Halloween 2017

Susan X Meagher


It was a rare day when Jamie was awake and alert before Ryan O’Flaherty’s baby blues fluttered open. Surreptitiously closing the shades and the curtains the night before had helped by keeping out the very welcome morning sun, but Ryan was usually up by six, no matter how dark the skies.

Standing by the bed, Jamie watched her wife sleep, enchanted by the tiny smile on her sumptuous lips. She could never guess what Ryan dreamed of, but she might have been replaying some of the previous night’s welcome dinner. It had been a great one, a memorable night even for a family that had more parties than you could count. Having her mom and Giacomo arrive after spending a couple of weeks in Italy was always cause for celebration. But having all of Ryan’s brothers, sisters-in-law, and kids show up unexpectedly was, without question, the birthday present she’d secretly longed for.

Now, if Jamie’s plans came to fruition, she’d deliver another present, one Ryan always appreciated.

Quietly, she slid into bed on Ryan’s side, molding her body to the warm, supple form she’d studied so intensely for the past nineteen years.

“Am I upside down?” The rough burr of Ryan’s morning voice always made Jamie smile.

“Nope. You’re right where you belong.” She nuzzled her lips against Ryan’s neck and kissed the salty skin repeatedly. “I snuck out of bed, and when I came back, your side looked nicer.” Another few kisses made Ryan giggle. “Happy birthday, sweetheart.”

“Mmm,” she purred, starting to stretch like a cat. “Wasn’t last night the best? I was just dreaming about it, but in my dream we were in Hillsborough, playing in the pool with all of the American cousins.” She let out a soft laugh. “I miss them…and the sun. Sometimes not in that order.”

Jamie reached up and tugged at the curtain, letting a shaft of sunlight shoot across the room. “Ta da!”

Like a shot, Ryan was sitting up, eyes wide. “What time is it?”

“Seven thirty.”

“Where is everyone?” She turned and faced Jamie with an adorably confused expression. “We haven’t stayed in bed this late, unmolested, for—”

Jamie put her fingers to Ryan’s lips, and playfully help them together. “I can’t guarantee how long this will last, but we’re alone.” She grasped Ryan’s hand and tugged on it until it settled over a breast. “Wouldn’t you rather get busy than ask a million questions?”

“A million?” she asked, with a sexy smile starting to curl her pink lips. “Are you implying that I talk too much? That I beat everything to death—”

“I’m not implying a thing,” Jamie said, sliding her arms around Ryan’s bare waist and holding her tight. “Just stating a fact.”

“Good thing I’m used to your constant complaining.”

In the blink of an eye, Jamie was lying on her back, with a tall, sturdy, dark haired bundle of gorgeousness hovering over her. The dark hair was a lot shorter than it would have been if Jamie had her way—which she usually did—but it was still glossy and thick and sexy. As soon as it was long enough again to allow Jamie to thread her fingers through it and direct that pretty face right where she needed it…

Warm, supple lips settled against her own, and Jamie let out a sigh. There were few things they loved more than playing with each other at the start of the day. Not having to wake before dawn to enjoy those stolen moments was like getting her own birthday present a few months early.

As Ryan started to get into it, Jamie quieted her mind and let her body experience the pleasure of being worshiped by the woman she loved more than anything on earth. Her eyes were closed, every sense open, as Ryan worked her way down, lavishing kisses along her throat, heading for her breasts.

Stopping for just a moment, that sexy, low voice purred, “I know you weren’t wearing this when we went to bed.” She let her teeth rake across a rapidly hardening nipple covered in cerulean blue satin.

“Birthday present,” Jamie whispered, eyes still closed.

“I like it. A lot.” Back to work, Ryan nuzzled against Jamie’s breasts, clearly in no hurry. What a treat that was! Finding time to make love with any regularity was hard enough, but having the opportunity to slow to a crawl was almost unheard of. A smirk settled onto Jamie’s face when she considered her partner hadn’t even asked where everyone was. She wasn’t the type to look a gift horse in the mouth, even if it might have meant their kids had been locked in the barn.

“Why don’t we do this all the time?” Ryan asked, her voice taking on a wistful tone.

Jamie ran her hand over the soft hair that still felt a little like a pelt. As much as she missed the long tresses, Ryan did look like a super-sexy butch with her hair only a couple of inches long… “Huh?” she asked, realizing she’d been daydreaming.

“How long do I have?” Ryan repeated herself. “If I’ve got time, I’d like a quick shower.” She stuck her nose on the outside of Jamie’s breast and sniffed. “Given you’ve had one. I know you like to be equally clean.”

“I’m not that bad,” Jamie scoffed, having gotten over at least half of her phobias about bodies and scents. She grasped a handful of Ryan’s ass and gave it a firm squeeze. “I like you dirty almost as much as clean.”

“Mmm, I guess that’s true, but old habits die hard. If I’ve got time…”

“I’ve been assured that not a single child will cross that threshold until eight thirty, and that they’ll have been fed. We’ll have enough time to splash some water on their faces and get them to that sports day thing.”

“Isn’t this a school day? It’s Tuesday, right?”

“Mid term break, honey. Come on. Get with the program!”

“Right. Right.” Still clearly confused, she raised an eyebrow. “Is a responsible adult in charge?”

“Very responsible. Cait’s on the job.”

Wincing, Ryan got to her feet. “Cait? She’s eight months pregnant! Every one of them can outrun her.” She frowned for a second. “How many kids did we wind up with last night, anyway?”

“Eight,” Jamie said, then shook her head. “No, nine. Cormac snuck Tadgh into the pile right when I was about to close the door.”

“Doors mean nothing around here. Nothing!”
Ryan got to her feet and padded toward the bathroom, grumbling to herself. Given she’d been the one who craved an open door policy as much as air, she had a lot of nerve—

A sharp knock on the window made Jamie levitate. Then a very familiar voice called out, “The day’s half gone! I’m starting breakfast.”

She met Ryan’s eyes, then smiled as her partner grabbed last night’s sweater and jeans and started to jam herself into them while hopping on one foot. “I’m going to delay breakfast,” she said with grim certitude.

Jamie watched her go, smiling to herself at Ryan’s expression. They both knew full well that Martin would back off in a heartbeat if Jamie went to the door in her bathrobe, but Ryan seemed to think she had to negotiate their boundaries, which were very few and very low.

Relatively confident they’d be able to continue, she lay back down and thought about where she’d begin when a freshly showered Ryan was back in her clutches. Given it was her birthday,  it had to be a special treat, but Jamie had to admit she was nearly out of novel ideas. There were only so many inches of real estate to plunder.


Ryan opened the door to find her father beaming a smile at her. “How’s my darling girl?”

The sun shone on his head, with the dark strands on top still predominating. The sides were all gray now, and his face was weathered from being outside the majority of every day, but he was still as handsome as they came.

“I told Maeve you’d want breakfast for your birthday, but she seemed to think…” He trailed off, peering in the door. “Weren’t you up?”

“Nope.” She crossed her arms over her chest and leaned against the door jamb. “Jamie arranged for Cait to watch the minions this morning. She has a special present she wanted to give me.” Dramatically raising an eyebrow, she cocked her head slightly. “We were just starting to…” She twitched her head toward the bedroom.

“Oh, for the love of Mike,” he groused. “Your aunt’s never wrong.” Without another word, he turned and walked down the path, heading for the drive that would lead him across the property to his own home. He was about fifty feet away when he called out, “Breakfast at our house at nine, after the kiddies are off to their event? We’ve got a full house, but I think we can accommodate a few more.”

“How many stayed with you last night?”

“Brendan and Maggie and four kiddies. Everyone else is in the bunkhouse…still sleeping.”

Ryan chuckled at his use of the term. As more and more visitors had descended over the years, they’d had to add room, but she was loath to make the houses bigger, not wanting to waste energy on heating space that wasn’t in use. Building a single-level, utilitarian space with only bedrooms and bathrooms was the logical solution, although Jamie still complained that the building wasn’t homey enough.

“After we get the kids settled we’ll be there,” Ryan called back. “Thanks, Da.”

He pointed at her as he continued to walk. “Just don’t tell your aunt I interrupted you, all right? It can’t be good for the soul to be so unerringly correct all of the time.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Ryan said, closing and locking the door. As she headed for the bedroom, she started to peel off her clothes again, her mood brightening with each step. “Get ready for the birthday girl in her birthday suit!” she called out as she raced through the room for the bath.

“Take your time,” Jamie said, with a languid drawl. “We’ve got all the time in the world.”


Ryan raced to render herself spic and span, then dried off as quickly as she could. The moment she left the bath, she heard soft voices coming from the living room, and she closed her eyes for a moment to remind herself she’d purposefully created this never-ending cacophony. If it were up to Jamie, they’d have a big house in Pacific Heights, far enough away from everyone to require a text before dropping by. Still, why was it so damn hard to get an hour alone?

Slipping back into the clothes she’d discarded, Ryan cracked the door to see her cousin, looking pale as a sheet, with Jamie holding her tenderly.

“What’s wrong?” Ryan asked, her voice quavering. “Is it Granny? Granddad?”

Aisling looked up, clearly shaken. “I came for Hannah to get her kitted out for the sports day. I didn’t know Cait had taken the lot of them…”

Ryan peeled Jamie’s arm from Aisling’s waist and replaced it with her own, both of them now holding her cousin. Gently, she repeated, “What’s wrong, Ais?”

“I think I’m pregnant,” she whispered, like it wouldn’t be true if she didn’t put too much voice to it.

Ryan dropped her hold and stepped back, mouth agape. “Pregnant? Pregnant? Do you know how old we are?”

“Of course I do!” she snapped. “Why do you think I’m so feckin’ worried about it? I’m not a teenager who’s been caught out! I’m an old crone who’s about to have a high risk pregnancy.”

“Oh, shit,” Ryan said, slapping herself in the face. “Have you told anyone?”

“Not a soul. I’m not certain, but I’m confident enough to be worried.”

“So this wasn’t planned?”

“No,” she said, keeping it curt. “Four seemed like quite enough.”

Ryan stepped back into the hug, briskly rubbing her cousin’s back. “You’ve got plenty of love to share with one more. You always said you wanted at least six.”

“I said I wanted to walk to Dublin too, but I came to my senses,” Aisling murmured into her sweater.

“Ahh, that’s not the same thing and you know it. You’re wonderful parents, and your new little one will grow up with his or her cousin. Just like Nuala and Hannah.”

Aisling stepped back and glared at her. “That’s supposed to make me feel better? Those two are the ones who’ve made me old before my time!”

“Maybe they’ll be more manageable versions,” Ryan said, wincing when Jamie shot her a sharp look. She patted Aisling again and said, “Your mam had Brenna late. You’re just very fertile people, who have very healthy babies at any age.” Playfully, she pinched her cheek. “That’s why you should have been using birth control. You’re not lesbians, you know. You’ve got to keep an eye on those swimmers.”

“Very helpful,” Aisling said, rolling her eyes. “I’m about to spew my porridge on your lovely floor. Be a love and find my eldest, will you? Shove her into something that won’t embarrass the family and get her off to Ballina, right?”

She was backing out of the house before Ryan could utter a word of complaint. Summoning her better nature, she said, “I’m thrilled for you, Ais, and when you get over the shock, you will be too. You make the best babies in all of Ireland.”

That earned her a begrudging smile, and as the door closed, Ryan said, “I had to lie there. But her babies really are the second best. That’s almost too small a lie to even count, right?”

Jamie grasped her by the ears, something she’d rarely done when Ryan’s hair had been long, and pulled her down for a lengthy kiss. She slid her arms around Ryan’s body, pinning her arms to her sides. With a hot whisper, she said, “Go find the school-aged children and see if you can convince Cait to keep the babies until we come for them. I’m not done with you, sweet cheeks.”

Shivering with desire, Ryan started for the bedroom to put on her boots. She hated to say the words out loud, but she had to get it over with. After jamming her feet into her short wellies, she went back toward the front door, quietly saying, “We’re due at my father’s at nine for breakfast. I’m going to have to take a rain check on getting busy.” With a sigh, she took in Jamie’s deflated expression. “I just hope I don’t have to wait until next Halloween to collect on it.”


Breakfast had been a blast. Actually, you’d have to be pretty churlish to complain about being summoned to spend a couple of hours with some of your favorite people on earth. But Jamie had, over time, lost her penchant for delayed gratification.

Back when they’d first gotten together, it had been fun to think about sex all day, just keeping the fire going with a few hot kisses or a couple of handfuls of Ryan’s tasty ass, knowing they’d get to have a good, long interlude at night.

But when your wife ran a research lab at the university, albeit doing much of her work from home, and you spent a few hours every day working on the family foundation, with your kids having six cousins always at the ready, along with all of the kids from school they unexpectedly brought home, not to mention all of the social obligations with the Ryans, the Driscolls, and the O’Flahertys, many of which  Jamie was charged with handling, she wanted to close her eyes and conk out the minute the last child was asleep.

With fewer opportunities, she’d gotten as bad as Ryan, with both of them hitting the accelerator hard when they had the chance. It wasn’t her favorite way to behave, but it was going to have to do until the little ones were in school. She truly hated wishing they would become more independent, but she firmly believed the key to a happy marriage was making sure she and Ryan made their intimacy a priority.

As they crossed their patch of scrubby grass, cropped close by their flock, Jamie lifted her head when she saw movement near the road. “Mom’s up,” she said, smiling when the dark grey Mercedes began to glide down the drive.

Ryan nodded, then said, “I forgot she’s been in Italy. It’s nice that she won’t have to deal with jet lag this time. I know it’s awful for her.”

“She seemed perfectly fine last night.” Jamie checked her watch. “I think she just likes to ease into the day.”

“Like you,” Ryan said, bumping her with her shoulder. “You’re only an early bird because you have no choice.”

“Too true.” She grasped Ryan’s hand and walked over to the car, making a point to go to the driver’s side first. “Giacomo,” she said fondly, wrapping her arms around him to offer kisses to both cheeks. “Now that I see you in the daylight, you look like you’ve just spent a few weeks in the Mediterranean. Oh, that’s right. You did!”

He chuckled as he put his arm around her shoulders. “I wanted to make sure your mother got all of the vitamin D she needed before coming to this indescribably beautiful, but sun deprived country.”

“He loves it here,” Catherine said, grinning at him. “But he really does need sun every few days or he gets cranky.”

Giacomo turned to peer down the road, his smile growing bright when he said, “I will never be cranky when Seamus is near.” He’d spotted Cait trying to keep up with the little ones, and he ran for the racing kids, dropping over into a crouch and doing his bear imitation, which Seamus loved. The little boy shrieked and ran for Cait, then stopped and peered at Giacomo from behind her legs, his eyes wide as Giacomo continued to beat his chest and roar.

The sandy-haired, fair-skinned baby of the family was almost two, just coming into the age when he wanted to be brave, but couldn’t quite manage it. He had flashes of boldness, though, which always cheered Jamie. If he was going to hold his own with the O’Flaherty progeny, he was going to have to bring it.

Ryan leaned over and said, “Will you hate me if I go hide to get a couple hours of work in?” She delivered one of her patented charming smiles, making it clear she wouldn’t go if Jamie complained.

“Go,” Jamie said, slapping her on the butt. “But you’d better come down from your tower before the kids are back from Ballina. Got that?” She grasped her by the shoulders and stared into her eyes.

In a flash, Ryan was a junior at Cal again, a cocky, gorgeous mess of unchecked libido, with enough confidence to power the whole school. Paying no attention to her mother-in-law, Giacomo, her very pregnant cousin, or assorted small children, she grasped Jamie in a fierce embrace and dipped her until only green grass and distant sheep filled her vision. Then a pair of hungry lips claimed her, with the kiss making her dizzy. “It’s a date,” she growled, smirking as the kids registered their distaste at adults acting like they had anything on their minds that didn’t revolve around them.


Ryan had somehow managed to resist the invitation to go fishing with her brothers and grandfather. Whatever she was working on must have really been percolating in her head, because that was some serious dedication.

The big kids were due home at three, and everyone under five, both grandkids and cousins, had been whisked away by Catherine and Giacomo. How they hadn’t yet lost one was a miracle, with so many adults vying for a piece of them. But having a big, boisterous, boundaryless family was beyond fantastic. A blessing Jamie had never imagined having for her children before she’d signed on for the O’Flaherty thrill ride.

Their home was relatively modest, with four bedrooms and three baths. But the cost per square foot had to have been among the highest ever for a home built on Irish soil.

Normally, Ryan was on the cheap side. But when she felt strongly about something from a moral perspective, all bets were off. Given they had the funds, she felt they had the duty to make their home as independent on fossil fuels as possible. So they’d installed solar panels for the rare sunny day, had drilled down hundreds of feet to install a geothermal system for heating, and used their very efficient boiler to heat all of the floors, freeing them from having any type of furnace.

The house was warm and cozy on the chilliest day, but the nicest spot in the whole building was Ryan’s office. It looked a little more like a silo than part of a residence, but she loved it. It was octagonal, reached by a spiral staircase, and bore large windows all around, giving her a view for miles on a clear day. There wasn’t a lot to see, mostly green fields, sheep, and a few scattered homes, but she seemed happier there than anywhere on earth.

When they’d decided to have their kids attend school in Ireland, Jamie was sure leaving San Francisco for nine months of every year would be like a little death for Ryan. But that hadn’t been the case. She’d become Irish, claiming her birthplace with a ferocity that still managed to surprise Jamie. If it had been up to her, they’d have continued to visit Ireland in the summer. But San Francisco wasn’t the same place it had been when they’d met. Tech had changed things, and not for the best. Ryan was adamant that their kids would not attend a fifty thousand dollar a year prep school with a bunch of kids whose parents were all multi-millionaires, and Jamie soon realized her arguments were falling on deaf ears. But now that they’d done it, she agreed it had been the right move.

Sadly, you couldn’t take your best buddy to Ireland with you, nor convince your father or grandfather to move along with you. So they socialized their butts off all summer, managing to rile the kids up and overstimulate them to such an extent that it took a month back home for them to recover.

After climbing the spiral staircase, Jamie rapped lightly on the door.

“Open,” Ryan said.

Jamie pushed the door to find her lover leaning back in her chair, feet up on her desk, hands laced behind her head. She looked a little foggy, then set her feet on the floor and cocked her head. “Why do you look sad?”

“I do?” Jamie walked over to sit on Ryan’s lap, smiling when she was engulfed in a tender embrace.

“Uh-huh. The house has been quiet, but I could hear you talking. Mia?”

“Uh-huh. We talk every day, but I still miss the hell out of her.”

“I know,” Ryan soothed, placing reassuring kisses on her cheeks. “I felt the same way when I lived in San Francisco and just visited Ireland. Sometimes I wish I was purely American. Things would be easier.”

“But we wouldn’t be living here,” Jamie said, sighing. “And this is right for us and our babies.”

Ryan tapped the tip of her nose. “But we wouldn’t know that, would we? We’d be blissfully ignorant.”

“Yeah, but we’re not. And I wouldn’t trade Nuala’s relationship with Hannah for anything in the world. I see you and Aisling in them so much sometimes it makes me weep.”

“Oh, she’s got more cousins than she can count in San Francisco. One of them would suit her.” Ryan let out a little laugh, but Jamie knew she was teasing. What the girls had was special. They were more like twins than cousins, and anyone could see that.

“Hey,” Jamie said, snapping back to reality. “Why are we sitting here when we could be making love?”

Ryan shook her hand and her watch came to life. “Who’s bringing the minions home?”

“Brenna, last I heard. She texted about an hour ago and said she was on the way.”

“Mmm.” Ryan nodded, but she didn’t sound convinced. Brenna still hadn’t really launched yet, living at home, taking one class at a time on her glacial pace to finish her degree, doing odd jobs and favors for anyone who asked, but not having a sterling track record for following through. There was every chance they’d receive a call from one of the kids, wondering how they were supposed to get home.

“If I have to go, I’ll go,” Jamie said. “But if Brenna follows through, we’ve got a half hour to kill. We can have a little fun in a half hour, can’t we?”

“We’ve had a lot of fun in five minutes,” Ryan said, smirking. “I was just looking for something a little different today. Like time to savor you.” She tucked Jamie closer to her body and started to kiss her in earnest, making Jamie feel remarkably connected in just a few minutes. No matter how little time they had, Ryan never skimped on the kissing. It was their mandatory warm-up, and Jamie savored each delicate, love-filled kiss.

“I love you,” she whispered, gripping Ryan with a burst of emotion that brought her close to tears. “I’m so happy with you. I’m so happy you were born.”

“Me too,” Ryan murmured, continuing to place gentle kisses on Jamie’s cheeks. “I was put on this earth to love you.”

“I love this part of the year,” Jamie teased. “I much prefer it when you’re three years older than me.” She ran her fingers against the grain of Ryan’s short hair. “It’s harder for me to pluck the gray strands out now.”

“I don’t mind having some gray hair,” Ryan said, giving her a patient smile.

“I’m trying to stop time,” Jamie admitted. “I want to slow everything down. I want our babies to stay babies, I want to always be in my thirties, and I want my much older wife to still look like she’s in her twenties.”

“I think you’ve lost that last wish already,” Ryan said, snuggling against Jamie’s neck. “Everyone calls me ma’am now, which I hate. They didn’t do that when I was in my twenties.”

A stone clicked against a window, and Jamie scrambled to her feet, her head swiveling. “Where did that come from? Sheep can’t lob stones, can they?”

Ryan rolled her chair over to the window and peered out. “Granny,” she sighed. After cranking the window open, she braced her hands on the sill and leaned all the way out. “Can I help you, madam?”

“You’ve a sheep on the lane,” she said. “I was out walking and saw it heading west. You’d best be after it, Siobhan.”

“Are you sure it’s mine?”

Even from a distance, Jamie could see the chilly look in Brigid’s eye.

“I’ll be down in a moment,” Ryan said. “See you at dinner tonight, right?”

“You will that. Now get moving!”

“Yes, ma’am,” Ryan said, standing to close the window. “Gotta go claim a sheep.”

“I’ll go with you. If one’s gone, others might be following. You might need backup.”

They both found their wellies, put on light jackets and took off, walking quickly down the quiet lane as they surveyed the fence for an opening.

“Why did I spend this whole day in the office?” Ryan asked. “It’s a stunningly beautiful day. I could have gone for a run, or taken a bike ride…”

“Or spent the day with my beloved wife,” Jamie said, poking her in the side.

“I would have taken you on a run,” Ryan said, huffing a little as they climbed a gentle hill at their maximum walking speed.

“Just how I envisioned the day,” Jamie said, hoping her scowl conveyed her disappointment. “Do you know how long it took me to find someone to watch the kids at the crack of dawn? Or how hard it was to trick you into sleeping in? Not to mention how stealthy I had to be to get up and shower in silence. A run was not on my agenda.” She pointed just ahead and to their left. “There she is.”

One of the old girls had somehow gotten out, and was now happily munching on some long grass just on the other side of a stone fence. Ryan tried to be quiet and sneak up behind her, but she spooked easily and tried to make a run for it.

Laughing and cursing, Ryan finally caught up with her, and was now poking her occasionally with her shepherd’s crook, one Jamie had bought for her as a joke. But it had come in handy on more than a few occasions.

They convinced the sheep to enter the property through the gate, which is where she must have gotten out, then Jamie noticed Brenna’s car parked at Martin and Maeve’s house. She took out her phone and saw a text, which asked, “Where are you?”

“Brenna fulfilled her promise,” Jamie said. “She’s at your father’s with the kids.”

Ryan got a fiendishly naughty look on her face when she said, “If she can’t find us, she’ll stick around, right?”

“Doubtful. But she’ll leave the kids with your da and your aunt. But…”

“Come on,” Ryan said. “I know where we can go for a little alone time.”

“They’ll find us,” Jamie complained, letting herself be dragged along the uneven turf, having to work hard to keep up with Ryan’s long stride. “They always find us.”

“Not today,” Ryan said, full of confidence. “What’s Nuala supposed to do every day when she gets home from school?”

Rolling her eyes, Jamie said, “She’s supposed to check on the sheep. Count them, make sure they’re all well.”

“How often does she do that?” Ryan raised an eyebrow.

“Without the threat of bodily harm? Never. Why?”

“She’s supposed to go into the barn and make notes, right? So that’s the last place she’ll go. And if she doesn’t go, no one will follow.”

Jamie pulled her to a halt. “So we’re going to make love in the barn? Standing up?”

“We can figure something out. We’ve done it standing before…”

“Oh, gosh, this is exactly what I was hoping for,” Jamie said. “I had chocolate covered strawberries hidden in my bedside table. I even bought a new sex toy. I planned for this, Ryan.”

“I know, baby, and we can try to get away from dinner early tonight. But we’ve got a little time now…”

Jamie took her hand and squeezed it. “You’re right. Never wake a sleeping child, and never pass up a viable chance to have some alone time. Let’s figure this out.”

Normally, Ryan went out in the morning and unlocked the door, but Jamie had foiled her routine by surprising her with a lie-in. So the barn was locked, but Ryan almost always had her keys with her. Jamie thought she just liked butching it up by wearing them on one of her belt loops, but they did come in handy.

They rolled the heavy door open, then closed it and locked it back up as quickly as they could. Then they stood in the big building, hands on hips, surveying the possibilities.

In just a few hours, they’d have forty people in here. Maeve and Moira were doing most of the cooking for Ryan’s official birthday party, but Jamie was in charge of setting the tables up and doing some level of decorating. Given she’d done nothing yet, it was sheer madness to be scoping out places to make love. But, as Ryan said, t’was better to hang for a sheep than a lamb. They were in it now, so they might as well do it right.

It was a pretty typical barn, but they’d installed underfloor heating and had insulated it very well. In one corner of the large space ten stackable tables nested together, each able to hold eight people. Eighty chairs were grouped in stacks of five, allowing them to host parties when the whole clan was in town. Ryan was blissfully unaware of how much Jamie had paid to find stackable chairs comfortable enough to sit on for many hours, and that was best. They would never see eye-to-eye on creature comforts.

Their differences were highlighted again when Ryan said, “Two bales of hay, two blankets. Presto.” She snapped her fingers, clearly proud of herself.

The odds of Jamie lying on a blanket that had probably been used on a sick sheep were slim and none, but she didn’t want to be unreasonable. “Mmm, those blankets are itchy,” she said, knowing it to be true. She didn’t add they were also full of the gunk that was always on sheep. They were not the cleanest of animals.

“The tables are sturdy,” Ryan said, clearly pondering the possibility.

Two sets of footfalls sounded louder and louder, then someone grasped the door and pushed on it. Jamie’s eyes went wide, then she heard Nuala say, “Who locked the door?” Her cute little Irish accent was enough to bring a tear to your eye, but she could switch over to sound exactly like a Bay Area kid the minute she was around her San Francisco cousins. The other kids were all Irish, all the time, but Nuala was just like her chameleon mother. The accent changed with the postal code.

Hannah was more of a strategist, and she said, “If it’s locked, you don’t have to do the job, right? You can’t go to work if the shop’s closed.”

“I guess not. But my mammy…”

“Your mammy has the keys to the barn. She must have done the job for you, then locked it up tight. Let’s go inside. We need our tea.”

“But my mammy…”

“Come on,” Hannah said. “We’ve got to eat, don’t we?”

“Yes, but I’m really supposed to do this…”

“We’ll do it later. When your mams come home we’ll sort it out.”

“Their cars are here,” Nuala said. “But no one’s seen them.”

“They’re probably out doing something silly. Like riding their bikes to Galway or something.”

“I don’t think they’d do that and not tell anyone…”

“Well, it’s time for tea, and if no one’s here to make it, we’ll help ourselves.”

“You’ve got your own mammy,” Ryan whispered before Jamie clapped a hand over her mouth.

The girls took off, with Hannah continuing to explain they were just doing the logical thing.

“See?” Ryan said when they’d left. “That’s exactly how it was when Ais and I were girls. She was always the ringleader, luring me to the dark side.”

“Nuala didn’t put up too much of a fight. Should we worry about them setting the house on fire?”

“They’ll be fine. There are four pieces of that fantastic home made pizza left. They prefer that cold.”

“There were six pieces at lunch,” Jamie said, patting Ryan’s belly.

“Thinking takes a lot of energy,” she said, putting on an angelic expression. “I snuck downstairs when you were foisting our children off on your mother.”

“Foisting? We nearly arm-wrestled over them! I don’t know what she’ll do if Jen ever has kids. Having grandkids on two continents will drive her mad.”

“Let’s hope that’s in the distant future,” Ryan said. “Jen might be over thirty, but I still worry about her setting your mom’s house on fire. She’s the most scatterbrained woman I’ve ever met!”

“She’s an artist,” Jamie said. “They’re never practical.”

She grasped Ryan by the belt loops and backed her up against their big truck. “But I am.” Throwing open the back door, she pushed Ryan onto the relatively roomy rear seat. It was made to carry three adults, but they would have been rubbing shoulders the whole way. It was plenty big for a single woman, though, especially when her partner was astride her hips.

“What if Nuala takes the other set of keys and comes back?” Ryan asked. “She sounded pretty conflicted.

“Uh-huh,” Jamie said, smirking at her. “They’re in the house alone. No adults. No little kids. They’ve got access to iPads, iPhones, and TV. Not to mention food in the fridge.”

“Well, if you’re going to be so certain about it…” Ryan reached up and put her hands on Jamie’s shoulders, pulling her down to cup her face in her hands and cover it with kisses. “I hope they soak their little brains in mindless drivel while we soak ours in oxytocin.”

“Gotta love a biologist,” Jamie said as she repaid the kisses. “I love that you know the names of the hormones you make race through my blood.”

“I do,” Ryan admitted. “But the names aren’t important. What matters is how you make me feel. Gooooood,” she purred, looking up with a smirk. “Not very poetic, but all true.”

Jamie lifted up to be able to mirror the caress. She held Ryan’s face in her hands and slowly drew her thumbs across the strong planes. “I love you with all my heart,” she whispered. “Even in a fairly dirty garage that I’ve got to decorate like a fiend the minute we’re finished.”

“Forget about that,” Ryan soothed. “Forget about the kids watching something that will probably warp them for life. Forget about Brenna looking for us. Forget everything.” She grasped Jamie’s hands tenderly. “Be with me. Just me.”

“I’m with you always,” Jamie whispered. “No matter how busy we are, no matter how distracted we get, you’re my priority. When you’re happy, I’m happy.”

“Even in Ireland?” Ryan asked, a shred of doubt creeping into her voice. This was just their third year, and she was clearly not certain Jamie would be able to hold out.

“Especially in Ireland,” she said, having adapted quicker than she’d thought she would. “When we’re in San Francisco, everything moves too fast. Everyone’s in a hurry. Here, I can go for a cup of coffee and spend ten minutes chatting about the weather with the barrista. We’re part of a town here, baby, and that’s good for all of us.”

“But the coffee isn’t much,” Ryan sighed. “You’ve got to go to Dublin for a good latte.”

“I’ve got my own espresso machine, sweetheart. It’s not about the coffee. I go to be social. I want to belong here. I’ve got a whole house full of Irish kids, and I want to fit in.”

“We could have one more,” Ryan said, with a sly grin lighting her face. “If Aisling can do it…”

Jamie slapped a hand across her face, slowly revealing her eyes. “The moment she said she was pregnant, I thought, ‘Dear God, please don’t let Ryan want to copy her.’”

“Really? You’re happy to stop?”

“I am. But, since it’s your birthday, I’ll let you fantasize about having more. I can’t imagine anyone would complain—except me. Now that Seamus is sleeping in his own bed every night, I really dig having you all to myself—at least while we sleep.”

“Good point. I’ll take that under advisement.” She pulled Jamie down for another few long, sexy kisses. “Don’t you love that we don’t have to worry about getting pregnant by accident?”

“I do. You’re all I can handle, O’Flaherty. If little pieces of your DNA were flying around when we had sex, I couldn’t cope,” she said, chuckling.

“It’s not technically DNA—”

“Put the biology brain away, and bring out the sex brain. You know, the one you pulled out this afternoon when you literally knocked me off my feet.”

Ryan threw her head back and laughed. “I just love making Seamus squeal. He always acts like he thinks I’m strangling you.”

“That’ll be something he can talk to his therapist about, years from now,” Jamie smirked. “For now…” She lay down on Ryan’s body and nuzzled her face against her neck, taking in her scent to get her engine thrumming again. “Time’s a wasting.”

“Do you really want to do this right?” Ryan asked, slipping her hand down to play with the button on Jamie’s jeans. “Are you all in?”

“Act like it’s the late 90s,” Jamie said, smirking. “You’ve got motive and opportunity. Make the most of it.”

“Really?” The deep blue eyes glittered with delight. “You want me to be…the old me?”

“The young you,” Jamie teased. “The one who only had one goal—to get her partner off.” She pulled Ryan’s head up and nearly smothered her with kisses. “I saw a little of that cocky O’Flaherty today on the driveway and I’ve been wanting to get her alone ever since.”

“I’m baaack,” she said, chuckling. Then she switched into the woman Jamie had first crushed on. The one who swam around Berkeley like a shark, always with one eye open for prey. With a fervor that took Jamie’s breath away, Ryan was on her like green on grass. Hands everywhere; pinching, prodding, teasing, while her tongue probed Jamie’s mouth like it was filled with riches only a slick tongue could mine.

In a matter of minutes they were both panting, managing to fog the windows even though the door was still open. “I can’t catch my breath,” Jamie gasped.

“You’re not supposed to.” Ryan wrapped her legs around her and flipped them so Jamie was pressed against the seatback. She didn’t have the rock-hard muscle she’d had when she’d played sports for hours every day, but those legs were still strong enough to hold a house up. Perfect.

Jamie was ready to swoon, always finding Ryan’s sex-starved personality the most erotic one in her arsenal. It would have gotten old if she’d pulled it out every time, but when it made an occasional appearance, it was very welcome.

“Know what I’m gonna do?” she asked, almost conversationally.

Jamie only shook her head.

“I’m gonna slide your jeans down, then your undies are going to follow.” Her eyes had taken on a determined, lusty glow. “Then I’m going to bury my face between your legs and nibble on you until I’ve had my fill. That’s going to take a while,” she added, clearly certain of that fact. “So lie back and enjoy, sweetheart. You’re in for a long, sweet ride.”

Jamie watched her focus on her task, working quickly to remove every stitch. For just a moment, she let her mind wander, thinking of the year they’d met. Young love was awesome. No one could argue about that. But having a woman who loved you with all her heart? Who’d be at your side through thick and thin? No comparison. It was the difference between a Beaujolais and a Pommard. One was spicy and bright in your mouth, the other mature, with a depth of flavor only achieved through time. Jamie sometimes missed the excitement of trying to figure out the woman she’d just begun to fall in love with, but there was much to be said for knowing and continuing to choose the  woman you’d come to know so well. The one who always had and always would own her heart. The only woman she’d ever loved. The prettiest girl in all of San Francisco…and Killala.

The End