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Abrock

"No Longer A Stranger"

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Good reaction then, right? :lol:

~Mel

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That is a resounding....YESSSS!

Schweet! Wonderful, thanks Pilar!!

I should have some more in the near future....

~Mel

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So...do I need to have this in over 18 to have more people read and comment on it, or what?

C'mon readers, where be ye?

~Mel

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So...do I need to have this in over 18 to have more people read and comment on it, or what?

C'mon readers, where be ye?

~Mel

Mel, I come in here several times a week, hoping to see more of this story. I am always disappointed when I find nothing new. I'm really enjoying it, so continue on...

:yourock:

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Thanks phantomtp! I'm working on a particularly longer section right now, should have it up in the next couple of days...

~Mel

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***

The next thing Lori knew, she was being gently shaken from sleep by movement on the bed. Wearily opening her eyes, she saw Drew kneeling back on the bed, watching her carefully.

“Oh…I’m sorry Lori; I didn’t mean to wake you.”

Lori just smiled sleepily, stretching thoroughly before she sat up. “No problem. How long have I been asleep?”

Drew glanced at the bedside clock. “Three or so hours?”

Lori’s eyes widened in surprise. “Really? Wow! I barely remember closing my eyes.”

“Well,” Drew said as he folded his legs Indian-style to face her, “you were up all night.”

“True. What about you, did you get any sleep?”

He nodded. “Yeah, a couple of hours.”

Just as she was about to reply, Lori got a whiff of wind from the kitchen. “What is that glorious smell?”

Drew smiled sheepishly. “I hope you don’t mind, I found some muffin mix in your pantry…they should be almost ready.”

A grin broke out on Lori’s face. “Mind? Hardly! They smell great…”

“I’ll go get them out; you can hang here,” he said as he reached over and kissed her on the cheek.

Drew retuned in just a few minutes, carrying a plate with two warm blueberry muffins cut in half and buttered, and a glass of orange juice. Lori’s mouth watered involuntarily.

“Here you go,” he said softly, as he placed the plate in front of her, and the glass on the bedside table.

“Wow…these are amazing…”

Drew laughed. “You haven’t even tasted them yet.”

Lori grinned. “Okay then.” She sunk her teeth into one of the halves, and almost instantly released a groan from her throat.

“Mmmm…these really are…quite good.”

Drew smiled slightly, more with his eyes than anything, the kind that Lori adored. After she took a quick drink from her glass, she asked, “You gonna get a plate and join me?”

Nodding once, Drew stood and disappeared out of the room, returning soon with a serving of his own. They settled on the bed, enjoying the calm and relaxation of the weekend morning.

Lori marveled at how natural it felt to be eating breakfast with him like this, both in their pajamas, not worrying about looking their best for each other, but rather focusing on being together, easy and innate. When they finished, Drew took it upon himself to take the dishes back to the kitchen and rinse them off. He was met with Lori laying down again sleepily when he came back.

Drew crawled onto the bed beside her and lay down to face her. “Still tired?” he asked softly, stroking the side of her face.

“Seems that way,” Lori mumbled in response. “Thank you for breakfast…”

“You’re welcome,” Drew replied in a whisper, kissing her on her jaw line.

As she drifted back into a light slumber, Drew propped himself up on his right elbow, watching her with a sense of reverence. Another distant memory entered his mind, a time where he’d done the same thing with Katie…waking her up with breakfast already made, and eating it together in bed.

It had, in fact, been one of his favorite memories for quite some time before their divorce. Katie had reacted well, and appreciated his efforts more than he expected. But now, as he lay next to Lori, he realized how different it felt. With Katie, he’d been trying…he’d always been trying with her. Trying to make her comfortable, trying to make her happy, content…nothing seemed to come natural for him when it came to her. Every day was an effort, one that he’d found exasperating, though he did his best not to let himself think that.

Earlier, when Drew woke up an hour or so before Lori, he decided to make breakfast for her, but not in the same way he’d decided to do that for Katie. With Katie, he’d had to think about and weigh many different ideas to try and keep the kindling of their relationship alight, constantly sweating over the fact that it was barely flickering. But with Lori, the decision to make breakfast had been a natural one, something that came without deliberating over the consequences. He didn’t do it for relief of his worried mind, but because he intrinsically knew she would appreciate and love it.

When Lori stirred again, she opened her eyes to see Drew watching her, his brow knit and his eyes a sharp, warm green…yet he looked troubled.

“Hey, you okay?” she whispered.

Drew snapped himself out of his trance, realizing his troubled thoughts of the past were showing through his expression.

“Yeah, I’m good,” he replied sincerely. “Just thinking, is all.”

“Didn’t look especially happy,” she offered.

“I’ll admit I was dipping into my past a bit, so that naturally stirs up some trouble in my mind. But don’t worry, like I said, I’m good.” He smiled assuredly, leaning forward and kissing her simply.

Lori smiled contently when he pulled away. “Did you know that you’re very adorable?”

Drew glanced down, his cheeks flushing. “Um…”

Lori laughed. “Exactly what I mean. You’re too cute for words.”

Lifting his gaze back up to hers, Drew lifted an eyebrow. “Cute, huh? Like a puppy?”

“Sure…why not?” she grinned.

He lowered his eyelids a little, glancing at her through his lashes, and focused a smoldering look to her gaze.

“Puppy…now?” he asked in a gravelly voice.

Lori’s heart sped up, her mouth suddenly dry. Her grin faded to a look of stricken wonder, the blue in her eyes deepening.

“One all grown up,” she replied softly, barely realizing she had responded out loud.

Drew’s countenance lightened, a subtle smile growing on his face. His look changed from smoldering to pure affection. “You’re so great,” he tenderly said, moving in closer to kiss her again.

Lori wasn’t sure exactly what happened…but between the pleasurable devastation of his burning gaze, and then the shift on his face to heart-melting fondness, her rational mind began to abandon her. And then, when their lips touched, it took flight altogether.

She moved closer to him, exploring his face and neck with her hands as he kissed her, and Drew doing the same with her shoulders and upper arms. She then slid her hands beneath his arms to wrap around his back, keeping him closer still. Drew’s hands did the same around hers, and before his mind caught up, without knowing who had instigated it, Lori was on her back with Drew above her, still kissing her soundly.

But when his mind did catch up, he stiffened and pulled out of the kiss, supporting himself on his hands while he looked down at her.

“I’m…sorry Lori,” he apologized, trying to gauge her reaction as she looked up at him.

Lori visibly swallowed, her hands still resting on his upper arms. “Sorry for…this?”

He nodded. “I wasn’t thinking, and I’m sorry.”

She bit her lip. “What I mean is…you’re not sorry that…I mean, are you sorry that you got lost in the moment…or sorry that you couldn’t?”

Confusion creased on his forehead. “I’m not sure I understand what you mean. I did get lost in the moment, and for that, I’m sorry.”

Lori seemed to relax, nodding slowly while adverting her eyes. “I’m sorry, too. I just…at first I thought you meant that you couldn’t get lost in this…that maybe you realized that you perhaps didn’t want…this.”

Drew’s mind froze, her meaning starting to break through. A little reluctantly he rolled back onto his side, and then kept his hand on the side of her face as she also turned to meet his eyes.

“How could you ever think that?” he said softly.

Lori shrugged on a reflex, but began searching her brain for the answer. Why had she thought that way? It was only hours ago when she’d been a little wary about his intense kiss, and took the initiative to slow it down. But a buried concern was trying to make its way to the surface.

“You do want this, then?” she asked quietly.

Drew’s eyes widened in surprise. As they did, Lori suddenly realized the implications of her question. She opened her mouth to explain, but she couldn’t get the words to form.

“Lori,” Drew began, saving her from her speechlessness, “there’s something I think I need to say.” His face grew serious, contemplative. “You know I’m very much attracted to you, on every level. I would be lying if I said I didn’t want…this. Something more on a physical level. But see, I also know your wishes and respect them immensely. And like I said before, I’m not hanging around hoping you’ll change your mind. I would never force you into it, and I mean that physically and emotionally. If you’ve ever felt pressured, then I apologize profusely, because I never meant to.”

Lori’s speechlessness continued, but now for a different reason. She couldn’t help but remember a similar conversation when they first began dating. Drew had worried then as well that he’d unknowingly been pushing her into something.

“I’m sorry,” she said, finding her voice again. “That wasn’t my worry…and I don’t feel pressured, honestly Drew.” She leveled her eyes with his to emphasize her sincerity. “I feel bad that you feel bad about this…”

Drew laughed lightly. “Then does it make sense if I feel bad that you feel bad that I feel bad?”

A smile broke on Lori’s face as well, easing the tension of the moment. “We could go on like this forever, then! But seriously, I just want to say that I’m not worried about you pressuring me. I guess I was just a little nervous that you wouldn’t…want me that way.”

Drew breathed out a troubled sigh. “Again, Lori…why would you think that?”

Lori shrugged again, not wanting to really delve. “I don’t know…insecurities are weird.”

Drew nodded in understanding. “That they are.” He paused, wondering if he should ask the question on his mind. He decided it might not be a bad idea, considering she was the one to bring it up.

“So…” he began after a few seconds of silence, “do um…do you want this, Lori?”

Drawing in her lips, Lori held her breath and hesitated. “I would be lying if I said I didn’t. Do you remember what I told you when we were first dating? About this subject?”

Drew squinted a bit, wondering which point she was pondering. “The main thing was that you wanted to wait until you were married.”

“Right…but do you remember that I said it was harder to keep that promise? I mean because I’m attracted to you in every way…again, not because I’ve ever felt pressured.”

Nodding, Drew couldn’t help but blush at the memory. She had told him that he was the whole package, and he’d been extremely elated at that knowledge.

Lori smiled at his blushing; remembering that he’d had the same reaction then, too.

“That’s multiplied on every level,” she continued in a soft voice. “I also think that’s why it’s so important for me to keep this promise, because until you came along, I’ve never really had it challenged before.”

Drew glanced at her warily. “I don’t want to be a challenge…”

Lori couldn’t help it; she shook her head with a smile and grasped his hands. “No, Drew…you are not an obstacle I’m trying to overcome. All I meant was I really want to be true to the promises I’ve made, and before you, I’ve never really had the desire to break that particular promise.” She lowered her head a bit and looked up at him through her eyelashes with a slight smile, doing her best to relieve his mind.

It worked; Drew broke into a slightly embarrassed grin, his mood instantly lighter.

“So, this confession is a compliment then?” he asked.

Lori laughed. “Yes! Most definitely a compliment. You are one hot guy, Drew.” She grinned again.

The tension in his shoulders relaxed as he gathered her in his arms. “And you, Lori, are quite…” he let the moment play out as he searched for a fitting description.

Lori raised her eyebrows playfully in anticipation. “Yes?”

“Mmmm, I can’t think of a good enough word for you. You’re all of them, all those beautiful and wonderful descriptions, wrapped together in one beautiful package.”

She blinked at him in the wake of such a compliment, her mouth dry, not knowing how to respond.

“Thank you,” she whispered sincerely.

“Oh, you’re welcome,” he replied softly, lowering his mouth to hers again.

He kissed her softly and slowly as he cradled her in his arms, making sure he checked himself in his passions, knowing that he could never let himself do anything to hurt her. He’d been so worried about his own heart that he’d forgotten about hers…how she felt about their relationship, and how much she cared for him. He marveled that he’d actually thought his feelings for her were fading.

An epiphany hit him then, and he realized, maybe for the first time, just how immature his heart was. The force of that realization caught him off balance. He was nearly in his mid-thirties, but as far as his experience with love was concerned, he was still fresh out of high school. His concept of true love had been the adolescent elation of a crush, and staying on that high for an extended period of time meant the love was real. If that faded, then it was never love.

How ridiculous it seemed to him now as he held Lori to him. Their kiss broke, and Lori settled against him as he held her silently, musing.

**

While Lori relaxed against Drew, she was still a little troubled. Even though she knew that Drew would follow her wishes without complaint, she felt the need to explain herself, as if she needed justification. But why would she? She certainly didn’t have to justify anything to him…

Lori caught herself in the middle of such a defensive thought. What was with her? He hadn’t demanded anything of her, or to know any reasons for her choices…maybe she’d just expected that? Not from Drew specifically, though…just in general. She’d had some friends tell her that good men were hard to find, especially ones who would wait until marriage before being physically intimate.

“Most guys will definitely skip out of the relationship once they hear that,” said a particularly opinionated female friend once, referring to Lori’s choice on the matter.

Lori’s response had been, “Then he’s not the guy for me.”

Her friend had mumbled something in return about waiting for a miracle or fairytale man, and Lori had brushed it aside. She knew she was limiting her dating pool with her set values, but it hardly mattered to her.

Until now. She hadn’t counted on someone like Drew. What if Drew hadn’t been as understanding? What if he’d been just as great as he was, but had a problem with her pronounced choice? Not in any way to try and force her, that would go against his very character, but in a way that it was a strain between them…and ultimately it was the deciding factor on whether or not they stayed together?

Logic told her that it was obvious; if it came down to that, Drew clearly wasn’t the one for her. But her heart ached at the idea of losing him, since she’d never known anyone like him, or felt this way before.

Drew chose that moment to look down at her face, noticing her slightly troubled expression.

“Hey,” he said softly, caressing the side of her face. “Everything okay?”

Lori was about to answer in the affirmative, but she couldn’t keep the emotion out of her voice, so she decided to try and talk through a few things.

She shifted to sit up across from him, taking his hands, their fingers automatically entwining, as they so often did. His eyes were now a deep green, an indent of concern traced across his brow. Swallowing hard, Lori forced her voice out.

“I feel I should tell you something…about why I chose what I did,” she managed to squeak out.

Drew kept his eyes in impeccable contact with hers. “Only if you want to, Lori. You don’t owe me an explanation.”

Lori’s breath caught in her throat at Drew voicing the concerns in her head. It caused her to relax a little, a small smile breaking out on her face.

“Thank you,” she replied softly. “I appreciate that more than you know. I do want to tell you about it though…unless you would rather not hear it…?”

Drew squeezed her hands affectionately. “I would like to hear it, very much.”

“Okay then,” she replied, taking a deep breath. “I already mentioned that most of my friends growing up were Mormon. They’re quite strict about the no sex before marriage thing. My parents basically taught me to be careful…that waiting was a good thing, and waiting for marriage was ideal. They more than discouraged teenage sex, though. So, I was pretty resolute to at least wait until I was an adult, and then just play it by ear.

“Then when I was about fifteen, maybe sixteen, I had a good, long talk with a Mormon friend of mine…her name was Nicole…about the benefits of waiting until one was married. It wasn’t just about out-of-wedlock pregnancies or STD’s, either. It was a very spiritual and emotional concept, saving yourself for that one person you could give your all to. I absolutely loved that, so I made the decision that day…a promise to myself that I would wait until I was married.”

As Lori finished the story, she relaxed her shoulders while her heart thumped loudly, waiting for his reply.

Drew smiled encouragingly at her, leaned in and kissed her softly. “I think that’s wonderful,” he whispered. “It’s so much more thoughtful and courageous than most attitudes these days.”

Lori certainly couldn’t doubt the sincerity radiating from his eyes. She sighed in relief, smiling back at him. Then something sparked her memory.

“Did you say that you waited?” she asked carefully, not wanting to bring up more memories about his ex, but her curiosity won out.

Drew’s smile faded somewhat, but his earnest gaze remained. “Yes, that’s true.”

“Would you mind sharing your choice?” Her voice was tentative.

She watched him swallow with difficulty, making her regret asking, until he responded favorably.

“I wouldn’t mind at all,” he replied.

“You sure? I don’t want to force you to.”

His encouraging smile returned. “I’m sure.”

Drew adjusted his position a bit to get a little more comfortable, gearing himself to tell the story.

“I was about the same age…fourteen or fifteen,” he began. “I overheard a conversation my dad had with a neighbor…his name was Mike, I think…but anyway, he and my dad would go golfing together, that sort of thing. One day they were in the front room watching TV, and I was in the kitchen making something to eat, I think…anyway, I could hear them talking, which at first wasn’t a big deal, but I began to listen a little closer for curiosity sake.

“Mike had two kids, one boy and one girl, the boy about my age and the girl a couple of years older. Mike mentioned that his son was starting to date a girl pretty seriously, even at fourteen or so. That turned the conversation to teenage sex, which Mike proclaimed that he told his son he’d better not find him in bed with this girl anytime soon, or something along those lines. My dad agreed that was a good thing to say, as he’d pretty much said the same thing to me and my older brother. The discussion turned to what they’d taught their kids about when a good time was to ‘lose it,’ as they called it.” Drew shook his head with a smirk. “Not the best thing to call it, but hey…”

Lori merely smiled, letting him know she wasn’t bothered or ill at ease, causing him to continue.

“My dad hadn’t really had an in-depth discussion with me at that time, not yet anyway, about that subject. I guess he never really had with my older brother, and felt a little bad about that, so he asked Mike what he’d told his kids. Mike said that he’d told his daughter she’d better wait until she was married, and told his son to make sure he had at least one sexual experience before he got married. I remember there being a pause, and then my dad said, ‘With whose daughter?’ I was struck by that.”

Lori’s eyebrows raised in surprise and disbelief, wondering how anyone could hold such a double standard for their children.

“I had a talk with my dad not long after that,” Drew continued. “That’s when I decided to do my best to wait also. I felt that too many guys were looking to get as many girls into bed as possible.” He took a deep breath, searching Lori’s eyes for her reaction. She swallowed with emotion and caressed his face tenderly.

“You really are amazing,” she said softly. “I’m so happy I’m by your side.”

Drew’s brow creased into a bittersweet expression, his eyes damp as he leaned in and kissed her again. He then closed his eyes, their foreheads touching. “You know I don’t see you as just some girl to get into bed, right?”

Lori actually laughed a bit, feeling more relieved than she thought possible. “I know you don’t. We wouldn’t be having this conversation if you did.”

Drew smiled. “Touché.”

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Sweet, I'm glad you GALS are enjoying!

:hearts:

~Mel

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Here's the rest of the last section...

~Mel

------------------------------

Her face becoming serious, Lori composed herself to ask a difficult question.

“Was…Katie one who wanted to get you into bed?” she asked a little timidly.

Drew pulled back from her a little. “Wha…?”

“I’m sorry,” Lori quickly said, “I don’t mean to bring up…well…I was just wondering, and I’m trying to understand a little better. You said once that she was really into the sex at first…”

He nodded. “Yes, that’s true.”

“I really am sorry, you don’t have to talk about it.”

Sighing inwardly, Drew abandoned himself to the question and allowed painful memories to come into his consciousness. “Don’t worry, Lori, it’s actually good for me to tell you this.”

Lori raised her eyebrows, silently questioning his response.

“Honestly,” he said softly. Lori relaxed again.

Drew stiffened his resolve, and began. “Katie came from a pretty strict family, a long history of Catholic tradition. She always seemed fine with that, but I guess her parents were pretty bad. She’d been taught to wait until marriage…or more like ordered to by her parents. There were some times during our engagement where I had to stop us from going too far. Not that I was some chaste Galahad or anything…I didn’t want trouble between her and her parents, and I did have my own promise to keep.”

Lori raised her eyebrows. “Chaste Galahad?” she asked with a smile.

Drew smiled in spite of himself. “Yeah…meaning I didn’t stop us from making out in convenient locations. But…she was pretty insistent a few times. It was hard, I won’t lie about that.”

“I can sympathize,” Lori replied softly, stroking his face.

Letting out a quick sigh, Drew’s eyes locked impeccably onto hers and intensified.

“Was it ever good with Katie?” Lori asked quietly.

Not expecting that question, Drew felt a lump develop in his throat. “Um…well…”

“You can answer honestly,” she reassured him, though secretly she was afraid of the answer.

“Um…yes, as in physically good, yes. But afterwards…she usually just fell right to sleep. I mean, I wanted to talk with her, to be with her…but she would only wake me up when she wanted more. During those first few weeks, I’d come through the door after work and she’d pounce on me, and then she would go out with some of her friends later while I stayed home.”

Lori shook her head in disgust for this woman she’d never met, her own insecurities put on hold as she got a deeper glance into his heart. “Drew, I’m so sorry…”

Smiling weakly, Drew shook his head. “It’s okay, Lori. It’s in my past.”

“But I can see that it still hurts.”

He nodded, swallowing the lump in his throat. “Guess I can’t deny that. But it hurts so much less now, being close to you.” He took her face in his palms. “All these years I’ve been numb, not letting myself feel anymore pain, but I couldn’t heal that way. I’m healing now…and that’s because of you.”

Lori’s eyes were caught in his gaze, and though she wanted to respond, her throat was dry.

“Lori,” he whispered, gathering his courage to say what he knew he needed to, “Lori, I love you.”

Her heart leaping at his declaration, Lori’s eyes began to well with tears. Caressing his neck, she leaned closer to his face…his unbelievably handsome, life-worn face, a face that was now waiting anxiously for a response from her.

“I love you too, Drew,” she replied, also in an earnest whisper.

Relief and delight shone in Drew’s eyes as she leaned in and kissed him, the intensity of their feelings enveloping the act. They were then locked in the tightest embrace either of them had ever known, gently rocking in each other’s arms, their cheeks pressed against one another’s.

Lori reveled in the soft scruff that tickled her ear and the side of her face, thinking that no other man on earth had whiskers like Drew’s. She kept her eyes closed and her face near his neck, basking in his closeness and how amazing she felt in his arms.

Tears fell silently down Drew’s cheeks as he held Lori to him, his heart pounding with joy at how tightly she clung to him, and how utterly sincere her declaration of love was. She loved him; an amazing and beautiful woman that held the key to his heart loved him.

After many long moments of their peaceful, tight embrace, Lori pulled back a little, discovering his abundant tears. Her forehead creased in worry.

“Drew?” she asked softly.

Trying to find his voice, Drew parted his lips to speak, but still delayed for a few moments more.

“I’m just…” he began, unable to form his feelings into words.

“Are these good tears?” Lori gently probed.

Drew laughed through his emotion. “Yes…yes they are.”

Lori could feel her eyes welling up again. “Then by all means…they’re most welcome.”

And with that, they both took on the task to clear each other’s tears with their lips.

***

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*crickets*

Hellooooo?

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*crickets*

Hellooooo?

"Hello" says the other cricket, while she patiently awaits the next section...

:goodjob2: Mel

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Thanks phantomtp!

Where the bloody 'ell are the rest of my readers?? :crybaby:

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Guest pilaraquarius

:tissues::tissues::tissues:

The rest of your "bloody readers" are trying to peel themselves off the floor from that last passage!

Holy HELL, Mel!!!

You're "KILLING ME SOFTLY WITH HIS SONG!"

Fookin' AAAAA!

(pardon my french)

Now.... :gettowork:

PUHLEEZE!!

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LOL Pilar, I take it you liked that segment, then? :hearts: Thank you much!!

I'm workin', I'm workin'.... :D

~Mel

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It was the first time since she began working at the ranch that Lori felt nervous about running into her employers. Monday mornings were always a bit difficult for her, even though she always looked forward to working with Cougar, but getting back into the routine of things after two days off took a bit of effort.

But this Monday morning was a bit tougher than usual for Lori, because of the extra weight of nervousness she carried with her. On Saturday she’d told Drew she wasn’t worried about any strain between her and the Keiths, but the tiny apprehension had time to fester and strengthen over the weekend. She’d also proclaimed that she would only explain herself to Marilyn if asked, but that resolve was weakening. Several times on Sunday, she’d picked up the phone in order to dial the Keith’s house, but chickened out every time.

Aside from her fickle determination over that matter, the rest of her weekend with Drew had been great. After their pivotal declaration of love for each other, they snuggled for an hour more before Drew left to go home so he could shower and dress. Lori did the same in his absence, and then started making lunch. Drew returned shortly after, helping her finish up. The rest of the day consisted mostly of them talking, comfortable in each other’s arms on the front room sofa, and sharing kisses whenever they could.

Drew finally left around one in the morning, even though Lori had thought several times about asking him to stay.

I can control myself, she would think to herself.

Then Drew would kiss her.

Okay, maybe I can’t.

Actually, I think I can.

Another kiss.

Wow…do I even want to?

Yes, I do…I do want to.

The battle in her head continued for most of the evening. She was grateful when Drew took the initiative to leave (since she wasn’t sure she could make herself ask him), though secretly thrilled that he too seemed reluctant to do so.

Sunday was another day of relaxing at the pool house, and though it was a hot, sunny day, Drew purposely neglected to bring his swimming trunks. At first Lori was put out, but then she was grateful again as she realized that Drew was taking extra precautions to keep her wishes alive. They still sat with their feet in the pool at times, but refrained from much cuddling out in the hot sun. Lori found she didn’t mind, though, because they were chatting almost non-stop, getting to know each other better than they already did. And when she faced Drew with a bit of space between them, Lori had a marvelous view of his soulful, ever-changing eyes. They seemed to be greener now most of the time with hints of gray, instead of the other way around like when she first met him. That fact gave her comfort that his words to her on Saturday morning had been true; that she was helping him heal.

There weren’t any signs of the Keiths as Lori retrieved Cougar and began the usual warm-ups. Just as she started to relax, she heard a horse at a full canter heading her way. Turning from the warm-up towards the sound, Lori relaxed a bit when she saw Carson riding atop Duke, but the reprieve was short-lived as she remembered her separate anxiety about Carson.

Ever since the infamous Sunday dinner with Drew and the Keiths, Lori couldn’t help feeling strange around Carson, wondering if he really did have a crush on her, and how awkward that thought was to her. She hadn’t seen him much in the last week, and when she had, he’d been friendly as always, but very busy, just as she’d been.

Expecting Carson to slow Duke, Lori stiffened, waiting for Carson to stop and want to talk. But as he got closer, she realized he wasn’t slowing down.

“Morning, Lori!” Carson called to her as he rode by.

“Morning!” Lori replied after a moment’s pause. Was he avoiding her? Had Marilyn told her family about Saturday morning? What did they think of her now? Would they all keep their distance?

Cougar nuzzling Lori’s shoulder from behind caused her to nearly jump out of her skin, bringing her back to reality. After her heart started beating again, she mentally shook herself, realizing how paranoid she was being. Resuming the warm-ups, she did her best to focus on her work.

Lori was surprised how quickly the day went once she did so. Before she knew it, it was already four o’clock, and she was heading back to the pool house. Drew had something big planned for them that evening, and she was giddy with excitement to find out what it was.

Her train of thought was jarred and derailed once she was in view of the front porch. There sat Marilyn, looking like she was waiting for something. Lori’s stomach jumped into her throat as a sweat broke out on her brow, one that had nothing to do with the summer sun.

When Marilyn spotted Lori, she stood expectantly with a smile on her face. Lori smiled back, hoping that was a good sign.

“Hi Lori,” Marilyn greeted. Her tone was friendly and unassuming, something else that gave Lori hope.

“Hi Marilyn,” Lori replied, trying to keep the nervous tremor out of her voice.

“You got a few minutes?” Marilyn asked, still as pleasant as ever.

“Yeah, absolutely. You want to come inside?”

“That would be great, thanks.”

Lori did her best to keep her hand from shaking as she unlocked the door and let them both in.

“Would you like water or a soda?” Lori asked, trying to postpone whatever the subject was.

“A soda would be good, sure,” Marilyn replied with a smile.

Lori retrieved two Sprites out of the fridge and then sat on the opposite end of the large sofa from Marilyn.

“What’s up?” Lori said, hoping to sound possibly ignorant.

“Well,” Marilyn began, setting her open soda on the coffee table and folding her hands together, “John and I were talking the other night, and we were wondering something.”

Lori tried not to gulp. “What’s that?”

“As you know, when we first hired you, we could only guarantee a job for you through September or so.”

Nodding, Lori could feel her heart thumping very loudly.

“But I think things have changed a bit now.”

Lori’s stomach lurched with nausea. It was only the end of July…she’d been counting on this employment until September. What options did she have if she lost her job now? Certainly none of them made staying in Moab very favorable. How could she just up and leave with Drew settled here, even if it was for financial purposes? She’d been planning on looking for work in or around Moab come the middle of August, so that she could stick around if the Keiths no longer needed her, but this was completely out of the blue.

It had to do with Saturday morning, Lori reasoned. What on earth would she tell Drew? Even though she wouldn’t change their experience and time together that day for anything, how much would he blame himself for it?

I should have just called and explained, she thought to herself. Why didn’t I? Of course John and Marilyn had the right to be concerned about what was going on in the house; it was their house after all.

“We’d like to offer you a contract until at least December,” Marilyn continued with a hopeful smile. “You’ve become quite the asset on this ranch, Lori, and we’d like to keep you around as long as we can. That is, if you’ll accept it?”

Every panicked thought that was racing through Lori’s mind came to a standstill all at once. She blinked, trying to catch up with what Marilyn had just said.

“Uh…” Lori stuttered.

“I understand if you need time to think about it,” Marilyn continued. “We certainly don’t need an answer right away.”

“I…” Lori fumbled again, finally knocking her brain straight. “You mean stay on until at least December?”

“Yes, I realize it’s quite a bit longer than we originally…”

“You kidding? I’d love to!” Lori exclaimed, her face splitting into a grin.

Marilyn looked relieved, which Lori was sure was only a fraction of what she herself felt.

“Now, you’re sure, you don’t need to think about it?” Marilyn offered.

“Positive,” Lori answered perhaps a little too quickly.

“Wow,” Marilyn laughed. “You’re certainly a hard person to convince!”

Lori laughed with her, realizing her own undisguised enthusiasm. “I’ve always loved working here, I’m more than happy to stay on,” she assured.

“I’m very happy to hear that, Lori. We all think you’re great.” She smiled warmly. “I do have to ask though…would a certain good-looking guy have something to do with your enthusiasm to stay?”

Lori blushed involuntarily. “Why, whoever could you mean?” she feigned.

Marilyn laughed. “So, things going well with Drew, then?”

Lori nodded, launching into her words without remembering her former anxiety. “Definitely. He’s quite amazing, had a lot of rough times in life, but that just adds to his already strong character…” She paused, suddenly thinking of Saturday morning again. Should she still explain about that? Or would Marilyn bring it up?

“He’s good to you?” Marilyn asked, her face becoming a little more earnest.

“Very much.”

“Treats you like a lady?”

“He’s an immaculate gentleman.” Lori wondered about the questions, as Marilyn’s countenance grew more serious, yet not grave.

“I’m glad to hear that,” she finally responded with a smile.

Lori took a deep breath, forcing her words out of her mouth. “Is there any reason you’re asking? Anything you’re concerned about?”

Marilyn sighed. “It’s not quite what it seems. I’m not getting alarms going off in my head about him or anything. Every time I’ve met him, he’s seemed just as you describe him.”

Lori decided to just blurt out what was on her mind. “Would any of this have to do with Saturday morning?” Her voice was quieter than usual.

Marilyn looked a bit taken aback, but not necessarily surprised at Lori’s question. She cleared her throat. “I suppose that’s a bit obvious, huh?” she commented a little sheepishly.

This time, Lori couldn’t help a substantial gulp. She was no longer worried about the status of her employment, but she found that she cared a great deal what the Keiths thought of her, since they were a second family to her.

“It wasn’t until I left that I noticed a car parked in front of the house,” Marilyn continued. “If I’d seen it before, I wouldn’t have disturbed you, and I apologize for that.”

Lori’s brow creased in slight confusion. Marilyn had been embarrassed?

“Um, no apology needed,” Lori replied softly. “Drew had just…he came over just after four in the morning, had a…a problem he had to talk through.” She chewed her lower lip, hoping she wouldn’t have to skirt around explaining his nightmares, because she knew that was private knowledge between the two of them.

“Oh,” Marilyn said, reacting again with a bit of surprise. “So, I didn’t wake the two of you up? Oh, but I probably interrupted your talking…”

“We uh, actually had fallen asleep at that time, on the sofa,” Lori stuttered, gesturing to the furniture piece they were currently sitting on.

“In any case, I apologize for the interruption.”

Lori thought she saw a little bit of relief in Marilyn’s eyes, and she decided it couldn’t hurt to help that along.

“Drew’s really amazing,” Lori began. “When we first started dating, he told me that he never wanted to do anything that made me uncomfortable, and he’s stuck to that faithfully. We both have pretty strong morals, so…it’s a good fit.” She naturally smiled as she spoke the last comment.

Marilyn smiled along with her. “You know I don’t have any daughters, Lori, so this is a bit of a difficult thing for me to address. Though I’ve come to think of you as a daughter.”

Lori’s smile returned, assuring Marilyn that she felt the same.

“I know that John and I didn’t set any rules as far as, well, men were concerned when it came to this house,” Marilyn continued. “Maybe we should have…or rather, talked about it, but I just couldn’t really bring myself to do that. I can talk to my boys, but…” she shook her head with an embarrassed grin.

“No worries,” Lori encouraged.

“Well, anyway. You weren’t dating anyone when you moved in, so I didn’t think it necessary, really. We did give you that rule that no one else was to live here, so that covered the possibility of a boy moving in. Well…Drew is hardly a boy, but you know what I mean.”

Lori grinned. ‘Boy’ was the wrong word for Drew, indeed.

“Now, I’m not really your mom, and even if I was, you’re certainly adult enough to make your own decisions…I’m just conflicted about what sort of things John and I should allow or not allow when it comes to our property, but we also promised to give you plenty of space…”

Lori felt it was a good time to interject.

“We’re not sleeping together,” she assured gently. “I mean…you know what I mean.” She couldn’t help but smile to herself. They had actually slept on the same bed together, but that of course wasn’t the meaning the phrase held.

Marilyn sighed. “I kind of figured by a few things you’ve said. Rather it’s…oh, how do I put this?”

“You’re concerned that it will happen?” Lori offered.

Marilyn nodded. “If I’m completely off base, then just tell me to put a lid on it,” she gestured apologetically.

Lori took a quick drink from her soda as her mouth grew dry. “It’s definitely a valid concern,” she admitted.

Marilyn’s gracefully aged brow tightened. “Again, Lori, I’m not here to tell you what you can and can’t do with your free time. I don’t want to seem like a stiff boarding house matron, either. But, if it comes down to that with you and Drew, I’d really prefer that it not happen here.”

Lori nodded, almost business-like, as she thought Marilyn’s words through. As she suspected, Marilyn and John would have a problem if anything like that were to happen under a roof they owned…one they were letting her stay in for free. And Lori didn’t blame them one bit. It in fact gave her more of an incentive to keep her promises to herself.

Well, we could spend more time at Drew’s place…

A bit startled, Lori shook the invading thought from her conscious mind. It was far more convenient for Drew to come to the ranch anyway, since he had a car and Lori didn’t. Besides, Drew had promises of his own, and there was every reason to believe that he might turn her down if she ever pressed.

“I completely understand,” Lori answered her. “And I’ll respect your wishes,” she added with emphasis.

Worry once again faded from Marilyn’s face, her shoulders relaxing. “I really appreciate that, Lori, more than you know. John and I both do.”

“I’m not counting on that happening,” Lori continued, feeling she needed to talk to a female about this before she burst.

“Really? Drew seems to really like you a lot.”

Lori chuckled, blushing a bit. “No, that’s not what I mean. That’s certainly not a problem…the desire is there on both sides.”

“Oh!” Marilyn commented with some embarrassment. “That’s right, you said the two of you had pretty high morals.”

“Yeah. Want to save that particular step for marriage.”

“The both of you?”

“Um, yeah…” Lori hesitated. To really explain, she would have to reveal a bit about Drew’s past. Taking a deep breath, she decided that parting with some essential information would be all right.

“Drew’s divorced,” she said quickly. “He and his ex-wife waited until they were married. He had the same sort of promise for himself that I do.”

“Oh,” Marilyn said once more with a bit of surprise. “So, he still has that promise, then?”

“Well, yeah,” Lori replied, though realizing she wasn’t sure. Her mind flew back to that pivotal conversation in Drew’s front room, where they’d only been dating for a short time. Drew had said that if she hadn’t stopped kissing him, then he wasn’t sure if he would have been able to take it upon himself to stop. Was it still a promise of his, truly? Or was it simply that she was so adamant about it?

“So, it’s difficult then,” Marilyn offered. “Keeping those promises.”

Lori smiled. “Yeah…it is.”

“He’s certainly a looker,” Marilyn gushed.

Lori couldn’t help the flush in her cheeks, or the dreamy look in her eyes. “Yeah…”

“Very kind, too.”

Feeling her countenance take on sentiment, Lori nodded in the affirmative.

“And um, just because I’m the worried parent type, you promise he’s never pressed you to do anything?”

To give her surrogate mom assurance, Lori laid her hand on Marilyn’s wrist, giving it an affectionate squeeze.

“I promise, he’s a perfect gentleman,” Lori said softly, keeping immaculate eye contact with her.

Lori could tell by Marilyn’s expression that she believed her, and that worry had been lifted.

***

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I was just stopping inhere to tell you I finished rereading evrything and read what I'd missed and what I nice surprise I find another segment. :dance: happy dance.

I admire her restraint. I really do. Can't say I'd do the same. He's just too flippin adorable and I mean that in character as well as looks.

Keep it coming darling!

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Thanks Dawn! I'm glad you got a chance to read it!!

As for restraint, you know what they say about horses and bridles...or something like that... :D

~Mel

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I'm-a workin' on it, promise!

~Mel

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Thanks Dawn! I'm glad you got a chance to read it!!

As for restraint, you know what they say about horses and bridles...or something like that... :D

~Mel

Okay, that was just down right mean. You kow I am SUCH A GUTTER GAL!! And to say that comment in the fresh air realm of the site. *bites knuckles* cruel *slides into the gutter

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Thanks Dawn! I'm glad you got a chance to read it!!

As for restraint, you know what they say about horses and bridles...or something like that... :D

~Mel

Okay, that was just down right mean. You kow I am SUCH A GUTTER GAL!! And to say that comment in the fresh air realm of the site. *bites knuckles* cruel *slides into the gutter

LOL!! Sorry for that Dawn! I honestly meant it to be rather innocent, but one could indeed take it not-so-innocently... Heck, I could say KETCHUP! and the gutter gals would derive something out of that...

Anyway, I digress. :D

~Mel

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:wow2: SMelicious! I've gotten started on your story.

I'm feeling swept up in it already! :goodjob2:

I came over here to the end of the thread to post and let you know I was reading it, and what to my wondering eyes did appear?!

"Was…Katie one who wanted to get you into bed?" she asked a little timidly.

:rotflmao::rotflmao:

My feelings can best be described by a scene from "Beowulf & Grendel" when King Hrothgar greeted his 'little Beowulf' and asked if he'd like a beer, to which Beowulf replied,

"Oh yeah"

"Ah'll be bock" to read more! :yourock:

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