I Found My Heart In San Francisco

Book 13 Monogamy

By: S X Meagher


Part 19

Bright and early on Wednesday morning, Ryan was sitting on the stairs leading up to Haas Auditorium, having checked the schedule to see when the basketball team was scheduled to use the weight room. She knew the work-avoiding seniors would be the first to leave, and her guess was absolutely correct – the two women looking like they’d barely broken a sweat. "Good morning, girls," she said when she spotted her prey.

Janet gave her a look of complete disdain, stepping over Ryan’s sprawled-out body. But the dark woman wasn’t about to let her quarry escape. She grabbed onto the cuff of Janet’s jeans, holding on tightly – nearly causing the woman to fall down the stairs headfirst.

Whirling, the irate woman launched a kick at Ryan’s head, but she hadn’t counted on Ryan’s reflexes. The brunette grabbed her foot and held it in her two hands, refusing to let go. "What the fuck is wrong with you?" Janet yelled. "Did you finally lose your mind?"

"Nope," Ryan said, looking calm and collected. "The three of us are going to move over there and have a little chat." She twitched her head towards a bench in front of Zellerbach Hall.

"Fuck off, O’Flaherty," Wendy said, her voice rising. "We’re not gonna spend our free time talking to you. We have reputations to protect." She began to snicker, causing a nasty smile to bloom on Ryan’s face.

"If either of you want to be on the basketball team by the end of the day, I suggest you risk your sterling reputations to spend a few minutes with me. Of course, if you don’t – I’ll tell Coach Hayes what I know, and let her sort things out – makes no difference to me."

Wendy cracked first, giving her friend a slightly panicked look. But Janet was cool, calm and collected, making Ryan wonder if only one of the women was involved. Ryan let go of Janet’s foot, making a dismissive gesture. "Go on," she said. "I’m sure you’ll be hearing from Coach Hayes before practice."

"What do you want?" Wendy asked, looking to her friend once again for support.

"I want to go over there," Ryan said, pointing, "and talk to both of you. If we don’t all talk, I’m going directly to Coach Hayes’ office. Your choice."

"Oh, for God’s sake, let’s go," Janet said. "I can’t imagine what we have to talk about, but given that you’ve killed one person this year, I suppose I can’t afford to make you mad." She strode off, leaving Ryan to grip the metal handrail with enough force to leave her fingerprints.

Reminding herself that violence wasn’t the answer – when there were so many witnesses – Ryan walked behind Wendy, remaining standing while the other two sat. "Here’s what I want to know," she said. "Either one, or both of you, supplied Cassie Martin with the information about my uhm …"

"Nervous breakdown? Mental collapse? Acute psychosis?" Janet supplied helpfully.

"Whatever," Ryan said. "Cassie wasn’t there, so one or both of you told her about it."

"There are a lot of people on that team, Ryan," Wendy said. "Any one of them could have done that."

"Logically, that’s true," Ryan said. "But you two are the only ones Cassie knows. Besides, you’re the only two with the required amount of … nastiness … to do something that cruel."

Janet gave her a bored look and said, "You can’t prove anything, Ryan, and if you could, you’d be ratting us out right now. You don’t wanna spend your time talking to us, any more than we wanna talk to you. Now, get your sorry ass out of here and do what you want."

"No!" Wendy said, her voice rising in indignation. "I will not have Coach Hayes think I did this!"

"Shut up, you idiot," Janet hissed. "She’s got nothing!"

"Oh, but I do," Ryan said, smiling at the rift that she could see forming right before her eyes. "I know that one of you was involved, but I can’t prove which one. Coach will probably suspend both of you pending an investigation."

"I’m trying to get into law school!" Wendy cried. "I don’t want this to show up on my record!"

"Lots of people get accused of a lot of things," Janet said, unconcerned with her friend’s plight. "Chill."

"Fuck you, Janet," Wendy snapped. "All I did was tell you about Ryan’s meltdown. What you did with the information was something I had nothing – nothing to do with!"

Laughing softly, Janet said, "You knew exactly what I was going to do when you told me what happened. If I recall, you’re the one who suggested that Cassie might be the best person to tell."

"I did not!"

Shrugging, Janet said, "Let’s see if Coach believes you. You look just as guilty as I do, Wendy. You’d better hope she doesn’t have the guts to kick us off. Jesus, at this point we only have 10 players. She can’t afford to go down to 8. One bout of the flu, and she’d have to forfeit games."

"I didn’t do anything!" Wendy repeated. "Why would you try to drag me down with you?"

"Like I said before, you’re just as guilty as I am. At least – Coach will think so," Janet said, a sickeningly sweet smile on her face.

Ryan saw her opening, and smiled at Wendy. "If you’re just as guilty, that must mean that you got a third of the money. Did you?"

"Money? What money?"

"Someone got a sizeable amount of money for publicly humiliating me," Ryan said, maintaining her cool gaze. "I’m sure Coach can sort it all out by demanding that you provide copies of your bank statements."

"Fuck you, O’Flaherty," Janet said, venom oozing from her voice. "It’s obvious what you want. How much will it take to buy you off?"

"Wow, you took the money and didn’t even try to give your good friend a cut. Pretty nasty trick."

"How much?" Janet seethed.

"I’m not like you are, Janet," Ryan said calmly. "I can’t be bought for $25,000."

The woman barked out a wry laugh. "I should have known you were guessing. I didn’t get anything near $25,000."

"Well, you should have," Ryan said, tossing her dark hair over her shoulder. "’Cause your good friend and partner, Cassie, got $50,000. I’ve got a copy of the draft the National Inquisitor wired to her. I’ve also got the check she wrote to cash for $10,000. I assume that went to you," she said, gazing at Janet. "I bet your scholarship is worth more than $10,000. You should have struck a better deal. Pity," she added, striding away to her first class.

* * * * * * * * * * *

As soon as her class was over, Ryan jogged back over to Haas to talk to Coach Hayes. Knocking on the coach’s door, Ryan popped her head in when she heard the woman invite her in. "Hi, Coach, got a few minutes?"

The older woman was sitting at her desk, the surface clear of papers. Her feet were up on the bottom drawer of the desk, which she had pulled out, and she was gazing out of the window with her hands wrapped around one knee. Turning her head to meet Ryan’s eyes, she said, "Sure. Come on in. You’re a little late, though. One rat tried to save her skin by turning on the other."

"No honor among thieves, huh?" the younger woman said, entering the room and taking a seat.

"Apparently not." She rocked in her chair, letting her head drop back against the leather. "I thought I was ready to learn the truth, Ryan, but I wasn’t. How could I be so wrong about so many people?" Wiping at her eyes, she said, "Maybe I don’t have what it takes to coach at this level."

"Any interest in hearing my opinion?" Ryan asked.

"Sure. You’re one of the few people around here who has been consistently honest with me."

"Well, I think you have the talent and the smarts to coach at this level, or even in the WNBA. But, in my opinion, there’s something that’s prevented you from succeeding here – and it’s not talent."

"What is it, Ryan?" she asked, a small smirk twitching her lips. "Give it to me."

"It’s the way you interact with the players. I don’t know why you made this choice, but trying to stick to game strategy, while leaving all of the interpersonal stuff to your assistants is not working – and I don’t believe it ever will."

The older woman crossed her arms over her chest, scowling slightly. "Why can’t it work to have specific roles? Each of us has certain skills, Ryan. Doesn’t it make sense to do what we’re best at?"

"Sure, it makes sense," she said. "But it doesn’t work. No matter what, you’re the head coach – and if players don’t feel they can talk to you, you’ll never know what’s going on with the team. Some of the things that have happened this year have seriously harmed your credibility, Coach. Those issues eventually show up on the court – and then it’s too late to do anything about them."

"For example?"

"Well, I don’t want to reveal any confidences, but someone that you’re relying on is thinking of transferring. She hasn’t talked to you about how unhappy she is – because she doesn’t think you have any interest in talking to the players. Given the reception you gave me the few times I tried to talk to you – I don’t blame her a bit."

Mary shook her head, looking tired and frustrated. "I’m not good at it, Ryan. I’ve never been good at it. That’s why I’ve enjoyed working on the college level. I can concentrate on the game and leave the other things to my assistants."

"Then you’d better make that perfectly clear to the team. Give your assistants full authority over those matters – or you’re not gonna have enough players here to field a table tennis team. If I'd thought that Lynette had some authority, I would have felt much better about things. As it was, I talked to her without knowing if you’d ever hear my complaints."

"I can understand that," Mary said, nodding slowly. "I guess you’re right, Ryan. I’ve got to figure out how to make the environment more hospitable for the girls." She stared up at the ceiling and said, "I’ve shown such poor judgment at assessing girls' personalities, that I think I should avoid it as much as possible and leave those things to the assistants. I’ll try to make that clear next year."

"Well, that’s one way to look at it. Of course, you could try to challenge yourself to get closer to the players. A little effort would go a long way, Coach."

Giving the younger woman a warm smile, Coach Hayes nodded slowly. "I would guess you’d recommend doing it the hard way."

"That’s my nature," Ryan said, grinning.

"Well, I can’t say I’ve enjoyed our little chat, but maybe a few changes are in order."

"What changes are you going to make on this year’s team?" Ryan asked. "I assume it was Wendy who paid you a visit this morning."

"Yeah, it was," Mary said. "Should I believe what she told me?"

"Well, I don’t think she got any money," Ryan said. "But she admitted that she’s the one who told Janet about the uhm … incident. I’m not sure she knew that Janet was going to sell the info, but once she saw it in the tabloid, she couldn’t have had any doubts about who did it."

"That’s what I think, too," Mary said. "I don’t think I have the evidence to throw her off the team – but she’s not gonna set foot on the court during a game for the rest of the year. I don’t care if I have to put an ad in the Daily Californian for warm bodies – she’s gone."

"I assume Janet will be dealt with even more harshly?"

"Definitely. I’m talking to the Chancellor’s office this afternoon to see how much of her scholarship we can force her to pay back. We’re throwing her out of the dorm – so she’s gonna have to find a place to live for the rest of the term."

"You know," Ryan said thoughtfully, "I wish I could have kept my mouth shut and let this blow over; but in a way, I think this could be one of the best things that could have happened to the team. Knowing that you won’t put up with this kind of crap might give the other players an infusion of confidence."

"I hope so, Ryan. I’ve never had such a dreadful year in coaching. I guess the good news is that we have nowhere to go but up."

"That’s the way to think, Coach. You’re at the start of a new regime."

Mary shook her head, unable to keep from giving the young woman a warm smile. "Such an optimist. Maybe you should come back next year and be my personnel director."

"Oh, no can do, Coach. I’m under strict orders to kept my schedule open next year. I’m gonna learn how to relax." She smiled at the woman and walked towards the door. "I don’t know which of us has the bigger task ahead of us."

* * * * * * * * * * *

Once she was sure of her plan, Mia called Jordan to clue her in. "Hi," the brunette said when she reached her lover that evening.

"Hi, honey," Jordan replied, still not sounding like herself.

"I’ve got some news," Mia said. "I’ve decided that I’m going down to Hillsborough this weekend to tell my parents about us."


"You heard me, sweetie. I’ve decided that there’s no reason to wait. They’re not going to be happy about it, so why not let them start getting over it now, rather than later?"

"Oh, Mia, I hate to see you bring this up now. Why not wait until you graduate, honey? Then they won’t have as much power over you."

"Jordan," Mia said, in a tone that got the blonde’s attention, "you’re the most important person in my life. It’s not fair to you or to me or to them to keep this a secret. Besides, I promised my mother that I’d tell her what’s going on as soon as we had things resolved. I think we do," she said softly. "I think we’ve decided to love each other as well as we can – for the rest of our lives."

"God, I love you," Jordan choked out before dissolving into tears. "You make me feel so special."

"You are," Mia insisted. "You’re the love of my life, Jordan. Don’t ever forget that."

* * * * * * * * * * *

Early the next morning, Ryan stood astride her bike watching an apartment building near campus. It was just after seven a.m., and she mused that weeks of planning and scheming were about to come to fruition.

The moment she saw a gangly, dark-haired man get into his car and drive off, she hopped off her bike. That’s my cue, she said to herself as a giggle escaped. Striding up to the front buzzer, she found the name and gave the bell a long, irritating ring. When a very perturbed female voice snapped, "What!" her grin increased and she dropped her voice an octave to say, "Special delivery for Cassandra Martin. I need a signature."

The next sound was the release for the door, and Ryan bounded up the stairs three at a time, trying to get to the third floor apartment before her arch-nemesis could get the door open. She managed to make it in the nick of time, and held up an official looking envelope, managing to hide her face from the peephole.

The door flew open, and a very unpleasant voice muttered, "Where do I sign?"

Ryan dropped the envelope to her side and stuck her steel-toed work boot into the doorway, smiling serenely when Cassie tried to slam the door onto it. "Temper, temper, temper," she said. "You don’t want to throw me out before you hear my offer, do you?"

The blonde backed up, frantically looking around the entryway for something to defend herself with. "Wha … wha … what do you want?"

"I want to cut your tongue out with a dull, rusty, razor blade," Ryan said, "but I’ll settle for sharing my latest creation with you." Ryan shook the envelope and dropped a floppy disk into her hand, which she then waved in front of the frightened blonde. "I think you’ll want to see what’s on this diskette."

Realizing that Ryan wasn’t intending to hurt her allowed Cassie to regain her bravado. "Why in the fuck would I be interested in anything you have to say, you bitch."

Ryan surveyed her outfit, noticing the black T-shirt with a red and white faux nametag that read, "Queen of the fucking universe", and commented, "Like the shirt. But there’s one little corner of the universe that you don’t reign over." Her eyes grew dark, and a nearly palpable menace oozed from her coiled body. "When my partner is involved."

Fixing Ryan with her own steely glare, Cassie snapped, "Wish I could stay and chat, but I don’t have all day to waste listening to you. Either leave now, or leave when the cops get here." She turned and made for the phone in the hallway and began to dial.

Ryan followed right behind her and placed a photocopy of two wire transfers in front of her. "Look familiar?"

Cassie gazed at the drafts deposited to her account, each in the amount of $50,000. Each dated a short time after the tabloid stories had hit the newsstands. Dick Williams assured Ryan that only $10,000 had been withdrawn in a single personal check – and Ryan now knew where that money had gone. "So what?" Cassie asked, but put the phone down before her call was completed.

"So … I would really like it if you’d write a new check, in the amount of $90,000, made out to ‘Safe Haven.’ I wish I’d gotten here before you spent $10,000, but it took me a while to get my facts straight." Ryan could have told the woman about her encounter with Janet and Wendy, but she thought it would be more fun to let them blindside their former friend.

Ryan said this in such a matter-of-fact way that Cassie almost asked her to repeat herself. But she had clearly heard her. "Fuck off, get out, and drop dead, you bitch. Who the fuck do you think you are?"

"I," Ryan said dramatically, waving the floppy again, "am the creator of the new video game that will soon sweep the Berkeley campus. And that’s just the start," she said, her excitement growing. "I have contacts all over the world through a math bulletin board I’m on. People in universities all across the planet will soon be playing my game, and laughing their asses off." She shrugged and said, "Bad choice of words, but you’ll get the picture."

"You came over here at seven a.m. to tell me about a fucking video game?"

"Well, yeah," Ryan drawled innocently, "after all, you’re the star of the game."

Cassie grabbed two handfuls of her long blonde hair and pulled at it in frustration. "What are you talking about?"

Looking across the room, Ryan was pleased to see that Cassie’s computer was not only up and running, it was also a Mac. She strode across the room, turned briefly and asked, "May I?" then inserted the diskette before the struggling woman had the opportunity to reply. "Now, this won’t give you the full effect," Ryan said conversationally, "since I could only get the streamlined version onto a floppy. The version that I’ll be sending out has a lot more action, more color – it’s a far superior product." Ryan looked completely relaxed while she waited for the program to load. Her arms were crossed over her chest, and her foot tapped rhythmically as she hummed a song to herself. "Ahh, here it is," she said. "Wanna look?"

Cassie gave her a look that questioned her sanity, so Ryan merely shrugged. "Suit yourself. Now we’re still in the beta testing phase, so we can make some modifications. You might want to be wearing a different outfit, but I think this bikini is absolutely perfect."

Unable to contain her curiosity, Cassie inched forward, slowly enabling herself to get a good look at the screen. She was stunned to see a picture of herself, clad in a red bikini – a picture she recalled from a pool party about two years earlier at her parents' house.

Ryan made a few keystrokes, and suddenly a wide variety of foods started to float around the screen. She started to grab one at a time, drag it over to the picture, and insert it into the now-gaping mouth. The cyber-Cassie started to chew noisily, the sounds crass and vulgar. "You won’t see much yet," Ryan said, "but by the fifth or sixth hot dog, your belly will start to grow. Ahh … there it goes," she said with satisfaction.

The blonde woman was too stunned to even comment. She felt all of the color drain from her face as Ryan continued to shove food into the cyber-mouth, the image of the svelte body starting to distort. Her worst nightmare was coming true right before her eyes – and she felt her stomach begin to turn.

"Now I have this set up with the summer outfit, but I have a nice winter look with a ski jacket and pants, and a formal version with you in a long black dress. Okay … here’s my favorite view," Ryan said, using the mouse to turn the image. "I think it’s gonna blow," she said with delight as an obscene ripping sound accompanied the image of the tiny bikini beginning to break apart at the seams. "That hot fudge sundae did the trick," Ryan said idly. "Works every time."

Suddenly, Ryan felt a pair of hands grasping at her shirt. She managed to turn and pry the clutching fingers off and grab Cassie’s wrists. Looking up, she saw the mask of outrage and hatred that colored the woman’s face. "What’s wrong?" Ryan asked, while Cassie tried to yank her hands away from her iron grip. "Don’t you like to be embarrassed and held up to ridicule? I assumed that people who liked to dish it out, would also like to take it."

Cassie was really struggling, but Ryan was not about to let her get in a clear shot, so she kept a tight hold on her. As expected, Cassie fought dirty, and she tried to get in a knee to the groin, but Ryan managed to twist her body to frustrate the blonde’s aim. "I’ll kill you!" Cassie cried, tears of rage and frustration rolling down her cheeks.

"You’ll do no such thing," Ryan growled. "You don’t have the guts." Ryan pushed her hard, sending her sprawling into an upholstered chair. "Not only aren’t you going to kill me, you’re going to give me $90,000."

"I’d rather die!" she sputtered.

"You’ll die, all right. You’ll die of embarrassment." Ryan pulled out one of the flyers she had designed and flung it at the blonde. A four-color photo of Cassie at her normal weight morphed into the 400-pound woman whose clothing exploded from the stress. "I’m still debating about what to call it," Ryan mused. "I’m thinking of ‘Gobble’. Do you like it?"

"You can’t get away with this!"

"Oh, sure I can. I’m distributing this for free. You could probably hire a lawyer and sue me for invasion of privacy, or something like that, but it would be very tough to find anyone who wanted to take the case. I’m sure it would cost you more than you’d ever be able to make back. Besides," she shrugged, "my goal will be met as soon as this hits the Internet. I honestly think this will be bigger than the ‘Dancing Baby’ thing from a few years ago. Once it’s out there, you can never pull it back. The damage is done." An evil grin settled onto Ryan’s face and she said, "Kinda like the damage that the tabloids do. See the connection?"

"This is blackmail!"

"Kinda," Ryan said, grinning. "You wanna go to the DA? That’s fine, too, since the game will be entered into evidence. That would be cool, since it would make the legitimate press that way."

With a massive cry of frustration, Cassie screamed, "Why are you doing this to me?"

"Is that a rhetorical question, or do you have some serious long-term memory impairment?"

"Fuck you," the blonde growled, getting up to move to the desk. "Just fuck yourself."

"You can make that comment in the memo line on the check," Ryan said. "Just remember that placing a stop on a check of this size is a felony, and the DA loves to prosecute those cases."

Cassie sat down and started to write out the check. "How do I know you’re not going to distribute the game anyway?" she muttered.

"Well, this is an alien concept to you, but I give you my word," Ryan said. "My word actually means something. As long as you keep your evil self away from Jamie, this will never get out."

Cassie wrote out the check and signed it, leaving the payee line blank. "You can fill it in, asshole." She shoved it towards Ryan, who took it from her with two fingers to avoid touching her. "You and that bitch Jamie deserve each other."

"Huh," Ryan said thoughtfully. "Who knew you were so perceptive?" Without another word, Ryan left the apartment, once again humming a happy tune.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Later that night, Jamie stood in front of Ryan’s computer, her mouth agape, eyes wide. "You created a game based on my old pictures of Cassie?"

"Yep. Pretty sweet, huh?"

Jamie sat down heavily on the bed, totally astounded. "But, Ryan, what if she sues us? You know how vindictive she is!"

"Yes, she is, but I convinced her that no matter what avenue she used to get back at me, I’d release the game. She’s far too vain to ever let that happen – no matter what." She cocked her head and said, "You’ve always said that nothing mattered more to her than how she looks – you were dead on, babe."

Jamie looked at her partner, her eyes scanning her face. "Do you feel better for having done this? Did it give you some satisfaction?"

A vaguely guilty grin crossed Ryan’s face when she admitted, "Yeah. I feel a lot better, as a matter of fact. It’s bad enough that she betrayed you, but for her to profit from it drove me absolutely nuts! I was having a hell of a time letting it go, so I started plotting ways to get revenge. I wasn’t gonna tell you this, but I know we don’t do well when we keep secrets."

"What weren’t you gonna tell me?" Jamie asked.

"Uhm … I went to your dad for advice on how to get revenge. He helped me think it through. I was gonna do the game and put up signs advertising it all over campus. Your dad is the one who showed me that we could use the game to blackmail her." Ryan looked supremely satisfied with herself. "He’s got some damned good ideas."

"Unbelievable," Jamie said, shaking her head. "I … I’m speechless."

"Well, I knew he had the contacts – why not let him use his God given talents?"

"I don’t think God had anything to do with those talents, Ryan, but if the two of you can bond by thinking up ways to blackmail people, far be it from me to discourage you."

"I think I’m finished with blackmail," Ryan said. "Once was fun, but it was enough."

Jamie picked up the cashier’s check that lay on the desk. "Did you make her go to the bank with you?"

"God no! I couldn’t have been in her company that long! She gave me a personal check and I immediately went to the bank and converted it to a cashier’s check – in case she tried to put a stop payment on it."

"What do you think Sandy will do with the money?" Jamie asked.

Ryan gave her a wide grin and said, "I stopped by before softball practice and told her about the ‘donation.’ She nearly hyperventilated. I think she’s going to buy a van so she can take the girls places as a group."

Pushing Ryan’s chair back, Jamie climbed astride her lap and gave her a hug. "You did this for me, didn’t you?"

Ryan nodded, but added, "Only partially. Yes, it drove me insane that she was so cruel to you after you were such a good friend to her. But part of the reason she was so mean was because you were different from her. It bugged the shit out of her that you could be gay – that you weren’t who she believed you were. I decided that I had to take that money and make a positive impact on the lives of girls who are tortured because they’re different. It’s vigilante justice, I admit, but it’s still justice."

"I’m proud of you, Ryan," Jamie murmured. "I’m proud of you for taking something that was driving you nuts, and figuring out a way to make a positive statement with the whole mess."

"It was worth it to see the look on her face," Ryan said. "It gives me great pleasure to see a bully humbled."

Jamie slapped her lightly on the shoulder and said, "That’s the only thing I’m mad at you about. I wish you would have told me so that I could have gone, too!"

Ryan leaned back so that she could look her in the eyes. "No. I never want you to share air space with her. You’re too precious to me to ever allow scum like her to befoul you."

Jamie hugged her tight, so very grateful to have a partner who felt like that about her. Unexpectedly, she began to giggle and picked up her head to look at Ryan. "Uhm … could we play the game?"

"Your wish is my command," Ryan said, grinning while wheeling the chair back to the computer. "Go for the hot fudge sundaes," she instructed. "They have a rather explosive effect on her."

* * * * * * * * * * *

Later that evening, Ryan was working in her room when she heard Jamie’s voice call to her. "Honey? Can you come in here for a minute?"

"Sure." She walked into their bedroom to find her partner sorting through their monthly bills. "This looks like fun."

"It’s not," Jamie said, grinning up at her. "But it’s nice to know what we have and where our money goes."

Ryan started to massage her slightly stiff shoulders and asked, "What did you want?"

"The cut off date for your American Express card was Monday, but I don’t see an entry for my ring. You did use the card, didn’t you?"

Ryan’s fingers stilled and she moved to the side to crouch down next to Jamie. "No, I didn’t," she said.

"Then how …?"

"I used my savings," she said, her blue eyes fixed upon Jamie’s.

Turning quickly in her chair, both of her hands landed on Ryan’s chest, nearly sending her sprawling. "Honey! Why did you do that? This ring must have taken everything you had!"

Ryan smiled gently, and said, "Not quite." She leaned over to sort through the statements and found the one from their bank. "See this deposit?"

Jamie nodded, noting the $1200 that she hadn’t been able to account for.

"That’s the balance. I closed the account and merged what I had left into our joint account. I’m officially broke," she said.

"Ryan, why did you do that? I know it’s important to you to have your own money."

Ryan grasped Jamie’s hands and pulled her to her feet. She laced her hands behind her back, letting them rest on the gentle swell of hips. "It’s not important any more. What’s important now is merging – not staying separate. This is a leap of faith for me, Jamie. I’m investing everything that I am and everything that I have in the belief that we’ll be together for the rest of our lives." She picked up Jamie’s hand and brought it to her mouth, gently kissing the ring. "This ring represents nine years of my efforts. Every spare dime I had went into this account. I’m giving it all to you," she whispered. "I trust you with my money, with my hopes, with my dreams, and with my very soul. We’re in this together – as a couple." Dipping her head, she placed a gentle, emotion-filled kiss onto her partner’s trembling lips. They shared kiss after kiss, each one becoming tenderer and more loving.

When they finally broke apart, Jamie added one more, unable to resist the warm, moist lips. "I love you so much, it sometimes feels like it’s too much to fathom," she whispered. "Every time I think I’ve reached my limit, you do something that knocks me off my feet again." She chuckled gently and said, "I’m beginning to think you’ll always keep filling me up with your love."

"I like the way you think," Ryan’s deep voice burred. "I think this is a perfect time to top off your tank, don’t you?"

With a sexy grin, Jamie’s head began to nod. "As usual, you read my cue."

Ryan’s hands were busy unbuttoning the tiny buttons of her partner’s shirt. "Not to denigrate my skills, but your cues are pretty obvious."

"Do tell?"

"Well, your eyelids start to get heavy," she said, "so heavy that your eyes are half-hooded when you look up at me." She slipped Jamie’s shirt off, giving it a little tug to pull it from her jeans. Her hands slid down her back and started to play with the soft skin there, as a precursor to moving on with the slow unveiling of her beautiful body.

"What else?" Mist green eyes batted seductively.

"Well, there’s that," Ryan said, tapping each of her eyelids. "You bat your eyes better than anyone I’ve ever met. Each little blink makes my heart race."

The smaller woman leaned in close and rested her ear on the cotton fabric that covered Ryan’s chest. "I see what you mean," she purred. "You’re off to the races."

The clasp to Jamie’s bra was unhooked and Ryan’s hands began to roam at will, sending chills up both spines. "When you’re seducing me, you also turn your head just enough so that you’re looking at me out of the corners of your eyes. I don’t know why, but you never look at me head-on. It’s very sexy," she added.

"You’re too gorgeous to take in all in at once," Jamie teased. "I don’t want to burn out my retinas."

Ryan chuckled while her hands dropped onto Jamie’s seat, her fingers exploring for panty lines. "I love to feel your underwear through your jeans," Ryan whispered, her head dropping onto her partner’s shoulder. "Don’t know why, but it’s very exciting for me to guess what type you have on."

Jamie’s butt twitched while determined fingers roamed all over her. "How ya doing?"

"Mmm … I can’t feel a thing." Ryan’s head lifted, and her eyes reflected her bafflement. "Commando?"

"Never with jeans," Jamie insisted. "I only go commando when I’m wearing a short dress – and that’s solely to drive you nuts," she pronounced, touching Ryan’s chest as she said each word.

"It works," Ryan gasped, wide eyed, "and you’re not even doing it today."

"Nope. I’m wearing underwear. Guess again."

Ryan’s fingers covered every inch of her hips and ass, to no avail. Conceding defeat, she hooked her thumbs into the waistband of her lover’s jeans and fished around briefly. A moment later, a serene smile covered her face. "G-string," she sighed, as if speaking of something divine.

"G-string," Jamie said, reaching up to nibble on an ear. "I had a feeling we’d get in a little loving tonight."

"If I’d known you had this on, we would have gotten a little loving in before school," Ryan purred.

"Why do you think I get dressed in private? It didn’t take me long to figure out that I had to have some privacy if I ever wanted to leave the house."

"Good point," Ryan said, grinning sexily. The strong hands dropped to Jamie’s curvaceous cheeks, and her own hips started to sway as she cupped them. "Ooh … this is nice."

"I swear that you didn’t reveal what an ass-woman you were," Jamie said, giggling. "I distinctly recall asking you what part of a woman you were most attracted to, and you told me you didn’t have a favorite."

"I didn’t, until I got to experience yours," Ryan insisted. "I’m as surprised as you are." She gave her another squeeze and said, "I’m afraid it’s become a fixation. You don’t mind, do you?"

While Ryan’s hands were squeezing, Jamie’s pelvis was skimming against her partner’s thighs. "Do my responses give off a disinterested impression?"

"No …" Ryan’s left hand was popping open the buttons on Jamie’s shrink-to-fits, while her right hand slid down inside. She felt her heart skip a beat and forced herself to take in a deep breath. "Your body makes me throb," she purred roughly.

Jamie’s hand reached behind to grasp Ryan’s ass through the jeans. "Mmm … I love it when you grab me hard – exactly like that. It shows me how much you want me."

"Un-unh," Ryan gasped out. "If I really showed you how much I want you, you’d be covered in bruises. I’m controlling myself as best I can."

"Let go," the smaller woman urged. "Let go for a minute, baby. Show me how you feel." She reached up and bit down softly on Ryan’s sensitive ear lobe. "Show me your need."

With a hungry growl, both hands slid into the half-open jeans and grasped as much of the smooth flesh as they could hold. Ryan’s mouth claimed Jamie’s, as her hands possessed her cheeks, kneading them with a pressure that danced along the line between pleasure and pain.

"Oh!" the smaller woman gasped when Ryan’s strong hands gripped even harder.

The dark head lifted immediately, concerned blue eyes trying to focus. "Did I hurt you?"

The blonde nodded her head gently. "Yeah." Her eyes fluttered seductively and she murmured, "It was a good hurt."

"Kiss it and make it better?" Ryan offered with as innocent a look as she could muster.

"Does anybody fall for that devastatingly sexy, innocent expression?"

"Not for a few months," Ryan said. "Somebody’s on to me."

Jamie stepped back a few inches and started to twitch her hips. The jeans began to slide down her legs, but Ryan was completely distracted by the gentle sway of her breasts. "How is an ass-woman supposed to concentrate when those beauties are dancing in her face?"

"Sometimes you’ve gotta choose," Jamie said. Her jeans were around her ankles, a tiny white triangle of shimmery fabric covering her pubis. Her breasts stood up high, nipples erect and pink, calling to Ryan like the siren’s song.

Realizing that her brain was quickly becoming overloaded with stimuli, Ryan grasped the blonde by the hips and tossed her over her shoulder. She deposited her onto the bed and began to yank her own clothing off in a mad rush. "Too many choices," she mumbled, kicking off her sweats and crawling onto the bed to lie atop her lover’s luscious form. "I want it all – and I want it now."

"It’s all yours, baby," Jamie husked. "And it always will be."

Her jeans had fallen off during her impromptu ride, but the G-string remained in place and was now the focus of Ryan’s fascination. She traced the outline of the tiny strip of material, wondering, "I can wear one of these for a while, but it would drive me mad if I kept it on all day. Doesn’t it bug you?"

"Mmm … I notice it," she said. "But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I honestly put this on this morning because I was feeling a little …"

"Horny?" Ryan supplied, grinning widely.

"Desirous," Jamie corrected. "Much nicer word."

"So you were feeling desirous," Ryan said, "and wearing a G-string …?"

"Made me think of having sex with you every time I noticed it." She placed a few kisses along Ryan’s neck and added, "I noticed it a lot."

"You’ve been simmering all day, huh?" Ryan asked, her darkening eyes revealing her rapidly escalating desire.

"Uh-huh," the blonde purred. "I’ve been on a slow burn since we got up."

"Your patience continually astounds me," Ryan said. "If I’d been aroused all morning, I would have convinced you to come home for lunch and party. And if I couldn’t arrange that, I would have gotten busy before dinner. Yet, you blithely go about your normal day, never giving me the slightest indication that you’re in the mood for love. How do you do that?"

"It’s not hard," Jamie said, smiling serenely. "I like to be turned on. When I feel like this, everything feels more intense. I liked the way my jeans felt against my bare skin all day; every time my nipples got hard, it reminded me of having your mouth on them; seeing how excited you were about getting back at Cassie was very close to how excited you get during sex – so it was like a little preview. I relish all of the little reminders and the sensations, and let them slowly turn up the heat. It feels divine," she purred. "And now that I’m with you, and I can feel you and smell you and taste you – it feels so deliciously satisfying. Like I’ve just sat down at a table filled with my favorite foods after being ravenously hungry all day."

"You’re a better woman than I, Gunga Din," Ryan said. "I’d be grouchy and out of sorts by noon. My jeans would irritate the hell out of me, and I wouldn’t have gotten any enjoyment at all from talking about Cassie. It would have pissed me off that we were doing that rather than having sex."

"Your fuse is about this long," Jamie said, holding her thumb and forefinger an inch apart. "Mine is like this." She stretched her fingers as far apart as she could, with Ryan nodding her agreement.

"That looks about right," she said. "Actually, I’m starting to get a little irritated now. I was on the verge of diving right between your legs when I tossed you into bed, but for some reason we’ve been talking for a ridiculously long time."

"You started it," Jamie teased. "But I can stop it." She pushed her partner onto her back and straddled her, shifting her hips up and down and letting her vulva skim across Ryan’s belly. "Oh, yeah," the blonde growled. "The first time I feel your skin press against me is absolutely exquisite. The wait was worth it."

Ryan watched, fascinated, as goose bumps broke out all over her partner’s body, and she shivered roughly. Her nipples grew so hard they looked painful, but there was a deeply satisfied look on her lovely features that spoke of pure delight. She gripped Ryan’s shoulder for stability and pushed a little harder against the solid flesh, gasping a bit in reaction. "God, that feels good."

"I’m about to come from watching you," Ryan moaned. "It’s so incredibly hot to watch you claim your pleasure."

"It turns me on so much to let myself go while you watch me," Jamie murmured. "It’s so freeing."

"Show me more," Ryan urged, her eyes now like two blue lasers.

Jamie gave her a wickedly erotic smile and brought her hands to her breasts. Hefting the twin mounds in her hands, she arched her back and grasped them roughly. Watching the compressed flesh spill through her lover’s fingers made Ryan ache with desire, but the experience was so satisfying that she reveled in the sensation of her clitoris hardening painfully between her legs.

Now Jamie’s hips started to gyrate in a slow circle, her eyes closed, head tossed back, as she squeezed her breasts in rhythm with her hips. Ryan detected the first faint scent of her partner’s arousal, and her mouth started to water in response. She so desperately wanted to taste Jamie, to let the myriad of sensations burst upon her tongue; but it was so utterly fascinating to watch her partner love herself, that she couldn’t bear to ask for what she needed.

The blonde licked the tips of her fingers and painted her rock-hard nipples with the moisture. Impossibly, the pebbled flesh hardened even more, the nipples nearly turning purple from the blood pounding through them. Ryan heard a strangled moan, realizing after a moment that it had come from her own mouth. She squeezed her thighs together as tightly as possible to get some pressure against her clitoris, growling with satisfaction as she did so.

Jamie’s determined fingers continued to play with her nipples, now pinching them roughly and moaning lustily with each stab of sensation.

Ryan had been valiantly trying to let her partner display her desire without interference, but she lost the battle when the blonde cried out after one particularly painful pinch. Her hands flew to the bare cheeks and latched on, compressing and gripping the smoothly muscled flesh with gusto.

"My, lord!" the smaller woman cried out, her control at its limit. Her right hand slipped from her breast, making its way slowly down her body. As her fingers slid under the small swatch of fabric, her eyes met Ryan’s in a smolderingly hot gaze. "Ooo," she moaned throatily when her fingers found her clitoris and gave it a lusty pinch.

The hands gripping her ass were nearly bruising her, but the passionate groping only served to excite her even more. Once again, she held onto Ryan’s shoulder for stability and allowed her hand to dip lower, coating her fingers thoroughly. To her surprise, she felt another pair of fingers touch her own, Ryan having snuck in without her noticing it. She smiled at the lovely woman who gazed up at her with such desire, and brought her fingers up slightly to slather the moisture all over her clitoris.

Surprising her once again, Ryan slipped back a little, and deftly moved the sliver of material out of the way. Then her teasing fingers started to press gently against Jamie’s perineum. Green eyes opened wide, the blonde reacting to the unaccustomed touch. "Like that?" Ryan asked, her voice low, and sexy.

Jamie forced herself to experience the sensation, rather than just her emotional reaction to it. Pushing against Ryan’s fingers she was forced to admit that the pressure felt fantastic. "You know I do, you persistent little devil." The smaller woman closed her eyes and twitched her hips in an even wider circle, her breathing growing rough and labored as her fingers trailed gently across her sensitive clit.

"How ‘bout this?" Ryan asked, beginning to circle Jamie’s smaller opening, causing the blonde to pop her eyes open and give her partner a warning look. "I’m only playing outside," Ryan insisted, her innocent look appearing anything but. "I won’t come inside without an express invitation."

"Don’t hold your breath," Jamie said, but Ryan’s assurance allowed her to relax, and after a moment she began to enjoy the teasing touch. "That’s kinda nice," she purred throatily, her fingers dancing across her own heated flesh, keeping pace with Ryan’s gentle stroking.

"I know," the brunette murmured. "Believe me, I know."

"Ungh! I’m getting close," Jamie gasped out.

"Keep going," Ryan urged. "Keep touching yourself, baby. It’s so damn hot to watch your fingers working away beneath that tiny G-string. I have to watch you finish." Even though the dark beauty was speaking in complete sentences, it was obvious that it was a massive struggle for her. So many sensations were buffeting her that she felt completely overwhelmed, but she remained focused on her goal of watching Jamie bring herself off. Replenishing her supply of moisture, she continued to stroke and tease her partner’s most guarded spot, feeling chills race down her spine as she did so.

Moaning deeply, Jamie gripped her lover’s shoulder painfully as she felt every nerve in her pelvis begin to fire off a burst of sensation. Ryan couldn’t resist slipping her other hand around and entering her partner deeply, thrilling to the pulsing that gripped and released around her fingers.

Her body still wracked with spasms, Jamie’s world suddenly spun 180 degrees, finding herself on her back with Ryan scrambling to move down the bed and place her mouth upon the thrumming flesh. "I’ll go mad if I can’t taste you," she growled, pushing the G-string aside while she pressed her tongue into her partner.

Eyes wide with surprise, Jamie placed her hand upon the dark head, soothing her. "Slow and gentle, baby," she begged. "Let me catch my breath."

Grunting with frustration, Ryan nuzzled against her, forcing herself to stay away from the bundle of nerves that still sang with sensation. She filled her lungs with her partner’s deliciously complex scent and nibbled at her thighs, sucking the damp flesh into her mouth. Murmuring softly, she pressed kisses against her, letting the salty sweet notes of her lover’s passion fill her soul.

Through her sensual haze, Ryan heard her partner’s voice, and she forced herself to concentrate on her words. "I need to touch you, baby," Jamie pled. "Don’t make me wait."

Ryan’s passion-filled eyes shifted to meet Jamie’s, and she saw the deep longing reflected in them. She was so thoroughly turned on that she ached, but she had such a need to savor Jamie’s very essence that she didn’t see how she’d be able to forsake her position.

But her partner was insistent. "Please, Ryan, let me love you."

Seeing only one solution to her dilemma, Ryan climbed over Jamie’s body, turning around completely. Rising to her knees, she lowered her head once again and lapped at Jamie’s wetness while her hips twitched in invitation.

"Oh, yeah," the blonde sighed, mesmerized by the combination of Ryan’s hot tongue and the voluptuous display. Ryan’s entire vulva glistened with an abundant coating of lubrication, and Jamie licked her lips lasciviously at the sight. She desperately wanted to taste the passion that flowed from the depths of her lover, but Ryan was already deeply focused on her task, and Jamie’s self-interest prevented her from forcing the issue. Deciding to make the best of a good situation, she opened her legs a little further and let herself feel how fantastic Ryan’s gifted tongue felt against her heated flesh. Sighing deeply, she distracted herself from the orgasm that she could already feel building by focusing on the twitching vulva that vied for her attention.

She spread her hands across the expanse of Ryan’s toned cheeks and delved into her shimmering wetness with her thumbs, shivering from the burst of air that the dark woman blew across her clitoris at the touch. "God, you feel divine," she sighed, reveling in the sensation of possessing Ryan so totally.

A muffled moan was the dark woman’s only response, her tongue once again blissfully occupied. Her ministrations were so intense, so focused, that Jamie quickly climbed to another plateau, unable to even warn her partner before she convulsed into another climax, her body shaking and shivering with delight. "Stop, stop," she gasped, unable to catch her breath.

Ryan did so, but she kept her face less than an inch from Jamie’s throbbing flesh, ready to dive in again as soon as she was allowed. After a minute or two, the blonde was able to function again, but she knew that she needed some time to recuperate. "Rest your head on my thigh," she urged. "Come on, baby, relax for a minute and let me love you."

"But I want more," Ryan growled, her lust for Jamie’s body unquenchable.

"Just let me rest for a minute, love," she soothed. "Relax and let me satisfy you, then you can have as much of me as you want."

"That’s a dangerous offer," Ryan murmured, but compliantly rested her cheek upon her lover’s thigh and allowed herself to be touched once again.

Jamie slipped her fingers into her, smiling serenely as Ryan gasped at the touch. She touched her everywhere, using her thumbs and the tips of her fingers to tease every bit of flesh at once, intentionally trying to overwhelm the dark woman with the overabundance of sensation. Ryan bucked and gyrated against the pressure, her body torn between wanting as much as Jamie could give her, and being engulfed by the touch.

With a tortured moan, Jamie felt her partner’s entire body stiffen, and she pulled her hands away from the wetness and gripped her about the hips, pulling hard until her mouth could reach her drenched sex. She laved the glistening flesh thoroughly, Ryan’s moans music to her ears. To her regret, the feast lasted only a few moments, then Ryan cried out throatily, her climax hitting her hard, and leaving her collapsed heavily against the smaller woman.

Jamie wrapped her arms around the firm globes of Ryan’s ass, hugging her tight. But after a moment to recuperate, the determined brunette slid back down her partner’s body and dipped her head once again, slipping her tongue into Jamie’s still-swollen folds. "Oh, lord," the blonde cried. "I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve such an insatiable lover, but whatever it was, I’m eternally grateful!"

Ryan chuckled lightly, her attention already given over to the surfeit of sensations that surrounded her. Even if she hadn’t been so blissfully occupied, she wouldn’t have been able to come up with a response to her partner’s statement. She had no idea what caused her to be so insatiable in regards to merging with her lover. All she knew was that the delightful blonde spoke to her mind, her body and her heart in a way that no other woman ever had or ever would. She was so thoroughly bewitched by the gentle woman, that she knew her appetite would last a lifetime; and she smiled to herself when she considered the never-ending quest to slake her rapacious thirst for her charms.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Continued in Part 20

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