Tara. Raegan had said that the woman's name was Tara. It echoed in Jamie's head, Rae's gentle voice bouncing off the barren walls of her mind and through the deep, empty canyon of her heart. The first month of the new year was drawing to a close and Jamie still felt the sting of Rae's rejection on New Year's Eve.
She tried to remind herself that she had been the one that had left Rae in the first place. The company had flashed a promotion and a significant raise and she had leapt at the opportunity. She would be overseeing seven stores, including two brand new ones that would be built and opened under her supervision. Then her Nashville boss had told her that the stores were located in northern Ohio. She had rushed to the two story townhouse that she had shared with Raegan since they had moved to Nashville, only to find her lover of seven years respond with unenthused silence.
When Rae had finally spoken, her answer had been simple but nonnegotiable. "Capitol Records and country music are in Nashville."
They had made the decision together. Raegan had been unwilling to leave Nashville, but she had refused to allow Jamie to give up the opportunity. Jamie had left for Ohio in August and had not seen Raegan since. She hadn't wanted to acknowledge how easily the two of them had drifted apart once they no longer lived in the same city.
She'd even met someone else fairly quickly. She spent Thanksgiving with the manager of one of the stores. She had enjoyed the meal with the older woman and had gone out with her on several occasions. By Christmas, though, Jamie had realized that the woman was nothing like Rae. Then she had called Rae on New Year's Eve, hoping for an invitation to come home. Instead, she had called just in time to hear Rae's new lover announce she was moving to Nashville. Jamie had hung up the phone and refused to answer it for a week.
She had gotten smashed on New Year's Eve and ended up in bed with a woman who's name she could no longer recall. They had not exchanged phone numbers and Jamie was grateful that she had not seen the woman again. She hadn't been interested in dating since she had recovered from her hangover.
A letter from Raegan had been in her mail box today. Jamie had cursed her hands when they trembled as she opened the thin envelope. The letter had been simple but filled with Raegan's quiet form of passion. She had told the story of how she had found Tara. "It wasn't expected, dear Jamie," Raegan's careful script had said. "After seven wonderful, precious years with you, I didn't think I would ever love anyone else. I don't blame you, but you gave me the impression you were moving on, so I decided to move as well. Tara's husband recently died, and we have found something with each other that neither of us knew we were missing."
Jamie tried to be angry at Rae's words. How dare she imply that their life together had been missing something? She didn't want to acknowledge that the decision to live apart was evidence that something had indeed been missing. Rae had attached a picture of a happy family. Tara had a little boy and was expecting another child. Had Raegan ever looked at her the way she was looking at Tara in the picture, Jamie would have never even considered moving.
She loved Raegan. One day, she would let herself be happy for Raegan, though that day was not now. She sat the bar and stared in the amber liquid of her glass, trying to find happiness for her former lover and dear friend. Above the bar, the Super Bowl played on the television. She glanced at the game occasionally, but couldn't get very excited about it. The Titans had slipped out of the running and she didn't really care about any of the other teams, even Tennessee's favorite football son in Indianapolis. The crowd around her cheered as one of the teams rushed toward the end zone of the field. Her eyes focused on the screen until the play was over, and then returned to her solemn examination of the beer.
She wasn't exactly sure why she had come to the bar. She didn't drink very often and had never been interested in the bar scene. She had met Rae in a college class, not at a bar or a party. She'd barely been eighteen at the time, so her previous encounters had been with friends. She'd never needed the bar scene to meet someone.
She glanced around at the patrons of the pub. The crowd was mixed with males and females. The men were posturing for the women, allowing the football game and the booze to flood their testosterone level. There weren't many girls in the room that would return her interest. As she turned her attention back to her drink, she caught sight of the woman sitting next to her. The woman was not watching the game, either. The woman's eyes were focused on Jamie.
Jamie started when she made the eye contact. Her face flushed and she jerked away. The woman laughed, a deep, husky sound, and Jamie looked again. The woman's smile was warm and welcoming. She glanced at the television, then back to Jamie. "Exciting game, isn't it? Which team is your team?"
"Nashville," Jamie answered with a slight growl of frustration.
The woman threw her head back and laughed out loud, her thick black hair flowing behind her. She signaled the bartender for a refill of her martini, watching the game for a moment. "I like the Bronco's myself, though they haven't been worth anything since John Elway retired. How about a game of pool? It's a little quieter over there." The woman picked up her martini and walked away without giving Jamie a chance to decline.
Jamie remained on her stool for a moment, watching as the woman walked away. She was not dressed for a night of drinking and football. She wore a black skirt, a fitted jacket, and heels. The woman walked with confidence. Jamie found a smile on her lips, something she hadn't experienced in some time. She picked up her mug and followed.
The woman had already racked the balls for a game of nine ball. She blew across the tip of the cue stick, a blue chalk dust cloud billowing toward Jamie. Jamie's eyes did not focus on the chalked end of the cue stick, but on the red puckered lips causing the chalk to fly. Unconsciously, Jamie wet her own lips, making them glisten even in the dim bulb hovering over the center of the pool table.
Jamie took a breath and turned to select her own cue, lingering over her choice as she attempted to regain her composure. Her face felt flushed and her breathing irregular. No one had ever had ever had this effect on her, not even Raegan.
She exhaled slowly before turning back to the pool table, but automatically felt her breath catch. The woman was bent over the table in front of her, stroking the cue between her fingers and concentrating on her shot. The skirt clung to her round bottom. Her legs, long and muscular, extended beneath the hem of the skirt. Jamie's eyes took a leisurely stroll down those legs until they landed on the heels. Without shooting, the woman stood, propping the cue against the side of the table. Her long fingers went to the buttons of the jacket, slipping them through the eyes. She removed the jacket and laid it to the side. She wore a white silk blouse. The first button of the blouse was just below her bust line. The collar was open and Jamie saw a glimpse of supple, pale, round flesh.
Beads of sweat formed on Jamie's forehead. The woman turned and Jamie dropped her eyes quickly. She was embarrassed to be caught looking, but there was something else about the woman that made Jamie feel it was wrong to meet her eyes. Nervously, she took the chalk and prepared her cue, then bent to check her own stick on the table, lining up a shot with the cue ball for the break. The woman walked behind Jamie, slapping her hand against the round rump enclosed in blue jeans. "You break," the woman said in a deep, husky voice, whispering in Jamie's ear.
Jamie flinched at the touch, surprised by the woman's forwardness and also by the rush of warmth she felt in the front seat of her jeans. She took a long time with her shot, constantly aware of the woman standing just a few feet away. Jamie swallowed with difficulty, focusing on the cue ball and the number one in front of her. She pulled back, feeling the smooth wood slide between her fingers, then the contact with the white ball. She heard the sound of the cue hitting the front ball and saw the nine numbered balls scatter. She sank the number three.
"Nice," the woman responded as Jamie moved to line up a shot on the one ball. Jamie wasn't certain if the woman was talking about the shot or the view. She bit her lip as she cocked her cue. The one ball sank into the corner pocket. "I should start cheating," the woman commented, propping her chin on her hands and her hand on her cue stick.
Jamie grinned at the woman, lining up her next shot. As she pulled her arm back, the woman spoke. "You've got a great ass."
The woman's compliment threw Jamie's concentration. Her cue slipped and the ball rolled listlessly away from any acceptable target. The woman smiled as she took a step toward the table. She lined up her shot and easily sank the two ball. Her dark eyes flashed to Jamie for a moment and on the next shot, she sank the four and five. She chalked her cue again as she contemplated the line on the six ball. Jamie was again mesmerized as the woman's lips again blew the excess dust from the tip. She was having trouble breathing and her throat was dry. She swallowed with difficulty and took a sip of her beer. Standing across the table as the woman leaned forward for her shot, Jamie licked the rim of the glass with the tip of her tongue.
The woman missed her shot and Jamie sat her beer down. Jamie sank the six and seven immediately, not giving the woman an opportunity to distract her. Near the television screens, a roar rose as another team scored a touchdown. Jamie lined up the eight, aware of the woman's legs in her peripheral vision. The eight bounced on the bumper and stopped rolling a fraction of an inch from the hole.
"Thank you," the woman muttered huskily. She tapped the eight ball into the pocket and looked at Jamie. "Looks like I win," she said, as she circled the table for the best shot on the nine ball. Jamie's eyes followed the woman's movements, their eyes locked. "We could make this interesting."
It already is, Jamie thought, but she said, "How could we do that?"
"If I miss this shot, I'll take you to dinner tomorrow night."
"And if you hit it?" Jamie prompted, delighted with the prospect of dinner with the woman.
The woman took a step forward, closing the distance between them. "You take me back to your place tonight."
Jamie's heart did a slight gallop at the prospect. She took a step backwards, moving away from the woman. She wasn't necessarily uncomfortable with the prospect. The woman had an inquisitive look on her face, waiting for an answer from the smaller, younger girl. Jamie dropped her eyes.
The woman again closed the distance, lifting Jamie's eyes with a touch of her fingers under the chin. "Did I misread you?"
"No," Jamie answered on a whispered rush of air. She glanced at the pool table, unnerved by the woman's intense stare. "That's an easy shot. I think you have an unfair advantage."
"Of course I do. I never make a bet I don't know that I will win." She turned, lined up the shot, and pushed her cue stick forward. The stick made a blue mark on the white ball as it rolled toward the yellow nine. Jamie watched the progress, the world moving in slow motion. The sound of the cue ball hitting against the target echoed loudly, drowning out the sound of the rowdy celebrators in the front of the bar. The yellow ball went into motion, rolling across the green felt. Jamie's eyes followed the number, watching it turn 9...6...9...6...9...6...9. She wet her lips, wishing she could look away but unable to even close her eyes. Part of her prayed the ball would slow and pause on the lip of the pocket, just as her earlier hit had done. The other part of her wanted to will the ball into the hole.
She realized she was holding her breath as it glided across the table. She forced the wind from her lungs. She knew time had not really stopped, but she thought that the motion of the sphere would never cease. The pocket seemed to yawn open the closer the ball got to the edge. There was no way that the ball could miss the opening, even though it seemed to be losing momentum. It slowed more as it rolled toward the pocket, the spindle winding down.
Jamie felt her heart pounding in her ears. She was aware of every molecule of her body. She could feel her blood pumping through her arteries and veins. She could smell the woman next to her and feel her presence as she, too, watched the ball in the same anticipation, though the woman was not torn. Jamie was certain that the woman knew what the woman wanted. If she had not known, she would not have made the bet.
The gaping pocket and the rolling ball met.
- * -
Her fingers trembled as she slipped the key into the lock. She was very aware of the woman standing behind her, waiting to be welcomed into her apartment. It took her three tries to slip the key into the eye. She heard the click and took a deep breath as she opened the door. Compared to the townhouse she had shared with Raegan in Nashville, the apartment was sparse and tiny. Because she was moving, Raegan had bought out Jamie's share of the townhouse and all their belongings. She had arrived in Ohio with nothing more than her clothing and a small box of personal odds and ends. She had bought furniture but few decorations.
Jamie opened the door and walked into the cozy front room. The apartment was the open front room where she had a couch and television and a kitchen table. A narrow bar separated the front room from the kitchen itself. Her bedroom and a small bathroom were located to one side. The woman followed Jamie into the room. Like in the pool hall, every one of Jamie's senses was aware of the presence of the stranger. Jamie turned to tell the woman to have a seat, but the woman was already perched on the couch. "Would you like a drink?"
"That would be delightful. Whatever you are having will be fine."
Jamie nodded, unsure what else to say, and hurried into the kitchen. The woman rose from the couch and walked to the small table that had pictures sitting on it. When Jamie returned with two glasses of soda, the woman handed Jamie one of the photographs. "Who is this?"
"Raegan," Jamie answered, "my girlfriend."
"Oh?" the woman mused, raising her eyebrows quizzically. She turned the picture back to examine it thoughtfully. "She doesn't seem your type."
"You don't know me well enough to make that statement," Jamie hissed. The woman again cut her eyes in question at Jamie. "What is my type?"
"Me," the woman answered, sitting the picture back to the table and turning to take the glass that Jamie offered. "If you were mine, you would never be drinking in a bar alone. Where is she?"
"Nashville," Jamie sighed, running her finger over Raegan's face before going to sit on the sofa. She tucked her one leg beneath her. She wasn't sure of her footing, so she didn't feel it was necessary to announce that Raegan had found a new family.
"That would never do," the woman proclaimed, sitting down next to Jamie. She crossed her long legs, her steady gaze causing goose bumps to form on Jamie's flesh. She felt her nipples tighten. "But if you have a girlfriend, why did you allow me to come back to your apartment?"
Jamie dropped her eyes, wanting to hide the truth. "You won the bet," she answered.
"I wouldn't have held you to it."
"I know," Jamie responded, surprised by her answer. The woman sat her glass on the coffee table, then took Jamie's and set it aside as well. She trailed her fingers through Jamie's long, light brown hair, brushing tendrils off of her cheek. Jamie turned her face into the caress, hungry for the tender touch. How long had it been since she had known the warm and loving touch of another woman?
Too long, she thought. So long that she was falling easy prey to the charms of this enchanting stranger. She pulled away, a flush in her cheeks but a smile on her lips. The woman's smile was seductive and warm. She moistened her lips, taking Jamie's hand and playing with her fingers. Jamie wore a simple band on her left hand. Raegan had a matching ring, though Jamie suspected that Raegan had recently stopped wearing her ring. Jamie supposed it was time that she removed her symbol of their love as well.
"I like a shy, cautious girl. Almost as much as I like a girl who can play pool," the woman muttered, again touching Jamie's cheek with the back of her fingers. This time, Jamie did not pull away as the tips of the woman's fingers danced over her cheek bones, eyelids, and lips. Jamie parted her lips as the woman's manicured nail traced the outline. The pad of her index finger touched the inside of Jamie's lips. Jamie closed her lips around the finger, suckling instinctively.
"Good girl," the woman whispered huskily. She pulled her wet finger from Jamie's lips and traced the vein in the slender neck. Her finger made a small, wet circle around Jamie's neck, then dipped lower to trace along the scooped neckline of Jamie's shirt. She said nothing to change the electric atmosphere as she leaned forward and touched her lips to Jamie's. Jamie closed her eyes, lifting her hand to touch the woman's cheek as she tilted her head.
Their lips pressed securely to each other for a moment, moving in firm, warm nibbles. The woman slipped her tongue along Jamie's lips and Jamie immediately opened for her. Their tongues rubbed against one another, scrubbing and tasting and teasing. Jamie moaned low in her throat, leaning into the woman. The woman strengthened her seduction, lifting her hand to cup Jamie's breast as their tongues continue to duel. She lifted Jamie's breast, rubbing her thumb rapidly back and forth over the lengthening nipple.
Jamie pressed into the touch, dropping her hand to the woman's smooth, muscular thigh. Her hand slid up and down over the flesh, her fingertips dipping beneath the hem of the skirt. Her hand moved to the inside of the woman's thigh and slipped farther upward, surprised when her fingers touched a smooth, damp mound.
Jamie started to pull her hand away, embarrassed to have been so forward and made such a contact. The woman reached down and gripped Jamie's arm, holding her in place. "Don't be so hasty," the woman said. "Explore."
Jamie slid her hand back to the smooth mound, dragging her fingertips over it. The woman leaned back, opening herself as Jamie's fingertips danced along the slit. She whispered soft words of encouragement as Jamie's finger tips pushed deeper. She found the woman's clitoris, surprised to find the bud extended. Her finger circled around it, teasing it lightly, encouraged more by the woman's moans and sighs than her words.
They resumed their kiss as Jamie's fingers moved up and down on the swollen nub. Jamie quickened her pace as the kiss deepened. The woman's tongue thrust and parried in time with Jamie's fingers. Her hips rocked in gentle rhythm, using Jamie's fingers to her own will.
The woman's legs snapped shut, keeping Jamie prisoner, as her body shuddered in pleasure. She groaned into Jamie's mouth, her body racked with spasms of delight.
The woman pulled away from Jamie, removing the girl's hand. She put Jamie's finger in her mouth and sucked it clean before finishing her soda. "Thank you," she said, rising from the couch. Jamie was so dazed by the experience that she could not respond. The woman left without saying anything more. Once the door had clicked into place, Jamie's shoulders slumped as she struggled for breath.
She slouched on the sofa for a few minutes, her face in her hands. She had never done anything like that before. She and Raegan had certainly had a satisfying sex life, but it had never been adventurous. She had never invited a stranger into her home, and certainly never had sex with them.