I Found My Heart in San Francisco

Book 12: Lifeline

By: S X Meagher



Part 11 (conclusion)

Since both women had arranged their schedules to provide for Fridays off, they were able to go to Noe when the mood struck them. Jamie played golf in the morning, while Ryan worked on her independent study, and just after noon they headed over, then spent most of the afternoon working on their respective homework. Ryan’s watch alarm went off at 4, and she stood as she shut it off. "I’m gonna go out for a little bit."

"Want company?" Jamie asked, stretching a bit. "I could use a break."

"Uhm … no. I have something I have to take care of. I won’t be too long." She gave Jamie a quick kiss and said, "We can take Duffy out for a long walk tonight."

"You’re not taking Duff with you now?"

"Huh-uh. I’m going alone." She went into the bath and combed her hair, then gave Jamie a little wave and took off.

Now what’s she up to?

Duffy was disappointed, as he always was when his company was refused. But Ryan wasn’t able to take him with, so she promised a long walk later in the day. Walking down the quiet streets of her neighborhood, she considered her plan. Look, you’ve tried every other avenue. He’s been very helpful at times. What can it hurt to give him a chance? A few minutes later, she spotted him going into the side door of the church.

"Hi, Father Pender," she called out.

"Siobhán! How are you?"

"Not great," she said. "Thanks for calling me over in Berkeley. That was sweet of you to look me up."

"Well, I would have gone by the house that first night, but I didn’t think I’d be welcome," he said. "It’s hard to know how much to press my luck."

"I don’t agree with my father’s decision to cut you out of our lives, Father, but he’s not the easiest fellow to talk out of things."

"No," he said, "he’s a man of strong convictions – as am I. That’s not a good combination, love."

"Maybe someday," she sighed. "I’d like us to be able to acknowledge our differences, and just move on from there."

"That would be nice," he said. "I hope you know that I have nothing but warm feelings for you and your friend, Jamie."

"I do," she said.

"Are you just passing by, Siobhán? I’ve got to get inside to hear confessions, even though I usually just sit and read. Not many people avail themselves of the sacrament any longer."

"That’s why I’m here," she said, surprising him thoroughly.

"You are? I haven’t seen you in the confessional for years."

She shrugged her shoulders and said, "Better late than never, Father. I’m having a hell of a time, and I’m looking for peace anywhere I can find it."

"They don’t call our Lord the Prince of Peace for nothing, Siobhán. Let’s go talk."

* * * * * * * * * * *

A few minutes before 6, Ryan came sauntering into the house, a surprising spring to her step. Martin, Maeve, Jamie, Kevin, Rory and Conor were just getting settled at the dinner table, and everyone looked up when she entered. She stopped at Jamie’s spot first, offering a quick kiss.

The blonde narrowed her gaze and asked, "Have you been drinking?"

"Just a pint," she said. "A little before dinner drink." She greeted every other member of the family, then took her seat. "What?" she asked, seeing every set of eyes on her.

"It’s not like you to be drinking in the afternoon," Martin said. "Are you quite all right?"

"I ran into someone I know. No big deal." Unfolding her napkin, she said, "If I were trying to hide my drinking habit, I’d drink vodka. You can smell Guinness on my breath from across the room."

"Well, I suppose you’re old enough to have a wee pint when you want one," Martin said, seeing his daughter’s ire start to rise.

"Thank you," she said. "So, what’s for dinner?"

"Risotto," Martin announced proudly, pronouncing the word in such a way as to make an Italian grimace.

Raising an eyebrow at her partner, Ryan asked in the same Irish accent, "And where did you get the recipe for this risotto?"

"Young Jamie showed me how to make use of everything I had in the ice box," he announced.

"Well, good for young Jamie," Ryan said, wondering if her father’s family actually ever owned the icebox he continually referred to.

"This would be perfect with a nice steak," Conor said.

"Mind your manners, boy. You need to eat more vegetables."

"Yes, Da," he said, hiding a smirk. "Ryan needs to drink less, and I need more vegetables. Got it!"

* * * * * * * * * * *

Jamie was given a dispensation from cleaning, since she’d participated in dinner preparation. So after the remaining children finished cleaning the kitchen Ryan went downstairs to find her partner on the phone. "No, that will be great, Daddy. I think she might like to come, but if not, I’ll see if Mia wants to play. Sure, I’d love to have brunch first. Let’s meet at 10. That will give us time to go to 8 o’clock Mass. I look forward to it, too. See you then."

She hung up and smiled at her partner. "That was my dad. He’s in town until Monday, so we’re going to get together on Sunday. He specifically asked if you’d be able to join us."

"That’s nice. I think I’ve finally made some progress with him, Jamers."

"I think you have, too. So, do you want to play golf?"

"Mmm … no, I don’t want to. But if you want me to go with you, I will."

"No, this is voluntary. If you’re not into it, you don’t have to. I’ll see if Mia wants to go. Maybe she and her dad can join us."

"I think I’d enjoy helping out over at Niall’s this weekend. Some physical labor sounds like just the ticket."

"Do you uhm … want to talk about your afternoon? I don’t want to pry, but …"

"I went to confession," Ryan said, sitting down on the bed and gazing at her partner with an unreadable expression on her face.

"Confession? Have you ever done that … I mean since we’ve been together?"

"No. I used to go every week, but I got out of the habit when I started having sex. It seemed silly to go confess a sin that you had every intention of committing again, the first chance you got," she said.

"What made you go today?"

"I’m looking for solace, babe. I’m trying every possible avenue."

Sitting next to her on the bed, Jamie asked, "Did it help, sweetie?"

Ryan laughed gently and said, "You know, it really did. Father Pender reminded me that God would forgive me if I’d killed the guy in cold blood – so long as I was truly sorry for my actions. It seems silly, but he really reassured me, Jamie. He put his hands on my head and prayed over me." She gave her partner a shy, childlike grin and said, "I feel lighter somehow."

"I’m so glad," Jamie sighed.

"We had a nice time together," Ryan said. "I was the only person to show up for confession, so we talked for the entire hour. He wasn’t able to help much at getting me to let go of my anger at the unnamed traitors, but it was a start. He locked up when we were finished, and we went over to The Dubliner for a pint. Just like old times."

"You were afraid to tell your Da, huh?"

"Mmm … not afraid, but I didn’t want to bring up a sore subject. He doesn’t want to have a relationship with Father Pender, but I do. We don’t have to agree on everything."

"I’m glad you got what you needed from talking to him. Now, how about that walk. Duffy tells me you promised him one."

"That dog never could keep a secret," Ryan said, taking her partner’s hand.

* * * * * * * * * * *

"Kisses?" Jamie asked, drawing her arms around Ryan’s warm body when the larger woman crawled into bed that night.

"Sure," she said. "Kisses are just the thing to help me sleep."

Ryan rolled onto her back and cuddled Jamie to her chest. "Kiss away, sweet lips."

"Okay … I think I can live up to that title." She snuggled close and started to kiss Ryan gently, putting just a little heat into her caress. For the first time since they had returned from the Bahamas, Ryan’s mouth slowly opened during the kiss, and Jamie slipped her tongue inside. A tiny, soft moan escaped from the pink lips, and Jamie went a little further, and let her breasts press firmly against her partner’s.

They continued to kiss and suck on each other’s tongues, slowly increasing the passion until Jamie’s breathing became erratic. Panting softly, Ryan pulled away, and lay her head down on her pillow. Not wanting to lose the connection, Jamie rested her head upon her partner’s breast, pleased to feel the rapid heartbeat. "I can still make your heart race," the blonde sighed, very pleased by her lover’s reaction to her kisses.

"Sure can," Ryan said, relieved that they’d stopped when they had. She knew that some of her excitement was desire, but that another element was fear. She kissed the top of Jamie’s head, and they both relaxed together for a long while. When Jamie was just about asleep, she rolled onto her side, and Ryan followed her, pressing her body against her back.

In moments, Jamie’s breathing evened out, and she fell into her usual state of near-unconsciousness. But Ryan wasn’t able to relax, even with her partner’s soothing presence so close to her. The heat of their kisses had turned her on more than she was willing to admit to Jamie, and now the insistent throbbing between her legs was keeping her from relaxing.

Fighting the guilt that lurked just under the surface, she slipped her hand between her legs and touched herself, the reassuring feel of her own fingers soothing her wounded psyche. Thoroughly relieved that Jamie was such a sound sleeper, she explored herself in painstaking detail, letting her experienced fingers glide over all of her most sensitive spots. As much as she loved her partner’s touch, there was something wonderfully reassuring and familiar about touching herself, and she did her best to allow her body to fully relax and enjoy the sensation. She held off for as long as she could, trying to wring the most pleasure possible out of the experience. Gasping sharply, she came unexpectedly, her toes curling as the rush hit her. She felt so sated and calm that she started to nod off immediately, her wrinkling fingers pressed into her still-pulsing tissues.

* * * * * * * * * * *

On Saturday morning Jamie came upstairs to find Ryan and Conor at the breakfast table. "What are you two up to today?" she asked.

"I’d like to play golf," Conor said. "Any interest, Jamie?"

"Mmm … I’m always up for a round. Ryan?"

"If I have to," she said, shrugging her shoulders.

"It’s not a sentence, it’s a game," Jamie said. "What would you rather do?"

"Ride my bike. I need to get some miles in today."

"Okay, Conor. You’re on. Let me call the club and see when they can fit us in."

She went to the phone and dialed the number, while Conor looked at his sister. "You’re really gonna do the AIDS Ride, huh?"


"Is that a wise thing to do, Ryan?"

"Nope." She stood up and cleared the table, placing the dishes in the sink. Without another word she went down to her room to put her biking clothes on.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Just on the other side of Colma, Ryan got on her cell and called her mother-in-law. "Hey, Catherine," she said in greeting. "Would you like to have lunch today?"

"Of course, dear. I don’t have any plans for the afternoon. Where would you like to go?"

"Uhm … your house. I’m out riding my bike, and I’d like to have a break. My butt is killing me!"

"Oh, Ryan, that’s such a long way to come. Let me come to you."

"No, no, I can make it. I’ll see you in an hour … or two. I’ve forgotten how long it takes to get down there. Wish me luck."

"Good luck, honey, and be safe!"

* * * * * * * * * * *

Ryan arrived just after 1, her body covered with sweat, a bit of road grime on her flushed cheeks. "Damn! Have they moved Hillsborough a few dozen miles down the 101?"

"You look exhausted, dear! Come on in and cool off." Ryan entered, then immediately took off her shoes so she didn’t scuff the floors. Catherine took a long look at her and asked, "You didn’t bring any other clothes, did you?"

"Nope. I really didn’t think I’d get this wet. It’s warmer than I thought it would be."

"Go in the kitchen and get a drink, honey. I’ll get you something to put on. Jamie will never forgive me if I let you catch a cold."

Ryan gave her a slightly aggrieved look, then obediently went into the kitchen, where Marta gave her a tall drink and a long lecture. Catherine returned, holding a light blue dress shirt and a pair of navy blue boxer shorts. "Nothing of mine will fit you, honey, so I brought one of Jim’s shirts. I bought some boxers for him when I was in Italy, but I haven’t seen him to give them to him. This is the only kind he’ll wear, and they don’t do mail order, so I always stock up for him when I visit."

She handed Ryan the shorts, and the dark woman gave her a broad smile. "Silk? These are the softest things I’ve ever felt."

"It’s a silk and cotton blend, so they’re machine washable. I know you and Jamie like to wear boxers around the house, so you just keep those."

"No argument," Ryan said. She went into the nearby bath to put on the clothes, and emerged a few minutes later. Marta snatched her biking clothes out of her hand so quickly that she didn’t have a moment to react. "Marta! Those clothes are disgusting! I can just toss ‘em in the dryer for a few minutes."

"No, no, no. The sweat will irritate your skin. I’ll wash them for you." She was reading the laundry care tag in the shorts as she walked away, leaving Ryan to shrug her shoulders and take a seat at the table.

"Would you like to take a shower, honey? I’m sure your muscles are stiff."

"No, I’ll be fine. It’s going to take me a little longer than I had planned to get back into riding shape. I’ve never gone this long without logging some saddle time."

"This is terribly important to you, isn’t it, dear?"

"Yeah. I won’t miss the ride, Catherine. I can’t."

"Oh, I wasn’t trying to talk you out of doing it, Ryan. Far be it from me to attempt that."

She smiled slightly and said, "I hate to be so hard-headed about things. I know this isn’t wise, but it means more to me than I can put into words. It gives me a full week to think of my cousin and remember all of the good times we had together. He deserves at least a week of my time, Catherine. He meant so much to me."

"I know, sweetheart," she sighed. "I only wish that you didn’t have to torture yourself to get in shape to do the ride. That’s going to tax you severely, and you don’t have many reserves."

"I know. But I can’t worry about that. I’m going to do my best to get ready, and then do the ride as best I can. Jamie doesn’t believe that I’ll ride in the support van if I need to, but I will," she said, looking into Catherine’s eyes. "I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter how you overcome obstacles, the mere fact that you overcome them is enough."

"That’s the spirit, Ryan," the older woman said.

Marta came back into the room, bent over and kissed Ryan’s dark head. "What can I make to tempt you, Ryan?"

"Oh, just about anything, Marta. I’m not very picky."

Catherine recalled the lunch she’d had with the girls recently, and wondered if she was going to have to feed the lanky young woman just like her daughter had. Shrugging her shoulders, she decided that she was up to the task, if duty called.

* * * * * * * * * * *

After lunch, which Ryan managed to eat all on her own, they went out to the patio and sat by the pool. "Could I prevail upon you for a bit of advice, Ryan?"

"Sure." She sat up a little and looked at Catherine attentively.

"I received a letter from Jamie’s former nanny the other day. I don’t like to keep things from Jamie, but I know that she’d be hurt by it, and I hate to do that."

Ryan scowled and said, "Given what she’s told me about Elizabeth, I can only imagine the content."

"She’s very old fashioned," Catherine said. "Flexibility isn’t part of her makeup. She’s antagonistic to nearly every bit of progress since the Second World War."

"Sounds like my granny," Ryan said. "So, what did this missive say?"

"It was quite odd, to be honest. I started to think that Elizabeth might be going a little senile, but other parts of the letter made her seem just as sharp as ever." She sighed and said, "She wrote to apologize for any role she might have played in Jamie’s downfall." Shaking her head she continued, "She theorized that faulty genes might have played a role, but she was quite adamant that environment had to be at least partially responsible. She didn’t seem quite sure of what she should have done differently, but she mentioned that she should have probably used corporal punishment on her. Her reasoning seems to be that Jamie was brought up in such a permissive way that she feels free to indulge in her darker urges."

"If you add a few references to Jesus dying for our sins, my grandmother could have written that," Ryan said, shaking her head in dismay. She shrugged her shoulders and said, "I agree that it will hurt Jamie’s feelings to read that, but she really hates it when things are kept from her. Why don’t you tell her you got it and briefly synopsize it. Just tell her that, as expected, Elizabeth was unhappy to read that Jamie was a lesbian."

"That’s a good idea, dear," Catherine said. "I’ll burn the damn thing so she can’t read it even if she asks to."

"It hurts me when my grandmother is so judgmental," Ryan said. "I know it’s just her upbringing, but it still hurts."

"I can imagine that it does." She patted Ryan’s hand and asked, "But you still love her, don’t you."

"Of course. She’s had a tough life, Catherine. She grew up dirt poor, with an abusive father. The Church was the inviolate authority when she was growing up, and it provided a vision of eternal happiness so long as one toed the line. I can only imagine how appealing that was for a woman like my granny. She only made it through sixth grade, so she didn’t ever have the opportunity to really examine the teachings of the Church on her own from an intellectual standpoint. She never learned critical thinking skills. She followed the law to the letter, but given her situation it makes perfect sense."

"I suppose it does," Catherine said.

"She also believed that punishing a child could take some of the evil out of her. I suffered more than my share of beatings, but Granny still thought I had too much starch in my sails."

"Oh, Ryan, I didn’t know," Catherine said, reaching out to cover her hand. "I … I’m speechless …"

"It’s okay," she said softly. "I went through a short period where I thought that I deserved to be beaten, but it didn’t last too long." She pursed her lips and said, "Kid’s minds are very funny. You can’t understand that your elders are acting irrationally, so you have to believe that you’re the problem. I used to feel kinda … purged, when she’d spank me – like she’d taken some of the evil out."

Catherine closed her eyes, looking like she was on the verge of tears.

"Really, Catherine, it’s okay," Ryan said. "My aunt Moira found out what was happening, and she got involved. It was a good lesson in a funny way. It made me realize that adults make mistakes, too, and that there are some people in your life who you can always depend on." She smiled gently and said, "Aunt Moira’s never let me down."

"Have you heard from your grandparents since the carjacking?" Catherine asked, not sure if Ryan had revealed her lesbianism to the elderly couple.

"Yeah. I think she was proud of me for what I did, but she reminded me that if I hadn’t led such a sinful life there wouldn’t be anything scandalous for the newspapers to print." She gave Catherine a sly grin and added, "Jamie got the condensed version of that one, too."

"Good Lord!"

"Yeah, she never misses an opportunity to point out the error of everyone else’s ways. Jamie really wants to go visit Ireland this summer, but I know the experience will be mixed, at best. I’d hate to have my little protector deck my Granny."

"You can return the favor," Catherine said. "Jamie would never be that close to England and fail to visit Elizabeth."

"Oh, boy! An elder abuse tour!"

Catherine laughed heartily, then patted Ryan’s shoulder. "You’ll get through it. You two have been through worse."

"Now, that’s the truth," Ryan said. "And I should be able to use that line for years to come."

* * * * * * * * * * *

They whiled away most of the afternoon, and at 3 o’clock Catherine said, "Why don’t you let me give you a ride home, sweetheart? I’m afraid it will be dark by the time you reach San Francisco."

Ryan scrunched up her face and thought for a moment, then she nodded decisively. "My instinct is to ride home," she said, "but I’m going to deny my instinct this time. I’m tired, my butt hurts, and it probably will be dark by the time I get home." Her expression turned a little sad when she said, "I have to be more careful. The carjacking showed me just how fragile life is. I have to remind myself every day how much Jamie loves me and how much she needs me. I can’t afford to be so cavalier about how I behave."

"That’s a hard lesson to learn, isn’t it, honey?" Catherine asked gently.

"It is," she said, "but it’s a very valuable one. I’ve told Jamie before that I’d be much more careful, but it obviously didn’t sink in. I hope this time it does."

"I do, too," Catherine said. "Do you want to go now?"

"Sure. Stay for dinner?"

"Oh, I wish I could, but I have an event tonight."

"Let me have Conor come pick me up then. You don’t want to spend your afternoon driving me around."

"Yes I do. Besides, I want to see my girl for a few minutes. I want to spend every minute with her that I can."

"You and I think alike, Catherine. Let’s rock."

* * * * * * * * * * *

Walking home from church on Sunday morning, Ryan held Jamie’s hand snugly in her own. "I’m gonna miss you today," she said, giving her a shy smile.

"Are you disappointed that I’m going without you?"

"No, not disappointed. I’m sure I’ll have a better time hanging with the boys. Construction work suits me so much better than playing golf. I just wish you were going to be with me."

Jamie smiled up at her and reached around to hold onto her arm tightly. "This is one small area of our lives that I think we have to agree to disagree on. I don’t mind helping once in a while, but it doesn’t bring me joy."

"You’re entitled to a few flaws," Ryan said. "The fact that you like to stay clean is a quirk that I’ve learned to live with." She leaned over and kissed the top of her head. "I just hope our children don’t inherit your clean gene."

"Watch it, dirt devil. We clean people have our pride, ya know."

"Your dad won’t be offended that I didn’t want to come, will he?"

"No. He knows you’re not a golf nut. He doesn’t understand it," she said, "but he knows it."

"Come by Niall’s when you’re finished, okay? Maybe you can bring us some snacks or something."

"Yes, dear," Jamie said, rolling her eyes. "I’ll bring snacks. I’ve got to remember to take my ATM card, though – you guys could clean out an entire 7-11!"

* * * * * * * * * * *

Jim stopped by to pick Jamie up, and when they were finished, Mia offered to drop her off at Niall’s. After a trip to the store, they pulled into Niall’s driveway – which the other’s had thoughtfully refrained from using so Jamie would have a convenient place to park. "God, Jamie, we’ve never bought this much for a week at home!"

"I guarantee it will all be gone within an hour," Jamie said. "Well, technically it won’t all be gone. They always leave one chip in the bag and one cube of cheese on the tray. No one likes to eat the very last piece for some reason."

The door was open, as usual, and they immediately went out to the back yard, their arms laden with snacks. "What in the hell are you doing?" Jamie cried when she saw the awful mess.

"Break in the main sewer line," Niall said, wiping his face with the hem of his shirt. We’ve got to dig the whole thing out. There’s no water in the house, by the way." He gave her a grin and said, "It’s good to see you two, even if you hadn’t brought food."

"You guys can’t eat this stuff! You’re filthy!"

"We filled up a couple of buckets with water before we turned it off," Ryan called out. "We thought ahead so we could wash our hands."

Walking over to the trench that the workers were digging, Jamie stood above her lover, with her hands on her hips. "You are absolutely filthy, Ryan O’Flaherty! You’ll catch a disease if you eat with those hands!"

"Then you’ll just have to feed me," she said, giving her a cheeky grin.

Jamie rolled her eyes and looked at the other members of the group. "Only six of you? Where is everyone?"

"People got busy once they heard we were hand digging a trench through the entire back yard," Niall said. "Wimps."

The group was made up of only Rory and Ryan, Niall, Kieran, Colm and Donal, and each one looked like they’d done the work of three. "The drain wouldn’t have been so bad, but someone, and I’m not saying who, got a little enthusiastic with a pick and poked a hole in the water line. That’s why we had to shut it off, as well as why it’s so damned muddy."

"I’m a tile setter," Colm mumbled. "If you wanted a plumber, you should have hired one."

"I didn’t say your name," Niall said. "You could have spared yourself the humiliation. You should just be thankful that the two lines are right next to each other. If we’d had to dig a separate trench, we wouldn’t be quite so jovial."

"Don’t worry about it, Colm," Jamie said. "I know Ryan loves to play in the mud. I guarantee she’s happy you broke the water line."

He gave her a grin, then looked at his brothers smugly.

"We’ll go in the house and get the snacks ready. Are you ready for a break?"

"We were ready for a break at 11 a.m.," Niall said. "We’re starving now!"

"Just hold on," Jamie said. "We’ll call you when it’s ready."

She and Mia went inside and started to unload the groceries, then Jamie remembered that she had a container of baby wipes in the car, and she ran out to get them. "We can at least clean our hands with these," she said.

"I have to pee," Mia said. "Does the toilet work?"

"Let me ask," Jamie said. "I doubt it, though."

"Hey, guys, does the toilet work?" she called out the back door.

"Nope. We’ve been using the sink," Niall said, grinning boyishly.

Jamie’s hands went to her hips once again, and she scowled at the chuckling men. "Ryan? You’d better not have been sticking your butt in the sink."

She twitched her head, indicating the side of the house. "They tried to convince me to go over there, but the neighbor’s windows were open. I walked down the street and went to the little burger joint on Sloat. I was so filthy, they didn’t want to let me in, but I bought some burgers so they relented."

Mia was listening to the interchange and she said, "Cover me, Jamie. I’ll never make it to the corner." She scampered out to the side of the house, much to the amusement of the work crew. "Why is the urge to go always so insistent when you know there’s nowhere to do it?" she moaned. Luckily, she was wearing a short skirt, so she accomplished her goal rather easily. "Damn, this feels good," she said.

"I’m certain it does," Jamie said, rolling her eyes once again. "Never a dull moment with the O’Flahertys."

When Mia was finished, they went back inside, and after she followed Jamie’s instructions to use two baby wipes on her hands, they started to make the snacks. Niall had almost nothing in the kitchen, but he had managed to procure a few big, plastic bowls and a pair of plastic platters. He also had a few knives and a couple of spoons and forks. "Coming over here is like going camping," Jamie said. "You have to pee outside, the rooms are entirely empty, and the only furniture is a picnic table and benches."

"I think it’s fun," Mia said. "No one in my family would ever be this casual."

"Oh, they’re casual, all right," the blonde said. "Will you just look at them? I’ve never seen people that dirty."

"Or that hot," Mia gave Jamie a bump with her hip.


The curly-haired woman paused, then stared at her friend. "Don’t tell me you don’t think she’s sizzling hot today! I’m about to proposition her – and I’m not even that crazy about muscles!"

Jamie looked out the window and stared at her partner for a moment. The group had done a tremendous amount of work, and the trench had been dug to a depth of about 2 and a half feet with a matching width. It ran from the water main in the alley all the way to the foundation of the house, and it looked as if each member of the group had been assigned a section to work on. Ryan’s was from about 10 feet from the house down to Rory’s section, which was about 10 feet from the start of hers. She had worked quickly, and her task was just about finished. As Jamie watched her, she stood for a moment and stretched, her muscles rippling as she did so.

Since the carjacking she had lost the bulk that Jamie had managed to put back on her over the previous month. But the blonde was sure that the scale wouldn’t reveal all of the weight her partner had lost. For while Ryan had not been eating much, she had been exercising so vigorously that Jamie was sure she had put on a good deal of muscle – all in her shoulders, arms and back.

She was wearing a khaki green tank top, and a pair of buff-colored cargo shorts, with a pair of ragg socks and her constructions boots. Always attuned to her breasts, the blonde noted that Ryan was not wearing a bra – and she reasoned that she wanted to be unencumbered while she worked. A few months ago she couldn’t have gotten away with that – but her breasts were always the first to go when she lost weight – much to Jamie’s regret. It was still obvious that Ryan was a woman – she was just a rather modestly endowed woman at this point.

Getting back to work, she hit the bank of the trench with her spade, and every muscle flexed from the effort. Her weight loss had highlighted every well-defined striation of sinew, and as Jamie watched her work, she slowly realized that she had stopped looking at her partner as a sexual being.

"I don’t look at her like I used to," she whispered, grabbing onto the sink so tightly that her fingers paled.

Mia tucked an arm around her waist and gave her a squeeze. "Hey … what’s going on? You look like you’ve seen a ghost."

"I thought it was all her – but it’s not! I’m doing it, too!"

"Doing what too?" Mia asked, thoroughly confused.

Jamie turned away from the window and leaned against the counter. "I’ve been blaming the fact that we’re not having sex on Ryan – but it’s my fault, too!"

"I didn’t … I didn’t know you were still … not," Mia said quietly. "I just thought that once you got home …"

"No, things haven’t gotten any better," Jamie said. "Well, that’s not true. We’re trying to push things a little bit. We kissed for a couple of minutes the other night, and Ryan even let me slip my tongue into her mouth."

Wrapping her arms around her friend, Mia whispered, "Oh, Jamie, I had no idea it was that bad. I didn’t know that you weren’t even kissing each other."

"Things are very, very strained, Mia." She leaned against the counter again and said, "I just feel like shit. I’ve convinced myself, and my therapist, that I’m back to normal – but I’m not! I’m sleeping with one of the most desirable women I’ve ever seen in my life, but I don’t even feel a stirring anymore when I look at her."

"How do you feel?" Mia asked.

Jamie turned back to the window and gazed at her partner for a long minute. "Protective. I want to wrap her in my arms and never let another thing hurt her." Her eyes closed as she tried to fight back the tears that were always so close to the surface. "She’s had so much pain in her life, Mia. It breaks my heart that this had to happen to her."

"It happened to you, too, James. I know you’re all about protecting Ryan, but you need some protection, too."

"I know. It still bothers me a lot, and I’m sure it will for months to come; but Ryan’s wracked with guilt and remorse and anger in addition to the trauma. That’s what’s so hard for her." She leaned against the counter, letting her head drop down. "Damn it, Mia, I don’t know if I have the strength to resuscitate my own sex drive as well as help Ryan get back on track."

"Jamie, how could you feel sexual if you want to mother her? You have to think of her as an adult to be attracted to her."

"Yeah … I guess you’re right. It has been hard to think of her as an adult. She seems so childlike, Mia. So very fragile."

"Are we talking about the same woman?" Mia twitched her chin, and Jamie stood and looked out the window again. The crew was cutting the pipe out of the trench, and Ryan was at the front of the group. She had her arms wrapped around the cut end and she was straddling it as they all tugged on it to free it from the earth. The pipe was made of clay, and over the years roots from nearby trees had grown into the slightly porous conduit, making the task all the more difficult. "That is not a fragile woman," Mia said. "She looks like the Incredible Hulk on an estrogen high."

"She does," Jamie said, smiling fondly at the straining woman. "But she doesn’t send off her sexy vibes any more. That’s what I respond to."

"Wanna see a sexy vibe?" Mia asked in challenge.

"Uhm … sure. What are you going to do?"

"Flirt with your girlfriend. You stay right here and watch. I guarantee I can make her flirt back."

"Uhm …"

"Great! Be right back."

Mia darted away, leaving Jamie to stare after her in shock. A second later the curly-haired imp was leaning over Ryan, saying something that the dark woman found quite funny. Jamie couldn’t hear a word, but whatever Mia was saying was completely entertaining Ryan.

There was a problem with the pipe down at Colm’s end, and the other guys ran down to cut away some of the hardier roots. Ryan looked up at Mia and wiped her face with the bandana she had in her back pocket. Then she sat on the bank of the trench and crossed her arms, in what Jamie could only hope was an unintentional highlighting of her braless breasts. The perky mounds strained against her tank top, both nipples hard as pebbles. Again, Jamie hope that was because of the cool breeze blowing across her sweaty body – but she couldn’t be completely sure. Mia squatted down and said something else, and Ryan gave her one of her patented lopsided grins, and Jamie felt her knees weaken. That was the grin that had captured her heart the very first day she had ever laid eyes on the dark beauty, and the simple gesture had the same dramatic impact on her today that it had then.

"My God, she’s gorgeous," she whispered aloud, letting herself really see Ryan in a way she hadn’t been able to lately. The guys were ready to pull again, and Ryan got back into position. Just when they had the pipe lifted, Mia said something funny and Ryan started to laugh, the kind of unrestrained belly laugh that Jamie hadn’t seen in a month. Her breasts bounced, her head was thrown back, and she struggled mightily to hold on to the heavy pipe. With one final tug it came free, and she swung one long leg over it to be able to push it up onto the ground. When it settled with a thump, she and every one of the boys leaned onto it, trying to catch their breath. Jamie could see how her top was stained with sweat, so she rushed to take the beer and soda out to the workers. She was tremendously pleased to feel an old, familiar throb between her legs, and she had a definite spring to her step when she went outside.

"Here’s something to drink, guys. I’ll be out with food in a minute." She ran back inside and threw a bag of chips into one bowl, then ripped open the containers of salsa and guacamole. Boxes of crackers and a mound of cheese cubes filled one tray, and cut-up vegetables and dip filled the other. It took her two trips to bring it all out, but that gave the crew time to wash their filthy hands.

Ryan sauntered over, her skin the color of the fine clay soil. "How about a kiss, baby?" She pretended to grab Jamie’s off-white slacks, and the blonde danced away from her.

"You keep those dirty hands to yourself!"

"They’re not dirty. I just washed them."

"You just sit right down on the picnic table and let me feed you. You’re an absolute mess!"

Ryan did as she was told, smiling when Jamie popped a cube of cheese in her mouth. "Cracker, please."

Jamie placed one between her teeth, expecting her to bite, but Ryan pulled the whole thing in and chewed noisily.

"My little barbarian," the blonde said.

"Have I told you how nice you look today?" Ryan asked, batting her eyes.

"No. Now what do you want?" she asked, grinning at her.

"Me? Can’t I just give my beloved one a sincere compliment?"

"Sure you can. I’m sorry for doubting your motives, sweetness."

"Uhm … Jamie? Would you go get me a beer? It’s awfully far."

"Scamp!" she said, pinching her nose, which was about the only clean part of her. Walking the 3 feet, she bent and took a beer from the cooler, then presented it to her partner.

"Thanks," Ryan said. "Nice ass, by the way."

"Oh, you are a feisty one today," Jamie said. "I like you feisty."

The boys had cleaned up as well as they could, and they all stood around the table, demolishing the food like a swarm of locusts. Mia watched in amazement as the bowls and platters were cleaned methodically, most of the guys not even taking the time to speak. "That was astounding," she said to Jamie.

"Yeah, they’re keeping Frito-Lay in business," Jamie said.

"Well, I think I’ll head home," Mia said. "You don’t need a ride, do you?"

"You drove, didn’t you, sweetie?" Jamie asked her partner.

"No, I came with Rory, but we can all squeeze into his truck. Thanks for delivering my sweetie-pie," Ryan said, smiling at Mia.

"My pleasure. See you guys later tonight?"

"We might stay over and come home in the morning," Jamie said. "It depends on if I have to soak Ryan in the tub overnight."

"Funny," the brunette said, wrinkling her nose.

"See you all later," Mia said, kissing each of the workers on the top of the head to avoid being slimed. She took off, then the boys went back to the pipe to cut it into manageable lengths for disposal.

Jamie continued to feed her hungry lover with the pieces of cheese she had managed to snare from the other vultures. "You know what I thoroughly enjoyed today?"

"No, what?" Ryan asked.

"I enjoyed watching you laugh while you were flirting with Mia."

"I was not flirting. But I was laughing." She looked down at the ground and said, "It felt good. Like I was using muscles that were beginning to atrophy." She gave her partner a smirk and said, "I don’t know what game you two were playing, but she told me that she’d bet you she could make me flirt with her. How’d I do?"

"Oh, what a bad girl! You were intentionally showing off your breasts!"

"Nah. I was just cold," Ryan said. "But I did give her my flirty smile. Is that what you two wanted?"

"Precisely," she said. "You’re in your element today, Tiger. I think that’s why you loosened up and got out a few belly-laughs."

"You’re right," she said. "I felt like a kid today. It was wonderful."

Jamie looked at her dirty face and dirtier body and said, "I don’t think I ever played in the mud. Elizabeth had a real thing about keeping my clothes nice."

Ryan almost bit off a sarcastic remark, but she realized that Catherine had probably not had time to tell Jamie about the letter. Instead, she tried to make light of it. "Aw, come on. Everybody played in the mud at some point. Maybe when you were real little."

"I doubt it. When we’d see other kids playing in the dirt, she’d always make some comment about how uncivilized they were. She was a real neat-freak." She grew pensive, then added, "I did get to be a little wild with Poppa sometimes. Every once in a while he’d take me out and let me play like a real kid. He always brought play clothes for me so I could pass inspection when I got back home." Looking at Ryan for a moment, she said, "Boy, it astounds me to think of how outraged Elizabeth would be by you, baby."

"Is that part of what you like about me?" Ryan asked, cocking her head slightly.

Jamie thought for a moment, and finally said, "You know, I think it might be. Of anyone I’ve ever met, you’re the only person that I know Elizabeth would completely detest." She chuckled softly and said, "As much as I did care for her, I used to have dreams of doing something to shock her so badly that she quit and ran back to England, never to be heard from again."

Ryan stood and regarded her partner for a moment. Jamie was sitting atop the table, looking perfectly crisp and clean. "What would shock her the most about me?" Ryan asked.

"Now? Or when you were little?"


"Mmm … she’d hate the fact that you were gay and happy about it."

"Obvious choice," Ryan said.

"Oh, it’s more than that, though. She’d hate how comfortable you are with expressing your sexuality." She paused a second as she said this, and Ryan could see her hesitation.

"I have my moments," she said. "It’ll come back." She said this with a confident tone, but there was just a small undercurrent of doubt in her blue eyes.

Looking up at her, Jamie closed her eyes for just a moment and said, "I know it will, sweetheart."

"I still have glimmers of it," Ryan said. She took her bandana and dipped it into the cooler, soaking it with the ice-cold water. Carefully, she cleaned her mouth, then tried to do the same for her entire face, making good progress. Once she was as clean as she could manage, she approached the table and put her hands on either side of her partner’s hips. Leaning in to avoid getting her dirty, Ryan gave her partner a sexy smile and asked, "What would Elizabeth think of this?" Then she leaned even further and planted a scorcher on her lover’s lips. She lingered for a long while, teasing Jamie mercilessly, only stopping when the boys started to harass her.

Blinking slowly, Jamie mumbled, "She’d be dead before she hit the ground. A big, muscular woman, scandalously dressed, disgustingly dirty, and kissing me like she owns my body and my soul – shocking, I tell you. Simply shocking!"

"Aw, that was nothing. I could do much better," Ryan said. "I was hardly even trying to shock." For the first time in weeks, the blue eyes were twinkling with glee.

"What would you do if you were trying?" the blonde asked, starting to feel a little tingle in a very nice place.

"Oh, I think I could make old Elizabeth swallow her teeth – if I were to try." She backed up a couple of inches and looked down at her partner’s feet. "Nice. Are those new?"

"Uh-huh. I needed some new black shoes." Reaching down, Ryan removed the slip-ons and placed them on the table. "Uhm … why are you taking my shoes off?"

"Just felt like it. You’re a little overdressed." Looking at the attractive green sweater her partner wore, Ryan asked, "Wool?"

"Uh-huh. It’s chilly out – for mortals."

"You don’t need it." She reached down and grasped the hem of the sweater, whipping it off her partner before she could utter a word of complaint.

"Ryan!" Jamie hugged herself against the chill, her cream-colored camisole scant protection against the late January temperatures. "I’m practically naked!"

Out of the corner of her eye, Ryan could see her cousins trying to look like they were not watching their play. "You’re a long way from naked," she purred. "I should know." As she spoke she was unbuckling Jamie’s belt. "Are you wearing panties?"

"Of course I’m wearing panties! Have you lost your mind?"

Suddenly, Ryan gave her a completely serious look. "I hope not. I’m trying like hell to find it again. Playing helps."

Giving her a look filled with love, Jamie placed her hands around Ryan’s mud-encased shoulders and said, "You play away, sweetheart. I’ll be mortified, but you can undress me in front of the boys if you really need to."

"No, no, I just wanted to know if you could take your pants off if you had to. Your pants aren’t wool, are they?"

"No, they’re micro-fiber. Uhm … Ryan … the look in your eyes is starting to frighten me. I can tell you’re going to do something nutty, but I’m not sure what."

"Nutty? Nah. Muddy? Yeah!" She grabbed her partner and threw her over her shoulder, then made a beeline for the trench.

"Oh, no! No! Not the mud! Ryan!"

The boys were stunned into inactivity – all 5 of them watching with gaping mouths as Ryan ran the last few yards and leapt into the muddy trench, sliding several feet as she hit. Ceremoniously, she dumped her kicking lover onto her butt, then got to her knees and started to cover both of their bodies with the cold, wet goo, laughing the entire time.

Jamie was remarkably filthy in seconds, so rather than getting out, she decided to wallow in it. But she wasn’t going down without a fight. She got to her knees and pushed Ryan onto her back, then grabbed two handfuls of slop and shoved it down her tank top, slapping it to her skin as she did so. "Shit! That’s cold!" the dark woman cried.

Ryan tried to get some traction, but she had a tough time. Finally, she grabbed her partner, who was trying to escape. They tussled briefly, then Jamie went down, face first. Ryan steeled herself for the reaction she knew would be swift to come. As expected, Jamie was furious – all of her feistiness emerging. "I’ll get you back, O’Flaherty." She hurled herself at Ryan, and the fight was on. The boys came out of their stupors and ran to the pit, watching as the two wrestled with all of their might.

Obviously stronger, Ryan was nonetheless at a disadvantage in the narrow pit. She wasn’t able to extend her arms out to the side, hampering her power and her leverage. Jamie used the narrow confines to her advantage, shoving fistfuls of the cold mud everywhere – down Ryan’s waistband, up the legs of her shorts, into her tank top – her actions making the larger woman laugh so hard that she was absolutely powerless.

Rory watched for a moment, then noticed a goofy grin on Niall’s face. "What in the hell are you looking at?" he asked.

"Jesus, Rory, I’ve got lesbians mud-wrestling in my backyard! Why does one of them have to be my cousin! Where’s Mia when we need her?"

"Out!" he cried, turning each of the boys and marching them into the house.

"I can cover one of my eyes so I only see Jamie," Niall said, frantically trying to think of a way to be able to stay and watch.

"Out! The next guy that sneaks a peek gets my boot up his arse!" He eventually managed to corral the boys, giving the wrestlers their privacy.

Neither woman knew they were alone, just as neither had known they were being watched. They were both so intent on torturing the other that they were completely oblivious to everything in the world except each other and where to put the next handful of glop.

Jamie launched a cruel offensive, managing to get past Ryan’s slapping hands to sneak up the leg of her knit boxers. She shoved the mud right between her legs, then slapped it in place with her other hand – making a wet plopping noise. "Oh, that’s cold! That’s fightin’ dirty," Ryan moaned.

"That’s the intent during a mud fight, goofball," Jamie said.

Ryan knocked the smirk off her face when she hurled herself at her, knocking Jamie to her back. Lifting her camisole with one hand, Ryan grabbed a handful of mud and covered each breast with it, laughing loudly while Jamie screamed.

Dropping down to hover over her, she grinned and asked, "Cold?"

"You know it is, you big lug. Now get off of me so I can get some of this slop out of my clothes. It’s starting to itch."

"Do you give up?" Ryan asked.

"No, I most certainly do not!

"Well, then I’m not getting off." She looked around for the first time and asked, "Where’d everybody go?"

"Search me," Jamie said, poking her head up.

"Okay." Ryan started to slide her wet, cold hands into every possible place they would fit.

The blonde started to fight again, unexpectedly getting a knee up to kick the air right out of Ryan’s lungs. She fell onto her in a whoosh, then lifted up just enough to say, "That wasn’t very bright, cookie. I could have crushed you."

"I can think of worse ways to go," Jamie said, making Ryan’s body bounce as she laughed.

"Oh, you can, can you?" Ryan leaned in and kissed her tenderly, and all of a sudden the mud wasn’t so cold, her skin didn’t itch so badly, Ryan’s body didn’t feel so heavy, and the ground underneath her wasn’t very hard. All that she felt was a slow rush of warmth that seemed to start at her toes and move up as the kiss continued.

Someone moaned throatily, and Ryan shifted a little, pressing her firm breasts into Jamie’s. Her tongue slipped into her lover’s mouth and Jamie began to suck on it greedily, moving a leg to let Ryan snuggle a little tighter against her. In a matter of moments they were moving against each other, tortured groans springing from one woman, only to be matched a moment later by the other.

Ryan’s kisses were so breathtaking that it took a moment for Jamie to realize that her lover’s hand was palpating her breast. Shuddering, she spread her legs as far apart as she could get them, and Ryan pressed her leg firmly between Jamie’s thighs. The blonde started to tilt her hips, getting a good rhythm going, when reality broke through and she realized where they were and what they were doing.

For just a second she tried to still her mind and let her body have free rein. This was the most unencumbered she’d felt in weeks and she didn’t want to destroy the magic. But she knew there was a very good chance that at least one of the boys would catch them – and the thought of that was just too much to take. "Sweetheart," she panted out, "we have to stop."

"Stop?" Ryan lifted her head and stared at her, her blue eyes glassy and unfocused.

"We can’t have sex in a trench, sweetheart … can we?" she asked, willing to be convinced.

"What?" The dark head swiveled, and Ryan obviously became aware of her surroundings for the first time. "Oh, my God! We’re humping in a trench!"

"Yeah. That about sums it up," Jamie said.

Ryan’s head dropped onto her breast and she moaned, "Fuck! The first time I get out of my head, and we have to stop!"

Jamie grabbed her and held on tight. "We’ll get there again, baby. I promise you that. This felt really good – really natural. We can get back here again … I’m sure of it."

"I hope so," Ryan said, worry lines creasing her forehead. She started to get up, but Jamie pulled her back down.

"You can’t leave until I see a smile on that pretty face. I have confidence in us, Ryan, and I want to hear that you do too."

The dark woman took a deep breath, then nodded her head, showing her partner a small, but genuine smile. "I believe in us," she said, adding a gentle kiss.

As they climbed out of the trench, Jamie asked, "Got any bright ideas on how to get home?"

"Hmm … Rory has cloth seats, and there aren’t any sheets or towels here. Looks like we’re riding in the bed of the truck, punkin."

"Boy, you really know how to show a girl a good time, O’Flaherty," the blonde said. "A bag of chips, a few cheese cubes, a couple of beers, and a tussle in a mud hole. No wonder you had so much luck with the ladies."

* * * * * * * * * * *

They were both nearly frozen by the time they reached the house. Jamie had steadfastly refused to put her sweater back on, insisting that the mud would ruin it. The same went for her shoes, so she rode home with only Ryan’s chilled body covering her. "You know that I’ll never let you have a moment’s peace if I catch pneumonia from this, don’t you?" she asked, moments before they arrived.

"Pneumonia is transmitted by a virus or bacteria, honey. Being cold has nothing to do with it. That’s a commonly held, but incorrect perceptio …" Her words were cut off by a muddy hand clapping over her mouth.

"Can you just let me make an idle threat without injecting reality into the mix?" she asked, chuckling at the look on Ryan’s face.

Rory pulled into the drive and got out to help them from the bed. To his surprise, he had to help both his normally agile sister and Jamie, since Ryan was nearly frozen. "Get in the shower and stay there until you warm up," he ordered sternly.

"Yes, Da," Ryan said, giving him a wink. They entered the house through the door next to the garage, confusing Duffy greatly. He quickly calmed down when he was allowed to spend a few minutes sniffing them suspiciously, trying to lick a little of the mud from Ryan’s bare legs.

As the minutes ticked by, the emotional tone in the room began to change. It had been less than a half hour since they’d been grinding against each other, but Jamie knew the spell had been broken. Ryan seemed a little distant and withdrawn, and hadn’t met Jamie’s eyes since they entered the house.

"Uhm … I guess I’ll go up to Rory’s shower," Jamie said. "I’ll just get undressed down here so I don’t track dirt through the house. Can I use the bathroom first?"

Ryan turned and looked at her, holding her gaze past the point that made Jamie uncomfortable. "Stay here."

"No, I don’t mind …"

"Stay here. Please."

"Uhm … okay."

Ryan’s eyes closed briefly, and she looked like she was about to cry. "I don’t want it to be like this, Jamie. Jesus! We’re hiding in the bathroom to change!"

"This is temporary, honey. Just until we feel like ourselves again."

"No!" Her eyes were blazing as she said, "This has gone on long enough! I’m letting this thing control me, and I’m sick of it!" She reached for the hem of her top and pulled it over her head, staring into Jamie’s eyes the whole time. She unlaced her boots and pried her socks off, and Jamie noticed that her hands were shaking. Her shorts were next, then her boxers, which still held a handful of mud. Suddenly, she started to laugh, shaking her head as she said, "Caitlin’s diapers aren’t this disgusting. You’re an evil, evil woman."

Jamie chuckled right along with her, trailing her hand down her own filthy clothing. "I’m evil, huh? These slacks have to be dry cleaned, you know. What am I supposed to say when I take them in? ‘I fell into a cesspool’?"

"I’ll take them in for you," Ryan said. "Mr. Assarian is used to my antics. He won’t even blink."

"You’re a generous woman," Jamie said. She took off her camisole, then dropped the slacks to the floor. As she was taking off her panties, Ryan stuck her head in the shower and turned on the water.

"Hop in," she said. Jamie did, and was surprised to find Ryan climb in right after her. "I need you to wash my back," she said. "With a scrub brush and Comet cleanser."

Jamie looked her over as the water made the mud streak down her body. "I think your hair is gonna be the hardest. Need some help?"

"Sure." Ryan’s body was a little stiff and unyielding, but she bent at the waist and let Jamie lather her up. Two vigorous applications of shampoo did the trick, then Jamie put some conditioner on the long tresses and left it on to penetrate.

"My hair’s a mess, too," she said, running her hand through a few clumps.

"Let me return the favor." As Ryan’s fingers massaged her scalp, Jamie let herself savor the gentle, desperately missed touch. Ryan had a way of making her feel completely loved when she washed her hair, and she tried hard not to think of whether this was an anomaly, or if Ryan would be able to share this with her again.

All too soon it was over, and Jamie felt the suds cascading down her body as Ryan rinsed her with the hand held showerhead. "All done?" she asked.

"Uh-huh. I got your head, neck and shoulders. You still need some work on your ears, though."

"Thanks." Jamie smiled at her, but Ryan was already withdrawing. She turned her back and started to wash the rest of her body, not uttering another word. Jamie did the same, feeling heartsick over the walls that seemed to rise so easily and fall so slowly. She was just about finished when Ryan draped her washcloth over the rod. "Honey, you’ve still got mud on your back and on the backs of your thighs," Jamie said. "Want me to get it for you?"

Ryan stood stock still for a moment, and Jamie could nearly feel her struggle with her answer. "Sure," she said briefly, her voice tight with tension. Jamie took her own washcloth and lathered it up, then started to work on Ryan’s back. The long body was nearly rigid, but that only lasted for a few moments. Ryan obviously tried to loosen up and let Jamie touch her, and after a bit, her posture relaxed significantly. "That feels good," she said.

"You’re probably stiff and sore, aren’t you?" the blonde asked.

"Yeah … actually I am. That was damned hard work."

"How about a little massage?" Jamie asked, cringing in anticipation of the rejection.

Again, Ryan struggled with her answer for a moment, then nodded. "Okay. That would help."

Jamie’s eyes nearly bugged out of her head, but she hurried to take advantage of the opportunity to touch her partner. She took the tube of shower gel and squirted a generous amount onto her hands, working up a good lather. Starting at Ryan’s shoulders, she massaged the gel into her skin, using her thumbs to press hard into the muscles, just the way Ryan liked it. "Boy, you’ve developed these muscles," she murmured as she worked.

"Boxing really does it," Ryan said. "I was able to work harder today than I ever would have been able to before I started banging on the heavy bag."

"I like ‘em," Jamie said. "Although I’d prefer to have them covered with a thicker layer of fat."

"I’ll get there," Ryan said. "Now that I don’t have those grueling basketball practices, I should be able to keep some weight on." She leaned over a little bit more, giving Jamie a better angle. "Boy, that feels good," she sighed. "I miss our massages."

"Then lets start them up again. It’s a nice way to get reacquainted with each other’s body."

"’Kay. I’ll try."

When Jamie reached the small of her back, she worked the muscles hard, making Ryan moan with pleasure. "I’ve never known anyone who likes it this hard," the blonde said.

"I’ve never had a massage that was too firm," Ryan said. "I just love the pressure."

Jamie squatted down a little to work on Ryan’s legs, digging into the thigh muscles with as much force as she could generate. "Nice," Ryan purred. "You’ve got very good hands."

"Thanks. I think you’re finished. Wanna do me?"

"Uhm … sure. If you’d like."

"I’m a little stiff, too. Just work on my back for a few minutes, okay?"

Ryan did so, letting her strong hands caress Jamie’s muscles in a firm, but tender fashion. "How’s this?"

"Perfect. I could never take it hard like you do. I like to be pampered."

Ryan slid her arms around her partner, hugging her tight. "I’m gonna try my best to pamper you more, sweetheart. I’m so sorry for abandoning you for so long."

"Hey, you didn’t abandon me, baby. You just needed some space. It’s okay, really."

"Tell me what you need," Ryan said. "I want you to have what you need, Jamie."

"I’m getting what I need, Ryan. Really, I am." She turned in her warm embrace and looked up at her partner. "What do you need, love?"

Her eyes closed and she whispered, "I need to be touched. I ache to feel your hands on my body."

"Honey, I’ll touch you any time you want. All you have to do is let me know."

"That’s the hard part," Ryan sighed. "I’m afraid to let you touch me, ‘cause I’m afraid of where it will lead."

"Oh, baby, it doesn’t have to lead anywhere. And even if it did, we can work through any problems that come up."

"I’m afraid to have sex," Ryan murmured. "I’m afraid to be that vulnerable again. I’m afraid I won’t be able to relax, or that I won’t be able to please you again. I worry about it all the time."

"Oh, sweetheart, you have nothing to worry about. We just need to start slow. Today was a good start, wasn’t it? We’re naked, and we’re touching each other really nicely. It will come."

"I guess," she said, looking glum. "It’s a start."

"We had a good start over at Niall’s," Jamie said, giving her a playful grin. "We could have had a good finish if the boys hadn’t been there."

"Yeah," Ryan said, giving her a crooked grin. "I just let my body react for a change. That’s what I need to do. Let my body speak to me."

"Our bodies will speak again, Ryan. Don’t you worry that pretty little head. Everything will be fine, love."

* * * * * * * * * * *

It was still fairly early when they got home – the early O’Flaherty dinner hour helping to assure that. Ryan sat up in bed and started answering e-mails, while Jamie sat at her desk, working on some problems for her real estate investing class. After hearing Ryan sporadically fidgeting for a half hour, the smaller woman finally turned around and asked, "What’s bothering you, babe?"

Ryan’s face bore a scowl, and she shifted once more. "I’m having a hard time getting comfortable. My back hurts."

"What’s troubling you specifically?" Jamie asked. "You didn’t hurt a disk, did you?"

"No, not really. I’m just stiff. I think I tweaked a muscle under my scapula."

Without another word, Jamie got up and approached her. "Let me give you a real massage. I didn’t get to work on you much in the shower."

"Uhm … okay. Would you grab me something to sleep in?"

Sighing heavily, Jamie fetched her partner a T-shirt and a pair of boxers. Handing the clothes through the bathroom door, Jamie went back to her computer and tried to work. Eventually, Ryan came out, looking absolutely lovely – her simple beauty making Jamie’s breath catch in her throat.

The outfit that she had chosen was one she had purchased for Ryan in Pebble Beach. A blue silk T-shirt, just a shade darker than her eyes, and matching silk boxers in the same vivid blue, with tiny red, white and yellow sailboats on them. The deep hue brought out the vividness of Ryan’s eyes, and made her hair look jet-black. Even her dark eyebrows and lashes stood out, and Jamie found herself fascinated with their color and texture.

The outfit was made for a man, but Ryan filled it out beautifully, the round globes of her ass straining the soft fabric just slightly.

Her hair was put up in a haphazard twist, and a few strands had fallen from the clip that held it up, and were now curling slightly around her face and neck. Her freshly-scrubbed face made her look clean and bright and healthy – the pink hue of her cheeks enormously appealing to Jamie.

Ryan gave her a curious look, and then she looked away quickly after seeing the open admiration, and unveiled interest on Jamie’s face. "I uhm … I think I’ll just hit the sack," she mumbled.

"Let me give you that massage," Jamie said, trying to ignore the tension in the room.

"Nah … I think I’m fine."

Before she could change her mind, Jamie was on her feet. Grasping Ryan’s hand gently, she said, "I’d uhm … really like to massage you. I miss touching your body, sweetheart, and I know you miss it, too. We need this, Ryan. We need touch."

The smaller woman could see the stab of fear that darted across Ryan’s eyes, could hear her start to breathe a little heavier – but she didn’t withdraw her request. With deep admiration, Jamie watched her partner face her fears, and refuse to give into them. "I miss it too, Jamie." Without another word, she took Jamie’s hand and led her to the bed. Ryan lay down, face first, and pointed at the areas that were troubling her. "It’s under the right scapula," she said.

"Okay, I can handle this," the blonde confidently said. "I think I’ll go all out," she said. "I’ll give you the whole professional treatment."

"You don’t have to …"

"Hush now," she said. "I want to create a nice atmosphere and get you thoroughly relaxed. As soon as I’m done, you can just drift off to sleep. It’s your first day of practice tomorrow, you know," she said. "I want to you be well rested."

"All right," Ryan sighed. "I leave myself in your capable hands."

Jamie lit a few candles and placed them on the nightstands, then turned on one of Ryan’s favorite CD’s: a nice collection of traditional Irish songs performed by an assortment of women artists. As the soft strains of the first tune began, she sat on the edge of the bed and tried to decide how to approach her task.

Momentarily pleased that Ryan was willing to extend herself and allow the touch, Jamie sighed in dismay when the larger woman made no move to remove her clothing. Not wishing to push her further than she wanted, Jamie decided to work around the impediments. She took a container of lightly-scented body powder, and pushed Ryan’s shirt up with one hand, while she sprinkled the powder all over her back.

"Nice," the reluctant patient murmured when knowing fingers started to glide over the smooth skin. "Is that powder?"

"Uh-huh. I didn’t want to get lotion on your clothes."

"Mmm … good idea," Ryan said, her clothing obviously purposefully intact.

Following the example that Ryan had shown her many times, Jamie patiently moved up and down her back, never remaining in one place for too long. Ryan was completely silent, providing very little feedback – in stark contrast to her usual grunts, groans and moans. It was like she was holding back – trying to control her response, but Jamie didn’t let that deter her. She just kept working, focusing on Ryan’s muscles.

She had to tug the print shorts down a little, and she felt a wave of sadness when Ryan tensed noticeably. But when she showed that she was merely trying to get at the strained muscles in her lower back, Ryan relaxed a bit. Jamie’s mind drifted to the previous spring when she’d given Ryan a massage after their bike ride up on Mt. Tam. The fact that Ryan had seemed so blasé about her near nakedness that night – even though they were just friends – struck a painful chord, and Jamie had to struggle to keep from crying. It felt like they had so very far to go – that things had grown so stilted and tentative between them in such a short time – that she was overwhelmed with sorrow. The only way she could continue was to try to still her mind, and just concentrate on the movement of her fingers, and the reaction of the individual muscles.

It took a lot of concentration to be able to ignore the pain in her gut, but Jamie put all of her self into the effort. Even though she was sad, she forced herself to let Ryan’s body feel her touch – to in some way let those nerves feel her, to experience her as a long-absent friend.

With a frustrated moan, Ryan’s entire body tensed noticeably. She let out a growl and rolled away, a fine sheen of sweat appearing on her forehead and upper lip. "My brain won’t give me a fucking break!"

"It’s all right, sweetheart," Jamie murmured, her heart heavy. "Time and patience are the keys. We’ll get there eventually."

"Huh-uh," Ryan said, shaking her head defiantly. "I’m tired of being patient. I’m tired of waiting. I’m nearly phobic about really being open, baby, and I’m sick of it."

"I know that, honey, but this isn’t the kind of thing you can force."

Ryan rose up on an elbow and cocked her head a little. Looking like an idea had just occurred to her, she asked, "Says who? Says who? I’m sick of this touchy feely crap, Jamie. I’m sick of everybody telling me to just wait for the right time. That’s not who I am!" She disentangled herself from her partner and stood up, staring at her with eyes blazing. "I have to be who I am! And that includes this! I’m a person who takes action. Spending all of this time reflecting has been helpful, but it’s not helping any more. Now I’m just stuck, and I’m fucking sick and tired of it!"

"How can I help you get unstuck? I’ll do anything," she said.

It took only a second for the dark woman to make up her mind. "I want to make love," Ryan said. "I want to look you in the eye and touch your body … then I want to touch your soul." Her stern expression gentled, and she sat on the edge of the bed, running her hands through Jamie’s hair. "My soul needs your touch to heal." Taking her partner’s hand, she brought it to her lips and kissed it gently. "My soul is hungry, Jamie. It’s slowly starving – and only you can give it sustenance."

Looking up at her partner, Jamie saw the grim determination in her sparkling blue eyes. She was filled with respect for the risk Ryan was willing to take, and immediately sought to soothe her. Nodding briefly, she said, "You’re right. It’s time to stop talking and live." Extending her arms in welcome, Jamie murmured, "Come lie with me and let me love you, Ryan."

She did so, pressing her body against her partner’s. Jamie tugged her T-shirt off, then tucked her thumbs into the waistband of Ryan’s boxers and slipped them off her. She let her hands roam unfettered all across the smooth expanse of skin, feeling her breath catch as she did so. The feeling was so glorious that she would have been satisfied to just gently caress her partner, but Ryan was on a mission, and she had no intention of stopping until she had broken every barrier that had been erected.

Sitting up, Ryan started to unfasten the buttons on Jamie’s pajama top. When it was open she slipped it from her shoulders and dropped it to the floor, then spent a moment letting her hand play upon the treasures now revealed. With a small, shy grin, Ryan gazed into her lover’s eyes and said, "God, I’ve missed this."

"I have, too." Maintaining her gaze, Jamie pulled the tie to her waistband, and slid out of her pants, then cuddled up against her partner, relishing the skin on skin contact. "This is divine," she sighed.

"Lie on top of me," Ryan said. "I want to feel your weight pressing against me."

"Mmm … my favorite position." Shifting her weight, Jamie climbed aboard and gazed into Ryan’s eyes for a moment. "How’s this? You okay?"

"My heart’s beating a little quickly, but I’m gonna ride it out," Ryan said. "Just stay with me." She started to perform her deep breathing exercises, and after a few minutes she nodded her head. "I’m okay now. I started to think too much."

"Maybe I can distract you a little. Turn your sweet little brain off and just feel." Jamie dipped her head and started to kiss her, keeping her touch slow and gentle, lazily playing with her lover. Tenderly, she caressed Ryan’s lips, nibbling a little, then sucking each lip into her mouth. Ryan started to breathe heavily, but it didn’t seem like anxiety this time. Persisting in her explorations, Jamie leisurely probed Ryan’s mouth with her determined tongue.

"Mmm," Ryan purred as the blonde head pulled away. "That’s nice … very nice."

Reaching up with her hand, Jamie ran her fingers through Ryan’s hair and looked at her with concern. "Are you okay, baby?"

"Fine. I’m fine," Ryan said. "Uhm … let’s just keep going without analyzing it, okay? It makes me nervous to have you ask if I’m all right. If I need to stop, I’ll tell you, okay?"

"Perfect." She gave Ryan a small kiss, and asked, "Do you want to lead, or should I ravage you as usual?"

Chuckling softly, Ryan said, "I think I’d better lead, if you don’t mind being submissive for a change."

"I can manage," Jamie said, intentionally trying to keep the tone light and playful. "Do you remember how? It’s been months since you’ve had a submissive woman in bed."

"Smart ass," Ryan said, giving her partner a pinch. "You’re in a pretty vulnerable position there, babe. You’d better watch it."

"Especially when I’m lying on top of a big, strong, dominant woman like you. Goodness knows what you’re capable of."

"Goodness has nothing to do with it," Ryan said, rolling Jamie onto her back. "Now, where was I?"

"You were about to dominate me," the blonde said, blinking up at her innocently.

"Ahh, yes. Having my way with fair, young maidens. My favorite hobby." She settled much of her weight on her arms, as she hovered above her partner.

Jamie reached up and tenderly brushed her hair back, smiling up at her as she said, "This is the way I picture you when I fantasize about making love. I think of you poised over me – ready to pounce." Trailing her fingers over her face, she continued, "I love to feel your body on mine. It’s so heavy and dense, and just bursting with muscles." She managed to free both hands and started to stroke the smooth muscles in the arms which strained a little as Ryan held herself up. "I feel like you’re totally in charge – that I’m completely under your control. I know you’d never hurt me, but I feel a tiny, tiny bit of trepidation when you hover over me like this. Kinda like when you’re on a roller coaster. You know it’s safe, but still …"

"But still … you never know when the tiger might strike," Ryan finished for her, purring softly. She started to nibble all over Jamie’s body, latching onto every spot she could sink her teeth into. After a moment, her bites started to tickle, and Jamie started to squirm under her. Ryan didn’t slow her assault, continuing to nibble and bite her breasts, the soft skin on her belly, the backs of her arms. Flailing hands tried to keep her at bay, but Ryan merely grasped both wrists and held them above Jamie’s head, rendering her completely helpless. The blonde struggled for a moment, then started to move under Ryan in a decidedly sensual fashion, looking up at her with smoky green eyes.

Panting softly, Jamie told the truth that resonated in her soul, "I put myself in your hands, Ryan."

"Oh, sweetheart," she sighed, her eyes fluttering closed for a moment. "Making yourself so vulnerable to me is such a gift."

"I trust you completely," she whispered. "I never feel safer than when you’re in complete control. I can hardly move a muscle, but I feel totally cared for and protected."

"You are, baby. You’re always safe with me."

"Do you feel the same with me?" Jamie asked softly, staring deeply into Ryan’s eyes. "Do you feel safe?"

"Uhm … yes … mostly," she said. "I mean, I did before, but now …"

"Tell me," Jamie said. "Tell me exactly what frightens you."

"I told you before," she said, looking away, then biting her lower lip. "I think of how I almost lost you, of how I put your life in jeopardy. Then I start to panic." She released her grip upon Jamie’s wrists and brought her arm down to brace herself more firmly, since her body had begun to tremble.

Jamie reached up and grasped her face, forcing her to make eye contact. "Ryan, what those men did to us was horrible. The things that could have happened, but didn’t, are equally horrible. But none of those dreadful things happened. At this point, those men can’t hurt us anymore – we can only hurt ourselves, and each other." She pulled the dark head down and kissed her hard. When she released her, her eyes were blazing. "We need each other now, more than ever. But we have to focus on the reality of the situation. We can’t let our imaginations run wild. Focus on the here and now, Ryan. Please!"

"How?" she asked, her question so simple, yet so complex.

Her hands were still holding Ryan’s face, and she pulled her down onto her chest. "Feel my heartbeat, baby. Can you hear it?"

"Yeah … it’s beating nice and strong." She placed a soft kiss on the skin just over her partner’s breast.

"Feel my arms around you, holding you tight," she said, doing just that.

"Mmm … safe and warm," Ryan sighed. "There’s no nicer place on earth."

"Feel the warmth of my skin, Ryan, and watch my chest rise and fall as I breathe. I’m alive, and so are you." She kissed her lover again, then looked into her eyes as she said. "Every day we have is a gift. We saw how quickly our world can be turned upside down, but we can’t let that stop us from cherishing the gift. I firmly believe we’ll enjoy a very long life together, but even if that’s true, we still don’t have a day to waste! Let’s do our damnedest to not let our fears keep us from exploiting the most precious gift – the gift of life."

Ryan raised up a little, letting her focus more clearly on the strength and determination in her partner’s eyes. "That’s always been my philosophy," she said softly, looking puzzled. "I’ve managed to lose track of that, somehow."

"You can get it back," Jamie said. "It’s easy to learn, baby," she said. "After all, I learned it from you."

"You did?" Ryan’s face creased into a warm, child-like smile. "Really?"

"Of course. A couple of months after we met, you explained your philosophy of life, and it was so appealing that I started doing some reading on it. My grandfather and I talk about it all the time, Ryan. It … it helped change my life."

"Remind me," she said softly, closing her eyes.

In a soothing tone, Jamie said, "Be in the moment. Experience life as it’s presented to you – not how you want it to be. Open your senses and feel every sensation. Disengage your mind, and let your body rule."

Ryan closed her eyes and did her breathing exercises for a few minutes. Jamie lay beneath her, watching the stress lines start to fade from her face. Her chest rose and fell rhythmically, with each breath becoming fuller and easier. "I can do this," she said quietly. "I know I can do this."

"I know you can, too. I have nothing but confidence in you. And in us."

Giving her the crooked smile that always melted Jamie’s heart, the dark beauty whispered, "Especially us."

Tossing her arms around Ryan’s back, Jamie hugged her fiercely. "Come on, you big, powerful dom. Make me your woman."

"I can’t make you mine," Ryan said. "You have to come willingly."

Raising a dark blonde eyebrow, the smaller woman said, "Sometimes you give me such a set-up that it’s too easy to bother with. Like shooting fish in a barrel."

"Such a clever girl," Ryan said. "I love clever girls."

"And I love you." Jamie kissed her gently, then lay back and waited for Ryan to begin.

She was a little hesitant at first, her touch not bearing its usual easy poise. But slowly, with Jamie’s steadfast encouragement, Ryan began to regain some of her normal confidence. "That’s it, baby," Jamie said. "Yes … touch me just like that. Feel my body, let your body react to mine."

Time and again Ryan started to feel a faint tingling of dread creep into her consciousness, but each time she locked her eyes onto her partner, allowing Jamie’s fierce confidence in her to pull her back from the edge. They worked together, determined to dispel the darkness and let the light back into their hearts. Sharing everything, Ryan slowly felt her heart open wide, and soon Jamie was nestled deep inside, right where she belonged. Cradled next to her partner’s body, Ryan whispered, "I can feel you inside of me. Like you’re part of me once again."

"I feel it, too," Jamie whispered. "God, I’ve missed this. I need this, baby. I need you to make me whole."

"I’ll never leave you again," Ryan said, a few tears slipping down her cheeks.

"Stay with me now," Jamie said, snapping her from her musings. "Stay right here, Ryan. Don’t go away."

The dark head nodded, and Ryan bent to kiss her. As her tongue slipped into Jamie’s warm mouth, her fingers simultaneously slid inside of her, making her gasp. Kissing her gently, lovingly, possessively, Ryan whispered, "I’m here, baby. I’m here for you. Feel me deep inside of you." She dipped her head and rained kisses down on her partner, probing her mouth and her slick channel with the same determined intensity.

As though she were being swept away on a thunderous wave, Jamie let go and felt her entire body react to Ryan’s love. The climax that raced through her was nearly frightening – so great was the release she felt, but Ryan was right there – with her and for her. Grasping the dark beauty with every ounce of her strength, she let the larger woman’s sheer bulk anchor her to the earth, lest she float away on a cloud of pure sensation. Her body thrummed with pleasure, every nerve dancing with feeling. "Hold me," she whispered when she found her voice. "Never let me go."

"Such a nice thought," Ryan murmured, nuzzling her face into her lover’s moist neck. "Holding you like this – feeling this close for the rest of our lives."

Smiling lazily, Jamie started to stretch. "An impractical, but utterly delicious thought. Mmm … my muscles were starting to cramp." Running her hand up Ryan’s arm, she asked, "I didn’t bruise you, did I?"

"I wouldn’t have noticed if you’d broken my ribs," she said. "That would have been a small price to pay for being close to you."

"It was just like it used to be, wasn’t it?" the blonde asked gently, a touch of wonder in her soft voice.

Ryan gazed at her for a moment and said, "I think it was better. Much better. I’ve never felt so close to you, sweetheart."

"It feels so much more precious now, Ryan," she said. "Losing that intimate connection – even though I knew it would come back, made things so much harder."

"I know, I know," Ryan said. "I felt like I was drowning, Jamie, and I just wasn’t able to save myself." She kissed her gently and said, "You saved me."

"No, not me," she murmured. "It was our love. That’s what’s pulled us through this, baby. It’s a force greater than either of us, and it has the power to save. Our love is our lifeline, Ryan, and it will always lead us safely home."

The End

(To be continued in Book 13 — Monogamy)



As always, I thank my partner for the tremendous assistance she provides in helping me to write the series; and Day, The Wonder Woman for all of her efforts in beta reading and editing.

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