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Curtain Drawn

by Alexis Siefert
Copyright © 2003, 2004

This is a work of adult fiction and should be read only by adults. It is also my work. Although I receive no compensation other than your comments, it is still my work. Please respect this and do not repost it somewhere else without talking to me first about it. If you are not allowed to read works with sexual content, either due to your age or by virtue of the laws in the geographical location in which you reside, please do not continue.

A special thanks to Ruthie's Club, where this story first appeared, and to Denny and Nat for their editing and polishing skills — whithout which I end up rough-edged and poorly put together, similar to a Picasso without the finesse.

Enjoy, and if you're so inclined, please let me know what you think. —Alexis

She turned off the car's headlights and drove by moonlight. The birch trees stood tall along the nearly abandoned road and the full moon shone brightly through bare branches. The air was serene. Now she turned off the radio and listened to the road, hearing her studded tires break through the thin crust of snow and scrape against the ice below.

The one-lane road was once a favorite training route for the local dog teams. Encroaching development had cut the trail in pieces, and even the strong Iditarod lobby had been unable to protect it from the builders. It worked well for her, though. Her cabin was far enough away from the main road to make it unattractive to developers. Too close to the protected State-owned land. Too expensive to wire for electricity. Impractical to hook into the plumbing and the virtually non-existent sewage system of the nearest town. So, she was able to stay out here on her own as long as she was willing to draw her water from the well and rent a snowplow to clear the road a few times each season. A few hardy neighbors lived in the area, but her four-acre lot generally provided her with enough isolation to satisfy her reclusive instincts.

Morgan relaxed her foot on the accelerator, let the car slow to a crawl, and steadied the steering wheel with her knee. Her hand shook as she fingered the manila envelope on the seat beside her and lifted it to rest on the steering wheel. She examined the typed address label on its front. She had read it a dozen times. Her name—Mrs. Richard Mayfield—and her address, done on a computer printer. No return address, no postmark. Hand delivered.

She found it this morning, shoved through the mail slot in the front door. She had argued with Richard when he bought the door the last time they remodeled. “It's silly, Richard. No one uses a mail-slot anymore—the postman drives a jeep and insists on curbside boxes. He grumbles about even having to come to the door with packages. Besides, isn't it a security risk, having an opening in the door like that?” But Richard had brushed aside her objections with a wave of his hand and pronounced the door bought and installed. “It fits the 'look,' Morgan. And it's no more a risk than the dog door you insisted on for the kitchen.” And so it was done.

There were eleven pictures inside the envelope—large, grainy, black-and-white photos apparently taken with a telephoto lens and blown up to show grotesque detail of the subjects. There was no doubt it was Richard. The camera was obviously a good one, and the photo clarity left no questions.

In several pictures she could see the small scar on his cheek, a reminder of their honeymoon. During an especially active round of newlywed lovemaking, her ring had caught him near his eye—she was unaccustomed to the stone—and he had bled all over the pillow. He often joked that it was his “battle scar.” In her more irritated moments, she often thought it was the one feature that added character to his face. Richard hadn't grown well into middle age. Instead of aging gracefully with his face taking on distinguished lines and personality, his features had become pudgy and soft. Where she struggled to maintain her appearance and figure, he scoffed at her outdoor lifestyle and rigorous pastimes in favor of rich, fancy dinners and long nights of drinking with business clients at the local “gentleman's” club.

Although the scar was not visible in every picture, there were other ways to tell it was he. The photographer had snapped the picture at just the right angle to show his mouth, his lips, his fast-talking and faster-moving tongue hard at work. Yes, he was always good with his tongue. She could recognize the line of his back, the soft angle of his jaw, and the weak shelf of his chin. The kneeling curve of his hips and the soft pocket of flesh above his buttocks were unmistakable. Even from behind she knew it was Richard. Bile rose in her throat as she looked at the pictures. She swallowed angry tears and refocused on the road unwinding under her car tires.

The edges of the pictures bent as she shoved them roughly into the envelope and tossed it into the back seat. It was too distracting, too tempting to open it again, too tempting to examine the faces, to see Richard's face locked in what looked like a painful grimace. She knew it was the look she had seen countless times over the years, the almost near snarl when he came. She could hear in her head the grunting exhalation that always accompanied that look. She could feel his weight as he thrust deeper into her, pounding her against the mattress.

It was always the same when he came. Despite how they started, despite how many times they rolled and shifted and changed positions, he always ended up on top, between her legs, when he wanted to come. She had tried for years to change that. She had tried riding him until her legs trembled, clenching him tightly between her thighs, matching his thrusts with her hips. She had wanted to match his intensity, grinding hard against his groin, rushing her own orgasm, trying just once to change the routine. She'd tried bringing him to orgasm between her lips, drawing her tongue across his cock, flicking the ridge under the tip of his penis like she had seen in the films Richard kept hidden in his night stand.

She'd tempted him in the kitchen, the living room, crawling on the floor between his legs as he sat in his office, anything to change the pace, anything to add spice to a sex life that had become stale and routine. But he didn't respond. Sex was for the bedroom, and when she clung to his hips, pushing him into the bed, he tensed, pushed back. He always pulled out, flipped her on her back, and pounded into her until he came between her legs. Always the same. So, yes, she knew that look.

Caught up in her own thoughts, Morgan almost missed the turn-off to her cabin when the narrow road opened to a bell-shaped turnaround marked with a “Private Property” sign. She shifted the car into park and sat with the engine idling softly. An unmarked and almost overgrown path led from behind the sign through the trees. The path never did get used much. Richard hated the cabin, hated the rustic “work-for-it” life she sought out during their infrequent vacations, so she only managed three or four trips a year to the cabin she had inherited from her father when he finally died.

Daddy had held on for so long. He and Morgan would come out here every summer, spending weeks fishing on the lake behind the cabin, tromping through the woods along familiar paths, enjoying each other's company, arguing about books and politics and movies.

They had stopped coming about two years before he died, when he could no longer make the short, quarter-mile hike from the parking lot to the cabin. Morgan had offered to have the path paved, to bring out a contractor to widen it and make the trail accessible to him. But Max Carter was stubborn. “Its perfection is in its natural state, Morgan. Let it be.” So she did, and at his wishes, she continued coming here every summer. Richard refused to come with her. “If I want to draw water from a well and chop wood, I'll move to the Third World,” was his standard argument. “We've evolved past that, Morgan.” So she came alone.

She turned off the ignition and opened the door. Her boots crunched on the old snow. The weather had been in a strange freeze-thaw cycle, and there was a layer of ice over what would normally be soft powder. Hers were the only boot tracks in the lot, although she could see evidence of a moose and several snowshoe rabbits crossing from the trees on one side of the lot to the trees on the other. She saw a track that didn't belong, and in the moonlight she knelt down at the edge of the clearing to examine it more closely. She fingered the edges, but there was no doubt as to what it was. “Strange,” she muttered. “The bears should be asleep by now.”

There were several caves close to the cabin, and she knew that occasionally a bear hibernated not far from the stream. This late in the season it was unusual to see evidence of one still up and around. Unusual, but not unheard of. Some of the dog mushers on neighboring lots would occasionally tell stories of early-spring or late-summer bears surprising them during training runs. She made a mental note to keep her trash in the locked shelter outside the cabin instead of hauling it down to the car each day. Car tires were notoriously hard to resist for a chewing bear.

She opened the back door of the car and turned her focus to the envelope now sitting on top of her warm winter coat. Morgan again fingered the flap, opening it enough to see the now-crinkled edges of the plain photograph paper. They were apparently home-developed, for there was no watermark or other identifier on the back or edges of the prints, only the single line note taped to the back of the first one:

“Thought you should know. From, A Friend.”

Nothing else to help her track down the person who took the pictures and dropped them into her life, unasked. Nothing to help her figure out who had troubled to expose Richard's ugly little secret. It wasn't surprising that her “friend” would want to remain anonymous, given the nature of the pictures. She could only assume that her “friend” was the other person's lover or spouse. Nor was it surprising that the pictures were amateur, developed in a workshop dark room, probably in someone's garage. Most professional places frowned on developing pictures of people engaging in oral sex. She closed the envelope and put it carefully in the front pocket of her backpack. She shouldered her pack, took her walking stick from the trunk, and started the hike to her cabin.

It was a short trail, just long enough to discourage the occasional curious wanderer, and she reached the familiar comfort of the cabin in easy time. She dropped her pack on the front step and did a quick check around the outside for evidence of tampering or intrusion. Last summer a wolverine surprised her. It had apparently decided that her cabin would make a nice den. Lesson learned the hard way. It had taken her weeks to get the pungent musk smell from the furnishings.

Everything appeared undisturbed, so she unlocked the door and started the now-familiar routine of making the cabin her home. Within an hour she had the wood stove crackling, which banished the worst of the winter chill. She put a large pan of water on the stove to heat, and the steam rose from her boots as they thawed next to the stove. She unpacked her weekend's worth of clothing and hung her spare shirt and jeans in the small cupboard Max had built for her one summer.

“You need your own space, Morgan,” he had insisted when she was entering her teens. “You're growing up, and you won't be Daddy's little girl much longer.” That was the same summer he knocked out a portion of the wall and added a small alcove near the stove. It closed with a thick curtain and was a place for Morgan to feel alone, private. It had remained her “room” throughout the remainder of her father's life. After he was gone she had trouble moving from the alcove to the big bed where her father and mother had slept, where her father had slept alone after Mother grew tired of “roughing it.” Morgan used to think that Richard and Mother would have gotten along well, and she often wished that Mother had been alive long enough to keep Richard company while she and her father enjoyed their annual cabin vacations.

She made one more trip to the car for the small cooler filled with weekend provisions, then started the coffee percolating on the stove. She changed from her wet jeans and flannel shirt into the comfortable fleece nightgown and again turned her attention to the pictures. In the yellow glow of the battery-powered lamp, she could think them through with a more dispassionate, more rational mind.

Sitting in front of the wood stove, she examined them again for any clue, any hint as to who Richard's fair-haired, handsome partner might be. She turned them over one at a time, forcing herself to look closely at the man's face, his hands. She saw how his fingers buried themselves in Richard's thinning hair and seemed to press her husband's mouth harder over the cock between his lips. She could see the indentations in the cushion under Richard's knees, and she could see the shine of Richard's manicured fingernails as his fingertips dug into his partner's meaty thigh for balance.

The man wore a wedding ring. Was it his wife who had caught them together? Had she suspected something? Morgan had resigned herself to the fact that Richard was probably having an affair, but she had written it off to a mid-life crisis and assumed he was screwing one of the young office workers who were too often bursting from their sweaters and thrusting their tits in his face as they brought coffee and deliveries to his desk. She had never dreamed that Richard's infidelities would be with another man.

One by one, Morgan fed the pictures into the fire and watched them curl and turn to ash. With each one, she could feel the last of her marital obligations burn with the paper. Eight, nine, ten. It didn't take long. She held the last picture in her hand an extra moment before feeding it into the flickering light of the flames. Eleven photographs lay in ashes in the stove. She had left the twelfth photograph&—Richard on his knees behind his partner, fingers pressed hard into the narrow hips of the man beneath him, his face knotted into his “I'm coming” look&—sitting on the kitchen table, under Richard's “Working late, don't wait up” note.

She had scrawled a note of her own. “Richard—left for the weekend. Please be gone when I come home.” He wouldn't miss her. For years their marriage had been no more than a convenience. She was good for his career, he was good for hers. Employers expected certain things from their ad executives, and marriage represented stability. But she was established now, and she could do without him. She had her own name. He would, of course, have to find someone else to play hostess for his parties, but that was no longer her concern.

She brushed the ash from her hands and stood, unfastening the buttons of her winter nightgown as she moved to the small, hand crafted table that took up the center space in the cabin. She dropped the gown to the floor and stepped out of it, feeling the fire-warmed air of the cabin wrap around her skin. She spread a towel over the polished surface of the table, and moved the washbasin of hot water from the stovetop to the table.

With quick, smooth movements, Morgan began washing the city from her skin. She lathered her hair and bent over the basin, letting the hot water flow over her neck and shoulders as she rinsed the hairspray from her professionally styled hair. The scent of her shampoo surrounded her, and she clenched her eyes tightly as small rivulets of suds slipped from her temples to her eyelids and off the edge of her nose.

She massaged her temples and the back of her neck, working her fingertips through the ends of her hair, twisting it into a thick rope and sighing as the warm water flowed over her wrists and palms. She wrapped her hair in a clean towel and dabbed the last of the suds from her cheeks and eyelids with the terry-cloth corner. She dipped a washcloth in the warm suds and wiped the dirt and grime of the city from her face and throat, dipping into the hollow of her collar and the cleft between her breasts.

She stroked from her shoulders to her breasts, letting her fingers lingers over her nipples. She remembered the breasts she had when she married Richard. High and firm, taut and responsive to Richard's slightest touch. Over the years she had struggled with diet and exercise to maintain her figure. Her breasts were still firm although perhaps a bit lower than they had been. Age and gravity had taken their inevitable toll, but she had resisted the urge to have them lifted by a surgeon. Richard had never complained. “Of course not,” she said aloud, wryly. “He was never a breast man.”

She let the lather drip down over her breasts to her belly and hips. She sat beside the table and raised one leg to rest her foot on the other wooden chair. With the rough cotton washcloth she stroked the soap up the inside of her thigh, remembering the first time Richard had touched her. She mimicked the memory of his fingers between her legs, stroking her opening folds, coaxing a moan from her lips. She leaned back against the chair, spreading her legs further, opening herself to the warmth of the fire, letting its heat warm her sex. It was easy to give herself over to the fire, and her own moisture mingled with the water on the cloth. Her fingers slipped over her clit and dipped inside, dragging the rough cloth over her sensitive button. Thrust and scrape, matching the pace of her fingers to the rapidly increasing, shuddering breaths drawn through her clenched teeth. With quick, sure strokes, she brought herself to a single, hard orgasm, shuddering through the solo act.

She heard her father's voice echo in her memory as she sat, letting her breath calm. “Never forget, Morgan, that you are strong. Never let a man convince you otherwise. Any man who doesn't want a strong woman, isn't a man worth your time or energy.”

“Oh, Daddy,” she cried quietly, letting the tears flow for the first time. They stung her eyes, and left trails down her cheeks as she lowered herself to the floor and cried, steam rising from her wet skin.

She cried herself quietly into a restless sleep, sitting naked in front of the stove, her legs tucked under her bare bottom and her head resting on her arms against the hand-hewn chair. Her hair had dried in the comforting heat of the stove, and it had taken on the familiar earthy smell of the wood smoke. She was confused for a moment when she opened her eyes and stretched. Her body was stiff from the unnatural position in which she had fallen asleep. Confusing images lingered from a dream, something about her father. He was talking, but she couldn't hear his words. She could see his lips move, knew he was being reassuring. Something about sending someone or something to help her, but she didn't know who, or to help her with what. The pictures faded quickly as her eyes adjusted to the shadows cast by the flickering fire.

Faint red lines and marks dotted the pale skin of her thigh and hip where her body had pressed against the wooden plank floor. As her mind cleared the day came back to her in a rush, images of Richard and his lover bombarding her thoughts. She rubbed the palms of her hand against her eyes, as though to push the pictures from her brain.

That's when she heard it—a soft rustling outside the cabin, near the door. Her instincts told her it was too big to be a squirrel, or a rabbit, or a wolverine, but not big enough to be a bear or a moose. At this time of year, that left only one real option. She slithered quickly back into the crumpled nightgown on the floor beside her, slipped her arms through the sleeves of her coat, and grabbed the shotgun from its rack on the wall. Quickly breaking the barrel and dropping in two shells scooped from the jar hanging next to the gun, she cracked the window next to the door and put the stock to her shoulder, resting the barrel on the windowsill.

“Who's there?” Morgan shouted from relative safety of the cabin. She knew full well that if the intruder was malicious, there was no way the cabin would offer much physical protection. Her father had schooled her early on about the dangers of loving isolation. “Know your weapon, Morgan,” his voice rumbled in her memory. “Know your weapon, and rely on your instincts. Trust your gut. It usually knows danger before your brain does.”

This wasn't the city, and most strangers weren't ill wishers or violent. Morgan knew the odds were in her favor that the stranger outside was a lost hiker. They often had lost hikers in the summer passing by needing a meal and coffee, maybe a place to stay the night. It was an unspoken rule out here that people helped each other. After all, you never knew when you were going to be the next one lost and needing help.

On more than one occasion, Morgan had come to the cabin to find that it had been used as an overnight shelter for just such a passerby. Each time he or she had left a note thanking the cabin owner for the hospitality. Once a hiker had returned later with provisions to replace the dry cereal and instant coffee Morgan always kept stocked in the cabin's pantry. However, it was rare to find people “just passing by” during the dark winter months. There was a wet chill in the air, and with temperatures hovering around zero all week, whoever was outside was going to be in need of some serious warming up. She'd figure it out as soon as she got a good look at him.

A figure stood at the bottom of the porch steps. When her light shone out the window, spotlighting him against the snow, she knew the moonlight would reflect off the barrel of the shotgun, giving him adequate warning to step back. It did, and he did, putting his hands out to his sides in a gesture of innocence, showing her he was unarmed. He wiggled his fingers in the air to show that his hands were empty and called out to her. His voice was gruff, gravelly, and sounded as though it would cut through the forest stillness with little effort if he wanted it to.

“Whoa! Sorry, ma'am. I was hoping that perhaps…”

“That perhaps the cabin was empty and you could find shelter for the night?” Morgan finished for him. She could see his lips part into a smile, his teeth gleaming against his dark skin.

He didn't answer, but his smile warmed, and his posture relaxed subtly.

“You can put your arms down. What are you doing out here this late in the season?” Morgan relaxed her grip on the weapon but didn't pull it from the window. She moved her finger from the trigger. No point shooting him accidentally. She had come here to relax, and dealing with the sheriff would definitely put a damper on the weekend. He didn't seem threatening, only a bit city-silly. It happened a lot. People assumed that since the woods were near a main road, they weren't really dangerous. Every year, someone went ill prepared into the trees, got turned around and lost, and was found in the spring when the snow thawed and uncovered his body.

She remembered her father's words, checked her gut, and made a decision. “Okay, you'd better come in before you freeze.” She clicked back the latch on the door and let it swing in. As he mounted the porch steps, she unloaded the gun and placed it back on the wall-rack. She turned to face him.

The stranger stood in the doorway, big white snowflakes dotting his hair. She resisted the sudden urge to wipe the snow from his hair and run her fingers through it at the same time. He took off his jacket, and she made a quick appraisal. Tall, taller than her by several inches. And big, but not imposing. He wasn't scary or muscle bound, and he didn't look like he spent hours in the gym and a fortune on fitness supplements. They were real muscles, working muscles. He looked strong, as though he could chop wood all day long and still carry his woman from the trail to the bed without breaking a sweat.

He rolled the sleeves of his shirt up in response to the warmth of the small cabin. Morgan felt something in her center respond to the casual movement of his arms. He was solid, but not threatening. Comfortable. She could almost see the muscles under the bare skin of his arms, but not quite. He moved easily, at ease with himself and with his surroundings. As he crossed to the stove, holding his gloveless hands out to its inviting warmth, she could feel the room change around him. Accepting him. “Stop it, Morgan,” she mentally chided herself. “You're being silly. Stop being such a girl.”

He turned and met her eyes. She could hear the sparks crackling in the fire, and she could feel the sparks crackling between them. She had to force her eyes to break contact with his. “I… there's coffee on the stove, a mug's on the wall behind the stove. They're all clean. Help yourself. Creamer and sugar in the canisters on the counter. I was just about to make soup.” She stammered. “I was just about to thaw soup, actually. You're welcome to join me. You should have something hot.”

He raised an eyebrow, and she felt herself blush. Her hands went to her throat, and fumbled at the buttons of her fleece gown. Opening and closing nervously. Enough, she told herself. Fix him the damn soup, find him a place to sleep for the night, and quit fucking around with him, Morgan.

They moved together easily in the kitchen. She pulled a frozen block of chicken soup from the outside cooler, and he pulled a pan from the hook in the ceiling. He reached it with ease. She always had to stand on a chair to get it. She watched him, noting how the glow of the fire sent sparks of red through his deep brown hair. She watched his muscles move, smoothly, with a rhythm that only he heard.

As the soup thawed, bubbling over the wood stove, they started talking. “So, stranger. You got a name?”

“Of course.” His voice was a rumble. “You?” He laughed. “I'm kidding. I'm Boyd.”

“Morgan. Pleased to meetcha. You'll excuse me, but what the hell were you doing out here?”

“Just what I told you. I set out on a hike this afternoon. I went too far into the woods, and when the sun went down, I didn't recognize this part of the woods. I spend a lot of time here in the summer, but not so much in the winter. Then I saw your light. Thank you, by the way. If you hadn't let me in, I would have had to find some sort of shelter, I'm not sure I would have made it through the night.”

“You're welcome, and you were stupid. You know that, right?”

“Yep.” He watched her, and she could feel his eyes tracing over her. “Speaking of not being careful, what are you doing out here alone?”

Tears filled the corners of her eyes, and she debated telling him the entire story. That's what strangers are for, right? Tell them your problems, get them off your chest, and then never have to face that person again.

But her father's voice echoed in her thoughts again, “Play your cards close to your chest, Morgan. Don't let them see inside until you know what they're offering also. It's how you stay strong.”

So she let the moment pass and together they set the table to eat.

They ate their soup that way, conversing in fits and spurts, stops and starts. Slowly getting to know each other. Through the soup, through cleaning the dishes, and tidying up the table, they talked. And eventually Morgan found herself relaxing with him. He had a way of listening. It was as though she were talking to herself. She told him about her father, about his building the cabin, securing the land around it from the encroaching builders and neighbors. About his dream to keep this part as wild as possible. She told him about her marriage, leaving no doubt that she wasn't looking for romance, but she didn't tell him about Richard's infidelity. She held that deep inside, and she could feel it start to burn.

She yawned, and he smiled. “I've kept you up, I'm sorry. I honestly didn't mean to ruin your retreat out here.”

She shook her head. “Please don't apologize. You're fine, but I do think it's time to turn in. Help me lock up the cold box outside and secure the trash, and then I'll show you where you can sleep tonight. I saw fresh bear tracks when I pulled in tonight. I can't imagine why a bear would be awake this late in the season, but I don't want to take any chances.”

Boyd nodded. “You never know with bears out here. They sense things, even in their hibernation. Maybe something calls them. The natives say it's a good sign when a bear wakes mid-winter. It means he's been out protecting his people.”

Morgan smiled. “My father used to say much the same thing. Not exactly, but close enough.”

Boyd's eyes met hers, and she knew he could see the pain in her heart. But he only nodded, slowly, then turned to the window. “The lights are out tonight. Maybe that's what woke your bear. If you listen just right, you can hear them sing.”

They stood that way for silent, eternal minutes. And she could hear the blue and green ribbons of the Aurora sing, a discordant, but beautiful song. It spoke to her soul, and it reassured her. Her father had told her about the music, but she hadn't been able to hear it in years.

She gave him her father's bed. She had kept her alcove even after her father had died. Not out of any sense of duty, but it was hers and it was comfortable. And she didn't think he'd mind Boyd using his old bed.

They settled quickly, and in minutes she could hear a soft snoring from the other side of her curtained alcove. But she wasn't ready to sleep. She imagined Richard, and she could see him coming home, finding the picture. What would he think? Would he be relieved, or disappointed he could no longer have both worlds? And she wondered what led him to another man. And she began to doubt. To doubt her own sexuality. After all, what was wrong with her that would drive him away from women? Logic didn't play a part in betrayal. She knew, somehow, that she had failed. And she wondered what she could have done differently.

She sat against the wooden wall of her alcove, listening to Boyd sleep and the fire in the stove crackle, protecting them from the cold seeping through the inevitable cracks in the wooden walls. She drew her knees to her chest and wrapped her arms around her legs, surrounding her pain, and she cried, deep, painful, silent tears. And soon she, too, slept.

When she woke, a quick check of the window told her it was still night, but the deepest part of night-into-morning. She had always loved the early hours before the sun came up. It was a frozen-in-time moment for her, and growing up she had always imagined it was magic.

She pushed aside her blankets and slipped her feet into the slippers by her bed. Drawing the curtain aside, she could see the cabin lit softly by the fire glowing behind the glass door of the wood stove. Shadows cast by the fire gave the room an otherworldly feel, and her eyes were drawn to the soft rise and fall of the figure on her father's bed. Quietly, not wanting to break the silent spell filling the room, she drew back the thick quilt that covered him, and when he stirred she put her finger to his lip, softly silencing his questions.

Morgan crawled into the bed next to him and let her fingers speak for her. His eyes locked with hers, and she answered his unspoken questions with a quiet nod. He had taken off his shirt and jeans and was sleeping in soft warm pants left over from her father's things. She easily undid the drawstring at his waist and pulled them down past his hips and thighs. She rose to her knees and straddled his thighs, feeling his muscles bunch and tense between her legs. She tightened her grip around his legs, holding him still beneath her. She could feel him growing hard against her thigh, pressing against her sex.

She wrapped her fingers around him, stroking his length and brushing the back of her fingers against her swelling button. Long, slow caresses. Butterfly-soft tickling kisses with manicured fingertips. Fast, harder strokes, pulling a rumbling-groan from his throat. He bucked his hip under her, arching to meet her.

She stopped, pushing him back to the bed with one hand on his chest. His heart beat fast under her palm, and the warmth of his skin matched the heat growing between her thighs. Rising to her knees, she shifted her weight forward, centered him under her with one hand, and lowered herself slowly, agonizingly slowly, over him, surrounding him. A long, gravity-assisted slide until she was nestled firmly against him. And she began to rock, grinding with her hips, scraping her swollen clit against the wiry hair of his groin. Grinding her heat into his, faster, harder, until her muscles clenched, gripping his shaft, taking him the way Richard would never allow himself to be taken.

He thrust, harder. Forcing her to her knees above him. Wrapping his fingers around her hips, holding her steady, he began to match her rhythm. Pulling out, holding himself at her opening, letting her moans fill the room. Neither of them spoke, the only sound the creak of the bed beneath them and the near-frantic panting of their breath.

His fingers tightened, digging into her hips, her hands braced against his chest. In the last seconds her eyes closed, but the image of his face burned behind her lids. He didn't grimace, he didn't flinch, and he didn't flip her over and finish between her legs. He held her steady, he matched her strokes, and he came with her, into her, the way she wanted.

The cabin was empty when she woke. Sunlight streamed through the window, casting a warm glow over the interior. Morgan stretched, and she felt her body respond to the memory of last night. She felt schoolgirl flutters deep in her belly, and she felt the ghost-traces of his hands stroke her sides.

She sat up in bed, and understood that he had moved on. Rising quickly, she wrapped the quilt around her bare shoulders and stepped out onto the front porch. Maybe she could see which way he had gone. It hadn't snowed fresh this morning, so his tracks should still be clear in the snow.

The light was so sharp and clear it almost had a cutting edge. The cold, still beauty of her surroundings took her breath away.

She didn't look for the tracks. She didn't need that man any more. He'd given her what she'd wanted, and she had found her center again.

She had recovered the strength to go home.

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