Seeing You Again For The First Time by Colleen

Chapter 13
Erin peaked into the stove, checking on the seafood dish she had carefully prepared. Moving across the blue and white kitchen she hadn’t seen for several months, she began cutting up the various vegetables for the salad.

They had arrived at the beach house late the night before, after leaving her parents home. They had slept in one of the guest bedrooms and in the morning, Jamie had been given an abbreviated tour of her former residence. Erin wanted to keep certain places and plans for the evening secret, wanting to surprise her lover.

As she stood there preparing dinner and watching through the window, where Jamie was sitting on a blanket near the shoreline, Erin thought back to the previous night. Her father’s actions, while surprising, led her to feel that maybe they could salvage a close relationship.

Erin laughed as Artemis came up and nudged Jamie from behind and then ran off as if playing tag. The tall woman jumped up and took off after the barking canine, kicking up sand along the way. Erin checked the entrée one more time then headed upstairs to prepare the bedroom and to change.

Jamie had been restricted to the deck and the beach for a few hours while Erin prepared her surprise. The raven-haired woman had practically begged, but the blonde would not relent and the evening’s activities were kept shrouded in secrecy. She had gone for a nice long swim, gotten some sun and of course played with Artemis.

At the appropriate time she was allowed to come in through the front door where a note directed her to the upstairs guest bedroom where she found her evening attire laid out on the bed, right down to the shoes.

After showering and changing into the clothing, Jamie eased her way back down to the first floor, where she stopped to take a strong whiff of the enticing aromas coming from the kitchen. It was still early evening, about an hour before sunset, but all the curtains had been drawn bathing the living room in a soft orange glow. Jamie sat down on the couch waiting for her cue to enter. The mystery of the evening sent little tingles down her spine as she sat there contemplating what was in store for the rest of the night.

Her mind was caught up in the fantasy when she heard the clearing of a throat. She looked up to see a summer goddess come to life. Erin stood before her, adorned in a beautiful floral print dress. Jamie decided to take a much more in depth inventory of the vision in yellow. She started at the bottom where white sandals covered the small, and she had discovered, ticklish feet. Tanned, bare legs were displayed nicely beneath the short, but still modest hemline. The smooth, baby soft skin just begged to be caressed and that’s just what she had been doing in her previous little fantasy. And it is precisely what she intended to do in reality, not too much later. She continued her perusal up over the rounded hips and slim waist to the perfect breasts, where her mouth began to water. Delicate, white straps draped over the enticing shoulders and tied around the neck that she so loved to nibble. The smile that greeted the end of the anatomical tour brightened the entire room.

Jamie slowly stood without saying a word. She quickly glanced down at her own attire. The copper, silk shirt and simple black jeans made her feel drastically plain compared to her lover. She wondered why Erin had chosen them. With a mental shrug her eyes once again joined the emerald ones beckoning her closer.

“You must not be hungry for dinner now,” Erin said as Jamie took a few steps toward her.

Dark brows furrowed. “Why do you say that?”

Erin slipped her arms around Jamie’s neck. “Well, the way you just devoured me…I thought…”

Jamie smiled and bent down to capture those full, slightly pink lips. “Oh baby, trust me, I am starved for whatever you have cooking in the kitchen…and for what you have simmering right here.” Her hands drifted down Erin’s back to settle just above the lovely swell of muscle. “You are beautiful, in case you didn’t read my mind.”

Erin wedged her hands into the back pockets of the tight, black jeans. “So are you.” She nuzzled the neck that had been lightly doused with her favorite cologne. “I love you in jeans and the tighter the better.” Erin gave Jamie another quick kiss and proceeded to lead her to the dining room.

“I guess a shopping trip is in order then, so I can stock up. After all, I have made it my personal goal in life to please you.” She got a nice little hug for the sentiment.

The round table was covered in a beautiful, white, lace edged cloth. Two elegant, berry colored candles, softly illuminated the single orchid centerpiece and fine china and silver place settings completed the romantic atmosphere of the small, intimate room.

Jamie leaned down to smell the aromatic flower. “This is beautiful.”

Erin watched her lover carefully as Jamie took in the room. But nothing happened. With a small sigh, the blonde went into the kitchen to retrieve the main course.

****

All through the seafood meal they laughed and talked like nothing had ever changed, like they were never separated for six months…like Jamie hadn’t lost all her memories of their time together. That is until…

After dinner, Erin led Jamie out onto the deck and up the stairs to the second level. She slipped into her bedroom, pushed a button and returned to find Jamie staring out across the ocean at the setting sun. She stepped into the open arms and laid her head against a strong shoulder. They both gazed at the slowly changing horizon. “The sky’s the limit for us,” Erin said, echoing the exact words that had been spoken to her over a year before.

The two of them began moving to the music; one body swaying against the other in the warm summer air.

Jamie listened to the words of the song being played.

And I’m meeting you again for the first time

Two hearts, but one soul

Two halves are now whole

Cause you know who I am

And you know what I need

I’m safe in your arms

And you make me believe

My dreams heard your voice

There was no other choice

The first time I saw you

It all fell into place

The first time we touched

I saw in your face

My future is yours

I share my life till it’s through

I am complete now that I have you

“That’s a nice song,” said Jamie as they continued to move in lazy circles. “Is it new?”

Erin stiffened slightly as another hope was dashed. Jamie pulled away and Erin quickly covered the sorrowful frown with a twitching smile. It was their song. It played on the first night they met. It played on so many special occasions after that first night. And it sang in Erin’s heart. But obviously it no longer played in Jamie’s.

“Are you all right?” asked the tall woman.

Erin lied. “Yeah. Come on, there’s much more.”

Jamie stepped into the pale green bedroom and was pleasantly greeted with the scents of coconut and vanilla. A dozen candle flames flickered around the room casting pale shadows on the white walls in the otherwise darkened room.

Soon, her bare feet sunk into the plush carpeting as she followed the smaller woman to the bed where they slowly divested each other of their clothing. Their bodies melded together as they flowed into the bed, whispering words of love and devotion as hands followed suit. They made love for what seemed like hours, only stopping when exhaustion weakened their limbs.

After a candlelit bubble bath, Jamie was sent into the bedroom to wait patiently. But patience was a hard virtue for her to follow at the moment. She stood at the sliding door staring at the bright moon and its reflection upon the dancing waters below. She was rested after the bath and thoughts of the compact, but curvaceous body that she loved soon had her heart palpitating for more. She just knew that the night was long from over.

She didn’t have to wait long.

“I’m back.”

Jamie turned and her eyes popped at the sultry vision leaning against the doorframe.

Erin wore a very short, flaming red nightie. The silken garment had lacey patches placed at very appropriate places-appropriate at least for the current activities.

The sexy blonde sauntered over to the drooling, dark haired woman. She lifted the food filled fork, from the small plate in her hand, and slipped it between the obligingly open lips. She chucked a knuckle under the stunned chin to initiate chewing. Erin then took a bite of the chocolate confection for herself, her eyes never leaving the blue ones that had drifted half closed in ecstasy.

“Don’t you have anything to say?” asked Erin.

“Delicious.”

Erin laughed devilishly and kissed her lover thoroughly.

Jamie licked the sweet essence off of the lips that weren’t her own. “The cake’s good too.”

They shared the rest of the dessert along with a vintage bottle of champagne and many more kisses. After that Jamie was treated to one of Erin’s wondrous massages, this time aided by the raspberry scented oil Erin pulled form the drawer of the nightstand. The treatment was graciously reciprocated and when the touches turned to caresses, the two oil-covered bodies were sent, once again to the special place where only they could dwell together in love.

****

Something awoke Jamie from a sound sleep. She blurrily glanced at the clock. It was 3:18. Her eyes snapped shut at the thought of the late hour and she turned over to snuggle with her favorite body. But her hand fell onto the cold mattress. The dark head lifted from the pillow and she reached up to rub tired eyes. She then saw the silhouette standing by the sliding glass door. It was open just a touch and the salty, ocean air wafted in. Jamie kicked her legs over the side of the bed. “Erin,” she called softly as she grabbed for her robe.

The blonde head didn’t turn at the sound of the voice. “I’m okay Jamie. Go back to sleep.”

The tall woman pulled her into an embrace from behind. “If you were all right, you wouldn’t be standing here in here middle of the night.”

Erin was glad that the breeze had dried the few tears she had just shed as the dark head settled next to hers.

“What’s wrong Sweetheart?”

“Nothing. I’m just…nothing. Let’s go back to sleep.”

Jamie followed Erin back to the bed, but instead of climbing in, she sat on the front end of the mattress.

“What are you doing?” asked the author.

“I won’t be able to sleep until I figure out what’s bothering you.”

Erin crawled across the disheveled sheets to sit next to Jamie. She looked down by her feet and saw the red silk that had been passionately cast away hours earlier. She picked it up. “You didn’t remember any of it, did you?” she asked sadly.

“Remember what?”

“Everything. This whole evening. I recreated everything that we did the first night we made love. What we wore, what we ate, the candles and the bath. You bought this for me.” She nodded to the garment in her hand. “You made everything perfect for me that night.”

Jamie felt a pang of guilt. She pulled the blonde head to her shoulder. “I’m sorry Sweetheart, but I don’t remember. I’m glad that you remember though. And I’m glad I made you happy that night. Just like you made me happy tonight. And nothing will ever make me forget this time.” The face with the small smile looked up at her in the dark. “I love you Erin.”

“Love you too.”

****

Things slowly fell into a normal routine for Jamie and Erin. The ranch was becoming more prosperous everyday. Jamie hired a contractor to make some much needed renovations and expansions to the current barn. She was also having two other buildings constructed, one nearby the main stable and one farther off, behind a stand of trees. The closer one would be a birthing stable for pregnant mares and the other one would house the stallions she planned to acquire.

Erin made great progress on her next novel and finally contacted Joseph Hudson, the producer of the movie being made from her first book. She explained the situation the best she could and he was gracious in his response, wanting her back in on the project before the final edits were made.

* * * *

One Sunday afternoon they went riding and took a picnic lunch. They got into a game of tag and Jamie ran off toward a group of trees. Erin bent to catch her breath as the dark-haired woman disappeared into the foliage.

“Jamie no, don’t go back there!” she yelled, suddenly remembering where they were. She took off as fast as her legs could go. She rounded the largest tree and there stood her tall lover, staring down at the gray stone marker that bore her name. It was barely visible through the tall grasses, having been forgotten when they returned from Ireland.

“I guess this is something most people don’t get to see,” Jamie said jokingly.

Erin saw no humor in the situation. “I’m sorry. I never should have let them put this here. I knew…” She let her sentence drift off as she dropped to her knees and grabbed the polished, carved slab with both hands. Her features contorted as she tugged and pulled with all her might, trying to dislodge the deceiving stone from the ground. She was quickly turning blue in the face as she held her breath; her only sounds were grunts and moans behind her strength. Her knees dug into the ground, but the rock didn’t budge.

That had all happened before Jamie had a chance to register her actions. She ran and dropped to the ground beside her. “Erin stop.”

But she didn’t.

“Erin, stop it, you’re hurting yourself!” She grabbed the scraped up hands and pried them away.

“It doesn’t belong here! You’re alive, you’re alive!”

Jamie rocked the distraught woman. “Yes, I’m alive. It’s okay; we’ll get rid of this. It means nothing now.” She pulled the injured palms to her lips as she stared into the misty green eyes. Erin’s breathing calmed with one final sigh. “You okay now?” asked Jamie.

The blonde head nodded.

“Come on lets go. I’ll bring back a shovel and dig it up.”

“No! You don’t have to do that. Tomorrow I’ll pay one of the construction workers to come out here and dig it up…and then pulverize it with a sledgehammer.”

Jamie wondered if there would ever come a time when there weren’t reminders of her accident and disappearance around every corner. But it had only been a few weeks since they returned from Ireland. She realized that she shouldn’t expect any more miracles.

Jamie still hurt for the pain that her soulmate had experienced in those six months she was gone. She never asked any more questions after hearing the horrifying tale of Erin’s slip from reality, not wanting her to have to re-live the nightmare. But after seeing Erin’s reaction with the grave marker, Jamie was beginning to get a pretty good picture. And she hated every color and stroke on that canvas. She wished that she could take those memories from Erin’s mind and toss them away forever. Maybe all she could really do was hold Erin tight when she was upset, reassure her that they had a wonderful future ahead of them and pray that time would totally heal the wounds on Erin’s heart and her soul. Or maybe there was something else. But the single most important thing Jamie could do was to love Erin, every minute of every day of every year for a lifetime.

* * * *

That evening as Jamie cleared the table of the dinner dishes, she noticed Erin rubbing her sore hands. The blonde’s frantic reaction to seeing the tombstone had really startled Jamie. Of course she had no way of knowing how Erin dealt with emotional situations in the past, but after today’s incident Jamie’s worried mind scrambled for solutions.

She looked up again to find her lover gone. Jamie quickly checked the back porch, but found nothing. She tracked from room to room, calling out. Her heart sped up just a bit with panic as there continued to be no answer. One window in their bedroom overlooked the drive and Jamie saw that the car was still there and she knew Erin wouldn’t go riding alone, after dark. But then again after today…

The tall woman had covered every square inch of the house, except… Jamie ran down the hall to the back staircase, but instead of turning left and moving down, she turned to her right an ascended to a small, unused area. The narrow, claustrophobic stairwell led to a tiny alcove at the top of the old farmhouse. It was so small that it wasn’t even used for storage. Jamie knew she had found her prey as she followed the smaller footprints stamped out on the dusty steps. She turned the corner and there was Erin, sitting on the built in bench below the big curved window. The author made no acknowledgement of Jamie’s arrival, she just continued staring out over the huge expanse of landscape behind the house. Jamie let the silence continue for just a moment longer. “Erin,” she said softly. “Are you okay? Why didn’t you answer me?”

Without looking at her, Erin reached out a hand to her lover. Jamie took the offering and joined her on the padded bench. “Did you ever wonder…?”

“Wonder what?”

The blonde hesitated. “Never mind.”

“Erin, look at me, please.”

The alert green eyes turned in her direction and soon filled with the smile that spread across her face.

Jamie grew even more concerned. The smile was relaxed and genuine, but it certainly didn’t reflect Erin’s actions of late. “Erin, I’m worried about you.”

“About me, why?”

“After what happened today and just now, I mean you hid yourself in here and wouldn’t answer me.”

Erin brushed her off with a snort. “I just came up here to think. I guess I didn’t hear you, that’s all.”

“Erin, how many times did you see that counselor?”

Erin was bewildered at the sudden change of topic. “Only twice, why?”

“Only twice and that helped with everything you were feeling?”

The blonde head tipped to one side. “I didn’t feel comfortable talking to him about our relationship. I know therapists are supposed to be totally objective and not let their personal feelings interfere, but I just didn’t believe he had my best interests at heart. After the second visit, I was feeling better so I just never found a substitute.”

“Honey, I think maybe you should go back to seeing someone.”

“Jamie, I don’t need that. I don’t need anything else but you.” Erin crawled into her lap. “You are here. You’ll always be here. You’ll never leave me again. I know that now, I’m fine.” She sealed her statement with a searing kiss, effectively removing the topic of conversation from Jamie’s mind.

* * * *

Jamie had spent eight hours overseeing construction on the stallion barn. Of course that also meant she couldn’t resist getting her hands dusty and helping with a hammer or a saw wherever she could. She came home tired, dirty and aching. But it was a good ache. It came from living; moving forward with a life she had quickly come to love.

She was quickly sent to the showers with a good solid swat to her rear end after being mildly scolded for working too hard when she didn’t need to. But one kiss, even from smudged lips, was all it took to sooth over her lover’s temper.

Jamie stepped out of the steam filled bathroom with a towel draped around her neck. She ran her fingers through her short hair to smooth it down as she spotted a note, written in familiar handwriting, taped to the bedroom door. She remembered the last note she found and what interesting activities it led to.

She followed the instructions and went downstairs and out the side door, which was on the far side of the house and rarely ever used. A curious smile came to her face as she was greeted by a new square structure built from solid, seven foot high, redwood panels topped by lattice work, much to high for her to peak into.

A voice suddenly drifted over the top. “To your right,” it guided.

Jamie followed the stone pathway to the entrance. She walked between the bypassing panels, which totally blocked any outside view. She stopped to just stare at the decadent blonde.

“Come on in,” said Erin. “The water’s great.”

The spacious hot tub bubbled and tendrils of steam drifted around her partner’s angelic face. Jamie dipped a single finger into the frothy water and asked non-chalantly,

“And just when did this get here?”

“Today. It was just luck that you spent all day across the field and I got to surprise you.”

Jamie leaned her crossed arms on the tub’s ledged as more fingers played in the hot liquid. “Well, surprise me you did.” Their eyes locked for many silent minutes; each daring the other to make the first move, but knowing that exquisite tension was building as neither said a word. Which would be the first to break? Who would win their little game?

Erin finally decided to make the sacrifice. Even if she lost, she won. “Are you just going to stand there all night or are you going to join me?” she asked. “I know your back must be…tight”. She wriggled her body around in the comfortable seat, sighing all the while. “This heat will feel sooooo good.”

“I don’t suppose you’re wearing anything under there?” Jamie asked the blonde head, which was the only thing visible above the waterline. The response was a set of teasing, pursed lips and a coy flicker of golden lashes.

“Uh, huh.” Jamie shimmied out of her blue shorts and peeled the t-shirt over her head.

Very appreciative green eyes appraised the length of tanned landscape that climbed the three steps and came over the rim of the tub.

Jamie made several happy sounds as she sank into the warm depths next to her lover. She momentarily let her eyes drift shut as the heat enveloped her tired, stiff muscles. “I am going to have to find a way to thank you for coming up with such a brilliant idea,” she said lazily.

After just a few minutes the steam caused water dots to form at her temples and the hair that had been on its way to drying was once again damp.

Erin reached up and licked away those lucky droplets. “Have I ever told you how sexy you are with wet hair?”

The blue eyes opened. “I don’t know, have you?”

Erin’s expression dropped and she looked back to the swirling water. “No,” she confessed solemnly. “I guess I haven’t.” She reached over to shut off the jets leaving them covered in calm water. “I’m hungry, how about you?” she asked as she started to leave the tub. A gentle hand on her arm stopped her.

“No, let me.” Jamie stepped from the water and grabbed a robe from a nearby hook. She entered the house and shuffled to the kitchen where she explored the cabinets and the refrigerator. After filling a tray with a few leftovers and some fruit and cheese, she grabbed a bottle of wine from the fridge. She made her way back outside, stopping momentarily to talk to the dog, who was content to stay inside chewing on her new rawhide.

Before stepping back inside the tub enclosure, Jamie peaked around the door. Erin hadn’t moved a muscle. She just sat there staring at the water with downcast eyes and a troubled expression. The dark haired woman had hoped that Erin’s moods were just a part of getting used to the changes in their lives and their relationship. She painted on a smile, knowing that she could do the same for her blonde friend. “Here come the goodies,” she said setting the tray on a wide shelf connected to the tub.

“I know,” said Erin, pulling out of her temporary funk. “but did you bring any food?”

Jamie giggled at Erin’s brassiness as she removed her robe and slid back into the water. There’s that smile, she thought to herself as she leaned over to kiss the button nose. “Oh yes. Food now, goodies later.”

She insisted on feeding Erin pieces of the sharp cheeses and cold chicken. And since she had convniently forgotten utensils, fingers became the impromptu delivery method. Up until the last bite, which luscious lips delivered.

Once all the poultry and dairy products had been devoured, Jamie traced Erin’s cheek with a wet fingertip. “Satisfied?” she asked the relaxing blonde.

“Mmmm, that was good,” Erin said lying her head back against the tub’s edge.

Jamie agreed. “Yes it was. How about some dessert?” She pulled away a white cloth that had been covering a fruit filled bowl. She lifted the glass dish between them. “Do these bring back memories?”

The water splashed into the dish and onto her partner’s face as Erin jerked upright. The flash of excitement waned immediately as she eyed the strawberries. “Oh, you mean Ireland.”

Jamie used the discarded towel to wipe the fruit and her face. “Don’t sound so disappointed. I thought that was a pretty good night. Look where it brought us.” She picked up a large berry and dipped it into the small dish of honey that she had brought along too. “Do you have any idea what I wanted to do that night when I was watching you eating these? Or how crazy you made me?”

“I got a pretty good idea when you kissed me.”

Jamie held up the berry and let some of the golden sweetness drizzle into Erin’s mouth. Then those perfect white teeth nipped off the end of the tart fruit. Jamie slipped the rest into her own mouth. “Sweetheart, that only scratched the surface of what I wanted.” She slowly descended upon Erin’s lips. “Let me show you what else I had in mind.”

* * * *

The next Jamie drove out to the nearest veterinarian, which was nearly thirty minutes away. She wanted to enlist his services and put him on retainer for the ranch. Work on the new barns was moving ahead at a good pace and she was formulating her plans to start a breeding program.

She pulled up to the renovated home, turned office. The last open parking space in the small lot was next to an old red pick-up. The gravel crunched under her brown boots as she made her way up to the covered porch.

An older man was standing precariously on a chair hanging a new sign. He was obviously so engrossed in what he was doing that he hadn’t heard her pull in or walk up.

Jamie didn’t want to startle him and make him fall so she softly cleared her throat as she got closer.

He finally turned at the sound. “Oh! Hello there. Can I help you?” he asked, carefully stepping down from the chair.

“I’m looking for Dr. Cooper.”

The white haired man dusted off his hand on his slightly less dirty overalls. “That’d be me,” he said shaking her hand. “But call me Coop. Everybody around here does.”

“I’m Jamie Sheridan.” It still sounded a little strange to hear her own voice say that even after four weeks. She smiled at him. “Call me Jamie.”

“Nice to meet you Jamie. Come on in and we’ll get acquainted.” She had come to learn that nobody in the town was a business associate; everybody you met was your friend…or your enemy. Luckily everyone she had met so far fell into the former category.

Coop led her through the comfortable, cool waiting room. There she nodded at the three waiting patients-or more precisely to their owners. One was a little brown haired boy who held a white rabbit tight to his chest. He gave her a shy smile when she passed by. The phone rang and Dr. Cooper stopped to pick it up. Jamie took the opportunity to meet some more of the townspeople. She knelt down in front of the youngster who looked to be about eight. “Hi, I’m Jamie. What’s your name?”

“Billie,” he answered timidly.

Jamie scratched one finger down the bunny’s furry back. “And who’s this?”

“Tinker. She isn’t feeling too good lately,” he explained in a very worried tone. “But Dr. Coop will fix her up.” Tiny wrinkles came to his forehead as his feature’s darkened. “Won’t he?”

Jamie took a quick glance down and noticed the pudgy white tummy. “Billie, do you have any other rabbits?”

“Yeah, why?”

From the corner of her eye, Jamie saw the woman setting two chairs down, smile knowingly. “I’m sure Tinker will be just fine.”

The young boy obviously believed her because a smile came to his face and he rubbed noses with his pet, telling her that she was going to be okay.

Jamie rose to her feet as the other woman said in reference to the impeding bunny births, “And Dr. Coop will a few new patients.”

Jamie smiled and agreed with a nod.

“I’m sorry Jamie,” said Coop. “Come on back.” He led her down a long hall and into a nice sized office.

She took a seat in the soft green chair and looked around. One wall was filled with photographs of what she assumed were his patients over the years. Another wall held his diplomas and citations. She wondered why he was taking so much time with her when he obviously had patients to see. She gave a mental shrug and continued her perusal. On his desk were several pictures of an attractive older woman with two young men and a young girl in a wheelchair.

“My family,” he said smiling, when he noticed her admiring the picture.

“Very attractive group.”

“That they are. What about you Jamie, any family? I don’t believe I’ve seen you around the town before.”

“Well, I just moved here a while ago. I own the Sheridan stables up near Willow Lake.”

“Oh yes. I saw your add in the local paper.” He got up and poured himself a cup of coffee. “Would you like some?”

“No thanks.” Jamie squirmed in her seat. Well here goes. I need to know how he feels about us. I won’t work with anybody who can’t accept our being gay. “Yes, my partner, Erin Casey and I bought the Phillips place. And we intend to make a life here together and raise a family, as well as build a business.”

He sat back down and took a long sip of his coffee. “Sounds like a fine endeavor. I’m sure you and Miss Casey will enjoy the family atmosphere here in Atkin’s Ridge.” He smiled to put her at ease.

“I’m sure we will,” she said breathing a sigh of relief. “We would like to enlist your services for our animals. I’ll put you on retainer to make regular visits as well as any emergencies that might…arise.” She hesitated, not liking the way he dropped his gaze from hers.

“Well Jamie, there is a problem with your request. I recently decided to take a partial retirement. And at this time I really don’t want to take on such responsibilities.”

She nodded in disappointment. “I understand.”

“But I do have a solution. Just two weeks ago, I hired a partner. Dr. Chad Benson was the first in his class at one of the most prestigious veterinary schools in the country. Now we don’t have all the modern technology here in this little place, but he has connections to all of that. Saw him bringing in that computer and about three dozen of those little things that hold all that information.”

“Disks,” she supplied helpfully.

“Yeah, that and an arm full of books. With his know how, he could have gotten a job anywhere in the big city, but when he wanted to work here, I knew he wasn’t in it to get rich; he loves the critters. And that’s what’s most important. I believe in him. If you’ll give him a chance I’m sure he’ll keep your animals in the best of health.”

“Okay. When can I meet him?”

She hung around the office until Dr. Benson was free to talk to her. The twenty seven year old was tall and muscular. She knew he would certainly have the strength to contend with an ornery stallion or an agitated mare in labor. His blonde haired, green-eyed good looks would have certainly stirred some attraction if her lifestyle had been different; she did seem to have a thing for that particular combo. He spoke eloquently and intelligently. Not to mention displaying a genuine concern for the animals.

Jamie drove away, content in the knowledge that she had made the best possible choice in veterinary services.

Erin’s birthday is less than two months away. I’ve got to think of something special to do for her. I wonder what I did last year? I certainly can’t ask her. She gets moody every time I mention not remembering. That is still the one odd thing between us. I wish… Jamie’s thoughts were suddenly interrupted when she came around a curve in the road and saw a woman wildly waving her down.

* * * *

Erin lifted the wooden spoon to her mouth and tasted the red sauce. “Hmmm, not too bad,” she said. But no one besides Artemis was in the room to hear. She picked up two spice jars and added just a pinch of the garlic and two dashes of an Italian blend. She stirred and took another taste. This time she merely nodded an affirmative opinion. After adjusting the fire under the huge cooking pot, Erin returned to her seat at the small round table and went back to clicking the keys on her laptop. She had spent the last hour going back and forth between cooking and writing. She even managed to do a load of laundry along the way. Multi-tasking had become a welcomed skill since she now had more than just herself to care for and one that she was becoming proficient at.

She heard the clicking of nails against the polished wooden floor and looked down when a furry chin planted itself on her thigh. Erin glanced up at the clock on the wall. “How do you do that?” she asked the canine. The answer was a subtle shifting of skin over the big brown eyes. “Uh huh. I think your other mommy has been teaching you a few things behind my back.” She walked into the pantry, grabbed a big scoop from a hook on the wall and reached down into the large bag. Erin dumped one scoop full of dry nuggets into the dog dish. Artemis looked down at it and whimpered. “I know, I know,” she said reaching for the can opener. “I’m not done yet.” Once Erin had added the eight-ounce can of tender meat bits and tasty gravy, she stirred them together and the dog wolfed it down in a matter of minutes.

“That reminds me,” she muttered. The author sat back down at the table and switched from her word program to a daily calendar on her laptop. The next week Erin was going to New York to see an unfinished version of the movie that was made from her novel, The Noah Factor. She had finally regained some interest in the project now that her life was happy again. The big premiere was in November and she planned to be there, proudly walking down the carpet with Jamie by her side.

She clicked in a couple of meal menus for the two days she would be gone. She intended to prepare them ahead of time for Jamie so her tall lover wouldn’t stuff her face with junk food. Jamie wouldn’t be able to go with her because she had a meeting scheduled. They were both a little antsy about the trip because it would be the first time they would be separated since they found one another again. Jamie had offered to cancel her plans and although Erin’s first impulse had been to scream yes, she knew it wasn’t fair. Jamie had business to attend to, just as she did.

A few minutes later the phone rang. “Hello.” There seemed to be on one on the other end, but she tried again. “Hello.”

“Oh, I’m sorry Dear, your father called me from the other room.”

“Hi Mom. How have you been?”

“Oh, busy, Sweetheart, busy. Which is why I called. I’m giving your sister a surprise anniversary party on Saturday. I’m sure you and Jamie will want to come.”

Shoot. I forgot.

“Are you still there Erin?”

“Yeah Mom, I’m here. I was just kicking myself for forgetting it was their anniversary.”

“It is understandable Erin, you have had some other things on your mind lately.”

“Yeah, but… What can I bring?”

“Well, I was hoping you would make a couple of those wonderful chocolate cakes with the white chocolate filling. You know how much your sister loves it.”

“I can do that Mom. Anything else?”

“I don’t think so Dear, but I’ll give you a call if I think of anything.”

“Okay. Bye Mom.”

The front door opened and Jamie called out for her partner.

“I’m in the kitchen, Babe,” answered Erin. “Now I’m in the hallway.” She turned the corner. “Now I’m in…” Green eyes went wide when she saw the blood soaked shirt and pants. “Oh my God!” She ran toward the woman still standing by the door. “Jamie, what happened? Where are you….”

“It’s not mine,” said Jamie adamantly. “I’m okay Sweetheart. None of it’s mine, I promise.”

Erin panted, calming her racing heart. She couldn’t say a word; she just threw herself into the arms of her lover, regardless of the state of Jamie’s clothing. They held on tight.

“I’m okay,” Jamie assured once again. She went on to explain that she stopped to help a neighbor who had been badly injured in an accident.

Erin escorted her up the stairs and proceeded to strip her lover of the gory garments. All the while, Jamie was thinking about the part she didn’t necessarily want to tell Erin.

She had run up to the man lying on the ground, moaning in agony. Her insides had clinched several times and a wave of dizziness swarmed her as she saw the blood pooling on the ground and the shards of white bone that had pierced his skin below the knee. His arm was bent at an odd angle and blood was spread across his forehead and down the side of his face. It wasn’t so much the sight of his injuries that had disturbed her, but the memories it had invoked about her own severe traumas and subsequent recuperation.

Jamie did go on to explain that the only emergency transportation in the area had already been on a call twenty miles away at the sight of a car accident. She also found out that the nearest clinic was not equipped to handle emergencies requiring major surgery. Jamie and the nearly hysterical wife had managed to strap him to a board and load him into her SUV. She knew that moving him was a very bad thing to do, but letting him lie there bleeding to death was not an alternative. She drove them forty-five miles to the nearest hospital, which was still small, but the staff seemed more than competent. She stayed around until she found out that he would indeed survive.

* * * *

Erin was concerned that Jamie had been unusually withdrawn during dinner, but given the day’s experiences she understood. The tall woman declined the idea of watching a movie. Instead she grabbed a beer and headed for the back porch.

By the time the fireflies had appeared across the darkening field, Erin thought it was time to intervene. The screen door squeaked as she exited the kitchen. “Mind if I join you?” she asked.

Jamie looked up and smiled. “Sure.” She nodded her head indicating the empty seat next to her.

Erin slipped under the outstretched arm and settled onto the red striped cushion. Jamie used her longer legs and pushed against the cement, setting the swing in motion. Back and forth they went, silently watching as the night draped its cloak of black over the green pasture.

The blonde turned to her side as the fingertips kept caressing her shoulder. She placed her hand over the flat stomach and rubbed gently. “Are you okay?”

The dark head turned with a surprised expression. “Yeah. Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Well you hardly said two words during dinner.”

Jamie reached over and kissed her forehead. “I’m sorry Honey. It was delicious.”

Erin softly chuckled. “I wasn’t fishing for a compliment. What happened today really bothered you, didn’t it?” she asked after a short pause.

“Well, I hate to see anyone injured.” The dark head shook. “No, it didn’t bother me, it just…reminded me. Spooked me a little at first. It also brought to my attention the only bad part about living here, so far away from the city. Medical care is so inadequate. If something were to happen…”

“I know. I’ll check in with the local officials and see what can be done about improving emergency personnel and equipment.”

The wooden swing creaked a little as it swayed keeping up with the chorus of insect calls coming from the surrounding grasses and trees. The hazy half moon was rising in the early evening sky.

Jamie silently offered Erin the last few sips of her beer.

The blonde swallowed the golden liquid and rotated the empty bottle between her fingertips. “Jamie. We’re doing okay, aren’t we?” she asked timidly.

“Sure we are.” Was the simple reply.

“Because you would tell me if something else was wrong…wouldn’t you?”

“I would. I found us a new vet today,” she said with a quick change of subject.

Erin scooted back into the warm body beside her. “Doctor Cooper?”

“No, his new partner, Chad Benson. His credentials really impressed me. He’s a couple years younger than us and he graduated top of his class.”

The night continued on in conversation until the late hour drew them back inside and into their comfortable bed, where disjointed dreams visited the sleepers. The seemingly senseless visions brought one smiles and joy and the other a peak into a wounded psyche where darkness dwells and fear reigns with a cruel fist.
Chapter 14
Thud. Thud. Jamie set the two lightweight dumbbells on the floor beside the padded bench. She grabbed the white terry towel and quickly dabbed at the perspiration sliding down the side of her face. A long drink of cool water followed as she took just a tiny break in her new exercise routine. She’d only been working out for about twenty minutes and already she felt like she’d run a marathon. I wonder what kind of routine I had before, she thought absently. Probably a lot longer than thirty minutes and I could probably lift more then four-pound weights.

Jamie nudged the blue, plastic coated barbell with the toe of her shoe. “Oh well,” she shrugged, speaking to nothing but thin air. “I’ll never get any where just speculating. Back to work.” She walked over to the corner and stepped up onto the machine. She flipped on a switch and her shoes kept pace with the moving black, rubber belt. Jamie set the treadmill at a slow pace to start with, but just three minutes later she turned it up notch to a more vigorous walk. She closed her eyes as she kept walking, going over her schedule for the day. She had a meting with two prospective clients and Dr. Benson was coming over to check out the new facilities and to give Teegan and Simeron their annual vaccinations. She figured that would take her right up to the time to get dressed and make the two-hour drive to LA for Bridgett and Brad’s anniversary party.

She was only allowed ten minutes on the treadmill and since she had gone at a little faster speed than she was told, Jamie thought she shouldn’t push it too much. Twenty easy crunches later and she guzzled down the rest of the now, warm water.

Jamie sat on the cushioned floor mat, arms resting against her bent knees, mentally reviewing the list her therapist had given her. A few slow, easy stretches and I’ll be… Her thought was abruptly halted when she felt warm lips descend upon her neck. Jamie moaned deep in her throat and tilted her head to one side, presenting her sensuous assailant with a taught expanse of tanned skin.

Erin silently kissed her way down the reddened scar and then back up, stopping to nibble on a tender earlobe.

Jamie’s breath hitched in her chest as she reveled in the sensation. But her sensible mind reached down and grabbed her by the libido. “In case you hadn’t noticed, Sweetheart,” she said as teeth joined in the feeding frenzy. “I’m all sweaty.”

Erin stopped just long enough to get the words out. “And your point is?”

“My point is…” Jamie thought long and hard. Oh yes, that’s it! In one quick move Jamie pivoted her long body and gently pushed her lover to the soft surface beneath them. After several long, smoldering kisses she was finally able to verbally complete her thought. Jamie pulled back to focus on those enchanting green eyes. “My point is…I love you. And if you love me enough to get this close when I smell like yesterday’s barn, then who am I to deny you.”

Erin ran her fingers through the damp, dark hair. “I knew you were a smart woman. And practical too.”

The question of why popped into Jamie’s head, but it was fleeting as those pink lips begged for more attention.

* * * *

Doctor Chad Benson stepped out of his shiny, black pick-up truck. He grabbed a heavy duffle bag from the back and walked up to the house. He heard the dog bark just before his beefy fist rapped on the wooden door. A muffled voice from inside the house hushed the dog as the door opened. The petite blonde stopped short of opening the screen partition until he introduced himself. “I’m Dr. Benson,” he said with a small smile. “I believe Jamie Sheridan is expecting me.”

She now returned the smile and invited him in. She took his offered hand. “Yes, she is. I’m Erin Casey. Jamie is in the barn. I’ll take you out.”

Benson followed her to the kitchen where he finally saw the big dog sitting by the back door. “Will this be one of my patients too?” he asked, stopping a few feet away.

Erin chuckled and reached out to sooth the cautious canine. “Yes. This is Artemis. I’ll have her records for you before you leave.” She held the door open and motioned Arte to go on through. “She’s my former guide dog,” Erin explained, “and she’s still very protective. But Arte is very sweet and she will warm up to you once you’ve been around a few times.”

His eyes landed on hers a she looked back. “I’m looking forward to that,” he said.

Erin stopped at the back gate and pointed to the big barn. “Jamie is out there somewhere. Just give her a call.”

He stopped by her side before passing through the gate. “It was a pleasure meeting you Erin. I hope we will have a chance to talk again.”

“Yes, I’m sure we will.” Erin headed back to the house without giving the tall vet a second thought. Her mind was on the rest of the day’s activities.

* * * *

It was three in the afternoon as Jamie stepped into her second shower of the day. The first one was expedited by a second pair of hands helping to scrub her from head to toe, but this time she was all on her own. The absence of the soft flesh that had temped her soapy hands earlier let her concentrate on her main goal of cleanliness. She was already running late. She had spent far more time with the new vet than she had anticipated, but their shared love of horses led them into long conversations about his lifelong experiences and her very short singular one at the rehabilitation center. Jamie was sure she had made a new friend in the tall, good-looking man.

Dried and dressed in a red silk blouse and dark slacks, Jamie walked into their bedroom to find Erin sitting at her dressing table fiddling with a chain of some sort. “Can I help with that?” she asked, leaning down, looking at her lover’s reflection in the mirror.

Erin smiled as she always did when that face came into her view. She silently handed the necklace to Jamie, who brought the golden piece up for a closer inspection. She opened the locket to find an absence of pictures then snapped it shut again. “This is nice.” Jamie recognized the design as Celtic. “Did you get this in Ireland?”

The face in the mirror melted into a pronounced frown. She couldn’t meet the questioning blue eyes. “You…you gave that to me for Christmas,” she explained solemnly. Erin intentionally left out the part about the third attachment being for their future child. They certainly hadn’t discussed the subject since getting back together. She wasn’t even sure how this new Jamie felt about having children. Erin’s gaze dropped to the hand carved music box that sat on the tabletop. They also hadn’t discussed getting married, thought Erin as she remembered her engagement ring encased in the red velvet bag and tucked into one corner of the small box. She suddenly felt the cool metal settle onto her upper chest and the warm hands that soothingly rubbed her shoulders. Erin got to her feet and was enveloped into a loving embrace. ‘I’m sorry’ was whispered into her ear and she looked up with a tiny smile.

Jamie kissed her softly. “Not for giving that to you,” she further explained. “But for not…” She couldn’t bring herself to say the word anymore. “It’s beautiful on you. And you look absolutely gorgeous.”

“Thank you. I love you.”

“I love you too,” said Jamie.

The morose subject was quickly changed by both of them as they put the finishing touches on their attire, secured the house and set out for LA.

* * * *

The party was in full swing by six thirty. Jamie was making her second trip through the incredible buffet, grabbing more tasty morsels for Erin as well as for herself, including two pieces of the luscious chocolate cake that Erin had spent the morning baking.

In between meetings that morning, Jamie had come back to the house to visit her partner. Their early morning interlude had plastered a smile on her face and she needed a few more kisses to get her through the rest of her workday. Those plans however, were put on hold as the sweet cocoa aromas assailed her the moment she stepped into the kitchen. “Is this baking heaven or hell?” she asked, receiving a quizzical look. “I was just wondering because those sinfully delicious smells were produced by the hands of an angel.”

The sappy statement got Jamie a taste of a chocolate covered finger. Their gaze never wavered as she licked up every drop of the dark batter. “Ummm, scrumptious,” she said, licking her lips. “And the finger’s not bad either.” That statement got her a swat on the butt.

She finally did get those kisses before she was sent back to work. A few minutes later Jamie turned beet red when one of her employees pointed out a white powder on the back pocket of her jeans. A powder that was shaped, oddly enough, like a hand.

Thirteen stealthy guests, hiding in the huge family room of the Casey home, had totally, but happily surprised the celebrating couple. Their actual anniversary wasn’t until the next day and they thought that they were just dropping off the grandchildren so they could have the time alone. But the party soon had everyone smiling and regaling stories of the Nelson wedding ceremony. Even Timothy had appeared happy all evening. He gave a long-winded, but heartfelt toast, making a comment about each of the ten years of his daughter’s marriage.

Erin felt just a touch of envy at the happy celebration. Actually she had two points of envy. First she wondered if she would ever be married now. The thought may never even cross this Jamie’s mind to make that kind of commitment. Erin didn’t quite know why, but that was important to her, not that her current relationship with Jamie would be any better just because they could say that they were married, but it was just something she had dreamed about all her life, as most women do.

Her second feeling of envy came from thoughts of her father. She could hear the pride in his voice as he lamented over his oldest daughter’s marriage. Erin strongly doubted that he would even attend her wedding or any anniversary celebration, let alone make that kind of public acceptance.

When Tim Casey was finally through speaking, Erin lifted her glass along with everyone else in attendance.

****

Sometime later, just as the sun was finishing its descent into the western sky, Erin and Jamie had taken a little break from the rousing celebration inside the house. They had walked to the far side of the long pool, both feeling some annoyance in the fact that they had to hide in order to be close. But Erin didn’t want to give her father any excuses to ruin her sister’s celebration.

Some of the guests were Bridgett’s co-workers, which meant that at one time they had been Jamie’s co-workers, but Danielle had explained the tall woman’s amnesia and had politely asked them not to overwhelm her at this time. They had graciously understood, but felt a strange sadness as they were introduced to Jamie and saw no recognition in her eyes.

Jamie sat her beer bottle on the small metal table and took Erin’s hand. “I think Bridgett and Brad really liked your present.”

“They really liked our present,” Erin corrected. She and Jamie had picked out the set of fine crystal stemware when they had been in Ireland. Jamie had even made the final choice between the two patterns Erin was considering. She had taken pity on the pleading blonde who debated over the decision for thirty long minutes. Her much appreciated help had been rewarded with a chocolate sundae topped high with whipped cream and nuts, of which Erin snatched a few bites for herself.

“This has been a nice party,” said Jamie. “Oh, I promised Conner that he could come to the ranch soon to stay the weekend. Was that all right?” she asked as an afterthought.

“Of course it’s all right. Caitlin will have to come too of course. She wouldn’t dare let her brother do something that fun without her.”

Jamie chuckled as she put her arm around Erin’s shoulder. They didn’t hear the double doors open and the footsteps that stomped across the tiled edge of the shimmering pool.

They were enjoying the peaceful sunset and Erin tipped her head and kissed the woman she loved. The she suddenly felt a large hand grab her around the upper arm and she was wrenched from Jamie’s embrace.

“What in God’s name do you think you are doing?!” yelled Timothy. “Out here where anyone can see you, acting like…”

Erin stood there wide-eyed, listening but not really hearing what her father was saying, because the shock had rendered her temporarily deaf. It all seemed to move in slow motion around her as Jamie grabbed his free arm.

The commotion and loud voices were just beginning to be heard back inside the house. The guests had enough tact to move away from the personal family matter. Danielle and Bridgett ran out the door to stop the hostile situation that was rapidly escalating.

“Let go of her!” screamed Jamie. But she wasn’t even able to budge the burly man.

“Timothy, what are you doing?” asked Danielle. “Let her go this instance.”

His focus was solely on his youngest daughter. “Don’t you understand what could happen?! Mr. Armstrong lives just down the street and he owns a gun. What if he were to see you…”

The shock had finally turned to anger for Erin and she painfully wrenched her arm from his tight hold, backing away, bumping into the small table as she did. The bottle, that Jamie had sat there, tumbled to the cement, shattering, leaving only the long neck in tact.

“…acting like this. He could come down here and…” Timothy’s tirade abruptly ended as his hands fell limp to his sides. The blood drained from his face turning him a sickly white as the dizziness spun his head. His eyes were glued to the mound of broken glass by Erin’s feet and it was his turn to be rendered deaf to the questions that were firing all around him. “Oh my God,” he muttered over and over.

In a matter of seconds he looked even worse, his breath came in heaves and he swayed in his footsteps. Even Erin grew concerned. “Daddy, what is it?”

Jamie retrieved a chair and Danielle guided him into it. He sat with a heavy thump. “Call an ambulance,” his wife said.

“No. No I don’t need an ambulance.”

“You are too damn stubborn,” scolded his spouse. “You look like you are about to pass out. What if you are having a heart attack?”

He finally looked up into her concerned eyes. His hand patted the one on his arm. “I’m all right Dear. It isn’t any thing physical,
I promise you.”

Danielle let out a cautious, but relieved sigh. She smoothed down some gray hair around his ear. “Then what is it? What happened out here?”

His gaze drifted up to see Erin being soothed by her partner’s embracing arms. He also noticed that Erin was rubbing the spot where his hand had grabbed her. His jaw twitched, trying to speak. “I…I’m sorry.” The word was whispered.

Erin looked down at the trembling man and noticed the unshed tears forming in his eyes. But his apology wasn’t enough. Not this time.

He got to his feet and took a few shaky steps, his head was hung low with shame. Danielle was at his side. She guided him around the side of the house so they could enter through another door and not disturb their guests any more than possible.

Erin, Jamie and Bridgett were still stunned at the turn of events. Nothing was spoken for a while as hearts calmed.

“I’ll clean this up,” Bridgett finally said, pointing to the pile of glass.

Erin turned around and hugged her sister tightly. “I’m so sorry,” she cried. “I ruined your party. I…”

“No. You didn’t do anything,” said the red head staunchly. “Nothing. This was all his fault. I don’t quite know what happened, but he owes us all an explanation.” She led them back toward the house where Brad met them.

“Is everyone all right?” he asked, hugging his wife.

Jamie answered yes, although that wasn’t quite accurate. Timothy had inflicted yet more mental and physical wounds on his family. And this time they were probably irreversible. Not only did his words cause pain, but he also embarrassed Erin in front of a house full of naturally curious guests.

“Bridgett,” said Erin as she moved off behind some bushes out of the view of the glass door. “Go on back inside, back to your party. Unless he scared everyone away.” She gestured to her partner. “I think we should go.”

Jamie agreed with a nod.

Danielle came back outside calling for her daughter. “Erin, I’m glad I caught you before you left.” She hugged her youngest. “Are you sure you’re all right, physically I mean?”

The blonde nodded sadly. “Yeah.”

“Erin, your father would like to talk to you, both of you.” She looked to Jamie who was just over her daughter’s shoulder.

The green eyes flashed with anger. “I don’t think so Mom. What’s the point?” Two strong hands landed gently on her shoulders for support.

“Well as odd as it seems Dear, I think there is a point. I know it’s a lot to ask after the way he’s treated you, but there is something more going on here. I have never, in all the time I’ve known him, seem him in a state like this. He wouldn’t tell me what’s going on. He said he had to talk to you first. Sweetheart I wouldn’t ask you to do this if I didn’t think it would help. But please just give him this last chance.”

Erin hesitated. Her troubled expression looked to the sky, then to the ground, where it stayed for many seconds. Her spirit was in tatters, but could she be selfish and just walk away? Didn’t she owe it to her family to try just once more? But how many once mores would there be? She knew that her mother and Bridgett would support whatever she decided, but there would always be that rift. Erin took a deep breath and made the decision. She wasn’t going to feel the blame for his misguided thinking. She couldn’t bear that burden. At least if she gave him this one last chance, she could leave with a free conscience. Her choice was bolstered by soft words spoken for her ears only.

“I’m here for you,” said Jamie. “Whatever you want to do, I’m at your side. But I promise you that he will never get close enough to lay a hand on you again.”

Erin closed her eyes and nuzzled the head next to hers. Whatever else, there will always be you. She pulled her last jangled nerve back into place and fastened the protective armor over her heart. “Okay.”

****

Timothy lifted the thick square glass to his lips and downed the last of the golden liquid in a single gulp. The scotch burned as it slid down his throat…but it didn’t help. His hand still shook as he set the glass down on the small table beside the window. That hand then circled his mouth, raking over his salt and pepper beard.

In a moment’s revelation, he had been blasted with a thousand years of guilt. Or at least that’s what his soul felt like. Tim knew what he had to tell his daughter, he just wasn’t sure how he could…or if it would do any good. But the story, long dormant in his mind, would be brought to life, word-by-word and laid at his daughter’s feet. What she did with it from there, he had no control over.

“You wanted to talk to me.” Erin clipped every word as she stood just inside the doorway.

Tim’s head jerked up from his musings. He stared at his little girl for a few seconds. He had never seen her so hard and unyielding. Her cold eyes pinned him with defiance and Tim was saddened tenfold, knowing that he alone was responsible for the pain that lay behind that stone faced stare.

“Erin,” his voice squeaked. He swallowed and started again. “Erin I…I have a story to tell you. I know that it by no means excuses what I’ve done. There are no excuses for that. But I hope that in…some …small way that it might explain my behavior. When I’m through, if you still can’t forgive me…or even stand the sight of me I’ll accept that. And I’ll accept full responsibility for what this has done to the family.” He began to pace in tiny rows. “Would you please sit down?”

With her six-foot bodyguard glued to her side, Erin made her way to the large, sectional sofa.

“When I was seventeen,” he began. “I had the opportunity to come here to the states to attend a semester of school. I was thrilled at the chance and so were my parents. They were already making plans to move here, which as you know they did a few years later. I lived with a very nice family here in LA. It was just a father and his two children. There was a boy exactly my age. Kevin and I became instant friends. It was…we just…he was the best friend I’ve ever known, then or now.” Tim paused to glance at his listeners. There wasn’t a flicker of change on Erin’s face. He stuffed his fidgety hand into his pockets as he continued. “Kevin had an older sister, Mary. She was twenty one.” He gave just the tiniest smile beneath his whiskers as he thought of the small blonde, who had been very much like the sweet daughter across the room from him. “Kevin adored his sister. He worshipped her. I must admit I had a bit of a crush on her myself.”

Erin felt the hand around hers tighten softly as a reminder of her support. Under any other circumstances, Erin would have enjoyed hearing about her father’s early years, but all she could impatiently think of now was where was this tale leading and what did it have to do with his actions.

Tim finally eased himself into the chair just across from the sofa. He knew he needed to be seated to tell the rest of the story. “Mary had a best friend, I think her name was Susan. They spent a lot of time together just like Kevin and I did. One early spring afternoon the four of us drove out to the country to a lake she knew about. Kevin and I went fishing and Mary and Sue went swimming at the far end of the lake. The fish weren’t biting very well and after a while we decided to give up. We packed up and decided to do some swimming too. The end of the lake was around a bend and as we came through the trees, there was Mary and Sue sitting on the bank.”

He finally looked up wanting to judge Erin’s reaction to his next words. “They were kissing. And it wasn’t like a sister’s peck either. They were as flustered as we were as soon as they saw us. Mary sent Sue back to the car and she explained to Kevin and me what was happening. She said that she was gay and that meant that she loved Sue as a woman would love a man. This was 1956 and neither one of us had ever heard of such a thing. But for Kevin, his sister hung the moon and anything she did was fine with him. And if he was cool with it, so was I. Of course she asked us to keep their secret. I didn’t quite understand why…until a few days later.” There, he saw it. Those emerald orbs softened just a speck. But it was still a hollow victory of minute proportions.

“The next Saturday night, the four of us went to a movie. We were having so much fun. We left the theater with our cokes in hand and stopped on the corner to talk because it was still early and none of us wanted to go home yet. We were laughing and telling stories. It was like we were the only ones around. I think that’s why… Mary must have been caught up in the moment and she leaned over and kissed Sue, not on the mouth, but very close. But we weren’t the only ones around. Suddenly, from across the street a group of punks, we’d call them a gang now days, ran over to us yelling awful words, most of them aimed at the girls. Of course Kevin and I tried to stop them, but were just a couple of scrawny teenagers, if you can ever believe I was scrawny. Two of them held us back while the other two continued to taunt them. Mary was a spitfire, I’m sure she must have a bit of Celtic in her the way she verbally laid into them.”

He paused as the next few minutes flashed across his memories and he tried to form the words to describe the terrifying scene. “The leader grabbed one of our bottles and broke it against the lamppost. He began waving it around…the light was glinting off of the jagged, sharp edges. Sue was having a fit by now, crying and screaming. He told her to shut up and Mary yelled back, all the while trying to protect her friend. And then it happened…I swear that everything around us stopped and what I saw happened in an instant and an eternity. Mary was shoved from behind just as he thrust the broken bottle forward.” He paused again and he heard the small escape from Erin’s lips. “He pulled back…and the blood on the bottle and on her. They got scared and ran off, Sue ran off and I…I couldn’t move…I just couldn’t move. I stood there watching as Kevin pulled her into his lap and he tried to stop it…but there was just too much. Before help could arrive, Mary died in her brother’s arms.”

“Oh God,” Erin exclaimed quietly. “Dad, that it an awful thing to have witnessed, especially to a teenaged boy, but…”

“The story doesn’t end there I’m afraid. Kevin was never the same after that. He wouldn’t talk, he barely ate, and he certainly wouldn’t smile. I tried everything, but nothing would help. Finally one Sunday, I persuaded him to go fishing with me…at a different pond. But I went fishing; he just sat there on the edge of the dock staring at the water. After about an hour I needed to go back to the car for more bait. I had a string of fish and I laid them beside him. I got the knife from the tackle box and put it there too. I jokingly said, ‘Why don’t you make yourself useful and clean those.’ Tim’s eyes took on a glassy haze as the next words left his mouth tonelessly. “When I came back, the fish were still there, but the knife was gone.”

Erin knew what was coming now. She reached up to brush away a tear as Jamie’s arm wrapped around her shoulder.

“As I got closer, I saw the knife in his right hand…and blood all over his left arm. He had slit his wrist. I pulled him back onto the dock and tried…but I couldn’t…and I knew help was too far away. He never cried or made a sound…it just happened. He died in my arms, like his sister had died in his.” Now Timothy was freely crying…all the tears he couldn’t shed all those many years ago.

Erin slowly reached out and covered his clenched hands. His muscles relaxed and he took her hand in his as his eyes met her tearful ones. “Daddy I’m very sorry that happened to you.”

“So am I.” His free hand cupped the side of her face that he had hit months before. “Because it led me to hurt my beautiful, precious daughter.” Tim pulled away and walked over to the bar for a drink of water. “My seventeen year old mind…all I felt was anger and hatred. All I knew was that my best friend was dead because his sister was gay.” He quickly turned back to the seated couple. “I know now that wasn’t the reason,” he stated strongly, stalling their objections. “She died because of society’s…problems. But back then I couldn’t understand that. I had blocked it all out until…”

“The broken bottle by the pool,” supplied Jamie.

“Yes. That’s when it all came flooding back.” He sat back down and tried to explain his behavior of late. “When you came to me last August and told me that you are gay…all I felt was the anger and most of all the fear that surrounded that incident. I didn’t know the details…it was just the feeling. I had this flash in my mind of you lying on the ground bleeding…because someone hurt you for… being gay. And I couldn’t stand the thought…” Tim looked down at his clenching right hand. He gave a self-disgusted chuckle, remembering the impact of his hand on her face. “And what did I do? I would cut off this hand if I could go back and change all of that.”

“Daddy, I can’t say that this erases all the hurt, but I do understand now. The trauma you experienced as a child fueled your actions. I…think that we can move on from here. I’ve missed my father.”

“And I’ve missed my baby girl.” Tim fell to his knees and hugged her hard. “I’m so sorry, so sorry.”

“But before we can move on, I have to ask you one question Dad. How do you feel about us, truly? Because Jamie is going to be in my life forever. And I need to know.”

“Sweetheart, I love you, everything about you. I am proud of who you are and I will tell the world.” He turned to Jamie. “I only have one thing to ask of you. Will you take very good care of my daughter, because I don’t want to see her hurt?”

“Sir, I will give my life to protect her.” She gave him a half smile. “After all, I nearly punched you out by the pool. And I would do it again if I had to.”

“That’s good to hear young lady.”

The author wrapped her arms around her taller partner. “Daddy we will take care of each other.”

“I hope you are never in a situation where you have to, but I am glad that you have each other.”

****

Jamie left the father and daughter, giving them the time to get re-acquainted. After the emotional confession she felt confident of her partner’s safety. Even though she had not remembered the very first confrontation with Erin’s father, when he had first learned of their relationship and of Erin’s sexual preference, she had heard the facts from Bridgett. And she was stunned that any parent could treat their child that cruelly. Even with Tim’s story, it still boggled her thoughts that the human mind could be twisted into such contortions. But at second thought she realized that her own amnesia was a prime example of the mind’s complexities.

The hour was getting late, but the anniversary party still continued although it was winding down. She avoided the few guests that still remained and strolled out to her car. She encountered a very sad little girl who came moping toward her.

“Aunt Jamie?”

The tall woman knelt down and took the child’s hand in her own. “What’s wrong Sweetheart?” She asked the question, but was quite sure of the answer.

“Why was Grandpa yelling at Aunt Erin? I don’t like it when he does that. He scares me.”

Jamie stood and led the little one over to the side stoop. She sat down and placed Caitlin in her lap. She waited a few seconds, trying to find a way for a four year old to understand and wondering if she should even try. Perhaps that was her parent’s job. But Caitlin unwittingly answered that question.

“Mommy and Daddy said that Grandpa don’t feel okay.”

“Well, they are right. Your grandpa was mad for just a while, but then he remembered something that made him very sad and he said he was sorry for yelling. I think he’ll be fine now.”

Caitlin finally seemed satisfied with that explanation and a smile brightened the little face. “I love Grandpa. I love Aunt Erin too.”

“And Aunt Erin loves you.”

The seated woman and the child in her lap looked up, surprised at the voice that came around from behind a tall shrub. Erin smiled at her partner as she reached down and took her niece into her arms. “Why don’t we all go into the kitchen,” she said. “I think there is one last piece of chocolate cake with our names on it.”

Caitlin agreed with a hearty nod.

“I think we could all use a little comfort food.”

Jamie nodded with a kiss to Erin’s cheek.

****

The trio sat in the kitchen, sharing the cake. Erin gently wiped away a milky mustache from the small mouth just before a yawn escaped from it. “I think it’s someone’s bedtime,” she said.

“Aw, do I have to?” Jamie whined jokingly. “I don’t wanna,” she added with an exaggerated pout.

That brought a bout of giggles from the curly headed child and her aunt.

“Aunt Jamie,” said Caitlin. “You a grownup. Nobody can tell you when to go to bed.”

The dark headed woman had a sharp retort on the tip of her tongue, but it definitely wasn’t for younger ears to hear. Erin mentally filled in the blank and winked at the woman she loved.

Bridgett and Brad chose that moment to come in and say goodnight to their daughter, who was spending the night along with Conner. A not so quick round of hugs followed along with more apologies between the sisters. The Nelson’s had been filled in on what had transpired in Tim’s life so long ago and now they all felt confident that the family could put all the anger and misunderstandings behind them, heal the wounds and move forward.

Fifteen minutes later, her grandmother carried Caitlin up to bed. Danielle returned shortly to find Erin and Jamie waiting by the front door, obviously preparing to leave.

“I’m glad you didn’t leave yet,” she told the couple. “I know you were planning on staying at a hotel tonight because of the long drive home, but I was hoping…well with everything that happened here today… Would you girls consider spending the night here? We could all have breakfast together. I really think it would do us all a world of good to spend more time together.”

Erin would never make a decision without consulting her partner.

Jamie answered the questioning look. “It’s fine with me. As long as you’re comfortable with it.”

With everyone in agreement, Jamie retrieved their bag from the car and Danielle led them up the stairs and down two turns of the long hall.

Jamie looked around the inside of the large room, decorated in colors of green and burgundy. She had never been given a formal tour of the house, but realized it was just an oversight on the part of Erin’s mother. Especially with the tension that always followed their visits.

“Goodnight Erin, Jamie,” the older woman said as she hugged them both. “Sleep well. I’ve been told that this bed is very comfortable.”

Erin stopped her mother before she walked out the door. “Why did you put us in this room, Mom?” Danielle’s confusion was evident. “Did Dad ask you to put us here, in the room farthest away from your bedroom?”

“Of course not. It was your father’s idea that you stay here tonight, but he was a little embarrassed to ask you himself…not because of your relationship, but because of the way he acted. It’s going to take him a wile to get over that. I put you here because of the large, private bath. I do the same for your sister when they stay here. Caitlin is in your old room.”

Erin sighed. “I’m sorry Mom. I shouldn’t have jumped to conclusions.”

“It’s all right Dear. I should have explained my reasons earlier.” She gave Erin one final hug. “We’re going to be all right. It’ll just take time.”

“Goodnight Mom.”

“Goodnight Danielle.”

“Goodnight girls. Sweet dreams.”

Erin felt the long arms encircle her just as the door closed.

“What a day huh?”

The small blonde just leaned into the embrace and hummed her agreement. Erin was very glad that the situation with her father seemed to have come to a happy end and that they could begin a new and maybe even better relationship. But as with any relationship it would take work. But at the moment she wanted to put all that aside and just get lost in the one thing that made her life complete. Jamie.

With a renewed burst of energy, Erin turned to face her lover. She attacked those lips with abandoned, asking no questions and taking only one prisoner of love.

Jamie finally had to physically separate them in order to breathe. “Where did that come form?” she panted, looking into the slightly predatory gaze.

“I want you,” Erin replied simply.

Nervous blue eyes snapped to the closed door. “Ah…Sweetheart, I’m not sure how comfortable I am with the thought of making love…” The first two buttons of her shirt were unfastened. “…here…” Two more buttons were opened. “…in your parent’s house.”

“Maybe you’re right,” Erin agreed as her lips found purchase on a collarbone and her hands pulled Jamie’s shirt from its confinement.

Jamie’s hesitation was waning quickly as busy hands planted themselves on her behind. “Well…maybe we…could…take a quick…shower.”

Erin giggled. “Your third shower of the day. Remember the first one this morning.”

Jamie did, bringing a giddy smile to her face. “That was a first for me. Just how many times have we made love in the shower?”

“Only one or two.”

Jamie snorted. “Yeah right.”

“…times a week,” Erin confessed with a sultry smile.

“We were insatiable huh?” Jamie asked as her own hands found some interesting areas.

“Were? You have no idea. And some of the places…” Both of the wheat colored eyebrows reached for her hairline as she made some quick searches through her memories.

“Why don’t you tell me,” said Jamie as she proceeded to undress her smaller partner.

“Well there was the beach at midnight in that deserted old boat and the attic at the beach house which involved a feather duster, but…. Oh and the limo.”

“The limo I was driving!?”

“Well you weren’t driving at the time,” she exclaimed. “Just before Christmas I hired a limo and a driver. After our wonderful date we…” She leaned up to whisper in the tall woman’s ear.

Jamie’s eyes continued to widen as the incident was described in very vivid detail. “We did that…in public?” she finally asked.

Erin traced a single finger down her lover’s jaw line. “No, in the limo.” She nibbled the next words onto willing lips. “Just wait until you remember.”

* * * *

Jamie followed Erin down the stairs the next morning, enjoying the aroma of coffee awaiting them. She was pleased, but surprised that her lover woke up in a good mood because the night had not been totally peaceful. They had shared a brief and quiet intimate interlude in the bathroom, never quite making it to the shower. Then they quickly jumped into bed had fallen asleep immediately, but unfortunately had not remained that way.

“No! No! I don’t want this!”

Jamie rose from her deep sleep hearing the muttered words. The words became more desperate and a flailing arm struck her.

“Save me!” screamed Erin. “I don’t want to die! Save me!”

Jamie flipped over and held onto the dangerous limbs as she called to Erin. “Wake up! Wake up Honey. It’s okay. Erin! Erin!”

The terrified green eyes snapped open. “What? Jamie?”

The taller woman pulled away just enough to let Erin sit up and she reached to flip on the lamp on the bedside table. “You’re okay now Sweetheart. It was just a dream.” Jamie smoothed down the sweat soaked hair. “It was just a dream.”

Erin was breathing heavily. Her chest burned just as it had then. She buried her face in her hands and felt the bed shift as Jamie scooted in close to her. “God, Jamie I was back there…in that water. It was so dark and so heavy and I couldn’t move, but I had to. I didn’t want to die. I didn’t…”

Jamie soothed her with soft kisses to her temple and murmured I love yous. “I know, I know. You only had the dream because of the story your dad told. I know you didn’t want to die, Sweetheart. It was just the pain.”

The blonde head agreed with rapid nodding. “I’m fine now.” She clutched onto Jamie’s shirt. “I’m fine now.”

They eventually drifted back to sleep in each other’s arms and not a word was mentioned when they did awaken.

****

As they neared the dining room, Erin wondered just would happen. How would they be greeted? What would be said? She knew what she wanted to happen, but after everything that had transpired between her and her father she was still slightly unsure. Erin did believe the words her father said the evening before, but that could have just been because of the emotions of the flashback he had had. The final proof would be his actions now. Only then would she trust that the situation had really changed.

She turned the corner, feeling the tall woman right behind her. There was her father at his place at the head of the table. His nose was buried in the morning newspaper, a habit he had always had.

Danielle was the first to notice the couple’s arrival. “Good morning Dear,” she said cheerfully as she got up to greet them. “How did the two of you sleep last night?” The question was spoken right out loud; no attempt was made to hide it.

Erin’s eyes turned to her father. He had quickly discarded his paper and was approaching them. His neutral expression turned to a pleasant one as he hugged his little girl. “Good morning Sweetheart. I didn’t mean to interrupt, please tell us, how did you sleep?”

Erin relaxed a little as the four of them took seats at the formally set table. “Well, I don’t want to speak for Jamie, but I slept wonderfully.” She glanced at her partner.

Jamie held her questioning expression in check. “Oh, yes. Very nice, very comfortable,” she answered, thinking that Erin just didn’t want her parents to know about her nightmare.

With the first few awkward moments out of the way, the meal continued on with many more questions for Erin. Afterward they carried their full coffee cups out onto the patio to enjoy the new August morning. Off in the side yard, a few dozen sparrows and songbirds were setting upon the full birdfeeder. The clouds in the sky did nothing to dampen the spirits of the two couples. They had laughed and told stories until the food had long gotten cold.

Caitlin and Conner had joined them half way through the meal, but quickly downed their cold cereal and dashed off to watch cartoons in the game room.

Timothy returned from retrieving his third cup of coffee and took his seat between his wife and daughter. He leaned forward addressing the dark haired woman, who was on the other side of Erin. “Jamie, Erin tells me you will be going to Houston the third week of November.”

“Yes. There is a big auction there every year. I’m hoping to get a couple of new stallions for the breeding program.”

“Well, I just happen to have a meeting in Texas that same week. Instead of going commercial, perhaps you would like to join me on my private plane.”

“I…ah,” she nervously looked to Erin for an answer, which was given in the form of a smile and a slight nod. “That would be fine, Sir. Thank you.”

“Jamie, I know that things are still a little unsettled between the three of us. And I know that I have to re-gain your trust, through my actions. I know that will take time. But family members call me Tim.”

“All right Tim.”
Chapter 15
The roar of the huge jet engines could be heard even through the thick glass panes of the airport windows. Erin shuddered under the arm draped across her shoulder as she watched the white machine ascend into the clear, sapphire sky.

“What’s wrong?” asked Jamie.

“I didn’t realize…I mean I thought I’d be okay with this.”

Jamie led her partner to a nearby seat. “Are you talking about flying?” After the nod, she continued. “You were fine on the flight back from Ireland. I didn’t realize you were afraid to fly.”

“I’m not. It’s just…now that I’ve got you back, I guess the thought of what could happen…what did happen to you…”

Jamie gave her a comforting hug. “I wish I could come with you. I’m sorry.” She stroked the blonde head tucked beneath her chin. “You can cancel this trip Sweetheart. Nobody can make you do anything you aren’t comfortable with.”

Erin pulled back and took a deep breath. “I know.” She stared into the blue eyes, so full of affection and compassion. “But if I don’t get on that plane now…” If there is one more thing I don’t need to be concerned with, it’s this.

“You can call from the plane, can’t you?” asked Jamie.

Erin just sat there staring, remembering the calls that Jamie had made on her ill-fated flight. It couldn’t possibly happen again…could it? I don’t really have a bad feeling about this, like I did before, but still…The debate nearly screamed inside her head, harmonizing with the pounding that had started long ago.

“Erin. Erin, are you okay?”

A warm handed landed on her cheek. “What?”

“I don’t think you should go,” said Jamie.

“No.” Erin forced a smile. “No, I have to go. I’ll be okay. I’ll call you every few hours.” She hesitated, but no reaction.

“Okay. I’ll have my cell with me all the time.” They heard the boarding call for Erin’s flight over the intercom. Jamie hugged Erin and kissed her temple. “I love you.”

“I love you too,” whispered Erin, while still clinging to her dark-haired partner.

* * * *

Jamie hit her exit, signifying the halfway point to home; or more precisely, the ranch. Her home had just left for forty-eight hours. Jamie looked down at the clock on the dash. Forty-six hours, fifty minutes and 10 seconds…9 seconds…8… The ringing disrupted her countdown. Jamie picked up the small gray phone and pushed the button. “Hello beautiful. Do you know how much I love you and much I miss you already?” She heard silly giggles on the other end of the line.

“You’d better be damned glad that it was me,” said Erin with a few more giggles. “Pull of to the side of the road,” she instructed abruptly.

“What?”

“Just do what I say. It’s too dangerous to drive and talk on the phone. Put the phone down and come back when you have stopped.”

Jamie quickly found a small clearing and turned off the engine. “Okay. You now have my full attention.”

“Good. What are you wearing?” she asked with a sexy, but slightly slurred voice.

Jamie laughed. “Well, you certainly sound in a much better mood.”

“Yeah. Must be the two mimosas I had.”

“Champagne loosens you up huh? I’ll have to remember that.”

“Oh yeah; like on New Year’s Eve. That was a night to remember.”

Jamie’s smile disappeared. “Yeah, well.”

“What can I bring you back from New York?’

“Just yourself Sweetheart. Quickly.” Jamie chuckled. “I wonder what kind of bill we could run up if we talked through the whole flight?” She sat there waiting for the witty retort. “Erin.” There was no answer, but she could tell that the line was still open. A chill went down her spine. “Erin! Rin are you still there?”

“I’m still here.”

The morose tone of those words filtered into Jamie’s ear. What happened; you were happy just a minute ago? “What’s wrong, what did I say?”

“Nothing. It’s just that we were on the phone when your plane…”

Jamie sighed deeply. “Erin, Honey you’ve got to stop thinking about that. If I could go back and change it, I would…but I can’t. We both have to learn that we can be separated and everything will be fine.”

“I know, you’re right. And I will. But it’s hard.”

“I love you Rin. Wrap yourself in my love. It will protect you from those bad feelings. Okay?”

“Okay. Or maybe I’ll have some more champagne and sleep all the rest of the way, then I won’t have to think.”

“No Erin. That’s not what you need. Promise me you won’t drink anymore. You’re too strong to start giving in to that. Promise me.”

“I promise. I love you Jamie. I’ll call again in a while. But just in case I go to sleep and don’t call, don’t worry. I will call you when we land.”

“Okay Sweetheart. I love you too.”

* * * *

Erin took a taxi to the hotel where the producer of P.M. Chat had made her reservation. She was scheduled to be on the popular talk show when it was on live at four in the afternoon.

She had taken a short nap on the plane, but had awakened in time to call Jamie about a half an hour before landing. The tall woman had answered from horseback while she was exercising Simeron. They chatted briefly, their conversation ending with Jamie wishing Erin good luck.

Erin’s blue mood from earlier in the day had disappeared. She had a couple of hours before she was needed at the studio and she decided to take in lunch and a little bit of shopping. Luckily her hotel was within walking distance of her favorite New York restaurant.

* * * *

Jamie grabbed the bag of popped corn from the microwave, hissing as the heat stung her fingertips. She soothed them against the cool can of soda as she carried both into the living room where she plopped down into the overstuffed recliner and pulled out the footrest. Once settled in and munching on a handful of the buttery kernels, Jamie grabbed the remote and flipped it to the correct channel. She had to watch half a dozen annoying commercials before the opening logo of P.M. Chat emblazoned itself across the television screen. The unseen voice began announcing the guests and Jamie grinned as her favorite name was listed, although last among the three. Then came an announcement she hadn’t expected.

“Today’s guest host is Joel Barber.”

Jamie’s dark brow wrinkled. “Who is he?” She shrugged as the thin, red-haired man appeared from behind the curtain and walked to his mark on the stage, reveling in the prompted audience applause. After a short and very unfunny monologue, he slipped behind the small desk and proceeded to interview his first guest, a bleached blonde, teenage Brittany Spears wanna be. Next up was a contestant from one of the recent rash of reality game shows or as Jamie had called them, upon an experimental viewing, stupidity game shows.

Forty-five minutes into the hour, Jamie crumpled up the empty bag and set it on the table beside her. She hopped up from the chair mumbling. “I can’t believe I wasted my popcorn on the R rated Gidget and the over tanned windbag.”

Artemis echoed the sentiment with two loud barks.

“Mommy is on next,” Jamie said, returning from the bathroom. She sat down just as the theme music started, signifying the return from the commercial break. She reached for the remote and turned up the sound.

The host leveled his smarmy grin directly into the camera as he made the introduction. “Our next guest is the author of the science fiction novel, The Noah Factor; soon to be a major motion picture this fall. Please welcome Erin Casey.”

Jamie leaned forward to get an even better view of her favorite person. Erin looked mighty fine in her crisp, linen slacks and the matching jacket over a soft yellow blouse. She was wearing her new glasses with the nearly invisible frame, which made her even more adorable.

After the opening amenities, comments finally turned toward the book. “I’ve read that you infused different parts of your personality into each of the characters in the story,” said Barber.

“Yes that’s true, but not to a narcissistic degree,” said Erin.

Jamie chuckled. “Look at that expression. He doesn’t even know what she just said.”

Erin continued. “In fact I even used some flawed parts of my persona; ones that I am still trying to improve.”

The host glanced down at his notes. “You were sightless when you wrote this, so that’s the obvious quality you gave to Simeron, at least for the most of the book. Was it a premonition of your own restored eyesight that made you give the lead character her sight back?”

“No, not a premonition, just a wish.”

The red head nodded. “What qualities of yours did you give Jessie, the male lead?”

“Jessie is incurably inquisitive, sometimes annoyingly so. But at the time I wrote this, I think he really represented my love of life.”

Jamie reached down to rub the golden head, now in her lap, as she studied the body language of her partner on the television screen. “What do you mean when you wrote that, don’t you love life now?” The pondering of that thought was put aside as the next question was asked.

The carrot topped man, non-chalantly, tipped his head to some unknown entity and flashed a ghost of a wink to Erin, who appeared unaware of the gesture. But Jamie caught the suspicious moves and straightened in her seat, suddenly feeling a chill down her spine.

“Now Ms. Casey, there is just one more character that I would like to discuss.”

Jamie really didn’t like the tone of his voice.

“I guess we all know just what personality flaw,” he sneered the last word. “…you gave to Corporal Seeger.”

Erin shifted in her seat away from the negative attitude he was projecting. But she wasn’t about to back down or hide from his questions. “I am proud of each and every character in this story. And I don’t believe any further comment is required. My writing speaks for itself.”

“If this issue is so important to you, at least tell us why you didn’t make the lead character, Simeron…gay?” Before Erin could speak, he shot back, his voice raised. “Let me tell you why. You knew that a big, butch dyke as a lead character wouldn’t sell on the general market and make you big bucks. And I know that I speak for the rest of the world in saying thank you. If there is one thing that we don’t need is another queer waved in our faces.”

Jamie was seething as she watched her lover being verbally abused. “Who in the hell does he think he is? Why don’t they just pull the plug for God sakes?” Just then she saw a man run from the audience, jump over the desk and attack the raving host. The flailing bodies fell toward Erin just as the live broadcast cut away to a commercial. “My God, I don’t believe this.” She jumped up to grab the phone.

After twenty frustrating minutes of waiting on the line as she was transferred from one operator to another, she finally gave up and slammed the phone down. She would have to wait until Erin called her. Jamie paced as she mulled over the situation. She had seen those other ridiculous, so-called talk shows and they were nothing but laughable and the farthest thing from journalism on the planet. But Erin agreed to go on this particular show because it had such a good reputation for its fair treatment of all guests and subject matter. Until now.

It was over half an hour before the phone rang. “Erin?”

“Yeah Honey, it’s me. I guess you saw huh?”

“Of course I saw. Are you alright?”

There was a slight hesitation. “Yeah, I’m fine.”

“Erin I saw you get hit just before they cut the signal. Did you get hurt?”

Erin gave a slight chuckle. “I have a little bruise under my left eye and a coffee stain on my jacket, but other than that I’m fine.”

“I just don’t believe that guy. How could the producers let something like that happen?”

“You want to hear the real joke?” asked a tired Erin. “It was all a set up.”

“That was obvious.”

“But the producers didn’t know a thing about it. They apologized profusely. It seems that Joel Barber wants to build his career on that kind of junk. He wants to be the next Jerry Springer or…whoever. He thought I was going to be in on it too.” Erin sighed heavily. “I don’t know…it was all just so stupid.”

“I wish I had been there.”

“I’m glad you weren’t.”

“Why?” asked Jamie. Her feelings were hurt.

“Because you would have jumped into the fight and maybe have gotten hurt.”

“Oh. Well I wouldn’t have let it get that far. I would have stopped that jerk long before that. Are you still going to appear on that other show tomorrow?”

“There was a message waiting for me when I got back to the hotel. The producer said I could cancel, but I don’t want to hide. I didn’t do anything wrong and nothing was my fault. I think it’ll be okay.”

“Well you know I can’t watch it live, but I’ll tape it and watch it later.” There was no immediate answer. “You must be exhausted?”

“Yeah you could say that. I wish you were here.”

“Me too. Why don’t you order room service, take a nice long bath and when you are ready for bed call me?”

“What a wonderful idea. You are so smart and I am so glad that I love you.”

“So am I Sweetheart, so am I. And I love you. Talk to you later.”

* * * *

Jamie scraped the last few bits of food into the garbage disposal and placed the dirty dishes into the dishwasher. Of the two prepared dishes Erin had left for Jamie’s dinner, she had chosen the spicy Italian one and it was delicious. After the drone of the cleaning machine started, the tall woman shuffled into the darkened living room and made sure the front door was locked. Walking back into the lit hallway, Jamie glanced at her watch. It had been three hours since she last talked to Erin and she was getting jittery, waiting for her to call back. Jamie was growing increasingly concerned about Erin’s emotional state, but every time she even mentioned getting help, Erin glossed over the subject and tried to divert attention, usually with some intimate activity.

The dark haired woman prowled around the big house looking for something to keep busy. She performed half a dozen little chores that could have waited for another day or two. But once every shelf had been dusted and every wastebasket had been emptied, she ran out of busy work. Boredom was tapping her on the shoulder and Jamie was answering the lonely call.

She grabbed a book from the crowded shelves in the corner nook of their bedroom, flipped on the reading light and settled into the soft chair. Jamie only scanned the first few pages of the novel before she was distracted by the silence in the room; a silence that pounded in her ears and draped over her like a heavy, wet and musky woolen cloak. What is with me? I never had a problem being alone back at the hospital. I preferred it. She thought about that for a few seconds. Then a smile drew across her sullen face. But that was before Erin. She chuckled and shook her head. But she’s only been gone a day. Am I that pathetic? It only took two seconds for her to answer that question. No. I am in love. It’s not loneliness that’s bothering me. I’m just temporarily incomplete when she’s not here, when I can’t look into those incredible green eyes and see… “my world.” It wasn’t a startling new revelation for Jamie, subconsciously she felt this every minute of every day, but it was always warm comforting to stop and say the words aloud…even if know one else was listening.

Jamie picked up the phone just after the first ring. “Hello.”

“Hi Hon. I’m all snuggled into bed, waiting for my bedtime story. Just make sure it has a happy ending.”

“All right. Once upon a time on a far away, isle of green, a lost soul was rescued by a beautiful, golden-haired angel…”

* * * *

Erin dragged out of bed the next morning, after a restless night’s sleep. Her first thought was of Jamie. I guess that’s why I didn’t sleep well. It was too lonely. The one thing that she absolutely missed the most was her good morning kiss. That kiss was her sunrise. It was her first breath of a new day. It was a necessity. Erin couldn’t even talk to her lover because of the time difference. It was still dark in California and she didn’t want to interrupt Jamie’s sleep.

Erin walked into the bathroom, looked in the mirror and almost scared herself. Her short hair stuck out in every direction. There were dark circles under both eyes and below that, on the left side, the bruise had spread slightly and was darker than the night before. “Wow. I’m glad Jamie isn’t here to see this. Although that’s the only reason I’m glad she’s not here.” As for the bruise, it didn’t concern her to go on national television looking this way. She had faith in the professionals to hide the area with make-up.

Erin was hoping that a shower would rejuvenate her, but fifteen minutes later, she didn’t feel any better. Coffee. That’s what I need.

Another forty-five minutes and almost a whole pot of coffee later and she was finally starting to feel human. But still sad. Erin slipped into her casual clothes and placed her good suit into a garment bag and placed it near the door. Just as she did there was a knock. Assuming it was the driver come to take her to the studio, Erin opened the door. She was immediately greeted with a huge bouquet of flowers of every color of the spectrum. After several seconds she finally looked up to see the barer of the colorful delivery.

“Flowers for you Ms. Casey.”

Erin set the flowers on the nearby table and retrieved some money from her purse. Once she was alone, Erin reached for the enclosed card while taking a whiff of one of the largest blooms. She scanned the few, but wonderful words and a smile graced her face for the first time that morning.

The card read: I am proud of you. And I love you so much. J
* * * *
When Jamie went to check on the horses the next morning, she noticed that one of the boarded horses was limping. But there was no visible cause. She called the owner and got permission for the new vet to come by and have a look.

Her night had been no better than Erin’s. By morning she had twisted herself into a cocoon of green satin and nearly sprained a leg trying to extricate herself. Jamie almost cried when she realized she had yet another night of similar fun to look forward to.

* * * *

Dr. Benson stopped by just before noon and took care of the minor injury in quick order. Afterward Jamie invited him to stay for lunch, as long as he didn’t mind sandwiches. He agreed with a hearty smile. “Will Erin be joining us?” he asked as they trekked back to the house.

“No, she’s out of town until tomorrow.”

“What a shame. I was hoping to get a chance to speak with her again.”

****

Jamie set the plate in front of her guest. Chad’s eyes bulged at the double decker ham and turkey sandwich. With his fingers, he carefully inspected the layers of lettuce, tomato, pickles, meat and cheese topped with globs of mayo.

“What?” said Jamie around a bite of her identical sandwich. “You don’t like it like that?”

“No. That’s exactly how I like it,” he said with a curious grin. “It’s just…I’ve never seen anybody outside of a deli make them like this.”

Jamie popped the top on her cold soda. “Well I can’t stand a wimpy sandwich. And since that’s about the only thing I can make without poisoning myself or anyone else, I have tried to raise it to an art form.”

After Chad swallowed his first bite he said, “Well this is a masterpiece. Although cooking is my hobby and I like to experiment, sometimes you just can’t beat a good, simple sandwich.”

Jamie grabbed a couple of napkins and a bag of potato chips from the cabinet and returned to the table. “You’re good looking and you cook too and you’re still single?”

Chad laughed at the unintended, reverse bit of stereotyping and blushed slightly. He knew Jamie wasn’t flirting, but the compliment still felt good. “Yeah well, I might be single for some time to come. There aren’t that many available ladies around here it seems. And the ones that are, are still too young.” He shrugged a shoulder and his eyes took on a lonely quality. “I was engaged a few years ago. We were very happy and we had a wonderful time together. We were compatible in all areas, but there was just something missing. And the more we talked about a wedding and…forever, the more uncomfortable we both became. We mutually decided to end things then and save the pain that would have come later. Just before I left Texas, I heard through a friend that Emily was getting married. I really hope it works out for her this time. I also decided that’s how I’ll know when it’s the right one; the thought of forever will feel like bliss and not a jail term.”

Jamie sipped her cola as she thought about her blonde partner. Her expression remained neutral. She knew immediately what it felt like at the thought of spending forever with Erin.

“You know,” said Chad. “When I first saw Erin she kind of reminded me of Emily.”

* * * *

Jamie warmed her chicken dinner in the microwave, went into the living room and started the VCR. She was only able to talk to Erin briefly around two o’clock. The author was going out to dinner with some people connected with the movie, including two of the movie’s stars. Jamie had heard about the talk show she was about to watch, but she had never seen it before. The opening animation was cute and when the thirty-something female host appeared from behind the curtain, Jamie thought, well she looks pleasant enough. This should be much better than yesterday’s fiasco. The brunette spoke briefly to an audience member then told a few humorous stories about her personal life before introducing Erin. And she knows the order of importance for her guests.

Jamie smiled again as her partner appeared on the screen. She looked good; beautiful as always, but Jamie suddenly realized that there was something missing. It wasn’t something Jamie remembered, but she was just suddenly aware that the unique luminescence that made Erin shine was gone. Jamie prayed that that spark was only temporarily misplaced and that together they could find a way to bring it back.

The interview meandered from comments on the movie to talk of Erin’s trip to Ireland. During a commercial, Jamie fondly remembered the fun they had there. She suddenly had an idea; something she hoped would help perk up Erin’s spirits. Jamie made herself a mental note to check the Internet once the program was over.

The show continued with the introduction of the main star. Lisa Morgan was a new comer to the movie world. Noah Factor marked only her second job and her first starring role. The twenty-one year old actress was tall with long, straight black hair and blue eyes. The attractive young woman had an athlete’s build and was perfect for the role. Jamie had another revelation, a rather embarrassing one at that. She looks like me. Well if I was ten years younger and still had long hair, but…When she had read the book during her recovery, Jamie had never made the connection to her own appearance, but with a blush to her cheeks it became apparent. She planned on asking her lover just why that was.

Several scenes of the movie were shown and Jamie found herself anticipating its release later in the year.

Jamie flipped off the VCR and then the television as the end credits began to roll. She hopped up the stairs and soon her computer sprang to life and was quickly connected to the Internet. Her favorite search engine brought up a mere three hundred and eleven suggestions for the selected topic. “Okay,” she muttered to the screen. “Might as well start at the top.” The first three sites were interesting, but did not have anything that caught her attention; not that Jamie knew exactly what she was looking for. She only knew that she wanted to find a special present for Erin’s upcoming birthday.

The push of another key brought her back to the search page where her blue eyes scanned down to the next name on the list. Once there she laughed out loud. “You have got to be kidding. How could a search for Irish gifts bring up an obviously X-rated web site?” Still not believing her eyes she read the title again. “Sexy Irish Lasses with Sexy Irish Asses.” She shook her head at the absurdity of it all. “Sorry, but I have no use for you. I have my own…” Ring. Her cell phone interrupted the thought. “Hello.”

“Hi Honey.”

“Speaking of sexy Irish lasses.” Jamie finished the rest of the title in her mind, because it certainly was true.

“And who was speaking of such things to you?” Erin asked, feigning jealously.

Jamie laughed. “No one my sweet. I was just thinking of you right before you called.”

“Okay, I’ll buy that.”

As she continued the conversation, Jamie checked out the next relevant site on the list. “Well, you sound in a much better mood than last night at this time.”

“Yeah, I had a good day. I had some great food, met some really nice people and I got a kiss from the cutest guy.”

“Oh, tell me more, especially about this guy and this kiss.”

“Well he’s the silent type, but not shy. He made me laugh and he has big brown eyes.”

“I thought you were partial to blue eyes?” asked Jamie as she glanced across the page of Irish clothing.

“Well of course I am, but this is a special case. When he put his arms around me I melted. Oh and did I forget to mention that he is two years old.”

Jamie laughed again. “Well, boyfriends like that I can handle.”

“I thought you could make that exception. So what did you do today?”

“Just the usual. I had lunch with Chad.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah. He had to come and look at the Brackman horse and then I asked him to stay.” Jamie hit the button for the next link. “But most of all…”

There was a long pause.

“Jamie. Jamie are you still there?”

The dark-haired woman’s thoughts were currently spinning around the items of yellow, white and pink staring back at her from the computer screen. “Huh? Yeah, yeah I’m here. Sorry.”

“Is something wrong?”

Jamie finally pulled here attention back to the phone. “No nothing’s wrong.” She scrambled for an innocent fib. “I thought I heard somebody at the front door, but I guess not. So, I’ll be there to pick you up in the morning. And remember if you need to, call me from the plane.”

“I will. Don’t stay on the computer all night.”

Jamie grinned. “How did you know that’s what I was doing?”

“Just a hunch. See you in the morning. Love you.”

“Love you too Rin. Bye.”

Jamie set the phone back on the desk and swiveled her chair back around. The Anne Geddes screen savers flashed across the screen. The baby bumble bee, the baby ladybug, the baby on a cloud; they all appeared and faded away as she sat there contemplating what was behind the cute images. It wasn’t really what she set out to find, but it had definitely caught her attention and would certainly make a statement. A slow smile slid across her face as she pictured it on her green eyed partner and the joy on that angelic face. “Yeah. Yeah that’s what I want.”

For the next hour, Jamie debated over the dozens of styles and colors. It had to be the right one. It had to be perfect. Once she had made her final decision, she chose the size, filled out the form and sent it off with the push of a button. “That was easy,” she said. But the clenching in her stomach and the sweat on her temple spoke differently. Her brow furrowed. “I don’t know…maybe…maybe I should have gotten the more elegant one…or the other color…” Jamie took a deep breath, placed both palms against the oak desk and pushed herself to her feet. “No. I made the right choice. No more debate.” Jamie gave a determined nod. “She’ll love it.” The tall woman flipped the light switch on the way out of the room. Suddenly she stopped in the darkened doorway. “Or maybe not.”

* * * *

Jamie tapped her booted foot against the highly polished marbled floor as she checked her watch for the third time in half an hour. She watched through the big window as plane after plane touched down and the hundreds of passengers filed through the terminal. But she had yet to see the only passenger she was interested in. Erin’s plane had been delayed to due a storm in the east and Jamie had been bugging the woman behind the counter for over an hour. The gray-haired woman visibly cringed the last time the grim-faced, six-foot woman marched up to her station.

“We certainly have bad luck with planes,” Jamie commented to herself as she headed off to a Starbucks. Her journey was halted when the voice over the P.A. announced the arrival of the flight from New York. She turned on her heels and headed back to her former spot. “Finally.”

Ten minutes later, she saw the top of a blonde head that looked very familiar. As the crowd thinned and a burly young man in a UCLA t-shirt stepped around a corner, Jamie saw her weary looking lover. But that frown suddenly flipped when the green eyes caught sight of the jean clad vision heading her way.

Jamie wrapped one arm around the blonde’s neck while liberating Erin of her carry on bag with the other. “I missed you Sweetheart,” she whispered in an ear before placing a gentle kiss to her temple.

A hearty bear hug followed. “I missed you too. I can’t wait to get back home.”

They made a tiny detour for lunch about an hour outside of L.A., but soon they were driving under the Sheridan’s Stables sign.

The four legged blonde rose from her sleeping spot on the front porch as the big truck came to a stop. Artemis greeted her human with a dozen doggie kisses as Jamie carried in the bags.

Once inside, Erin kicked off her shoes and scampered into the kitchen for a glass of milk. Jamie snuck up behind her just as she lifted the glass to her lips, where the cold, white liquid sloshed over the rim. Jamie gently spun the shorter woman and slowly cleaned up her mess before easing lower and engaging in a mind-blowing kiss.

Erin pulled away, wide-eyed. “Wow, am I really glad to be home. That’s something you really can’t do over the phone.”

“It wasn’t a totally bad trip though, was it?”

Erin shrugged and smiled. “No. I had one good day and one bad day. But please tell me I don’t have to go away again.”

“Rin, you never have to go anywhere that you don’t want to,” said Jamie as she wrapped her partner in loving arms.

Erin landed another smoldering kiss through which she said, “Good. I’ll just hibernate here. And maybe we can do something about jogging those memories of yours.”

Jamie eased out of the embrace and gave a half-hearted smile. “Yeah. Look, why don’t you get unpacked and maybe take a nice long, hot bath. I’ve got a few things to do in the barn. I’ll be back in time to help you with dinner.”

Erin was left in a daze at the sudden change in moods as Jamie fled through the back door.

Dinner that night was a quiet affair, neither having much of a need to converse. A few hours of television brought them some welcomed laughs and took them to an early bedtime. Snuggled together, they shared a few slow, sweet kisses. No further expression of love was needed on the solemn September night. It was there; it was always there, surrounding them, binding them together. But it wasn’t always enough to protect them from the cruel hand fate had dealt them.
Chapter 16
Erin munched on the last of her popcorn as they exited the five-screen theater. “So what did you think?” she asked her partner. The ladies had decided that a lazy Saturday would be a good day to go and see a movie. They drove to the nearest mid-sized city which was only forty-five minutes away from their house and once there they had chosen to see the new Planet of the Apes.

“I liked it. Not quite sure about the ending though.”

“Yeah. But the make-up was great.”

“Yeah, that female chimp was kinda cute,” Jamie said, as they reached the car.

Erin shut the door behind her and reached for her seatbelt. “Please don’t tell me you are developing a thing for hairy women.”

Jamie laughed as the engine turned over under her touch. “Don’t worry, I won’t be asking you to throw away your razor anytime soon.”

They had chosen the early matinee so they could have dinner in town afterward. With Erin reading off the directions, Jamie navigated the strange streets looking for the Mexican restaurant they wanted to try. There were quite a few people on the streets for a Saturday afternoon and besides guiding Jamie to their destination, Erin indulged in a developing practice of people watching.

There were kids on their bicycles and roller blades dodging the other pedestrians. Erin rolled her eyes at the group of teens moping down the street wearing their over-sized pants at half-mast. Even far removed from the big cities, the teenagers still managed to know the current trends. Three pre-teen girls stood outside of the local music store, giggling and swooning over the huge ‘N Sync poster plastered in the window.

Erin turned her attention to the large park they were passing by. One couple in particular caught her eye. The tall brown-haired man carried a similar-haired baby in a backpack as he walked along with the person who she assumed was the baby’s mother, but that didn’t necessarily make her his wife, Erin thought. And endless array of characters paraded before the author’s eyes and she studied them intently. As the car stopped at a red light, she noticed another gentleman in clean, but rumpled clothing. He swayed as he walked and judging from the package he tried unsuccessfully to hide inside his jacket, had obviously gotten a good start on his weekend party of one. She wondered what his story was. How many years had he succumbed? Why did he drink? Or maybe this was just a one-time event, triggered by some tragedy in his life. The possibilities were endless. And she would never know for sure as the man faded from sight. He could be a character in my book. Maybe. Erin leaned her head against the window. What does it matter? I can’t seem to write more than a few paragraphs at a time any more. Even that is leaving me.

“I guess this is it,” said Jamie, pulling into the nearly empty parking lot and choosing a space near the front entrance. Once seated in the requested non-smoking area, Erin began perusing the tri-fold menu.

“Oh boy,” stated the blonde. “I’ll never be able to choose. Everything looks so delicious.”

Jamie nodded her agreement. “Well, we’ll just order several things and share.”

Erin smiled. “I like your thinking.”

Several minutes later the waitress returned with their drinks and a big basket of red and blue tortilla chips along with several small bowls of dipping sauces. They both avoided the one labeled with a red-hot flame and instead sampled the mild lime salsa and the green guacamole.

Erin held up a crimson chip doused liberally with the chunky red dip. “Bridgett makes an incredible raspberry salsa. I’ll have to get her recipe.”

“Ohh, that sounds good.”

They both continued to munch on the appetizers as Jamie pondered something she had been wanting to ask Erin, something she thought might give Erin a little of her spark back. She cleared her throat of the spicy food with a drink of her beer. “You know, I’ve been thinking. Chad told me about a rancher over the ridge that has a couple of nice, older horses he wants to sell. I figured that we could offer them a nice place to retire and just to keep them active, I thought we might start up your riding program for physically challenged children.”

Erin lowered her eyes to the table and slowly smiled before looking back up. “That would be great.”

“Good. Maybe we can kick it all off with a big party.”

Erin brightened considerably, rubbing her hands together in anticipation and straightening in her chair. “Bridgett’s salsa would be great…and hamburgers and hot dogs for the kids. Maybe chicken for the adults, not that adults don’t like hamburgers…or hot dogs, but we should have a variety.”

Their meals arrived and they both dove in. Erin joyously bantered around ideas all through the meal and Jamie just watched with glee at the happiness written all over the animated features.

That’s it, thought Jamie, she needed something to do, something active. She’ll love helping those kids.

Erin snitched a few more bites from Jamie’s plate and in turn passed off some of her honey glazed chicken. The noise in the adobe style building started to escalate as the evening crowd began to pick up. Jamie grabbed the desert card preparing to order something sweet before they left while Erin was still working on the remainder of two of their dishes.

Just as an experiment, Erin dipped a touch of the hot salsa onto her bite of food. Her eyes widened just a little as it singed her throat. “This reminds me of the time last summer when we went to that Mexican themed party down the beach from us. Do you remember how you were dared to take a huge gulp of the fire sauce they had. Between that and the bikini top you wore, you were burned inside and out. Remember how you claimed that you stay out there all day and never get burned…but you got burned all right. It was days before you could lay down without yelping.”

Jamie sat back suddenly, took a healthy swallow of her Corona and stared at what food was left on her plate as Erin went on. “Would you please not do that,” she asked gruffly when there was a break in Erin’s story.

“Do what?”

Jamie drew her attention to the twirling fan above their table. “You know I don’t remember, so stop asking me if I do.”

“I don’t do that,” insisted Erin.

Jamie’s eyes hardened as she caught Erin’s. “Yes you do.”

“Jamie what are you talking about?”

The dark-haired woman’s jaw clenched as she watched a family of six pass by their table. One little girl waved at her and she halfheartedly returned the gesture to be polite. But inside, months of simmering frustration were reaching the boiling point. “We’ll talk about it when we get home, Erin.”

“Guess that means we’re leaving,” said Erin a she reached for the wallet in her purse. “because I want to know what you mean.”

It was a long, silent ride home. They were both emitting enough negative vibes to know that a moving vehicle was no place for the conversation.

Artemis made a hasty retreat away as her two humans stomped in the front door, Erin slamming it behind her. The car keys landed on the dining room table with a loud clunk and Jamie stormed into the kitchen to start the coffee. She had a feeling that it was going to be a long night and she was going to need it.

“Okay,” said Erin. “We’re in the privacy of our own home. Now explain exactly what it is you meant back at the restaurant.”

Jamie hesitated. She didn’t really want to get into this conversation, but now it was unavoidable. Erin wouldn’t have let it go, she was like a dog on a bone when she was being challenged. “You’ve been doing it for weeks Erin,” she finally blurted out when the smaller woman demanded an answer.

“Doing what?” Erin shouted.

“What was the last thing you said at the restaurant, before I got upset?”

The blonde head shook at the incomprehensible turn the conversation was taking. “I…I think I was talking about the time we went to that beach party. What is so wrong with that?”

“It wasn’t wrong to talk about it Erin, but you said do you remember. It’s always, don’t you remember, I can’t believe you don’t remember, just wait until you remember. No matter how much you have been wishing, willing or craving it, it hasn’t happened. And it might not. I have accepted that possibility, but you haven’t. I always catch you with this sad little expression on your face.” The tall woman gave an exaggerated frown to prove her point. “Either that or you’re staring at me with this expectant look or you are trying to re-create a past experience.” Jamie threw both disgusted hands in the air. “I don’t remember, plain and simple. Why can’t you just let it go?” After the frustrated rant, Jamie finally took a composing breath. She finally turned to look at her angered partner.

“You’re mad because I want you to remember us. It’s more like you don’t want to remember.”

Jamie pointed an accusing finger. “You have no idea what I want!”

“Why don’t you tell me then?” shouted Erin. “What is your problem with the things I’ve done?”

Jamie didn’t answer; she paced in tiny circles already regretting starting the argument. Finally she spoke. “Just think about what I said Erin. Because we can’t go on like this.”

Erin just turned away, trying to understand just what she had done to warrant Jamie’s reaction. She stood there with downcast eyes. Her mouth hung open, unable to answer the accusations until all of Jamie’s words began filtering through her brain and slowly it dawned on her. She realized that it was true. She had done it all. “Jamie…I only wanted you…to be able to feel all the things that we shared. I love you.”

Jamie’s watery eyes slipped shut. “I know you love me Erin…I know.” She took a shaky breath. “But I don’t think you like me without those memories. That makes me feel inadequate. I feel like a disappointment to you.”

The verbal one-two punch snapped Erin’s thoughts and left a burning in her gut as if two fists had landed squarely on their target. She felt physically ill and her head pounded with the truth. She couldn’t say anything to Jamie. At that moment all of her advanced vocabulary faded to a mere shadow in her brain.

Jamie dropped into a nearby chair with a thump. Her legs no longer had the strength to hold up her length of bone. And the rest of her was debating just how to conquer the hurdle that she had erected. She still wasn’t able to look up at the sadness that she felt emanating from across the room. She did hear Erin’s feet start to move toward the staircase. “Where are you going?” she asked softly.

Erin, of course, remembered their last big disagreement, before Jamie got on that plane. She had felt helpless then and guilty now. An unproductive emotion, but almost unavoidable when a flawed human being loves another human being so much. She stuttered an answer. “I…I can’t. I…I need to be alone…for a while.” She whispered a final, “I’m sorry.”

Jamie sat in the same spot for the next twenty minutes, thinking about everything and nothing. For an instant she clearly heard herself yelling at Erin. But there were none of the words that she had just spoken. This was from another time and another place. She reached out with her soul and tried to grasp the shadows, but the memory never solidified. It vaporized back into the mists of her addled brain. She shook off the feeling of frustration and concentrated on the present. She leaned forward and felt a pain in her back, the tension drawing her muscles into vice grip. Maybe I was too hard on her. I should have found a better way to discuss this. I made her cry. Damn! I never wanted to do that. Listlessly she walked to the kitchen and reached for a bottle of water from the fridge.

She leaned her backside against the counter and blew out a strong gust of air. Now she’s got me feeling guilty. But I shouldn’t. I was right in letting her know how I feel. Another cool swig of water slid down her throat. I just should have chosen a better way and a better time to do it. The dark head shook. Maybe I haven’t been trying hard enough to remember. I don’t know. Maybe I’m afraid to remember. I do want to remember. But it’s not that I need to anymore. I know who I am and I have everything I want. A painful feeling clenched her heart, terrifying her. But no matter what happens Erin, you are the single most important thing in my life and I won’t lose you. I can’t let that happen. Jamie looked at her watch again. It had been thirty minutes. That’s long enough. We need to talk.

Her anger had dissipated but with loving determination, Jamie climbed the stairs and approached their bedroom. She knocked once just to give her lover some warning. “Erin.” The blonde wasn’t in the room. “Sweetheart, we need to talk about this now,” she called as she moved toward the bathroom. Still no Erin.

Jamie then headed for her partner’s new hide-away. She had found the elusive woman in the small upstairs alcove no less than three times in the last few weeks. She passed by the hall window, giving it just a cursory glance. But Jamie stopped mid-stride when the image had registered in her mind and she backed up to the clear glass pane. Erin was standing in the back yard, half way between the house and the barn, staring at the ominous clouds gathering overhead. “What is she doing?” the tall woman mumbled to herself.

Jamie quickly took the back stairs and marched out through the small wooden gate. She slowed her approach when Erin gave no indication of hearing her. “What are you doing?” Jamie asked, trying not to sound angry, which she wasn’t. “It’s going to rain any minute.”

“Am I still living in my fantasy world?” Erin asked heartbreakingly. “I mean, am I in a bed in some hospital and all this is going on in my head? You’re right. I did everything you said, but I don’t know why. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I should never have hurt you this way. Everything is supposed to be perfect. I got you back and that’s all that should matter. Why am I doing this? Why?” She buried her shameful face in her shaking hands.

“No, it’s not all that should matter Erin. You have to take care of yourself Sweetheart.”

The blonde suddenly looked up with a terrified look on her face. “Or maybe I never got out of that lake. Maybe I did die and this is my heaven…or my hell.”

Jamie softly grabbed her lover by the arms and turned her. “Erin this is no fantasy. You are alive. Look at me,” she said. “Do you believe in my love for you? Do you believe me when I say this is real?”

Erin peered deeply into the pale blue eyes, seeing the painful truth. “Yes. But that means that I really did hurt you. And that is unacceptable.”

“Erin, I know you didn’t mean to hurt me. It’s just as much my fault. I should have told you sooner how I felt and I certainly shouldn’t have yelled at you. Sweetheart, no one is really at fault here. Think about everything that has happened to both of us this year.” She saw the realization slowly wash over the sad face. “The stress of it all is just too much for us to handle alone. We both need help to come to terms with everything.” She cautiously asked her next question. “Will you go with me to see a therapist?”

Erin nodded rapidly and threw her arms around the tall woman’s neck.

“We will work this out Erin. We’ll be okay Honey. We’ll be okay.”

“I’m sorry Jamie. I was never disappointed in you, never.” She squeezed tighter. “I love you. Please don’t leave me. Don’t ever leave me again.”

Jamie cupped the blonde head and murmured in her ear. “I’m not Erin. I’m not leaving you and I won’t, not ever. I promise.” She sealed her promise with a small kiss. “Now let’s go inside before we get wet.”

They only took two steps when an enormous crackling came from above. Erin and Jamie were knocked off their feet and flew through the air landing with a sickening thud against the hard ground.

The air grew eerily quiet.

A patch of blackened grass smoldered about three yards from where they had been standing. Rain began to trickle down from the gray clouds overhead and within seconds the drops fell more heavily.

The first sensation Jamie became aware of was a wet back. She felt the cotton material sticking to her skin as she tested those muscles. The next thing she felt was something soft under her. She turned her head and saw wisps of blonde hair. Jamie was lying at an angle across Erin’s body. She pulled away quickly, calling her lover’s name, but the unconscious woman didn’t even twitch.
The steady rain continued to drench them as Jamie frantically felt for a pulse. In her hysteria, she couldn’t tell if there was a beat or not. She did know that her lover wasn’t breathing. “No!” she screamed above the thunder. Jamie immediately began blowing life saving air into the still lungs, pulling away every few seconds to check again. “Don’t you do this Erin! Don’t you leave me!” she pleaded. “Don’t leave me!” More air was forced between the soft lips. “You made me promise, now it’s your turn!” With the blink of an eye Jamie had another flash, a visual memory this time. She was looking down on an unconscious Erin and there was blood beneath the blonde bangs. But again, Jamie couldn’t put it all together and she was pulled back to the current situation. Another breath was given and Jamie pulled back when she detected movement.

Erin sucked in a lung full of air…and rain. She turned her head sputtering and coughing as she was pulled to the dark haired woman’s chest.

Jamie beamed with joy. “That’s it Baby, that’s it. You’re okay now.”

“What…happened?” the confused blonde asked between wheezes.

Jamie gently returned Erin to the ground and leaned over her, trying to keep the pelting rain from hitting her face. The dark head looked around. She spied the black spot in the grass and quickly put it together. “I think we were hit by lighting…sort of.” She returned her concerned gaze back to her partner. “I landed on top of you,” she explained. “Are you hurt anywhere?”

Erin took just a few seconds to inventory her body. “No, I don’t think so. I just got the wind knocked out of me.”

“By me,” Jamie said guiltily.

Erin reached up and palmed the worried face. “It was an accident. Besides, I tend to like it when you’re all wet and on top of me.”

Jamie couldn’t help but smile and chuckle slightly. A tinge of embarrassment slid her eyes closed momentarily, but she quickly looked back down and caught the wicked grin. “Erin this isn’t…it’s not funny,” she said, still smiling. She turned and kissed the palm that had rested against her cheek. “If you’re sure you’re not hurt, lets get inside.” Jamie helped the smaller woman to her feet as a huge boom of thunder sounded overhead, even causing her to flinch. Jamie threw an arm over the blonde’s shoulder and pulled her in tight, protecting her. They took a few more steps and the thunder sounded again. “Are you okay?” she asked. “Isn’t the sound bothering you? You’re not going to have a panic attack are you?”

Erin stopped suddenly causing Jamie’s foot to slide on the wet grass as she was halted too. “What do you mean?” the blonde asked shakily, turning to Jamie. I never told her about this, her mind hummed. But she kept her excitement in check.

Jamie gave her an incredulous look. “The thunder, isn’t it bothering you like it did…?” Jamie went mute. Her eyes darted around, but her focus was inward.

Erin remained quiet, waiting for it to register.

The blue eyes finally landed on the green ones. “Like it did that Sunday afternoon,” she explained, every word spreading her smile a little wider. The smaller woman was a mirror of her joy. “When I brought you out here for the first time.” With her last word, Jamie found her arms full of an ecstatic blonde. She lifted Erin off the ground and spun around as their lips melded.

They finally separated and each threw their head back and let the cool rain wash over them. When the droplets began to slow, Jamie twisted her head furiously, sending splatters of water onto Erin’s already drenched face. “You never did answer my question,” said Jamie. “Isn’t the sound bothering you?”

Erin let a slow grin cover her face. “Not any more. I found my safe haven, someone to chase away all of those demons.” She leaned in and kissed Jamie like there was no tomorrow. But there would be many, many tomorrows for the happy couple. A lot of healing was still to come, but the events of this day led to the turning point on their life’s path. The detour that had started on a dark day over nine months before was finally coming to an end.

* * * *

Erin stepped from the bathroom brushing her hair. She finally felt dry, after all that time in the rain. The shower had been warm at least, but she still finished as quickly as possible. As she walked across the room, Erin felt an odd chill. She went to the closet and pulled out one of Jamie’s heavy button down shirts. She slipped it on, wincing slightly at her sore body. After pulling on a pair of comfortable sweats, Erin trotted down the stairs in a much better mood. A deep sniff of burning hickory led her to the living room.

Jamie sat on the cushioned ottoman in front of the small fireplace. Her gaze was lost in the flickering flames as she lifted the blue mug to her lips and sipped the dark coffee.

Erin took in the slumped shoulders and when she got close enough, the heavy scowl as well. She touched the shoulder hidden beneath the draped lavender towel.

“I’m sorry,” whispered Jamie heavily.

Erin pulled over a chair. “What for?”

Jamie couldn’t look her in the eye. “I was so selfish. I got on that plane and put you through six months of hell.” The dark head dropped and shook morosely.

Erin slid from the chair to her knees in front of the upset woman. She lifted the chin so that their eyes met. “Sweetheart, we both went through six months of hell. But it was an accident…no one’s fault.”

“But…”

“No. No guilt, no blame. Leave it in the past. That’s why we’re going to get help, right?”

Jamie flickered a smile as she stared into the pleading emerald eyes. She finally nodded her agreement. “Speaking of the past. I think I remember most of that too. I’m sure there are still some gaps, but I remember enough, especially about…my past.”

Erin gently hugged her and placed a kiss on the damp hair. “I know Honey. I never wanted you to know about that. I only wanted you to remember your family and us.”

Jamie then smiled fondly. “My family,” she said simply. But so few words spoke volumes and it warmed Erin’s heart.

The tall woman stood and led her lover over to the much more comfortable sofa. Erin snuggled in closer. “I do remember just about every glorious moment with you,” said Jamie. “And you were right. You could explain the actions and events, but what I felt was only in here.” She tapped the side of her head. “From the total enrapture I felt when I first laid eyes on you to the nervous stomach I had when I showed up to lunch the next day. You never knew this, but I hardly ate a thing. All I could do was stare at your beautiful face, but I felt guilty doing that because you didn’t know I was.”

“I knew,” Erin confessed softly.

“You did?”

Erin nodded. “I sensed it and liked it. Tell me more.”

“You totally disrupted the calm my life had settled into, but only in the very best way. After I left you that day, I couldn’t stop thinking about you. I waited every night for you to call. I couldn’t sit still and I couldn’t concentrate. I needed to be with you, even though my brain fought so hard against it.”

“That’s kind of how I felt in Ireland, after you kissed me.”

Jamie smiled then continued. “I remember the safety of your love wrapping itself around my heart that night at the beach house when I told you about my past. And I remember crying after you made love to me for the first time, because I had never felt so special in my entire life.” Jamie took a deep breath. Reliving all those emotions was hard. “And I remember your birthday celebration and Thanksgiving, spending time with Caitlin and Conner.” She paused and looked down into the face that held a dreamy expression. “And Christmas when you fulfilled my greatest childhood wish. But most of all, I remember falling in love with you a little more each day. And I love you most of all right this moment, but not as much I’ll love you tomorrow.”

They were much too tired to indulge in anything more strenuous than a few lazy, but loving kisses. They just sat there watching the fire for several more minutes. “How do you feel,” Jamie asked, “physically, I mean.”

Erin considered a moment. “Not bad, but I’ve got this strange tingling all over.” She flashed Jamie a teasing grin. “And it’s not from you.”

The grin was returned. “I feel it too.” Jamie glanced over at the grandfather clock that was just minutes away from seven chimes. “I think we should go over to the clinic and see a doctor, just to be sure. I don’t think either one of us wants to take a chance.”

Erin sighed. “You’re right, but that would mean that I have to move and I’m much too comfortable.”

“I know Honey, but this is important.” Jamie scooted out from under Erin’s clutch and stood stiffly. “It won’t take long. Let’s go.”

The blonde winced when she reached up to take the offered hand.

“What’s wrong?” Jamie asked.

“My shoulder’s just a little sore.” She stood and rotated the joint in question.

“Let me see.” Jamie quickly undid the row of silver buttons and slipped the shirt off of Erin’s left shoulder. She stepped around to take a look. “Erin! Why didn’t you say something? There is a bruise the size of my fist back here.”

“Well, I’m kinda sore all over and it didn’t really hurt until just now. I must have landed on a rock.”

Jamie gingerly kissed the injured area. “Now I know we are going to see a doctor.”

* * * *

The rain had since ended leaving a fresh, clean scent to greet the twilight. Not much was said during the drive to the small clinic that was quite far away. Jamie knew she had been right in suggesting that they see a doctor because they both were beginning to feel a little shaky.

The black-topped parking lot was empty except for two cars parked at the far end. Jamie opened the heavy glass door and stepped aside to let Erin enter first. She kept her hand against the blonde’s lower back as they approached the tall desk and waited.

A middle-aged woman, carrying a purse under one arm and an umbrella in her hand, came around the corner from the back hall. She jumped in surprise. “Oh! I didn’t hear the door open.”

“Yeah, sorry,” said Jamie tiredly. “We were struck by lightning and we thought it was a good idea to come in and see the doctor.”

The nurse’s deep blue eyes widened. “Oh my! Come on back and I’ll get Doctor Maxon.” She opened a door labeled exam room A and turned to Jamie. “You can wait in here Miss…”

“Sheridan. Jamie Sheridan and this is Erin Casey.”

“Miss Casey you’ll be right next door,” the older woman said cheerfully.

But Jamie had her own ideas. She took Erin’s hand, entwining their fingers and led her into the first room. “We’ll stay together,” she informed the nurse.

The woman, whose nametag read ‘Carol’, looked down at their joined hands and suddenly became flustered. “I…oh…well…I guess it’s all right.” She left quickly, shutting the door quietly.

There was only one chair in the small, sterile, white room. Jamie strategically planted herself there so Erin would have to sit on the examination table and would be taken care of first. The author gave her lover a weak smile just to let Jamie know that the gesture was recognized. The tall woman reached over and patted her thigh.

Just a minute later, a man of about forty-five stepped into the room. He reached up to adjust his glasses while introducing himself. “I’m Doctor Maxon.” He conveniently skipped the handshakes and small talk. He laid two green file folders on the counter next to the sink in which he proceeded to wash his hands. “So tell me exactly what happened,” he said, wrapping two fingers around Erin’s wrist.

By the time she finished the story, the doctor was releasing the tension on the blood pressure cuff fastened tightly to Erin’s upper arm. He wrote down the statistics on the chart in the first folder. “And this happened when?” he asked.

Erin deferred to her partner for the answer. “It was a little before six.”

Maxon placed the cold stethoscope inside Erin’s shirt, over her heart. When that was through, he felt around her skull for any bumps or abnormalities. “Any headaches or dizziness?”

“No.”

“Any neck pain or numbness in your arms and legs?”

Again she answered him negatively, but did inform him of the tingling sensation, shaky feeling and the chills she had experienced earlier.

“That can happen because of the trauma and the electrical shock. Everything seems normal, but I would like to do an EKG. Unbutton your shirt, but you can keep it on. Lie back on the table.”

His ministrations were gentle. But the bedside manner was that of a wet sponge. Jamie didn’t want to jump to the conclusion that it was because they were gay. Although she was sure that the nurse had run right off flapping her gums with the gossip, not that it had anything to do with the reason that they were there.

He quickly placed the white electrodes at several points along Erin’s torso, and then flipped the switch on the machine. He leaned closer to watch the blips that appeared on the small screen. They waited for several minutes before he said anything. “Okay everything looks normal here as well.”

After he removed the wires, Erin sat up and it was obvious that she was ready to hop down from the high bench without saying anything about her other injury.

“Tell him about your shoulder Erin,” said Jamie.

An audible, unhappy huff of air was released form his mouth as he moved around behind her. “Which one?” he asked. Receiving his answer, he pulled the lose shirt away from the area and easily probed the bruise. “I want to do an x-ray on that.” He reached into a low cabinet and grabbed a short, cloth top with ties in the front. Handing it to Erin he said, “Remove everything from the waist up and put this on. I’ll give you a few minutes to change then the nurse will be back to get you. And I’ll check on you,” he nodded to Jamie. “while those pictures are being taken.”

Erin shrugged off her shirt, wincing again. “Boy he’s a ball of sunshine,” she whispered.

Jamie jumped up just as Erin was about the reach behind with one hand. “Here let me get that.” She bent closer to whisper in her lover’s ear as she undid the hooks on Erin’s bra. “I’ve had lots of practice.”

Erin giggled and leaned back against the tall body for just a second, wishing she were home and in bed. Jamie slipped the lose garment up over her arms and shoulders, just finishing tying the white strings as nurse Carol walked back.

“I’m sorry,” she said shifting her gaze to the corner. “I’m here to take Miss Casey for x-rays.”

Erin hopped off the table, lightly poking Jamie in the ribs. “Answer the doctor honestly,” she instructed.

“Yes Miss, I’ll just forget to mention my bad shoulder.”

Erin responded with a coy grin.

About fifteen minutes later, Erin returned to find Jamie sitting in the exact same chair that she had previously occupied. “She said it would be about ten more minutes before he’d be back with the results. What did he say about you?”

“Same as you, pretty normal.”

“I get the feeling everyone else in this building considers us anything but normal,” Erin said, reaching for her clothes.

Jamie grabbed the white bra and stuffed it into the pocket of her jacket. “You don’t need to wear that home.” She comically leered at her smaller partner, enjoying the laugh she received.

* * * *

Jamie rolled down her window, hoping the cool air would keep her senses sharp as she drove the winding roads back to the ranch. Nothing but headlights guided the way through the darkness. The pale moon was playing hide and seek among the leftover clouds. She slowed her speed as she navigated around a hairpin turn, her wheels screeching slightly. Once the road straightened back out, she glanced over to see the blonde head leaning against the window, fast asleep. Jamie smiled as she clearly remembered the last time Erin had fallen asleep in the car.

There had been a fire in the building where Erin was working and Jamie had showed up just in time to save her. The author, who was then blind, became confused in the rush to escape and had gotten trapped in an office. They both survived unscathed, but exhausted and the small blond had fallen asleep on their way home.

There was one difference she noted, Erin’s left arm now rested in a blue sling. The doctor had said it was sprained and recommended wearing the sling for a few days and using ice packs on the bruise and the swelling.

Jamie soon pulled up to the house and shut off the engine. She called Erin twice, but only received a mumbled not now. The tired and frustrated woman got out of the car and went to open the passenger side door. “Erin, come on now we have to go in the house. You can’t sleep here all night.” She leaned down and kissed the blonde head. “As much as I would love to be able to carry you into the house Baby, I can’t. I’m afraid my back would give out and we’d both fall.”

That proved to initiate the author into action. “No, no, you can’t do that. I’m going.”

They supported one another and slowly made their way inside and up the stairs. Jamie proceeded to strip her lover of her clothing in a most unsensual, but practical way. Still feeling chilled, she dug their heavier pajamas from the bottom drawer of the dresser. Once dressed, Erin snuggled into the covers.

Jamie smoothed down the mussed blonde hair. “I know you’re already cold Honey, but I’m going to get an ice pack to put on your shoulder.”

A disoriented nod was the only response.

After placing a towel and the blue bag under Erin’s shoulder, Jamie cuddled close to ward off the extra chill. She fell asleep in just seconds and didn’t awake until nine hours later.

* * * *

It was another cloudy day and it was Sunday, which meant that Dan and Jackson, the two ranch hands, had the day off. That had its good and bad points, Jamie thought as she sat by the window in their bedroom. She would have to take care of cleaning the barn all by herself, but then she had the rest of the day all alone to spend with Erin. And they really needed it, especially now. She took another sip of her rich coffee as she looked back to the bed, a concerned smile coming to her face. Jamie had been up for over two hours, but her lover hadn’t stirred a muscle. It made sense; Erin did take the worst of it in last night’s encounter with Mother Nature’s Zeus impression. Still, it didn’t keep the tall woman from checking every half hour to make sure Erin was still breathing.

Jamie set her mug down on the end table and once again settled herself next to the woman she loved. She watched closely for each breath that moved Erin’s chest up and back down, slowly and evenly. Paranoia be damned. After all we’ve been through I think it’s perfectly reasonable to be just a little paranoid. I wonder what the shrink will have to say about that. She knew that seeing a therapist was the right thing to do…but that didn’t mean it was going to be easy. With a single finger Jamie pushed back a sprig of hair that blocked her view of Erin’s angelic face. A happy grin lit up Jamie’s face. That’s exactly what I thought when we first met. I remember it perfectly. Jamie rolled over on her back and stared at the ceiling. God I never thought I’d be able to say that. She turned her head to Erin once again. I never should have gotten mad at you. It’s all so clear to me now what you wanted. You didn’t want it for you, you wanted it for me. Jamie took a deep breath. God we’re both feeling so much guilt. There’s no blame, just guilt. That’s what we need help with.

A rustling of trees against the window drew Jamie’s attention. I really should get out there and get those things done in case it rains again. But she put that off until sleeping beauty woke up. With Erin’s, somewhat, fragile emotional state, Jamie didn’t want to frighten her by being gone. So she just lay there quietly waiting.

Erin’s dreamless mind ascended at a snail’s pace from the abyss of slumber she had fallen into. The first solid thing to great her senses was the dull ache in her shoulder. The second thing was the just slightly duller ache in her whole body. Her nose twitched. I know that smell. I like that smell. Coffee. The blonde head snuggled into the soft pillow, one last time. Her eyes fluttered. A lazy smile appeared. Even without her glasses she immediately recognized that fuzzy, tanned silhouette. “Hi.”

“Hi,” the blurry image answered back.

Those happy, blue eyes came into perfect focus as Jamie leaned in closer and greeted Erin with a kiss.

“How are you feeling?” Jamie asked, staying just inches from the sleepy face.

Erin momentarily forgot and shrugged with her injured shoulder. “Owwww,” she whined.

“That good huh? Don’t worry Ms. Casey, Doctor Jamie is here and at your service. Today’s therapies include a hearty scrambled egg breakfast and plenty of bed rest. Perhaps a hot soak for those sore muscles and I might even have to…”

The next words were whispered in her ear. Erin giggled. “I wish I felt a whole lot better so I could really enjoy playing doctor with you.”

Jamie tapped a button nose. “You will, my Dear, you will. But today we aren’t playing. Today I am both lover and nursemaid, just as you were right before Thanksgiving last year. Your TLC was invaluable and I intend to reciprocate in full.”

Erin returned from the bathroom to find Jamie dressed and ready to go. She quickly shuffled forward when she spotted the recently refilled, red mug heading for Jamie’s mouth. “Oh,Oh, that’s what I’m missing. Share?”

Jamie passed off the warm beverage. “This and everything else I have for the rest of my life. I’m going downstairs to make you breakfast, so hop back into that bed and relax. What?” she asked when the cute little pout covered her lover’s face.

Erin twisted back and forth, swinging her good arm. “Can’t I come and watch you?”

Jamie took her hand and laughed. “Okay little girl, you can watch. Then back to bed.”

“Yes Mommy,” said Erin playing along with their little verbal game.

****

After the meal was finished and the dishes put away, Jamie settled her lover into the big, comfortable recliner in front of the television. Erin had convinced her that she would be too bored all alone in their room. The dark haired woman handed her the remote and the cordless. She clipped her own phone to the side of her brown belt. “Call me if you need anything,” she instructed.

“I’ll be fine Sweetheart, really. The food helped. I’m feeling better.”

Jamie gave her a kiss. “Call me anyway. It shouldn’t take too long. Love you,” she called out as she disappeared into the hall.

****

Erin had fibbed just a bit. Her shoulder was beginning to ache with more intensity. And she was sure that she hadn’t fooled her partner for a second. After a few slow deep breaths, she tried to ignore the pain and flipped on the television. Sunday morning didn’t bring a lot of interesting choices for relaxing viewing, but after flipping through a few dozen channels, Erin finely settled on an old black and white movie. Her eyes watched the images moving across the screen, but her ears didn’t catch but the first few words. Erin’s thoughts turned to the events of the night before…of the weeks before…of the months before. Her eyes fell shut and she sighed heavily, mentally listing the emotional valleys of the previous nine months.

I get my sight back, then I think Jamie dies. I become depressed then move my life from the beach to the ranch and get lost in a fantasy world. I just slightly recover from that and go to Ireland and fall in love with a stranger. I return home and find out that the woman I love now is the love of my life, who never really died…only she doesn’t remember any of our life together. All the while, I’m still dealing with a father who won’t accept me for who I am. Then he does a one eighty and I learn his actions were because of some deep buried trauma he suffered as a teenager. Finally, I get struck by lightning and Jamie gets her memory back. Erin grimaced and rubbed her weary eyes. Oh yeah, therapy. She fumbled for the phone that had fallen into the space between the chair and her leg. She pressed in the several digit number, but it wouldn’t connect her to the woman in the barn.

“Hello,” answered the voice on the other end of the line.

“Hi Anne, it’s Erin.” Dr. Anne Carson was one of Erin’s best friends. They had gone to collage together and Anne had helped Erin explore her sexuality. They had never been lovers, but Anne was instrumental in informing Erin of the ins and outs, so to speak, of the gay lifestyle.

“Honey, I’m glad to hear from you. How are you doing?”

“Well, have you got about an hour to listen to my unbelievable tale?”

* * * *

Jamie returned just after eleven o’clock to find Erin scouting the kitchen for something she could fix one handed. “Honey, if you were hungry why didn’t you call me?”

Erin’s response was delayed by a rather hearty kiss. “Oh, I was, I was. I just wanted to see what we had around here.”

Jamie took in the somewhat barren refrigerator. “I guess we need to go shopping huh?”

“Yeah,” she agreed. “but tomorrow.” She turned and flashed her a look. “That is if you will go into town and get pizza for dinner?”

Jamie laughed and pulled her into a hug. “You can cut out the puppy dog eyes. Don’t you know by now that if you asked me to crawl on my hands and knees to the Arctic circle, that I would without a seconds hesitation?”

“Just to town will be fine,” said Erin.

Jamie dropped to all fours. “I’d better get started now.”

Erin giggled as she watched her lover crawl to the door.

The raven-haired woman stopped and looked back over her shoulder. “You were planning to stop me weren’t you?”

Erin just stood there grinning.

Jamie stood and brushed off her hands and knees. “Uh, huh. That’s what I thought.”

Erin did manage to scare up a few items for a fairly substantial lunch. And Jamie set about preparing them with the helpful instructions of her partner.

During the meal, Erin told Jamie about her morning phone call. “Anne thinks it’s a really good idea for us to see a therapist. She was just sorry that I didn’t ask her help earlier. Anyway, she recommended Doctor Jennifer Webber. She specializes in counseling gays and lesbians. Actually she is in the building just across the street from where I saw that first therapist. I guess I just didn’t research my options very well at the time.”

Jamie reached over and rubbed Erin’s hand. “She sounds like a good choice Honey. Why don’t you call tomorrow and see when we can get an appointment.”

“I also invited Anne to come up here and stay for the weekend. But it will a couple of weeks before she’ll have the time.”

“That’s great. I don’t want you to feel so isolated way up here away from the city and everyone you know.”

“I don’t feel isolated. If anything the peacefulness around here is what has allowed me to keep some sense of sanity. If we were still back in the city…”

“I know Honey. We are going to be all right. I love you.”

“I love you too.”
Chapter 17
Erin pulled her legs up under her and sank into the soft chair in the living room. They had had an early dinner and now with the dishes done she chose to start on the new book she had gotten at a bookstore in LA during their last visit. Jamie had said she had something to do in the barn, so Erin was enjoying the quiet time alone.

It had been two weeks since the events that brought Jamie’s memory back. They had been to three appointments with Dr. Webber and both felt on their way to finally becoming whole again. There would still be much more discussion about the stressful issues that plagued Erin and Jamie, but they felt the beginning of freedom from the constricting hand that held their souls in place. In the span of two weeks, there had been many small steps toward a new beginning…a beginning that hadn’t really started in Ireland.

Their first visit to Dr. Jennifer Webber came on a cloudy, gray September afternoon. The two-hour drive from their home to the big California city was filled with soothing music, but very little talk. The mood inside the rolling vehicle was somber and tense. The tension was not directed at each other, but rather inward as each worried about what sort of emotional scars would be unveiled and just what it was going to take to finally heal those wounds.

Jamie pulled the car into the parking garage and drove all the way up to the sixth floor before she found an open space. Two slamming doors echoed off the cement pillars like a double cannon shot. The tall woman waited near the back of the vehicle for her partner. “Are you okay?” she asked when the tight-lipped author stepped around the corner.

“Yeah.”

The timid answer was not encouraging.

Jamie led them across the hard floor to the row of elevators along the back wall. They waited about forty seconds before a set of doors finally parted at the far corner. They stepped on to find themselves all alone. Jamie felt the small shudder beside her and she reached over and took the cold hand in hers. Erin’s eyes slipped shut and she sighed heavily as the touch brought an end to the twitching nerves. She looked up into the easy blue eyes and smiled for the first time that day.

Dr. Jennifer Webber was an attractive lady in her late thirties. A moderate mane of very dark, blonde, wavy hair just reached the therapist’s shoulders. She was of medium height, falling exactly between Erin and Jamie and her light brown eyes shown with compassion from behind oval, silver framed glasses. She welcomed them each with a handshake and invited them to a small circle of comfortable leather chairs in the corner of the nicely decorated office. She set a tray of water filled glasses on the small, round table that marginally separated doctor and patients. The notebook in her hand was flipped open as she took her seat. “I know this is a very intimidating situation,” she said. “But I want to try and make you as comfortable as possible. I’d like us to be on a first name basis, unless you object.” At the nod of two heads the Doctor continued. “Before we get into any of the really heavy stuff, I’d like each of you to tell me a little about yourselves.”

They each stated their ages and occupations, but not much else and she found that to be a typical response. Doctor Webber felt that the sharing of that information should be reciprocal. “My partner, Vicki and I have been together for fifteen years,” she explained with a smile. “Our son is just starting fifth grade.” She glanced over at the wooden framed picture of the grinning, carrot topped boy.

“He’s a very handsome young man,” said Erin as she studied the photo.

“Thank you.” She went on to tell a few more incidental facts then paused as she took just a second to watch the body language of her new patients. They hadn’t stopped holding hands since they walked thought the door, but she could tell that it was a natural act and not forced by either party. “Can you tell me what it is that you would like to accomplish by coming here?” she asked.

Erin and Jamie’s eyes met, each waiting for the other to take the lead.

“Erin, why don’t you go first,” said Webber.

The blonde head tipped to one side and she cleared her throat. “I…I guess I want…I want to regain control…so my life with Jamie can go forward and we can finally put the past behind us.”

“Jamie?”

The rancher didn’t have an answer; at least one she thought was worth saying. “I guess I’m not sure. If I hadn’t gotten my memory back recently that’s what I would’ve said…now…now I don’t know, except that I want the same thing Erin does; to be able to deal with all the recent stresses and strengthen our relationship so we can build a future.”

A few notes were quickly scribbled and the doctor took a sip of her water. “Okay. Jamie, why don’t you tell me what’s gone on in your life that brought you to this point.”

It was very telling that the raven-haired woman began her description with meeting Erin. She told of their friendship, which lead to a tentative courtship to a marriage proposal to her disappearance and the rest of the events of the previous year.

After the long explanation, Doctor Webber commented, “That’s quite a story.”

“It’s a miracle,” said Erin.

“Of course.” The doctor turned back to Jamie. “Do you feel as if your life really started after meeting Erin, because I asked about your life not your relationship?” She saw the almost panicked response in the blue eyes. “It’s not a wrong response Jamie. I just want to know how you truthfully feel.”

A shoulder shrugged. “Well, yes. That’s the part of my life that matters most.”

“And the twenty nine years before that where they that mundane?”

Jamie snorted. “God no, anything but.” Without being prompted further, Jamie went on to tell about her childhood, the death of her parents and the dark mistakes she made thereafter. With a final, shaky breath she turned to smile at her partner. “But Erin helped me to come to terms with all that.”

Jennifer just nodded and wrote more notes. “Erin, what about you?”

The author skimmed over her privileged childhood and her bout with blindness, instinctively knowing that that was not the root of her problems. “But the event that robbed me of control was Jamie’s…Jamie’s…”

“Say the word Erin,” urged the therapist. “It’s okay, it’s just a word.”

The first tears appeared and misted over the green eyes. “D…death.” She finally stuttered the dreaded word.

“Tell me exactly how you felt about that and about everything that has happened since then.”

Erin delved into the explanation of the darkest days of her life along with half a box of nearby tissues needed to dry the heavy flow of tears that accompanied the difficult sentences.

Doctor Webber listened closely to the choice of words being emotionally spoken by her blonde patient, but she paid even more attention to the body language of the woman’s partner. Jamie clasped Erin’s right hand in both of hers and her eyes were closed for the longest time. The facial muscles beneath her skin twitched and tightened as she tried to control her own intense reaction. Even though she had heard the story, it ripped at her heart even more then the first time. As it was coming down to the end of the story, Jamie’s eyes popped open and she looked away with her head lowered. Her lips twisted into a snarl.

Erin finished and downed a glass of water in three quick gulps and her heaves of breath slowly calmed.

“Are you all right Erin?” asked Jennifer.

“Yeah. I just hope I don’t have to go through that again,” she joked weakly with a small, twitchy smile.

The doctor’s right hand was busy making notations as she asked her next question. “Jamie, what were you thinking just now…when you looked away?”

The dark head shook.

Webber looked up from the paper when no answer was forthcoming. “Jamie we all have to promise to be completely honest with each other here. Please answer the question.”

She reached up to rub the tight muscles at the back of her neck. “I was thinking maybe I made a mistake by bringing Erin here,” said Jamie. “It’s too painful for her to relive all of this.”

“Don’t you think she was in pain before?”

“Yes, but… Is it wrong to try to protect the one you love most in the world from any further pain?”

“No, of course not. But you know that the only way for Erin to get past this pain is to deal with it. Hiding it all these past months is what brought her here to this point. I know you have your own pain to deal with too. But I think you are both essentially strong people and with the love you have for each other you will survive this. And you can have that future you desire.”

They left that hour-long session totally drained. Too tired to make the long trip back to the ranch, they checked into a hotel for the night, had a simple meal, a long hot bath and fell asleep curled around each other, for a peaceful and dreamless night.

****

Four days later they had their second visit to the blonde headed therapist. And it turned out to be even more intense than the first. The most difficult thing that Erin had discovered in the session was that she loved Jamie too much. At first she had been furious that Dr. Webber even suggest such a thing. Erin was adamant that that was impossible and she nearly stormed out of the office. She was only stopped by the comforting voice of the woman she loved. Jamie had led her back to the seat and held onto her hand, urging Erin to listen to what the doctor had meant. Dr. Webber had been recording their sessions, with permission and after hearing the events of the last nine months played back to her in the form of her own voice, Erin began to shake uncontrollably and she felt sick to her stomach.

By the time that session was over the writer was an emotional mess, but she finally understood; it wasn’t her heart that loved too much, it was her head. She loved Jamie to the exclusion of herself. Erin had lost her true self. And no one could continue to function as a healthy human being without acknowledging his or her own needs. She also learned that her heart had never really accepted Jamie’s death. Erin had only placated her conscience to begin a relationship with Jane because of the very strong attraction she felt for her new friend. And when Jamie’s true identity had been revealed, Erin just expected everything to be perfect once again. Truly accepting that Jamie could be taken from her again and that she could survive it was the single most difficult thing she had ever done. It was only after that admission that Erin finally began to feel that freedom.

During their most recent visit, Dr. Webber had spoken to them individually. Each had many questions and some serious issues were discussed, but not one tear was shed, leading them each to feel that they were finally regaining control. And with that, Jamie decided that the time was right to start that journey into their future.

* * * *

About twenty pages into the story, Jamie’s head popped around the corner of the living room doorway. “I’m going for a ride, Hon,” she said as nonchalantly as possible. “And I thought I’d take Arte with me. You know how much she likes to run.”

Erin briefly looked up from her book. “Okay, Sweetie. Have a good time.” She readjusted her glasses before returning her attention to the interesting story and she missed the crooked, half smile that was aimed in her direction.

* * * *

It was five minutes until the half hour and Jamie had been gone for almost sixty minutes. But Erin didn’t give it too much thought. She knew her partner tended to lose track of time when she was out on horseback. The author reached up to turn on the lamp next to her chair as the sun had dipped past the trees in the front of the house. She also decided that a glass of wine would taste very good right about now.

Before she could reach the fridge, a golden body poked in through the doggie door. “Oh, you’re back,” she said to the canine.

The big dog set her hindquarters down in front of her human and panted.

Erin stooped down to her level. “Did you have a good run?” she asked, vigorously rubbing the dog’s ears. Her hand scraped across something ruff under the long, yellow hair. “What did you get into now?” Erin rooted around and found something entangled in the dog’s collar. She pulled out a folded piece of beige paper. A flash of panic passed through her, but quickly subsided when she began to read the neatly written note.

Sweetheart, please come to meet me at the glen just passed the white boulder. I have a little surprise for you. Simeron is saddled and ready to go. Lock up the house and make the dog stay home.

Love you, J

Erin smiled, conjuring up all kinds of scenarios in her very creative mind. Artemis obeyed her request and the blonde woman was traipsing out to the barn within minutes. A few nudges from the impatient author sent the white horse into a full gallop across the empty, green field.

Within ten minutes, Erin was approaching her destination. She pulled on the rein, guiding the steed around the huge stone landmark. Her green eyes grew wide as did her grin when she took in the sight before her.

Jamie stood there in her black, denim shirt, which was neatly tucked into a pair of brand new, but slightly faded blue Levi’s. Her dark boots had been freshly polished and they walked across the tall grass to meet the new arrival.

Behind Jamie was a fully equipped campsite. A big log had been pulled up next to a roaring fire. Next to it was their very familiar picnic basket and several feet behind was a domed, two person tent.

Erin’s feet hit the ground and her lover immediately embraced her. “What is all this?” she asked after a very long kiss.

Arm in arm they moved back toward the fire as Jamie answered. “Just a little idea I’ve had rolling around in my head for a while. Do you like it?”

Erin briefly squeezed the body beneath her grasp. “Of course.”

They took a seat on the soft, red blanket in front of the fire and Jamie reached into the basket retrieving two glasses and a tall, dark bottle. She handed Erin the glasses and with a mighty hand removed the embedded cork from the long, glass neck.

They quietly savored the wine and relaxed in front of the glowing warmth. “This is nice,” said Erin. “I’m glad you thought of it.”

“Me too.” Jamie agreed, nervously. She could barely hold back the grin as the happiness tapped danced around her heart and played a few dozen choruses in her brain. She did laugh out loud when she felt a few wayward fingers slip inside her shirt and brush across her belly.

“So,” said Erin, “did you have anything else in mind for this evening? If not, I’m sure I can make a few suggestions.”

Jamie savored the kisses that were spreading up her jaw line. Suddenly, through the arousing haze she remembered her main purpose for the special evening. She inhaled and let the breath out slowly. “Actually there is something we need to do,” she said, reaching back into the woven basket at her side.

“What’s that?” asked the blonde.

Jamie lifted the lid on the little box and held it up for Erin to see. “Get married,” she whispered emotionally.

A sound something between a squeak and a gasp escaped Erin’s open lips as she heard the words and spied the white gold band with its relief Celtic design and the shining clear solitaire that sparkled in the fire’s light. Forcing her jaw to move she sputtered what few words her flabbergasted brain could form. “Oh, Jamie…I…it’s…I didn’t want to assume…after everything…”

Jamie smiled at her adorable partner. “Is there a yes in there somewhere?” she asked.

Erin finally pulled herself together and looked up at the beaming face. “Of course it’s yes!” She threw her arms around Jamie’s neck. “God I love you so much.”

Jamie plucked the ring from its holder and discarded the velvet box. She slipped it onto the proper finger and added a kiss just like she had done the first time. “Committing my heart to you may not be the easiest thing I’ve ever done, Erin, but it is absolutely, without a doubt the best thing I’ve ever done. You’ve actually owned it from the very first; I was just too stubborn to see it. And you certainly are the reason we are here today. I only wish the road leading to this moment had been much smoother.”

Erin cupped her hand around the chiseled face, which was silhouetted by the flickering flames. “I think that scaling those mountains has assured us that we will be together always and can work through any other obstacles that come our way in the future.” Her forehead met Jamie’s. “Together, we can do anything.”

Jamie kept smiling as she felt the cool metal against her cheek. “We’re getting a brand new start Erin, so I thought I should do it right. I know the first time I proposed was a little more romantic, but I had to be a little creative and come up with something new.”

Erin turned and sat with her back up against the taller woman’s chest. She pulled those long arms around her and snuggled in. “Sweetheart, the first time you proposed was wonderful, but this is so perfect because it is so much more you…so much more us. And believe me, this is extremely romantic.”

“I love you,” said Jamie.

They sat there for a long time, just enjoying being close. The comfortable silence was only broken by the occasional spit and crackle of the fire. The smell of the burning hickory added to the mesmerizing sway of the orange and blue flames as the wondrous seconds continued to slip away, although to the two lovers it felt as though time had stopped, suspending their love in an eternity of joy.

Jamie leaned in just a bit and placed a very gentle kiss to the temple just below the blonde locks. “Thank you,” she whispered softly.

“For what?”

“Since I got my memory back, I don’t think I’ve told you how much it means to me that you continued my dream. I know what buying this ranch cost you.”

Erin knew Jamie wasn’t speaking of money.

“After your breakdown you could have sold it. I’m sure you were encouraged to do just that.” Jamie felt the tiny nod against her arm. “But you didn’t and I understand the sacrifices you made. And it makes me love and respect you even more.” The dark haired woman also understood why her partner made no verbal comments after her declaration. The kiss planted on the back of her hand said it all.

A loud rustling, in the trees behind them suddenly caused both heads to turn.

“Maybe that was a banshee,” joked Jamie.

Erin laughed. “I believe that particular legend only exists on Irish soil.”

“Speaking of, have you talked to your grandmother and told her about everything?”

Erin slowly pulled out of the loving arms so she could turn and see her partner’s face. She scooted around and crossed her legs Indian style. “Yeah. I was on the phone almost two hours. She was thrilled of course and shocked.” Erin began rubbing both hands over the solid, jean-covered thighs across form her.

“Do you think she’ll come over for the wedding?” Jamie asked.

“Oh no!” Erin exclaimed, without stopping her hand movements.

“What?” Jamie frowned. “You don’t think she’ll want to come?”

“No. No, of course she’ll come. I just remembered that I told my cousins that I’d organize a family reunion. But that will have to be postponed until next spring.”

Jamie gave Erin a very sultry smile. “Oh and why is that?” She asked, knowing full well the answer.

“Because I will be much too busy getting married and going on a honeymoon and…well who knows what other spousal activities I’ll be engaging in.”

Jamie nodded. “Speaking of engaging in activities…” Her eyes dropped to the hands on her legs. “You do know that you are driving me crazy, right?”

Erin gave her a wide-eyed grin. “Right.” She looked back over her shoulder. “I assume you intend for us to sleep in that tent over there?”

Jamie was apprehensive with her answer, not quite reading the expression that appeared. “Well, yeah that was the idea. You don’t want to?” she asked. “We can always ride back to the house.”

“No, no. I think it’ll be great, very adventurous.”

Jamie leaned way over and nuzzled the smooth neck. “It has a moon roof.”

Erin worked a black button free. “Even better,” she said. “Spending all night under the stars. I’m sure we could think of one or two things to do in the spotlights.”

“Speaking of which, is it too early to turn in?”

Erin kissed her soundly on the lips. “Nope, right on time, whatever time it is. In fact time has no relevance…at least until the sun comes up.”

Jamie proceeded to douse the fire as Erin led her horse over to join Teegan. She removed the saddle and gave her a quick brush down, suddenly feeling a tingling in her lower abdomen. Knowing it had nothing to do with the night’s anticipated activities, she began looking around. She walked over and ducked her head into the blue tent. Not finding what she was wanting, Erin walked, with a rather funny gait, back to where her partner was tending the dying fire.

Jamie looked up and burst out laughing. She had been watching Erin’s exploration and she knew what the blond was looking for.

Erin gave one last glance around. “I, ah don’t suppose you thought to bring…umm…a…”

Jamie snickered at her friend’s reluctance. “What Erin?”

The author glared at her tall lover. “Somewhere to go…” She let her nodding head finish her thought.

“Oh that! Sure thing.” Jamie moved behind the huge log and rooted around in her pack.

Erin breathed a sigh of relief…until she spotted the small item in Jamie’s hand. She eyed it suspiciously.

“Here.” Jamie handed her a full roll of white tissue and swept her free hand across the landscape. “Pick your spot.”

The golden brows went skyward. “You’re kidding, right?”

“Nope.” Jamie wiggled the roll with a smirk on her face.

Erin huffed then clinched her jaw. She grabbed it, turned and marched off for the trees.

Wrinkles formed on the tall woman’s forehead. “Where are you going Erin, it’s just me?” She asked the question seriously.

Erin waved a hand in Jamie’s general direction. “It’s bad enough that I have to do this, at least allow me some modesty.”

Jamie just giggled as she snuffed out the remaining fire and stirred the glowing embers.

The blonde returned just a few minutes later and went to pack away the tissue.

Jamie stood and an uneasy expression graced her features. “Uh, Erin could you…”

The small woman turned and tossed it, flashing a knowing grin.

Jamie caught it with ease and headed toward the trees.

“Where ya goin Jamie?” The author teased.

Just before the tall figure disappeared into the shadows Erin heard, “Not another word.”

* * * *

Much later they laid together under a soft blanket, cooling from the heated passion they had shared. The netted moon roof allowed a great view for star chasing and wishing. Erin had her head pillowed on the nearest shoulder and her left arm wrapped around the lean waist. She was rapidly relaxing under the tender fingertips that brushed against her back.

Jamie took the arm from her torso and lifted the hand to her face, where she studied the ring by moonlight. A broad smile soon appeared and she began kissing each of those fingers. Erin moaned her approval. “Sweetheart?” Jamie lowered the hand back to her chest. “Do you still have the first ring I gave you?”

Erin answered without looking up. “Yes. When I took it off in Ireland, I wrapped it up and put it away. I could never have gotten rid of it.”

Jamie softly cleared her throat. “Well, I was thinking, maybe we should give that ring…to our daughter…maybe on her eighteenth birthday. It can be the beginning of a family heirloom and she can pass it on. It still has very special meaning to me, to us.”

Erin couldn’t help herself. She let the happy tears fall from her eyes, knowing that all her dreams were really…finally going to come true. She rose to her elbow, brushing away the water and stared down at the smiling face. “Honey, that’s a wonderful idea. You have such an incredibly romantic heart.” She paused a moment. “There’s only one problem.” Jamie gave her a perplexed expression. “What if we have a boy?”

In a flash the tall woman flipped her smaller lover onto her back and hovered over her. “I’ll guess we’ll just have to keep trying until we get a girl.” She smothered her with kisses. “And there is no time like the present to start practicing.” Jamie jumped just bit as a cold hand brushed between her legs. She questioned with just a look.

“Just checking to see if you’ve been keeping something hidden from me,” the blonde explained.

“Nope. But that, my love is just a technicality. I’m sure we’ll come up with something.”
Chapter 18
Erin and Jamie quickly chose a mid October wedding date and that gave them only four and a half weeks to make all the arrangements. They had also decided to stay with their original plans of having the wedding at the ranch.

Saturday morning found the three Casey women in an intense pow wow with two phones, three tablets of paper, the L.A. yellow pages and a Rolodex between them. They had easily commandeered the dining room table and were hard at work making notes and calls. Jamie had offered her services, but quickly learned that she was sadly lacking in the knowledge of wedding etiquette. She soon left the work to the professionals and moved on to what she did do best…running her ranch.

She spent a few minutes playing with the exuberant dog, but Arte soon caught sight of a rabbit in the nearby tree line and took off at full speed for a good chase. Jamie laughed, watching until the four-footed beast disappeared into the tall timbers. Leaving the dog to her amusement, the rancher turned and headed back toward the huge barn. Halfway to her destination an intuition tickled at her brain telling her to detour to the far off field at the other side of the house. Following the confusing thought, Jamie backtracked. Along the way she snatched up a long blade of emerald grass and stripped the flora between her fingers as she absently walked the few hundred feet. Her thoughts drifted happily back to the bustle of activities inside the old farmhouse and the twinkle that was in her lover’s eyes. Erin’s infectious grin brightened any room and raised the spirits of everyone in it.

Jamie had done a lot of contemplating since her memories had returned. She balanced her lonely and hurtful past, the pain she felt and the pain she inflicted, with her present. And it was almost unthinkable, but one singe person, one beautiful Irish lass brought her immeasurable joy that far outweighed that old pain. And although there were still times, many times in fact when she felt unworthy, Jamie had come to graciously accept the wonder that had become her life. A life by the name of Erin Brienne Casey.

As if they had a mind of their own, her booted feet suddenly came to a halt in the middle of the field of knee high weeds. Jamie’s focus returned to the moment and she looked up at the expanse of land, seeing nothing out of the ordinary. A tiny door slowly opened in a corner of her mind revealing one of those few still elusive memories. A smile suddenly lit upon her face and she whispered to the wind. “Of course.” The rancher turned on her heels and hurried back to her original destination.

Jamie pulled the door shut behind her and settled into the comfortable chair behind the empty desk. The new office, which was connected to the barn, had just been completed the week before and the phone lines installed just the previous day. She studied the ads in the phone book, choosing the most promising one and dialing the number.

She ended the short phone call sometime later with a confident smile having set her plans in motion for the first of the week.

* * * *

Monday morning dawned bright and even earlier than usual for the occupants of the Casey, Sheridan household. The blonde author hopped out of bed and her lover’s arms at 6 AM. Normally she loved to laze around next to the long body beside her, but they had a lifetime to do that and she only had a short time to finalize wedding plans. First on this day’s agenda was ceremonial attire.

After showering…alone, Erin skipped down the back stairs to fix a big country breakfast. As good as she felt she could not survive on enthusiasm alone. She also knew that when she and her mother and sister got together for shopping their vision and everything else tunneled to those alluring shops.

Jamie followed about fifteen minutes later and took a seat at the table just as a fluffy, overstuffed omelet was slid onto her plate. “Wow, that looks delicious,” she said.

“Thanks.” Erin planted a kiss atop the dark head. She retrieved her own plate and the full coffee pot and took the place across from Jamie at the small table. “Jackson called a few minutes ago,” she said. ” He can’t come in today because his son is sick.” She looked up as Jamie stopped in mid chew. “Is something wrong? You and Dan can handle things, can’t you?”

Jamie swallowed with just a little difficulty and wiped her mouth with the white napkin. Her eyes were deep in thought.

“Jamie?” Erin considered the situation. “If you can’t, I can put off shopping until tomorrow.”

“No!” The panicked blue eyes softened. “That’s sweet of you to offer Honey, but we can handle it. I do have some other plans for today, but I still think I can take care of it all.”

“Well…if you’re sure.”

“Absolutely. You go and have fun. After all this will be the only wedding dress you will ever have to buy.”

Erin smiled, confident in that thought.

Jamie continued on with her meal, wondering where she could cut corners and save time. The thoughts tumbled around until she heard a noise coming from outside. The dark head cocked to one side as the sound grew louder. She eyed her partner warily.

Erin hurried with the last few bites of her food and chased it down with some coffee. “Sounds like Mom’s early,” she said. Erin left the table and headed for the front door.

The tall woman was quick on her heels. “Your Mom?” she asked. They walked out onto the porch and the question was immediately answered. Jamie stared wide-eyed at the helicopter in her front yard. Helicopter!

The author waved at her mother who was ducking under the whirling blades. “It’s Daddy’s,” Erin explained. “He said we could use it any time. It’ll save so much time getting back and forth to the city.”

The rancher was still a little dumbstruck. “Yeah.” She agreed sluggishly. “I guess it would.”

The elder Casey woman entered the porch and greeted her daughter and soon to be daughter-in-law. “Good morning.”

Erin hugged her. “Hey Mom. Traveling in style I see.”

Danielle straightened her clothes, brushing off some dust from her pant legs. “Not exactly my favorite,” she said. “But very convenient. Could I get a some coffee before we head out?”

“Sure.” Erin held the door for her mother and followed her in until she realized someone was missing.

The screen door squeaked behind Jamie and she heard the footsteps on the cement. “There is a helicopter in my front yard,” she said dully.

Erin grinned, took hold of her confused partner and turned her back toward the house. “Yes Dear, but the big, noisy machine won’t hurt you.”

Jamie shot an arched eyebrow in the direction of her condescending lover. Erin laughed out loud.

Danielle Casey finished a cup and a half of coffee before she indicated her readiness to leave for a day of shopping. The three ladies walked out to the front of the house where Jamie gave one more look and shook her head.

Erin wrapped her hands around the back of the taller woman’s neck. “I should have warned you,” she said, tipping her head to the obtrusive transportation.

Jamie returned the embrace and smirked. “I guess you are used to stuff like this huh?”

“Only because I grew up around it. It won’t become a habit I promise.”

Jamie hugged her lover and whispered in her ear. “Oh Honey don’t mind me. It was certainly unexpected, but I guess I’m just suffering from those pre-wedding jitters.” She pulled back and kissed Erin thoroughly. “You do whatever you feel is necessary and have a good time doing it.” Jamie gave her an easy smile and a pat on the butt as she sent Erin off for the day.

The blonde stopped at the bottom of the stairs and looked back. “You don’t mind if I wear a traditional, white, wedding gown do you?”

Jamie joined her and gave her another quick kiss. “Of course not. You don’t mind if I don’t do you? I’m just not the formal gown type. But you, my love, definitely are.”

“Great.” The golden brows suddenly furrowed. “What are you wearing though?”

Jamie flashed a dazzling smile. “You have your secrets, I have mine. I will be taking care of that detail tomorrow. You pick out whatever your heart’s desire, but I do have one request…shoulders.”

Erin laughed as did her nearby mother. “Don’t worry Sweetheart, I know what you like.”

Jamie waved as the machine ascended into the cloudless sky and stood there until it was out of sight. “Okay,” she mumbled, looking at her watch. “I hope you are as reliable as your ad says, Darrin Brother’s Construction.”

By the time Jamie finished the morning dishes, she heard the rumble of a large truck rolling up the drive. She smiled.

* * * *

Mother and daughter had met Bridgett at the pre-arranged spot in downtown L.A. and had set immediately out on their hunt. Along the way they traded stories of the events surrounding Bridgett’s wedding, including one Danielle had never heard before, involving Erin, a stuffed monkey, a pair of handcuffs and a bachelorette party.

By one o’clock they had been to four different boutiques and Erin had seen at least twenty dresses that she liked…but none of them had that special something she was hoping for. In the last shop, Danielle had found a beautiful dress in a pale shade of lavender. She had almost as much difficulty finding something appropriate as Erin did. The perfect dress couldn’t appear too matronly; after all she was still a young woman of 54. She was proud of every single year, but was in no hurry to push the aging process.

With the attendant’s attire also chosen in the same shop, Erin was beginning to get slightly discouraged. After lunch they were heading off to Beverly Hills where the most stylish of designers sold their wares. If I can’t find anything there, thought Erin as they entered a corner bistro, it doesn’t exist. The light bulb suddenly ignited and so did a smile. Maybe that’s the answer.

“So Sis, what are you getting Jamie for a wedding present?”

Bridgett’s question snapped the author from her rumination over a dress. “Oh…I’m a…I’m working on something very special.” Erin’s features turned dreamy as she imagined her partner’s response to the gift.

“That sounds wonderful Dear,” said Danielle. “I know she’ll love whatever you choose, because she loves you.”

Bridgett grinned evilly as she stared at her sister. “Yes, but I want to know what this something very special is?”

The author tapped her nosey sister on the arm. “It’s something very personal and if it happens and Jamie decides to talk about it afterward that’s okay, but I will respect her privacy.”

The red head huffed and sat back, her curiosity deflated. “Party pooper.”

Erin sighed. “I will tell you one thing Bridgett, I really hope this works out because it will mean the world to Jamie.”

* * * *

Erin bid her family goodbye and settled into the helicopter for the ride home. It was almost five thirty in the evening. Her feet hurt and she was hungry, but she was satisfied with a good day’s shopping. She slipped a pair of headphones over her ears and let her choice of soothing music drown out the drone of the whirling blades above her head. The motion lulled her into a dreamless sleep and she didn’t awaken until they had landed and the pilot was gently shaking her shoulder. She had totally missed the sight of the huge brown tent that had been erected in the field on the opposite side of the house.

Erin grabbed her packages, which included shoes, a new pair of emerald earrings and a blue garter that matched the shade of Jamie’s eyes. But the author could just picture those orbs getting darker as soon as Jamie spied the accessory and its location.

The blonde was met on the porch and quickly relieved of her shopping bags. Jamie brushed her lips against Erin’s. “One good thing about those,” said Jamie, her voice rising above the noise of the chopper taking off, “you can’t sneak up on me.”

Erin laughed and escorted her tall partner inside the house where they were met by a very enthusiastic dog. The author dropped to her knees and kissed the furry head while Jamie placed the bags near the staircase. The dark haired rancher took a quick peak inside at the packages, but everything was well hidden. She turned back to see her lover flop, bonelessly onto the tan sofa.

Jamie joined the smaller woman and patted her leg. “I’ll warm up some of Saturday’s leftovers so you won’t have to cook.”

Erin made a very happy face. “Oooo, I love you,” she said. “My aching feet love you even more.” Her shoes were hurriedly stripped and ten very long fingers went to work on her right foot, rubbing away the day’s tension. Erin hedonistically moaned as a strong thumb pressed deeply into her tired arch. After the fifteen-minute pleasure fest the session was topped off by a kiss to the bottom of each tired toe.

“I’m going to go get your slippers,” said Jamie. “There is something I want to show you, but we have to go outside.” She wondered to herself why Erin hadn’t mentioned the large tent on the far lawn; from the sky it couldn’t be missed. But she wasn’t about to argue the fact. At least now it would be a total surprise.

She returned a few minutes later with the appropriate footwear. Jamie slipped them onto the cute feet and reached out a hand. “Come on, I’ll give you a free ride.”

Erin yawned and looked at her through concerned, but sleepy eyes. “Honey, your back.”

“I’ll just carry you to the back door,” said Jamie. She shook the offered hand. “Come on.”

Erin reluctantly climbed on to Jamie’s back and wrapped her legs around the slim waist. Together they jogged through the house and onto the back porch where Jamie stopped and her passenger disembarked.

The rancher was a bit hesitant about her next request. She had spent much of her time lately reviewing her revived memories of her months spent with Erin, when the author had been blind. She remembered how in awe she was at the things Erin could accomplish despite her handicap. But she also remembered the touch of sadness she could detect from time to time. And she certainly didn’t want to hurt the woman she loved in any way. “Would you…would it bother you to close your eyes?” she finally asked. “I want this to be a surprise.”

Erin gave her a small smile and lowered her lids without hesitation. Her right hand curled around the solid bicep and she followed Jamie out the door. It all came rushing back to her…the skills she had learned in order to live life as a blind person. A whisp of melancholy flittered over her, but blew away with the wind that soon brushed her cheek. Obviously, she knew when they turned the corner and headed right around the house, but her other, still sharp, senses came alive as well. She felt the warmth of the low evening sun on the left side of her face. She strongly detected the unique barn scents coming from behind them and she felt the texture of the grass change from the freshly mowed lawn to the taller, wild grasses of the far field. It was actually good to know that she hadn’t lost any of those abilities. But one thing she still couldn’t sense was the surprise. “Come on Jamie, give me a hint,” she begged. “What did you get me?”

Jamie leaned down to an ear. “No chance. Besides,” she said aloud, “We’re almost there.” A few more steps and the couple came to a stop. Jamie stepped aside. “Okay, open your eyes.”

Erin blinked twice and took in the huge, brown, canvas tent. She looked at her partner and grinned. “My own circus?”

Jamie responded to the little joke with a half smile. She took Erin’s hand and led her forward. Lifting the flap, she carefully watched the blonde’s expression as they stepped inside. The back of the tent had been left open and the daylight streamed in to illuminate the round, wooden structure. The author quietly stepped up onto the platform and ran her hands over the delicately carved spindles.

“Is it okay?” Jamie asked. “I once promised you a beautiful place to take our vows; a gazebo and a garden of flowers. I didn’t want to disappoint you.”

Erin stepped up to Jamie, smiled brightly and wrapped her arms around the tall body. “It is perfect,” she said. “And we are going to have a perfect ceremony.”

They headed back to the house arm in arm. Jamie glowed knowing she had accomplished her goal…making Erin happy. That’s all she ever wanted to do, for the rest of her life. “So did you find a dress?” she asked.

Erin sighed wearily. “Yes. It wasn’t easy, but I got exactly what I wanted.”

Jamie squeezed the trim waist and flashed a private smile. “Me too.”

* * * *

The next two weeks passed by in orderly fashion. All the wedding plans had been finalized and everything had come together with out too many problems.

On Friday afternoon, two weeks before the big day, two special deliveries arrived at the ranch. Erin took the large package addressed to her and tucked it away in the back of her closet to hide it from a pair of blue eyes. The other delivery, a black garment bag with Jamie’s name clearly attached, hung in the corner of the room taunting her with its mystery. Erin went on about her household chores, but her attention kept returning to the dark bag, knowing the contents, but not knowing the specifics. And the myriad possibilities fueled her fantasies as the afternoon progressed.

The blonde author stood at the stove preparing the evening meal as one of those visions took center stage in her mind. She didn’t hear the back door open or the footsteps come up behind her.

“What’s for dinner?”

Erin jumped and the large, wooden spoon flew from her hand. “Jamie!”

The tall rancher laughed. “What did I do?” she asked as she bent to retrieve the utensil.

Erin was obviously flustered. The flush on her cheeks glared like a siren. “Well…you…I…” She put a reign on her mumbling tongue and sighed heavily. “You didn’t do anything. I’m sorry. I was…distracted.”

Jamie took a large sniff of what was cooking on the stovetop. “And just what had you so distracted?” she asked.

Without a word, the author turned down the flame under the large pan and took her lover by the hand. Jamie obligingly followed her to the living room. The right side of her mouth turned up when she spotted her package hanging in the corner. “I see that my wedding clothes arrived.”

Erin turned on her. “I don’t see,” she said, stepping closer and wrapping her arms around Jamie’s waist. She batted flirtatious lashes and slowly moved forward. “Can I?” she asked seductively.

Jamie indulged deeply in the kiss that followed and Erin pulled away to find the tall woman lost in a lustful daze. The author took the momentary distraction and reached for the zipper of the garment bag. A large hand stopped her.

“Uh,uh,uh,” scolded Jamie. “I can’t see yours, you can’t see mine.” She kissed the sulking cheek. “But that only goes for our wedding attire. I would be more then happy to show you anything else.”

Erin wasn’t happy at that moment, but later that night she took Jamie up on her last offer and the mysterious clothing was soon forgotten…mostly.

* * * *

The next evening, after a long days work, Jamie returned to the house with a slightly perplexed expression. She assured her partner that nothing was wrong, but she did have something to tell Erin. And she worried how her lover would react.

After dinner they moved to the swing on the back porch. The smell of rain permeated the air and dark clouds began drifting across the horizon, but the air still carried the heat of an Indian summer day. Erin slipped into the seat and kicked the swing into motion. “You want to talk about it yet?” she asked cautiously.

Jamie took her hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze. “I got a call this afternoon.”

“From who?”

Jamie took a swallow of her beer to coat her suddenly dry throat. “From Leah, Leah Curry. You remember the nurse I became friends with during my recovery?”

A nodding head was Erin’s only acknowledgement.

Jamie went on to explain. “I had written her a letter when we got back from Ireland. She had asked me to keep in touch.”

“What did she wa…have to say?” Erin’s tone was slightly harsh.

Jamie diverted her gaze to the horses grazing in the far pasture. “She’s moving back to the states and she wants to come and visit me…us.” She rushed to add. “I told her all about you and the wedding and she’s really anxious to meet you.”

Erin had hurriedly crossed the porch where she began pulling dead leaves from the plant hanging in the corner. “You invited her here without asking me first?” She asked the question with a stiff jaw.

“I…ah…didn’t think… You didn’t have a problem with it when I first told you about her.”

Erin spun around. “That’s because she was a few thousand miles away and not in my house.”

Jamie slammed the bear bottle down on the side table a little harder than she should have. “Well I thought this was my house too Erin. Can’t I invite a friend over without having your permission?”

Erin crossed her arms over her chest and stared defiantly at the blue eyes across form her. “She’s not just a friend Jamie, she’s your ex-lover.”

“I don’t believe I’m hearing this from you,” said Jamie. “You don’t understand what she meant to me.”

Erin pierced her with an icy glare, her eyes made even greener with the emotion that was boiling inside of her.

The tall woman jumped to her feet and pointed a long finger. “Don’t give me that look! You know what I mean! I didn’t and I don’t love her. She just helped my time there to not be so lonely. We slept together one time out of comfort, not out of passion or even lust…at least not on my part.” That last little admission didn’t really do much to help the situation.

Erin certainly didn’t want that vision in her head and she shook it away violently. “Exactly!” she shouted. “Don’t you think it’s awfully strange that she is all of a sudden moving here? She is going to live in California, isn’t she?”

Jamie sighed. “Yes.” She paused. “Don’t you trust me?”

“I don’t trust her.” Erin sneered.

“You don’t even know her.”

“And I’m not anxious to.”

“Excuse me, but didn’t we just invite your first lover to our wedding? A woman you didn’t just sleep with once, but many times over many months?”

The accusation took Erin off guard for just a moment. “That was a long time before I ever met you. And you know that Megan is married to someone else now.”

Jamie threw her hands in the air. “And that makes a difference? You told me you loved her, how am I supposed to feel about that?”

“You…I…that just…” The author suddenly stuttered helplessly. “I can see this conversation isn’t getting us anywhere.”

Jamie jumped from the porch and started across the patch of yard. “You’re right, it isn’t. I’ll be back later. I need to think about some things.” She got about ten steps when she was hit with another memory of another time when she had run off after an argument. And she remembered the promise she had made then. Jamie slowly turned to see Erin leaning against the large, white post. The blonde’s back was to Jamie and her shoulders were visibly shaking. Jamie’s heart broke and she ran back up the two steps and pulled the smaller woman around and into her arms. “I’m sorry,” she said, rubbing Erin’s back “I’m so sorry I made you…” Jamie pulled back when she heard the unmistakable sounds. “…laugh?”

The blonde head shook from side to side. “What was that all about?” she asked, still laughing. “I have no need to be jealous. I know you love me.”

They both laughed, feeling the tension drain from their tired bodies. Jamie hugged her again. “Yes, I do know you love me,” she said. “I think that was just a big dose of nerves; not about our marriage,” she assured, “just about the wedding.” She cupped her hands around the slightly pale face. “I’m not jealous of Megan…well not really. All of your friends are welcomed in our home.
I’ll call Leah and explain things to her.”

“No. She was your friend…and I may not understand just how important she was to you, but I really don’t want to take that away from you. I’m sorry. Besides I think I do need to meet her.”

“Well, how about a compromise. I’ll ask her if she can post-pone her visit until after our honeymoon. I don’t want to put any more stress on you than necessary right now.”

The author nodded. “Okay.”

“You honestly have nothing to worry about Sweetheart.” Jamie assured her. “She was important in that time of my life. But you are and always will be the most important person in my life for the rest of my life.”

Erin smiled. “I know that. Do you?”

Jamie smiled. “Oh yeah.”

* * * *

Erin jumped when she heard the front, screen door slam shut. She ran from the kitchen listening to the angered voice reverberating off the walls. “Jamie what is it, what’s wrong?”

“Damn him!” Red faced, Jamie paced across the room with her hands on her hips, steam nearly coming from her ears. “I don’t believe it! The guy is such a bastard.” She finally noticed her lover patiently waiting for the tantrum to pass. The rancher took a very deep breath and released it slowly. “I’m sorry Honey,” she said as Erin approached.

“How is Jackson?”

Jamie removed her dark Stetson and tossed it onto the coffee table. She dropped onto the sofa and reached for her boot. “His foot is broken,” she explained. With a small huff, the footwear was pulled free and discarded.

Jackson Fields, one of the ranch hands, had jumped down from the back of a pickup truck while unloading hay bales and Jamie had taken him to the local clinic. The same place where the rancher and the author had been treated with less than kindness after their encounter with a bolt of lightning.

Jamie’s preoccupied mind continued it’s angered line of thought. “Stupid!”

“Jamie, it was an accident. You can’t blame Jackson.”

The dark head looked up. “What? No, no I’m not mad at him. It’s that damn doctor over at the clinic. He was out front when I brought Jackson in and because he was with me that…so called doctor kept us waiting for over an hour. Not only that, but he took two people ahead of us including a woman who only had a cold and another man who came in after us and was only getting a few stitches removed.”

Now Erin’s temper flared. “He kept a man in obvious pain waiting for that long? Something has to be done about this Jamie.”

“I know.” She rubbed her weary eyes. “And we will.” Jamie pulled her partner in for a hug, which always soothed her soul from whatever ills it suffered. “Jackson will be off for six weeks.”

“Can you hire a temporary hand?” Erin asked.

“I could, but I think Dan and I can handle it.”

The blonde pulled out of Jamie’s arms and gave her a look. “Have you forgotten that you will be gone for over a week during that time?”

The rancher fell back against the cushion and a puff of air escaped her pursed lips. “Right. I’ll a…I’ll work it out. Don’t worry, nothing will interfere with our honeymoon.”

Erin smiled and took her partner’s hand. “I just don’t want you to have any concerns to distract you while we’re gone.”

Jamie grinned deliciously and leaned forward. “Never happen,” she said with a growl. “You are always my primary focus.”

The author laughed as kisses were planted behind her ear. “I wasn’t worried about me,” she said. “I just want you to be able to relax and enjoy yourself.”

Jamie cupped the author’s face. “In case you didn’t know it by now, you are my joy.”

* * * *

Jamie tightened her grasp and snickered. “Don’t move around so much,” she scolded gently, rubbing the yellow head. “I know you’ve never had anyone attending to your behind like this before, but it won’t hurt if you don’t tense up.”

“How would you know? Have you ever had…?”

“Okay, okay!” Jamie interrupted quickly. “Can we just concentrate on doing this?” She grunted as the weight was pressed into her and she pushed back, nearly losing her footing.

“If this is too much for you, I could ask someone else.”

“No, no,” said Jamie. “I can do this. I just need to get a better grip.” The tall woman adjusted her sweaty hands, planted her feet and held tight, pushing forward slightly. “Okay, I got it now.” She spoke as the perspiration started to trickle down the side of her face.

A few minutes passed and the warm air in the small room was filled with more groans and snorts. Jamie’s eyes were wide and she only winced slightly as she watched the instrument moving in and out of the pink flesh in a steady rhythm.

“Almost there.”

One more quick, jerky movement and it was over. It was safe to say that everyone in the room was now relieved. With a heavy sigh, Jamie stepped back and released the leather harness. She wiped the wet bangs from her eyes and smiled. “That wasn’t really as bad as you thought it would be, was it?” She asked, planting a kiss on the soft nose.

“Are you asking me or the horse?” said Dr. Chad Benton as he gathered his medical equipment and moved out from behind the big mare.

Jamie’s horse, Teegan, had gotten a large splinter of wood from one of the older fences stuck in her golden hindquarters. As soon as the rancher discovered the injury, a quick call brought the handsome vet out almost immediately. The suddenly skittish horse had required some extra soothing as sutures closed the wound and Jamie wouldn’t leave that job to anyone else.

The tall doctor removed a small vile and a syringe from his supplies. “I put in nine stitches,” he said as he prepared the injection. “I’ll give her something to prevent infection. Don’t let the sight get wet and don’t ride her for a couple of days.”

Jamie nodded as she watched her horse turn away after getting the shot. The big, yellow mare munched on some fresh hay as the humans walked from the warmth of the barn out into the fresh air.

“Any other problems while I’m here?” the vet asked.

“No, no problems.” Jamie checked her watch as they headed back toward the house. “How about lunch?” she asked.

The big man chuckled. “Why do think I always make my visits around this time. I hate to eat alone.”

Jamie chucked him in the arm with her fist. “And here I thought you were just the most dedicated vet in California.”

“Oh, I am, the free meal is just an enjoyable perk.”

Ten minutes later, Jamie returned to the back porch with a tray of leftover fried chicken and a bowl of coleslaw. They had decided to eat on the picnic table in the back yard because the weather was so nice. Letting her guest help himself, Jamie watched as the big man devoured his food with gusto.

He stopped long enough for a breath and a compliment. “Oh man that is so delicious.”

The rancher smiled. “You have Erin to thank for that.”

Chad took a long swallow of his coke and looked back toward the house expectantly. I was hoping Erin would have joined us for lunch. There’s something I’ve been wanting to ask her.”

Jamie wiped her greasy fingers on the napkin as she listened very closely to the tone of his voice. “Erin is gone for the day.” She told him then chuckled humorlessly. “You know Chad, if I didn’t know better I’d think you were interested in Erin.” The dark head shook, dismissing the absurd idea.

“Oh, I am interested in her,” the vet plainly stated.

The rancher nearly choked on her food. Jamie wiped her mouth and cleared her tight throat, trying to push back the jealousy that was seeping up from her heart. “Chad, maybe you didn’t quite understand. When I said that Erin was my partner, I meant life partner. We’re gay and we’re getting married next week.” The tone of her voice had gotten deeper with every emphatic word.

The man’s blue eyes widened as Jamie spoke. He saw her right hand flex, almost forming a fist and for just a second he feared being punched in the face. Suddenly he let loose with a gigantic laugh.

Jamie jumped back in surprise and stared at her friend, who was doubled over and slapping at the table with his left hand. “Mind telling me what is so funny?” she finally asked.

“Oh, Jamie if you could only see your face.” He stopped laughing long enough to take a drink of his coke, which was nearly snorted back out his nose as he caught another glimpse of the seething blue eyes. He coughed a few times then was finally able to calm himself. Still smiling, he explained. “I’m interested in Erin’s writing. I’m a fan of her book. You have nothing to worry about my friend.” His glance darted away quickly and he cleared his throat again. “Although…I should tell you the truth. I probably do have a little crush on her. I think she is intelligent and caring and just a wonderful human being. But I do not fantasize about her or have any notions of having a romantic relationship with her. First off, because I know she is gay, but more importantly, I know that she is completely in love with you.”

Jamie was now chagrined about her assumptions. She tipped her dark head to one side. “How do you know that?” she asked quietly.

“Because I know you love her the same. I see it in your face every time her name is mentioned. You belong together like no two people I’ve ever seen.”

She took the offered hand and shook it in true friendship. “In that case, we would like to invite you to our wedding on the thirteenth.”

“I wouldn’t miss it.”

* * * *

Jamie turned over, her body on automatic, and wrapped her arms around the body in front of her. She leaned forward and took a sniff of the sweet smelling, blonde hair. “It’s eight o’clock Rin,” she mumbled. “I don’t think we can sleep any later. We’ve got a busy day ahead.”

Eyes fluttered open and with a small stretch, Erin moved onto her back. She smiled and gave her lover a quick kiss. “Good morning.”

“Good morning.” Jamie yawned and threw her legs over the side of the bed. “I want to get all the barn work done before your friend gets here.” She grabbed her robe and stepped into the other room.

Erin’s friend, Dr. Anne Carson was coming to stay the weekend. The wedding was the next Saturday and she would be returning to the ranch as a guest…at least the author hoped she would, but Erin wanted to be able to spend some quality time with her old friend before then. Erin had a full day’s worth of relaxing activities planned for the three of them. It was important to her that Jamie and Anne like each other. Jamie had been ill the first time she met Anne and the doctor had been making a professional visit. Their next encounter came when were Erin had been attacked by Ethan Tyler. And there was no time for forming friendships around all the tense and conflicting emotions. This was a day for old bonds to be renewed and new ones formed.

Erin had heard the touch of melancholy in her old friend’s voice the last time they had talked and she was concerned. The doctor was lonely, having yet to find her life mate, but the author detected more behind the normally exuberant doctor’s hushed tones. While Erin didn’t think she could do much to help as far as match making was concerned, she was anxious to help in any other way she could. And Dr. Carson might just be the solution to a problem Erin had wanted to tackle.

Jamie returned from her short trip to the bathroom and went to the oak dresser on the opposite side of the room. She stood there tapping her fingers on the hard top as her other hand rested on one the drawer’s handles.

“Don’t tell me you are trying to decide what to wear?” Erin asked jokingly.

Jamie shook her head. “No. I just…never mind.” She proceeded to pull out a short sleeved, red t-shirt and slowly eased it over her head. Jamie then grabbed the old pair of work jeans from the chair where she had tossed them the night before and slipped into them. Taking her brown boots, the rancher moved back to the bed and sat down. The footwear dropped to the ground with a thud and Jamie studied the view out the second floor window. She finally pushed her foot into one of the dusty boots, but stopped before reaching for it twin.

Erin could read her lover’s moods and knew instantly that a question was scurrying around inside the dark head, just waiting to be asked. She rubbed the long back. “What’s up Sweetheart?”

Jamie glanced back over her shoulder then looked away quickly. “I know I shouldn’t be asking this…especially after the fight we had the other day…but I just can’t seem to stop thinking about it. You don’t have to answer, but I would like to know.”

“I can’t answer until you ask me the question.”

Jamie took a deep breath. “I know. Were you and Anne ever…did you ever…?”

Erin grinned and was glad her lover was turned away. In truth she liked knowing Jamie was just a little jealous; that was flattering. At the beginning of their relationship, she had told Jamie that she had only one other lover in her life, but Jamie obviously still didn’t remember that small fact and Erin didn’t want to remind her of those things that were still lost to her. “Jamie,” she said softly. She waited until the blue eyes looked her way. Erin patted the empty place beside her and the jean clad bottom scooted back across the wrinkled sheets. “I’m going to tell you the complete truth,” said the author. “Anne was a senior and I was a junior. We both had some really tough tests one Friday and when the classes were over and we were pretty confident that we passed, we decided to celebrate. She went out and got some beer and we had a little party, just the two of us.”

Jamie nodded, sure of where this was leading.

Erin continued. “I had more beer that night then I had ever had in my life. That combined with the relief over the hard exams…well lets just say I was feeling fine. And so was Anne. We were giggling and goofing off and she tackled me to the bed and started tickling me. At one point her face was right above mine and…it just seemed like the right thing to do, so we kissed. And we kept kissing. Did I mention that we were just in our underwear?”

Jamie bit the side of her lip. “No, you seem to have forgotten that little fact.”

Erin watched her lover’s jaw clench and she knew she shouldn’t be so tormenting…but it was the truth. “Anyway, you have to remember that we were both drunk. Anne was on top, but I wanted to be so I rolled us over…and right off the bed.”

Jamie looked up to see the teasing smile.

“That pretty much ended it, especially since I landed on a beer bottle.” Erin watched closely as her lover processed the information and how the sides of her lips twitched.

The rancher didn’t want to laugh, but the vision of some sloppy kissing, drunken groping and the tumble became hilarious. Slowly a laugh bubbled up from Jamie’s belly and burst from her mouth.

Erin loved the reaction; it was exactly what she had hoped for. “Nothing else ever happened after that,” she said. “And we didn’t want it to. It would have affected our friendship. I didn’t mean to tease you Sweetheart, but you asked.”

In one quick movement, Jamie stripped the blanket from her lover and covered the length of Erin’s body with her own. “That’s okay, I needed a good laugh.” Jamie kissed her nose then dipped lower to taste the pink lips. Her hand drifted down until it came to rest on Erin’s solid behind. She gave it a squeeze then suddenly pulled away from the kiss. “Honey, the scar you have on your butt…did that happen then?”

“Yep. Imagine my explanation to the emergency room doctor.”

Jamie winced. “That must have hurt.”

“Couldn’t sit down for a few days. Even thinking about it now makes it tingle…or maybe that’s because of your hand.”

Jamie gave the spot in question another gentle rub. “Tonight I’ll kiss it and make it all better. But…speaking of stitches. Chad was over here the other day stitching up Teegan and I found out something very interesting. He has a crush on you.”

“Aww, that’s sweet.”

Jamie hung her head in shame. “I didn’t think it was too sweet at the time. I guess I was jealous of him too. I’m sorry.”

Erin considered it again and explained. “A little jealousy is okay Jamie.” She lifted the drooping chin. “But neither one of us is ever going to seriously worry about it.”

Jamie smiled slightly, leaving Erin to wonder.

* * * *

The air sizzled as Jamie dropped three thick steaks onto the red-hot grill. The steam quickly began to rise, carrying with it the hickory aroma of the coals and the flavorful scents of the cooking meat.

Out of the corner of her eye she caught sight of Erin crossing the yard with a plate of appetizers. The blonde joined her old friend at the round picnic table and she and Anne were soon immersed once again in happy conversation. Jamie wanted to give them as much time alone as possible, but the smell of the food and her grumbling stomach soon motivated her to take a quick trip across the grass. As inconspicuously as possible, the rancher kissed the top of the golden head and reached for a large, stuffed mushroom, which she promptly bit into as she walked back to the house.

“You have got to be the luckiest woman on earth Erin,” Anne said. “Jamie is an absolute doll and I can see that she treats you like a queen.”

“Well, I can’t argue with any of that and she certainly is the best thing that ever happened to me, but what I like best about our relationship is the equality…in every way, shape and form. Not that any relationship can ever be perfect, but we do try our hardest to make it so.”

Anne leaned forward and whispered jokingly. “She doesn’t happen to have a twin does she?”

The question took Erin a little off guard. The joke was a little cliché; that was just Anne’s particular type of dry humor. But it was also true or it had been at one time. But above all else, Erin respected her partner’s privacy and was sensitive to Jamie’s feelings about her deceased family. She responded simply. “No.”

The lack of a witty comeback surprised the good doctor, but she let it pass without question.

Jamie returned ten minutes later, carrying a huge tin tub filled with ice and assorted drinks. She hefted it onto the wooden table with an audible grunt and slipped onto the bench next o her lover. “Help yourself Anne,” she said. The doctor quickly chose a can of beer, causing Jamie to snicker.

Doctor Carson popped the top on the silver can and wasted no time quenching her immediate thirst. The ice-cold beverage slid down her throat with just a little tingle and settled into her belly with the warmth of familiarity. She hadn’t indulged in any alcoholic drink in over three years, since she had started work at the hospital. She just never knew when she would be called in and didn’t want to take the chance. But this weekend she had no pager clipped to her belt and only carried her personal cell. She was two hours away from the bustle of the hospital and she was determined to enjoy every peaceful moment of her very short vacation.

Just as Anne lifted the can to her mouth for a second sip, Jamie said, “Don’t worry there isn’t a beer bottle in sight.”

Doctor Carson processed the comment for just a second then her brown eyes went wide. She pinned her blonde friend with a silly expression. “Erin! You were so embarrassed that night, you said you would never tell anyone that story!”

The author took her partner’s hand. “Anyone but the love of my life.”

“So Anne, do you have any other embarrassing stories about my future wife?” asked Jamie.

“Wife! Are really engaged?” The author proudly held out her ring, which was thoroughly inspected. “Erin it’s beautiful.” The doctor jumped up and hugged her friend. “I’m so happy for you.” She then included Jamie. “I wish you all the best. But I know you are going to have a great life together. And you both deserve it. So when’s the wedding?”

Erin scratched the side of her jaw. “Ah…next Saturday. I know it’s short notice, but I wanted to invite you in person. Can you make it?”

“Nothing will keep me away.”

* * * *

After totally indulging themselves in decedent ice cream sundaes, a little exercise was called for. Jamie readied three horses and they set out to show Anne around the huge ranch. The doctor knew how to ride, but hadn’t been in many years so it took her a while to get comfortable in the saddle.

The early fall day was slightly overcast, but not a drop of rain was in sight. The tips of the tall tress swayed slightly in the gentle breeze, their leaves, just showing a hint of the vibrant color to follow, rustled a poetic melody of peace.

Jamie quietly tugged on the reigns and guided them left into a grove of small trees. The horse beneath her had trod over this path on many occasions and snorted in anticipation of getting a drink of the cool, fresh water just ahead.

Anne sighed heavily, breaking the silence. “My God, this is the most beautiful place I have ever seen,” she said bringing her stead to a halt at the water’s edge. She followed her companion’s lead and dismounted. Picking up a small stone by her foot, the doctor tossed it into the shallow brook. She relished the soft earth beneath her feet and the fresh pine scent softly invading her lungs. The hard, solid floor she was used to standing on ten to twelve hours a day and the pungent aroma of antiseptic and the haunting smell of blood were not at all missed. Nor was the hectic pace. “You guys are so lucky,” said Anne. “I wish I could find a peaceful place like this to escape to. Sometimes, especially lately I…the stress at the hospital is really getting to me. There is not a moment’s quiet time during the whole day. Even now I can’t stop thinking about the dozen or more things I’ll have to do on Monday.”

Erin stood by listening to her old friend’s ramblings and feeling the woman’s frustration.

Anne took a deep and absently rubbed the muscles in her neck. “I’m thinking about leaving the hospital for a private practice.”

“That’s what you always talked about back in college,” said Erin. “I always wondered why you changed your mind.”

Anne’s brown, curly hair swished as her head fell to her chest. “I let myself be talked into it by one of my professors. He said that’s where all the important work was done. Don’t get me wrong, I love helping the people, but they just pass through and I never know what happens to most of them. And I’m always too busy to do follow ups. I would just like to be able to sit down and have a conversation with a patient once in a while.” She looked up and saw the compassion on her friend’s faces. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be laying all this on you. I wanted to come out here and have fun.”

Erin hugged the sad woman. “Anne, I want you to be able to talk to me about anything. Friends are for more than just fun.”

“I know that…and I love you for it. But right now that’s enough of my problems.”

The author took some cubes of sugar from her pocket and treated the horses before they all started back to the house. “You know Anne, I certainly don’t want to add to your frustrations, but I could use some of your professional advice.”

“That’s all right. What’s up?”

Erin took her partner’s hand as the three of them walked back down the path through the forest. “Jamie and I have discovered that the emergency systems up here are…”

“Scary,” offered the dark haired rancher.

“Yeah.” Erin continued. “There is only one nearby clinic and it’s relatively small and I seriously doubt that it could handle much more than a simple broken bone.”

“Not to mention that it is run by one very homophobic doctor,” said Jamie. “I also discovered that the nearest, major emergency facility if almost forty minutes away.”

Anne’s brown eyes went wide. “That’s ludicrous!”

“Exactly,” Erin said. “That’s why I have been seriously considering funding a new, larger clinic. One with a well equipped lab, is amply staffed and that would be prepared for emergency surgeries.”

Anne nodded seriously. “Sounds like exactly what you need. There is something else you might want to consider since the area up here is so spread out. There is a new emergency vehicle that is a step up from just an ambulance. It allows for emergency surgical procedures in the field.”

Erin and Jamie’s eyes met and each smiled, knowing that their thoughts were running along the same track. “Then I have just made up my mind to do that,” said the blonde author. “I’ll get started on it when we get back from our honeymoon.”

“I have some business contacts at the hospital that I can put you in touch with. You’ll also need to do some serious research to find the right person to put in charge. Although I wouldn’t expect you to do anything less, I’ve just heard about too many private clinics going under simply because of poor management.”

Erin glanced over to the serious doctor and grinned knowingly. “Actually, I already know someone who is highly qualified for the job. Someone who loves the people more than the salary. So how about it?”

“How about what?”

Erin stopped along the path and turned to look her friend straight in the eye. “I would like to hire you to run this new clinic. I trust you to make this project work more than anyone else I know.”

Anne sucked in a surprised breath. “Wow! I…I don’t know what to say.”

“This could be the private practice you said you wanted, plus you get the peace and beauty of the country. I promise you that your skills would be very appreciated.”

The doctor’s unbelieving expression relaxed into a soft grin. “I’ll give it some very serious consideration, Erin. Thank you.”

Jamie mounted her golden horse and waited for her companions to do the same. “I believe there is a Scrabble board waiting for us back at the house. Anyone up for a little friendly competition?”

“That reminds me,” said Anne, “Erin ever tell you that she invented strip Scrabble?”

The blonde groaned and scrubbed her reddening face. A quick click of her heels sent her white stead off in a gallop, leaving her grinning friends behind in a cloud of dust.

Jamie turned to the doctor. “Strip Scrabble huh?

“Yep.”

“Interesting. I’ll have to remember that.”

Anne chuckled. “I’m sure you will.”
Chapter 19
Erin picked up the silver brush and worked it through her short hair one more time. She caught a glimpse of the face looking back at her and was startled at the huge grin painted there. A pink tongue poked out and the author laughed at the silliness of her own image in the mirror. She grabbed a little black case from the dressing table and dusted her cheeks with just a small amount of pink powder.

There was total silence in the room around her, giving her the time to reflect on her past and more importantly her future. It had been an emotionally hectic nine months and it was easy to say that the six months before that were not exactly perfect either. And while there were some things that Erin would go back and change if she could, it was certainly a glorious place that the journey had led to. Jamie was waiting for her just a few feet away; waiting to start, hand in hand, down a fresh path. Waiting to begin an exciting new adventure that they would shape together.

The smile had returned. She just couldn’t stop it and certainly didn’t want to.

As Erin sat there preparing for her wedding her nerves began to twitch. To occupy her mind and dispel the nervous energy she thought back to the very recent past, the turmoil, tears and utter joy that had filled the previous two days.

* * * *

Thursday morning had brought a cool rain shower to the area and a similar forecast for Saturday’s weather. Although that thought did float around the back of Erin’s mind, she kept hope alive and figured a few prayers wouldn’t hurt either.

The day had started out on another bad note as well.

After a breakfast on the run, Jamie was off to the barn even earlier than usual. She was doing double duty since she had yet to find a temporary replacement for her injured ranch hand and the work had to be done by ten o’clock. Erin’s grandmother was arriving from Ireland for the wedding and they both wanted to be there to meet her plane. On top of all that, Erin’s parents were throwing them an informal engagement party that evening at the ranch and there were some things to prepare for that as well.

The author stepped from the shower and wrapped the towel around her well-toned body. Moving barefoot across the tiled floor, Erin passed by the small window and noticed the car pulling up the drive. “Oh great!” Erin huffed, water droplets running down the side of her face. “Who could that be?” They definitely weren’t expecting anyone that early. She stood there for just a few seconds more to see who would emerge from the sporty, black car. A pair of long legs slid out the door first followed some time later by a barely legal blue skirt. Just as the sight of dark hair appeared the author mumbled, “Who in the…?” The question was quickly answered, but hesitantly accepted when the face, obviously belonging to someone of Asian decent, came into view. “Oh no. I thought Jamie was going to stop her.” Erin grudgingly stuffed her arms into her robe, quickly wrapped a small towel around her dripping head and ran for the stairs.

The visitor was about to knock for the third time when the door was flung open. She jumped back slightly and her brown eyes popped when the small, damp blonde appeared. “I’m sorry,” she said. “Do I have the right address? I’m looking for Jane…Jamie Sheridan.”

The author gave a tight little smile. Here she was, staring at a woman who rivaled her lover’s height and while not coming close to Jamie’s beauty, the statuesque lady was undeniably attractive. Her silky, midnight hair flowed down most of her back, nearly skimming her tiny waist. The dark eyes topped perfect, china doll features and her golden toned skin was flawless. Continuing the curious tour, Erin took note of the well-endowed bosom. Did Jamie say that this woman was a nurse or a model? On the whole, Erin was very confident with her looks, but there were times, when standing beside certain women of exceptional height, that she just felt short and dumpy. Not Jamie though. Jamie always made her feel petite, but very beautiful. Taking another quick gander at the newcomer on her porch Erin thought, dumpy days are here again. The author finally found her manors and her voice. “No…I mean, yes Jamie does live here. You must be Leah. Come in.” She stepped aside and allowed her visitor entry. “Please excuse me, I was in the shower.”

“That’s quite alright,” said Leah. “Perhaps I’m here too early, but I am very anxious to see…Jamie.” The nurse tipped her head. “I’m not used to calling her by that name.”

Erin did her best to raise a defining eyebrow. Yes, but that is her name. Jamie. My Jamie. “I…umm…Jamie is working out in the field. And if she didn’t take her phone, I can’t reach her. But have a seat and I’ll give her a call.” She stepped into the hall and took a deep breath.

Leah could feel the tension aimed in her direction. “I could come back this afternoon,” she suggested.

Erin gave her hair a good scrub and lowered the towel to her neck. “Ah no,” she said, dialing the phone. “Jamie and I will be leaving later today. She wasn’t really expecting you.” The phone rang once and then two more times. Erin punched a button and walked back into the living room. “Sorry, she’s not answering.”

“Oh. I can wait in the car then,” said Leah. “There was a mix up over at the inn and my room won’t be ready until one, but…”

The author’s upbringing sprang up and tapped her on the shoulder. While a stranger to her, this woman was a friend of her partner. Erin was trying very hard not to see this woman as a threat and she was determined to be a good hostess. “I don’t know exactly when Jamie will be back, but you are welcomed to wait here. If you’ll excuse me, I’ll get changed.”

“Why of all days?” Erin mumbled as she discarded her robe and rooted around in the dresser for some clothes. “We have way to much to do today. We can’t play hostess. Jamie said she would stop Leah from coming. Why would she lie to me?” The blonde head shook fervently. “No. She wouldn’t. There has to be some other explanation.” Erin gave her hair a quick blow dry and took the time to try and quell the stampede pounding in her stomach.

Fifteen minutes and a swallow of antacid calmed Erin’s trembling body to something a kin to a peaceful state. As the author prepared to return to her guest, the phone rang. Hoping it was her partner Erin hastily grabbed the receiver from the nightstand.

Ten minutes later she hung up after a confidence building conversation with her mother. Erin apprehension’s had all but disappeared…until she reached the bottom of the stairs and turned the corner. There she found her lover in the arms of their guest. Erin loudly and not at all subtly cleared her throat. Jamie immediately pulled from the embrace and Erin’s jaw fell open as she saw the rancher’s shirt hanging open revealing her white bra and a good amount of cleavage.

* * * *

A few hours later Erin was on her way to the L.A. airport…alone. I am not jealous. I am not jealous. I am not jealous…as long as she keeps her hands off my girl. Erin released a large puff of air that tousled her golden bangs. She glimpsed herself in the rear view mirror and wasn’t thrilled with what she saw there. A little jealousy is fine, isn’t that what you told Jamie? “Yeah, but I knew Jamie had nothing to worry about. It feels pretty lousy from this side.” Her fingers tapped on the steering wheel as she drove distractedly down the freeway replaying the morning scene in her mind.

“Erin! I…just…” Jamie took in the hard scowl and quickly moved away from the tall nurse. She crossed the room and pulled her partner into a hug…which was not returned. “Leah would you excuse us for a moment?” she asked.

After a short nod, the couple hurried into the kitchen where Jamie began the frantic explanation. “I didn’t know she was here Honey. Why didn’t you call me?”

“No phone,” was all Erin said.

“Oh, right. I’m sorry. I didn’t know she coming today either. I tried three times to get a hold of her, but she was traveling and couldn’t be reached. I left a message for her to postpone, but obviously she didn’t get it.”

“Obviously?”

“Well, I don’t think she would have blatantly disregarded my request.”

The blonde crossed her arms over her chest. “Of course not.”

” Erin, I thought you said you weren’t jealous of Leah.”

“That was before I saw her.” Erin turned away and let lose with a low growl. “I don’t want to be jealous, but…”

Jamie gently grasped Erin’s shoulders and pulled her back around. “Then don’t…because you have absolutely no reason to be.” She planted a kiss that she hoped would leave no room for doubt. Jamie pulled back and cupped Erin’s cheek. “Understand?”

The author shyly dipped her head and gave it a ghostly nod. “I understand you,” she whispered. The green eyes landed on the bare skin near her chin. “Want to tell me what this is all about?”

Jamie chuckled. “Bad timing,” she explained. “I fell out in the corral.” She presented her mud covered back to Erin’s view. “I was taking this off when I walked into the living room…imagine my surprise. Leah just jumped up and hugged me. I’m sure she didn’t even notice.”

Erin looked again and softly grinned. “Not unless she’s extremely nearsighted.”

Jamie leaned over and whispered. “If it helps, Leah got two dirty hands when she hugged me…and I’m pretty sure there was more than just mud on my shirt.”

Erin audibly laughed and buried her face in Jamie’s chest. She kissed the valley between her favorite breasts and looked up at twinkling sapphire eyes. “Should I feel guilty to say it helps?”

Jamie’s response…a devilish smile.

As the morning had progressed and Erin spent more time with Jamie’s friend, her fears and feelings of jealousy eased off a bit. The nurse was friendly and extremely caring. It quickly became clear to Erin that this woman had chosen the right profession. The time had gone on smoothly until it was time for them to leave for the airport. Jamie had discovered her friend’s accommodations dilemma and had insisted that she remain at the ranch until her room was ready. And of course it wouldn’t have been right to leave her there all alone. So at Jamie’s suggestion she stayed behind to play hostess and Erin hesitantly traveled to the city by herself.

* * * *

Erin searched the bustling crowd for her cherished grandmother and finally saw the white head bobbing between several towering strangers in dark suits. The diminutive woman clutched her single bag a little tighter and dodged the walking oaks, a smile cracking her face when she saw Erin.

“Grandma!” The author waved wildly even though she knew she’d already been spotted. The two women soon met and embraced for a very long second. Erin then pulled back and assessed her beloved relative. “Grandma you look great. I really missed you.”

“Oh my Dear, I’ve missed ya too. And I’m so happy ta be here for such a wonderful occasion.” Kathleen studied the author’s face for just a moment then put a hand against her granddaughter’s cheek. “What’s wrong Dear?”

The blonde brows wrinkled as she answered. “Nothing.”

“Ya can’t hide anything from me Dear. Tell me about it.”

Before Erin could say a word, another voice called out to them. The author looked up to find her cousin running down the hall. “Katie,” mumbled Erin.

“I hope ya don’t mind me taggin along cousin Erin,” said the little red head, “but I’ve just been dyin to come here ta the states. And this was the perfect opportunity.”

Erin returned the hug given to her by her exuberant cousin. “Of course I don’t mind,” she said. “Family is always welcomed.” The author led them toward the other end of the terminal. “Let’s go get your bags.”

Kathleen cleared her throat as they walked along. “So young lady,” she said, addressing her younger granddaughter, “just where did ya disappear to back there, as if I didn’t know.”

Katie giggled as only a twenty two year old can. “I was sayin goodbye ta that cute guy who was sittin in front of us on the plane. While you were takin a nap, he and I had a nice little talk.”

The elderly, white head shook with disdain and she pointed a hand toward the sky. “Saints be praised. I promised yer parents ya wouldn’t get into ta trouble over here Katie, so try and hold the boyfriends to a minimum please.”

“I’ll try Grandma, but a girl’s gotta have some fun.”

“Uh huh. So what about you Erin, what’s the problem?”

Erin put her hand around the hefty waist and squeezed. “Grandma it really is nothing; just a tiny bit of insecurity. I’m sure it will be alright when we get back home.”

* * * *

Jamie was in the kitchen cleaning some wine glasses when Erin snuck in behind her and slid her arms around the slim waist. “Grandma’s here,” she informed her partner. “My cousin Katie came with her.”

“Well, the more the merrier,” said Jamie as she turned and welcomed Erin back with a kiss.

“I saw Anne’s car outside. Where is she?”

Jamie grinned wildly like a child just bursting to tell a secret. “She is with Leah. They went for a walk.” The rancher checked her watch. “About an hour ago.”

The green eyes popped. “You’re kidding!”

“Erin, I swear I literally saw sparks fly when they first laid eyes on each other. I thought they could use some more time together so I asked Leah to stay for the party. Was that alright?” she asked quietly.

Erin hesitated, almost distracted. “What? Oh yeah it’s fine. I just never would have thought Leah was Anne’s type.”

Jamie tapped the button nose. “But you don’t really know Leah. I think she sensed you were uncomfortable with her and she was a little more reserved than usual when you were visiting this morning. She really is a very sweet and sensitive person. You don’t have to worry about Anne getting hurt.”

Erin looked around Jamie’s shoulder and glanced out the window where she saw the two women heading for the house. Even from a distance Erin could tell the more relaxed posture and the smile on her old friend’s face. Anne’s brown head suddenly flew back with genuine laughter at something the nurse had said. “I see what you mean,” Erin muttered. She looked back to Jamie and smiled. “If Leah is the one for her, then I will be very happy for them both. Because I wish this kind of happiness for everyone in the world.” A lengthy kiss sealed the sentiment.

* * * *

“Good evening ladies and gentlemen and welcome to tonight’s edition of ‘Know Your Spouse’ or maybe it’s ‘Do You Know Your Spouse?’” Dr. Anne Carson did her best game show host impression and was greeted with the warm applause of her audience, which consisted of Leah, Chad, Katie, Kathleen, Caitlin and Conner.

The small group was spread out around the room on various chairs and stools. Chad chose to play it macho and took a seat on the carpeted floor. Young, cousin Katie had practically swooned when she was first introduced to the handsome, blonde haired vet. And of course she stuck to him like the proverbial flypaper all evening. Subtlety, nor shyness, were traits of this Irish lass.

Anne went to on to introduce the contestants. “To play our game this evening we have three couples, count’em three couples who have been together for a various number of years.” She pointed to the two people on the sofa. “First off I am pleased to introduce Timothy and Danielle Casey who have been married…how many years Tim?” Before he could even open his mouth Anne made an annoying buzzing sound and said, “Sorry time is up, but I have it on good authority that the answer is thirty-six years.” Her funny antics drew smiles from the older couple as well as the rest of the room’s occupants. “Our next couple is Bridgett and Brad Nelson who have been married…”

“Ten years,” blurted Brad, who didn’t want to be caught in the same trap as his father-in-law. The small crowd laughed again.

“Glad to know someone is paying attention,” said Anne. She next addressed the two snuggled closely on the love seat. “And finally we have tonight’s guests of honor, Erin and Jamie, who we know will be together for many, many years.” The doctor spared a just a second’s glance at her knew friend Leah and gave an inner sigh before going on. “Each correct answer is worth twenty-five points so on with the game. The Casey women will answer the first two questions. Number one, what is your favorite color?”

Tim sat a little straighter in his chair not at all worried about this one. ‘Purple’, his wife stated and he lifted the card in his lap to reveal the correct answer.

Applause from the audience.

“Well,” said the next contestant Bridgett, “mine’s green.”

Brad felt the need to comment further as he revealed he had also chosen the right answer. “That was easy, it’s the color of money.” He received a small glare from his spouse, but a quick kiss saved the day.

Erin smiled dreamily. “Blue.”

Jamie, knowing why Erin reacted the way she did, blushed slightly, having gotten it correct as well.

After the next round there was still a three-way tie and all three couples felt pretty proud of themselves. The host continued on with the third question. “These answers are for Tim, Brad and Jamie. What animal did your partner say you are most like?”

The sandy haired lawyer racked his brain as he went through a list of possible choices, dismissing one after the other for various reasons.

“Anytime this year,” Erin chimed in.

“I’ll ignore that and say dolphin.”

Bridgett gasped at her husband. “Dolphin! Where did you come up with that one?”

He shrugged. “Because I like to swim. What did you say?”

“Gorilla.”

“Do I look like an ape?” he asked wide-eyed and insulted.

“No, I said gorilla because they are strong and intelligent which is what I thought you were…until now that is.” She grinned to let him know she was teasing.

Tim opened his mustached mouth to answer and was greeted with the echoes of his family’s voices correctly matching him. “Bear!” they all shouted. Conner stood and did his best bear growl to the amusement of everyone in the room.

Once the laughter had died down Jamie made a show of stretching out her neck and her long legs, which she crossed at the ankle. “I won’t tell you how the subject came up,” she said with a tiny grin, “but Erin once told me that I reminded her of a giraffe.” She paused before adding, “And it was definitely a compliment.” Jamie got a poke in the ribs for her risqué innuendo, even though it was lost on at least half of those present. She, of course was right.

“And now to our final question,” said Anne. “What is your favorite thing to eat for a late night snack?” She flashed a look to the tall rancher who batted her eyes in total innocence. “And please keep your answers rated G, there are innocent ears present?”

Those in the know chuckled lowly. Two dark, bushy eyebrows curved downward over Tim’s confused eyes. Still not understanding, he shrugged and his thoughts switched to deciding on an answer. Danielle’s mouth twitched slightly after about two seconds shock at Anne’s comment. Mrs. Casey was a bit worldlier than her husband, but she didn’t necessarily want her family to realize that little fact.

Bridgett and Brad both answered crackers and cheese. They did differ slightly on the exact flavor of cheese, but a unanimous vote granted them the points anyway.

The big executive cleared his throat. “I like to have a good glass of Brandy late at night.”

Danielle grimaced and lifted her card, with which she slapped her husband in the arm. “She said eat, not drink! You like to eat Oreo’s before bed.”

“Yes my Dear, but I have them with the Brandy.”

Danielle merely rolled her eyes to more laughter.

Anne turned to the couple on the loveseat. “Jamie if you get this question right you will have one hundred points and the two of you will win the game. And for that tremendous feat you will be treated, at no expense to us, to absolutely nothing…but the knowledge that you do indeed know your spouse.”

The rancher gave her partner a sidelong glance and her mouth twisted comically. The innocent ears had stepped out of the room with their great grandmother for more refreshments and Jamie decided to have a little more fun. “Well, Erin and I have identical tastes, especially when it comes to late night snacks. We like to share in that particular pleasure and we mutually indulge in this fluffy treat. I really like to dive right in to the…” Her lips drew together in a thin line as she started to form the word. “P…opcorn, buttered and salty.”

Erin knew where Jamie was going with the answer, but that didn’t stop her ears from pinking up. She showed the matching answer and lifted the card higher to conceal their faces as she gave her fiancée’ a congratulatory kiss.

The guests cheered and clapped for the winners. The evening had been a rousing success, leaving Jamie and Erin to hope that this circle of family and friends would always surround them.

* * * *

On Friday night, the eve of the wedding, Timothy Casey had every member of his family chauffeured to the best restaurant in Los Angeles. They were shown to a private area where they dined on the juiciest lobster, the finest champagne and imported chocolate delicacies.

Stories, some wild, some heartwarming were shared.

Laughter rang off the walls.

Danielle shed just a tear or two when her husband toasted the happy couple.

Conner tugged at the tie that was too constricting around his neck and his little sister gave an impromptu fashion show, so proud of her new dress.

Katie flirted with the waiter.

Grandma, being the head of the family and quite outspoken in her own right, kept everyone in line.

And Erin and Jamie had eyes only for each other.

But at the end of the evening, Erin did take a moment to gaze at each and every smiling face around the large table. Thankful for every family member there and those far away, her heart swelled. She took special notice of the cigar smoking man seated at the head of the table. Family meant the world to her and her father’s presence made the night extra special. A year ago she never would have believed he would be celebrating with them, much less having initiated the event. The wounds he had caused with his intolerance had now completely healed and his love was truly felt.

There was only one problem keeping the evening from being perfect. And it was something that no matter how Erin tried she could never have remedied. At one point after dinner, Erin glanced over to her partner and saw the sadness in the blue eyes. Jamie was missing her family. The Casey’s had totally adopted her as their own, but even they could not fill that missing place.

Erin had taken her partner’s hand at that moment and smiled compassionately. She knew Jamie understood the silent message when a kiss was placed upon her cheek.

With hugs and kisses, everyone bid goodnight and returned to their respective cars.

After seeing Grandma and Katie to their rooms at the nearby inn, Bridgett continued on to the ranch with the Erin and Jamie. She claimed that her presence was required first thing in the morning to help Erin prepare for the ceremony. The twitch in the dark eyebrow told Erin that Jamie had felt something more sinister in the red head’s motives. The author snickered when Jamie’s suspicions were proven right.

The tall rancher had balked at Bridgett’s unyielding attitude on the evening’s sleeping arrangements. “Erin and I have slept together for months,” she loudly told her soon to be sister in law.

“Exactly!” Bridgett exclaimed. “You’ve slept together for months so it won’t hurt you to be apart for just this one night.”

Jamie grumbled under breath as she shuffled slowly to the guest room. Erin covered the smile on her face as she followed her pouting lover. They stopped at the open doorway and Jamie turned to face Erin. She spotted her partner’s bodyguard and glared.

“Could we at least have a few minutes in private to say goodnight?” asked Jamie.

Bridgett chuckled and turned back down the hall.

Erin wrapped her arms around the lanky body and squeezed. “You’re not really mad are you?” she asked timidly.

Jamie gave half a smile. “Nah. I just like to mess with her.”

Erin laughed softly. “Well, after tonight no one can ever keep us apart.”

“Damn right.” Jamie studied her lover’s face, noticing the faint shifting of muscles and skin around the deep green eyes. That signaled that Erin was feeling some intense emotions. Jamie ran a thumb over the wrinkled brow to ease the tensions she also read there. “I love you,” she said as her hand slid down the soft skin. “I’ll see you tomorrow at the alter…gazebo…whatever we’re calling it I’ll be there.”

Erin kissed her once. “So will I. I love you too.” She kissed her again, longer this time. “Guess it’s time to say goodnight huh?”

Guess so, Jamie thought, but her lips were much to involved to speak the words.

* * * *

Jamie had been confined to her temporary quarters, which did include its own outside access, but the rest of the house was deemed off limits. Bridgett did her best maid impression and delivered the morning meal to the confined rancher, where she was drilled with a version of twenty questions, every one of them about Erin.

Once the rancher was convinced that her lover was indeed well and happy, Jamie hopped into the shower and quickly scrubbed herself clean, her whistles complimenting the rushing water jets.

* * * *

Erin placed the brush back on the dressing table for the second time and reached for her jewelry box. While she was deliriously happy, her perfect day already had one dark spot. The weather did seem to be defying all the previous reports as the sun broke through right on schedule, chasing away all the gray clouds that had threatened rain.

At nine that morning Erin stood at the front door waiting for the approaching helicopter to land on the side lawn. The smile the author had worn since the minute her eyes had opened, waned as she saw only one parent leave the chopper. With garment bag in hand, Danielle Casey entered the house sympathizing with the look on her daughter’s face.

“Where is he?” Erin asked simply.

“He’ll be here Sweetheart, he promised. The helicopter is going back for him right now. There is still plenty of time.”

The author turned back into the house and strode across the carpet. “What was his excuse, as if I didn’t know?”

Danielle couldn’t keep her daughter’s eye. She looked away in shame. “He had an emergency, business phone call.”

Erin’s hands perched angrily on her hips. “Well, that’s one thing that will never change will it? Business always has been more important than us. He missed the first play I was ever in at school. He missed my sixteenth birthday, my college graduation and now the single most important day of my life and for what…more money?” Erin’s eyes fell shut and she took several very deep breaths. She looked back to her mother. “You know it doesn’t even matter. I will not let him get me upset. This is my day, mine and Jamie’s and if he has more important things to do than so be it.”

The ceremony was now just a few minutes away. Through the open window, Erin could hear the serenading music as the guests took their seats. She took a gold locket from its red, velvet bag and rubbed a thumb over the intricately carved Celtic design. She flipped open the case and peered closely at the pictures inside. Though small, Jamie’s grin radiated from the paper photo and a matching one sprang to the author’s mouth. All of Erin’s dreams were about to come true. A single fingertip traced the third and still empty frame attached to the two others. She still had one or two dreams floating around inside, but this day would bring those well within her grasp.

She settled the chain around her neck and a soft knock on the door broke Erin from her thoughts. “Come on in Mom,” she called out. The door opened slowly and Erin’s merry expression melted to one of mixed emotion when she saw the person’s reflection in the mirror.

“Can I come in too?” the visitor asked.

“Daddy.”

The burly man approached and a smile twitched under his graying mustache. His dark eyes held hers through the mirror.

Erin turned and stood on slightly trembling legs. “You came.”

He reached out solid arms and she slipped into them, a tear sliding down her cheek. “I promised,” he said. Tim pulled back and gently brushed away the glistening sign of emotion. “I know I have broken promises before, but there was no way I was going to break this one.” Still holding her hand he took a step back and a full smile lit his face. “You are beautiful. And it will be my honor and pleasure to walk you down that aisle and into the arms of the woman you love.” He reached a hand into the pocket of his black tux. “But first I have a little gift for you.” He placed the present in her hand.

Erin opened the small black box and a creamy oval with specks of pink and green greeted her. She lifted the single, unset Opal from its nest as he explained. “I bought this on the day you were born Princess. And though I wanted it to be a very long time to come, I also thought about this event on that October day.” Timothy kissed her on the cheek. “I am as proud of you now as I was on that day and as I always will be. I love you Erin.”

“I love you too Daddy.”

* * * *

Once all the guests had been seated the introductory music began. A harpist played variations on the bridal theme as Jamie strode down the aisle alone. The sadness she had felt over missing her family the prior night had suddenly vanished. Now she felt the spirit of her father at her side as she walked on and that of her mother and sister close by. And that sensation filled the only part of her heart that was left empty on this day.

In her hand, Jamie carried a single orchid; the first of the many gifts she would bestow on her bride this day. The melody continued as Conner and Caitlin, performing their respective duties as ring barer and flower girl, followed. Once Bridgett had made her short trek and had taken her place as matron of honor, the guests stood and all eyes looked to the back.

Erin took a deep breath. Tim placed a comforting hand over his daughter’s as they began their journey. As the gazebo came into view, Erin’s footsteps faltered and she stopped in her tracks. There at the end of the short aisle, waiting for her, was her own personal ideal of beauty. Jamie was a resplendent vision in black and white from head to toe. The only points of true color were the outstanding crystal blue eyes, one of which winked at her. Erin had yet to figure out how something so pale could be so vibrant…and perhaps she was the only one who saw it that way, but she really didn’t care why. She was just glad it was. For perhaps the hundredth time she thanked her God for allowing her to see this day and those eyes so full of love.

“Are you okay Sweetheart?” the voice beside her asked.

Erin answered without shifting her gaze. “Yes, Daddy. I’m fine.” As they slowly began to move forward again, Erin continued her appraisal of her soon to be wife. On Jamie’s feet were black dress shoes…flats. She didn’t need the extra height, as she already stood tall and commanding. Dark linen slacks adorned the long, slim legs, but was only partially visible. From her neck to the top of her knees Jamie was encased in a tailored, satin, ivory jacket trimmed in a black, hand embroidered design. Held closed by a single button at the waist, the jacket showcased Jamie’s trim, but solid physique. A soft, raven hued camisole caressed her bronzed skin and peeked tantalizingly between the light colored lapels. Jamie’s shoulder length hair shone like silk beneath the sun’s golden rays. The midnight stands fell naturally straight on the right side of her head, but to the left, the locks were held back over her ear by a barely visible, black hair comb. The piece had been hand carved by Erin’s grandfather and was a cherished gift the author had lovingly passed on to her love one recent summer’s night.

Jamie’s smile widened as her eyes followed her partner down the red carpet. Her earthly angel was a heavenly sight, wearing a strapless, satin gown with which flared into a slight hint of a train. Jamie recognized the golden locket that sat above the sweetheart neckline of the dress and her heart fluttered a few extra beats. The white, matte finished bodice of Erin’s dress was covered in a fine layer of genuine Irish lace, softening the look to beautiful perfection. The skirt was accentuated with random, individual, floral patterns of more lace and hand chosen beads and pearls.

When Erin finally reached her side, Jamie handed her the orchid, which Erin sniffed and set aside on a small nearby table. The author mouthed a thank you and the dark haired woman took her hand and led her up the two wooden steps into the airy gazebo.

Reverend Lawrence held the bible in her open palms and smiled. She was a long time friend of the Casey family and was honored when asked to perform the ceremony. “Marriage is what brings us here today,” she said. “Marriage is a constant. It is every hour, of every day, of every year. It’s a joining of lives and a bonding of souls. Love is the foundation, but honesty, trust, compassion and dedication form the frame upon which each day is built. Marriage is not what’s written on a piece of paper, but what’s written in your heart. Erin and Jamie would now like to tell each other and those present just what is written in their hearts. But I see that Jamie also has it written on that piece of paper in her hand.”

The crowd chuckled good heartedly and Jamie addressed them with a little shrug of her shoulder. “I didn’t want to forget,” she said sheepishly. Her eyes met Erin’s again and she confidently slipped the note back into her pocket. “But that’s not going to happen. Although you do tend to make me lose all train of thought when I fall into your eyes.” She gave her love’s hand a squeeze then continued. “Erin,” she spoke then paused slightly. “I love the sound of your name,” she said. “It’s the loveliest sound in the world to my ears when I hear it and it leaves the sweetest taste on my tongue when I speak it. But just to say I love you isn’t nearly enough to describe exactly how I feel about you. You bring the breath to my lungs. You bring the sun to my day. And you bring the peace to my nights, which used to be filled with only nightmares. But now I have only sweet dreams of you and our future together. You saved my life twice and gave me reason to hope when there was none. I want to live every day of the rest of my life with you. I want to raise a family with you. I want to grow old with you and watch as you become more beautiful with each passing year. I do love you.”

Erin swallowed the lump in her throat and blinked away the teary curtain in her eyes. “Jamie. The first day we met my eyes couldn’t see you, but my heart always did. It saw a lost and vulnerable soul that I needed…wanted to protect. My heart saw the love that you were afraid to express. It saw my home. You were my eyes and you are my heart…and the other half of my soul. We were led to each other not just once, but twice through a miracle. I cherish you and I thank God that you love me. I want to live every day of the rest of my life with you. I want to raise a family with you. I want to grow old with you and watch as you become more beautiful with each passing year. I do love you.”

With a little nudge from his father, Conner climbed the stairs, stepped between his aunts and presented the satin pillow to the Reverend.

The spiritual leader retrieved the items, placed them upon the bible’s pages and waited for the child to make his exit before saying, “Let the exchanging of rings show each other and the world your commitment.”

Erin picked up the larger of the two matching rings. She slipped the pierced band of white and rose gold onto Jamie’s finger as she spoke. “This ring is a perfect circle with no beginning and no end, just as I have loved you…forever. Let my love encircle your heart as this ring encircles your finger.”

The rancher repeated the action and the words, adding a little kiss to the ring at the end. The couple remained hand in hand as the ceremony was completed.

Reverend Lawrence closed the book in her hands. “What God has joined together let no one tear apart. Ladies you may now seal this union with a kiss.”

And that they did as the crowd bound to their feet and gave the newlyweds a round of loving applause. Once they brought the kiss to an end, the happy couple made their way back down the aisle amidst cheers and well wishes from all the guests.

Erin and Jamie disappeared into the house for just a few moments alone while the crowd was led over to the reception area.

The rancher pulled her bride into an embrace and whispered I love you. Erin’s only response was a tiny squeak. Jamie pulled away and was not surprised to find tears slipping from beneath Erin’s glasses. “I hope those are happy tears?” she asked, wiping away the droplets of water.

“They are,” Erin finally said. “This is just everything I have ever wanted. You are all I have ever wanted.”

“You have me forever,” said Jamie. “You are everything that I have ever needed to make my life complete. And I hope I never give you cause to shed anything but happy tears.”

Erin brushed another tender kiss against Jamie’s lips. She brightened suddenly and led her bride away by the hand. They hurried up the stairs and into their room. “I have a present for you,” said Erin heading for her closet.

Jamie grinned. “Funny that, I happen to have one for you too.” She pulled open her dresser drawer and pushed aside a couple of shirts and a few pairs of socks to retrieve the small box hidden back in the corner. She heard a bustle of movement behind her. Jamie turned and her jaw fell when she spied the huge wrapped package sitting at Erin’s feet. She quickly questioned with her eyes, but said, “I’d like you to go first.”

Erin gathered her skirts in her hand and joined Jamie on the small sofa in the corner of the room. The author took her gift and slowly removed the pink and white wrapping. She opened the hinged lid on the blue, velvet box and her gaze fell upon the sliver bracelet nestled inside. The engraved words jumped into her heart as she removed the precious gift. The single diamond attached to its surface twinkled at her.

Jamie gently took the piece and fastened it around Erin’s slim wrist. The dark haired woman pointed to the Celtic words Anam Cara. “I know that you know what this says, but what you don’t know is that I bought this while we were still in Dublin. Even then I knew you were my soul friend. When we got back here and I found out who I was I knew this day would come and I decided to save it. I had the stone added a few weeks ago. I want to add a new one every ten years.”

Erin looked deeply into the blue eyes. “I think this bracelet will look very smart, encrusted with seven gems. Thank you.” She claimed Jamie’s lips with her own. “We might even try for eight,” she whispered against the soft flesh.

Jamie smiled into the kiss. “I’ll try if you will.”

“Deal. Now your turn.”

The rancher tore the paper and ripped off the packaging tape holding down the lid on the plain cardboard box. She lifted the four flaps and peered inside, not knowing what to expect. Erin watched her spouse’s face as Jamie’s brain slowly processed the various contents. Very slowly the dark haired woman reached for the first item and then quickly hugged the tiny, toy horse to her chest. “How…what…Erin where did you get these?” Her voice, thick with emotion, stuttered the question.

Erin ran a hand down Jamie’s arm. “I hired a detective to track down your foster parents. I know it was a long shot that they would have kept anything from your childhood…but they did.” The dark haired woman sifted through the other toys and pieces of paper with a shaky hand as Erin continued. “I had a long talk with Mrs. Matthews about three weeks ago and I told her all about the fine woman you are. She says she’s proud of you Jamie and that she always loved you.”

Jamie couldn’t hold back any longer and the tears of mixed emotions fell onto the items she rummaged through.

“Mrs. Matthews would like to see you Honey,” said Erin. “I can arrange for her to come out here in a few weeks when things settle down a little.”

Jamie was still stunned that all of those cherished childhood mementos had survived all those years. “I’d like that,” she said and raised her head to meet Erin’s gaze. “I don’t know how to thank you for doing this for me.”

“I know it doesn’t replace your family, but I hoped it would help to have a part of them here with you.”

Jamie hugged Erin and held onto her for the longest time, still trying to take in all the incredible love. She pulled back and kissed Erin’s cheek. Then she reached for a blue album, whose edges were slightly worn and placed it in her lap. “It does help Sweetheart. You’ll never know how much. But if I look at these pictures now, I might not be good for anything the rest of the day.” She gently replaced the book and stood. “I believe we have a yard full of guests waiting for us.” Jamie reached for her hand. “And we have the honor of the first dance.”

The couple soon returned to more applause and well wishes. Danielle Casey signaled the instrumental quartet and the crowd parted for the spotlight dance. The notes of one of their favorite songs floated through the air. Erin and Jamie made their way to the middle of the floor and for the next three and a half minutes they were lost in their own little world; a world that floated three feet above the ground and consisted solely of eyes of emerald and azure.

As the next song began, the guests began to pair up and join the newlyweds for more dancing. Katie asked a rather reserved Chad Benson. Anne and Leah took the opportunity to share some quality time. And of course Erin’s parents and Bridgett and Brad indulged themselves in the romantic movements. But soon Kathleen decided to shake things up a bit. She whispered to the musicians, who quickly changed their choice of instruments. The music that came next was decidedly more chipper and loud. Within minutes, Grandma had the group, including her stoic son, dancing a rousing jig.

Catching her breath after the energetic round of dancing, Anne had made her way over to congratulate her friends. Leah had chosen to remain lost in the crowd, feeling slightly out of place.

“After all you two have been through,” said Anne, “you both deserve nothing but happiness for the rest of your long lives. And I expect to be invited to your fiftieth anniversary party.”

“You’ll be the first on the list,” said Jamie. “Thank you Anne. You’ve been a great friend to Erin and now to me as well.” Jamie gave her new friend a hug then kissed her bride on the cheek and excused herself to check in with some of the other guests, namely all of her elderly friends from her old apartment building.

Erin watched Jamie walk away then pinned the doctor with a sly grin. “And who might your date be for that party?” she asked. When Anne only responded with a slight blush Erin asked another question. “So what is going on with you and Leah?”

Anne’s brown eyes tracked the object under discussion and a smile flew unbidden to her mouth. “We, umm…we seem to be getting along very well.”

“And?”

“And for the first time in a very long time I don’t feel so alone. She is very wonderful and unique. She makes me laugh. I think I could fall for her very easily.”

“Why does it sound like there is a but at the end of that sentence?”

The brown head hesitantly shook. “It’s not that, it’s just… We’ve only known each other a few days.” She took a deep breath and her eyes met Erin’s again. “The physical attraction was there immediately, but there was something else too, something I’ve never felt before. It was like I already knew her.”

Erin nodded and flashed a knowing grin. She placed a hand on her friend’s arm. “I don’t want to scare you Anne, but that is exactly how I felt with Jamie.”

The rancher chose that moment to make her re-appearance. She noticed the rather surprised expression on the doctor’s face. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I don’t want to interrupt, but I just can’t stand to spend more then a few minutes away from my beautiful wife.”

Erin wrapped an arm around Jamie. “Well, I feel the same about my gorgeous wife.” They tenderly kissed, which led to another and another and so on. When the couple finally parted they were once again alone.

“Was that rude of us?” asked Jamie.

“No. Not on a day like this anyway. Come on, there is someone I want you to meet.”

They approached one of the back tables under the open tent. There sat two women, one of which was bouncing a very happy baby on her lap. Once Erin was spotted, the red headed one stood, smiled brightly and held out her arms. “Erin, what a lovely bride you are,” she said. The two college friends hugged.

“Megan O’Donnell I’d like you to meet Jamie Sheridan, the love of my life.”

The small woman extended a hand. “It’s very nice to meet you Jamie. Congratulations.”

“Nice to meet you too. Erin has told me all about you. Thank you for coming.”

Megan took the drooling baby into her arms and swiftly wiped his mouth with a napkin making him much more presentable. “Erin, Jamie this is my wife of two years, Laura.” Nods were exchanged and Megan continued with the proud introductions. “And this little one is our son Michael.”

Erin reached out to take a chubby hand and the baby leaned her way wanting to greet his mommy’s friend a little more personally. She reached for the blue-eyed child. “Do you mind?” The question was addressed to Megan’s partner who happily agreed. Erin settled the baby into her arms and kissed his fuzzy head. “Well, what a little cutie you are Michael.” He giggled when some fingers tickled his belly.

“How old is he?” Jamie asked as she watched Erin interact with the child.

Michael’s eyes went wide and he quickly turned toward the sound of the new voice, craning his neck up to see the tall woman. Jamie stepped closer and cradled the back of his head as his mother informed them that he was eleven months old.

“Hello little man,” said the rancher.

He gurgled back at her and flashed a very flirtatious, semi-toothless grin, which sent the adults into a bout of laughter.

****

Sometime later, Doctor Carson took her new friend by the hand and led her over to congratulate the newlyweds. Leah approached timidly. She reached Jamie and automatically started to hug her, but changed it to a handshake in mid motion. “Congratulations, both of you. It was a beautifully romantic ceremony and I wish you nothing but the best.”

“Thank you Leah,” said Jamie, who took back the nurse’s hand in a much more informal and friendlier gesture.

Erin noticed the movement and accepted it for what it really meant. She shuffled her feet in embarrassment. “I thank you as well Leah,” she said holding the dark, but warm eyes. “I also have to apologize for my earlier behavior. I know what you mean to Jamie and I thank you for being there for her when I couldn’t.”

The two women smiled, acknowledging the peaceful, but tentative friendship they might someday form.

The three-tired cake was soon rolled out, but before it was cut, Grandma offered her granddaughters a traditional Irish toast. She raised a glass of sparkling champagne. “I have chosen a different blessing for each of my grandchildren’s weddings. This is the sixth one and I hope not the last.” She flashed a look to her youngest grandchild Katie who had the good manors to acknowledge the words with a sly smile. Kathleen turned back to the newlyweds. “Erin, Jamie may God go with and bless you. May you see your children’s children. May you be poor in misfortune and rich in blessings. May you know nothing but happiness from this day forward.”

Erin and Jamie thanked her with a simultaneous kiss to each of the old woman’s rosy cheeks then together they held the ribbon bound server and cut the first slice of the rich, chocolate confection. The author held the small plate in front of Jamie’s face and smiled, her eyes twinkling.

“Be nice,” the rancher growled.

“I always show you just how nice I am,” said Erin as she broke off a small piece with her fingers and slipped it cleanly into Jamie’s mouth. But she did just happen to swipe her icing covered index finger against her partner’s nose before pulling away.

Jamie clucked her tongue as she cleaned away the mess. As she fed Erin a bite she leaned down and whispered something in her ear. “I’m going to save a piece of cake for later and then we’ll see how really messy we can get.”

Erin tried valiantly to hold off the blush she felt rising to her cheeks as she spied the very attentive audience watching their every move.

After opening a treasure trove of gifts, Erin and Jamie were watching Caitlin and Conner run around playing with Artemis. When Conner became interested in something else, the little girl suddenly dropped to her knees and began what looked like a very deep conversation with the big dog. At one point, Arte shook her and then snorted as if answering a question. Erin laughed silently and turned where she was greeted with another adorable sight. Little Michael O’Donnell was practicing his newfound skill of walking. His comical, heavy-footed steps were taken between his two mothers, who held onto each of his tiny hands as they slowly crossed the yard. Erin stroked her partner’s arm and nodded in the family’s direction. Jamie smiled at the sight.

* * * *

As they had been doing all afternoon, Jamie and Erin took a few private moments to indulge in their favorite activity, kissing. Jamie was lost in the luscious lips when she suddenly felt a tug on her jacket. She pulled back, her lips slightly tinted with pink, and looked down to find a curly headed blonde peering up with a questioning face. Jamie picked Caitlin up and settled her between them. “What is it Honey?” the rancher asked.

The girl absently played with the dark hair as her eyes bounced back and forth between her two aunts. “When are you gonna have a kid for me to play with?”

Blue and green eyes twinkled as they met. Jamie thought back to earlier when Erin was holding baby Michael. That was a picture she was eager to see re-played with a baby of their own. She patted the small leg under her hand. “We’re going to work on that real soon Caitlin. Real soon.”

The child threw an arm around each adult neck and hugged them tightly. “Yeah!” She cheered then her thoughts quickly changed to another matter entirely. “Can I have some more cake?”

“Ask your Mom first,” Erin said as Caitlin was set to the ground and ran back toward the food. The author stepped into the circle of her wife’s arms and grinned. “Real soon huh?”

Jamie slightly hesitated as she took Erin’s left hand in hers and rubbed her thumb over the shiny band of silver and pink colored gold. “Yeah,” she said. “I assume that you still want…”

“Oh yes! Absolutely.”

Jamie relaxed and giggled at Erin’s enthusiastic answer then her expression molded into something more serious. “I think we have both learned some very hard lessons this year. One of which is don’t delay the things that are important; you just never know what will happen.”

Erin nodded solemnly and brushed a stray hair from Jamie’s eye. Then the smile returned. “I can’t wait to see you holding our baby in your arms.”

Jamie leaned forward, her lips heading for their counterpart. “I was just thinking the same thing.”

* * * *

The five-hour reception was drawing to a close, at least for the newlyweds who desperately wanted some quiet time together. Jamie took Erin’s hand and drew the crowd’s attention. “Before we leave,” she said, “Erin and I would like to thank you for sharing this very special day with us and for the gifts you brought…and I’m not just talking about the beautiful things on the table over there. When you arrived here today, you brought your smiles and your love and you gave us your time. We thank you very much for those very special gifts.”

Bridgett gathered up the single women, which totaled only five and herded them near the gazebo where Erin stood on the stairs. The author winked quickly at one certain woman and turned her back, throwing the small bouquet of white and purple flowers into the small group. Katie watched as the floral bundle sailed through the air and she suddenly backed off, not really believing in the superstition, but not wanting to take any chances. The colorful flowers then landed right into Doctor Carson’s skilled hands. Her momentary shock quickly gave way to a happy smile and her eyes locked with the tall, Asian beauty at her side.

Erin clapped as she turned and saw that her aim was perfect.

Jamie stepped to her side and leaned down. “I think I’ll go for that garter later in private.”

“How do you know I’m wearing one?” asked Erin. She looked up to find two intense eyes burning into hers and two raised eyebrows atop them.

Hand in hand they ran down the red-carpeted aisle under a shower of birdseed and flower petals.

* * * *

It was still early evening, but the fall sun had bid its farewell an hour earlier. The caterers had loaded every chair, dismantled the dance floor and every tent and were long gone. The ranch was once again silent and barren except for the newlyweds who were just preparing for their evening of romance. Their suitcases were packed and sitting by the front door for the early morning trip to the airport and their honeymoon. A beautiful peace had settled over the land.

Jamie had changed into her new, royal blue, satin pajamas and was in the process of lighting several candles across the room when she heard the slight rustle of fabric. She turned and smiled brightly. “You look incredible,” she told the blonde goddess standing a few feet away dressed in a sheer, emerald colored gown. “But then you are always beautiful no matter what you wear…or don’t wear.”

Erin stepped forward and ran her fingers over the thin, blue strap across her wife’s shoulder. “I’m really glad you like these,” she said of the soft attire she had purchased. “I packed two other pairs similar to these in your suitcase. And speaking of clothes, I think I forgot to tell you what an absolutely wonderful choice you made for your wedding suit. You were very sexy.” She slipped her arms around Jamie’s neck and nuzzled the soft skin. “It was a perfect day wasn’t it?”

“Perfect.” No other words were needed at that moment. They just stood there in each other’s arms soaking in the love.

Jamie had snagged the last bottle of champagne for their private celebration and using the crystal flutes that Erin’s parents had given them, poured two bubbling glasses. They silently toasted each other and sipped the golden beverage sharing a kiss afterward. The tall woman spied her wedding gift in the corner and sighed happily. She retrieved the photo album from the top of the pile and joined Erin on the bed, where she took the smaller hand in hers. “I know I said it earlier and I will probably say it many more times; thank you for bringing this back to me.”

Erin smiled. “You are very much welcome.” She tapped the blue book. “Introduce me to my new family.”

Jamie propped the book on her raised knees and opened the fading cover. A smile replaced the earlier tears, but her throat still tightened up when she saw the first picture of her parents. Her fingers traced the photograph’s white border.

Erin gave her a moment before commenting. “You look just like your mother, Sweetheart. She was beautiful. But you definitely got those eyes from your very handsome father.”

“Yeah. Mom always teased him about that. You know one thing I remember most about them is they always looked so happy when they were together.” Jamie looked down and kissed her attentive wife. “I know exactly how they felt.” She turned to a two-page spread of baby photos with her name clearly written across the top. This, of course, elicited a very loud exclamation from her partner.

“Ohhhh! You were absolutely adorable,” said Erin.

“Were?”

The author looked up from the pictures and her eyes sparkled. “Oh you still are, this is just different.”

“I love you.”

“I love you too,” said Erin.

Page after page, Erin got acquainted with her second family and gained even more insight to her spouse. The hours of reminiscing soon turned into hours of loving and they finally drifted into a happily exhausted sleep where dreams of their new life together played out the night.
The end.

 

Concluded in Blindsided

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