HOLIDAY IN NEW ZEALAND

By K. Stoley

CHAPTER 1 The speakerís voice chanted in an intense sing-song pattern and although Victoria didnít understand the words, she could feel their meaning. The Maori were a proud and wonderful people and their culture and heritage is exciting to someone who hasnít grown up with such strong traditions and beliefs. Victoria had planned this tour of New Zealand for almost a year and she was finally here. She had even endured the long plane ride to make this trip a reality. Ever since Victoria was small she couldnít stand confined spaces or be amassed in large crowds. The full 747 plane over had definitely qualified as both. Early into the flight she had felt panicky and downed two of the Valium the doctor had prescribed and so far everything since had gone smoothly. Victoria sat amidst some of the members of her tour group, others were to join them tomorrow when the bus pulled out for their three-week tour. Victoria fervently hoped the bus wouldnít be too confining so she would be able to enjoy her holiday. The tour company had told her that the group would be smaller than usual so she had booked her passage. The slight, green-eyed blond was on the final edge of her 39 years but, still considered herself young. This was her first vacation on her own, without family or friends. Halfway across the Pacific Ocean she had begun to question her hasty decision. But she also realized it was time to step out of her quiet little life and did more than work and study. Victoria didnít have many friends since her move back to her hometown. She had made a clean break nearly eight years ago and moved to Florida. She had loved that time but now, she found herself back home and hating it. Her family had needed her and she just didnít know how to say Ďnoí to them. They hadnít been keen on her choice of traveling alone but, in the end, they hadnít tried to stop her. Shaking herself from this depressing reverie she reminded herself that she had three weeks of utter freedom and was going to enjoy herself. Returning her concentration to the stage, as the performers reenacted various dances and ceremonial greetings, she tried to ignore the stares she was receiving from one of the warriors. He was young and brash, and had been staring at her since she had taken her seat and no amount of indifference on her part had swayed his attention from her. The smoky interior of the hut made the air stifling and close, and she worked at controlling her breathing. She was doing fine until the audience was asked to rise and participate in a song. She tried to concentrate on the hand movements that accompanied the song but the crowd kept pressing her forward in their attempt to get a better view. She closed her eyes and tried not to feel the heat or the closeness of the people around her. She felt a trickle of seat run down her back as her body began to tremble. When a tourist from behind pressed over her shoulder to take a picture, Victoria tried twisting away from the offending man, which allowed him to push her further forward into the crowd. She turned around looking for any avenue of escape, only to have the flash of his camera momentarily blind her. She knew was close to panicking and then felt a hand gently grab her arm and pull her through a fast parting crowd. Victoria sucked in the cool night air and stumbled into the darkness. Hands reached to steady her and a low smooth voice asked, "You o.k.?" CHAPTER 2 Victoria nodded her head and tried to focus on her benefactorís face. In the dim light she saw blue eyes looking back at her in concern. At first thought the woman to be bald until she realized her hair was as black as the night around her, and that it fell well past her shoulders. The face smiled down at her and Victoria caught sight of something vaguely familiar in that face. ĎDo I know you?í she thought staring into deep blue eyes. The blue eyes became concerned again and the voice said, "You donít look o.k. Why donít you sit down for a moment". Victoria regained her senses and blushed at her awkward gawking. "Iím sorry, I donít usually react so strongly to crowds. I feel kind of stupid" she said looking down at her trembling fingers and balling them into a fist in an effort to still them. "No problem. I am not real good with crowds either" she confided to Victoria in an attempt to ease her embarrassment. Victoria liked this woman and began to relax. Looking up, she extended her hand saying, "Thank you for keeping me from really embarrassing myself in there. My name is Victoria Bradley". The woman grasped the outstretched hand and replied, "Katrina Pappas but, please call me Kate". Her hand was warm and gentle and Victoria missed it when it was removed. The crowd had begun to exit the building and Kate commented, "Why donít we wait until the crowd thins out before following?" Victoria nodded in relief. She felt an odd kinship to this woman and was about to ask if they had met before when she felt someone approaching from behind. She turned around to find the warrior from the ceremony smiling down at her. "Hi. I couldnít help but notice you in the ceremony and then you just sort of disappeared. Was it that bad?" he asked smiling. "No, I just needed some air" she replied. "My name is Cameron Kana". "Victoria Bradley" she replied and turned to introduce him to Kate. The seat next to her was empty and she looked around trying to catch a glimpse of the woman, but she was gone. Disappointed she turned back towards the young man who had continued to talk to her. "Ah, sorry what did you say?". "I asked if you were enjoying your holiday?" he repeated. "Very much so" she answered. Trying not to appear to eager he asked, "Are you staying here in Rotorua?" Victoria laughed to herself and thought, "Jeez kid, Iím old enough to be your mother. Well, maybe not you mother but at least your much older sister!í She shook her head and responded no we leave tomorrow morning. He seemed disappointed for a moment and then recovered asking, "Well, how about I escort you to dinner?". Victoria didnít want to hurt him and walked with him towards the hangi feast. He was a persistent presence during the rest of the evening and it took her almost two hours to convince him that she was way too old for him. After dinner, Victoria made her way to the buses that would take her back to the hotel. She wondered why the dark haired woman had disappeared. Shaking her head she began to wonder if maybe she hadnít imagined the whole thing? CHAPTER 3 The next morning Victoria was up but definitely not ready for their 8 am departure. Late and sleepy she dragged herself and her suitcase to the front of the hotel. The bus driver smiled at her and loaded her bag as Victoria moved towards the tour director impatiently tapping her clipboard. She waited her turn to board the bus as everyone shuffled single file down the isle. She couldnít see past the man in front of her and wondered just where she would sit. The first few rows were full so she kept moving with the tide until she felt a hand pull her over into a row. She plopped down in the seat and looked up before smiling widely. "It wasnít my imagination" Victoria mumbled. Dark eyebrow shot in question. This was the same woman from the night before. She hadnít been dreaming after all. She was a little older than Victoria with strangely familiar blue eyes. "Your real!" Victoria blurted out. Kate laughed and replied, "Yeah, Iím realÖtoo real for my own good sometimes." "I didnít think you wanted to sit in the back of the bus" Kate said indicating the revelers behind them. Victoria looked back and quickly nodded in agreement. Kate leaned over and whispered conspiratorially, "I think we are the only oneís under 50 on this bus!" Victoria giggled and settled in as the bus began to pull away. Kate had watched the blond exit the hotel, her green eyes half-closed in sleep. She had known they would be on the same tour bus because the director had only been more than happy to share information about the tour group, or anything else for that matter. For some reason Kate had been pleasantly surprised when she noted the blondeís name listed. Kate thanked the redhead and made a mental note to stay clear of the woman as much as possible. The director wasnít at all subtle about her intentions. Kate wasnít into vacation romances, no matter who was it was with. She had been married for four disastrous years and knew that she wasnít necessarily attracted to the opposite sex but, she also wasnít ready to rush into anything else right now. ĎMaybe one of these days Iíll know where I fit in" she thought sadly. Her mood decisively lighted when she caught sight of Victoria stepping onto the bus. Kate felt an odd protectiveness when it came to this young woman. When she had seen her distress the night before she had instantly pushed her way forward through the crowd to help her. She wasnít sure why and mused half heartedly, Ďmust be the maternal instinct from that biological clock everyone tells me is ticking so loud. Funny, I canít hear ití. Kate wasnít exactly sure why she joined this tour, she really wasnít into escorted tours. ĎIt gave people too much time to pry into your lifeí. She usually liked the anonymity of going it alone. Which was why her family called her a loner and blamed her for the break up of her marriage. They never did forgive her for Ďthrowing away such a nice man.í So, Kate signed up for this tour in an attempt to put some space between herself and her family. Even though it had been two years since the divorce, they still wouldnít let it go. Finally, she had needed a change of scenery to get away and sort out her existence. Looking over at the blond nodding in her sleep, she wondered exactly why she had invited company on this quest. She couldnít deny she felt an instant rapport with the woman but, she most certainly would be a distraction from what she needed to accomplish. Sighing, she leaned her head back and closing her eyes and refused to think anymore about it. New motto she thought, ĎPut off today what I can worry about tomorrow.í The constant jarring of the bus did nothing to help her relax and Kate finally gave up and glared at the back of the driverís head. She marveled at how Victoria could sleep through it all and predicted enviously that she was one of those people who could sleep just about anywhere. She watched her out of the corner of her eye as the young womanís head bobbed closer and closer until it rested against Kateís right arm. Kate smiled and looked out the window and murmured dryly, "well at least one of us should be comfortable". CHAPTER 4 As the morning progressed, Kate amusingly watched Victoriaís constant battle to keep her head from sliding towards Kate. The blond had awaken earlier and apologized when she realized where she had been resting. Kate had reassured her that she didnít mind but, Victoria had since subconsciously tried to her to keep to her own seat. Finally, tired of watching the poor woman jerk every time the bus jumped, she slouched down in her seat and pulled Kateís head down on her shoulder. The young woman fought for a moment but, Kate held it there and whispered, "Leave it!" Content she was finally asleep, Kate released the womanís head and settled in once again. She looked across the aisle and found an elderly passenger looking back at her. Kate shrugged slightly trying to hide her embarrassment. The old woman just smiled back and nodded knowingly. Kate turned back to the window trying not to think too much about it. Victoria awoke as the bus slowed to pull into a cafť rest stop and noted that her head rested on Kateís shoulder. She also noted that the woman had adjusted to accommodate for her height. Victoria sat up quickly. "Iím so sorry. I didnít mean to use you as a pillow again." "Why did you drool?" blue eyes asked mockingly as they looked towards her shoulder for the imaginary evidence. Victoria looked at her in horror of the possibility and Kate felt bad for making fun of her. She lightly bumped Victoriaís shoulder, "Donít worry about it. I made you do it. I got tired of seeing your head bounce around" Kate replied and then noticed the other womanís continued discomfort. "Anyway, you did me a favor and kept me from bouncing around too! Donít look now but, I think that driver is trying to kill us!" Victoria grinned at her seatmateís assessment of the ride so far, "Gee, just think we have two whole weeks for him to perfect his skills." Kate grimaced and playfully growled, "Great, the bus ride from hell". Laughing as the tensions eased, they got off the bus and headed into the cafť. Kate headed to the counter and Victoria went in search of the restrooms. Purchasing two cups of tea and a couple of pastries, Kate made her way outside and stretched her legs until Victoria emerged from the building. They quickly boarded the bus again and this time Kate let Victoria sit by the window. As the driver pulled away Kate opened the bag, "Do you like tea?" Victoria nodded, "Almost as much as I like coffee". "Good because I took the chance and got you one too" Kate replied handing her a container and a pastry. "I also got you one of these because I didnít think you had time for breakfast either" . "Iím not much of a morning person and I forgot to pack an alarm clock" Victoria confided" as she bit into the pastry. Kate smiled, "Unfortunately, I wake up at the same time everyday, no matter if Iím on vacation or not. Sometimes itís pretty frustrating." Victoria wiped her mouth and asked, "What time is that?" "Usually 6 am" Kate replied frowning. "Boy, that would sure make my life easier on this tour" Victoria commented thoughtfully. "Yeah, I guess so". After finishing the last of her tea Kate inquired, "I could give you a wake up call if youíd like?" Victoria enthusiastically accepted and it was settled that Kate would call every morning around 7 am to make sure the woman was awake. With that accomplished, they both settled in to view the passing scenery. CHAPTER 5 They arrived at their next stop, Pauanui on the Coromandel Peninsula. It had been an interesting drive past Thames and the brown waters that ran along side it. The water almost lapped onto the bridge they crossed before turning left to Pauanui. At the hotel, everyone was assigned rooms and Victoria and Kate were relieved that their request for singles had been honored. You had a choice between paying extra for a single or sharing with someone in the group. Considering the make up of the tour group both were glad they had paid the extra money. Although, Victoria had to admit she wouldnít have minded sharing with Kate if she had known but, with her luck, she would have been saddled with old Mrs. Meyer. The old woman had to be the most miserable person on the bus, she loved to complain about everything. Kate, on the other hand, luxuriated in her privacy and freedom. She usually liked being alone but, about a half-hour into her privacy, she missed having someone to talk to. That someone was of course Victoria. Kate picked up the phone and dialed the womanís room. Donít tell me it is 7am already?" came the smart reply. "NoÖNo!" Kate responded quickly. She heard a light chuckle over the receiver and asked cautiously, "How did you know it would be me?" "I didnít really but, know one knows where I am so I took the chance it was either you or a wrong number." Kate applauded "Very clever!" "So, whatís up?" Victoria inquired a little excited that Kate had called her. "I was wondering if you cared to go exploring and maybe down to the beach before we have to leave for that stuffy dinner at the country club?" Kate asked hopefully. "Sure" Victoria replied without hesitation, "Iím not too excited about the dinner tonight either. Just what are we suppose to wear. I didnít pack anything fancy." "I wouldnít worry to much about it. We could probably show up in our birthday suits and these old codgers wouldnít even notice" Kate answered sarcastically. "Oh, I definitely think theyíd notice you" Victoria replied without thinking. "You think so, huh? Kate toyed with her. "Well, who wouldnít?" Victoria stammered digging herself in deeper. ĎOh God! I canít believe I just said that!í Victoria groaned. "What I mean is, you knowÖ" "Donít worry, I know what you mean and, Victoria, thanks for the vote of confidence" Kate laughed letting the woman off the hook. Kate hung up after Victoria agreed to meet her in 10 minutes in the lobby. Idly musing about the other womanís comments as she ran a comb through her hair and grabbed her jacket. CHAPTER 6 Victoria hung up the phone and sat on the edge of the bed staring at the wall in disbelief. She got to her feet and headed to the bathroom berating herself. "Of all the stupid things to say. Where did that come from?" she asked the mirror. "Now she is going to think you are making some sort of play for her. As if you would even know how!" she told the reflection before turning away and grabbing her coat and camera. Kate opened her door and saw Becky, the tour director, just down the hall helping one of the elderly guests get into his room. She didnít want a confrontation and tried to silently slip around the corner to the stairs. She knew she hadnít been successful when she heard her name called out and quickly ran down the stairs grabbing Victoria on their way out the door, "Hurry, letís get out of here!" They didnít stop until they reached the bottom of the hill. Victoria gasped, "What was that all about?" "Madame social director was on the prowl again" Kate replied and began to walk away. Victoria remained where she was and responded, "For that we had to run?" "Well, maybe not you but, I certainly had to." Kate didnít offer any further details and ducked into the first store she came to cut-off any further questions. Victoria stood puzzled and finally shrugged ĎWhatever!í and hurried to catch up to her friend. They spent the remainder of the day down at the beach. It was too cold to swim so they collected seashells instead. When it came close to dinnertime, they reluctantly headed back towards the hotel. Passing through town again, Victoria got an idea. "What if we just didnít show up for dinner? What are they going to do, send us to our room?" she smiled mischievously. "Just where did you have in mind to eat? The restaurant closed 15 minutes ago" Kate replied pointing to the darkened building. "Yea but the grocer is still open. We could get some cheese and stuff and go back to the beach and watch the sunset" Victoria tempted. Kate thought for a moment and her eyes lit up at the prospect of not having to face another cattle stampede. Which was how Kate affectionately referred to buffet dinners with this group. Snickering, she grabbed Victoriaís arm and pulled her into the grocery store. Purchases in hand, they headed to the beach for their errant picnic. As the sun began to set they sat on the beach while Victoria took pictures of the varying colors splayed across the waters. Kate walked down to the waters edge, her black hair tossed lightly by the cool evening breeze, the setting sun making her face glow in the pale light. Victoria couldnít resist taking a picture of the vision in front of her. The flash of the camera made Kate turn and look at Victoria questioningly. Victoria just shrugged and pointed to the horizon. Kate nodded disbelievingly but didnít press the issue. When they were sure the others had left for dinner, they made their way back to the hotel. The desk clerk handed a message to Kate and she knew immediately who it was from and put it in her pocket without looking at it. Victoria looked at her but didnít say anything as they trudged up the stairs quietly. ĎItís none of my businessí she admonished herself. They parted company with Kate promising to call in the morning to make sure she wasnít late for the bus. CHAPTER 7 A shrill buzzing dragged an annoyed Victoria from a peaceful dream towards consciousness. She fought waking until she realized the noise was coming from the telephone. "Good morning sleepy head!" came a familiar throaty voice over the line. "Mmmm" Victoria purred warmly in response. "Are you awake or do I have to come and get you up?" came the playful reply. "Yes, please" murmured Victoria still half-asleep. "Yes your up, or yes you want me to come and get you up?" Kate asked curiously. Victoria pictured the raven heard woman and snuggled deeper under the covers with a sigh. "Well?" came an inquiry from the phone. ĎWell, what?í Victoria puzzled and then quickly sat up when she realized she wasnít dreaming. Finding her voice she shouted, "Yes!Ö.I mean yes Iím up!" "OK, Iíll see you in about Ĺ hour downstairs". The tall womanís brows furrowed as she contemplated the possibilities. "Come on Kate! Get a grip on your hormones!" she chided herself and headed off to the shower. Forty-five minutes later they were seated at breakfast with everyone else and Victoria wouldnít look directly at Kate until after her third cup of coffee. The woman finally leaned over and asked Kate, "Why is Becky looking at us like we just sunk the QE2?" Kate smiled and replied, "I think sheís a bit miffed about last night." "Oh" Victoria responded behind her napkin and asked, "Think sheíll get over it?" "Sure" Kate replied more confidently than she felt. She still had the note in her pocket from last night and she knew it wasnít going to blow over anytime soon. After breakfast they headed back to their rooms to collect their luggage. On the way out of the hotel Kate saw Becky talking to Victoria near the bus. Victoria was looking down at her shoes dejectedly and when Kate approached, Becky looked up and flashed Kate a satisfied smile before walking away. "Whatís up with her?" Kate tried to ask nonchalantly as she walked past Victoria to place her suitcase with the others. Victoria didnít seem her enthusiastic self and shrugged, "Oh, she just wanted to voice her concern that missing dinner last night might be construed by otherís as not wanting to associate with them. We might have hurt some of their feelings." Kate was sure that wasnít all there was to it. She also knew that Becky had gone to Victoria knowing it would have more effect than had she confronted Kate directly. Angry Kate pulled Victoria towards the bus and towards their seat. She made a point of smiling and greeting everyone as they walked down the isle, each replying equally enthusiastically. Kate turned to Victoria and asked, "Do they look like they are upset with us? Becky is just trying to pull your chain and herd you like the rest of the group. Just ignore her!" **************************************************************************************************** Looking around Victoria had to agree with Kate and her mood lighted and before long she was back almost to her joking self. Kate made a mental note to have a long talk with Becky the next chance she got. Victoria knew that Kate was watching her and tried to brighten her disposition. It didnít take long being around Kate before they got back to their light friendly banter. What Victoria hadnít told Kate was the other comment Becky had made. The one about the tour directorís interest in Kate and their budding relationship. She had wanted to know it would be a problem if they had some free time together. Not wanting to appear naÔve or surprised Victoria said it was no problem because they had just been passing the time politely talking. Victoria didnít want to stand in Kateís way and be a third wheel. What bothered her the most was why Beckyís admission had upset her so much. ĎIf I didnít know better, I would think I was jealousí she admitted to herself before laughing at the absurdity. ĎWell, forget it girl. Kateís way out of your leagueí she concluded. CHAPTER 8 After the incident Victoria had been more inclined to want to stay with the group activities and there were no more private excursions. Kate went along thinking it would pass and, she really hadnít had a chance to have that talk with Becky yet anyway. Victoria tried to give Kate ample opportunity to have time with Becky but, instead, she seemed to join in the group activities too. When they finally reached Christchurch, Kate asked Victoria to go to dinner since it was a free night. Victoria was tired after yesterdayís hike and todayís shopping and declined. "Iím not use to hiking hills in Michigan". Kate said she understood but, the young woman could tell that she was disappointed. Kate finally left saying, "Iím going down to the bar if you change her mind". Victoria began to feel guilty at her laziness, especially since Kate had joined her in the group activities for the past week. After a Ĺ hour of indecision she grabbed her coat and headed down to the bar to see if she could catch up with Kate. ĎMaybe Becky had it wrong.í Kate ran into the tour director as she entered the bar. "Just who I was hoping see" Becky said running her hand lightly across Kateís arm. Kate ignored her hand and thought, Ď Now is an excellent time to have that little talk.í She smiled up at Becky, "I was just about to have a drink, care to join me so we can talk?" "Give me a few minutes and Iíll be free for anything" she replied seductively. ĎIíll just bet you wouldí Kate thought as she watched the woman glide away. She had finished her beer and still there was no sign of the redhead. The longer she waited the angrier she got. Finally, the director made her way over towards the angry woman. "Itís about damn time" Kate flashed. Becky laughed, "I know you are eager to see me but, I do have a tour to run". Kate snorted, "Iíve waited long enough! Letís talk somewhere more private." "By all means, letís go to my room" Becky offered. Kate followed Becky out of the bar with a smile that didnít quite reach her deep blue eyes. ĎNow we are going to end this charade once and for all. Iíve had just about enough of this shit!í While Kate couldnít deny the redhead was gorgeous, she just didnít find the womanís predatory advances in the least bit appealing. CHAPTER 9 Victoria exited the elevator and rounded the corner next to the bar. She tried to peer through the potted trees to see if Kate was still there and, heard her friend before she saw her. Victoria heard Kate comment, "Itís about damn time!" and saw Becky slide into the seat next to her friend. Victoria was stunned as the director almost sat in her lap and began toying with a lock of her hair. The hardest part was that Kate didnít seem to mind. They were so close that Victoria couldnít hear the rest of their conversation. But, she hadnít needed to as she watched the pair exit the bar and headed for the back elevators. Victoria stayed where she was until they left and, feeling sick, walked towards the street exit. The evening air was cold as she pulled her coat tighter to her and walked down the street with no particular destination in mind. Becky swung the door open suggestively and allowed Kate to proceed ahead of her. The redhead shut the door and began to unbutton her blouse replying, "I was wondering how long you would hold out." Kate raised her hand, "Stop right there! I am not here to play any games with you." Becky slowly approached Kate, Iím not here to any play games either. I mean business too." Kate stepped back but Becky kept advancing until she had backed Kate against the dresser. "Tell me you donít want this too" Becky demanded huskily and leaned up to kiss Kate and wrapped her arms around the taller woman. Kate felt the womanís lips touch herís and her knees felt week. She never knew anotherís lips could feel so soft and silky. She gave in to the foreign sensation and closed her eyes with a soft moan. The sound gave Becky all she needed to deepen the kiss. Kate reveled in the feeling of another woman pressed against and her mind instantly went to Victoria. Suddenly, Kate felt cold and flashing her eyes open she cried, "No, stop!" and pushed against the insistent woman. The redhead tightened her hold and began kissing Kate deeper. Kate stopped struggling and stood completely limp, no longer responding to the other womanís advances but, this didnít deter Becky as she was intent on her conquest of the raven-haired beauty. "Umm, you taste so good.." the woman moaned and reached for Kateís belt buckle and began to unfasten it. Kate put her hand over Beckyís and squeezed hard growling, "I said no. What part donít you understand?" The redhead laughed pushing Kate back against the dresser and began to pull her shirt out of her pants. "You know you want this, so why fight it" she replied, her voice husky with desire. Kate pushed at Becky but she wouldnít back off until Kate slapped her hard across the cheek. Becky stumbled back in the momentum of Kateís anger, rubbing her cheek. Kate stepped back horrified, "Oh GodÖI didnít mean to hit you but, you wouldnít stop!" The imprint of Kateís hand was beginning to show on Beckyís face. "You Bitch! Who are you kidding. You know itís what you want! Why do you keep lying to yourself? Itís who you are so why deny it." " That may well be true but, the truth here is that I have absolutely no interest in you whatsoever." Kate replied coldly. "You think that blond is going to give you what you need? Think again sweetie! She has no more clue about who she really is than you did. But, now that you do know, what are you going to do about it?" the redhead taunted. "I donít know" Kate admitted tucking in her shirt and walking towards the door. "I just know Iím not going to do it with you!" Turning she added, "And you had better leave Victoria alone, or this isnít over, not by a long shot!" Kate hands shook as she pressed the button for the elevator. Her thoughts were a jumble of contradictions, ĎHow could I let that woman touch me. I know what I felt, I just wish it hadnít been with her. How can two people, so different from one another, make me feel the same way?í She got on the elevator and went in search of her own answers. CHAPTER 10 Victoria returned to the hotel about the same time that Kate gave up any further thoughts of sleeping. They both sat in their respective rooms alone and miserable in the dark. Neither one knowing that the other was primary in their thoughts. Even if they had, it was doubtful either knew exactly what they were going to do about it. Kate had always secretly known how she felt but, had never given voice to it until know. She wasnít totally in the dark about women. The knowledge had been there since she was 15 years old. It had been at summer camp with a junior counselor who was 17. She had really liked this JC and spent most of the summer with her. The JC had finally approached her behind the cabins one night and kissed her. Kate had been afraid at first but, as hands began a gentle exploration under her shirt, her heart raced as her young body responded to a silent need. Before they had gotten any farther they had been caught by camp security. The next day the JC was gone and Kate was faced with her familyís punishment of guilt and disgust. There first act was to send her to the family minister for counseling. This left Kate with unanswered questions and an unfilled void she now associated with shame. Now she was confronted with the choice of either going forward or remaining where she was because there was no going back anymore. All the while she had been married was a farce brought on by years of indoctrination by her family and society. Now she was faced with a decision, Ďdid she take the chance and follow her heart or did she do what was safe!í As the morning light crept through the window, Victoria gingerly rose and stretched her back, feeling the results from spending the night in a chair. She headed to the shower hoping the hot water would relieve some of her stiffness. Sometime during the night she had faced the conclusion that she definitely felt something for Kate but, she was pretty sure it was not reciprocated. ĎI think thatís pretty obvious after last nightí she thought sadly. Maybe this was her warning that she had almost made a big mistake. ĎWould it be worth opening up that part o herself and risk the certain alienation of her familyí she asked, Ďespecially since it wouldnít have meant anythingí. This decision didnít make her feel any better but, it was one she could handle right now. She knew that she needed to place some distance between her and Kate until she could better handle her emotions. Victoria stepped into the shower, ĎIím sure there is a seat next to Mrs. Meyerís opení she thought glumly and stuck her head under the water. Through the rush of water she never head the telephone ringing in the other room. CHAPTER 11 Kate let the phone ring eight times before hanging up. She wondered where Victoria could be this early in the morning. Worried, she rushed to get everything packed and ready. Kate arrived down at the front desk to find that Victoria had left with the first group to the train station. Kate was puzzled why Victoria had left without saying anything. She stood confused and hurt before an unpleasant tightness grabbed her chest. ĎDoes she know? But, how? Gods, maybe she thinks Iím some sort of pervert. How could she knowÖ.unless someone said something to her!í Hurt turned to anger as she boarded her bus to the train station. Kate and her group arrived late and were quickly hustled to their seats. Kate found herself seated next to Mrs. Meyerís and just tried to close her ears from the onslaught of her whiney voice. They were riding this train to Arthurís Pass where they would be spending two nights at the Wilderness Lodge. An hour into their journey, Kate could take no more and went in search of Becky. She caught the director coming out of the ladies room and pushed her back through the door into the small cubicle. The redhead looked up at her defiantly and Kate towered over her demanding, "What the hell is going on?" Becky stepped backward, losing her defiance, and instinctively raising a hand to her bruised cheek. Kate could see the faint bruise Becky had tried to cover with make-up and part of her smiled. "What do you mean?" Becky stammered. "I mean the seating arrangements!" Kate replied. "It was the only seat available" Becky answered straightening up indignantly. "What was wrong with my old seat?" "Your seatmate asked for a change". Kate slammed her into the door and seethed, "Just what did you say to her?" Becky squirmed and shouted back, "Nothing she came to me this morning and asked me to change her seat arrangements". Sickened, Kate loosened her hold and stepped back. Becky moved towards the door and quickly pulled it open. Halfway exiting she looked back and stingingly replied, "Whatís the matter your little friend doesnít want to be near you? I could have told you that! She doesnít even want to talk to you?" Kate lifted her head and with one look sent Becky scurrying out the door. Kate spun around and slammed her hand on the counter and looked into the mirror. "Serves you right you fool. When will you ever learn" she accused the reflection. Splashing water on her face to cool the unshed tears she wiped her face and headed silently back to her seat. Victoria looked out the window as the train moved through the countryside. She was already regretting her hasty decision and missing Kateís company. ĎI could have at least talked to her as a friendí she thought. When she had approached Becky this morning to change her seat she had thought she was giving Kate some space and sparing herself from further embarrassment. The tour director had seemed more than happy to oblige her. Victoria had taken that enthusiasm as a confirmation to their relationship and her decision to give them space had been correct. Now, she wasnít so sure, especially when she saw Becky take a seat next to an elderly gentleman and wondered where Kate was sitting. She thought about going to look for her but, the ladies where she was sitting had her pinned in and insisting that they needed her to fill in their card game. CHAPTER 12 The tour director made her way towards Victoriaís group to tell them they would be at their destination soon. Victoria looked up and noticed the slight bruising on her cheek. She had seen it earlier and meant to ask her. "What happened to your cheek?" she asked as Becky passed by her seat. Beckyís face turned cold and she replied, "Ask your friend!" before walking on past. Victoria sat back surprised and wondered, "Jeez, did Kate do that. What would make her do something like that?í However before she got too far into her speculation, the train came into the station and the elderly ladies were clamoring for her assistance with overhead luggage.. Kate rode the rest of the train ride in stony silence, even Mrs. Meyerís knew enough to remain silent at the tension her seatmate exuded. Kate made her mental plans to fly home at the first opportunity. Once they reached Queenstown she could easily get a flight back to the States. She would just have to endure the next few days at the lodge and stay to herself. She didnít think sheíd have a problem with that considering what happens when you step out and let people in. Victoria had saved the seat next to her on the bus in hopes of talking with Kate and when Kate entered the bus, she motioned her over. Kate just looked at her and walked on past sitting next to Mrs. Meyerís in the back. Victoria knew Kate would be upset but, she wasnít sure she deserved the anger she saw flash from those blue eyes. After all she was backing off mostly on Kateís behalf she justified to herself. Boy, she didnít know that a blue could get that deep and shivered. Kate didnít know what game Victoria was playing but she wasnít in the mood to be trampled on again. She wasnít going to give anyone that satisfaction twice and walked on past the young woman missing the sincere crestfallen look on her face. At dinner that evening Victoria had looked for Kate but, she wasnít in attendance. Neither was Becky for that matter which left Victoria unsure as to what to think. She suddenly felt very old and very tired excusing herself, she went up to her room. Kate had spent the evening on her balcony sipping the wine she had delivered to her room. She looked out a the mountains until they became obscured by the darkness and replaced by the stars that filled up the sky. Finishing her wine, she let out a sigh, which trailed like smoke on the frosty air. It had turned cold but she had hardly felt it. Shivering, Kate was forced to mentally acknowledge the cold and the fact that she wasnít wearing a coat. Rubbing her hands together she picked up the empty wine bottle and stumbled in to bed. She knew she would regret drinking so much in the morning but, right now, her heart ached too much to care. CHAPTER 13 Victoria stepped out of the dining room and walked over to the desk to use the house phone. She had seen Becky at breakfast and asked her where Kate was. Becky had replied angrily, "I havenít see her since the train. Nor do I care where she is at the moment!" "What happened? I saw you the other night in the bar and I thought you two were, you know, together" she replied slightly hopeful. "Oh well" Becky recovered, "I guess you could call it a little spat. Nothing serious to worry about". Smiling at the desired response on the young womanís face. Sheíd be dammed if she was going to make this any easier for Kate. ĎEspecially since the bitch did this to herí. She thought vindictively and rubbed her still aching cheek. Becky looked down at Victoria and felt a bit of compassion for the naÔve woman, ĎSheís in over her head and she doesnít even know whatís going on!í Angry at her weakness she said, "Wake up baby and smell the coffee before itís too late!" Turning the tour director walked out, alone as usual. ĎJust what is that suppose to mean?í Victoria puzzled watching the woman walk away. "Does she mean..? No forget it. She just pulling your chain like Kate saidí she concluded because deep down she knew it was the easiest answer. Trying to shake off her nagging doubts Victoria headed to the phones and dialed Kateís room. She let the phone ring until it was picked up and audibly slammed down. Grimacing she pulled the phone away from her aching ear and after a moment hesitantly put it back and listened to a silent open line. Concerned she asked the desk clerk for Kateís room number and headed up the stairs. Kateís room was one floor below her own room. On the way up she was forced to consider the fact that she might care more for Kate than she was willing to admit. This realization both frightened and excited her. Victoria hesitantly knocked on the door and when she received no response she called out, "Kate, itís me are you o.k.?" Still nothing so she tired the handle but it was locked. She knocked louder this time and leaned closer to the door calling, "Kate, please open up!" Finally, she heard movement from inside and a loud crash. Anxious Victoria tried the door handle again. She heard a thud on the door and Kate swearing before the door was wretched open. Victoria still had her hand on the handle and was pulled into the room and almost into a very tall and very unstable raven-haired woman. "Jesus, what the hell..?" Kate mumbled hanging on to the door in an effort to avoid being run over. Victoria regained her balance and stepped back. "Iím sorry. I tried calling but when I heard the phone drop, I got worried. Are you alright?" she asked taking in Kateís disheveled and pale appearances. She looked liked she had slept in her clothes. Kateís head pounded from the sudden rush of blood and the concerned voice made her snap, "What do you want?" At this point, all Kate wanted was to be left alone and allowed to die in her self-imposed misery. Victoria looked away uneasily and quietly admitted, "I just wanted to make sure you were alright. " Kate snorted thinking, "oh yeah right now all of a sudden your concerned about me. Where were you yesterday when I had to spend the entire day with Mrs. Meyer. She finally admitted a short laugh, which sounded more like a bark making her already pounding head ache more. Kate grabbed the side of her head and coldly responded, "Iím just peachy if you really care. Please just go away, insincerity doesnít become you!" Victoria found herself at a loss for words and when Kate glared at her and turned away she began to fume, ĎHow dare she say that! I care a hell of a lot!í In a mixture of hurt and anger Victoria lashed out at the turned back, "Donít you dare say Iím insincere! You donít know anything about me, so donít judge! Twice Iíve tried to do something for you and twice youíve treated me like Iíve got the plague or something. Well, excuse me! It wonít happen again!" With that said she spun on her heels to walk out the door. Kate was the one speechless now. She turned to watch incredulously as the blond placed the blame on her. "Wait!" Kate rasped, "I treated YOU like YOU had the plague? I beg to differ lady. Iím not the one has the problem here. Iím not the one judging because she canít handle the truth." Victoria turned around with tears in her eyes, "The truth? The truth is that I tried to be your friend and stayed out of your way so I wouldnít be a third wheel, and for that Iím insensitive? I guess we both had it wrong!" She walked out, closing the door quietly behind her and leaned back against it as her heart fell. She began to feel the hallway close in on her, unable to breath she headed for the stairs and ran out the front door. CHAPTER 14 Kate stood under the cold shower and tired to clear the cobwebs out of her brain. She mulled over the conversation first in anger and then in confusion. As she toweled herself off her mood changed back to anger and she knew she needed to find a certain redhead again. Becky saw her coming and by the look on Kateís face, she turned quickly and headed back down the stairs. Kate caught up with her halfway down the stairs. "No, No..donít run away, we need to talk again!" "I donít think we have anything further to say to each other" the redhead replied uneasily. Kate knew she was lying and pressed the issue. "Oh, I think we do." "Remember what I said about you causing anymore trouble for Victoria?" Kate asked coolly and pressed the shorter woman against the wall. ĎOh, donít like it when the shoes on the other foot do you!í she thought satisfied at the discomfort and fear she saw reflected in the redheadís eyes. "I didnít say anything" Becky replied lamely and looked away. "Are you sure?" Kate asked seductively rubbing the back of her hand lightly across the womanís cheek. She was enjoying this small payback. Becky trembled half in anger for the way Kate could still make her feel. "Can I help it if she jumped to conclusions when she saw us leave the bar the other night? She wanted to know if we were still an item. Seems she was worried when she saw your present to me!" "Oh, and Iím sure you straightened her out on both accounts right?" Kate commented dryly. "No more than you deserved" the redhead retorted. "Your pathetic!" Kate spat and pushed the woman away from her. Becky caught herself and walked down to the bottom of the steps wanting distance between them before saying anything further. "You both make me laugh! Your so busy denying your attraction for women that you canít see youíve got it bad for each other! Iíll give you the same advice I gave your little friend, Wake up before itís too late!" The redhead laughed mockingly. Kate took a step down threateningly and demanded, "What are you saying?" "Iím saying she is in love with you stupid and your in love with her but, you both canít see it!" Everyone seemed to be astounded by Beckyís observations today and Kate was no exception. She too watched as the tour director walked away smugly for the second time in one day. CHAPTER 15 Kate climbed the next hill and paused to catch her breath. The vista before her was magnificent as the sun reflected off the cloud-topped mountains. Itís true she needed some place to clear her head and think but, "do I have to give myself a coronary in the process?" she gripped to no one in particular. "Tough climb but the view is worth it" a voice off to her left stated. Kate turned and saw Victoria sitting on a bench resting. "I was just leaving, you can sit here and catch your breath". Kate felt a sharp catch in her chest and before she realized what she was doing blurted out, "No! I mean please donít go". "If you donít mind sharing, Iíd like to talk with you." Victoria shrugged and sat back down. "Thereís plenty of room and the views free". Kate settled next to the young woman and neither said anything for a while. Kate finally broke the silence, "Iím very sorry for my behavior this morning. I know better than to drink that much but, that wasnít the whole problem." Victoria looked at Kate waiting for her to explain. "I guess I was mad at you too" Kate finished. "Why?" Kate looked down at her hands before proceeding. "I thought we were friends and then you start avoiding me and then disappeared altogether without a word. I finally assumed you just didnít want to be seen with someone like me." "Someone like You?" Victoria repeated confused. "Iím sure Becky laid it all out for you" Kate answered looking anywhere but at the young woman. She couldnít handle what she might see in her face. "Oh, you mean your relationship with her and all. She told me about it that first day at the bus when you saw us talking." Victoria looked away and found the scenery just as absorbing as her friend. "My what with her?" Kate said astonished. "Yeah, thatís kind of why Iíve been keeping a low profile. You know, to give you guys more space. Iím glad you found someone" Victoria answered trying to sound more cheerful than she felt. "Wait!" Kate demanded putting her hands up to stop any further comments from the young woman. "Letís get one thing straight. There is not now, nor has there ever been anything between me and Ms. Social Secretary!" "You mean you and she arenítÖ.?" "No!" Kate answered infatically. "Sheís not my type!" "Oh, then your not interest inÖ." Victoria started to say women but became embarrassed and let it go. ĎThen you wouldnít be interested in me either.í "I didnít say that" came the gentle response. Kate hoped she had interpreted right the disappointment she had seen displayed on the other womanís face. "No?" Victoria stopped, afraid of make another mistake. Kate smiled and affirmed, "No! I just said I wasnít interested in her type, not her gender." Victoria remained looking at her hands and nodded. Her emotions were a jumble of elation and fear. She wasnít sure what to do next. She knew she wanted to tell Kate what she had been feeling but, what if it wasnít mutual? The young woman was jolted out of her thoughts when she felt a warm hand cover herís and the fingers intertwine with her own. "Does this bother you?" Kate asked hesitantly. "No, not at all. We definitely have that in common" and to prove her point Victoria placed her other hand over their clasped hands. She wanted Kate to know how right it felt and how much she wanted no needed this connection. Kate knew she had to take the chance or forever regret her cowardice. Everything had gotten so messed up since they had first met. She had been devastated when she thought Victoria was rejecting her and the thought of loosing her friendship had become unbearable. Victoriaís confirmation of her feeling meant more to her than words could every describe. ĎHow is it that she felt such a connection with someone she had just met?í CHAPTER 16 After an hour of hiking they had reached the clearing where they could see the lodge and stopped to catch their breath. "Weíre almost there." Victoria nodded gratefully and they resumed their trek back. When they reached the edge of the trees they mutually dropped their clasped hands and stepped apart. Victoria gave her friend a look of understanding and the tall woman nodded in return. Kate walked Victoria to her room and resisted the urge to take her in arms and hold her. "I guess Iíll see you at dinner right?" Reluctant to part Victoria readily agreed and wistfully watched as Kate made her way to the stairs. When she reached the stairwell she looked back and waved before disappearing through the doors. Dinner proved a difficult affair for both of them with everyone speculating on their abrupt separation and now rejoining. Even Mrs. Meyerís would look at them and then whisper to her dinner partner. Becky didnít help matters either with the looks of pure hatred she sent in Kateís direction. Victoria resisted the urge to reach under the table and touch Kate in reassurance. Kate couldnít help but watch the young woman in admiration as she took time to help the elderly woman next to hear read the menu. Victoria felt eyes on her and looked up and smiled. Kate never realized the depth of her friendís compassion for others until now. ĎHow could I have ever thought her insensitiveí, instantly regretting her previous assumptions. Victoria sensed the change in her friendís mood and gave in to her urge and reached down and briefly touched the womanís leg under the table. Kate felt the warmth through her pant leg and smiled. After dinner they remained in the main lounge and socialized with the other guests. Victoria watched Kate out of the corner of her eye and noticed how charming her dark friend could be when she tried. As the evening progressed they continued to sneak glances at the other and when one got caught they would smile and look away. The room was getting warm and Victoria was feeling tired and anxious when she felt a hand on her arm leading her towards the balcony. "Why donít we check out the stars and get some air" Kate offered. Victoria grinned her relief and shivered as the chill evening breeze hit them. Kate took off her jacked and laid it on the young womanís shoulders wishing it was her arms around her instead. "No, your not wearing anything but a T-shirt, youíll get sick!" "Keep it on. Iím fine" Kate insisted. Victoria could smell Kateís perfume on the jacket and snuggled deeper into the coat. ĎI may never give this back!í After awhile Victoria insisted that they go back inside when she saw Kate shivering. Most of the guests had retired except for a few diehards at the bar. With their backs to them the two women sat in front of the fireplace and talked. They talked for awhile and then sat in silence watching the flames. Victoria got brave and laid her hand over Kateís as it rested on the couch between them. Instantly the other woman looped a finger through the smaller ones and held on. Victoria signed with undisguised contentment and laid her head back against the sofa. "Comfortable?" "Yep!" the blond responded tightening her hold on the larger hand. She had kept Kateís jacket and snuggled down looking completely relaxed. They sat talking long after the other guests had retired until the fire was embers and they were sitting in semi-darkness. "Hey" Kate called softly to her sleepy friend. Victoria turned her eyes upward in question. "I think weíve been abandoned" she replied jokingly. Victoria looked over her shoulder and noticed the darkened bar area and smiled, looking down at her watch she exclaimed, "I canít believe itís 2 a.m. I think we better call it a night too." Kate nodded and stood pulling the smaller woman up with her. They walked towards the stairs and Kate left Victoria in front of her door and headed to her own room. "Wait! Your coat!" Kate laughed and walked back to retrieve the garment and whispered, "Good night. Iíll call you in the morning to make sure your up". CHAPTER 17 Kate woke to blinding full sunlight across her face. Groaning she rolled over and noted that it was 9:30 a.m. "Oh shit!" she exclaimed sitting up and grabbing the telephone. "Huh?" Victoria responded to the incessantly ringing telephone. "Victoria wake up were late!" "What? Late for what?" "We were suppose to be on a hiking tour a half hour ago!" Kate exclaimed. "Get dressed Iíll be down in 10 minutes!" "O.k. sure whatever you say." "Iím not kidding! If I come down and find you still in bedÖyour in trouble!" Kate threatened laughingly. "Yeah! Just what will you do!" "Oh, I have my methods!" "Such as?" "Letís just say they involve cold water!" "Oh no, Iím upÖIím definitely up!" Victoria responded and forced herself to sit up at the edge of the bed. "Good, Iíll be there as soon as I can." "Wait. What are we going to do?" Victoria asked. "I donít know but weíll think of somethingÖget going!" Kate admonished and hung up the telephone. Victoria hopped out of bed and ran to her suitcase and began rifling through her clothes in a frantic effort to be ready by the time Kate arrived. It was 15 minutes before both were up and dressed and down in the lobby. Kate went to see if she could get some coffee from the darkened dining room while Victoria went to check on the groupís departure. The front desk clerk smiled at Victoria. "They waited around awhile and just left about 15 minutes ago.." Victoria grinned sheepishly, "We over slept". "If you want you can still catch up with them" he offered. "Howís that?" Kate asked as she approached with two cups of tea. "Itís all they had?" she said apologetically to the young woman. "As long as it has caffeine, itís fine with me!" Kate laughed and turned her attention back to the waiting clerk. "You were saying?" "Yeah, they took the Southern Trail. If you take the Rainbow Walk you should run across them down by the creek. If you time it right they wonít even know you were missing" he finished proudly. "Somehow I sincerely doubt that" Victoria replied looking at Kate. "Your probably right, little Ms. Social Secretary wonít miss a thing!" Quickly finishing their tea they departed to give it a try. CHAPTER 18 The pair hid in the bushes trying hard to remain silent and not give themselves away. They watched as the tour passed by and waited until the group began making their way across the stream. Giggling, they slipped out of their hiding place to join the stragglers at the end of the line. Becky caught sight of them as they helped each other over the moss-covered rocks. "So glad you could finally join us this morning. You two have a late evening or something?" Kate stopped dead at the jarring comment and looked up in anger. Before she could reply she was bumped from behind causing her to loose her precarious balance on the slippery rocks. Victoria hadnít realized that Kate had stopped until she went to step out onto the rocks and ran right into the back of the tall woman sending her head first into the icy stream. Gasping Kate jumped up and quickly made her way back towards the bank. The taller woman stumbled as her sweats were heavy with water and dragging her down. Slipping backwards down the bank she grabbed for the outstretched hand in panic and succeeded in pulling Victoria backwards into the water with her. Victoria landed on top of Kate and in shock and fear of the cold water grabbed onto the woman beneath her. Kate wrestled and struggled trying to right the two of them and finally succeeded in pulling the clinging young woman towards the bank. Between chattering teeth Victoria began giggling as Kate tried to pull them both up the muddy bank. Kate made it out first and reached back to pull the young woman up. Victoria climbed out using the stronger womanís body for leverage. Finally, they lay in a twisted heap shivering. "If you two are done having fun, I suggest you get back to the lodge and dry off!" The tour director was standing over them with her hands on her hips like a scolding parent. "Weíre in trouble now!" Victoria gasped causing renewed bouts of laughter from the two women. Disgusted, the redhead threw up her arms and stormed off calling for the rest of the group to follow. CHAPTER 19 Kate and Victoria sloshed back to the lodge as fast as they could. By the time they reached Kateís room they were shivering and quickly stripped off their dripping clothes. Kate pulled the blanket off the bed and tossed it to the young woman and retrieved an extra from the closet for herself. They stood chattering and rubbing their arms in an effort to get warm. "Iím still freezing!" Kate stuttered. "Me too! Turn up the heat!" "I have a better idea" Kate replied and motioned for the young woman to follow her. Adjusting the water in the shower she dropped her blanket and climbed under the warm water in just her underclothes. "Oh-h, this feels good Ė get in here!" Victoria dropped her blanket and joined Kate, whining "Move over your hogging all the warm water!" "Where do you suggest I go?" Kate retorted backing up as far as she could go. "Címere" Victoria replied and pulled Kate closely towards her in an effort to share the sparse space. After a few moments Victoria could feel the warmth returning to her legs. She was also becoming very aware of a tall raven-haired woman standing close. She had purposely kept her hands on Kateís arms in an attempt to keep her under the water but, in truth, she just liked the feel of having her near. She could almost feel the womanís breath on her shoulder and shivered unexpectedly. "You still cold?" Kate asked when she felt the woman quiver. She was close enough to feel just about everything from the woman, including her heartbeat and forced herself to lightly grip the womanís elbows in a semi-hug. Victoria nodded. Kate pulled the woman closer to her body and wrapped her arms around the smaller woman in an attempt to stop her shivering. Victoria took the opportunity to tighten her hold around Kateís waist. Both women shivered at the contact but it wasnít from the cold. For a brief moment, Kate had felt like the puzzle pieces finally fit together and she was almost complete sighing the thought became replaced by the ramifications of such feelings. She pulled back slightly and looked down into Victoriaís eyes. "You know she isnít going to let this go?" Victoria looked up into blue eyes for any sign of regret but couldnít read what she saw and asked, "Do you mind?" "Do you?" "Not one bit!" Victoria replied and tightened her hold on the taller woman. Kate put off breaking this closeness as long as possible but, as the water turned tepid she knew they had to get out of the shower. Kate looked down at the blond hair that rested lightly against her shoulder and pulled back slightly. "I think weíd better get out before the water turns completely cold on us." Victoria leaned over and closed the shower as Kate grabbed for some dry towels. Kate wrapped a towel around herself and went in search of something for both of them to wear. "I think this should be o.k." Kate called outside the bathroom door. Victoria reached her hand around the door and grabbed the offered shirt. Pulling it over her head she stopped at the familiar pleasant scent and took a deep breath. It smelled comfortably like Kate and she stood for a moment before pulling it tightly around her and hugging herself smiling. "Hey you about done in there? Iíd like to get dressed too!" Victoria sighed and stepped out of warm bathroom into the slight chill of the bedroom. "Jeez, itís chilly in here!" Kate tossed her the discarded blanket. "Wrap yourself in this until you warm up". When Kate came out of the bathroom she found the young woman dozing on the bed cocooned in the blanket with the television playing softly. "Not a bad idea" Kate thought shivering at the sudden chill of the bedroom. She opened the bathroom door fully to allow the warmth of the shower steam to enter the other room. Kate grabbed her blanket and climbed into the other side of the bed and soon both women were sound asleep. CHAPTER 20 A knock on the door woke Kate from a pleasant haze of sleep. She noted that the room was lit only by the television screen that played softly in the corner. She felt a warm body pressed at her side and smiled. Another knock at the door caused Victoria to stir and Kate quietly slipped out of the warm bed to answer the door. Pausing to grab her robe she noticed that it was 6:30 p.m. and hesitantly opened the door a crack. "Yes?" she asked groggily. "Iím sorry did I wake you?" came the gruff reply. Kate blinked at the bright light coming from the hall and stood looking directly into the face of Mrs. Meyer's. "Thatís o.k. is something wrong?" she asked surprised at her present visitor. This was the last person she would of ever expected to be standing at her door and worried that something serious was wrong. "Are you sick dear?" she asked bluntly. "No, I guess I just fell asleep watching t.v." "Well, Iím glad your not sick or anything after your romp in the stream today. You know you can get pneumonia from a chill like that." Kate smiled slightly amused at the womanís sudden interest in her health. "Is there something you need?" she asked politely. "Lord no, girl. I stopped by on my way down to dinner to tell you that Ms. Beckyís been making comments all afternoon about you and Victoria. She plans on causing trouble. I can see it coming and I donít like it one bit!" she answered indignantly. "What exactly is she saying?" Kate inquired feeling her temper begin to rise. "Well, letís just say sheís making comments on things that are none of her business. Whatíd you do to her girl, turn her down or something?" Kateís eyes flew wide open at this womanís question and stammered, "I wellÖ.I". Mrs. Meyerís laughed at the look on Kateís face. "Just because were old honey, donít mean weíre dead! She replied dryly. "Well, I just wanted you to know whatís going on. It might not be a bad idea if you two showed up for dinner tonight." "O.k." Kate simply answered still unsure of what to make of this woman. "Anyway, we like you two girls and are happy you are getting on so well." ĎGreat, now were the topic of conversation for the whole group!í Kate cringed at the thought. "Thank you for telling me. Iíll be sure to let Victoria know when I talk to her". "Well, Iíll leave you two to get ready. See you both at dinner" Mrs. Meyer's replied nodding her head towards the room behind her and Victoria. Kate blushed and was about to deny the assumption but her bluster was instantly deflated when the old woman winked and walked away. ĎWhat the hell does everybody know?í she silently moaned leaning back against the closed door. "Oh-oh, are we in that big of trouble?" came a voice from the bed. "Iím not sure" Kate replied making her way back towards the bed and sitting on the edge near the reclining woman. "I guess we should get dressed and go down and find out just how bad it is." Kate nodded her head and commented, "Well, at least the group sounds to be on our side". Victoria climbed out from under the covers and stretched. "Well, then I say letís go entertain them!" CHAPTER 21 They stopped by Victoriaís room to let her get dressed and were on their way down to the dining room. Everyone was still gathered in the lounge for pre-dinner cocktails and the women had just joined Mrs. Meyerís group when the bell sounded for dinner. Kate sat to the right of Mrs. Meyer and Victoria took the seat across from the old woman. Across from Kate, next to Victoria, sat a retired colonel who kept the young woman entertained through most of dinner with stories about his military adventures. Kate had to admit that she was enjoying the evening as they sat having their dessert and coffee. She was pleasantly surprised at Mrs. Meyerís personality during dinner. She had kept her laughing through one story after another. She realized that she hadnít given the old woman credit and was too quick to judge her earlier. "Oh-Oh" Mrs. Meyerís sing-songed nudging Kate to where the tour director sat. "Sheís been giving you the evil eye all night". "Yeah, well Iíve been having too much fun to notice" Kate replied smiling at the old woman. "Whatís she up to now?" Kate turned to watch Becky approach the stage situated in a corner at the front of the dining room, calling for everyoneís attention. She quickly looked over to Victoria who just shrugged. "May I have everyoneís attention please!" The voices hushed to a few whispers and then became silent as the redhead waited for everyoneís attention. "Thank you. As you recall when you first joined this trip we asked everyone to fill out a questionnaire". There were a few groans from the crowd as some of the veterans of tour travel knew what was coming. Kate felt a sudden dread and listened to what was about to happen. "If you remember, one of the questions was about the various hobbies and talents that you may have. Well, Iím happy to say that we have a very talented group this tour. Tonight, Iíd like to call upon some of that talent to entertain us." "Oh God!" Kate frantically tried to recall what she had written on the form. She had been in a hurry and had quickly filled out what she thought was an annoying invasion of privacy. Victoria thought it was a great idea until she turned her attention to across to her friend and noticed the fear reflected in her face. Reaching across she touched the womanís hand and asked, "You o.k.?" Kate just nodded and tried to smile feeling sick remember what she had hurriedly written on the form. Victoria watched her for a moment and turned her attention back towards the front. Becky had just called upon one of the group who was a retired music teacher to play a selection on the piano. Kate half listed as she watched the redhead who looked over in her direction and smiled. Kate felt as if she was going to be sick and wondered if she could sneak out of the room unnoticed. She realized deflated that she would have to pass the stage in order to exit the room. Sighing she sunk down in her seat and waited for the inevitable. "Thank you Mrs. Carter that was wonderful. Do think we could impose on you later to play another song?" Mrs. Carter nodded her agreement as she took her seat. "Great, next we have someone in the group who use to play the sax professionally. Am I right Mr. Jeffers? Do you think you could play something for us tonight?" As Mr. Jeffers made his way to the stage, Kate began to relax and enjoy the music. Mr. Jeffers chose a low velvety piece and Kate could feel the warmth as he played. She looked over to Victoria and saw that she had her eyes closed as she listened to the music and her body softly swayed to the beat. When Mr. Jeffers finished, Becky motioned for him to stay on stage and approached the microphone. "Iíve asked him to remain to accompany our next guest". Becky turned her attention towards Kate smiling and called out, "Kate Pappas could we impose on you to sing something for us". "No" Kate replied shaking her head. "Oh come on, your not afraid are you?" the redhead replied amused. Kate was about to retort something not very pleasant when Mrs. Meyerís leaned over and touched her arm, "Donít let her get you girl. Get up there and show her!" Kate looked over at Mrs. Meyerís uncertainly. "Go girl! You can do it!" she encouraged the young woman. Resigned to her fate she nodded and stood as everyone clapped. Mrs. Meyerís nudged her arm and indicated a very surprised young woman across the table. Kate looked over to Victoria and saw she was staring with her mouth agape. Laughing at the sight, she turned to Mrs. Meyerís, "O.k. Since Iím going to make a fool of myself, I might as well do it right. You have a favorite?" "Make it something us old folks might remember" Mrs. Meyerís said thinking for a moment and replying, "Do you know any Billie Holiday?" "An old romantic huh?" Kate laughed affectionately at the old womanís selection. "Nah, I just like the blues?" she grunted gruffly before winking back at the young woman. CHAPTER 22 Kate made her way to the front of the stage trying hard not to show how nervous she was. She took the microphone from Becky and whispered, "My pleasure". Stepping over to her accompanist and briefly conferred with him before turning to face the audience. Taking a deep breath she chanted "I can do this!" "Iím not a singer by any stretch of the imagination so bear with me and weíll both get through this." The audience laughed at this and Kate relaxed a little. "Iíve had a request for a special song, itís a little Billie Holiday tune entitled, "All the Way". Mrs. Meyerís nodded her approval as the sax began her introduction. "When somebody loves you itís no good unless somebody loves you all the wayÖ." Kateís voice was rich and throaty as she began to feel the rhythm of the music and let her hips sway in time. She loved the old blues tunes and this one was one of her favorites. She closed her eyes losing herself in the notes smoky sax. Finally, Kate opened her eyes and locked on the eyes she had been visualizing. She sang the song for those eyes as she drew them into her soul. **************************************************************************************************** Victoria sat in awe of her friend and felt goose bumps rise when she heard her low throaty voice crooning out the lyrics. She could tell that Kate was into the song as her body reacted to the beat. Victoria felt a warmth flow through her when Kate opened her eyes and looked directly at her. Blue locked on green and Victoria was lost to anything else around her. She could hear her own heartbeat as her breathing became erratic. Kate finished to a rousing cheer from the audience and blushed as she made her way back to her seat. Mrs. Meyerís stood and hugged the younger woman when she approached the table whispering in her ear, "Donít look now girl but, I think youíve just got the attention of one young blonde. Donít let it go." Kate looked down at the old woman and replied, "I wonít this time". Kate took her seat and looked up at Victoria who sat with tears in her eyes and winked back at her. After that the evening proceeded with other guests performing their various talents. Victoria even got up and told a story that had everyone laughing. As the evening dwindled everyone began to make their way to their respective rooms. Tomorrow they were to board the train for Queenstown, the last leg of their journey. Victoria left with Kate and took the raven-haired womanís hand as they climbed the stairs together. They stopped at Victoriaís door and she looked up at the tall woman and asked, "you are full of surprises arenít you?" "No more than you" Kate replied leaning against the wall. "If I didnít tell you before, I love your singing". "Thank you. I loved your story!" Kate replied smiling down at the young woman. Conversation paused as the tension rose until Kate stood up braking the connection. "Iíll call you in the morning. Maybe we could have breakfast together before we leave?" "Yes, Iíd like that" "Sleep well. Iíll see you in the morning" Kate replied and walked towards the stairs. At the end of the hall she turned and looked back at the young woman who stood watching her and smiled before disappearing through the door. Victoria pushed her door open signing, sleep was the farthest thing from her mind right now. CHAPTER 23 The next morning the train pulled out for Queenstown and this time both women traveled together along with their new found friends. The ride seemed to go by a lot faster when one was actually enjoying themselves. The old girl was in rare form today and kept Kate and Victoria amused the entire trip. They arrived in Queenstown and were quickly delivered to their Hotel located just on the outskirts of the main section of town. Kate and Victoria looked down the hill towards the center of town and the young woman groaned, "Oh God, not more hills!" Kate laughed and started to pull the woman after her down the hill. "Come on I thought you were starved!" "I am but, you do realize we will have to climb back up this hill afterwards on a full stomach!" "Not if we walk around and do some shopping!" Kate replied tugging the grumbling blond after her. "O.k. but, remember you promised, food and then shopping in that order!" Dinner was a tougher affair as neither could decide what they wanted to eat. Finally, they agreed on seafood down at the wharf. They got a table with a view of the waterfront and sat enjoying the sunset displayed over the vista before them. "Itís just too beautiful!" Victoria exclaimed waving her arm towards the hue colored mountains. "I couldnít agree more Kate replied absently staring at the woman before her. She marveled at the fire in her and her boundless joy. Kate looked into green eyes and quickly broke her musings to look out over the water. "Itís peaceful here". Victoria heard a different timbre in the voice behind her and turned to find blue eyes intent upon her. That look sent a flood of warmth through her body and she looked at the woman whose attention was now held by something on the water. ĎGod, Iím not sure what that was about but, I think I like it!í Dinner arrived and broke up any further conversation on the sunset or anything else for that matter. Conversation fell into an easy banter with Victoria surprising Kate by stealing a prawn from her plate. Before the dinner was over they were both eating off each otherís plate. Sated they left the restaurant as the lights blinked on illuminating the streets. "I think you said something about shopping?" Victoria inquired patting her full stomach happily. "Come on letís get this over with!" Kate replied glumly. Shopping was a mean to an ends for the raven-haired beauty not a leisurely past time. Victoria grinned and grabbed Kateís hand pulling her towards the shopping district. Most of the stores were located in a two block area and Kate spend the next hour being dragged into as many as possible before closing time. By 9:30 p.m. all the stores were closed but neither women were in any hurry to go indoors. The night was cool but not unpleasantly so, as the clear sky was illuminated by thousands of stars. "How about a stroll by the lake before we head back?" Kate suggested. "Sounds great! Iím in no hurry to tackle that hill just yet!" Kate laughed shaking her head and led the way through the mall back towards the wharf. "Do you need help carrying some of those bags?" Kate offered as they walked down the path around the lake. The young woman had three to Kateís one small bag so she grabbed two of them before the woman could respond. "what the hell did you buy?" Kate asked astonished at the weight she was carrying. "Just a few souvenirs for my nephews" Victoria replied grabbing for the bags. "No, No Iíve got them. I was just wondering was all, just how many nephews do you have?" "Two" Victoria replied giving up on getting her bags back. "All this for two boys? Must be pretty spoiled" Kate remarked. "Yes, actually they are". "I guess you had nothing to do with that" Kate retorted. "Ha! Iím probably the most responsible!" Victoria laughed. "No Kidding!" Kate replied dryly and was rewarded by a light swat from the young woman. They walked for awhile in companionable silence until the path started to veer off towards the road. They turned and made their way back towards town. "Interested in a cup of coffee before we head back?" Victoria inquired pointing towards a small cafť that was still open. "Only if you let me buy" Kate replied. "Sounds good to me!" They made their way through the crowded tables outside and entered the cafť. It was crowded too but they found a table near the back. "By the looks of it this is the only place open" Victoria remarked settling into her seat, taking Kateís packages so she could get their order. "What do you want?" "Umm, a cafť mocha please". "O.k. Iíll be right back" Kate replied heading to the counter. She placed their order and added a surprise to the tray. Returning she sat the coffee on the table and slid into the seat against the wall. "Oh good, cookies too! Thanks!" "No problem." The cookies were large, gooey chocolate chip affairs that proved to be fantastic especially when warmed. Kate watched in amusement at the enjoyment her friend was having eating a smile, albeit messy, cookie. Victoria popped the last of her treat into her mouth and licked each finger clean. As Kate watched the young woman her heart skipped a beat at this simple gesture. Startled by her reaction she quickly took a sip of her coffee, coughing as the scalding liquid burned her throat. "Are you o.k.?" concern edged the blondeís voice as she patted her friends arm. Tears in her eyes Kate nodded until she could regain her voice, swallowing gently she explained, "Hot..took too big a sip." "You sure?" Victoria asked relieved when Kate nodded again. She kept her hand on the womanís arm lazily stroking it. "Whew! That was a mouthful Ė serves me right!" Kate joked conscious of the other womanís ministrations. Inwardly she groaned when the sensation dropped to her hand and briefly squeezed before withdrawing. "Ready to go tackle Mt. Everest?" Victoria inquired slightly frowning. "Iím ready if you are!" "No, but we have to do it eventually!" she replied sighing. Kate grabbed all the packages handing Victoria the smallest and effectually cutting off any protests by threading her way through the crowds ahead of the woman. Halfway up the steep hill to the hotel, Victoria paused protesting, "I need a rest! You have to be a damn mountain goat around here!" Kate laughed and waited while they had both caught their breathes. The only advantage she had was that her legs were longer and it took less steps then her shorter friend. ĎNeither of us are in great shape!í she thought frowning. "Ready?" "Yes!" he blond cried and continued her climb with a quiet groan. Kate smiled at the determined woman and quickly caught up, grabbing her hand she effectually pulled her up the rest of the way. CHAPTER 24 They walked through the lobby towards the elevators and heard a party going on in the lounge. Curious they peeked in and were instantly hailed by members of their group. "Hey you two, where have you been?" Colonel Edwards called out as he walked towards them. "Get in here weíre having a birthday party!" Victoria looked up at Kate and they both shrugged in unison and entered the bar. "So whose birthday is it?" Victoria asked. Colonel Edwards unsteadily pointed to the group in the corner and rep lied loudly, "The old battle axe herself Ė must be near a hundred by now!" "I heard that you old coot!" came the reply as Mrs. Meyerís separated herself from the fray. "Hey, Happy Birthday!" "Thank you dear, why donít you go in and get yourself something to drink" she indicated the bartender, "Itís on the old coot!" "Anything for you my dear!" came the reply as the Colonel led Victoria away. Kate tried not to laugh but couldnít stop a smile from reaching her eyes and finally said, "I see you have an admirer". "Yeah, well at my age thatís about all you can have!" the old girl replied smartly. Kate burst out laughing at the womanís candor. She was constantly surprised at her sense of humor but she was more inclined to think it was the drink talking tonight. "What about you two kids, been up to anything good?" she asked finishing off her drink. "Shopping?" Kate answered again surprised at her inebriated boldness. Mrs. Meyerís snorted, "And they call us blind and deaf! Whatís taking you so long girl?" "I donítÖI donít thinkÖ" Kate stammered turning red. "Thatís your problem, you think too much!" the old woman replied taking the stunned woman by the arm and moving them both towards the bar. "This old woman needs another drink and you need to take a serious look at your little friend over there", indicating Victoria who was watching them from across the room. Mrs. Meyerís hesitated and looked up at Kate. "At my age you lean that time isnít a luxury you can afford to waste. When you find something special, you donít let things slide too long before facing the issues. Youíll loose out in the end. There are no rhyme or reason on who we fall in love with Ė sometimes we just do! Oh-h but, those are the lasting ones, the best ones! Donít let your fear lead you, follow your heard. This is your life, live it for you! Do you understand what Iím saying?" Kate nodded as tears welled in her eyes, never had she expected such acceptance from a complete stranger. She pulled the older woman into a hug and whispered, "Thank you!" Embarrassed by the display of affection, the old woman patted her back and pulled away loudly saying, "Come on, I need a drink!" She pulled Kate to the bar and handed the young woman two glasses of champagne, then pushed her towards the waiting blonde. "What was that all about? You o.k." Victoria asked as Kate approached. Kate smiled into the concerned green eyes and handed her the fluted glass. She looked around to find that they were pretty much alone as everyoneís attention was diverted towards the group in back. Looking back at those haunting green eyes she replied, "Iím too slow it seems". "Slow? At what?" Victoria asked confused. "At this" she whispered and leaned down to lightly brush her lips across the young womanís. "Oh!" came the soft reply as Victoria felt a warmth spread through her. Shivering she looked up into eyes filled with questions and a touch of fear. "So, she thinks you should have done that sooner?" she inquired softly. Kate nodded waiting to see if she hadnít made a huge mistake. ĎWhat if Iím wrong?í A sly smile spread upwards on Victoriaís face, "So do I" she whispered huskily and left a surprised Kate to join the group across the room. Kate stood watching the young woman walk away as a slow smile began to spread across her face. ĎYes!í she thought relieved and ecstatic. As she saw the womanís seductive stroll her joy changed to something deeper and hurried to follow her. After the party broke up Kate and Victoria leisurely walked up to their rooms. Pausing at Victoriaís door Kate hesitated looking around, finding themselves alone she asked, "Can I kiss you again?" Victoria nodded trying to swallow the lump in her throat. Tentatively their lips met in a hesitant greeting before pressing closer and closer. As passions ignited they broke from their embrace and Kate replied shakily, "Good, because Iíve been dying to do this since I first met you!" "You too huh?" "So, youíre o.k. with this?" Kate asked. "More than o.k." Victoria answered and to prove her point leaned up and brushed her lips lightly across Kateís. Looking once again any sign of regret, she found only sparkling green eyes looking back in trust and captured the young womanís lips again. Victoria responded by tangling her hand in raven lockís and pulled the taller woman closer. "Does that answer your question?" Victoria asked when they finally came up for air. Leaning back against the wall Kate smiled, "And some!" "Where do we go from here?" Victoria asked hesitantly. "Where do you want to do?" "Everywhere and beyond but, Iím not sure how to do that?" "What if we take our time and get there together?" Kate offered kissing the tip of the shorter womanís nose. "I think Iíd like that very much!" Victoria murmured and laid her head against Kateís chest. After awhile the taller woman sighed and pulled away. "Itís late, you should get some sleep. Iíll call you in the morning." Turning to go Kate felt a tug on her coat and turned back. "Stay with me, please." Kate looked up unsure, she didnít want to rush things between them. Victoria noticed her hesitation and said, "We donít have to do anything. I just donít want to be alone tonight." Neither said another word as the young woman unlocked the door. CHAPTER 25 Victoria changed in the bathroom and realized Kate didnít have anything to sleep in and began to rifle through her suitcase for something suitable. Finally she pulled out an oversized T-shirt. "It will be short but, itís clean" she offered. Kate looked at the shirt uncertain that it would even fit and snorted, "Short? Iíll be lucky if it covers my neck!" The blond giggled, "yea, it has itís possibilities", scooting out of harms way as Kate snapped the shirt in her direction. "This is crazy, I have clothes downstairs. I could just zip down and get something and come right back up." "No, please" Victoria pleaded, "I donít want you to go. Iím afraid you wonít come back." Kate felt a pang of compassion and agreed, "O.K., Iíll give it a try" walking into the bathroom shaking her head. Victoria watched appreciatively as the tall woman came out of the bathroom hopelessly tugging at the bottom of the T-shirt. "Looks better on you than it ever did on me" she commented. "Yeah right!" Kate laughed embarrassed and quickly got under the covers. They lay side by side untouching waiting for sleep to claim them. Kate broke the silence, "Thanks anyway". "Your very welcome" came the reply. Kate tried to sleep but the young womanís restlessness tossing was keeping her wake. Finally, she slid over and pulled the woman towards her and held her from behind. Instantly, the smaller body settled down and Kate could feel her deep even breathing. "Just like on the bus" she whispered smiling. Kate awoke to the sound of rain drumming on the window. The air in the room was chilly but something warm was attached to her left side. She looked down and found a mass of blond using her like a large pillow and smiled contently. Looking over at the clock she realized in dismay that it was time they got up. Kate gently stroked the womanís back until she felt movement and the grip on her body tighten. "Itís time to wake up." Kate through caution to the wind and kissed the top of the blond head. Victoria felt safe and content as she awoke to a gentle stroking. She felt the vibration of Kateís voice as her face lay on the womanís shoulder. Smiling she snuggled closer pressing her face into a warm neck and mumbling, "Not yet!" Kate wrapped her arms around the burrowing woman and hugged her tightly, Ďthey still had a few more minutesí. After a long while Victoria groaned and leaned up on an elbow, through half closed eyes she looked at the rain still coming down. "Iím not hiking around in that today!" she declared and dropped back down to rest her head in her new favorite spot. It fit just right in the hollow of her friendís shoulder and she snuggled into the soft neck contentedly. Kate ran her arm up the soft back and lazily traced figured on the skin. Noticing a scar on the blondeís shoulder she inquired. "Oh, my brother was practicing her wild bronco imitation and I was the rider, he threw me into the edge of the coffee table". "Ouch!" Kate replied and leaned down to kiss the scar. "He said it was an accident but, I donít think so". She kissed it again murmuring sympathetically. "It hurt a lot!" She kissed it again this time running her tongue lightly along the fine line. Victoria shivered and Kate whispered seductively, "Any other scars I should know about?" "I can think of quite a few!í she thought instantly but shook those thoughts off and replied, "Letís see.. I got hit in the forehead with a softball." That warranted a kiss on the unseen scar on the forehead. "Then there was the time he poked me in the eye." Another kiss. "No, the other one!" Kate chuckled lowly and dutifully treated the other injury. "What about here" her husky voice asked as warm lips caressed the young womanís neck. "Oh yeah! There too!" came the weak reply. "And here?" she murmured moving up to take an earlobe between her lips. "Uh-huh". Lips nipped the edge of her mouth and murmured, "Here?" Victoria could feel her heart beat in anticipation as her lips screamed for attention. After what seemed like a lifetime her lips were claimed soundly, parting lips sent tongues danced to a music all their own. Breathless they parted and Victoria continued to lightly kiss the lips above her in reverence and a promise of things to come. They spent the remainder of the day exploring their new intimacy in cuddling and kissing. Neither one was in any rush to move to the next level and were content to savor the present in building a solid foundation for the future. CHAPTER 26 "Good because Iíve been dying to do this since I first met you." "Yeah, it feels kind of nice" Kate agreed squeezing the woman in her arms. "So youíre o.k. with this?" Victoria asked. "More than o.k." Kate answered and to prove her point leaned down and brushed her lips lightly across Victoriaís. Looking down for any sign of dislike or regret she found sparkling green eyes looking back in trust, leaning down she captureís the young womanís lips again. Victoria responded by tangling her hand in raven locks and pulling the taller womanís head closer. "Does that answer your question?" Kate asked when they finally came up for air. Leaning back against the tile wall she smiled. "And some! If I had known this was all I had to do to get a kiss from you, I would have knocked you into a stream sooner!" "What can I say, Iím into water sports!" Kate laughed and reached from the young woman again. Breathing hard Victoria pulled back and looked up into the blue eyes of her friend. Where do we go from here?" "Where do you want to go?" Kate asked in return. "Everywhere and beyond but, Iím not sure how to do that?" "What if we take our time and get there together?" Kate offered kissing the tip of the shorter womanís nose. "I think Iíd like that" Victoria murmured and laid her head against Kateís chest. "O.k. first things first. How about we get out of this steam bath. I think we are warm enough now. Victoria chuckled and reached around to shut off the water tap. Kate pulled the curtain back and reached for towels. After they were dry, Kate went searching for clothes and handed Victoria a T-shirt. "I think you wonít have the same problem I did with your shirt." Victoria laughed as the shirt came down to her knees. "Oh, I think you still looked cuter". "Iíd definitely have to argue that point" Kate said wiggling her eyebrows. "So what do you want to do know?" Victoria asked suggestively. "Well how about we just stay in and watch some videos? I donít think Iím ready to head outside again." "Works for me" Victoria replied and jumped onto the bed. Kate grabbed the remote and joined the young woman, pulling a discarded blanket over them. They spent the remainder of the afternoon exploring their new intimacy in cuddling and kissing. Neither one was in any rush to move to the next level and were content with their current closeness. CHAPTER 27 Afternoon brought heavier rain accompanied by wind and neither woman had any desire to stir from their warm haven. They dozed until the evening shadows crept across the room. Kate lay with her eyes closed content in holding her friend thinking she was asleep. "Where do you live?" "What?" Kate asked unsure of what she had heard or where it had come from. "You know where your house is?" Victoria asked lightly poking the stomach of the woman beneath her. Before she could respond, the blonde jumped up on one elbow and worriedly looked down asking, "You do live in the US donít you?" "Yes I do" Kate replied calmly. "I live in Chicago." "Oh", relieved she lay back down. Kate tightened her hold on the woman understanding where the insecurity came from. They had never talked about what would happen after the tour was over. Heck, she had never expected any of this to happen in the first place. "Where do you live?" "Michigan, just north of Detroit". "Close" Kate replied suddenly relieved herself. She didnít want this to be long distance. ĎI donít want it to be farther than it is right nowí she reluctantly admitted to herself. Dropping to kiss the blonde head she murmured reassuringly, "Donít worry, weíll work this out". Victoria nodded and tightened her hold in response. "Tell me about yourself." "About me?" Kate asked uncertain if she wanted to go there right now. "Yes and no secrets, o.k.? Victoria asked hesitantly. "No, no secrets" Kate promised, she knew there could not be any secrets between them if this relationship was to work. They had enough bumpy roads ahead of them to add any more ruts. "Letís see, I was born into a small Greek family. I have one brother and had one younger, he died when we were younger." Victoria squeezed her friend in silent acknowledgement of sympathy. Kate kissed the top of her golden head and continued hoping that the rest of the story went as smoothly. "My childhood was probably very much like most of my race and I was led to believe there was one would for women and another for men. I got married to the right man for all the wrong reasons. Iíve been divorced for two years and my family has never forgiven me." Kate waited for a response from Victoria but the woman was silent. "Does it bother you that Iíve been married?" Again she waited for an answer, remaining still when the young woman leaned up on an elbow and looked down at her again. She saw a seriousness reflected in her green eyes and waited for the axe to fall. Victoria was taken back by the admission of Kateís marriage, not sure if her being married bothered her or just the knowledge that someone else had loved her too. ĎDonít be sillyí she scolded herself, Ďyour both old enough to have had a few serious relationships by nowí. As Kate continued talking she could hear the sadness in her friends voice. Victoria knew she had to be careful how she responded, others had hurt Kate enough and she didnít want her words to be misinterpreted. Slowly, she leaned up and looked down into anxious blue eyes. "In a way I guess it does bother me" Victoria admitted. "Oh" Kate felt her heart fall and waited for the rest of her to follow. "It botherís me that someone hurt you! " Kate looked up quickly, "hurt me?" "Yeah, they had a chance to get close to you and in the process hurt you and I think that bothers me the most." Kate half grinned and replied, "It wasnít all one sided. Nick was a good guy, he just wanted something I couldnít give him." "Children?" "No, love" she answered softly. "You didnít love him?" This admission somehow made Victoria feel stronger and something more. Something she wasnít sure how to defineÖlove? "No, I married him for all the wrong reasons thinking I could learn to love him but, it never happened, he knew it and so did I. As clique as it sounds, in the end we parted as friends." "And your family did understand" Victoria answered knowingly. She had first hand knowledge how demanding and unforgiving family can be. "No, they couldnít understand how I could throw away my life and a perfect marriage but, I just couldnít feel anything then, you know?" Victoria nodded and leaned down to kiss Kate lightly murmuring, "I do now". Kate clutched Victoria to her and rolled over until she was looking down at the smaller woman. "Now your turn. I want to hear all about you." Victoria looked up into clear blue eyes and took a deep breath. "I was born and raised in Michigan and have been wanting to get out ever since. My childhood consisted of church twice a week and shipped off to camp during the summers. I have an older brother, how you can tell, took great pleasure in tormenting me." "Oh, you poor thing" Kate murmured grinning and kissed the soft lips below her. "Did I tell you one year he dislocated my arm three times?" "Oh no, poor baby" Kate kissed her shoulder and started working her way up Victoriaís neck before she caught herself. "Hey, no fair! I had to spill my guts and so do you!" The blonde grinned, "Canít blame me for trying." "Go on!" came the stern reply. "Where was I? Oh yeah, my parents are hardcore Christians, I never fit into their tidy little plan and so they could never understand me, nor do I think would they understand this" she paused chewing her bottom lip. "One thing at a time" Kate encouraged, "keep going". "Ten years ago I escaped it all and moved to Florida. For the first year I had my grandmother living with me but, when that didnít work and she returned to Michigan, it was a constant battle between them and me to return home. I had seven wonderful years on my own, even thought I had a couple of roommates from hell during that time". Victoria laughed remembering and then quickly frowning, "well, two years ago I let myself be talked into moving back temporarily because my parents werenít well, and here I am two years later still living in their basement and hating life!" she finished harshly. "You hate life?" Kate asked astonished at her friendís remark, "you always seem so happy?" "Iím a good actress." "And now?" the raven-haired woman asked. Victoria looked up and truthfully replied, "Now, Iím not acting. For the first time in a long while Iím happy. It also doesnít hurt that Iím in love too." "With me?" uncertainty dripped from the question. "No, with Colonel Edwards!" Sarcasm was always a defense mechanism for Victoria, she bit her lip instantly regretting her smart reply, not wanting to make light of her friends insecurity, but wanting to reassure her instead. "Sorry" "I donít knowÖheís kind of hot! Especially when he gets rocking with that cane" Kate laughed rolling over to avoid a half-hearted slap aimed in her direction. They lay side by side in silence for a moment and then Victoria heard Kate softly say, "I love you too!" Reaching out she found Kateís hand and brought it up to her lips and kissed it and then held it to her heart. "When this trip is over, Iíd like you to consider living in Chicago but, if you canít, then Iíll just have to come to Michigan" Kate replied as tears clouded her eyes. Victoria rolled over and looked down at her friend, no..her love and tearfully asked, "Youíd do that?" "Iíll do whatever it takes to keep you" she replied hoarsely leaning up to capture The dangling lips above. Victoria deepened the kiss as Kate pulled her down on top of her. Their bodies fit perfectly short to tall as well as dark to light. As the heat of their bodies rose they moaned in unison and Kateís hands slid down to cup Victoriaís soft behind and pulled her closer. Victoria kissed her way down Kateís neck. "I donít know what to do. Iíve neverÖher voiced trailed off. "Never with anyone?" Kate asked softly. Looking away Victoria shook her head ĎNoí. Reaching over up Kate cupped Victoriaís chin and pulled it back level to her own. "Do you want to?" "With you Ė yes!" she replied without hesitation. "Do you trust me?" "With my life" came the quiet response. "Then letís do this together. Iíve never really been with a woman but, I know what I feel and so do you, right?" "Yes" Victoria agreed. "Then weíll take this slowly and weíll stop whenever you donít feel comfortable o.k.?" Kate asked seriously. Victoria nodded her head, "I donít think that will be a problem". "Just so long as you know you can and I will stop". "I trust you but, thank you for saying it" she leaned down and kissed Kate to let her know she meant it. Kate slowly rolled them over until she was back on top and adjusted her weight so it wasnít totally pressing on the smaller woman. She balanced her elbows on either side and nudged the legs beneath her open to slide her hips between them. Victoria easily slipped her legs over on the back of Kateís as though it was where they always rested. "Can we lose these?" Kate asked plucking at Victoriaís T-shirt. Victoria nodded and helped Kate pull the shirt over her head. Kate groaned at the sight before her and placed a kiss in the valley between the two perfect breasts. Never had she been offered such a graceful and loving gift before and she accepted it with all she had to give in return. Victoria tugged on Kateís shirt not wanting to be deprived of anything. Kate grinned and removed it, as their bare skin touched for the first time, it was almost enough to send Kate over the edge. She held herself back as this was about Victoria and she set her mind and body to attending to her love. As racing hearts slowed and the sweat of passion chilled their bodies, Kate held her lover close and told her again that she loved her. Victoria nuzzled her way up Kateís neck and tickled her ear. "Do you think Iíll like Chicago?" THE ENDÖ. HOME