By Colleen


General Disclaimer: This is an alternate uber story. The physical descriptions of the two lead characters may remind you of two others we all know and love, but all characters in the story are from my own imagination. This story is an original work and is copyrighted by the author. It cannot be sold or used for profit in any way.

Love/Sex Disclaimer: This story depicts a loving relationship between two consenting, adult women and contains scenes of intimacy, but nothing too explicit. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal in the state or country in which you live, please do not read it. If depictions of this nature disturb you, you may wish to read something other than this story.

Author’s Note: This is the third story in the Jamie and Erin series. You might want to start at the beginning with At First Sight and Seeing You Again for the First Time to get the full impact of this story.

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Chapter 10

How had it snuck up on them? Christmas was only two weeks away with not one present bought, not a wreath or a Santa in sight in Erin and Jamie's house. How had it snuck up on them? Perhaps it was the baby plans, new house plans, a new relative to deal with, a new puppy in the house. No perhaps about it, that combination of life's activities had conspired to almost rob the couple of the joy of the holiday.

So now the rush was on to make their second Christmas together as happy as their first had been. After an early trip to a near by tree farm, Jamie spent almost an hour on Friday morning rummaging around in the attic looking for the clearly marked, but obviously not stacked together boxes of holiday decorations. Jamie's back started to protest by the time the last one was deposited on the floor in the den. But after seeing the smile that greeted her after every trip down the stairs, she was not about to complain or give in to the pain.

Using her handy dandy new knife, Jamie sliced across the brown tape holding the first box closed. After quickly, but carefully repeating the action on each of the other eight boxes, Jamie found the tree stand and after a small debate, placed it in the corner opposite the fireplace. Grabbing Erin's hand, she led them out to the car, where they struggled together to wrangle the seven-foot evergreen up onto the porch and inside the front door. It didn't help that Jamie was cracking jokes along the way, sending Erin into fits of giggles. At one point she dropped into a chair and crossed her legs, threatening to leave a spot that she wouldn't even be able to blame on the puppy.

Finally, they got the recalcitrant, green flora through the door of the den and into the stand before collapsing onto the floor, where one very rambunctious little dog immediately pounced on them, assuming that it was playtime. But then again she always assumed it was playtime.

After lunch, the duo got down to some serious decorating. The task was rather slow going because Erin had to study each and every ornament before she placed it on a bushy bough herself or handed it off to her partner. This was the first time she was actually seeing the pieces that she and Jamie had shopped for the year before. That alone made it a most sentimental task. "It would be great to have snow for Christmas," Erin said wistfully as she shook a small globe full of white flakes. Jamie smiled sadly, knowing the odds of that happening. By the end of the long day, they had a house full of Christmas cheer and kisses for each other over a job well done.

* * *

Jeremy nervously turned onto the road that led down to his sister's house. Even though Jamie wouldn't acknowledge the fact, he still thought of her that way. A dozen possibilities had crossed his mind when Erin had called earlier and asked him if he had the time to stop by on the sunny Saturday. Of course he jumped at the chance, but without getting his hopes too high. He had agreed when Erin had asked him to give his sister time to deal with his sudden appearance in her life. He actually had no choice, but that didn't make it any less difficult. Especially as the holiday was approaching and with his mother so far away, Jeremy longed to connect with his new family and hopefully bring peace to both of their souls. Shutting off the engine, he grabbed the wrapped package from the seat beside him and took a deep breath.

Jamie paced the floor along the back end of the kitchen, absently sipping from the mug in her hand. Erin was typing on her laptop at the table and their children…their canine children that is, were nearby. Artemis was lounging on a red and blue rug in front of the pantry door just leisurely watching the activities, seemingly unaffected by the tension in the room. Sky divided her time between shadowing the tall woman on the move, nipping at the strings on her shoes and climbing over her big, golden sister and exhibiting her brash puppiness.

With the ringing of the doorbell everything suddenly stopped. The puppy yipped once and Arte silenced her with a nudge as Erin locked eyes with Jamie. The blonde stood, giving her agitated spouse a quick kiss and a pat on the belly before heading for the front of the house. She heard the back door close as she entered the hallway and released an apprehensive breath. Sky took off as fast as her short, little legs could carry her to follow her new Mommy; she didn't want to miss out on anything. However, she was abruptly scooped up and cuddled into gentle arms. "Oh no you don't little girl," said Erin as a tiny tongue licked her chin. "I'm not going to spend another two hours on the cold, hard ground coaxing you out from under the front porch." After a quick check through the side window, Erin pulled open the front door and smiled. "Hi Jeremy. Come on in."

The young man politely returned the greeting and the smile as he stepped inside. Just as soon as the door was shut, the pup was released and shamelessly begging for attention from the new visitor. "Well, who do we have here?" he asked, running his fingers through the soft fur and allowing the playful nibbles.

"This is Sky," Erin answered. She noticed his eyes scanning the room, silently asking another question. "Jamie is out back," she said. He nodded, still not quite sure what to make of the situation. "How are you doing Jeremy?" Erin asked cheerfully.

"Fine. Kinda busy getting my new place in order and settling into the new job." Handing over the present he said, "Merry Christmas. I'm not sure if it is appropriate, but I wanted to give you a little something." He paused for a moment before adding, "It's for…both of you."

"Thank you Jeremy. Of course it's appropriate, you're family. But you didn't have to. I'll wait to open it until Jamie is here with me," she explained, setting the brightly colored box on the coffee table.

As if on cue, a noise came from the hallway followed by the clearing of a throat. Three sets of eyes looked up as Jamie entered the room. Nerves and guilt ganged up to pound on the inside of her head, not allowing her to quite hold the gaze from the other set of human, blue eyes. She did nod in his direction and with some effort, relaxed her features. "Hello, Jeremy."

"Hi Jamie." Just a touch of a smile crossed his lips at that tentative first step. He glanced at Erin as she lifted the puppy into her hands, her much larger gesture and the small nod inspiring his hopes. "Um…I…I'm not quite sure what to say," he nervously giggled.

Jamie took a step closer and bolstered her courage to look into his face. "Let me say this first. I'm very sorry Jeremy. I've acted very rudely and while I still can't totally explain everything to you about why I was having trouble with this, I…well it's still no excuse." Jamie stepped back into the hallway and returned with a large, wrapped box. "Please accept my apology…and this."

His eyes widened and his hand slightly shook as he reached for the ribbon holding the flaps closed. Erin stepped into Jamie's side, put her free arm around her waist and they both watched as Jeremy finally looked inside. A shocked expression froze his face as he reached to pick up the gift and brought it level with his face. That didn't last long however as a quiver radiated over his jaw. "You…got me a dog?" he asked in a little boy voice.

Jamie nodded. "He needs a good home and I know you'll give him one," she said as she took Sky from Erin's hands. "They're littermates," she explained. "The two of you will have to come and visit us…once in a while." The matching blue eyes met. "Siblings shouldn't be separated forever."

The black and brown pup was tucked into Jeremy's arm and he stepped toward his sister, wrapping a single arm around her back. The hug was genuine and warm and it broke the last barrier, finally uniting a brother and sister. "Thank you," he whispered.

Jamie was suddenly overwhelmed by the enormity of those two simple words and their meaning on so many levels. Though still a little scared, for the first time she felt the ties that bound them together. She also felt her father's comforting presence and a clear picture of his handsome face and bright smile flashed into her mind. Jamie knew that she had made her father…their father happy.

Erin had stepped aside to give them the private moment of healing and took the opportunity to wipe away the tears that had slid down her cheeks. She then silently slipped away to the kitchen to begin dinner with the hopes of Jeremy joining them for the evening.

With the emotional meltdown slowly passing, brother and sister put both pups down on the floor where they immediately started to tumble and bounce over each other. Jamie and Jeremy continued to watch the dogs in a somewhat comfortable silence. Each was still letting that little bit of nervous energy settle before they delved into any serious conversation.

Jamie gently wrestled with her pup over the soft chew toy lodged firmly in the small set of doggie teeth. She was having trouble looking her brother in the eye, but it was more from her embarrassment than anything else. The puppy finally let go and stumbled back landing on her bottom before bouncing back up and jumping over the outstretched legs. She heard Jeremy sigh beside her and she matched it silently. Knowing that he was waiting for her to take the lead, Jamie briefly closed here eyes and drew strength from Erin's words to help push down the trepidation still racing around in her head. "So Jeremy, I heard that you just started a new job; how do you like it?"

"It's great. This job is a good first step for where I want to go with my career."

"It sounds like you have the confidence to achieve your goals. I look forward to being around to see those achievements."


Jamie finally met his beseeching eyes. "Really," she said with commitment. The corners of his mouth lifted triumphantly and hers mirrored, as yet another hurdle had been cleared. "So have you found a place to live yet?" she asked.

"Yeah. I found a nice apartment just about ten minutes from work. I'm gonna wait to get a house until I get married…which hopefully will be in about a year." He picked up his new puppy and scratched behind one ear. "I can't tell you how much I have always wanted a dog."

"An apartment?" Jamie said. "Oh gee, I didn't even think about that. Can you keep the dog?"

"Oh sure. I think I even have someone next door who can keep him company during the day. There's this older couple and they have sort of adopted me already. I've been over for dinner twice and she made me some homemade cookies the other day." He shrugged shyly. "It's kinda nice not being so alone in a new place."

Jamie nodded and smiled as some nice memories resurfaced. "I lived in a building full of people like that before I met Erin. I thought of them as my surrogate grandparents. In fact…"

It may have taken a lifetime for them to discover each other, but this was the start of another lifetime to share the special moments and create the lasting memories. But Jeremy's family hasn't grown by just one. He would soon learn that his good fortune was indeed bountiful.

* * *

Much later that day, after a fine meal and a lot of conversation, the couple walked Jeremy to the door. The dark of night was just beginning to take to hold and the cool breezes swept into the open door as they stood there, still finding things to talk about. Once the window of communication was opened along with Jamie's heart, she found herself quickly becoming fond of her new sibling. His level of intelligence and kind-heartedness was very much like the father she remembered. They'd talked just a little bit about Michael Sheridan and Jamie's twin Jordan. She'd shown him some favored family pictures, but they didn't delve too deeply into the subject. Neither was ready for that. The emotions of the day were more than enough to deal with so they stayed mostly with their present day lives.

Jamie retrieved the unnamed pup from the rag rug he was currently gnawing on. The human trio had reached a mutual conclusion that the dog should stay with Erin and Jamie until Jeremy could properly puppy proof his apartment and get all the necessary supplies. Earlier in the evening he had pulled Erin aside and asked, "Do you think it is disrespectful to name a pet after a person…a family member?" His brow was furrowed with definite concern.

Erin bit back a grin at his question and the seriousness of his expression. "No Jeremy," she said softly, "I certainly don't think it's disrespectful. Are you thinking of Jamie and how she might react?"

"Well…sort of, but not exactly."

After that, Jamie had stepped back into the room and the subject was put on hold.

"So Jeremy," the rancher said, as her brother slipped into his jacket and stepped onto the porch, "I guess you are going back home for Christmas to see your mother."

He took the pup and said the temporary good-byes as he answered her. "Yeah, but I have to work half a day on the twenty fourth so I'll be heading out on Christmas morning."

"Good." Jamie turned her head slightly and caught the tiny green-eyed wink aimed at her heart. She grinned, returned her attention to Jeremy and said, "We are going to have a family party on Christmas Eve." She put just a bit of emphasis on the word family. "If you'd want to, I'd like you to join us."

The smile that split his face radiated pure, childlike joy. "That's sounds great," he said, "I really would like to come and meet…the rest of…your family."

Jamie reached for the pup and threw her other arm around Jeremy's shoulder, giving him a little squeeze. "We'll look forward to having you here," she said. "You've got our number. Give us a call if you need anything."

Still smiling he said, "I will. Well, goodnight Erin." He hesitated, flicking his gaze to the blue eyes that mirrored his own. "Sis."

Jamie acknowledged the new moniker with a warm half grin and a nod. She quietly closed the door after they had both watched until his car was out of sight.

Erin took the pup and set him gently to the floor then hugged her quiet partner around the waist, pulling Jamie in close as they walked through the living room. "You all right?" she asked. A slow nod was her only answer. Erin didn't want to push; she still felt a little tension in the body next to her, so she made a suggestion instead. "Why don't you go on upstairs and take a nice, hot bath while I finish cleaning up in the kitchen." She kissed Jamie on the cheek before they parted at the bottom of the stairs. "I'll meet you in the bedroom."

* * *

Jamie stepped into the steaming water, sinking into the tub's depths until the soothing liquid caressed her chin. She put her dark head back against the cushioned pillow and a sensualistic moan left her lips as the warmth turned her stiff muscles to jelly. I'm glad this day is over. The fleeting thought flew in and out of her mind without any analysis. In fact she was determined to make her mind void of any further ruminations, at least for a little while.

After a fifteen-minute nap, she heard Erin moving around in the bedroom and reluctantly removed herself from the water that was just turning tepid. After a thorough drying, she slipped into her freshly laundered nightwear and brushed her teeth. Stepping into the low-lit bedroom, Jamie happily spied her spouse, who was dressed in her most adorable pajamas. Early on, Jamie had started categorizing the author's sleepwear and she very generously added to each of them every few months. Besides the currently donned cute pair, Erin had a few that Jamie had quickly deemed seductive, one that was downright naughty and then there was the absolutely beautiful one, which was of course the blonde's birthday suit. Jamie agreed that on this night she had chosen wisely.

Erin walked over and ran a hand down Jamie's arm. "Give me ten minutes to finish up and I'll be back to snuggle."

Again Jamie just nodded. She proceeded to turn down the bed and climbed in, folding the blanket neatly across her waist. With forty-five seconds to spare, Erin flipped off the light in the bathroom and settled in beside the tall, stoic woman. Turning on her side, a hand softly fell upon her shoulder and in turn Erin burrowed her hand up under Jamie's top and began to gently rub the soft skin on her tummy.

"Aren't you going to talk to me at all?" Erin asked when it was clear Jamie was going to continue her muteness.

"Sure I'll talk to you. What do you want me to say?"

"Tell me how you're feeling."

Jamie took the time to consider. "Better. Lighter. I really like him and I want him in my life." She hesitated again, carefully choosing her next words. It was really hard for her to fully understand everything that she was feeling, let alone try to explain it. "But I just don't know if I'll ever be able to let him all the way in. I'm afraid I'll always keep him at arms length…emotionally anyway. I think I'll always have to protect…" The words finally failed her and she settled for a sad shake of the head.

"Honey, you let me in."

"That's different. It wasn't a choice; you are a part of me."

"So is Jeremy. Maybe in a different way, but still."

Jamie sighed heavily. "I don't know."

Erin reached up and kissed her. "That's okay if you can't," she assured. "I understand. You don't have to analyze it any more right now. You took the first and most important step. Just let your relationship build naturally as long as you feel comfortable."

Jamie stared deeply into the green eyes of her supportive partner and it finally brought a joyous smile to her face. "How would I ever survive without you?" she asked. The question was rhetorical because the unspoken answer was always clear to her heart. "I love you," she said before capturing the mint-flavored lips. The soft, loving kisses soon carried them both into what was sure to be the first truly peaceful sleep they had known for weeks.

* * *

Before bright and even earlier than early on Monday morning, the ladies set off for L.A. on a serious mission. A Christmas shopping marathon. Teaming up, they checked off the family list in relatively short order at the crowded, noisy mall, spending a little…okay a lot of extra time in the toy store. After sharing a mid afternoon, ice cream snack the ladies parted ways to shop for their gifts to each other. Erin already had plans underway for one very special gift for her wife, but a few more ideas had been germinating in her creative, little mind. Her green eyes twinkled with mischievous delight as she spied item after item she would loved to have taken home for Jamie. But, biting her lip with restraint, as she perused store after store, Erin kept to her side of the deal and chose only three of the most special gifts she could find. Guarding her secret purchases carefully, Erin rushed to meet Jamie at the designated spot.

Just as she expected, the author spotted her spouse looking bored and just a little impatient. Jamie sat on a metal bench with one ankle resting on the opposite knee and her fingers were tapping out a rhythm accompaniment to the Christmas song playing in the background. Erin laughed to herself as she stopped for just a minute to admire the gorgeous woman from a far, before coming to her rescue. The boisterous shoppers continued to mill about, each in their own little world, but she and Jamie spotted the trouble at the same time. A very small child, no older than two, toddled from a storefront, obviously mesmerized by the twinkling lights of the toy land display next to where Jamie was sitting. No parent followed as the child moved farther out into the crowd, totally oblivious to the surrounding dangers. Erin gasped as she watched him get tousled around, causing him to lose purchase on his sailboat covered sippy cup. She moved in his direction as fast as she could, never taking her eyes off him. Just as his tiny hands reached for the dirty floor, sure to be stepped on, two arms scooped him up and rushed him to safety. The author breathed a sigh of relief and removed herself from the crowd to find her way over to where Jamie was waiting. Of course her thoughts were still on the scene she had just witnessed. The child is safe, but how frantic must the parents be? To lose sight of your child…not knowing where… Her ruminations stopped as abruptly as her feet did. A few yards in front of her sat Jamie with the child in her lap. Erin hadn't been spotted yet because the dark haired woman was busy, drying frightened tears from the little boy's ruddy cheeks. Her actions were tender and compassionate and Erin let the sight fill her with incredible warmth and a giddy anticipation. Jamie suddenly stood and plopped the now giggling tot on her shoulders, hoping his mother or father would be able to see him. It worked. Not fifteen seconds later the frenzied grandmother pushed her way over and was happily reunited with her grandchild. After waving goodbye to the young one, Jamie found herself on the receiving end of a very exuberant hug. She turned within the circle of arms and stared down at the beaming face.

"Do you know how wonderful you are?" Erin asked.

"No," Jamie laughed. "What brought this on?"

The blonde continued to grin. "I saw what you just did."

Jamie quickly glanced after the child and his grandmother. "It wasn't anything special." She shrugged. "Anybody would have done it." That got her a playful poke in the belly.

"But you were the only one who did it," Erin said. "That and so much more is what makes you so wonderful."

* * *

After a late supper that night, Jamie pulled out her box of childhood treasures from the closet in the den. The trip to the toy store had put her in a mood to seriously explore some of the old favorites. Lying on her stomach on the floor, she was soon surrounded by a dozen horses of all different sizes and colors. Some were dressed with the appropriate black or brown tack and a few were left unadorned. Right in front of her sat the My Little Pony her grandmother had given her one birthday. Jamie ran the tiny plastic brush, almost too tiny for her large fingers to maneuver, down the bright turquoise mane and she laughed, remembering feeling sorry for the poor animal. She was sure that the other horses had been making fun of its jeweled eyes, garishly colored hair and the rainbow on its butt. Once the vivid pony was well coiffed, she put it back in the lineup and picked up a beautiful, spotted, fully articulated figure. This equine representative had no saddle and needed none. Jamie had always pictured this free spirit galloping upon a high, sunlit ridge with an attentive herd following his commanding lead.

Although unknown to Jamie, an hour had slipped away and her presence was being missed in another part of the house.

"There you are," a voice called from the doorway.

Without looking back Jamie replied, "Here I am." She grinned, feeling the eyes on her well displayed, although covered backside as she continued to fiddle with the tiny buckles of the small saddle that was now in her hands.

Erin leaned against the doorframe, crossing her arms over her chest. After a few more seconds she cleared her throat…loudly and with a very annoyed inflection.

Jamie played on.

The clock ticked on.

"Okay," the impatient, but good-humored blonde said. "Playtime's over. Put those toys away and come in bed…to bed."

Jamie slowly rolled over and her grin turned decidedly mischievous as she pinned her adorable wife with a sapphired glare. Their eyes locked for many long minutes, speaking the same silent thoughts. Jamie was the first to break the stand off with words. "There was certainly nothing Freudian in that slip…of the tongue, now was there?" She pitched aside the piece of plastic in her hand and gracefully rose to her feet. Swaying her jean clad hips, Jamie sauntered across the room and planted herself toe to toe with the blushing blonde. She reached for the ties of Erin's sheer robe. "Perhaps there is another toy you would like to help me to play with?" she asked.

A single fingertip traced down the center of her torso and the blonde's green eyes suddenly acquired a fiery depth, the likes of which Jamie had never quite seen before. Since Erin had started this, she wasn't going to back down now and quickly drafted a plan of action. "Now that you mention it," she said, and followed up the suggestive sentence with an exaggerated lick of her unpainted lips. She spoke no further words as the zipper on her lover's pants parted under her hand. The fingers on that hand searched inside the while she tugged on Jamie's shirt with the other, ravaging the lips when they came close. The kisses were needy and long and wet. Their cravings of the flesh escalated by the second, driven by their soul deep love for one another. Erin commanded and Jamie complied. The petite blonde clearly led the first round of seduction with a gentle fierceness and a confidence born from their months of sharing passions. Jamie got a thrill out of experiencing this side of her lover, but hadn't seen her this aggressive since their honeymoon. Erin executed a most effective move with the pad of her index finger and two palms suddenly slammed against the wall on either side of her head. Jamie needed the support when the erotic touch zapped the strength from her legs. They pulled apart, each sucking in a lung full of air. Still breathing heavily, Erin whispered just a few words in Jamie's ear before they were drawn back together with magnetic force. Erin then latched on to the belt loops at Jamie's waist and she shuffled backward, down the hall, the passion propelling them toward the bedroom, where sleep would be hours away.

* * *

A chilly Christmas Eve welcomed the family and friends that traveled to Sheridan Stables and the home of Erin and Jamie for an evening of spiritual reflection, good food, good fun and new discoveries. The day had been sunny and beautiful, but active. Hands were kept busy cooking goodies and pilfering a few, wrapping several last presents and tending to the everyday chores, caring for all the animals residing on the ranch. Jamie had spent almost half an hour on the phone with Jeremy in the afternoon. Both were still a little reserved with each other, but every time they spoke, the trust seemed to be building. Erin had walked into the office while Jamie was on the phone and she had started to retreat for their privacy, but Jamie had emphatically gestured for her to stay. Just from the short tail end of the conversation Erin had learned two things. Jeremy still held a little trepidation about attending the party. And she was sure his reluctance was from fear. Fear that Jamie may be acting out of obligation. He didn't want to push things and ever have her regret letting him into her life. Erin had talked to him briefly, earlier in the week and thought she had eased his worries, but apparently he needed his sister's reassurance. And to that end, Erin had once again witnessed an example of her enduring faith in her partner when Jamie had said, "Of course I still want you to come tonight Jeremy. I want you to meet the rest of my family."

And the family was there in abundance. Aside from the regulars of Erin's parents and her sister and her family, the author's uncle on her mother's side had been invited. It was his first Christmas since the death of his wife and no one wanted him to be alone. Erin's cousin Katie also managed to make the trip up from L.A., fulfilling her promise from Thanksgiving.

Jamie had taken special care not to overwhelm her new brother, introducing him to just one or two people at a time. Erin tried to be there for most of those introductions, but here attention was divided with hosting duties. Everyone was charmed with Jeremy's intelligence and humble, but witty personality. There was one exception however.

Late in the evening, after dinner and the gift exchange, Danielle, Tim and Erin' uncle were playing with the children in the den and Erin and Bridget had slipped into the kitchen to clean up. Pretty soon, Anne and Leah joined them and the cleaning had been forgotten and they were all having a final cup of eggnog as they chatted away. Jamie, Jeremy and Chad were heavily involved in an environmental discussion in the living room. Of course all were nature lovers and the emotions became heated when accompanying political issues were brought into the fray. Katie didn't have much to say on the subject and a lot of what was mentioned eluded her understanding. She was an intelligent girl, but only if and when she was challenged to fully engage her brain. Sad to say, but none of her friends in L.A. fit that need. A few of her professors recognized her potential and were trying their best to inspire her to choose a direction for her life, but they understood that only time and maturity was going to spark this young woman's fire.

Katie grew bored with the conversation and even though she didn't want to leave her boyfriend, she went in search of other activities. Before leaving she kissed Chad on his smooth cheek and whispered her excuse in his ear. The vet had certainly been enjoying her company throughout the day, not to mention the many times she had managed to maneuver him under the mistletoe. He just wished that her intentions were a little more on the serious side. He sighed briefly as she walked away, but immediately returned his attention to the discussion.

The red headed college student visited her uncle and aunt and the children before strolling into the kitchen, where the laughter and words abruptly came to a halt. She stopped and looked at every guilty looking face before helping herself to some of the eggnog. Katie took two sniffs and a small sip. "Okay," she said in her lilting Irish accent, "who spiked the nog after the kiddies were done?"

Every female at the table pointed to someone else before they all erupted in laughter once again. "Uh huh," Katie murmured before savoring another sip.

"Oh, Katie me dear," Erin echoed her cousin's brogue, "there's not a drop of liquor in here, trust me; it's just rum flavoring."

The petite red head begrudgingly accepted the explanation as she finished off the cup and dipped out some more. "Oh, you must have been talking about sex then."

Two of the women nearly choked on the creamy beverage and the two others on their tongues alone. Erin finally brought her hacking under control and grabbed a napkin to wipe her chin. "We certainly were not talking about sex," she said staunchly then winked at her sister, "and even if we were, yes we would have stopped when you walked in."

Now it was Katie's turn to be outraged. "Oh really. I'm not a child ya know. I'm sure I could give all of you some pointers. The inventiveness of youth ya know."

Eight bugged out eyes joined a chorus of questioning ohhhhs. Then, after a beat, Erin and her sister shared a questioning glance. "Yes," Katie said, pointing to the three lesbians, "even to you. But I'll just let you wonder why."

There was more laughter before Erin brought about a change of subject. "Oh, I forgot to tell you I talked to Grandma this afternoon. She's fine and she sends her love. I'm going to arrange for her to come for a visit later this year. I miss her." Bridget and Katie nodded their agreement.

"Yeah," said the red headed cousin, "I bet she wouldn't be ashamed to talk about sex with me."

"Katie," Bridget warned.

Erin chimed in. "Yes, this is not the time." She paused a moment before remembering something from the long distance conversation. "But, speaking of…," she suddenly grimaced, scrunching her eyes tightly. "No, scratch that. Grandma met a new friend, a widower who just moved down from Dublin. They went to a senior dance at the church just last weekend."

Bridget smiled. "Good for her; she's been alone too long."

Katie offered her age appropriate opinion. "Cool, Grandma has a boyfriend!"

Erin wagged a finger in her cousin's direction. "Don't let her hear you say that. She has a gentleman caller." Even though Kathleen Casey was a very outspoken and modern thinking woman, when it came to her own personal life she was determined to conduct herself like a proper lady.

Katie rolled her green eyes. "Well, I have a boyfriend and I'm damn proud of it."

"That would be Dr. Benson?" Leah inquired.

"Absolutely; that would be the hunk!"

The other three women nodded with the same, although less enthusiastic assessment. Even being gay and married they could appreciate an aesthetically handsome man.

Ann decided to test a theory of an earlier observation. "Jamie's brother is quite good looking too, don't you think?"

Katie made an almost comical, disapproving face. "You're joking right; with that cocky attitude?! I swear he thinks every woman…" she looked around the table, "every straight woman would just fall at his feet and worship him like a god. As if all he has to do is flash those perfect white teeth and those oceanic blue eyes. Oh yeah he's something." Her over exaggerated sarcasm was not lost on the rest of the room.

Erin was the first to speak in his favor. "Jeremy is definitely not cocky. He is one of the sweetest young men I have ever met." The others quickly ratified her opinion.

"Yeah, well I think he's got all of you fooled. Unless it's just me he doesn't like." She looked at her blonde cousin. "But he had to make a good impression on you, now didn't he."

Erin saw the signs and hoped to head off any hurt feelings. She informed her gently, "He has a girlfriend."

The feisty lass gave a very unlady like snort. "Why would I care about that?! Poor girl," she mumbled.

"And you have a boyfriend," Bridget reminded her.

Katie produced a huge smile. "That I do," she said cheerfully, "and I think I'll be gettin back to him now."

* * *

The last pair of taillights didn't disappear beyond the trees until near midnight. Jamie took in a deep breath of the cold, night air and an idea popped into her head. Pulling it solidly shut, she flipped the lock on the front door and turned to go in search of her partner, who was, undoubtedly in the kitchen cleaning up the last of the coffee cups and desert plates. The floor along the way was dotted here and there with just a few discarded bows and some ribbon that had been dragged from the trash by the mischievous doggie duo of Sky and JJ. Jeremy had christened his pup with the name, but he only told Jamie and Erin that the twin Js honored Jeremy's twin sisters. Jamie responded with a slightly puzzled and surprised expression, but then flashed him a good-humored smile. Inside she was very touched and recognized the meaningful gesture as another step toward their sibling bonding.

She had escorted Jeremy to the door when he was leaving. "I had a good time Jamie," he said, "Your family is wonderful. They really made me feel welcomed. I look forward to getting to know them better." He chuckled. "But that cousin of Erin's; she's a little...well she's got some issues. Unless she just didn't like me."

Jamie laughed soundlessly. "Yeah, I noticed she a…did seem to have quite an attitude…where you were concerned. She's twenty-one, she has some more growing up to do."

"Maybe. But you introduced us. Did I say one rude or inappropriate thing to her?" He didn't wait for an answer before rambling on. "I mean I just looked in her eyes, nice eyes, but that seemed to set her off on a rampage. I caught her staring and sneering at me several times over the evening. I thought maybe I had met her before, maybe in L.A. and had insulted her, but I don't think that's it. I think we had a major personality clash and she just doesn't like me."


"Oh well," he shrugged. "I guess we'll try to avoid each other in the future."

The rancher puzzled over the conversation with her brother and intended to ask Katie more about it later. A stunning thought suddenly jumped to the forefront of her thoughts. Don't tell me I'm getting protective of my brother at this late stage. He's a man; he doesn't need me butting into his business. Maybe I'll just ask Erin what I should do. She stopped to grab a couple of things from the hall closet before heading into the kitchen.

Erin felt a kiss pressed to the side of her neck. She smiled and set the remaining dishes in the sink before turning and wrapping her arms around her tall spouse's neck. They communicated with just the brush of a hand and a twinkle of an eye until the antique clock in the hall chimed the arrival of the new day. The dark head nodded toward the party clutter. "This can wait. Are you very tired?" she questioned.

Erin gave it a moment's thought, taking stock of her physical condition. "No. I should be, but I'm doing okay." Instead of the expected why, she merely raised her tawny brows.

Jamie extended her arms out to her sides to reveal a heavy jacket tossed over each limb. "Wanna go for a walk with me?"

Erin smiled. "Hmmm, what a grand idea."

They pulled on the winter wear and one glove each. Willing to brave the chill, they clasped hands, insisting on the direct contact. The exhausted dogs had already dug themselves a cozy little nest in their respective beds in a kitchen corner. A pair of puppy heads popped up as the couple passed through the door to the outside, but with a second's contemplation they decided to skip the temptation…just this once.

A clear sky of inky velvet cradled a thousand diamond lights plus one. A single pulsar among, but set apart from the rest by a familiar brilliance. The season, the night, the stillness of the silvered trees in the shadowed woods, it would all surely inspire a poet to verse. The only poet present at this moment in time gave nature's beauty a respectful nod, but it was the person at her side that kindled her creative passions. Erin held tighter to the hand in hers as they strolled across the bristly grass, around the small corral and on toward the big barn. They stopped near the door to Jamie's office.

"This is so beautiful," Erin said softly as she looked around, up and finally stopping on Jamie's face. Beyond the love that was always directed at her, what she saw in those expressive blue eyes settled a joyful warmth in her heart.

Jamie realized right away that she'd been discovered. She allowed a tiny smile to shape her lips as she confessed. "This is the most at peace my spirit has ever been." She pulled Erin's hand to her chest. "That cyclone that always lived inside here has calmed to a March wind. And it's all because of you. You gave me your love and your patience…and that courage I asked for on that night not so long ago. You shelter my fears and hold my hand to ease me passed them. You brought me home and gave me a family…and soon to be a bigger family. Thank you." Jamie hugged her beloved spouse, sharing the tranquility with her soulmate. The rancher then reached into her jacket pocket and retrieved a small wrapped box. "Merry Christmas," she said as she held it up.

The moon and the nearby security light provided just enough illumination for Erin to appreciate the colorful paper. She drew a finger over the tiny golden bow on the top of the box. She smiled and her lips parted as she started to say something, but they snapped back shut as her brain switched gears. "Sweetie, if you're worried about our having privacy in the morning, Katie told me she was going to sleep in. So that means we've probably got until noon to open presents."

Jamie chuckled. "I know. I just wanted to give this to you now, out here."

"Okay!" Erin peeled away the small square of wrapping and lifted the lid. Her eyes studied every intricate detail as she lifted the gift from the bed of velvet.

Jamie watched her lovely face and the expressions that evolved. "I wanted to give you snow for Christmas, but this is the best I could do." A silver snowflake on a chain twirled between them, the moonlight glistening on its smooth surface. The stylized and entwined letters E and J was etched in and among the pattern of the flake.

The simple, but elegant piece was more priceless to Erin than all the precious gems left in the earth. "I love it honey. It's absolutely beautiful. Thank you."

Jamie fastened the pendent around Erin's neck and settled it against the creamy skin. Slowly they came together, surrounded by the night, sharing tender kisses and a never-ending love.


To be continued.

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