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The Fantasy Files


© 2003 by Girl Friday

It was a perfect September evening. A nearly cloudless sky allowed the stars to sparkle like magic. The white silk tents billowed gently in the breeze as the music drifted around us. I was dancing with the father of the bride. He twirled me around the dance floor while keeping an eye on his radiant daughter, my best friend, Susan.

"So when am I going to dance at your wedding?"

"Geez, Pop. Give a girl a break. Can't you be happy that Susan found someone and leave me out of it?"

"Nope. You're just as much my daughter as she is. Hell, you practically grew up in my house. You two have always been inseparable. What kind of father would I be if I didn't worry about both of my girls?"

"I'm fine Pop, so stop worrying already."

"You, young lady, are too independent for your own good. There's nothing wrong with letting someone take care of you once in a while. You should find a nice young man and settle down. There's plenty here. Just take your pick. That one over there sure is looking you over." Pop flicked his eyes at someone over my shoulder. He turned me slightly so I could see the man in question. "What about him?"

Time appeared to stand still and my blood began to roar in my ears as I saw whom Pop was talking about. There, on the other side of the dance floor, was someone I had thought to never see again. His blue eyes boring into mine, Luke tipped his blonde head in my direction and started towards us. I studied him carefully as he made his way across the dance floor. The years had not changed him much. His hard, angular features were more mature and his tall, lean form had gained some muscle, but he was still the same Luke I remembered.

Luke caught up to us and tapped Pop on the shoulder, "May I cut in?"

"Be my guest."

Pop threw me a cheery wink and handed me over to Luke. As his hand closed over mine, I felt the same jolt I had been trying to forget for several years now. Luke pulled me close, molding my body to his, as he began to lead us around the floor. I breathed in his uniquely male scent and tried to control my pulse.

"How have you been, Cat?" The soft question, just inches from my ear, put butterflies in my stomach as I tried to decide how to answer him.

"Fine, Luke. And you?" I was pleased to note that my voice didn't tremble.

"That's a long story, let's leave it for now. You're still just as beautiful as I remember."

His husky voice sent shivers down my spine. The music stopped just in time to save me from making a response. I moved out of his arms.

"Thanks for the dance, Luke. It was good seeing you again." I turned and started to walk away.

"Cat, wait." His hand slid from my elbow to my upper arm and held me in place. "I'd like to see you again. We have some things to discuss." He tipped my chin up, forcing my eyes to meet his. "Please?"

"No, Luke. It's no use digging up the past."

This time he didn't stop me when I turned to leave. I could feel his eyes follow me as I crossed the dance floor and went into the house. Susan caught up with me just as I found my coat and headed out to my car.

"Hey, where are you going?" She was slightly breathless and more than a little beautiful in her wedding gown.

"Home. It's been a long day."

"Did I just see you talking to Luke Henshaw?"

"You know you did." I could see the tip of one white satin shoe tapping impatiently as she crossed her arms over her chest.

"And ... ?"

"And you should have told me you invited him to the wedding."

"Would you have come if I did?"

I sighed and thought about it, "No, probably not. Why did you do this to me? I thought you were my friend."

"Oh, Cat, I am your friend. That's why I invited him. You two need to settle this and you know it. You're never going to have any peace until you talk to him."

"That is not true. Besides which, shouldn't you be dancing with Michael instead of arguing with me?"

"Yeah, okay. But think about it, please. Luke deserves to know."

Over my dead body, I thought.

I woke up the next morning with a pounding headache. It had to be stress because I hadn't had more than a sip of champagne. I made my way carefully to the bathroom for some aspirin. After swallowing two pills, I looked at myself in the mirror. Long, auburn hair, large green eyes surrounded by spiky black lashes, straight nose, high cheekbones; not a bad face overall, but this morning it looked tired. Like that's unusual, I thought. With a sigh, I pulled off my pajamas and climbed in the shower. I had a lot to get done today and standing in front of the mirror wasn't going to make it go any faster.

After starting a load of laundry and loading the dishwasher, I carried a cup of coffee out to the deck to read the morning paper. Ten minutes later I was still staring at the headlines and trying to remember just when it was that I fell in love with Luke Henshaw.

I've known him forever. We were in the same kindergarten class. His twin brother, Logan, had been my second best friend. Luke was always there in the background of my life. Once in awhile we'd end up hanging out together but mostly I spent my time with Susan and Logan. Luke had always been busy with cross-country, basketball, and baseball in high school. If he wasn't working out or studying, he was with his girlfriend, Chrissy.

They were the golden couple: blonde, beautiful, and popular. Luke and Chrissy had started going steady in tenth grade and were practically living together by senior year. That's when it started, I decided, right after graduation.

Everyone was at Susan's house for her graduation party. We had all ended up in the big hay barn, dancing to the radio, and then later playing truth or dare. Why is it you put a group of kids together and truth or dare is the inevitable result? I had managed to stay out of most of the game, but towards the end Logan noticed that I was snuggled up high in the hayloft trying to hide. He had a grand time making me pay for that.

"Hey, Luke," he called, "truth or dare?"

"Dare," was Luke's immediate reply.

Looking straight at me, Logan said, "Climb into the hayloft and spend ten minutes making out with whomever you find up there. I'll give a yell when time's up."

If looks could kill, that damn Logan would have been dog food. Right then I decided he was no longer my friend.

"Hey, no fair!" Chrissy was already bitching.

"Sorry Chris, you know the rules." Luke's tone was apologetic but I could tell he was already moving towards the ladder to the hayloft.

"Well, who's up there?" Cripes, that woman could whine.

"Cat." Logan's tone was smug and superior. Logan hated Chrissy and Chrissy hated me. He had done it just to irritate both of us. Luke climbed into the loft and sank into the same pile of hay I was using.

"Hey, Cat. Sorry about this, but a dare's a dare."

"Yeah, I know. Just do it."

Luke rolled so that he was draped over one side of me and brushed my hair back from my face. He leaned down and gently captured my lips with his own. Nothing could have prepared me for the sensation. I'd had plenty of boyfriends but not one of them made me feel like this. My skin was on fire and my heart was pounding so hard I thought it might leap from my chest. Luke's lips teased and nibbled mine, creating a molten pool of desire in my gut. Might as well enjoy it, I thought, and gently traced his lips with my tongue.

Luke groaned, wrapped both arms around me, and rolled us so that I was sprawled on top of him. His tongue claimed my own as his hands tangled in my long, red hair. I could feel his erection pressing against my crotch and I ground myself against it, causing him to hiss in response. One of his hands moved to my ass, pressing me down against him, while the other went to my breast, his thumb rubbing my nipple to arousal. I moaned in need and attacked his mouth again. I felt like I was drowning in sensation. So this is what it's all about, I thought, now I understand the fuss.

I had just made this connection when Logan yelled, "Time." I lifted my head and rolled off Luke, trying to catch my breath.

"Jesus, Cat. What the hell was that?" His breathing was ragged, his tone laced with wonder.

"Like I know? That's never happened to me before."



"Luke, get down here!" Chrissy was standing at the bottom of the ladder with a very angry look on her face. Luke was still staring at me with a look of confusion.

"Better go, the little woman calls."

"Shit, Cat. If she sees this lump, I'm dead."

"Well, I'd offer to help but you need Chrissy's permission first."

Grumbling about insensitive females, Luke swung himself over the ladder and climbed down to his girlfriend. Yes, I thought, that was when I started to fall in love with Luke Henshaw.

I went to start another load of laundry and heard the doorbell ring. Detouring to the front door, I wondered who it might be. Everyone I know just walks in; no knock, no doorbell. I pulled the door open to find Luke leaning against my front porch railing. He looked just as good in jeans today as he did in the tux last night. He was wearing a tired, sexy smile that made my heart skip a beat.

"What are you doing here?" The words were out of my mouth before I could stop them.

"Morning, Cat. Mind if I come in?" Luke brushed by me and stepped into the house.

"Please do." My sarcasm brought a wry grin from him.

"I'm sorry, alright? I've had a rotten night. Do you have any coffee?" Luke hadn't shaved and looked like he hadn't slept. I decided to take pity on him.

"Sure, come on back to the kitchen." I poured him a cup and joined him at the kitchen table. "Now are you going to tell me why you're here? And start with how you found out where I live."

"I asked Mr. Reed." Pop. I should have known. "Then I talked with Susan for a few minutes before she and Michael left."

"You talked to Susan? About what?" Full-blown panic was beginning to creep in. What had she told him?

"You." Luke was slouched in the chair, watching me closely.

"What about me?" My belligerent tone was unmistakable. Damn it, I hate it when people talk about me.

"I wanted to know if you're seeing anyone. How you're doing. Susan told me you haven't been with anyone in a long time. Why is that, Cat?"

I shrugged. "I've been busy. Why is this any business of yours?"

Luke scrubbed his face with both hands and dragged them through his hair.

"Catherine, please just drop the attitude and talk to me."

Nobody calls me Catherine. I've always been Cat. This was serious. I studied Luke and tried to decide what he wanted.

"Why did you leave me that morning? You could have at least woken me up and said goodbye." His searching gaze had me squirming in my seat.

"Luke, you were headed back to UCLA. I was going back to Penn State. You were still in love with Chrissy. What was the point? It was just a one-time thing between friends. I understood that."

"I was not still in love with Chrissy. If you had stuck around a little longer I would have told you that. I tried to contact you a couple of times, but you never called back. Why?"

"I've already answered that. Luke, what's going on here?" I was truly puzzled.

He got up and started to pace. "Why didn't you tell me you were a virgin? I thought you were experienced. You should have told me you weren't."

"Luke, it wasn't deliberate. It just wasn't important. I wasn't exactly thinking rationally at the time." My grin was rueful and for a moment he mirrored it. With a sigh, he shoved his hands into his back pockets and stood lost in thought.

"Cat, for seven years I've been walking around with you in my head. When I go to sleep at night, your laugh echoes around me. When I dream, I see the way you looked when I made love to you that first time. I wake up in the morning and I can smell your scent, feel your body wrapped up in mine. I'm haunted by the memory of you and the night we shared together."

I sat in my kitchen chair, trying not to fall out of it, while I listened to him purge his thoughts. He wasn't finished yet.

"When I got Susan's wedding invitation, I knew I had to come here and see you again. I had to find out if what we had was real or just some fantasy I've built in my head."

Stunned, my thoughts swirling, I tried to come up with a response.

"Luke, I don't know what to say."

"Then don't say anything at all."

His husky tone should have warned me. I looked up at him and felt my gaze captured in his. His eyes were the darkest blue I've ever seen. I've seen them that shade only one other time, a memory I'd desperately tried to bury.

Mesmerized, I didn't protest when he pulled me to my feet and gathered me against him. Tentatively he brushed my lips with his own, testing my reaction. When I offered no resistance, he settled his mouth firmly on mine. Oh god, I had forgotten how this could affect me. The first touch of his tongue was electric, sending a jolt throughout my body. I moaned and answered his demand with my own. Luke deepened the kiss, molding my curves to him. I felt my nipples pebble against the hard wall of his chest. He groaned my name and bent his head to kiss the pulse throbbing in my neck. My desire was spiraling past the point of no return. I wove my fingers through his hair and forced his mouth back to mine.

"Momma, Momma, look what Grams got me!" Her voice ripped through me. Dimly I heard the front door slam. Shoving Luke from me, I stepped back just in time to catch the blonde angel that hurtled into my arms. I scooped her up and covered her sweet face with kisses as her laughter peeled into the room. I buried my face in her hair and listened with half an ear to her happy chatter as I tried to calm my raging body. I heard the front door slam again and my mother appeared, lugging my daughter's overnight gear.

"Well, this is a surprise." My mother was looking from me to Luke, trying to decide what she had interrupted. The tension in the room was unbearable. Only Emma appeared to be unaffected.

She wiggled against me to be let down. I set her on the floor and watched her march over to Luke. Tiny fists on her hips, she threw her head back and looked him over. Cripes, I knew that pose. I resisted the urge to duck and cover.

"Who're you?" She wasn't the least bit intimidated by Luke's towering height. The belligerent demand was an echo of my own favorite tone.

Luke studied her face carefully then looked at me with a closed, flinty expression. "I'm a friend of your mom." His carefully polite voice did not betray his obvious fury.

She thought that over for a minute and decided to continue the inquisition. "My name's Emma. What's yours?"

He crouched down in front of her. "My name's Luke. What were you showing your mom?"

Emma's smile lit up the room. She just loves to talk about clothes. She put one hand on his knee and patted her chest with the other.

"Grams bought me a new shirt. I picked it out myself."

"It's very pretty."

That was it; he had her hooked. Tell Emma her shirt is pretty and she's putty in your hand.

"Yep. You stayin' for lunch?"

Throwing me a look that clearly promised an accounting, he agreed. "I'd love to."

My mother had waited for an explanation long enough. "Emma, why don't you take Luke outside and show him your new swing-set? I need to talk to your mom a minute."

Emma immediately grabbed Luke's hand and pulled him out the back door, chattering at him the whole time. Mom leveled a look at me. I could tell she had something on her mind. I waited in silence for her to come out with it.

"Catherine Antoinette Thompson, I hope you know what you're doing; for Emma's sake."

Cripes, twice in one day. This was one for the record books. "Mom, don't start. I really don't need you on my case right now."

"I'm not on your case. I just want you to realize that you are not the only one affected by your actions. Cat, I worry about you. You're so damn stubborn and independent. If you want to live your life alone that's your choice, but you have to consider what's best for Emma."

Many years ago I learned that it is just easier to agree with my mother. Her temper was more than a match for my own. Besides that, she was right and I knew it.

"I know, Mom. I promise you I will keep Emma's best interests in mind."

She continued to study me. When she decided I was serious, she relented. With a sigh, she kissed me on the cheek and went out the back door to kiss Emma goodbye.

I puttered in the kitchen, trying to get my thoughts in order. When I felt like I was calm again, I went out to the yard to check on Emma and Luke. He was pushing her on the swing. Her infectious, happy laugh brought a smile to my face. I settled in the hammock, watching them play. Luke's smile was open and tender as he watched Emma swing through the air. It was easy to see that he was already falling in love with her. I continued to watch them and remembered the night that Luke and I had spent together.

It was two years after the truth or dare game. The old gang made it a point to get together at the end of each summer just before heading back to college. Logan and Luke were hosting the party that year. Like Susan, they lived on a big farm in the country. A party there wouldn't bother any neighbors. Logan had built a huge bonfire to provide light and warmth. Someone had snuck in some beer and some of the others were getting pretty loud. I have never been much of a drinker so I sat by the fire and watched the others have fun. Luke wandered over and sat down beside me.

"You're pretty quiet tonight. You okay?" Concern touched his features.

"I'm fine. Just a little tired. The strep throat really wore me out." I had taken my last dose of antibiotics just a few hours ago. I felt much better, but I still didn't have a lot of energy.

"Where's Susan? I'm not used to seeing you on your own."

With a rueful smile I explained, "I gave her the strep. We shared a soda before I knew I was sick. She's not too happy with me." He laughed at that.

"Where's Chrissy? I'm not used to seeing you on your own." I deliberately threw his question back at him.

"We're taking a break." His quiet response shocked the hell out of me. "It hasn't been working for a long time now. We've decided to date other people for awhile and see how it goes."

I apologized for bringing it up and he laughed it off. I tried to get him to join the others but he refused. Confused by his actions, I tried to decide why he was sitting there with me. I was used to sitting on the sidelines. Luke was generally the center of attention. Must be the Chrissy situation, I decided.

We spent several hours sitting by the fire, talking quietly and getting to know each other again. Luke talked about UCLA and his hopes for Stanford Law. I told him about Penn State and the graphic arts degree I was working on. We joked around and laughed at the others getting drunk. Eventually, the long day caught up with me and I could feel my eyelids droop. Luke noticed and pulled me to my feet.

"C'mon. You need to get some sleep."

He started walking towards the house. His firm grip on my hand insuring I would follow.

"Luke, wait. What about your parents?"

"They're cool. Chrissy used to stay here all the time." I could tell he regretted the words the moment they left his mouth.

"Besides, your honor is safe with me." He grinned in apology.

"Damn, and I was sooo hoping." My tone was joking, but I wasn't kidding. For two years I'd been hoping he'd kiss me again someday. Spending time with him tonight had made me realize I wanted more than a kiss.

He shot me a curious glance and headed into the house. I called my parents so they wouldn't worry and followed Luke upstairs to his room. I'd seen it before but it never failed to surprise me. Luke was a neat-nik; everything in its place, the bed made, his clothes put away. I wondered briefly if he was from another planet. He rummaged around in his dresser and handed me a UCLA tee shirt.

"Here, you can wear this. Why don't you get changed and I'll turn the bed down for you." I took the shirt from him and went to the bathroom to change. When I returned, Luke had the sheets turned down and a glass of water had been placed on the nightstand. I climbed into bed and he started to leave. This was my chance; it was now or never.

"Luke, wait. Where are you going to sleep?"

He stopped and turned to me. "I'm gonna crash in Logan's room."

"You don't have to do that. It's a queen-size bed. There's plenty of room. I don't want to kick you out of your own bed." I held my breath and waited.

His face was amazing to watch. At least three different expressions flitted across it in rapid succession: surprise, hunger, and regret. Finally, he sat down next me and sighed,

"Cat, I really don't think that's a good idea."

I looked him straight in the eye. I've never backed down from a challenge and tonight was no different.

"Why not?"

He turned his eyes from mine and stared at a spot on the wall. Consternation in his tone, he answered my question. "Because you're my brother's best friend and I don't think I can trust myself to leave you alone. I can still remember the fireworks that went off when I kissed you after graduation. If I join you, I'm going to kiss you again. You and I both know it wouldn't end there."

I slid my hand along his jaw and turned him to face me once more.

"Then lock the door and come to bed. No strings; no regrets."

His eyes darkened to an incredibly deep blue as he realized what I was saying. Without a word he went to the door and locked it.

I sat in the middle of his bed and watched as he calmly stripped, showing me what I had only dreamed about before. His body was athletic and firm, wide in the shoulders, trim in the hips. He was already erect and he hadn't even touched me yet. My heart sped up just looking at him. I reached to remove the shirt I was wearing.

"No. Let me do it."

His husky command stilled my motion. I dropped the hem of my shirt as he joined me in the bed. He touched me as if I were made of glass, delicately tracing the features of my face. The first kiss was a mere whisper of contact that I felt clear to my bones. A gentle tug on my hair tipped my head back, exposing my throat to his questing lips. He explored my neck, leaving a trail of fire in his wake. My small noise of protest was ignored as he moved away. His hands slid under the hem of my shirt and began their own gentle exploration. I moaned when his fingers brushed my nipple. Slowly he raised the shirt and peeled it from my body. My nipples pebbled as I watched his eyes explore my naked form.

"I have never seen anything more beautiful."

His soft gentle words were reflected in his eyes. I felt my feelings for him coalesce and I knew, in that moment my heart was his.

I wrapped one hand around the back of his neck and drew him to me. With a groan he crushed me beneath him. Tenderness was replaced with passion and hunger as our mouths mated wildly. His skin burned under my fingers as I explored his body. He shuddered when I wrapped my hand around his erect length. It felt like velvet steel and I wondered at the contrast. He drove all thought from my head as his mouth played over my breasts. His hands were busy elsewhere, pushing my need higher. What little control I had was shattered into nonexistence as he touched my throbbing clit. I hissed at him in response and forced his mouth back to mine. I opened my legs and ground urgently against him. Recognizing my wordless plea, he positioned himself at my entrance.

He hesitated briefly, "Cat, are you protected?" At my nod, he thrust into me. I wrapped my legs around him, wincing slightly as he tore through my barrier. Buried deep within me, Luke froze and looked at me in stunned amazement.

"Cat?" His soft question was filled with disbelief.

"Luke, don't stop. Please."

My urgent request had the desired effect as he moaned my name. Slowly, he started to thrust. As my moans and soft mews of passion surrounded him, Luke began to move faster. With a small twisting motion he ground my clit against the base of his cock. I was beyond coherent thought, lost in sensation. I could feel my climax building. It started in my fingers and toes, rolling towards my center.

"Now, Luke, NOW."

He slammed into me, over and over. My muscles clamped down around him as my orgasm began.

"Oh god, Cat, YES!"

His shout was punctuated with more powerful strokes as we crashed into paradise together. Shuddering and gasping, he collapsed beside me. He pulled me closer, stroking my body gently as we recovered.

"Cat, why?"

"Because I wanted you."

I was afraid to tell him I loved him. My offer of no strings, no regrets would be honored even though it would cost me everything in the morning. The long day, combined with my recent illness, caught up with me and I drifted off to sleep.

We awoke in the night and reached for each other, as new lovers sometimes do. We made love again. It was tender and gentle and every bit as intense as the first time.

The morning light streaming through the window woke me. I was wrapped in Luke's arms, happy and content. I shifted slightly and he rolled onto his back. His face was so peaceful in sleep. It made my heart ache to look at the man I loved and know that he wasn't mine. I couldn't bear to hear him say the words that were sure to come when he awoke. His heart still belonged to Chrissy. I didn't need to hear him say it to know it was true. Carefully, I untangled myself from him and slipped out of bed. I gathered my things and grabbed his UCLA shirt. I pulled it on and with one last look at Luke; I quietly closed the door behind me.

"Momma, when's lunch? We're hungry."

Emma was tugging on my shirt. I shook my head to clear it of the memories and looked at Luke. He was watching me with an unreadable expression.

"Come on in and help me make it."

Taking her hand in mine, I walked with my daughter into the kitchen to make lunch. Luke settled at the table and watched as Emma "helped" me. Her antics made the meal bearable. Beneath the surface there was an undeniable thread of tension running between Luke and me. After cleaning up, I pulled out Emma's crayons. This daily routine helped her relax enough for an afternoon nap. Luke joined her on the floor. Blond heads bent together, they worked quietly. It wasn't long before I could see Emma start to slump and I knew it was naptime. I gathered her in my arms and took her to her room. After tucking her into bed I went back downstairs.

Luke was standing in front of the refrigerator looking at some of Emma's finger paintings. He flicked a glance at me as I came into the room and continued to study Emma's work.

"When, exactly, were you planning on telling me I had a daughter?" His tightly controlled fury was evident in his hard eyes and quietly harsh tone.

"What makes you think she's yours?" Shit. I hadn't meant to attack, but that's what I did.

"God damn it! Don't you even try to deny it. She may have your green eyes Cat, but the rest of her face is mine." The control was gone, now there was just unrestrained fury. "I thought you said you were protected. How in the hell did this happen?"

In all the years I'd know Luke, I had never seen him so angry. Luke has always been calm and self-possessed. His self-control was almost legendary and to see him lose it was frightening. With my mother's words echoing in my ears, I decided to swallow my pride and come clean.

"It was my fault." My quiet words were clearly not what he expected to hear.

"Remember that I had been sick?" Luke nodded.

"The antibiotics I was on decreased the effectiveness of my birth control pills. There was a warning label on the bottle. I just ignored it because I didn't think I'd be having sex. I got pregnant because I didn't pay attention. It was my fault and I take full responsibility."

Luke had managed to regain his control while I was speaking. With a sigh, he joined me at the table and carefully searched my face for clues. His next question wasn't angry, just confused.

"Why didn't you call me when you found out you were pregnant? Cat, I had a right to know."

"Honestly, Luke, I was scared. I had told you no strings and I meant it. I wasn't about to mess up UCLA and Stanford Law because I was stupid. I wanted you to have the chance to live your life without the burden of a child holding you back. I cared about you too much to let that happen."

"That should have been my choice. If you cared, you should have called. You know that I would have stood by you, married you, given Emma my name. She's what, six years old now? Look at all I've missed. I should have been there when she was born and every day after that.

"I would have been if I had known."

"I know that you would have, Luke. That's why I didn't tell you. I didn't want you be with me because you were obligated to be. Damn it, don't you get it? I was in love with you! But, I was not going to use my pregnancy to trap you into being with me. You had just broken up with Chrissy. You guys were together for four years. I knew you still loved her and I wasn't going to stand in your way."

"Jesus, Cat, for the last time: I was not in love with Chrissy. Get that through your head right now. I broke up with her. I fell in love with you that night we spent together, but when you wouldn't return my calls I thought you didn't feel the same way I did. For seven years I've tried to move on. I came here today to try to convince you to give us another chance. Now I don't know what I want. Emma changes everything. I guess I just need some time to think and get this all straight in my head."

"I can understand that Luke. Take all the time you need."

At my words he smiled, a sad sort of half smile and nodded his head. Without another word he walked out the door. As I watched him go, my heart crumbled to dust and I could feel the tears start to slip silently down my face.

Emma woke up from her nap her usual happy, energetic self. She wanted to know where Luke had gone and I explained that he had some stuff to do and maybe we'd see him again someday. We spent the rest of the day doing some chores and getting her ready to go to school in the morning. After a quick dinner of hot dogs and french fries -- Emma's favorite -- we settled in the hammock on the deck. We lay out there, watching the lightening bugs and finding pictures in the stars until Emma fell asleep. I cuddled my little girl close and wondered what the future would bring. There was no way to know until Luke made his own decisions. The chirping song of crickets and the gentle sway of the hammock worked its magic and I too drifted off to sleep.

I think it was the crick in my neck that woke me. It could have been the dull ache in my lower back. I'm not sure. I opened my eyes to find Luke sitting in one of the deck chairs, watching over us as we slept.

"Hey." My voice was hushed and just a little rough with sleep.

"Do you still love me, Cat?" His gaze was intense. Still groggy with sleep, I was slow to catch up.


"You said earlier today that you were-- past tense, in love with me. I want to know how you feel now. Do you still love me?" My heart stopped, I know it did. It never occurred to me to lie.


My quiet admission caused absolutely no change in him. His intent gaze never wavered. He sat in silence for a moment, clearly trying to organize his thoughts before speaking again.

"I spent all afternoon driving around. Listening to loud rock and roll on the radio," he frowned, "And thinking."

"I'm angry, Cat. I'm not going to deny it. I look at that beautiful little girl snuggled in your arms, knowing she's mine, knowing I missed six years of her life-- and I'm angry. I cursed you with every curse known to man and made up a few new ones while I was at it. I went to the batting cages and hit balls until I was too tired to be angry."

His expression softened, just a bit.

"Once I got over being mad, I could think a little more clearly. I understand why you did what you did. I don't like it one little bit and I'm still pretty upset about it, but I understand. You did what you thought was best."

"And then I realized it really doesn't matter. I came back here to find you. And I found you, and Emma. The only thing that really matters is this: I love you. I have for a long time now. I don't know if we can make this work or not, Cat, but I want to try. I want to be with you. I want to raise our daughter together. Not because I feel obligated to, but because I love you and I love Emma; more than I thought was possible in such a short time."

"I'd like that, Luke, but how? Emma is in school here; don't you still live in California?"

"Actually, no. I missed my family. I missed small town life. I missed you. When Susan's invitation showed up in the mail, I decided it was time for a change. I quit my job out there and I've been staying with my parents while I house hunt. I've already got a job with one of the small law firms here in town."

"It's kind of small, but I think there's room for one more in this house. Why don't we talk with Emma tomorrow? If she agrees, maybe you could move in here?"

Finally, he smiled. The warmth of it flowed through me and made the world seem right again.

"I thought you'd never ask. In the morning we're going to have a talk about locking that front door, but for now why don't we put our daughter to bed?"

I smiled my agreement and followed him as he carried Emma upstairs. I stopped to lock the front door, but Luke had already done it. After getting Emma settled in her room, I took Luke by the hand and led him down the hall to my, soon to be our, room.

"I have something I want to give to you."

I opened my dresser and pulled out his old UCLA tee shirt. He gave me a puzzled look but unfolded the shirt and looked at it.

"I knew you kept this. I liked knowing you had it, but what's the stuff all over it?"

"I was wearing it when Emma was born. I had to fight everyone in the hospital, but I wore that shirt. The brown stains are from when they put her on my tummy right after she was born. So in a small way, you were there with me when she was born."

He looked at me with suspiciously wet eyes.

"Cat, I don't know what to say. I'll treasure it always."

He tenderly refolded the shirt and carefully placed it on top of the dresser. He turned to me and I realized I was nervous. I wasn't sure quite how to act now that Luke was here in my bedroom. Sensing my hesitancy, Luke smiled and held out his hand. When I put my hand in his, he lifted it to his lips and dropped a kiss across my fingers. Tugging me along behind him, Luke walked to the en-suite bath.

"It's been a long day. How about a bath?"

Without waiting for an answer, he started the water flowing into the oversize tub. "Got any bubbles?"

Mutely, I indicated the shelf set high in the wall and watched as he poured the bubble mix in the steaming water. When the tub was filled, Luke turned off the water and approached me. Gently, he tipped my chin up and placed a feather light kiss upon my lips.

"C'mon Cat, let's get in the tub."

With that he calmly started to undress. I watched him, anticipation knotting my stomach. His body was no longer that of a boy just coming into manhood; over the years he had developed the hardened muscles and mature physique of a fully grown man. Oblivious to my inspection, Luke strolled to the tub and lowered himself into the water.

"Cat, the water won't stay warm forever."

I realized I was still standing there, fully clothed, just staring at Luke lounging in the tub. Feeling nervous and hesitant was new to me and I didn't like it. Gathering my courage, I began to undress. Luke watched as I removed my clothing piece by piece, his blue eyes darkening to the midnight shade I remembered so well. After gathering my hair into a loose knot on top of my head, I went to join him in the tub.

I settled myself between Luke's thighs and leaned back against his chest. The water was warm and relaxing. Luke picked up my favorite orange-blossom scented soap and began to lather me with it. His hands on my body felt wonderful as he spread the soap on my shoulders and arms.

"Mmmm, that feels nice."

"Sit up a sec so I can do your back." I dutifully scooted forward a little and sat up. Luke spread the soap over my back and began to work it into my skin. I could feel my muscles relax under his careful attention. Scooping handfuls of water over my back and shoulders to rinse off the soap, Luke never once reached for the washcloth sitting nearby. He leaned forward and pulled me back against him. When he had me resettled against his chest, Luke picked up the soap and began to wash my front.

His hands were magic as they languidly spread the soap over my chest and abdomen. I felt his lips tease my ear, nibbling gently, before moving down to caress my neck. His hands circled my breasts, rubbing the soap over my stiffening nipples. He rolled one gently between his fingers and I moaned in response. I could feel Luke's arousal pressing against my butt and he shuddered when I wriggled against it. One of his hands wandered lower and I jumped in surprise when I felt him stroke my slit. When I turned to shoot him a questioning glance, he captured my mouth in a passionate kiss. As our tongues danced, I felt him push a finger inside me and I shuddered at the pleasure it brought me. My body trembling in need, I turned so that I could straddle him. Luke positioned himself at my entrance and I slowly slid down on his shaft.

"Oh god, Luke," I whimpered, "it feels so good."

"I know, Baby, for me too."

Luke bent his legs at the knee to give me more support as I started to move up and down. The soap still coating my chest created a wonderful slippery effect as my breasts slid against his chest. With one hand on the back on my neck, Luke drew me down for another soul-shattering kiss. He pulled the clip from my hair and tossed it on the floor. With my hair spilling around us, I picked up the pace and began to move with urgency on his shaft. Luke groaned and started rubbing my clit in tiny circles as I rode him. I could feel my climax building and knew it wouldn't be long. I started to shake and shudder as it came crashing over me. I cried out my release and heard Luke's resonate groan echo my cry as I felt him reach his climax. I collapsed against his chest, my body still singing with pleasure.

With my lips just brushing his ear, I whispered, "I love you."

"I love you too, Catherine. I always have."

If he said it like that, he could call me Catherine whenever he pleased.

The sun was just beginning to set, turning the sky a fantastic mixture of pink, yellow, and orange. The music drifted on the breeze as couples swayed on the dance floor.

I stood near the lilac tree, immersed in the heady scent, and watched Luke dancing with Emma. He looked wonderful in the black cutaway tuxedo and Emma was angelic in her pink satin dress. She was tired from the long day. Luke had picked her up so that she could rest her head on his shoulder as he danced her around the square. I sighed in happy contentment as I watched the two people I loved most in the world dance together.

"A penny for your thoughts, young lady?" I looked up to see Pop standing next to me.

With a smile I replied, "Sorry, Pop, but they're priceless; at least to me."

"You picked a good one, Cat. Luke is fine young man."

I felt the joy of the day flow through me once more as I looked at the gold band on my finger.

"Yes, I know."

"The ceremony was lovely. It was a perfect day for it too."

"Thanks, Pop."

"There's only one thing missing." I looked at him in confusion.

"I still haven't danced with the bride." He offered me his arm.

"Shall we?"

"Pop, I thought you'd never ask."


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