The Window Washer by Nancy

The Window Washer
by nancy

DISCLAIMER: Xena:Warrior Princess, its characters, and all related materials are the property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures © 1995-2000. The story idea in “The Window Washer” is all mine. Any resemblance to real persons is strictly coincidental. This has been strictly a not for profit endeavor and I have not received, nor will I be receiving any financial gain from the writing of this story.

LOVE/SEX WARNING/DISCLAIMER: This story depicts a love/sexual relationship between two consenting adult women. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal in the state or country in which you live, please do not read it. If depictions of this nature disturb you, then you shouldn’t be reading it, silly goose!

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Part 1

Ria was daydreaming out the office window, staring at the blue sky but not really seeing it or the puffy spring clouds that chased each other with the help of the wind. Her chin rested on her hand which rested on her desk. Golden hair fell in long drifts down her back and green eyes stared vacantly while her mind spun with everything that had been going on in her life.

Gary was a nice guy. They got along, he was handsome, sweet, caring, solicitous and admired her independent spirit. They had been dating off and on for over a year and the night before, he’d declared his eternal love and asked her to marry him. Ria had been flabbergasted and didn’t know what to say. He’d assured her that he knew she wasn’t really in love with him but they were so well suited and he did truly love her which would be more than enough.

In the end she had promised to think about it but refused the ring. The very large diamond ring that had sparkled incredibly in the soft candlelight of the restaurant.

On top of her placid love life, her mother was driving her insane. Constantly harping about not having any grandchildren to spoil. Incessantly complaining that her daughter should be doing something more with her life. Continuously bemoaning the fact that her only daughter was ignoring her and didn’t love her enough.

‘Even though I always give her anything and everything she needs,’ Ria thought bitterly. Ria had gone perilously close to bankruptcy more than once to bail not only her mother but her brother out of financial trouble. Her savings had been laid waste and her life shattered by the emotional upheaval her family caused.

Frustrated tears came close to being shed but Ria cleared her throat, refusing to let them fall. She grabbed the water on her desk and took too big a sip. She started coughing when it hit the wrong pipe.

“You all right, Ria?” a concerned voice from a coworker walking by.

Ria waved the woman on and finally stopped coughing. She stood and closed her door, needing privacy for her thoughts. Facing the window again, Ria settled back at her desk and lay her cheek against a palm, looking slantways out the window. It really was a beautiful spring day and she should be going out to enjoy it. Old dreams flooded her mind and familiar anger and despair rose within.

It wasn’t that she had a bad life because she didn’t. Ria had a wonderful job that she enjoyed. She was finally debt-free after being very stupid just out of high school. She had a great apartment and car and two tabby cats that she loved dearly. Then there was Gary, who doted on her. And though it seemed they caused more pain than not, her family really did love her and want the best for her.

Yet something was missing. Something that caused the gaping hole in her heart to rip even further apart and send shooting pain through her entire being. Ria felt incomplete and worthless much of the time, one step away from the depression her mother suffered. Normally a happy and calm person, Ria had many friends that she could talk to but she didn’t feel they would understand the emptiness inside. They all had love in their lives and were content to live the suburban idyll while forgetting the dreams of their youth.

A bang against the window startled her out of her thoughts. Ria shrieked in panic when someone fell passed her window and ran to look out. The rope dangled in front of her window and Ria cursed that she couldn’t open the damned corporate, suicide-proof windows to check on whatever person had just flown by on their way to meet the ground.

“Maybe I don’t want to look after all,” Ria murmured, her vivid imagination bringing up gory images.

Then a hand gripped the sill, followed by another hand, long-fingered and strong. The arm that came up next was muscled and bronzed by the sun, as was the second arm. A baseball cap came into view, then a woman’s face. The blue eyes captured Ria’s full attention first and foremost. They sparkled with humor as the woman grabbed ahold of the rope and rappelled away.

That was when Ria noticed the harness attached to the woman’s body and that it had been a controlled fall, designed as a practical joke. Sighing in relief, though her heart was now beating faster for some other mysterious reason, Ria put her hands on her hips and started tapping her foot, exaggerating irritation. When the woman swung back to the window and grinned at her, Ria wagged a scolding finger but couldn’t help the echoing grin from spreading across her face.

At that moment, the office door burst open and people came running in, brought by her scream. The window washer’s grin turned wry and she wriggled dark eyebrows before starting the descent. Ria turned to assure her coworkers that everything was fine, she’d simply been startled by the window washer’s sudden appearance. There were grumblings all around as people dispersed until only Sara remained.

Ria looked at her admin and asked, “Yes, Sara?”

“You don’t scare that easy, Ria,” Sara said firmly. “What really happened?”

Ria had the feeling that she needed to stick to her story or the strange woman would get in trouble. “That’s all there is to it, Sara, really.”

“Mhmm,” Sara’s disbelieving comment before she smiled and said, “You’re lunch date is here.”

“I don’t have a lunch…oh no…Gary’s here?” Ria asked.

“Is that any tone to use for a fiancée?” Gary’s jovial voice boomed as he walked into the room.

Groaning silently, Ria quashed the suddenly happy look on Sara’s face with a glare and she said, “Gary, we talked about that last night. Please don’t go starting rumors in my office.”

“Sorry dearest, I just can’t help myself,” Gary exclaimed. He pulled her into an embrace and kissed her lightly.

Ria tried to squirm away but he held her fast. “Gary, I really am swamped today. Can we meet for dinner instead?”

Disappointed, Gary released her and answered, “I suppose. What time should I pick you up?”

“How about seven?”

“All right. I will leave you to your corporate dungeon then. Until seven then dearest,” Gary exclaimed, giving her a lavish bow.

Rolling her eyes, Ria was about to follow him out when Sara’s head motioned towards the window. “Your window washer is back.”

Ria immediately turned around and found the woman was sitting outside the window on a wooden plank, two suction cups holding her in place against the wind. There was a half-smile on the woman’s face as their eyes met for a long moment. Ria tore her gaze away and said to Sara, “Do you have the presentation ready for tomorrow?”

Grinning, Sara ordered, “Check your inbox.”

Ria nodded and shut the door behind Sara before turning back to the window washer. She strolled over to the window and tilted her head inquisitively. She hadn’t had a chance to really look at the woman before everyone had rushed in. She wore jeans that clung to muscled thighs, boots that rested casually against the windowsill and a short sleeve shirt that revealed her strong arms. Her face was beautiful: sharp cheekbones jutting out to form hollows, a full red mouth and, of course, those incredible blue eyes.

So how were they going to communicate through a two-inch thick glass window? And why did Ria feel compelled to even talk to this woman who’d nearly scared her to death with that antic? The woman pointed at her then to herself then pointed down. Ria pointed to her watch and shrugged, mouthing, “When?”

There was no mistaking the mouthing back of, “Now.”

Her breath caught as Ria gazed into the intense blue eyes and she nodded agreement. A lazy smile spread across the woman’s face and Ria felt an unfamiliar sensation in the pit of her stomach. It reminded her of nervousness but not completely. She swallowed against a suddenly dry throat and watched as the woman pulled off the suction cups and began her descent.

When the woman was almost all the way to the ground, Ria suddenly realized she was supposed to get down there as well. “Idiot!” she hissed at herself before rushing out of her office.

Forcing herself to wait at the elevator instead of running down the stairs, Ria impatiently watched as the floor numbers made their way to her floor. It opened, she stepped in and she jabbed the first floor button hard enough to make her finger protest. When the door opened, Ria exited, immediately spying the window washer lounging against a wall on the opposite side.

The woman was a lot taller than Ria had expected with legs that seemed to go on forever. Ria discovered that her head only came to the top of the woman’s shoulders. A welcoming smile waited for her on the stranger’s lips and the sensation in her stomach deepened. “You nearly gave me a heart attack, I hope you know!”

The welcoming smile changed to a satisfied grin and she replied, “Good.”

“Good?” Ria tried to ignore how the woman’s sensuous voice enveloped her and didn’t succeed.

“That means I accomplished what I set out to do.”

Curious, Ria demanded, “And what was that?”

“To rid you of that sadness you carry like a weight on your back,” the woman answered softly. “Even if I could only lighten it for a moment.”

“I-I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Ria denied. The knowing in the woman’s blue eyes was too much and Ria looked away. A finger on her chin gently brought their eyes back together. It stayed there to be certain she did too.

“I saw you for the first time a couple of weeks ago, sitting in the park and staring into space with the saddest expression. I was going to introduce myself but couldn’t seem to make myself go over to you. I followed you back here to your office. I kept an eye out for you the next few days but you didn’t return to the park. So I came here around lunch time and found you in the cafeteria with a man. He was having a grand old time but you still looked sad.

I’m not a stalker. Honest. There was just something that drew me to you and yet I couldn’t think of a way to introduce myself without seeming like a lunatic. So yesterday it finally occurred to me how to break the ice, so to speak. Assuming you didn’t call the building management and have me fired for the joke, I figured you’d be open to saying hello,” the woman finished with a hesitant smile.

Ria stared at the woman in amazement. No one had ever gone through so much trouble just to “break the ice” and meet her. She was sure no one had even been nervous about meeting her, never mind devising a dangerous fall down a building. The finger withdrew from her chin and the woman pulled back a short distance before Ria took her hand. “Hello. And you are a lunatic, by the way, but so am I so it’s nice to meet you.”

The smile that flashed to her was brilliant and Ria’s breath was stolen away. “I’m Ria Sullivan.”

“The pleasure is all mine, Ria. I’m Kathryn Jacobs,” and the woman held out a hand.

Ria took the offering and shivers traveled up and down her spine as the large, warm hand enclosed her own. Their hands remained clasped for a long moment before Kathryn came to herself with a start and released the grip.

“Are you free right now? Did you want to get something to eat?” Kathryn asked.

Without even thinking about it, Ria nodded and answered, “I would love to. I have to go get my purse though, I left it in my office.”

“I’ll wait.”

Ria managed a small smile then headed back to the elevators. Her last glimpse of Kathryn was the woman leaning against the wall again, facing the elevators with a half smile on her beautiful face.

****

‘I can’t believe she didn’t have me arrested on the spot!’ Kathryn exclaimed silently to herself as the elevator doors closed on Ria’s still somewhat somber face. Kathryn had known the instant she’d rappelled back to the window and the small woman had wagged a finger at her that things were going to be all right. Still, there had been a tense moment while she’d hung outside between floors waiting for the crowd to disperse.

Then, when she’d returned to the window to find that buffoon of a man holding the obviously uncomfortable Ria, Kathryn had nearly gone ballistic. Her fists had clenched and she’d wanted to punch through first the window then the man’s face. The fact that she’d been following the woman for the last two weeks probably qualified her for the psycho of the month award. Why should a murderous rage surprise her?

Kathryn had fallen like a ton of bricks upon seeing that sweet face so lost in the park. The sun had reflected brilliantly off those golden tresses but the eyes had been so tired and wan. When she’d first seen Ria with that man, Kathryn had been cautious, not knowing what to think. This was, after all, a woman she didn’t know who had her own life. Though that life didn’t seem to hold much joy for her. The man only seemed to aggravate Ria and at the time, Kathryn couldn’t understand why the woman didn’t just tell him to get lost.

The night before, she’d been watching through the restaurant window as the man had proposed and her heart had seized in fear. Her breath held until Ria had refused the ring. The man had been obviously disappointed but didn’t seem down for the count. That was when Kathryn knew her time was running out. It wouldn’t be long before this beautiful soul succumbed to the drudgery of everyday life and her fading dreams disappeared altogether.

So now she leaned against the wall, waiting impatiently for Ria to return. It was a strange situation. Kathryn hadn’t followed her heart in a very long time, it had caused disastrous consequences on more than one occasion. Not to mention that in the dark times of her youth, she’d seen enough violence to quell any romantic tendencies of even the sturdiest heart. This gentle soul called to her, however, and Kathryn knew that to deny herself this chance would be to condemn herself to a half life.

There was every possibility, even every likelihood, that Ria wouldn’t be the slightest bit interested in her romantically. Kathryn braced her heart for the expected rejection to come. Even though she had to try, that didn’t mean she was going to win. The elevators opened and out stepped the woman of her dreams. Kathryn couldn’t help a smile from crossing her face but managed to restrain it to a small one.

“Ready to go?” she asked softly.

Ria nodded and they fell into step together, going outside into the warm air and bright sunshine. At first Kathryn consciously shortened her strides so that Ria wouldn’t have to jog to keep up with her. To her surprise, Ria adjusted to Kathryn’s long steps without missing a beat. A small but positive sign in Kathryn’s mind. They walked silently down the street, stopping at a small bookstore café.

Kathryn picked a table towards the back where there were fewer people and they could have some privacy. It was a cozy place that she liked to eat at, the waitresses all knew her, they gave her good service, left her alone to read while she ate and she left them a more than generous tip. She took off the baseball cap to let her hair fall down. She scratched her scalp vigorously before tossing her long mane over her shoulders.

She found Ria staring at her in fascination and couldn’t help the sensuous smile from crossing her lips. Matter of fact, she couldn’t help smiling in any way, shape or form when faced with Ria. “My one vanity,” she confessed. “Like it?”

Ria blushed and nodded. “It’s beautiful.”

A waitress came over almost immediately with two waters and grinned at Kathryn. “Who’s your friend?”

“Hi Dee. This is Ria. Ria, this is Dee,” Kathryn introduced.

Ria nodded politely and they shook hands. Kathryn noticed that Ria didn’t seem to find it odd to be shaking hands with the help and her already high opinion of the woman raised another notch.

“Your usual?” Dee asked.

“Nah. I’m feeling adventurous. How about roast beef instead?” Kathryn asked.

Ria looked at the paper menu that doubled as the placemat and said, “I’ll just have a bowl of tomato soup and a coke.”

“That’s not much of a lunch,” Kathryn commented with a frown. She wanted to say, ‘You need to eat more.’ but didn’t dare.

“Not very hungry,” Ria answered.

“I’ll be right back with your orders,” Dee said.

Now that she was alone with Ria, Kathryn wasn’t entirely sure where to begin. If she let her blunt tongue do the talking then she’d probably get slapped silly. Taking the middle ground, Kathryn asked softly, “So what’s wrong?”

Ria looked down at the straw she was playing with and was silent for a long moment. Kathryn was almost afraid that she wasn’t going to answer at all when the words slowly and haltingly fell from the other woman.

“I have…an emptiness inside. Nothing seems right in my life because this hole is just waiting there for me to stumble into,” Ria began then stopped.

Kathryn had to strain to hear Ria over the sound of the other laughing and talking patrons. She leaned forward, elbows on the table, and watched Ria intensely, trying to show that she was there for the other woman. Even if they were practically strangers.

“It’s stupid for me to feel this way. I have a great job, a loving boyfriend and family, everything is going right on schedule according to everyone else,” Ria continued. She took a small sip of the water. “I don’t love him you know. It’s convenient to have someone there to fill my bed when the loneliness gets too much. It’s convenient to have someone who will be there on a Saturday night when the party you are invited to is all couples. All my friends are happy, I know they are. They married right and well, are just as in love as when the met their husbands.”

The bleakness in the other woman’s eyes cut through Kathryn’s soul and instinctively her hand reached out to take Ria’s. The faint smile on Ria’s lips did not reach her eyes, not for very long anyhow.

“I have no one. Nothing. My life is empty of any real meaning,” Ria finished simply.

“You have me,” Kathryn whispered without thinking.

****

Ria heard the whisper and the blazing hurt that threatened to overwhelm her was pushed back. Finally raising her eyes to Kathryn’s, Ria was shocked by the intensity found there. The blue fire stripped passed her defenses and shattered the wall she’d built to protect herself. The tears slipped out at last and her throat grew hot from trying to hold the emotion back. The hand surrounding her own tightened and Ria’s other hand came forward to meet Kathryn’s second as well.

Their hands formed a link in the center of the table as Ria cried. The strong hands kept the darkness at bay, the blue fire helping to shove it away. When she could speak again, Ria asked with wonder, “Who are you?”

That slow smile crossed Kathryn’s face as she answered, “Just your average everyday window washer.”

Ria laughed feeling suddenly lighter at the grinning statement then started to hic-cup. She reluctantly pulled out a hand to take another, deeper drink of water. Their hands were still linked when Dee returned with their food and then they let go altogether. Ria felt bereft without the contact which confused her but she decided to concentrate on one thing at a time. Her appetite returned with a vengeance, grumbling angrily at her for the skipped meals over the last few days. An embarrassed grin gracing her lips, she said, “Maybe I’ll have a cheeseburger with French fries too. And a chocolate shake?”

After writing it on her pad, Dee left.

“That’s more like it,” Kathryn rumbled approvingly.

“You’re the only one I know who wants me to eat more, you know. Usually people look at me crossways when I eat,” Ria said, starting on the soup.

“That’s because they’re idiots,” Kathryn said, her tone scathing.

Ria’s spoon paused for a split second as she thought, ‘I wouldn’t want to be on the wrong end of a tongue lashing from her.’

Kathryn noticed the hesitation and cursed herself for the slip. Smoothing things over, she said, “Obviously they don’t know that beauty needs nourishment.”

Ria blushed royally and murmured, “Oh please.”

“I’m serious,” Kathryn said, looking Ria straight in the eyes.

Flustered, Ria finally managed, “Thank you.”

They ate in silence for a little while before Ria asked, “So what do you do when not breaking through strange women’s depressions?”

“I’m a window washer,” Kathryn answered.

“I gathered that,” Ria said dryly. She flashed a grin to soften her comment. “I meant what else do you do?”

Kathryn lowered her glass and said, “That is what I do. I wash windows.”

“Really? I’m sorry, I don’t mean to sound rude or anything but you seem more…capable than that,” Ria said hesitantly.

“No offense taken,” Kathryn assured her easily. “I make my own hours, get as many or few contracts as I want, I make a good living and I’m my own boss. Why would I want to do anything else?”

“I guess, put that way, nothing,” Ria paused as the waitress returned with her order. She shoved aside the soup and pulled the plate closer. “It sounds very free.”

“You sound envious,” Kathryn commented.

“I am,” Ria agreed before taking a bite of the burger. She hadn’t remembered this much flavor in anything she’d eaten in many months. Glancing at Kathryn, she suspected it was the company she was keeping. The vibrant woman would bring flavor to even the driest of circumstances.

“Tell me why,” Kathryn commanded gently.

The familiar flip-flop happened in her stomach and Ria swallowed her food, washing it down with the water. “I’m trapped in a life I don’t want. This isn’t what I had in mind when I was younger.”

“What did you want? What do you want?”

Ria couldn’t understand why she felt so compelled to answer the intimate questions from a woman she barely knew. The voice was enthralling, lilting and commanding at the same time. It was better than a lie-detector test. “This is going to sound silly but I’ve always wanted to write. Become a published author. I used to write all the time; growing up, through high school and college. I would write poems and short stories but, I had this wonderful idea for a real series, novels not shorts. It’s set in a fantasy world, there’s a woman warrior and she’s plagued by her past. She’s trying to make up for wrongs that she caused but no one will trust her except a young idealistic woman who wants to travel with her.”

Ria broke off abruptly, realizing how crazy she had to sound. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to go on like that.”

Kathryn’s hand reached out and took hers. “I’d like to hear more. It sounds like a wonderful idea.”

“Really?” Ria asked shyly. At Kathryn’s nod, she continued.

****

Kathryn was happy as she drove down the street towards her apartment. She and Ria had talked the afternoon away until three o’clock. ‘Though Ria had done most of the talking,’ Kathryn thought with a gentle smile. The blonde woman’s face had regained some of its liveliness and the green eyes had sparkled with such life. Kathryn sighed faintly in satisfaction as she turned the corner. Then her eyes narrowed taking in the Mercedes parked outside her apartment building.

“Crap,” she muttered. This was not a good time. She pulled in behind the car and hopped out of her truck.

“Good afternoon, sister. How are you on this lovely day?” her brother Lyman asked stepping out of the car at her approach. A couple of years older than Kathryn, Lyman was older but had his sister’s striking looks in a more polished manner.

“What do you want, Lyman?” Kathryn demanded without preamble.

“Is that any way to greet your only sibling?” Lyman asked, pretending to be wounded.

“It’s the only greeting you’re going to get. Don’t make me repeat myself,” Kathryn warned.

Lyman swallowed at her tone then said, “I’m here to offer an olive branch.”

Kathryn raised her eyebrow and folded her arms across her chest.

“Mother is throwing a party, a fund raiser for orphans or some such thing. She wants you to come to the party an hour before to talk. I don’t know that she wants to make up or anything but she does want to talk,” Lyman explained.

Kathryn stared for a long moment, eyes narrowed suspiciously then nodded. “When is it?”

“Saturday night,” Lyman answered.

“Can’t do it. I’ve got plans,” Kathryn said decisively. She didn’t, not yet, but she’d been planning to ask Ria to dinner in her special spot.

A smirk on his lips, Lyman asked, “What’s her name?”

Quicker than he could blink, Kathryn had her brother by the throat and over the hood of his expensive car. “Don’t even think about looking down your nose at this woman, Lyman. I will make your life a living hell. Got it?” Kathryn shoved him away and stood back.

Lyman rubbed his throat, looking at her warily as he straightened up. “Damn sis, you’ve got it bad this time, don’t you. Well don’t bring her then because you know Mother. But I do suggest that you come because this will be your only opportunity to talk to Mother with her holding the door open. It’s at the house at 8pm so you should arrive at 7. I’ll tell Mother you agreed?”

Kathryn pursed her lips then nodded shortly. “I’ll be there but I’m not going to attend. I’ll listen to what she has to say and that’s all I’m promising.”

“I’ll tell her,” Lyman said. He held out a hand and waited.

After a brief hesitation, Kathryn took the hand then turned on her heel and went inside, silently fuming. Even estranged her mother was interrupting her plans. Kathryn wouldn’t be surprised if from beyond the grave her mother would somehow manage to ruin her only daughter’s life. Caroline Jacobs done well enough in that direction so far, why not continue?

****

Ria was humming as she entered her apartment, a little smile on her face as she shut the door behind her. Her thoughts surrounded vibrant blue eyes and lustrous dark hair while she made an easy supper of stir-fry and sat in front of the television to eat. Her cat, a yellow tabby named Aphrodite, hopped up on the couch upon smelling the food. Purring happily, Aphrodite settled beside Ria, claws occasionally reaching for stray vegetables.

“You wouldn’t believe the day I had today, ‘Ditey,” Ria said, putting the plate on the coffee table. “I met this woman who almost literally dropped into my lap. She’s incredible, intelligent, caring, gentle, funny, witty. I can’t even describe her, which is kind of irking since I do want to be a writer. I’d almost forgotten about that. I do want to be a writer. I let everyone else talk me out of it but that’s changed! I’m going to start up on Jak again tonight. After I take a nice hot bath. Oh go ahead, I know you’re dying to.”

With that Ria set the plate on the floor and Aphrodite jumped down to lick it clean. Chuckling warmly, Ria walked into her bedroom and stripped, pulling on her soft bathrobe. She started the tub, an oversized affair that had been the clincher for getting the apartment, and threw in some rose bath oil.

Turning on the stereo, Ria selected a mix that would be quiet but not so soothing that she would fall asleep in the tub. That wouldn’t be a good thing. ‘Kathryn would kill me,’ Ria thought with a grin. She went to the kitchen and poured a glass of wine.

Ria stepped into the tub and lowered herself gingerly into the steaming hot water with a groan of pleasure. The water enveloped her and the long overdue relaxation of her muscles began as she submerged. She had just begun to drift into lazy thoughts of Kathryn’s voice when there was a pounding on her door. Frowning, Ria ignored it thinking the person had the wrong apartment. It sounded again and suddenly she heard Gary’s voice and bolted out of the tub.

“Shit! I forgot!” Ria exclaimed. Yanking on her robe, Ria squeezed as much from her hair as she could then rushed to the door. “Gary! I am so sorry! I completely forgot we were going to have dinner!”

“Obviously,” Gary said coldly, taking in her appearance. “I went to your office and Sara said that you’d left at six. She also said you’d gone out to lunch with some window washer? You said you didn’t have time for lunch with me! What’s going on, Ria?”

Ria’s thoughts darkened briefly as she imagined the conversation she and Sara were going to have the next day. At the moment, however, she had to deal with Gary. “Look, Gary, I’m sorry I forgot about our date tonight. I’ve been really exhausted lately and tonight I really just want to finish my bath and go to sleep. You understand, right?”

Lips tight with anger, Gary nodded and said, “Of course. If a bath is more important than time with me then that’s what you need to do.”

And suddenly Ria didn’t feel like dealing with him. “Good night, Gary.”

Satisfaction rolled through her at his shocked expression when she shut the door in his face. Head high, Ria walked back to her bathtub and once more submerged in the steamy waters. She knew that tonight, for a change, she was going to have pleasant dreams.

****

Ria woke the following morning and didn’t move. The covers were heavy and comfortable on her body and the pillow was in just the right position to fully cushion her head. Eyes still closed, Ria stretched slowly and luxuriously. There was only one thing missing. After the thud of Aphrodite jumping on the bed, Ria grinned and nodded. As the cat walked on her, small paws finding every tender place on Ria’s body, Ria grunted and groaned depending on where Aphrodite stopped.

“Morning sweetie,” Ria greeted when a tuna fish smelling muzzle bumped against her jaw. “Time to get up, hm?”

For once Ria didn’t feel the urgent need to rush so she lay in bed for a few minutes petting Aphrodite. The soft fur was inviting and the purring soothing. Looking at the clock, she groaned. “I’m going to be so late today but I just don’t care.”

Finally she rose and took her shower then dressed. She called the office to let them know she’d be in around 9:30 then proceeded to make a huge breakfast. While the pancakes were cooking, she munched on strawberries and danced around to the music of the Indigo Girls. She’d always loved their insightful lyrics and the way they could go from intense to light in the same cd. The dueling guitars were wonderful and she loved how they’d broadened from strictly guitars to adding other instruments over years.

Her phone rang and Ria groaned knowing that it had to be Gary wanting an apology for the night before. Reluctantly she picked it up and said, “Hello?”

“Good morning.”

Ria’s heart quickened at the rich alto on the other end. A smile instantly brightened her features and she returned, “Good morning yourself. How’d you get my phone number?”

“Information.”

Ria laughed. “Duh, of course. I am listed after all.”

“I didn’t think you’d still be at home. Running late?”

“Well I was just feeling lazy this morning so I played with Aphrodite, my kitty, for awhile and now I’m making a huge breakfast.
I guess I’ve regained my appetite.”

“Glad to hear it. What are you making?”

That was when the burning penetrated her sense of smell and Ria exclaimed, “Shit! My pancakes are burning. Hang on!”

She heard the laughter on the other end as she set the phone down but it only increased the size of her own grin as she tried to rescue the pancakes. Rinsing out the pan to cool it down, Ria set it back on the stove and poured three more from the batter. Picking up the phone, she said, “That’ll teach you to interrupt me while cooking. I’m a great cook but easily distracted.”

“I’ll remember that.”

“How about you? Do you like to cook?”

“I burn water very well.”

Ria chuckled at the dry answer and proceeded to flip the pancakes. “Well I will have to cook for you some time then. I can pretty much make anything.”

“It’s a date.”

Ria paused at the phrase then shook it off. Of course Kathryn didn’t mean a date, date, it was just a figure of speech. “So what are you upto today?”

“I’ve got a building to do downtown which will keep me occupied most of the day. You?”

“I’ve got a meeting at two. It’s a big presentation and, hopefully, a big sale. I’ve been working on it for a month now,” Ria answered. She stacked the pancakes, did some fancy juggling with the phone and ended up on the couch.

“I’ve got a family thing tomorrow night but I was wondering if you wanted to get together on Sunday? If you don’t have plans of course.”

Ria had somehow assumed they would see each other today and tried not to show her disappointment in her voice. “Sunday is good. I don’t have any plans.”

There was a pause then, “Or we could see a movie tonight, grab something to eat after?”

“That would be nice,” Ria agreed softly. She cradled the phone and tried to imagine what Kathryn was doing that very moment. She could picture the tall woman sitting on a countertop, feet up on the wall while talking. “Meet me at work?”

“I’ll have to since I don’t know where you live.”

“Duh again. See you around six?” Ria asked hopefully.

“I’ll be there.”

“Good. Well, I should go.”

“Mhmm.”

Ria waited but there was no disconnecting click. “I have to finish breakfast and get to work.”

“Sure do.”

“You are very unhelpful, miss,” Ria scolded with a laugh. She set the plate down and stood. “I’m going to hang up now.”

“Okay.”

Ria leaned against the wall and said, “See you tonight.”

“I’ll be there. Good bye.”

“Bye.”

Reluctantly Ria hung up the phone and sighed. It was amazing how much brighter her day had become with just a phone call.

****

Kathryn grinned as she finally clicked off the phone. Jumping down from the kitchen counter, she strode across the living room to her bedroom to get dressed. She’d hoped to catch Ria at home but had been positive the other woman wouldn’t be there. She pulled on jeans, t-shirt and boots, her standard work gear, then left. Unlike Ria she never ate breakfast, felt that it slowed her down. She chuckled, imagining the smaller woman moving frantically around the kitchen trying to save her pancakes and not succeeding.

She drove downtown, meeting her partner Sam who was waiting impatiently for her. They nodded to each other then brought the gear up to the roof. She and Sam had met four years before by accident. Literally. She had rear-ended him and found, much to her surprise, that he hadn’t cared and wouldn’t bother reporting it to the insurance agency. They had started talking and discovered a lot in common.

Like a desire to work outside the confines of society. Not really. Kathryn had been tired of the cutthroat attitude in her family and the family business. Sam had told her about his window washing business that was mostly defunct since he couldn’t find work. He’d brought her on a couple of jobs and she’d discovered that she loved it. There was something inherently Zen about the work. It took her mind off her problems while she moved from window to window. Being high in the air and outside was an added bonus, it gave her a feeling of freedom she hadn’t felt in many years.

So Kathryn had quit her position in the business, had a massive falling out with her mother. Again. The first time had been when Kathryn had told her about being gay. Her mother had been furious and banished her from the house at 17 years of age. The next few years had been very rough. Then, just as she was getting her life on track, her brother had shown up with an olive branch. Her mother wanted to make up.

Kathryn had gone home and there had been a peacemaking of sorts. They had never been close and now they were even further apart. Kathryn had refused offers of a job in the business, determined to make it on her own. And she had. She’d graduated with high honors in a double major of business and ethics. Something she found infinitely ironic considering her dubious family honor. She was sure her mother had been fuming but outwardly she was all motherly pride.

Reluctantly taking a position within the family company had been Kathryn’s attempt to return to her family. She’d lived in their world for several years, making millions of dollars for them and filling her own bank account quite nicely. To their dismay, she’d held onto her ethics during her tenure which is why it had been millions, not billions. There was another big blow up with her mother and she’d quit.

Then she’d crashed into Sam’s car. She knew it had irked her family to no end to discover her washing windows for a living. Not that she needed to work at all because she didn’t. Her money was in multiple enterprises and doing very well for her. Kathryn was not the type to sit on her ass living the life of leisure, however. The window washing brought her a kind of peace, sitting in the quiet void of heights with the squeaking squeegee for company. There was enough of a hint of danger to keep her alert and in shape.

When she’d told Sam about the woman in the park, his face had lit up like a Christmas tree. Being happily married himself, Sam was determined to help Kathryn along those lines in any way; whether she wanted his help or not. But after outlining her plan, Sam had laughed long and hard then shook his head.

“No way. It’s too dangerous, Kathryn,” Sam had protested.

“Sam, this is the only way I can think of to meet her,” Kathryn had said. “Please?”

“How about going up and introducing yourself? That worked with me and Carrie,” Sam had pointed out.

“Has to be something more than that. I have to grab her attention.”

“You’re insane. I hope you know that.”

Kathryn had grabbed him in a spontaneous bear hug, hearing the defeat in his voice. “Thank you thank you thank you!”

Blushing to the roots of his sandy hair, Sam had wagged a finger at her and said, “We’re getting new equipment for this because
I don’t trust ours for a fall like that.”

“I’ll get everything ready. Just be there to spot me.”

“Always.”

The morning went by quickly as Kathryn went from window to window. The sun was hot on her back and without a breeze, sweat dripped freely under her shirt. By lunch, her t-shirt stuck to her and she knew she was going to have to change. She hadn’t listened to the weather report that morning or she’d be wearing a tank top.

“So how’d it go?” Sam asked between mouthfuls as they sat in the back of her truck.

Kathryn merely grinned and gave him a wink.

“That good? Kath, that’s great!” Sam exclaimed. “So what’s next? No more falls I hope?”

“Nope, we’re passed that stage in the relationship,” Kathryn joked lightly. “We’re going to the movies tonight. I’m picking her up after work. Once we’re done here, I think we should take the afternoon off.”

“I swear you’re psychic,” Sam said, shaking his head. “You knew not to schedule another job for this afternoon.”

“The fact that it’s Friday in the spring has nothing to do with it,” Kathryn agreed.

“Oh ha-ha, very funny,” Sam exclaimed, punching her in the shoulder.

“So what’re you and Carrie doing this weekend? Anything fun?” Kathryn listened to Sam ramble on about his in-law issues until they were done eating. She knew that the best way to distract Sam was to ask about his personal life. And she wasn’t ready to share Ria with anyone just yet. Her thoughts darkened as they centered briefly on her mother. Tomorrow night was not going to be fun.

“What?” Sam asked suddenly.

“Hm?”

“I know that look. It’s the forbidding, don’t ask me look,” Sam interpreted. “Usually to do with your family.”

“Why is it that everyone else respects my looks? Everyone else runs in the other direction. You just ask me anyhow,” Kathryn exclaimed, mock-severe.

“Because I know you wouldn’t do any permanent damage,” Sam answered with a grin. “C’mon, out with it. What’s going on with the Manson’s now?”

Kathryn stifled the snicker and gave in. “I’m going to meet with Mother tomorrow night. Lyman showed up yesterday afternoon bearing an olive branch of sorts.”

Sam snorted in disbelief. “I remember the last olive branch.”

“Yeah well, she’s my mother. I have to at least hear her out,” Kathryn said darkly.

“No, you don’t. That woman may have given birth to you but she ain’t no mother. Carrie is a mother. Carrie’s mother, as much of a pain in my ass that she is, is a mother. That woman is Satan reincarnated, or at least one of the lesser devils,” Sam said firmly.

Kathryn touched his shoulder. “Thanks, Sam. I needed that.”

A half-smile on his face, Sam said, “Anytime Kath, you know that.”

“Yeah, I do. C’mon, let’s get this job finished so I can go get beautiful for tonight.”

Another snort. “Like you need any help in that department. Please.”

****

“Late night?” Sara asked.

Ria paused mid-step then turned to face the young woman. “As a matter of fact it’s none of your business if I had a late night or not. Look Sara, I like you and I think you know that. We get along really well, I even consider you a friend. That does not give you the right to tell my boyfriend where I am or with whom. I would also appreciate you keeping any snide comments to yourself. Are we clear?”

Taken aback, Sara stared at her then nodded and said, “Yes, of course Ria.”

“Good. I’ll probably be on the phone all morning with clients so just direct any incoming calls to voice mail,” Ria ordered.

Pleased with herself for keeping a professional tone even though she was seething inside, Ria continued on to her desk. She closed the door behind her and settled in for a long day. She had taken care with her appearance that morning after making plans with Kathryn. Ria wasn’t sure why she felt the need to dress for their date but she had. She wore black dress slacks with an emerald green top that brought out her eyes. Her hair was bound up in a French knot and she wore just a hint of make-up to accentuate her features.

‘The guys are going to be startled by my appearance, that’s for sure,’ she thought with amusement. Not that she hadn’t dressed nicely when meeting with them in the past, because she had. But they were a casual outfit and she’d dressed according to their standards during past meetings. Only there wouldn’t be time to go home and change before Kathryn showed up here at 6.

Her phone rang and she picked up. “Ria Sullivan speaking.”

“Ria, it’s Gary.”

“Hi Gary. How are you this beautiful day?” Ria asked.

“I’m fine. Didn’t you get my message?”

“I just walked in the door, Gary, haven’t even check my messages yet. What’s up?”

“Well, I just wanted to apologize for my behavior last night. I wasn’t very understanding and you had every right to be upset,” he said. “Do you think we could have lunch today if you aren’t busy?”

Ria thought about it for a moment, mollified by his subdued tone, then said, “It’ll have to be a short one. I’ve got an important meeting at two.”

“Great! I’ll be there at noon and we’ll just grab something in the cafeteria,” Gary enthused. “See you then!”

As Ria hung up, she wondered why she’d even agreed to the lunch. It wasn’t like coming in almost two hours late hadn’t already put her behind schedule. He had apologized, though, and she had blown him off the night before, even if it had been subconscious. Shrugging, Ria picked up her phone and dialed in to her voice mail to check her messages.

****

Lunch with Gary had been a disaster. The whole morning had been a disaster from her first confrontation with Sara to her meeting presentation losing itself. Then it had been found in an office down the hall with no explanation as to why. Lunch itself had been unusually tense with Gary. He so obviously wanted to ask her about the night before but Ria refused to be drawn into the conversation. He was also startled at her appearance, knowing her fondness for casual day even with a meeting planned.

“You look positively elegant,” he’d exclaimed in surprise.

“Why thank you Gary,” Ria had replied dryly.

“I didn’t mean it like that, Ria. You can be so sensitive sometimes,” Gary had said.

Things had gone downhill from there. Then, after he’d finally left, Ria had walked back just in time to get a call from her mother. There was twenty minutes wasted while her mother harped on the fact that she hadn’t heard from Ria in almost a week. Hanging up the phone at 12:56pm, Ria hung her head and rubbed at excruciatingly tight neck muscles.

“I’m never going to make it at this point,” Ria muttered.

Just then a knock sounded at the door and Ria sighed. “Come in.”

It was Sara holding sleeve of flowers from daisies and buttercups to baby’s breath and lilacs. “For you, Ria. I guess Gary wants to apologize for something.”

‘Of course they’re from Gary,’ Ria thought with disappointment. She took the sleeve and buried her face in their soft fragrance. “They are lovely,” she murmured.

“Doesn’t he usually send roses?” Sara asked curiously.

Frowning, Ria nodded and took out the card. Her heart began beating faster and a blush heated her face upon reading it. “Good luck with the presentation. I know you’ll wow them. See you tonight. Love, K.”

“Those aren’t from Gary, are they,” Sara said seeing her reaction.

Ria couldn’t help the goofy smile. “No, they aren’t. Aren’t they beautiful? A friend sent them as a good luck for my presentation.”

“That’s some friend,” Sara said before leaving.

Ria nodded, not hearing the odd tone in Sara’s voice and set out to find a vase and water. She never got flowers and so didn’t keep a vase handy. She took one last whiff of the heady spring bouquet then headed out for her presentation, fortified and ready to do battle.

****

Ria sat in the lobby to wait for Kathryn. She wanted to bring the flowers home to enjoy but she didn’t want them to wilt. Since she didn’t know how late they’d be out, Ria had deemed it wiser to leave them in the water. Something captured her attention and looking up, Ria’s jaw dropped at the heart stopping sight.

Kathryn entered the lobby dressed in tight black jeans, a white tank that clung to a washboard stomach overlaid by a lightweight, unbuttoned black shirt. Her hair was loose and hung heavy over her shoulders. A simple gold necklace adorned her bronze throat and diamond earrings dotted her ears; five of them going up along one ear which she hadn’t noticed before. Their eyes met and for a moment, Ria literally could not breathe against the intensity that blazed out from those sapphire eyes. Not trusting her legs to work, Ria stayed seated on the couch and let Kathryn come to her.

“You look wonderful,” Kathryn observed.

“Um, thanks. You look…incredible,” Ria once again cursed her inability to think right in the other woman’s presence.

“You got the flowers,” Kathryn stated.

“Oh. Yes! And they are absolutely wonderful!” Ria exclaimed. “I adore wildflowers. They definitely gave me the boost I needed for the presentation.”

Kathryn smiled then held out a hand and suggested, “Shall we go?”

Ria still wasn’t sure she could trust her legs but nodded and hesitantly took the hand to pull herself up. It was just as warm and comforting as she remembered from the day before. Only now, something passed between them at the touch and goose bumps rose along her arms, causing a shiver.

“You all right?” Kathryn asked.

“F-fine,” Ria answered with a smile. “Thanks.”

They walked out of the lobby and Ria stopped in her tracks. “Is that yours?” she squeaked out. Parked illegally in the building fire lane was a black and silver motorcycle, obviously a Harley Davidson from the massive size and amount of chrome showing.

“She is,” Kathryn answered, pride obvious in her tone. “Is that okay? I didn’t think it would be a problem but we can take your car if you prefer.”

Looking into Kathryn’s eyes, Ria suddenly knew that she would trust this woman with her life and that the motorcycle ride would be safer than driving in a tanker. “It’s fine,” she whispered. She was rewarded with a brilliant smile and Kathryn taking her hand to lead her to the bike.

After being directed where and how to sit, and putting on a huge helmet that blocked almost all of her vision, Kathryn held out a leather jacket to her.

“What’s this for?” Ria asked.

“You. It’s warm but if we pick up speed you’ll get cold pretty quick in that get-up,” Kathryn answered.

“What about you?”

“I’m fine,” Kathryn shrugged away the question and continued to hold out the jacket until Ria took it from her.

Ria pulled it on, smelling Kathryn’s heady scent of spices and something wild Ria couldn’t put her finger on. She suspected that Kathryn used this jacket a lot. When she had zipped up the jacket, Kathryn sat in front of her. The bike roared to life under her legs and Ria felt a thrill at the power in the bike and the woman in front of her. Kathryn reached back and pulled Ria’s arms around her waist.

“Hold on so you don’t fall off or throw me off balance,” crackled through her helmet.

“Oh cool! Radios,” Ria exclaimed with a giggle. She settled against Kathryn’s back and laced her fingers together against Kathryn’s stomach. Her helmet rested on Kathryn’s shoulder since she couldn’t see anything anyhow.

“All comfy back there?” Kathryn asked.

“Definitely,” Ria answered.

“Hang on to your hats then,” Kathryn warned and the bike roared into action.

Ria expected to be displaced but Kathryn’s pull out was smooth and easy and she barely felt like she was moving at all. Of course the noise from the bike was loud, though not as loud as some she’d heard on the streets. Although maybe that was due to the muffling of the helmet, Ria didn’t know. They traveled through the lightening evening rush hour traffic downtown, stopping at the massive cinema complex.

“So what are you in the mood for?” Kathryn asked as they walked into the building, immediately assaulted by the smell of popcorn.

“How about that new action film? The one with all the car chases and explosions?” Ria asked with glee. “I love car chases.”

“Remind me not to drive with you,” Kathryn said with a wink as they got in line.

Ria laughed, looked up at her then poked her in the stomach. “Funny.”

The movie was sold out and they ended up with a horror film.

“You’re sure you don’t mind?” Kathryn asked again.

“No, it’s fine. If I get nightmares, I’ll just call and wake you up in the middle of the night,” Ria answered seriously.

Kathryn was going to exchange the tickets when she noticed the twinkle in Ria’s eyes. “Brat.”

Smiling broadly, Ria said, “Let’s get something to tie me over until supper. I’m starving.”

“Of course you are,” Kathryn agreed readily.

“Now who’s being a brat,” Ria demanded.

They barely made it into the theater in time for the previews, the line at the concession stand was so long. Settling in the middle in what seemed to be the last two seats together, Ria almost spilled her drink trying not to step on everyone’s feet. Kathryn reached out a couple of times to steady her and she smiled gratefully.

Ria spent the first part of the movie peeking out from behind covered eyes. Towards the middle of the movie, in an especially tense moment, Kathryn’s hand settled on her arm and Ria relaxed a little at the touch. Though still freaked by the movie, which turned out to be more suspense than horror, Ria felt grounded by the touch.

When it was over, Ria was exhausted from the tension but could see Kathryn was pumped up and practically bubbling over talking about it. She liked to listen to that voice, so velvety and gravelly at the same time.

“So what for dinner? Do you like Mexican, Italian, Japanese, Chinese?” Kathryn asked when they reached the motorcycle.

“Mmm, yes,” Ria answered indecisively. Grinning impishly, she continued, “I could go for just about anything right now.”

“Okay. Well. I know a really good grill place but it’s…an alternative kind of place to go,” Kathryn offered slowly.

“I’m sure if you like it I’ll like it,” Ria agreed easily.

“It gets a little loud on Friday nights,” Kathryn warned.

“That’s fine. After that movie I could use some contact,” Ria answered, rubbing her shoulders.

“I knew we should’ve gone to that romantic movie instead,” Kathryn exclaimed.

Ria touched Kathryn’s arm. “It was fine, Kathryn, really. I just get a little wound up with films like that.”

Kathryn was surprised by her touch but didn’t move out of contact. They stood looking into each other’s eyes for a long moment before someone blew their horn and called out to ask if they were leaving or not. Kathryn gave them a dirty look but Ria withdrew to put on the jacket, helmet and take her seat. Sitting in front, she waited for Ria’s arms to go around her waist and felt the heat itch in her loins when they did. Having her so close was such a pleasant torture for Kathryn.

She was mentally kicking herself for suggesting Rosie’s as she started the bike. Not that it didn’t have great food but it might be too much for Ria to take in on their first…date? ‘In for a penny, in for a pound,’ Kathryn thought wryly, pulling out of the parking spot.

The ride to the restaurant/bar was about ten minutes, on the outskirts of the city. It was crowded as usual, the line out the door waiting for table. It came in handy being an investor; she could get a table whenever she wanted, though Kathryn normally didn’t use her special privileges.

The host, Sean, was a handsome young man with wide dark eyes and dressed in black pants and blue shirt. He beamed at her approach and held out both hands. “Kathryn! We haven’t seen you here in forever! We were starting to think you’d abandoned us!”

“Hey Sean, how’s it going?” Kathryn asked, taking his hands in a firm greeting.

“It’s going wonderful, as you can see! Of course you would see that more often if you actually dropped by to say hello once in a blue moon. And who is this mademoiselle?” Sean asked.

“Sean, this is Ria Sullivan. Ria, this irrepressible young man is Sean,” Kathryn introduced.

“Pleased to meet you,” Ria said, taking his hand.

“The pleasure is all mine, believe me. Anyone that can capture Ms. Kat’s attention is bound to be incredible. Of course I can see that by your taste in jewelry,” Sean complimented.

“Sean,” Kathryn warned, though she was relieved to see Ria giggled at the comment instead of taking offense.

“Patience, Ms. Kat. We are swamped but you will get the first available table, I promise. Go have a round on the house and I’ll send someone to fetch you when it’s ready,” Sean said.

Kathryn guided Ria to the bar with a hand on her shoulder. They passed through the crowd easily, people immediately giving way for Kathryn. Two seats became promptly available at the bar when they arrived and Kathryn gave Ria a shrug at her inquiring glance. Shelly the bartender let out a war-whoop upon seeing her.

“Damn woman! You haven’t been here in forever! What’ll it be?”

Kathryn just looked at her.

Shelly laughed and held up her hands. “I know, I know, Guinness coming right up. And you miss?”

“Rum and coke, please,” Ria answered. As the bartender walked away, Ria asked, “You drink Guinness?”

“You don’t I take it,” Kathryn said.

“Ick. Tried the stuff once when I was in England. No one told me it was going to be bitter or warm. Nasty stuff,” Ria exclaimed with a shudder.

Kathryn chuckled. “You probably just have to work your way up to it. It’s an acquired taste for some.”

“I bet,” Ria murmured. “How is it that everyone knows you here? Was this a favorite hang out spot or something?”

“Not exactly. I’m one of the investors,” Kathryn answered uncomfortably.

“Really? So you’re part owner or something?” Ria asked curiously.

“Something like that,” Kathryn agreed, grateful that Shelly came back with their drinks just then and she could take a big sip.

Ria took in her surroundings with interest. “I’ve never known someone who owned part of a restaurant before. This is a nice place, Kathryn. Or should I call you Ms. Kat?”

Kathryn’s head dropped in aggravation. “I’m going to kill Sean for calling me that.”

“Actually it suits you. Without the ‘Ms.’ part that is,” Ria said with a smile. Without thinking about what she was saying, she continued, “You’re a lot like a tiger, no, a black panther. You move so silent and sure and strong it’s just incredible to watch you. And your eyes…”

Kathryn looked into Ria’s eyes as the other woman’s voice faded off. “My eyes?”

“Yes. Your eyes are like a jungle cat’s, mysterious and intense. Very intense. I almost feel like you could keep me warm just by looking at me,” Ria murmured.

Kathryn swallowed at the description, rendered mute by the beautiful compliment and emerald eyes flecked with gold that stared back at her. She moved closer and whispered in Ria’s ear, “That is without a doubt the most incredible compliment I’ve ever received.”

Ria shivered at the hot breath on her ear and the smoldering quality to the voice. That nervous feeling in the pit of her stomach returned with a vengeance and she swallowed against a suddenly dry throat. “You’re welcome.”

Kathryn ached to move the inch or so closer and take the gentle lobe in her mouth and caress it with her tongue. She felt the heat radiating from Ria, saw the shiver and knew Ria was responding to her. The only problem was that she could also see that Ria didn’t understand her own reaction. Reigning in her desire with difficulty, Kathryn pulled back and took another sip of the Guinness.

“Table for Ms. Kat and guest. Table for Ms. Kat and guest,” Sean’s voice said over the intercom.

Kathryn groaned and muttered, “I’m going to kill him.”

Ria laughed. “Don’t you dare! I rather like him.”

“Well he can thank you for his life then. You don’t realize it but by making that little announcement, we’ve just been guaranteed a night of people coming over to say hello. All night long,” Kathryn explained with irritation, getting off the chair and taking Ria’s arm again to guide her through the throng.

Ria hadn’t really believed the statement at first but as soon as they were seated, a variety of people came over to greet the taller woman. Ria hadn’t been introduced to so many new people all at once in…well she couldn’t remember the last time. Everyone seemed to know who Kathryn was and wanted to take the opportunity to say hello or thank her for some good deed.

Ria enjoyed watching as Kathryn grew more gruff and uncomfortable as the night progressed. After the first five thank-you’s, Ria’s instinctive belief in Kathryn’s kindness was validated. She also enjoyed the fact that it was a very diverse set of people coming up to say hello or thank you. Black, Asian, White, male and female, it didn’t matter. It seemed that Kathryn had helped out anyone who needed her help.

“You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?” Kathryn demanded after what seemed like the hundredth person left their table.

“I just love the fact that for all your tough exterior, you are obviously a marshmallow when it comes to people in trouble,” Ria agreed. “I love the fact that you are so kind to others who need it and don’t expect any thanks.”

“Yeah, well, I wish they wouldn’t say thank you on my night off at least,” Kathryn grumbled.

Smiling broadly, Ria took Kathryn’s hand and said, “Kat, you are an incredible woman. I’m so glad to know you. And thank you.”

Startled, Kathryn asked, “What for?”

“For helping me. I was sliding into a depression so deep, I don’t think I could’ve pulled myself out,” Ria answered honestly. Tears pricked at her eyes as she continued, “My life, my emotional life, is a mess. I’m not as strong as you, I felt like I was being sucked into something worse than quicksand. A black void that was taking all the joy out of my life. Nothing I did stopped my descent. It took you falling across my window to snap me out of it. For that I will be eternally grateful.”

Kathryn reached across the table and wiped the tears from Ria’s face with her thumb and left her hand against Ria’s cheek. She ached to tell Ria about the love trying to burst out of her heart but didn’t dare. “You are so welcome, Ria.”

Ria smiled and leaned into the strong hand on her face, closing her eyes. The thumb moved gently across her cheek and the tight feeling in her stomach intensified. Suddenly she realized what it was and jerked away from Kathryn’s hand, eyes flying open at the realization. Her eyes met Kathryn’s and her gaze flinched away from the knowing in those cerulean depths.

She looked anywhere but at Kathryn and then actually noticed the other people in the restaurant. Ria had been so occupied with Kathryn she hadn’t seen that a good many of the couples inhabiting the restaurant were gay. Her eyes flew back to Kathryn and she gasped, “Are you? Is this a?”

Licking her lips nervously, Kathryn nodded. “Yes and yes. Are you okay?”

“Um, I don’t know. Are you…interested in me like that?” Ria asked bluntly.

Just as blunt, Kathryn nodded. “I am.”

“Oh,” Ria’s exclamation was faint as she twisted the napkin in her hands. “I’m sorry, I need to get out of here.”

Kathryn watched her go to the restroom, her heart breaking with every step Ria took away from her. Kathryn cursed herself for bringing Ria to the restaurant. She should’ve waited. ‘And then what? Have her think you deceived her with overtures of friendship to get her into bed or something? No. This was the only way to go.’

Waiting for Ria to return was the longest moment in Kathryn’s life.

****

Ria stared at herself in the mirror then closed her eyes and leaned on the sink, feeling ill with confusion.

“Are you all right, honey?” a strange voice asked as one of the stall doors opened.

Ria nodded without opening her eyes. “Fine,” she got out in a strangled voice.

“You don’t look fine. Matter of fact, you look like you’re going to pass out. Come here and sit down, put your head between your knees,” the kindly voice continued.

Ria didn’t really look at her helper, she simply followed instructions and sat on the settee, putting her head between her knees. A comforting hand rubbed her back until the nausea receded.

“I saw you with Kathryn, didn’t I,” the woman continued. “I’m so glad that she finally found someone. That last break up was a nasty one.”

Interested in spite of herself, Ria opened her eyes. She was startled to find the soft voice belonged to a well-tattooed and pierced older woman with spiky white blond hair. ‘The voice doesn’t fit,’ she thought absently. “What happened?”

“Well, it was about four years ago. This pretty young thing without a kind bone in her body played Kathryn real good. We all knew the bitch was trouble but Kathryn, being as she is, wouldn’t hear anything of what we were telling her. She fell real hard. The bitch took her for a ride and then some. I won’t go into details because that’s for Kathryn to say, but it broke her spirit on top of her heart. Kathryn was a shadow of herself for a really long time. Then she started the window washing and got rid of that antichrist of a mother of hers and started living again. She hasn’t been out with anyone since that girl though.

“She personally vowed to me never to fall in love again. Kathryn always keeps her promises, young lady, always. Which is why I am so surprised to find her out with you. No offense but if Kathryn says never, that’s what she means. I hope you aren’t planning to break her heart as well because honestly, I don’t know if that woman could take it again.”

Ria looked into the honest hazel eyes and couldn’t say anything except the truth. “I hope not. This is all…it’s very strange for me.”

Understanding graced the woman and she let out a soft, “Ah. Kathryn’s your first. You probably don’t know if you’re coming or going. And she can be very intense, sweep you all up in that incredible aura of hers.”

“That’s it exactly! I didn’t even know she was gay until tonight when we came here,” Ria exclaimed. She stood and began pacing. “I never even thought I could…entertain the notion that I’d respond to another woman like this. I mean, I never said never, I just honestly never thought about it, it simply didn’t occur to me! But Kathryn…she’s so…overwhelming.”

“I know how you feel, honey. I wish I could help you but this is obviously something you need to work through on your own,” the woman said sympathetically.

“I still have to ride home with her,” Ria said, pinching the bridge of her nose. She could feel a migraine coming on. “What am I going to do?”

“I could give you a ride if you need the space,” the woman offered.

“I couldn’t possibly ask you to do that. You don’t even know me,” Ria protested.

“Honey, if Kathryn is interested in you, that’s enough for me to know about,” the woman said simply. “Generally she’s a good judge of character. And besides, if you weren’t a good person, you wouldn’t be in here trying to find a way out of this without hurting her. Want me to go talk to her for you?”

Now rubbing her temples against the throbbing that was setting-up tempo there, Ria shook her head. “No. I better talk to her. I’m sorry, I don’t even know your name.”

“It’s Rosie, honey.”

“As in…”

“As in the owner of the restaurant,” Rosie confirmed.

“Kathryn’s partner. Great. I don’t want to get you into trouble with her. I’ll just take a cab,” Ria said.

“It wouldn’t be any trouble at all, honey. Kathryn certainly wouldn’t hold giving you a ride home against me,” Rosie assured her.

“I know. Still, I think I’d rather take a cab. Could you call one for me?” Ria asked.

“Sure thing, honey. You take care, okay?”

“I will, thanks,” Ria answered. The other woman left the room and Ria looked back in the mirror. “What the hell are you doing?”

There was no answer to that, just the whirling confusion in her mind playing things over and over. Taking a deep breath, Ria left the bathroom and headed back to the table. The tense look on Kathryn’s face sliced through Ria as she stopped in front of the table. The blue eyes were closed to her, their warmth gone, replaced with nothingness. “I’m going to take a cab home. I hope you understand that I need to think about everything.”

“Sure. You don’t have to take a cab, though, I could…”

“No, I can’t…I have to think about this. Please Kathryn?” Ria asked softly.

The defeated nod from Kathryn made Ria want to shoot herself. “I’ll call you, is that okay?”

A bitter smile twisted Kathryn’s mouth. “Sure.”

Ria closed her eyes at the tone and expression then grabbed her purse and left before she caused any more pain. To both of them.

****

“Rough night, honey?”

Kathryn looked up at Rosie’s sympathetic question. She was nursing her fifth scotch in the span of an hour and knew she was fast getting drunk. She’d also had five Guinness and a couple of tequila somewhere earlier in the evening. “Don’t start with me, Rosie.”

“What? I was only going to say that I like her,” Rosie commented, sitting on the barstool next to Kathryn.

“Me too,” Kathryn said bitterly. “Hey wait a minute. You don’t even know Ria.”

“Is that her name? I met her in the bathroom looking like she was going to pass out from shock,” Rosie explained. “We had a nice little chat.”

“I bet,” Kathryn muttered.

“Kath, you do come on like a bulldozer sometimes. No wonder the poor thing was out of her depth,” Rosie said. “Far as she knows, she’s been straight her entire life. Then you come along, probably rescuing her out of some jam, and she gets all wrapped up in you. Then she realizes what’s really going on and doesn’t know what the hell to think. Give the woman a little space and a little credit. Just because she doesn’t immediately fall into your fantasy world doesn’t mean that she doesn’t care for you. I think she was more upset with herself for not picking up on what was going on than anything else. I can tell she honestly cares for you, Kath. She’s a good girl and this is not going to be a repeat of Amanda.”

Kathryn stared into the amber liquid in her glass and said, “I just love her so much, Rosie. You can’t know…”

Rosie’s arm went around her shoulder and held her close. “I know, honey, I know. Just have a little faith and things will turn out okay. Just please don’t fade away on me again.”

Kathryn sighed. “I won’t, Rosie, I promise. Tomorrow night, or tonight rather, is going to be a bitch.”

“Why? What’s going on?” Rosie asked curiously.

“Mother wants to talk.”

“Oh shit.”

“No kidding. I should go home and get some sleep,” Kathryn said, rubbing her eyes tiredly.

“Well you are certainly not driving home. I will give you a ride,” Rosie said firmly.

“I know. I was going to ask Sean for a lift. Didn’t know you were here,” Kathryn said indignantly.

“I’m sorry honey, I know you wouldn’t do something like that again,” Rosie apologized. “Let’s get you home and into bed.”

****

Instead of going home, Ria instructed the cab driver to bring her to her best friend’s house outside the city. She had known Julia since they were thirteen and they had always done everything together. They’d gone to the same high school, the same college and Julia had always been there for her. They hadn’t talked for awhile but no matter how long they were apart, when they got back together, it was as though they’d never been away. It was a forty-dollar trip but Ria didn’t care. It was almost midnight by the time the cab pulled up in front of the house and Ria felt guilty for ringing the doorbell.

The door opened and Julia’s face changed from annoyance to concern. “Ria! What’s wrong?”

Ria opened her mouth to say something but instead tears just started falling. Julia took her hand and led her inside.

“Julia, who is it?”

“It’s Ria, Jack, go back to bed,” Julia called back. She looked at her shell-shocked friend and ordered, “You sit, I’ll go make us some tea.”

Ria sniffled and nodded, curling up on the couch to wait. It wasn’t long before Julia brought out a tray with two steaming cups of tea and a bag of chocolate chip cookies. Ria immediately reached for the cookies and tore open the bag. “Thanks.”

“No problem,” Julia answered. “You want to tell me what brought you here at midnight in a cab? Where’s your car?”

“At work where I left it,” Ria answered. “I think I should back up a couple of months and tell you what’s been going on in my life.”

For a couple of hours Ria talked almost non-stop. She started with her family and Gary then moved on to the bouts of depression. Ria talked about the awful taint her life had taken on. Tears slipped out to be wiped away angrily. Many cookies were eaten. Then she came to Kathryn and her words faltered. She told Julia about everything: the way Kathryn consumed her thoughts; how she brightened Ria’s day with a simple phone call. The reaction she’d had to the woman since the beginning without even realizing it. Ria finished with the conversation in the bathroom with Rosie and how she’d felt leaving Kathryn there in the restaurant.

“I don’t know what to do, Julia. I’ve only known her for a couple of days but…she makes everything better just by being there,” Ria finished.

Silent throughout the narration, Julia finally stirred with a sigh. Her brown eyes were tender as she tightened her arm around Ria’s shoulder. “I always knew that when you fell in love, it would be the hard way, Ria. You never wanted what the rest of us did, and do. It was always true love or nothing for you. To be honest, I was surprised when you introduced Gary to everyone last Christmas. I knew he wasn’t the one for you and I should’ve said so. I wish you’d felt free to talk to me sooner, that you hadn’t kept everything all cooped up inside when everything was going down again with your family.”

“I should have,” Ria admitted.

“Yes, you should have. But that’s neither here nor there. The important thing here is Kathryn. Forget that you’ve only known her for two days. How does she make you feel?” Julia asked.

Ria leaned her head on Julia’s shoulder and sighed. “Safe. Happy. Alive, so alive.”

Julia chuckled. “Then, my girl, you’re in love. No getting around that. Question is what are you going to do about it? Does it bother you to have these feelings for a woman?”

Frowning, Ria searched herself then shook her head. “No,” she answered slowly. “I’m nervous, confused, wouldn’t know what to do in the bedroom, that’s for damned sure.”

“Ria, that’s the least of your worries,” Julia said with a grin. “By the time you’re in the bedroom, it’ll probably be the furthest thing from your mind. What you have to decide is whether or not to pursue this relationship. Because it sounds to me like this is going to be one of those all or nothing situations.”

“I know. It scares me,” Ria confessed. “She’s so intense, Julia, so incredible. I know when she’s around without even seeing her.”

Julia sighed. “Sounds wonderful.”

With a start, Ria suddenly realized that it was and felt like slapping herself silly. Why was she fighting against something so wonderful? “My mother is going to hate this.”

“Screw your mother, Ria. She’s got nothing to do with this and it sounds like you need to keep away from her for awhile,” Julia said vehemently. “She’s been messing with your mind since you were a teenager and it’s time that stopped.”

Ria was surprised at the anger from her friend. “Hey, it’s okay, Julia.”

“No it’s not. I’m so tired of the way your family takes advantage of you!” Julia exclaimed standing up and pacing to the other side of the room. “They are so lucky to have you and they take you for granted. We all do to some extent. Well I’m going to stop right now. Got it?”

Repressing the laughter trying to bubble out, Ria held up her hands and said, “Got it.”

“Good. Now how about we get some sleep. Rachel isn’t going to care that I get only five hours of sleep tonight,” Julia said, a smile peeking out from her lips.

“Oh gods, Julia, I’m sorry. Is she sleeping through the night now?” Ria asked.

“Finally yes but she gets up at the crack of dawn,” Julia answered with a yawn. “Which is only a few hours away. Although maybe I can get Jack to take care of her in the morning and sleep in a little. I’ll go get you some blankets and you can bunk down on the couch.”

Ria yawned as well and nodded. “Thanks, Julia, I really appreciate your listening to me.”

Julia gave her a tight hug. “I love you Ria, remember that!”

“Love you too, Julia.”

****

Kathryn’s head had almost settled back to normal by the time seven o’clock rolled around Saturday night. She’d slept in until three in the afternoon, taken a shower and gone back to sleep until six. Rolling out of bed the second time, Kathryn had vowed never to drink that much again and gotten dressed. She’d have to pick up her bike later though she’d wanted to ride it home just to irritate her mother.

As it was, she walked into the mansion dressed in jeans and a t-shirt with her hair pulled into a severe braid. The servants nodded to her as she passed, some giving her smiles and others not quite meeting her blazing eyes. Kathryn headed directly to her mother’s bedroom, knowing that was where she would be preparing at this time.

“It’s about time you showed up,” was the greeting.

Kathryn lounged against the wall. “It’s seven on the dot. You wanted to talk so talk.”

An elegant woman with dark hair swept off a graceful neck and eyes as blue as her daughter’s, Caroline Jacobs was beautiful. She wore a strapless golden dress that complimented her bronze skin and she was finishing the touches to her makeup at the vanity.
“I can see you haven’t learned any charm over the last few years. Nor has your wardrobe improved any.”

“If you’re only going to insult me, I’m going to leave. I don’t need this crap,” Kathryn said flatly and turned to leave.

“Wait, Kathryn. Please,” her mother said.

Kathryn stopped short. Her mother had never said please to her during the entire course of the thirty-two year relationship. Turning back, Kathryn repeated, “Please?”

Jaw tightening, her mother said, “Just sit down and let me talk.”

Kathryn sat on the massive bed and pulled her legs up to sit cross-legged. “I’m listening.”

“I’m not getting any younger, Kathryn. I understand that you feel this sort of life is what you want. I don’t want to go to my grave knowing that we aren’t even on speaking terms,” her mother said.

“What are you talking about?” Kathryn asked bewildered.

“I have cancer,” Caroline said bluntly.

The wind rushed out of Kathryn and she stared at her mother, noticing the tired lines around her eyes and the loss of weight for the first time. “What? What kind? When were you diagnosed?”

“That doesn’t matter. I have started treatment and things are looking positive according to my doctors,” her mother informed her. “I intend to beat this simply because there is too much left to do and I certainly can’t leave the business to Lyman. He doesn’t have your business sense.”

Kathryn shook her head and jumped off the bed. “You drop this bomb on me and want to talk about the business?”

“What else have we to talk about? I’m certainly not going to dwell on my health issues,” Caroline said with obvious distaste. “I want you to come back to work with me, this time so you can learn how to run the business instead of just playing with the finances. Though you did very well in that.”

Head spinning, Kathryn said, “Mother! Can we just back up for a moment?”

Pausing, Caroline finally turned away from the vanity to face her daughter. “What?”

Looking at her mother, Kathryn saw that the other woman honestly didn’t know what to talk about unless it was business. That had always been the problem. There had never been anything binding them together even in childhood. Caroline Jacobs had preferred her children be seen and not heard. There had been plenty of nannies and caretakers over the course of Kathryn’s life but never a mother.

At a loss for words, Kathryn finally managed, “I am not returning to run the business. I have no interest in running the business, I never did. I have my own investments and my own life and I am happy for the first time in a long time.”

“You don’t look happy,” her mother observed.

‘Damn but she doesn’t miss a trick,’ Kathryn thought furiously. “Happy enough. The point is, you need to respect the fact that I’m living my life how I want and need to live it.”

“What about me? What about your obligation to the family?” her mother demanded angrily.

“I think those were released the last time you assaulted me. Remember?” Kathryn spat.

Blue eyes crackling fire, Caroline raised her head and said, “I did not assault you. I merely…lost control momentarily.”

“And gave me a broken arm in the process by pushing me down the stairs,” Kathryn reminded. “Look. Mother. I thought you wanted to talk about our relationship but I can see that isn’t true. We don’t have one, never did, really. I’m sorry to hear about your health problems. I wish you all the luck with your treatments. Good bye.”

The stunned look on her mother’s face should have brought satisfaction but all it gave Kathryn was an empty feeling in the pit of her stomach. She left the house and got into the truck before the tears started to fall. Wiping them away, Kathryn leaned her head on the steering wheel then started the truck and headed home.

****

When Kathryn pulled into her parking spot in front of her apartment building, she didn’t really notice the strange car in the spot ahead of hers. Getting out of the car with a heavy heart, Kathryn walked towards the front door. Her skin prickled in warning and she stopped, looking up the stairs. Sitting on the top stair was Ria, holding a bunch of daisies in her lap. She stood so quickly that she almost lost her balance and Kathryn rushed forward to catch her.

Landing safely in Kathryn’s arms, she murmured, “You’re always saving me.”

Heart beating faster at the warm contact from Ria, Kathryn answered, “It’s my pleasure.”

Ria eyed her lips and said, “Mhmm.”

“Ria?”

“Yeah?”

“Don’t look at me like that.”

“Like what?” Ria asked innocently. She licked her lips.

Groaning silently, Kathryn pulled back, setting Ria firmly on her feet.

“These are for you,” Ria said, thrusting the daisies at her.

“So I gathered,” Kathryn replied, taking the flowers. “They’re lovely.”

“I picked them myself,” Ria said with a grin. “My friend Julia has a garden and she said I could take whatever I wanted. You’ll like Julia, she says that she can’t wait to meet you, by the way.”

Puzzled, Kathryn asked, “Ria, what are you talking about?”

“You. And me,” Ria answered taking Kathryn’s hand. “I’ll be honest Kathryn, I have no idea what I’m doing. I only know that somehow you make everything all right. That I think about you all the time. I want to…I want to know everything about you. Like why you’re so sad right now. I want to make everything all better for you.”

Kathryn leaned into the caress on her face and sighed with a mix of need and contentment. “This doesn’t bother you?”

Ria shrugged. “Not being with you bothers me a hell of a lot more. I’m still not very sure of myself here, Kathryn. This is unexplored territory, so to speak. And I don’t mean just being with a woman, I mean being in love period. I’ve never had that gift before. I think…I hope that you might give that gift to me.”

Looking into those brilliant green eyes, Kathryn saw only honesty and caring and let her guard down. “I want to give it to you. So much, Ria.”

“I know,” Ria whispered. Moving slowly, she bent down and lightly pressed her lips to Kathryn’s. She was surprised at how soft and gentle they were. Kathryn moaned in the back of her throat causing the itchy feeling in Ria’s groin to heighten. Ria opened her mouth as Kathryn’s tongue requested entrance and found herself pulled into a tight embrace.

Reluctantly, Kathryn pulled back, breathing heavy. “Let’s go inside and talk.”

Resting against Kathryn’s side, arms around each other’s waists, Ria nodded. “I think that’s a very good idea. Besides, I promised to make you dinner.”

Chuckling, Kathryn unlocked the front door and said, “You’re welcome to try but I don’t think there’s much in the fridge.”
Part 2
“I like your apartment,” Ria said shyly as she looked around. It was an open loft with a kitchen area and two closed doors that Ria took to be bed and bathrooms. The furniture was black leather, a couch, recliner and hassock with a bronze and glass coffee table in the center of the spacious main room. There were a couple of large paintings on the walls in darker, somber hues but that was it for decoration.

“Thanks,” Kathryn replied with a hint of a smile. “It’s a bit sparse but it’s home. You want anything to drink? I think I’ve got some soda or tea or something.”

“Whatever you have,” Ria said agreeably. She drifted over to the massive stereo unit on the far wall and looked over the huge cd collection as Kathryn walked into the kitchen and rummaged around there for a minute. Ria was impressed with the collection; there was an extensive blues selection as well as rock, classical and opera.

The tall woman joined her there, a can of soda in her hands. “See anything you like?”

The sultry question sent shivers down Ria’s spine though she knew Kathryn was talking about the music. “All of it, actually. Maybe some Ella to start with?”

“Good choice,” Kathryn purred. Her hand hovered over a section of the tall cd rack and then she plucked a few out, filling the stereo and setting it up to play.

Ella Fitzgerald’s mellow alto immediately filled the air, low and soothing. Ria looked around in surprise then smiled. “In stereo where available.”

“Music soothes the savage beast,” Kathryn countered ironically. “I’ve always needed music in my life. When I could afford it, that was where I spent my money.”

Ria took the offered drink and followed Kathryn back to the couch. They sat not quite touching, Ria angling herself so she could clearly see Kathryn. The apartment lighting was gentle and in the quiet, Ria could almost hear the whirring of Kathryn’s thoughts. She sat back in the soft couch, one arm resting on the back and the other holding the can of tonic on her thigh. “I feel like I don’t know anything about you but you know so much about me. I want to hear everything.”

Kathryn’s smile was a bit uncomfortable. “I don’t usually talk about myself. Wouldn’t know where to start.”

“Well, what you like to do for fun?” Ria suggested hoping a neutral topic would draw out the quiet woman. Maybe even enough for them to get into deeper territory. Ria wanted to know everything about Kathryn but knew it would take a lot to get through the walls so plainly visible.

“First date questions?” Kathryn asked with a grin.

Chuckling Ria answered, “Why not? We did sort of skip that part.”

Kathryn seemed to relax at her answer, sitting back in the couch and placing her long legs on the coffee table. “I work out a lot, have a weight room here and go to a gym. I rebuild bikes when I’ve got the time. I read a lot and listen to music.”

Short and to the point. Ria smiled thinking that she should’ve known that’s how Kathryn would answer. “Do you sell the bikes after you rebuild them?”

“Sometimes I sell them. Other times I donate them to sell for charity. Depends on the machine,” Kathryn replied. “I’ve got one right now that’s in pretty sad shape but she’ll be sweet when I’m done.”

“What about the one we rode on last night? What’s that?” Ria asked curiously.

“That’s my baby; a panhead that I actually inherited. She’s got most of the original parts and was babied real well,” Kathryn answered, blue eyes shining. She shifted to face Ria and continued, “Jaime bought her right off the line and barely drove her, just on Sundays to take his wife on a drive in good weather. Kept her in a garage all this time and spent lots of time keeping her in mint condition.”

“Who’s Jaime?”

“Oh. Jaime was Rosie’s brother-in-law,” Kathryn explained. “A real nice man, one of the few I knew. Died last year from a heart attack. Every time I was over his house we’d sit in the garage while he tinkered and I’d make tuning suggestions. We’d spend hours doing that. I miss him. He gave me a lot of really good advice over the years.”

Ria touched Kathryn’s thigh in sympathy. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay. He’s missed but we all remember him,” Kathryn said. “So what about supper? You promised to cook for me.”

Ria grinned and said, “Sure thing. Lead the way.”

They walked to the kitchen and Ria opened the fridge, laughing when she found exactly what she suspected: nothing. There were a couple of over-ripe apples on the bottom shelf, an onion, a loaf of bread, butter and eggs. Shaking her head as she turned to Kathryn, Ria said, “This is going to be a challenge.”

“Up for it?” Kathryn teased from her perch on the counter. Her legs dangled, tapping back against the counter in a quiet rhythm.

“Absolutely! Where’re your staples?” Ria asked.

“Hm?”

“You know, pasta, rice, flour?”

“If I have any they’d be in there,” Kathryn answered pointing to a cabinet across the room.

Still grinning, Ria walked to the cabinet and opened it. Though not quite as bare as the fridge, there still wasn’t much to be found. “Okay. We’ve got a choice of pasta, pasta or pasta. What’ll it be?”

“How about pasta?”

“Sounds like a plan. Pots?”

“Under the stove.”

Nodding, Ria grabbed a box of rigatoni and jar of plain sauce and set them on the counter then pulled out a large pot and filled it with water. “At least you’ve got a gas stove.”

“As opposed to?”

“Electric!” Ria spat out the word in distaste.

“That’s a bad thing,” Kathryn guessed.

“Electric sucks,” Ria said firmly. She walked back to the fridge and pulled out the onion. “Cutting board?”

“Um. Don’t think so.”

Ria started chuckling again. “I’m sorry, Kathryn but this is just too, too bad! How do you live?”

“Look in the freezer,” Kathryn suggested, blue eyes twinkling with mischief.

Ria opened the freezer door and her snickers turned to guffaws. Stacked high in three neat rows were frozen microwave dinners. “Well, at least they’re organic and healthy,” Ria commented, wiping at her eyes.

“Here now, don’t be disparaging my eating habits,” Kathryn protested.

“Never. But I’m still going to drag you to this great place called a grocery store sometime very, very soon,” Ria promised.

Kathryn hopped off the counter and advanced on her, blue eyes playful. “Why do I get the feeling you’re making fun of me?”

Ria shivered at the silky tone, backing up until she hit the wall. Kathryn loomed over her, commanding even through her teasing manner. Kathryn took her hands and gently massaged her palms with strong thumbs, producing more shivers. Ria closed her eyes, sensing that Kathryn was going to kiss her, tilting her face up in anticipation.

Very slowly Kathryn’s mouth covered her own, centimeter by centimeter. Kathryn pressed her lips into Ria whose mouth opened at the tender contact. Kathryn deepened the kiss at the silent invitation and her tongue quested into Ria’s mouth. Ria’s head began to swim as desire shot through her. Kathryn’s mouth surrounded and swallowed her, moving slow as their tongues circled.

Her arms reached up and around Kathryn’s neck to pull the woman closer. When their bodies connected, Ria’s world turned upside down. The feel of Kathryn’s lean, hard body against her own was the most incredible sensation Ria had ever been privileged to experience. When Kathryn’s hands roamed down to grip Ria’s buttocks, pulling their hips together, Ria moaned as desire exploded into need.

The hissing of water boiling over into flames brought them back to reality. Ria’s lips worked against the air for a couple of seconds after Kathryn had pulled away from the kiss. Her eyes opened to find Kathryn holding a towel and pulling the pot off the burner. She swallowed heavily, still throbbing with need just from the kiss they had shared. When Kathryn turned back to face her, Ria nearly fainted from the possessive look in the hooded sapphire eyes.

When she found her voice again, Ria said, “Told you I was easily distracted.”

Kathryn’s unexpected laughter, melodious and genuine, filled the air and Ria couldn’t help but join in.

****

Ria looked out her bedroom window with a smile as she stretched awake. It was hard to believe how different her life was even though it had been less than a week since meeting Kathryn. Her mind was peaceful as she thought about the love that had entered her life. Ria knew enough to realize that this was indeed an “all or nothing” situation for them both.

Her heart fluttered faster as she remembered Kathryn’s profile against the darkened window in her living room the night before. It had been a quiet moment as Ria had waited on the couch for Kathryn’s return from the bathroom. The room was dark, candles shedding flickering light in strategic places. Kathryn had walked across the room taking her usual long strides and for an instant Ria’s mind split in two as the tall woman stood surrounded by darkness in front of the window.

That, essentially, summed it up in Ria’s mind. Kathryn had a dark side that both scared and fascinated her. She had glimpsed a tiny bit of the darkness as Kathryn had confessed just how much her watching of Ria had entailed.

“I think I should tell you something but it might scare you off which I don’t want,” Kathryn whispered.

Ria’s head lay comfortably on Kathryn’s shoulder and, though she tensed at the question, Ria stayed where she was. “Tell me. Secrets are worse.”

After a deep sigh, Kathryn began the sordid story. “I saw you in the park and couldn’t take my eyes off you. You know that. You know that I followed you back to your office, too. What you don’t know is that I followed you everywhere for the intervening two weeks. I watched when you visited that hair salon on 54th St. the next day. I was watching in the gym during your aerobics classes. I watched when Gary proposed to you. I followed you almost everywhere except your apartment.

I thought that if I didn’t know where you lived, then I would be safe, it wouldn’t be stalking. Before the end of each day, I would go to your office building and wait for you to come out and start your evening errands. I am so sorry to have invaded your life and privacy like that. I know it’s no excuse but I just couldn’t get you out of my mind.”

Ria swallowed as she took in the information. The fact that she’d sensed the watching but couldn’t find anything to support her suspicions bothered her more than anything else. She hadn’t had any proof of being followed during that time and so had thought she’d started the slide from depression to paranoia. “How did you do all that and never once did I see you?” she wondered aloud.

“I’ve had some training in it,” Kathryn answered softly.

Ria was silent for several minutes, mind racing with emotion and thought. This added a dimension to their relationship that Ria wasn’t sure she could handle. It bordered on obsessive. There was a niggling feeling deep within that was flattered by the dark behavior. She honestly didn’t know how to react.

“Are we…are you okay with this Ria?” Kathryn asked hesitantly.

“I don’t know,” Ria replied. “I think so but it’s a bit…unnerving. I thought I was going crazy, becoming as paranoid as Mulder or something.”

At that, Kathryn turned to face her, breaking their sideways embrace and lay forward, putting her cheek on Ria’s lap. “I am so sorry, Ria. I never meant to add to your pain like that. Forgive me?”

Ria looked down at the dark head on her legs, felt the uncertainty coming in waves off the taller woman as Kathryn made herself as small as possible. She knew then that Kathryn would never do anything like that to her again. Bending over Kathryn, Ria’s hands clasped Kathryn’s waist so that most of their bodies were touching. “Forgiven.”

Ria was still dually flattered and frightened, not certain which emotion would win out. She suspected that their relationship was going to be like that; polarized by intense emotion. Something that Ria craved, since she was being honest with herself. A knock at the bedroom door startled her but then her smile deepened and she flipped over, burrowing into the pillow.

“Ria?” Kathryn’s voice called through the door. “You’re going to be late for work again.”

Though Kathryn had spent the night, she had insisted on sleeping on the couch. She hadn’t wanted to pressure Ria into anything. Ria snorted to herself. As though there would be any need for coercion in that aspect of their relationship. She found herself wanting to touch Kathryn all the time, keep contact with the naturally hot skin of the tall woman.

“I heard that,” Kathryn commented as she opened the door.

Ria pulled the pillow over her head, curious as to what Kathryn would do. It was silent for a long time and just as Ria was going to flip over to see what the other woman was up to, the bed dipped and a heavy body lay on her. Ria’s eyes closed in pleasure at the heat and weight pressing her into the mattress. The pillow was gently pulled out of her grip and Ria used her arms as a shield.

“Time to get up,” Kathryn breathed in Ria’s ear.

Shivers ran up and down Ria’s body and she moaned when moist lips pressed into her bare shoulder. The lips traveled from her shoulder to the side of her neck, sucking the skin there almost painfully into Kathryn’s mouth. “Kathryn,” she murmured. She tried to roll over but was pinned too well to move which set her blood on fire, her sex throbbing in sudden need.

“I think you need a better alarm clock than what you’ve got,” Kathryn continued as though Ria hadn’t spoken. “You obviously ignore that one far too easily.”

Ria didn’t even bother trying to suppress her next moan as Kathryn’s skilled mouth licked and played with her earlobe, teeth nibbling then biting. Then Kathryn’s hot presence was gone and Ria felt alone, bereft. Leaning up on her elbow, she found Kathryn standing about a foot away, arms crossed with satisfaction. “Are you trying to kill me or what?”

Grinning broadly, Kathryn answered, “I’m hungry. Feed me.”

Ria collapsed onto her back and said, “Give me a minute to recover here.”

Chuckling, Kathryn warned, “I’ll be timing you. If you aren’t out of bed in exactly a minute I’ll be back to continue the torture.”

“Like that’s motivation?” Ria replied flippantly.

“Let’s just say that if I have to come back, you won’t like my second wake up call very much,” Kathryn said before leaving.

And there it was, that tone of darkness that so enticed Ria. She shivered in anticipation and a small bit of fear then promptly rolled out of bed. She knew that Kathryn would never hurt her…unless she wanted it? Ria banished the thought almost as quickly as it appeared and took a deep cleansing breath. Looking at the clock, she saw that it was six thirty and groaned. She was going to have to move very quickly if she was going to take a shower and cook for Kathryn.

****

Kathryn grinned as Ria flew around the apartment getting ready for work. She was finishing off the eggs and bacon that Ria had cooked first thing after coming out of the bedroom. Her insides flashed with heat at their early morning encounter and her eyes darkened as she watched the small blonde whirlwind on her morning routine. What she really wanted to do was not only make Ria late for work, but miss work altogether.

Kathryn wanted to grab Ria in her cute little business suit and kiss her until the smaller woman’s knees buckled. She wanted to make love to Ria’s mouth and then every other part of Ria’s body until Ria couldn’t take any more and screamed with orgasm. Cutting off those thoughts before madness took over and she acted on the impulse, Kathryn tore her eyes away from Ria and looked around the apartment.

It was a cute apartment, just like its occupant. Spacious and clean, the white walls were cheered up with assorted paintings and posters. There were a couple of small Monet prints, three hand-stitched works of wildflowers and sayings. Ria must have stopped back at work at some point during the weekend because the flowers Kathryn had ordered adorned a vase on the coffee table.

“When did you have time to get the flowers?” Kathryn asked as Ria paused near the kitchen trying to put on a necklace.

“Saturday after Julia dropped me off,” Ria explained. “Could you help me with this? I can never get it on.”

Kathryn hopped off the counter and walked over to Ria. She took the delicate chain in her fingers and played with the clasp a little just as an excuse to be near Ria. The gentle curve of her neck displayed the red mark from Kathryn’s bite vividly. “Sure you don’t want to wear a scarf?”

Ria turned to face her, puzzled. Kathryn touched the mark with her finger and said, “This shows up very well on your pale skin.”

Comprehension dawned and then a wicked smile graced Ria’s lips. “I rather like it.”

Kathryn’s blood heated even further at the smile and she swallowed, longing to kiss Ria. It didn’t help that Ria stared up at her mouth with almost as much desire. Clearing her throat, Kathryn backed away and said, “You look lovely.”

Blushing a little, Ria answered, “No I don’t. This is just work me, nothing special.”

Kathryn stepped forward again and captured Ria’s chin in her long fingers. “You are always special, never forget that!” Staring into emerald eyes, Kathryn couldn’t resist the temptation found there and moving her hand to Ria’s waist, she pulled Ria close. Ria’s mouth was soft and pliant, opening for her without hesitation and Kathryn dove into the warmth and wetness. Her tongue demanded and received everything from Ria, the smaller woman’s head falling back with a moan.

Small hands roamed up Kathryn’s back, kneading the muscles there passionately. Knowing that if she didn’t break it off her earlier fantasy would come true, Kathryn pulled reluctantly away. Ria groaned in protest, reaching after her, eyes still closed. The humid green eyes opened and Kathryn almost succumbed to their siren song. Clearing her throat, Kathryn said, “You need to get to work. Big follow-up, remember?”

Pulling herself together with an obvious effort, Ria commented dryly, “You said that if I got out of bed within a minute you wouldn’t continue the torture.”

Kathryn laughed and hugged Ria to her with happiness. “I’m sorry, love, I couldn’t resist. I am just helpless against you.”

She felt Ria laughing against her as her arms went around Kathryn’s waist, holding tight. Ria sighed after a moment then stepped back. “I’m going to go then. You’ve got the extra key so just lock up when you leave. See you tonight?”

“I’ll be here,” Kathryn promised. She lightly touched Ria’s mouth with her own then watched Ria leave. It was going to be a long day without Ria around to share it with.

****

“So did you and Gary have a good weekend?” Sara asked with a smile as Ria got off the phone.

“I didn’t see Gary this weekend,” Ria answered.

“Really? Oh. Well that’s probably why he’s been calling almost every hour even though I told him you were in an important conference call,” Sara said.

“Is he on the phone right now?” Ria asked.

“No, he called about ten minutes ago,” Sara replied. “I’ve got the final first quarter results here for you.”

Ria took the paper and smiled. “Thanks. I guess I’ll call Gary then. Did he say where he was?”

“In his office,” Sara told her.

Ria picked up the phone as Sara closed the door behind her and dialed Gary’s phone number. She didn’t want to break up with him over the phone and decided that perhaps lunch would be okay. She didn’t expect him to take this well, especially when he found out who she was leaving him for.

“Gary here.”

“Hi Gary, it’s Ria.”

“Ria! I’ve been trying to get you all weekend! Where have you been?”

Ria stiffened at the demanding tone. “Gary, I was hoping we could have lunch today to talk. Is that all right?”

There was a pause then, “Okay. In your building at noon?”

“Sounds good. I’ll see you then.” Ria hung up on his good-bye. How dare he take that tone with her? Looks like their spat from the week before had taught him nothing. Not that he would’ve had a chance even if he had learned something. Not now that Kathryn was in her life.

The remaining hour passed very quickly for Ria, several accounts demanding her attention as though each client was her only one. She barely had time to think about anything else which was just as well. She’d only ever broken up with one other man and it hadn’t been pretty that time, either. Maybe being in public would be better? She doubted it.

Ria was in the lobby promptly at noon, waiting for Gary to arrive. He showed up shortly thereafter and smiled upon seeing her. His smile faded as he took in her serious face.

“Okay, Ria, what’s wrong?” Gary asked with concern.

She walked to the hall that was located away from the cafeteria, more private though still in view of anyone passing by. “I’m sorry Gary but this isn’t working for me anymore. It hasn’t for a long while but I didn’t really have a reason to stop us. I should have said no right away to your proposal instead of leading you on as I have. I’m very sorry.”

Obviously stunned, Gary exclaimed, “Ria! You can’t mean this. I know I might have been a little less understanding than I should have over the last few weeks and I’m sorry. I’ll make an effort to do better.”

Ria touched his arm. “It really isn’t you Gary. I’m sorry but it’s over.”

His gaze shifted then returned to her eyes with an accusing glint. “You’ve found someone else! I certainly didn’t put that on you!”

Ria stepped back from his hand when it snapped out to touch her throat. “It was over before this, Gary.”

“What’s his name? Is it that window washer Sara told me about?” Gary demanded angrily.

“As a matter of fact it is. And her name is Kathryn!” Ria exclaimed. She bit her lip as Gary froze, taking in the information. He didn’t say anything else, just left her standing there. She watched him go and breathed a sigh of relief. “Well that went well,” she muttered to herself. Feeling curiously free as she walked towards the cafeteria, Ria wondered what Kathryn was doing at that moment.

Thinking about the dark woman brought a smile to her face and quickened her blood. Even the memory of the kiss they had shared made her knees weak. Her hand drifted up to the mark Kathryn had left and she fingered it briefly before sighing. Ria wished Kathryn had taken her up on the not-so-subtle invitation but she hadn’t. Ria had a feeling that Kathryn was going to take this a lot slower than Ria wanted. It was something she could understand from what Rosie had said in the ladies room.

After buying lunch, Ria returned to her office to eat. There was way too much paperwork for her to actually stop and take a break.

****

“You aren’t going to be good for anything this afternoon, are you,” Sam commented with a knowing grin.

Kathryn glowered at him, leaning against the wall and answered emphatically, “Definitely not.” They laughed together and she continued, “I just have this nagging feeling that something’s wrong. Don’t know what.”

“Is this to do with your new love interest?” Sam asked curiously. “You didn’t say anything about her while we were working earlier.”

“That’s because even thinking about her is distracting,” Kathryn answered with a wry grin.

“Well we don’t want you distracted while 100 feet in the air,” Sam agreed. “So?”

Kathryn sighed. “She’s wonderful, Sam. I think she feels the same for me. I know she cares about me but I don’t know how much. We did only meet a few days ago after all.”

“Love is love, Kath. I bet she feels as much for you as you do her,” Sam said simply.

“You’re a good friend, Sam,” Kathryn said, slinging an arm around his shoulders.

“I know.”

“And so modest,” Kathryn teased as they walked back towards her truck.

“Why don’t the two of you come over for supper? We can throw some steaks on the grill and I can play with my new toy,” Sam exclaimed.

Eyeing him suspiciously, Kathryn said, “I don’t know Sam, you and a gas grill sounds dangerous to me.”

“That’s what Carrie says,” Sam replied, sticking out his tongue.

“I always knew she was a smart woman,” Kathryn commented.

“She’s the one who gave it to me,” Sam said smugly.

“Ah well, momentary lapse in sanity.” Kathryn easily avoided the punch to her shoulder. “In any case, I’d have to check with Ria. We didn’t really have plans but she might have something in mind.”

“Sure thing. I’m going to play with it tonight anyhow. Just call so I know how much food to kill,” Sam said starting to walk towards his car.

“Will do,” Kathryn called after him, climbing into the truck. Tapping her fingers on the steering wheel for a few seconds, Kathryn turned her truck towards the gym. It had been a few days since she’d done any serious working out and she could feel her muscles stiffening up with the lack. It was just after 1pm so she had time for a nice long workout. Besides, it might temporarily get her mind off a certain blonde.

****

“What’s wrong?”

Ria smiled into the phone and answered, “Nothing now that you’ve called.”

“Okay, what was wrong?”

Ria sighed. “My but you’re persistent. Gary was here for lunch and I broke it off with him.”

“How are you?”

“Better actually. I hadn’t realized just how much of my energy he sucked away,” Ria said, shaking her head in amazement. “It wasn’t fun but it’s done with and he knows about you. I hope that’s okay?”

“Very okay.”

The phrase was practically purred and Ria shivered at the tone. “So what are you doing?”

“Just got back from the gym. I’m all sweaty and icky.”

“Sounds nice,” Ria murmured, picturing a tank top stuck to Kathryn’s perfect body.

“Don’t tease, it’s not nice.”

Grinning at the scold, Ria said, “You started the conversation.”

“So how about a cookout?”

Ria’s grin broadened at the obvious change in subject. “Sounds good but I don’t have a grill.”

“Sam invited us over for dinner.”

“Sure. Want to meet at my place around six?”

“Sounds good to me, his apartment is over that way anyhow.”

“See you then.”

“I’ll be there.”

Ria smiled at the promise and hung up with a murmured goodbye. Looking at the clock, she saw there was less than an hour left to her day and decided to head home early. It would be nice to be all ready to go when Kathryn arrived.

****

Kathryn’s eyes lit up when Ria opened the door, taking in the sight of the beautiful woman. Ria was dressed in jeans and a pale green sweater and her hair hung soft and loose around her shoulders. “You look beautiful.”

Ria smiled. “Thanks. You can use your key, you know, you don’t have to knock.”

Kathryn shook her head. “I don’t want to presume anything.”

Ria took her hand and they walked into the apartment. “I want you to come and go on your own. I wouldn’t mind coming home to find you already here some night.”

Kathryn tugged on the small hand in hers and pulled Ria close, breathing in the soft scent of roses in golden hair. “I wouldn’t mind being here when you come home some night.”

They stood together like that for a long time, relishing the contact of each other. Kathryn stirred first and whispered, “We should get going.”

Ria nodded silently, not loosening her hold around Kathryn’s waist.

Kathryn reluctantly pulled away then bent down to place a kiss on Ria’s upturned mouth. It was soft and slow and her heart began to beat faster as their lips moved together. Breaking contact, she stared at Ria’s closed eyes then kissed each lid, her lips feather-soft. “C’mon, let’s go love.”

Ria sighed in contentment and opened her eyes. Mouth curving into a smile, Ria teased, “Spoilsport.”

“Grab your jacket, I’ve got the bike tonight,” Kathryn told her.

Ria nodded and took her coat out of the closet and grabbed her purse before returning to Kathryn. She locked the door behind them and they walked out of the building arm in arm. Something raised the hairs on the back of her neck as they walked to the motorcycle waiting beside her car. Looking around, Ria didn’t see anyone but also knew that didn’t mean anything. She’d had this same feeling during the two weeks Kathryn had watched her and she’d been none the wiser.

“What’s wrong?” Kathryn asked, feeling Ria stiffen beside her.

“I don’t know. I feel like we’re being watched,” Ria murmured.

“On the bike,” Kathryn commanded softly.

Ria put on the helmet, obeying Kathryn without hesitation. She didn’t see Kathryn do anything except get on the bike and adjust her own helmet but then Kathryn tensed. The tall women’s movements as she brought the motorcycle to life seemed forced, lacking her normal fluidity.

“All settled in?” Kathryn’s voice crackled over the headset.

“All set,” Ria replied, wrapping her arms around Kathryn’s waist. She could hear the tension in Kathryn’s voice but didn’t comment on it. Kathryn moved the bike skillfully through the city, keeping their balance easily in the stop and go traffic. Ria rested her helmet against Kathryn’s back and wondered what it was that the other woman had seen.

It was almost twenty minutes before they pulled into a quiet street with up and down townhouses. Kathryn stopped in front of a townhouse at the end of the row and parked the bike but Ria stayed seated as she pulled off the helmet. As Kathryn stepped off the bike and shook out her hair, Ria asked, “Want to tell me what happened back there?”

“It’s a long story, one we shouldn’t go into right now. We will later, I promise,” Kathryn answered, holding out her hand.

Ria looked at the outstretched hand for a moment then took it and got off the bike as well. To her surprise, Kathryn didn’t release her hand even though they were in public, holding it firmly but without pressure as they walked up the stairs. Kathryn rang the bell and they waited a short time before a young woman in her late twenties opened the door with a large smile on her face. She was average height with brown eyes and hair and a happy manner that put Ria at ease almost immediately.

“Kath! It’s great to see you!” the woman exclaimed enveloping the tall woman in a hug. “And this must be Ria! It’s a pleasure to meet you!”

Ria found herself engulfed in a similar hug but couldn’t take offense as the woman drew back with a huge grin on her face.

“I’m Carrie in case this one forgot to tell you in advance,” the woman continued. “Come in, food’s already cooking and Sam’s out back.”

Ria found that she liked both Sam and Carrie, they were both open and friendly and obviously cared a great deal for Kathryn. Carrie and Sam moved almost in synch as they went about preparing dinner. It was fun to watch them finish each other’s sentences and scold and tease each other.

“So how long have you two been together?” Ria asked curiously. They were sitting on a porch out back at a plastic picnic table with an umbrella in the center.

“Twenty years,” Sam answered from the grill.

Frowning, Ria said, “So you got married at what, eight years of age?”

Carrie laughed and said, “Actually that’s just about right. I was in first grade and Sam was in second and it was love at first sight. We’ve been together ever since.”

“That’s incredible!” Ria exclaimed.

“I keep telling her I’m not good enough for her,” Sam said as he piled the steaks onto a plate and brought them over.

“And I keep telling him that it’s okay, I love him anyhow,” Carrie answered. She slapped Sam’s butt as he walked passed.

“Aren’t they just sickening?” Kathryn asked with rolling eyes.

“I think they’re cute,” Ria countered, grinning.

“Wait until you’ve known them longer,” Kathryn commented dryly.

The evening passed quickly as they talked and ate though Ria noticed Kathryn remained slightly tense throughout the night. Whatever had happened at the apartment couldn’t have been good. After they moved inside to escape the insects, she caught Kathryn’s eye and murmured, “You okay?”

Kathryn smiled at her, visibly relaxing, and nodded. “Fine.” She squeezed Ria’s hand and turned to their hosts and said, “Sam, Carrie, I think we’re going to head out. It was great of you to have us.”

“Anytime, Kath and I mean that for you too, Ria,” Carrie offered.

“Thanks,” Ria said.

The ride back to Ria’s apartment was silent but Ria was content just to hold Kathryn as they made the trip. Linking arms as they walked up to the apartment, Ria leaned against Kathryn, her head on Kathryn’s shoulder. They reached the door and Kathryn hesitated, turning to face Ria.

“You don’t have to tell me if you aren’t ready.”

“It isn’t that, I just don’t know if I should involve you.”

“If it involves you, it involves me,” Ria said simply.

Kathryn’s hand brushed across Ria’s cheek as she smiled. “Thanks, love. Let’s go in and I’ll explain.”

“Want some tea?” Ria offered as they walked by the kitchen.

“Sure,” Kathryn said. She took Ria’s coat and hung it with her own in the hall closet as Ria went into the kitchen to start the kettle. Even with the cloud now hanging over her, Kathryn hadn’t felt this peaceful in a long time, if ever. Being with Ria was the most soothing balm in the world; Ria held the darkness at bay. Kathryn sat on the couch and waited.

Ria brought in a tray holding a ceramic teapot, two mugs, honey, cream and cookies and Kathryn grinned. “Settling in for the duration, love?”

Ria sat beside her, placing the tray on the coffee table then pulled her legs up so she could sit facing Kathryn. “I was a Girl Scout, always be prepared and that sort of thing.”

“I thought that was the Boy Scout motto,” Kathryn commented.

Ria grinned. “Something like that.”

Kathryn poured the tea then spooned in some honey and stirred as she thought about where to begin. “I was in a bad relationship a few years ago, her name was Linda and she wasn’t the nicest woman in the world.”

Ria raised her hand to interrupt. “Rosie told me a little about that the other night.”

Surprised, Kathryn asked, “She did? I guess she really likes you then. Anyhow, Linda tore me up one side and down the other. I thought she was the one for me and would do anything she asked. And I did. I was holding onto some things for her that turned out to be stolen merchandise and I was the one arrested. I got probation and a fine since it was my first offense but it gave me a record.

That was, needless to say, when we broke up. I finally realized that what Rosie and everyone else had been saying about her was true. I wasn’t going to change Linda. I haven’t seen her since then until tonight. She was down the block watching us, or watching you rather. I don’t like the way she was eyeing you but don’t worry, I’ll take care of it. She won’t bother you,” Kathryn finished. Her hand lay on Ria’s thigh, squeezing it reassuringly.

Ria smiled, taking Kathryn’s hand in her own and said, “My protective warrior. I’ll be fine, what can she do to me?”

“Ria, I don’t want you to worry but I don’t want you to take Linda lightly, either,” Kathryn warned. “She has dirty friends and doesn’t play fair.”

Pursing her lips, Ria answered, “I’ll be careful then.”

Kathryn breathed a little easier seeing that Ria was taking her warning seriously. “So you have to go to work tomorrow.”

Ria nodded. “Monday through Friday.”

“Want to have lunch?”

“I’d love to but I’ve got a meeting. How about supper? We could go to Rosie’s?” Ria suggested.

Kathryn leaned forward for a soft kiss. “Sounds like a plan. I’m going to go now.”

Putting her hands on Kathryn’s shoulders, Ria drew her forward for a longer kiss. When they broke apart, she sighed happily and said, “I think I’ll have sweet dreams with that in mind.”

“If I sleep,” Kathryn muttered.

“Poor baby,” Ria crooned unsympathetically.

Kathryn stood and looked down at her, grin getting bigger as she said, “I’ll see you tomorrow night.”

“I’ll be here.”

****

Ria sighed in aggravation as she walked up the stairs to her apartment. Of course the elevator was out of order. With the day she’d had, it was just the icing on the cake. The only thing that had kept her going through every single client emergency and every single rude broker was the thought that at the end of it all, Kathryn would be coming over for dinner. They would have a nice quiet evening together and Ria would get to soak in the brilliance that was her new love.

Unlocking the door, Ria sighed and stepped into the apartment, rolling her head back and forth to relieve some of the tense muscles. There was a sound from the living room and she smiled thinking that Kathryn had somehow arrived first. She hurried forward then stopped in shock.

“Mother! What are you doing here?” Though her mother had a key, she had never used it without letting Ria know she would be there ahead of time. Glancing around the apartment, she saw that Kathryn was nowhere to be seen and breathed a sigh of relief.

“Ria, I’ve always let you live your own life,” Mrs. Sullivan began, standing up from the couch and accepting the hug from her youngest. Taller than Ria by several inches, her hair was short and she was dressed in an elegant business suit. “You know I believe in that. Gary called me and said you’d broken off the engagement, that I should go and see you right away because something had happened and you needed help. That it was an unhealthy situation you were in though he didn’t go into a great amount of detail.”

Closing her eyes and praying for strength, Ria thought, ‘Of course. Gary. He would think to call my mother. They get on better without me.’ Opening her eyes, Ria said, “Mother, there’s really nothing to worry about. I’ve known for awhile that Gary and I weren’t working out. It was just time to tell him so.”

“He said there was someone else,” her mother said bluntly.

Ria froze. “He did?”

“Not that I can’t see that hickey a mile away,” Mrs. Sullivan observed.

Ria brushed aside the hand irritably and turned to set her briefcase on the kitchen counter. Why did everyone want to touch it? They’d all seen hickies before. “Look, Mother, you probably want to sit down for what I’m going to tell you because you aren’t going to like it.”

Suspiciously, Mrs. Sullivan took her daughter’s advice and sat back on the couch. “Go ahead. I’m listening. It’s a black man, isn’t it?”

Ria groaned silently. It figures that would be what her oh-so-enlightened mother came up with. Before she could say anything, the front door opened and Kathryn’s voice called out, “Ria! I’m here, love!”

That was when Ria groaned aloud. Her mother’s eyes widened and became glued to Kathryn as the other woman walked into the living room. Kathryn froze in place upon catching site of Ria’s mother sitting on the couch. Ria stayed where she was in the frozen tableau wondering, thoughts tinged with hysterics, who would speak first. After a silent moment, Ria took the plunge and managed a weak smile. “Mother, this is Kathryn Jacobs my…girlfriend. Kathryn, my mother, Mrs. Laura Sullivan.”

There was no mistaking what Ria meant by “girlfriend” from the way Kathryn’s arm slid protectively around Ria’s waist. “Mrs. Sullivan,” she greeted coolly.

Mrs. Sullivan’s face had drained of all color at the announcement and physical contact between the women. After a shocked moment, she stood and said, “Ria, I don’t know what to say and suspect I shouldn’t say anything right now. I will call you later.”

When the door closed behind her mother, Ria sagged against Kathryn. Soaking in the other woman’s strength as Kathryn’s other arm went around her waist, Ria’s head rested against Kathryn’s chest. “She was here when I got home a few moments ago. I was just about to tell her when you walked in. Gary called her after I broke up with him and said she should come over, that I needed to be fixed or some damn thing.”

Though Ria didn’t recognize the language, she suspected that Kathryn was slandering Gary’s ancestors in a very imaginative fashion. When Kathryn stopped speaking, Ria chuckled and said, “Thanks for the sentiment, love. I appreciate it.”

As Kathryn held her, Ria knew this was where she always wanted to be. They fit perfectly together. Pulling back far enough to look up into Kathryn’s eyes, Ria whispered, “I love you, Kathryn.”

Tears peaked out from Kathryn’s sapphire eyes as she whispered back, “I love you, Ria.”

Ria closed her eyes, again knowing that Kathryn was going to kiss her. Sure enough, several aching moments later, soft lips descended upon her own. Tender and teasing, Kathryn’s mouth moved over Ria’s with love and certainty. Ria opened her mouth under the insistent onslaught to allow Kathryn’s tongue entrance. She moved her hands down to grasp firm buttocks, pulling Kathryn tight to her.

Kathryn groaned and pulled her mouth away. “Ria, I want you so much.”

Looking up into pale eyes, Ria whispered, “I’m yours, Kathryn. Take me.”

Without further hesitation, Kathryn bent and scooped Ria into her arms and walked to the bedroom. She placed Ria on the bed but stayed on her feet, gazing down at the divine picture Ria presented. Her golden hair was spread out on the pillow. Ria’s blouse nudged open to show the hint of a supple breast. Green eyes stared up at her, filled with passion.

Kathryn swallowed against the need blazing through her. She was going to take this slow and make it as memorable as possible for Ria. She pulled off her tank top then stepped out of her shorts, leaving herself in sports bra and plain cotton briefs. Bending over, she took off her boots and socks then went to kneel on the bed beside Ria.

Moving slowly, Kathryn straddled Ria’s hips, noticing the widening of Ria’s eyes at the position. “We won’t do anything you don’t want,” Kathryn murmured. Her hands lightly caressed Ria’s throat then rested on the top button of her blouse. She paused between each button, giving Ria the chance to stop her. It wasn’t long before the white garment lay open and Ria’s upper body was revealed, stopping Kathryn’s breath momentarily. “You are so beautiful.”

Ria took Kathryn’s hands in hers and raised them to her lips. “Not as beautiful as you.”

Kathryn smiled and dipped down to capture Ria’s lips for a hard, brief kiss, holding on to the hands as well. Ria brought their hands to rest on her breasts and then let go. Kathryn found that her hands were large enough to encompass a breast in each one though Ria’s breasts were hardly small. A thought came to her and she smiled.

“What’s that for?” Ria asked with an echoing grin.

“You know that saying, ‘More than a handful’s a waste?”

Laughter hovering, Ria nodded.

“I always said it depends on the size of the hands,” Kathryn said with a chuckle and Ria laughed outright. Kathryn couldn’t believe they were laughing. She couldn’t remember when, if ever, she’d laughed in bed with a lover. Maybe that had been the problem. “You are too wonderful, Ria. So special,” Kathryn murmured.

Kathryn squeezed the breasts and Ria gasped in surprise. Rubbing her thumbs lightly across the nipples, Kathryn saw them harden under the bra. She kneaded the giving flesh then ran her hands down Ria’s side loving the feel of rippling muscles under her touch. “Perfect,” she breathed.

Unclasping Ria’s bra, Kathryn bent over and took a nipple in her mouth, circling it with her tongue. “I’m going to make love to every part of your body,” Kathryn promised.

Ria hazily remembered Rosie’s comment about Kathryn’s promises and moaned in need. She didn’t think she could take Kathryn doing this to every part of her body. What her mouth was doing to Ria’s breast was incredible all on its own. Teeth grazed her sensitive nipple causing her to cry out. Needing to hold onto something, Ria twined her hands into the thick locks that had beckoned to her since the beginning.

As Kathryn’s mouth sucked and nibbled on her breasts, going from one to the other, Ria caressed Kathryn’s neck and shoulders. She pulled down the sports bra impatiently, wanting to feel Kathryn’s breasts as well. A warm chuckle halted her and she looked into Kathryn’s amused blue eyes. “Yes?”

“Patience is a virtue my love,” Kathryn commented.

“I think I’ll settle for immediate gratification,” Ria growled, sitting up suddenly to fasten her mouth on Kathryn’s large breast while her hand moved to grasp the other. She heard the sharp intake of breath with satisfaction and continued to plunder the soft globe in her mouth. Gods, everything felt so good and they hadn’t even left the breast area yet! Ria had never felt so alive in her life. The difference between having sex and making love, a remote part of her mind thought.

Kathryn’s head fell back on a groan as Ria mouthed first one breast then the other, imitating Kathryn’s earlier actions. Her groin throbbed with need as moisture gathered in her underwear and her hips twitched involuntarily. Firmly marshaling her desire, Kathryn raised her head and groaned again at the sight of Ria feeding on her breast. Time seemed to stop in that instant as Kathryn’s mind recognized what her soul and heart had known all along. She and Ria had been together infinite times in infinite lives and would be forever linked.

Soulmates.

“Yes,” Ria whispered to her. “Forever.”

Kathryn knew she hadn’t spoken aloud but looking into Ria’s eyes, Kathryn also knew that she hadn’t needed to. Ria knew what she’d been thinking. Cupping Ria’s face with her hands, Kathryn kissed her, breathing in the essence of her lover. “Forever.”

The agreement spelled a release for both because then Ria was trying to yank off the rest of her clothes and Kathryn was helping. Within seconds they were nude and Kathryn lay on top of Ria, her mouth trailing kisses down to the golden curls that beckoned to her. Kathryn felt Ria holding her breath as she gazed into Ria’s sex. Wetness glistened in the hair and Ria sighed restlessly as Kathryn’s tongue traced a path from tense inner thigh to opening lips.

Tasting Ria for the first time was exquisite for Kathryn and her tongue dipped deep. She licked and sucked the red sex gently at first then drove into her task with determination. After a few minutes of the sweet torment, Ria’s hips bucked trying to ride Kathryn’s tongue.

“Kathryn! Please!” Ria pleaded raggedly.

Kathryn merely smiled into Ria’s sex and pulled back on her attention there to sit up and take in the sight of Ria. Hands gripping the covers, head back, back arched, Ria was the image of need. Kathryn moved up and lowered herself on Ria, capturing her mouth for a deep, wet kiss. Ria moaned, her legs locking around Kathryn’s to grind their sexes together.

“Not yet my love,” Kathryn murmured. It was killing her but Kathryn was going to drag this out as long as possible. Sitting back on her haunches, Kathryn studied the open and engorged sex a long moment then grinned. Ria gulped in apprehension at the grin, which only widened it further.

With aching slowness, two of Kathryn’s long fingers dipped into Ria’s opening and Ria gasped then moaned at the intrusion. Her thumb brushed Ria’s clit while her fingers moved in and out of Ria slow and strong, ending on a pulse. When Ria opened further, she put in another finger and Ria groaned with pleasure.

“Oh gods, Kathryn! Kiss me, please?”

Unable to resist the plea, Kathryn took Ria’s lips with her own, sucking and biting with need as her fingers worked Ria to the edge. The sensation of being in Ria with their mouths locked together brought orgasm to the edge of Kathryn’s vision and she gasped, clenching her inner muscles to speed the arrival. She wanted to come with Ria and knew it wouldn’t be long from the way Ria’s hips thrust against her hand.

It was blinding when the orgasm burst through Ria. Kathryn’s hard fingers plunging in and out of her in concert with her thrusting tongue sent Ria spinning over the edge screaming Kathryn’s name. Kathryn shouted Ria’s name almost the same instant then collapsed on top of her, breathing heavily.

Ria clutched to Kathryn, arms tight around her lover’s back, as tears spilled out and sobs shook her.

“Ria? Love? What’s wrong?” Kathryn asked fearfully, propping herself up on her elbows. She kissed away the tears from Ria’s face.

“N-nothing, really. I’ve just, that’s my first orgasm,” Ria admitted. She kissed Kathryn’s surprised face and wrapped her arms around Kathryn’s neck, bringing the other woman back down on top of her. She twined her legs with Kathryn’s, loving the feel of every part of their bodies touching.

Kathryn lay in her arms silently for a moment then murmured, “Thank you for sharing that with me.”

Smiling faintly, Ria merely held tight to her lover and closed her eyes as sleep claimed her.

****

“You okay?” Kathryn asked when she woke later to find Ria staring at her with an odd expression. It was dark and the only light came from the living room, streaming into the bedroom to illuminate the shadows around Ria’s eyes.

“A little sore maybe but more than okay,” Ria said, a smile briefly lighting her expression.

“What’s wrong?” Kathryn persisted. Her hand reached out to take Ria’s hand and bring it to her lips. “You look so serious.”

Ria caressed the side of Kathryn’s face. “I…I don’t know where to start.”

Kathryn drew her close as fear gripped her heart and she whispered, “Start wherever you like. I’ll be here when you finish.”

“I love you Kathryn,” Ria said simply. “I love you so much but I don’t know if I’m enough for you. No, hear me out. I know who you are, I know you to the depths of your soul Kathryn. It sounds insane since we’ve only known each other for six days but it’s true. I’m not strong like you. I don’t know why, but this time around I’m weak and can barely help myself. I don’t want to suck you down with me into darkness. You haven’t been around depression Kathryn, you don’t know what it’s like. I don’t want you to have to know what it’s like.”

There was silence as Kathryn absorbed her words. “I won’t pretend to know what you go through, Ria. I wouldn’t belittle you like that. All I can say is that I love you and will never let you go. Not after finally having found you. You complete me. I will always be here for you and nothing on this earth is going to separate us again. I have been so alone without you. I need you.”

Ria’s heart ached at the tremulous tone and she pressed herself against Kathryn. “I need you, too.”

Smiling faintly, Kathryn said, “Then it’s settled. We stay together.”

Ria hadn’t realized they were talking about breaking up but after Kathryn said the words, she knew that’s where she’d been heading. Kathryn had known what she was going for and known what to do about it. Maybe Ria wouldn’t screw things up this time. Or if she did, maybe Kathryn would stay right where she was as promised. Rosie’s comment again floated through her mind and she began to breathe a little easier.

Kathryn felt the shift in Ria’s mood as almost a physical change and tightened her grip in relief, pressing a kiss to soft hair. Then Ria’s stomach rumbled angrily and they both started laughing. “Time for supper, love.”

“Definitely!” Ria agreed.

They rolled out of bed and Ria grabbed her robe as Kathryn pulled on her clothes. “You should leave some clothes here,” Ria suggested shyly as she met up with Kathryn and slung an arm around her waist.

Kathryn squeezed her into a hug and agreed, “You too, at my place I mean.”

“It’s only ten o’clock,” Ria said with wonder as they entered the kitchen. Kathryn held her close a moment longer, placing a kiss on the back of her neck, then released her. Padding across the smallish kitchen, Ria opened the refrigerator and hummed to herself. “Let’s see. What to make, what to make? How’s breakfast sound? I’m in a pancake mood this week I guess.”

Kathryn chuckled as she hopped up on the counter and answered, “Sounds great to me. I usually just nuke something.”

“That’s why you’re so skinny! Well, not the only reason, I’m sure,” Ria amended with a grin.

“Watch it there woman,” Kathryn warned, twinkle in her eyes.

“Is that your permanent perch?” Ria asked taking out the necessary ingredients.

“Yes as a matter of fact,” Kathryn answered, wriggling her eyebrows. “I like high places.”

“Like you’re not already tall enough?” Ria teased.

“Funny.”

As Ria stirred the batter, a wicked gleam came into her eyes and she commented, “I think we should have desert after breakfast.”

Giving her lover a suspicious look, Kathryn agreed slowly, “Okay. What did you have in mind?”

“That’s for me to know and you to find out,” Ria said. She shivered at the erotic threat in suddenly narrowed eyes but refused to say more. Setting the pan on the stove, she cooked several pancakes and handed a stack to Kathryn. “Syrup’s in the fridge.”

“What? No service?” Kathryn asked, feigning a haughty air.

Chuckling, Ria said, “You are definitely off the “guest status” list my love. Usually it takes three visits, I’m impressed that you managed it in two.”

Placing the plate on the counter and jumping off, Kathryn caught Ria around the waist and pulled the smaller woman hard against her. Bending down slightly, she whispered hotly into Ria’s ear, “I’ve got many skills.”

Ria melted into Kathryn, looking up into those depthless blue eyes as her arms wrapped around Kathryn’s neck, pulling her down for a kiss. A long, wet, sticky kiss that left both of them severely winded. Pulling away, Ria’s voice was shaky. “You don’t know what you do to me, Kathryn.”

Staring at Ria’s mouth, Kathryn replied, “I have an idea it’s the same thing you do to me, Ria. I want to always be touching you, making love to you, just being in your presence lifts my spirit.”

Ria’s eyes closed at the intense words, her blood afire once again. “Kathryn.”

Forgetting all about food, Kathryn pushed Ria against the wall, her knee thrusting between Ria’s legs. Hands roamed everywhere; the robe was opened and dropped to the floor as mouths locked onto each other with furious need. Ria’s hands worked into Kathryn’s hair, lodging there almost painfully as she pulled Kathryn’s head to her breasts. Kathryn hissed but obliged by taking one breast into her mouth, sucking and biting the taut nipple.

A groan escaped her as Ria’s knee thrust into Kathryn’s center, grinding instinctively against her. Needing to feel skin against skin, Kathryn released Ria’s breast long enough to ditch her clothes. Returning to her lover, Kathryn paused as sultry eyes held her helpless in their grip. Ria’s arms stretched out along the wall causing her chest to push out. Her back was arched and her legs open in invitation.

“You are incredible,” Kathryn breathed. She inched forward slowly, capturing Ria’s wrists in one of her hands and holding them over the smaller woman’s head. Her other hand trailed lightly down an imprisoned arm then along Ria’s side, eliciting erotic shivers as it moved. The long bronzed fingers contrasted against milky skin as a visual feast. Kathryn’s eyes followed her hand down as it stopped just above the golden curls. Her hand brushed back and forth on the flesh quivering there at her caress.

“Kathryn,” Ria moaned. “Please.”

Glancing into her lover’s pleading eyes, Kathryn smiled and answered, “Patience my love.”

Ria tried to move forward but Kathryn held her easily in place. Her hand crept down to cup Ria’s sex then one finger teased at the opening, playing with the clit, moving around the wet nub this way and that as it hardened under her touch. Drinking in the sensuous moans escaping Ria, Kathryn suddenly had to have those lips again.

As their lips locked together, the world spun for Ria; it narrowed only to the feelings that Kathryn wrung from her body. The hot breath they shared, the wetness seeping from Kathryn onto Ria’s thigh which had found its way between her lover’s legs again, the rough lips and plundering tongue in her mouth. All of it became her reason for being. She desperately wanted to hold Kathryn, wrap her arms around her lover but that strong hand held her in place with barely an effort.

To be honest, Ria had to admit that she liked it. The lack of control was new to her but with Kathryn the one in control, it wasn’t frightening. It simply spurred her up to higher flights of need. Kathryn’s mouth left her the second before Ria thought she would suffocate from their kiss and she groaned disappointment even as she pulled air into her starving lungs.

Gasping at the return of Kathryn’s insistent fingers to her sex, Ria blindly reached out with the only thing she could. Her leg pressed into Kathryn again and she was satisfied to hear a ragged breath as Kathryn bore down, muscles clenching around Ria’s thigh. Kathryn released her wrists suddenly using her free arm to snake around Ria’s waist and pull her hard against her.

The world spun faster when Kathryn’s fingers plunged into her, thumb pressing with bruising force against her clit as Kathryn rode her thigh. Gritting her teeth with pleasure in the rough sex, Ria thrust her leg up repeatedly as Kathryn came, fulfilling her lover’s craving as her own climax exploded, not even hearing their screams.

Cradled in strong arms, Ria was barely conscious as Kathryn brought her into the bedroom. Within moments of snuggling together under the covers, both women were sound asleep.

****

“What was that you said about dessert?” Kathryn asked, a gleam lighting her eyes.

Deeming it safer, or at least more convenient, to stay in bed, the ruins of supper/breakfast lay strewn about them. Ria had run to the kitchen and reheated the pancakes in the microwave then run back to bed with the food and syrup. Grinning, Ria said, “I think I’m too wiped to even think about dessert at the moment. You sort of one-upped me in the kitchen anyhow.”

“Aw, poor baby,” Kathryn crooned kissing Ria’s nose. “You have such a cute nose.”

Eyebrows scrunched together in disbelief, Ria shook with laughter.

“What?”

“Nothing!” Ria croaked. “It’s just that I can honestly say no one has ever told me that.”

“Then they were idiots and blind ones at that,” Kathryn said firmly. “Not only do you have a cute nose but your ears are just delectable. And your eyes are like the gates to heaven, gleaming emeralds. Not to mention your perfect body and silky skin that makes my mouth dry at the thought of tasting.”

Ria’s laughter had slowed at the first comment then she stilled altogether at the remaining compliments. “You put me to shame,” Ria said softly. Moving from her side onto her knees, Ria straddled Kathryn’s hips and sat back, resting her hands on the washboard stomach. She traced a long, thin scar just below Kathryn’s ribs. Then her fingers caressed another semi-circular scar on Kathryn’s abdomen. Burn scars, faded with time, stood out in relief against the tanned midriff. “Would you tell me about these?”

Kathryn’s face had closed upon the first caress of a scar and Ria held her breath, waiting to see if the walls would go down. After a silent minute, Kathryn sighed and nodded. “My mother is not a kind woman. When I told her I was gay, she kicked me out of the house. I was seventeen and had a huge chip on my shoulder and thought no one could tell me what to do. I was determined to make it in the worst part of the city. I fixed bikes for a living, was damn good at it too, but had the wrong kind of customer. The kind that paid under the table and didn’t care about taxes, which was fine with me.

“For the most part they left me alone and I looked the other way at the deals going down in my rathole garage. Then someone got the idea that I came with the repairs and I ended up in a fight. Even back then I knew how to take care of myself but it wasn’t enough. It was a bad fight. This scar is from a knife. This one from a sawed off pipe going into my gut. The burns were for fun I think, I don’t remember. I killed one and hurt another real bad; he’ll never walk again. But the remaining three did a dance on me.

“I wasn’t raped for some reason. Don’t know why not but it was one less horror to deal with. In any case, the cops could see that I had killed the guy in self-defense so it was an open and shut case. I was in the hospital for months recovering. When I got out, I went into a halfway house knowing that if I didn’t get my shit together, I wouldn’t make it. I met Rosie there, she was a volunteer and took me under her wing. Without her I doubt I’d be here today,” Kathryn finished.

Tears slipped out of Ria at the matter-of-fact explanation. She lowered herself forward, wrapping her arms around Kathryn’s neck and holding tight. “Oh Kathryn, I’m so sorry.”

Strong arms reached around Ria’s back and stroked the soft hair soothingly. “Don’t cry love, it was a long time ago.”

Ria buried her face in the hollow of Kathryn’s shoulder, pressing her lips there gently. “There’s so much real pain in your past. My troubles don’t even compare.”

Kathryn’s hands gripped her shoulders and pushed her up so their eyes could meet. “Don’t ever say that, Ria! Your pain is just as real, it’s just not physical.” She gave a half-hearted smile and continued, “Besides which, most of my pain was self-inflicted in one form or another. I was a bit self-destructive in those days.”

“But…”

“No buts and I mean it, Ria. Don’t hold yourself in so little esteem as to make light of your problems by comparison,” Kathryn said firmly.

Looking down into such sincerity and belief, Ria couldn’t do anything except nod. “I draw strength from you, you know.” Ria confessed. “Even knowing you this short amount of time shows me that I might be strong.”

“You are strong, Ria, you just don’t know how to tap into that strength,” Kathryn corrected.

“Will you show me?” Ria asked hesitantly.

“I can try,” Kathryn answered. A hand left Ria’s shoulder to cup the side of her face. “But I think you’re doing just fine.”

Ria kissed the palm and smiled. “Maybe I am up for a little dessert after all.”

Eyeing her suspiciously, Kathryn asked, “And what would that entail?”

“Nothing except for you to just lie there and let me have my wicked way with you,” Ria said, licking her lips with a leer.

“Um, Ria, I don’t think…”

“Please Kathryn?”

Unable to deny Ria, Kathryn closed her eyes and nodded.

“Thank you,” Ria breathed. She took Kathryn’s hand and proceeded to lick the tips of each finger then gently suck them in her mouth, rolling her tongue around each that had given her such pleasure. She bent over, her hair acting as a curtain while she suckled gently at Kathryn’s large breasts. The slightly salty taste of dried sweat met her tongue and she smiled, loving it.

As her mouth moved over and around both breasts, Ria’s fingers moved up and down Kathryn’s sides, kneading the muscles in a gentle massage. She pushed down further and traced each scar with her tongue then kissed it as though trying to banish each with a mark of her own. Glancing up at Kathryn, she observed, “I wouldn’t wear any halter tops in the near future.”

Kathryn’s stomach quivered with laughter though her eyes had deepened to a smoky blue filled with desire. Ria moved even further down, kneeling between Kathryn’s legs, and rubbed her hands over and around Kathryn’s hips and thighs. Leaning in slowly, Ria breathed in Kathryn’s rich scent as she got closer. Hands still running over Kathryn’s body, Ria felt the first shudder go through her lover and smiled a slow smile of satisfaction.

The dark curls beckoned but Ria wasn’t entirely sure what to do. She carefully parted the swollen lips and dipped a finger along the slit in a feather-light caress. Kathryn’s hips jerked in response. Repeating the stroke brought out another shake and a warning hiss.

“Don’t tease.”

Ria gulped in surprise at the dark look bestowed upon her and bit her lower lip. “I want to explore you. I want to memorize every part of you, Kathryn. I want all of you to be mine.”

Groaning, Kathryn gave a ragged nod of permission, closing her eyes in anticipation of the exquisite torment to come.

Reassured, Ria turned her attention back to the dark thatch and moved her fingers into the sticky wetness waiting there. Some of the clear liquid had escaped to trail along Kathryn’s rock-hard thigh. Bending over, Ria licked up the excess fluid with the full flat of her tongue. Her tongue made its way up the inner thigh to the swollen lips where the little bud was peeking through. Parting them with her tongue, Ria licked and sucked at the nub, delighting in the taste of Kathryn.

She stayed there, running her tongue between the folds to take in the steady fluid but always returning to the clit where she would nip and suck for a blissful eternity. Until Kathryn’s shaking hips and hoarse cries brought her back to herself. Pulling away, she was astonished at the sight of Kathryn’s back arced, head roaming back and forth, fist in her mouth to muffle her cries.

Shooting up, Ria covered Kathryn with her body and pulled the fist from Kathryn’s mouth to replace it with her lips. Hard legs wrapped around her waist and Ria ground their sexes together, thrusting against the woman below her. Hands clutched Ria’s back, fingernails scratching at muscles, producing fire. Gasping into Kathryn’s mouth, Ria couldn’t control herself as she brought both hands under Kathryn’s buttocks to pull her up. Kathryn’s legs fell to the side and she began pushing up to meet Ria’s downward motion.

Ria slowed herself upon hearing the gasping moans she now associated with Kathryn’s orgasm, wanting to draw it out longer.

“Don’t stop, Ria!” Kathryn exclaimed, eyes wild.

Galvanized by the cry, Ria captured Kathryn’s mouth again and rode her lover hard, pumping into her. Her stomach tightened, inner muscles clenching against the coming waves of pleasure, fighting towards orgasm. Kathryn’s shout was swallowed into Ria as she came, Ria only moments behind her, spurting their sticky release onto each other and the bed.

Breathing heavily, Ria collapsed onto Kathryn unable to move, hands trapped beneath Kathryn and not caring. Her ear rested on Kathryn’s breast so she could hear the fast beat slowing into a steady rhythm though it took several minutes. With the slowing of her own heart, Ria felt sleep dragging her down but heard Kathryn’s comment and managed a faint smile.

“If that’s dessert, I don’t think I can handle a main course.”

****

The next time Kathryn opened her eyes, it was to find herself in an empty and cooling bed. The sheet stuck to her from below but she didn’t care as she stretched luxuriously, bone and sinew popping and cracking in protest. She hadn’t felt this satisfied and relaxed in she didn’t know how long. For a beginner, Ria was amazing. Kathryn snorted to herself and thought, ‘Who am I kidding? Ria would put the most skilled courtesan to shame with just her instincts.’

Looking around the room, Kathryn saw her lover nowhere and yawned through another stretch before getting out of bed. Padding naked out of the bedroom, she found Ria standing at the French doors that led out to the patio, also naked.

“Giving the neighbors an eyeful, love?” Kathryn asked, walking up behind her. Her arms went around Ria’s waist, pulling the smaller woman close. She kissed the side of Ria’s throat and felt like purring in satisfaction as Ria relaxed against her.

“No one’s up yet,” Ria whispered. “Look, the sun’s just rising. Isn’t it beautiful?”

Kathryn looked out of the glass doors and had to nod in agreement. The sun’s rays were reaching out to the city, shining against glass and metal to reflect ten times stronger. Hues of pink, rose and purple flooded the lightening blue sky as stars beat a hasty retreat for the day. Closing her eyes and nuzzling her face into Ria’s hair, she spoke softly, “It is.”
Part 3
Ria walked down the street with a bounce to her step and a large grin on her face. It truly amazed her how much her outlook on life had brightened with the arrival of Kathryn in her life. Though there were still problems in her life, and new ones because of her relationship with Kathryn, Ria no longer felt overwhelmed. The drowning sensation was gone, her lifeline firmly in her grasp. Maybe she could even learn how to be as strong as Kathryn some day. That’s what she hoped for at least.

It had only been a couple of days since they’d first made love and they’d repeated the experience several times since then. Each time had been incredible, loving and just plain fun. Ria’s face heated as she remembered how Kathryn had had her begging just the night before. A tingle in her groin accompanied the blush and Ria’s pace quickened, eager to see her lover.

On her way to meet Kathryn for lunch, and engrossed in her thoughts, Ria didn’t see the woman walking towards her until they had knocked squarely into each other. Ria stumbled towards the street, saving herself from going into traffic only by grabbing a newspaper vendor machine. After her heart settled somewhat back into place, Ria looked up to see a tall, blonde woman leaning against the wall, looking at her with an odd expression.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t even see you,” Ria exclaimed. “Are you all right?”

“Fine.”

After another awkward pause, Ria said, “Okay then. Sorry again.”

Halfway down the block, Ria felt as though she were being watched but when she turned around, she only saw the busy crowds of people; no one was staring daggers at her for a spell of clumsiness. Shaking her head at such foolishness, Ria continued on to the café where Kathryn should be waiting.

Ria spotted Kathryn’s tall, dark form sitting in the back booth waiting for her immediately upon stepping into the café. Brilliant blue eyes met her own and Ria smiled, her breath taken away by the love shining there. Practically skipping to the back of the room, Ria sat across from Kathryn who greeted, “Long time no see.”

Ria crinkled her nose playfully and looked pointedly at her watch. “Ah yes. It’s been all of four hours and um, seventeen minutes.”

Taking her hand, Kathryn murmured, “That’s four hours too long.”

“You’re sweet,” Ria said.

Dee, their waitress and Kathryn’s friend, showed up just then. “If you two are through making eyes at each other, how about ordering?”

“Brat,” Kathryn teased.

“Nope. Just too busy at the moment,” Dee countered with a grin.

“I’ll have a root-beer and roast beef club,” Kathryn said, not even looking at the menu.

“Seafood chowder, cheese burger, fries and chocolate shake,” Ria ordered.

Shaking her head in amazement, Dee chuckled. “Where do you put it all?”

“Hollow leg,” Ria answered, winking.

“Obviously,” Dee agreed moving away.

“One of these days your metabolism is going to slow down, you know,” Kathryn teased.

“Ah but you promised to beat me into shape with a workout, remember? So then I’m going to need to eat even more to keep up my energy,” Ria pointed out.

Kathryn just laughed. Her smile faded as she caught sight of something behind Ria. Ria turned to look and saw the blond woman who had knocked into her standing in the doorway. Looking back at Kathryn she asked, “Who is it?”

“Linda.”

Green eyes narrowing with malice, Ria stood up and would have gone forward to do physical mayhem had Kathryn not grabbed her arm.

“It’s okay, Ria,” Kathryn said firmly.

Ria looked into Kathryn’s calm eyes for a long moment. Seeing that Kathryn was honestly not upset about the confrontation that was sure to come, Ria acquiesced and returned to the booth, this time sitting beside Kathryn. Their hands joined under the table. Sure enough, Linda sauntered over to them, sitting in the spot just vacated by Ria.

“Hello there, lover,” Linda said with a broad smile. “It’s good to see you again.”

“Can’t say the same here, Linda. What do you want?” Kathryn asked quietly.

“What? No hugs and kisses to welcome me back? No, I guess not,” Linda replied. “And in answer to your question, I’m just here to see how everyone is getting along. Thought we might catch up on old times.”

Kathryn just looked at her, waiting.

“My, my, you are an old fuddy-duddy these days,” Linda observed. Dark eyes turned to look at Ria and she guessed, “This would be my replacement. Not much in the physical department, Kathryn. Can she even reach your…”

“Enough,” Kathryn interrupted, anticipating Ria’s somewhat volatile nature about to explode as the smaller woman tensed. She didn’t want a fight to start in the middle of the café. “Linda, what do you want? For real. You have to know there’s nothing left here for you. Not after the way everything went down.”

Kathryn was startled by the intensity with which Linda stared at her just then. The dark eyes seemed open and wounded for a split second before closing over. Something was definitely going on and Kathryn had a feeling it was something important. “What’s wrong?”

There was silence all around, almost as though all three women were holding their breaths for Linda to speak. She opened her mouth to say something but Dee arrived with their food, setting the plates and glasses on the table with loud thuds. Brown eyes snapped to the waitress and a malicious smile suddenly blossomed. “Dee! How nice to see you! Say, where’s that dyke you were going out with who wanted to be a man so badly?”

Kathryn groaned silently. The moment was definitely lost.

“Linda. What happened? Cops finally catch up to you and you need a place to hide out?” Dee spat.

“Not really,” Linda answered, standing up. She looked pointedly at Kathryn. “I will see you, later.”

Kathryn watched her go. A pull on her shirt from Ria brought her attention back to her lover. “Yes?”

“Could you release my hand? I think I’ve lost feeling in my fingers,” Ria asked, batting her eyes up at Kathryn with a grin.

Immediately releasing the small hand, Kathryn exclaimed, “I’m so sorry, Ria. I didn’t even realize I was hurting you. Are you all right?”

Ria shook out her hand, wriggling her fingers and said, “I’m fine, Kathryn, don’t worry. I might not be able to write this afternoon but otherwise…”

“I’ll leave you two alone,” Dee said with a grin as Kathryn took Ria’s hand and started massaging it.

“I am really sorry, Ria,” Kathryn apologized again.

Looking up at Kathryn with a faint frown, Ria soothed, “I’m fine, Kathryn, honest. I was exaggerating.”

Sighing, Kathryn said, “No, you weren’t, but thank you. How’s that? Better?”

“Mm, much,” Ria answered as Kathryn’s long fingers rubbed her hand. She closed her eyes and rested her head against the booth back. They opened again when her stomach growled. Chuckling, Ria said dryly, “So much for a romantic interlude.”

Kathryn brought the injured hand up and kissed it. “Any time spent with you is a romantic interlude, love.”

“Careful, I might get a swelled head,” Ria cautioned. Though her hand was still sore, she used it without hesitation, not wanting to let Kathryn see just how much it had hurt. She’d put some ice on it later if it still hurt.

“I wonder why she was really here,” Kathryn mused aloud.

“I don’t know but she practically knocked me into the street on my way here,” Ria said around a mouthful of burger. “I thought I hadn’t been paying attention and we just bumped into each other but now I realize it was deliberate.”

“She did? Maybe I should’ve let you go at her then,” Kathryn said lightly. She was about to kiss Ria’s neck when she noticed someone watching them. “Anyone you know?”

“Who?” Ria asked. Her eyes followed Kathryn’s minute gesture only to come in contact with her boss, Kevin. Swallowing her food with sudden difficulty, she nodded. “It’s my boss.”

He walked towards them, a smile on his face. “Ria! I thought that was you. Mind if I join you two?”

“Sure Kevin,” Ria agreed. What she wanted to do was tell him to get lost but that was hardly appropriate. There was a pause and she realized they were waiting for introductions. ‘I am so totally unprepared for this!’ Ria wailed silently. Taking the coward’s way out, she said, “Oh, sorry. Uh, Kevin Newnan, this is my friend, Kathryn. Kathryn, this is my boss, Kevin.”

“Good to meet you,” Kevin said politely.

“You, too. So you’re the whip-wielder at work, hm?” Kathryn asked, injecting a bit of humor. Poor Ria looked about ready to faint. Kathryn could tell that Kevin hadn’t noticed Ria’s sudden attack of nerves since his eyes were riveted on her. ‘Great,’ she thought sourly. ‘Another man way too interested in me. Why does this always happen? And now it’s Ria’s boss, that’s just lovely!’

He grinned. “That’s me. Not that I do much of that with Ria. She’s too good at what she does.”

“I have noticed that,” Kathryn agreed with a grin. She massaged Ria’s thigh under the table and slowly Ria relaxed. Kathryn kept up a steady flow of inane chatter until enough time had passed for her to excuse herself. “I should be getting back to work. It was nice to meet you, Kevin.”

“You too,” he answered, standing as she stood.

Ria looked reluctantly at Kathryn, expecting to find a betrayed or angry look but finding only calm acceptance. She didn’t deserve this woman. “Will I see you tonight?”

“I’ll be there,” Kathryn assured her.

Ria and Kevin stayed a while longer, talking about work issues. Inside Ria felt like a heel, knowing she should have introduced Kathryn properly to Kevin but even now when she thought of it, her stomach tightened in panic. What on earth was she going to do? Kathryn didn’t deserve this from anyone let alone the woman professing to love her. She and Kevin wrapped up the bill then started walking back to work.

“That’s a nice place. I just happened on it by accident and there you were. I hope I didn’t interrupt anything, you two seemed to be in a serious talk,” Kevin said.

“That’s okay. I’m going to see her tonight anyhow,” Ria assured him truthfully.

“So. Is Kathryn seeing someone?” Kevin asked not very casually.

Grinning wryly, Ria observed, “So much for your undying love for me.”

Unrepentant, Kevin prodded, “Well?”

“Yes. Kathryn is definitely involved,” Ria said firmly. At least that’s what she hoped.

Kevin’s face fell and he sighed. “That figures. Well, is there hope for me? Is he a total idiot?”

Ria sighed. “Definitely an idiot, Kevin, but I’m hoping they still have a future.”

****

Walking into her apartment that night was about the hardest thing Ria had had to do in a long time. She imagined Kathryn sitting on the couch, face lost in that remote expression she sometimes got, and unable to even speak to Ria in her anger. The stomachache she experienced now was far worse than that from the unexpected meeting with Kevin at lunch. Kathryn was waiting on the couch for her but she looked up with a smile from her newspaper at Ria’s entrance.

“Kathryn, I am so sorry,” Ria exclaimed. “I just…I panicked, I’m sorry.”

Kathryn stood, meeting her halfway and took her hands with a gentle smile. “It’s all right, Ria, really.”

Ria shook her head and exclaimed, “No, it’s not all right. I was such a coward. How can you even stand to look at me let alone touch me?”

“Ria, you’re being way too hard on yourself. Everyone panics, believe me. Everyone goes through the ‘oh my god what do I do’ phase at one point or another.”

“I bet you didn’t,” Ria muttered, unable to look up into those clear blue eyes. Kathryn’s hand came up to Ria’s chin and pulled it up so their eyes had to meet.

“Yes, I did. And I wasn’t even in nearly as awkward a situation as yours was today. I didn’t have to worry about my boss’ opinion,” Kathryn countered gently. She pressed her lips to Ria’s for a soft moment then led the smaller woman to the couch. She gathered Ria into her arms, pulling Ria’s legs over her own so they were totally connected. “I was fifteen and there was this girl, in the chess club of all things, that caught my attention. She wasn’t a beauty but had the softest brown hair that fell to her waist and nice hazel eyes. Here I was the bad girl of the school and I only wanted to get in this girl’s good graces. She thought I was stalking her at first, couldn’t understand why I was hanging around her but eventually we became friends, she even taught me chess.

“We were walking in the park one day and I got up the courage to take her hand. She asked what I was doing and I just stammered out that I was fooling around and let go. Looking back, I think if I had told her how I felt, she might have surprised me. The point is that I panicked, that I wasn’t ready to be who I was,” Kathryn finished with a kiss on Ria’s chin. “And it wasn’t the only time, either.”

“You were young, Kathryn, of course you’d be scared,” Ria protested.

“So are you, Ria. You are about two weeks young if my math serves me correctly. I mean, not to sound like I’m bragging or anything, but I was the only one to even make you think of being with a woman, right?” Kathryn grinned expectantly and waited for the explosion.

“Bragging? Did you say bragging?” Ria exclaimed. She squirmed into a better position and started tickling Kathryn until they were both in fits of laughter.

Kathryn carried the full-blown wrestling match to the floor, making sure they didn’t accidentally roll off the couch and into the glass coffee table. She’d noticed Ria’s penchant for knocking into things at the worst possible moment. It wasn’t long before the wrestling turned to loving and Kathryn found herself kneeling over Ria, pulling off her shirt and running her hands under Ria’s blouse. She captured Ria’s mouth only to find herself captured by Ria’s demanding lips and bold tongue. Melting into Ria’s command, Kathryn rolled them so Ria lay full on top of her.

Kathryn heard the knocking but ignored it, concentrating instead on the wonderful sensations Ria was creating with her hands on Kathryn’s breasts. The knocking turned to pounding and the women stopped, both breathing hard.

“Who on earth could that be?” Ria wondered, highly irritation. “All right already, I’m coming!”

Kathryn stayed where she was for a frustrated moment then growled and pulled on her shirt. Whoever it was, it wouldn’t do for them to find a half-naked woman on the floor in an obviously interrupted state of passion. It wasn’t Kathryn’s right to play with Ria’s reputation that way until and unless Ria was ready for it. Which she obviously wasn’t.

Ria shook out her hair since Kathryn had half undone it anyhow, and looked out the peephole. Her stomach sank as she took in her brother’s face. What else could possibly go wrong today? “I’ll be right with you, Patrick.”

“C’mon Ria, open up!” he barked through the door.

“Wait!” Ria barked right back. She walked to Kathryn and warned, “It’s my brother. He’s not a very pleasant man on a good day and it looks like he and mother have talked. He doesn’t have the most favorable views towards, well, towards gays. He’s going to be offensive but please don’t do anything? For me?”

Kathryn looked down into the pleading and pained eyes and sighed. Her fingers brushed Ria’s cheek and she said, “I will do whatever you want, love. It’s your show.”

“Thanks, Kat,” Ria said, managing a small smile. “Okay. Here we go.”

Kathryn watched as Ria opened the door and became an entirely different person when her brother walked in the apartment. It was even more dramatic than when her mother had been present. Her eyes narrowed as the bully walked in and her lip curled in a sneer. She’d met his type before, met dealt with them more than once. He was big, almost six feet tall with muscles only just now softening from age and disuse. He wore an expensive suit and practically strutted when he walked. Their eyes met and Kathryn was surprised to find his almost the exact same shade of green as Ria’s, which seemed wrong somehow.

“So this is the dyke who converted you, huh Ria? Thought you had more taste than to waste your time on such trash,” Patrick opened.

Kathryn didn’t really move but she pictured herself slamming a fist into his face and the blood spurting out of his broken nose. That made her smile as genuine as possible given the situation. “And you’re the…man…who has been so supportive of Ria since you were children, I can just tell.”

Ria quickly moved between the two combatants, though only words had so far been fired, and turned to her lover. “Kathryn, would you give us some time please?”

Kathryn did not want to leave Ria alone with this man, every instinct cried out for her to refuse, but she had promised. After a long pause, Kathryn nodded and said, “I’ll turn on my cell in case you need me. Want anything at the store?”

“How about some cookies?” Ria suggested. She had the feeling that she would need them when this was all over.

“Will do. I’m just going to the corner store so I won’t be long,” Kathryn said. She kissed Ria’s cheek, squeezed her shoulder supportively and whispered, “You’re stronger than him.”

“See you later, bro,” Kathryn said as she passed him by. He practically snarled an answer. Closing the door behind her was one of the hardest things she’d ever had to do. She wanted to stay right outside the door because, Ria’s brother or not, Kathryn didn’t trust him as far as she could throw him. Touching the door for a brief moment, Kathryn sighed and walked down the hall towards the elevator that had finally been fixed. It was going to be a long night.

****

Ria looked at Patrick’s enraged face and sighed. It was going to be a long night. She walked to the kitchen and began to make tea. She needed something stronger but she’d be damned if she was going to let her family drive her to drink again. As she filled the kettle, she called out, “So now that you’ve barged in here and insulted the woman I love, what can I do for you Patrick?”

“Ria, I just came over here to talk. I didn’t mean to start out that way, honest. I’m sorry for being such a jerk,” Patrick answered. He leaned on the counter and continued, “She was just…worse than I expected. I was surprised is all.”

Voice carefully neutral, Ria asked, “How so?”

“She’s just so…obviously a lesbian and looks very predatory. My protective instincts came out in full force when I saw how she had manipulated you into this relationship. If you can even call it that,” Patrick explained.

Jaw tightening in anger, Ria said, “Since so many things are so obvious to you, Patrick, why don’t you tell me how it is that you didn’t know I was terribly depressed. That I was in serious emotional trouble and you did nothing about it. As usual.”

“Ria, we never see each other, how would I have known that if you didn’t tell me?” Patrick asked, placating. “And what you just said confirmed to me that she’s taking advantage of you.”

“How? Or better yet why, Patrick? Why would Kathryn take advantage of me?” Ria demanded angrily.

“Well it’s not like you’re poor, Ria,” Patrick reminded her. “Especially not after mother dies.”

“Yeah, in like thirty years!” Ria exclaimed. She pulled the whistling kettle off the stove and poured the tea. “C’mon Patrick, you’ve got to do better than that.”

“How about the fact that you’re beautiful?” Patrick said quietly.

That stopped Ria in her tracks. She almost over-poured the boiling water into her mug she was so surprised.

“I’m your brother, Ree, I love you. I know I don’t say it but you are a beautiful and charming young woman. You are a rising star in that company you work for and a good person. Too good sometimes, you don’t see that others are just out to use you,” Patrick said earnestly.

Ria looked at him sharply as the past came flooding back to her. “Wrong thing to say, Patrick, way wrong thing to say.”

He swallowed, getting the reference, and tried another tack. “Look, Ree, Mom is having a shit fit over this. I mean you never once showed an…inclination towards something like this in the past. This is completely out of the blue and totally unlike you! That’s why we feel like you’re being manipulated by this woman. Even say she isn’t interested in your finances, that she does just want you, why would she choose now to press her advantage? Because you’re in a weakened state, that’s why. She obviously picked up on it and took you in.”

Disgusted by everything he had just said, Ria had to take a long breath, just staring at him. “I didn’t realize you held me in so little regard, Patrick. Although with all the shit you pulled on me in the past, I should have. I realize that I’m not the strongest person in the world but I am not a sucker except when it comes to family. I want you to get out of here.”

“Ree, please, you’re getting hysterical. Just listen to the rest of what I have to say. I only want what’s best for you!” Patrick pleaded.

Suddenly, everything Patrick had ever done to her in the name of love and protection overwhelmed her and Ria could only see him as a devil or evil spirit trying to suck her into his hell. “No! Get out! Get out of my house and don’t come back!” Ria screamed. Her hand slammed against the teacup to send it shattering against the wall.

Shocked, Patrick stared at her a second then pulled himself together. “Fine. If you want to act like a raving lunatic, it’ll only make things harder on yourself. Good night, Gabriella, take care of yourself.”

He didn’t say anything else, just turned and walked out the door, slamming it behind him. Trying to control the shaking that started in her hands, Ria felt suddenly nauseas and threw up in the sink. It was the first time she’d ever stood up to Patrick in her life. She collapsed to the floor, crying.

****

Kathryn could feel something very wrong as soon as she walked out of the elevator. As she got closer to Ria’s apartment, the neighbor in the apartment adjacent to Ria’s opened the door and a young woman put her head out. “Excuse me, are you Ria’s girlfriend?”

Kathryn nodded, face paling. She hadn’t even met any of Ria’s neighbors; it was a quiet, keep-to-yourself kind of building. For this woman to ask that question could not be good. “Name’s Kathryn. What happened?”

“Hi, I’m Lillith, but everyone calls me Lil. I don’t know, but there was screaming some time ago. I saw her brother leave and knocked on the door but she didn’t answer. I’m worried,” Lil answered.

Kathryn ran the rest of the way and flew into the apartment, finding it unlocked only increasing her fear. “Ria! Ria where are you?”

When there was no answer, Kathryn thought she was going to faint as panic sliced through her that Patrick had done the worst. Then she heard movement in the kitchen and rushed over. She found Ria on the floor, rubbing her eyes and knelt beside her, careful of the broken glass. “Ria, love, are you okay?”

“Fine,” Ria gave a shaky smile. “I’m just a little sick is all. I did it, Kat. I stood up to him for the first time.”

“Oh Ria, come here, love.” Kathryn put her arms around Ria and held her as tight as she could, soaking in the warmth of Ria’s still shaking body. “I should never have left you alone with him. I knew it was a bad idea. I’m so sorry, love.”

“No, Kathryn, you did as I asked and it was probably better that you did,” Ria mumbled from the hollow of Kathryn’s shoulder.

Kathryn picked her up and stood. “I’m going to put you to bed. Then I’ll get you something a bit stronger than tea to settle your nerves and we’ll have a good long talk.”

As she walked out of the kitchen with Ria in her arms, Kathryn found Lil standing hesitantly at the door threshold.

“Is she all right?” Lil asked.

“Just a bit shaken, thanks, Lil,” Kathryn answered. “Would you mind…?”

“Oh no, I’ll just show myself out. I’m glad she’s okay,” Lil said with a relieved smile.

Kathryn heard the door close as she approached the bedroom and made a mental note to lock it as soon as she had Ria all settled. She didn’t want any nocturnal visits from Patrick without them knowing. She also made a mental note to talk to Ria about a security system in a few days when the dust had settled. This building had always been a bit too easy to get into for Kathryn’s taste and now especially so.

Using her foot to pull the covers down was a little tricky but Kathryn managed. She set Ria on the bed then helped her off with her clothes. She pulled the covers over the small woman and bit her lip at the fragile picture presented. “I’m just going to lock up for the night and then be right back.”

“I’ll be here,” Ria said, attempting humor.

Kathryn smiled and left the room. She went directly to the door and locked it then pulled a chair under the knob for good measure. It was then that Kathryn realized she was still scared. Not the mind numbing fear from before but scared nonetheless. She ran an unsteady hand through her hair and took a deep breath. The thought that something had happened to Ria had completely debilitated her. She knew herself well enough to know that sometime tomorrow she was going to want to kill Patrick and planned a solitary boxing workout for the afternoon.

If she even left Ria tomorrow, which was still uncertain.

Walking into the kitchen, Kathryn cleaned up the remains of the mug. Looking through the cabinets, she could not find a single bottle of alcohol. There wasn’t even any wine and she knew there had been some a few nights ago. Frowning, she walked back into the bedroom and was going to ask Ria about it when she saw her lover sound asleep. Kathryn simply stared at her for several minutes, taking her in, memorizing every detail not already burned into her brain. She pulled off her clothes and slipped into bed beside Ria, spooning against her lover’s backside and wrapping her arm around Ria’s waist. She breathed in the soft floral scent of Ria’s hair and cuddled against the softer woman.

“I love you, Ria, please don’t ever leave me.”

****

Ria woke suddenly in the darkness, stiffening in the almost claustrophobic press of weight upon her. After a fearful moment, she felt soft breasts against her and relaxed, knowing it was Kathryn. The events of the night came back to her and the heat of embarrassment flooded her. She’d been completely useless, completely reliant upon Kathryn as soon as the other woman had shown up. She’d been put to bed like a child. When would she grow up? When would she be able to stand her ground without breaking down like an emotional Titanic?

“You want to talk about it?”

Ria jumped at the question.

“Sorry love, didn’t mean to startle you,” Kathryn apologized, kissing a bare shoulder. “I’m not a counselor or anything but I’m a pretty good listener. I know that whatever happened between you and Patrick had to be traumatic because you aren’t one to fly apart like that.”

“Yes I am.” The bitter words escaped before Ria could stop them.

Kathryn waited silently.

“My father wasn’t the most demonstrative of men,” Ria whispered. “He was also not the nicest of men. None of the men in my family are; most of them are angry drunks or cold workaholics. My dad added mean and belittling to the list, which, as you can probably guess, didn’t make for strong self-esteem to a young girl. He cheated on and then divorced my mother and left us to fend for ourselves. It’s not like I ever physically went without; I had a pretty decent childhood even after the divorce. But it was just me and Patrick from a pretty early age. I idolized him, tagged along like a puppy wherever he went.

“He was as bad as my father, really, only I rationalized his behavior. Time and again, I let him sucker me in on some damned fool’s quest to get rich quick or to be his doormat when he needed to pour out his soul to someone. Not that he ever reciprocated, of course, he was too busy for anything like that. He’s just like his father and can use words to pick me apart in less than a minute.

“Even after he squandered my life’s savings and 401(k) savings I didn’t draw the line. I kept listening to him and letting him into my life. He was like a sickness that I couldn’t get rid of because in my family, if someone asks for help, you give it to them. I supported both him and my mother simultaneously for a few years. They bled me dry pretty damn well actually. My best friends told me to get out, just pick up and move but I felt guilty for even thinking of myself.

“I think I would have been fine tonight if he’d kept the conversation limited to you and me being a…a dyke,” Ria stumbled over the word but felt oddly better for having used it. “But he brought it around to how he and mother felt. How you were manipulating me and taking advantage of me. Everything just came to a head. I screamed at him. I can’t believe I actually screamed at him. I think that’s the first time in my life I’ve screamed at anyone other than myself.”

“How does it feel?” Kathryn asked quietly.

Ria started laughing then got control of herself and answered, “It feels pretty damned good. Although directly after, I threw up and then collapsed into a quivering heap, which is pathetic.”

“Ria, you are not pathetic in any way, shape, or form,” Kathryn said firmly. “Of course there would be some kind of physical reaction to standing upto someone who has been, by your own account, a dominant force in your life. It takes a special kind of strength to do something like that and I just want to say that I’m rather in awe of you that you did it. Most people just go on with their lives and take no chances and make no waves, fearing what might happen. You did it and survived. I love you so much, Ria, and I am so proud of you.”

Tears formed in Ria’s eyes and her throat grew hot with trying to hold them back.

Feeling the new tension, Kathryn asked, “What’s wrong? What did I say?”

“No one I love has ever said that to me before,” Ria gasped, pushing down the tears and turning to hold tight to Kathryn.

“Said what?”

“That they were proud of me,” Ria answered.

Though she didn’t say anything more as she rubbed Ria’s back in soothing circular motions, inside Kathryn was cursing Ria’s entire family. That Ria had somehow made it out of that family not only intact, but as good and whole a person as she was, was a tribute to her inner character. “They’re the pathetic ones, Ria, you are amazing my love. My sweet love. My true love.”

Ria sighed, finally and completely relaxing as Kathryn alternately spoke and kissed her. Her lips were soft and gentle, warm and loving, as they moved from her shoulder up her throat to her mouth. When their lips met Ria opened her mouth, taking Kathryn’s tongue into her. She tried to respond by moving her hands to Kathryn’s breasts but Kathryn stopped her.

“This is all for you my love,” Kathryn said, holding Ria’s hands off to the side. She stayed a long time at Ria’s mouth, just making out, sucking on her lips and tongue, trying to swallow her whole. Then her wet lips trailed down to Ria’s breasts and she played with the nipples, gently nipping and sucking at them for an eternity while Ria began to move restlessly under her.

“I love how you respond to me,” Kathryn murmured. Her tongue slid down the hollow of Ria’s ribcage stopping at the belly button. She smiled when the smaller woman began to shake with laughter as Kathryn caressed the extra sensitive place with the barest tip of her tongue. She moved down even more, reaching the hot moist reward she’d been after from the start. Kathryn could smell Ria’s need as her tongue entered the wet folds. She heard Ria’s gasping moan and smiled yet again. This was what she wanted, what she needed; to give Ria the pleasure she so deserved.

Kathryn teased the hardened nub, licking and tickling Ria until the smaller woman’s restless movements had turned into urgent thrusts trying to reach the barely touching tongue. Kathryn felt her own clit throbbing with exquisite need and as she brought Ria screaming over the edge, she squeezed her inner muscles and rode the orgasm with her lover. She kept licking and thrusting her tongue into Ria until the smaller woman barely moved with the occasional spasm. Then Kathryn moved up and snuggled up against her.

She was startled by the sneak attack of Ria’s fingers into her still somewhat pulsing mound. “Ria!”

Ria didn’t answer her, just continued rubbing and stroking her until Kathryn groaned her own release into Ria’s demanding mouth. Ria put her leg between Kathryn’s and wrapped her arms around Kathryn’s neck. “I love you, Kathryn. Thank you.”

“No thanks necessary, believe me, love,” Kathryn practically purred.

****

“I think you should play hooky today,” Kathryn suggested with a yawn.

Ria groaned, looking at the clock that said she’d already missed an hour of work. “We definitely forgot to set the alarm last night.”

Kathryn nuzzled her throat. “Definitely.”

“That’s very distracting you know,” Ria commented, chuckling.

“Good,” Kathryn said, kissing under Ria’s chin.

“I’m hungry. I’m going to call in at work and then make a big breakfast,” Ria said, rolling away from Kathryn and towards the phone. As her hand reached it, it rang. “It’s so weird when that happens.”

“Very,” Kathryn agreed.

“Hello?” Ria asked.

“Ria? It’s Kevin.”

“Kevin. I was just about to call. I was really sick last night and I’m wiped. Just woke up actually,” Ria said.

“Are you okay?”

“I think so. I’m going to take it easy today and hope it doesn’t come back. A really nasty stomach thing, I don’t think I have anything left in my stomach,” Ria said, grinning at Kathryn who was making faces at her.

“If you need anything, just call. I think this is the first sick day you’ve used since you’ve been with us in what, four years?” Kevin asked.

“Something like that,” Ria agreed.

“Okay, well, get some rest and we’ll see you on Monday.”

“Thanks. Bye, Kevin.” Ria hung up the phone.

“Did he believe you?” Kathryn asked.

“Considering I’ve never called in sick before, he kinda has to,” Ria said.

“Never?” Kathryn asked, amazed.

“I’m healthy as a horse, what can I say?” Ria said. She planted a big kiss on Kathryn’s mouth and pulled away quickly. “Time for breakfast.”

They were in the kitchen, Kathryn watching Ria cook, when she remembered to ask about the alcohol. “Ria, why don’t you have any alcohol? I’ve seen you drink before so I know you haven’t sworn it off or anything.”

Ria smiled at the diplomatic pause. “I don’t have any here for the simple reason that I don’t want anything to use as a crutch. I did that once in my life and I won’t do it again. If I drink, I want to know it’s because I’m just enjoying the wine or company, not because I’m stressed or angry or depressed or anything.”

“Your family,” Kathryn commented.

Ria nodded. “That would be correct. It was a rotten time in my life when I had both Mom and Patrick living with me.”

“That’s enough to drive anyone to drink,” Kathryn muttered.

Chuckling, Ria nodded. “True enough but I don’t want to go there again. Go and set the table, this is almost done.”

“Wow, you’re fast,” Kathryn said.

“Shh, don’t spread that around,” Ria joked.

Kathryn laughed and started pulling down plates and gathering silverware.

“So what are we going to do this lovely long weekend?” Kathryn asked as they ate a few minutes later.

“I’m certainly open to suggestion,” Ria replied. “We could just relax and do some puttering.”

“Puttering? And what does puttering encompass?” Kathryn teased.

“Oh you know. Laundry, cleaning, going to the mall. Puttering,” Ria answered.

“And here I always thought it had something to do with golf,” Kathryn said.

“Golf? Ew! Boring! Old men walking around in ugly pants. Can’t get worse than that,” Ria said.

“You have obviously not watched women’s golf,” Kathryn countered.

“Women’s golf? Um, no, can’t say that I have,” Ria agreed.

“Then it’s fortunate that tomorrow is Saturday because that’s what we’re going to do,” Kathryn said firmly.

“Watch women’s golf?”

“Watch women’s golf.”

****

Kathryn looked down at her sleeping lover with a grin. They were stretched out on the couch, nominally to watch women’s golf, but in fact, apparently, for Ria to catch up on her sleep. They’d spent Friday walking around the mall, taking in a movie and eating whatever caught Ria’s fancy. ‘Which is a lot of odd things,’ Kathryn thought with a fond smile.

The first hour of this morning’s education Kathryn had spent explaining who the various women were and what their ranking was and the general rules of the game. The second hour Kathryn had watched the tournament, ignoring Ria’s increasing yawns as the smaller woman slowly relaxed against her. When she completely nodded off, about a half-hour ago, Kathryn had shaken her head silently in amusement and gently rearranged them so she could both hold Ria and watch the tournament in comfort.

It was around two o’clock that someone knocked at the door and Kathryn tensed, immediately thinking of Patrick. Kathryn slid out from under Ria, careful not to disturb her, and looked through the peephole. To her surprise, it was Lil and she opened the door. “Hey Lil, how are you?” Kathryn asked with a smile.

“Fine. I just wanted to see how Ria was doing,” Lil answered. She held out a fairly large glass covered bowl. “I made a casserole.”

“Oh. Uh, thanks. Ria’s sleeping right now but you’re welcome to join me. I was trying to show her the finer aspects of life through women’s golf but it seems to have eluded her,” Kathryn said, taking the dish. There was something about this shy girl with her dark hair and quiet manner that appealed to Kathryn. Of course it would be good to know that someone nearby was a friend, just in case. Kathryn buried the thought quickly, bringing her attention back to the present.

“Really? Which tournament?” Lil asked.

“Ah! Now those are words I like to hear. C’mon in!” Kathryn exclaimed.

“Oh no, I don’t want to disturb you or anything…”

“Nonsense. You’ll be keeping me company until Ria decides to wake up,” Kathryn assured her, practically closing the door behind Lil to keep her from leaving.

“I heard that,” Ria called from the couch. “I did not fall asleep, I was just resting my eyes.”

“Which is why I have a drool mark on my shirt,” Kathryn teased knowingly. “Lil brought us a casserole.”

Ria walked over, taking the dish from Kathryn with a hip-bump, nudging the taller woman out of the way with a sweet grin. “Thank you, Lil, that was very kind of you. Would you like something to drink? I’ve got soda, milk, tea?”

“Soda is fine, thanks,” Lil accepted, following Kathryn towards the tv. She sat on the chair opposite the tv while Kathryn took her seat on the couch again. “So how long have you two been together?”

At little surprised at the directness of the question, Kathryn answered, “Only a few weeks.”

“I was wondering. I mean, I didn’t see you before then but when I see you two together, you seem like you’ve been together a long time,” Lil said.

“Sometimes it seems like forever,” Ria commented dryly, returning with three cans of soda. She didn’t know why, but it seemed perfectly natural to be discussing their love life with Lil. Ria had always liked Lil. They’d said hello and talked many times since the younger woman had moved in about a year ago but the friendship hadn’t progressed further than that for some reason. She vowed to make a better effort. Ria snuggled up to Kathryn, tucking her feet up under her. “And I do not drool.”

“Uh-huh,” Kathryn agreed.

“Was that to the forever part or the drooling part?” Ria demanded.

“Yes,” Kathryn said diplomatically.

Ria snorted and looked over to Lil, who was grinning. “So how about you? Anyone special in your life right now?”

“Oh no. I’m, well, I’m not very good at socializing, I don’t do the clubbing thing, so it’s really hard to meet anyone,” Lil answered.

Going on a hunch, Kathryn asked, “So what do you look for in a woman?”

“I’m that transparent, hm?” Lil said ruefully.

“No you aren’t,” Ria assured her. “Kathryn is just a very good judge of people.”

“That’s nice of you to say,” Lil said with a sigh. “Truth is, I don’t have many friends and I don’t really know where to go to meet, well, women so I’m perpetually single.”

“That’s right, you’re from out of state, aren’t you?” Ria said, feeling like slapping herself silly. No wonder Lil always seemed a bit lost before their conversations really got going. She was probably just floating along without anyone to talk to.

“I am. I came here on a job transfer, much better money and all, but I haven’t acclimated very well I’m afraid,” Lil admitted.

“Well. I love to meddle in my friends’ love lives, introduced my best friend to her husband matter of fact, so we’ll have you with that special someone in no time,” Ria promised.

Lil laughed. “I didn’t come over here to get a date.”

“Too late. My mind is made up,” Ria said firmly.

“Don’t even try to change her mind,” Kathryn suggested, leaning forward. “She’s stubborn as a…”

“Don’t even say it,” Ria cut her off, clapping her hand over Kathryn’s mouth. Kathryn kissed her palm and Ria laughed, pulling her hand away.

“You two are great. Restores my faith in love,” Lil said with a sigh.

“Hey, we haven’t had lunch yet, have you? How about we tear into that casserole?” Ria suggested.

“Sure,” Lil agreed.

****

“Well that was a nice surprise,” Ria said, settling into bed with Kathryn that night. Lil had left only an hour before despite the late hour. They’d spend a pleasant afternoon talking and joking around as Kathryn continued to watch the tournament. Lil joined in the golf talk, paying enough attention to the tv to follow what was going on. Unlike Ria who completely ignored the whole thing, finding it just as boring as men’s golf.

“Yes, you two certainly hit it off. Should I be worried?” Kathryn asked, pulling Ria close.

“As if,” Ria said, snuggling into the warm embrace. “I know this sounds weird but it’s like she’s a younger sister to me, the sister I always wanted but never had. We’d talked before this, of course, but I was so wrapped up in myself that I didn’t even think to make better friends with her.”

“Doesn’t sound weird at all. And stop being so hard on yourself,” Kathryn ordered, kissing the back of Ria’s neck.

“That’s your favorite place to nibble, isn’t it?” Ria asked, shivers going down her back.

“M-hm,” Kathryn agreed, continuing to kiss the same area until a hickey blossomed. Then she gave it a gentle lick and laid her head on the pillow.

Laying in Kathryn’s arms, Ria felt more content and at peace than she had probably in her whole life. It felt good to know that someone else knew her secrets and didn’t think any less of her. Ria knew there was a lot more to Kathryn than they’d even come close to discussing but she was patient and there was plenty of time for that later. They had their whole lives together after all.

“You’re thinking awfully hard, love,” Kathryn murmured.

“Just about you,” Ria answered truthfully.

“What about me?” Kathryn asked.

“Just about how you know all my secrets and don’t think any less of me for them,” Ria said.

“I think all the more of you for them,” Kathryn said firmly.

Ria yawned and grasped Kathryn’s hand in her own. “I love you, Kathryn.”

“I love you, Ria.”

****

“Katey.”

Kathryn froze in the middle of lifting her weight at the voice. The throaty whisper sent instant shivers up her spine even years later. The weights dropped back into their slot with a loud clang and she spun in her chair to face Linda. The blonde was leaning against a chest nautilus machine, watching her with a knowing smile. Kathryn hadn’t wanted to leave Ria but the smaller woman had insisted that she go to her workout as planned. Though she’d half expected something to happen, this wasn’t it.

“Linda. What do you want?” Kathryn asked cautiously. Though she couldn’t detect any malice in the other woman’s face, that didn’t mean a thing. Linda had control over her emotions like nobody’s business.

“I just want to talk without worrying about getting my face punched in. Can we do that?” Linda asked.

Kathryn stared at her for a long moment then gave a short nod. “I’m listening.”

“What, now? I was hoping for a little more privacy,” Linda said.

Kathryn turned away and picked up her bar, obviously intent on going back to her workout.

“No, wait, okay. Now is fine,” Linda exclaimed, reaching for her.

Kathryn flinched away from the touch.

Linda’s eyes went wide at her reaction, expression pained and contrite. “Oh Katey, I am so sorry. I didn’t realize just how badly I hurt you until right now.”

Kathryn’s lip curled. “You wanted to talk, so talk.”

Linda moved to kneel in front of her. “After I left you, I went around the bend. I had no friends left, nowhere to go, you were in jail and didn’t want to speak to me ever again. I couldn’t live with what I’d done to you. I took to drinking and ended up in someone’s bed. That woman, Jackie, well the short version is that she’s a councelor and helped me straighten out my life. Or at least showed me that it needed straightening out but that it was up to me to do the work.

“Work. You know me, Katey. If I can get out of it, I will. I still have a lot of bad habits but I’m working on them. I came back here to apologize and try to make it up to you, to see if there might be a chance in hell for us to work things out. I know you probably don’t believe a word I’ve said but I am sorrier than you can ever imagine and only want to make things right between us. I’m sorry about what happened at the café, too, I was just taken by surprise at seeing you with someone else,” Linda finished. She slowly reached forward to rest her hands on Kathryn’s tightly clenched fists. She gently worked them open, soothing the super-tense hands.

It wasn’t Linda’s words that Kathryn couldn’t believe; it was her reaction to them that floored her. She had thought that nothing Linda could ever do would affect her ever again. She wasn’t even sure what she was feeling, Kathryn just knew that her heart was racing and her stomach was clenched with tension. What kind of tension, Kathryn couldn’t identify. This woman who knelt so quietly before her had been her world at more than one point in time. Finally, she managed to speak. “Linda. I honestly don’t know what to say.”

“Don’t say anything right now, please. Just think about what I said and please call me sometime during the week when we can talk in private,” Linda asked. She fished a business card out from her purse and pressed it into Kathryn’s hands.

“I’ll think about it.” Kathryn couldn’t believe the words even as they rolled off her tongue. This was wrong! She shouldn’t have anything further to do with Linda! She knew that for a fact but…

“Thank you, Katey. I’ll leave you to your workout and wait for your call,” Linda said with a faint smile. She stood and brushed her hand across Kathryn’s cheek. “I’ve missed you, Katey.”

Kathryn watched her walk through the obstacle course of nautilus machines and free weights completely disoriented. What had just happened?

****

The roar of her fat-boy vibrated through Kathryn as she rode the quiet back road. The warm metal of her motorcycle was solid and soothing. The cold breeze more than enough to keep her focused even as her thoughts were scattered. After Linda had left, she couldn’t settle on anything and knew it was time for a drive.

She also knew that Ria was waiting for her at home but there was no way she could face her lover with such confusion. Kathryn felt like such a heel for even letting Linda’s words affect her as they had. Why was there even a shred of something inside her that wanted to believe the woman had changed? After everything that had happened, after all the shit Linda had pulled, why was she even wasting her time thinking about it?

****

Rosie looked up at the knock on the office door and smiled in surprise. “Well hi there, kiddo. Twice in less than a month, I am honored. What’s going on?”

Kathryn shrugged. “Not much. Just thought I’d pop in to talk. I haven’t seen you in forever.”

Rosie knew that closed off look on her friend’s face was more than a simple talk. It had been a long time since she’d seen that look and she repressed a sigh. She’d been positive that young thing would work out her problems and keep on with Kathryn. “Have a seat. Tell old Rosie what’s going on. Things didn’t work out with that girl, did it.”

Kathryn seemed surprised. “Oh yeah, they did Rosie. Ria’s great.”

“Ria! That’s it. I couldn’t remember her name,” Rosie exclaimed, snapping her fingers. “So you’re seeing each other?”

Kathryn lost that tense look for a brief moment in a smile. “Yes. Ria is everything I’d thought she would be. Her family’s another story but then, so is mine.”

Rosie waited, knowing there was more to come.

“Linda’s back in town.”

Rosie tensed just hearing the name; she certainly didn’t have to ask Linda Who. Still, she kept her voice carefully neutral. “How is she?”

“Different,” Kathryn answered.

Taken aback by the emphasis, Rosie pursed her lips thoughtfully. “Different how?”

“She apologized for everything that went down. Said that she went crazy and now she’s trying to straighten herself out. Said that she wants to come back.”

Rosie really looked at Kathryn and didn’t like what she saw. The tall woman was hunched in on herself, knees pulled up with her chin resting on them. Her eyes were shuttered, not letting any emotion out and her face was drawn more severely than Rosie had seen in a long time. The warm and ready twinkle was nowhere to be found, that was for damned certain. “So what are you going to do?”

Kathryn looked up, meeting Rosie’s eyes for the first time since she’d arrived. “I don’t know, Rosie. What am I going to do? I love Ria, heart and soul. She’s so wonderful, open, funny, smart, I know she loves me. I know I should just say thanks for the apology and tell Linda to hit the road.”

“But…” Rosie prompted.

“I don’t know. It’s stupid, I’m being stupid, but I want to believe her, Rosie. I want to believe that she’s changed!” Kathryn exclaimed.

“Well okay then. Let’s say that she really has changed. Suppose that Linda has become a completely new person, one that is honest, open and caring. Then what? You can’t have them both, Kathryn, it wouldn’t be fair to anyone, least of all yourself.”

“I know that. Don’t you think I know that?” Kathryn practically jumped to her feet and slammed her fist into the wall. As she shook out her fingers, ignoring the pain, she said, “You know how I feel about Linda, Rosie. I thought that after all this time, after everything she did to me, I didn’t have any feelings left but they’re there. For better or worse, she still draws me like a moth to the flame.”

“Kathryn look at yourself. You haven’t even done anything and she’s got you running in circles,” Rosie said, trying to remain calm.

Kathryn snorted. “It’s hardly her fault that I get physical when I’m upset.”

“No, no it’s not. But she knows that that’s how you react,” Rosie pointed out.

“What are you saying?”

“I’m not saying anything! Geeze, woman, let me speak will you?” Rosie said, exasperated.

“Sorry.”

“Linda knows you very well, Kathryn. She knows how to push all your buttons to get you to do whatever she wants, maybe without you even realizing it. For all you know she hasn’t changed at all but is just trying to get you back any way she can. You were practically her devoted slave and that’s hard to get these days. Do you honestly want to go back to that kind of relationship? Where you’re at her beck and call and she ignores you for days? It’s not healthy, honey.”

Kathryn buried her face in her hands, fingers gripping her hair before combing through. “But what if she’s changed, Rosie? What if that’s not what she’s after this time?”

Rosie looked her straight in the eye and demanded, “Do you want to take that chance?”

****

“No Ria, I haven’t seen her I’m sorry,” Sam answered. “Yeah. If she comes by here or calls, I’ll let her know you’re worried. Good night.”

“What’s going on?” Maria asked curiously, hearing the tail end of the phone conversation.

“Ria said that Kath left to go to the gym this morning and never came back,” Sam explained.

“Really? That’s not like her,” Maria said.

“I know. She didn’t call earlier, did she?” Sam asked.

“No. And there weren’t any messages on the machine when I got back from shopping this afternoon, either.”

Sam tapped a finger against his teeth. “I hope she’s okay.”

****

Kathryn watched as Linda got out of her car. She was driving a nice car these days, looked very presentable in her slacks and sweater-top. Her blonde hair cascaded over her shoulders and she drew admiring looks from practically all the men whom she passed. Kathryn walked slowly, keeping the other woman in her line of sight but remaining hidden in case Linda happened to turn a corner and see her. Linda approached the building that housed her new apartment and just as Linda put her key in the outer door, Kathryn put on a burst of speed and called out, “Linda!”

The other woman turned, a smile lighting her face at Kathryn’s voice. “Kathryn! I’m so glad to see you, didn’t think I would to be honest.”

“That’s what I came to tell you,” Kathryn blurted out. “I love Ria now. I’m not going to risk that on a maybe you have changed, maybe you haven’t. I won’t deny that there’s still something between us but it’s not enough for me anymore, hasn’t been for a long time.”

Linda was obviously stunned by the announcement, her mouth working silently for a few seconds. “I…I see,” she said at last. “Well, if that’s how you feel than there isn’t anything else for us to talk about, is there.”

Kathryn frowned. “That’s it? You’re just going to accept it?”

A rueful grin passed over Linda’s face. “What else can I do? I honestly have changed, Kathryn, but I can certainly understand how you’d have trouble believing me. Or taking me back even if you did believe me.”

“Oh. Well. Good night then. I just thought I should tell you this in person,” Kathryn said.

“Thank you. It’s more than I deserve,” Linda replied. She reached out and touched Kathryn’s hand.

Kathryn restrained herself from jerking her hand away and said, “You’re welcome. Good night.”

“Good night.”

Kathryn watched Linda go inside then returned to her motorcycle.

****

Staring out at the city skyline, sitting on the edge of the roof, Kathryn took comfort in the solitary space high above the rest of the world. This calmed her when she was upset about something. Kathryn had sat at the rim of the roof, feet dangling over the edge as she leaned back and stared up at the darkening sky. That was about an hour ago. Now the sky was full dark and her thoughts had calmed as time passed.

She was to be forgiven for a single lapse in judgment in not immediately refusing Linda’s offer. It had been confusing and emotional. Now, however, was time for closure. In a way, it was good that Linda had dropped back into her life; it gave her a chance at finally saying goodbye to that part of her life. Yawning, Kathryn was about to get up to leave when she heard Sam’s voice.

“I hoped that I’d find you here.”

Kathryn looked back to find her friend walking towards her, a worried smile on his face. “Hey, Sam. How’s it going?”

“Fine,” he answered, sitting beside her. “Actually, I’ve got some good news to share.”

“And it couldn’t wait until tomorrow?” Kathryn asked pointedly.

“Okay. Ria called to see if you’d shown up or called. She was worried,” Sam admitted.

Kathryn merely smiled and slung an arm around his shoulder. “I had something to work out, is all. I’m fine.”

“Good. I’m glad to hear that,” Sam said.

“So? What’s the good news?” Kathryn asked after a long, friendly silence.

“Maria’s going to have a baby,” Sam announced.

“No way! Sam, that is terrific!” Kathryn exclaimed, moving so she could give him a hug.

“Woe, let’s not make the kid fatherless, okay?” Sam exclaimed with an uneasy chuckle.

“Don’t worry Sam, I’d never let you fall,” Kathryn assured him with a grin.

“I’m sure Maria’d be glad to hear that,” Sam said dryly.

Kathryn stood up and helped Sam to his feet. It was time to go home and reassure Ria that nothing had happened to her. Nothing physical, anyhow.

****

Brilliance

an amazing pull coming from your eyes

their depths are seductive their light blinding

my soul reflected therein.

what do you see in me that could capture such brilliance?

something I have missed all my life

each other

bodies writhing together hands everywhere, lips feeding hungrily

legs pressing to the core of

each other

hair caught in tight hands hips moving, pumping against

each other

breasts crushed, nipples hard wetness seeping out onto

each other

souls connecting and binding seizing and reaching into

each other

amidst the blinding release we hold onto

each other
“You look busy,” Kathryn commented, locking the door behind her.

Ria looked up from her notepad and licked her lips, eyeing Kathryn hungrily. She had no idea where that poem had come from but all of a sudden she wanted, no needed, Kathryn. Of course, wondering and worrying about her off and on throughout the afternoon and early evening had only increased those feelings. Tossing the notepad aside, she strolled over to meet Kathryn.

“What’s that look?” Kathryn asked cautiously.

Ria simply grabbed Kathryn and pulled her down for a long hard kiss. When she pulled back, Ria grinned at Kathryn’s stunned expression. “That’s my horny look, just for future reference.”

A slow, sensual smile blossomed on Kathryn’s face and she purred, “Well why didn’t you say so?” Her hands roamed down to Ria’s backside and she pulled Ria hard to her, bending down to recapture Ria’s mouth.

They stood like that in the middle of the living room making out for a good five minutes, breaking apart only when air became an issue. Ria laughed as they parted, keeping hold of Kathryn’s hand to drag her over to the couch. Once there, she promptly pushed Kathryn onto the couch and straddled the taller woman so they faced each other.

“You’re being awfully pushy, young lady! What brought this on?” Kathryn teased, nibbling at Ria’s throat.

“I did some writing while I was waiting for you to come back,” Ria answered. She stretched in order to grab the note pad and read aloud her first poem of the day.

sweat

hot sun, blanketing heat

my eyes follow the path

of sweat from your shoulder

to the crook of your elbow.

No shade save from buildings

constant traffic of moving cars

the enveloping heat courses over us

both makes us sticky and damp.

I move closer, my fingers following

the path of sweat from your shoulder

to the crook of your elbow

more than the heat making me melt now

as your eyes follow the path of my fingers

trailing down the path of sweat

from your shoulder to the crook of your elbow

“Ooh, Ria, I love it!” Kathryn exclaimed. She wrapped her arms around Ria’s waist and rested her cheek on Ria’s breast. Ria’s arms encircled her as well, the notebook flung aside yet again as though sensing Kathryn’s need to be held.

After a long, silent minute, Ria asked, “What happened?”

“Linda showed up at the gym this morning,” Kathryn answered honestly. She didn’t want any lies or hidden truths between them that could jeopardize their future. “She said that she’s changed, she apologize for what happened. She said that she wanted to come back if I’d let her.”

Ria stiffened during the explanation but she didn’t pull away; if anything, she held Kathryn tighter as she waited.

“I was in a pretty dark place with it at first,” Kathryn admitted slowly. “I went to think. I guess you might even call it meditation at a certain point.”

Ria sat back on her heels and looked Kathryn in the eyes. “I know how difficult it was for you to tell me this, Kathryn, but thank you. I’m glad that you did.”

“I don’t ever want there to be secrets or lies between us, Ria. I think…I think that might destroy us,” Kathryn whispered. Something teased at the edge of her memory: a past evil that had driven them apart with just such weapons perhaps? Ria’s gentle hands upon her shoulders brought her back to the present and she managed a smile. “I don’t ever want to lose you. I love you heart and soul.”

Ria’s response was to slowly lean forward and press a delicate kiss to Kathryn’s lips. Her hands massaged Kathryn’s neck and shoulders as she slipped her tongue into Kathryn’s mouth. Long and wet kisses followed as Kathryn ran her fingers up and into Ria’s hair to be certain she couldn’t move away. Heat gathered in Ria’s loins and she felt the wetness seeping into her panties. She was aching and needy and began to grind against Kathryn, fully clothed.

Kathryn’s hands released their hold on Ria’s hair to firmly grasp Ria’s buttocks and pull Ria harder against her. Ria’s world spun as their pace switched 180 degrees from gentle to hard as Kathryn’s hips slammed up into her. The friction of their movements together, the tightness of her own jeans rubbing against her, Kathryn’s mouth sucking and biting her, it brought screaming release to them both, almost simultaneously.

Ria collapsed forward, arms flung limply over Kathryn’s shoulders while Kathryn had collapsed backwards against the couch, her arms slack on the cushions.

“Damn, Ria, I’ve never felt that before in my life!” Kathryn exclaimed when she could talk again. The need to take Ria right then and there, clothes and all, had been too intense for words.

“Glad to hear I’m not the only newbie around here,” Ria joked weakly. She nuzzled against Kathryn’s throat but honestly didn’t have the energy to do more. “We’ll have to move sooner or later, I’m a bit sticky now.”

Kathryn’s laugh was a rich, musical sound, which thrilled Ria to no end. “Don’t move. I think I can manage to put you to bed again.”

Ria squeaked in surprise as Kathryn stood suddenly and her legs immediately locked around Kathryn’s butt, her arms tightening their hold as well. Kathryn walked into the bedroom, her hands securely fastened underneath Ria’s bottom. She yawned hugely as Kathryn carefully lowered her into the bed. As Kathryn pulled off her clothes, Ria did the same and it wasn’t long until they were once more in bed together.

“It seems like we never leave this room,” Ria commented, snuggling against the taller woman happily.

“That’s fine by me,” Kathryn said firmly, nuzzling against Ria’s throat.

“Me, too,” Ria agreed with a smile.
The End

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