Kara’s Moon by Gerri Hill

karas moon

Kara’s Moon
by Gerri Hill

 

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

The sun had not yet peeked over the mountains, but Kara hurried anyway. With her sketchpad tucked securely under her arm, she picked her way along the trail to the lake. Her flashlight shining, she agilely avoided the exposed roots of the massive trees lining the path and she paused, leaning against the trunk of one of those giants to catch her breath. She had come down this same trail the evening before and had sketched the lake at sunset, but she knew the colors of early morning would be more to her liking.

She slowed as she saw the water through the trees. Something caught her eye along the edge and through the mist, she saw the shadows of two deer as they walked slowly along the fringe of the lake. As if sensing her presence, their heads turned her way, and she froze and watched as their ears twitched, listening for her next step. They stared at her as she stared back and for several seconds she barely took in a breath, not wanting to disturb the scene. Finally, with a disinterested toss of their tails, they walked off into the trees and disappeared.

She hurried now as the morning light crept over the hills, and she walked nearly to the edge of the lake, sat again on the same rock as before and waited for the colors of sunrise to strike her. She shivered in the cool of the morning and she rubbed her hands across her bare legs, waiting.

When the first pinks appeared over the water, her fingers moved quickly, nimbly sketching the lake in the dim light of dawn and when the pinks erupted to orange, she added more color as the sound of her chalk on paper echoed through the silent forest. When the full sun peeked through, changing the brilliant orange to dull yellow, she put her pad down and stretched her neck, raising her arms over her head. She looked at her work, then picked up another color and quickly added the shadows of the deer along the rim. She rarely painted animals of any kind, but she wanted to remember the deer, in case she decided to add them when she took this to canvas. As an afterthought, she sketched her trademark in the top corner, a full moon hanging over the lake, and closed her pad. Only then did she hear the footsteps behind her.

“Good morning. ”

Startled, she turned. She hadn’t expected hikers this early and was clearly surprised by the older woman standing there watching her. Kara stared at her in silence before finding her voice.

“Hello,” she murmured.

“I didn’t want to disturb you earlier. You were so engrossed. I’ve never seen anyone out here this early before. ”

The woman was clearly nervous and Kara took a moment to compose herself. She replaced the glare on her face with a forced smile and gathered up her sketchpad and chalks, trying to ignore the woman as politely as possible. She had never been good with strangers.

“I’m Louise Harrison, by the way,” the woman said, extending her hand.

Kara looked up and, after a brief pause, touched hands with the woman. “Kara. Kara Morgan. ”

“I don’t believe I’ve seen you before. Tourist? ”

“Not exactly. ”

Kara moved to walk past her, but the woman put her hands on her hips, clearly expecting an explanation.

“I’m renting the Dobson cabin,” Kara finally explained.

“The Dobson place? I thought they were only going away for a week or two. ”

“I wouldn’t know about that,” Kara said. “I’ve rented it through October. ”

“Well, I’ll be. I wonder what happened? ” Louise asked, expecting Kara to answer.

Kara shrugged. She had lived in the city her whole life, she wasn’t used to keeping tabs on her neighbors.

“You’re going to be here through October, you say? ”

“Yes. “Kara again tried to pass, but the woman continued.

“Well, come by the store then. Ginny will be glad to meet you. There’s very few people her own age out here in the mountains. ”

“Who? ” Kara asked.

“My granddaughter. We have the general store over at the end of town,” the woman explained, motioning with her hand.

“Oh. “Kara smiled politely, finally walking past the woman. “Actually, I haven’t been into town yet. ”

Louise surveyed her sketchpad under her arm. “You’re an artist? ”

“Yes. ”

“Hobby? ”

“It started out that way, yes. ”

“Well, you must be good if you can make a living at it. ”

“Sometimes. “Kara squared her shoulders, raising to her full height. She’d had enough of idle conversation for one day. “Listen, it was nice to meet you, but I’ve got to get back. Louise, was it? ”

“Yes. Come by the store,” she said again. “We’ve got coffee,” she called to Kara’s retreating back.

Kara smiled slightly and made her escape, hurrying back along the path to her truck, anxious to return to her solitude.

CHAPTER TWO

Ginny looked up as the bell over the door jingled and she smiled warmly at her grandmother.

“Good morning, Nana. How was your walk? ”

“Oh, it’s a beautiful day out, Ginny. “Louise walked around the counter and tossed her purse on the bottom shelf, nudging Ginny out of the way. “I told you I would put these out this morning. ”

Ginny had been pricing the freeze-dried meals that they kept in stock for the backpackers that swarmed the mountains in summer. She let Nana take over and went to get herself a latte from the espresso machine. She proudly touched the side, rubbing off a smudge with her thumb. It was the first thing she added when she had purchased the general store last fall. Coffee was one of the few things she missed about Seattle.

“Want one? ” she asked.

“No, thanks. I just had some juice. Oh, Ginny, I met the most interesting woman this morning,” Nana said.

“When? ” Ginny asked absently as she pushed the button for steamed milk.

“Out on the trail, by the lake,” Nana explained. “An artist. I watched her work, although I’m sure she didn’t know I was spying on her. ”

“Spying? Why? ”

“Well, I didn’t want to disturb her. She had this large pad and a handful of colored chalk things and her hands just flew over the paper. “Louise sighed heavily. “I wanted to ask to see it, but once she stood up, I lost my nerve. ”

“What do you mean? “Ginny took a sip of her coffee and smiled contentedly. Nothing like good coffee.

“Well, she was . . . imposing. Taller than most women. And her eyes. Oh, Ginny, the most odd color of blue I’ve ever seen. Seemed to look right through you. ”

“What’s her name? ”

Nana looked up and frowned. “Kara Morgan. Ever heard of her? ”

“Kara Morgan? I’m not sure. Wasn’t there an article earlier this year about her in Northwest Magazine? ”

“I don’t remember. You know I never actually read those articles,” she said and smiled sheepishly. “I just enjoy the pictures. ”

Ginny smiled, too. “You and me both. So, she’s here painting? ”

“I suppose. She’s renting the Dobson place until October. I was certain the Dobson’s were only going to be gone a week or so. At least, that’s what I heard. I wonder if they are having problems? ” she mused. Then she looked back at Ginny. “But anyway, I told her to come by. She’s a little older than you, but I told her you didn’t have any friends here your own age. ”

“Nana!”

“Well, you don’t. You keep saying you have nothing in common with the people around here. ”

“I’m sure I would have nothing in common with an artist, either. ”

“You designed ads. That’s art,” Nana said emphatically.

“I hardly think what I did for the marketing firm could be called art, Nana. ”

“Well, she wasn’t overly friendly anyway. She may not even stop by. ”

Ginny shook her head and sipped from her coffee. It was true. She had made few friends since she had moved here. Most of the locals were older and those that were close to her own age were married with small children and she certainly didn’t have anything in common with them. So far, she had been content having Nana as her only friend.

The bell jingled again and Mr. Arnold came in carrying his poodle under his arm.

“Good morning, ladies,” he said, bowing slightly at his waist.

“Why, Mr. Arnold, how are you today? ” Nana greeted him and Ginny was again amazed at how Nana had taken to running the store. But then, Nana had lived most of her adult life here. These people were her people. It had taken several months for them to warm up to Ginny, despite the many summers she had spent here as a child. But now, after nearly a year, she felt almost like a local.

She gave a humorless smile to her reflection in the glass behind the counter. So far removed from Seattle, but hardly a local here. Sometimes, she did miss her fast-paced job in the city. And sometimes, she missed the people there.

Like Phil, she thought, but she didn’t want to think about him right now. He had been calling again, hinting that he was coming for a visit and she had been putting it off. He would want to talk marriage and after being away from him the last eight months, she was fairly certain that she would not marry him. Only she didn’t have the heart to tell him. Or Nana. She had hoped her absence would end things with Phil, but still, he called.

“Ginny? ”

“What? ” she asked, pushing her thoughts aside for the moment.

“Would you slice Mr. Arnold some ham? Just a half-pound. ”

“Of course. ”

The day took on its familiar routine. The morning filled with locals and a handful of strangers. The afternoon would be spent catering to the tourists and vacationers who had slept in and were late getting out to enjoy the warm day. Jessica, the high school student who helped during the summer months, came in at noon and Ginny escaped for a quick lunch, taking her sandwich out to the park like she did everyday.

With elbows leaning on the table, she tossed a corner of her bread to the chipmunks that came to beg. She wondered if they waited for her every day or if they just happened to be out and about when she was eating. She sighed. Was she lonely? Not really, although she did miss her friends in Seattle. Their phone calls, like their letters, were getting less frequent as time went by. But it was her own choice to move out here. She had been closer to Nana than to her own mother and when her grandfather had passed away, only a few months after her mother, she had used her family inheritance and bought the store, feeling her grandmother would need someone to look after her. She knew now that Nana was just fine, but it was as good an excuse as any to get away from Phil. She should have just told him she wasn’t ready to get married, but after four years, it was time to do something. They couldn’t just continue dating and Phil wanted children and she dreaded telling him she had no desire to be a mother. She secretly feared she would end up like her own mother; loving one child so much, her first and scarcely noticing that she had another, waiting for her attention as well.

But she pushed those thoughts aside. She didn’t want to think about her sister. And with their mother gone, she seriously doubted she would ever see her again.

*****************

Kara applied background colors to the canvas, adding gray to soften the dark sky. She had decided on the morning scene, with deer and all and she worked right through lunch, finally stopping when her stomach demanded attention.

She took out the tofu she had brought with her from Seattle and sautéed it with vegetables and put the pasta on to boil. She opened a bottle of wine and went out on the porch while her dinner cooked. The crumbled pack of cigarettes beckoned and she lit one, inhaling deeply and letting the smoke out slowly. She needed to savor every one. She had vowed she would quit and she was down to five a day. At the rate she was going, a few more months and she would quit altogether.

“Right,” she murmured. She had been stuck on five for the last month or so.

She stretched her long legs out, the wineglass hanging loosely in her hand and she gazed out at the forest. It was quiet here. No close neighbors to disturb her work.

She had come to Chiwaukum one weekend in May with a friend and had seen endless opportunities for her work. The surrounding Wenatchee National Forest was littered with small lakes and offered a wonderful view of Glacier Peak, hovering over them at more than ten thousand feet. On impulse, she had inquired about renting a place for the summer. The local real estate agent had called her barely two weeks ago about the Dobson cabin and she had snatched it up. She usually traveled during the summers, camping or staying at local resorts while she sketched, then spent the winter putting her ideas on canvas. But she had tired of that and the thought of working in solitude and the quiet of her own cabin all summer had been too tempting to pass up. She had not really closed up her cottage on Bainbridge Island, though. She was only a few hours from Seattle. She could always go back.

She finished her cigarette and brought her dinner out to the porch. The evening was cool, but clear and she ate while she watched the colors of sunset settle on the forest, her favorite time of day.

CHAPTER THREE

It wasn’t until the following afternoon, after Kara had worked through lunch again, that she decided to drive into town. She had brought most of the food she would need with her. Being a vegetarian, she couldn’t always count on small town grocery stores having what she needed, but cream for her coffee was a necessity and she thought she would check out Louise’s store. Maybe they would carry enough and she wouldn’t have to make a trip into Seattle just to shop for food.

She passed through the town, which was a stretch by anyone’s imagination. A few stores, catering strictly to tourists, an old lodge that looked quite charming, and one gas station. At the edge of town, where the forest nearly swallowed it up, stood the general store. A log cabin, with porch and all, it looked as if it came right out of the last century. She parked her Land Cruiser next to a four-wheel drive Ford truck, looking like it had seen better days. She ran her hand affectionately across the hood of her Toyota, her pride and joy. It had been the first major purchase she’d made with her own money.

She glanced above her head, admiring the freshly painted sign. Ginny’s General Store. A paper flyer taped to the window of the door offered fresh coffee and espresso. Another notified locals of the monthly bingo game at the community center. She grinned. Life moved a lot slower out here than in Seattle.

Kara looked up as the bell above her head signaled her arrival and she walked into the store, glancing up to meet the friendly green eyes of the woman standing behind the counter. Kara held her gaze, the corner of her mouth lifting in a quick smile before looking away and she walked slowly down one of the rows of shelves lined with canned goods towards the cooler. She grabbed a carton of cream then turned and looked around. She spotted the espresso machine in the corner and made her way to that. A real cup of coffee with steamed milk nearly made her mouth water.

“Why, Ms. Morgan, you found us,” Nana called as she saw Kara.

“Louise. Nice to see you again. I remembered you said you had coffee,” Kara replied as she sipped from her cup.

“Ginny’s idea. She missed Seattle’s coffee, although I prefer just plain old roast,” she said as she walked over to Kara and casually took her hand. “Come meet Ginny. ”

Kara looked again into sea-green eyes. “Hello. Kara Morgan. “She extended a hand in greeting.

Ginny paused for only a moment, the slightly husky voice still vibrating in her ears. She reached out and touched her hand quickly.

“Ginny Harrison. ”

“I’m so glad you decided to come by,” Louise said. “I told Ginny about you. ”

“You did? “Kara glanced quickly at Ginny Harrison, watching as she nervously tucked strands of blonde hair behind her ears, then brushed at the bangs hanging in her eyes.

“Yes, she did,” Ginny said. “Welcome to Chiwaukum. She said you were staying at the Dobson place. ”

“For the summer, at least. ”

Their eyes met again and Kara was surprised at the gentle tug of attraction she felt for this woman. Her warm, green eyes seemed almost to beckon and Kara laughed to herself. The young woman was most likely straight. Her blonde hair was neatly styled, just barely brushing the tops of her shoulders in the back but shorter around her face and Kara was very conscious of her own hair, cut short over her ears and barely reaching her neck. With two fingers, she brushed it away from her forehead, finally pulling her eyes away and turning to Louise.

“Your offer of coffee drew me,” she said, sipping from her cup again. “I’ve missed Seattle’s coffee, too. ”

“You and Ginny. That’s all she complained about. Not a decent cup of coffee for miles, she kept saying. ”

Kara looked again at Ginny. “The espresso machine was a good idea. ”

Ginny grinned. “Absolutely. During the summer months, most of our customers are from Seattle. They need some place to go to get a cup of real coffee. ”

“Well, thank you,” Kara said, raising her cup in salute. “What do I owe you? “She pulled a couple of bills from her front jeans pocket and handed them to Ginny.

“Why don’t you come for dinner tonight? ” Louise asked unexpectedly.

Kara looked down, embarrassed. “I’m afraid I’d be more trouble than it’s worth,” she said. “I’m a vegetarian. Most people find it difficult to invite me to dinner. ”

“Nonsense. I’ve got a wonderful vegetable soup that I could whip up. You wouldn’t mind, would you, Ginny? ”

Ginny stared at Nana for only a second, then shook her head. “No, of course not. Please join us. ”

Kara looked from Ginny to Louise and back again. “Okay then, I guess. ”

“Great,” Louise said and gave Kara directions to their house.

Kara left, slowly shaking her head. Why? She wasn’t good with people, strangers. Why had she agreed to dinner? Then she grinned. Because you’re a sucker for blondes, she told herself.

***********

“Well, what do you think? ” Louise asked Ginny after Kara had left.

“About what? ”

“About the artist, of course,” Louise said.

“She seemed nice enough, although I don’t know why you insisted on inviting her to dinner,” Ginny said. Something about the woman’s eyes made her uncomfortable. Ice blue. For a second, she wondered if they were real. With her jet-black hair, she would have expected dark eyes, not the vibrant blue that stared back at her. But it was not the dead, lifeless eyes that colored contacts produced. No, these eyes were very much alive.

“I thought you might like her company. ”

“I’m sure I will. She was just . . . ” Ginny shrugged. “A little intimidating. ”

“Yes. At first, I thought it was her height,” Nana said. “But I think it’s her eyes. They seem to just look right into you. ”

Ginny nodded, her mind drifting back to the dark-haired stranger who had just left.

“Well, anyway, she seems near your age. Maybe you can make a new friend. ”

“Thank you, Nana, for looking out for me,” she said dryly.

“Oh, Ginny. I just wish you had some friends here, is all,” she said.

Ginny let her shoulders sag and she forced a smile. “I know, but I’m fine, really. ”

“Are you? I know Phil has been calling, but you never tell me about it. When are you going to see him again? ” she asked.

“Actually, he wants to come visit. “Ginny knew it was a mistake the minute the words were out of her mouth. Nana’s eyes lit up and Ginny turned away from them.

“That’s wonderful, dear. Maybe you two can work out your differences after all,” she said. “Do you think he’ll come soon? ”

Ginny ignored the question. “So what kind of vegetable soup do you have that you can just whip up? ” she asked, changing the subject. It was always Phil with Nana.

“Well, there’s that soup I make with chicken. I can just leave out the chicken,” she said with raised eyebrows. “Don’t you think that would be okay? ”

Louise left the store early to start dinner and by the time that Ginny had arrived, the soup was simmering and Nana was tidying the kitchen.

“I’m going to take a quick shower,” she called.

“Fine, dear,” Louise called back.

Ginny undressed in her room and slipped a robe over her naked body, grabbing underclothes on her way out. She was running late and their guest was expected in fifteen minutes. She hurried down the hall to the spare bathroom, hearing Nana singing in the kitchen and she smiled. It seemed Nana was looking forward to their dinner guest much more than Ginny was. It wasn’t that she had taken an instant dislike to Kara Morgan or anything. In fact, she seemed quite charming. She just hated the idea of Nana finding friends for her.

She was dismayed to find that the tall woman was already seated on the sofa when she walked out of the shower. She gave an embarrassed smile and hurried past the door in her robe. Apparently Kara Morgan was timely, something Ginny had never been accused of!

Kara watched her run past, her eyes locked on the tan legs exposed beneath her robe. She smiled and turned back to Nana, catching the end of her monologue.

When Ginny finally joined them, Nana was serving wine like an expert hostess and Ginny nearly laughed out loud, knowing Nana had never served wine a day in her life!

“Hello. Sorry I’m running late,” she said to Kara.

“No problem. ”

Ginny was again conscious of blue eyes following her across the room and she felt an involuntary shiver run down her spine.

“Kara’s from Seattle, too,” Louise said to Ginny as she accepted the glass of wine from her as if she had done it numerous times before.

“Really? I’m afraid I don’t know anything about your work,” Ginny admitted.

“There’s not much to know. I’m just an artist, not quite as struggling as I used to be,” she admitted.

Ginny sipped her wine, thankful Nana had chosen one of their better bottles for the occasion. “Are you familiar with our area? ” she asked.

“No, not at all,” Kara said. “I came here for the first time in May and fell in love. “Kara let her eyes rest on Ginny’s for a second. “How long have you been here?

“Since last October, although I’ve spent summers here since I was a child. “Ginny glanced at Nana and knew that they were both remembering happier times from long ago.

Kara nodded and an uncomfortable silence filled the room as she wondered why she had accepted this dinner invitation. She normally liked being alone while she worked, hardly ever making friends along the way. She glanced at Ginny as she sipped from her wine and she wondered what this young woman was doing out here, alone and so far from Seattle.

“Ginny surprised me when she said she intended to buy the store and come live with me,” Louise said, as if reading her thoughts. “Here I thought she was all ready to get married. ”

Ginny glanced at Kara and rolled her eyes. “I found out Nana didn’t really need taking care of,” she said.

“No, but I would love great-grandchildren someday,” she said.

Ginny hoped Nana wouldn’t start with that, but it was too late. The seed had been planted.

“Phil is a wonderful man, Kara. Why she left him behind in Seattle, I’ll never know,” she said.

“Nana!” Ginny exclaimed.

“Are you married? ” Nana asked Kara, dismissing Ginny with a wave of her hand.

“No. Never,” Kara said.

“Never? What are you? Early thirties? ”

“Thirty-four,” Kara said. It had been a long time since she had to explain about her lack of a husband to anyone.

“Well, I hope Ginny doesn’t wait that long. She’s already twenty-eight. Her clock is ticking, if you know what I mean,” she said.

“Nana, please,” Ginny said quietly.

“He’s a fine man, Ginny. You can’t wait around for ever. “She turned expectantly to Kara. “Isn’t that right? ”

“I wouldn’t know about that. I’m not exactly looking for a husband,” she said lightly, feeling the strain of this conversation with these strangers.

“No? Are you one of those independent feminists who thinks she doesn’t need a man in her life? ” Nana asked, softening her words with a smile.

“Nana!”

A brief smile touched Kara’s lips and drained her wineglass. “I’m just happy being alone,” she said quietly, feeling no need to explain herself. “I don’t really need a man to take care of me. ”

Ginny met her eyes, trying to apologize silently and Kara accepted with a slight nod before looking away.

“In my time,” Nana continued, “you were married by twenty or you were considered an old maid. I know women wait longer these days, but really, twenty-eight is long enough,” she said.

“Nana!”

“Oh, all right. I just want you to be happy. Is that so hard for you to accept? ”

“I am happy,” Ginny insisted.

“Bull!You’ve been moping around here for the last eight months!”

Ginny let out an exaggerated sigh and raised her hands in defeat. “Shouldn’t you be checking on dinner? ”

“Very well. I can take a hint. “Nana excused herself with only a slight huff.

“I’m sorry,” Ginny said. “At her age, Nana just speaks what’s on her mind. ”

“It’s okay. She’s not the first to inquire about my marital status,” Kara said lightly. “So, who’s Phil? ” she asked, turning the conversation away from herself.

“That’s another story, I’m afraid. ”

“Running away? ” Kara guessed.

“You might say that. Only don’t tell Nana. She’s convinced Phil and I will be married by Christmas. ”

“Your secret’s safe with me. ”

“I think I read an article about you in Northwest Magazine,” Ginny said, again changing the subject. “Well, I skimmed the article,” she admitted.

Kara met her eyes, wondering if Ginny remembered everything about that article. It had made no secret that she was a lesbian.

“I remember something about a mural you painted,” Ginny said.

“In Yakima,” Kara supplied.

“Yes. So, are you famous or what? ” Ginny asked lightly.

“Not really, no. I have a decent following here in Washington and down the coast, but I’d hardly call me a household name. I’m surprised that you’ve actually heard of me,” she said.

“I’m not really into the art scene,” Ginny apologized.

“Not very many people are,” Kara said.

“Dinner, you two,” Nana called and Kara stood, thankful that the evening was nearly over.

“This looks good,” Kara said as she filled her bowl. “I hope you didn’t go to any trouble. ”

“What trouble? ” Nana shrugged. “I just left out the chicken. ”

Ginny met the amused eyes of Kara Morgan across the table and smiled. Nana really was a handful, she admitted. Especially when she wanted to be!

The conversation during dinner was polite, but sparse. Ginny tried her best to draw the dark-haired woman out, but most of her questions were responded to with one syllables words. She suspected Kara was not much of a talker, but she wondered if Nana’s earlier comments had offended her.

Kara made her escape as soon as she had helped clear the table. “I enjoyed dinner,” she lied. “But I’ve got an early day tomorrow. ”

“Oh? Where to this time, Kara? ” Nana asked.

“Lake Wenatchee,” she said.

“It’s beautiful out there. Will you paint it? ”

“I’ll sketch it first, see how it feels,” she said. “It was nice of you to invite me out here. Thanks again for dinner. ”

Ginny walked her to the door, feeling a need to apologize. “I hope Nana didn’t make you uncomfortable,” Ginny said quietly. “Or offend you. She didn’t mean any harm. ”

“It was fine. I appreciate a meal out now and again,” she said, forcing a smile. “Maybe I’ll see you around. ”

Ginny met her eyes, again astounded by their blueness as they peered into hers. “Maybe so. Come by for coffee anytime. ”

“Thanks. I will,” Kara said and walked away quickly. She let out a deep sigh when she reached the safety of her own truck. She had never been good at social events, never been good with strangers. She knew she had only accepted the dinner invitation because Ginny Harrison had intrigued her. She laughed at herself now. Ginny had a very real boyfriend waiting in Seattle, a boyfriend Louise hoped would one day be Ginny’s husband. She drove away to the Dobson cabin, now hers for the next several months and put the younger woman from her mind.

CHAPTER FOUR

Kara stood at the edge of the parking lot of Lake Wenatchee, clad in her normal shorts and tank top, her unopened sketchpad still shoved under her arm.

“Well, I think I’ve found the area’s hot spot,” she murmured. Vacationers crowded into nearly every available space as multicolored tents dotted the shoreline and the lake itself was practically littered with boats. She could still sketch it, she supposed, but she was far too distracted now by all the clutter.

She let out a heavy sigh, thinking she should have asked Louise more about the lake last night and saved herself a trip out this morning. She went back to her Land Cruiser and sat with the door open, the map spread out across the steering wheel. Doesn’t have to be a lake, she thought. There were just so many small ones tucked into the mountains that she hated to miss any opportunity to capture one in the perfect light.

Without thinking, she reached for her cigarettes. She could always swing by the store and see if Ginny could recommend any. Maybe she’d be willing to show her around, too. She looked up and met her amused expression in the mirror.

“No playing with the locals, Kara.”

She folded the map and headed back, stopping only once when she found a tiny dirt road leading off into the forest. The road stopped abruptly at a small clearing and an interesting creek flowed rapidly around boulders before disappearing into the trees. She watched it for a moment, wondering if the clearing was enough to capture the morning sunrise. It wasn’t too far. Maybe she would check it out one morning. She pulled out her notepad and scribbled down directions then turned the SUV around.

As she approached town, she slowed when she neared the general store, pleasantly surprised to see Ginny walking along the road. She stopped and lifted a hand in greeting and Ginny walked over without hesitation.

“Hi. How was the lake?” Ginny asked. She leaned through the open window and Kara met her green eyes briefly before looking away.

“Crowded. Where’re you headed?” she asked.

“To the park for lunch.”

“Park?”

“Just down the dirt road there,” she said, pointing. “Have you eaten?”

“No.”

“Want to join me?” Ginny asked. “You can have my apple,” she offered.

Kara tapped the stirring wheel with her thumbs and her mouth twitched in a slight smile. Why not?

“Okay. Hop in.”

Ginny led the way to her usual picnic table and Kara followed, her eyes watching Ginny’s graceful strides and she remembered those same legs, peeking from beneath her robe last night. Now, they were covered in faded blue jeans. When Ginny turned, Kara quickly veiled her eyes and looked away.

“This is a National Forest picnic area, but everyone in town just refers to it as The Park,” Ginny said and slid onto the bench.

“It’s quiet here,” Kara said. She looked around, finding only a few tables occupied, most with families, urging the kids to eat before returning to the playground.

“Yes. Usually.” Ginny unwrapped her sandwich and tossed her apple to Kara. “Sorry, but that’s all I have.”

“It’s fine. I usually forget to eat lunch, anyway.” Kara rubbed the apple on her shirt, shining it, then took a large bite, feeling the juice slide down her chin.

Ginny bit into her own sandwich, then looked up and watched as Kara licked the apple juice from her lips. Ginny felt nearly mesmerized by the sight of Kara’s tongue as it wet her lips and she stopped chewing and watched.

“What?” Kara asked, sensing Ginny’s gaze on her.

“Hmmm?” Ginny raised her eyes to Kara’s blue ones and frowned, then bit into her sandwich again.

Kara’s mouth moved into a slow grin, then she brushed it away. No playing with the locals, she reminded herself again. But there was something about the green-eyed woman that intrigued her.

“So, what are you doing here, really?” Kara asked, hoping it was a safe question.

Ginny smiled. Should she give the practiced speech she told everyone or should she tell this stranger the truth? She shrugged, opting for her speech.

“When my grandfather died, I thought Nana would need someone to take care of her, so I used my inheritance from my mother and bought the store and moved.” She shrugged again and tucked her hair behind her ears. “I moved here in October.”

Kara leaned her elbows on the table and met Ginny’s eyes with a smile. “You’ve got that well rehearsed, don’t you?”

Ginny smiled too. “Is it that obvious?”

Kara nodded. “And Phil?”

“Oh, I’m such a coward when it comes to him. He’s really a sweet man, only he wanted to get married and I kept putting him off.” She let out a heavy sigh and looked up at the trees. “He was getting restless, demanding.”

“Wouldn’t take no for an answer?” Kara asked.

“I mean, he wanted three kids, a house in the suburbs, the whole nine yards. I just wasn’t ready,” Ginny said. Then, almost to herself, “I wasn’t sure.”

“Maybe you just don’t love him,” Kara said, reading her thoughts.

Ginny hadn’t been able to tell herself that. After four years, surely she loved him. But something was missing and she felt like she would be settling if she just went ahead and married him.

“Maybe I just don’t love him enough,” she allowed. “Maybe I’ve read too many romance books.” She leaned forward and said softly, “I mean, I want that passion, that burning desire for someone that makes you crazy when you’re not with them and crazier still when you are. You know what I mean?”

“You’re a romantic,” Kara stated.

“Maybe so. Maybe there’s no such thing as that kind of love.” Ginny met her eyes for a moment. “Have you ever had that?”

Kara looked past her, into the trees. “No. Never,” she said quietly. She had thought, once, that she had found it, but she had given up searching for it when Marsha left her one winter. She had been so involved in her painting that it was two days before she even knew she was gone. She pushed her thoughts back into her memory and forced a smile. “But I’m not really expecting it anymore.”

Ginny hadn’t missed the pain that had flashed across Kara’s face briefly, before she had hidden it, but she wouldn’t pry. They were only strangers. You don’t bare your soul to strangers.

“So, what did you do in Seattle?” Kara asked, looking for a safer subject.

“I was in marketing. I designed ads. That’s where I met Phil,” she said. “We worked for the same firm.”

“So you quit your job and moved up here to take care of Louise?” Kara grinned. “And Phil had no idea you were running away?”

“Oh, he had an idea, all right.” Ginny laughed. “He said he would give me six months to come running back, then he was coming to get me.”

“And?”

“And it’s been eight and he’ll be coming this summer.” She sat up straight and tried to mimic his tone. “Ginny, you’re not making sense. We love each other, it’s only natural that we get married.”

“Have you ever tired the direct approach? Leave me alone, I’ll call you if I want you?”

Ginny laughed. “No. The truth is, I don’t want to hurt him. He’s done nothing wrong.”

“Maybe you’re hanging on to him, just in case,” Kara said.

“Just in case what?” Ginny asked sharply.

“In case nothing better comes along. At least you’ll still have him,” she said.

Ginny shook her head. “No. I would hate to think that’s what I’m doing.” She wondered if indeed Kara wasn’t right though.

Their eyes met across the table for an instant and Kara saw a spark of anger in the younger woman’s eyes, daring her to say more.

Kara looked away but offered a smile. “I’ve upset you. I’m sorry.”

“No. Maybe you’ve hit on the truth and I don’t like it.” Ginny stood and tossed her bag into the trash. “Maybe I am simply hanging on to him for that reason. It would suck, but it may be true.”

“Well, it’s none of my business, anyway,” Kara said and stood and tossed a perfect strike into the trash can, her apple disappearing into the bin.

They rode back in silence and when Ginny got out, she walked around to the driver’s door and leaned in.

“I’m not angry with you, Kara. I just haven’t had a chance to talk to anyone about this before. My friends, they all think Phil is a wonderful man and that I’m insane not to marry him. Nana wants great-grandchildren and for me not to be an old maid,” she said lightly. “I guess maybe you made me see things differently. And the truth sometimes hurts,” she said quietly, her eyes again locking on blue.

Kara shrugged. “Again, I’m sorry. None of my business.” She lifted a hand as Ginny stepped back. “Thanks for lunch. I’ll see you around,” she said.

Ginny nodded and watched as Kara drove off. Through the back window, she saw her light a cigarette and she thought again that she had never met a woman quite like her before. Strong, independent, alone and seemingly happy. But she remembered the pain that had been on her face earlier, briefly, before Kara had hidden it. She wondered who had caused this woman pain?

Kara savored her cigarette, her third of the day, as she drove slowly to her cabin. She should work, she thought, but she felt restless. She took a beer, one of only six she had brought with her, and walked into the woods to the property line. The old fence was in need of repair and she crawled through it easily into the forest beyond. She walked aimlessly, letting her mind drift. She had not thought of Marsha in a very long time, she realized. Kara had barely turned thirty-two when Marsha left. Her work was just catching on and her paintings were in demand and she had been very busy. Too busy to notice that she was neglecting Marsha and everything else in her life. They had met when she was twenty-six; Kara, a spoiled rich kid pretending to be an artist and Marsha, fresh out of college, trying to land a corporate job that would take her out of her parents shabby home in Tacoma. Marsha had been impressed with Kara’s cottage on Bainbridge Island and even more impressed when she found out that Kara’s parents had given it to her as a gift. Kara had gotten Marsha a job with her father’s company and they had settled into their life with ease. And it had been fun, especially at the beginning. Kara had no worries. She sold a few paintings here and there and accepted her parents monthly allowance without guilt. But the more successful she got, the more it consumed her, this need to make a name for herself, to be a successful working artist. It had taken its toll on their relationship. Her endless travel during the summers, the endless hours of painting during the winters had been their undoing.

And Marsha had simply disappeared from her life one day. When Kara realized what had happened, it had been too late to salvage things. Marsha had met someone else and Kara had let her go. There had been no one since. Oh, plenty of women had shared her bed, but none had gotten into her heart. Not that many had even tried.

CHAPTER FIVE

After Nana had gone to bed, Ginny sorted through the old issues of Northwest Magazine. When she found the one she wanted, she took her cup of hot tea and settled on the sofa to read. The picture of Kara Morgan stared back at her and Ginny scanned her face, finally settling on her blue eyes, wondering at her sudden curiosity for this woman. She pulled her eyes away and began reading, glancing back to Kara’s picture occasionally. Her eyes followed her index finger as she read, but the article was very impersonal, shedding little light into the woman herself. It wasn’t until the final paragraph that Ginny stumbled over the words.

When asked if it bothered her that she is still sometimes referred to as the ‘lesbian artist’, Ms. Morgan replied with ease. “I’ve never made my personal life a secret,” she said. “I just don’t feel it’s pertinent to my work. My sexual preference does not influence the way I paint and I don’t necessarily like being labeled that way.”

A lesbian. Ginny stared at her picture again, her eyes dropping for a split second to the lips that curved in a smile. She closed the magazine quickly and sat still. Of course she had known. That was why she really went back to read the article. She didn’t like to just assume these things.

Renee. The name was so familiar, yet it had been years.

She let out a heavy sigh, finally letting in memories that she had thought were well buried. She had been so young and Renee had been much too dynamic for her to resist.

But she had, she reminded herself. She leaned back, closing her eyes, remembering.

Renee Hampton. Her first boss. Her first crush on a woman.

But it was just a crush, she reminded herself. Renee had been ten years older and so beautiful. Ginny remembered the day Renee had looked up and caught her staring. Ginny had tried to look away, but Renee’s eyes had held her. They had been working late and Ginny had been more than happy to stay the extra few hours, if it meant spending time with Renee. But when Renee had insisted on treating Ginny to dinner, their relationship had moved beyond the workplace and soon Ginny found herself looking forward to weekends when Renee would drag her to all sorts of activities that she would never venture on alone.

Even now, Ginny could remember clearly the night it happened. Renee had been so excited about the whale-watching excursion that Ginny hadn’t the heart to disappoint her, but boats made her extremely nervous. And nauseous. They had barely left Puget Sound when Ginny’s breakfast left her. Renee had spent the entire trip by her side and that night, after Ginny had apologized profusely, Renee had wrapped her in long arms and Ginny found herself on the receiving end of a very intimate hug. Warning bells had gone off immediately and by the time that Renee’s lips had sought Ginny’s, she had been able to pull away.

“I’m sorry. I thought you wanted this.”

“No, I’m not . . . I don’t . . . no.”

“Then . . . what is all this about?”

“I just . . . I thought we were friends.”

Ginny lifted one corner of her mouth and smiled. She had been so naive. She hadn’t had a clue that Renee was a lesbian. Whatever attraction there had been for Ginny, it was just friendship. There had been nothing more. There never could have been. But regardless, their relationship stopped there. Two months later, Ginny had found another job and she had not seen Renee since.

And now Kara.

She sipped her tea, one hand absently thumbing through the magazine, stopping when Kara’s picture stared back at her.

Ginny sat very still, mesmerized by the picture. Kara Morgan was an attractive woman but the flawless picture was breathtaking. Her hair was a little longer in the picture, Ginny noted. And diamond earrings sparkled in each ear. The few times she had seen her, Kara had not worn jewelry. Finally, with a sigh, she closed the magazine.

“Well, it doesn’t matter,” she said quietly. She liked Kara. She wasn’t going to avoid her, she decided, just because she was a lesbian. Kara would be leaving after the summer anyway.

Although the next morning, when Kara walked in and strode purposefully towards the espresso machine, Ginny wasn’t quite able to meet her eyes. She was being ridiculous, she knew, but something told her she should avoid those blue, blue eyes. They would be nothing but trouble.

“Good morning, Kara.”

“Morning, Louise.”

“Did you have a taste for Seattle coffee this morning?”

“Mocha,” she said and turned amused eyes to Ginny. “Hello.”

“Hi,” Ginny murmured, feeling embarrassed and hating herself for it. She shouldn’t have read the article, she realized. If Kara had wanted her to know, she would have told her. It wasn’t any of her business, anyway. And did it really matter, she asked herself for the hundredth time.

Kara fished out a couple of crumpled bills from her pocket and handed them to Ginny. When their fingers touched, Ginny pulled back quickly, as if burned, and met the questioning eyes across from her, but she didn’t allow those blue eyes to capture hers for long.

Kara’s eyebrows drew together in a frown, wondering what in the world was going on. Then it hit her. Ginny had either re-read the article or had remembered it from earlier. Ginny looked nearly frightened to be in the same room with her. Kara had thought of inviting Ginny to dinner but now she knew she would never ask. She had seen that look from straight women before. Fear.

Ginny had half a mind to lay the change on the counter, but then she saw the challenge in Kara’s eyes and she dropped it onto her outstretched palm, her fingers raking its surface.

Kara moved with her back to Louise and whispered, “Don’t look so scared. It’s not contagious, you know.”

Ginny blushed and looked away. “I’m sorry,” she murmured. What else could she say? “It’s just . . ..”

“Doesn’t matter.”

Kara shrugged and left with a curt goodbye to Louise.

Why was it that some straight women found it so hard to be friends? Did they think that being alone with a lesbian would tarnish them? That they were in danger of being converted? Kara pulled out her cigarettes angrily and shoved one between her lips. Women! Sometimes they were a royal pain in the ass.

When she reached the cabin, she sat in the truck and sipped her coffee, her anger subsiding. She didn’t really want to make friends with Ginny, anyway. She would get much more work done being alone. With that, she picked up her sketchpad and went inside, intending to add more color to the meadow she had sketched that morning. She pushed thoughts of Ginny Harrison aside and began working. She was surprised to notice the sun setting later and she glanced at her watch. She had not only worked through lunch, she was missing dinner as well.

CHAPTER SIX

When three days came and went and there had been no sign of Kara, Ginny knew that she had to apologize. It had been unforgivable, the way she had acted. So she found Kara’s blue eyes disturbing? It meant absolutely nothing. Kara had not made even the slightest innuendo. She wasn’t an unenlightened prude, she told herself. She could accept people for what they were and if Kara still wanted to be friends with her, she would make a peace offering.

“I’m going to drive over to the Dobson place,” Ginny said.

“Kara hasn’t been around, has she. I suppose she’s working,” Nana said absently.

“Don’t wait dinner on me. I’ll just heat it up when I get back.”

“Okay, dear. I’m glad you’ve made a friend. Have fun.” Nana turned back to the chicken she was frying, dismissing Ginny with a wave of her hand.

Ginny parked her car next to Kara’s Toyota and walked nervously to the door. She had not thought of what she was going to say and she was afraid that Kara wouldn’t accept her apology. She knocked several times and waited, her feet kicking at the rocks absently.

“Hey, I’m back here.”

She turned, startled. Kara stood at the side of the cabin, a cigarette dangling from her fingers. She disappeared again behind the cabin and Ginny followed. She found Kara leaning against the railing, holding a beer bottle lightly in her hand. When she turned blue eyes her way, Ginny could still see a hint of anger there.

“I . . . I came to apologize,” Ginny said.

“Really? Why?” Kara turned to her and held her eyes but Ginny didn’t flinch.

“For the way I acted the other day,” she finally said.

“And how did you act?”

Ginny looked away and sighed heavily. “God, you’re not going to make this easy, are you?”

“Should I?” Kara asked sharply.

“I’m sorry. When I read the article again and found out . . ..”

“That I was a lesbian?”

“Yes. I . . . it just surprised me, I guess. I didn’t mean to treat you so badly,” she said sincerely. “Your . . . personal life . . . it doesn’t matter one way or the other.”

Kara nodded. “So, you’re not afraid of me?”

“Afraid?”

“Yes. You seemed to be almost terrified to be in the same room with me.”

“No.” Ginny relaxed and leaned her elbows on the railing. “No, I’m not afraid of you, Kara. I’d like us to be friends,” she said. “If you want that,” she added.

Kara chuckled and went inside to get Ginny a beer, clearly surprised that she had made the effort to come here.

“Do you want to ask me anything?” Kara said when she returned.

“What do you mean?”

“Straight women are usually curious.” She slumped down into one of the chairs and waited for Ginny to follow.

Ginny glanced at the woman who looked so relaxed suddenly, her shorts sliding up as she crossed one leg over the other. Ginny pulled her eyes from the long, tan legs stretched out before her and tipped the beer bottle to her lips. She wasn’t exactly curious, she told herself. Well, maybe a little.

“How long have you been this way?” she finally asked.

Kara laughed and tossed her cigarette down and stepped on it with her hiking boot. “All my life, I guess. Or do you mean, how long have I known I was a lesbian?”

Ginny smiled. “Yes, that’s what I mean.”

“In high school, I suppose, although it wasn’t until college that I finally acted on my feelings.”

“And are you involved with someone now?” Ginny asked.

Kara laughed again. “No. Not in awhile. I’ve been working and I’m told I can’t do both,” she said, unable to keep the bitterness out of her voice.

Ginny noticed her stinging tone, but she didn’t comment on it. She waited for Kara to continue, but Kara clearly didn’t want to share any more information.

“Have you had dinner?” Kara asked suddenly.

“No.”

“I had intended on asking you over the other morning, but . . . well, I didn’t want to make you uncomfortable.”

“I’m really sorry. That was stupid of me,” Ginny said. “I’m not usually so rude.”

“I’ve got plenty,” Kara continued, as if she hadn’t spoken.

Ginny nodded. “Okay. Dinner would be nice.”

Ginny sat at the table as Kara lit a candle and placed it between them. She looked up into the amused eyes standing over her, but said nothing. So, Kara was playing games, was she?

“So, what have you decided to do about Phil?” Kara asked as she handed Ginny a plate of pasta.

“I haven’t really decided to do anything,” she said.

“Still hiding?”

“I suppose,” Ginny smiled. “I’m hoping it will just go away.”

“Well, from what I remember about men, it won’t.”

Ginny looked up, surprised.

“What? Do you think that I’ve never slept with a man?” Kara asked.

“I don’t know. Have you?”

“Of course.” She leaned forward and grinned. “I was terrified the first time I thought I might be gay. I made an offer to the quarterback and he didn’t turn me down,” she said and laughed.

“And?”

“And, I felt nothing, other than pain,” she said and laughed again. “But, the first time and all.” She shrugged. “But, anyway, I dated in college, too, but I just could never make a connection with any of them. Then I met Andrea. Six foot two and a star on the basketball team and I finally found out what I had been missing all those years. That’s when I knew for sure.”

“What about your family?”

“Oh, they went through denial for a couple of years, tried to get me to see a therapist and I refused. But, being the only child of a very prominent family, they couldn’t very well disown me. And they haven’t.” Kara twisted pasta around her fork and felt Ginny watching her. “What about you? Any siblings?”

“No. I was an only child, too. Only my mother never knew it,” she said with difficulty.

Kara raised her eyebrows.

“Becky is four years older than I am. She hung the moon.”

“Or so your mother thought?”

Ginny smiled. “The apple of my mother’s eye, yes. Fortunately, my father thought the same about me. We each had all the attention that we could stand.” Her eyes clouded over and Kara waited for her to continue. “Dad died when I was twelve,” she said softly.

“I’m sorry.”

“And I was left alone, with a mother who didn’t know I existed and a sister who never let me forget it.”

“Louise and your grandfather?”

“Yes. My father’s parents; they were great. I spent every summer out here for as long as I could remember. After Dad died, I came here as soon as school was out for the summer and didn’t return until it started back again.” Ginny nodded when Kara offered more wine and she watched as her fingers gripped the bottle, her nails cut neat and short.

“Then what?”

“College, that I paid for myself. A job and then Phil,” she finished. “Very exciting.”

“And Becky?”

Ginny shrugged. “I saw her at my mother’s funeral. Before that, I hadn’t seen her in years.”

“So your childhood rivalry continued when you were adults?”

“Oh, God, yes. Believe me, she was as surprised as I was to find that I was even mentioned in the will,” she said bitterly. “My dad’s doing,” she explained.

“And I thought being an only child was tough,” Kara said gently. “I’m sorry.”

Ginny looked up and smiled, knowing her eyes were sparkling with tears. “You’re a very good cook,” she said, changing the subject with ease. “I can’t find my way around a kitchen, I’m afraid.”

Kara took the hint and let the conversation drift to less personal things. Ginny helped with the dishes, despite Kara’s plea not to and left shortly afterwards, but not before giving Kara a quick hug and another apology. She supposed Ginny was lonely after all. Maybe she just missed Phil. Or maybe she was just tired of Louise’s company.

Kara took her last cigarette out to the porch and smoked in the darkness, her mind wandering back to Ginny with such ease that it startled her. Perhaps Ginny had been wise to be afraid of her, she mused. Kara had found her eyes moving to Ginny time and again during the evening and she inhaled deeply on her cigarette, refusing to acknowledge the attraction that was growing each time she saw her.

“She’s straight,” she told the darkness.

************

Ginny undressed quietly, not wanting to wake Nana. She had been astonished when she glanced at her watch on the way home. They had spent hours talking, as if they were old friends. Comfortable friends. Or merely familiar strangers. Perhaps it was true; easier to share thoughts and secrets with a virtual stranger than your closest friend. Whatever the reason, she had enjoyed their time together and she had found Kara to be a captive audience.

CHAPTER SEVEN

Kara couldn’t work and she set her brushes aside, acutely aware that she had again been thinking of Ginny and the quick brush of their bodies when Ginny had hugged her so unexpectedly. It had been three days since she had seen her but her image was still fresh in her mind. The way she tucked stands of blond hair behind her ears when she was nervous, the way her green eyes had flashed when she spoke of her sister, the way the corners of her mouth lifted when she smiled, the way her lips parted.

“God,” Kara groaned and she shoved out the back door and onto the porch, taking in deep breaths of cool air. “What are you doing?” she asked herself. “She’s straight. Forget about it.” She went back in for a cigarette and was startled when the phone rang. She wasn’t even aware that it worked.

“Hello?”

“Kara?”

“Yes. Ginny?”

“I had hoped the Dobson’s hadn’t stopped their service. Listen, I was going to the park for lunch. I thought you might like to join me,” she said uncertainly. She had wanted to see her again and she had been disappointed when Kara hadn’t come to the store.

“What time is it?”

“Twelve-thirty. You haven’t eaten, have you?”

Kara smiled. “No. I’ll meet you at the store in a few minutes.”

She made a quick cheese sandwich and took the remaining two beers from the refrigerator and left without thinking about her apparent haste. Ginny was waiting on the porch and walked out to meet Kara’s truck even before she stopped.

“Hi.”

“Hello.” Their eyes met for an instant, then Ginny climbed in and slammed the door and Kara pulled away without another word.

“I wasn’t interrupting your work, I hope,” Ginny said when they had settled at the picnic table and opened their beer.

“No. Actually, I was taking a break anyway.”

“I got the impression that you work right through meals,” Ginny said.

“Why’s that?”

“Because you didn’t even know what time it was.”

Kara laughed. “I forget sometimes,” she admitted.

“Do you forget a lot of things when you’re working?” Ginny asked.

“Like?”

“Well, you mentioned the other night that you’re not involved with anyone, that you couldn’t do both,” Ginny said.

“Oh. That,” Kara said and waved the words away.

“Why won’t you tell me? I told you about Phil,” Ginny urged. She wanted to know more about her, about her private life. She didn’t pause to wonder why.

“It’s a long story,” she said and smiled. “And boring,” she added.

“I’ll be the judge of that,” Ginny said and motioned for her to continue.

“I was a struggling artist when I met Marsha.” She smiled. “Only I didn’t know I was struggling. My folks made sure my bank account was never empty,” she said quietly.

Ginny raised her eyebrows but said nothing.

“My parents had given me a cottage on Bainbridge Island and she moved in with me and went to work for my father’s company . . ..”

“Wait, wait,” Ginny interrupted. “Your parents gave you a cottage? On Bainbridge Island?”

Kara nodded sheepishly.

“A view of the Sound?” she asked.

Kara shrugged and smiled.

“Are they disgustingly rich or what?”

“Pretty much, yes.”

“Okay, I’m sorry. Go on. You moved in together,” Ginny said. “And?”

“And she went to work each day and I painted whenever the mood struck. I sold a few pieces now and then and we were happy enough, I guess.”

“How old were you?”

“I was twenty-six when we met,” she said. “Anyway, there was this gallery, down on Long Beach that wanted to show my work. Tourists started snatching it up and I had to work longer to keep up and the next thing I knew I had agreed to a showing at a gallery in Seattle and it just went on and on.”

“Must have been tough,” Ginny said sarcastically.

“It was, really. I wasn’t prepared for it. I didn’t know how to pace myself. I would get involved in my work and a month would pass without me ever leaving the house. Needless to say, our relationship went down the tubes,” she finished.

“How long ago?”

“Nearly three years.”

“And are you sorry? I mean, sacrificing your relationship for your success?” Ginny asked.

“I don’t think that’s a fair question,” Kara said seriously. “I wasn’t intentionally sacrificing the relationship. It just happened. One day I realized that she was gone. That she had been gone and I hadn’t even missed her,” she said quietly. “I stopped for awhile. Painting, I mean.”

“What did you do?” Ginny asked softly. “Did you find her?”

Kara shook her head. “She had already met someone else.”

“Oh. I’m sorry.”

“Anyway, I went to San Francisco for awhile, but it wasn’t Seattle, so I came back home. Picked up a brush and . . .” she raised her hands again. “Here I am.”

“And the mural?”

“Lord, that was a mistake. I was sorry I had been commissioned for that one. I like to work alone, most artists do. Not have tourists and town officials hanging over my shoulder with each stroke of the brush, making suggestions, asking why I did this, why didn’t I do that. I couldn’t wait to finish. Needless to say, it’s not one of my best, but it’s proudly displayed in downtown Yakima, Washington,” she said and grinned. “And I haven’t been back since.”

“Well, if I’m ever in Yakima . . ..”

“Yes, be sure to go by and pay your respects,” Kara said and laughed.

Ginny grinned, too. “I enjoy your company,” she said.

Kara arched an eyebrow. “And that’s bad?”

“No. I didn’t mean it like that. I just enjoy talking with you.”

“Well, from what Louise said, you don’t have much to choose from around here.”

“You’re being difficult,” Ginny said with a smile. “Just say thank you.”

Kara leaned forward, resting her chin on her palms. “Well, not to frighten you, but I enjoy your company as well.”

Their eyes met for an instant and Ginny felt a blush creep onto her face. “Thank you.”

They were silent for a moment, both finishing their sandwiches and tossing bread to the chipmunks that came begging.

“Nana says you sketch in the early morning,” Ginny said.

“Not always. Sunset, too. The evening is my favorite time of day,” she said quietly. “All of the colors come together at that one precise moment and it’s as if they’re suspended in time, just for the barest of seconds and I’m never quick enough to get it just right, though I try time and again,” she said.

“What?” Ginny asked, mesmerized by her soft voice.

Kara smiled. “I paint mornings, evenings, never daylight. It’s too sharp, there is no color, only brightness,” she explained.

Ginny nodded, as if she understood perfectly.

“And the moon,” she added.

“That’s right. There’s a full moon in all your paintings,” Ginny said, remembering the article.

“I love the moon. I could stare at it for hours, I think,” Kara said softly. “It’s like it’s watching you. Everything you do, the moon sees.”

Ginny stared at her, feeling hypnotized by her words as those blue eyes pulled her in.

“I’m going out this evening. Would you like to tag along and see what I mean?” Kara asked, surprising herself. She normally hated having someone watch her work.

“I wouldn’t be bothering you?”

“No. As long as you don’t offer suggestions.”

Ginny smiled. “I’d like that,” she said.

“So would I,” Kara said as their eyes met. “I’ll come for you at seven.”

Nana was envious that Ginny was going to watch Kara work. She had only spied her that first morning. Kara had never again been on the trail by the lake.

“What about dinner?” Nana asked.

“I’ll get something when we come back,” Ginny said. She was drying her hair and it was nearly seven already. She hated to make Kara wait.

But Kara was seated patiently in the living room, listening to Nana and she raised her eyes to Ginny and smiled.

“Sorry,” Ginny said. “Bad habit, but I’m working on it.”

“No problem. We’ve got time,” Kara said. Her eyes followed Ginny as she bent to kiss Louise on the cheek and they flickered over her jeans before resting again on her face.

Ginny felt Kara’s eyes on her and she was acutely aware of the sensations rippling through her body. She wouldn’t meet her eyes as they walked to the door.

“Have fun, you two,” Nana called.

“Where are we going?” Ginny asked.

Kara backed out of the driveway, her arm resting along the back of Ginny’s seat and she peered out the rear window.

Ginny felt Kara’s fingers graze her shoulder as she turned back around and Ginny felt goosebumps on her neck from their touch. It frightened her.

“There’s a small lake on Battle Canyon Creek,” Kara said.

“How did you find that? It’s a well-kept secret among the locals,” Ginny chided.

“You’ve been there?”

“I used to fish there with my grandfather,” Ginny said. “I haven’t been there in years.”

Kara shrugged and turned down a Forest Service road. “It wasn’t hard to find, but the road’s bumpy as hell,” she said.

The sun was falling below the trees when they parked, but Ginny suspected that the colors weren’t yet right, because Kara didn’t seem to be hurrying. She gathered her sketchpad and colored chalk and led the way along a path. There were only two other cars there and Ginny recognized them as locals.

“There’s a break in the trees just as the sun sets,” Kara explained. “The lake is a perfect reflection.”

They walked up the trail, but instead of heading to the water, Kara went into the trees and stopped at a rise with the water below them.

“I don’t mean to ignore you,” Kara apologized as she flipped open her sketchpad.

“Go ahead. I’ll just watch,” Ginny said. She sat down in the grass a few feet from Kara and pulled her knees up to her chin. Kara sat cross-legged on the ground, faded jeans covering the tanned legs Ginny was used to seeing. She watched as Kara’s fingers found the color she wanted and before Ginny’s eyes, the lake appeared on the paper. As the sun crept lower, Ginny became aware of the changing colors. The few clouds in the sky reflected the orange of the sun and she watched as Kara added that, too. Ginny took her eyes away from the woman next to her and forced herself to look at the water as it changed from a brilliant blue to a shimmering orange.

Kara added color, too and soon her lake was as orange as the sky as the sun hung, suspended just over the horizon for a split second and Ginny held her breath as it silently slipped from view. Kara’s hand stilled and Ginny looked up to find Kara watching her.

“Well?” Kara’s quiet voice broke the silence.

“It was beautiful,” Ginny said softly. “Can I see?” she asked.

Kara hesitated, then handed over her sketch and she watched Ginny’s face break out in smile.

“You’ve captured it exactly. It’s as if the sun is still there, hanging on to the day,” she said quietly. “You’ve put your moon in, I see,” she said.

Kara clinched her jaw and met Ginny’s intense green eyes as they searched her own. She could almost see the currents that passed between them, feel the electricity in her veins as green eyes locked on blue. Ginny finally lowered her gaze, her eyes closing heavily as she sighed.

Ginny felt her pulse throbbing in her neck and she acknowledged the growing attraction she had for this woman. She could feel it. She took a deep breath, trying to push it away. They sat quietly, legs crossed before them and watched the color drain from the sky. Ginny became uncomfortably aware of the intimate setting as dusk settled over the forest. She should get up, she should suggest they go back, back to the safety of Nana’s company.

But she didn’t.

“Kara?” Ginny asked, as she leaned back on her elbows.

“Hmmm?”

“What’s it like?”

“What?” Kara asked, turning to her.

“Kissing a woman?” she asked before she could stop herself.

Kara tried to read her eyes, but the approaching darkness prevented it. “Why do you want to know?”

“I was just . . . wondering, I guess. Kissing is nice, you know, but some men, well, they just forget about it, I think.”

“Phil?”

Ginny shook her head. Phil wasn’t much for kissing. She sighed again. Why in the world had she started this conversation?

“Never mind,” she murmured.

Kara smiled. So, Ginny was curious. That surprised her.

“From what I remember, men were much more interested in bigger and better things. Never wanted to take the time for kissing. That’s the great thing about women,” Kara said. “Most women like to kiss. And of course, a woman knows.”

“Knows what?” Ginny asked hesitantly.

Kara turned to Ginny. “A woman knows what you want and how it makes you feel,” she said quietly.

Ginny swallowed, the sound echoing in the quiet forest and she felt herself drawn to this woman sitting so close to her. Like a magnet, she thought, as she struggled to pull her eyes away from Kara’s. She felt as helpless as a moth drawn to fire. She was far too aware of her and was thankful for the darkness, as images of Kara’s lips on hers flashed through her mind, making her stomach flutter. They stared at each other for countless seconds, then Kara moved away and gathered up her work.

“Come on. We better get you back,” she said.

Ginny accepted Kara’s outstretched hand and their fingers entwined as Kara pulled her to her feet. Kara didn’t immediately release her hand and Ginny didn’t pull away. Not until she felt the fire burning between them did she finally drop Kara’s hand.

CHAPTER EIGHT

Ginny spent a fitful night, tossing in her bed as she remembered Kara’s words. “A woman knows.” How would Kara’s kiss be? Hot and wet? Or would it be slow and tender?

Ginny groaned and rolled over, hating herself for her thoughts. What was she doing? Why did this woman occupy her mind so? And thoughts of kissing her, no less! She was not attracted to women! She never had been! What she was thinking was insane!

Renee.

No. She hadn’t been attracted to Renee. At least, not sexually. And she was positive that she was not sexually attracted to Kara, either.

“You’re straight, for God’s sake,” she murmured. “Act like it.”

She got out of bed and went into the kitchen for a drink of cold water and she stood at the sink, watching the moon overhead. Nearly full. Kara’s moon.

Was she watching it, too? Or was she sleeping peacefully, unaware of the effect she was having on Ginny?

“She’s not blind,” Ginny whispered. And how embarrassing would that be? Kara had not so much as said one inappropriate thing. Ginny found Kara’s eyes on her sometimes, but that was all.

“Ginny?”

Ginny turned and found Nana watching her. “I’m sorry. Did I wake you?”

“Are you all right?”

She held up her glass. “Thirsty.”

“I think I’ll have some, too,” she said and moved into the room. “Must be this moon. I can’t sleep a wink.”

Ginny glanced up again at the moon and again thought of Kara. “Yes. I know what you mean,” she murmured.

**************

Kara paced her room in the darkness, a cigarette glowing hotly in her hands. “What’s it like?” The soft words echoed in her brain again and again. She shoved one hand into her hair and took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. It had been far too tempting. What’s it like to kiss a woman? Here, let me show you.

She should really stay away from Ginny. It was becoming uncomfortable to be around her. She laughed out loud, thinking it hadn’t been since college that she’d been attracted to a straight woman.

And it had been a very long time since she’d had such a consuming need to kiss someone, she thought.

So she stayed away. And she painted. She was inspired, if nothing else and she started on the sunset the next day, working feverishly all day. When she reached for a beer that evening, she remembered she hadn’t thought to buy more and she opened a bottle of wine instead. While her soup heated, she took her wine and cigarette out to the porch and sat, listening to the evening approach.

She sat until darkness surrounded her, her cigarette glowing in the night. Her thoughts drifted to the previous evening and she let them. She saw Ginny sitting on the grass beside her, leaning on her elbows, watching her with those intense green eyes. Had she been merely curious? Kara brought the cigarette to her lips and inhaled deeply. Possibly. Or maybe Ginny felt the electricity between them, too.

No. She was straight, Kara reminded herself. And straight women were curious. But still, there was something happening between them. She could feel it and she suspected that Ginny could feel it, too. Would she even chance seeing Kara again? Had she been afraid that Kara might actually try to kiss her?

She stood up suddenly, putting a halt to her thoughts. She ate inside, barely tasting the soup as her mind remained focused on Ginny.

***************

“You never said how it went the other night,” Nana said over dinner two nights later.

“With Kara?”

Nana nodded as she cut into her steak.

“It was interesting. I never noticed the colors before,” Ginny said. “How they change nearly every second before the sun goes down,” she said quietly.

“Is she any good?”

“Very. She captured it exactly,” Ginny said, remembering how Kara’s fingers had moved over the paper, snatching up color after color without looking. “She has this thing about the moon,” Ginny said.

“The moon?”

“Yes. She puts a full moon in all of her paintings,” Ginny said.

“Well, I’d like to see one of them, wouldn’t you,” Nana said.

“Yes. I would.”

“Does she have any finished?”

“She didn’t say,” Ginny said. And she hadn’t thought to ask. She had been too busy wondering about kissing a woman to ask. She blushed, putting a halt to her thoughts. No need to go over all that again. She had already spent two sleepless nights.

“Maybe we should have her over to dinner again,” Nana said. “You seem to have become friends.”

“Yes. I like her,” Ginny said carefully. And she did like her, it was true. She only wished she wouldn’t constantly think about kissing her.

Nana stood back and watched her. “Are you all right, Ginny?”

“Of course. Why do you ask?”

“You’ve been quiet. Your answers are short.” She watched her for awhile longer. “Are you thinking about Phil?” she asked.

Ginny smiled. No, Phil had definitely not been in her thoughts lately. “I’m fine, Nana. Really. And, no, I haven’t been thinking about Phil.”

“Well, he hasn’t called in a week or so, has he?”

“No, he hasn’t.”

“Maybe he’s waiting for you to call,” she prompted.

Ginny smiled again. “Nana, don’t start,” she said gently.

“Well, I just don’t understand you. If it’s me you’re worried about, don’t. I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself. And, in case you haven’t noticed, I enjoy running the store. Your investment would be safe.”

“I know. You’re wonderful at it. But Phil and I . . . we just needed some time apart,” she said.

“Honey, I know marriage is a big step. But don’t run from it. When you find a good man that loves you, you better grab him. They don’t come along every day,” she said.

“Nana, when did you know that Grandpa was right for you?” she asked.

“Oh, I’d had my eye on him,” she said with a wink. “He just didn’t know it.” She put her fork down and Ginny could tell she was remembering. “The first time he kissed me, it was magic. Pure magic. I had been waiting for months, but he was a damn fool and thought he would offend me if he tried to kiss me.” She laughed. “By the time that he actually got around to it, I was so ready for it, I nearly passed out.”

Ginny smiled. Magic. That’s how it should be. That’s how she wanted it to be. Was it magic when Phil kissed her? Had it been that first time? She tried to remember when they had first kissed. A lunch date, and he had brushed her cheek. Then he had cooked dinner for her and had stolen a kiss as she had poured wine. But magic? No, she wouldn’t have called it magic.

“Are you worried about Phil not being the right one, dear?”

“I’m not certain that he is,” she admitted.

“Ginny, you’ll know. But he’s good for you, isn’t he?”

“Yes. He’s good.” And he was. He just didn’t stir her soul like she needed him to.

CHAPTER NINE

Kara had purposefully gone to the store during lunch, hoping that Ginny would be out. And she was. Nana greeted her with a smile and drew her inside.

“I’m afraid that Ginny’s at the park,” she apologized.

“That’s okay. I ran out of beer,” Kara said and took two six-packs from the shelf. She looked around. “You don’t happen to have any tofu, do you?”

“Tow what?”

“Never mind,” Kara said and laughed. She picked through the fresh vegetables and bought a few more bags of pasta. “I can make do with this,” she said.

“Ginny will be disappointed she missed you,” Nana said. “Why don’t you come over for dinner again?”

“Oh, Louise, thanks, but I don’t want to trouble you with my diet,” she said.

“No trouble,” Nana said, racking her brain, trying to think of something she could cook without meat.

“Really, but I appreciate the offer,” Kara said, letting out a sigh of relief. It was short-lived, however. The bell jingled over the door and she turned and met green eyes across the room.

“I thought that was your Land Cruiser outside,” Ginny said.

“Beer,” Kara said and she shoved a bill at Nana.

“Have you been working?” she asked.

“Yes. It’s coming along.”

They stood watching each other, Kara not realizing that Nana was trying to give her change.

“Sorry,” she murmured and held out her hand. “Well, I better go. See you around,” she said. She had nearly escaped out the door when Ginny called to her.

“Kara?”

“Hmmm?” She turned around and Ginny walked over to her.

“Come to dinner?”

“I think Louise is out of vegetable dishes,” she said quietly.

Ginny smiled. “Come early. There’s a trail at the park I want to show you,” she said. “And don’t worry. We’ll do something with rice,” she added.

Kara’s eyes lingered for a moment, then she nodded. “Okay. But don’t go to any trouble.”

“Come about six?”

Kara nodded again, knowing she was foolish to accept. The less time she spent in Ginny’s company, the better. What was it about this woman? Green eyes remained fixed on her and she smiled weakly.

Ginny watched her retreating back until Kara was out of sight and she sighed. Why had she insisted on dinner? She knew she was playing with fire but that hardly mattered anymore.

Ginny was chopping vegetables for their stir-fry when Kara knocked on the door.

“Go ahead. I can finish,” Nana said and waved her away. “But I’ll wait for you to cook. I’m not really certain what you’re trying to make here.”

“I’m not really certain myself, Nana.”

She wiped her hands on a towel before opening the door. Kara had traded her shorts for jeans and her T-shirt was tucked inside neatly. Ginny’s eyes traveled slowly upward, stopping only when blue eyes locked with hers. She drew a nervous breath as she stared at the taller woman.

Kara held up a bottle of wine. “I hated to come empty handed again.”

Ginny shook herself, finally stepping back.

“Thank you. Let me give it to Nana, then we can go to the park.”

Kara watched her, her eyes following her as she walked away.

Ginny was aware of Kara’s eyes burning into her and she had to force herself to keep walking. But when she was safely seated in Kara’s vehicle, she couldn’t seem to relax. She was aware of Kara’s nearness like never before and she refused to look at her as she drove. She closed her eyes for a moment. I’m not attracted to her! Not like that. When they parked, they sat for a few seconds, their eyes lighting everywhere except on each other. Finally, Ginny opened the door and Kara followed suit.

“The trail follows the stream,” Ginny said and they walked in silence, past the picnic table where they had shared lunch.

“Ginny?”

“What?”

“You’re awfully quiet. Is everything okay?” Kara asked.

“Yes, of course. I just wanted you to see the stream.” She managed a weak smile as Kara’s eyes peered into hers and she finally looked away, afraid. “I don’t know about the colors, though. Probably too dark in the woods,” she said, continuing.

They walked on, the shadows lengthening as they followed the small stream. Ginny seemed nervous and Kara wondered why. Was she afraid to be alone with her? No. Ginny was the one who had suggested the walk, not Kara.

Ginny tried to keep her breath even and steady as she walked, but this woman’s nearness wrecked havoc on her system. The walk had been a mistake, she realized now. She had simply wanted to spend time alone with her, without Nana. Time to talk. But they had been doing very little talking. Instead, their glances had collided time and again.

Kara’s hand on her arm stopped her and she looked up.

“In the spider web,” Kara said softly and motioned with her hand. A butterfly had been caught in the web and its legs were captured, but it continued to struggle to escape.

“Let’s save it,” Ginny said and reached for it. Kara stopped her.

“It’s probably dinner. And breakfast,” she said.

“But it’s too pretty to leave,” Ginny said, her eyes turning sad at the thought of the beautiful butterfly becoming dinner for a spider.

Kara agree and reached up to untangle the butterfly, trying not to disturb the web. The butterfly wrapped around Kara’s finger and she gently pulled the web free.

“Oh,” Ginny breathed. “Let me see.” She reached for Kara’s hand and brought it to her, the butterfly still clinging to Kara’s finger.

As they watched, it flew away into the trees without a second look to its rescuers. Kara lowered her hand, Ginny’s fingers still wrapped around it. They stood there for seconds, minutes before their hands finally drew apart.

Ginny was aware of her heart beating, pounding in her ears and she forced her eyes from Kara. Why did this woman affect her? This woman. Ever since Ginny had laid eyes on her, her mind and body had asked a thousand questions. Questions that she struggled to answer.

“Come on,” Kara said quietly and continued down the trail.

Ginny watched her, her feet still firmly planted. Kara looked completely at home in her jeans and hiking boots. Comfortable. Loose jeans that were snug on her backside, gently swaying as Kara walked and Ginny found she couldn’t pull her eyes away.

“Are you coming?” Kara called, breaking Ginny out of her self-induced trance. Well, not entirely self-induced. The woman in the jeans had something to do with it. Ginny finally moved, walking briskly to catch up and they continued along the path in silence, both fumbling with their thoughts, looking for something safe to say.

“Is it too dark here?” Ginny finally asked.

“It’s nice. Pretty.” She stopped where boulders had fallen and formed small rapids in the creek. “This would be nice at night, the moon overhead,” Kara said softly. “The trees would make perfect shadows on the water.”

Ginny wasn’t watching the water. She was watching Kara, watching as her chest rose and fell with each breath. She lowered her glance, settling on the soft swell of Kara’s breasts. She wore no bra. Her eyes found Kara’s nipples as they strained against her T-shirt and when she realized she was staring, she tore her eyes away, her lids slamming shut for a brief moment and she took a deep breath, savoring the smell of the forest and trying to come to her senses. What are you doing?

“I thought you might like it,” she finally managed to say.

“I do. It’s very beautiful,” Kara said quietly, but her eyes were fixed on Ginny, not the stream.

“Nana will be waiting for me to start dinner,” Ginny said, but she made no move to go, aware that Kara was watching her. She kept her eyes glued to the stream.

“Yes,” Kara murmured. “We should go. Thanks for showing me this. I can appreciate beautiful spots like this without having to paint them.”

Ginny looked up and let her eyes settle on Kara’s for a moment, then turned and led the way back.

CHAPTER TEN

Kara called Ginny at the store two days later. She had stayed away, hoping to give herself time to quell the budding attraction she felt between them. Attraction that she knew now was not one-sided. Ginny’s eyes were too expressive to hide that. But Kara would take it no farther. That was a line she would not cross. Instead, she would try to be a friend to Ginny. She knew that Ginny was having some issues with her relationship with Phil. Maybe she just needed a friend to talk through them. Kara could do that.

“I’m having an early dinner,” she said. “Want to join me?”

Ginny hesitated only a moment before agreeing. She realized she had missed Kara.

Kara fussed over the lasagna most of the afternoon, thankful there was some garlic bread in the freezer. She had not shopped with the intention of having a dinner guest when she’d left Seattle but her homemade lasagna was one of her favorites.

They sat on the porch while the bread heated, sipping wine and Ginny watched as Kara lit her cigarette.

“You don’t smoke much, do you?”

Kara laughed. “I’ve been in the process of quitting for several months now. Does it bother you?”

“No,” Ginny said. She wondered if it had bothered Marsha. “Do you date?” she asked suddenly. If Kara was surprised by the question, she didn’t show it.

“Some,” Kara said. “You?” Kara raised one eyebrow as she watched Ginny.

Ginny smiled and looked away. “No.”

“Still holding out for Phil?”

“Well, there aren’t a lot of eligible men out here in Chiwaukum,” she said.

“Oh.”

“Not that I’ve been looking,” Ginny added quickly. “I mean, technically, Phil and I are still an item,” she said.

“But?”

“But, like I said before, there should be more. You know?”

Kara nodded.

“He’s a wonderful man, and I should be thankful that he wants me, I guess.”

“But you’re looking for that maddening desire?” Kara asked with just a hint of teasing in her voice.

“Yes. You probably think I’m silly,” Ginny said.

“Not at all. Everyone should hope to find that,” Kara said.

“What about you? Are you still looking for it?”

“I guess we’re all looking,” Kara said and shrugged.

“Has there been anyone since Marsha?” Ginny asked.

“In my life or in my bed?” Kara asked with a grin.

“Both?”

“Well, I’ve dated, if that’s what you mean. And a few have stayed the night, but none that I wanted to start a relationship with.”

“Do you get lonely?” Ginny asked.

“Not really. I’ve always been a loner. I’ve never felt the need to surround myself with people, friends. That’s where Marsha and I differed. She always had a lot of friends.”

“And when you painted?”

“She left and went out with them,” Kara finished. “I didn’t mind, really.”

“Do you miss her?” Ginny asked gently.

Kara shrugged. “Sometimes. I’m not certain if I miss her or I just miss what we had.”

“Does it bother you to talk about her?”

“No. I’m past that. It has been a long time.”

“Were you still in love with her when she left?” Ginny asked.

Kara leaned forward and smiled. “You certainly are full of questions tonight,” she said.

“Were you?” she asked again.

Kara sat back and inhaled deeply on her cigarette, letting the smoke out slowly. “I guess I thought I was,” she finally said.

“Meaning?”

“Meaning I hadn’t realized that we had fallen out of love,” she said quietly. “It just happened and I never even knew.”

“You blame yourself?”

“I guess you were right. I got so involved with my work that I forgot about my relationship.”

“What about-”

“Enough!” Kara said and laughed. “Dinner, please,” she said.

Kara again lit a candle and placed it between them, then served them both heaping plates of lasagna with the garlic bread.

“My turn,” Kara said after she had filled their wineglasses.

“Hmmm?”

“Phil. What’s it like with him?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I know he wants to marry you and you’re hiding up here, trying to decide. But, what do you do with him?”

“In bed?” Ginny asked, shocked.

Kara laughed lightly. “Please. Spare me the details.” She grinned. “No, I mean, what do you do together? Where do you go?”

“Oh,” Ginny said, relieved. “Well, the usual things. Dinner, movies, out with friends. That sort of thing. Phil likes to cook, so we stayed in a lot, too.”

“Did you live together?” Kara asked.

“No. I was firm about that. I needed my space,” she said.

“Is he any good?” Kara asked and flashed a grin.

“Good?”

“In bed?” Kara asked easily.

Ginny blushed hotly. Why on earth were they having this conversation? “It’s okay. I mean . . . sure, the sex is . . . fine,” she stammered, feeling a sudden need to defend her relationship with Phil. The sex wasn’t great but she would never admit this to Kara.

“He’s surely not the only one you’ve slept with, is he?”

Ginny blushed again. “No, he’s not.”

“Good. I would hate to think that I’ve slept with more men then you have,” Kara grinned.

“That would be ironic, yes,” Ginny said and matched her grin. “There was only one other, though. I won’t count my high school sweetheart. He was only allowed to touch my breasts,” she said.

Kara leaned forward and raised her eyebrows mischievously. “Lucky him,” she said.

Ginny blushed yet again and had a hard time dragging her eyes away from Kara’s.

“What’s it like? With a woman, I mean,” Ginny asked shyly.

“You mean, what do we do?”

“No. I can imagine . . . I mean, I know what . . . you do, I guess, but . . . I don’t. What I mean is . . . oh, never mind,” she said, thoroughly embarrassed now. “Forget it.”

“No. What do you want to know?” Kara asked seriously.

Thoughts of Renee suddenly came to her and Ginny very nearly blurted out her story but she stopped herself. There was absolutely no need for Kara to know about Renee.

“Never mind,” she said again.

Kara stood and took her empty plate into the kitchen, but called over her shoulder. “It’s okay to ask, you know. It’s only natural to be curious about things you don’t understand.”

Ginny rested her head in her hands. Curious? Much too curious, she told herself.

Kara stood in the kitchen and watched Ginny as the candlelight flickered around her. She had been clearly surprised by her question. She wondered how she would have answered it.

Ginny nodded when Kara returned with the bottle of wine and she watched her pour, her eyes locking on long fingers that held her glass lightly. She had really nice hands, Ginny noted.

“That was a delicious meal, by the way,” she murmured, pushing her plate away.

“Thanks.” Kara searched for a safe topic, something to put them both at ease, but nothing came to her.

“I am curious about one thing,” Ginny finally said and the words were out before she could stop them. “What kind of women do you find attractive?”

Kara nearly choked on her wine. Darkness had settled and the candle flickered between them. Ginny met Kara’s gaze shyly but did not look away.

“Why?”

“I was just wondering,” Ginny said.

Kara let out a deep breath, knowing she was dangerously close to crossing that line. And telling herself that Ginny was straight was doing absolutely no good.

“Okay. You mean physical appearance or what?”

Ginny was aware of the sound of her heartbeat and her hand trembled as she set her wineglass down. But she asked anyway.

“If I were a lesbian, would you be attracted to me?” Ginny asked quietly.

Jesus. She actually expects me to answer that?

Kara twirled her wineglass nervously in her hand, desperately searching for a safe answer to the unexpected question that hung between them. She leaned forward slightly and rested her elbows on the table.

“You want me to honestly answer that question?”

Ginny was swallowed up by blue eyes and she knew she had crossed into dangerous territory, but yes, she wanted her to answer it honestly. And she realized she wanted the answer to be “yes”.

“I’m just wondering what kind of women you find attractive,” she murmured.

“You’re very . . . attractive,” Kara said softly as she took in every detail of Ginny’s face. “And if you were a lesbian, we wouldn’t be sitting at this table talking. We’d be in my bed, making love until dawn.”

Ginny’s breath caught in her throat and she swallowed with difficulty, knowing Kara could see how much her words had affected her. She forced her eyes away and took her wineglass, nearly spilling it as she brought it to her lips.

“But, since you’re not a lesbian, it doesn’t really matter, does it?”

Ginny shook her head but refused to meet Kara’s eyes.

She slept fitfully, images coming to her in the night, images of a woman, touching her, kissing her. Images of Kara as she laid beside her, her naked body warm to her touch, her naked body sliding over her own. And Ginny went to her willingly, her own hands seeking, her own mouth opening under Kara’s.

“God,” she whispered and she sat up, perspiration glistening on her body and she buried her face in her hands, embarrassed by her dreams. She brushed her damp hair away from her face and closed her eyes, pushing Kara away from her.

It wasn’t even yet five, but she got up, her feet carrying her numbly to the kitchen and she made coffee, then stood under the cool spray of the shower, washing away the last images of her dream.

“You were up early,” Nana accused later.

“Couldn’t sleep,” Ginny said and she looked away, afraid her eyes would reveal her thoughts.

“You need to get more exercise. Why don’t you walk with me in the mornings?”

Ginny laughed. “Someone’s got to open up the store.”

“Well, then, do it in the evenings. You ought to ask Kara. I’m sure she would walk with you,” Nana said.

Ginny nearly blushed and shook her head. “I would hate to disturb her work,” she managed to get out.

“Did you have fun last night?” Nana asked.

“Yes. We just had dinner and visited,” Ginny said carefully.

“She’s a nice girl, isn’t she?”

Ginny nodded. “Yes. She is.” Very nice.

“Did you get a chance to see any of her paintings?”

“No. I didn’t think to ask,” Ginny said.

“Well, what do you talk about, if not her work?”

Ginny stared at her, at a loss for words.

“Ask her sometime, will you?” Nana continued.

“I will,” Ginny promised. She bent to kiss her cheek. “Enjoy your walk. I’ll see you later.”

CHAPTER ELEVEN

Kara stayed away. For three days, she worked on her painting, finishing up the sunrise at the lake and continuing on the sunset she had shared with Ginny. Ginny. She had occupied her thoughts day and night, but Kara refused to call her. She refused to go by the store. She needed time away from her. Never in her life had another woman crowded in on her so, making her nearly crazy with wanting her. It had been so long since she had known this kind of desire.

“She’s straight,” she said again. Isn’t she? She lit a cigarette, her sixth, and slumped down in the lawn chair. Smoking and drinking, she had done much more of both since she had met Ginny, she thought, as she lifted the beer bottle to her lips. She tried not to picture the two of them together, as they had been in her dreams last night.

She shook her head slowly, absently knocking ashes from her cigarette. It wasn’t as if she were looking for someone. She had realized in the last three years that she didn’t really need anyone in her life. If she got lonely, if she got the urge for someone’s touch, there were always willing women in Seattle. Casual sex was much safer on the heart than going through all that silly courting anyway.

She had found a lake on the map that she wanted to look at, but she had been putting it off. She glanced at the sky, clear and blue. This evening would be a good time, she thought. Only, it was at the other end of town, past the general store, and she had not wanted to even be near there, for fear Ginny or Louise would be out front. Then she would feel compelled to stop and visit and she would be forced to look into Ginny’s green eyes and she would be lost all over again.

She stopped her thoughts. She couldn’t just keep avoiding her. She came out here to work. If there was a lake she wanted to go to, she would go. She was acting like a teenager with a crush, for God’s sake! With that, she stubbed out her cigarette and drained the last of her beer. She would go, take a look and if the colors were good, sketch another sunset and be on her way.

She drove quickly, with good intentions not to even glance at the store, but her eyes were drawn to it. She saw Ginny sitting on the porch and she cursed when Ginny lifted a hand in greeting and, without even thinking, Kara turned her Toyota into the drive and stopped beside her.

“What are you doing?” Kara asked through the opened window.

“Just sitting,” Ginny explained. “You?”

“There’s a lake, out on Mill Creek,” she said, motioning up the road.

“Potter’s Lake,” Ginny supplied.

“You’ve been there?”

“Many times.”

“Any good?”

“Quiet. Lot’s of trees,” Ginny said, her eyes on Kara. “The fishing’s not great.”

“Oh, darn,” Kara said with a smile.

They stared at each other and Ginny couldn’t pull her eyes away, even when she felt her pulse begin to pound nervously. Her eyes dropped briefly to Kara’s lips, remembering all that those lips had done to her in her dreams. She blushed crimson and found Kara’s eyes again, trying to read them.

The screen door opened and Ginny finally broke Kara’s hold on her.

“Why, Kara,” Nana said.

“Hello, Louise.”

“Going out sketching again?”

“Yes.”

“Why don’t you take Ginny? I think she’s feeling cooped up.”

Ginny looked from Nana to Kara and back again. “Oh, I couldn’t leave the store just yet,” she said.

“Nonsense,” Nana exclaimed.

Nonsense? Ginny rubbed her temples, trying to think of an excuse not to be alone with Kara.

“We’re not busy. You run along. I can lock up.”

Ginny looked up and met Kara’s amused eyes that just hinted at a challenge. “You don’t mind?” she asked weakly.

“Not at all,” Kara lied. Of course she minded. She didn’t want to be alone with her. But she said, “I’d love your company.”

Ginny crawled up in her Land Cruiser, resisting the urge to cling to the door, and she made herself relax. It was short-lived, however. Kara’s arm slipped along the back of the seat behind her as she turned to back up and Ginny could almost feel it caressing her shoulders. She shivered from the heat of it.

“How have you been?” Kara asked when they pulled away.

“Fine. You?”

“Okay.”

“Have you been working?” Ginny asked.

Kara glanced at her, aware of her nervousness. And of her own.

“Should I apologize for the other night?” Kara asked.

“For what?”

“For what I said.”

“Don’t be silly,” Ginny said with a lightness she wasn’t feeling. “I asked the question.”

There were no other cars at the lake and Ginny glanced at the sky, mindful of the approaching evening and how utterly alone they would be. She shouldn’t have come, she thought. She shouldn’t be out here alone with Kara. She felt confused and all mixed up inside whenever she was near Kara. Whenever she found Kara’s eyes on her.

She watched as Kara got out, sketch pad tucked under her arm, and she looked at her through the opened window.

“Coming?” Kara asked.

Ginny nodded and her eyes followed Kara as she walked away but she was still sitting there when Kara turned back around to glance at her questioningly.

“Coming,” Ginny said and she finally opened the door.

“Don’t be afraid of me,” Kara said as they walked. “I would never . . ..”

“I know you wouldn’t,” Ginny said sharply. “I’m not afraid.”

“Aren’t you?”

“Not of you, exactly,” Ginny said.

“Then what?”

“Nothing,” Ginny murmured. “Let’s don’t talk about it, please.”

Kara nodded. “Okay. We won’t talk.”

They walked along the path, Ginny following Kara as the trail narrowed toward the water. Kara looked overhead, trying to pretend that she was interested in the colors, but she wasn’t. Her mind wasn’t on sketching. She was thankful for the trees. They blocked out the setting sun and the lake reflected only the forest as it darkened with only a hint of the colors of sunset.

Kara knew she should simply tell Ginny that the colors were no good and that they should turn back. Go home, where it would be safe. Where she would not be tempted. But she didn’t. They were completely alone and her pulse raced at the thought. She wanted to be alone with her, she realized and she felt foolish. Ginny wanted nothing from her, she reminded herself.

They walked to the shore, the lake surface smooth as glass in the still evening. Ginny noticed that Kara made no move to take out her sketchpad, but Ginny made no mention of it. She wasn’t sure she could speak. She felt her heart pounding and she took in a deep breath of air, trying to still her racing pulse. What was she expecting? That Kara would sweep her into her arms and kiss her? That she would say she had been dreaming about her, too and she just had to see what it would be like to kiss her? Is that what she wanted? Did she want Kara to take her in her arms? God, of course not! She wanted no such thing!

Oh, she brought a trembling hand to her throat, feeling her pulse beat wildly and she knew that she had probably worked herself into a frenzy over nothing! Surely, Kara was having none of these same feelings. Surely, Kara was not the least bit attracted to her. Was she?

They stood there, the silence nearly deafening as they both looked out over the lake. When Ginny turned, Kara’s eyes were on her, and her own lifted and met her questioning stare. What was she thinking? What was she feeling? Kara tried to find the answers in her eyes but failed.

Ginny touched a hand to her chest, feeling the tightness, wishing her heart would slow to normal. She felt the pull between them and wondered if Kara felt it, too.

“Too many trees,” Kara finally managed.

Ginny nodded but her eyes never left Kara’s. She was quickly losing the battle with herself and she took a hesitant step toward Kara.

“Ginny?”

“Show me,” she whispered. “I need to know.” She saw Kara’s jaw clinch nervously and she wanted to put her hand there. “Please?”

Kara shook her head. “Ginny, don’t,” she warned. “You don’t know what you’re doing.”

Of course not but that didn’t stop her as she reached out and captured Kara’s warm hand. “I want to know,” she said softly. “Kiss me.”

Kara felt the last thread of sanity flee at those softly whispered words. Her eyes dropped to the lips that were so inviting. Yes, she knew she should stop this, she knew she should walk away. But she couldn’t deny herself the pleasure.

Ginny felt Kara pull her towards her and she went willingly. When Kara’s hand touched her face to guide her, she closed her eyes and waited for Kara’s lips to touch hers.

“Ginny,” Kara whispered again and Ginny felt Kara’s breath, warm on her face. She turned towards it and when their lips met, it was not slow and gentle. It was hurried and hungry and Ginny’s mouth opened under hers and she whimpered softly when their tongues touched briefly for the first time.

Kara pulled her in close, dropping her sketch pad to the ground and fitting Ginny’s body with hers, feeling Ginny’s breasts press against her own and she lost what little resolve she had. Her hands slid to Ginny’s hips and she cupped her roundness, pulling Ginny flush against her as Ginny’s trembling hands moved over her shoulders and around her neck.

“Yes,” Ginny breathed against Kara’s lips and her tongue explored Kara’s warm mouth, pushing past her lips. Soft lips, not a man’s lips. She was on fire.

It was magic. Their kisses were hot, wet and Ginny felt unfamiliar desire pool between her legs and she moaned softly against Kara’s lips. Kara started to pull away, but Ginny followed, refusing to release her, all thought gone except these insane feelings that this woman created in her. Kara’s lips softened and now they moved with exquisite gentleness over her own and Ginny felt her legs threaten to collapse as Kara cupped her face between her hands and touched her lips again and again.

“Ginny,” Kara whispered when she finally drew back. “Why?”

“You know why,” she accused. Ginny lowered her head and buried it against Kara’s chest, her breath coming fast between her parted lips. “I just . . . had to know,” she whispered.

Kara tipped her chin up and looked deep into her eyes. “And now you think you know what it’s like to kiss a woman?”

“Yes,” came the whispered answer.

“And are you curious, too, as to how it would feel if I touched your breasts?”

Ginny took in a deep breath, afraid to answer as Kara’s hands slid dangerously close to her breasts.

“Do you want to know?” Kara whispered and she bent again to take Ginny’s mouth, which opened instantly to her tongue. Her hands stopped, the tops just brushing the swell under Ginny’s breasts.

“I’m so afraid of what I’m feeling,” Ginny whispered, although her body begged for Kara’s touch and she pressed closer, feeling her nipples harden at the thought of Kara’s hands on them. In the early twilight, her eyes sought Kara’s, trying desperately to make some sense of her feelings.

Kara’s hands trembled. It would be so easy, she knew. One more kiss, one touch. But she heard the fear in Ginny’s voice, could see the uncertainty in her eyes.

“You should be afraid,” Kara said finally and pushed Ginny away, nearly causing her to stumble. She stepped back, her hands brushing her hair from her eyes. Jesus. What are you thinking? What are you doing?

“I’m so sorry,” Ginny whispered, her own hands trembling as they wrapped around herself. “I never should have asked.”

Kara turned her back to Ginny, needing time. “Why are you sorry? It’s not like I didn’t want to kiss you.”

“I don’t know what to say, Kara. I’m sorry . . ..”

“Please stop saying that. I’m the one who . . ..”

“No.” Ginny swallowed with difficulty. “I’ve been thinking about you,” she admitted. “Thinking things I shouldn’t.” She took a deep breath and turned away. “I can’t stop . . . I mean . . . you’re thinking I’m just curious, aren’t you?” she asked.

“I don’t know. Are you?”

Ginny touched Kara’s arm and turned her around to face her. “Maybe. I’ve never really thought about being with a woman before,” she said. Her mind refused to bring up Renee. “Until I met you.”

Kara laughed and shoved her hands inside her pockets to stop herself from reaching out to her. “Well, if you’re thinking of experimenting, you’ll have to look elsewhere. I’m not really into that.” She jerked up her sketchpad and began walking back along the trail and Ginny followed, running after her.

“Kara, wait. I need to talk about this.”

“Well, I don’t,” Kara snapped. Stupid, stupid fool, she cursed herself.

“You don’t understand,” Ginny said, trying to keep up with Kara’s long strides.

“No, I suppose I don’t,” she said.

“Goddamn it, will you stop,” Ginny shouted.

Kara stopped and turned around, her eyes angry. “What?”

“I know what you’re thinking,” Ginny said.

Kara laughed without humor. “Oh, I seriously doubt it.”

Ginny stared at her, her thoughts gone suddenly as she saw the desire still shimmering in Kara’s eyes. It scared her more than she thought possible.

“Don’t play with me,” Kara warned softly.

“I’m not,” Ginny said. “I’m sorry.”

“Because you don’t know what you’re doing,” Kara continued, her voice now gentle. “I want you. But then, I guess you already know that.”

Ginny nodded weakly and she was frightened by the look in Kara’s eyes. But more than that, she was frightened by what her own might reveal.

CHAPTER TWELVE

Ginny slept naked for the first time in years, her body yearning for someone’s touch. Kara’s touch. She laid still, her arms firmly at her sides while her mind raced, memories of Kara’s lips still fresh. She closed her eyes, her body on fire. Before she realized it, her hands moved to her breasts, touching her erect nipples lightly, feeling her stomach churn with desire. Her breath came quickly as she pictured Kara’s hands on her, touching just under her breasts. “Are you curious, too, as to how it would feel if I touched your breasts?” God, yes. And she knew, didn’t she? Her hand moved lower, across her belly and she touched her soft hair, imaging Kara’s hand there. Her legs parted and she touched herself, moaning softly at the wetness she found. Her hips moved on the bed, reaching out to her hand, to Kara’s hand and her pulse pounded in her temples as she stroked herself, bringing herself closer to orgasm.

“No,” she cried and pulled her hand away. She would not. “What am I doing?” God, it was Kara she wanted.

She rolled over onto her stomach, her body still trembling and wanting. Kara. She wanted Kara. The truth of her thoughts scared her to death. She wanted a woman. She wanted Kara. And she was scared.

She overslept. Nana was knocking impatiently on her door, asking if she was all right and Ginny forced herself out of her dream, her wonderful dream and she turned, eyes trying to focus on the door that opened slowly.

“Ginny?” Nana’s voice was concerned.

“I’m sorry. What time is it?” she asked, her voice husky with sleep and desire.

“Nearly seven. Do you want me to open up?”

Ginny very nearly sat up, then she remembered her nakedness and slumped down again under the covers. “Would you mind? I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

“Are you sick?”

“No. I had trouble falling asleep is all,” she said.

“You’ve been doing that a lot lately,” Nana said.

“I’m fine, Nana.”

Nana watched her for a moment longer, then smiled and told her to hurry. Ginny waited until the door closed before she stood and wrapped her robe around her, her breasts, her body, still aching for Kara’s touch. She shoved at her hair, tucking it behind her ears and rubbed her face, trying to wake up. Her body felt like lead and she tried to hurry through her shower, but she stood for endless moments under the warm spray, reliving the night before, remembering Kara’s hot mouth on hers. Remembering how seeking her own had been. And how natural it felt.

“God, I’m losing my mind,” she murmured. Maybe she needed to call Phil. Maybe she just needed to be with him. It had been a long time, too long really. It wasn’t normal to go without sex this long. That’s all it was, surely, she thought. Why else would she be having these insane thoughts about another woman?

At the store, she stood listlessly behind the counter, pen poised over the inventory list, her eyes staring past it. Without conscious thought, she saw Kara, saw the two of them embracing; breasts touching, hips pressing together, lips seeking, tongues dueling.

“Ginny?”

“What?”

“You’ve been working on that list for the last hour.” Nana walked over and glanced over her shoulder. “You’re still on the first page!”

“Sorry. I can’t seem to concentrate,” she murmured.

“Want me to do it?”

“No, Nana. I’m sorry,” she said. “I’ll do it.”

“They close at five,” she reminded her.

“I know.”

Nana left her and Ginny forced her eyes to the page, marking down the items they needed to order. She shut her eyes several times, trying to block out images of Kara as they came to her and she firmly put them from her mind, instead she forced herself to recall Phil and pictured herself kissing him, wanting him. But it was not Phil that had her body trembling with want.

Later, when the bell jingled over the door, she glanced up, afraid it would be Kara, but two women walked in. Ginny watched them and smiled slightly when they met her eyes. Were they lovers?

God, now she was thinking that every woman she met was a lesbian! Why would that even enter her mind? It never had before. But she stared at them, seeing the familiar glances they shared and knew instantly that they were lovers.

Suddenly, Kara swam before her eyes; Kara’s mouth as she bent to Ginny; Kara’s tongue as it pushed into her mouth, tasting every inch of her. Kara’s hands, as they rested just under her breasts. And Ginny had wanted her to touch them. She wanted it now. She could feel her nipples harden at the thought and she longed for Kara’s touch. Her stomach turned as she saw Kara’s hands move over her breasts, cupping them, bringing them into her waiting mouth. Ginny was aware of the ache between her legs and she knew she wanted Kara’s hands there, too. Oh, God . . .I want a woman.

“Ginny?”

“Hmmm?” Her mind tried to focus, but all she saw was Kara.

“Ginny!” Nana said again and touched her arm.

“I’m sorry. What?”

“You’re a thousand miles away. These women are interested in fishing and I told them how you and your grandfather used to go all the time. Tell them how to find one of the lakes.”

Ginny looked up and saw the women watching her and she blushed, fearing her thoughts were exposed.

“Are you familiar with the area?” she managed.

“We’re camping out on Mill Creek, but the fishing’s not very good there,” one said.

“No. It never has been.” Ginny smiled. “There’s a local fishing spot, but if someone asks how you found it, don’t you dare mention my name.” She told them how to get to Battle Canyon Creek and the hidden lake, the one that Kara had sketched.

“Ginny, I’m worried about you,” Nana said. “Why don’t you go home early?”

“You opened. I can’t very well let you close, as well.”

“Don’t be silly. Jessica is here. Why don’t you call in the order, then go home. Get some sleep.”

Ginny nodded, knowing full well that if she left the store, she wouldn’t go to sleep. How could she sleep? Her traitorous body was threatening her, making demands that she could not, would not satisfy!

Oh, this insanity has got to stop! I’m not a lesbian, she told herself over and over again. I’m not attracted to women. I’m not attracted to . . . Kara. She shut her eyes to the imagines of last night and turned away from Nana quickly.

“Ginny? Are you all right?” Nana asked.

“Fine,” she managed.

“Something’s wrong. My God, you’re as white as a sheet,” Nana fussed. “Are you getting sick?”

“I’m . . . I just feel a little dizzy,” she said and it was the truth.

“Will you please go home? I can do the order, Ginny.” Nana reached up and felt her forehead, checking for fever and Ginny was surprised that Nana wasn’t burned, considering how hot her body felt. “I don’t think you have a fever,” Nana said.

Oh, yes, I have a fever, all right! Ginny nearly laughed hysterically and she covered her mouth with her hand. I’m losing my mind!

But she went home, leaving the store to Nana. She stripped off her clothes and took a cold shower, then crawled into bed, her skin still damp and she closed her eyes, only then allowing Kara to intrude into her thoughts.

What is happening to me? How can that woman affect me so? Why now? She groaned and rolled her head into the pillow. It was her own fault, she knew. Kara would never have kissed her if Ginny hadn’t practically begged her to. And why had she begged? Good Lord, had she been insane?

“I’m not a lesbian,” she whispered. Of course not. There was Phil. She liked being with Phil. She liked sex with him. She rolled her eyes and sighed. Who was she kidding? It had never been great with Phil. In fact, it had never . . . stop! “I just haven’t met the right man,” she murmured. “That’s all.”

I won’t see Kara again, she vowed. Not unless she comes into the store. Then she would have to be civil to her. But that was all. She would not allow Nana to invite her to dinner ever again. She would not go out sketching with her ever again. And eventually, the guilt and shame that she was feeling over that one indiscretion would fade and she would be normal again. She should be thankful that it had stopped with just a kiss. She laughed bitterly. Just a kiss? That was hardly just a kiss! Hadn’t their bodies pressed together? Hadn’t her body been screaming for Kara’s touch upon her breasts?

Maybe she would call Phil. Maybe she would invite him to come visit. Sex. Maybe that was all she needed.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Kara sat on the porch, smoking, like she had been doing most of the day. She could not paint. She could not do much of anything. She had gone on a long walk that morning, trying to dispel Ginny from her thoughts. Little good it had done. She had been with her all day and she acknowledged the desire that still licked at her lower regions.

She vowed she would not see Ginny again. At least, not alone. Last night, she had come so close to losing herself in Ginny’s soft mouth. She had wanted to touch her. She had wanted to pull her to the forest floor and make love to her. Only Ginny’s frightened eyes had stopped her from taking what she wanted.

And of course, Ginny had no idea how close she had been. Kara wanted her with a passion that surprised even her. Ginny’s body had been soft, yielding and responsive. Ginny’s body had begged to be touched and she probably didn’t even know it herself. Only the look in her eyes had stopped Kara.

And then she was angry. Angry that Ginny had been afraid. Angry for wanting her. Angry that Ginny had made her want her.

“Jesus. Is she straight or what?”

Yes. Of course she was. She had merely been curious. Experimenting, maybe. Sex wasn’t great with Phil, or so she had hinted. Maybe she was just trying to find out how it would feel if she kissed a woman.

Well, Kara didn’t want any part of it. She was too damn old to get mixed up in this kind of game. She didn’t need it. She needed to work. She would go out sketching, every morning and every evening, until she had enough ideas to put to canvas and she would get the hell out of here and go back to Seattle.

Where it was safe, she added.

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

“You’re looking better today,” Nana said over breakfast.

“You skipped your walk,” Ginny accused. “I could have fended for myself.”

“I wanted to make sure you were okay. You missed dinner.”

Ginny hadn’t left her room the night before. She had slept some. A troubled sleep, but still, she had slept. She had heard Nana moving about in the house, had heard her making dinner, but she didn’t want to join her. She didn’t want to have to answer any questions. So she had stayed in bed, pretending to be asleep. She was hiding from Nana, but she couldn’t hide from her thoughts. Or her dreams.

But she was better this morning. She didn’t get all flushed when she thought about Kara’s kiss, at least. Well, not much anyway. She closed her eyes. I won’t think about it today. I won’t.

They rode to the store together and Ginny stayed busy, doing paper work and trying desperately to occupy her mind. It worked. She was surprised when she glanced at the clock and it was already after twelve.

“Aren’t you going for lunch?” Nana asked.

“I think I’ll just eat it here,” she said.

“You’ve been working nonstop. You should get away,” Nana said.

Ginny rubbed her head, thinking that if Nana even had a clue as to what was going on inside her, she would not want her to be alone with her thoughts for even one minute.

“No. I don’t really feel like going to the park today,” she said.

Nana shrugged. “I’ll make you a sandwich, then.”

Ginny opened her mouth to stop her. She wasn’t hungry. But she let Nana walk away. She would force down the sandwich and save herself having to answer to Nana.

“Oh, there’s Kara,” Nana said.

Ginny’s heart fluttered in her chest and her palms grew damp as she raised her eyes to the door.

“Well, she didn’t stop,” Nana said. “I guess she was out sketching.”

Ginny let out a sigh of relief and briefly thanked the heavens for sparing her. She didn’t think she could face Kara. Not yet. And especially not in front of Nana.

“I really like her, Ginny,” Nana said when she brought their sandwiches. “Maybe we need to fix her up.”

“Fix her up?”

“With a man,” Nana explained.

Ginny covered her mouth and suppressed the laughter that threatened to surface. Fix her up with a man?

“Maybe Phil knows some nice man that would be perfect for her.” Nana smiled sadly. “She’s already thirty-four. She can’t wait around for ever.”

“Nana, I don’t think Kara would appreciate you-”

“Oh, I know she said she wasn’t looking, that she didn’t need anyone, but I don’t believe that for a minute. She’s so attractive. If she would wear a little makeup and grow her hair out, she would have men lining up to ask her out.”

Ginny bit into her sandwich to save from answering. It was no use. Nana would never be convinced that a woman could be happy without a man in her life. Of course, Ginny could always tell Nana the truth, that Kara preferred to be with women.

“Oh, well. I guess it’s really none of my business,” Nana said. “She’ll be going back to Seattle soon, anyway.”

“Yes, she will,” Ginny murmured. The sooner, the better, she thought.

Nana fixed her eyes on Ginny. “Why haven’t you called Phil?”

“I . . . just haven’t.”

“Ginny, don’t make the man wait forever. He may lose patience and then what? Maybe he’ll meet someone else and then who will you have?”

“Nana, please don’t start,” Ginny pleaded.

“Do I need to call him myself?”

“Don’t you dare!”

Nana stared at her for a moment longer. “Well, I declare. Women nowadays. I’ll never understand you.”

Ginny rubbed her temples, trying to ward off the headache that threatened. She wanted to scream out in frustration. Her nerves were on edge and she counted to ten before speaking.

“Nana, we’ve been over this time and again. When I’m ready, I’ll call him,” she said quietly. “Now, please. I don’t want to talk about it.”

“I’m only concerned-”

“I know you are,” she said gently. “And I love you for it.”

The bell jingled and a customer came in, a stranger, and Nana got up to help them and Ginny closed her eyes in relief. It was one thing to be worried over these feelings she had for Kara, but at least that she could do silently. Nana’s constant concern over her and Phil’s relationship was slowly wearing her down until she was certain that she was going to snap at her.

“Oh, Ginny. If you happen to talk to Kara, ask her about Sunday,” Nana called.

“Sunday?”

“You haven’t forgotten? Settler’s Day is Sunday,” Nana reminded her.

Settler’s Day in the park. Ginny had forgotten. The town got together each year to celebrate its founding with food and drink and music. For a mere five dollars a person, all the burgers and fries you could eat and a glass of keg beer would run you only a buck.

“Nana, I don’t think Kara would enjoy it. I mean, it’s burgers,” she said.

“Oh, pooh. There’s plenty of other stuff to eat,” Nana said, dismissing her lame excuse with a wave of her hand. “She doesn’t know a soul here, Ginny. It would be rude if we didn’t invite her.”

“But still . . ..”

“Ginny? Why in the world wouldn’t you want to invite her? There’ll be tons of tourists there. At least, we hope so,” she added. “The more people, the more money.”

Ginny smiled and nodded. “Okay. If I talk to her, I’ll mention it,” she conceded. But, of course, she had no intention of talking to her. Kara would never know about Settler’s Day from her.

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

What is it they say about the best-laid plans? Ginny couldn’t remember, only her plan for Settler’s Day had been shot out the window. She had not seen or spoken to Kara and she assumed that she could spend Sunday in the park without looking over her shoulder, worrying about where Kara was. But no.

“She said she would love to come,” Nana said. “And I can’t believe you didn’t call her.”

“I forgot,” Ginny lied.

“Well, she said she has been busy. That’s why she hasn’t been by. Imagine my surprise to find her on the trail,” Nana said and she rambled on about meeting Kara at the lake and how she gotten to watch her sketch but Ginny only pretended to listen. It had been five days since she had seen her. Five days since she had kissed her.

Oh, Lord! Not that again. She could almost get through the day now without vividly remembering her kiss, without her traitorous body still responding. Now she would have to see her. She would have to speak to her. Knowing Nana, she would insist that Kara sit and eat with them, too.

“She asked about you, by the way,” Nana said.

Ginny jerked her head up. “What did you say?”

“Well, I told her that you had been sick that one day, but you were feeling better now,” Nana said and Ginny closed her eyes and groaned silently. “We need to have her over for dinner again, too. She’s much too thin,” Nana said.

Ginny opened her mouth to speak, to tell Nana that, no, she didn’t want Kara over for dinner, but Nana had turned back to the cake that she was frosting. Ginny rubbed her temples and sighed. She could get through it. Just one day. Kara wouldn’t bring up the kiss, Ginny knew. If she had wanted to press the issue, she would have come to the store at some point during the last five days.

And just what had Kara been thinking, anyway? Why had she stayed away? Well, Ginny knew why. Kara thought Ginny had been playing with her. Kara thought Ginny had just been curious. And she had, she told herself. That was all! But she hadn’t been playing with her, toying with her. Ginny would never do that. She was not a tease. She had simply been . . . what? Attracted? No, she didn’t like that word. She was not attracted to Kara, she stubbornly insisted. She had simply been experimenting. Yes, that was a much safer word!

After much worrying over what to wear, Nana was finally ready to go. Ginny had simply shoved a T-shirt inside her shorts and found her cleanest pair of athletic shoes.

“At my age, shorts are a bit casual,” Nana complained.

“Good Lord, Nana. It’s a picnic. Don’t wear a dress.”

“I’d hate for people to talk,” she said, but she eyed the pair of shorts that Ginny had laid on her bed.

“Everyone will have shorts on. Now quit worrying,” Ginny said. “And wear your walking shoes, too.”

“Oh, Ginny, are you sure?”

Ginny had rolled her eyes to the ceiling and nodded. Nana was always concerned with what other people thought.

They loaded the two cakes and the bowl of potato salad that they had volunteered to make into Nana’s car and Ginny drove through town, now crowded with cars, and made their way to the park.

“Looks like a lot of people in town today,” Nana said. “Maybe we’ll have a good crowd this year.”

“Well, the weather is gorgeous,” Ginny said. And it was. Clear, blue skies beckoned and not even a hint of a breeze. Perfect summer weather.

“I hope Kara can find us,” Nana said.

I hope she doesn’t, Ginny thought. Oh, but that was cruel. She liked Kara, she really did. If it wasn’t for . . . well, if it wasn’t for what had happened between them, she thought that they could be good friends. That they were friends. But Ginny had ruined that with her . . . experiment.

The park was beginning to fill and they left the car in the shade of a giant spruce. Ginny balanced the two cakes while Nana carried the pie. Nana called out to friends as they passed and she actually blushed when Mr. Arnold complimented her outfit.

“See, I told you people would notice,” Nana said quietly.

“It was a compliment,” Ginny said with a laugh. “Besides, he had on shorts.”

“Well, that’s different,” Nana said.

Ginny laughed. “Oh, yes. He’s a man. He can be comfortable.”

“Ginny!”

“Oh, Nana. You look great. Quit worrying.”

But Ginny was the one worrying. She looked around, fearing that Kara would be there, waiting. The men were already heating the assorted grills, getting ready for burgers and a small crowd had gathered by the kegs of beer, but there was no sign of Kara. She breathed a sigh of relief, thankful she had been spared for at least a little longer.

Nana mingled with her friends and Ginny walked off, avoiding the children that ran and played in the park. A temporary stage had been set up and the band was already there, tuning their guitars, getting ready for later. Vendors had set up their goods in booths along the street and Ginny thought it looked more like a flea market than a picnic, but still, it brought money into the town.

Ginny turned around and made her way back to where she had left Nana and her heart jumped into her throat. Kara was there, talking with Nana, laughing at something Nana had said and Ginny stopped and stared. They hadn’t seen her, Kara hadn’t seen her, and she let her eyes travel over Kara slowly, and as she did, each moment that she had stood in Kara’s arms came back to her with vivid clarity. She could still imagine her mouth on her, still taste her, still feel her tongue as it slid over her own.

She groaned and slammed her eyes shut, willing her thoughts away. She opened them again and made herself move. Nana looked up and waved and Ginny forced a smile to her lips as she walked up.

“Look who I found,” Nana said.

There was a moment of awkward silence between them as their eyes collided, then Kara smiled and turned back to Nana.

“I didn’t realize this was such a big deal,” she said.

“Well, I don’t know if it’s the burgers or the dollar beer that draws them,” Nana said.

“Or maybe the cake you were mentioning,” Kara said. She looked up at Ginny then. “How have you been?” she asked.

Ginny swallowed nervously and nodded. “Okay.”

Kara nodded, too.

“Have you been working?” Ginny asked.

“Yes. A lot,” she said. “I’ve been out every morning and evening. The sunrises have been beautiful.”

“I was telling Kara that she should take you out some morning for the sunrise. You’ve seen her sketch in the evening, but the lake she did this morning was just beautiful,” Nana said.

Ginny’s eyes widened and she glanced at Kara, but her eyes revealed nothing, only slight amusement at Nana’s words.

“Well, you know me . . . I’m not exactly a morning person,” Ginny said.

“Oh, pooh. You should do it once. She’s very good,” Nana said.

Ginny nodded, knowing perfectly well how good she was and she wasn’t thinking about sketching. She swallowed again, feeling Kara’s eyes on her but when she looked up, Kara was looking at Nana. Ginny was thankful. She didn’t want to have to look at her. She couldn’t. Not when she still felt . . . something. Attracted, her body screamed, but she ignored that. No, not attracted to her. Just . . . something.

But Kara was being kind, wasn’t she? There was no hint in her words or actions that there had ever been even the slightest indiscretion on Ginny’s part. Ginny frowned. Had she spent the last five days worrying over nothing? Had their kiss affected Kara so little that she had not even given it a second thought? No. Ginny remembered that night all too well. She remembered the look in Kara’s eyes. She remembered her words. “I want you.”

“Ginny?”

“Hmmm?” Ginny murmured, glancing at Nana.

“I said you should take Kara to get a beer. And bring me an iced tea, please. I’m going to help the ladies cut the cakes.” Nana left them standing there and Ginny looked nervously at Kara.

“You want one?” she asked.

“Yes, please.”

They walked off silently, leaving ample space between them and Ginny cursed her nervousness. What did she think? That Kara would sweep her into her arms and continue what they had started that night? Lord, she felt her pulse pounding in her throat and it was wrecking havoc on her senses. She was having a hard time breathing and she opened her mouth slightly, gulping in fresh air.

Kara shoved her hands in her shorts and stared ahead, not daring to look at Ginny. She could tell Ginny was uncomfortable. Hell, she was uncomfortable, herself. They should talk. They should have talked before today, she realized.

“Ginny?”

“What?”

“If I said I’m sorry-”

“Why should you be sorry?” Ginny asked. “I’m the one who should apologize. I’m the one who started it,” she said quietly. “And I’m sorry.”

“Okay.”

Ginny turned and dared to look into her eyes. “Kara, I never meant . . . I wasn’t playing with you. I wouldn’t do that.”

Kara nodded and Ginny pulled her eyes away.

“I wasn’t going to come today, but Louise insisted,” Kara explained. “I know you’d be more comfortable if I weren’t here.”

“I’m . . . okay,” Ginny said. “I’ve practically forgotten about it, actually,” she lied.

“Good. Me, too,” Kara said easily.

Ginny bit her lower lip. So, it had meant nothing to Kara, after all. She probably did that sort of thing all the time. Straight women, just like herself, were probably always . . . experimenting with Kara. Oh, Jesus, stop it! You want her to forget it, don’t you?

“Let me buy you a beer,” Ginny said and she dug into her pockets for money. “Hi, Matt. Two, please,” she said.

“How you doing, Ginny?” he asked.

“Fine. How’s Jean?”

“Oh, she’s ready to drop any minute,” he said. “Her ankles are swollen so she didn’t make it.”

“This will be number four?” Ginny asked.

“Yes. We’ll keep trying until we have a boy,” he said as he handed them the beer.

“Thanks, Matt. Tell Jean I said hello.”

“Will do.”

They walked off and Ginny rolled her eyes. “Four. Can you imagine?”

“No. Let’s hope it’s a boy, for Jean’s sake,” Kara said and she winked at Ginny and smiled.

“Really,” Ginny agreed, trying to ignore the fluttering in her stomach.

They found Nana and gave her the iced tea she had requested, then she waved them away.

“Ginny, show Kara some of the booths. They usually have art, although I doubt it’s in the same class as hers,” Nana said.

Kara laughed. “Louise, I’m hardly famous.”

“Nonsense,” she said. “You’ve been in a magazine. That’s famous.” She went back to her cake. “Don’t linger, though,” she called. “I’ll save us a table.”

Ginny chuckled and led Kara away, shaking her head. Nana was a handful!

“She’s something else,” Kara said.

“Yes. And she thinks the world of you, by the way,” Ginny said.

Kara raised her eyebrows and smiled. “I take it, she hasn’t actually read the article?”

“No. She knows nothing about your . . . personal life,” Ginny said.

“Good.”

“She would never understand,” Ginny added.

“I know.”

They walked along the booths, pausing occasionally to pick up some of the crafts that were displayed. There were a few paintings and Kara studied them while Ginny studied her. It was safer to look when Kara wasn’t aware, Ginny thought. And she did look. Try as she may, she could not stop her eyes from moving over her body, up her tan legs, past her shorts and coming to a sudden halt at the familiar tank top tucked inside. It was painfully obvious to her that Kara wore no bra and her eyes refused to move away from her breasts. Her breath caught and she swallowed with difficulty, finally raising her eyes, then blushing crimson when Kara caught her staring.

Kara held Ginny’s eyes captive for several embarrassing seconds, then, with an arch of one eyebrow, she released her.

Ginny breathed again and she dared not look at Kara. What is wrong with you?

She felt totally out of control and her hands were trembling as she brought her beer cup to her lips. God, she was looking at a woman’s breast! Had she lost her mind?

“I think I need another beer,” Kara said.

“Me, too,” Ginny murmured. She was hot and she knew it had nothing to do with the summer day!

They found Nana sitting at a table, two seats saved for them and Kara waited politely for Ginny to slide along the bench seat first.

“What do you think?” Nana asked Kara.

“I like it. It’s fun,” she said.

Ginny was all too aware of the woman sitting next to her to participate in the conversation. Her skin burned where Kara’s leg brushed her thigh and she couldn’t stop her pulse from racing through her veins. She tried to think of Phil, she tried to recall how it was to kiss him, to make love with him, but nothing would come to her. The memory of Kara’s kiss pushed Phil from her mind and Ginny felt herself grow warm as she recalled standing by the lake, moving into Kara’s arms, her mouth opening to Kara, her own tongue pushing wildly into Kara’s mouth.

“Oh,” she groaned softly and she closed her eyes tight.

“Ginny?”

“Hmmm?”

“Are you okay?” Nana asked.

Ginny looked across the table at Nana and felt herself blush hotly. “I’m fine,” she said. “Just a little hot,” she murmured.

“It is quite warm today. I’m so glad I wore shorts,” Nana said.

Ginny tried to listen as Nana told Kara about their morning but her mind was on the leg that pressed gently against her own. Good Lord, I can’t stand it! What was Kara doing to her? Did she not have any idea of the effect she was having on Ginny? Ginny sighed, savoring the feeling of Kara’s bare leg pressed against her own. She refused to wonder why she didn’t move away from that warm touch.

Ginny was so thankful when the food was ready, she stood behind Kara and Nana in line, listening to Nana ramble on, meeting Kara’s amused eyes occasionally. How could Kara act like nothing had happened between them? How could she be so unaffected by it all?

Because she’s a lesbian. She’s used to kissing other women! Ginny slammed her eyes shut. Well, she was not a lesbian and she was not used to kissing other women and it was driving her absolutely crazy! God, her skin crawled just being near Kara and she just wanted the day to be over and for Kara to go away again and leave her in peace.

“Ginny?”

“What?”

“Are you okay?” Kara whispered.

“No, I’m not,” she admitted. Her eyes flew to Kara’s and she wished she had not looked. She couldn’t pull away and she felt her chest heave as she tried to catch her breath. “I can’t be around you like this,” she whispered.

She saw a brief flash of understanding cross Kara’s eyes before she nodded. “I know. I’m sorry,” Kara said softly. “It’s my fault. I shouldn’t have come.”

“No. It’s . . ..”

“Ginny, look, there’s Mr. and Mrs. Dower. You remember them?” Nana called to the Dower’s but they didn’t hear her. “Oh, I’ll have to look them up later. You were just a teenager the last time they saw you,” Nana said.

“I remember them,” Ginny said absently, her eyes still locked with Kara’s.

They took their plates back to the table, Kara’s loaded high with nothing but fries and two pieces of cake, and Ginny was again forced to endure sitting close to Kara.

“Oh, the band’s good this year, Ginny,” Nana said.

“Yes.” Although she had hardly been listening. She ate in silence, her mind far away from the conversation between Kara and Nana.

Kara gathered up their plates when they had all finished eating and went for more beer and Ginny looked up and smiled at Nana.

“Having a good time?” she asked.

“Wonderful,” Nana said. “But are you?”

“Of course.”

“You’ve been awfully quiet,” Nana said. “Are you not feeling well?”

“I feel fine,” Ginny said. Why, oh why must Nana always notice?

“Do you think Kara’s having a good time?”

Ginny nodded. “I think so.” Was she? It was hard to tell. Kara, too, had been quiet.

“Here you go,” Kara said, balancing two cups of beer and an iced tead in her hands. Ginny reached out to help her and when their hands touched, she trembled from the electricity between them, spilling beer on the table.

“God, I’m sorry,” she murmured, mopping up the spill with her napkin.

“It’s okay.”

She couldn’t stand it. Not another minute. They had to talk. This was slowly driving her insane, this . . . attraction, yes, okay, attraction, that she had for Kara. And she could not stand it a second longer. She needed to . . . what? Talk? Yes, she needed to talk to her about it. She was so confused inside. Her traitorous body screamed for release but her mind refused to listen to it. This couldn’t be happening to her. She was not a lesbian!

Ginny leaned toward Kara, speaking softly so that Nana would not hear. “We need to talk.” When Kara looked at her, she added, “I need to talk.”

“Okay,” Kara agreed. “Why don’t we take a drive?”

Ginny nodded and turned to Nana. “We’re going to walk around a bit, Nana. You’ll be okay here?”

“Of course. You run along.”

They walked towards Kara’s Land Cruiser without speaking and Ginny wondered what in the world she would say to Kara. She only wished for one thing; that her heart wouldn’t pound so whenever Kara was near.

Kara opened the door for Ginny and she crawled inside, remembering the last time she had been in Kara’s truck. They had been driving back, after The Kiss. They had not spoken. Not one word. Kara had stopped in front of the house and Ginny had nearly run from the truck then.

“Where to?” Kara asked.

“It doesn’t matter,” Ginny said.

Kara drove slowly down the deserted streets and she reached into the console, fishing out her crumpled pack of cigarettes. She shoved one into her mouth, then glanced at Ginny.

“You don’t mind, do you?”

“Of course not,” she said.

Kara inhaled deeply, letting the smoke settle in her lungs, calming her. So, Ginny wanted to talk. Great. Just what she wanted to do. Talk about how she had kissed her and screwed up her life.

“Why don’t we go to my house?” Ginny said. “We can sit and talk, then.”

Kara hesitated. The last thing they needed was to be alone in Ginny’s house. But she nodded anyway.

Ginny walked quickly ahead of Kara, suddenly nervous at being alone with her. Maybe they should have kept driving and talked in the truck. She wrapped her arms around herself and turned to Kara as soon as the door was closed.

“I can’t stop thinking about it,” she said quickly. “What’s happening to me?”

“Ginny, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have ever . . ..”

“I . . . begged you to,” Ginny reminded her. “And now, I can’t stop thinking about it.” She turned away from Kara, unable to look at her. “I’ve never thought about a woman before, not like this.” She remembered Renee. No, it had never been like this with Renee. She would not have allowed it. But maybe, if she’d continued to see her, it might have evolved into a sexual attraction. Who was she kidding? It was a sexual attraction. She just couldn’t admit it at the time.

“Ginny, I don’t know what you want me to say.”

Ginny met blue eyes filled with regret and she shook her head slowly. It wasn’t Kara’s fault.

“There was a woman once,” Ginny said quietly. “I was just out of college. She was my boss. At the time, I thought it was just friendship. We spent a lot of time together but I wouldn’t allow my feelings to grow into something else. She wanted more but I couldn’t . . . I didn’t know. I met Phil shortly after that.”

Kara caught her breath. This, she was not expecting.

“But I’m not a lesbian,” she whispered. “I’m . . . just not. I don’t want these feelings.”

“Okay. You’re not,” Kara said, trying to say the words that she thought Ginny wanted to hear. “Maybe you’re just questioning your love for Phil and this was . . . something to try.”

“Is that what you think?” Ginny asked. It could be true. She wanted it to be true. Kara moved closer and stood in front of her. “Ginny, it was just a kiss. I didn’t touch you,” she said. “We weren’t even close to . . . anything.”

“Weren’t we?” Ginny whispered. She felt as if she were in a dream. Her eyes clouded and all she could see were the two of them, as they had been that night. She remembered Kara’s hands resting just under her breasts. She remembered how her body had begged for Kara’s hands to move, how it had begged for Kara to touch her breasts. She remembered how she had imagined Kara’s mouth on them, how she had imagined Kara’s hands . . . on her, her fingers inside her. She raised her eyes to Kara’s and she felt the rise and fall of her chest as she tried to keep pace with her uneven breathing. She didn’t understand the burning need that was consuming her body, moving through her with each uneven breath, settling at the pit of her stomach and demanding relief.

“Ginny . . . please don’t look at me that way,” Kara whispered.

Ginny swallowed down the lump in her throat but her eyes refused to leave Kara’s. “This is madness, what I’m feeling,” Ginny murmured. Her tongue came out and wet her lips and Kara’s eyes followed. Ginny moaned low in her throat from the look in Kara’s eyes and she took a step towards her.

“Kiss me again,” she begged. “Show me that there’s nothing here, Kara. Show me that I just imagined it all.”

Kara shook her head, no, but Ginny’s hands were already touching her, already moving up her arms to her neck. “Kara, please,” she whispered as she was drawn to Kara’s warm body.

Kara couldn’t have refused even if Louise had chosen that moment to walk in on them. Her hands went quickly to Ginny’s face and she cupped her, pulling Ginny’s mouth to hers. Ginny’s lips were parted and wet and Kara devoured them hungrily, her resolve having vanished with the brush of Ginny’s tongue against her own.

Ginny’s hands gripped hard at Kara’s shoulders and she was certain that she was going to pass out from the intensity of it all. Blood pounded in her ears and she couldn’t breathe. Then Kara’s mouth turned gentle and she could breathe again and she wanted to breathe Kara in. Her hands moved over Kara’s back and she pressed her body close, her hips moving instinctively against Kara.

“Dear God, Kara,” she whispered, when she was finally able to pull away, finally able to take her lips from Kara’s. Barely.

“I’m sorry,” Kara murmured and she tried to pull back but Ginny held her.

“Don’t stop,” Ginny pleaded and her mouth went back for more. One more kiss, one more touch of her tongue.

“Ginny, no,” Kara said. She held Ginny at arms length. “What are we doing?” she whispered.

Ginny stood there, her breathing rapid as she looked at Kara. “I know I shouldn’t feel this way, but I do.” She reached out and took one of Kara’s hands and brought it to her breasts without thinking. “Oh, Jesus,” she murmured. “Oh my God.” Her eyes slid shut as she felt Kara’s hand close over her breast, when she felt Kara’s thumb caress her erect nipple.

Kara’s mind screamed for her to stop but her body wouldn’t listen. Both hands now cupped Ginny’s breasts and her mouth found a throbbing vein in the soft neck that was exposed.

Ginny pressed closer, desire crowding out all other thoughts. Her dreams didn’t do justice to the pleasure that Kara brought to her. It was through a deep fog that she felt her shirt being pulled from her shorts, felt warm hands touch her hot skin. She didn’t stop the hands that moved over her flesh, hands that impatiently shoved her bra away.

Kara had to have her mouth there. She had lost all sense of propriety. She no longer cared if what they were doing was wrong or not.

“Oh, Kara, yes,” Ginny breathed when she felt a wet tongue rake across her nipple. She pulled Kara closer, gasping when Kara’s hot mouth closed over her, gently sucking at her nipple, driving her insane with desire. Her eyes slammed shut as she held Kara to her breast. Her legs parted instinctively and pressed down hard on Kara’s thigh.

It was only then, when desire shot through her, right to her center, making her press harder against Kara, that she realized how far they had gone, had quickly she had lost control. It was only then that fear replaced desire.

“No,” she whispered. “No, Kara.”

Kara immediately pulled away, her eyes clouded with desire.

“Oh, Jesus, I’m sorry, Ginny,” she said quickly, moving away from Ginny, away from temptation. She ran both hands through her short hair and groaned softly. “I didn’t mean to go that far.”

“I’m sorry, too,” Ginny whispered before tears closed up her throat. She could say no more.

“Please don’t do this,” Kara begged. “Please don’t cry. This is all my fault. I let it go too far.”

Ginny shook her head but still, no words would come. She sat down heavily on the sofa and pulled her T-shirt down. Her hands were shaking and she covered her face with them.

“Please, Ginny,” Kara pleaded.

Ginny finally lifted her tear-stained face to Kara and she was shocked by the genuine regret she found there.

“I think I just want you to go now, Kara.” At the anguish that crossed Kara’s face, Ginny reached out a hand and captured Kara’s fingers. “I just need to be alone and sort this all out. I’m not angry with you. I can’t be angry with you when I’m the one that wanted this.”

“I wanted it, too,” Kara whispered.

“I know. That’s what scares me so.”

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

Ginny laid in bed for a long time, waiting on sleep to come. She draped one arm across her eyes, wanting to hide from the humiliation she felt. What Kara must think of her. She was a tease, she admitted. Nothing but a damn tease. But it wasn’t intentional, she thought. It wasn’t. She had simply lost control. In Kara’s presence, she seemed to do that a lot.

Had Kara’s mouth really been at her breast or had she imagined it? Yes, and her nipples hardened now at the thought of it. For a moment, she had simply lost herself in Kara’s touch. For a moment, she had just let go and let her feelings have full reign.

But she had come to her senses, thank God, and Kara had stopped when she asked her to. What was it that she wanted from Kara? What did she need from her?

“I want to make love with her,” Ginny whispered. “I do. I want all of her.”

She turned her head into the pillow, willing these feelings to go away. She didn’t want to want Kara. She didn’t want to have these feelings for a woman.

But she did. She couldn’t deny them any longer. It was driving her insane. Tomorrow, she would go to her. She would go to Kara and beg her to make love to her if she had to. Kara had wanted her tonight, Ginny knew that. She could feel that, see that in her eyes. Maybe Kara could give her the release that her body craved.

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

Ginny stood nervously beside her car, her eyes wide. Her legs were shaking and she wasn’t sure she could even walk to the cabin. She swallowed, her hand reaching back to the car. Maybe she should just leave. Maybe this was a mistake. Why was she in such a hurry to disrupt her life? To change everything? And it would. She could never go back to the life she had.

But she wasn’t happy with her life. Was she? Hadn’t she been searching all these years? Searching for what, she hadn’t known. Not until she met Kara, anyway. Now she knew. I want her.

She walked to the door, her hand trembling as she knocked lightly. She heard footsteps then Kara was there, holding the door open.

Their eyes collided and her breath caught in her chest. Kara stood barefoot before her, an old paint-stained T-shirt hanging out over faded blue shorts.

“Ginny . . . what are you doing here?” she asked softly.

“I had to come. You knew I would,” she accused. They stared, neither making an attempt to move. “May I come in?” she finally asked.

Kara stepped back, letting Ginny pass and she shut the door behind her.

“I’ve been thinking . . . thinking about us,” Ginny said quietly. She turned around and gasped. Hot desire burned in Kara’s eyes.

“You shouldn’t have come,” Kara said.

“I want you,” Ginny said simply.

“No. I can’t do this,” Kara said. “I won’t stop the next time.”

“I don’t want you to stop,” Ginny whispered.

“Ginny, listen to what you’re saying.”

“Please . . . you’re not going to make me beg, are you?”

“You don’t know what you’re doing,” Kara said.

“No, you’re right. I don’t. And I’m scared to death.”

Kara laughed nervously. “Then why?”

“I want you, Kara. I want to make love with you,” she said quietly and she watched as Kara nervously swallowed.

“I don’t want you to hate me, Ginny . . . and you will.”

. “No, I won’t. You want me, too. I can see that in your eyes,” Ginny whispered.

Kara moved to her and took her hands. “Yes, I want you. I just don’t want to hurt you.” And I don’t want you to hurt me, she added silently.

“I want you to be the one, Kara. I want you to show me.” Ginny’s hands gripped Kara’s tightly. “Please?”

Kara left her protest unspoken. Ginny’s eyes were begging and Kara ignored the warning bells in her head and she lowered her mouth and captured Ginny’s lips, lips that opened under hers. She felt Ginny’s hands tremble as they clutched her arms and Kara pulled her mouth away.

“Don’t be scared,” Kara begged.

“I am. I’m scared to death. I don’t know what to do,” she said. “How to touch you.”

“I’ll show you,” Kara said softly. Her hands cupped Ginny’s face and her kiss was soft, gentle. But when Ginny’s tongue came out to meet hers, Kara’s mouth turned hungry and she moaned against Ginny’s mouth, taking her tongue inside.

Their breath came fast and they pulled away, both their chests heaving with their desire. Ginny reached up and touched Kara’s clinched jaw, soothing her.

“You’re scared, too,” Ginny said with awe.

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“I don’t want this to be a mistake,” Kara whispered.

“It would be a mistake to ignore this attraction.”

Kara took Ginny’s hand and led her into the bedroom. The afternoon sun was gone, leaving the room in shadows. Ginny stood still, but her hands shook uncontrollably in Kara’s. She had never been more nervous in all her life.

Kara knew this was probably a mistake but she couldn’t stop it. Not this time. She wanted what was about to happen. Her hands went to Ginny’s waist and she tugged her shirt from her shorts.

Ginny’s breath poured from her as Kara pulled the shirt over her head. Ginny raised her eyes to Kara’s as Kara unsnapped her bra and Ginny let it fall to the floor. She stood and watched as Kara’s face softened and she saw that Kara’s hands were trembling, too, as they reached out to touch her. But her hands stopped, just a breath away and Ginny saw Kara squeeze her eyes shut tightly.

“Kara?”

“Oh, God, I . . . I just want you so much,” she murmured. She needed to go slow, despite the ache in her. She finally cupped Ginny’s full breasts with gentle hands.

Ginny murmured a sigh and closed her eyes, her body melting under Kara’s soft caress. She gasped when Kara’s warm mouth covered her erect peak, taking the nipple inside and Ginny’s hands went to Kara’s face and she held her there, her head bent back, eyes closed tightly. So different from Phil, she thought crazily. Oh, and it felt so good. As she knew it would. Her legs would not support her a minute longer and she collapsed on the bed, weak from Kara’s mouth.

“Ginny?” Kara asked with uncertainty.

“Come to me,” Ginny said softly. “Please?”

Kara’s breath caught at her soft plea and she moved and stood by the bed, pulling Ginny’s face into her. She wanted her so badly, she had to force herself to go slow. She didn’t want to scare Ginny but she wanted her more than she could ever remember wanting before.

Ginny was calm as she reached out and slipped her hands under Kara’s shirt, moving to her warm waist, touching her bare skin for the first time. Her composure vanished, however, when Kara took her hands and moved them to her breasts.

“Touch me,” Kara commanded softly.

Ginny’s fingers touched her hard nipples, then closed over her breasts, each fitting easily in her hands. So soft, she thought. So unlike a man. She groaned, wanting to touch them with her mouth and she shoved Kara’s shirt up, pulling Kara into her waiting mouth.

“Oh, Ginny,” Kara whispered and she pulled the shirt over her head quickly, standing silently before her as Ginny’s mouth moved to her other breast. Ginny’s hands went to her shorts and fumbled with the button.

“Take these off, please,” Ginny begged. She wanted to touch her bare skin. She wanted to see her naked. Kara let her shorts fall to the floor and Ginny held her breath, overcome with desire for this woman. She was so thin, but her small breasts were full, erect and Ginny reached out, but Kara captured her hand.

“Now, you,” she said and reached for Ginny’s waistband, unbuttoning her shorts with ease and pulling them down Ginny’s hips.

Ginny laid still, feeling her heart pounding and fearing she would surely pass out when Kara finally came to her. But her arms welcomed Kara, moving over her shoulders and pulling her close as Kara laid her naked body on top of Ginny, molding herself to Ginny.

“Oh . . ..” Ginny shut her eyes, guiding Kara’s mouth to hers. It was slow. Slower than she could ever have imagined and her hands caressed Kara’s warm back, savoring each kiss, each brush of their tongues. Then their slow exploration turned hungry as lips claimed the other and Ginny moaned as Kara’s tongue went inside her mouth, exploring with warm wetness.

When Kara slid lower, Ginny’s hands guided her to her breasts and she groaned softly when Kara sucked hungrily on her. Her legs opened instinctively and Kara settled between them, pressing into her and Ginny rose up to meet her, aching to be touched by her. She trembled when Kara’s hand moved over her waist and her breath caught when Kara’s fingers ran through her soft triangle of hair, so close to her desire.

“Yes,” she breathed. “Please. I need you to touch me,” Ginny begged. She had dreamed of this moment all her life and she couldn’t suppress the cry that tore from her lips when Kara’s fingers slid into her wetness.

Kara wanted to take her. She wanted her fingers deep inside. Ginny was so wet to her touch, she could hardly make herself slow down. She wanted to shove Ginny’s legs apart and bury her face in her wetness and she groaned against Ginny’s breast, making her fingers slow even when Ginny’s hips moved frantically beneath her.

“Kara,” Ginny murmured. “Oh, God . . . Kara.” It was heavenly, this woman’s soft touch upon her.

Kara was lost, hearing her name uttered so beautifully from Ginny’s lips and she pulled her fingers away. Ginny whimpered but Kara moved to her mouth and silenced her, kissing her hard.

“I’m sorry. I can’t wait,” Kara murmured. “I want you too much.”

She slid down her body, her hands urging Ginny’s legs apart.

“What . . . what are you doing?” Ginny whispered.

“Shhh.”

Ginny saw her intention and she gasped, clutching at Kara’s shoulders even as her warm mouth left wet kisses in its wake.

Kara moved down and quickly covered Ginny with her mouth, her groan mingling with Ginny’s as she tasted her.

“Oh . . . God.” Ginny’s hips pressed against Kara’s face and she thought she would surely die from pleasure. Her vision swam and she shut her eyes as Kara’s tongue moved over her. Sweet Jesus, she thought. No one had ever loved her this way. Phil had never even tried. Is this how women make love? She didn’t think she could stand another second and when Kara’s tongue plunged deep inside her, she cried out, her hands clasping Kara’s head to her hard. Yes, oh yes. Her body trembled from deep within and Kara’s mouth tugged at her, her tongue stroking her fast and Ginny exploded in a burst of color, her eyes blinded by the intensity of her orgasm. She screamed, her mouth open wide and her hips rocked with Kara. She felt her body draining, as if Kara were sucking the life from her limbs and she finally collapsed, her arms dropping limply to her sides as tears streamed from her eyes.

She tried to roll over, embarrassed, but her body wouldn’t move and she laid there, sobs wracking her shoulders.

“Ginny? God, did I hurt you?” Kara moved beside her and took her in her arms.

Ginny clutched her, squeezing her eyes shut. She buried her head in Kara’s shoulder, unable to stop her tears.

“What is it?”

“Never . . . no one’s ever . . . I’ve never . . ..” She gave up and Kara held her, her hands gently soothing her, caressing her hair.

“Oh, God,” Ginny mumbled. “I didn’t think it was possible,” she said.

“What?”

“How you made me feel,” she said softly. “No one’s . . ..”

“No one’s made love to you that way before?” Kara asked gently.

Ginny shook her head, embarrassed.

“Then I’m glad I’m the first,” Kara said.

Ginny kissed Kara softly, tasting herself on Kara’s lips. “Show me how to touch you,” she said.

“Do I need to show you?”

“I want you to feel what I did,” Ginny said.

“You know I will.”

Ginny watched her, meeting her eyes, seeing them cloud with desire. And she remembered what Kara had told her once. That women knew how to touch women. She wanted to give Kara pleasure like she had never wanted before.

Her hands were confident as they moved to Kara’s breasts. “Lay back,” she said. Her mouth moved over Kara’s face, touching her lips lightly, nipping at her neck before finding her breast. She took the swollen nipple into her mouth and she felt Kara shudder in her arms. And, Lord, how wonderful it felt to have this woman’s breast in her mouth. Yes, she wanted to give this woman pleasure. Her hands and mouth moved as if she’d done this hundreds of times before. She felt Kara’s body respond to her and she pressed her weight into Kara, her hips meeting Kara’s in a rhythm as old as time. Her body knew what to do, even if she didn’t and her hand moved between them, needing to touch Kara, needing to feel her warmth.

She moaned softly when Kara took her hand and placed it between her thighs. Kara’s wetness enveloped her and Ginny’s fingers moved into her, sliding wetly over her, into her.

“Yes,” Kara murmured quietly. “Like that.”

And she was so wet, Ginny’s hand was dripping with her and she matched Kara’s rhythm, her hand moving with the motion of Kara’s hips. The scent of her drifted to Ginny and she knew she wanted her mouth on her. She wanted to taste her. She had to taste her. She wanted to feel Kara moving under her mouth.

“I want you,” Ginny whispered. “I want all of you.”

With a desire so strong she couldn’t control it, her mouth quickly replaced her fingers and she groaned loudly as she tasted Kara’s sweetness for the first time. She thought foolishly that she didn’t know what she was doing, that she couldn’t possibly be giving Kara pleasure, but Kara’s hands urged her on, pressing her face back to her.

“Yes, please. Don’t stop,” Kara whispered.

Ginny’s tongue moved over her, around her, and Kara’s soft sighs washed over her. Ginny buried her face again into her wetness, sucking her into her mouth, hearing Kara cry out softly and her own pleasure surged through her, threatening to explode again. Her tongue stroked her quickly and she felt Kara’s hips still as she rose off the bed and then Kara clutched Ginny’s head with her hands and arched into her.

“Ginny!” The word was torn from her mouth and Kara cried out.

Ginny felt Kara throb against her tongue and she gasped as her own orgasm came swiftly over her again.

Kara gathered Ginny to her, kissing her face, her eyes, her lips. “You’re a beautiful lover, Ginny,” she whispered. “So beautiful.”

Ginny felt on the verge of tears again. In all the years with Phil, he had never once said those words to her. She couldn’t speak now and she snuggled close to Kara, feeling her lips move over her face.

“I wanted you so much,” Ginny said. “Like that. I’ve wanted you since that first kiss,” she admitted to Kara and to herself.

“I know.”

“I had an orgasm and you weren’t even touching me,” Ginny confessed.

“I know,” Kara said again, softly.

“Is it always like that? With women?”

Kara smiled. When was the last time she’d felt this way?

Ginny leaned up on her elbow, gazing into Kara’s eyes. “Is it?”

“It might be for you.”

“Is it for you?” Ginny asked.

“No,” Kara admitted. “It’s not often like this for me.”

Ginny lay back down, satisfied. She took Kara’s hand and held it as she snuggled against her, against her warmth. “I don’t reach an orgasm very often.”

“With Phil?” Kara asked gently.

“No. Not very often,” she admitted. “Seldom, actually.”

“Maybe . . ..”

“No. I wouldn’t want him that way,” Ginny said. “I wouldn’t want him to do that,” she whispered. And she knew that she would never let Phil love her that way. It could only be Kara.

Kara knew they should talk, but her hands wouldn’t still. Desire flamed again and she wondered if she would ever tire of touching her. She captured Ginny’s breast with her mouth and felt Ginny’s hands move through her hair, holding her, murmuring soft words as Kara sucked hungrily at her breast. Was she responsive like this with Phil? Did he not know what he had? No. Men seldom did.

Ginny’s body flamed under Kara’s touch and she wanted Kara’s mouth on her again, but her orgasm shook her so suddenly when Kara’s fingers slid over her, she clutched Kara’s hand between her thighs, refusing to let it go.

This give and take was so new to Ginny, and her confidence grew with each touch. She knew instinctively how to touch Kara and her hands moved over her, into her wetness and she watched Kara’s face as she cried out her name again, her body pulsing against her fingers. She pulled away, wanting her mouth there again and she moved between Kara’s legs, her tongue reaching out to her.

“Ginny . . ..” Kara said softly.

“I just want to . . . feel you again . . . with my mouth,” Ginny murmured against her.

Kara drew in a deep breath, her body numb and she laid back, letting Ginny move over her. When Ginny’s arms wrapped around her hips, pushing Kara’s legs even farther apart, she felt her body respond again. Ginny moved with such slowness, such gentleness over her, as if all she wanted was to taste her, to drink her fill.

Ginny felt Kara respond, felt Kara’s body move against her mouth and she sighed, loving the way she could make Kara want her. Her tongue teased her, moving around Kara’s desire until Kara whimpered softly.

“You’re driving me crazy,” Kara breathed. “I can’t stand it.”

Ginny lifted her head and smiled. “I didn’t think you’d be ready . . ..”

“I am,” Kara whispered.

Ginny’s smile vanished, her desire for this woman overtaking her and she groaned softly when her mouth settled over her again. She couldn’t get enough of her and she inhaled deeply, savoring her scent, holding Kara’s legs apart as her tongue plunged inside of her, then out to tease her swollen nub.

“Yes . . . oh, please . . . Ginny . . . hurry,” Kara whispered and Ginny did.

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

Kara felt Ginny move away, taking her warmth with her, and she opened her eyes, finding Ginny sitting on the side of the bed, the sheet wrapped loosely around her hips.

“What is it?” Kara asked.

“I’ve got to go,” Ginny said.

Kara reached out and touched her back, moving lightly across her silken skin. “What time is it?” She didn’t even remember falling asleep.

“After two,” Ginny said.

“Are you all right?” Kara asked softly.

Ginny smiled in the darkness. She was exhausted. Her body was numb and she was certain that she wouldn’t be able to walk. But all right? She didn’t know. She felt almost as if she were in a dream. Almost. She turned around and took Kara’s hand, bringing it to her lips, tasting the remnants of her desire still clinging to Kara’s fingers.

“I’m fine, really,” she murmured. “But I’ve got to go. Nana will be worried.”

Kara knelt behind her, brushing her hair off of her neck and putting her lips there. Ginny sighed, surprised that her body still had the energy to respond. She turned and found Kara’s lips, swollen like her own after their night of lovemaking.

“We need to talk,” Kara stated gently.

“Yes, I know.” Ginny smiled slightly and touched Kara’s face, feeling her jaw clinch. “Last night was . . ..”

“Incredible,” Kara finished for her.

“Yes. Yes, it was. But I need some time . . . to think,” Ginny said softly. She felt Kara withdraw, felt her body tense and she brushed at Kara’s hair gently, letting her fingertips run down her smooth cheek to her swollen lips. “I’ve got to go,” she said again.

Kara nodded. “Okay.”

“Kara . . . it’s never been like this for me,” she confessed. “I’m so scared.”

“I know. But please don’t hate me. No matter what happens, please don’t hate me.”

“No. I don’t. I couldn’t.”

Ginny reached for her clothes and she felt Kara’s eyes on her. Her body responded just knowing that Kara was looking at her and she wanted to crawl back in bed with Kara and make love all over again. But she dressed slowly, not daring to look at Kara. She needed some time to sort out her feelings.

*************

“I got up at midnight and you still weren’t home,” Nana said as they had coffee. “I was beginning to worry.”

“I’m sorry. Time just got away,” Ginny said weakly. She knew she looked a sight. She could hardly meet her own eyes in the mirror. Her lips were swollen and red and she was certain that Nana would be able to tell exactly what she had been doing last night.

“Well, you look like you’ve hardly slept a wink. And as tired as you’ve been lately,” Nana fussed.

And she was exhausted. More tired than she could ever remember being. Her thoughts felt jumbled. Should she feel ashamed? Should she be thinking of Phil? All she could see was Kara, Kara’s beautiful body under her hands, under her mouth. Kara crying out when Ginny’s tongue touched her. Ginny crossed her legs and looked away. She wanted her. After spending hours loving her last night, she still wanted her. She could spend hours more in her arms.

“Ginny?”

“Hmmm?”

“Are you worried about Phil?” Nana asked.

“Phil?”

“Well, he hasn’t called in awhile and you just haven’t been yourself lately. Why don’t you give him a call,” Nana said gently. “It wouldn’t hurt for you to make the next move, you know.”

Oh, Nana, if you only knew, she thought. She sighed wearily. “No, he hasn’t called in a couple of weeks.”

“More like four,” Nana said.

“I don’t want to call him, Nana,” Ginny said firmly.

“This playing hard to get will only last so long,” Nana said.

Ginny laughed. “I’m not playing hard to get. I’m just not ready to see him,” she said.

“Have you talked to Kara about him?”

“Yes. We’ve talked,” Ginny said, and it wasn’t a lie. Kara knew all about Phil.

“What does she think?”

Ginny was nearly overcome with a case of nervous laughter and she covered her mouth with her hand. God, what was she supposed to say to that? That Kara thinks that a man has no idea how to touch a woman? And it was true, of course.

“She thinks I don’t love Phil,” Ginny said.

“Well, she’s probably not the best one to ask. After all, she’s never been married,” Nana said.

Not to a man, no.

At lunch, Ginny walked to the park, eating her sandwich without tasting it, her mind jumping between Kara and Phil. She had spent four years with Phil, going on five now if she counted the separation. Only one night with Kara. And there was no doubt in her mind that she had found what she had been looking for. That burning desire. That magic. And she had found it in another woman’s arms. In Kara’s arms. And she was still frightened.

Now what? Was she a . . . lesbian? Would she feel that way in any woman’s arms? She didn’t think so. It wasn’t as if she was attracted to every woman she saw. Only Renee before this. But was that the truth? After Renee, she had refused to form any close friendships with women. She knew now, that self-consciously, she was running, hiding. She had just never entertained the idea of being with a woman sexually. It hadn’t been a possibility before. She just assumed that what she had with Phil was all there was and that it would have to be enough.

But again, the question nagged at her. Was it Kara or was it women? She thought back to the first time she had met Kara, that day in the store. Hadn’t she felt something even then? Hadn’t her breath caught when she looked into Kara’s blue eyes? Yes. And the more she was with her, the more she thought about her, about being touched by her.

She threw her sandwich away and walked along the trail, remembering last night. She had been afraid. She hadn’t known what to do. But in Kara’s arms, she knew. She knew how to touch her, knew what made Kara’s body respond. She just knew. Like Kara had known.

She leaned against a tree, her eyes closed to the sun and she remembered Kara’s mouth on her, her tongue sliding through her wetness, bringing her to orgasm. Her breath caught, feeling the now familiar desire surge through her. Desire for Kara, a woman.

Why hadn’t Phil ever loved her that way? He had never even tried and she hadn’t known that she wanted him to. Would it have been the same with him? No. But if he had, would she then have been satisfied? No. Phil just didn’t make her feel the way that Kara did. And she had never wanted to pleasure Phil the way that she did Kara.

She waited for the shame to strike her, but it didn’t. She had been nervous, so nervous. Even now, she still had a hard time believing that she had spent the night making love with a woman, making love to a woman. But she had. And it had felt so right. Maybe that’s what frightened her now. It had felt right to be with Kara. And it was okay. She had survived.

She pushed off the tree, heading back. She was ready for the day to be over. She wanted to see Kara again. And she wasn’t frightened in the least.

***********

“I’m going to Kara’s,” Ginny said. “Don’t wait dinner.”

“Again? Isn’t she working?”

“I don’t know.” Had she been able to work? “I might be late,” Ginny called.

“Well, I won’t worry if you are. You’ll get something to eat?”

Ginny felt a blush creep along her face as Nana watched her. Something to eat? They wouldn’t bother with food, no. Each other’s body was all the nourishment they needed tonight.

Ginny found Kara on the porch and their eyes held. Ginny saw relief in Kara’s eyes and she smiled slightly. She took Kara’s hand and led her inside without a word.

They stood staring, their eyes seeking. Then they flew together, arms wrapping around the other, lips searching and touching, tongues dancing in greeting. Ginny reached up and pulled Kara’s shirt over her head, again finding no bra. Her hands went to her, cupping her swollen breasts, taking a nipple into her mouth.

Kara groaned, her own hands reaching out to Ginny, lifting her shirt, touching her warm skin.

Ginny drew back and stripped off her shirt, watching Kara’s eyes darken when she dropped her bra to the floor. Ginny took her hand and led her into the bedroom, not bothering with the covers. She drew Kara to the bed, her hands shoving between Kara’s legs, cupping her through her shorts. She wanted her. She couldn’t control this wild hunger she had. She had ached with it all day. She wanted her now and her fingers were frantic as they shoved inside her shorts. Her tongue pushed against Kara’s and she moaned when she felt her flesh, hot and wet to her touch.

Kara laid back, sensing Ginny’s need for her. She unbuttoned her shorts, giving Ginny room and her legs parted for her, ready for her.

Ginny plunged inside of her, deep and hard and Kara surged up to meet her, her hips undulating against Ginny’s fingers. Ginny pulled out, sliding through her wetness, moving over her like silk and she stroked her, faster, until she felt Kara still against her hand and cry out, her legs wrapping tight against Ginny’s fingers.

Ginny felt perspiration on her brow and she closed her eyes, shocked by her need for this woman. She had never been aggressive in bed before. Phil wouldn’t have allowed it. But with Kara, she felt free to express herself, express her desire.

“I wanted you,” Ginny whispered.

Kara pulled Ginny into her arms and held her, her lips brushing lightly across her damp forehead.

“You’re a very fast learner,” Kara murmured. “Sure you haven’t done this before?”

“Only in my dreams.” Ginny rested her head on Kara’s breast while the other made lazy circles across her stomach. “I couldn’t stop thinking of you today.”

“That makes two of us,” Kara said.

“I wasn’t sure if you still wanted me,” Ginny admitted.

“Why would you think that?”

“I didn’t know if last night was just . . . if all you wanted . . ..”

“Just one night?” Kara supplied.

Ginny nodded.

“I haven’t wanted like this in a very long time, Ginny. You scare me, too. This is new for you. You don’t know what you want, you don’t know what’s out there.”

“And you do?” Ginny whispered.

“I know I want you, yes. But you . . ..”

“I want you, too. It doesn’t matter what’s out there, Kara.”

Kara watched her, wanting to believe her. But Ginny didn’t know how it could be. She had no one to compare Kara with. And what did she want? A summer affair? No. She was too old for that. And her feelings for Ginny went beyond an affair. She was falling in love with her and her eyes widened, shocked by her own admission.

“What are you thinking?”

“Nothing,” Kara murmured. “Let me love you,” she whispered and she silenced Ginny with her mouth, swallowing her questions.

Ginny’s questions died as thought was lost under Kara’s insistent mouth. With gentle hands, Kara shoved Ginny’s shorts down, her hands moving lightly over her body. Kara shrugged her own shorts off and lay naked on top of Ginny, pressing her into the bed, warming her body with her own. Ginny held her, brushing her hands through Kara’s short hair, guiding her mouth to her breast.

Kara covered her full breast, her tongue raking lightly across the taut nipple. Ginny moaned in her ear and Kara closed her eyes, loving the sounds of pleasure coming from Ginny.

Kara drew back and smiled. “Tell me what you want,” she whispered.

“Kara . . ..”

“Tell me and I’ll do it. Anything.”

Ginny’s hips pressed up, her desire boiling over. “I want your mouth . . . your tongue . . . where only you have been.” She was so wet and she parted her legs, wrapping them around Kara’s thigh, pressing her wetness to her.

Kara kissed her, her tongue brushing lightly across her lips, then she gasped as Ginny sucked her tongue inside her mouth. Her thigh pushed harder against Ginny’s wetness, meeting the thrusts of Ginny’s hips.

“Please . . . your mouth,” Ginny murmured against Kara’s lips. “I want your mouth to take me.” She was so near orgasm already but all she wanted was Kara’s hot mouth on her, where she had been remembering it all day. Her hips slowed and she urged Kara downward, pushing lightly on her shoulders.

Kara felt the urgency in Ginny’s hands, saw the look of pleasure on her face as Kara slid lower along her body. Her hands pushed Ginny’s legs apart and her mouth found her, wet and wanting. Ginny pressed up and met her, opening wider and her breath hissed between her teeth.

“Kara . . . Kara.” God, yes. This was what she wanted, what only this woman had ever given her.

Her whispered name was like a drug and Kara nearly devoured her in her desire to please her. Her tongue moved through her wetness, surrounding her. Her mouth opened and she covered Ginny completely, sucking her hungrily into her mouth.

“Dear Lord,” Ginny breathed and she clutched at Kara, her heels digging into the bed.

Kara’s shoulders pushed into Ginny, driving her legs apart, pushing her farther up the bed with the force of her desire.

“Oh, God!” Ginny screamed. “Kara . . ..” Ginny’s heart pounded in her ears and Kara’s mouth sucked her in, not letting her go and Ginny was filled with such sweet pleasure. Her body throbbed against Kara’s face and she felt as if she were drowning, sinking into blackness, trying to catch her breath. “Yes, yes . . . God, yes,” she breathed, feeling her orgasm build, threatening to swallow her, to end this sweet torture. It came to her slowly, climbing, driving her mad and she pulsed in Kara’s mouth, spasms shaking her. Kara’s mouth held her, continuing her assault on her as wave after wave rammed into Ginny, causing her to cry out Kara’s name again and again.

When her body stilled and her hips lay limply on the bed, only then did Kara’s mouth leave her. Ginny could not even open her eyes and she rolled her head from side to side.

“I didn’t think it could possibly get any better than last night,” she whispered. “But each time . . ..”

“I know.” Kara bit her neck gently, then moved to her ear. “I wanted you like that all day,” she whispered back.

“I don’t think I can move.”

Kara leaned up on her elbow, letting her eyes move lovingly over Ginny’s face, down to her breasts. She was in love with her. The certainty of that thought filled her heart painfully. Love brought hurt. It always did. She touched Ginny’s face gently, her eyes lingering on her full lips. She hadn’t been looking for love, of course. The women who had shared her bed since Marsha were simply diversions. Someone to ease a lonely night, someone to talk to for a moment, then gone. No feelings were involved. No commitments, no worries. Just a physical release that they both had needed.

But it was so very different with Ginny. Kara wanted her, sure. But she also needed her. A deep, burning need that touched her very core, causing her to question her very existence. How had she lived this long without Ginny in her life? How could she go on, now that she’d had her?

“What are you thinking about?” Ginny asked gently.

Kara closed her eyes, unaware that Ginny had been watching her. “I was just thinking about you,” Kara admitted. “About how you make me feel.”

“Then why did you look so sad?”

Why, indeed? Because now that I’ve had you, I don’t think I can live without you. She rested her head against Ginny’s breast again, letting Ginny stroke her hair.

“You’re not going to tell me?”

“No.”

“Is it Marsha?” Ginny asked.

“Marsha?”

“Are you thinking about her?”

“Why would you think that?”

“You loved her once. Are you thinking about that?” Ginny asked again.

“No. That was a long time ago, Ginny.”

“Was it . . . was it good with her?” she asked quietly.

Kara looked up and met her eyes. “It was never like this,” she said truthfully. “It’s never been like this with anyone.”

“I find that hard to believe. It’s not like I know what I’m doing,” Ginny said, finally breaking the hold her eyes had on her.

“Does that frighten you?” Kara asked. “That you know how to touch me?”

“I’m not sure. I mean, I know I want you . . . like this. But, is this who I am? What I am? Is it just you or is it . . ..”

“Or can any woman make you feel this way?” Kara asked. She closed her eyes against the pain that she was feeling. Always pain when you loved a woman.

“I don’t think so,” Ginny said softly. “If any woman could make me feel this way, I wouldn’t have waited for you.”

“But you won’t know until you’ve tried it,” Kara said.

“I don’t think I want to . . . try it, Kara.” In fact, she knew she didn’t. No one could ever make her feel what Kara did. She knew in her heart that it was the truth. But she couldn’t say the words. Kara would never believe her, anyway. Kara had experience. She’d been with other women, and Ginny was jealous of each of them. Had Kara loved them this way, too? Had they wanted her so deeply that nothing else mattered?

Kara raised up and kissed her softly. She’d had enough talking. “Can you stay the night with me? Please? I would love to wake up with you,” Kara murmured against her lips.

“Yes, but I’m not ready for sleep,” she whispered.

CHAPTER NINETEEN

“What do you mean, Phil is coming?” she asked, stunned by Nana’s words.

“Well, he called last night. He wanted to surprise you. He took off all next week and he’s coming tomorrow.” Nana watched her. “I thought you’d be thrilled. I told him how you just haven’t been yourself lately.”

“Nana!”

“Well, you haven’t.”

Ginny paced behind the counter, thankful there were no customers in the store. “Where will he stay?” she asked.

“Well, with us, of course. Ginny, I’m not a prude. I know you sleep together. I won’t mind if he stays in your room,” Nana said innocently.

Ginny closed her eyes, cursing silently. What was she going to do? She did not want to see Phil. And she certainly did not want him sharing her bed. And for a week? She would never survive.

“Ginny, you surely don’t want him staying in the lodge out on Lake Wenatchee, do you? That’s twenty miles away,” she said.

“No,” she murmured. We certainly couldn’t have that! “What time tomorrow?” she asked.

“He’s leaving in the morning. Should be here by noon.”

“Noon?”

“Yes and I think you should just take the afternoon off. I know it’s Saturday, but Jessica and I can handle it.”

Ginny felt like crying but she forced herself to smile at Nana. She meant well. “You’ll stay home tonight, I hope,” Nana continued. “We need to clean house. And I’ll have meals to plan,” she added. “Oh, this will be fun, won’t it? You can show him around, take him hiking or something. He likes that, doesn’t he? And, now Kara can meet him. I’m sure she’ll like him . . ..” Nana rambled on, but Ginny had stopped listening.

Kara. What was she going to do about Kara? She closed her eyes, trying to ward off the wave of guilt that settled over her. She had just spent the night making love to Kara, waking up entangled in another woman’s arms and now she had to tell that same woman that Phil was coming to spend a week with her. A week in her bed.

She knew that Kara would understand. Ginny couldn’t very well tell Phil and Nana that she would rather Phil not come at all, that she would rather continue exploring her new relationship with Kara. That would be just crazy. Maybe it was good Phil was coming. Did she have any feelings for him still? This would be the only way to find out.

Suddenly, it was all just too complicated. But then, did she think that it wouldn’t be? That she could just ease into this new phase of her life without complications?

Nana left the store early to start dinner and Ginny waited until Jessica had left at closing to call Kara.

“It’s me,” she said, when Kara had answered.

“I missed you today,” Kara said softly. “Can you come over?” she asked.

Ginny closed her eyes for a moment, wishing she could go to Kara. “I can’t,” she said quietly.

“What’s wrong?”

“Phil is coming,” she said.

There was silence and Ginny pictured Kara standing there, clutching the phone.

“I see,” Kara said finally.

“He called last night, when I was with you. He’s taking vacation next week and coming to visit. Nana’s got it all arranged,” she explained.

“Where will he stay?”

“Here, at the house.” Ginny heard the uncertainty in Kara’s quiet voice.

“In your bed?”

Ginny was silent for a moment. “Yes,” she finally said.

“I see,” Kara said again.

“Kara, I don’t know what I can do. I don’t know how to tell him or Nana that I don’t want to see him. They’ve got it all planned. That’s all Nana talked about today.”

“I understand. It’s not like I didn’t know about Phil. I mean, I know you’re still technically involved. I just . . . I guess I didn’t expect him to show up so soon after we . . .” she let her voice trail off and Ginny squeezed her eyes shut, not wanting to hear the hurt in Kara’s voice, knowing she could do nothing about it.

“I’m so sorry,” she finally said.

“Well, there’s not a whole lot you can do now. And Ginny, maybe this is good, this is what you need right now. To see if . . . to see if you . . . still have feelings for him. Maybe you’ll see him and it’ll all come back to you.”

Ginny wondered how hard it was for Kara to say those words. She hadn’t seen Phil in nearly nine months now. Her body told her that it was only Kara’s touch she needed but her mind still balked. Was it women or was it just Kara? But did it matter anymore?

“I don’t want to be with him,” Ginny said. “I’m just so confused about everything, Kara. I know I want you . . . but . . ..”

“I know,” Kara said. “This is so new for you. Don’t worry about me, Ginny. You’ve got unfinished business with him. Maybe this thing between us is just . . ..”

“Just what? A passing affair?”

“Something like that,” Kara said.

“Don’t do this, Kara. I know how I feel about you,” Ginny insisted. “This morning when I woke up, it felt so right to be in your arms. It was the most natural thing in the world to wake up with you, to make love with you this morning. No one’s ever made me feel the way that you do. Phil hasn’t come close,” Ginny whispered. “And that’s why this is killing me that he’s coming.”

“I’m sorry. If I could turn back time . . ..”

“No. I wouldn’t want that. I don’t regret this, Kara. We both knew something was pulling us together. We both knew this would happen. Didn’t we?” she asked hesitantly.

“Yes.” Then she laughed gently. “Well, in my dreams. I never thought you would actually come to me.”

Ginny smiled, feeling some of the tension dissipate. “There was no way I could not go to you, Kara.”

“Which brings us back to Phil.”

“I’m sorry,” she said simply.

“Well, there’s nothing we can do about this. I’ll give you room. You need some time with him, Ginny, whether you think so or not. You know, we haven’t exactly spent our time talking about this thing between us. Maybe we should have. I just . . .”

“I know. But other things kept getting in the way,” she said lightly. She didn’t want to try to analyze her feelings for Kara. She just wanted . . . to be with her.

Ginny sighed, wishing she had just driven over to the cabin. This conversation should have been in person, not over the phone. But she knew they would get precious little talking done. She couldn’t seem to keep her hands to herself whenever she was around Kara. Anyway, maybe Kara was right. She did need to see Phil, to see if there was anything there, if there ever had been.

“We’ll talk after he’s gone. After you see . . . how you feel.”

“I know that you’re right,” Ginny said. “Maybe I do need some time to see how I feel about . . . everything.”

Kara let out a heavy sigh. “Yes. You do. Because if you don’t you’ll always wonder if it would have worked out with him.”

“But I can’t stop thinking about you, Kara,” Ginny whispered.

“I know. You haven’t left my thoughts all day,” Kara said quietly. After only a slight pause, she cleared her throat. “Have a good week,” she said and hung up abruptly.

Ginny listened to the dial tone a moment longer, then hung up gently. Despite her words, Ginny had heard the pain in Kara’s voice.

**************

When Phil walked in the store just shortly after noon, Ginny forced a smile to her face and went to him. He looked the same. His brown hair cut short, his moustache neatly trimmed.

“God, I’ve missed you,” he whispered in her ear. His arms held her tightly, pressing her breasts against his hard chest and she raised her face for his bruising kiss.

“It’s good to see you,” she managed, pulling out of his arms.

“You look great,” he said. “Country living must agree with you.”

“Hello, Phil,” Nana said, giving him a big smile.

“Nana!” He gave her a brisk hug and kissed her cheek. “Thanks for having me,” he said.

“I’m so glad you’re here, Phil. And Ginny is, too.” She winked at him. “I think she’s been missing you.”

“Nana!” Ginny turned pleading eyes to Nana, but she ignored her.

“Oh, Ginny. It doesn’t hurt that Phil knows you’ve missed him, does it?”

“Have you missed me?” Phil asked.

“I suppose,” Ginny said and forced another smile to her face. Had she missed him? She hadn’t given much thought to it in more weeks than she could count.

But Phil looked happy with her answer and he draped an arm around Ginny possessively. “We’ve got a lot of catching up to do, sweetheart.”

“Yes. That’s why I’ve given Ginny the afternoon off,” Nana said, pleased with herself.

“That’s wonderful.”

“Ginny, take him to the house and help him unpack. We’ll have dinner at seven. Roast,” she added.

Ginny smiled and nodded, wishing she were anywhere at this moment other than here. Nana was positively beaming and Ginny didn’t have the heart to spoil things for her.

She rode with Phil to the house. Nana had planned it that way, she supposed. Nana had skipped her walk this morning, instead, riding with Ginny to the store. She would drive Ginny’s car home later.

“You are glad to see me, aren’t you?” Phil asked.

“I wish you had asked before taking vacation,” Ginny said.

“I tried. You weren’t home,” he reminded her.

No. She had been with Kara, in her arms . . . making love. She felt a twinge of guilt and sighed, trying to keep thoughts of Kara away. She had to if she were to survive this week. “I still wish you had waited and talked to me first.”

“Ginny, I had to see you. You’ve been gone for nine months. Don’t you think that’s long enough?”

“Long enough for what?”

He smiled in that way of his. Cocky, she thought. And she hated it. “It’s time we got married, Ginny.”

“Married?”

“Yes. I know you left because you were scared when I asked you before. I love you, Ginny. We’re good together. It’s been four years. Well, nearly five now. It’s time.”

Ginny closed her eyes, feeling sick to her stomach. How dare he? How dare he come here after nine months of separation and talk marriage? As if they had never been apart? As if they had not spoken of this before?

“I’m not ready,” she said.

“Don’t start that again, please. You’re just scared,” he said.

“Turn here,” she said, motioning to the house. “And I am not scared,” she insisted.

They unpacked in silence, Ginny feeling very crowded as he invaded her room with his things.

“I like your room,” he said. He sat on the bed and took her hand possessively, enclosing it in his larger one. “I’ve missed you. I’ve missed making love to you.”

“Phil . . . ,” she shook her head but he pulled her down beside him.

“Nana won’t be home until six,” he said. “She told me.”

Ginny smiled slightly, her eyes meeting his brown ones. Nana was trying her best to get her married off. She lifted her neck as Phil placed his lips there, the familiar feel of his moustache raking against her skin.

“Have you missed me?” he asked.

She closed her eyes and nodded as he pushed her back on the bed, his hands nearly groping at her breasts.

“Ginny, there’s been no one since you left,” he murmured against her lips.

She was nearly overcome with guilt and she wrapped her arms around his strong shoulders, so different from Kara’s. But it wasn’t right. She opened her mouth to protest and he shoved his tongue inside urgently, pushing at hers, crushing her lips beneath his. She whimpered, feeling tears sting her eyes. Why couldn’t he make her feel the way that Kara did?

“Oh, Ginny, you feel so good,” he whispered. He took her hand and placed it on his swollen groin, urging her to stroke him.

Ginny felt his power through his jeans and she let her hand move over him, once so familiar to her, now nearly alien.

“Let’s take these off,” he said, his hands going to her jeans. “I’ll take care of you, sweetheart,” he whispered.

She was in a daze as he lowered her jeans. Her mind was blank, completely blank as his rough, possessive hands moved over her. He paused only briefly at her breasts, then his mouth came back to hers, and he kissed her with a force that bruised her lips.

“I can’t wait,” he murmured and he spread her legs with his knees, plunging deep inside her.

She cried out in shame and gasped as he thrust into her, pushing her hard against the bed. God, oh God, she thought. She squeezed her eyes shut, hearing him groan with each thrust as he pounded into her.

“Oh, Ginny,” he gasped and he came inside of her, his hips shaking as he held himself over her.

She felt a tear escape and she rolled her head away from him. Why . . . oh, why? Surely he knew that she was not aroused, that she had not reached an orgasm. Surely he knew that she had not enjoyed that. It was sex. That was all. There had been no love involved. But, she admitted with sadness, she had let him.

“God, that was so good.” He pulled out of her and took her hand gently in his. “But fast. I’ve missed you,” he said again. “Tonight we’ll go slower,” he promised.

Tonight. And the night after that and all week, he would be sharing her bed. She breathed deeply, feeling choked on her unshed tears. She felt nearly sick to her stomach. Why had she just allowed that? That assault on her. And that’s all it had been. She was simply an object there to satisfy him, to bring him relief.

He sat up and reached for his jeans, which had gathered around his ankles. “Get up, sweetheart. You can show me around town.” She didn’t move and he reached for her. “Or are you wanting some more of that?” he asked, winking at her.

She swallowed with difficulty and forced a smile. “No.” Definitely not. She made herself move, pulling her jeans back around her waist. She felt repulsed. She felt violated. She wanted to run into the bathroom and shower. She wanted to scream out in frustration. He had no idea, she thought. No idea that he had not satisfied her. And he had not even tried. Oh, Kara, I’m sorry.

“Ginny?”

She kept her back to him as she fastened her bra. “What?”

“You are going to marry me, aren’t you?”

Tell him. Tell him now. She turned back around, the words on her lips, but the look in his eyes stopped her. He looked so vulnerable, so child-like. Her shoulders slumped and she looked away.

“Let’s don’t talk about it now, Phil. Please?”

“Okay. We’ve got all week, anyway. But I warned you, didn’t I? I told you I would be coming to take you back,” he said.

“Yes, you warned me.”

**********

Ginny cut into her roast, her appetite vanishing with each bite. Nana and Phil carried on a conversation without her, neither seeming to notice that she was a thousand miles away from them. She heard Kara’s name and she looked up, puzzled.

“We haven’t seen her work, though,” Nana was saying.

“That’s amazing. Mr. Bradshaw just bought one of her paintings,” he said. “Hung it in the conference room.”

“Is it any good?” Nana asked.

“Oh. Very. It’s called Tomorrow and Today. It’s a seastack, out off the Peninsula. The sun is setting in the west and one side of the stack is orange, nearly crimson and the moon is shining overhead, in the east, making the facing side almost glow a ghostly white. It’s beautiful, really.”

Ginny listened with interest, thinking how ironic it was that Phil had seen Kara’s work but she, who had spent countless hours in her arms, had not even thought to ask to see it.

“Well, I knew she would be good,” Nana said.

“She must be. Cost him over two thousand bucks,” Phil said.

“My, my,” Nana said. “Ginny, can you image that? And here I was thinking maybe I’d like one of her paintings.”

Phil looked at Ginny and smiled. “So, you’re hanging out with a famous artist and you haven’t even seen any of her paintings. Are you sure it’s the same Kara Morgan?”

“Yes,” Ginny said lightly, glancing at Nana.

“Oh, we’ve seen her sketch, but nothing else,” Nana said.

“Well, I’d certainly like to meet her,” Phil said.

Ginny cringed, imagining having to introduce Phil to Kara.

“Oh, and I’m sure she wants to meet you, too. Ginny’s told her all about you. Haven’t you, Ginny?”

Ginny gave Nana a penetrating glance and nodded, shoving a piece of roast into her mouth to avoid speaking.

“Why don’t we have a cookout tomorrow? We can go to the campgrounds out by Drury Falls. There’s a wonderful hiking trail there. You do like to hike, don’t you Phil?” Nana asked.

“I guess so. Not that I get much of a chance in Seattle,” he said.

“We can invite Kara, Ginny. Maybe have a campfire with hotdogs and chili,” Nana said. “Sounds exciting, doesn’t it?”

“Yes, let’s do. What do you say, Ginny?” Phil asked.

Ginny nodded weakly, thinking she would never invite Kara. She would make up some excuse. She could not handle the both of them together. She would simply go insane if she tried.

Phil lounged by the TV while Ginny and Nana cleaned up.

“Ginny, you don’t have to help. I know you’d rather be out there with Phil,” Nana said.

Ginny let out a heavy sigh. “No. I’ll help,” she said.

Nana set the plates down and took Ginny’s arm. “What’s wrong, child? You hardly said a word at dinner.”

“Nothing’s wrong, Nana.” Only everything.

“Phil loves you,” Nana said.

Ginny nodded. “Yes, I believe he does,” she said.

“Good.”

That night, as Ginny crawled into bed beside Phil and let him take her into his arms, she felt that she had surely reached the lowest point in her life. She nearly choked when his tongue shoved into her mouth and when his hands grasped her breasts in his vise-like grip, she finally pushed him away.

“No, Phil,” she said.

“No? What do you mean?”

“I mean, no. I don’t want you to touch me. I don’t want this.”

“Ginny? Are you okay?”

“No. I’m not. You come here after nine months of separation, thinking that nothing has changed. Well, it has,” she said quietly. “Things have changed. I’ve changed.”

“I still love you. I still want to marry you,” he said simply.

“Phil, I left because I needed some time away from you. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to marry you. I’m still not sure,” she said cautiously.

“Ginny, we’ve been together for years. What’s next for us, if not marriage?”

“Phil, don’t do this to me. You know how much Nana wants us to get married. She’s been harping on me since I moved here. I’m happy right now,” she said, choosing her words carefully.

Phil laughed. “You can’t possibly be happy. There’s nothing here for you. And you’re too young to be an old maid, even if Nana does think you’re fast approaching that age,” he said lightly. “Besides, I’m not leaving until you agree to marry me.”

“I’m not going back to Seattle, Phil,” she said firmly.

“Oh, Ginny. Don’t be difficult,” he teased. “Let me make love to you,” he coaxed. “You must have missed it, too.”

“Phil, don’t,” she warned, but his hands came out again and he pulled her on top of him, his arousal pushing up against her.

“See how I want you,” he said and he pressed her firmly against him.

“Phil, please, don’t do this,” she begged, trying to break his hold, but his mouth smothered her protests.

She hated herself as he pulled her panties down and entered her. Images of Kara’s gentle lovemaking came to her as Phil plundered her body and she didn’t try to stop the tears that flowed from her eyes.

CHAPTER TWENTY

“Kara?”

“Yes.” A pause, then, “How’s it going?”

Ginny felt her heart constrict at the sound of Kara’s soft voice and she clutched the phone to her, as if she could touch Kara.

“Okay,” she lied. “I guess.”

“Oh.”

“We’re going to Drury Falls this afternoon. Nana wants a campfire and hotdogs,” she explained.

“Sounds like fun.”

“Come with us?” she asked hesitantly.

“I don’t think so,” Kara said.

“Please? Nana wanted me to call you. She expects you to be there.” Ginny lowered her voice, glancing into the living room where Phil and Nana sat. “I want you to come,” she added softly.

“Ginny, it would be uncomfortable for you . . . for me, too.”

“I know, Kara. Don’t you think I know? But I need to see you,” Ginny pleaded. “Please, Kara. I may very well go crazy if I don’t see you.”

“Hotdogs?”

“We’ve got some vegetarian ones at the store. I’ll get some for you,” she promised.

She heard Kara’s deep sigh and she knew that her jaw was clinched and she wished she were there to soothe it. To hold her.

“Okay. I’ll come,” she said finally. “If you think we’ll be okay.”

“Thank you, Kara,” Ginny said softly. “I . . . I miss you.”

“Ginny, don’t. This is hard enough.”

“I know. And I lied before. It’s not okay. I’m so miserable.”

She heard Kara’s low chuckle.

“Sweetheart, I’m the one who’s miserable.”

She hung up, staring at the phone, wondering what she was going to do. Kara was right. It would be uncomfortable for them, both of them, but she had to see her. She needed to look into her eyes. She closed her own, remembering Kara’s soft touch upon her body, the soft lips that had brought her such pleasure. It wasn’t Phil. It never had been. She had been a fool to allow him to come here and a bigger fool yet to allow him into her bed. It was Kara she wanted. In her life and in her bed. Not Phil. Not any man.

*************

They hiked up to the falls and sat on the rock, just out of the reach of the cool spray. Ginny had hoped that Kara would come early, but by the time that Nana was ready to hike, there had been no sign of her. Ginny was afraid that she had changed her mind and that she wouldn’t come, after all. And she needed her to come. She needed to see her. She needed to talk to her, to tell her how she felt and she couldn’t wait another day. As she sat there, she had already decided that if Kara didn’t show, she would drive to the cabin herself. She didn’t give a damn what Phil or Nana thought.

“This is beautiful,” Phil said. “Good idea, Nana.”

She beamed at him and Ginny had a crazy notion that Nana loved him much more than Ginny ever had. She watched him. He was a handsome man. She had always thought so, anyway. But she knew now that he wasn’t what she wanted and he never could be. She knew without a doubt that she would never be with a man again. She knew that with certainty after last night.

She had cried and Phil hadn’t understood. He had held her and tried to soothe her but she had pulled out of his arms. She didn’t want his touch. She didn’t ever want his touch again. She had taken her pillow and slept on the couch, only going back to her room when she heard Nana stirring.

Phil hadn’t commented on it today, but he had watched her, she knew. And tonight, she would tell him. She would tell him that she didn’t love him and that she was not going to marry him and she would send him away. It would break Nana’s heart, of course, but Ginny couldn’t worry about that now. She could not survive the week if things remained as they were.

It was nearly six when they got back to their picnic table, but still no sign of Kara. Ginny tried not to let her disappointment show, helping to unload their firewood for their later fire and showing the proper amount of enthusiasm for the hotdog dinner that Nana had planned.

“I wonder where Kara is?” Nana asked for the third time and she stared off down the dirt road, looking for her truck.

“Probably working and lost track of time,” Ginny offered. And perhaps it was true.

**********

Kara turned the Land Cruiser onto the bumpy road, cigarette clamped between her teeth, her eighth of the day. She would rather being going anywhere at this moment other than to meet Phil. Even the damn dentist, she thought But Ginny had pleaded and Kara admitted that she couldn’t stay away from her another day, even if she had to share her with a man. A man who hoped to marry her.

Had they slept together? Of course. He had come up here for that very reason, after all, she thought bitterly. Jealousy consumed her and ate at her stomach and she hated herself for what she was feeling. See what happens when you fall for a straight woman, she thought. Straight? Ginny was many things, but straight was not one of them. Not after the way she made love to Kara. She couldn’t be. The way she touched her with such intensity, such passion. No. No one could make love to another woman like that and be straight.

Nana saw her and waved and Kara forced a smiled and waved back. She had never been one for praying, but she sent a silent plea to anyone who might be listening. Please, just get me thought this evening.

“We were wondering if you’d forgotten,” Nana said.

“Working,” she lied. She hadn’t picked up a brush in two days.

Ginny walked up to her and met her eyes, uncaring that Nana was watching them. All she wanted to do was to wrap her arms around her and hold her. “Kara,” she said softly. “I’m so glad you’re here,” she whispered, hoping Nana couldn’t hear.

“Hi.” Kara’s eyes greedily traveled over Ginny, remembering how responsive she had been in her arms and she felt her pulse quicken. She shouldn’t have come, she thought.

“Come meet Phil,” Nana said and pulled Kara after her. Ginny saw the anguish in Kara’s eyes as they left her and she followed close behind.

“Phil, this is Kara Morgan, the artist,” Nana presented importantly.

“Hello,” he said and took Kara’s outstretched hand. “I’ve seen your work. Very nice.”

Kara smiled and released his hand quickly. He was attractive, she thought with dismay. If you liked that sort of thing, anyway.

“Which is more than we have,” Nana added.

“I don’t really have anything finished, Louise.”

“My boss bought Tomorrow and Today,” Phil said.

“Oh.” Kara smiled, hating the fact that this man had access to her painting. “That’s one of my favorites. Top ten.”

“You mean, you rank your paintings?” Phil asked. “What? One to ten?”

Kara laughed. “Some I just like more than others,” she said. “But everyone has different tastes. Some I like so much, they become too personal to part with,” she said.

“Oh, so you don’t sell everything?”

She smiled briefly and Ginny saw that it didn’t reach her eyes. “Sometimes I paint just for me,” she said. “Others, I give as gifts.” She shrugged, not wanting to have this conversation with him.

“Wow. Some gift. Well, it’s very nice to meet you. Nana’s told me quite a bit about you,” he said.

Kara glanced at Louise who smiled sheepishly. “A beer?” Louise asked.

“Yeah, please.”

“I’ll get it,” Phil offered.

Kara turned and found Ginny watching her and her eyes moved over her quickly. Ginny brought her hands out, as if to touch her, then dropped them to her sides.

“Kara,” she whispered softly, her eyes searching. She didn’t care that Nana was watching.

“Here you go,” Phil said and Kara turned to him, muttering a thank you and took the offered beer.

They sat in lawn chairs and Kara observed this man that had shared Ginny’s life. And still did. An attractive man, but still a man, she noted. And possessive. He sat close to Ginny, touching her knee with his hand as he spoke and Kara couldn’t take her eyes off of them. She felt jealously smoldering inside of her and hated it. What she and Ginny had shared was most likely temporary. And most likely over. Phil had come here to stake his claim.

“Are you from Seattle?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“Well, once Ginny moves back, we’ll have to get together,” he said easily.

She met his eyes for a moment. “Sure,” she said lightly. She ventured a glance at Ginny who met her eyes and Kara did not miss the quick apology that flashed her way.

“Did you bring your sketch pad, Kara?” Nana asked. “It’s almost sunset.”

“No, Louise. I’ve sketched the falls before. They’re much better at sunrise,” she said.

“They’re beautiful at any time,” Phil stated.

Kara smiled, hating this man. “Yes, they are. I was speaking of sketching, though.”

Ginny rubbed her temples, feeling a headache approaching. This had been a mistake, she thought wearily. Phil was actually competing with Kara, as if he knew she was a threat.

“Ginny?”

“Hmmm?” She looked up at Nana.

“Why don’t you take Kara to the Big Tree?”

Ginny glanced at Kara. “Have you seen it?” she asked. It would give them a chance to talk. She hoped Kara had not been there before.

“No. What big tree?”

Ginny laughed. “Big Tree. It’s a cedar. Three hundred feet tall and as wide as a house,” she said.

“You go ahead. Phil and I will start the fire,” Nana said.

They walked away in silence, Kara with her hands shoved in her pockets, Ginny’s folded securely under her arms. When they reached the trailhead, the sun was already past the trees and shadows covered the path as they entered the forest. They were both silent as they walked.

“Are you upset with me?” Ginny finally asked.

“No.”

“Then why won’t you talk to me?” Ginny asked.

“What should I say? That Phil’s a nice guy?” Kara thought she hated him.

“No. That’s not what I mean. You’re being difficult,” Ginny accused.

“I’m being difficult? I didn’t even what to come here this evening,” she said. “I didn’t want to see you with him. To see him touch you like that.”

“Yes, it was a mistake,” Ginny said. “You were right.”

They walked on, slowly, along the path, both struggling with their thoughts.

“Have you enjoyed his company?” Kara finally asked.

Ginny ignored her question, instead, she pointed to the massive tree up ahead. “The Big Tree,” she said.

“Jesus,” Kara murmured and she bent her head back, trying to find the top as it disappeared into the sky. “That’s one big tree.”

Ginny smiled, but it faded when she met Kara’s blue eyes. “Have you enjoyed his company?” Kara asked again.

“Don’t, Kara,” Ginny said softly. She walked on, up to the base of the giant and leaned against it.

“You’ve slept with him?” Kara asked.

Ginny closed her eyes, not wanting to discuss Phil. Not now.

“Haven’t you?” Kara asked again.

“He’s sharing my room, yes,” Ginny said.

“He’s made love to you?”

Ginny looked away, her hands reaching out to touch the rough bark. Made love? No. She wouldn’t call it that. Kara gripped her forearms hard and turned her around to face her.

“I’m just so . . . lost,” Ginny whispered. “I don’t have a say in anything. He acted like we hadn’t been apart at all.”

Kara stared at her, blue eyes peering into green. “Did he make love to you like I did?” Kara asked, her eyes holding Ginny prisoner.

“Kara . . ..”

“Did you ask him to? Did you want him to?”

Ginny trembled under Kara’s angry gaze, but she couldn’t look away.

Kara pushed Ginny roughly against the tree, holding her there. “Did you want him the way you wanted me?” she whispered, pressing her body against Ginny. “Did you beg him to put his mouth on you?”

Ginny shook her head, her breath coming quickly through her parted lips.

“Did he make you feel the way that I did?” Kara demanded and she moved her face to Ginny’s, foreheads touching as their breath whispered against each other.

Ginny closed her eyes and waited for Kara’s bruising, angry kiss. But the lips that touched hers were soft and gentle, not angry and Ginny’s mouth opened to her, her hands moving to Kara’s face.

“Ginny . . . I can’t stand this,” Kara whispered. She covered Ginny’s breasts with urgent hands, cupping them softly, feeling the nipples strain against her palms. “The thought of him touching you . . . like this,” she whispered, her voice trailing away as she kissed Ginny. “Ginny, did you feel this with him? Were your breasts ready for his touch, like they are mine?” she demanded.

“No, Kara . . . never like you,” Ginny whispered into her mouth. “Never like you.”

Kara held her close, her hands cupping Ginny’s hips, pressing them to her, trying to make Ginny see how it was with them, how it could never be with anyone else. But Ginny’s hands wouldn’t still. They took Kara’s face and brought her mouth close and she moaned softly when their tongues touched.

“I want you so much,” Ginny whispered urgently. “Kara, please.” Ginny’s chest heaved as if she’d been running and she clutched Kara to her. “I need you,” she whispered. “I need you to make love to me.”

“Ginny . . . don’t,” Kara warned.

“I mean it,” she said and she took Kara’s hand and shoved it between her legs. “Touch me.”

Kara could feel her wetness through her shorts and she was lost. She pressed Ginny against the tree and unbuttoned her shorts in one quick motion, her hand pushing past the waistband with ease. Ginny’s legs parted and Kara’s fingers moved through her wetness, touching her so gently that Ginny nearly cried.

“Oh, God.”

“Ginny . . ..” Kara breathed against her mouth.

Ginny’s legs failed to support her and she clung to Kara, her back arched against the rough bark of the giant tree. She had never wanted like this, never needed like this and she held Kara’s hand to her, harder.

“Yes.”

Kara’s tongue in Ginny’s mouth matched the rhythm of her fingers and she held Ginny as she rocked against her, bringing her closer to orgasm.

“Ginny? Kara?” a voice called to them from the forest trail.

Kara froze at the sound of Phil’s voice as it carried through the trees. He was looking for them.

Ginny grabbed Kara’s neck and pulled her back to her. “Please, don’t stop,” she begged. “Don’t stop.”

“Ginny,” Kara whispered. “Phil is coming.”

“I don’t care about him. I need you.” Ginny’s hands guided Kara’s mouth back to hers. “Don’t stop, Kara. Not now.”

Kara moved on her again, her fingers frantic now and Ginny arched against her hand, her body convulsing, throbbing and Kara swallowed her scream, sliding down the base of the tree with Ginny as her legs gave way.

“Kara,” Ginny sighed and she let her tears fall. “I’m so sorry,” she whispered. “I’m so sorry.”

“Ginny? Kara?” Phil called again.

“We’re coming,” Kara yelled to him and she saw the beam of his flashlight through the trees and she just now realized how dark it had become.

“Kara, I’m sorry I made you do that,” Ginny whispered against her mouth. “I just . . . needed you. I needed your touch.”

Kara took her face in gentle hands. “You don’t ever have to be sorry for wanting me that way,” Kara said and she wiped the tears from Ginny’s eyes with her thumbs. “Come on. We’ve got to get back.”

Ginny let herself be pulled to her feet and she stood by numbly as Kara’s hands came to her and tucked her shirt back into her shorts. Oh, God, she thought. I’m in love with her.

“Ginny, honey, come on,” Kara urged. “He’s coming.”

Oh, Lord. A simple endearment can melt my heart. I love her, Ginny thought again. And on the heels of that: What have I done?

Kara took her hand and pulled her along the trail just as Phil’s light came into view. Their hands dropped immediately and they took a step apart.

“There you are,” he said. “We were getting worried a bear had eaten you or something.”

Ginny couldn’t find her voice and Kara spoke for them. “We got to talking and just lost track of time,” she said.

“Well, come on. Nana’s starving.” He draped a possessive arm around Ginny’s shoulders and walked ahead of Kara. Kara watched them, watched as Ginny’s legs attempted to keep up with Phil’s. She hated him.

“I was getting worried,” Nana said. “It gets dark quickly in the forest.”

“You know how girls can talk,” Phil said.

“Open the wine, Phil,” Nana said. “I’m going to celebrate.” She smiled and clasped Ginny’s hands. “Why didn’t you tell me?” she asked.

“Tell you what?” Ginny asked weakly.

“That you’re getting married! Phil told me you talked about it yesterday. I’m so excited I can hardly stand it,” she said.

“Married?” Ginny repeated in a hushed whisper. Her eyes flew to Phil, then, more importantly, to Kara.

“Isn’t it exciting, Kara? I suppose Ginny told you all about it in the woods,” Nana said excitedly.

Kara couldn’t breathe and her eyes moved slowly to Ginny. “Yes,” she managed. “Wonderful.”

Phil walked up, practically beaming and Kara felt as humiliated as she ever had in her life. She forced a smile to her face and offered her hand to him. “I suppose congratulations are in order, then.” She wondered if he could still feel Ginny’s wetness on her fingers.

“Thank you,” he said sincerely. “I’m so thrilled she accepted.”

Kara glanced at Ginny, keeping the pain in her eyes shielded. “I hope you’ll be very happy,” she said to Ginny.

Ginny was certain that she was going to pass out right here. With any luck, she would fall into the fire and it would all be over quickly. She shot Phil a look that would kill most men and he had the good sense to look away from her. She looked again at Kara, wanting to take her away from here and explain, but Kara refused to meet her eyes.

Kara forced down her hot dog, nearly choking on every bite. She refused to look at Ginny. She refused to look at Phil. Tension settled around the campfire and even Nana seemed to notice.

“Have you set a date?” Nana asked, disrupting the silence.

“No,” Phil said. “But I hope soon. The sooner the better, you know.”

Ginny said nothing and she tossed her plate into the fire, and everyone watched as her uneaten hot dog sizzled in the flames. She would kill him, she decided. She had just cause. He had just ruined her life. And Kara. Kara wouldn’t even look at her. And who could blame her. One minute, Ginny is begging her to make love to her, the next, she finds out Ginny’s to be married. She groaned softly. God, what had just happened here?

“And babies?” Nana asked.

“Nana! Please,” Ginny said quietly.

“Well, you’re not getting any younger,” she continued

“Nana . . . stop,” Ginny said sharply and she shot Phil another look.

Kara waited what she thought was a respectable time, then stood. “I’ve got some work to finish,” she lied. “Thank you for inviting me,” she said to Louise. “But I need to get going.”

“Are you leaving already? We’ve got marshmallows, too,” Nana offered.

Kara ran her hands through her hair and she wanted to scream. “I’ll have to pass,” she said. “Nice to meet you, Phil. It was . . . enlightening.”

“Maybe I’ll see you around this week,” he said.

“Probably not. I’ve got a lot of work to do.” She turned, and with only a nod to Ginny, walked purposefully to her truck.

“Kara, wait,” Ginny called and ran after her. She had to talk to her. She didn’t care that Phil and Nana were staring after her.

Kara kept walking, not trusting herself to speak.

“Wait,” Ginny demanded in a soft voice.

Kara stopped, her hand on the door. “I’ve nothing to say to you.”

“I didn’t know anything about that.”

“Really?”

“How can you think I can want you like that if I’m planning on marrying Phil?” Ginny asked.

Kara’s eyes bored into hers. “One last time? Cheap thrill?”

“Don’t be like that. It’s not you,” Ginny said softly. “You know how I feel about you,” Ginny insisted.

“Ginny, go back where you belong,” she said, motioning with her head.

“I don’t belong with him,” Ginny said.

“Well, you certainly don’t belong with me.”

Ginny felt as if she’d been slapped and she stood by silently as Kara slammed the door and sped off.

She walked slowly back to the fire, accepting the burning marshmallow without a word.

“Kara sure was quiet tonight,” Nana said after an eternity of silence.

“She’s different,” Phil commented.

Certainly different from you, Ginny thought. And I’m in love with her and she doesn’t want me anymore.

They packed their things and drove back, Ginny thankful there was no more talk about a wedding. When Phil would have followed Nana into the house, Ginny stopped him.

“I’d like to talk to you. In private,” she said, glancing at Nana. When Nana closed the door, Ginny turned on him, eyes flashing. “How dare you?” she hissed.

“Ginny . . ..”

“How dare you tell Nana that? You know how much she wants us to get married.”

He had the audacity to smile at her. “I needed all the help I could get.”

“You bastard,” she spat, wanting to slap the smile from his face.

“Ginny! You act like this is a surprise. We’ve talked about it.”

“I’m not going to marry you. You knew that last night.” Her voice softened. “Phil, I’m not in love with you.”

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t love you. I’m not going to marry you.”

“Ginny, we’ve spent four . . . nearly five years together. We’re good together.”

“Good?” She shook her head. “You call what you did to me last night good? No.”

“Ginny, let’s talk about this. I was trying to make love to you.”

“Make love? You forced yourself on me, after I asked you to stop.”

“Ginny, we’re a couple. Couples make love.”

“I want you to leave,” she said. “In the morning.”

“I’m here a couple of days, you get pissed off and you’re sending me away?” He laughed. “Ginny, be reasonable.”

“I am being reasonable. And you’re right,” she said. “I am pissed off. I’m pissed as hell that you told Nana we were getting married and I’m pissed as hell that you’re even here in the first place.” She was pacing then, her voice rising with each word. “You come up here and act like nothing has changed. You act like I didn’t leave nearly a year ago because I didn’t want to get married. How . . . dare . . . you?”

Phil stared at her and for the first time, she saw uncertainty in his eyes.

“You were just scared. Marriage is a big step, Ginny. But I love you.”

“You don’t even know me anymore, Phil. I’m not the same person that left.”

Phil stared at her again, silently. Finally, he brushed at his moustache with one finger.

“What’s with you and the artist?” he asked.

Ginny wasn’t afraid to meet his eyes. “My relationship with her is none of your business.”

“If I didn’t know you better, I’d say . . ..”

“Don’t, Phil,” she said quietly. “You have no idea.”

“I watched you. You were so quiet before she came and then when she got there, you couldn’t take your eyes off her.” His voice was angry and he grabbed her arms. “Did that dyke come on to you or what? Is that what this is about?”

“Dyke?” Ginny laughed softly in his face. “Is that what she is?”

He shoved her away, his eyes searching hers for answers. “Did she?”

“My relationship with her is none of your business,” she said again.

“Isn’t it? My God, Ginny, what’s happened to you?” He shoved his hands nervously through his hair and peered at her. “We were going to get married.”

“No. We were not. And that has nothing to do with Kara,” she said.

“Please tell me you’re not involved with her,” he whispered. “Please?”

Ginny stared at him, refusing to look away. “We’re . . . more than friends, yes,” she admitted. “And that has nothing to do with you.”

“Jesus,” he muttered. “I can’t believe this.” He turned his back on her and Ginny was tempted to go to him, to comfort him, but he shrugged her hand away. “Was I that bad in bed? Jesus, you had to replace me with a fucking woman?” he yelled.

“Phil, this has nothing to do with you. It just . . . happened.”

“But you’re not a . . . a goddamned lesbian,” he whispered.

“If what I feel for her makes me a lesbian, then yes, I guess I am.” She took his arm and this time he didn’t pull away. “I don’t expect you to understand, Phil. I don’t understand it myself.”

“That’s why you cried last night?”

She nodded and shoved her hands in her pockets. “I wasn’t ready to accept this, I guess. I didn’t know for sure that I could be in a . . . a lesbian relationship like this. But she’s what I want.”

“So, it’s over? Just like that?” he asked, his tone hurt again. “Because some dyke came on to you?”

“Stop calling her that,” she said sharply. Then her voice softened. “Don’t you see? This has nothing to do with you. I tried, Phil. That’s why I let you come up here. But it’s me. Something was missing with us. That’s why I ran. I just didn’t know what it was.”

“And you can’t know now,” he insisted.

“Phil, she’s not the first woman I’ve been . . . attracted to. It was before I met you and nothing happened. I couldn’t allow anything to happen. But . . . with Kara . . ..” She clutched at her heart and closed her eyes. “This is who I am. I’m so sorry.”

“You’re sorry? That’s all you can say? What the hell is Nana going to say?”

“She doesn’t know. And I’m not ready to tell her.”

“Well, maybe I should. Maybe she could talk some sense into you.”

“Phil, please don’t be this way. It’s not you. It’s me.”

“I think you’re sick,” he said bitterly. “This whole thing is sick.”

“I’m sorry you feel that way then.” She faced him squarely and didn’t flinch from the anger in his eyes. “I’ll tell Nana you’re leaving in the morning.”

She walked inside, slamming the door behind her. Why did she tell him? Did she honestly expect him to understand?

She got her pillow and tossed it on the sofa, unmindful of Nana watching.

“Ginny?”

“What?” she asked.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. Everything.”

“Ginny?”

“Nana, I don’t want to talk now.”

“Where’s Phil?”

“Outside, I suppose,” she said curtly.

“You’ve had a fight? Ginny, you just got engaged,” Nana said innocently.

“Nana, I’m not engaged. I’m not getting married.”

“But, Phil . . ..”

“Phil is leaving tomorrow,” Ginny said between clinched teeth.

“Leaving? I don’t understand,” she said. Nana sat on the sofa beside Ginny and took her hand. “What is it, child?”

“Nana, I’m not . . . I just . . . I don’t want to marry Phil. Let’s just leave it at that.”

“But he loves you.”

Ginny smiled gently and kissed Nana’s hand.

“But I don’t love him.”

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

“Kara! Open up, please,” Ginny yelled through the door. She walked around to the porch, but the door was locked, the inside dark. Where could she be? She leaned her back against the wall, tucking her hair behind her ears nervously. Where is she? She had been calling all morning, but she had just assumed that Kara was just not answering. Finally, she could stand it no more and she left Nana at the store with a mumbled excuse.

“Kara!” she yelled. Damn it all!

She waited nearly thirty minutes, pacing back and forth, before giving up and driving home. Nana was in the kitchen but she didn’t come out. Nana wasn’t speaking to her today. Because of Phil. Ginny had tried to explain, after Phil had left, but Nana would have none of it. She just didn’t understand how she could let a good man go.

She walked to the phone and punched out the Dobson’s number, counting ten rings before she hung up. Where was she? Was she all right?

They ate their dinner in silence until Ginny couldn’t stand it another second.

“Nana, how long are you going to be this way?”

“What way?” she asked.

“I’m not in the mood, Nana. I’ve had a very bad day,” she said wearily. “Why won’t you talk to me?”

“It’s your own fault you’ve had a bad day, sending that poor man away like that,” she said.

“Would you have me marry him, knowing that I don’t love him?”

“But he loves you,” Nana insisted, as if that was enough.

“But what about me? Don’t I count?”

“You’re nearly thirty,” Nana said.

“Twenty-eight,” she corrected. “And so what?” She leaned forward. “I don’t need a man, Nana,” she said.

“Oh, pooh. Everyone needs a man.”

“For what?” Ginny challenged. “I’ve got a job. I can support myself.”

“Babies,” Nana countered.

“I don’t think I want babies,” Ginny said.

“Ginny! Of course you do. I want to be a great-grandmother,” she said.

“You already are.”

“As if I’ve ever seen Becky’s kids.”

Ginny shrugged, certainly not wanting to bring her sister into the conversation. She didn’t want to completely ruin her day.

“Ginny, what’s been wrong? If I didn’t know better, I’d say you changed when you met Kara, but that would hardly be fair to her.”

“Nana,” Ginny said seriously. “I can’t tell you what’s wrong. You would never understand.”

Nana opened her mouth to speak, but Ginny held up her hands. “Enough. Let’s call a truce.”

When Nana took her book into the living room, Ginny sat nervously in the kitchen, her hand reaching for the phone. She was actually startled to hear a voice on the other end.

“What?” Kara asked briskly.

“Where have you been?” Ginny demanded.

“Out.”

“Out where? I’ve been calling you all day, I came by. Kara, are you okay?” Ginny asked quietly.

“No. But don’t worry about it. I’ll get over it.”

“I’m coming over,” Ginny said.

“No. I don’t want to see you,” Kara said.

“Tough! I want to see you,” Ginny replied. “I need to see you.”

“Ginny, don’t do this to me. Let’s just leave it alone.”

“We’ve got to talk,” Ginny insisted quietly.

“I don’t want to talk.”

“I’m coming over.”

“I won’t answer the door,” Kara warned.

“The hell you won’t!”

Ginny hung up on Kara’s expletive and walked to her room, quickly exchanging sweatpants for jeans.

“Who was that on the phone?” Nana called hopefully. “Phil?”

“Kara.” Ginny walked back out, keys dangling in her hands. “I’m going over there for a minute,” she said.

“This late? Whatever for?” Nana asked, puzzled.

“I need to talk. I won’t be long.”

*************

Ginny found Kara on the back porch, smoking. She walked to her chair and squatted down beside her.

“Your fifth?” she asked lightly.

“I haven’t stopped at five since the day I met you,” Kara said.

Ginny took the cigarette from her fingers and stubbed it out, her eyebrows raised at the sight of the overflowing ashtray. “Well, we’ll have to work on that, won’t we.”

“Why are you here?” Kara asked.

“Why do you think?” Ginny took Kara’s hand between her own and rubbed it lightly. “I never meant for you to get hurt. I just wanted to see you, to be with you, regardless that Phil was there, too.” Her voice lowered. “It was you I wanted to be with.”

“But you slept with him.” Kara finally raised wounded eyes to Ginny. “Didn’t you?”

“Yes. I did. And it was a very . . . big mistake,” she said softly. “He wasn’t you. He couldn’t make me feel the way that you do, Kara. But I had to know,” she whispered. “I had to know if what I feel with you is real or if I was just running from him.” Ginny reached out and touched Kara’s face, her hand pushing lightly against her clinched jaw. “Please understand, Kara.”

“I do. I know this is new for you, this thing between us. But, when Louise dropped the bombshell . . . the scent of you was still fresh on my fingers,” she whispered.

“I’m so sorry. I had no idea that was coming.” Ginny lowered her eyes, then brought them back to Kara when she felt tears forming there. “The night before, he tried to touch me again, I asked him to stop, but . . . he wouldn’t. He . . ..” She let her tears fall as she remembered how she’d laid there as he took her. She should have stopped him. She should have fought him. But she didn’t. She just laid there while he took her.

“Ginny?” Kara whispered, her eyes too brimming with tears.

“I was crying and he didn’t understand. But I couldn’t tell him. Not then. I slept on the couch. I think maybe he felt that he was losing me so he used Nana against me. He knows how much she wants us to get married.”

“He raped you?” Kara asked, her voice thick with emotion.

“It wasn’t exactly rape, Kara. But it wasn’t consensual.” Ginny reached out a hand and gently caressed Kara’s face, feeling the dampness of tears there. “I’m so sorry. I’ll understand if you don’t want anything more to do with me.”

Kara squeezed her eyes shut, wishing she didn’t feel so strongly about her. Wishing she hadn’t fallen in love with her. And wishing she didn’t hurt so.

“Ginny, I came up here, not looking for anything but to sketch and paint. But when I met you, when I got to know you . . . I . . ..” She let her thought go unfinished. How could she tell this woman, this woman she’d known only two months, that she’d fallen in love with her? “I don’t want to just walk away from this. But you, this is so new for you, so different. I don’t expect you to just abandon the life that you know and assume that this is what you want. There’s so much out there for you. So many opportunities.”

“So many other women, you mean?”

When Kara didn’t answer, Ginny stood and tugged on Kara’s hand.

“Let’s go inside. I want to lay with you . . . and I want to hold you,” she said softly. “We’ll talk later,” she promised.

They undressed slowly, touching each other only with their eyes, and Kara lifted the covers, pulling Ginny into her arms. They held each other, arms stroking soothingly, calmly.

“What did you tell him?” Kara finally asked, her words spoken softly, slowly.

“I told him that I wasn’t in love with him and that I would never marry him,” Ginny said.

“And Louise?”

“Nana doesn’t understand. She’s still angry with me for sending him away,” she said as her hand rubbed slow circles on Kara’s waist. “I wanted to tell her about you but I just couldn’t.”

“No. I don’t blame you for that. She would hate me.”

“Yes. I think she would,” she admitted. Nana would blame Kara for Phil leaving. She would never understand how Ginny could find her magic with another woman.

“Ginny . . ..” Kara ran her fingers through Ginny’s soft hair, brushing it back from her face. “Tell me what you want from me,” she whispered.

“I’m not sure,” Ginny admitted. “Like you said, this is new for me. I know that no one has ever made me feel this way, made me want like this. I know that, Kara. When I’m with you, like this, nothing else matters.”

Kara moved her hands over Ginny’s breasts, feeling the nipples harden at her touch.

Ginny smiled and closed her eyes at the now familiar touch. How was it that in such a short time, she could know, without a doubt, that this touch was what she’d craved all her life? The soft, gentle touch of this woman? The only time she’d ever felt complete in her entire life was when this woman touched her, made love to her. She moved, rolling onto her side and fitting her body next to Kara’s, breasts on breasts, stomach, hips and thighs molding together. Finally, mouths met, gently, quietly, then with more hunger.

Kara wondered if it was enough, this fire that burned between them. And for how long? Kara wondered when Ginny would tire of her lovemaking, when would she go looking for someone else, someone else she could compare this to. Kara had had many lovers over the years, but none had stirred her soul quite the way that Ginny had.

But what about Ginny? There was a whole new world of opportunity out there for her. Maybe not here, but certainly in Seattle, where the lesbian community was thriving. She could meet any number of women, make new friends, begin relationships.

That’s what really bothered her. She had fallen in love with this woman, she wanted to be with her; she wanted a relationship with her. And that scared her more than she wanted to admit. She’d had only one in her life. Marsha. And she thought, at the time that it ended, that she would never again share her life so completely with anyone. But here she was, wanting Ginny that way. Wanting to wake up with her each morning, wanting to share in her life, be a part of it. Be a big part.

Ginny probably had not even looked past the sex to think about what her future would hold. She was young. She had plenty of time to play the field, to sample the water, to experiment. And she would meet someone with her same interests, someone who she could think about building a future with and then maybe she would choose to tell Louise, who might join in her happiness eventually.

“What are you thinking?” Ginny whispered as Kara’s mouth stilled.

Kara looked into her eyes, searching for answers, but finding only desire, desire for her. Her expression softened and she drew Ginny close, touching her lips again.

“Just thinking,” she murmured against her lips.

Ginny smiled. “Don’t think so much, then.” She pushed Kara back boldly, fitting her body on top of hers. “Let me make love to you. You still want that, don’t you?”

Doesn’t she know? Can’t she see how it is with me? Kara clasped her face between her hands. “I want that very much.”

She closed her eyes as Ginny’s lips moved softly across her face, covering each eye in turn, nipping gently at her neck, whispering into her ear and Kara lost herself completely under those softly demanding lips.

She felt Ginny’s soft hair spray out across her breasts and she put her hands there, her fingers combing it away from Ginny’s face.

Ginny’s mouth covered her breast and Kara was conscious of how very slowly Ginny was loving her tonight. There was no urgency in her touch, only the sweet certainty that she knew how to touch Kara and she knew what Kara wanted. Oh, and she did. Kara’s body responded to her gentle touches, moving against her hands, pressing into her hips.

Ginny’s mouth came back to hers, tracing Kara’s lips with her tongue, boldly sucking her lower lip into her mouth. Kara moaned, taking Ginny’s tongue inside, sucking her in deeper.

“I can’t get enough of you,” Ginny whispered against her mouth. “I can’t get close enough.” She pressed her body to Kara’s, their breasts smashed together, hips joined.

Kara’s hands molded Ginny to her, caressing her rounded hips, squeezing her softness. “Come inside me,” Kara urged.

Ginny’s hand moved between their joined bodies and her breath stilled when she touched her. So wet. Her fingers pushed through, letting Kara surround them with her warmth. She moved deeper into her, pulling out, then back in again, harder this time, moving her hips against her hand, against Kara.

“Yes, like that,” Kara whispered.

Ginny’s body shuddered as her hips rocked against Kara, her fingers moving deep inside her, touching her core. She had never felt such intimacy, such a joining of souls before. Their breath mingled and joined, as their bodies did and Ginny covered Kara’s mouth, taking her release into her mouth as Kara cried out, holding Ginny’s fingers deep inside her.

Kara’s hands trembled as she touched Ginny’s face, wiping the perspiration from her brow. She was so certain of her love for this woman that she nearly cried, knowing that she could not have her. Not yet.

“Kara,” Ginny whispered, words of love crowding her brain, but she couldn’t find the courage to speak any of them, to utter them out loud. She was still afraid. She was afraid that Kara would not want to hear them. She was afraid that all Kara wanted between them was this, this wonderful lovemaking that they shared.

Their eyes met as they both struggled with their feelings. Kara shielded hers, afraid Ginny would see too much.

“Let me love you,” Kara whispered.

“Yes.”

Kara kissed her tenderly, lightly brushing her lips. “Lay back,” she urged and Ginny moved over, her head touching the pillow, waiting for Kara’s mouth to return to hers.

Kara’s kiss turned passionate; hot and demanding when Ginny took her tongue inside. Her knee pressed between Ginny’s leg and she knelt between her parted legs, her mouth going to her breasts; her nipples hard and erect and she took one into her mouth, sucking the tip inside, drawing Ginny into her.

She wanted to wait. She wanted to go slow, to love Ginny with the same tenderness that Ginny had shown her. But she lost her resolve when her hand touched Ginny, when her fingers brushed her. She wanted her mouth there, always.

She slid between Ginny’s legs, her hands pushing her thighs apart and Kara lowered her mouth to her, sighing contentedly when her tongue moved through her wetness. Ginny surged up to meet her and Kara buried her face in her, her cheeks coated with her wetness. She felt Ginny’s legs wrap around her shoulders and she took her into her mouth, sucking hard, pushing against her with a desire so strong it shook her to her very core.

“God, Kara,” Ginny murmured, stroking her head, pushing her face closer against her. “Yes…”

Ginny’s hips moved against Kara’s face, her thighs opening wider, wanting Kara inside her. Oh Lord, but what this woman did to her. If their lovemaking lasted a lifetime, she would never tire of this. She knew no one could ever make her feel this way.

Kara’s tongue moved over her, then deep inside her. She listened to Ginny’s sharp breathing, felt her hands clutch her face, felt her pleasure. When Ginny’s hips arched and stilled, Kara was not nearly ready for this to end. She brought her fingers to Ginny, joining her mouth and Ginny cried out her name, pressing Kara hard against her and her spasms shook Kara like never before. She took her into her mouth and felt her throb against her tongue, then let herself be pulled from her, to be enfolded in soft arms.

“Dear God, but you drive me crazy when you do that,” Ginny said into her ear.

Yes. It nearly drove her crazy to have her mouth there, to feel Ginny pulse against her tongue. But what if? What if there were any number of women out there who could give Ginny as much pleasure? Kara had never thought of herself as an exceptional lover before. But with Ginny, she was different. She wanted to please her. She didn’t care about herself. She wanted Ginny to find the fulfillment that she had never had before.

“Kara?”

“Hmmm?”

“What’s wrong?” Ginny asked gently. “Your eyes . . . you look sad.”

Kara buried her head in Ginny’s neck, smelling the light perfume she had sprayed that morning. “Nothing,” she murmured.

Ginny lifted Kara’s head and searched her eyes, trying to read them. What was it? Was it Phil? Was it something else? Was she not satisfied with Ginny? Did she need more?

“Kara, what do you feel when I make love to you?”

“What do you mean?” Kara asked.

“I mean . . . is it good enough? Do I satisfy you?” she asked softly.

Kara smiled and drew Ginny to her lips. “You are a beautiful lover. The best. Haven’t I told you that?”

Had she told Marsha that, too? Did she tell all her lovers that? Was Ginny just one more in a line of many? She was consumed with jealousy at the thought of other women loving Kara, touching her the way that Ginny did. Had they fallen in love with her, too? Ginny kissed her possessively, knowing she was trying to make Kara forget all her other lovers, all those that had come before her. Could she chase them from her mind?

“What?” Kara asked.

“I haven’t had nearly enough,” Ginny said and she pushed Kara back, taking her breast, trying to possess her.

“You haven’t?” Kara asked with a chuckle.

“Not nearly,” Ginny murmured against her breast before she moved lower, needing to love Kara with her mouth, needing to show her how much she needed her.

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

It was nearly dawn when she got home, exhausted. They had not slept. She hadn’t wanted to. When Kara had finally fallen asleep, Ginny left her, brushing her cheek lightly with her lips, whispering words of love to her sleeping form.

She had not been able to tell her, of course. She had been afraid of Kara’s response. Kara, who had had many lovers, had probably heard the words many times before. What would her reaction be? Would she be amused?

Ginny showered, hearing Nana in the kitchen and she thought of Nana’s reaction, should she guess that Ginny had fallen in love with a woman. She would be devastated. Nana could never understand.

“When did you finally get home?” Nana asked as she handed a cup of coffee from the espresso machine.

“Late.”

“Must have been. You look tired,” she said, watching her.

Ginny nodded, sipping from her coffee.

“Phil called,” she said.

Ginny let out her breath slowly, wondering what in the world he could have to say. “And?”

“Ginny, I just don’t understand you. The man is heartbroken,” Nana said.

“Nana, please,” Ginny said, shaking her head.

“Maybe you were hasty, Ginny. Maybe you need to think about this,” she said.

“I’ve thought about it for the last nine months, Nana.”

“But what will you do? Living out here with me,” she said, motioning to the windows. “I won’t be around for ever. Then what? What will you have? No husband, no babies,” she said.

Ginny thought Nana was near tears and she went to her and hugged her. “Nana, please don’t worry about me. I know you just want me to be happy. But, right now, this is what I want.”

Nana let out a great sigh. “I don’t understand women today,” she said. “Kara, for instance. Thirty-four and alone. Why must you be so independent? There’s nothing wrong with having a man to take care of you,” she said.

“I’m not going to get married just to have someone take care of me, Nana. I can do that myself,” she said gently.

“I’m worst than a mother, aren’t I?”

Ginny smiled. “I wouldn’t know,” she said.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean . . ..”

“Nana, I’ve always felt closer to you than to her. You know that.”

Nana touched her cheek and smiled. “I’m sorry, child. I’ll leave you alone about Phil. You know what’s best,” she said.

“Thank you.”

***********

Kara packed her few things, shoving them blindly into her bag. She didn’t have much. Most of her clothes were still at the cottage. She had already loaded her paintings, packing them carefully in the back of the Land Cruiser.

Going to see Ginny was going to be the hardest thing she had ever done. But she must, she told herself. She couldn’t stay here for the next few months and continue this affair with Ginny as if they had a future together. She had to give Ginny some time. Some time to discover herself. Some time to adjust to her new life and to figure out what she wanted from it. To figure out if this was what she wanted.

But she was hurting. She couldn’t deny that. She had fallen so deeply in love with Ginny that she felt as if she were cutting out her own heart by leaving. But better now, then two months down the road, when Ginny came to her senses and realized that Kara wasn’t the only woman out there.

And maybe later, after they had both had some time, Ginny might decide that Kara could make her happy in the long run. She might want to have a future with Kara. Kara closed her eyes, envisioning living out here with Ginny, waking up with her every morning, building a life together. Then she slowly shook her head. Did she really believe that would happen?

Ginny was only twenty-eight. She would meet someone younger, someone with her own interests, someone to make her forget about Kara and her summer of discovery.

Leave now and save face, she thought, shoving her clothes hastily into her bag. In a few hours, she would be safely back at the cottage, away from Ginny. She would have time to mend, time to heal her broken heart. Marsha’s leaving couldn’t even compare to the pain she was feeling now, she knew. Marsha, who she had spent six years with, had left her so quietly that Kara hadn’t even known she was gone.

But Ginny, she thought. Ginny would rip her heart out without even knowing it.

**********

Ginny looked up as the bell jingled, like she always did. She smiled, surprised to see Kara at the store. But her smile faded when she saw the sadness in Kara’s blue eyes. She went to her, unmindful of Nana watching.

“What is it?” she asked, stopping a mere foot in front of her.

“I’m . . . leaving,” Kara said. “For awhile.”

“Leaving?”

“Hello, Kara,” Nana said, walking up to them.

Kara pulled her eyes away from Ginny and forced a smile to her face. “Hello, Louise. I came to say goodbye,” she said.

“Goodbye?”

“I’m going to Seattle. I don’t know how long I’ll be gone,” she said. “So I wanted to stop by.”

“Well, we’ll still be here when you get back,” Nana said lightly, ignorant to the tension between the two women.

Kara turned back to Ginny, her heart splitting in two at the look in her green eyes. “Can we talk?”

Ginny nodded numbly. “I’ll be right back,” she said to Nana.

Ginny followed Kara outside, her eyes taking in her packed truck. “Kara?” She turned frightened eyes to her. “What are you doing?”

“Ginny, I’ve got to get back,” she said quietly. “I’ve got . . . some business to take care of,” she said.

Ginny studied her eyes. “You’re running away,” she said, knowing it was true.

“No.”

“Why? Tell me.”

“Ginny.” Kara reached out a hand to Ginny, then dropped it to her side.

“Why are you leaving me?” Ginny whispered. “Was it that bad for you?”

“Ginny, don’t,” Kara said. She placed her hands on Ginny’s shoulders and made her look at her. “This thing between us . . . you need some time. I need to give you time.”

“I’m in love with you,” Ginny blurted out.

“Please don’t say that,” Kara groaned. She dropped her hands, her heart beating painfully in her chest. “You don’t know what’s out there,” she said. “This is all new for you. Don’t assume you love me, just because I’m the one that made you realize your alternatives.”

Ginny stared at her, hearing her words, knowing what Kara was doing. “You’re afraid,” Ginny said. “You’re afraid of what I feel for you.”

It was Kara’s turn to stare. “Don’t settle for me,” she said gently.

“Oh, I see,” Ginny said. “I need to sleep around first. See what’s out there? See if I just imagined all this?”

Kara nodded weakly.

“Get a little more experience?” Ginny laughed. “Do I need to practice?”

“Ginny, you know that’s not what I mean,” Kara said.

“Isn’t it? I could tell last night, I guess. You were so far away,” she whispered.

“Ginny, no. That’s not it. Surely you know . . ..”

“I’m a beautiful lover. Yeah, right,” she said bitterly.

“Ginny . . ..”

“Why didn’t you tell me before? Why did you make me think that is was good for you, too?”

“Ginny, listen to me,” Kara said, gripping her shoulders again. Oh, God, this isn’t what she wanted Ginny to think. This wasn’t how she envisioned their parting. “I care about you. I . . . care about you very much,” she said again. “I don’t want you to hurt me,” she whispered, her voice cracking with emotion.

“Hurt you?” Ginny asked, amazed. “How could I hurt you?”

“I just want you to be sure,” Kara said. “Before we go too far.”

“So you’re going to leave me? That’s how you want me to be sure?”

“I have to. For me as much as for you,” she said.

“It won’t change anything,” Ginny said. “I know how I feel.” She looked up into Kara’s eyes. “I’m in love with you. Don’t leave me,” she whispered and she felt tears gather in her eyes. “Please?”

Kara swallowed hard, hating herself for what she was doing. “Take care of yourself,” Kara said and she touched Ginny’s face gently.

“Do you love me, too, Kara?” Ginny asked softly. “Is that why you’re running away?”

Kara’s jaw clinched from the ache in her heart and she pulled her eyes from Ginny’s. She walked to her truck and slammed the door and sped away.

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

Kara opened the windows to the breeze, surprisingly happy to be back at the cottage. She took a cigarette and walked to the water, her eyes feasting on the blue expanse of Puget Sound, sail boats competing with the much larger vessels of the sea.

She strolled the shore, watching sea gulls flying over, trying to clear her head. She had made the right decision, she knew. And it felt good to be back home, around her familiar surroundings. Away from Ginny. Maybe she would be able to work here. For the last week, she had not been able to pick up a brush. Her heart and mind had been elsewhere.

She breathed deeply, savoring the smell of the sea and she closed her eyes, letting the wind soothe her, the sound of the water relax her. And it did. For the last two hours, she had thought of little else, other than the words Ginny had spoken to her. “I’m in love with you.” Kara shut her mind to Ginny’s whispered words. She didn’t want to remember the pain in Ginny’s eyes when Kara had left her.

She turned her back to the wind and cupped her cigarette, lighting it with practiced ease. She had forgotten about her daily count and had bought an entire carton when she had stopped at the grocery store on her way home. Bad habits die hard, she thought as she climbed the hill back to her cottage.

She was actually able to work, and for the first time in her life, the brush flew over the canvas without the accompanying sketch to guide her. She painted from memory. She painted from the heart.

The giant tree loomed over the forest, beckoning the visitor into the woods for a closer look. The sun was gone, leaving only a faint glow in the sky, but the moon was out, shining ghostly upon the forest. Kara brought the trees to life in the moonlight. And the giant monster in the middle held the secret. Upon its old, crusty bark, she painted the shadows of two lovers, embracing. Two lovers locked in each other’s arms.

She worked day and night, stopping only occasionally to nap and when she remembered, to eat.

It was to be hers to keep. She would not share it with anyone. It was much too personal for that. But, oh, it pained her to remember the need Ginny had for her that night. So much need that Ginny had not cared that Phil was coming along the path, looking for them. She had not cared that he might catch them. “Don’t stop,” she had pleaded with Kara. And Kara couldn’t. She, too, ignored the sound of Phil’s voice. She only wanted to give what Ginny had needed.

She dropped her arms to her sides, exhausted. She stared at the shadow figures, remembering. And she cried.

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

It was Sunday, nearly noon, but Ginny couldn’t bring herself to get out of bed. For the last two weeks, she had put on a brave front, appearing cheerful in front of Nana, eating meals with a vigor she did not feel and participating in meaningless conversations when her mind was elsewhere. Elsewhere! She laughed. Her mind wasn’t elsewhere. It was on Kara. It had been since the moment she had walked out of her life. Each day, she went to the store, waiting for the phone to ring. Each time the bell jingled, she looked up, hoping to find Kara standing in the doorway. Finally, yesterday, she had given up. Kara wasn’t coming back. Kara didn’t want her in her life. Kara didn’t need her.

And so she had stayed in bed. Hiding. She could not put on a brave front any longer. She had told Nana she wasn’t feeling well, which, of course, was the truth and Nana had brought her soup to eat, which still stood on the nightstand beside her. She couldn’t force down another meal. She was certain that she would never eat again.

She rolled over, wishing for the pain in her heart to go away. Never in her life had she felt so alone. The pain of her childhood could not even compare. She loved Kara. Of that, at least, she was certain. But why had Kara run? What was she afraid of? Was Ginny’s need of her too much? Had she felt smothered? Ginny’s first thought was her inexperience in bed, but she knew that wasn’t the reason. Their lovemaking had been too passionate, to intense for her to have imagined it. Kara had enjoyed it as much as Ginny had. There was another reason for her leaving.

The knock on her door cut short her thoughts and she called for Nana to come in.

“How are you feeling?”

“Better,” Ginny lied.

“Good. I was worried about you. You’re never sick,” Nana said.

Ginny turned away, her eyes looking out the window, seeing nothing. She was on the verge of tears and she didn’t want Nana to see. She would never be able to explain tears. She had never cried in front of Nana.

“You didn’t eat your soup, Ginny,” Nana said.

“I didn’t think I could keep it down,” she said. “But I’m better now.”

“Let me heat it for you,” Nana said with relief.

“Okay. I’ll get up now, I think,” she said.

Nana smiled and left her and Ginny made herself rise, tossing off the protective covers. Staying in bed, hiding, would not solve anything.

Later that week, as Ginny choked down another meal, she knew what she had to do. She had to find Kara. She had to know the reason she left. She could deal with the truth. But not knowing was slowly driving her crazy.

“Nana, things will slow down in a few weeks, once the season winds down. If I left for a couple of days, would you and Jessica be okay?”

“Of course, Ginny. Where are you going?”

“To Seattle,” she said.

Nana’s face broke into a smile. “I knew it. Your forced cheerfulness these last few weeks couldn’t fool me.” She beamed at Ginny. “You’re going to Phil, aren’t you?”

Phil. Always Phil, Ginny thought. “I’m just going to Seattle,” Ginny said tiredly. “Not necessarily to see Phil.”

“Oh, I know you’ve been miserable since he left,” Nana continued. “Of course we can handle the store. You stay gone as long as you need. Oh, Ginny, I’m so glad you’re going . . ..”

Ginny left her protest unspoken as Nana rambled on and on about Phil. She simply stopped listening. She was more concerned about how she was going to find Kara in a city the size of Seattle.

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

“Oh, Kara, it’s gorgeous. They’re all fabulous.” She smiled at her. “As always,” she added. Stephanie sorted through the paintings, her eyes drawn again to the giant tree and Kara instantly regretted her decision to sell it. It was too personal. She didn’t want a stranger peering at it, imagining who the lovers were, imagining it was themselves in that embrace.

But it had become too painful for even Kara to look at.

“I’ll have them displayed within the week,” Stephanie said. “This one is intriguing,” she said, her hands touching Kara’s painting. “It’s different from what you normally do.” She looked up and smiled. “I may want to keep this one. Just display it for awhile.” She stared at Kara. “By the way, what are you doing back in town?”

“Recuperating,” Kara said easily.

“Oh?” Stephanie asked with interest.

“I was out in the woods for a month or so,” she said. “I’ve only been back five weeks.” Five weeks and two days, her mind counted, since she’d seen Ginny.

“You’re getting too old for that. Time for you to settle,” she said.

Kara smiled, taking one last look at the giant tree, at the shadows on its bark. She wanted to settle. She wanted to settle in a little town called Chiwaukum, with a green-eyed blond who had stolen her heart and soul.

“I’ve got to go,” she said quietly.

“I’ll be in touch,” Stephanie called after her.

Kara drove to the nearest liquor store, bypassing her usual wine for a bottle of scotch. Once home, she poured a generous amount and walked to the shore, cigarette hanging comfortably between her fingers and she ignored the light mist falling.

For the past five weeks, she had been making this trip to the water, looking for answers. She had wanted to call her, but she hadn’t dared. She didn’t want to bother her. She didn’t want to stir up memories. And it was better this way, she told herself. Each day it got easier.

She laughed bitterly. Who was she kidding? Certainly not herself. Each day was harder than the one before. Each day Ginny’s memory came to her more clearly. Each night, Ginny’s touch was heavier on her body.

Maybe she should go out. Maybe she should call up an old friend and have dinner or something. Or something. The thought of being with someone else simply nauseated her. She wanted no one else. She wanted only Ginny.

CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

Ginny took the ferry to Bainbridge Island, wondering frantically where she would start looking. The phone book had proved useless. Kara was not listed among the ‘Morgans’ and the operator had firmly told her it was an unlisted number. No amount of begging by Ginny had budged him.

She was looking for a needle in a haystack, she realized as she drove down the highway, turning off on each side road that looked like it would take her to the water. She hadn’t realized how many small towns dotted the island and Kara could live in any one of them. It was a fruitless trip, she knew, but she kept driving and searching. She had to find her.

When darkness came, she turned around, heading back to the ferry and Seattle. She would have dinner, she thought, and maybe call up one of her old friends. They could sit around and talk about her miserable love life! She could just image the look on their faces should she confess that she had fallen in love with a woman.

She could always walk to Capitol Hill, the unofficial gay neighborhood of Seattle. Maybe stroll down Broadway for an hour or so and have dinner at one of the restaurants there. In spite of her mood, that sounded much more appealing than room service and another night alone.

She parked two blocks away, the foot traffic heavy on a Saturday night and she blended in with the crowd. She found herself staring at the two women walking in front of her, holding hands. They were young, early twenties, she thought, but still, they looked so comfortable with each other. She immediately thought of Kara and pictured them walking arm and arm like this. She tore her eyes away and looked at other faces, strangers in the crowd. She walked into the indoor mall, pushing through the milling shoppers. Coffee. Real Seattle coffee. She stood in line at the coffee bar, dying for a real latte after months of relying on her portable espresso machine.

She took her coffee and stopped at the newspaper stand, the local gay paper catching her eye. She bought one, taking it to a table with her.

It was all there. Bars, diners, bookstores and any other gay-oriented activity she could possibly want. To say she was surprised was an understatement. She just had no idea how large the gay community was in Seattle. She knew now that she had purposefully ignored that part of city before.

She flipped through the pages, looking for women’s bars. Perhaps Kara was right. Maybe she did need to explore her newfound sexuality. Maybe she was rushing things with Kara.

Of course she wasn’t, though. She knew how she felt about Kara. But it wouldn’t hurt to look, she told herself. Kara obviously didn’t want her. With that, she went back to her hotel to change and to mentally prepare herself for a night out on the town.

CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

Kara stood staring at the empty canvas, brush in hand, when the knocking on her door disrupted her thoughts. Who? No one knew she was back.

Marsha. Kara’s breath caught at the sight of her. She hadn’t seen her in over a year. She was as beautiful as ever

“My God, look at you,” Marsha said and raised up on tiptoe to kiss her lips.

Kara smiled, surprised at how glad she was to see her. “What in the world are you doing here?”

“Can’t I visit an old friend?” Marsha asked.

Kara shut the door and followed Marsha inside, smelling the perfume that she remembered from long ago.

“When Stephanie told me you were back, I said, no, it can’t be. It’s still summer. You should be out camping or something, looking for your colors,” she said, with just a hint of bitterness in her voice.

“I came back early,” Kara said.

“You never did that for me.”

Their eyes met and Kara smiled. “Did you come here to fight?”

Marsha pulled out a cigarette and waited for Kara to light it. “No. I came to visit,” she said.

Kara poured them each a glass of scotch and shoved a cigarette between her own lips. “Let’s go outside,” she said.

“I miss it here,” Marsha said, when they settled on the deck.

“Where’s Robin?” Kara asked, surprised that she felt no anger.

“Things didn’t work out,” Marsha said.

“I’m sorry.”

Marsha waved her apology aside. “It’s ironic, really. She said I worked too much, that I was never around.”

Kara laughed. “How long ago?”

“Oh, it’s been several months now.” Marsha pulled on her cigarette, letting the smoke out slowly. “What about you?”

“What about me?”

“Anyone in your life?”

Kara laughed again. “You know me. All work and no play.”

Marsha leaned forward, her index finger reaching out to touch Kara’s hand. “Want to play now?” she asked wickedly.

Kara met her eyes, knowing that beneath her teasing tones, she was very serious.

“I’ve missed being with you,” Marsha continued.

Kara smiled, thinking that if she had come a few months ago, she might have been tempted. But she let Marsha kiss her. Her mouth parted and she actually hoped that she could still feel something for her. But she didn’t. She pulled away, not looking at her and she brought her cigarette to her lips.

Marsha leaned back and watched her. “So, who is she?” she asked.

“Who?”

Marsha laughed. “I saw your paintings.”

“And?”

“And you forget. I watched you paint for six years. I’ve never seen that much passion in one painting before.”

Kara swallowed the last of her drink, but said nothing.

“Are you in love with her? The woman in your painting?”

“My, but you are perceptive,” Kara said lightly.

Marsha took her hand again. “Look at you. You’re all tense.” She squeezed her arm. “Why don’t you tell me about it?”

“You don’t want to hear it, I’m sure,” Kara said.

Marsha shrugged. “What are friends for?”

Kara smiled at her, liking her more now than she had in years. Kara held up her empty glass. “I’ll need another for this story,” she said.

“I’ll get it,” Marsha said and came back with the bottle and their cigarettes. “Now, do tell.”

“Just like that?”

“Yes. You’ve fallen in love. I want to know all about her,” Marsha said.

Kara laughed. “She’s straight.”

“Kara! Have you lost your mind?”

“Maybe I should rephrase that. She was straight when I met her.”

“Why, you devil,” Marsha teased. “Now I’m really interested.”

“I’m in over my head, Marsha,” Kara said, taking out her cigarettes and lighting one.

Marsha laughed. “This is so interesting. Kara Morgan in over her head!” Marsha grinned. “Tell me how it started.”

“She owns a little grocery store in Chiwaukum, in the Wenatchee Mountains,” Kara said. “I rented a cabin there for the summer.”

“She owns a grocery store? How old is she?”

“Twenty-eight,” Kara said.

“A child,” Marsha said and grinned. “I love it. Go on,” she said.

Kara shrugged. “We became friends. She told me about Phil, this guy in Seattle who wanted to marry her and I told her about women,” Kara said.

“And?”

“And we became more than friends,” Kara said quietly, remembering. “And then Phil shows up, wanting to take her back to Seattle and that’s a whole different story,” Kara said. “Anyway, she sent him away.”

“Wait, wait,” Marsha said. “I want to hear the part about Phil. I love it when men don’t get their way.”

“I must have been insane,” Kara said. “They invited me on a cookout, Louise and all,” she said.

“Who’s Louise?”

“Grandmother,” Kara said. “Anyway, I shouldn’t have gone. I mean, Phil was there, I knew they had probably slept together and I was crazy with jealousy. But I went. Ginny and I took a walk around sunset, to the Big Tree,” she said.

“Your painting?”

“Yes. We’re standing there, up against this tree . . ..”

“Making love?”

“Yes. And Phil comes looking for us, but we don’t stop. We couldn’t. That’s when I knew for certain that I loved her.”

“Jesus. Did he catch you?”

“No. But when we got back, Louise announced that Phil and Ginny are getting married.”

“Kara?”

“I know,” she said. “I’m crazy.”

“But she sent him away?”

“Yes. And I left.”

“Just like that?”

“She said that she loved me,” Kara said.

“And you ran for your life?”

Kara shrugged. “She’s not straight, Marsha. She only thought she was.”

“Oh, Kara. Do I know you or what?”

“Meaning?”

“You’re just protecting yourself, aren’t you? In case she finds out there are other fish in the sea?”

Kara laughed. “Very good,” she said, inhaling deeply on her cigarette.

“Kara, you can be so stubborn sometimes. Don’t you know what a good catch you are?”

Kara laughed again. “You didn’t think so.”

“I was selfish. I wanted more of you than you could give me.”

“I’m sorry.”

Marsha shook her head. “So? When are you going back?”

“I don’t know that I am.”

“Why not?”

“She just ended a five-year relationship with a man. A man who thought they were going to get married. And now she’s discovered that . . ..”

“She’s gay?”

“Yes. There was a woman once, before Phil, that she was involved with. Well, not sexually, but they were headed that way and she ran from it. Now that she’s accepted who she is, she’s got her whole life in front of her.”

“And you’re scared she won’t choose you?”

“Something like that,” Kara murmured.

“So you leave before she has a chance to tell you.”

“Something like that,” she said again.

“You haven’t told her, have you?”

“What?”

“That you’re in love with her.”

Kara shook her head. “No. And I doubt that I will.”

Marsha smiled and touched her glass to Kara’s. “Here’s to foolish women in love,” she said lightly. “Foolish being the key word, Kara.”

CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

Ginny walked into the bar, feeling that every eye in the room was on her. More women than she ever thought she’d see were crammed together in the loud and smoky club. She shoved her way to the bar and got a beer, then walked through the crowd, looking at faces, suddenly wondering what she would do if Kara was there. But of course, she wouldn’t be. Ginny didn’t think that bars were Kara’s style.

She had scarcely taken a drink from her beer when a pretty, young women, barely college age, asked her to dance. Ginny stared at her, shocked, then politely declined. For a moment, she had forgotten where she was and why. She was embarrassed and wanted to call the girl back, but she let her go. She wasn’t interested in that woman in the least.

She didn’t decline her next offer, even though the woman was even more masculine that Phil. She was at least closer to Ginny’s age.

“I’m Mandy,” the woman said.

Mandy? This was no Mandy! “Ginny. Nice to meet you.”

The woman pulled her close and Ginny could smell bourbon on her breath and she turned her face away from her.

“I haven’t seen you around before,” Mandy said.

“I’m just visiting,” Ginny explained.

“I hope for awhile,” Mandy said seductively.

“Leaving in the morning, I’m afraid,” Ginny lied. She felt the woman’s large breasts press against her own and she wanted to pull away.

“That’s a shame. But the night’s long,” Mandy whispered in her ear.

Not long enough to convince me to stay with you! “I’m actually waiting for someone,” Ginny lied again. She prayed that the song would end.

“Well, just my luck,” Mandy said but she continued to hold Ginny close.

Ginny suffered through the slow dance, escaping Mandy’s arms as soon as the song ended and moved to the other side of the room, away from Mandy.

She made herself stay until midnight, enduring countless dances with strangers, none of whom stirred even the slightest desire in her. None of them could compare to Kara, not that she thought any of them ever would.

Back at her hotel, she lay on her bed, fully clothed, feeling even more depressed than before. Kara, where are you? I need you.

She closed her eyes and let silent tears fall, feeling her heart breaking all over again. How could she love someone so much, finally, and they just leave her? Leave with a half-assed excuse that it was for her own good? It made no sense.

And it wasn’t fair. She had been looking for so long. Looking for that magic, that burning desire. And she had finally found it with Kara. And now she was gone from her life as quickly as she had come into it.

She awoke during the night and undressed, crawling beneath the covers finally. But she couldn’t sleep any more. She tossed and turned, her thoughts jumbled with memories of Kara. Kara’s lips coming to her; Kara’s hands cupping her breasts. Kara’s mouth settling over her, taking her to heights she had only dreamed of. Kara. Kara’s face. Kara’s eyes. Kara.

She got up. Angry.

“Damn her,” she whispered to her empty room. She had to stop. She couldn’t go on like this. It was slowly driving her insane, this desire, this need she had for Kara.

“Well, she doesn’t want you. She doesn’t love you.”

Ginny laughed bitterly. And what could she possibly offer Kara anyway? Friendship? Yes, they were friends. But she was sure Kara found her lacking in bed. Ginny didn’t have experience. She didn’t know how to love a woman. Kara had probably been with many women, all of whom were vastly superior to Ginny when it came to making love.

Ginny was jealous again. Jealous of those women who had touched Kara, had made love to her. Was there someone now? Had she called up an old friend? Was there someone staying with her at her cottage?

Ginny slammed her fist on the table, cursing herself for the tears that ran down her cheeks; cursing herself for being weak.

She should just go back, she thought. Go back to Nana and her lonely life. She would forget about Kara. Eventually. Maybe even look back on this with fondness someday. Kara had, after all, shown her that there was a whole new life for her, just waiting to be explored.

But instead of leaving, she took a bus downtown and walked the familiar streets, window-shopping and people watching. She paused at the high-rise where Phil worked. Where she had once worked, too. She should go up. At least say hello. At least so that she could tell Nana she had seen him.

But she didn’t. He would want to talk. It would just start all over again and it was better this way. She didn’t want to see him, anyway. He meant nothing to her anymore. He was just a distant memory of another life.

She walked down to the waterfront and had lunch, taking her seafood platter out to the patio overlooking Puget Sound. She had to fight the gulls for her last shrimp, but it was relaxing to be out here again. The familiar smell, the familiar sounds. She hadn’t realized she had missed Seattle. She had stayed away because of Phil. But Chiwaukum was only a couple of hours through the mountains. She could come back now, if she wanted. She no longer felt the need to avoid Phil. That was over.

She wondered through Pike Place Market, watching as the vendors displayed their goods, shoving through the crowds. Back on the street, she walked again through downtown, pausing to watch the horse-drawn carriages carry tourists along to the waterfront. She walked on, passing shops and people, her mind blank and empty for once.

She passed an art gallery, one that she had walked past a hundred times before and her breath caught in her throat. She reached out to touch the glass, her eyes wide. It couldn’t be. She brought her hand to her chest, trying to chase the pain away. The Big Tree. By Kara Morgan. She looked at the card again, but it was there.

Her eyes blinked quickly, trying to hide the tears that had formed. She stared, dumbfounded. The forest was ablaze in white light, the moon seeming to chase the sun from the sky. Her eyes followed the giant tree into the dark forest, down its rough bark, bark that she could still feel pressing against her skin. The path to the tree seemed to glow and she followed it now, as her feet had followed it all those weeks ago. And there, at its base, stood the shadows of two lovers, beneath the summer moon, heads drawn together, embracing. Hands touching, loving.

She shuddered and her breath left her in a silent gasp. Is that how they had been? Wrapped so closely together that even the barest of light could not penetrate? She watched, and remembered.

“Did you want him the way you wanted me? Did you beg him to put his mouth on you?”

Ginny swallowed hard, her eyes unseeing as she stared at the painting.

“Did he make you feel the way that I did? Were your breasts ready for his touch, like they are mine?”

Ginny shook her head. “Never,” she whispered. She closed her eyes and saw them, her hand placing Kara’s between her legs. “Touch me.”

“Ginny, Phil is coming.”

“I don’t care. I need you. Don’t stop.”

She groaned, remembering. “I’m so sorry.”

“You don’t ever have to be sorry for wanting me that way.”

And then, “Ginny, honey, come on.”

And Ginny knew. Kara loved her. It was all there, right in front of her. Kara loved her.

She pushed through the door, going immediately to the painting.

“May I help you?”

Ginny looked up, stunned. “I . . . I want to buy this one,” she stammered.

The woman smiled. “Ah, are you familiar with her work?”

“Yes.”

“Well, we have some others of hers. I’m afraid this one is not for sale.”

Ginny swallowed. “What do you mean?”

The woman smiled again. “The owner has decided to keep it and display it for awhile. Perhaps in a few months . . ..” She walked away, beckoning Ginny to follow. “Come, we have some others by Kara Morgan.”

Ginny followed, her eyes wide as she saw familiar scenes appear before her. The waterfalls, at sunrise. Nana’s favorite lake, also at sunrise. She looked closer, seeing two deer faintly in the mist. She moved on and her eyes teared again. Their lake. Their sunset. She reached out. She had sat right there, beside Kara and watched as the colors changed, as the lake turned from blue to orange before her eyes. She glanced at the card. Ginny’s Lake. She raised her eyes to the woman.

“Yes, this one is beautiful,” the woman said. “But, its been sold.”

Ginny’s heart sank. Sold? That was her lake. That was her sunset. She took a deep breath and turned to the woman. “I want the one in the window,” she said evenly.

“I’m sorry.”

“Please, I have to have it. Ask the owner,” Ginny pleaded.

“Very well. I’ll be right back.”

Ginny watched her go, then turned again to Kara’s paintings. They were beautiful. All of them. She could picture Kara standing over them, her fingers holding the brush gently, lovingly stroking the canvas, bringing the scenes to life.

“Ma’am?”

Ginny turned. “Yes?”

“She’ll part with it for three thousand,” the woman said.

Ginny nodded. “Okay.” She didn’t care about the price. She would have drained her entire savings to have it.

The woman smiled. “She would like to display it for awhile. Could some arrangement be made?”

“No. I’m not from Seattle.”

“Perhaps we could ship it to you then?”

“No.” Ginny forced a smile. “I’m sorry. But I must have it now.”

CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

Kara stood looking out over Puget Sound, unseeing, as the ferry took her to Seattle. A party. She didn’t feel like a party. She didn’t feel much like anything, but Marsha had talked her into it. A bunch of their old friends would be there, she had said.

“Big deal,” Kara muttered. She glanced to the west, the sun still hanging on, dipping into the sea as it fought with the clouds that brought a slow drizzle. And the colors were magnificent. But she could find little joy in them this evening. She turned her face away and cupped her hands, flicking a flame to her cigarette.

She drove through the wet streets, thoughts of Ginny crowding her mind and she pushed them all away.

“Jesus, look at you,” Marsha said, drawing Kara inside. “You look like shit.”

“Thanks.”

“I mean it. When’s the last time you’ve eaten?”

Kara shrugged, slipping another cigarette between her lips. Marsha watched her, concern showing on her face. “I’ve never seen you this way, Kara. I’m worried about you.”

“Please,” Kara said and rolled her eyes. “I’m fine.”

“Why don’t you call her?” Marsha asked gently.

Kara shook her head. “No.” She took a deep drag off her cigarette. “I’m extremely happy being miserable.”

CHAPTER THIRTY

“It’s the Big Tree,” Nana said excitedly.

“Yes.”

“It’s . . . beautiful,” she said, looking closer. “Look, there are people . . ..”

“Yes,” Ginny said sharply.

Nana looked up. “Should we hang it above the sofa?”

“No. I want to put it in my room,” she said.

“In your room? Why, it would look wonderful out here,” Nana said.

Ginny stared at her. “I would rather hang it in my room.”

“Well, okay. It is your painting,” Nana said defensively. “Did you see her?”

“No. I bought it at a gallery, downtown,” she said.

“What did you pay?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Ginny said quietly.

“Too much, no doubt. You should have just asked her for one. She said she sometimes gave them as gifts,” Nana said.

“Like I said, I didn’t see her,” Ginny said. She left, taking the painting with her. She propped it against the bed and stared at it, again. It was all there. Everything she felt, it was there. Kara had captured it exactly. Their love.

She squeezed her eyes closed, trying to ward off the tears that she knew would come. She had been unable to stop them last night and today. She had cried. She had cried for herself. She cried for Kara. She cried because the pain in her heart was nearly too much for her to bear.

Maybe she shouldn’t have taken the painting. It was too painful to look at, really. Maybe she should just put it away for awhile. Maybe later, years from now, she could look at it and not remember.

“Where are you?” she whispered. “Why won’t you come back to me? I know you love me.” She tucked her face into her hands and cried, deep sobs that came from her heart.

She cried when the espresso machine gave her mocha instead of a latte. She pounded the side, tears streaming down her face.

“Ginny?”

“Damn thing,” she muttered. She sipped the mocha and it burned her mouth.

She cried when she restocked the shelf with cereal, knocking several boxes to the floor. She picked them up, wiping at her tears.

“Ginny? What’s wrong?” Nana asked.

“Nothing.”

She cried when she burned the garlic bread they were having for dinner. “Goddamn it!” she yelled, jerking the bread from the oven.

“Ginny?”

“I’m sorry,” she whispered.

Nana stared at her, not knowing what to say.

And she cried in bed, the light still on, her eyes staring at Kara’s painting for hours on end.

Nana suffered through her bouts of tears in silence. Ginny could not tell her what was wrong. Nana had quit asking. She walked around her gently, trying not to upset her.

One night, weeks later, as Ginny lay in bed, tears running down her cheeks, Nana came to her.

“Ginny, what’s wrong, child?” she asked gently. “I want to help.”

Ginny turned bruised eyes to Nana. “I’m . . . I’m so lonely,” she whispered.

Nana sat on the edge of the bed and brushed her hair, as if soothing a child.

“Why don’t you just call?” she asked.

“Call?”

“Phil,” Nana said gently.

Ginny cried harder, her shoulders shaking. “Oh, Nana. It’s not . . . not Phil,” she said.

Nana looked at her, puzzled.

Ginny couldn’t keep it inside any longer. She no longer cared if Nana hated her.

“I miss . . . Kara,” she cried.

“Kara?”

Ginny nodded, covering her face with her hands.

“I don’t understand,” Nana whispered.

“Kara left . . . because of me,” she said.

“You’re not making sense,” Nana said. “Why would she leave because of you?”

Ginny took Nana’s hand. “Kara and I . . . we . . ..” But she couldn’t say the words. Not to Nana.

“Ginny? What? What’s wrong?”

“I love her,” Ginny whispered.

Nana frowned. “You’re good friends.”

Ginny shook her head. “More than friends, Nana.”

Nana frowned again, her eyes searching Ginny’s. “What are you saying, child?”

“We . . ..” Ginny closed her eyes. “We were lovers,” she whispered softly. “I’m in love with her.”

“Ginny?” Nana gasped. “You’re not saying . . . that you and Kara?”

“I’m sorry, Nana. I know you don’t understand.” She opened her eyes, but Nana couldn’t meet hers. “I didn’t know how to tell you.”

“But . . . Phil. You’re not . . . like that. Kara’s not . . ..” But Nana stopped. “Is she?”

“Yes.”

“My God. What did she do to you?” Nana hissed.

“No. It wasn’t her. It was me, Nana.” She took Nana’s hand, trying to make her understand. “Why do you think I ran from Phil? It just wasn’t right with him. There was no magic. I was looking for that magic that you had with Grandpa,” she said. “And then I met Kara. And I finally found what I had been looking for. She made me feel everything that I’d been missing.”

Nana shook her head. “I don’t understand,” she said softly. “I just don’t understand.”

“I know you don’t. I wasn’t going to tell you.” She turned away. “She’s gone, anyway.”

“She’s why you’ve been hurting?”

Ginny nodded, tears coming again. “I love her. But I don’t think she’s coming back to me.”

CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

Kara drove through the mountains, the road more familiar than it should be. It had been three months since she had traveled here. Three months since she had left Ginny. Her stomach tightened. What would Ginny say to her? Would she be angry?

Maybe she would be thankful Kara had left. Maybe she had time to sort out her life, to decide what she really wanted. Maybe it wasn’t Kara.

Kara closed her eyes briefly, thinking of the pain she would feel if Ginny sent her away. But then, it couldn’t be any worse than the pain she had been suffering these past few months. Marsha, of all people, had made her come back.

“You’re making yourself sick. Hell, you’re making me sick just watching you.”

Kara could smile now. It was almost over, one way or the other.

The Dobson place was as she had left it. She opened the windows, letting the breeze chase away the stale smell of the closed-up cabin. She unpacked what little she had brought back with her. She had been afraid to pack too much. She wasn’t certain how long she would be staying. And October was but a few weeks away.

She gave in to the nervousness that had been threatening the entire trip and took a beer and a cigarette to the porch and settled in her chair, pleased that it still felt comfortable to her. She listened to the calls of the birds, the calming sound of the wind in the trees. Different than the sound the wind made at her cottage, yet familiar, and she relaxed.

She would go to her at the store, she decided. Not at the house, where Nana could watch their every move, hear their every word. And the store was safer, she thought. Ginny might be less inclined to strike out at her, if that was to be her intention.

She should go, yet she stayed rooted to the chair, fumbling into her pack for another cigarette. Nerves. What a terrible thing for a woman her age.

CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO

Ginny looked up at the sound of the bell, like she always did. Her smile faltered and she dropped the change she was handing to Mrs. Peters, listening as it clattered to the counter top, then the floor. Kara.

“I’ll get it,” Mrs. Peters said, but Ginny hardly heard. Startled green eyes met blue across the room.

Her heart beat painfully in her chest and she couldn’t breathe. But Kara was there, standing by the door, still holding it open, as if she were afraid to come inside.

Ginny moved, her feet carrying her slowly around the counter, her eyes never leaving Kara’s. She stopped a mere foot from her, surprised to find fear in Kara’s eyes.

“Don’t you ever . . . leave me again,” Ginny whispered.

“No.”

Ginny let her breath out slowly, then moved into Kara’s arms, pressing against her warmth, feeling so much relief that she thought she would surely die. Strong arms held her close and she breathed in Kara’s scent.

“Ginny . . ..”

But Ginny pulled out of her arms and turned to Nana, who was watching them with wariness.

“Can you manage without me?”

“I suppose,” Nana said, unable to meet Kara’s eyes.

Ginny turned and walked out the door, feeling Kara’s presence behind her. Why was she here? Did she come back for Ginny or did she come to finally explain? She stopped at Kara’s Land Cruiser, then turned and met her eyes, tears forming in her own at the profound sadness in Kara’s.

“Ginny . . . I . . ..”

“I don’t want to talk yet,” she said, wiping a tear off her cheek.

Kara drove quickly down the road, her eyes glancing at Ginny frequently, but Ginny refused to look at her. “We need to talk,” Kara finally said. “Do you want to go to your house?”

“No. I’m not ready to talk,” Ginny said quietly.

Kara drove to the Dobson cabin in silence, glancing occasionally at the woman beside her, the woman who simply stared out the window as they drove. Once inside, they stood staring at each other for countless seconds, both trying desperately to read the other’s eyes.

“I’m sorry,” Kara finally said. “I just wanted you to have a chance . . ..”

“I said . . . I don’t want to talk yet,” Ginny whispered. She went to Kara and slipped into her arms. “I just want to love you,” she said softly.

“Oh, Ginny,” Kara murmured into her hair, breathing deeply. All the endless weeks of pain vanished as her hands moved over Ginny’s soft body, molding her to her own.

“I need to . . . be with you,” Ginny whispered. “I need to know if it’s true,” she said.

“If what is true?”

“I saw it in your painting, but I thought maybe I was just hoping, wishing,” she said, her voice ripe with emotion and unshed tears. At Kara’s frown, she said, “I went to Seattle looking for you. I saw the tree. I bought it.”

Kara touched Ginny’s face, tears brimming in her own eyes.

“Tell me I didn’t imagine the love in that painting.”

“I knew for certain that I loved you that night,” she whispered. “And I was afraid.”

Ginny drew Kara’s head to hers, meeting her lips for the first time, feeling as weak as she had that other time, so long ago now. “Show me,” she whispered.

Kara drew Ginny’s naked body to her, touching her breasts with gentle fingers, feeling the familiar hardness against her palms. She had thought, once, that she might never again feel Ginny beside her, like this. But Ginny was here, she was real and Kara loved her with a passion she had only dreamed of. Her mouth left Ginny’s, moving to her breasts and Kara buried her face between them and she cried.

“Kara?”

“I love you,” Kara whispered. “I’m so sorry. I was just scared to death over what I felt.”

Ginny pulled her up, letting her own tears fall and she pressed her face into Kara’s neck. “Don’t cry, sweetheart,” she whispered. “I love you so very much. I’ll never hurt you.”

Ginny pushed Kara gently on the bed and covered her, needing to show her how much she loved her. Her kisses were soft, feather-light on her face, her eyes. Words of love poured from her and she murmured in Kara’s ear, promising her, tempting her with the ecstasy that was to come. Her tongue slid slowly over Kara’s, into her mouth, needing to know her again. She moved to her breasts, her tongue raking each nipple in turn, feeling them harden, taking each into her mouth, feeling them swell even more as she gently sucked, gently teased.

“Ginny.”

“Yes. I’m here.” Ginny’s tongue moved over her, tasting her, wetting a path that her mouth followed and she heard Kara’s heart beating loudly, heard her breath catch when Ginny kissed her thighs, moving over her, touching her first with gentle hands, soothing her, spreading her thighs even more. She breathed the scent of Kara and she was lost. She knelt between her legs, eyes closed as she touched her, fingers moving through her silkiness, then inside her as Kara moaned softly.

“I love you so much,” Ginny whispered. She lay down and buried her face between Kara’s legs, tasting her, loving her. Her tongue moved deep within her, feeling Kara drawing her in. She took her gently between her lips, her tongue moving over her, stroking her, feeling Kara move with her, writhing under her mouth before yielding to the pleasure that Ginny brought to her. Kara clutched Ginny’s head, fingers entwining in her hair, and she held Ginny to her, hard, pushing her hips against her face, begging her.

“Ginny . . . oh, Ginny,” she breathed and then she stilled, her voice gone as her breath caught and her hips arched once and she screamed out, calling Ginny’s name again before her legs gave way and she relaxed, spent, arms falling to her sides, chest heaving.

Ginny knelt between her legs, hands resting on Kara’s stomach. “I love you, Kara,” she whispered.

Kara’s eyes opened slowly and she reached out to touch Ginny’s face, still wet with her. “I hurt you,” she said. “I’m so sorry.”

“Yes,” Ginny nodded. “You hurt me. You left me and I wanted to die,” she said. “I just couldn’t understand, Kara. I felt so strongly about this and you just disappeared, as if it meant nothing to you.”

“I ran. I was . . ..”

“You were scared I would hurt you,” Ginny stated. She crawled next to Kara, wrapping her arms around her and snuggling close to her. “It wasn’t until I saw the painting that I finally realized why you had really left. But I couldn’t find you.” Her voice broke and she swallowed back tears. “I tried.”

“I won’t leave you again,” Kara promised.

“No. I won’t let you. This is what I want, Kara. Not some faceless woman from my future. Not a chance to meet someone else, someone other than you.” She traced Kara’s lips with her finger, then cupped her cheek, making Kara look at her. “You not only took my heart, Kara. You took my soul. I’m just half a person when you’re gone.”

Kara let tears slip easily from her eyes as she held Ginny’s gaze. Foolish women in love. Indeed. She had made a big mistake by leaving. They should have talked then, they should have shared all of this then. But she had been too scared all those weeks ago. Her pride had told her to run before Ginny decided there were others out there, much better than herself.

“I just wanted you to be sure . . . that I was what you wanted. I didn’t want to assume . . ..” Kara said, trying to explain.

“I’m sure.” Then Ginny smiled and leaned over to touch her lips to Kara’s. “I’m sure that I want you in my life, like this. I’m sure that I love you. I’m sure that I want you to make love to me . . . right now,” she finished in a whisper as her kiss deepened.

Kara’s lovemaking was slow, unhurried. She touched Ginny with gentle hands and soft lips, saying she was sorry, over and over again. Then Ginny was guiding her, spreading her legs for her and Kara went to her, her mouth loving her, her tongue moving through her wetness, her moan mingling with Ginny’s as her tongue slipped deep inside her.

Much too soon, Ginny thought. Too soon. But she couldn’t stop the flame as it moved through her body, consuming her, igniting the fire that burned beneath Kara’s mouth. She clutched at the bed, her fists raking through the covers as she tried to anchor herself, but she was washed away as wave after wave hit her, causing her to cry out, to scream Kara’s name, to press Kara even closer to her.

“Oh . . . my . . . God,” she whispered. “No one but you,” she breathed, so softly.

Kara gathered Ginny in her arms. “No one but you.”

CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE

Kara laughed as Ginny surveyed the room, trying to find the perfect place to hang the Big Tree. Kara already knew it would go over the fireplace, but Ginny wanted to be certain it was the best place for them to see it at all times.

They bought the Dobson cabin together. It needed a little work, but they had time. In the past month, they had been to Seattle to collect some of Kara’s things and they moved most of Ginny’s from Nana’s house. Nana had not yet accepted this. She didn’t understand the love they had for each other and Kara didn’t blame her. But she knew it was very hard for Ginny. Louise could hardly stay in the same room as Kara now.

“She’ll come around,” Ginny had said. “Give her time.”

Kara’s eyes followed Ginny across the room, watching her. Her heart swelled with love each and every time she looked at her. Kara knew she had never been so happy in all her life. Finally, she felt at home.

“You know what I think?” Ginny asked as she stood with her hands perched on her hips.

“What’s that?”

“I think we should hang it over the fireplace.”

Kara arched one eyebrow.

“Really? What a wonderful idea,” she teased.

Ginny walked slowly towards her, her own eyebrow raised.

“Do you have any idea how sexy you are?” Ginny asked. She slid her arms around Kara and pressed her hips intimately against her. Kara responded instantly.

But Ginny pulled away, a grin on her face.

“So, will you help me hang it?”

“Now?” Kara asked, trying to pull Ginny back.

“Yes, now. Baby, we spent the entire morning in bed.”

“And what’s wrong with the afternoon, too?”

Ginny laughed, then laughed harder when she saw that Kara was serious.

“We did that yesterday.”

“And?”

Ginny reached out and cupped Kara’s cheek, her eyes soft upon her.

“Why haven’t you been painting?”

Kara shrugged. “I’ve been busy.”

“You haven’t painted since you’ve been back.”

Kara dipped her head, then looked up shyly at Ginny. “I’d rather be with you,” she said.

Ginny heard the words behind the words. She moved closer to Kara, one hand sliding easily under her shirt to touch warm skin.

“I’m not Marsha,” she said.

Kara looked up, surprised. “I know. I just . . ..”

“I’m not going to leave you. I won’t go out with friends because you’re not paying me enough attention, honey. Painting is your life,” she said.

“You’re my life.”

“No. I’m a part of your life. Painting is, too. It’s who you are. It’s what makes you special.”

“I don’t want to fall into the same trap, Ginny. I get so involved, I just lose track of time.”

“Then I’ll remind you. And if I feel like you’re ignoring me, I’ll sneak up behind you,” she said, moving behind Kara as she spoke. “Like this,” she whispered, moving both hands under Kara’s shirt now, sliding up to cup her breasts. “And I’ll tell you that I need you,” she murmured into her ear. She felt Kara’s heart pounding beneath her hands and she closed her eyes, so sure of their love for each other. She slid one hand lower, along Kara’s thigh and felt her tremble in her arms. “And I know you’ll stop what you’re doing, because you love me . . . and you want me.”

Kara turned quickly and captured Ginny, wrapping long arms around her before kissing her soundly.

“Are you teasing me?” she murmured against her mouth.

“Never.”

Their mouths met again, harder, and their bodies moved together in a dance that was known only to them.

************

Louise stood in the opened doorway, a witness to a love she never thought she’d see. She’d heard laughter from inside and walked up the wooden steps, unnoticed. She saw, for the first time, Ginny’s happiness. She could see it in her eyes as she looked at Kara. She could see it as Ginny moved to the other woman, touching her so naturally that Louise blushed with the genuine love she saw there. And Kara. Oh, her eyes followed Ginny around the room, a smile touching her face just from being in her presence. She saw their teasing, their affection for one another. It reminded her of her own marriage.

How could she have disapproved of this? Had she ever seen Ginny so happy? But then, they had moved together, had touched in ways Louise could never have imagined.

She cleared her throat loudly, coughing lightly. The couple pulled apart quickly, a crimson blush lighting Ginny’s face immediately.

“Nana!”

“I thought I should intervene before I witnessed something far too personal for grandmothers,” she said lightly, stepping fully into the room

“I’m sorry. I . . . I didn’t expect you,” Ginny said and she moved farther away from Kara.

Louise took a deep breath and clasped her granddaughter’s hands.

“Ginny, don’t be sorry. I’m the one who should be sorry. I couldn’t see the love you have for her. I couldn’t imagine . . . what you could have with Kara.” She glanced quickly at Kara, a woman she had admired before and then shunned. She knew that she was wrong. “I have never seen you so happy.”

Ginny’s eyes misted over and she hugged Nana tightly. She had been so afraid she had lost her love.

“I love her,” Ginny whispered.

“Yes, I can see that. I’m sorry I judged you.”

Ginny pulled away from Nana and grabbed for Kara’s hand. She pulled her close to her side, her eyes meeting Nana’s again.

“I’ve found my magic, Nana,” Ginny whispered. “I so want you to be happy for me.”

“I am.” She raised her eyes to Kara, meeting the blue, blue eyes of the woman who loved her Ginny. “I’m happy for you both. I’m sorry it’s taken me this long to see what you have.”

Kara lifted a corner of her mouth in a smile. Louise had come around.

“We’re having lasagna for dinner, Louise. I hope you’ll stay,” she offered.

“Of course. And I’d like to look around. I haven’t been to the Dobson place in years. Imagine, Ginny, married forty years and divorcing. Why, I declare . . . it’s not like your grandfather and I didn’t have fights. But we would never let it come to this. We would work through it. People nowadays . . ..”

Kara listened as her voice trailed off when Ginny led her through the cabin, showing her the kitchen.

She smiled as Ginny shot her a glance over Nana’s shoulder. Everything was complete. Nana had come around.

She followed them into the kitchen and grabbed a beer and her cigarettes and moved to the deck in the back, ignoring the light mist that surrounded her. She lit her cigarette easily, listening as Ginny and Nana moved about the house, Ginny telling her about the plans they had.

She tired to think of a time in her life when she’d felt more content, more at home, and she couldn’t. There was nothing else in her life that could compare to this. She knew without a doubt that she loved Ginny completely. As she also knew that Ginny loved her.

“Baby?”

Before she could turn, a gentle hand stroked her back.

“You okay?” Ginny asked.

Kara turned and moved into Ginny’s arms, hugging her tightly to her chest.

“I’m so in love with you.”

She felt Ginny smile against her neck, then soft lips nibbled there.

“Oh, Kara . . . don’t you know what you do to me? I love you, too, sweetheart.”

Their bodies pulled apart, but their eyes did not. Green locked on blue and they smiled. Slow, gentle smiles that touched their hearts . . . and souls.

The End

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