Tim yawned hugely as he padded downstairs, an empty glass in his hand. He almost tripped over his feet at the bottom, and steadied himself with a muted curse. The morning was cool, the house enveloped in a pre-dawn glow. He walked into the kitchen, resting the glass in the sink.
Butterball, the fat ginger queen of his home, wrapped herself around his legs. He smiled, and felt the cat's purr against his leg. He bent to retrieve the cat food from under the sink.
"Come on, then, Puss, here's breakfast!" He refilled the ginger cat's bowl with clean water, filled a second set of bowls for the feisty young Siamese male, Keebler, and then went to open the top half of the back door that led out into the backyard. He leaned on the sill, and stared out on a peaceful morning. The fog had not lifted a foot off the ground, and the resulting picture stirred a deep, satisfied response inside him. He inhaled deeply, watching the mist swirl upward. By the time the sun came up, the morning would be clear and crisp, and the soupy mists would have dissipated.
Although Timothy Chandler was no longer in the first blush of youth, he enjoyed his life with satisfying gusto. He was a writer, and his latest book had finally gone to press last evening. He had a week before he needed to begin work on the next project. Well, not begin, but rather complete. He thought about what he had planned to do with his time off, and the smile on his face this time was deliberate, and calculating. His sister Gwen was coming later this morning to house-sit for him, while he went on his first little vacation in five years. He needed this time away, for more than one reason.
He watched as the fog began to lift, and rehearsed his plan. The trip to the lake would take almost all day, but once he had recovered a little, he'd begin to weave the spell that he hoped would win him the prize he most sought -- the woman he was falling in love with. It had taken him long enough to figure out, or perhaps admit, or both, that he loved Kathryn Harrison, and he knew that now, though all the fear and misunderstandings of the last year had been aired and expunged, he had to show her that what he felt was real, and that he would always love her. He had to show her that only she was the spark that set him off, like Roman candles on Independence Day.
Tim closed the top half of the back door, and went to check his messages. No one had called from the publishers, which was a good sign...unless they had e-mailed him. He touched a key and the laptop lit up. Kathryn had left him a message.
"I got here a little while ago, and you're right, Tim! It's beautiful! Even in the dark! Wish you were here!"
He sat down. "I wish I was there, too, toots! But I'll be there before you know it! Keep my spot warm for me."
Immediately, the IM box came alive, and before long he was grinning broadly. "Showered yet? I kinda like the image in my head..." She stuck a tongue out.
Tim chuckled. "Sure you want THAT image?" he winked and she replied,
"Too late. Already there!" The rolling-on-the-floor-laughing emo appeared. "What time will you get here?"
"Can't wait...see you later, babe!" The little flirt emo appeared, their mutual sign-off note. He sent it back to her, and felt the place in his heart he'd kept closed off warm with thoughts of her, and what he planned to do when he saw her...
...Tim woke to the stewardess's hand on his shoulder.
"Seatbelt, please, sir! We're about to land."
He struggled into an upright position and put on his seatbelt. He'd been to the lake before, and had told her about it when he got back. He'd told her he was thinking of maybe retiring there. How they had gotten from those friendly chats, to intimate disclosures about her raging hormones, to this rendezvous, had him thinking lusty thoughts by the time he was on his way to the lake.
The lights twinkled on the front porch and in the kitchen when he walked up the front steps, lugging his suitcase. He pushed open the door and immediately the smell of cooking assailed his nostrils. He dropped the case and followed his nose, entering the kitchen as a tall, caramel-skinned woman stood up from peering into the oven. She turned, as though she had heard him, and their eyes met. Her smile started there, in those big brown eyes, and spread over her whole face. She looked exactly as he remembered, and his response was immediate and telling, if she had looked at the front of his slacks. He resisted the urge to adjust himself.
They had talked a few of times on the phone, in addition to the two, and sometimes three-times-daily chats on instant messenger, and had exchanged photographs, and he had met her for lunch while on a book tour a few months earlier. But this was the first that they would spend any significant amount of time together, and Tim did not know what to expect. It had taken some careful negotiating on his part, with a very light hand, to get her to agree to share the cabin with him. He broke the awkward silence.
"Hey there, pretty lady! Something smells good in here!" He approached her slowly, and watched her walk toward him, his skin tingling in anticipation of touching her.
"Hey, Tim!" Her voice was hoarse and she cleared her throat. She stopped about a foot away from him and stared.
Tim felt his cheeks heating, so great was his desire to make contact with her, and he reached out and touched her face.
"Still beautiful!" When she smiled, he found he needed to hold her, so he did, pulling her fully into his arms. He felt her shudder, and he tilted her face up and stared into her eyes.
"What?" she asked. A small frown marred her brow.
"Nothing," he lied, willing himself not to shake. "I'd forgotten how beautiful you are in person," he continued. She smelled of some sweet, exotic fragrance, but under that, he smelled her, the essence of her that rattled his composure. He dropped a tender kiss on her hair, lightly, so she didn't feel it, and letting her go abruptly, moved away to sit at the table.
It had been a long flight for Kat, and she had had more than enough time to think about what she was doing here. Timothy Chandler had become her friend a little over a year earlier. She had been miserable, lost personally, and he had been a kind listener with a warm heart. Kat had discovered that Tim was as guarded as she was, maybe even more so, because he had been badly hurt by someone he loved. So she had tried to ensure that all they had was a deep friendship. But when they had met for lunch when he came on a publishing tour to her town, she saw something in his eyes that frightened and thrilled her at the same time. She had always been quick to lose her heart, and she was determined not to do so with Tim, especially since their relationship was really only being played out online. What trust could she place in a man she only knew from an IM box and some blogs? What trust could he place in her?
She had been surprised to find that the cabin only had one bedroom, with a king- sized bed. True, there was a queen-sized sleeper in the living room, so she had decided to take the bedroom, sure that Tim wouldn't mind using the sleeper. The cabin was fairly large, and situated on the lake so that they would have direct access to the boats as well as to the shoreline, should they wish to picnic. A pool was available for swimming, and she had seen, on the coffee table in the living room, a brochure that detailed the places to go, and things to do. She had discovered the hot tub when she went out to see the backyard. As she unpacked, she remembered again the conversation in which Tim had told her he liked to see a woman in nylons with a seam up the back, in stilettos, and garter belts, and corsets, as he had called them. He had spoken laughingly of stripping his lady of these vestments in front of a fire, and having some deliciously warm fun.
The thought of lying on a soft, plush rug in front a fireplace with Tim made Kat warm all over, and she struggled to rein in her imagination as she finished unpacking and went to begin dinner. This week might not pan out the way she was envisioning it. Tim really didn't know her, still, nor she him, and a week might not be enough time to overcome the reticence of two adults who were afraid to make themselves vulnerable to another human being. They came from different worlds, and she always felt that difference, though not as much with him as with others. And there was that huge weight that she carried around her neck like Coleridge's dead albatross. She walked into the kitchen and unpacked the groceries she had brought with her -- giant chocolate chip cookies, milk, eggs, cheese, the fixings for Jamaican rum cake, as well as a bottle of wine, steaks, potatoes and salad fixings for today's dinner.
She recalled how he had asked her to keep his spot warm for him till he got there, and she was sure a hot meal, and his favorite "nightcap" -- a cookie and milk -- would more than achieve that goal. The cake was almost done, and she stood up in time to see him walk into the kitchen. She had not heard him come into the house, and despite her innate reserve, a smile flooded her face as she found herself walking toward him.
"How was your trip?" she asked, putting the small island between them.
"Uneventful," he answered. "They didn't leave, or lose, my luggage!" He chuckled as he said that, and sat in one of the two chairs at the small kitchen table.
"I gave you the front "bedroom"," she continued, chuckling. "Why don't you go ahead and put your stuff away while I dish up dinner?' She avoided his eyes as she spoke, busying herself taking the cake from the oven and checking the pan with the meat one more time. She could feel his eyes on her, and the warmth in her cheeks deepened.
"I will, in a minute," he said, not taking his eyes off her face. "I enjoy being where I am right now, though," he added, and winked at her.
"Why don't you come sit here for a minute or two and let me look at you?" When she opened her mouth to protest, he added, "I really want to look at you, Kat!"
When she made no move to obey him, Tim walked over to where she stood by the stove and pulled her across the small space to the counter on the island.
"Why are you avoiding me? Hmmm?? We don't have a lot of time, and I spent the whole flight thinking about how I'm going to make some of those fantasies we've talked about come true!" He paused, and turned her face up to his. "Like this one!" he ended, lowering his head for a real kiss.
Kat watched his tanned face as it descended, and when his lips touched hers, she closed her eyes. Tim teased her with his tongue, playing at the seam of her lips but not going further in. He walked his mouth across her cheek to her ear, and he kissed her gently there, and behind it, before proceeding down the column of her throat to her neck. He placed another gentle kiss there, slid back up to her mouth, and stole a quick, hard, tongue-teasing kiss, and then lifted his head.
"We've talked a lot this past year about what turns us on," he said, his voice low. "I can now honestly say that YOU turn me on! I want to kick things up a notch! Right from the getgo!" He saw the puzzlement in her eyes, but knew that what he did next would clear up any confusion as to what he meant. He kissed her mouth again. Hard. She moaned, and he lost it. The kiss took on a life of its own, growing in intensity, in depth, in neediness. He tasted her lips -- had she been eating chocolate? He pushed his tongue inside, and mated it with hers. God, she tasted good! He wrapped his arms around her, and felt her responding as much to the hug as the kiss. It turned him on even more...but now wasn't the time.
Tim let her go slowly, and saw the dazed look in her eyes with some satisfaction. It cleared as she looked back at him. He knew she loved the sweet seduction of kissing -- she'd told him so often enough. He'd keep it here, for now, give her time to relax, to trust him. Give himself time to find out if what he thought, what he felt, was true.
"Still beautiful!" he said again, making her blush. He smiled, and traced a slightly trembling finger over her high cheekbones and full lips. She backed away from him, and he let her go completely, and sat down again, watching her.
Whatever Kat had expected, it had not been the kiss he planted on her. She moaned when his mouth touched hers -- she could not help herself. He deepened the kiss, taking her along with him to sensual new heights. She was trembling when he let her go, tense, and aware that it would only get worse as the evening wore on. What could she do? She didn't want to give off mixed signals, and a part of her prayed that something real would happen this week.
"Thank you, Tim," she answered, blushing furiously. She watched the slow, seductive smile spread across his face, and felt an answering warmth begin to swell inside her.
"You never blushed online, you know. I would never have guessed you were so shy!" He chuckled softly.
"Had to leave SOMEthing for this week. What fun would you have if you knew everything about me?" She chuckled too, the color receding from her brown cheeks. He made her feel comfortable, and she relaxed.
"How about dinner? You ready?"
"If it's ready, I'll have some. What are we having? Can I help?" Tim watched her walk back to the stove.
"We're having meat and potatoes. Yes, you can help, but..." she held up a restraining hand when he went to get up, "no, you may not! I've got it. You can run clean-up!"
"I thought I was the English expert here!" he teased, as she removed two dishes from the oven.
"Just because I take pictures for a living doesn't mean I don't know English, you know. It WAS my undergraduate major." Kat placed the hot dishes on twin hot pads on the counter. "I just love the way the pictures look in different lighting, and how the human face and form tell stories. Sort of the way your words do." She took plates and glasses from the cabinet above the counter, and set them down on the table.
"Do you know where there's a tablecloth, or place mats?" She turned away, not waiting for his answer and retrieved knives and forks from the drawer beneath the counter.
"Here, let me," Tim offered, and took the utensils from her. Where their fingers touched, sparks fired. Kat's eyes flew up to Tim's, and they locked glances. The sparks heated up, and she let him take the items from her suddenly nerveless fingers and take her hands in his.
"Such soft hands!" he said, a note of wonder in his voice. He raised them to his lips, and let them linger on the palm of each one.
Kat inhaled, trying to steady her hands under his lips, and failing. She saw the knowing look in Tim's eyes when he let her go, and she hurried to get the dishes from the counter to the table. Her hands were shaking so badly, she couldn't hold them, though, and she took deep, steadying breaths, hoping to bring her racing pulse and rapid heartbeat under control. For some reason, her mind went back to their other meeting, over lunch. When they were through, and he had paid the check, they had walked outside together. It had been raining, and he held the umbrella for her, escorting her to her car.
He had hugged her, she remembered, a huge, hard, tight hug, the kind she loved, the kind he had greeted her with when they had met two hours earlier. And then, he had kissed her. On the lips. The shock of that circumstance had caught her long after the hard kiss was done. Because it had lasted all of five seconds. That's right -- five seconds. The significance of the salute had eluded her -- the more she thought on it, the less sense it made. Why? What did it mean? He had already hugged her, and squeezed her tightly to his chest. After that, when she had thought he was letting go, he had held her arms, pulled her back to him, and planted one on her. No tongue -- just warm lips pressed to warm lips. After that, he had loosed her completely, and waited for her to open her car and get in. Then he'd walked away.
It had seemed to her like a spur-of-the-moment thing. And yet it also smacked of premeditation, as though he had spent the previous two hours thinking about it, and wondering whether he should or he shouldn't. Thinking of it now was making her ache -- with longing for him, with longing for more. And the sweetness of that longing rode her hard.
"I'll take those!" Tim's voice behind her startled her. She had not heard him move. She turned, and he was right there, in her face almost, and the desire in his eyes was as plain to read as the opening pages of his latest book. She moved to the side, and let him take the dishes to the table. She followed him and sat across the table from him, watching him serve their plates. At the last minute, she remembered the salad, which she got from the fridge and placed with the rest of the food. Tim placed a healthy portion in her salad bowl and then dug into his own food with gusto. Kat watched him, remembering how he had enjoyed the two large chocolate chip cookies he had had with his coffee that afternoon.
"Getting full by osmosis?" he asked suddenly, making her blink.
"No, just ...thinking," she answered, and then she ate all the salad in her bowl.
"This is good cooking, lady!" Tim said, wiping his mouth on a paper napkin. "Spicy! I like spicy!" He drank deep from the water in his glass, and then looked quizzically at her.
"Thinking about what?"
Kat hesitated, avoiding his eyes. Everything felt suddenly very intimate, and she didn't want to admit to thinking about him more than she should be. She heard his amused chuckle, and when he said,
"Cat got your tongue?"
Kat swallowed. "No...I just...it's nothing. I wasn't thinking about anything important." She was forty-nine years old, Tim fifty-one, yet here she was, stuttering out a lie to hide her feelings. Surely her teenaged self would cringe at this display!
"I think you're lying, lady," Tim drawled. "And I think I know why, too." He stood up suddenly and began to clear the table. "But I'm a patient man. I can wait." He winked at her as he washed the few dishes they had used. Kat found a dishtowel and dried them, putting them away as she did. When the cleaning up was done, Tim gestured toward the little sitting area in the front of the cabin. He took the wine from the fridge, grabbed two glasses, and followed her.
"Go ahead, sit down," he invited her. He sat next to her on the loveseat and poured her some wine. "Here you go," he said, handing her a glass full of wine.
After pouring some for himself, he touched his glass to hers and said, "To discovery!" He sipped, then put the glass down on the coffee table.
"So tell me Kat, did you bring a bathing suit?"
He looked at her as he asked his question, and saw the answer in her eyes before she nodded and took another sip of the liquid in her glass.
"Good! We'll go swimming tomorrow!"
"You forget, I don't swim," she replied, chuckling. "Maybe you can give me some lessons?" She arched an eyebrow at him, and smiled.
"I'd love to," was his immediate response. "Ticklish much?" He wagged an eyebrow at her.
"Are you planning to tickle me, mister? Because I WILL laugh, and probably flop about!" She found herself laughing as she spoke, and Tim joined in merrily.
"Flopping about sounds like a lot of fun! Sounds tantalizing! Wonder what will get exposed?" He grinned broadly at the slow blush that began to creep up her cheeks. "I'm going to have a ball this week," he added, winking at her, "if it takes so little to make you color up." He paused, eyeing her flushed cheeks and full lips, and then continued, "You're incredibly beautiful when your cheeks are pink!"
"Tim, you don't have to..." Kat began, but he touched her lips with his index finger, and she stopped in mid-sentence.