lukes hair just over her ear. "Im sorry. If youd rather, I can get Kim to run me home."
"I think I can manage. Ive had lots of experience with drinking too much wine."
"And who took care of you?"
Luke smiled but didnt answer.
"Come on. Lets get you home."
They managed a quick exit through the kitchen door. Once outside, Lukes arm came around her shoulders and Cassie leaned her head against Luke, if only for a moment. She closed her eyes, wanting nothing more than to snuggle against Lukes soft breasts and this realization made her feel all the more dizzy and she finally stopped walking, breathing deeply instead, trying to clear her head but unable to stop her body from trembling
"Youre shivering. Are you cold?" Luke asked.
Cold? Could Luke not feel how hot her body was?
"Yes." Cassie held both her hands against her flushed cheeks and shut her eyes. "Im so sorry," she whispered.
"Dont worry about it." Luke took her arm and guided her slowly to the Lexus. "Lets get you to bed."
It was a perfectly innocent comment, Cassie knew. And had her own thoughts not been running in that same direction, she could have taken it at face value. But her stomach rolled and she was afraid she was actually going to be sick. She swallowed hard, gulping in fresh air, wishing she had a glass of cold water. Lukes hands were warm on her skin as she helped her inside and Cassie leaned against the cool leather and closed her eyes. She felt like hell. She would feel worse tomorrow, she knew. Oh, and God, she was embarrassed. What Luke must think of her?
"Are you okay?"
Cassie nodded and slowly rolled her head to face Luke, finding concerned eyes looking back at her.
"Actually, I feel like crap," Cassie admitted as her eyes slid shut.
She heard Luke chuckle and managed a small smile of her own. It faded quickly when a warm hand cupped her cheek. It took all her strength not to rub against that hand, to move her lips over the soft palm. She heard a low moan and was mortified when she realized it had come from her. That same hand slipped behind her neck and strong fingers rubbed gently, relaxing her.
She leaned her head forward, giving Luke better access and she was unable to stop another low moan from escaping. She didnt care. The impromptu massage felt too good. The throbbing in her head subsided somewhat and she felt herself drifting, her last conscious thought, that she wanted to lay her head down in Lukes lap and sleep.
A nudging of her arm woke her, but her eyes refused to open and she snuggled closer against the warmth, her face touching warm skin.
"Come on, Cassie," a voice penetrated the haze in her brain. "As much as Im enjoying this, youd be more comfortable in bed."
Cassie groaned and tried to lift her head. "No. This is fine, really," she murmured. Then a husky laugh in her ear brought her around and she opened her eyes, only to find her face snuggled securely in Lukes neck.
She pulled back, Lukes arm sliding off her shoulder, and she sat back in her own seat. How had she managed to cross the console and end up practically in Lukes lap? Her eyes widened and she felt a deep blush creep up her face.
"Im so sorry," she whispered.
Luke laughed again. "Please dont be sorry. It was rather nice."
Cassie blushed a deeper red and turned away, trying to open her door.
"Dont stand up just yet," Luke was saying but Cassie had already swung her legs out. She would have fallen to the ground had Luke not been there to catch her.
"I speak from experience," Luke said. She pressed Cassie against the truck, holding her there and Cassie was aware of every place their bodies touched. "I dont ever . . . do this," she said. Her thighs burned where Luke pressed against them and she shut her eyes against the fire. "I hardly drink more than a glass or two at a time."
"Then why tonight?"
Lukes voice was barely a whisper, her mouth just inches away, and Cassie couldnt pull her eyes away from Lukes lips.
Cassie shook her head. Her body seemed to have a life of its own, and she felt it pull away from her and pulse toward Luke. "Please, Im just having a really difficult time . . . with some issues right now," she whispered. She finally raised her eyes to Lukes. "You confuse me."
"Oh, no. You confuse me," Luke countered.
"I confuse myself," Cassie admitted.
They were standing too close together and Cassie knew they should move. She was aware of her uneven breathing, her rapidly beating heart. It was only then she noticed the pulse throbbing in Lukes neck and her own quickly drawn breath. It would be so easy, Cassie thought. Lukes lips were there, so close and inviting and all Cassie had to do was . . ..
Cassie pulled herself out of her daze, daring to meet Lukes eyes. It was a mistake. Eyes darkened with desire looked back at her. She was lost. In that one moment, she knew that if Luke had taken her hand and led her inside, she would have been powerless to resist. Their eyes locked, both seemingly searching for answers to questions not yet asked. Then Luke mercifully moved away from her, breaking the spell.
"Wheres your key?"
"Pocket," Cassie said, and then she laughed when Luke grinned mischievously.
"Oh, well allow me to get it," Luke teased, reaching for her.
Cassie playfully slapped her hand and produced the key.
In the short walk to the front door, Cassies head began to pound again, and she handed Luke the key while she leaned against the wall. She watched Luke in the moonlight as she struggled to fit the key in the lock. She wanted to touch her, she realized. She wanted to touch her face, her hair. Cassie had never been an overly affectionate person, never had the desire to be physically close to people. That was another wall Luke had managed to take down, she thought.
"Ill just see you in."
Luke stepped aside and Cassie walked past, not stopping until she walked into her bedroom and lay down sideways on the bed. She should at least see Luke out, thank her, but Cassie was suddenly too tired to take another step.
"Can I do anything?"
"Make the bed stop spinning," Cassie whispered. She heard Luke chuckle, then felt her weight as she sat down on the bed beside her. Cassie rolled her head towards her slowly. "Luke, why did you start drinking?"
Luke shrugged. "A woman. What else?"
"What do you mean?" Cassie asked, trying to ignore the warm hands that brushed the hair away from her forehead.
"She was married. We were having an affair. She was going to leave her husband," Luke explained. "After a year, I started drinking a little bit more. After two years, I was drinking a lot. And as we started on three, I was drinking all day long," she said quietly.
"But she didnt leave her husband?" Cassie asked softly.
Luke shook her head. "No. I finally realized that she had no intention of leaving him and I was slowly killing myself. Physically, I felt like crap. Professionally, I was close to losing my job." She looked away for a moment, staring off. "She was . . . playing with me, I guess. Experimenting," Luke said, almost to herself. She turned back to Cassie. "I ended things with her, went home and poured out all the booze in the house and spent a couple of weeks at a health club soaking up carrot juice and fresh fruit," she said. Then she smiled. "I sort of became a health nut. Beat drinking," she shrugged. "Dove into my work with both feet, finally starting my own company. I guess I can thank her for that."
"And the woman?" Cassie asked.
"Still married, I suppose," Luke said.
"Are you still in love with her?"
Luke smiled. "No. Not even a little bit," she said. "That was a long time ago."
"And why dont you have someone now?"
"Because that one just about killed me," Luke said.
Cassie let her eyes slide shut. "Well, she was no good for you," she whispered. She felt Luke get off the bed, and she tried to open her eyes.
"Ill get you some aspirin."
"And water," Cassie murmured.
"And water," Luke agreed. "Why dont you get out of these clothes? Ill bring you a wet cloth for your forehead."
Cassie rolled her head toward Luke again and forced her eyes open. "Luke? Thank you. I was rude to you earlier tonight, in the kitchen. Im sorry."
"And why was that?"
"Trish," Cassie whispered. "I dont like her for you. Dont get involved with her. Shes not a nice person. And you are." She looked up at Luke then. "Have I told you that I think your eyes are beautiful?"
"No, you havent."
Lukes low chuckle sent shivers through her, but she continued anyway. "They are beautiful. Theyre not always so dark, though. Sometimes theyre almost golden."
She saw Luke smile at her and she smiled back before closing her eyes.
"Why Trish?" Luke asked. "Why dont you like her?"
Cassie just shook her head. "Never mind," she whispered. "I just meant to tell you about your eyes."
"Youve had way too much to drink," Luke stated unnecessarily. "You know, theres this rule about straight women complimenting lesbians. It could be very dangerous."
"I thought it was the other way around," Cassie whispered and she felt herself drifting off to sleep. "Im not really straight, you know." Cassie didnt know if she had spoken the words or not. As her eyes shut firmly, she prayed she had only thought them.
Dream hands came to her, unbuttoning her jeans and pulling them down. She helped them, wanting those dream hands upon her. Then they came to her blouse, and she waited patiently as they unbuttoned it slowly. Hurry, she was thinking, but the dream hands took their time. She grabbed them once, entwining their fingers before pulling the dream hands to her breasts but they resisted and she whimpered, rolling toward the dream hands, searching for them again but they left her, left her body on fire and wanting.
Then she sighed as the dream hands gently touched her face and she felt the briefest caress as dream lips brushed her cheek, then her lips. She turned toward them, seeking, but they were gone.
Cassie rolled her head very gingerly to the side and pried one eye open, trying to see the clock. Only six. She groaned. She was a habitual early riser and her internal clock had not taken a break.
"Oh, Christ," she whispered. She saw the empty water glass and thought that at some point during the night, she remembered swallowing the two aspirins.
She stretched out her legs and groaned again. Through the pounding in her head she realized that she was naked. She sat up on one elbow and frowned. She didnt remember getting undressed. At least, not alone. She had a vague memory of hands on her, pulling her jeans down, but that had been a dream. Surely, just a dream.
She lay back down, trying to remember what had happened. Luke had been
here, she had taken her home . . . yes, she had come into her bedroom. She was going to get her aspirin and water. Cassie saw her clothes neatly folded in the chair and her mouth dropped open.
"Oh, dear Lord," she murmured. What had happened last night? She touched her lips with her fingers, then her cheek. She had the vaguest memory of lips brushing hers, of hands touching her, but . . . she had been dreaming. Surely.
After a silent count to three, she sat up, her head feeling like a bass drum during a very long parade. She grabbed her head with both hands and groaned.
"Okay, I swear," she whispered. "Ill never drink again." She stood on shaky legs, her head about to explode, and made her way to the bathroom. If she could just get through this day, she would be all right. And on the heels of that, if I could just remember what happened last night . . ..
"Look, correct me if Im wrong here, but I get the feeling that you and Luke are more than just casual acquaintances," Kim told her as she paced behind the beaver.
Cassie tried to ignore her. She got down on her knees and brushed off the dust and wood chips from the carving.
"Why are you not answering me?"
Cassie sat back on her heels and placed her hands on her hips. "What do you want me to say?"
"You claim to barely know her, yet she seeks you out at the bar and asks you to dance. Then, you show up together at the party. You get drunk on your ass and she takes you home and you have nothing to say?" Kim faced her with her own hands on her hips. "Give me a break. I wasnt born yesterday. Ive seen her type."
"Yes. Her type! My God, look at her! Shes like the high school quarterback and youre the last virgin in school." Kim bent down and looked Cassie in the eye, her tone deathly serious. "Shes trying to win the toaster oven."
Cassie burst out laughing, falling down on the floor and clutching her chest. "Youre incredible," she gasped. "I dont think Luke Winston is the type to go around converting women!"
"Why are you laughing? Im completely serious!"
Cassie sat and folded her legs and wiped at the smile on her face. "I thought youd be happy that some woman was paying me attention. After all, youre convinced that Im a lesbian. It wouldnt really be converting then, would it?"
"Shes not what I had in mind," Kim said. "Shes too . . . just too much."
"Too what? Too attractive?"
"No. Yes. Shes . . . Cassie, just look at her. She could have any woman she wanted, any time she wanted. Im sure shes been around the block a time or two."
Cassie laughed again. "Kim. Luke Winston is not interested in me. Nor I her," she added, hoping she sounded convincing.
Kim stared at her and it was her turn to laugh. "You surely arent going to tell me that I imagined those looks between you and Luke?"
Cassies smile vanished and her chin rose. "I most certainly am," she said. "Were only friends and hardly that," she insisted. "Im sorry if you think otherwise."
"Honey, I know her type," Kim said again gently. "I worry about you. I dont want her to take advantage of you."
Cassie took Kims hand and brought it to her lips. "I love you, Kim. Youre the best. But dont worry about me. I can handle this." She waved one hand above her head. "Whatever this is," she said. "Luke is a really nice person and I do like her a lot. But as a friend," she insisted.
Kim looked at her silently for a long moment. "If you need to talk . . .."
"I know. Youd be the first."
"Okay." Kim stood and walked away, feigning interest in a small Nuthatch that Cassie had recently finished. "So, one more week to the fair. Youll be ready?"
Cassie nodded with relief. Work, she could talk about.
After Kim left, Cassie spent the afternoon cleaning up her workroom. She arranged all her tools again, which would soon be scattered about, but for the moment looked neat. She even brought the vacuum out and cleaned in all the corners. Her carvings were all ready, save two; she only had to box them up for the move to the fair grounds. She piddled in the workroom, trying not to think about Luke Winston and Kims words to her. She actually was feeling much better about the whole thing. It had been four days since the party and she had only spoken to Luke once, briefly, the day after.
Absently, she picked up a delicate fawn, admitting to herself that she had been intentionally rude to Luke on the phone. In truth, she had been totally embarrassed and didnt have a clue as to what to say to Luke. Of course, it would help if she could actually remember everything that had happened that night. She only had her imagination and faintly-remembered dream to rely on. Both of which she would rather forget. Hands. Always hands coming to her, touching her. Lukes hands. But it was just a dream, she told herself. She didnt want to think about how she managed to wake up naked.
But now, she needed to apologize. Luke had done nothing wrong and she certainly didnt deserve to be treated as if she had. And Cassie felt like a total ass for being short with her on the phone.
She reached for the phone beside her workbench, one hand still clutching the fawn and dialed Lukes number from memory. It was answered on the second ring.
"Its me . . . Cassie."
There was only a brief moment of silence before Luke spoke.
"Hey. I was hoping youd call."
Cassie smiled. She should have known Luke wouldnt be mad and she wished shed called sooner.
"I need . . . I need to apologize," Cassie said. "I never meant to . . .."
"No. You dont need to apologize. Forget about it," Luke said. "I should have waited to call, I was just making sure you were okay."
"I know you were. I appreciate it. But still, I was rude and I had no right to be."
"Okay. Youve apologized. I accept."
Cassie smiled again. She had missed Luke, she realized. And she felt comfortable enough to ask her the questions that had been gnawing at her for the last few days.
"Luke, I didnt . . . you didnt . . . I mean, I was naked when I woke up," she said quietly. She had to know what had happened, no matter how embarrassed this was making her. She couldnt stand not knowing any longer. But Lukes low chuckle sent chills over her body.
"You dont remember a thing, do you?"
"Not much, no," Cassie admitted.
"You mean, even when you ravished me by the front door?"
"Luke! Please . . .."
Luke laughed again. "Dont worry. You were quite the lady . . . and I was a perfect gentleman," she said.
Cassie sighed with relief. "I thought . . . well I was worried . . .."
"That I had taken advantage of you?"
"No! Of course not," Cassie said. Is that what she thought? "I was just hoping that I wasnt . . . well, I never act like that. Im sorry you had to witness it."
"Its okay. Really. And Im glad you called. I was actually going to call you. If you dont already have plans, I was hoping youd come over for dinner Saturday evening."
"Yes. You know, cook and eat," Luke said with just a hint of teasing in her voice.
Cassie smiled, knowing she was crazy to even consider it but also knowing she would agree. She seemed to be powerless when it came to Luke.
"I dont have plans."
"So . . . that means you accept?"
"I accept," Cassie said.
"Great. Come about six and Ill put you to work in the kitchen."
When they hung up, Cassie still stood by her workbench with the fawn resting lightly in her hand. It was crazy, she knew. The one person who might be able to break down her carefully constructed walls and she was going to her willingly. Thats a laugh, she thought. What walls? There didnt seem to be any walls where Luke was concerned. She tried to tell herself it was just the friendship she craved but her body told her something else entirely.
As Cassie drove down the long drive to Lukes house, she wished she had worn something a little more casual. She looked like . . . well, like she was going on a date. Her usual jeans had been replaced with soft, khaki pants and the comfortable T-shirt she had started with lay crumpled on her bed. Instead, a crisply ironed blouse was neatly tucked inside and she chided herself for being so foolish. It wasnt a date. It was just dinner with a new friend. Right? She met her reflection in the mirror, her eyes refusing to lie to her. She wanted it to be a date, she realized.
"Great," she murmured. "Wanna start dating? Sure. Lets not start with someone safe. Lets start with Luke Winston!"
She stood at the door for a minute, rubbing her damp palms on her slacks before knocking. She felt as nervous as a schoolgirl and she almost wished she hadnt brought the fawn. But Luke wasnt like most people. You couldnt just grab a bottle of wine. And flowers would be just . . . too much. Flowers? What are you thinking?
She raised her hand to knock just as the door opened. She stood face to face with Luke for the first time in a week and she wasnt prepared for the slow roll of her stomach when Luke gave her that lazy smile of hers.
"I thought I heard you." Luke stepped back, her eyes traveling slowly over Cassie. "You look great."
Cassie blushed, and glanced down at her slacks, again wishing shed left her jeans on. Lukes own faded jeans were baggy and hung low on her hips.
Luke motioned with her head. "Come in. Its good to see you again."
Cassie stepped inside, the fawn still clutched in her hand, offering her a bit of comfort. She finally lifted her hand and offered it to Luke.
"I wanted you to have this," she said, her voice thick.
"Its the fawn," Luke said quietly. "You didnt have to do that."
"I know. But I knew you liked it."
"I love it. Its so . . . delicate, fragile almost. Its beautiful." Luke placed it on the mantle over the stone fireplace then turned to face Cassie. "Thank you. Ill treasure it."
Cassie nodded, then shoved nervous hands into her pockets. "Well, I didnt want to come empty handed and I couldnt very well hand you a bottle of wine."
"Cassie," Luke smiled, and walked up and grasped her arms with both hands. "Relax, will you."
Cassie tried to laugh, but her skin burned where Lukes hands still rested. "Is it that obvious?"
"Yeah," Luke nodded. "It is." She finally released her and Cassie was able to breathe again. "Are you embarrassed about the other night?"
"Yes. Im terribly embarrassed," Cassie admitted. "That was just so . . . not me," she said. "And I feel terrible, with you having to . . . take me home."
"Ive been there many times." Then she smiled and Cassie relaxed a little. "Just dont make a habit of it."
"No. Not ever again." Cassie followed Luke into the kitchen, her eyes following the sway of Lukes hips as she walked.
"Good. Now, maybe you could help me with the egg rolls."
Luke stopped, turned and caught Cassie staring. Cassie rolled her eyes to the heavens, secretly hoping to be swallowed up, but thankfully, Luke made no comment.
Cassie finally cleared her throat and attempted to speak. "You make your own egg rolls?"
"Yeah. You like Chinese, dont you?"
Cassie pushed her sleeves to her elbows, watching as Luke brought out a platter of egg rolls ready to fry. Cassie was in charge of them but she watched in amazement as Luke fried rice in one pan and stir-fried vegetables in another and had some sort of sweet and sour tofu concoction going in a third without so much as one mishap.
"Wow!" Cassie exclaimed. "Youre good."
Luke raised her eyebrows and grinned. "Yep. I know my way around a kitchen," she said good-naturedly, and went back to her pans.
Soon, the smells of Chinese food filled the entire house, and Cassies earlier discomfort had vanished, replaced by the warm, pleasant feeling you got simply by cooking a meal with a friend. Cassie found herself singing along with the Indigo Girls as she and Luke shared the kitchen, side-stepping each other with ease. They each made heaping plates and carried them to the new table Luke had brought in.
"I like it," Cassie said of the table. "Not too big. It wont get in the way."
Luke shrugged, then nodded in agreement. "Well, I thought it would be uncivilized if I didnt have one." She sat down, then stood just as quickly. "Wait, I forgot the candles." She hurried back to the kitchen and brought out two brass candleholders, then rushed back into the kitchen for matches.
Cassie watched her with a small smile, thinking how pleasant the evening had been so far. When Cassie cooked, she didnt want anyone else in her kitchen, but Luke had made her feel welcome and they had shared the space with quiet companionship, Luke occasionally shoving a spoon in her mouth for a taste test.
"There," Luke said as she stood back to survey the table. "Perfect."
Cassie took her first bite of the egg roll and groaned. "God, this is good," she said around a mouthful.
"Mmmm," Luke agreed. "My mothers. Well, really Aunt Susans recipe. We used to all get together and chop veggies for what seemed like hours, then we had an assembly line to roll them." She laughed. "I bet we used to make hundreds of them at a time."
"In the commune?" Cassie asked.
"Yeah. And Susan could really cook. Back in those days, you couldnt just go to a bookstore and find vegetarian cookbooks. Lots of trial and error," she said. "But, I got my love of cooking there. She taught all of us, really."
"So youve always been a vegetarian? I mean, even when you were a kid?"
"Pretty much," Luke said. "I wasnt even a year old when my mother moved us there."
"And your Aunt Susan? Do you ever see her?"
"Not that often," Luke said. "She and Darlene still live in Berkeley though."
"I cant believe theyre still together," Cassie said.
Luke nodded. "They had a breakup about fifteen years ago or so. Middle-aged crisis for both of them, Susan likes to say. Theyre both almost sixty, I guess."
"Do you see your mother?"
"I see her some, yes. We talk on the phone more, though," Luke said.
Cassie could feel Luke watching her and she looked up. "What?"
"Is this time of year hard for you?" Luke asked quietly.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, its almost November," she said. "Thanksgiving, then Christmas. Do you miss that family thing?"
Cassie smiled. "No. Not at all. Its hard to miss what youve never had," she said. "I was too young to remember a Christmas with my mother. Just vague memories, really. And my father, well, he was more interested in his Christmas sermon than Santa and presents and all that," she said.
"Christmas was a great time when I was growing up," Luke said. "Just one big extended family. But the last few years, Ive just enjoyed being alone or with good friends. My mother and Neal still get together with some of the old gang but Im just so far removed from that now," she said.
"I usually have dinner with Kim and Lisa," Cassie said. "They still put up a tree but I havent had one in years."
"I always put up a tree, no matter what," Luke told her. "I have to have something to remind me of the time of year. And it makes me feel good," she continued. "I like to turn off all the lights, put a few candles out and just have the Christmas tree lights on and music. I could sit for hours," she said softly. "Just sitting. And thinking."
"I get . . . I get depressed around Christmas," Cassie finally admitted. "I always put on this brave front, especially in front of Kim, but when I get home, it just hits," she said quietly. "I think about my mother and wonder who she is, where she is. I think about my life, and I feel so terribly alone." She leaned her elbows on the table and tried to smile. "Im sorry. Im not usually so sentimental."
Luke reached across the table and took her hand, and Cassie let her fingers entwine with Lukes. She had a brief flash of dream hands and she knew that they were Lukes.
"Im sorry I brought it up," Luke said gently. "Youve got good friends, Cassie. That can be better than family sometimes."
"I know." Cassie allowed herself to squeeze Lukes hand before pulling away. "But how did we get off on this conversation?"
"My fault," Luke said. She waved her fork at Cassie. "Hows the meal?"
"Youre a fabulous cook, but Im sure youve been told that before."
Luke laughed and Cassie looked up and caught her eyes, thinking again what a great laugh she had.
"A couple of times, but they were just flirting with me," she said. "Whats your excuse?"
Cassie felt herself blush and she pulled her eyes away. "I was starving, not flirting," she managed. "And I like to eat."
"And I like to tease," Luke said. "So relax, will you?"
Cassie helped with the dishes, then went out on the patio while Luke made coffee. She ran her hands slowly over the eagle, so glad that he was here and not at some strangers house. But Luke had been a stranger once. Now, they were . . . friends. Yes, they were friends. Cassie felt comfortable around her. Well, she would feel a lot more comfortable if her pulse didnt race so when Luke looked at her with those dark eyes, but still, she was comfortable around her. And it had been awhile since she had made a new friend.
"Do you miss him?"
Cassie turned in the darkness, startled to find Luke standing just behind her.
"I think about him some, always wondering where he was. Im really glad you have him," she said sincerely.
Luke stood with her hands in her pockets, looking past Cassie to the eagle. "Me, too."
Cassie allowed Luke to catch her eyes, but just for a moment. She was having trouble breathing and she pulled them away, wishing they werent standing alone out here in the dark.
As if sensing her discomfort, Luke motioned back inside. "Coffees ready."
Cassie settled on the floor in front of the fireplace. It was too pleasant a night for a fire, so Luke brought candles and placed them in front of the screen instead. Luke sat on the floor, too, her back leaning against the stone of the fireplace and Cassie watched her as she poured their coffee, wondering again why she felt so drawn to this woman.
"Cream only, right?"
The coffee had a light, vanilla flavor to it and Cassie nodded her approval. Then she watched, again horrified as Luke added not one but two spoonfuls of sugar to the perfectly good coffee. She grimaced as Luke took a sip.
"What?" Luke asked and Cassie realized she had been staring.
"Nothing. I just . . . nothing." She sipped her own cup quietly, painfully aware of the silence surrounding them. Then Luke picked up a remote and soft piano music replaced the silence.
"Ive got other CDs if this isnt to your liking," Luke offered.
"No, this is fine." Cassie was suddenly very aware of the intimate setting, candles and music, and wondered why panic had not yet set in. But she felt completely at ease. It was almost as if in a dream, she realized.
"Do you remember the day we met?" Luke asked quietly.
Cassie smiled. "Yes. At the festival."
"You looked so familiar to me. I was certain that we had met before," she said. "Then I remembered. The night of the party, I looked up and you were watching me."
Her voice was quiet, soft, and Cassie was entranced, wondering where this was leading.
"Just like that day on the sidewalk. I thought then that you had the most beautiful blue eyes I had ever seen."
Cassie trembled and struggled to bring her coffee cup to her lips without spilling any. She had hoped, really hoped, that Luke would not remember that day. Cassie had been staring, yes. And when their eyes had met that day, it was as if Luke were looking into her very soul.
"Ive embarrassed you yet again," Luke said. "Im sorry."
"No." Cassie made herself look at Luke and she ignored the flame that ignited in her body. "I was with Kim and Lisa. They were commenting on how attractive you were." She smiled at Luke. "And I was . . . looking, too," she admitted.
"And when I caught you looking . . ."
"I was embarrassed," Cassie finished for her. After all, she was supposedly straight. What business did she have staring at another woman the way she had been? What business did she have to be sitting here right now with that very same woman?
"Why were you looking at me like that?" Luke asked and she held Cassies eyes captive until she answered.
"I thought . . . I thought you were . . . beautiful." Cassies voice was barely a whisper. There. She had admitted it. And she apparently surprised Luke with her admission. Luke cocked her head to the side and raised one eyebrow, the candlelight now reflecting golden in her dark eyes. And as those eyes stared into hers, Cassie felt the fire spread quickly through her body, yet she shivered from the heat of it.
"Your eyes . . . turn golden . . . sometimes," Cassie whispered before she could stop herself, and she was unable to pull her eyes from the golden flames.
"You told me that before."
It was Cassies turn to stare, her eyebrows furrowed, questioning.
"When I took you home that night," Luke explained.
"I dont remember," Cassie said. Then she leaned forward and rested her arms on her knees. "I woke up . . . naked," she said quietly and she turned again to meet Lukes eyes. "I dont remember getting undressed."
"No. Did you . . . undress me?" she finally dared to ask.
A slow smile appeared on Lukes face and she nodded. "But I kept my eyes closed the whole time. Promise."
Cassie remembered the dream, hands unbuttoning her jeans, her own hands helping to push them down. Hands unbuttoning her blouse, hands that she reached for, hands that she wanted to touch her. She stared at Luke now, her mouth opening slightly as she realized that it had not really been a dream at all.
"It wasnt a dream," Cassie murmured.
Luke stared at her for so long, Cassie thought she would melt from the fire inside of her. When Luke reached out a hand to cup her face, Cassie didnt pull away. She closed her eyes and, against her will, turned her lips into the soft palm, ignoring the warning bells sounding in her mind.
When Cassie opened her eyes again, Luke was there, mere inches away.
"I want . . . to kiss you," Luke whispered.
"Yes," Cassie breathed. "I want you to."
Cassie could not have said no, and she watched in fascination as Lukes mouth came toward her. But still, she was not prepared for the feel of Lukes lips against her own. She shuddered. She didnt know what she had expected but a total loss of control was certainly not it. She could feel herself trembling and she could not breathe. Her body felt hot, so hot and when Luke cupped her face with both hands and brought soft lips to Cassies, Cassie felt her skin melting away. She heard a low moan and realized that it had come from her own lips.
Luke pulled back but Cassies mouth still burned from her gentle kiss. When Cassie looked into Lukes eyes, she saw that Luke wanted much more than just the brief kiss they had shared. But she wouldnt push it, Cassie knew. With those soft lips so close to her own, Cassie realized that she, too, wanted more. Before she could stop herself, she pulled Luke to her, her lips seeking, meeting Lukes hungry mouth.
And then she was falling, falling away and she grabbed Luke and held on. Her fingers dug into strong arms, and she felt the soft cushion of carpet beneath her back, then Lukes lips were on hers again. At the gentle push of tongue, her mouth opened fully, and the groan started low in her throat and she cried out softly when she felt Lukes tongue brush against her own. For one insane moment, she knew what she wanted, what she needed and she let herself slip a little farther into the whirlwind of passion that Luke had created. Her mouth opened to Luke and she kissed her back, her own tongue slipping shyly into Lukes warm mouth, her groan mingling with Lukes as they let their passion carry them, if only for a moment.
But the warning bells clamored to be heard and with great difficulty, Cassie pulled away from Luke, knowing she was extremely close to losing complete control. Her chest heaved as if shed been running and Luke, too, was having a difficult time catching her breath.
The tears came without warning and Cassie covered her mouth, her insides feeling like they would burst at any moment.
"Shhh, no . . . Im so sorry," Luke whispered urgently.
She pulled Cassie into a sitting position and wrapped both arms around her. Cassies tears turned to sobs and she buried her face against Lukes neck, letting her tears fall as they may.
"Please dont cry," Luke urged. "Im sorry, Cass."
Cassie tried to stop. She squeezed her eyes shut and took deep breaths but the explosion of emotion was too much. It was as if a dam had broken and she again buried her head, feeling Lukes hands in her hair as she tried to calm her.
"Shhh, its okay," Luke murmured.
Cassie shook her head. Luke thought it was her fault, thought Cassie was crying because shed kissed her. How could she explain her tears to Luke when she could barely understand them herself?
"Im sorry," she finally whispered.
When she raised her head, Luke brushed lightly at the remaining tears, her eyes cloudy with worry.
"No, Im the one who should apologize, Cassie. I never should have . . .."
"You dont understand," Cassie said, stopping Lukes apology. "Ive lied to myself for so long, denied feelings, told myself that I could never have feelings for a woman." Cassie swallowed hard and reached out a hand that trembled only slightly as she touched Lukes soft face. "It was just too much," she said quietly. "I felt like I was going to explode," she admitted.
"I still shouldnt have pushed you," Luke insisted.
A small smile touched Cassies lips. "I think it was my choice," she said.
Luke entwined her fingers with Cassies, then brought Cassies hand to her lips.
"We can take this as slow as you want, if you even want to pursue this. Or we can go back to yesterday and pretend this never happened, Cass. Whatever you need," she said.
Cassie shook her head. "I dont want to pretend this didnt happen, Luke. From the moment I saw you on that sidewalk, I knew if I was to get to know you, youd be the one that could break down all the walls Ive built around myself. But, Im not ready to take the next step. Its taken me years to work up to a kiss."
Luke smiled and nodded her understanding.
"Its been a very long time since Ive wanted to get to know someone, since Ive wanted to be around someone," Luke said. "I dont want to let this pass us by, Cass. I can be as patient as you need me to be."
"You may regret those words," Cassie murmured.
"No I wont."
Luke pulled her gently into her arms and they sat together with their backs against the sofa and watched the candles flicker as the piano music played on around them.
Later that night, as Cassie settled into her own bed, alone, she allowed her thoughts to return to the evening. Panic had set in as she drove home and shed nearly convinced herself that she shouldnt see Luke anymore, that she should go back to her safe, solitary, lonely life. Luke had left it up her, simply telling Cassie to call her when she wanted to talk.
She really didnt know why she was shocked by what had occurred. Hadnt she known this would happen? Hadnt she felt desire from the moment she looked at Luke that day on the sidewalk?
She rolled over and faced the wall, willing the desire to go away. She didnt need it, she told herself. She was perfectly happy with her life the way it was. Safe and boring and lonely. She squeezed her eyes closed and tried to shut out her fathers booming voice.
"Living here with them, thick as thieves. Youd think youre one of them, the way you flock to them. Its unnatural, I tell you!"
Cassie smiled at the family as they looked over her pieces, then scowled at the little boy as he picked up a squirrel and shoved it at his sister.
"Stevie, stop that," the mother said. She threw a glance at Cassie. "Im sorry. He knows better," she apologized.
Sure he does, Cassie thought, as she reached for the deer he had just picked up. "Theyre breakable, Stevie," she muttered under her breath.
She was irritable, she knew. She shouldnt be. The fair was going well and there wasnt a cloud in the sky. People packed the fairgrounds and she knew she would be nearly out of her small carvings by the end of the weekend. That is, if this brat didnt break them first.
"Stevie! Put it down," the mother said. She turned to her husband with pleading eyes. "Please take him somewhere. I really want to look at these carvings." She turned to Cassie again. "Sorry. He has abundant energy today," she apologized again.
And I hope you have him on some sort of drug, Cassie thought. But she smiled sweetly. "Look all you want," she said.
"These are how much?"
"The smaller ones are seventy-five. The larger ones go up to one twenty-five."
"How much are the big ones?" she asked, pointing to the giant carvings.
Cassie followed her eyes to the eagle. "They vary. Anywhere from two to four thousand. Except the seal and the beaver. They are both five."
"Oh my," she said. "Out of my range." She picked up the deer Stevie had been holding and turned it in her hands. "Seventy-five is reasonable," she murmured.
"There you are!"
Cassie turned at the unfamiliar voice and frowned.
"Cassandra Parker, right?"
"Yes," Cassie nodded. She guessed him to be in his late fifties, although his skin was nearly wrinkle-free. Perhaps it was his shiny baldhead that aged him, she thought, but she didnt have a clue as to who he was.
He smiled and stuck out his hand. "Im Weldon Arnold. A dear friend of mine has a couple of your carvings. You do exquisite work and Im in the market," he said quickly, his eyes darting to her carvings.
Cassie let her hand fall after Weldon Arnold had given it a gentle squeeze. She motioned to the woodcarvings behind her. "Youre welcome to come back here for a closer look," she offered.
"Oh, my," he said, his hand going to his throat. "Luke said you did much more than eagles."
Luke? Just the name sent shivers across her skin and she folded her arms at her sides. One week. One week since Luke had kissed her and she could still feel her, taste her as if it were only minutes ago. She closed her eyes tightly for a moment, trying in vain to block out the images that she knew would come. Butterflies slammed against the walls of her stomach and she took a deep breath, swallowing hard before turning back to the woman holding her deer.
"Sorry," Cassie apologized. "Do you like it?"
"Yes. I think I want this one. Checks okay?"
"Of course," Cassie said.
Cassie turned back to Weldon Arnold. "Yes?"
"I really like the beaver for the patio. You even have flakes of wood chips here where hes chewed the log," he said. "It will make a great conversation piece. Will it weather?"
"Yes, its been finished for the outdoors," Cassie said. "Most of the larger ones have, except the smaller eagle there."
"Great, great," he murmured. "I love it." He turned back to the eagle.
Cassie took the womans check and hurriedly wrapped the deer. A seventy-five dollar sale could not compare to the beaver. "Thanks," she said. "And tell Stevie to be careful with it," she added.
She turned back to Weldon Arnold as he studied one of the eagles. It was similar to the one that Luke bought that first day, just smaller and she could tell Weldon wanted it very badly.
"You like the eagle?" she coaxed.
"I offered Luke fifteen thousand for the one she has on her patio, the eagle in flight," he said.
Cassies mouth dropped open. Fifteen?
"She wouldnt even consider it," he said. "I dont suppose you have another like that?"
Cassie shook her head. "No. That was definitely one of a kind."
He smiled. "Oh, well. I probably shouldnt but I cant leave this beauty behind. Ill take them both," he said.
"Both?" Cassie asked and he laughed at her shocked expression.
"Yes, both. You dont have a limit, do you?" he asked lightly.
"Of course not. The eagle wont weather," she explained. "I can put a finish on for you if you plan to keep it outdoors."
"Thank you but that wont be necessary. Ive got a spot for her by the fireplace."
She smiled broadly at him, trying to keep the excitement from her voice. The two pieces totaled nine thousand dollars. "Well, Mr. Arnold, youve made two excellent choices."
"Ill get them both tomorrow before I leave. Is that okay?"
"Of course. You live in the city?" Cassie asked. She accepted his platinum credit card with only slightly shaking hands.
"Oh, no. Out on Russian River. Weve just moved into a log home that Luke Winston built. But were from the city and this is our first county fair," he explained.
Oh, this must be the client Luke was telling her about that first day. "Well, I hope youre enjoying it," Cassie said as she waited for his receipt to print.
"Very much. My partner and I just recently retired and we were so ready to get out of the city." He rubbed his neatly trimmed mustache then flicked his eyes again to her carvings. "Could I have some of your business cards? If you dont mind, I have a good friend up at Lake Tahoe that has a shop. Your eagles would go over so well up there."
Cassies breath caught, but she kept calm. "Woodcarvings in the mountains are everywhere. I doubt this would be anything special."
Weldon Arnold dismissed her comment with a wave of his hand. "Chainsaw art, if anything. A dime a dozen, youre right. But this, hand carved from driftwood, your detail is spectacular," he said, running his fingers lightly over the eagles head.
"You have a good eye," Cassie commented. "Were you in the business?"
He smiled. "We owned an art gallery, yes. And I know good work when I see it. How is it youve been hiding away out here in the country?"
Cassie shrugged, remembering her struggles of trying to find shops in the city that would carry her carvings. Of course, back then, she seldom had the time to devote to her large carvings.
"I havent been doing this that long," she explained. "The giant carvings, only about five years now, but I have a couple of shops in San Francisco that sell the smaller ones."
"Our gallery was in the Union Square area. Your work would have done wonderful at the Union Street Spring Arts Festival."
Cassies eyes widened and she laughed. "Im afraid I was never good enough for Union Square."
"Oh, honey, trust me, youre good enough. You just didnt have the right contacts." He paused, as if considering, then continued. "Luke says you two are friends and any friend of Lukes is okay by me. I still have a few contacts there. If youre interested, Id be happy to make a call for you," he offered.
Cassie was speechless. Any local artist would kill to have their work displayed in Union Square. Suddenly, things were moving too fast and she was stunned. Mr. Arnold seemed to notice her discomfort and he patted her hand.
"My dear, I can see Ive dropped a bomb on you and I have no idea what your inventory is like. If you decide, just let Luke know. She can contact me directly."
"I really, really appreciate the offer, Mr. Arnold, but it is a bit overwhelming. Ive gotten used to these county fairs and local art shows, Im afraid."
"I understand. If you would at least allow me to call my friend at Lake Tahoe?"
"Of course, if you think hed be interested."
He smiled and pocketed the business cards she handed him. "After thirty years in the business, I do miss discovering new talent. Think about my other offer. It would be my pleasure to introduce your work."
"Thank you. I will." Then she motioned to the carvings he had bought. "And Ill have these ready for you tomorrow," Cassie assured him.
"Wonderful. It was so nice doing business with you." He took her hand and kissed the back and left as quickly as he had come.
She sat down in a daze after he had gone. Two pieces just like that. And just because Luke Winston said she did exquisite work. She owed Luke a very big thank you, but wondered when shed have the courage to call her.
Luke. Why did the mention of her name call up memories of them on the floor . . . kissing? They came to her with such vividness that she felt her stomach roll and pulse quicken. She had spoken to Luke only once in the past week, but had not seen her. Luke had gone to San Francisco on Wednesday and Cassie had not heard from her since.
And she was fine, she told herself. She didnt need to see Luke, to talk to her. It was better that they took some time. She took a deep breath, staring out over the crowd, seeing nothing. It wasnt better, she finally admitted. She missed Luke. She didnt want to miss her, but she did.
She stood quickly, pacing in her small, roped off area, trying to forget about that night, wishing it still didnt come to her with such vividness. All these years, she thought. All these years of pretending she was something she wasnt. All it had taken was one kiss. One kiss and she could no longer pretend.
She heard her name called and saw Kim making her way through the crowd. She groaned silently. She had been avoiding Kim all week, afraid she would see through the façade. She would have to tell her sooner or later, she knew.
"Hey," Kim called before stepping over the rope. "Hows business?"
Cassie avoided Kims eyes, making a show of going to the beaver and eagle, a broad smile on her face.
"Say goodbye to these two," she said.
"Two more? Its barely noon," Kim said. "You only have five left."
"Yes. Isnt it great? Some guy came in and just like that," she said, snapping her fingers, "he bought both of them. Hes coming back tomorrow to pick them up," Cassie said. She did not mention that Luke Winston had sent him. She cocked her head to the side with a grin. "How about you?"
"You were right about the abstract," Kim said. "I got rid of it first thing this morning. The guy let me keep it until this evening and I had at least six other offers for it."
"Well, itll give you something to do this winter," Cassie said.
Kim nodded, then stood with her hands on her hips.
"Have you been avoiding me?"
"Of course not."
"Ive barely talked to you all week. Whats going on?"
"Are you okay?"
"Of course Im okay," Cassie insisted.
Kim stared at her for a long moment, long enough to make Cassie uncomfortable.
"Okay. Well, I better run. Im just taking a pee break. Great crowd, huh?" She stepped over the rope, then called back. "Dont forget about the party tomorrow night," and was gone.
The party. She had forgotten. It was a tradition that had started long before Cassie had moved here. Each year, the artists got together for a party after the fair ended on Sunday, just to brag about good fortunes or lament the sale that got away. Paul and Jeff were hosting it this year and Cassie was thankful she would have someplace to go instead of her empty house where flashes of Lukes kiss seemed to be hiding in every shadow.
She had to stop this, she knew. It was slowly driving her crazy, these feelings raging through her body at just the slightest thought of Luke Winston.
She wanted . . . needed to see her again. She missed Luke. But maybe Luke was giving her time to adjust. Their conversation on the phone had been brief, Luke simply making sure she was okay and to tell her she would be in the city the rest of the week.
With difficulty, she pushed thoughts of Luke from her mind, and instead, replayed the conversation with Weldon Arnold. It was too good to be true, really. Union Square? God, she would be the envy of the locals, that was for sure. Even Kim, who had had showings in the downtown galleries, never made it to Union Square.
But did she have enough pieces? Five left here. A handful more in her workshop in various stages of completion. If she did that, she would only be able to concentrate on the bigger pieces. No more sitting on the porch in the evenings, carving small birds and squirrels. Did she want to give that up? Then she grinned. She wasnt a total fool. No artist in their right mind would turn down an offer of Union Square.
Cassie waved at Kim briefly, then let herself be pulled into the kitchen by Paul.
"You havent been here since I moved in," Paul complained.
"I was here at the Christmas party," Cassie said.
Paul scowled then shook his finger at her. "Cass, you and I came together for that one. That was only the second time Jeff and I had met."
Cassie grinned and punched Paul in the arm. "And we all know what happened that night, dont we?"
"I fell in love," Paul said dramatically, and Cassie laughed.
"Yes you did," she said. "And I got dumped."
Paul grasped her hands. "It could have been worse."
"Yes. You could have left me for another woman," she said lightly.
Paul ignored her comment and pulled her in close. "And what about your love life?" he asked quietly.
Cassie looked away quickly. "What love life?" she asked lightly.
"I thought you were seeing some farmer."
She dismissed his comment with a wave of her hand. "Oh, that. I wouldnt actually call it dating," she said. "There was nothing there," she said.
He stared at her for the longest time and she grew uncomfortable under his gaze.
"What?" she asked finally.
He smiled and stared at her for a second longer, then shook his head. "Nothing," he said lightly. He filled a wineglass for her and handed it to her after a quick kiss on the cheek. "Now, how was the fair? The last time I checked, you only had five pieces left," he said.
"I still have them. And I guess the seal will stay with me through the winter, too. I really like her, but I suppose people dont want a seal sitting on their patio. But I did sell most of the small carvings," she said. She took a sip of the wine, which tasted surprisingly good.
"Youll be busy from now until Christmas, I guess."
"Yes. But they dont take very long to make." She wasnt going to tell anyone about Weldon Arnold until she decided what to do, but she desperately wanted to share her news with someone and she hadnt had a chance to talk to Kim. "I did meet a contact."
"Oh? From the city?"
"Yes. He used to own a gallery in Union Square."
"Jesus, Cass, thats great." Paul swooped in for a quick kiss. "Tell all."
"Well, he bought two pieces for himself. He offered to make a few calls and introduce me, if I was interested." She tried to keep the excitement out of her voice and failed miserably.
"My God," he drawled. "Little bitsy Cassandra Parker might make the big time!" Then he smiled and his voice turned sincere. "Im so proud of you. You deserve it."
"My inventory is a little thin right now and Ive already committed to the Christmas Fair," she said. "And I may be out of my league."
"Dont be silly. Youve never charged enough for your work. This would be a wonderful opportunity for you. Screw the Christmas Fair."
"You know I cant do that. Kim would kill me."
"I would kill you for what?"
They both looked up as Kim shoved them out of the way and took the bottle of wine and poured a full glass. "I could have sold ten today, at least," she told Cassie. "Youre right. Ill be doing abstracts all winter." She took a large swallow, then continued. "Kill you for what?"
"For skipping the Christmas Fair," Paul supplied.
"Im not skipping it," Cassie insisted.
"She got a better offer."
Cassie glared at Paul, who closed his mouth but couldnt keep the smile off his face.
"Whats going on?"
"Oh, please! Youre such a chicken-shit." Paul moved in front of Cassie and took Kims arms dramatically. "She got an offer for Union Square."
Kims eyes widened. "Oh my God!" she hissed. Then she shoved Paul out of the way. "Youre joking?"
"I havent even talked with him about it, Paul," Cassie said, wishing she had not even mentioned it.
"Who? Who?" Kim demanded.
"Some guy bought two pieces and offered to set her up," Paul continued.
"Well Ill be damned! Just like that?"
"Isnt it fabulous?"
"Hell, yes. When?"
They both turned to look at Cassie.
"Im supposed to call him if Im interested." Lukes supposed to call him, she corrected silently.
"Interested? Why wouldnt you be interested?" Kim demanded.
"Well talk later, okay?"
"But this is great news, Cass."
"Yes. But I havent even absorbed it yet. And I know I would be a fool not to try, so Ill probably call him."
"Im so proud of you," Kim said, wrapping both arms around her. "Let me go tell Lisa."
"But no one else," Cassie called after her. Then she turned on Paul. "Thanks a lot."
"Its great news, darling. Bask in it for awhile, why dont you."
She gave a silly grin. "Yeah, it is, isnt it?"
He refilled their glasses before offering a toast. "Heres to great success."
"Thanks." She drank, then paused, wanting to turn the conversation away from herself. "How about Jeff? Did he do okay?"
"He was pleased, but I thought he overpriced some of them. There was this guy from Petaluma, of all places, who had similar sketches for a lot less," Paul said. "Not nearly as detailed as Jeffs though," he added.
Cassie smiled at Pauls obvious bias. He was happy with Jeff, that was perfectly clear and she wished them well together. She did, however, feel a twinge of envy. She had long ago given up hope of someday having someone in her life to share things with. She wasnt really surprised now when Luke came to mind, although she doubted that would ever be a reality.
"Well, Ive got to mingle," Paul said, disrupting her thoughts. "Im the hostess tonight, you know." He paused on the way out. "Congratulations, Cass. I mean that."
Cassie followed him back into the living room, listening as everyone seemed to be talking at once, each wanting to tell about their success at the fair. She was glad she had come and the wine was helping her relax and forget her encounter with Weldon Arnold. It was her first attempt at wine since the infamous party when she was certain she would never drink wine again.
Kim walked up behind her and squeezed her arm, startling her. "Lisa almost peed in her pants over your news."
"You didnt tell anyone else, did you? Im not in the mood to answer a hundred questions tonight."
"This has really thrown you, huh?"
"Yes," Cassie admitted. "Scared shitless, actually. And I havent even agreed to anything other than making contact with some guy at Lake Tahoe."
"Weldon Arnold was his name. Hes got a friend at Lake Tahoe that deals in woodcarvings. Hes going to call him. Thats all I agreed on for now."
"Of the Arnold-Birch Gallery?"
"I dont know. I didnt ask. All I know is that he sold the gallery and moved out to Russian River."
"Its been so long since Ive been downtown, Im not familiar with anything anymore," Kim said. "But honey, dont let this opportunity pass you by."
Cassie paused, then continued. "Hes a friend of Luke Winstons, by the way," she said as casually as she could. "He saw the two eagles that she has and looked me up."
"Always good to have friends in high places, I guess." Then she paused. "Two eagles? When did she buy another one?"
Cassie bit her lower lip, wondering why she had not mentioned the second eagle before. This was Kim, her best friend. But shed intentionally kept her friendship with Luke a secret and once you start a lie, its hard to get out of it, she thought.
"I happened to mention to her about the eagle in flight. She came out to the house one time to take a look," Cassie said invasively. And it was true. There was no need to throw in boring details like the storm and spending the night at Lukes.
But Kim eyed her suspiciously.
"Im surprised you never said anything."
"I thought I had."
Cassie shrugged, pretending it was no big deal and hating herself for not being able to confide in Kim. She knew she would have to eventually, but right now, later sounded better than sooner.
"Did you see her today?"
"Where? At the fair?" Luke had been there?
"Yeah. I saw her walking with two guys. I mentioned the party to her. She said she might stop by."
Cassie forgot to breathe and nearly choked on her wine. Luke? Here? Tonight?
"Great. I need to thank her, anyway," Cassie murmured.
Kim motioned to the door. "I guess youll get your chance."
Cassie let her eyes slide slowly across the room, stopping only when she met the dark ones looking back at her. With great difficulty, she managed to keep her composure as Luke walked towards them. Cassie let her eyes drop briefly, long enough to take in the loose jeans clinging to Lukes lean frame.
Cassie was surprised at the nervousness in Lukes voice but it did little to calm her own nerves. She nodded and managed a mumbled "hello" before her throat closed completely.
"Im really glad you could make it, Luke. Did you bring your friends?" Kim asked, apparently missing the tension between the two of them.
"No, they had to get back but thanks for inviting us."
"Well, the partys been a tradition for years and its hardly limited to only artists anymore, anyway," she said. "Can I get you some wine?"
Luke shook her head. "No, thanks. Nothing for me," she said and her eyes again found Cassies. "I went by your booth, but you had quite a crowd," she said. "I didnt want to interrupt."
"I was . . . busy most of the day," Cassie said. She could not pull her eyes away and she knew that Kim was staring but she was slowly drowning in those dark depths and right then she couldnt have cared less what Kim thought. Her mouth was dry and she tried to swallow, finally bringing the trembling glass of wine to her lips.
"I guess Ill go find Lisa," Kim said. "You two have things to talk about, Im sure," she added.
As soon as Kim was out of sight, Cassie relaxed.
Luke tilted her head and gave Cassie a lazy smile. "Miss me?"
Cassie grinned. "Yes, actually. When did you get back?"
"Last night. It was really late and I probably should have stayed in the city until morning, but I wanted to get back." Luke leaned in closer, her voice low. "I missed you, too."
Cassie breathed deeply, Lukes now familiar scent sending shivers through her. Suddenly, they were back at Lukes house, on the floor, Luke pressed hard against her. Her shirt was gone and Lukes mouth feasted on her breast as her other hand moved slowly between her thighs . . ..
"Hmmm?" She blushed, wondering if Luke had any idea the direction her thoughts had taken.
"How did it go at the fair?"
"Oh, yes. I need to thank you," Cassie said.
Luke raised her eyebrows in surprise. "For what?"
"Weldon Arnold came to see me today," Cassie explained.
"I was hoping he would. I hope you dont mind but I knew he would love your work. If you could see their patio, youd understand."
"He also bought two pieces."
Luke nodded. "He tried to swipe my eagles from me."
"He told me. He also mentioned calling some of his contacts in Union Square. You didnt put him up to that, did you?"
Luke shook her head. "Ive only known Weldon a few years. When he and Thomas were looking to sell the gallery and retire up here, he contacted me about doing their house. I went to their gallery twice, I think. He and Thomas were over for dinner one night and they saw the eagles." Then she leaned closer, speaking softly. "Cassie, your carvings are great. Please dont think hes doing me a favor. I would never ask that of him. It wouldnt be fair to either of you."
"Well, thank you all the same. Well see what happens."
There was an awkward silence between them, then Luke leaned closer, her eyes capturing Cassies.
"Do you want to get together this week? Have dinner or something?"
Cassie nodded, wishing they could just leave the party and go somewhere right now. Alone. Cassie felt conspicuous here, talking to Luke. She could feel eyes on them and she knew Kim had been watching.
"I really wish we could . . . go somewhere . . . to talk."
Cassies eyes dropped to Lukes mouth, watching as a ghost of a smile appeared. Talk? Had she said that? No, thats not what she wanted right now. Right now she wanted to taste those lips again. She raised her eyes, her breath catching at the desire she found in Lukes.
"Dont look at me like that," Luke warned.
"I cant help it," Cassie whispered. It was true. She had no control when it came to Luke. It was as if her very soul were on fire for this woman.
"Lets go . . . go talk somewhere."
Cassie couldnt even manage a nod although she was certain her eyes spoke for her. Luke took her hand and quickly led them down the hall, turning into one of the opened bedroom doors. She pulled Cassie inside and closed the door, drowning out the noise from the party.
Luke stepped closer to her, pressing her back against the door. "Tell me what you want from me," she whispered. "Your eyes tell me one thing, but we said wed go slow. You have to help me here, Cass."
Cassie opened her mouth to speak, then closed it again. Her eyes dropped to Lukes mouth and her own lips parted and she shuddered.
"Please," Cassie whispered, murmuring the only words in her mind. "Kiss me."
Then Luke was there, cupping her face, bringing Cassie to her waiting lips. The gentleness that she remembered from the first time vanished as soon as their lips touched. The fire ignited within her and her mouth opened, gladly accepting Lukes tongue, pulling it into her mouth with an urgency that was foreign to her. Luke groaned and pressed her body hard against Cassie and Cassies legs parted instinctively and she gasped when Luke pressed her thigh intimately against her.
Im going to faint, Cassie thought crazily and her hips moved toward Luke, pressing down hard on her thigh, trying to anchor herself. Then Lukes hands were there, pulling the shirt free from Cassies jeans, buttons opening one by one and Cassie threw her head back when Lukes hands closed over her breasts.
"Yes, please," she murmured and Luke impatiently shoved her bra aside, easily cupping her breasts. Lukes mouth found hers again and Cassie was not shy this time as her own tongue did battle with Lukes. Her hands cupped Lukes face, her fingers trembling as they moved through thick, dark hair. Luke drew back and their eyes locked and Cassie saw desire unlike anything that she could have ever imagined. She closed her own eyes and guided Luke to her breasts. She didnt try to stifle the moan that tore from her as Lukes warm mouth closed over one aching nipple. Cassie held Lukes mouth to her breast, her breath now coming quickly through her parted lips.
She had nothing to compare this to, this wonderful feeling of another woman at her breast. She groaned again when Luke moved to her other breast, her tongue swirling over the swollen tip and Cassie held Luke to her, her breasts aching for Lukes touch.
Her legs threatened to collapse when Luke finally left her breast and returned to her mouth, this time gentle. Cassie moaned from the tenderness of her kiss and her arms slid around Lukes shoulders and she drew Luke to her, pressing her heated body against Luke.
"Please . . . Cassie, weve got to stop," Luke warned. "Im only human."
Cassie nodded, wondering when her sanity had fled, knowing it was the instant their lips met.
"I feel like Im in high school, making out behind the gym or something."
"Im sorry," Cassie whispered.
"No, I didnt mean that it was bad. Just that . . . well, I didnt want to stop."
"And I didnt want you to stop," Cassie admitted.
Cassie pulled out of Lukes arms and tried to gather herself. With her back to Luke, she righted her bra, her nipples still aching for Lukes touch. She sighed heavily, part of her wishing they were alone and could finish what they started. But her rational side was glad they werent. She knew, emotionally, she wasnt ready for this.
"I want to make love to you," Luke whispered.
Cassie shivered at her words and slowly turned to face her.
"I know. Youre not ready."
Cassie nodded, feeling on the verge of tears again.
"Come here, sweetheart."
Luke gathered Cassie in her arms and held her. Cassie wrapped her arms around Lukes waist and rested against her, the endearment still ringing in her ears.
"Im going to head home," Luke said after awhile.
"You just got here."
"Yes, but I cant go out there and pretend we dont know each other. I dont want to spend the rest of the evening avoiding you."
Cassie nodded. She understood perfectly. Until she told Kim, it would be like this. Them pretending to be only casual acquaintances.
They pulled apart and Luke bent and kissed her gently.
"Were not exactly going slow, huh?"
Cassie smiled and touched Lukes face, her thumb raking gently across her lips.
"With the direction my thoughts have been going lately, were going very slowly," she said.
"Oh?" Luke grinned. "Gonna share?"
"Will you call me or are we going to go another week without seeing each other?"
"Yes, Ill call. And, no, I dont want to go a week without seeing you."
Luke slipped past her with only a quick squeeze on her arm, then she was gone. Cassie stood there for a long moment wondering if they were ever going to be able to be alone and not want to rip each others clothes off?
She walked to the mirror and gasped. She looked well kissed, her lips red and swollen, her eyes still dark with passion. She raised a hand and tried to tame her hair, remembering Lukes fingers as they had threaded it, smoothed it. She met her own eyes in the mirror and smiled. After all these years of being dormant, she was going to have a hard time keeping her feelings in check now. In fact, had Luke not been the one to stop, Cassie would have gone willingly to the bed behind them.
But as Luke had told her, she wasnt ready. She knew that, of course. But that didnt stop her from wanting it.
Cassie avoided Kims eyes and shrugged. "Dont know," she said. "Listen, Im going to get out of here." She motioned to the door and was pleased with herself for holding her composure when she felt totally exposed.
"Already? Weve barely gotten started," Kim complained. She grabbed Cassies arm and turned her, her eyes widening as she looked at Cassie. "What happened to you?" she demanded. "Whats wrong?"
"Nothing. I . . . Im just tired and want to go home."
"Cass, what has she done to you? My God, look at you!"
Cassie shook her head slowly. She felt tears form and she looked away. How in the world would she be able to tell Kim about Luke after all these years of denial?
"I need to talk to you, Kim . . . but just not right now," she said. "Okay?" She knew her voice was trembling, but she could not stop it. "Please understand?" she begged.
"Oh, honey," Kim whispered. "Whatever you need, Im here for you," she said. "Did she hurt you?"
Cassie grabbed both her arms and squeezed. "No. Im okay, really," she said and she attempted a smile. "I just need some time to myself."
"Okay," she said. "Jesus . . ."
"Come over for coffee tomorrow morning?" Cassie pleaded.
Kim nodded. "Ill be there. Of course."
Cassie walked away, surprised at how confidently she had handled her discussion with Kim. Her insides were still all mixed up and she tried desperately not to think about Lukes mouth as she walked across the room toward the door.
She sat in her van, calmly trying to rationalize her feelings, but when she remembered how she had guided Lukes mouth to her breast, wantonly throwing her head back in surrender as Luke feasted, she was nearly overcome with desire. And there was absolutely nothing rational about it. If there was any doubt left in her about her desires, it was squelched tonight. She wanted Luke . . . sexually, physically. Even if her mind tried to deny it, her body still ached for Lukes touch.
"But then what?" Cassie whispered out loud.
She drove home in a daze, her mind filled with images of Lukes soft hands on her, Lukes hot mouth as it closed over her breast, her own hips as they pressed intimately against Luke.
Too many years of celibacy, she thought. She still had enough of her humor intact that she nearly laughed. It was only then that she realized she was sitting in her own driveway, the engine still running.
"Take it slow, take it slow," she murmured. Her body wanted no such thing but she firmly told herself it was for the best.
But her body spoke louder than her mind as she lay in bed. The sheets seemed to spark against her naked skin and if she closed her eyes, she could feel Lukes hands on her, smell her familiar scent as Lukes mouth moved from her lips to her aching breasts.
She moaned as Lukes hot, wet mouth closed over her, sucking the taut nipple inside. Cassies hands moved to where she needed Luke the most. Her hips rose instinctively, searching, and when she touched herself, she wasnt surprised at the wetness she found.
Her hips arched, and she groaned as her fingers slid through wetness, her clit swollen and ready. She pictured Lukes fingers sliding into her, and her heels dug into the bed. Then Lukes mouth came to her, replacing her fingers, and Cassie cried out, her body on fire for another woman.
Her fingers stroked quickly, bringing herself to a shattering climax. She lay back, her breath hissing through parted lips, fingers still within her wetness. Then she buried her head in her pillow, knowing she was not really satisfied, knowing she never would be until Luke took her that way.
Was it wrong? Was it so wrong for her to desire another woman like this? Despite her fathers teachings, she had long ago given up hope of finding a nice man someday. She had accepted the fact that it wasnt a man she wanted to be with. But at the same time, she had resolved herself to being alone, knowing she could never give in to her desires, could never openly be involved in a lesbian relationship. Despite all of that, she had been powerless to resist Luke Winston. Luke had come along and had been able to melt her resistance with that very first glance.
And now Luke had done something else. She had turned Cassies cold, stone heart into a wildly racing, raging heart. She didnt want to think about what it meant. But she accepted her attraction to Luke and she admitted that, yes, she wanted to make love with her.