Winter's Thaw



Joanna Holbrook-Sutherland heard the sound of the heavy double doors behind her shutting, and pulled her thick coat closer around her to fend off the cold of the February night.

A small, warm hand slipped into hers and she looked down to her right. "You sure you’re happy to walk?" she asked the blonde, who tucked herself closer to the tall woman. "It’s been snowing all day."

"Yeah," said Shelly, her breath forming a cloud in the cold air. "We need to walk off that huge meal."

"Mother’s dinner parties usually do that to you." She bent and kissed her lover on the cheek.

They’d just spent an enjoyable evening with Jo’s family in the splendid setting of one of Collingford’s magnificent rooms. The occasion was Marianna’s 60th birthday, and the whole family was there to celebrate it. But with it being only family they were all dressed casually, which had been agreed mostly for the sake of Shelly, who was still coming to terms with living in the midst of an aristocratic family.

And now Jo and Shelly were taking the short walk back to their cottage through the grounds of the huge estate. They turned off before the ornate bridge, which spanned the narrow river that ran through the estate, and approached the small village that was home to some of the estate workers and old friends of the family.

"I used to hate the snow," said Shelly, looking up at one of the antique streetlamps that lit the way along the narrow road and watching the flakes dance through the light on their way to the ground. "The cold was dangerous for me. So many died in their sleep on the streets."

Jo released Shelly’s hand, and wound her arm around the shorter woman’s shoulders pulling her close. She felt the pressure of her lover’s arm around her waist and bent her head down to rub her cheek against soft, pale hair. "Are you happy now, Shelly?" Jo asked.

Shelly chuckled. "Happy isn’t a big enough word for the way I feel." She leaned her head against Jo’s chest. "I love you."

Jo stopped and turned Shelly so that she stood before her. "And I need you," the tall woman said before dipping her head and pulling her lover close. Her mouth engulfed Shelly’s, and she felt small hands slip beneath her coat, and then untuck her sweater from her jeans.

Shelly smiled into the kiss when she felt Jo’s stomach muscles contract under her cold hands.

"Two can play at that game," chuckled Jo as she pushed Shelly backwards, following her lover down onto the soft snow that covered the grass beside the narrow road. She felt the cold dampness seep through her jeans as her knees hit the ground either side of Shelly’s hips.

Jo lowered herself over her lover, her mouth finding the rapidly beating pulse point on Shelly’s neck, her hands unzipping the thick black jacket that she wore, her fingers, though cold, making short work of the small buttons of Shelly’s shirt. She pushed the material back, showing Shelly a glint of white teeth before reclaiming her neck.

"Jo," Shelly protested, trying unsuccessfully to get her hands between them and so stop the questing hands that threatened to disrobe her on a roadside in the snow. But then she clasped the damp material of Jo’s coat as the taller woman’s lips fastened upon her breast, the warmth of Jo’s mouth and the sharpness of her teeth closing gently against an aroused nipple sending bolts of sensation into the pit of her stomach. The heat and the cold warred for Shelly’s attention, her brain overloading from the myriad of sensations assaulting it. She pulled at Jo’s shoulders, and managed to claim the mouth that was causing her such sweet torture. "I need to get your clothes off," she breathed into the dark-haired woman’s mouth. "So we need to get inside."

Jo was on her feet in a flash, hauling the blonde up with her, and leaving a patch of melted snow behind.

They hurried to their cottage, pulling their clothing together as they went.

The warmth of the cottage hit them after being out in the frigid night, which was good, because as soon as the door closed Jo pulled at Shelly’s jacket, throwing it in a pile in the hallway.

Shelly laughed as the pile of her clothes grew, and she struggled with the belt at Jo’s waist.

But it didn’t take long before two naked bodies, tightly held together, lowered themselves onto the hearthrug in front of the amazingly realistic artificial log fire. Shelly managed to get Jo onto her back and lay on top of her. She eased her legs between Jo’s, who opened her legs further and wound them around Shelly’s hips.

The blonde ground her body against the taller woman’s, enjoying the look of arousal she evoked, loving the way the blue eyes seemed to change colour and take on a slightly glazed appearance when they made love. She dipped her head, sucking at Jo’s pulse point, and then nipping at an earlobe, taking it between her teeth and pulling slightly.

Shelly felt large hands take hold of her backside, pulling her closer. She leaned back, looking down at the beautiful woman who’d literally saved her life. "I love you," she said simply, and lowered herself once more, laying her head on Jo’s chest. "Just hold me for a while," she whispered, luxuriating in the feel of long arms wrapping themselves around her.

"Do you believe in fate, Jo?" she asked, unaware that her breath was causing havoc as it caressed her lover’s breast. She didn’t wait for the taller woman to answer. "It scares me to think what would have happened to me if you hadn’t found me."

"You don’t need to be scared, sweetheart," said Jo, pulling her closer. "It’s all in the past now. We’re together, and always will be."

"But what if you hadn’t gone to the gallery that morning, what if you hadn’t looked at the photos?" Her voice rose, a tinge of fear colouring it.

Jo’s face twisted into a frown. "What? Hey what brought this on?" She lifted Shelly’s chin so she could see her lover’s face.

Shelly took a deep breath, but never took her eyes from the blue gaze of the taller woman. "I’m just too happy," she said, her eyes beginning to fill with tears. "And I wonder where I would be if I wasn’t here now."

Jo shook her own head gently, wondering at Shelly’s insecurity. She pulled the small body close to her own and held on tight, placing one hand on the back of the blonde head, cradling it against her chest. "Don’t think ‘what if’, Shell." She rested her cheek on soft, fair hair. "Whatever it was that made me need to find you, I thank it for every day I have with you." She slid her hand up and down Shelly’s back. "And I think I was a little lost as well, so we kind of found each other."

Shelly closed her eyes, relaxing under the hands of her lover. She chuckled. "I used to dream that someone would save me. But I never believed it. I wouldn’t believe in dreams; dreams were something that disappeared in the morning light, and I had to survive another day."

Jo cleared her throat. "I’ve tried to imagine what it was like for you, but when I do it hurts me to think that you were out there so long. We came so close to missing each other."

"We did." Shelly thought for a moment. "You know, Edna said something about us being destined to be together. She told me the first time she met you she knew you had an ancient soul."

"She said the same to me." Jo took a moment to mourn their old friend who had died a few weeks before Christmas. But at least they’d finally managed to talk her into going into sheltered accommodation, and her last year had been spent in relative luxury. "So maybe there was never any danger that I would find you, it was our destiny all along."

"Destiny, I like the sound of that," said Shelly, who turned her head, kissing the valley between her lover’s breasts. She was home; she was no longer in the cold. Neither of them were.

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