~ And Playing the Role of Herself... ~
by dabkey
© 2005



The muscles in my legs were screaming and my lungs burned, but I forced myself to keep going, dodging a hiker and nearly tripping over his dog, spinning and continuing on.

Almost there, almost there, almost there…

I was going to beat her this time, goddamnit.

I gritted my teeth and pushed harder. Sweat dripped in my eyes, and I didn't have the energy to wipe it away, didn't want to break the rhythm of my swinging arms…

I could see the rim, only fifty yards away.

I pushed harder…twenty-five yards…

I could see the sign for the trailhead, see people milling around it, someone sitting on a bench…


Sitting on the bench, looking like she just stepped out of a Nike commercial, not like she just ran three miles up hill.


I slowed to an abrupt stop, gasping for air, hands on my knees, feeling lightheaded. I closed my eyes, chest heaving and my legs shaky, waiting for my breathing to slow.

I heard approaching footsteps and opened my eyes, still struggling for breath. A pair of running shoes came into my line of vision, and two black-clad legs.

I coughed and straightened slowly, still slightly dizzy.

"Don't…*gasp*…say it…*gasp*…Ward," I warned, and coughed again, looking over at her.

As I watched, the slightly cocky, taunting grin she'd been wearing was chased off her face by wide-eyed concern.

"Jesus, Caid," she stepped forward and placed a steadying hand on my back. "Are you alright?"

I just nodded and coughed, bending over again until my breathing finally eased a little. Robyn didn't say anything, but she didn't move away, and the hand on my back was making slow, gentle circles.

I straightened finally, and stifled a disappointed sigh as she dropped her hand. I pulled my cap from my head and ran a hand through wet hair.


She wordlessly handed me a water bottle, and I gulped greedily. "Thanks."

I handed it back when I was done and pulled at the front of my sweatshirt to create a slight breeze to cool the rest of my body. I glanced at Robyn, still looking at me worriedly, and after a moment's hesitation, pulled the sweatshirt over my head and mopped my face with it.

Yeah, I'm looking real attractive now, I thought to myself and shook my head ruefully.

"How in the heck did you get up here so fast?" I finally asked when I had enough oxygen left over for talking. "And how'd you get past me?"

"I…ah…went a different way," she said evasively, a glimmer of humor in her eyes.

I put my hands on my hips and frowned. "I didn't know there was another way. Just the maintenance road…"

She started laughing, backing slowly away from me.

"…and they only allow maintenance vehicles on that path," I puzzled before it finally clicked. "You got a RIDE????"

She held out her hands. "I'm sorry, Caid, I didn't know you'd try to kill yourself…"

I began to stalk towards her, and she backpedaled faster, laughing outright. I lunged towards her and she yelped, turning to sprint away, still laughing over her shoulder.

I started after her, my own laughter welling up helplessly. I felt happy and giddy chasing Robyn across the parking lot like a couple of kids, with no thought of what I'd do if I actually caught her.

Until I did.

She headed towards a forest green Range Rover that I recognized as hers, slowing to pull something - probably the remote entry - out of her pocket. I press my advantage and caught her just as she was reaching for the car door, wrapping my arms around her from behind and holding tightly.

"Not so fast, young lady," I growled in her ear, still laughing, and delighting in her return laughter.

Until the scent of her hair in my face, and the heat from her skin, just inches from my lips, registered.

Until the press of my breasts against her back and the feel of my arms across her stomach, and the sudden, absolute stillness of her body…

Neither of us was laughing any more.

"Caid…" Her voice was soft, with a slight tremor.

My arms tightened involuntarily, then loosened, falling to my sides as I slowly stepped back.

She turned around slowly, and in that moment - that moment before the mask dropped back into place - I knew. Saw the flash of it, felt the heat…

Robyn wanted me.

I'd had that look directed at me enough to know, and I knew.

Robyn Ward wanted me.

Then the mask fell back in place and we stared at each other for long moments. I wanted to push her against the car and kiss her senseless…I wanted to bury my face in her neck, to wrap my arms around her and not let go…

Instead I smiled shakily and took another tiny step back. "You cheated."

And you're a chickenshit, Harris.

She looked as though she was going to take a step forward and close the distance between us, but then she leaned back against the car and smiled slightly. "Guess that means I owe you coffee."

"Hey, Lady!" The yell behind me startled us both. I turned to find a young boy, probably no older than eleven, jogging towards me, holding out a gray wad of cloth in one hand and a smaller white bundle in the other. "This your stuff? My mom said you dropped it back there."

I stepped forward to meet him and sheepishly took my sweatshirt and hat, thanking him and getting an absent "uh-huh" in response. He jogged away, back to his parents, and I turned to find Robyn inside her car, staring at her steering wheel with intense concentration.

I stepped over. "You trying to start the car through the power of your mind? I bet the key would work better."

That only got a tiny smile. "Caid, I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to get you back on the coffee, okay? I just remembered a thing I need to do…"

I blinked. "Uh…okay, sure." I stepped back hastily as she started the car and put it in gear. "Robyn?"

But she just waved briefly and pulled away.

I walked to my car slowly, pulling on my sweatshirt.

What the hell just happened?


Friday morning, Robyn left a message canceling dinner that evening, saying she was going out of town.

Saturday morning, her picture was in the paper. She and Josh had been photographed coming out of the The Mondrian, a supposed LA hotspot, the night before. I stared at the picture for a long time, surprised at the intensity of the betrayal I felt.

Sunday morning I went mountain biking, pushing myself hard and taking risks, hoping to push thoughts of Robyn out of my head with adrenaline.

Sunday afternoon, after a two-hour stop at the emergency room, I limped into my house with a swollen jaw, bruised ribs, several nasty scratches and a two thousand dollar bike that was probably totaled.

And Robyn was still in my head.

The phone rang as I was loading the blender with ice for an icepack. I let the blender run and took the phone out of the kitchen as I answered.

It was Liz. "Caid, where are you?? We expected you hours ago."

I could hear voices in the background, and could tell instantly that she was at least one drink on the wrong side of one drink to many. I heard someone in the background - it sounded like Danny - asking very loudly where the fuck I was.

Crap. I'd totally forgotten. Danny's house-warming at his new place in West Hollywood.

"Ah, shit, Liz, I forgot about it. I went biking this morning…"

"You forgot?!?" I winced, pulling the phone back slightly from my ear. My head throbbed, my jaw ached, my ribs…my ribs felt like someone had taken a baseball bat to them repeatedly.

"Yeah, I'm sorry…listen, tell Danny…"

"Now that you've been reminded, get your butt over here!" She giggled wildly.

Make that two or three drinks.

"I can't, Liz." I walked back into the kitchen and turned off the blender. Holding the phone to my ear with my shoulder, I poured the crushed ice into a large zip lock baggie, refilled the blender, and started it up again.

"Of course you can. Just get in that shiny little car of yours and start driving. It'll take you thirty minutes, tops." She paused. "What in the hell is that noise? Where are you?"

"I'm at home - you just called me on my home phone, remember?"

"No one likes a smart-ass, Caid." I didn't answer, biting back a groan as I pulled up my shirt and placed the ice on my battered ribs. I pulled the stretchy material down over the bag, holding it in place, then turned off the blender and filled another, smaller bag. "Caid, what are you doing? Why can't you come?"

I debated making up an excuse, but Liz, and everyone else, would see the damage in the morning anyway.

"I crashed my bike this morning, and right now I'm putting ice on various parts of my body that didn't fare so well when I went flying over the handlebars at twenty miles an hour and rolled down a hill."

It took her a while to decipher it - I could hear people talking to her in the background, and her trying to shush them and concentrate on what I'd just said.

"You crashed? Caid, are you alright?"

I smiled. She really could be very sweet. "Yes, I'm okay, the hospital people said…"

"The hospital?" she gasped. "You're at the hospital?"

Okay. Maybe the entire truth hadn't been necessary.

I sighed, and held the smaller bag to my jaw. "No, Liz, remember, I'm at home? Where you called me?"

"But Caid, you said the hospital people…"

"Liz," I interrupted firmly, sensing a mini Liz freak-out coming and forestalling it. "I was at the hospital to get checked out. Now I'm home. I'm fine. Well, I'm not completely fine, but I will be. But I don't feel up to coming to Danny's party, alright?"

"But Caid…"

"I'm fine," I said again, even more firmly. "Go have fun, Liz, and I'll see you tomorrow. Tell Danny I'm sorry, okay?"


"Bye." I hung up the phone and limped into the bedroom, removing the ice under my shirt and struggling out of my biking outfit into a pair of cutoff sweats and a baggy t-shirt.

Finally I lowered myself onto the couch, put the icepacks back in place on my ribs and jaw, and closed my eyes.

The icepacks had become lukewarm bags of water and it was near dusk when a knock at the door roused me from sleep. I automatically moved to get off the couch, and fell back with a groan as the various aches and bruises I'd gathered earlier in the day made themselves known.

"Hang on!" I croaked, and cautiously tried to sit up again. It was painful, but bearable as long as I moved slowly, and eventually I shuffled my way to the front entryway. The form on my doorstep, even distorted by four inches of glass block window, was unmistakable.


The jumble of anger and gladness, longing and hurt that washed through me at the sight of her confused the hell out of me, and only intensified when I pulled the door open and saw the magnitude of her relief when she saw me.

"Caid," she said breathlessly in that damned smoky, bedroom, honey-soaked voice of hers.

I gripped the door tightly, waiting for the now familiar emotional havoc that Robyn created inside me to subside.

"Robyn," I managed neutrally when it passed. "What are you doing here?"

She ignored my question, cataloging my scraped face and arms, bruised jaw and pain-stiffened posture with the intensity of a medical resident.

"Oh, baby, are you okay?" She stepped forward, and before I could move away, I was pulled tightly against her, engulfed in long, strong arms. I fought it for all of five milliseconds, and then relaxed into the embrace, resting my cheek against her neck and soaking up her warmth.

It felt…amazing.

She smelled slightly of cigarette smoke and cooking spices; party smells that told me how she knew I'd been hurt. Underneath was the faint floral scent she wore, the one that clung to the sweatshirt of hers that I still had, the one that lingered in our trailer, even when she wasn't there.

I breathed it in - breathed her in - and felt her arms tighten in response.

I gasped as a knife of pain from my ribs sliced through my haze of hug-induced euphoria.


Robyn released me immediately and stepped back as though stung.

"My ribs…" I blew out a steadying breath as the pain eased.

She stood with her hands partially outstretched, looking uncertain, wanting to help but not knowing what to do. At this distance I remembered what had immediately flown from my head the moment Robyn had touched me. She had lied to me, and I was supposed to be angry with her.

"Robyn, why are you here?" I repeated my earlier question, and the look of concern she had been giving my ribs turned to a tiny frown at my tone.

"I dropped by Danny's party…Liz told me that you'd been in an accident, a crash of some sort…I couldn't get any more information out of her, so I volunteered to come see how you were." She paused, and asked tentatively, "that bike…in the truck," she glanced behind her in the drive to where a beat-up pickup was parked next to Twila. In the bed lay a red mountain bike, its front rim bent almost in half, the fork twisted, and the handlebars skewed at an odd angle. "Was that…"

I nodded, not looking at the bike. Every time I looked at it, I realized that it could have been much, much worse. If I hadn't been wearing a helmet…I shivered and yawned, suddenly realizing I was very, very tired.

"Thank you for coming by, Robyn. You can tell everyone I'm fine. I need to go sit down." I stepped back and started to close the door.

Her frown deepened. "Caid…"

I stopped, the door half closed, waiting.

"Can I come in for a while?"

I didn't have enough energy to say no, so I just turned and walked into the kitchen, leaving the door open for her to either come in or not. While I slept, the ice machine in my freezer had made enough ice for another couple of icepacks, and I filled the blender up and started it crunching. I limped into the living room to retrieve the bags I'd used before, noticing as I crossed the hall that Robyn had stepped inside and was watching me, her dark eyes following my every jerky, painful move.

I dumped the water out of the larger bag, refilled it with ice, and started the next blender full, motioning to the refrigerator as Robyn stepped into the kitchen.

"Forgive me if I'm not up to being hostess today…help yourself to whatever. There's beer or juice in the fridge, wine in the cabinet, whiskey, and some scotch too…"

She didn't say anything, just continued to watch.

I stopped the blender and filled up the smaller bag, then took them both into the living room, flipped on the television, found a baseball game, and gingerly lowered myself on the couch. I pulled up my shirt to check the swelling and heard her startled intake of breath.

She crossed the room in two long strides and sank onto the couch beside me, reaching out to run gentle fingers across the swollen, blue-black scrape along my ribs.

I swallowed my own startled intake of breath as pinpoints of sensation from the gentle touch skittered along my nerves, straight to my nipples and groin.


I gently but quickly moved her hand away, placing an icepack on the swelling and pulling my shirt down over it.

She was watching me when I looked up from my task. "Looks like it hurts some."

I smiled slightly, and shifted around on the couch, trying to find a more comfortable position. "Some," I replied.

She stood and propped two loose pillows against the end of the couch. "Come on, lay down." She patted the pillows. I hesitated, and she patted the pillows again. "Caid, lay down for god's sakes. You'll be more comfortable, and you won't have to hold the ice on your ribs." She grasped my shoulders and gently lowered me onto the pillows, then carefully swung my feet up onto the couch. "There, that wasn't so bad, was it?"

She busied herself arranging the pillows behind my head, and I just watched her, warmed by the concern in her eyes. She stopped and looked down at me, gently moving aside the smaller icepack that I was holding to my jaw and brushing the swelling with a feather-light touch.

"You're a mess," she said quietly and smiled, brushing a stray hair off my forehead. As always, the rush took my breath away, and it was a few seconds before I could speak.

"I'm mad at you, you know." I grabbed the hand that had brushed my forehead and held it captive. "Why did you lie to me, Robyn? About Friday night? And why did you take off the other morning?"

Her whole body stilled and she withdrew her hand from mine, straightening slowly.

"FYI," I said with a hint of sarcasm, "If you're going lie to people about being out of town, it's best not to run around in public as one half of the most photogenic couple on the planet."


I struggled to a sitting position, ignoring the pain, not willing to have this conversation lying on my back with her looming over me. "Damnit, Robyn, if you don't want me around, then just fucking tell me. Don't lie to me about it. I'm not a stalker - you don't need to trick me to get me to leave you alone."

"Oh, no Caid…" She sat down next to me and grabbed my hand, holding it between both of hers. "No, no, no. Caid, you are so wrong." She waited until I met her gaze. "So wrong. I…Caid, believe me, I want you around, and I certainly don't want you to leave me alone."

"Then why…" my voice trailed off as she closed her eyes.

"I wanted you to see you on Friday…I just…" She opened her eyes again and stared at me intently. I blinked, fighting to keep my eyes open, but my eyelids felt heavy, my ribs were throbbing, and my jaw ached painfully.

She smiled gently and pushed me back on the pillows, then stood and lifted my feet back onto the couch. She brushed a hand through my hair and said, "You need to rest. We'll talk about this later, okay? Just know that I don't want you to leave me alone, and I'm very sorry about Friday. It was a stupid, thoughtless thing to do."


"Shhhhh." She put her fingers against my lips and leaned forward to kiss my forehead. "Sleep now."

I had a million questions, but fatigue won out. I sighed and closed my eyes. "Will you stay? For a while?" I mumbled, cringing at how needy I sounded, but too tired to really care.

"I'll be right here, baby."


That was the second time she'd called me baby.

I smiled, feeling light fingers running through my hair, and drifted off to sleep.


Sometime during the night, Robyn shook me awake, led me into the bedroom and tucked me into bed. I vaguely remembered grumbling in annoyance at being woken, light laughter, and a fleeting touch of lips on my forehead.

It was still dark the next morning when I was yanked from sleep by a stab of pain in my ribs when I attempted to roll over. I lay for several minutes, trying to fall back to sleep, but eventually gave up and painfully eased myself out of bed and shuffled out of my bedroom on a quest for caffeine. I flipped on the hallway and living room lights and nearly jumped out of my skin when I saw a body sprawled on my couch.


Every sleeping, tousled, glorious inch of her.

Holy shit.

I must have said it out loud, because her eyes snapped open in alarm and her body jerked half-way off the couch before she saw me and relaxed, favoring me with a look of warm, sleepy affection that made me smile involuntarily in response.

"Morning. How are you feeling?" She propped herself up on one elbow and ran a hand through her long hair absently.

Oh, what that voice did to me. It moved through my body from the inside out, twisting my stomach and tingling in my toes and fingers.

She was looking at me curiously, and I realized I should probably answer her, and not just gape like a lust-struck teenager.

"Ah…" I started roughly, and cleared my throat. "Morning. I didn't expect anyone to be here - you startled me."

"Sorry." She pushed the quilt aside and sat up, rubbing her neck. "I didn't want you to be alone in case you needed something during the night. You looked pretty beat up last night."

"And I feel pretty beat up this morning," I said wryly. "Thanks. That was very nice of you."

"You're quite welcome." She smiled, then yawned and stretched her long arms over her head.

It was adorable and sexy all at the same time, and I turned away before I got caught staring again. "Want some coffee? I was just about to make some."


I grinned at the eagerness in her voice. "It'll just take a minute."

I put water on to boil and ground up some beans and filled the bottom of the french press, hoping Robyn liked her coffee strong. While the water heated, I looked in the refrigerator and found some eggs, peppers, mushrooms and a small block of cheddar cheese.

I stuck my head around the corner. "Hey…" She was folding the quilt and draping it over the back of the couch, and looked at me questioningly. "I've got peppers, mushrooms, cheese…I was going to make myself an omelet. Would you like one?"

She shook her head. "Thanks, Caid, but you don't have to do that."

I shrugged. "I'm making myself one - it wouldn't be any trouble, and it's the least I could do for you staying last night."

She hesitated, and then smiled in thanks. "That sounds good, thank you."

"No problem." I moved back towards the kitchen where the kettle was just starting to boil. I pulled it off the burner and filled the press with the steaming liquid, very conscious that Robyn had followed me and was leaning in the doorway, watching me.

When I'd put the kettle back on the stove and turned to face her, she was somehow standing right in front of me. "Now that we've got some better light, let's take a look at the damage, hmm?"

She laid her hand along my neck, her thumb against my chin, and turned my head to one side to survey my jaw, pursing her lips. She used her other hand to hold my hair off my forehead while she looked at the scrapes along my forehead and cheek. She was so close I could feel the heat coming off her skin, still warm from sleep. I tried to suppress a shiver at the touch, the heat, but failed. Robyn's eyes flicked to mine and held me, barely breathing, for several long moments before finally looking back at my damaged jaw.

"Jaw doesn't look near as bad as I expected," she murmured, dropping her hands. "And Jules shouldn't have a problem covering those scrapes up…"

I sagged against the counter weakly, my body still singing from her nearness. Before I could react, she'd pulled my shirt up just below my breasts and was running a light finger across the bruise on my ribs.

"Jesus," I hissed as the touch had the exact same effect as it had had the night before, and body parts that I didn't need tingling right now started to tingle.

Robyn misread my reaction as pain and jerked her hand back quickly, looking up at me apologetically. "Sorry." She pulled my shirt down and smoothed the fabric out over my stomach absently a few times before stepping back.

"S'alright," I replied after a couple of deep breaths. "Just a little tender."

I turned back to the counter and busied myself with finishing the coffee, pouring out two mugs and getting a carton of half and half out of the refrigerator. "Cream or sugar?" I asked, not turning around.

"Just cream, please."

I poured a healthy slug into each mug, stirred them a few times, and turned around to hand a mug to Robyn, catching her staring at my legs in appreciation. I nearly spilled both mugs when I realized what she was doing.

She looked up guiltily and hastily took one of the mugs from me, muttering a quiet, "Thanks."

"Sure," I answered, leaning my back against the counter with a bemused expression on my face. "No problem."

So. I think I could call it official now. Robyn found me - or parts of me, at least - attractive. Twice I'd caught her staring, and the look I had seen that morning at Ledos Canyon…that had been quite a bit more than friendly.

But being attracted to someone - wanting someone - and actually being willing to act on those feelings were two separate things entirely. She'd given no indication that she wanted anything more than what we had - a friendship. And I wasn't at all certain what I wanted, either. Oh, I knew I wanted Robyn physically - God, did I ever - and I had a suspicion that my feelings went far deeper. Even if Robyn did want something physical, what if the physical was all it was for her? Did I want to set myself up to be another of her 'things'? Did I want her badly enough to risk almost certain hurt just for a chance to touch her?

My body, willing to do just about anything to be with Robyn, chimed into the debate with a resounding "Yes!" while my mind, ever the staunch defender of my heart, responded with a firm "No!"

I shook my head, not realizing what I was doing until Robyn gave me a questioning look and asked, "What?"

"Ah…" I scrambled for an answer. "Just…thinking about what the shooting schedule might be like this week. I know we shoot in the city today and tomorrow, but I haven't called in to check past that. Actually," I carefully twisted my torso and winced, "I'm wondering how much I'm going to be able to do today. Hopefully it'll just be a bunch of standing around."

Robyn's expression immediately turned worried. "Maybe you should stay home for a day? If you can't…"

I stopped her with a shake of my head. "No, I'll give it a try, and do as much as I can. I know they want to wrap this episode on Wednesday and start up the next on Thursday."

"Tough gal, huh?" she said with a small smile.

I grinned back. "That's me."

She nodded and sipped at her coffee before saying with studied casualness, "I got a call last night…they've scheduled our big, groundbreaking, world-changing kiss for Thursday afternoon."

I blinked, and nearly dropped my coffee cup. "They have?"

A wave of panic mixed with exhilaration hit me, panic winning out easily.

Robyn watched my anxiety with open amusement. "Well, hell, Caid…I don't expect you to be jumping up and down or anything, but I gotta tell you, usually people don't react this way to the prospect of kissing me."

I managed a weak smile. "Sorry…I just…I'm…" I blew out a breath. "I'm pretty nervous about it. I always get a little weird about scenes like this - I just haven't gotten comfortable with them. And this scene," I looked at my coffee, "you have to admit this one is a little different. I've never… I've never kissed a woman before, and I know that shouldn't matter - we're actors, right? - but..." I shrugged, and looked at her quickly, then hastily back at my coffee. "I'm just nervous, I guess."

"You've never kissed a woman?" I could hear the surprise in her voice and looked up to find her staring at me with an odd expression. "You mean for a scene," she said slowly, "or never ever?"

I shifted uncomfortably under her scrutiny. "Uh…never, ever."

She nodded slowly, frowning into her coffee. The silence dragged on until it bordered on awkward. Finally, she murmured, "I thought…"

When she didn't say anything further, I prompted her, "You thought what?"

When she looked back at me, something in her expression had changed; it was still friendly, but much of the warmth I'd come to expect was missing. She shrugged, and gave me a smile to match the look. Lots of nice, white teeth but her eyes stayed wary and cool. "Doesn't matter, I guess." She nodded at the coffee pot. "Mind if I have a little more?"

I shook my head and silently filled her cup, trying to read her expression and maybe get some clue as to what I just did wrong. No clues were forthcoming, so I decided to just ask.

"Robyn," I asked hesitantly, "did I say something wrong? You seem…" I couldn't finish, unable to put into words what I was seeing.

Her cup paused on its way to her lips. She smiled behind the cup, a little sadly, I thought, took a sip of coffee before speaking. "No, Caid, you haven't done anything wrong. I just…misunderstood some things."

The tones of a cell phone coming from the living room stopped my reply, and Robyn excused herself to answer it, seeming eager to escape the conversation. I poured myself a little more coffee, holding off on the omelet preparation, betting that a phone call this early in the morning meant I wouldn't have a guest for breakfast.

She came back into the kitchen, holding up her phone apologetically. "That was Rick Price. They moved the schedule up an hour," she glanced at her watch, "so I really need to get home to shower and change. Thanks for coffee, and the breakfast offer…can I take a rain check?"

"Anytime," I replied.

She handed me her mug, and we looked at each other awkwardly for several moments. "Thanks," I said finally. "Thanks for being here last night, and for staying. I…it was nice to have you here."

She smiled softly. "You're welcome." The smile faded momentarily, and she looked down at her hands. "When Liz told me…and then when I saw the bike…" She looked back up again, her dark eyes swirling with emotion. "It really scared me, Caid. To think of something happening to you. I…"

Her cell rang again, and she swore softly, looking at the display. She hesitated, looking at me, and then answered. "Hello…no, Rick, I'm not at home. I'll be there shortly…have him leave it on the doorstep then. It'll be fine - there aren't people creeping around my house at six in the morning looking to steal scripts." She sighed, and pinched the bridge of her nose in annoyance. "Fine. Tell him to wait, I'll be there as soon as I can." She straightened, her voice now tinged with anger. "It's none of your damn business where I am, Rick. Tell him I'll get there when I get there."

She closed the phone with a snap, scowling at it for a moment before looking up at me. "Caid…"

I pushed off the counter with a wry smile. "You have to go, I know." I turned her around and pushed her gently towards the living room.

She walked to the couch and picked up an oversized black leather bag, slipping the phone into it and pulling out a set of keys before sliding it onto her shoulder. She started towards the door slowly, and then turned to me abruptly.

"Have dinner with me tonight. I'd like…"

"Yes." I said immediately.

Her smile was like sunshine, warming me through and through. "I'll call you later." She looked at me for a moment more, and reached up a hand to brush my injured cheek. "Take it easy today, huh?"

"Yes ma'am." I smiled, somehow managing to stop myself from turning my head and brushing her hand with my lips.

She gave me another crooked grin, and was gone.


After Robyn left I ate, showered and dressed before driving to the site of the shoot in the Financial District downtown. Once there I struggled into my wardrobe, patiently endured Jules' annoyed attempts to make my face appear as though it hadn't recently had an encounter with a pine tree, and tried to appear perky when I presented myself to the crew.

Unfortunately, attitude did not translate to ability, and it became apparent within fifteen minutes that although Jules was able to hide the damage to my face, the injury to my ribs was going to keep me from doing any kind of physical scene. Arrest scenes, chase scenes…basically all the kinds of shoots scheduled for the day were out for me until my ribs healed for a few more days, and by eleven o'clock, Nate had sent me home with ill concealed annoyance, grumbling about 'stupid macho nature freaks' under his breath.

At home I took a few pain killers, grabbed a book and settled into my backyard hammock, managing to read a few chapters before the pills kicked in and I nodded off. I woke at three, made myself a sandwich, took a few more pain killers, and lay down on the couch where I dozed until the phone rang at 6:30.

"'Lo," I answered groggily after stumbling into the kitchen to answer it.

"You should have seen it today, Caid, we had this huge crowd of people watching us shoot, and two women practically got into a fist fight when Arturo was signing autographs…"

"Liz?" I croaked, blinking blearily at the clock.

She paused. "Well of course it's me." Her tone conveyed her disbelief that I would consider it was someone else.

"Sorry…just woke up…"

"Well, I'm glad you're awake now. Listen, Paula and I are on our way over now to bring you some dinner, okay?"

"Liz, that's nice of you, really, but I'm…"

"Caid, you need to eat." Her tone was final. "We'll be there in about twenty minutes."

"Liz…" I tried again, but she had already hung up.

"Shit." My attempts to call her back went unanswered, and finally I sighed and headed for the shower.

Twenty-five minutes later I had showered and changed into a t-shirt and pair of faded jeans and was running a hand through semi-damp hair as I opened the front door to reveal the grinning faces of Liz, Paula, Danny, Micah, and Josiah.

I blinked in surprise. "Hey, guys."

I received a chorus of greetings in return, and Danny hefted two large pizza boxes. "We thought you'd be hungry."


Liz breezed past me, heading straight for the kitchen. "I wanted to pick up something from that rib place you like but Danny insisted on pizza. Do you have any wine?"

I sighed. "There's white in the fridge," I said, and resignedly stepped back to let the group in.

Micah was the last to enter. He stopped and looked down at me. "We don't need to stay, if you don't want us to. Liz said you knew we were coming, but it's pretty obvious you weren't expecting us."

I shook my head and smiled, threading my arm around his waist to give him a brief hug, which he returned carefully. "It was a surprise, yes, but a nice one. Don't worry about it."

"We won't stay long - you look beat." He nodded and moved by me.

I started to push the door closed, then caught sight of a tall, familiar form walking up my drive, curiously eyeing the three extra cars parked there.

Good God.

I pulled the door open and leaned against the doorframe, not even bothering to hide my appreciative gaze as I watched Robyn approach. She was dressed to be appreciated, after all, and walked with a confidence that said she knew it. Her hair was loose and wild down her back, and she wore a tight black leather skirt that stopped mid-thigh, stiletto heels held on by two skinny black straps, and the real attention getter; a silvery, gauzy top that consisted of two strips of cloth covering her breasts and not much else, casually displaying miles of smooth, tanned skin and toned muscle.

I was mesmerized by the play of muscles beneath that skin as she walked, and the slight hallows just above the low waistband of the skirt. I wanted to put my lips there, in those hallows; feel that skin against my cheek, run my tongue…

"Caid? Hello?"

I didn't know how long she'd been standing in front of me, watching with a hint of a smile curling her lips as I stood gawking. I slowly dragged my eyes up, blinking slowly as though waking from a dream.

I didn't think about what I said next, I just blurted out what I was thinking. "Jesus, Robyn, you look amazing."

Real smooth, Caid. I thought, but then was rather happy with myself when I saw the startled but undeniably pleased expression on Robyn's face.

"I…thank you, Caid." Her lips curled up even more, into a full smile.

I shrugged, and cleared my throat, giving her a shaky smile. "Just stating the obvious."

One dark eyebrow crept into sight over the rims of the dark glasses she wore. "Why, Caid Harris, if I didn't know any better, I'd say you were flirting with me."

Her tone was light, teasing, and I replied in kind. "Why, maybe, Ms. Ward, you don't."

She frowned - I could see the slight furrow in her brow behind her glasses. "Maybe I don't what?"

"Know any better," I said lightly, wondering at my sudden spurt of boldness.

I saw a flicker of movement behind dark lenses, and her smile faded. "What…"

"Caid," Danny bellowed from inside, causing us both to jump. "What the fuck are you doing…" He came careening into the entryway and stopped short. "Robyn."

Damn. Bad timing, Dano.

"Danny," she said, shooting me a surprised look.

"Whoa. You look fucking incredible," he said after an eyeing her up and down. I smiled slightly at that, agreeing whole-heartedly. "Got a hot date with the tennis bum?"

Oh. I'd been so overwhelmed by her appearance that I hadn't stopped to wonder why she was dressed to annihilate. I doubted dinner with me called for an outfit like this.

"Thanks, Danny. And yes, we're going to a party one of his sponsors is hosting." She turned to me with an apologetic look. "That's why I stopped by, to tell you I'd have to cancel tonight."

Josh wins again. The unkind thought came unbidden, and I pushed it to the back of my mind.

"I understand." I gestured at Danny, then behind me. "Turns out I've got some company for the evening, anyway."

Without meaning it to, my tone had become cool, and Robyn pulled off her glasses and looked at me searchingly. "I really am sorry, Caid. I'd forgotten about this, and Josh only reminded me this afternoon. I would have called…"

Someone yelled for Danny, and Robyn looked past us into the house as he excused himself. "Just how many people have you got in there?"

"Danny, Micah, Josiah, Paula…and of course Liz."

She raised an eyebrow. "You're a popular gal, aren't you?"

I shrugged. "I left the set early today - they decided to come by and check up on me."

Concern flashed across her face. "I heard about that - I wanted to call earlier, I didn't want to disturb you. Are you okay? How are you feeling?"

"I couldn't do much today. They had me set up to chase some guy down a set of stairs, and I made it about three steps and nearly passed out. Nate wasn't too happy with me."

"Nate's an ass sometimes," she said bluntly, "but he'll get over it."

"Yeah, I know, he always does. I slept most of the day, took some pain pills…feel a lot better, doesn't hurt quite as much."

"Good." She nodded, and looked at me intently. "You look better than you did this morning, anyway."

Uncomfortable under her gaze, I looked past her and noticed for the first time the gray limousine idling at the end of my drive. The back door was open and Josh, in tailored black slacks, a metallic blue shirt and a black, small-collared suit coat stepped out and waved.

I waved back, unable to keep myself from smiling at him. I couldn't help it, I liked the guy. "Looks like your date is getting impatient," I commented.

She glanced over her shoulder. "Yeah, he wanted to go early." She folded and unfolded her glasses, fidgeting in a way uncommon for her. "Caid…"

"Go on," I said softly and gestured towards the car. "He's waiting."

"I'm sorry."

"I know." I nodded. "We'll have dinner some other time." I hesitated, and then stepped forward to brush my lips across her smooth, fragrant cheek. "Tell Josh hello," I whispered in her ear, and rested my hand briefly on the warm skin above her hip, stroking gently with my thumb.

I felt her whole body tremble in reaction and hid a wild grin of triumph as I stepped back.

There is something there, damnit, and I'm going to find out what it is.

"Talk to you later?" I asked.

"Uh…yeah, sure," she said faintly, and slipped her sunglasses back on before raising her face. "Later."

I watched as she walked away, glad for the support of the doorframe when I saw that her silver ensemble was held in place by one miniscule, silver strap across her back. The expanse of skin my eyes were treated to was breathtaking.

"Sometimes, I hate that woman. I could never get away with wearing something like that. I don't have the height for it. Or the back. Christ, I think I need to talk to my trainer about working on my back…Ohhhh…and is that Josh? God, he's yummy."

I jumped at least three inches off the ground at the voice behind me, and spun around, hitting my hand against the doorframe with a solid thwack!

"Shit! Jesus, Liz," I complained, rubbing my hand, "don't sneak up on me like that."

She rolled her eyes. "I didn't sneak, I just walked up, and you were too busy ogling Robyn's boyfriend to notice."

Yeah, you just keep thinking that, Liz.

I stared a moment longer after the limo and finally Liz tugged my arm. "Come on. If you want any food, you'd better get your ass in there quick. You know what pigs those boys are."

I nodded absently and followed her into the kitchen, still feeling the tingle of Robyn's cheek under my lips and the heat of her skin under my palm.

"Caid, are you alright?" Paula's worried voice snapped my out of my preoccupation. I looked up to see her holding a plate out to me with two slices of pizza on it.

"Fine, just a little spacey from painkillers." I took the plate from her and breathed in garlic and oregano. "Oh, this looks great." I looked around at the group filling my kitchen and breakfast nook, smiling hugely. "Thanks, you guys. This was really nice of you."

"Thank Lizzie," Danny said with a grin as he walked by me with a plate piled with slices. "It was her idea to bring you something - we all just came along for the free food."

I looked over at Liz expectantly, waiting for her to take offense to being called "Lizzie", but she continued to nibble serenely, not batting an eye.

"Well then. Thank you Liz," I nodded at her with a smile, and took a bite of pizza, mumbling around cheese and sausage, "and the rest of you get to clean up."


"Are you nervous?" Liz's voice was casual, but I sensed a keen underlying curiosity and smiled at her feigned indifference.

Today was the day. In less than two hours, I'd be kissing Robyn.

"Of course I am," I replied honestly, seeing no reason to lie. I was nervous any time I was required to kiss someone on camera; so was Liz, we had talked about it before. She didn't need to know exactly how nervous, or why.

"Well," she said thoughtfully, "I guess if you're going to kiss a woman, Robyn isn't a bad place to start."

We were in Liz's trailer, finishing off a lunch of vegetarian lasagna I'd picked up from the catering truck. I was thankful to have finished swallowing, because that comment would have surely made me choke otherwise.

She waved her fork vaguely in the air. "She's got that whole animal, sexy, dark-goddess thing going on, you know?"

Dark-goddess? God lord, what had Liz been reading?

"I bet she's a handful," she said knowingly, nodding to herself.

I put my fork down and pushed the plate away. There was no way I was going to eat through this conversation.

I raised a bottle of water to my lips, pausing just in time to avoid serious spewage when Liz looked over at me and asked, "Don't you think so? I bet she's a screamer."

"Jesus, Liz…" I choked, but then bunched up my napkin and threw it at her when I saw that she was grinning. "Asshole."

"Just trying to take your mind off it, Sugar," she laughed. "That face was priceless." She turned serious, and reached out a hand to squeeze my arm. "It's just another scene, Caid. Stop worrying about it so much. And it's Robyn. Y'all are friends, right?"

I nodded, although at this point, I wasn't sure what was going on between Robyn and me. I'd called a few times to try and reschedule dinner, but she hadn't returned my calls, and I'd only seen her once since Monday night, at a cast meeting on Wednesday morning. We exchanged pleasantries like virtual strangers and afterward she hurried off without saying goodbye. I didn't know what in the hell was going on, but whatever it was, it was pissing me off.

"Well, then," Liz said, as though that made everything better.

"Yeah," I muttered, unable to keep the sarcasm from my voice.

Liz looked at me sharply, but I stood up and tossed my plate into the trash. "I'd better head over."

The scene was to be shot in Judith Tarrington's office, so the crew was borrowing the set of In Their Defense for a few hours, which was on a different lot a few miles away. The crew and various members of the cast were also using the ITD sets to shoot courtroom footage for an upcoming episode, so almost the entire cast and crew would be present for the scene.

Oh goody.

"Do you want to ride over with me and Paula?" Liz employed a full-time car and driver, and it would be easier for me to just ride over with her, but the though of having my own transportation was comforting, and at this point, I needed all the comfort I could get.

"No, thanks. I'll just see you over there."

She nodded and gave my leg a pat as I walked by. "Okay, we'll see you in a little while."

I drove myself over to the ITD lot and checked in with the crew, getting an updated shooting schedule and instructions to meet with the director sometime before the shooting started. I'd be doing two scenes; one with Robyn, and another with Liz on the courtroom set. The one with Robyn was scheduled first, and I couldn't decide if I was happy to get it over with or if I'd rather postpone it as long as possible.

Using one of the dressing room trailers, I changed into the outfit I'd brought over from wardrobe at 9P, dark brown pants, low-heeled boots and a tight, sleeveless hunter green blouse. I draped the lightweight, dark brown leather jacket that completed the outfit over my arm, knowing it would be stifling on the set and not wanting to start sweating any sooner than absolutely necessary. After a final stop at makeup and hair, I headed to the sound stages, greeting arriving members of the cast and crew as I crossed the lot.

Once in the sound stage building, I made my way to the set we'd be shooting at and dropped my script in a chair with my name stenciled across it in white block lettering. I hung my jacket across the back of it and looked around the bustling set in search of the small, red-headed form of the episode's director, Susan Yazi. I finally found her conversing animatedly with someone behind a rack of lights near the rear exit of the building and I started towards them, weaving my way through crewmembers and equipment.

As I moved across the room, the person Susan was conversing with came into view and my footsteps faltered momentarily.


Long and lean in a severe, black Prada suit that she wore extremely well, the sight of her sent a rush of familiar emotion through me, followed by an unfamiliar flash of anger.

Robyn was the first to notice me as I approached, flicking her eyes over my shirt briefly and curling her mouth into a welcoming smile. For some reason, it annoyed the hell out of me.

She blows me off all week, and now she's here, staring at my chest and smiling at me?

I ignored the smile and nodded curtly to her before turning my attention to the director.

"Susan," I greeted her with a neutral smile, "nice to see you."

Susan Yazi barely topped five feet, and had a slight, wiry frame and auburn hair beginning to go gray. She exuded an aura of controlled chaos, seemingly constantly in motion even when standing still, and being around her always made me slightly uneasy. She also had a habit of emphasizing random - or at least what seemed like random to me - words in a sentence.

"Hello Caid. Robyn was just telling me about your bicycle mishap, are you alright?"

"Was she," I said flatly, flicking my eyes over to Robyn who was watching me with a puzzled expression. "How nice. I'm doing fine, thank you, Susan. Good as new."

"Good. Good. I wanted to talk to you and Robyn about the scene. I was telling her I really wanted to give you free rein on this, play with it, do what feels right in the moment, okay? I realize you might be uncomfortable with it, so I want you to have fun."

Have fun, she says. I'm probably hemorrhaging from the brain because my stress level is so high, and she says have fun.


Robyn started to say something, but I cut her off.

"Sure Susan, no problem," I said with a quick nod, hiding my anger and growing anxiety. "Anything else?"

"No, no, that's all." Susan said absently as she looked across the set, not noticing or not caring about my abruptness. "Why don't you two discuss it? We'll start in five. Kyle! Don't leave that there!" she yelled as she moved away from us.

"Caid…" Robyn started. Without glancing at her, I crossed the floor to my chair and pulled on my jacket with jerky, uncoordinated movements. The collar turned under and I yanked at it ineffectually, stiffening when I felt a pair of hands on my shoulders, smoothing the leather and straightening the collar.

"Caid, you need to relax."

The flare of anger at her words pushed my anxiety aside for the moment, and I grabbed at it with both hands. "Excuse me?" I said, turning slowly.

"I know you're nervous, but this is supposed to be fun, remember?" She smiled, and busied herself straightening the collar of my jacket. "You need to relax."

"You think I'm nervous?" I asked, my voice rising.

"Well…yes," Her hands stilled and dropped away as she looked at me searchingly. "Aren't you? Isn't that why…"

"This isn't nervous, Robyn, this is pissed off!" I nearly yelled. Some of the crew around us were watching our exchange with open curiosity, and I took a breath and lowered my voice. "This is pissed off because someone I thought was a friend isn't acting like one."

She pulled back, startled by the vehemence in my tone. "Caid, I…"

I was on a roll now, anger firmly in control, the rest of me watching in sick fascination. I made a chopping motion with my hand. "Save it. You've made yourself quite clear."

Robyn's face hardened and her eyes narrowed. "Fine."

Susan's voice cut through the din. "Let's get this blocked out, shall we? Caid, Robyn, can you join us, please?"

I looked over to see where Susan was and when I turned back, Robyn was already stalking towards the set, her normal grace replaced with rigid stiffness.

"Fine," I muttered, and stalked after her.

The anger fueled me through the thirty minutes it took for Susan to block and plan the scene how she wanted it and helped me ignore the fact that more and more people were trickling into the building and standing around the set, waiting and watching. Grant was there, standing behind Susan and occasionally leaning forward to give an opinion, along with nearly all of the rest of the executive producers and co-producers, writers, cast, crew…

Don't think about it. Just…focus on what needs to be done.

Susan wanted the scene shot in two sections: our entrance to her office while we argued, then the kiss. I started to relax as we worked through the first section, the familiar actions and sounds calming some of my anxiety. The anger was still there, though, on both sides, and it sparked between us during the scene's verbal exchange, coloring both our performances and making Susan a very happy director.

"Great job, you two," she called after stopping the action. "I like the interaction. Try to keep that up in this next part, okay? Robyn, you set the pace, you're the aggressor. Caid, follow her lead. Alright, let's get the cameras set up and get this one done."

And suddenly, it was time.

I went to my mark and took several deep breaths. Easy Caid, easy. It's just a scene.

And then we were rolling, Susan yelled "action", and Robyn was rounding the desk and prowling towards me like a predator stalking her prey, her eyes blazing with cool fury and looking so achingly beautiful that I was transfixed.

"You assaulted me, detective." Her voice was low and dangerous, and she kept moving towards me, stopping when our bodies were only a foot apart. "I could have you thrown in jail for that."

"Why didn't you?" I amazed myself by not only remembering my lines, despite Robyn's closeness, but also by dredging up some believable attitude to go with them. "You could have…"

She grabbed me by the shoulders, yanked me towards her, and kissed me.

The kiss took me by surprise, even though I'd been expecting it. It was hard and bruising, over in an instant, leaving me trembling and gasping for air.

And wanting more.

Much, much more.

And thinking that this could be the last time I had a chance to get it.

My hands were inside her suit jacket, gripping her hips where they'd gone for support the moment she'd kissed me. Now, a quick tug brought her closer and I brought our mouths together again, sensing a momentary resistance before she molded against me and her hand move from my shoulder to anchor in my hair, increasing the pressure of the kiss. I explored her lips gently, reverently; marveling at the softness and warmth and amazed by the emotions a simple kiss could invoke.


Robyn's body stiffened at Susan's voice and she pulled back abruptly, giving me a wide-eyed stare before taking two quick steps away from me.

I blinked, realized my mouth was hanging open, closed it, and blinked again.

Holy shit.

"Well, hell. Nice work, ladies. I think that's all we need - it's not going to get much better than that. Very, very nice. Print that!"

Gradually the movement and noise of the set around me came into focus and several people who'd been watching surged onto the set, congratulating, teasing, and laughing. I smiled weakly and mumbled polite thanks, but my eyes were on Robyn, watching as she left the set with a crowd of well-wishers in her wake.

"I knew we'd picked the right girls." Grant's smooth voice and beefy arm across my shoulder pulled my attention away from Robyn's retreating form and I turned to face him, ridding myself of his arm without appearing to do so on purpose.

"I'm thirty-four, Grant. Hardly a girl anymore, but I'm glad that you're pleased with how it went." Job preservation skills kicked in and I smiled to take any sting out of the words.

He guffawed and pulled me into another one-armed hug, which I endured until someone else caught his attention and he left me alone. The fervor had died down quickly after a few pointed words from Susan, and the crew was starting to move the lights and cameras as I left the set, still dazed, wishing I could just go somewhere and think instead of dealing with another few hours of shooting.

Liz was waiting for me at my chair, smiling at me like a proud parent. "You see, Sugar, it wasn't so bad, was it?"

I smiled slightly. "No, it wasn't so bad at all."

She handed me the script that had been lying in the chair. "It was really good, Caid. That second kiss - I didn't expect that. Neither did anyone else, I'd say, from the reaction. Was that something you and Robyn worked out beforehand?"

"Well, uh, Susan told us to have fun with it, and go with what we thought was best…" It was the truth, right?

"Well," she said, and started walking towards the exit, obviously expecting me to follow, "if Grant's hard-on was anything to go by, I think it was just what they wanted. I could see that thing from forty feet away."

"Liz…" I grimaced, remembering Grant's arm across my shoulders. "Ick. Shut-up! I don't want to know about Grant's…"

"I mean, you couldn't miss it. Everyone knows the man is hung like an elephant, but to actually see it…I thought Susan was going to whack it with her clipboard..."

I laughed my first genuine laugh in hours, and followed Liz out into the sunshine.


I closed Twila's door gently and stood in the gathering darkness, biting my lip and eyeing the five cars parked in Robyn's drive with consternation.

Well, shit.

I had a vague plan that involved coming to Robyn's house and saying…something…but Robyn obviously had company, and company was not part of my vague plan. Not part of the plan at all. An inherent problem with vague plans is that they rarely come with a backup plan.

I looked at the cars again, beginning to doubt the wisdom of my being here at all.

The front door closed with a hollow thud, and I looked quickly towards the sound. A tall, dark-haired man in khaki shorts and a navy polo walked down the steps and headed towards a white Volvo SUV. His steps slowed as he noticed me, and he waved tentatively, peering into the semi-darkness.

"Hi…can I help you?" His voice was cautious, and he looked back to the door quickly, as though gauging the distance in case he had to make a run for it.

I felt rather foolish, standing in Robyn Ward's driveway, being addressed by a man who, I was sure, thought I was probably a fan looking to rummage through Robyn's garbage…my embarrassment spurred me into movement and I pushed off Twila and started walking up the drive.

"Hi," I said brightly, giving him a friendly, non garbage-stealer smile. "I actually stopped by to talk to Robyn, but it looks like she's got some company."

He slowed to a stop as I approached and watched me suspiciously, then suddenly his eyes went round. "Oh my god. You're Caidence Harris."

I smiled slightly and nodded. "That's me." When he was close enough, I stuck out my hand for him to shake. "And you must be a friend of Robyn's?"

He took my hand absently, still staring at my face. I raised an eyebrow at him questioningly and he smiled sheepishly. "Uh…oh…sorry…Cal Paskins. My wife went to college with Robyn." He dropped my hand and snapped his fingers. "Damn, that's right. Josh told me that you and Robyn were friends."

I hope, I thought fervently, I hope we're still friends.

"Listen, Cal," I said, deciding that my plan could use some tuning, and that I could do this another day, "I don't want to interrupt your party. I'll just come by another time."

"Oh, no, don't leave…hell, it's not like it's a big to-do or anything, we see each other all the time. Please don't go on our account. I'm sure Robyn would love to see you, and so would Josh, from the way he talked about you…"

I tilted my head. "So Josh is here, too?" Of course Josh is here.

"Uh-huh," he answered, and turned towards the Volvo. "Hang on a sec and I'll walk in with you." He unlocked the SUV and grabbed a gray sweater from the front passenger seat, holding it out to me triumphantly. "Lisa sent me out to the car to get her sweater…she gets cold when the temperature goes below seventy-five. Amazing to think that woman grew up in Minnesota."

I smiled. "Are you from Minnesota too?"

We started up the path to the front door. "Oh no, I'm a California boy. Grew up in San Jose. I'm not too fond of the cold either, but this," he waved one arm at the evening around us while opening the front door with the other, "this is not cold." He held the door open with a flourish and motioned me inside.

I laughed, and crossed the threshold into the entryway just as Robyn appeared around the corner of the stairs that I remembered led to her bedroom. "Cal, are you talking to yourself out there? I told Lise you were craz…"

She stopped short when she saw me, emotions flickering across her face. The one that lingered was anger.

Crap. She was still angry with me. That wasn't really part of my plan either. I was starting to think my plan sucked.

"Hey, Robyn!" Cal said enthusiastically, oblivious to Robyn's anger and my growing unease. "Look who I found outside. I told her I was sure you wouldn't mind her crashing the party, hope that's okay." He winked at me, confident in his belief that Robyn wouldn't mind me being here. I wasn't going to tell him he'd been dead wrong.

I smiled gamely. "Hey Robyn. I was wondering if I could talk to you for a minute?" I still wasn't sure what I was going to say to her; I only knew an apology for behaving like an ass that afternoon figured prominently in it.

I saw the muscle in her jaw twitch, but she nodded politely. "Sure." She looked over at Cal. "Lisa's been bitching about not having that sweater…I'd get down there if I were you." The smile she gave him was much friendlier than the look she turned on me once Cal had excused himself and headed down the hallway.

She walked down the last few steps to the entryway, coming to a stop several feet from me and crossing her arms. "Why are you here, Caid? I have guests."

"I know, and I'm sorry. I just…I needed to talk to you."

"Okay. I'm here, so talk." There was no softening of her stance, and I shifted nervously.

"I…crap." I shook my head. "I'm not sure what I want to say…"

She looked at me in disbelief, and stepped towards the door. "Come on, Caid…"

"No! Wait…." She stopped and slowly settled back into her defensive stance. I gnawed on the inside of my cheek, trying to gather my thoughts. "Okay, first, I want to say I'm sorry for being such a bitch this afternoon. You were right, I was nervous, and I took it out on you. I'm sorry."

She started to say something, but I continued on. "But to be honest, I really was upset about how you blew me off this week. One day you're talking about making new friends, and the next, you don't even talk to me. It…" I paused, and then finished quietly, "It hurt, Robyn."

I looked over at her, but she hadn't moved and her expression was stony.

This isn't working.

"Is that it?" Robyn asked coolly, uncrossing her arms to walking to the door. "I need to get back to my guests."

I ran a frustrated hand through my hair. "Why are you doing this? Pretending like there's nothing between us?"

"I don't know what you're talking about," she said stiffly, and pulled the door open. "I think you should go, Caid."

Angry now, I stepped forward and pushed the door shut, leaving my hand on it so she wouldn't open it again. "We're not finished."

The move brought us close together and she stood her ground. We stood, toe to toe, glaring at each other, her eyes black pools in the dim light, dark and full of emotion, the cool remoteness vanished.

Beautiful, I thought. So beautiful.

"Damnit Caid," Her voice was low and rough, her breath whispering across my cheek. "What do you want from me?"

"Whatever you can give me." I whispered, my eyes dropping to her mouth.

We reached for each other at the same time, coming together in a fierce clash of lips and tongues, my hands in her hair and hers splayed across my back, pulling my body against hers roughly. We swayed and stumbled against the door, neither of us noticing as the kiss deepened, losing some of its urgency and becoming more of a mutual exploration than a battle for dominance.

It was like nothing I'd ever felt before; the heat that pulsed through me at her touch, the intense craving for more, and under it all a sense of safety, of trust…I wanted to give myself over to it, to her, and let myself fall.

I loosened one hand from her hair and ran my fingers across her cheek, down her neck and over the swell of her breast, pausing briefly at the sharp intake of breath before continuing down the long length of her torso to the hem of her shirt, slipping beneath it and brushing hesitant fingers over warm, soft skin.

Robyn stilled in my arms and then attacked my mouth with renewed ferocity, slipping her hands into the low waistband of my jeans and pulling our hips together, sending a dizzying wave of desire through me that forced a groan from deep in my throat.

"Oh…god," I breathed, tearing my mouth away from hers. She took the opportunity to trail her lips along my chin and suck gently on my neck, just below my ear. I trembled, overloaded with sensation. "Robyn…please," I whispered, not even knowing what I was asking for.

Her whole body stilled, and she swore softly in my ear. Her hands gripped my hips and pushed me away. "Caid, I can't. This…I can't do this."

I stumbled back, blinking at her stupidly. "Wha…"

She shook her head violently, avoiding my gaze. "I'm not going to be an experiment, Caid. I can't be that. Not with you."

I stared at her in confusion. "Experiment? What…" I stepped towards her, and she took a step back. I frowned. "What are you talking about?"

"This," she said, waving her hand between the two of us. "I'm not going to be your experiment in the wonders of lesbianism. I've been there before, and it always ends the same."

That stopped me. "You've done this before?"

"Yes," she admitted quietly. "I'm gay, Caid. I haven't been with a man in years."

I processed that for a moment. "Then why are you backing off? There's obviously an attraction…and more. Hell, Robyn, I can't get you out of my head. I think about you constantly, want to see you, be with you, make you smile…I'm crazy about you."

She smiled sadly. "And I'm crazy about you too, Caid, and that's why I can't do this. You're straight, I'm not, and this can only end badly if we let it start."

I snorted. "Let it start? Don't you think it's a little too late for that? Do I need to remind you what we were just doing?" I held out a hand to show how I was still trembling. "I'm still shaking from what you do to me."

"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have…"

"Don't you dare say you're sorry!" I said intensely. "Don't you dare. I know you're not sorry, and you want this as much as I do. This isn't an experiment for me, Robyn. Just because I haven't been with a woman, that doesn't make what I'm feeling any less valid. I've known I was attracted to women for a while now, but this is the first time it's gone deeper than just attraction, the first time it's been worth the risk. You are worth the risk, Robyn. This," I gestured between us, as she had done, "is worth the risk."

I tried to reach for her hand, but she stepped around me and opened the door, her body ramrod straight. "I'm sorry, Caid. We'd both end up getting hurt."

"And I'm willing to take that chance! Damnit, Robyn, what are you so afraid of? You're the one who pursues her 'things' and lets the media think you're in a relationship with Josh for publicity sake…if anyone has a reason to be afraid, it's me. And you're going to let this go because I've never been with a woman? I'm not a teenager with my first crush - I'm in my damn thirties, for Christ sakes! An adult, with very adult emotions. About you." I touched her arm. "Please…"

"Robby?" There were light footsteps on stairs and Josh came into view, smiling in pleasure when he saw me. "Caid! Cal told me he ran into you outside. What are you two doing up here? Come down and join us."

I opened my mouth to say something to him, but nothing came out - I couldn't even manage a smile, I just looked at him dumbly for a moment before turning back to Robyn.

"Caid was just leaving." Robyn said in an emotionless voice.

"Robyn, don't do this," I pleaded. "Please don't do this."

She shook her head, looking at the wall behind me. "I can't. I won't. Please, just…go."

"Rob, what's going on?" Josh's voice was full of concern. "Are you crying?"

My eyes flew to her face, and I could see the telltale shine of moisture.

"I won't let you do this," I whispered, leaning in quickly and kissing her hard on the mouth. "I won't."

I drew back and stroked her cheek with the back of my hand once before turning and walking out the door.

As I stepped onto the porch, I heard her say softly, "It's not up to you, Caid," before she softly closed the door behind me.


I eyed my reflection in the full-length mirror critically.

Black had been my mood when I began dressing, and black had been the result - black, three-inch heeled boots, black leather pants that laced up the front and a short, black, silk camisole that stopped nowhere near the almost indecently low waistband of the pants. I'd used product to slick my hair back and a touch of black eyeliner to bring out the color and unusual shape of my eyes, and the overall effect was…

"Badass, slutty ho," I muttered to myself, and shrugged.

Well, I'd wanted to get noticed tonight, wanted a mainline of self confidence right to the jugular after a week of cool, mechanical civility from Robyn that had battered my emotions - and along with them my self esteem - into near submission.

This would definitely get me noticed.

Hell, maybe after the party, I'd go out, find myself a woman, and get this whole first-time thing taken care of. Maybe if I did that enough times, Robyn would see that this wasn't a damn experiment for me, and she'd let me back in her life…

I snorted at my reflection. "Yeah, right Caid, that's so you."

Okay, so I wasn't looking to get laid - at least not by a stranger - no matter what the outfit said to the contrary. There was something, though, about dressing this way, about knowing you looked good and that people were staring at you, wanting you…

I grabbed my keys and grinned ferally at my reflection, feeling my self-confidence come back in a rush.

You go, ho.


"Lagavulin, rocks," I said briefly to the short, thin man standing behind one of the five bars set up on different floors of the enormous concrete and glass structure that was Scott Ziem's house. Scott was one of 9P's executive producers, and he was throwing this bash in celebration of the end of our second season, which we'd wrapped that afternoon.

The bartender nodded and went about filling a heavy glass tumbler with ice and splashing a generous portion of scotch over the top. He handed me the drink and a napkin with a polite, "Ma'am."

I smiled my thanks and stepped aside, nodding at a couple I didn't recognize as they took my place at the bar. I sipped my drink, enjoying the cool, earthy flavor on my tongue, and glanced around. Like the main level below, the walls and furnishings were blindingly white, and I had to stop myself from squinting. To my left, a white stucco wall overlooked the main floor, and I walked over to lean against it, watching the flow of guests below and the silent, white-shirted staff that wove through the crowd with practiced ease.

A loud, undistinguishable techno beat poured from hidden speakers, although thankfully not as loud on this level as it had been on the main floor. I'd been mingling for an hour and a half with that heavy thudding in my ears, and finally I'd come up here to escape it, to escape the press of people and small talk and just…breathe.

I idly contemplated going home. I'd caused a stir, raised some eyebrows, received the appreciative looks I'd been hoping for, and now I was tired, my head hurt, and the person I really wanted to see was probably a no-show.

And my pants were starting to chafe.

"Goddamn, Harris, I heard you were prowling around, looking like a cross between a Harley vixen and a playboy bunny, but I guess I had to see it to believe it. Shit, girl, you've been holding out on us."

I smiled and turned towards the voice, propping my elbows against the wall and regarding the small woman standing at the bar with amusement.

A former LAPD detective, Magda Chu was one of the three police procedure consultants that 9P employed. Of mixed Chinese and Mexican descent, she had dark, hooded eyes, a small, dainty nose and a wide mouth - a face that was intriguing rather than beautiful, and I had to admit it had always intrigued me. We weren't close, but we got on well, and the smile I gave her was genuine.

"Magda," I greeted her, watching as she accepted her drink from the bartender and made her way across the room towards me with the careful attention of the slightly drunk. "Been here long?"

"Long enough," she grinned, and leaned against the wall next to me, blatantly eyeballing me from head to toe. "Christ," she said after a moment, and shook her head.

"I'm going to assume that's a compliment, and say thank you," I said, and sipped my scotch. "Where did you come from, anyway? I didn't see you downstairs."

She nodded towards a set of glass doors and the balcony beyond. "Out with the other outcasts, smoking my filthy cancer sticks. And yes, it was definitely a compliment."

I smiled, and tilted my head. "Can I bum one?"

She raised her eyebrows in surprise, but immediately reached into her jacket and pulled out a pack of Marlboro Lights. "I didn't know you smoked."

"I don't, usually…once or twice a year, I guess. Sounded good just now." I nodded towards the balcony. "Join me?"


I pushed off the wall and straightened to my full height that, with the boots, was nearly a foot taller than she was. She looked up at me and blinked. "Christ," she said again, before leading the way out onto the balcony.

There were other small groups of people on the balcony and I nodded to those I knew, not surprised at the pungent smell of marijuana in the air. Magda walked over to the railing and leaned against it, shaking out two cigarettes and handing me one. We smoked and chatted for a while, until Magda excused herself to find the bathroom. She left her cigarettes and lighter behind, and I tapped another one out and lit it, hoping she wouldn't mind.

"So this is where you're hiding! Shit, Caid, I've been looking all over for you."

The low murmur of conversation from the various groups of people around me stopped, and I turned my head to watch Liz sweep across the balcony, a pretty, dark-haired man that I assumed was her date trailing behind.

"Hey, Liz," I said and turned to face her, leaning my back against the railing. Her hair was parted on the side and fell in a shiny blond curtain over one eye, her pants were dark green and tight, and her blouse a scoop necked, short-sleeved white leotard that hugged her generous curves and had her companion's undivided attention. "Looks like you found me." I looked pointedly at her date, and she waved at him vaguely.

"Caid, this is Bruce. Bruce, Caid."

I nodded at him, got a glassy, vacant smile in return, and wondered for the thousandth time at Liz's taste in men. Liz plucked the cigarette from my fingers, and I frowned. "Hey!"

"Disgusting habit," she said, bringing the cigarette to her mouth and taking a deep drag before returning it to me, a smudge of bright red lipstick joining the deeper maroon of my own. "I thought we were quitting."

"We are." I tapped the ash off, took another drag and handed it back.

She took it, and nodded at the pack on the railing. "This is you quitting?"

"They're Magda's."

Liz grimaced with distaste. Liz and Magda were like oil and water. Liz was high maintenance, Magda was low patience, and their mutual contempt for one another was common knowledge. "You're out here with Magda?"

"Liz," I said warningly, having had this conversation before.

"I know, I know, you like her, you two are friends, blah, blah, blah." She sucked more smoke into her lungs and blew it out slowly, squinting at me through the smoke. "Shit, Caid," she handed the cigarette back to me, eyeing my clothes. "Those are great pants."

"Thanks." I smiled slightly and took a pull on the smoke. At the mention of my pants, Bruce transferred his attention from Liz's chest to my crotch, but the glassy expression did not change. I wondered idly if Bruce could speak. "Elona found them for me. Never thought I'd actually wear them in public, but it seemed like the night for it." I shrugged.

She looked me up and down again and pouted. "Elona never found anything like that for me." Elona Herst was Liz's personal shopper and stylist, and after hearing me complain one too many times about how I hated shopping, Liz had hooked the two of us up, and Elona had been shopping for me ever since. "You might even be showing more skin that Robyn tonight, and that's saying something."

I coughed out a large cloud of smoke, breathed some of it back in and coughed some more. Liz handed me my drink, which I drained quickly and was finally able to croak out, "Robyn's here?"

I felt ill, and suddenly my impulse to dress to get noticed seemed childish, silly and slightly desperate. I'd been waiting for her arrival all night, but now I wanted nothing more than to get out of here without her seeing me.

Liz looked at me speculatively. "She and the tennis hunk came in about twenty minutes ago." She took the glass from my hand and handed it to Bruce. "Bruce, honey…could you be a sweetie and get me and Caid another drink?"

"Uh…yeah, sure baby." He took the glass automatically and smiled at her adoringly.

She patted him on the cheek. "You're so sweet. I'll have a Pinot Grigio, and Caid? What were you drinking?"

"Lagavulin," I answered absently. Bruce's smooth, pretty forehead wrinkled in confusion, and I sighed. "Scotch," I clarified.

He nodded hesitantly, and Liz patted him on the arm. "Just ask the bartender for the scotch that starts with an "L", okay?" He nodded again and she gave him a gentle shove towards the balcony doors.

I shook my head as he walked away. "I don't get it, Liz. What do you see in these guys? Don't you miss being able to converse with your date?"

"I'm not dating him for his conversation skills, Caid," she said in amusement. "He has other skills I value just as highly." She picked up the cigarette, still smoldering where I had laid it during my coughing fit, and dropped it in an abandoned glass along the railing. "Now," she continued, turning to me and crossing her arms, "tell me what in the hell is going on between you and Robyn."

Her question took me by surprise, and I paused before answering. "What do you mean?" I finally answered, trying to keep the defensiveness out of my voice. "There's nothing going on between me and Robyn."

She made a dismissing motion with her hand and glared at me. "That's crap, Caid. Two weeks ago, you two were laughing, talking…you were friends. Shit, the woman was insane with worry when you crashed your bike - she ran out of the party before I even finished telling her what happened. And now, you treat each other like strangers, and I don't think I've heard either of you laugh in a week. Something happened, and I want to know what it is."

"Nothing happened," I snapped. As always, when she used that imperious, you-will-do-as-I-say tone of voice, it pissed me off.

"Bullshit," she snapped back. We glared at each other for a moment or two, and her gaze softened a little. "Caid, talk to me. I know sometimes I'm a flake, and I'm not the most observant person in the world, but I can tell you're upset, and I don't like to see you upset."

"Liz…" I sighed and my anger drained away in the face of her concern. "It's between Robyn and I, something we need to work out. I'm sorry, that's all you're going to get."

She nodded, obviously still curious, but reluctantly letting it drop.

Bruce came back with our drinks, Magda came back for her cigarettes, and the four of us stood around uncomfortably while Liz and Magda glared at each other, Bruce stared at my pants, and I resisted the urge to chain-smoke the rest of Magda's smokes in an effort to distract myself from the fact that Robyn was roaming around somewhere close by.

Liz and Bruce eventually left to mingle downstairs, and after smoking one last cigarette with Magda, I decided that it was time to brave downstairs and make my getaway. I thanked Magda for the cigarettes and conversation and left her talking with a group of crewmembers that had recently joined us on the balcony.

I stepped through the glass doors and immediately froze when I saw Robyn leaning casually against the bar, holding a small glass and watching me with a predatory gleam in her eyes that immediately made me wary. Her eyes wandered down my body and back up again, and when she met my gaze again she downed the contents of the glass and smiled. It was not a nice smile.

I swallowed and forced myself to nod politely. "Robyn."

She looked, as she always did, amazing. I took in the off-white, wide-legged pants and a black corset-like blouse that ended just below her ribcage, and wondered if there was ever a time when she didn't look amazing. Probably not, I decided, and realized she was talking to me.

"Well you didn't waste any time, did you?" Her voice was loud and slightly slurred. "Looks like Magda is happy to help you out in your little 'exploration', hmm?" She pushed off the bar and walked towards me, wavering a little before catching herself and continuing on.

Robyn was drunk. Very drunk.

And about to babble my personal shit to twenty or so people who were watching us eagerly, just hoping this would turn into something worth retelling


I smiled brightly and stepped forward. "Can I talk to you for a minute?"

Without waiting for an answer, I walked past her, hoping she would follow. I crossed in front of the bar and headed down a darkened hallway, looking for some place away from prying eyes to ask her what in the fuck she thought she was doing. Extremely conscious that she was right behind me, I tried a few doors before I found one that was open. The room turned out to be a small bathroom - I flicked on the light and gestured for her to enter.

As soon as she was past me I closed the door and turned to face her, crossing my arms. "What the fuck are you doing, Robyn?" I asked angrily. "You want to cause a scene in front of twenty crew members, go right ahead, but leave me out of it. And fucking leave Magda out of it, too. She's got nothing to do with this."

She ignored what I'd said, running her eyes over my body appreciatively. Everywhere her eyes touched, I felt heat, and cursed my body's betrayal.

"I guess," she murmured, finally meeting my gaze with a mocking smile. "I really can't blame her. Hell, Caid, you might as well hang a sign around your neck that says 'fuck me'." She tilted her head to the side. "Is that all you wanted? Hmm? Just a quick fuck to see what it's like? Because if that's all you want…"

She stepped forward quickly and pushed me against the door, slipping a leg between mine, then grabbed my hips and rocked me slowly against her thigh. I was too stunned to move at first, and then too overwhelmed with sensation to do anything but close my eyes and let my head fall back against the door with a groan. I felt feather light kisses along my neck, and Robyn laid her forehead on my shoulder, still rocking our bodies together gently.

"You make me so crazy, Caid," she mumbled softly. "Why do you make me so crazy?"

The strong smell of alcohol on her breath, along with the rambling quality of her question, finally brought my mind back into focus and with tremendous effort, I pushed her away from me.

She stumbled back a few steps, blinking at me blearily. "What's wrong?"

"Well for one thing, you're fucking plastered," I snapped angrily. I couldn't believe she was willing to do this, that she thought so little of me, of us, that this would be enough. And I'd almost let it happen. "I guess I know exactly where I stand now…we can't be friends anymore, but apparently it's ok to fuck me in a bathroom." I nodded curtly. "Okay, Robyn, I get it. You win. I'm out of your hair. Consider this done."

Robyn swayed a little, her forehead furrowed in concentration, trying to decipher what I'd said.

"Oh for fuck sakes," I said in annoyance. "Sit down before you fall down."

She immediately dropped onto the toilet seat, looking a little pale.

I shook my head, getting a grip on my anger. It wasn't going to do a damn bit of good when Robyn was this messed up; she probably wouldn't even remember this tomorrow. "I'm going to go find Josh, and get him to take you home. Stay here." She nodded like a child getting scolded, and I shook my head again and went in search of Josh.

I found him almost immediately - downstairs in the main room, surrounded by a large group of partygoers who were all trying to get close to the famous Josh Riley. Still angry from my encounter with Robyn, I pushed my way through the group none too gently and tapped him on the arm.

"Josh, can I have a minute?"

He looked over at me and did a double take. "Caid? Wow. Hey!" He grinned, grabbing my hand. Normally his hand grabbing was endearing, but now, it kind of annoyed me. Probably because Robyn did the same thing, and she was on the top of my shit list right now.

I forced a smile and tugged him towards the stairs. "Sorry, folks, I need Mr. Riley for a few minutes." The crowd reluctantly parted for us, and I continued to pull Josh along.

"Where are we going?" When I looked back at him, the grin was gone and he looked slightly wary. He pulled me to a stop. "Listen, Caid, I like you, but this is Robyn's decision, and if you're trying to get me to talk to her…"

Stopping him with a glare, I looked around and said with quiet intensity, "I don't want you to talk to her for me. As far as I'm concerned, there is nothing to talk to her about. I don't want anything from her. Nothing. Nada. Zip. She's made it very clear what I can and cannot have, and I choose nothing."

He pulled back in surprise. "Caid, what…"

I cut him off and pointed up the stairs, dropping my voice even further. "Robyn is drunk off her ass in a bathroom upstairs, and you need to get her the fuck out of here."

His eyes widened, and he glanced up the stairs as though he expected to see an inebriated Robyn come dancing down them. I looked at my watch, realizing I'd been gone almost five minutes. Maybe he would.

I gestured with my head and jogged up the stairs, Josh's light footsteps right behind me. At the top of the stairs I slowed and tried to act as casual as possible, meandering my way along the wall and turning down the hallway. I stopped at the third door on the right and knocked softly, then opened the door and poked my head in.

Robyn was still sitting on the toilet, her head pillowed in her arms on top of the counter. I opened the door wider and Josh crowded into the small space and stopped short, staring at Robyn in surprise.

"What happened?"

I rolled my eyes. "She drank too much. That's how people normally get drunk."

At the sound of voices, Robyn raised her head and looked up blearily, smiling when she saw Josh. "Joshie! Hey, Joshie."

She held out her hand and he took it, giving her a look of fond exasperation. "Robby, honey, I think we should get you out of here, okay?"

"Okay," she agreed happily, then frowned. "I think maybe I drank too much." She put her head back on the counter.

"Ya think?" I muttered under my breath.

Josh looked at Robyn for a moment, then over at me. "I guess I could carry her."

I shook my head. "Only if we can't get her to walk out of here. She already caused a minor scene - I don't think she'd want people to see you carrying her out of here." No matter how annoyed, angry or hurt I was, I wasn't about to throw Robyn to the gossip wolves. Spiteful just wasn't in me.

He frowned. "A scene? Robyn?"

"Yes, Robyn. And she can tell you all about it when she sobers up. If she remembers."

Robyn's head came up again, and she looked at me. "Caid?"

I figured this was as good a time as any to try to coax her up, so I leaned over her and gently grabbed her hands. "Yes, it's me. We need to get you home, okay Robyn? Can you stand up for me?"

She just stared at me, then pulled one of her hands from mine and placed it on my cheek. "Caid." A smile slowly spread across her face. "My beautiful Caid." After a moment, the smile faded, and she frowned. "But you're mad at me, aren't you?"

I froze for a moment and then gently pulled her hand away from my face and straightened, tugging her with me. "Come on Robyn, up you get."

She groaned and rose slowly to her feet with Josh's help, swaying slightly but more stable than I'd expected. She glanced around the room with interest, focusing on a small painting of butterflies that hung on the wall. "Ohhhhh…pretty." She reached out to touch it, but I stopped her hand.

"Robyn?" I tried to get her attention. She frowned at her hand in mine. "Robyn!" I repeated sharply, and she jerked her head towards me with a wince.

"What?" She sounded annoyed. Annoyed was good.

"We need to get to the car, but we're going to have to walk through the party. Can you make it on your own?" I asked, sounding as skeptical as I could.

She frowned at me. "Of course I can." She turned towards the mirror and straightened her clothes with slightly clumsy but still effective motions, then smoothed out her hair.

I hid a smile and looked over at Josh who winked at me.

He put his arm around her and she sagged against him slightly. "Okay, hon, let's go. We'll just go straight down the stairs and out the front - you'll have to call Scott with apologies tomorrow."

She nodded, and I pulled the door open and preceded them out into the hall. At the end of the hallway I looked back and saw the two walking slowly but steadily towards me, Robyn with a look of intense concentration and Josh smiling indulgently at her.

I waited and fell into step on the other side of Robyn, talking with Josh about the up-coming French Open and the Brazilian match I'd watched him play in. We took the stairs slowly, and Robyn leaned on Josh heavily, but it just looked as if they were being affectionate. A few people attempted to stop us, but I ran a little interference when that would happen, and finally we were out the door and walking down the drive to the valet station.

The fresh air seemed to help Robyn, and she pulled away from Josh and walked on her own, but when the valet brought Josh's car around and Josh helped her into the seat, she closed her eyes and leaned her head back against the headrest immediately.

I closed the door while Josh walked around the car and slipped in behind the wheel. He rolled Robyn's window down and just looked at me for a few seconds. "Thanks for helping out."

I nodded, and started to back away.

"I'll have her call you in the morning. I'm sure she'll want to thank you as well."

I glanced at Robyn's profile once and shook my head. "Don't bother. I don't think we have anything else to say." I turned away and walked back up the path before he could say anything further.

I wondered if Magda was still around. I could use a smoke right about now.

And another drink.


The only good thing to happen at Scott Ziem's party was Danny tracking me down and telling me that he'd found another woman celebrity who could actually play golf, and that my services wouldn't be needed at the Highland Hills Celebrity Golf Tournament. He seemed reluctant to tell me, but when I'd grabbed him and kissed him on the cheek in thanks, I think he realized I was okay with it.

That left me almost a month of free time and a serious need to get out of town to clear my head, so I packed up my backpacking gear and a week's worth of food, made a few calls, climbed in my truck and drove down to Idyllwild. I found a small gas station just outside of town that would let me park my truck in their back lot for a week, then I shouldered my pack and the extra box of food I'd brought and walked the half-mile to the post office.

I was leaning up against the building, reading a book, my face shaded by a wide-brimmed nylon hat and sunglasses when two scruffy, dirty hikers walked up and eased their packs to the ground, arguing good naturedly about college football and the University of Wisconsin's chances this year.

Without looking up from my book, I said, "Eh, the Badgers are going to suck this year. Michigan looks good, though."

Both men stopped what they were doing and stared at me in surprise. One of them - a taller, younger, male version of me with brown hair, green eyes and stubbly growth over a strong, square jaw - stepped forward, a smile spreading on his face. "Michigan blows chunks. Bunch of pansy-assed mama's boys."

I put my book down and pulled off my sunglasses, letting them hang on the leash around my neck. "All Wisconsin's got is a bunch of dairy cow lovin' cheese freaks." I climbed to my feet, brushing off my shorts, and smiled into eyes so much like my own. "And Badgers? What the hell kind of mascot is that? A badger is just an overgrown ferret. The University of Wisconsin Overgrown Ferrets."

I grinned at my brother, who whooped in delight and smothered me in a tight, smelly bear hug. He lifted me off he ground and staggered around for a minute while I yelled at him to put me down, and finally as a last resort I poked him in the ribs. He yelped like a girl and dropped me immediately, taking up a defensive stance to protect his ribs.

"No fair," he said, grinning at me.

I grinned back. "Heya, Per. It's good to see you." I wrinkled my nose. "But boy, you smell. I hope you're planning on taking a shower in this town, because I don't want to share my campsite with the stench that's wafting off of you."

He looked quickly at my backpack leaned up against the wall, then back at me, taking in my hiking attire. "You're coming with?" he asked hopefully, looking again at the pack.

I smiled. "Through to Big Bear, if it's okay with you two…" I looked pointedly his friend who was staring at the two of us in consternation. "Wanna introduce me?"

"Dude, of course it's cool." He said, still smiling at me in happy amazement.

I looked at his friend again and then back at him with a raised eyebrow. "Dude, introductions?"

"Oh, yeah, right. Sorry." He turned to his friend. "James, this is my sister Caid. Caid, James."

James was a few inches shorter than me, with a strong, stocky body, pale blond hair, blue eyes and ruddy, sunburned skin. He stared at me, then seemed to shake himself and stepped forward to grasp my hand awkwardly, as though I'd break.

"Hi," he said shyly, sneaking glances at my face as he stepped back.

"Nice to meet you, James." I looked at him questioningly. "Would you mind if I tagged along with you and Perry?"

"Uh, sure…I mean, no, I wouldn't mind at all." He stuffed his hands in his pockets and smiled hesitantly.

"Great." I gave him a friendly smile and glanced over at Perry. "And now, seriously dude, we need to find you two some place to shower."


I adjusted the flame on the stove, set a pot of water on to heat, and settled onto a thin pad I'd laid near the stove, stretching my legs out with a groan.

"How ya feeling, grandma?" Perry teased me from where he was stretched out on his back a few feet away, his baseball cap tilted over his eyes.

"Shut it, Periwinkle. You're supposed to respect your elders," I replied as I pulled off my boots and wiggled my toes with a sigh. "God, that feels good."

Perry pushed the cap back and propped himself up on his elbows, grinning at me. "I'm sure that James would be happy to rub any part of you that aches."

I stuck my tongue out at him, well aware of doting looks that James was starting to cast my way. "Where is he, anyway?"

Perry waved his hand at the ridge behind us. "He wanted to try to catch a shot of the sunset from higher up."

I'd learned over the past few days that James was quite the shutterbug and nodded, not surprised at Perry's explanation of his whereabouts. I leaned back on my elbows, mimicking Perry's position, and we were both quiet for several minutes.

"Caid?" Perry said eventually.


"Is…" he paused, and I looked over at him questioningly. "Is everything okay with you? You seem…I don't know…kinda down, and real quiet…"

I sighed, and pulled myself up into a sitting position, wrapping my hands around my knees. "Ah. Noticed that, did you?" Perry was a perceptive kid, and we'd always been close, despite the twelve-year age difference. Our other brother, Sebastian, was two years older than me, and we rarely spoke. Sebastian did not approve of my choice of careers, but then Sebastian did not approve of much.

"Mmm." He nodded in affirmation.

I stared at my feet, wondering how to explain what was bothering me. It never occurred to me not to tell him; Perry and I had always been honest with each other. "Well," I rocked back and forth a few times, "I think I may have gone and fallen in love."

I heard him sit up, and glanced over. He was watching me with interest. "No shit?"

I smiled slightly. "Mm-hmm, I'm pretty sure."

"You think, and you're pretty sure? What does that mean? I mean, you've been in love before, right? You and the nerd were together for what…a year or two?"

He was referring to my year and a half long relationship with Toby, a software developer with an abundance of brains and a few minor social skill problems. "He wasn't a nerd," I scolded mildly, feeling obligated to defend my longest relationship to date. "And yes, I loved Toby, but I don't know if I was ever in love with him. This is…different."

"Different," he repeated. He thought about that for a bit. "Okaaayyyy….so it's different. How, exactly, is this not a good thing?"

"Hmmm, well…that's where it gets a bit complicated." I hugged my knees tighter. "My…ah…affections, are not particularly welcome."

"What?!" He sounded genuinely shocked, and I smiled. "What kind of idiot wouldn't want you? Who is this guy?"

"Ah. Hmm. Yeah. Um…that's part of the complicated bit." I paused, rocking back and forth, and glanced over at him again. "It's not a he. It's a she."

His eyes widened, searching my expression to see if I was joking. "No shit?"

"No shit."

"Wow," he said, nodding slowly. "So…is this…" he hesitated. "Uh…are you…"

"Gay?" I finished for him.

He nodded.

"It's a distinct possibility." We were quiet for a few minutes, and I finally asked, "Would it bother you?"

"Hmm?" Perry blinked, and looked over at me. "Oh, shit Caid, of course not. I guess it doesn't even surprise me all that much." He grinned at me. "But James is going to be devastated."

I let go of my knees and leaned back on my hands, rolling my eyes. "He'll get over it."

Perry looked at me for a moment and then shook his head. "Male or female, I still don't get how someone wouldn't want you."

I laughed quietly. "Well, thanks for the vote of confidence." I paused, thinking of Robyn and the heat I'd seen in her eyes on more than one occasion. "And honestly, I don't think it's an issue of want…" I sighed in exasperation. "That's the other complicated bit, and hell, I don't even understand it. If I ever figure it out, I'll let you know."

Perry rolled onto his hands and knees and crawled over to scoot in beside me and put a comforting arm around my shoulders. "I'm sorry, Caid. Whoever she is, I still think she's an idiot."

I smiled sadly. "Me, too."


"Oh, god," I moaned in ecstasy when the first needles of hot water touched my skin. I ducked my head under the spray, humming in pleasure as the water sluiced six days of dirt and sweat away.

From Idyllwild and the still snow-covered San Jacinto mountains, down an 8,000-foot plunge into the ninety plus degree heat of the desert west of Palm Springs, then back up into the San Bernardinos; we'd hiked nearly one hundred miles in six days and my body was feeling it.

We'd made it to Big Bear Lake late in the afternoon, and after doing a small load of laundry so that we'd have clean clothes for the evening and the following day, we checked into an inn where I'd made reservations before I hooked up with Perry and James in Idyllwild. We each had a room of our own, and had split up to shower and rest before meeting back up for the big steak dinner I'd promised. Tomorrow we would pick up the rental car that I had reserved, drive back to Idyllwild to pick up my truck, and head back to LA.

I finally stepped from the shower after soaping my body twice, washing my hair three times, and just standing under the hot spray for several minutes. As I padded around my room naked, there was a quiet knock on the door, and I hurried to pull on the complimentary robe hanging in the bathroom.

The worried faces of Perry and James looked back at me through the peephole, and I pulled the door open immediately, frowning. "Hey guys…I thought we said seven?"

Perry pushed the door open further and walked by me, and James followed, his eyes widening slightly when he saw my state of undress. He stopped in the doorway, uncertain, and I waved him in.

"It's okay, come on in, James," I reassured him, pulling the belt around my waist a little tighter and closing the door after he walked through.

"Caid, did you tell anyone where you were going?" Perry said abruptly.

I raised my eyebrows at his tone, and crossed my arms over my chest. "I didn't actually talk to anyone directly, but I left messages with Connie and Liz and I mentioned to a few more people that I'd be out of town…why?"

"Because apparently, you're missing."

I blinked. "What?"

He looked around my room, found the remote, and turned on the TV, flipping through the channels. "We went down to the bar just now and saw it on the local news…" He continued to flip.

"Saw what? Perry, what are you talking about," I asked, starting to get annoyed.

"There." He pointed at the TV. A woman reporter stood next to a road in the desert, talking earnestly to the camera, above a line of text on the screen that read "Actress Missing." The picture panned out and swung to the right, showing a battered, burnt out pickup truck.

My pickup truck.

"What the fuck?" I said, and grabbed the remote from Perry to turn the volume up.

"…blood found on the front seat and steering wheel has now been confirmed to be that of the actress, and local police are looking into the possibility of foul play. Samantha Dwyer, Channel Five News, off of I-10 west of Palm Springs."

"What the fuck?!?" I said louder, and looked around frantically for the cell phone that I'd carried with me on the hike, but never turned on. I found it, flipped it open and turned it on, waiting impatiently for it to power up.

Perry picked up the remote where I'd dropped it on the bed and continued to change channels, stopping at another station just as another "Actress Missing" headline showed up on the anchor's left. I sank down on the bed, cell phone forgotten, watching with morbid curiosity.

"The search for actress Caidence Harris continues today in the desert west of Palm Springs. An abandoned car belonging to the actresses was found by two hikers early Thursday morning, stripped and badly burnt, in ravine just off of I-10 west of Palm Springs. Blood found on the steering wheel and seat of the car has now been confirmed as Harris', and law enforcement officials are expected to expand the investigation to include the possibility of foul play.

The picture changed to a publicity still of me, then a few quick 9th Precinct clips in the background as the anchor continued. "Harris reportedly left LA on Monday morning for a several day camping trip, and was last seen at a gas station in the Riverside area.

"Members of Harris' family could not be reached for comment, but friends of the actress say they are optimistic, despite the disturbing new blood evidence, and several have gotten together to offer a $500,000 reward to anyone who has information about the actresses' whereabouts."

The picture changed again to show Liz, Josiah, Danny and Robyn, sitting at a table at some type of press conference. They looked solemn and drawn, and the affect on me was like a punch in the stomach.

"Oh, fuck," I whispered. "Shit, shit, shit…" I jumped up and looked around frantically, my brain going in a thousand directions at once. "I need to…I need to…"

"Hey, Caid, easy." Perry's hand on my arm finally calmed me down, and he handed me back my cell phone, which I had dropped when I lunged off the bed.

I took a calming breath, then another. Think, Caid, Think. What do you need to do?

Perry was thinking the same thing. "Okay, we need to tell them that obviously you're not missing, and that you're healthy and alive."

I looked at my cell, and then up at Perry.

"Caid?" He said cautiously, worry clear in his face.

I shook myself. "I'm fine, just thinking."

"Um…" James' voice was hesitant, "I think the first thing you should do is go to the police department up here. I think you need to actually go there in person, because with a $500,000 reward, I bet they're getting tons of prank calls, and they might not believe it if you call."

We both turned to him in surprise. The kid made a whole lot of sense, and it started my brain working again. I needed to let the police know, and then I needed to start making some phone calls.

"Good idea, James." I smiled at him and he blushed. "Okay, um…" I looked down at myself. "I need to change, and then we'll go." Perry nodded, and I grabbed my clothes off the bed and headed for the bathroom.


"Jesus, what a mess." I stopped my pacing and dropped into one of the chairs in my room, running a hand through my hair. It was past eleven; James had long since gone off to bed, and Perry was watching TV, sprawled across one of the beds with two pillows propping his head up.

As I'd been doing for the past six hours, I thought back over the strange sequence of events that caused this whole mess and shook my head. The truck being stolen by several joy-riding teenagers who had been too scared to fess up. Traces of blood from my mountain biking incident still on the steering wheel and seat. The messages I'd left for Connie and Liz hadn't specified where I'd be hiking, or who I was going to be with. Reserving the rental car and hotel rooms with credit cards using my middle name, Renee, which I often used when traveling.

"It's not really your fault, Caid," Perry said, flipping absently through stations. "Although you should have left an itinerary with someone," he added mildly.

I deserved the rebuke, and nodded. "I know."

We watched TV for a few minutes, and Perry stopped on a station with an "Actress Found" tagline.

The anchor looked happy as he reported, "Actress Caidence Harris, thought to be missing after her car was found abandoned along I-10 earlier this week, has surfaced in the Big Bear area, unharmed. The search, which had been concentrated in the desert west of Palm Springs where the vehicle was found, has been called off. John Isaac is live at the Mountain Inn in Big Bear where Miss Harris is reported to be staying. John?"

The picture cut to a tall, well-groomed blonde man standing on the steps of the inn where we were staying.

"Thanks, Chris." The man glanced at a notepad in his hand, and then looked back up at the camera. "Well, it's been a tense, emotional few days for friends of actress Caidence Harris, but it all ends on a happy note tonight." The man was replaced with pictures of Perry, James and me getting into a police cruiser outside the Big Bear Lake Police Department. "The actress walked into the Big Bear Lake Police Department earlier this evening, safe and unharmed, and after talking with San Bernardino County officials, it appears that an unfortunate and rather bizarre series of events were to blame for her feared disappearance…"

I tuned the man out, thinking of the three hours we spent in the Big Bear Lake Police Department, first convincing the young deputy on duty that the tired, jean and t-shirt clad woman sitting at his desk was indeed a missing celebrity, then answering questions and talking via phone with agencies in Palm Springs who were heading up the investigation of my "disappearance". During lulls in activity, I had begun to make some necessary phone calls, one of them being to my agent and publicist, Connie Reynolds. The less than scathing, almost positive press the story was getting was all due to her agency's expert handling.

The news program moved on to another story, and Perry changed the channel again, settling finally on ESPN. I pushed myself out of the chair and resumed pacing, stopping at the window and pulling the curtain aside slightly to look out at the parking lot. There were only three news trucks there now where earlier there had been more than ten, and I guiltily thanked a seventeen-car pileup on I-5 and a mid-western politician's unfortunate choice in sex partners for pushing the story of my reappearance out of the limelight.

The phone rang, startling us both. We looked at each other, then at the phone. Perry reached for it hesitantly. "Should I get it?"

I shrugged. "I guess."

He frowned at my lack of clear direction and reached for the phone. "Yeah?"

I wondered if a reporter had finally bribed someone into giving out my room number, but Perry looked up at me, listening, and didn't hang up immediately. I walked over to sit beside him on the bed, watching him curiously.

"Um, I think that's fine, but let me check and make sure," he said, and covered the mouthpiece with his hand. "Elizabeth Stokley is downstairs, demanding to see you. The guy at the front desk is asking if he can have someone show her up. He said they can get up here without anyone seeing."

I raised my eyebrows. "Liz is here?" He nodded, and I waved my hand at him. "Yeah, yeah, of course. Send her up."

"So, I finally get to meet Elizabeth Ann Stokley?" Perry asked when he'd hung up the phone.

"Looks like it," I replied absently, still mulling over the fact that Liz was here. When I had called her earlier from the police station, her emotional and tearful response to hearing I was okay had overwhelmed me, and her being here now reminded me again how much upset and worry I had caused.

There was a gentle knock on the door and both Perry and I rose from the bed. I crossed the room and pulled open the door, and Liz flew at me, catching me in a tight embrace and whispering fiercely in my ear, "Don't you ever do this to me again. Do you hear me? Never again…" she let out a choked sob, and held on tighter.

"Hey, shhhhh," I held her tightly with one hand and stroked her hair with the other, fighting back tears of my own. "I'm so sorry, Liz. God, I'm sorry."

Finally, Liz sniffed and pulled away slowly, running her eyes over me worriedly. "You're really okay?"

"I'm fine." She didn't look convinced. "Honest, Liz, I'm fine. It was all one big…misunderstanding."

She snorted, and smacked me hard in the arm.

"Ow!" I rubbed my arm. Liz was a lot stronger than she looked. I was going to have a bruise in the morning.

"Goddamit, Caid," she fumed, and hit me again. "If you ever scare me like that again, I'm going to kill you."

Perry's laughter drew both of our attention, and we looked over to where he had been standing and watching our interaction. "It's nice to see someone beat up on Caid for a change," he said with a charming smile at Liz, and I rolled my eyes.

"Liz, this is my brother Perry," I told her, still rubbing my arm. "Perry, Elizabeth Stokley."

Perry stepped forward and shook her hand. "A pleasure, Miss Stokley."

Liz released his hand slowly and cocked her head to the side, eyeing him speculatively. "Well aren't you a handsome one. And those eyes…just like Caid's," she mused.

I watched in open amusement as Perry mumbled a thank you, blushing to the roots of his hair. "Liz," I admonished gently, "play nice."

She turned to me with a cocked eyebrow and an innocent smile. "I always play nice, Sugar." She looked back at Perry and smiled. "Call me Liz."

"Uh…sure…Liz," he managed, still blushing, but regaining some of his usual confidence. "Caid talks about you often…thank you for being such a good friend to her."

"Ohhh," Liz laughed melodically. "And charming, too." She glanced over at me. "Caid, you could take lessons from your brother."

"I'll keep that in mind," I said dryly.

She smiled and looked back at Perry. "And Perry, despite her many flaws, your sister is a very good friend to have."

She really could be very sweet.

"Now." Liz looked at her watch with a graceful flick of her wrist. "It's late, and Paula is waiting for me in the lobby, hopefully getting us a place to sleep." Her gaze ran over me from head to toe. "The police in Palm Springs told me you were fine, but I had to see for myself."

"I'm fine, Liz," I assured her, and after a pause, "Thanks for caring."

She nodded briskly, obviously done with emotional outbursts. "How are you getting back to LA?"

"I rented a car…"

"You'll drive back with us," she said firmly. "Let's have breakfast downstairs at eight and all those poor reporters prowling around can take pictures of you happy and alive and eating pancakes, then they can go off and report on something more interesting."

"There are three of us…Perry's friend James is with us too." I warned her.

She shrugged. "Plenty of room for six, it'll be fine."

I nodded, and frowned. "Six?"

"Ah." Liz said, frowning a little. "That's the other thing. Robyn is with us. She didn't come up here with me because she is under the impression that you are angry with her and don't want to see her, but she's come all this way to make sure that you're alive and in one piece, so maybe you could call a time out in this stupid little feud and talk to her for a few minutes, hmm?"

"Robyn is here?" I managed as calmly as I could, but the narrowing of Liz's eyes told me she'd noticed the slight waver in my voice.

"Yes, she is, and I'm going to send her up," she said with finality.

"Okay…" I said faintly, and Liz looked at me suspiciously for a moment before walking to the door.

"Perry, would you mind walking me down to the lobby? I hate walking around by myself in hotels."

"Of course." He literally jumped to the door to open it for her. Then he stopped, and turned to me. "I'll probably just head to my room…you'll be okay?"

I smiled slightly. "Yeah, I'll be fine, thanks. See you in the morning."

"'Kay." He opened the door for Liz, who paused before going through it.

"It's good to see you, Caid. I'm glad you're okay."

I nodded and smiled at her, trying to convey my gratitude. "Thanks, Liz."

I watched the door close behind them and just stood for a moment, taking a few deep breaths to try and still the fluttering in my stomach at the thought of seeing Robyn. Robyn was here. I wondered what that meant, and forced myself not to read too much into it.

I busied myself with straightening out the pillows where Perry had been and calling the front desk to request a wakeup call for seven. At the knock on the door, the fluttering in my stomach came back full force, and I paused to take a few more deep breaths before walking to the door and pulling it open.

Her hair was pulled back from her face in a messy, loose ponytail and she wore faded jeans, loafers, and a black, short-sleeved mock turtleneck blouse. Her face was drawn, and she looked at me guardedly, fidgeting with the large black purse slung over her shoulder.

"Hi," she said finally, her voice a near whisper.

She looked so good I nearly cried.

"Hi," I responded quietly, and stepped back, gesturing for her to enter.

She did so hesitantly, sliding the bag from her shoulder and depositing it near the door before turning to watch me as I closed the door softly. We looked at each other for several long moments, and then she stepped forward and raised a hand to brush my cheek with her knuckles and stroke lightly with her thumb. I stood still as she ran her other hand through my hair and down my arm, tilting her chin up to kiss my forehead.

I closed my eyes at the contact, not moving, but when she tugged me forward into her body and wrapped her arms around me, I let my arms drift up around her waist and held on tightly. We both sighed at the same time and she kissed my hair, whispering in my ear, "God, I'm so glad you're safe."

I tightened my arms briefly, then stepped back, missing her warmth instantly. "I'm sorry I worried everyone."

She smiled slightly, brushing my cheek again. "It was quite a bit more than worry, Caid." The smile faded and her face took on a haunted look. "We though you…" She dropped her hand abruptly and turned away, walking a few paces towards the window before turning around.

"Do you remember the first time we met? When they told you I'd be sharing your trailer?"

I remembered it well. The first time I'd looked into those eyes and lost my breath, the first time that voice and flowed through me like honey, the first time another person's presence had left me completely and utterly befuddled. I nodded slowly, confused at the turn the conversation had taken.

"I wanted you from the first second I saw you." She smiled in remembrance. "I'd seen you in pictures, and on TV of course, and knew you were attractive, but something about meeting you in person…I think it was the eyes," she mused, tilting her head, "or maybe that mouth…" her eyes dropped to my mouth, and then looked back up to meet my startled gaze.

"I remember thinking it would be fun to try and get you into bed." She smiled wryly, adding honestly, "I'm something of a pig when it comes to sex…or at least I have been in the past."

"Robyn," I said, "I don't…"

She shook her head and held up a hand. "No, please. Let me finish this. And then you can kick me out, or tell me I'm a bitch, or whatever." When I stayed quiet, she continued. "After a few months, I decided that maybe getting you into my bed wasn't such a good idea after all; it wasn't worth the risk when we were working together and hell, I could barely get you to talk to me anyway - you just giggled a lot and occasionally said really bizarre things."

I stuck my hands in my pockets defensively, embarrassed to know that I had appeared just as stupid as I always felt around her.

"Then one day you started talking to me. You were funny, and smart, and sweet…and I started to really like you, and I was still crazy attracted to you…it scared me, I guess. I have friends, and I have lovers, and I haven't wanted both of those things from one person in a long time." She paused, pushing a stray piece of hair behind her ear. "I lied to you about going out of town that weekend because I was scared. When you told me you hadn't been with a woman, I used it as an excuse to push you away because I was scared. What I did last weekend at the party…treating you that way," she looked at me sadly, "was because I was scared, and it was easier to be an asshole than to admit how much I care about you."

She stopped, and took a deep breath before continuing. "But being scared of how I felt about you was nothing…nothing," she repeated intensely, "compared to how fucking scared I've been for the past three days. The thought of losing you," she shook her head, "it terrified me. Petrified me. It still does. But it made me realize that what you said the other night, at my house, was true. It's worth the risk. This," she gestured between us, moving towards me. "This is worth the risk. You," she came to a stop in front of me and laid a hand on my chest. "You are worth the risk. I don't want to lose you again, and I'll do whatever you want, take whatever you're willing to give. I know I've probably fucked things up royally, but I hope that we can at least be friends, and maybe, someday, something more."

I stared at her stupidly. She'd taken my breath away again - this time with words.

When I didn't respond right away, she gave me a pained smile. "Ah, well." She cupped my cheek. "At least now you know. Would you at least think about what I said? I'd like to be friends at least, if nothing else." She trailed her hand down my arm and squeezed my hand.

I still hadn't said anything, and she smiled sadly. Finally, when she moved towards the door, I managed to say something.

"Stay," I whispered. I held tightly to her hand, not letting her move any closer to the door. "That's what I want."


"You said you'd do anything I want," I said, louder now. "I want you to stay. I want to hold you…I want to fall asleep with you…when I wake up tomorrow morning, I want you to be the first thing I see." I pulled gently at her hand, bringing our bodies back together. "That's what I want." I looked into her eyes. "For starters."

The tenseness in her face slowly faded and she raised an eyebrow, a smile twitching at her lips. "For starters?" Her thumb absently stroked across the back of my hand, raising goose bumps on my arm.

"For starters," I agreed. "Tomorrow, we'll see what happens." I took her hand and placed it on my hip. "Deal?"

She smiled, warm and content. "Deal."


The strident ringing near my head tore me out of deep sleep and I slapped at the noise, thinking it was my alarm clock and puzzled when the noise didn't stop. I blinked a few times, noticing a flashing red light, attached to a phone.

Ah. Phone. Ringing. Right.

Pleased to have solved the first puzzle of the day, I frowned when the noise continued, finally realizing I needed to answer the phone. I grabbed at the receiver, snagging it with clumsy fingers on my third try, and brought it to my ear as I rolled onto my back.

Or at least tried to roll onto my back.

"This is a Mountain Inn courtesy wakeup call," a pre-recorded voice said in my ear, but I was too busy remembering why there was a warm, soft body at my back and a gentle hand rubbing circles under my shirt to pay much attention. "Thank you for staying with us at the Mountain Inn, and have a great day."

"Uh-huh," I mumbled absently and replaced the receiver carefully, torn between staying where I was and allowing the soft caresses to continue and rolling over to verify that Robyn was actually here.

"Good morning," a low voice murmured in my ear and I closed my eyes at the rough, husky sound. I'd wondered for ages what that voice would sound like in the morning; it was much, much better than I'd ever imagined. She dropped a kiss on a very sensitive place behind my ear, sending shivers through my body, and tightened her arm around me.

I stroked the skin of her arm, lacing our fingers together and squeezing her hand tightly to my body before releasing it and slowly rolling over. She shifted a little to allow me some room, and I finally settled with my head on her bicep with our faces just inches apart.

"Good morning," I said softly, lifting a hand to trace the features of her face in wonder - her eyebrows, her cheeks, her jaw, her lips… "I can't believe you're here," I whispered in amazement, rubbing the pad of my thumb along her lower lip.

She kissed my thumb and leaned in to brush her lips across mine gently, lingering for just a moment before pulling back. She smiled, the corners of her eyes crinkling. "Thank you for letting me stay."

I leaned in and brought our lips together softly as she had done, sucking gently on her lower lip, swiping lightly with my tongue. "You're welcome," I answered after I'd pulled back, pleased at the quick intake of breath I had caused and warmed by the lazy desire I saw on her face.

She closed her eyes and gathered me closer, slipping a hand under my shirt and tracing languid patterns on the skin of my back with her fingernails.

"Mmmm…that feels good," I murmured, and snuggled into her neck, breathing in her scent. We had fallen asleep fully clothed, and I found myself wishing she had worn a different shirt; the mock turtleneck covered far too much of her long neck. Parts I wanted to explore.

My arms were pinned between our bodies, but I wiggled one hand free and hooked the collar of her shirt with a finger. I tugged it down, trailing kisses along her neck, lingering at the hollow of her throat, then back up and along the underside of her jaw.

She took a shuddering breath and the fingernails on my back stopped. "Caid…"

"Mm-hmm?" I answered vaguely, intent on my exploration.

Her arms tightened and we rolled until Robyn was lying on top of me, our mouths close together. "You're killing me," she said softly, leaning in to flick her tongue along my lower lip, and then my upper lip. I opened my mouth in response and she took advantage, kissing me slowly and thoroughly until my head swam.

She pulled back with a groan and one final nip on my lip; I looked up at her, dazed. She smiled in sympathy. "We don't have time to do this properly…" She dipped down to nuzzle my ear, her voice sending tremors through my already aroused body. "And I really want to do this properly…" She pulled back a little and kissed the tip of my nose, "so I'm going to roll back over and just hold you for a little while longer, and you're going to behave yourself, okay?"

I nodded mutely, panting, my head still swimming in a Robyn-induced haze. Good God. It was insane what one kiss from this woman could do to me.

She rolled onto her back and patted her shoulder invitingly. "Come 'ere."

I moved over, then paused and looked up at her hesitantly. "Could I…could I hold you?"

She smiled slowly and nodded. "I'd like that."

She scooted down a bit and tucked her body against my side, laying her head on my shoulder and her arm across my stomach. I let her settle in then put my arms around her and kissed her hair, sighing. "This is nice."

"Mm-hmmm…" she mumbled, wiggling a little to get closer.

I kissed her hair again, and stroked the bare skin of her arm. "Whenever I've been with…" I paused, wondering if this was proper snuggling conversation, "…guys…they always did the holding…"

"Ah…" she gave a low laugh. "One of the many perks of being with a woman." She put her hand on my stomach and rubbed lightly. "And it's okay to talk about, you know," she added, reading my pause correctly. "I know you haven't been with a woman, but I'm assuming you're not a virgin…" She stopped and lifted her head quickly to look at me. "You're not, are you?"

I laughed at the trace of panic in her voice. "No, I'm not." I stole a quick kiss while her lips were so close. "It's safe to say I've got the mechanics down fairly well."

She relaxed back onto my shoulder with a chuckle, and we were quiet for several moments before she asked, "How long…" she paused, and I could feel the slight shake of her head. "I'm sorry - it's none of my business."

"How long since I was with someone last?"

I felt her nod. "Do you mind me asking? You don't need to tell me…"

"Well, I suppose, if we're going to do this properly," I said, using her phrase from earlier, "then it sort of is your business, isn't it?" I thought for a bit, remembering the two-week fling that had been a last ditch effort to convince myself that I wasn't gay. "I guess Christmas, year before last."

She raised her head again, staring at me in surprise. "But that's…" she frowned as she calculated, "that's over a year and a half ago. Surely it can't have been that long?"

I raised my eyebrows at her incredulous tone. "I'm afraid so." She shook her head in disbelief, and I asked hesitantly, not sure I wanted to know the answer, "I gather it hasn't been quite that long for you?"

She dropped her gaze from mine and lowered her head back on to my shoulder. "No," she said quietly, making circles on my t-shirt with her finger. "Last month." She paused. "The weekend I told you I was going out of town."

"Ah." was all I could think of to say.

Ouch. That one stung more than I expected it to. And brought a bit of reality into my idyllic morning.

I kissed her hair one last time and gently moved my arm from under her head, then sat up and swung my legs over the side of the bed, running a hand through my hair.

"Caid?" she asked worriedly, placing a hand on my back.

I looked over my shoulder at her and smiled reassuringly. "It's okay - just brought to mind some realities that I didn't think about last night."

"Realities?" she repeated, sitting up slowly, looking tousled and beautiful and all I wanted to do was to lay back down with her; to feel her against me again, but instead I was going to ask for something that might keep me from ever doing that again.

"I've learned lots of things about myself over the years, Robyn," I said quietly, turning on the bed to face her. "And one of those things is that I'm not very good at sharing. I know that maybe you're used to something…different…but I know from experience that I don't work that way." I took a breath. "So if that's not something you want as well, then maybe we should just…stop." I looked down at my hands, afraid of what she would say.

She raised my face to hers with gentle fingers under my chin and smiled softly. "I may have been a pig, Caid, but in the few relationships I've had, I've always been a monogamous pig. I'm glad you said something, because I want - and expect - the same thing."

"You do?" I asked, the smile growing on my face.

She leaned forward and kissed me gently. "I do."

"Sweet." I said without thinking.

"Sweet?" She looked at me with a quizzical smile.

I laughed and shook my head wryly. "God, too much time with my brother and his friend this week. Smack me if I say 'dude' or 'awesome.' Or 'check it.' Really smack me if I say 'check it.'" She laughed and leaned back on her hands, smiling at me, her eyes warm with affection. The "Robyn Rush" took me by surprise, and I acted on impulse, pushing her back on the bed and crawling on top of her, kissing her intensely.

She let out a muffled huff of surprise but responded immediately, opening her mouth to deepen the kiss and pushing my shirt up roughly to run her hands up and down my back. Her fingernails scratched up my spine, not lightly, and I arched against her with a gasp.

"God…" I pulled my mouth away from hers to breathe, just as a knock sounded at the door. Both of us froze for several moments, staring at each other. I rolled to the side, flopping heavily on my back and staring at the ceiling. "Goddamn." Whether I meant it as a curse for the person at the door, or an expression of amazement at how Robyn affected me, I wasn't sure.

"Jesus Christ, Caid…where did that come from?" Robyn asked shakily, laying an arm over her eyes.

I rolled my head to the side to look at her, answering honestly, "I have no idea."

She smiled and grasped my hand, squeezing gently. "Well, feel free to do that again, anytime."

"Anytime?" I grinned.

"Within reason, Miss Harris," she answered dryly. "For instance, now is not a good time, so you should stop looking at me that way."

There was another knock, and Perry's muffled voice came through the door. "Yo, Caid. Wake up!" More knocking followed.

Robyn raised an eyebrow. I sighed and sat up. "My brother," I explained as I stood, reaching down to grasp her hand and pull her to her feet.

She nodded and ran a hand through her hair, looking around the room. "Do you have a brush or something?"

"In the bathroom," I said over my shoulder as I walked to the door. Perry knocked again, harder this time. "I'm up, I'm up!" I said loudly, and pulled the door open, catching Perry in mid-knock. "Jeez, Per, I'm up already."

"Took you long enough," he said, stuffing his hands in his pockets. His hair was still wet from a shower, and he had what looked like a small nick from a razor on his jaw.

I leaned against the door. "Have a little trouble with the razor this morning, Periwinkle?"

He scowled and pushed past me but stopped dead at the sight of Robyn coming out of the bathroom with a baseball cap in her hands.

"Can I borrow this?" she asked me, and smiled at Perry.

"Holy shit," Perry said.

I'd had similar reactions on several occasions, so I could sympathize.

"Perry," I pushed the door shut and stepped around him, resisting the urge to go over to Robyn and slip my arm around her. "Close your mouth and don't stare. This is Robyn. Robyn, my brother Perry."

Robyn put the hat on her head, tucked her hair behind her ears, and stepped forward, extending a hand. "Perry, nice to meet you."

He took her hand absently, staring at her despite my warning. "You're Robyn Ward."

She laughed lightly and allowed him to continue shaking her hand. "That I am."

"Jesus, Perry," I said in exasperation, "would you quit staring?" My sympathy with his reaction was waning.

He dropped her hand immediately, and looked over at me with a scowl. "I wasn't staring."

"Were too."

"Was not."

"Were too."

Robyn's laughter stopped the argument before Perry and I could make complete idiots of ourselves, and I glanced over at her sheepishly. "Sorry," I mumbled.

She just smiled. "I've got three sisters, I've been there." She glanced at her watch and looked over at me apologetically. "I should get to my room…I have a change of clothes, and I should take a shower…"

Still humming with tension from our earlier activities, my brain had no trouble immediately picturing Robyn naked in the shower and I felt my pulse speed up. Some of what I was thinking must have been plain on my face, because a slow smile spread across Robyn's face. "Within reason, Miss Harris, within reason," she murmured as she walked past me and patted my stomach.

She stooped to pick up her bag at the door. "I guess I'll see you both downstairs…" She looked at her watch and raised her eyebrows. "And we'd all better hurry. Liz would hate for any of us to be later than she is." With a final smile and a lingering glance at me, she left, the door closing slowly after her.

I couldn't have stopped my smile, even if I'd wanted to.

Hot damn. What a great way to start the day.

"Damn." Perry's awed voice drew my gaze. He was staring, much as I'd been, at the door that Robyn had just left through, and now he shook his head and said again, "Damn. I heard you and Liz last night talking about a Robyn, but I had no idea…" He backhanded me on the arm. "You didn't tell me you were friends with Robyn Ward," he accused with a miffed expression on his face.

"Hey Perry," I feinted towards his face with my hand and poked him in the stomach when he raised his arm to cover his face. "I'm friends with Robyn Ward. Now get the hell out of here so I can take a shower."

"Ha-ha." He eyed me suspiciously as he sidestepped towards the door, guarding his stomach. "Jeez, I just about hit the floor when I saw her in here." He frowned. "What was she doing in here, anyway?"

I was tempted to tell him everything. Frankly, I had the urge to run up and down the halls, pounding on doors and letting everyone know that Robyn Ward liked me. Thirty-four years old and I wanted to turn cartwheels and tell everyone my secrets…Sheesh.

I realized, though, that until Robyn and I talked about how open we were going to be about this, I probably shouldn't go blathering on about how Robyn and I had just been rolling around on the bed, making out like teenagers. The thought stopped me for a second - I'd never had to worry about that before.

"Borrowing a hat," I said casually and herded him towards the door, feeling a twinge of guilt about the semi-truth. "Now go, I'll see you downstairs. And you might want to warn James…I don't want his head to explode."

Perry was laughing as the door closed behind him.


Breakfast was an interesting affair, with lurking photographers, overly solicitous wait staff, eager autograph seekers and a visit from several police officers under the guise of updating me on the investigation into my stolen car, but what was more likely an attempt to see Liz and Robyn in the flesh. In addition to that, Liz's flirted outrageously with my younger brother and James continued to cast puppy-dog like, adoring looks at me despite the presence of Robyn and Liz; two much more worthy targets, in my opinion.

Like I said, breakfast was an interesting affair.

I was also a little bothered by Robyn's ability to act as though we were nothing more than friends, and not particularly close friends at that. I know she'd had more practice than me in this area, but I didn't know how she was able to act so normal when all through breakfast I was fighting the nearly overwhelming desire to leap across the table and tear her clothes off.

I escaped back to my room after breakfast with relief, gathering my things and zipping the last of my toiletries into various pockets of my pack when someone knocked on the door.

"Yeah, Perry, I'm almost rea…dy"

Robyn leaned against the doorframe, dangling my baseball cap on a slender finger. "I came to return this." She shrugged off the wall and stepped towards me, pushing me back into the room and tossing the cap on the bed behind us. She kicked the door closed with her foot, slid a hand around the back of my neck, and pulled me into heated kiss that left me gasping.

"God." She broke the kiss and wrapped long arms around me. "That's all I've wanted to do for the last hour."

I ran my hands up and down her back gently and kissed the side of her head. "Glad it's not just me."

She chuckled. "No, it's definitely not just you."

We stood for a minute, holding each other, and then I pulled back, tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear. "This is a little strange for me…I'm not sure how to act," I admitted. "I don't know who I should tell, who I shouldn't tell…"

"I know, Caid." She sighed. "I'm sorry. Don't take this the wrong way, okay?" I nodded cautiously. "I think we should wait and see where this goes before we start telling people about it. And not," she interrupted as I started to say something, "not because of the gay thing. Although honestly, Caid, in our business, we do need to be careful. But right now, this is about you and me, Caid. No one else. I don't want to jinx this, and honestly, I'd like to have you to myself for at least a little while. Do you understand?"

I nodded slowly, thinking about what she said. What she was asking for wasn't unreasonable; it actually made a lot of sense. This was going to be complicated enough without getting other people involved - maybe we should take the time to figure out what there was between us before telling people.

"Caid…" Robyn moved away from me smoothly as Perry knocked and pushed open the door that we hadn't quite shut. "Are you ready?" He stopped and smiled at Robyn. "Oh. Hi."

She smiled back, and walked to the door. "Thanks for the hat, Caid. See you downstairs."

"Yeah," I said, watching her go. "See you."


Perry, James and I stood next to the limo as Liz's driver Walter pulled Robyn's overnight bag from the trunk and started up her driveway.

"That's okay, Walter, I've got it." Robyn stopped him with a hand on his arm. He looked at her uncertainly, and she stepped over and took the bag, slinging it over her shoulder with a smile at the older man. "Thank you, Walter."

"Of course, Miss Ward." He nodded, and walked around the car and slipped into the driver's seat.

The three-hour drive back from Big Bear had been uneventful, but slower than expected due to unusually heavy Sunday morning traffic. Liz had spent most of trip on the phone to various people, Paula had worked on her laptop, Robyn had conversed easily with Perry and James, and I had made a few phone calls and tried not to think about how goddamned sexy Robyn's voice was, or how good it had felt to wake up with her that morning.

Robyn turned to face the three of us. "James, Perry," she held out a hand to each, smiling. "It was good meeting the two of you. Try to take it easy on Caid here for the next few days, hmm?"

James blushed and Perry grinned rather stupidly and said, "It was nice meeting you too, Mi…Robyn. And don't worry. Caid's still pretty spry for her advanced age. I think she'll be able to keep up with us." He quickly jumped back to avoid the swipe I'd taken at his stomach and ducked into the limo. James followed him with a grin.

"Little shit head," I mumbled and shook my head.

Robyn laughed lightly and adjusted the bag on her arm, looking up towards the house. I looked down at the driveway, following a tiny crack in the cement with my eyes, and finally looked up to find she had turned her attention on me. She tipped her head towards the house. "Walk me up?"

I nodded and we walked together up her drive and onto her porch, neither of us speaking. I didn't know where to go from here, where we stood, or what to expect. We'd expressed an attraction and interest in each other, but now what? Did I ask her out? Did we date? Were we girlfriends? Wasn't there some joke about a lesbians and dating and U-Hauls?

We stopped at her front door and she reached inside her purse and pulled out a set of keys. She fit the key in the lock and paused, not looking at me. "I leave on Wednesday. For two months." She opened the door and ducked inside to turn off the alarm and drop her bag, then stood in the doorway, watching for my reaction.

The Lynne Wesson movie. I'd forgotten all about it. Shit. "Two months?"

She nodded. "The shooting schedule is going to be crazy, and I'm really going to need to immerse myself into character and try and avoid distractions…" She fidgeted with the doorknob a bit and crossed her arms across her chest. "Listen, Caid. What I'm trying to say, and doing a bad job of, is that I'm not going to be able to communicate much for the next two months. I know we just…started something here, but maybe it would be a good idea for us to put this on hold until I get back."

Put this on hold? Was she freaking kidding me?

I put my hands on my hips. "Are you're going to change your mind in two months? Have you changed your mind already? Is that what this is? A graceful way of backing away again?"

"No, Caid. God no. Of course not," she said, obviously startled by my anger. "I just…"

"Ah." I suddenly realized what the problem might be.

She frowned. "What does 'ah' mean?"

"It means I think I know why you're doing this. You're not going to change your mind, but you think I will. You still don't trust that this isn't just some fad for me, do you?"

"No, that's not it, either." She uncrossed her arms to run a hand through her hair. "I'm not going to lie to you, Caid. Yes, I'm scared that once we get involved, you'll decide that it's not for you, and I'll end up hurt. I told you, though; I think it's worth the risk. What I'm talking about now has nothing to do with that." She sighed. "Look. I don't want to mess this up. I know this is new for you, and I don't want us to feel rushed because I'm leaving, and maybe we do something you're not ready for…"

She was doing this because of me. She was concerned about me. I smiled, and stepped towards her. "Back up."


"Robyn, back up. Into the house. I want to kiss you, and I don't think you want Liz or your neighbors to see that quite yet. And I don't want to give Perry and James a cheap thrill."

She took two quick steps back, then another two to her left, so that she was out of the doorway. I followed her into the foyer and closed the door partway behind us before stepping in close and putting my hands on her waist.

"Robyn." I kissed her gently. "I've been putting how I feel about you on hold for almost two years. I'm tired of it, and I really don't see the point. I appreciate your concern, but I'm a big girl, and I'm not going to get rushed into something I don't want, or something I'm not ready for." I kissed her again, wanting much more but keeping it light, mindful of the car full of people waiting for me outside.

Her eyes fluttered open as I drew back, and she frowned. "What do you mean, almost two years? I haven't even known you for two years. We only met…"

"September 14th, 2002," I interrupted matter-of-factly. "At ten twenty-three in the morning. You had on jeans, a rust-colored tank, and tennis shoes. You smiled and I nearly passed out." She blinked in surprise and I smiled slightly. "You're not the only one who started wanting that day. In fact, I wanted so much that I acted like a complete moron whenever you were around. Hence the giggling and saying really bizarre things."

"Oh," she said faintly.

"Now…" I nibbled at her lower lip. "Will I see you before you leave?"

Her smile was slow and sweet. "You'd better."


I stepped out onto the large wooden deck of Liz's Malibu beach home, taking a deep breath of moist ocean air. The sun was dipping low in the west, just kissing the watery expanse of Pacific that stretched to the horizon, turning the sky gold and the water a deep purple. The sound of the surf, gently breaking on the beach below, was soothing and I leaned against the deck railing with a sigh, resting pleasantly tired muscles and enjoying a bit of relaxation after a hectic day.

Showing two college-aged men the exciting sights of greater Los Angeles had turned out to be a full-time job. Mann's Chinese Theater and Liz's star on the Walk of Fame, dinner at Spago's, clubbing on The Strip, and now a day at the beach with private surfing lessons…I was wiped, and we still had a movie premiere that I'd talked my way into tonight, and tomorrow a tour of the network studio and a couple hours on the set of a currently shooting movie before finally dropping them off at the airport for an afternoon flight back to Madison.

Maybe after all that, I'd finally have a chance to see Robyn. I hadn't seen her in over twenty-four hours, and now that I'd felt what it was like to touch her, I couldn't wait for my next touch. But Robyn's pre-filming preparations and my hectic schedule with Perry and James were combining to make it very possible that we wouldn't see each other before she left, and that was frustrating the hell out of me.

The sound of the door sliding open and closed behind me brought me out of my thoughts, and I glanced over as a glass was placed on the railing beside me.

"I…uh…I asked Perry, and he said you liked scotch…" James said, picking nervously at the label of the bottle of beer in his hand.

"I do," I said with a smile, picking up the glass and swirling it a few times before taking a sip. "Thanks, James."

He watched me drink and, apparently satisfied that I did indeed like scotch, leaned against the railing and faced the water, mimicking my position. We leaned in silence for a few minutes, drinking and watching the sun dip lower. "It's beautiful here," he said eventually. "It was really nice of Liz to let us use it."

"Yeah." I took in another deep lungful of air. "I love it here. I think she's crazy not to use it more. It's a great place to get away."

"Is it…" he paused, and looked over at me, "is it like that a lot? All those photographers?"

He was talking about the scene that greeted us when we returned to my house after dropping Robyn off the day before - a herd of photographers and news vans blocking my drive, surrounding the limo as we pulled up, making it nearly impossible for us to get to the house. Liz had offered the beach house immediately, knowing how much I hated that kind of attention.

"No, it's not usually like that for me. It's just fallout from my supposed disappearance…it'll die down in a couple of days. It's like that for Liz, almost everywhere she goes, and for Robyn sometimes…but no, I don't usually rate that kind of attention."

He glanced away when I looked over at him. "I don't know why," he said quietly. "You're just as pretty as they are."

I laughed, but quieted quickly when I noticed his wounded expression. "Thank you, that's sweet of you to say."

"Well it's true," he mumbled.

I smiled and sipped at my drink. "You did great out there today - a real natural," I commented, wanting to change the subject. The day we'd just spent surfing seemed like a safe enough topic.

He smiled shyly. "You too. You're really…uh…athletic. And you…um…look great in a swimsuit."

Perhaps not such a safe topic after all. I think it was time to have a little talk with James about how he had absolutely no chance with his best friend's much older, probably a lesbian, sister.

I put my drink on the rail and turned to face him, but before I could say anything, he quickly lunged forward and planted his lips on mine.

To say I was startled would be an understatement, and it took me a moment to react. I put my hands on his shoulders and pushed him away, annoyed that he tried something and annoyed with myself for not nipping this in the bud.

"James, no," I said firmly. He cringed like a kicked puppy, and I stifled my annoyance with a sigh. "James, this is not happening."

"But," he started.

I shook my head, stopping him. "But nothing. You're a nice guy, James, but this isn't happening. I'm practically old enough to be your mother, for one thing, and honestly, you're not my type."

"What is your type? I'm not tall enough? Not famous enough?" he asked, sulking now.

I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. Sometimes men were such babies. "I would hope you know me a little better than that, James. I'll tell you what my type isn't. It's not friends of my brother's who are barely twenty-one, okay?" This time I allowed a little of my annoyance to creep into my voice, and he slumped dejectedly against the rail. I softened my tone. "I'm sorry if I did something to give you a different impression…"

He shook his head. "No, you didn't…I was just…" He shrugged. "I dunno…hoping, I guess."

"I'm flattered, James. Truly. And some girl is going to be very lucky to get you someday."

Ugh. Did I just say that? Cheesy, cheesy, cheesy. After school specials, here I come.

"But not you, huh?" His tone was resigned.

I smiled slightly. "No, not me."

We both turned and watched the final rays of sun fade to purple, and the sun dip below the horizon. After a few minutes, I bumped him with my shoulder. "Piece of advice?"

He glanced over. "Sure."

"Next time, save the tongue for the second kiss."

He looked embarrassed for a moment, but saw that I was smiling. He laughed and clinked his bottle against my glass. "I'll try to remember that."


"Come on, Caid, four more. That's it, three…you've got it. Two…and one more…alright, nice job!"

Shawn plucked the twenty pound dumbbells from my hands as though they were toothpicks, smiling down at me with a practiced, encouraging smile. "Take a sixty second break and then we'll go for another fifteen."

I groaned and let my arms dangle behind my head, arching my back over the exercise ball I was laying on top of for my tricep curls. "You're evil, you know that, right?"

"That's what you pay me for." He smiled again, this time a little less professional and more genuine. "You're the one who wanted a last minute, butt-kicking workout. I'm just giving you what you wanted."

"Well, I'm an idiot," I mumbled, and I raised my hands up to receive the dumbbells again, blowing out a few deep breaths before lowering the weights behind my head slowly, and then raising them up again.

I was on my tenth rep when the muffled tones of my cell phone interrupted my concentration, and I paused.

"Oh no you don't. Five more, Caid, and then you can answer it," Shawn said, picking up the phone from where it sat on my towel and waving it enticingly in front of my face.

I scowled, too breathless to call him all the names running through my mind, and pushed out five more reps as fast as I could, my arms shaking crazily on the last two. He finally handed me the phone after taking the weights from my hands, and after a moment of fumbling, I finally got the thing open.

"Yeah," I gasped, closing my eyes and draping a sweaty arm across my face.

There was a moment of silence, and then a low, husky voice asked, "Am I interrupting something?"

I didn't think it was possible, but my heart rate picked up even more, and it took me a moment before I could respond. "I'm at the gym. Trying to work off some…frustration," I panted finally. I knew the smile on my face was giving Shawn some ideas, but I couldn't help it. "Where are you? I thought you had a dinner thing tonight."

Robyn had called while I was on my way to the airport with Perry and James, telling me the bad news that her presence was required tonight at a dinner party at her agent's house, and she didn't know when she would be home. Perry and James were in the car with me so I couldn't yell and scream in frustration as I'd wanted to, but the moment I'd dropped them off, I'd called Shawn and asked for a workout that would leave me exhausted and wanting my mommy.

I could hear the smile in her voice when she answered my question. "I told Mark I'm not feeling well. I think I might have gotten food poisoning this afternoon. So…I find myself suddenly free for the evening."

I sat up. "Tell me you're not kidding."

She laughed. "I'm not kidding. When can you get over here? I'll cook you dinner."

"Give me an hour," I said, reaching for my towel and ignoring Shawn's look of disapproval. "Tops."

She laughed again, low and breathless. The sound tickled down my spine as though she were here, touching me. "Hurry."

I snapped the phone shut and stood, giving Shawn a smile that made him blink. "Looks like I won't need that workout after all."

I slammed the car door and headed up the drive, forcing myself to walk instead of sprint like I wanted to. I felt giddy with anticipation, like a teenager with a first crush, and when Robyn opened the door in a sleeveless, button-down shirt, long denim shorts and no shoes, the smile I gave her made my face ache.

Her return smile was dazzling, her eyes shining with welcome. "Hey, you."

"Hey." I suddenly felt shy, wanting to hug her but not knowing if it would be welcome.

She put an end my wondering by tugging me into the house by the hand, shutting the door behind us, and pulling me tightly against her.

I sighed and wrapped my arms around her waist, burying face in her neck. "I missed you."

She tightened the embrace and rubbed her face against my hair. "I missed you too, baby," she whispered. "It's crazy how much."

We stood, just holding each other and not speaking, as long minutes passed. Finally she pulled back, cradling my face in her hands, and placed a gentle kiss on my lips. I leaned into the kiss, savoring it for what it was; not a kiss for passion's sake, but rather a reconnection - an affirmation - of things already said.

"Come on," she said eventually, stepping away but not letting go of my hand. "Let me get you a glass of wine and you can watch me cook you something fabulous."

I followed her downstairs and into the kitchen where she seated me on a barstool along a counter in her kitchen and handed me a glass of white wine.

"Can I help?" I asked

"Nope…sorry, I'm a bit territorial about my kitchen," she answered with a smile that said she wasn't sorry at all.

I made a mental note to not mess about in her kitchen.

"You like shrimp, I hope?" At my nod she pulled a bowl of medium-sized shrimp out of the refrigerator and set it on the counter, then splashed olive oil into a pan, added a bowlful of sliced garlic and set it to heat.

We talked of random things as she pulled various cups of liquid out of the refrigerator, transferred the cooked garlic to a paper towel, and briskly tossed the shrimp with salt and pepper, moving with a confidence and economy of motion that nudged something in my memory.

When I was twenty, I spent the summer on the wait staff of an upscale resort outside Rice Lake, serving pricy dinners to sun burnt tourists. The overall atmosphere of the kitchen had been hectic and chaotic, but the area around the head chef, Jean-Marie, had always seemed calm, and I had admired the way he inhabited the space around him, as though the pots, pans, knives and other utensils were an extension of his person.

Robyn moved around her kitchen the same way; as though her actions were second nature, an extension of herself.

"You've done this before," I commented, and she raised an inquisitive eyebrow in my direction, not pausing in her preparations. I gestured at the sauté pan now filled with shrimp that she was absently shaking with casual flicks of her wrists. "Cooking. Where'd you learn?"

She smiled, her face softening. "My mom was a chef…still is, actually, although now she mostly handles front-of-the-house. She and my sister are both restaurateurs - they have restaurants in Santa Barbara and Santa Monica." She gave the shrimp another expert flip. "My sisters and I knew our way around a kitchen before we were out of elementary school."

"Tell me about your family," I requested, realizing that I knew almost nothing about her. We had talked, certainly, but never about our pasts or families.

She scooped the shrimp out onto a platter and placed the pan back on the burner, adding the garlic back into the pan along with a plateful of some kind of chilies and stirring absently. "My family." She smiled again with obvious fondness. "Well, I have three sisters - one older and two younger. Trish, that's the oldest, is part-owner of the restaurants with Mom. She runs the place in Santa Monica, and lives there with her boyfriend Enrique; Diane, she's two years younger than me - she works in a law firm in San Francisco, and Lori - the baby. She's a stay-at-home mom with two little boys and a third on the way. She and her husband Will live in Santa Barbara, near my parents."

A few cupfuls of liquid went into the pan, along with the already cooked shrimp and some spices. She turned the flame down a bit before turning to pull two plates out of a cupboard above her head and unplugging a rice cooker that had been quietly steaming away on the corner of the counter. "Mom…like I said, she's a chef and runs the restaurant in Santa Barbara, and my dad used to model - that's how I got into it - and now he plays a lot of golf and tennis and occasionally helps out at the restaurant."

"So that's where you grew up? Santa Barbara?" I asked, watching the play of muscles under the tan skin of her forearm as she flipped and stirred the contents of the pan a few more times before removing it from the heat. I let my eyes travel from her forearms up over the swell of breast, the long, elegant neck, sharp chin, full lips, straight nose, finally resting on obsidian eyes that stared at me with a heat that caused my breath to hitch.

We stared at each other, conversation forgotten, until finally Robyn blinked and looked away, drawing a shaky breath. "Christ, Caid…those eyes are lethal."

She stood for a moment more, staring at the stove, and then pulled a few large spoons out of a drawer and began doling out generous portions of brown rice topped with the shrimp and chili mixture, along with greens and cooked carrots, onto the two plates. Looking over her shoulder at me, her expression now bland, she picked up the two plates and nodded towards her wineglass on the counter. "Could you bring mine, and the bottle?"

I nodded and did as she asked, tucking the bottle under my arm and picking up her glass before following her out of the kitchen and into what I'd guess was the living room - the huge room with the wall of two story windows looking out over the flickering lights of the San Gabriele valley that were just starting to come on. A small table had been set up near the windows, with a deep burgundy tablecloth, two place settings, and two tall candles.

She set the two plates down and took the wine bottle from under my arm, placing it in a ceramic wine cooler on one end of the table. Then she took her wine glass from my hand and placed it on the table, gesturing for me to sit down while she lit the candles. Finally she sat down across from me and put her napkin in her lap, meeting my gaze for the first time in several minutes.

"This is nice, Robyn. Thank you," I offered, trying to get us back to the ease we shared in the kitchen before she caught me staring.

"I hope you like it - it's something my mom was tweaking for the restaurant last time I went home. Please," she waved at my plate, "eat."

I leaned over the plate, breathing in deeply, and grinned. "If the smell is anything to go by, it'll be fabulous, as promised." I picked up my fork and took a bite. "Oh, God." I closed my eyes and chewed slowly, savoring the heat of the chilies along with the sweet of the shrimp. It was, indeed, fabulous. "This is wonderful."

I opened my eyes and found her leaning back in her chair, watching me with a slight smile on her face.

I paused mid-chew and swallowed. "Aren't you eating?"

She smiled fully now, teasing and light. "It's more fun to watch you. Most people I cook for don't appreciate it quite as much as you seem to. Nice to see so much enthusiasm."

"Well," I speared another piece of shrimp, "then the people you've cooked for are idiots. Honestly, Robyn, this is fantastic." I put the shrimp in my mouth and again closed my eyes at the burst of flavor. I chewed for a moment, and swallowed. "You can cook for me anytime."

She gave me a delighted smile and picked up her fork.

I learned more about Robyn over dinner; I'd always been good at getting people to talk to me, and Robyn, it turned out, liked to talk. She grew up in Santa Barbara and had a dizzying number of aunts, uncles and cousins still in the area; she was close with all her sisters but from how she spoke about Diane, the two of them were especially close; she broke her arm and three ribs falling out of a tree when she was seven, lost her virginity to Duane Resin on prom night when she was seventeen, and most of her family, like the rest of the world, had no idea that she was gay.

I'd practically licked my plate clean while she talked, and I picked up my wine and leaned back in my chair, pleasantly full. "So only Diane knows?"

She nodded, playing with her food. "I know…sounds strange, doesn't it? It just always seemed easier not to say anything…and it never really mattered. I never wanted to bring anyone home to meet the family, I guess."

I digested that, wondering what it meant for us. The fear that I was going to end up being just another "thing" in an apparently long list of things once again surfaced, and I squashed it as best I could.

"There's a little more, if you'd like it," Robyn said finally, after a long silence.

I shook my head and smiled. "I'm stuffed, thank you. That was great."

I followed her into the kitchen with my plate and silverware; she took the items out of my hands and turned to put them in the sink with hers. I'd wanted to touch her all through dinner, and I finally gave in to temptation, stepping up behind her and snaking my arms loosely around her slim waist, resting my chin on her shoulder.

"Dinner was wonderful," I murmured in her ear, closing my eyes and breathing in the scent of her hair. "And so are you." She leaned back against me, placing her hands over mine. I kissed her cheek, and then trailed my lips to her ear, nibbling gently. "You taste good, too."

I could feel her smile, and she turned in my embrace, settling her arms on my shoulders, her hands joined behind my head. "How do you manage to be so sweet," she said, kissing me softly before pulling back, "and so goddamn sexy at the same time?"

I gave her a pleased smile and leaned in to brush our lips together again, meaning for the kiss to be brief but quickly losing myself in the softness of her lips and the feel of her tongue stroking hesitantly against mine. Her hands went into my hair, encouraging me, and she purred deep in her throat when I pushed her hips against the counter and deepened the kiss. We kissed for several long moments before pulling apart, breathing heavily.

I leaned into her, touching our foreheads together as I caught my breath. "You're one hell of a kisser, Ms. Ward."

She gave a breathy laugh and ran long fingers through the hair at the nape of my neck. "Oh, honey…I'd say you have some skills of your own."

We stood quietly against each other for a few moments more, and then she grasped my hand and slid out from between the counter and me, leading me into the other room and gesturing for me to sit on a large leather couch in front of the fireplace. I sat down and watched as she put on some soft, instrumental guitar music and turned on the gas fireplace before retrieving our wineglasses and coming back to the couch.

"A fire when it's eighty degrees outside?" I teased, and she paused as she handed me my wine.

"Do you mind? It doesn't put out that much heat and I like watching it…"

"I was just teasing," I interrupted her. "It's nice."

She smiled, and lowered herself onto the other end of the couch, tucking her feet under her.

I hid a frown at her being so far away - I wanted to touch her, but if she felt the need for some distance, I didn't want to push. We watched the fire for a while, and I had to agree with her; it was nice to watch a fire, regardless of the time of year.

"So what about you?" she asked eventually. "Turnabout is fair play…tell me about your family. I know you have an extremely handsome twenty-two year old brother…any other siblings lying around?"

I paused, swirling my wine, before answering. "Just one…I have an older brother, Sebastian. He's a tax attorney - lives in Tampa."

There was no warmth in my voice, and she raised her eyebrows. "You don't get along." It was statement, not a question.

"That would be putting it mildly." I took a sip of wine, trying to think of how best to describe the antagonism between my eldest brother and me. "Would you like the short version, or the long version?"

"I'm not in a hurry to be anywhere…why don't we go with the long version?"

"Okay," I said with a wry smile. "Just remember that you asked for it." I paused for a moment, wondering where to begin. "My father is a doctor…in the late sixties, a family practitioner in Milwaukee. He had married his high school sweetheart and opened up his own practice -everything was going along nicely until, as a favor, he hired the daughter of a family friend to help around the office…a year later he'd divorced his wife and married his young employee, who was pregnant."

"So, young employee was…"

"My mom," I answered with a quick nod. "The whole thing was something of a scandal, I guess, since mom was only eighteen, so dad sold the practice and moved his young bride and new baby to Madison, where he set up shop again, and they had another kid," I pointed to myself, "and they lived in, what seemed to me when I was young, happy bliss until I was about twelve. That's when they found out that mom was pregnant again. Mom was thrilled, but dad wasn't so happy - they started fighting constantly - but things progressed as they usually do, and eventually Perry was born."

I held my glass to my chest and drew my feet up under me as Robyn had done. "A few weeks after Perry's first birthday, dad filed for divorce and ran off to Chicago with his twenty-four year old receptionist. Dad was nothing if not consistent," I said, unable to keep the trace of bitterness out of my voice.

"Oh, Caid…that must have been awful." She scooted over until our knees were touching and took my hand, her eyes full of empathy.

I stroked my thumb across her knuckles, liking the feel of her hand in mine, and way our hands looked together. "It was…hard for us all, but it was especially hard on Sebastian. Mom asked for full custody, and dad didn't fight it, basically removing himself completely from our lives. Sebastian worshiped dad, and after he left, Sebastian just…he completely changed. He was angry all the time, screaming and yelling at mom and me, saying it was our fault, getting into trouble, picking fights…" I shook my head in memory. "That was a really fun time, let me tell you."

She squeezed my hand. "So he never really got over it?"

"Nope, he never did…" I looked into the fire. "And then he married into a rich, incredibly religious fundamentalist Tampa family, and went from being an angry, hurt kid to a bigoted, self-righteous asshole." I shook my head. "It's hard to love someone who hates everything about you, and Sebastian has made it very clear that my job, my life…everything about me is evil. Jesus," I said with a pained laugh, "when he finds out I've…that I'm a lesbian, he will seriously blow a gasket." I shuddered at the thought, and Robyn squeezed my hand again.

"I'm sorry, Caid," she said simply.

I smiled wryly and finished the rest of my wine in a gulp. "Me too."

"Do you ever…see your father? I can't believe someone would just cut their kids off like that."

"Hard to believe, isn't it? When he first left, I was pretty angry too, but unlike Sebastian, I was angry at dad, and not mom. He left when I was thirteen, and I didn't see him again until I was twenty-one…now I see him once or twice a year, I guess. Sebastian might see him more, I don't know - dad is definitely a topic I don't want to discuss with him. Perry has met him a few times, but mom remarried a couple of years after dad left, and as far as Perry's concerned, his dad is Larry, mom's current husband."

She shook her head, stroking my hand. "I'm sorry," she said again, and leaned forward to kiss my forehead. "I wish you hadn't gone through that."

"Mm…" I closed my eyes at her tenderness. It had been a long time since I'd told anyone that story and I was glad it hadn't sent her screaming into the hills. Or maybe it had, and she was just being nice. I opened my eyes. "So…now that you know the whole sordid tale, still interested in starting something with me?" I tried to keep my tone light, and not sound too pathetic.

She cupped my face and forced me to look at her. "I'm not that easy to scare away, Caid. I don't care about your family, I care about you."

I turned my head and brushed my lips against the hand cupping my cheek. "Lucky me."

"And don't you forget it, missy," she said, and tweaked my nose, lightening the mood. "I'm going to get a little more wine. Would you like some?"

I handed her my empty glass when she stood and she crossed to the table and divided what was left in the bottle between the two glasses. I put my feet on the floor and stretched my legs, still feeling the slight pull in my hamstrings from my surfing adventure.

"So where does your mom live now?" Robyn asked from across the room.

"She and Larry are still in Madison, although they travel almost six months out of the year. They run a travel tour company - hiking tours to Switzerland, biking in France, sailing the Greek Islands…that sort of thing. They're out of the country now until August."

"That sounds like fun, how long have they been doing that?"

"Um…let's see…maybe eight, nine years? Since Perry was about thirteen, I guess. They used to take him with them."

"Have you ever gone?" She perched herself on the arm of the couch and handed me my wineglass.

"I went on a bike tour through Germany with them once…by the time they started it, I was pretty busy trying to pick up acting gigs…just never seemed like I had enough time."

She motioned for me to move over and then slid in beside me on the couch, curling her feet up and tucking them under my thigh. I could feel the slight chill through the thin linen shorts I was wearing.

"Comfortable?" I asked with a smile and a raised eyebrow.

"Very." She wiggled her toes and grinned at me, the force of it hitting me like a punch.

I loved it when she smiled like that.

This wasn't the practiced smile she gave the cameras and the public. No, this one she gave out sparingly, and only to a select few, and lit her entire face up…hell, her entire self. It was open, inviting and completely captivating. The image robbed me of breath and brought an ache to my chest, and I reached out to trail slightly trembling fingertips down her cheek, shaking my head.

"You're so damn beautiful, Robyn. Sometimes I look at you, and I can't breathe."

Her body stilled, and I wondered if I'd said something wrong. I withdrew my hand slowly. "I'm sorry…"

Her eyes didn't leave my face as she gently placed her wineglass on the table, and then did the same with mine. Her hands went to the buttons of her shirt and she slowly unbuttoned them, one by one, revealing glimpses of tanned skin and peach colored lace. I watched her hands in equal parts fascination and trepidation, and when she was done, I looked up to meet her gaze. She smiled slightly at whatever petrified, excited, confused look I had on my face, then her expression became serious again and she took my hands in hers and turned them over, kissing one palm, then the other.

"I want you to touch me, Caid," she said softly, and placed my hands on the smooth skin of her stomach.

I drew in a shaky breath at the first touch of my hands on her heated skin. I was trembling, and I could feel the echoing tremble under my fingers. "Robyn…" My voice was hesitant, unsure.

"Shhh…" She leaned forward and kissed me, slow and deep, then leaned back against the armrest of the couch, the action parting her shirt completely. "There's no right way or wrong way, Caid. Just…touch me."

I dropped my eyes to take in the sharp angles of her collarbone, small breasts covered by almost shear, peach colored material, and the long, flat planes of her abdomen where my hands rested. She was slender - too slender, I thought briefly - and my hands easily spanned her waist. I brushed tentatively with my thumbs, and raised my hands to run my fingers over the ridges of her ribs, feeling each one. The slight tremors under my fingers gave me confidence and I stroked my hands down her stomach, swirling fingertips into the hollows just above the waistband of her shorts; the hollows that had so intrigued me last time I saw them as she walked up my drive three weeks before.

I paused for a moment, remembering in a rush what I had wanted to do then. Don't think, Caid. Just…do.

She gave a tiny gasp of surprise and pleasure when I lowered my head and kissed one hollow, then skimmed my lips across her stomach to kiss the other. I felt her hand in my hair, stroking softly and then spasm briefly when I ran my tongue around her navel, dipping in quickly and then sucking gently on the surrounding skin. I laid my cheek against the smooth, warm skin of her belly. "You're so soft," I whispered, letting my fingers play over her skin for a moment before turning and bracing my hands on either side of her, kissing my way up the middle of her body and finally capturing her lips. The gentle kiss soon turned urgent, and when I pulled away, we were both shaking.

Her hands gripped my upper arms tightly, and her breathing was uneven. "God…you make me feel so much…"

I balanced myself on one arm and ran my hand from her shoulder to her chest, hesitantly cupping her breast and lightly stroking my thumb across material of her bra, feeling her nipple harden in response.

She sucked in a breath and her hands dug into my arms painfully. "Caid…baby, I don't want to rush you…we need to stop…"

I raised my fingers to her lips, silencing her, and replaced the fingers with my lips for a brief kiss. "I want you, Robyn," I whispered. "Jesus, so much it hurts. I want to make you feel." I looked at her pleadingly. "Teach me. Show me."

And she did - helping me slowly undress her, whispering breathless words of direction an encouragement, guiding my mouth to her neck and breasts, and much later, my hand to her sex, holding me tightly against her as she shuddered, muscles tightening in release around my fingers.

She continued to hold my hand against her as she slowly relaxed, and I had no objection, enthralled by the feel of her warmth around my fingers and the slick evidence of her desire. Finally she moved her hand and I withdrew, lowering my body next to hers.

"That was…amazing," I said softly, and kissed her forehead. "Thank you."

She let out a strangled laugh and opened her eyes, looking at me with a slightly dazed expression. "I think it's me that should be thanking you."

"So that's good, right?" I asked hopefully, shamelessly asking for reassurance.

She laughed again, and this time when she opened her eyes, they were filled with gentle humor. "Yes. Very good. Caid…you did just fine." She smiled at me and stroked my cheek. "Just fine."

"Good." It wasn't the fireworks-exploded-and-I-lost-touch-with-reality kind of praise that every lover hopes for, but it was enough. I smiled contentedly, thinking practice makes perfect, and gathered her up in my arms, nuzzling her hair. "Mm. You feel good."

She shifted onto her side and laid her head on my chest with a satisfied sigh. "You feel good, too." She reached back and tugged at a blanket that was lying across the back of the couch, pulling it on top of us and settling in once more, her hand making lazy circles on my stomach under my shirt.

After a few minutes the circles moved upward and she brushed her palm across my breast, then came back to circle my hardening nipple with a fingertip, the scrape of her fingernail across the material of my bra sending tiny shockwaves of sensation straight to my groin. I bit back a groan.

"Why is it," she said in a raspy whisper, "that you have so many clothes on?" She tipped her head back and sucked my earlobe into her mouth. "Hmm?"

I could only shake my head as the material of my bra was pushed up, freeing my breasts, and my nipple gently rolled between her fingers. "Oh…" She gave my other breast the same treatment before my shirt was pushed up and her mouth, moist and hot, replaced her fingers. I closed my eyes and sucked in a breath, arching against her. "Jesus…Robyn…"

She rolled until she was on top of me and pushed my shirt up further, sucking and nipping at my breasts, her hands and mouth seeming everywhere at once. I was lost in a haze of sensation and arousal, and when she stopped and lifted herself off me, I whimpered in dismay.

"Caid." Her voice was rough with emotion and need, and my eyes flew open to find her standing naked above me, holding out a hand.

I took her hand and wordlessly followed her as she turned off the gas to the fire, blew out the candles, and led me up the stairs to her bedroom where she undressed me, reverently kissing each newly revealed piece of my body as though it were a gift.

"Beautiful," she said softly as her eyes roamed my body. She ran her hands up my arms and across my shoulders, pausing a moment to knead the muscles there. "So strong." The hands continued their trek, down over my breasts and ribs to where they came to rest on my hips. She looked into my eyes, pausing as though to make sure she had my attention. As if there was any doubt about that. "You're beautiful, Caid."

She took my hand again and pulled the covers on the bed back, then pushed me down and slowly lowered herself on top of me. The feel of our naked skin touching for the first time pulled a low moan from both of us.

"So good," she whispered as she settled on top of me. "I knew you'd feel so good…"

She took her time, her hands stroking and kneading, and her teeth, lips and tongue igniting fires across my skin. Sensation overwhelmed me, and left no room for nervousness or doubt…I drown in the sweetness of it, coming with a shuddering gasp as her fingers filled me and she swiped her tongue across my clit.

The tremors of my orgasm still echoed in my limbs as she kissed her way up my body, bracing herself on her hands above me. "You're amazing," she whispered, kissing my forehead. "Incredible." She placed a soft kiss on each eyelid. "Perfect." She hovered above my mouth, our breath mingling, and traced my upper lip with her tongue. I groaned and surged up to bring our mouths together, tasting myself on her lips. The wave of heat that rolled through me at the thought made me ache, and I needed, right then, to taste her.

Her eyes widened in surprise when I pushed her over and reversed our positions, but she murmured her approval when I ran my tongue down her neck to her breasts, spending several minutes in languid exploration before continuing down her body, remembering areas where she was most responsive and discovering new ones that brought a intoxicating mixture of moans and tiny gasps.

When I eventually touched my tongue to her wetness, she hissed and grabbed the back of my head, guiding and encouraging as she had done before, and when she came against me this time, I needed no reassurance that it had been good.

I circled her waist with my arms and lay my head on her stomach, listening as her breathing and heart rate slowed, marveling at the feel of her, the heat of her skin and her taste on my lips. She ran her fingers absently through my hair for a few minutes, and then tugged gently.

"Come up here, you."

I placed a wet, openmouthed kiss between her legs that made her twitch, and inched up her body, placing more kisses as I went. After one final kiss on her smiling mouth, I settled in beside her, propping my head up on my hand and watching her watch me.

She sighed contentedly and rolled on her side to face me. "I thought you said you were new at this," she said, stroking my cheek.

I smiled slightly and kissed her fingers. "I'm a fast learner with the proper motivation. And you," I kissed her fingers again and caught one between my teeth, biting gently before releasing it. "You are some kind of motivation."

"Lucky me." She leaned in for a lingering kiss and then pulled back. She hesitated, and then asked quietly, "Stay?"

I smiled and kissed her forehead. "I'd like that."

"Good," she drawled, tracing random circles on the skin of my shoulder with a finger. A slight push sent me sprawling onto my back and she contemplated my naked form with lazy, half-lidded intent. "Because I'm not even close to being done with you."

I grinned.

Hot. Damn.


Sometime before dawn an insistently full bladder woke me, and after carefully extricating myself from Robyn's arms, I rose and padded to the bathroom. On my way back to bed, I reached to switch off the floor lamp - the one we'd left on, too comfortable and too spent in each other's arms to turn off - but paused, captivated by the sight on the bed before me.

She was on her stomach with her face towards me, one arm curled above her head and the other beneath her pillow. She'd kicked most of the covers off during the night, exposing leanly muscled shoulders, the long expanse of her back, one perfect globe of buttock, and one smooth, slender leg.

I stared at her in wonder.

She was amazing; delicate and strong, sharp angles and softness, the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. I drew in a shaky breath, wanting her with an intensity that astounded me. Sex before had been adequate, often pleasant, and sometimes I'd even considered it very good. But never had it come even close to what I'd experienced with Robyn. Never had I felt so close to someone, and been so satisfied, but still left with this anticipation, this…craving.

Even now, exhausted and sated, just thinking of her, watching her, stirred my desire again. I longed to reach for her, to run my hands over her skin, her hair…I swallowed hard at the rush of emotion that swept through me, surprised that arousal wasn't at the forefront. Instead, it was overwhelming tenderness.

I sighed resignedly.

I was in deep, deep trouble.

When I had talked with Perry about my feelings for Robyn, I had been unsure; putting the label 'love' on it for lack of a better way to explain what I was feeling. But now I was sure. Sometime during the night, the feelings I had for Robyn had intensified into something very deep, very strong, and very frightening.

I was in love with her, no doubt about it now.

I dropped heavily into the softly upholstered wing chair next to the floor lamp and sighed again.

So. I'm in love her. In love with a famous, closeted actress who has a boyfriend who's not really her boyfriend, calls her affairs 'things' and who has never cared about any of her past lovers enough to bring them home to meet her family. You sure can pick 'em, Caid.

I sat for a long time, contemplating my new lover and the plethora of ways she could hurt me. Eventually, I turned off the light and slipped back into bed, wiggling around to get comfortable and draping my arm across Robyn's back. This would either be the best thing that ever happened to me, or a spectacular crash and burn that would fuck me up for a good, long time. But either way, I was happy now, and determined to enjoy it for as long as it lasted.

Continued in Part 3

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