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Guest Beanie

TAME Ethan and Charlotte Part 1

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Guest Beanie

Perrin

Ethan arrived at Charlotte's apartment and rang the doorbell. When she opened the door Ethan felt immensly better just seeing her.

"Hi," she simply said.

"Hello" he replied then leaned in to kiss her.

"That was nice" she said smiling in response. "Come on in."

"Wait these are for you," he said and from his back produced a bouquet of pink tulips.

"Thank you. How did you know they were my favorite?"

"I just do" he said grinning at her. "Whatever you're cooking smells delicious."

"I'm making shepard's pie."

"That's my favorite," he said, "How did you know?"

"I just do", she smiled. "Guess what's for dessert."

"Hmmm could it be strawberries?"

"Maybe," she said and then both of them burst out laughing.

"Why don't you sit while I put these in water," she told him.

Ethan sat down on the couch and started thinking what he was going to say to her when she asked about the phone call with Lynne.

Charlotte came out and walked towards the couch but before she could sit next to him, Ethan pulled her onto his lap.

"You smell good" he whisphered nuzzling her neck.

"So do you" she said breathlessly when she felt Ethan lick her neck.

"Ethan, not that I'm not enjoying this, but I think I'd enjoy it more if you told me what happened. I'm sorry its just driving me crazy."

"That's okay sweetheart."

"What happened?" Charlotte asked.

Ethan took a deep breath.

"She said she was sorry for hurting me the way she did and that she missed me."

Charlotte felt her chest tighten. "What did you say?"

"I said that I was pissed off at her for toying with my feeling for all these years. Then out of the blue she said that she found out I was unattached according to my coworkers. But I set her straight, I told her I was going out with wonderful woman. I told her about you and that you knew about my past with her."

Charlotte let out a breath that she didn't realize she was holding. "What did she say next?"

Ethan decided that it was better if he did tell her that Lynne was here, what good would it do especailly since she was leaving tomorrow.

"She said that you sounded sweet and she hoped to meet you some day" he told her.

Charlotte thought it higly unlikely that she meant what she said, but all in all the phone call didn't sound that bad.

"Look Char let's forget about her, it's my last night" Ethan implored.

"Now that's a great idea!" she responded.

She imediately stradle Ethan's thighs and placed her hands on his shoulders. She was definately going to try to make him forget about her tonight.

"I like your shirt," she said. "But I'll like it better off."

She began unbuttoning his shirt one button at a time and then kissed the exposed flesh. She pushed his shirt aside and began licking his flesh.

"Char" Ethan moaned.

"Just enjoy it baby" she drawled.

She unbuckled his belt and slowly began unbuttoning his pants.

"Naughty boy!" she teased when she found out his secret.

"I knew you'd like it" he smirked. "You know this is unfair. I'm practically naked and you're still dressed."

"That's easily remedied" she said and took off her top so that she was only in her bra.

"It's smoking!" Ethan exclaimed.

"Thanks baby!"

"No, I mean yes you are. I mean there's smoke!" he cried out, pointing behind her.

Charlotte turned and saw smoke was coming out of her kitchen.

"Oh crap, dinner!" she yelled. She jumped off Ethan and rushed to the kitchen.

Ethan hurriedly put his clothes back on and followered her into the kitchen. When he got there he saw her pull out a blackened cassarole dish.

"It's ruined!" Charlotte said with dismay.

"It doesn't look too bad. It's probably only black on top," he said. "I bet it's still good."

He took a fork on the table and dug into it.

"See it looks good inside" he said. He took a bite and immediately spit it out. "Oh my god that was awful."

Charlotte began laughing. "Our dinner is ruined!"

"That's okay, we can just go out to eat."

"I guess we have too, it's so smokey in here," she said and then started coughing.

"Although I like what you're wearing, maybe you should put on a shirt before we leave."

"Ha ha. While I change, could you please open the windows?" she asked.

"Sure. You know we can always come back here for dessert, unless of course you burned the strawberries too?"

"Don't make me force you to eat this" she said poking the cassarole dish at him.

"No not that. I'll be good," he said then rushed out quickly to open the living room windows.

Semmsb

Charlotte went back the lounge to grab her top, and then into the bathroom to freshen up her makeup. She could hear Ethan opening the windows. Suddenly he appeared in the bathroom door way. He leaned against the door jam, and watched while she brushed her hair, and added a bit more gloss to her lips. She flushed under his watchful stare, and her body tingled as it again remembered the lift. Her hand shook slightly as she put her lip-gloss away, a fact that didn’t escape Ethan. He smiled, and licked his lips. Turning to face him, she said, “Ok, ready to go.” He merely continued to gaze at her, fire lighting his green eyes. The look that crossed his face made Charlotte feel how a gazelle must feel when spotted by a lion. He lounged in the doorway, blocking her exit.

“Um, I need you to move.” She tried to push past him.

“Not so fast, my love.” He grabbed hold of her, and lowering his face to her neck, licked and gently bit her, repeating the action that she, not so long ago, had performed on him. All her breath seemed to rush from her body, and moaning she threw her head back.

Putting up a token fight, she whispered, “Ethan, we have to go – dinner, remember.”

“Yes,” he replied, “I know” and continued to lick her skin. He bit her neck gently where it joined her shoulders, and growled.

“Ethan we have to go, dinner – remember?" Charlotte managed to whisper.

“Yes,” he replied “I know” and his hands slid over her torso, gently cupping her breasts. She moaned again, and swayed.

He picked her up, and placed her gently on the bathroom vanity, standing between her legs.

“I seem to have forgotten something.” He murmured, still licking and gently nipping her skin.

“Ummm?” she responded. “What?”

“You’ll see.”

With that he slid his hand into the waistband of her jeans, gently stroking the soft skin. When she didn’t protest, he quickly unzipped her pants, and lifting her gently, pulled them off her, before returning to his position in front of her.

Charlotte lifted her hips at his touch, panting. Still unsatisfied from their encounter in the lift, her body was already begging for release. She leaned her head back against the cool mirror, and closed her eyes, unable to fight the sensations running through her.

Ethan gently kissed her lips, and she opened her eyes to see him inches from her, his eyes full of emotion.

“I love you Charlotte.” He whispered and kissed her again before she could respond. Pulling back slightly he breathed against her lips, “I owe you.”

With that he gave her one last kiss, and swiftly knelt on the floor. Charlotte opened her eyes suddenly, and sat bolt upright. “Ethan, stop, wait.” she said. He looked up, “I don’t want you to do this because you feel you have to.”

He shook his head. “I’m doing it because I WANT to” he responded, and gently pushed her back against the mirror.

A few days ago, if someone had told him that she would trust him enough to let him perform an act so intimate on her, her wouldn’t have believed them. He was still amazed at the way her erotic nature had blossomed, she was so damn sexy. It was hard to believe that he had developed such intense feelings for her in such a short time. He closed his eyes and rested his head gently on her thigh, breathing in the scent of her. “I love you Char,” he whispered again.

Charlotte blushed hotly, knowing that he was now staring at her. He leant forward, and.... The feelings of ecstasy that raced through her system blinded her to everything but the hot pleasure, centered at her core. She reached out blindly, grasping Ethan’s hair, pulling him even closer to her. Her eyes still closed, flashes of white light danced around her brain. Finally, the sensations overwhelmed her, and she arched her back, curling her fingers and toes as the pleasure exploded within her. For a few moments she was blind and deaf to the world, whilst the sensations echoed around her feverish body.

She felt Ethan stand, and pull her close, cradling her in his arms.

She opened her eyes, and smiled at him. He cupped her chin in his hands, and kissed her.

“I love you Charlotte, everything about you, the way you feel, the way you look, the way you smile, and the way you taste.” He murmured against her lips.

She kissed him back, opening herself to the intimate gesture. He stood, hugging her close for a while.

Charlotte finally managed to gather her senses, and smiling naughtily said

“Ethan, we have to go – dinner, remember.”

He laughed at her, and nodded. “Ok my love, time to satisfy another appetite hey?” she blushed and giggled.

He pulled her off the counter, and handed her her now crumpled jeans.

Ethan followed Charlotte out of the apartment, and punched the button on the lift. They stepped in together, and Ethan asked, “So, where do you want to go? “

Charlotte smiled dreamily at him. “Oh, where ever. I really don’t care right now.” He laughed and pulled her close, hugging her.

The lift stopped, and the doors slid open. Ethan grabbed her hand, and they stepped into the lobby together.

There was a tall, dark woman waiting to get in the lift, and Ethan gasped, reeling back as if he had been punched. “Frig, Lynn, what the hell are you doing here?” he demanded.

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Guest Beanie

MishW

Charlotte couldn't believe it. This was Lynn. She stood next to Ethan, trying hard not to stare, and trying harder not to run. She couldn't even if she had wanted to, because Ethan held her hand in a death grip. She kept reminding herself that Ethan loved her. Hadn't he just told her twice? Actually, she thought she might have heard it a third time, but it was hard to say. Ethan had been kneeling between her thighs at the time, and her sesnses had been starting to overload... She snapped herself back to the present. It wouldn't do her any good if Lynn thought she was blushing because of running into her.

"Ethan dear, don't you remember I asked you to have dinner?"

"And don't you remember I told you no, that I'd see you at the airport tomorrow."

"Did you?? I must have missed that part. I was hoping to meet Sherry too. You said she was very nice. I'm sure she won't mind if I joined you for dinner."

Ethan started to speak, but he stopped. He knew this was a challange issued to Charlotte, and he needed to let her respond. Hopefully, she would show Lynn that she was not going to be walked on. There was a difference between "nice" and 'weak".

"It's Charlotte actually, "Charlotte said, holding out her right hand. fortunately, it was her left that Ethan didn't seem to want to let go of. "It's nice to meet you. Ethan's told me a lot about you. "

"He's told me all about you too. "Lynn responded. "He just couldn't stop gushing. That happens though at the beginning of a relationship. So, where are we going for dinner?"

"Well, I don't know about you, but Ethan and I are just grabbing a quick bite. Maybe you could join us some other time. We won't be lingering over dinner. We don't have much time before Ethan has to leave, and we want to make the most of it...alone." Charlotte gave Lynn a look that dared her to misinterpret that statement. "Ready Ethan?" She looked at him with a look that said "go now!!"

Ethan smiled down at her. "Ready. Goodbye Lynn. I'll see you tomorrow at the airport." He led Charlotte out of the lobby and onto the street. As soon as they were out of sight of the front windows, Ethan began to laugh. He threw his arms around Charlotte, lifted her off the ground, and twirled her once in a circle before kissing her. "God I love you! " he said, still all smiles. "You surprised her I think. I was so proud of you. You showed her she's not going to be able to just shove you aside."

"What about you?" Charlotte asked before she could stop herself. She'd started, so she might as well finish. "Are you going to be able to just shove me aside?"

"Ethan looked at her, still with a wide grin on his face. "Hardly!" he said, laughing. Charlotte smiled back. "Now," Ethan said, "lets go get that quick bite you mentioned, so that we can...how did you put it? 'make the most' of the rest of the night. "

He threw an arm around her shoulder, and led her in the direction of the restaurant.

Swansong

Charlotte could hardly concentrate on Ethan's words as she sat across from him, watching him enjoy his meal as much as he had enjoyed her earlier in the bathroom. She had never known anyone like this man; so full of life and so passionate about everything. He did nothing half way, but seemed to dive into things without holding back. It was those qualities which both endeared him to her, while at the same time frightened her.

In the short time they had known each other, he had introduced her to new and exciting ways of making love. He seemed fearless, willing to try anything; opening himself up to every experience like a kid in a candy store. She wondered if he had limits, if there were some things sexually speaking, that were taboo, or if his appetite was unquenchable, and how far he might go to satisfy his needs. He was as elemental as a storm, sweeping through her world and changing everything. She wanted to hold onto him and enjoy the ride while it lasted, but she knew in her heart that it was much more than that. She loved him. She wanted to spend every moment learning all he had to teach her. She wanted him near her, and feared that with his trip tomorrow, she might lose him.

As he spoke animatedly of his family and early childhood, he slurped up his pasta and ate the bread with the same joy he seemed to do everything else. She laughed at the spaghetti sauce in the corner of his mouth, and she never saw anyone pour so much parmesan cheese over a single meal. His eyes shimmered as he flailed his hands, delving into past stories, and embellishing his memories with outrageous hilarity.

But behind his jolly exterior, Charlotte sense something else simmering below the surface, and studied his beautiful face, wishing that she could just climb inside his brain and find out everything there was to know about him. There was pain in those dreamy green eyes of his, and many secrets, she was certain. She wanted time to discover all of who he was, and most of all, she wanted time to explore what being loved by him would feel like in a few months, or even a few years. She wondered if she would be granted that time, or if as in the past, love would be stolen from her, before she even had the chance to rest in it, and know what it was really like to share her life with someone.

As Ethan emptied the tray of olives, Charlotte felt tears stinging her eyes, and grabbed a napkin, quickly dabbing at her cheek before he could see, but she was too late, for suddenly he went silent, and was staring across the table at her, "Charlotte.... you okay?" he asked, reaching across the table and touching her hand.

"Yeah Ethan.... I, I'm sorry. I don't know what gets into me sometimes." she lied, hoping he wouldn't press further.

Ethan stood up from the table, and slid into the booth beside her, placing his arm around her shoulder, "Hey luv, what's going on?" he asked, squeezing her closer to him on the bench, "Why were you crying, come on, you can tell me."

Charlotte stabbed at her linguini with her fork, looking down into her plate as the tears began pouring unchecked. Seeing her face reddened and full of tears, Ethan took her in his arms and held her, gently stroking her hair. "Charlotte, I'm only gonna be gone a few weeks, I'll call you every day I swear."

"God I feel stupid," Charlotte blubbered, pulling tissue from her purse and blowing her nose. "But I just can't help it Ethan... it seems like every time anything good happens in my life, something or someone has to come along and mess it up."

Ethan motioned to the waiter for their check and pulled out his wallet, "Listen Charlotte, you've got to stop thinking so negatively." Slipping a VISA card from his wallet, he laid it on the table with the check and kissed Charlotte's cheek. "I'm not interested in Lynn anymore Charlotte... as far as I can tell, she hasn't changed at all, and I hate being manipulated... especially by women." he added with a smirk.

"I know it's ridiculous Ethan," Charlotte spoke quietly, finally looking in his eyes, "But I just worry about things, you know.... I mean I, well I'm really in love with you, and that's not so easy for me to say, considering that you're about to leave on a trip with an ex-girlfriend."

"A business trip luv.... and that's all it is."

Holding her in his arms, Ethan kept his thoughts to himself. He knew that Lynn had other intentions, and wondered if he would be able to hold her off. Despite his intense feeling for Charlotte, there was still something about Lynn that drew him to her. Was it only the past they shared, or the physical attraction he still felt toward her? He almost hated her for showing up, now that he had found Charlotte. He only hoped he could stay busy enough on the site and at meetings, and he intended to avoid situations that might prove compromising.

For now he didn't want to think about Lynn or the trip. He only wanted to be with Charlotte; the blue eyed blonde who had made him forget the sultry brunette. Charlotte was everything Lynn wasn't; and she was what Ethan needed now. The fragrance of her hair was driving him mad; she smelled like a mixture of melons and citrus. He recalled how she had tasted, and felt himself hardening at the memory of her pungently feminine smell. He needed more of her.... he needed to bury himself in her warmth and forget about tomorrow.

"What do say we get the hell out of here?" he asked Charlotte, as she leaned her head on his shoulder. "It's getting late, luv, and I just wanna go back to my apartment and crawl in bed with you."

Pressing his mouth against her ear, Ethan licked her earlobe and whispered, "I'm gonna make love to you all night long Charlotte.... you ready?"

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Guest Beanie

Swansong

Unlocking the door and letting Charlotte in his apartment, Ethan flung his jacket over the back of the sofa, and then switched on a lamp.

He had picked up most of the mess from his outburst, and a garment bag and suitcase sat open and half packed on the floor against the wall. Charlotte couldn't help noticing the expensive suits and shirts he had packed, along with jeans and more casual attire. Somewhere along the way, he had told her of his status as an up and coming architect for a large firm, but she was curious about what he actually did on these trips, and how much spare time he might have. He spent money like it was nothing, so she knew that he made a good income, but how much she didn't know, and felt it was too intrusive to ask. As she glanced through his bookshelves, she also wondered how Lynn fit into the picture, and if he had met her through a mutual interest in the same field.

Ethan was making a big racket in the kitchen and Charlotte wandered in through the swinging door thumbing through an old copy People Magazine, "What are you up to in here?" she asked, wrapping her arms around his waist and smiling up at him. God he was so tall. She loved feeling the length of his firm body against her. Ethan embraced her, his broad chest and muscled arms encircling her and drawing her closer.

"Can't stand to be away from me for two minutes can you luv?"

"No.... not tonight anyway." she replied, breathing in the scent of his cologne.

"Well, I'm not letting you out of my sight either," he murmured into her hair, "I just thought I'd fix us a couple drinks... wine for you," he smiled, handing her a glass. "And coke for me."

Taking a sip of the wine, Charlotte leaned back against the counter, "Ethan, I hope you don't mind me asking.... but why don't you drink?"

Gulping down his coke he burped, then blushed, Charlotte suppressing a giggle, "Excuse me... I don't mind Charlotte, but let's go sit down in the lounge."

Refilling his glass and adding more ice, Ethan switched off the kitchen light, and followed her out to the sofa. While she sat down with her magazine, he rummaged through his CD's and selected one of his favorites. "Hey Char, you like Maroon 5?" he asked, scratching his head.

"Oh yeah... I love their stuff." she answered, frowning at old photos of Brad Pit and Jennifer Aniston taken before their breakup.

Ethan clicked the remote to start the CD, and plopped down beside Charlotte. Flinging the magazine away, he lay down on the sofa with his head in her lap and stroked her forearms, "About four years ago Charlotte, I got real drunk and nearly wasted myself."

Charlotte listened, running her fingers through his hair and looking down into his face as he opened his soul to her, "It got to the point where all I cared about was partying and drinking, and I just got sick of waking up not knowing where I was."

Stretching and yawning, he turned on his side, nestling his forehead against her belly. "I was a complete arse when I was drunk. One time I even tried to jump off a building. I just got so friggin' sick of everything and wanted it over. My friends couldn't stand to be around me, and I was screwing up all my relationships. God, I'm so glad I'm over that crap."

"Wow Ethan, you were that much of an alcoholic?" she asked, rubbing his back.

"Charlotte, I can't even begin to tell you the garbage I pulled. I had been drinking since I was about fourteen, I mean all the kids in Glasgow did it, it was just what you did. But back then, we were just having fun... you know, being guys and hanging out, it was no big frigging deal. But then in school and especially in college, I just went nuts. I'd stop for awhile, but never for very long."

Wrapping his arms around her waist, Ethan pulled up her shirt and kissed her belly, Charlotte shifted position, pushing herself down lower against the back cushion. He reached up inside her shirt and cupped his hand over her breast while he continued, "I tried to quit when Lynn and I were together, and in fact I did quit.... but that was when I had just started out with the first firm I worked for, and there was a lot of pressure at work. So I started drinking again, and things got real ugly."

Charlotte slumped back against the cushion as he massaged her breast. She sighed heavily, spreading her legs and cradling his head in her lap.

"But lets not go into that now luv, we can talk about all this some other time." Ethan whispered huskily.

Turning over on his back, he reached up, cupping her head with his hand, and drew her mouth to kiss, crushing her lips......

Charlotte slid her tongue between his lips, tasting the cola in his mouth. She was blown away by what had told her, and knew that it was only the beginning of what she might learn. There were things about her own life that he didn't know either, and she suddenly felt guilty for not opening up more about her past. Hoping there would be plenty of time for more personal revelations between them, she broke the kiss and gazed into his eyes, stroking his forehead and cheek. God he was so beautiful. His eyelashes were almost as long as hers, and those green emerald pools just pulled her right in. He was a remarkable man who had experienced hard times and come through it all, and yet he was so full of life. Charlotte just wanted to have all of him, and to be as full of life and joy as he was.

Their eyes locked and the music playing, Charlotte felt a single tear trail down her cheek. leaning down and kissing his eyelids she murmured softly, "Ethan.... I love you."

Ethan reached up and wiped her tear with his finger, then licked his fingertip, "Even your tears taste like heaven sweetheart. I love you too Charlotte... I could kiss the guy who invented elevators."

Sitting up, Ethan stretched out his long legs and then stood to his feet, holding out his right hand.

"Dance with me darlin?" he said with his customary lopsided grin and a raised brow.

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Guest Beanie

Swansong

Taking his hand, Charlotte stood up with Ethan's help, and he drew her against his body, sighing and murmuring into her ear. The song playing on the CD was a slow ballad, and Charlotte melted into his arms as the music swirled around them, the bass thumping into the floor. Ethan's hand moved down her back and cupped her bottom possessively. Kissing her neck, he ground his hips against her, his other hand unsnapping her bra.

Charlotte lifted her arms, pulled the shirt over head, and slipped off her bra while Ethan stared at her. His eyes darkened and he lowered his head, kissing softly down her throat. Once again he felt his passion for this woman sweeping through his senses like hot wildfire. With a growl he suckled her neck, widening his kiss to take in more of her flesh.

Charlotte breathlessly grabbed hold of his belt buckle, and fought to free him. Pulling the belt off, she slipped her hand beneath his shirt while he kissed her chest, the thrill of his tongue on her skin making her shiver. Her fingers twisted in his chest hair and inched down to his waistband. Reaching inside his jeans she giggled briefly, remembering that he wasn't wearing shorts. Ethan pulled away from her long enough to rip off his shirt, and then slowly undid his pants, letting them fall around his ankles while she watched, staring directly at him. "Com'ere," he whispered, drawing her to him, and fitting himself against her body.

Charlotte moaned as his hand moved to her hip and then languidly slid lower. Awkwardly she unbuttoned her own jeans, pulling them, along with her panties down over her hips. As the music played, the beat pulsating in the room, Ethan stood back to look at her nude body. He licked his lips and the tip of his tongue flicked behind his teeth.

"God I want you!" he growled narrowing his eyes. Suddenly he leapt upon her, drawing her closer, sucking her neck. Locking one leg around hers, he bent at the knees and pressed himself against her, while she rocked to the music, her eyes rolled back with mounting pleasure.

"Ethan," Charlotte moaned, "Oh God."

Reaching down between their bodies, Charlotte trailed her fingers across his flat stomach and then down further. She wrapped her fingers around him, squeezing gently, loving the soft gurgling sounds he made at the back of his throat.

"Charlotte I, ....."

Ethan pushed away from her and turned, heading for the bedroom, her hand grasped in his. Sitting down on the edge of the bed he reached for her, and she tumbled on top of him, her long blond hair splaying across his shoulders and torso. Charlotte brought her mouth down on his, sucking and kissing first his lower lip, and then the upper, "I love you Ethan," she moaned into his mouth, as he cupped her bottom, and pulled her closer.

Charlotte moved her mouth from his lips to his chin, and then down to his neck, kissing and sucking his Adam's apple, caressing his skin with her tongue and biting gently. Kneeling beside him, she continued her kisses downward, across his broad chest, flicking her tongue around and over his nipples as he writhed and moaned.

Ethan reached for her, sliding a hand down her thigh, but she pushed it away, "No not yet... this is just for you Ethan," she purred, "Let me just love you now."

Lying his head back down on the pillow, he surrendered to the feeling of her mouth on his body. Charlotte felt her soul swelling inside her, as she loved him like she had loved no other. His body hair glistened in the soft light of the bedroom, glistening almost golden as she traveled down to his flat and muscled stomach. She rolled her tongue inside his navel, teasing the sensitive skin, while her hand reached down stroking him softly, her fingers barely flicking over him. He arched his back and thrust his hips forward, as her tongue trailed down, feeling her love for him expanding, growing, reaching beyond what she had ever known.

It was as if she worshipped him... as if she had to touch and love every part of him. Lifting up on her knees and turning to face the other way, she scooted down to his feet, and looked at them, caressing and massaging them with her hands. God, even Ethan's feet were a thing of beauty. His face contorted delightfully, as she rubbed and soothed first his heels, and then the balls of his feet. But when she began sucking on his toes one at a time, he bucked his entire body, sucking air through his teeth. She kissed and sucked the sides and bottom of his feet, leaving no part of them untouched.

Ethan gripped the bottom sheet with his fingers, as he felt her slide up his legs, her lips against his skin kissing his knees, and then his thighs. "God Charlotte... he groaned, you're frigging going to kill me here, let me make love to you, woman!" he begged.

"No, she rasped, holding him down and straddling his legs, feeling her own heat building in her center, "Not until I have loved all of you... oh God, I love all of you Ethan." she cried. Taking him in her hands Charlotte lowered her mouth and kissed him, Ethan groaning her name. She caressed and loved him with her lips and tongue, tasting him, wanting to feel all of him.

"I can't take this much longer!" he yelled, "Charlotte....please!"

Drawing her tongue up over him repeatedly, Charlotte felt her own need for him overtake her body, and guided Ethan's hand to her center; she shuddered when he touched her.

Suddenly Ethan withdrew his hand with a grunt, rose up on his haunches and pushed her away, rolling her over on her back. His eyes blackening, he looked into hers, "I can't wait anymore Charlotte.... I can't..."

His sentence broke off as he joined her, and Charlotte cried out. She dug her fingernails into his back, as he moved over her, shadowing her with his beautiful body. Their flesh knit together as one, mutual fire held them in its thrall, and Charlotte felt for all the world as if the entire universe existed in the exquisite sensation of his body melting with hers. Her soul opened to him, too, her eyes filling with tears at the sight of his face, his dark green eyes shimmering above her.

They took it slow, like floating suspended in warm water. Peace enveloped them, as he moved quietly; surging above her, filling her, bringing her nerves to the point of ecstasy... only to go deeper.

No one cried out. It was so quiet.... only the sound of their breathing and the soft rhythm of their bodies. Ethan looked down at her, not wanting the moment to end. Slowly he moved, fighting his body's need for release as he stroked her face and kissed her tenderly.

"I love you Charlotte." he whispered.

Dropping his head into the crook of her neck, he expelled a long breath as the two lovers were caught in the undertow; pulled downward into each other, as neither had ever experienced before. The tide of feeling and sensation flowed through them, and washed over them in powerful waves.

Charlotte felt herself exploding from the inside out, and looked into his eyes at the moment of her blossoming. She watched his own release mirrored in his face, and there were tears in his eyes as he collapsed against her.

"Oh God Ethan," she rasped, "I never.... I mean I never...."

"Shhhh," he whispered, touching his finger to her lips, "I know luv.... me too."

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Guest Beanie

Rushandgerryfan

Lost in their revierie, Ethan and Charlotte lay entwined. Her arms were around his torso, and he, lost and totally spent, lay with one leg draped over her lower body. They fell asleep like that, and after a few hours Charlotte woke first. She eased her body out of his dead-grip leg, and gently ran her fingers over his hair. At this moment, gone were all worries or insecurities. She only felt deep love for him, and as she continued to stroke his hair, and the stubble forming on his face, she thought to herself, "My God he's beautiful!" For what felt like the first time in her life, Charlotte felt secure, loved and safe.

Ethan stirred in his sleep and nuzzled up to her, and she eased herself off of the bed. She wraped one of his shirts about her, to keep warm, as the night was getting chilly. Seeing him so vulnerable like this, and sleeping, content in his peaceful repast made Charlotte only want to please him more. Humming to herself, and straightening up the room, Charlotte felt the cogs in her head turning as she pondered about how she could surprise him even more, and fufull his sexual appetite even more so. Just the thought of seeing the pleasure forming on his sensual mouth again, sent shivers up her spine, and she wondered just what she could do to entice him even more....

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Guest Beanie

Beanie

Ethan woke to a feeling of amazing warmth spreading through his body, originating from his nether-regions. He felt that part of him waking up before he did, and slowly swam to the surface to reach consciousness. Instinctively, he reached down, and felt the softness of Charlottes hair, spread out beautifully around him. He opened his eyes dreamily, and noticed candle light splashing golden waves around the room.

Raising his head slightly, he looked down, and was gripped with a sudden rising passion at the view. Then he gasped as he felt Charlotte increase the intensity of her attentions upon him. He moaned her name and grasped the bedsheet with both hands, arching his back to receive the pleasure she was giving, and also to stretch away the last vestiges of sleep. He was wide awake now, fully aware and in ecstasy. He couldn't get over how incredibly warm she felt on him, and lost himself in the feelings she was encouraging. Suddenly, he felt her pause. He looked up again, only to see Charlotte smiling, and heard her say "This time, its my rules. Lie back and don't look again - or else!" She let out a tinkling laugh, obviously delighted with herself that she had managed to surprise him. He grinned back at her and complied, laying his head back down on the pillow, and covering his eyes with one of his forearms. He felt Charlotte begin to softly stroke his desire, and he turned his head and let out a soft hum.

Charlotte reached to her right where she had set a tray with two glasses of water -- one almost scaulding hot, the other filled with ice water. She had started with a mouthful of the hot water, and woken him up that way. Now it was time to cool things off a bit. She took a few mouthfuls of the ice water, letting it freeze her tongue and cheeks, then, slowly...

Ethan nearly jumped out of his skin. The sensation was incredible, going from that amazingly intense warmth to a cooling sensation that seemed to wake up every nerve in his body. "Charlotte!" he gasped, nearly looking down at her again. Remembering himself, he flopped his head back down on his pillow resolutely, and put both hands to his eyes as if to make sure he wouldn't peek and ruin this session. Charlotte hummed against his skin, supremely gratified in his response. For once, she had him in her control, and she intended on spinning it out for as long as it took.

Ethan lay there registering wave after wave of sensation and excitement. He felt Charlotte rake her fingertips ever so softly across his torso, teasing him into a fever pitch. His breath started coming in short gasps as she kissed him insistantly, never letting him guess what she would do next. His hands became restless, grasping the sheets, and he found it difficult not to writhe a bit as she continued relentlessly; he groaned in helpless feeling. She continued coaxing him, teasing him, changing the sensations she was giving him to make him spiral ever upwards into a white heat that he felt must soon explode....

"Charlotte!" He gasped, trying to reach for her. Charlotte pushed his hand aside, and continued loving him. "Char... baby.... oh!" He felt the need to warn her....

He heard her murmur very softly, "I know Ethan." and continued on in a manner that told him she was going to see this through.

Ethan sighed deeply with passion, and steeled himself for the end. Giving himself up to Charlotte's acts entirely, he felt as if he were being overcome by a crashing wave, sucking him under into its tow. He cried out and gave in, as wave after wave of aftershock shook him, till finally, it passed, and he sank fully onto the bed, exhausted and amazingly satisfied. He covered his eyes with his forearm again, and waited for his brain to return to normal function.

Suddenly, he felt Charlotte on top of him, and she was cradling his head in her hands. Then her mouth was upon him; he kissed her deeply, caressing her tongue with his, claiming her for his own, as insistantly as she had just claimed him.

He kissed her till he felt his pulse slow down to normal, and a delicious contentment spread over him, feelings of love and admiration for this woman filling his whole mind. Breaking off the kiss, he rolled her over to his side and stared at her appraisingly. Suddenly, he gave a soft laugh, and stroking her soft skin idly, asked in a bedroom voice "And where, my darlin' love, did you learn THAT?"

Charlotte let a deliciously satisfied grin spread across her face. "Oh, just something I read somewhere," she drawled, grabbing his hand and kissing it saucily.

"Well," Ethan drawled right back, "Three cheers for literacy." He rolled over on his back stretched and rubbed his chest, laughing along with Charlotte. Looking back over at her, he reached out a hand and held it under her chin, sending her a look that was full of quiet adoration.

"Char, my girl, you surprise me sometimes." he said in a sweet voice, stroking her face with his hand, "How on earth am I gonna leave on this trip" he gazed over at the clock, "today?"

He went back to stroking the soft skin of her side, eliciting a slight squirm and smile from his lover as he inadvertantly tickled her. He laughed, "No, don't worry, Charlotte, I won't take advantage of your ticklishness now. I'm enjoying feeling this relaxed with you. " They both gazed into each others eyes, tenderly touching each others bodies with a lover's familiarity. Ethan scooted closer to Charlotte and kissed her face, her neck, and lips lazily, not reaching for any conclusion, but just to enjoy her being here in his arms. Eventually, however, he became aware of a change in Charlotte's bearing, felt a slight tensing that signalled she was thinking more carnal thoughts. He nuzzled her hair and softly hummed.

"Seems like you need some satisfaction of your own, my sweet" he murmured, softly stroking her upper arm in butterfly circles "I've been remiss!" he slowly increased the intensity of his caresses, lengthening them across her back, her thighs, finally letting his hand rest on her breast. He bent to it and kissed her, drawing her out until she gave a soft moan. He gently turned her over on her back, and continued loving her, taking her in his mouth, tasting her skin, feeding on her growing desire. He was gentle and thorough, so calm in this relaxed state, and deeply in love with this woman.

He embraced Charlotte with one arm, coaxing her to rest her head on him, and with his other hand, started caressing her torso to coax her feelings downward. He tenderly laid kisses upon her brow and in her hair, and paused to tickle her skin with his eyelashes. He was pouring out all his love for Charlotte, trying to impart to her the deep feelings that rose from the stillness of his soul. He sighed softly, kissing her ear, then said in a sleepy voice, "Char, I'm going to teach you something else now."

Her eyes went wide as he looked into them, and he looked right back at her lovingly, sweetly...

He continued sweeping his large, soft hand across her skin, pausing now and then to grasp her waist or her breasts in its travels. He bent his face to hers, beginning to kiss her softly, pulling her onward slowly, making sure she would be well and fully established in that state for a good long while. Looking up at Charlotte's face, he saw her deep in a state of sensual relaxation. His heart lept within him, wanting to remember that expression, to call it up when he needed it in the future to keep him company.

He fastened himself to her lips again, coaxing her to explore him once more, calling her into himself, wanting her to feel his love for her, and wanting to taste the excitement growing in her. Softly, he let his hand skim up and down her body, finally reaching down to her hips, warming them with his touch. He placed his forehead on hers, cradling her head in his arm. She let out a sigh, and he kissed her cheek, sighing even more softly to himself.

Gently, almost imperceptibly, he finally made contact with her, and she arched her back in pleasure. He was tender with her, but deliberate, and he thrilled with each gasp or moan Charlotte uttered. He carefully searched her, watching her face intently as he did so. He knew he had found what he was looking for when her eyes suddenly flew open, her mouth a perfect O. He bent to kiss Charlottes eyes closed again, breathing at her, "Don't think darling... just feel." He stared at her face with a quiet intensity, drinking her in as she lost herself in a paroxysm of sensation, as he introduced her to that perfect spot within her.

He breathed in her ear and kissed her, sending shivers down her spine. When he determined she was finally ready, he murmured, "Don't be afraid, sweetheart. Just go wherever it takes you. I'm right here holding you." He kissed her, making sure he had a good hold on her, then rested his forehead on hers and began again, teasing her at first, but then focusing in on what Charlotte needed to make her rise beyond herself, making sure all of her got the attention it deserved. He looked at his lover as she began to lose herself in her ecstasy, firmly refusing to stop when she once requested that he do. It was overwhelming for her, he knew, but he wanted her to break through. He could almost see it behind her eyes when she did, a blinding white flash of lightning that took her, body and soul; with a final gasp, she suddenly shuddered and fell back limp in his arms, unknowing, uncaring, and senseless. He cradled her in both his arms, and tenderly stroked her, waiting patiently for her to come back. When she did, he saw her swim to the surface slowly, peaceful, and contented. She gave him such a look of utter astonishment and love, it nearly brought tears to his eyes. "Welcome back love," he crooned in his bedroom voice "Did you have a good trip?" The look in Charlottes eyes told him all he needed to know.

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Guest Beanie

Semmsb

They lay comfortably together for several minutes, Ethan still softly stroking Charlotte. He turned his head to look at the clock, and groaned.

Charlotte turned to look at him, “What?” she enquired.

“I have to pack, and get to the airport, and you, my love, have to go to work.”

Charlotte nodded, and suddenly tears formed in her eyes. After the incredible experiences they had just shared, the last thing she wanted to do was say goodbye.

Ethan, seeing her distress, pulled her even closer. “Aww, Charlotte love, I know. I really don’t want to go, but I have to. I’ll be back before you know it.”

She just nodded dumbly, struggling not to give in to her tears.

He kissed her forehead, sighing, “I love you Char, and I promise you, I’m going to miss you like crazy.”

“I love you too Ethan.” She whispered.

He smiled at her, “You don’t know how much I love hearing you say that.”

“Yes, I do,” she responded, “I think I feel the same way!”

“Ok, I think I really have to get up now, or I won’t ever leave this bed.” Ethan gave her one last kiss, and stood up.

Charlotte turned over, burying her face in the pillow where he had slept. She inhaled deeply, surrounded by his scent. She knew she had to be brave, and so she got up as well. “Ok, I guess I’d better go then, before I’m late again!”

Ethan nodded, and embraced her, holding her so tightly that she almost couldn’t breath. He kissed her over and over gain, raining soft kisses all over her face. “Ok, I have to go get in the shower. You’d better go before I drag you back to bed again” his voice was gruff with emotion.

Charlotte couldn’t help the tears that trickled down her cheeks.

“Char, please don’t – I’ll start too.” Ethan whispered, and she saw his eyes glimmering with emotion.

She gulped, and nodded bravely. “Ok, go get in the shower, I’ll get dressed and let myself out.”

He gave her one last squeeze, so hard she almost felt her ribs crack, and then turned and headed towards the bathroom.

Quickly she struggled in to her clothes, her eyes blurry with tears, and turned to leave. She looked back at the bed where they had shared such wonderful, intimate experiences, things that she had never before dreamed of. She made sure that she could hear the noise of the shower, and grabbed Ethan’s pillow. Then, clutching it tight, she raced out of the apartment, managing not to give into her sobs until she was safely in the lift.

Ethan stood under the hot water. He buried his head in his hands. How the hell was he going to get through he next two weeks? Leaning his head against the tiles, he heard the apartment door slam, and knew that Charlotte had gone. His heart wrenched in his chest, and he finally gave way to the emotions that were threatening to choke him. He stood, and let the tears fall, mingling with the water streaming over him. He let the hot water run cold before he finally got out of the shower, and looked at himself in the mirror. He looked like hell. Groaning, he quickly dried himself, and hastily dressed. He finished packing, and stood in the bedroom. It was then he noticed that his pillow had gone. He couldn’t help but smile at Charlotte’s actions. Then quickly, almost furtively, he stuffed the matching pillow that Charlotte had used into his case.

Checking the clock again, he saw that it was time to leave for the airport. He left the apartment, and entered the lift. The temptation to get out at Charlotte’s floor was almost too much, but gritting his teeth he rode down to the ground floor, where he hailed a cab and turning back once to stare at the building, headed out to the airport.

When he arrived, he headed over to the check-in area, where he spotted Lynn waiting for him almost immediately. She looked cool and calm, in stark contrast to how he felt. She approached him, and handed over his ticket.

“Here you go,” she smiled at him. “Ready?”

“Sod off, Lynn” he growled. “That was some stunt you pulled last night. You’re just bloody lucky that I didn’t cancel the whole trip. If this wasn’t such an important project, I wouldn’t be here."

Lynn just looked at him. “My my” she said. “You did get out of bed on the wrong side. Go check in, then we’ll have a drink in the lounge before we go. We can chat there.”

Ethan stared at her. “I don’t drink any more Lynn. Even if I did, I wouldn’t drink with you.” He spat, and turning his back on her headed for the desk.

Lynn stared after his retreating back. “Well well,”she thought. She knew he must be furious with her, turning up at his apartment like that. But she was playing for keeps, and had decided to use every advantage she could. She shrugged, and smiled to herself. From the looks of Charlotte, there wouldn’t be much of a competition anyway. She looked like a weak, pathetic little girl. Lynn mentally rubbed her hands together. She loved a good fight, especially one she was practically guaranteed of winning.

At the check in desk, Ethan handed over his papers, and smiled at the pretty clerk. “Any chance of swapping seats?” he asked, flirting shamelessly with her, and laying on the accent thick. Anything to get away from Lynn. She giggled at him, fluttering her eyelashes.

“Well sir, we’re pretty much full on this flight. We do have a seat in business class though. There would be a fee.”

Ethan grinned at her, and winked. “Great, love” he handed over his card “Charge it to this.”

He really didn’t care about paying for the difference. He didn’t think he could handle sitting next to Lynn on the flight. His emotions were raw, and he certainly didn’t need her games to contend with. The clerk handed over his ticket with one last flirty smile, and he grinned back.

“Well, “ he thought. “That should screw up at least some of Lynn’s plans”

Stagewomanjen

Lynn smiled seductively at Ethan while he was checking in at the counter. She wheeled her luggage to the end of the line, waiting patiently. She grinned to herself as she watched the lines of his body under his clothing. Still a handsome devil, she thought. He could still turn her on after all these years just by walking with his strut, or gesturing with those strong, but well-kept hands.

The hair was new, but she approved of the slightly longer curls. Gave him a rakish, somewhat dangerous appearance. And the stubble that he was sporting today only enhanced the look.

Lynn noticed the dark circles under his eyes. Her stomach tightened slightly when she thought about the other woman who probably had a hand in creating those....pretty, nice enough, but ultimately no match for me, she thought. Though she had shown a bit of moxy the night before when Lynn showed up for their date, Lynn had seen the moment of self-doubt and indecision that played through her eyes just before she decided to set the record straight. And that would be Lynn's opening.

Ethan strode confidently away from the counter, bearing his own luggage off to be checked. He was smiling gently to himself. So, Lynn thought, he's come to his senses. It doesn't matter that....Charlotte....was that her name??...had bedded him well last night, he still can't fight what we had. And what we will have...

Lynn finished up with the attendant and got her luggage over to the check-in. She was, however, a bit unnerved at the gate finding that Ethan hadn't waited for her. No matter, she thought, he can't escape on the flight...in which time she intended to take full advantage. In the bathroom, she brushed her hair, applied a bit more lipstick, and best of all, put a little more of her sexiest perfume on her neck, between her breasts, and behind her knees. He likes fine things and fine women, she knew. And music....check...iPod at the ready, loaded with his favorite rock songs, a bit of jazz, some Coldplay, and a bit of Maroon 5. Plus a few munchies in her bag. Genteel or not, a man's stomach still held the passage to his heart. And she wouldn't take any chances on losing Ethan again.

Her life after she had left Ethan was somewhat disappointing. For reasons that she still wasn't entirely certain of, the final month of their relationship had exploded with the force of a nuclear warhead. Not that the both of them weren't hot-headed and passionate and moody, they certainly were. And so was their time together. The bad was horrible, the good was heaven. But that drew them together again and again. Somehow though, something between them had changed. Something that made them argue constantly. And although she wasn't one that couldn't take what she dished, she had grown tired of their fights.

After one particularly long and painful disagreement over something Sean had done, she cracked. She stormed out of the restaurant where they were having dinner, or, more appropriately they were attempting dinner but only managing a shouting match....but she left, packed her things, and left on the next flight. At first, she wasn't sure where she was going. Away. Away from Ethan. Away from the mess and the hassle and the yelling.

But since him, the men that she met lacked something. Passion. Intelligence. Fire. Guts and bravado in bed....blushing heavily, she remembered that this was clearly NOT something that Ethan lacked. So her thoughts of late turned back to him.

And now, she was in perfect pole-position to reclaim him. Fluffing her hair, she turned and strode out of the bathroom, only to hear the call to board. "Ready or not, Ethan, here I come...."

Semmsb

When Charlotte got back to her apartment, she threw herself on her bed, sobbing. Clutching Ethan’s pillow, she cried until her tears ran dry. The emotional turmoil of the past 7 days was really starting to take their toll on her. She felt dreadful. She clutched Ethan’s pillow to herself, and contemplated how she was going to get through the next two weeks. It would be hard enough if Ethan had just gone on a business trip, but the fact that he was with that barracuda, Lynn, just made it worse.

Charlotte knew that Lynn would be doing everything in her power to win Ethan over. What chance did she stand? Lynn had known him for a much longer time. They had even talked about marriage. She would know all the right buttons to press. Charlotte sighed, and curled her self into a ball. She wished she could just sleep until he returned. At least then she wouldn’t have to put up with the waiting.

Eventually she struggled up from the bed and staggered into the bathroom. She was shocked at the face that greeted her in the mirror. Her eyes were puffy and almost swollen closed, and she looked like death warmed up. Her head ached from crying, and her nose was blocked. She stood staring at herself for a while, and then decided there was no way she could go to work. She called in sick, something that she never did. Her boss sounded concerned, especially as Charlotte’s voice was so raw. He wasn’t to know that it was from crying, and not the severe head cold that Charlotte pleaded.

Charlotte went back to the bathroom, and took two strong cold and flu tablets. After she collapsed on the bed, her last coherent thought were that at least the tablets would knock her out for 5 or 6 hours. She’d rather be in a comatose state than worrying about Lynn.

Semmsb

When Lynn boarded the plane, she was astonished to find herself seated next to a fat, smelly businessman instead of Ethan. She squeezed past him, and sank into her seat. Where in the hell was Ethan? Surely he hadn’t missed the plane, or decided not to travel to Chicago? It was one of the biggest projects of his career. There was no way he’d miss out.

Lynn sat smoldering in her seat, well into the flight, wondering what tricks he was up to. It wasn’t until about half way through the trip that she discovered where he was. She got up to go to the toilet, and just by coincidence happened to spot him through the curtain that separated business class from the rest of the plane. Lynn was about to angrily rip the curtain back, and demand what the hell he was doing, when a stewardess approached her. “Excuse me, but you can’t come in here.”

Lynn bristled. She hated being treated like a second-class citizen. Just at that moment, Ethan turned, and saw her. He grinned, and raised his hand. Lynn was so angry she wanted to slap him, but instead turned on her heel and marched back to her seat. It looked like this wasn’t going to be a clean game at all.

When the plane finally arrived in Chicago, Lynn was hot, tired and more than a little ticked off. She struggled off the aircraft, and down to baggage claim. She was somewhat comforted by the fact that Ethan would be traveling in the limo that she had arranged for the two of them. Ethan would already have collected his bags, as business class passengers were given preferential treatment. She expected to find him waiting in the limo for her.

After fighting her way through the crowds of people to grab her bag, and then picking a trolley that was determined to make her life as difficult as possible, she made her way to the arranged pick up point for the limo. She waited for 10 minutes, wondering where the driver was. She had been a bit late collecting her things, so he should already be here. After another 20 minutes, she started to get impatient, tapping her foot irritably. Where was the driver, and where was Ethan? Finally she angrily punched the limo company‘s number into her cell phone, and snappily enquired as to where in the hell her driver and limo where.

The female voice on the other end of the phone cheerfully informed Lynn that the limo had left the airport 40 minutes ago, depositing the male passenger at a hotel.

Lynn was stunned, and incredibly angry. How dare Ethan treat her like this?

Semmsb

Charlotte was having a strange dream. Ethan was there, in the park, and he was trying to tell her something. She couldn’t work out what it was, and then there was a bell ringing, and ringing. She finally realized that the phone was ringing, and managed to wake up enough to answer it.

“Umm” she mumbled.

“Why aren’t you at work? What’s wrong?” Steph’s voice demanded.

Charlotte winced, and looked at the clock. “Uh, I’m sick” she replied.

“You sound like crap!’ Steph replied. “Where’s that big handsome Scot? Why isn’t he looking after you?”

Charlotte’s eyes filled with tears again. “Uh, he’s gone on a business trip” she said shakily.

“Char – what’s wrong? What’s going on?” Stephanie demanded, concerned at the obvious distress in her friends voice.

Charlotte could only gurgle in return.“Right, that’s it. I’m coming over. I’ll be there in 10 minutes.” Steph slammed the phone down. Charlotte dropped the receiver, and buried her head in the pillow again.

Charlotte awoke a short time later when Stephanie shook her gently.

“Good thing I have a key” she said, “you were out of it. And you look like s**t. What’s going on??”

Charlotte moaned and rubbed her head. “I feel like s**t. Don’t worry about that.”

Stephanie sat expectantly on the bed, watching her.“Come on Char,” she said. “You’re acting like some one’s died. Tell me what’s going on.”

Charlotte’s lower lip trembled, and the tears threatened to over whelm her again. She gulped, and hugged Ethan’s pillow to her. Where could she start? “Look Steph, I think I need a coffee before I start.”

Steph grinned, “Now, that I can do.” She answered and scrambled off the bed, heading for the kitchen.

Charlotte followed her off the bed, and still clutching the pillow, wobbled out into the lounge, where she flopped on the sofa. She could hear Steph in the kitchen, and the sun was shining through the window.

“What sort of weather is this?” she thought grumpily. It didn’t match her mood at all.

tonifinds2

Lynn stood for a moment fuming. Then suddenly the humor of the situation took hold of her and she burst out laughing! Well it served her right--all her best laid plans and as usuall Ethan had seen right through her. She had traded in her 1st class ticket, just so she could sit next to him, and he changes seats, she arranges and even pays for a limo to take them to the hotel and Ethan leaves her standing on the curb like a jilted bride!

She hailed a cab as another fit of giggles took hold of her. She imagined the look of smug satisfaction on Ethan's face, a look she was all to familar with.Their relationship had always been challenging and exciting for both of them , and it looked as if the years apart hadn't changed that.

Plus there was the added bonus of knowing that Ethan had to be really nervous about spending time alone with her, to go through as trouble as he had. Again the infectious smile broke across her lovey face, causing the cabby to blush as he asked her, "Where can I take you m'am?"

Lynn slid onto the seat, leaned back and directed him to the hotel. Well now it was Ethan's turn for a few surprises. The Firm had reserved, as it always did for the two of them a private suite,complete with connecting bedroom doors, knowing that this project would require them to have easy access to each other.

His genious as an architect was only enhanced by her genious as an engineer. No matter what he thought up she found a way to make it functional, and practical. The very reasons that the firm had insisted on the two of them working on this project, where ever they worked together beautiful things appeared.

No way Ethan could change rooms without looking like a foolish teenager with his first crush. If he thought that a plane ride sitting next to her was going to be tough, wait til he figured out she would be sleeping less than ten feet away.

As her cab pulled up to the hotel, her wicked sense of humor had returned to her...After all she had nothing to do with the rooms that really had been left up the Firm. Lynn slauntered up to the desk, the boredom that had filled her existance for the last few years lifted, and she found herself looking forward to a long, hot bath, and Ethan's next move.

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Guest Beanie

Beanie

Ethan couldn't help but grin from ear to ear as he told the Limo driver to take him to the hotel. He giggled to himself as he sat in the back, sure the driver must think he was a raving lunatic, but not caring. He could just about see the look of fury on Lynn's face when she found out his stunt. Well, served her right for being such a devious wench the night before. He was still fuming about that, but still so very proud of his girlfriend for standing up to her. He smiled softly "Girlfriend" he repeated to himself, "That sounds good." It had been such a long time since he had used that word to describe a woman in his life. They had been "dates" or "friends". Friends with benefits, to be sure, but still....

He sighed and leaned his head back on the seat, letting his mind fill with thoughts of his Charlotte. Dear, sweet, lovely Charlotte. Those things which he knew Lynn thought of as flaws in her, her softness, her shyness, were the same things that endeared him. She was just so honest. Lynn was honest in her own way, too, it was true, but she was so darned aggressive. That aggression had once been a powerful draw for him, and a trait he could relate to since he had that in his own personality. But it pained him to see her gunning for Char. He felt the need to protect her.

Arriving at the hotel, he gathered his things and went to check in. It was a suite, as was usual for his firm, and his mind groaned inwardly as he thought of the proximity he'd be sharing with Lynn. Well, there was nothing for it. He gritted his teeth and went up.

The suite was nice, comfotable and roomy for a hotel room, with bedrooms that connected through a shared bathroom. He chose first, liking the one with a few extra chairs and a handy reading light. Locking the door that led to his side of the bathroom, he set about unpacking.

First came the pillow, of course. Holding it to him, he took in a deep breath and held it, luxuriating in Charlotte's scent. He placed it at the head of the bed, and picked up his cell phone to call her.

He had only expected to leave a message, but was surprised to hear Char's voice on the other end... "Hello? Charlotte, that you?" he asked confusedly

"Yes, yes it is -- Ethan. Hi"

"What are you doing home, love? Didn't you go to work today?"

Charlotte looked to Steph, sitting next to her, and grasped her hand for support. "Ummm... no, I was just too tired." she tried to brush it off as a naughty comment. She went on, "I called in sick."

She didn't fool him for a second, and his heart went out to her "Aww, honey," he crooned, "I'm sorry you had it so rough today. I miss you too." There was a pause, as neither one knew what to say through their shared emotion. Ethan made an effort, and brightened, regalling her with his activities of the day, from his seat change, to the limo ride, and now describing the suite.... minus the fact that it had adjoining bedrooms. That would only serve to drive her mad. He felt better when he heard Charlotte squeal with laughter, chiding him a bit for being so naughty, but he knew, mighty grateful he had been. They talked on, speaking briefly about Steph coming to her rescue, and then easing into a lover's conversation, Ethan telling her about the pillow, and about how he had felt after she had left, pouring his heart out to her. Charlotte was as forthcoming as she could with her friend sitting right next to her, but blushing happily to the roots of her hair.

Suddenly, Ethan was aware of Lynn's entrance to their suite. A rush of adrenaline hit his body, and he felt slightly sick. "All right, sweetheart," he breathed into the phone "I need to go now. But I'm thinking about you every moment. I'll call you later - I love you."

He heard Charlotte repeat it back to him, then smiled and hung up the phone. Sitting quietly for a moment, he tried to gather his thoughts for the upcoming confrontation. No sound from Lynn.

He left his room, closing the door behind him, and looked -- no sight of her, but her bedroom door was only half open. He paced a bit, wondering what he should do. Ignor her? Or make his move and be the first to speak? He decided on the latter.

Knocking on her door lightly, he called, "Lynn?"

She opened her door the rest of the way, and stood staring at him. In spite of himself, he felt a definite attraction to her still. Tall, lithe, and brunette, she cut a striking figure. Totally opposite of Charlotte, she was not as curvatious, but statuesque and reeking of sensuality. She was definitely a match for Ethan's tastes, and he couldn't help but survey her fully.

Lynn caught the look in his eye, and smiled. "Hello, Ethan," she purred, "Took me a while to get here, but here I am."

Ethan smirked, and countered, "Yeah, funny thing those limos -- so unreliable sometimes. Get left flat?" he was trying to get a rise out of her, to get her back for putting him in such an awkward position. He was a bit dismayed when she didn't take the bait.

Instead, she laughed, a husky, throaty laugh that had always sent Ethan reeling when he heard it. She was the full embodiment of many a guy's fantasies. Ethan steeled himself for a long struggle. Furtively, he thought of Charlotte, calling her face up from memory to remind himself.

"Touche, Ethan" Lynn laughed, "I suppose I did deserve that after showing up unannounced last night. It was rather rude of me. So ok, you got me. We're even now. Truce?" she held out her hand to him, and he shook it, a reluctant smirk on his face. "So, did you have a chance to check in with Charlotte yet?"

Ethan was completely aware by the tone in her voice that she knew he had, and his hackles raised again. Why was she so bent on taking Charlotte apart? "Yes, of course I did. Got anyone at home wondering if you're safe?" he knew that was downright nasty, but he didn't care.

Lynn smiled casually, but he could tell he had definitely stung her. "No, Ethan, I don't ." she said pointedly, then went on "But, believe it or not, I am actually happy for you that you have a love in your life. I'd be a heartless wench if I didn't appreciate your good fortune. Look - " she said, motioning for them to sit down on a couch in the common area, "We need to talk. Let's just get this all out in the open so we'll be free of it and ready to work. Ok? I think there's no running from it now, and this project is just too important to both our careers."

"Ok," Ethan said flatly, a dull warning flashing in his eyes as he sat stone still on the couch, "You start. I'll give you the topic - why did you do it?"

Lynn took a deep breath, and with a start, Ethan saw that it was actually an effort for her to begin to speak. She looked troubled, a very rare thing for her. He shook himself mentally, and opened up to hear her. "Well, how else can I say this? I did something wrong, and I was afraid of your reaction to me. So I left."

Ethan furrowed his brow, and dug in. "Ok. That's a start. What did you do?"

Lynn's composure was gone now, and she had a desperation in her eyes, hoping... "For what?" Ethan thought to himself, "Forgiveness?"

"Ethan, we had been together for years at that point. We were talking about marriage, and I knew that at any time, you would put that engagement ring on my finger and ask me THE question. I sort of panicked." she licked her lips and she saw understanding start to appear in Ethan's eyes, but also a question as to why. "I was suddenly faced with the prospect of being with only one man for the rest of my life. I had been so used to being in control of my destiny, pretty much doing whatever I wanted. If I was bored with something, I had freedom to move on. Marriage takes some of that away, no matter how progressive two people may think they are. And I got afraid -- what if I got bored with you?" She saw Ethan silently, grimly chuckle to himself, and took the plunge. "About three months before I walked out, I had started an affair."

That got Ethan's attention for certain. He was staring at her now, a look of shock on his face. He took a breath, and asked, "Ok. Who? Did I know him?"

"Yes," and her voice quivered just the slightest bit as she said, "It was our boss."

"Derik?" Ethan said incredulously "But he was"

"Married, yes I know" she finished for him. Ethan involuntarily covered his eyes with his hands and sat very still, waiting for everything to settle in to his brain. Lynn went on, "It started out as sort of a fluke. We had been working late, you were on assignment, and things just.... happened. Then it just progressed from there. He was unhappy with his homelife, I was scared to death of committing to you, and it just got so intense. And all the while, I was so enraged that you didn't even notice there was anything going on! I knew then that you had stopped paying close attention, and it felt like it was just confirmation that I wouldn't be happy in a marriage. Not just to you, but perhaps in ANY marriage -- it just struck me as so sad that two people could get so used to each other that they didn't notice things about them any more. Anyway, at the same time, I was terrified that you would find out because, well, you were at the height of your drinking then..."

Ethan's face turned grim, and he nodded in agreement. She went on, "And I was truly frightened that you would fly off the handle. You had never done anything towards me before, but I was afraid you might if you found out about this - or that you would do something harmful to yourself. So instead, I hid it from you, trying to decide what I was going to do. I was trying to get out of the affair with Derik, and then -"

"And then what?" Ethan prompted, feeling himself slide into a pit. He knew what was coming, and it was just another wound waiting to open back up.

"I found out I was pregnant."

Ethan let the air whistle out between his teeth, and sat there, depressed. He and Lynn had often gone around and around about whether they would have kids or not. He had said emphatically, yes, he wanted to be a father. She had just as emphatically said no, she didn't feel the need to "breed". It was the one sticking point in his mind to asking her to marry him. It was the whole reason he had put off giving her the engagement ring he had kept safe for the better part of a year.

"And did you have the baby?" He asked in a low voice

"I was going to -" her voice broke off "I suddenly had a total turnaround when I found I was actually pregnant. It just felt so different to actually experience it instead of talk about it. I just felt - "

'Motherly?" Ethan offered

"Yes. I suddenly felt like I wanted to protect this baby and nurture it and bring it up the best way I knew how."

Ethan let out a long sigh, weary to his bones. Hadn't he tried to convince her that maternal instinct would kick in if they had had children? He had always been convinced that she would make an amazing Mother, bringing up confident well adjusted kids. He never understood why she had been so stubbornly opposed. He was too numb to think any more, and rubbed his eyes with his hand, shutting down.

"So I left you. I decided that I needed to just get out move my life in a new direction and start over."

"And the baby?" he querried

"I lost it. A miscarriage. They told me that first pregnancies can miscarry more often, but I felt so guilty. At that point, I wanted to call you, to try and come back. But I just couldn't do it. I felt so guilty, and so stubborn. I didn't want to admit that I had been wrong."

Ethan couldn't help himself, and let out a frustrated groan. Elbows on his knees, he cradled his head in his hands and looked at the floor. He was devastated. So many thoughts were running through his mind - the what ifs, the anger, the betrayal, the regret. He felt swamped. And, incredulously, he felt feelings of compassion and tenderness towards Lynn. She had had it hard too. Thanks to his love of the bottle back then, she had felt alone with no one to turn to. He searched his own soul and found himself sorely guilty of having hurt Lynn. He looked up, and with a pained expression, said simply, "I'm sorry"

tonifinds2

Lynn watched the expressions run accross Ethan's face. God he was still the most beautiful man she had ever met, the years only adding a new depth, and sexuality to him. She eyed him closely as he listened to her and she realized that maybe for the first time he really heard her. She had never been sure if he loved her, or if it had merely been the idea of "Ethan and Lynn the golden couple" that held him.

Ethan hid his face, lost in some inner torment until she finished. She was proud of herself, she had gotten through what she knew would be the hardest thing she had ever done, without turning herself into a sobbing mess...until of course he looked at her.

"I'm sorry."

Lynn felt as if she had been hit by a truck. "What in God's name for?!"

"I should have been there for you, not hiding behind my career and the bottle."

Lynn bit down hard on her lip. "I will not cry!" echoing in her head.

"Ethan, love" She felt him shudder at the old endearment. "I should have been stronger, should have come to you with ---my fears---my insecurities."

That last part tore another chunk from the armor around her heart, and she felt the tears welling up.

"Damn, we were so very young," a sad smile flitted across her face, "So very ambitious. We were sure we knew it all huh?"

Her shaky laugh didn't fool Ethan, he knew Lynn and he knew what a toll this confession must be taking out of her. She'd had to fight so hard for the very respect given freely to the men of the Firm, respect that she had earned, admitting weakness - especially now - especally to him.

He felt his chest tighten,and without thought lifted her to him and cradled her in his arms.

"Oh Ethan I've missed you so badly!" Lynn's husky voice was low and filled with emotion.

Ethan found himself drowning in the beauty of her face - her eyes - her slightly parted lips. God himself couldn't have stopped Ethan from claiming those lips once again, and he did so, losing himself in her as he had so many times years ago.

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Guest Beanie

MishW

Charlotte opened her eyes, to find Steph standing over her with a mug of coffee. "How long have I been asleep?"

"About an hour. I have the feeling you didn't get much sleep last night by the look of you, so I thought it let you take a little nap."

"What a nightmare. I actually had a dream that I chased Ethan to Chicago." Stephanie winced at this. She didn't want to see her friend get into self-pity mode, because once Charlotte got there, it was very hard for her to get out again.

"So, I gather lots happened since the last time you and I talked. Time to fill me in, and no self-pity parties here! I want to know what's going on, and, I want to know what you plan do about it."

Charlotte filled Stephanie in on everything that had been happening. She told her how she and Ethan met, the instant connection they had, the immediate sexual tension, and walked her all the way through everything that had happened since the last time they'd seen each other at the club. She left out some of the more graphic details, but Stephanie got the idea. She was just amazed that Charlotte had jumped into a relationship so fast with both feet, and had given herself so wholeheartedly to Ethan. Charlotte had to laugh at Stephanie's look of fury when she told her about Lynn being in the lobby of the building when she and Ethan had gone out for dinner last night. As Charlotte talked, she realized how much she had missed her friend, and why Stephanie was such an important part of her life. She felt so much better after talking to Stephanie, and so much stronger. She was starting to formulate an idea in her head. Ethan had this trip to decide how he felt about Lynn, and to make his choice between her and Charlotte. After the night they had shared, and she was not just thinking about the sex here, but the deep emotional connection they had made, and the many declarations of love made by both of them, she was starting to feel confident that he would come back to her. So that was how she was going to proceed. If by some chance, he chose Lynn, then Charlotte would fight tooth and nail to get him back.

"Thanks for coming over Steph.I don't know what I would have done without you."

"You're okay now then? No more hiding under the covers?" Stephanie smiled at her.

Charlotte laughed. I don't have time for hiding under the covers. I have a lot to do before Ethan comes home."

Just then, the phone rang. Charlotte answered, and Stephanie realized by the look on her friend's face that it was Ethan. Charlotte reached out and took her hand for support. She watched Charlotte struggle with her emotions, and finally get them under control. By the end of the conversation. She was laughing over whatever it was Ethan was telling her. She smiled over the pure joy and her friend's face. This guy must really be something special, because since Jack, Charlotte hadn't let anyone get even remotely close to her. Stephanie knew that Charlotte would still have a lot to deal with, and that she was going to have her ups and downs. You didn't just throw any baggage you had off to the side when you met somebody new, but she knew that her friend would be okay. They'd known each other since high school, and had seen each other through a lot. Charlotte could be a bit of a wimp, but when she made up her mind about something, and determined to herself that she wanted something, there was no stopping her.

i'd pick erik

Lynn sat on the couch opposite Ethan. A whirlwind of thoughts was spinning in his head. He loved Charlotte with all his heart… well almost… Lynn still held a piece of it. Could there be room in his heart for both of them? Surely not. He desperately wanted things to work out with Charlotte, but this trip with Lynn really was complicating things.

He looked into Lynn’s eyes and saw everything he remembered about her. Smart, funny, beautiful… controlling. She was a very powerful woman. That was the biggest difference between Charlotte and Lynn.

There was a knock at the door of the Suite. Lynn stood quickly and went to answer it.

“No one is there… must have been a kid playing around or something…” She said as she stared at Ethan.

Ethan had to have some time to himself. He got up from the couch and walked to his suitcase to retrieve his jacket.

“Where are you going?” asked Lynn.

“Lynn… This is all way too much for me right now.” Ethan said with tears about to spring from his eyes. “I need to take a walk to figure things out. Meet me for dinner at that little restaurant down the street in about an hour?”

“Yeah, sure…” Lynn said, feeling as if she’d lost him already. “I’ll see you there.”

Ethan walked up the street until he came upon a park in the middle of the city. He decided to walk around and take in the fresh air. All the time he walked about the trails, he thought of Charlotte. He knew that he had feelings for her, but he knew that he had feelings for Lynn too. He decided to give Sean a call. Sean had always been good with this type of thing.

Ethan dialed the number for his friend and let the phone ring until the voice mail picked up. “Hey, this is Sean’s phone. If you’re listening to this, chances are I’m having sex with my girlfriend or I’m at work… leave me a message.” Ethan waited for the beep and left Sean a message to call him back when he was not otherwise indisposed.

Ethan glanced at his watch and started back toward the restaurant. As he walked by, he could have sworn he saw Charlotte in the window of a nearby hotel. He shook his head and walked on with his hands thrust into his pockets. He was seeing her everywhere already and he’d only been here a day. This may be tougher than he thought.

Ethan sat down in the restaurant and waited for Lynn. He was looking around the room when he felt a hand on his shoulder. He looked up to see Lynn standing there in a stunning red dress. “Boy,” he said, “I feel a bit underdressed now…”

Lynn smiled and sat across the table from him. Just then, Ethan’s phone rang.

“Hello?”

“Ethan, you dog!!! What the frig is so important?” asked Sean.

“Oh, hey Sean. Can I call you back in a couple of hours? I’m having dinner with… um… Lynn.”

“Oh.” Said the voice on the other end of the phone. “I see. Well, I’ll catch ya later buddy.” Said Sean, disbelievingly.

Sean hung up the phone. “What the heck is he doing?” he asked Sharon. “He’s gonna throw it all away!”

Ethan excused himself to use the restroom. He had to call Charlotte. Just to hear her voice.

tonifinds2

Lynn watched as Ethan walked away. She had a pretty good idea where he was really headed but truth be told she felt just a wee bit relieved. The emotional roller coaster of this afternoon, had left her feeling wrung out, and she hadn't fully recovered from the blind passion of his kisses either. The memories she had buried over the last few years of their nights together, had come rushing back with that kiss-- so full of yearning and so angry all at the same time.

She wondered as she waved over the waiter if Sean had really kept his promises to her about not telling Ethan why she had left. Ethan had seemed a bit surprised but not as volital has she had expected he would be under the circumstances. She knew how badly Ethan had wanted to be a father, and for her to leave before knowing for sure whose baby she was carrying??

"Are you ready to order?" The waiter interrupted the rest of her thoughts, and she gave him a sad and melancholy smile,

"Please tell the man at this table -- I've decided to call it a night. I really need a hot bath and about 10 hours of sleep." Her charming smile widened and told the waiter that she knew where his thoughts had gone at the mention of her bath. Lynn rose from the table with an elegant swish.

"Of course, but surely you must be hungry?" The waiter was pushing it but he could already feel the vacuum forming as she left the room.

"Not for anything I'll find here tonight !" She called back over her lightly tanned shoulder, and with a wave and a crooked smile she was gone.

MishW

Steph left to go back to work, and Charlotte decided it was a good time to get started.

She sat down with a pad of paper, and made list of the things, she planned to do before Ethan got home. She was going to need help with a couple of these things, because she really was clueless, but she thought she knew who she could go to for help. After all, before Ethan left, he told her to make sure to call Sean and Sharon if she needed anything while he was gone. At the time she thought it was funny, because she had lived in the city for 10 years before she met Ethan, so she didn't figure 2 weeks was going to present anything she couldn't handle, but it made him feel better to hear her say that she would. Well, now she fully intended to. She would call tomorrow and talk to Sharon.

Since she had the rest of the day off, she decided to get some things done that she had been neglecting since she met Ethan. She needed to go grocery shopping, and she really needed to clean her apartment. The first thing she needed to do, however, was shower. She took a nice long hot shower, and put on her robe. As she started doing her hair, she thought of something else to add to her list. She needed to make a hair appointment. She wanted something different, a little bolder maybe.

Once she was showered and dressed with her makeup on and her hair done, she felt much better. It was mid afternoon, so she decided to go get some coffee, and then go grocery shopping. She stood waiting for the elevator, she actually found herself holding her breath, hoping to see Ethan. She laughed at herself, and of course, when the elevator opened it was empty. She got in and headed down to the lobby, and when the doors opened. She heard,

"Well hello luv, just the person I was looking for." She heard that Scottish burr, and for a second was thrown. Then she looked up and saw Sean standing there.

"What are you doing here?" She laughed. She couldn't figure out why she was so happy all of a sudden. She couldn't help but think that it was because she now had a plan of action. "I was actually going to call you later. Well, I was going to call Sharon."

"Sharon? I'm wounded!" He said with a look of mock pain. "What are you up to right now?"

"Actually, I'm on my way to go grocery shopping, but I thought I'd go get some coffee first." She knew she didn't need more coffee, but she couldn't help it, she associated that coffee shop with her first encounter with Ethan. It would make her feel closer to him if she went there.

"Mind if I walk with you?"

"No of course not, I'd love the company."

"So, how are you holding up?" Sean was actually surprised that she seemed to be in such good spirits. He'd come over, partly to check on her and make sure she was okay. He knew Ethan was dreading this trip, and the separation, and he figured Charlotte would be having the same problem.

"I'm okay now, I was a basket case all morning. Stephanie came over and we talked, plus Ethan called, so I'm starting to snap out of it now. You said you were looking for me, how come?"

"Sharon and I wanted you to come over for dinner tomorrow night. She really had a good time with you when we all went out to dinner, and we figured with Ethan gone, you might not mind getting out for a while."

"I'd love to come over, Actually, I wanted to talk to Sharon anyhow. Does she like to shop?"

Sean laughed. He had such a great booming laugh, it made her smile. "Does she like to shop? Are you kidding me? I don't know a woman who doesn't."

"Stephanie hates it. You'd never know by looking at her, she always looks like she stepped out of a fashion magazine, but she really really hates to shop. The day we saw you at the club, we had spent all day looking for a dress for her to wear to a wedding. She dragged me along because she hates shopping so much We spent half the day looking, and she still ended up with nothing."

Sean laughed again. "Yes, Sharon loves to shop. Why?"

"I need some new clothes, and I'm useless at shopping for myself. I'm good at choosing things for other people, but when it comes to myself, I'm too critical of everything. I love the way Sharon dresses, and thought she might not mind helping me out. Ethan and I tried to go shopping not long ago, but it was hopeless. I hated everything, and he loved everything. His mind really wasn't on shopping anyway." Sean saw the blush creeping up in her cheeks and he laughed. She was coming out of her shell, but she still had that innocence about her that was so attractive.

"I'm sure she'd love to help you. Ask her about it tomorrow night."

And they reached the coffee shop, Sean held the door for her, they got their coffee and sat down at a table.

"Can I ask you a nosy question?"

"You can ask. I may not answer, but you can ask." Sean grinned at her

"You said you moved here because a girlfriend got a job here. Was that Sharon?" Sean nodded. "So you've been together for a long time." He nodded again, knowing where this was going. "How come you haven't married her?"

Sean gave her a grim little smile. "You'll have to ask her about that. I've asked her dozens of times, and she always turns me down."

Charlotte didn't know what to say to that.

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Guest Beanie

Beanie

Sean caught the look of unease on her face. He laughed

"Don't worry, Charlotte. If I was that unhappy with the arrangement I woulda told her to fook off a long time ago. Sometimes things are better left just the way they are."

"Hmm. I suppose so," Charlotte mused, "But you seem like the type who would like to settle down. You seem dead pressed to get Ethan to, anyway."

Sean grinned and was quiet for a bit, when he started to speak, he was the most serious she had ever seen him, but even yet he still smiled, if a little wanly, "Uh, sometimes we deserve what we get, and sometimes we don't. I believe I deserve what I get... but I don't believe Ethan deserved what HE got." he paused, a twinkle in his eye "When it came to Lynn, of course. On the other hand, he definitely deserves you." He winked at her

Charlotte had a feeling she was about to learn a world of information.

Sean leaned back in his chair and fiddled with his coffee cup. He liked Charlotte - he really did. And he could see she would be really good for Ethan. In any case, Ethan certainly had zeroed in on her like he had with no woman in a long time. And it gratified him to see that Ethan had picked someone completely off type from Lynn. Lynn!!! Sean looked Charlotte in the eye, and decided on giving her the whole scoop. Time to fill in more of the spaces for Ethan's girlfriend, and come clean about his part in it as well. She deserved that.

Thinking back, he remembered... it was so fookin' complicated, and amazing that Ethan and he had stuck through it somehow. Again he thought of Lynn, a smile playing on his lips. Ahhh, but there was a steaming sultry fantasy of a woman! He just couldn't bring himself to feel sorry for the brief indiscretion he had had with her towards the middle of her relationship with Ethan. Drunk, and with Ethan drunker and passed out in the next room, things had just taken a course of their own. It nearly broke apart his friendship at the time, Sean sure that Ethan was gonna clock him but good when he first found out. He escaped a thrashing only by running for his life through Ethan's apartment door. But all the same, he had run with a smile on his face. He had never experienced anything like Lynn before, and never since. And she was smart as a whip, witty in repartee, wise in the ways of the world. He could well understand the pull she had on Ethan.

Come to find out, Ethan had completely trashed his apartment after his escape, doing to it what he couldn't do to the absent Sean. In the weeks that followed, Sean had apologized, (though not really meaning it entirely -- the encounter had really raised some questions in his mind about the suitability of Lynn for Ethan) and Ethan had smoldered, quietly working things out with Lynn, who begged off any responsibility due to her drunken state. Ethan believed her, completely exonerating her in his heart, knowing he had been passed out himself, though it still stung him to think of it for a long time to come.

Sean knew that the exaggerated story of how drunk she was (even copping that she had blacked out and didn't remember all of it) was bull, but he let it lie. Let her dig her own grave, he shrugged - any anyway, it would have really torn Ethan apart if he told him the truth. By the end of the cooling off period, Ethan came to grips with his anger, blaming himself as well for his stupor that night, and chalking the whole thing up to just another drunken stunt for Sean. In Ethan's psyche, he would rather patch things up with his best mate even after his betrayal, than throw over a whole lifetime of friendship. Sean couldn't quite believe that Ethan forgave him, but took it in stride quietly, thinking that somewhere inside of him, Ethan must have doubts too. And then, (and Sean could not believe it at the time) Ethan started dragging him out to jewelry stores to pick out a damned engagement ring! He remembered thinking the man must be friggin' nuts, and half thought to talk him out of it, but he figured he'd be of more use if he was still friends with Ethan rather than get him pissed off again. He had a feeling he'd need to be there to pick up the pieces. It took a year, but he had been so right. He paused a moment, wondering whether to go on and fill her in about the end of Ethan and Lynn's relationship, wondering if it would hurt or help Charlotte.

Charlotte took the moment to comment, "So that's why you think you deserve what you get with Sharon?" Listening to his story, she found it hard to believe that she didn't pass judgment on him. Usually, she would instantly dislike anyone who had done such an outrageous thing as bed his best friend's steady, drunk or not. But Sean was just such a likeable rake, perfectly aware of who he was, and not abashed to tell the truth. She could really respect that - she could tell he was a truly good person, one of the few she had met these days, despite his sometimes wicked behavior.

Sean grinned, and shrugged, "Yeah. I'm no angel, by any means. So it wouldn't be right for me to get my knickers in a twist when things don't always turn out the way I'd like. I'm happy with Sharon, and I let that be good enough for me right now. But Ethan..."

Charlotte interrupted him, "Lynn sounds like she was absolutely dreadful to him."

Sean checked himself, and said emphatically, "No, no Charlotte, I don't want you to get that impression. She wasn't --- er, isn't an evil person or anything," he laughed, seeing Charlotte's expression change to one almost smacking of disappointment, "Naw. I mean, yeah, things in the end really tore into Ethan, but she really was a good influence on him from the beginning, and she really, really did love him. She made him happy." He took a long sip of his coffee, watching Charlotte's eyes lower to stare at the table. "Hey," he said, kicking her under the table. "Up here. I'm not done. I'm trying to help you here, girl, don't go all catatonic on me now."

Charlotte couldn't help but grin at that. Yeah, she could see why Ethan had stuck by Sean - he was a good one for keeping things light even when they were dead serious.

"Like I said, she wasn't a bad person. In fact, she was the best thing that ever happened to him in the beginning. Their relationship started like bolt of lightening -- sort of like you and Eath now," he winked at her and went on, "They were so in tune with each other, a golden couple, poised to rule the world. She really kicked Ethan's butt into gear - her love motivated him so that he finally got out of the perpetual rut he was in and actually started paying attention to his life. He focused in on his career, he started broadening his interests, he finally stopped living like a college student and became for all intents and purposes, sort of an adult. " He smirked and added "Something I still haven't quite managed for myself"

Charlotte laughed at that, the tension broken.

Sean began to narrate for her again... Things had returned to almost normal at a surprisingly fast pace. Personally, Sean had been deeply suspicious of that, but he kept his tongue. He had already done enough to interfere. He knew that Ethan and Lynn had started talking more in earnest about marriage, and fighting about whether or not to have children. And all the while, Sean knew that engagement ring was burning a hole in Ethan's pocket.

They had many conversations about the impasse he and Lynn were having over the family thing, Sean trying as best he could to just be supportive of his friend without looking like he was picking sides. Personally, Sean by this time had really started to write off Lynn as a no-go, but he was determined to see it through for his pal. He could tell that it was tearing at Ethan, completely and soul-wrenchingly in love with this woman, but unsure if he should give up any hopes of having a family. Sean could see Eath as a family man, and thought he should persue that avenue even if it meant seeing someone else. But again, he bit his tongue, instead offering support, and dragging Ethan out to the clubs for pool and darts and conversation (and a little flirtation) to distract him.

Those were really strange times. It seemed as if Ethan's life were in a holding pattern. He was contantly in flux, one moment setting goals for his life, the next spiralling into depression. His drinking, always a bit of trouble for him, increased, leading to more times than Sean could count, for bailing him out of trouble. He let the drinking slide, too, not knowing how to confront him about it without making Ethan feel he was ganging up on him. He had gone on binges before, and he held out hope that he would level off again on his own.

Things got even stranger when he was suddenly aware of Lynn acting sort of "off". She seemed distracted too, suddenly unsure of herself, which was a huge departure for her. Sean sensed a storm coming on, and felt helpless to stop it. He confronted Lynn once, casually, and she mumbled something about not being sure about this whole marriage thing Ethan was talking about, and couldn't they just be happy the way things were. Sean marked how she couldn't look him in the eyes as they discussed it further, he trying to seem supportive to draw her out. Fast forward to several weeks later, and he spotted her canoodling - ok, out and out sucking the face off of a guy - not Ethan - in a parked car on a busy street in town.

He had just been there to pick something up from a shop, and was walking down the sidewalk back to his car. As a guy, he was naturally drawn when he sensed some "action" going on within his view. He had stopped in his tracks when he recognized Lynn - he would recognize her anywhere, she was just that unique and beautiful. She happened to catch his eye at that moment, and they locked gazes. Sean glared at her, infuriated to no end. Ok, so how drunk was she THIS time, he had hissed under his breath. He only moved from his spot when her lover had looked around, sensing Lynn's distraction. Sean couldn't be sure, but he thought that guy looked familiar too - he just couldn't place him. He had made tracks for home, simmering all the while. Now what the frig would he do, he thought to himself. Again, he decided not to say anything. He wanted to see if Lynn would make a move. She knew he had seen her - he wanted to see if she would suffer for the knowledge enough to come clean. She didn't.

Sean was as civil as he could be around her, but even Ethan had started to notice a change in his attitude towards her as the months stretched on. Sean had even stopped coming around as much if Lynn were going to be there. Eventually, things came to a head, and Ethan confronted him one evening, asking him pointedly if there were anything going on between him and Lynn. Sean's mouth had dropped open, and then he laughed. It just struck him as so absurd. "No, lad, and that's certain!" he had said between chuckles, "But if that's what yer thinkin, maybe you should look to her mate."

Sean would never forget the look on Ethan's face after that comment. Stone cold steel fury. The quiet kind that can erupt at a moments notice and make you afraid for your life. Sean found himself backing down right quick, chuffing him on his shoulder and saying "A joke, Ethan. C'mon, man, I'm just joking" Sean had left in a hurry after that, another narrow escape.

Shortly after that, all hell had completely broken loose. He knew that Ethan must have started putting pressure on Lynn after their conversation. The fighting increased, Ethan becoming more withdrawn and sullen, more unavailable due to the booze. And then, one day, Lynn just simply up and left. No words... just gone. Scary times ensued with Ethan, Sean truly afraid for his pal for the first time in his life. Stealthily, he had organized friends to watch from a distance, but watch never the less, making sure that Ethan remained safe. It had been dicey.

And things still hadn't reached rock bottom, at least not from Sean's view. He didn't recall how he had found out -- that strange combination of friends of friends and coincidence that let him in on a random piece of gossip. Lynn was pregnant, and knew she had been before she left. Luckily, the source of this info was far enough from Ethan that it wouldn't reach him. And Sean decided then it never would. He cursed Lynn in his heart, wondering if it were Ethan's baby or her lover's. Just the knowlege of the possibilities would have pushed Ethan over the edge at the time, and he couldn't chance it. That sealed it for him, and he didn't care if he ever saw her face again. At the very least, she should have had the decency....

Sean looked up at the ceiling and uttered an amused sigh. "But, I did say she isn't evil," he reminded both of them with a wink, "Who knows. Maybe she was really scared. Ethan WAS scary at the time. The booze...it started pickin away at all the things people liked about him, leaving some pretty damned ugly stuff..." he let it die on his lips.

Charlotte stretched a bit herself, mind reeling with all this information. "So did you ever tell him.."

Sean interrupted her quickly. "No! No... Maybe at one time, it would have been right, but its been too long now. It wouldn't be a good thing."

"So why did you tell me?" was her next logical question.

Sean grinned. "Hell, I don't quite know myself. But I just thought it might give you something to think on, maybe help you get on during the next few weeks. I figure the more you know about him, the more you have to hold onto at this point."

Charlotte smiled and nodded her thanks. Sean really was a good friend to her now too. She felt accepted, and felt that he and Sharon would be pulling for her all the way as this relationship unfolded. She squeezed his arm, wordlessly thanking him.

He patted her hand and rose bruskly, ending their conversation. "Well, I think I've done enough damage for the day here. My work is done!" He flung up his arms and laughed. "Dinner tomorrow night, eh? And, oh, you know to keep this under your hat. Sharon doesn't know the whole story either." He winked at her, turned, and without another word, strode from the coffee shop.

Gathering her things, Charlotte knew she had a lot to think about. She grabbed her purse, and headed home.

Ethan AGAIN found himself wandering around aimlessly. His mind just wouldn't focus. He wanted nothing more than to call Charlotte, to hear her voice, hoping it would sooth his mind. But then, what right had he to seek consolation from her when it was SHE he had betrayed. And so damn quickly. Inwardly he smacked himself. How could he be such an idiot? It seemed he was always doomed to sabotage himself just as he saw happiness in his sights.

But Lynn had broken through a huge wall he had built. As each piece of information had fallen into place, he felt it disappear brick by brick. Suddenly, suspicions, doubts, out and out mysteries were replaced by facts, he was finally able to see his way clear of a darkness that had occupied a part of his soul since Lynn had left. But one heartache was new, and it burned him like a fiery brand. She had been pregnant. Was it his? What were the chances of Lynn suddenly getting pregnant with another man she was only with for months, when he and she had been together for years? He felt sorrow wash over him, and inexplicably felt himself grieving for this baby, the one that might have been his. He had half wondered for a moment if this were a trick; if she were lying to manipulate him, but inevitably knew it in his soul that it was true. If only she had told him!!! For a baby, he felt he would have been able to work anything out. At the very least, he would have wanted to be a part of its life, even if he and Lynn hadn't stayed together. It was a moot point now, as she had miscarried so long ago, but he still couldn't help thinking "What if"

Couple that with the very true fact that he wasn't exactly father of the year material back then. The drinking had become a big part of him. He had started feeling he couldn't face people without a pick me up, and increased his "dosage" as time went on. Later, as an escape from his troubles, he had sought that oblivion that only a blackout could give him, sometimes half wishing that it would completely wipe him away, and that he wouldn't wake in the morning. He suffered the price heavily for it the next day, sometimes finding himself drinking more just to allay the desperate sickness he felt. But he had told himself at those times that at least he had had some hours where he was blissfully free of all thought. But then there were also the pieces to pick up when he had had an active blackout, which invariably involved lots of furious violence on his apartment. This became an embarrasment to him, and he stopped having people over. He made sure he always went to meet friends somewhere else, and started all but living at Lynn's place when he was more sober.

"Yeah," Ethan thought grimly to himself, "That would really make her want to tell me what she had been going through. " For once in his life, he felt regret about his past. It stung him hard, making his chest ache, and his breathing come in spasms. For the first time in a long while, he found himself wanting a drink, if only to escape the crush of these emotions for a while.

His thoughts went around and around that kissing session with Lynn. Ethan had felt himself suddenly transported back in time, it seemed, forgetting all the distance and history that had happened since then. Suddenly, he had been so aware of Lynn being near him, and combined with the heady truths she had revealed to him, he seemed to lose track of himself, and where and when he truly was. Then Lynn had told him how much she had missed him, and well... His response was just so strong, he found himself doing what came naturally whenever he felt things deeply in the presence of a woman. Their kiss had exploded in his mind, and he found himself thinking of all the countless times they had shared themselves with each other. Old instincts reappeared, directing Ethan's actions almost without his knowlege. Finally, Lynn had broken away from him. He had stared for a moment at her with surprise, then, seeing her slight discomfort, felt himself sliding back to the present with a vengeance. Instantly, he felt a bit shocked at himself, even a little horrified.

He was still horrified. So much so, that now he couldn't bring himself to phone Charlotte, though she was the one she desperately wanted to talk to, to pour his soul out to right now and try to sort things out. Again, his chest ached, his anguish manifesting itself as physical pain. His brain wouldn't, or couldn't stop, alternating between Lynn's pregnancy, his drunken past, Charlotte's face, and that damned frigging kiss. He was in agony. He really, really wanted a drink.

He was slowly brought out of his dark thoughts by his cell phone, only registering it after it had rung several times. He answered it in a tone fitting his mood, "Yeah?"

At Ethan's voice on the other end, Sean instantly had flashbacks to those bad times of years ago, "Well hi to you too, mate," he countered, trying to sound light "What's going on? Thought I'd try to return your call again."

Ethan was sullenly silent for a few moments before saying bitterly, "Ah, Sean, its all been shot to hell. I am in hell."

Sean sucked in his breath for a moment, realizing the seriousness of Ethan's mood. This was not a good thing. He tried again to rouse him out of it, "Well, ok, mate. What level of Dante's hell are you at? Which one should I come pick you up from?"

"I kissed Lynn, Sean," Ethan blurted.

"Whoah" Sean couldn't help his surprise escape, "That is a very deep level of hell indeed."

"And she might have had my baby years ago, and never told me. She miscarried... damn. I don't know what to think. I'm all messed up in the head." He paused, and said almost in a whisper, "And really wanting a drink right now."

It was still loud enough for Sean to hear. "Well... Ethan... I'd say you're in far deeper Hell than Dante even described. Where are you now?" Frig, Sean thought, how the hell was he supposed to talk him down?

Ethan looked around, and sighed, "Damn it, I don't even know. I just started walking."

"Ok, mate, well you know what you have to do. Find a taxi and get your butt back to your hotel room." Sean was a bit more forceful than he meant to be, but Ethan was scaring him for the first time in years. There was nothing for it. "Hear me Ethan?"

"Yeah, yeah"

Ethan sounded a bit disjointed on the other end, but Sean knew he would actually get himself back to the hotel, if only on autopilot from Sean's suggesting it.

"Ok, Call me when you get in. If you don't, I'm gonna call you, and I'll be ticked."

"Right," he heard Ethan say, tired, but fully present "Talk to you later"

Immediately after hanging up with Ethan, Sean dialed Charlotte's number, immensely thankful, he had told her of Ethan's history. Sheer coincidence sometimes COULD save the day. Hopefully she would understand enough, put aside her hurt, and help. He sighed to himself as he thought of what he had already done to influence this relationship. Totally unlike his stand-off policy of the past. He smirked - yeah, and a lot of good that had done. Well, this time was different. He was going to interfere, and on a grand scale at that. He had to get Charlotte on the phone to Ethan.

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Guest Beanie

Semmsb and Beanie

Charlotte sat in a cab, thinking over everything the telephone call with Sean. She had been surprised to hear from him, just as she was settling down for a quiet night at home. After her coffee with Sean that afternoon, she had gone grocery shopping, and had a very quick look at a few clothing stores for ideas. She wanted to update her look to something slightly sexier. Being with Ethan made her feel incredible, and she wanted her wardrobe to reflect that.

After feeling dismayed at the myriad choices available to her, she had returned to the apartment. It was slightly painful being there alone. Everything reminded her of Ethan. It seemed everywhere she turned there was something linked to him. She was sitting on the couch nibbling a frozen dinner and sipping a glass of wine when the phone had rung.

Sean sounded upset, and had asked her to come over. He hadn’t really explained why, giving her some garbled story about Ethan and some sort of crisis, and booze. At first she had been reluctant, but Sean had been insistent.

Eventually she capitulated, and was now wondering what the hell was going on. All sorts of scenarios were buzzing through her head. Ethan didn’t drink any more. Surely he wouldn’t have started again, and after only one day away? What in the world could have happened to even make that a possibility?

Finally the cab reached the building where Sean and Sharon lived. After Sharon had buzzed her in, and she had waited impatiently for the elevator, she found her self-sitting on Sean and Sharon’s couch. Sharon was sitting opposite, whilst Sean paced agitatedly around the room.

“Ok Sean, what the hell is going on?” she demanded. “I’m starting to go crazy here. Is Ethan OK?”

Sean turned to her, and sighed, “Look Charlotte, I’m going to have to be honest with you. You might not like what you’re going to hear, but I’m telling you for your own good. Ethan is in a really bad place right now. Lynn told him about the baby, and it’s really messed with his head.”

Charlotte sat stunned. Why had Lynn told him this now? The only reason that Charlotte could think of was that she was fighting hard for Ethan, and was pulling every dirty move available to her in order to win. Lynn knew how Ethan had felt about having a family, and telling him this part of her reasons for leaving would definitely fit into her desire to pull Ethan straight back into her arms. Charlotte gulped, determined not to loose it in front of Sean and Sharon.

“Char, I’m sorry” Sean said, “I know how upsetting this is for you. But you really need to be strong.” he paused, struggling to find the right words to bring Charlotte out of her funk, "Dammit, woman, if you really want our Eath, there are times when you're gonna have to fight like hell. Don't you think right now is one of those times?" He saw the stricken look on her face, and softened, but just a bit. He had no patience for her wimping out, but also didn't want her to feel accosted, “Look love, I guess what I’m trying to do is make amends for what I did all those years ago. I really believe that you and Ethan should be together. Usually I wouldn’t interfere, and I didn’t when things started to go wrong with Lynn last time. I guess now I feel like I should of. I feel like I could have saved Ethan from a whole lot of pain if I had of stepped in. I’m stepping in now. But you need to cooperate, girl!” Sean paused, and turned to Charlotte. She nodded, not knowing what to say. Sean glanced at Sharon, who gave him a reassuring smile and nodded imperceptibly.

After taking a deep breath, and raking his hands through his hair, Sean filled Charlotte in on the telephone conversation that he had had with Ethan, sparing her no detail, including that damned kiss. As he spoke, he came to kneel in front of Charlotte, making sure she maintained eye contact, willing her to be come around and be confident and resolute. The last thing that Ethan needed now was for to fall apart. He saw the tears fill Charlotte’s eyes, and he gripped her hands, a bit harshly, but he needed her to act with some sense right now.

“Hey, woman, stop it. You still want him or not?" Charlotte was shocked from her self pity, enough to nod at him and leave off with the waterworks. Sean grunted, and tried to reason with her, "Char, listen to me. Our boy is crap at keeping it together when things start to fall down around him. Its why he is so damned agile at avoiding serious situations. He can't commit to things he feels might make him care too much and disappoint him in the end. Well, he's definitely fallen into it now. Its a real mess. The words he used, he said he’s in hell right now. He’s beating himself up over kissing Lynn, he feels like an arse and a cad. He's agonizing over whether or not this baby coulda been his, and if he could have done anything different back then to have saved things. He's in a real storm right now. Too many intense black thoughts. He really feels it when he's in that deep. That’s why he wants a drink. He just wants to escape, black out what happened today. We need to snap him out of it, or I'm actually afraid of what he might do," He eyed Charlotte forcefully, "He needs to know that you’re still here for him.”

Charlotte nodded again, taking a deep breath. “You want me to speak to him?

Sean nodded, just as the phone rung. They all paused, staring at it. Charlotte gulped again, and steeled herself. Sean finally answered it.

“You back at the hotel?” he asked. He turned to Charlotte nodding as Ethan confirmed that he was. Charlotte sat listening to Sean’s side of the conversation, gripping her knees until her knuckles turned white. What was she going to say to Ethan? She felt as if she was standing on a precipice, and one wrong move would tip her over the edge. She was still trying to process the information that Sean had told her, and really didn’t know if she could hold it together long enough to reassure Ethan. She really needed some reassurance herself.

Sean’s voice broke into her thoughts.

“Good. You going to eat? Good. No drinking. Well, don’t mess it up. Yeah well, I know, but it’s done now. I know mate. I have a feeling she might.” With this last sentence Sean turned to Charlotte and smiled. “Uh huh, you want to talk to her?”

Charlotte heard the surprised squawk as Ethan realized she was there.

Sean grinned and responded “Mate, one of us has to keep our eye on the ball.” With that he handed the phone to Charlotte, and pointed her towards the bedroom so she could speak to Ethan in privacy. Taking a deep breath she managed to speak past the lump in her throat.

“Hello?” Ethan sounded surprised. "Char, hon, what are you doing there?" his voice sounded rough and wary, but just hearing him speak brought warmth to Charlotte's body, bringing clarity to her troubled mind.

"Sean called me. He was worried about you."

She heard Ethan sigh heavily, "Right." his tone sounded guarded. She could imagine him in her minds eye, knowing how he would look in his current mood, still and quiet, looking like a coil ready to spring. "What did he tell you?"

Charlotte paused, wondering what she should tell Ethan, but then decided on honesty, "Everything." She could hear him give a resigned sigh on the other end, and she went on, "He told me about you kissing Lynn, about how your relationship ended, how it almost ended your relationship with Sean, too, and - " Charlotte paused, not able to bring herself to say the words "the baby".

Ethan groaned "Damn, Char!! He had no right!" She could almost feel his anger seething through the phone, and it peaked her own ire "Yes, he did!" Charlotte responded angrily, Sensing Ethan's surprise at her outburst, she went on venting, "Under that careless demeanor he projects, he really cares about you. Maybe more than you realize. But, I suppose you must know that to some extent since you didn't chuck him over what he did. He wants you to be happy," Charlotte's voice softened, "And so do I. So, its no use for you to head into self-destruct mode. What's done is done. Move on. We can deal with this - its not like you shagged her or anything."

Charlotte heard all those words leaving her lips and marveled that she had uttered them. She was waking up. She was staking her claim, holding on to him with a practicality that transcended mere emotion. She was realizing that for them to have any chance of staying together and growing as a couple, they had to do it deliberately, and not be so easily tossed by emotions or infatuation. Charlotte had made her mind up. She could only hope that Ethan would chose as she had.

She heard him sigh on the other end, obviously troubled and unsure of what to say. "Eath," she prompted him, "It's best if you just spill it. It won't be fatal. I'm willing to listen to whatever you have to say now, digest it, and move on -" she paused for emphasis "WITH you."

The silence on the other end stretched on, but Charlotte was resolute. She had said what she needed to; it was his turn now, and she would wait it out for him to speak. Finally, he broke.

"Char, oh frig. Im so sorry," he moaned, "I don't know what happened. I got caught up. Lynn was filling in all the blanks that had left this thing unresolved. Stuff I had wanted to know for so long." his voice shook as he went on, "Its been over 5 years, but I found myself right back there like no time had passed at all. I learned some stuff about myself that I'm not too proud of..." he cleared his throat in an effort not to break, "I just wanted to hold her, to tell her I was sorry for my part in all of it - hell! I dunno.... it just went on from there."

"But it was only a kiss, " Charlotte said matter of factly.

"Yes," Ethan paused, wanting to be completely honest, "But if she hadn't stopped it... Char, I feel like I've cheated on you because I know I would have. I was just so messed in the head. It felt like s**t after it happened. I wanted to call you but I coudn't"

Charlotte felt tears start to come at the self loathing she heard in Ethan's voice. "Why not?"

"Because I felt like I had stuffed it all up. My life, you, everthing. Char, the last thing I wanted to do was disappoint you. And I'm just so mad at myself."

Charlotte took a deep breath, and said, "Ethan, I guess all I can say is I love you. That should tell you everything you need to know."

She heard him choke and realized he was struggling as well. "I love you too Char. I miss you so much already. I wish I could just come home. I don't want to be here. I'm in hell."

Wanting to distract him from his anguish, she said, "Ethan, you're not in hell. Mind you, kiss her again, and you might really find out what hell is like." Charlotte managed a smile, and heard a short, soft chuckle from Ethan's end, "I'm here for you. I'll be here when you come home. I've set my sights on you, Eath. There's no getting away now." She let that statement sound light, almost a joke, but she knew he could sense the sincerity of it as well.

"Really?" he asked, "Even after today?"

"Really," Charlotte spoke from her heart, "Just don't be tempted to have that drink, ok? It will only make your problems worse."

"Yeah, I know, I know. I just want to forget all this crap. Its just too much friggin'' info being flung at me all at once. This stuff hurts, Char - I'm not good at this crap." he paused, and Charlotte crooned a few words of comfort. He cleared his throat, and with an effort, tried to start moving the conversation to more cheerful topics. "So, what did you do today on your 'sick' day?"

Charlotte filled him in on her day with Steph, shopping, and coffee with Sean. As the conversation was winding down, she repeated how much she loved and missed him. he was starting to sound like his old self, much to her relief.

"I love you too, Char," he replied. She closed her eyes, savoring the words.

"Say it again"

I love you, Miss Arielle," he complied, "and when I get home, I'm gonna show you just how much."

Charlotte grinned, "I hope so"

They said goodbye and Charlotte sat on the edge of the bed. She hoped to heaven that what he said came to pass, that he would come home to her.

MishW

Charlotte sat for a minute on the edge of the bed, thinking about her conversation with Ethan. He really had sounded better at the end, but the way he had sounded at the beginning of their conversation still left her shaken. She had never heard a person sound that torn apart before. She stood up and went back into the living room, where she found Sharon sitting on the edge of the sofa, hands clasped between her knees, and Sean pacing the floor like a caged animal. When she walked in, they both looked up at her, and she could see the concern on their faces.

"How is he?" Sean asked.

"Better," Charlotte replied. "He sounded more like himself by the time we hung up. He even asked how I spent my day." She recounted the conversation, well, most of it anyway. She handed the phone back to Sean, and it was then she realized that her hands were shaking. Sean noticed too. He set the phone down on the table next to the sofa and pulled Charlotte into his arms.

"Everything is going to be fine, you know, " he said into her hair. Charlotte hugged him back, and use the opportunity to steady herself. She heard Sharon get up and leave the room.

"I hope, so," she said. "I'm trying to be positive about this whole thing, give him the space he needs, and just hope that he comes back to me. Right now, it sounds like he will, but he's really fighting with this whole Lynn situation. I think it's harder for him than he thought it was going to be." She pulled away from him and sat down on the sofa. Just then, Sharon came in with a glass of ice water for her. The two women sat together on the sofa, while Sean flopped into a nearby armchair.

Sharon spoke then, "He'll make the right decision. I'm sure everything is very intense for him right now, that's how their relatonship was most of the time. No middle ground. I'm sure as he spends time with her though, he'll remember the hell she put him through too. " She squeezed Charlotte's arm.

In an effort to lighten the situation, Sean changed the subject. "Charlotte, didn't you have something you wanted to talk to Sharon about?" Charlotte smiled at him, knowing exactly what he was trying to do.

"Actually, I did." Charlotte looked at Sharon. "Sean says you like to shop." Sharon laughed.

"Yes, I do, but it seems like I never get a chance to anymore." Sean watched the conversation between the two women, hoping that they would hit it off. They really seemed to get along when they had gone out to dinner with Ethan and Charlotte, so hopefully these two would become fast friends. God knows Sharon needed something. She had been working so many hours lately, Sean was getting concerned. It was almost like she was looking for an excuse to spend as little time as possible at home. Things seemed to be fine when she was there, but that wasn't all that often. He had asked her about it, and she had denied there was a problem, but Sean wasn't so sure.

"I was hoping you'd come shopping with me," Charlotte continued. I've always selected my clothes to kind of help me blend in. I think most of my wardrobe consists of jeans and comfortable sweaters. I have one or two nice things, and they were gifts. I'm just terrible at picking out clothes for myself. I've decided I need a makeover of sorts. Now that I'm with Ethan..." she trailed off, not quite sure how to put it.

"You feel yourself changing, and you want the way you look to reflect that." Sharon said, smiling.

Charlotte smiled. "That's it exactly. I need some new clothes, and I like to get my hair done. Still keep it long, but give it some shape and maybe some highlights or something. I don't know. I'm really not sure. I'm not even sure where I would go."

"Leave it to me, Sharon said. "How does Saturday sound? We'll go shopping, and have lunch. I'll call my hairdresser and try and make appointments for both of us. Does that sound good?"

"It sounds perfect." Charlotte said, beginning to get excited about the idea. "Well, I really should get going. I actually plan on going to work tomorrow, and I still have a few things to do before bed."

"You're still coming for dinner tomorrow night, right?" Sharon asked.

"Definitely." Charlotte replied, as she got up and retrieved her purse. Sean stood and told Sharon he was going to walk Charlotte downstairs and hail her a cab.

Beanie

Ethan hung up the phone and flopped back in his chair, hands on the armrests, and staring almost unseeingly at the ceiling. It had been so good to hear Charlotte’s voice, a panacea to his weary soul. He had been shocked to say the least when Sean had put her on the phone. She was the first AND last person he had wanted to speak to. What was Sean about now? Usually he steered clear of Ethan’s relationships, especially ever since the Lynn debacle. Seemed he was working overtime on this one though.

Charlotte was right. He was a good friend, and he DID know it, as much as a guy would ever admit that about his friends. They had been through so many years of thick and thin together, but it nearly HAD cinched it when he had screwed with Lynn. And Ethan knew that’s all it had been to Sean... just a screw. He wasn’t out to steal her for himself. Besides the fact that he had been drunk, Ethan felt Sean was out to test Lynn somehow. And the only reason he hadn’t torn Sean’s head off, was because even then, he at least subconsciously knew there were problems. Of course, he had been an idiot not to realize that some of those problems had been of his own making.

Ever since the beginning of their relationship, Lynn had made him feel secure in himself. She made him feel loved to no end, and encouraged him to be the best person he could be. He set goals for himself in his career, explored more varied interests, and took care of himself better. He had gone from a guy just getting by in the world to a man ready to grab the world by its tail. He rose steadily in the firm, and got a reputation as a go-to guy for projects no one else would tackle. His sphere of influence increased, and he and Lynn shared many interesting friends, some of them quite important. Ethan became known as the bloke you just had to have at a party – he was witty, conversant in many topics, and the life of the party once you got a few drinks in him. Ethan’s drinking, always something which had intermittently gotten him into trouble, became a big time lubricant for his social life. It hid the stresses he felt from his high pressure job, and the political and social schmoozing that went along with it.

In the beginning, he had taken this rise to the top as a journey he was making WITH Lynn. She was high power herself, confident enough to stand up against the boy’s club attitude at the firm, and punch holes right through it for herself. Nothing could stop them. They were the golden couple.

But as the years went on, and he traveled more and spent more time away from her, he started becoming more independent. Coming home to Lynn was always fantastic, and he eagerly anticipated each reunion. But something started to change in him. He thought he was just feeling ‘comfortable’, but he guessed now that he was actually just taking her for granted. He just always accepted that she would be there, that they were meant to be, and he didn’t feel the need to go out of his way for her any more. He supposed he should have noticed when she started sliding away from him. Looking back, he did recall that he had some ominous feelings before the whole Sean/Lynn thing, recalled her seeming a little distant, but he had shrugged it off as some female thing. In reality, he had really not wanted to deal with it, never being fond of emotional conversations except as pillow talk. And when he didn’t want to deal with something, whether it be stress from work or family or home, he drank. And he started drinking a lot.

He remembered the first time he and Lynn had spoken about having a family, and being a bit shocked and crestfallen when she had been dead set against it. At first he stored it away, thinking it would change in time, but then it began to press on him. He started bringing the topic up more and more often, sure he could persuade her to see things his way. He loved her madly – he couldn’t imagine not having children with this wonderful woman, and more importantly couldn't imagine leaving her. But she was resolute in her decision, and Ethan was frustrated to no end. He was used to getting his way by now in many areas of his life, and to a certain extent, Lynn as well. It infuriated him that she wouldn’t back down, wouldn’t work on this for him. Soon, his drinking bouts included cruel jabs at Lynn regarding her “unnaturalness” as a woman, and a host of other insults, trying to break her down and shame her, even occasionally in front of friends. He only remembered enough of those episodes to know he had done it – he hid it from himself in the light of day, thinking Lynn would take it in stride as the drink talking.

In all these years, he had never counted that as having a big effect on Lynn in the long run. She had always been so sure of herself, so confident, he just took for granted that she was above getting hurt by that. But now he knew he had been wrong. Now he knew Lynn had been facing fears of her own. She was uncertain of her role in his life, knowing only that she loved him, but uncertain if she could hack being a wife, let alone a mother. It was the classic dilemma, the cold feet syndrome. Ethan had been hot and heavy to make her his wife, and it rocked Lynn’s confidence. But Ethan had been emotionally unavailable to her. When she needed to talk, he was either traveling, drunk, or in no mood to “get into anything heavy” right then. Ethan sighed. It was no wonder she started acting out her fears, turning from a wonderful woman in his life, to a secretive one, one who would risk being with another man in order to feel “connected” to someone again.

He knew Lynn had come out of this looking very bad. And he had perpetuated that for so many years. But now he realized, how was she supposed to act when he had in a way abandoned her? And he understood now why she had given up trying to talk to him. His drinking had been enough to scare anyone. It had been a best kept secret from most of his friends and colleagues, but Lynn knew the whole of it inside and out. She had had affairs, run out on him and told a ton of lies, but he had helped drive her to it in a way. Had he been different... his life might look a lot different now too, much more settled and fulfilling.

Ethan groaned inwardly, all these thoughts crushing him into depression. He tried to think of Charlotte, to use her conversation as a lifeline. It’s done, she had said, and to move on. Even so, Ethan couldn’t help but choke up, trying to make sense of everything he had learned today, trying for once to put things straight in his head and not ignore them again... maybe it would help him be a good man to his Charlotte. His wonderful Char who had just forgiven him a major impasse with dignity and grace. He shivered involuntarily. He loved her so much. All he wanted to do now was be worthy of her.

Stagewomanjen

Sean slid his arm into the crook of Charlotte's elbow, drawing her out of the apartment, down the elevator, and into a cab. Charlotte's head was still spinning, despite her calm manner with Ethan on the phone. She managed a quick pained smile to Sean, a pat on his hand, and a small, "Thank you, Sean", as he escorted her out.

Sean turned to her, looked her in the eyes and said, "No, Charlotte, thank you. He will be allright. He needs you, and he needed to hear your voice tonight. If you want him, like I think you do", he added, with a small bawdy wink, "you'll need to keep in his ear. Keep him anchored by letting him hear your voice and making him know that you want him."

Without realizing it, she murmured back to Sean, "I trust him....." and let her sentence trail away as the cab pulled away from the curb. Did she trust Ethan? He had kissed Lynn. After five years, after her cheating twice, he had kissed her. Not even a day after he left her bed, he kissed another woman. A woman with a strong hold over him. Charlotte leaned back in the seat and sighed, resting her head gently back on the vinyl cushions of the taxi. They smelled of smoke and unwashed passenger, but her mind was too busy to contemplate further. She barely noticed as the cabbie pulled up to her apartment and let her out, having already been payed by Sean.

She found her way to her apartment and entered, not bothering to flick on the lights. Charlotte needed some time to think.

Although it was late, Charlotte went to her bedroom and changed her clothes. A lump formed in her throat as she caught site of her bed, the visions of the time she had spent with Ethan flashed to the forefront of her mind. But she turned to her dresser, extracting some workout clothes. Nothing helped her think quite like a workout. And although her body was exhausted, her mind was still racing. It seemed like when she worked her body, her mind was a bit more free. She tugged on a pair of shorts and a cotton top, lacing up her gym shoes. It was dark outside, and a bit late, but she trundled down the block to the gym. She settled herself on the treadmill and began to walk.

As the small beads of sweat formed on her forehead and collarbone, she contemplated the recent events. Despite her doubts, her gut told her that she did indeed trust Ethan. She loved him. She wanted him.

She also found herself wondering about Lynn. Was this woman the enemy she thought? She had to have some good characteristics, but she did a damn good job of hiding them beneath a facade of cool, self-assured cockiness. The slick smile that greeted her and Ethan when they stepped off the elevator and saw her standing there before them was enough to tell Charlotte that Lynn was not a woman to be trifled with. Yet women like Lynn usually had deeper-seeded fears and insecurities....what could they be?

Charlotte winced again as the baby floated into her mind. Her throat constricted and she gulped back the emotion that welled up inside her body. Think, Charlotte. Think it through. Don't just react. Don't cry. Think.

Charlotte had to admit that Ethan's confession, while it was genuine, had still hurt her. Although she trusted him, and she had told him to tell her in his own words what had happened rather than rely strictly on Sean's story, deep down, she wished she didn't have to hear it. This woman had a hold over Ethan. And Ethan was a bit of an emotional wreck now.

Sweating with exertion, Lynn plunged on. Thinking rationally, there were only a few choices to be made. First, Charlotte needed a night of good sleep. Hopefully this would wear her out. Second, she needed to get back to her routine. Go to work tomorrow. Third, she needed to find a hobby. She needed to keep busy. She also needed to relax...maybe a massage at the spa nearby? Maybe a jog at the park? Dinner tomorrow with Sean and Sharon would be a start...shopping with Sharon on the weekend would be nice as well, hopefully she'd get some girl talk, get to know Sharon, and get some more info on Ethan. But more than that, Charlotte had some time to think for herself. How good is this relationship? Am I ready for more?

But the main decisions were already made: I must trust him. Stefanie had already tried to help. Now it was up to her to deal with Ethan being gone. Ethan is a good man, I know it, I feel it, she thought. Ethan does love me. The last decision was made by Sean. He had been right. Charlotte, while not wanting to become jealous and engaged with Lynn in a duel that would hurt not only the both of them, but Ethan as well, would have to let him hear her voice. She'd call him. She might even send a bit of a present, just to cheer him up...she could just imagine the heartbreaking little lopsided smile that he'd give when he saw a package from her address....a little something sweet, and a little something spicy.

But she wouldn't watch and worry every second of the day. She knew in the back of her mind that she couldn't deal with a man that couldn't handle himself. Though she needed him and he her, they were both grown adults. Finally, Charlotte gave in to the fatigue. She stopped the treadmill and stood for a moment, panting and sweating. She dried herself briefly with a towel, and trudged back home.

When she got there, she checked her mail, she rummaged in the fridge for a snack, and she drew a lovely bath, spiked with a bit of lavender oil and some bubbles, just for fun. She hauled out an old novel, (anything but romance), and she surrendered to the warmth and relaxation that the bath could give to her aching muscles.

Blissfully wrinkled, soggy, and warm, she slid from her bath and smiled to herself, thinking of Ethan completing his daily bathing rituals. She allowed herself a few moments of daydreaming, fully stored a fantasy of ravishing him in her shower when he returned, and retired to bed.

Tomorrow is another day. He'll behave, and I'll make it through. Tomorrow night I'll give him a call, she thought. And I'll go shopping for a little surprise package....

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Guest Beanie

Beanie

He just wanted to be worthy of her... the phrase kept echoing in his head. Worthy for what? Marriage? He grimmaced a bit. The M word lay heavy in his mind right now, remembering that engagement ring he had never managed to give to Lynn. What had he done with it... he vaguely remembered standing on a pier and hurling it into the water in a blind rage. These days he would have been smarter and tried to sell it at least. He smiled grimly to himself. He imagined what it would be like to buy a ring like that for Charlotte. Could he see himself doing it? Maybe... he let his mind wander a bit, imagining it. But there were things in Char that really needed adressing too. Tonight she had been strong and single minded, and he had loved her for it. His mind started to wander a bit more, testing theories about him and Charlotte... she could be so damned insecure. He was afraid he could really hurt her and damage her for life.

He could sometimes have a mean streak, finding and preying upon people's insecurities. He was always discreet about it, treating it as a private joke, the victims never (well, hardly ever) catching on. It was similar to the games he'd played with past flings; determining if they were smart enough to tell when he was embellishing a story. Losers were fodder for one night stands. Winners stood to last a while longer. He didn't know why he did those sorts of things... sometimes he just found people to be more fun when he was messing with them. It was something he and Lynn had cooked up when they had to sit through those boring parties 'for the good of the firm'. He never lost his taste for it. .Thing was, he found Charlotte to be charming and winsome in her shyness and circumspection now. But he wondered if her insecurities would eventually grate on him, and if he would find himself preying on her, in spite of himself, to allay his frustration with her.

He was also a man on the move, with ambitions and goals and needed a woman who could keep up with him. He had little patience for dawdlers or those too dependant on others for their own destinies. Life was fast and furious. Could Charlotte keep up? He rubbed his forehead. No, maybe that wasn't it at all. Lynn had been a real go getter, and independent almost to a fault. He was attracted to Charlotte because he felt like he had something to offer her that she didn't already possess. He almost felt protective of her. From what, he didn't know, but it was an oddly romantic notion of his, something that had been missing from his relationship with Lynn. Although... yeah, he now had to admit, she had eventually needed seeing to as well, and he had missed it.

His brain seethed, detaching from the brief respite Charlotte's phone call had given him. It was on an endless loop, thinking circularly; Charlotte and Lynn, himself and Charlotte, Lynn and himself, himself alone.... He tried to close his eyes, to center himself somehow and find some relaxation. But his chest was tight, and his breathing started to come in shorter gasps. He was feeling fretful and on edge. He got up and paced the room a bit, trying to work off the sense of uncomfortable energy that was taking him over. He thought of going for another walk outside, but rejected the notion, not sure he wouldn't need to find another cab at the end of it. He got down on the floor and started doing sit-ups, anything to try and tire himself out so he could get some rest, some sleep, some relief from this damned mind trip. Finally feeling like he had worked off some steam, he willed himself to empty his mind, and get ready for bed. Turning off the light, he lay down and tried to sleep. After considerable tossing and turning, he finally started to dose, when he heard a noise, and became alert again. Suddenly, he was brought to mind that Lynn was there in the suite somewhere, and his thoughts converged on him again.

Sighing inwardly, he stared at the ceiling in the darkness. Trying to think of sheep, of song lyrics, of anything but what was bothering him. He needed relief, respite from the gnawing tightness in his chest, and the ability to breathe properly again. God, but he felt like he was suffocating. Panic began to rise up in him, driving him mad with helplessness. There was nothing for it. He needed that drink.

Rising from the bed, he shuffled mindlessly out to the dimly lit suite, and the minibar. Opening the cabinet, he reeled in slight shock. It was empty.

Suddenly, a light was switched on, and Lynn strode out to him. He fiercely turned to her, and in a gesture of outrage, pointed to the empty cabinet. She stood her ground, and said quietly, "I emptied it a little while ago. A sort of intervention." She said it kindly, but Ethan could sense all their past history lying heavily behind the words too. His mind skittered and skipped a beat, the pressure in his chest mounting, adrenaline pumping through his body.

"Why?" He managed to get out

"I wasn't trying to, but I overheard a bit of your phone conversation. I heard you mention wanting a drink. I thought it best if you weren't tempted."

His eyes instinctively narrowed as he heard her say she had overheard his phone conversation - but she was coming nearer to him with a look of concern in her eyes. "Ethan," she said "You need to sit down."

She didn't wait for him to reply, but firmly guided him to the couch and made him sit. She looked at him searchingly, "So you still get these, huh?" she asked sympathetically.

Ethan stared at her for a moment, and said as calmly as he could, "Haven't had one in years." He had experienced these episodes intermittently before and during the years he and Lynn had been together. After she left, these attacks had been fierce and often, and that was when he went on a suicidal bender, wanting to die rather than feel anything again. But once he was off the booze and on medication, they had subsided. Since then, he had religiously adopted an attitude of aloofness, of control, of amused detachment to avoid having one of these episodes again.

Lynn smiled, trying to break the tension, and said "Well, you always were crap with your emotions."

Ethan didn't smile back as she had hoped, and she softened, "Ethan, I'm sorry - I shouldn't joke. I know I unloaded a ton of stuff your way this afternoon. It was wrong of me." Ethan could see that she meant it, and lowered his guard a bit "I guess I just wanted to get it off my chest, and I didn't take your feelings into account. I'm really sorry... what can I do to help you? What is troubling you the most that brought this on?"

Ethan tried to take a deeper breath, and nearly spat out in his frustration, "Guilt! Frigging' guilt! Something I try really hard not to feel." he leveled his eyes at her stonily, "You've brought it all out in me. Congratulations. Is this what you wanted? Have a party, Lynn, you won."

Lynn was genuinely taken aback. She had been looking for Ethan's attentions -- she knew she still wanted him. But she certainly didn't want this. She didn't realize how changed he was after all these years, more vulnerable than she had ever remembered him. Or was she the one who had become harder? She sincerely regretted having stirred him up... she still sincerely cared for him.

"Ethan," she implored, "You need to calm down. I never wanted this! I didn't want you to feel guilty. I thought you would take it in stride and sort through it at your own pace. I didn't realize it would be this intense for you."

"Well, yeah, Lynn," he gritted his teeth, "Five years of wondering, and then I get hit with you having an affair with my boss and who knows who's baby. Oh, plus a little cheating behavior on my own part today. I don't see why this should be intense at all"

Lynn bit her lip, uncomfortable at seeing him so vulnerable, hating the fact that she had made him feel that way. "It's not your fault, Ethan," she said, "I shouldn't have unloaded it all on you like that. And as far as guilt, I do deserve the lions share in all this. I gave you the reasons I did what I did, but it still doesn't make it right. I could have been a much bigger person back then. I could have tried harder to open up to you. I could have come to grips with my feelings without cheating on you. I could have gotten you help, or at least tried." Their eyes met in silent agreement, and they sat in silence for a while. Finally, Lynn said very softly, "I could have done the most decent thing, and let you go. I should have when it was obvious we disagreed on having children."

"So why didn't you?" Ethan probed

Lynn looked at a slight loss "I just couldn't imagine not being with you. I just... WANTED you, and wanted to keep you. I couldn't let you go."

Ethan said directly to her, but so softly that she had to strain to hear, "And you still can't."

Lynn felt that hit home, and there was no skirting around it. "Yes. You're right. I still want you. But face it, Ethan, you stayed, too, when you should have walked. You never let go of me either." She didn't have to look at him to know it was the truth.

Ethan looked up at the ceiling, trying to get it together. He decided he couldn't play both sides any more. One final uncomfortable debate with himself, and he came to it. He said simply, "Well, I'm not available. Not to you, anyway. And all this crap just isn't worth it to me. If I have to walk from this job to end this, I will. I can't function like this. I won't."

He looked back at Lynn, his expression unreadable. She felt a stab of fear in her brain. Ethan was on the verge of commiting career suicide. She didn't think she could live with it if he did. Besides, it would be very bad for her career, too, if Ethan walked out. Somehow, word of why it happened would get back to the people in charge. It always did. Even the slightest hint of a rumor and... "What can I do, Ethan? Just tell me what to do." her tone was entreating, and slightly desperate, but she didn't care.

Ethan leveled his gaze at her and said "Leave my heart the hell alone. Talk to me about the job, about what you had for lunch, about the price of tea in China, I don't care. But I don't want to hear another word about 'us' or our past. One slip, and I swear to you, I'm gone."

Lynn licked her lips involuntarily as she wondered if it were even possible to meet his conditions. How could she be sure she wouldn't slip, or at the very least, slip in Ethan's eyes. But she had to try. "Ok, deal. To a pleasant working relationship, with no personal intrigue." she offered, and held out her hand.

Ethan gave her an appraising look, then grasped her hand and gave it a firm shake, saying,"Deal," adding, after he removed his hand from hers, "And that is the last time you ever touch me."

MishW

After Sean put Charlotte in the cab, he started back to the elevator. He was thinking about Sharon now. Something was bothering her, no matter how much she insisted there was nothing wrong. There was something that was keeping her from giving herself over completely to him. He thought he had come to grips with the fact that she would not marry him, but every once in awhile, like now, it really bothered him. He thought back to the first time she had turned him down. Sean had dealt with her rejection so poorly, they actually ended up splitting up for a month. His one night with Lynn had come less than a week after the breakup. It was the reason he got drunk that night. He'd spent a lot of nights during that month drunk. He laughed to himself. Maybe Ethan wasn't the only one who was lousy at dealing with a crisis. At least he had realized more quickly that his friend that he was only causing more problems for himself using booze to deal with things. The elevator arrived on their floor, and he headed to their apartment. He decided since it was a night for honesty and revelations, maybe it was time to ask Sharon again what was wrong.

He walked into the apartment, and he could hear her moving around in the kitchen. She was just now cleaning up the supper dishes, since the whole drama with Ethan had thrown their evening off. She was putting the last of the dishes in the dishwasher, and turning it on. He walked up behind her, wrapped his arms around her waist, and rested his chin on her shoulder. She smiled slightly, and rested her head against his.

"Do you really think Ethan is going to be okay?" She asked. "I haven't seen him like this in years."

"He'll be fine. Charlottes just what he needs, we just have to wait for him to realize that."

"I just hope she waits."

"Oh don't worry, she will. She's not going anywhere. Besides, I really don't think it will take him all that long to make his choice." He held his breath for a minute, wondering if he should go on. He decided it couldn't hurt. "How are you doing?"

"I'm fine." Sharon replied as casually as she could.

"Are you sure about that? You seem to be awfully preoccupied lately. You also seem to find reasons to be staying away from home a lot."

"I've been working a lot, you know that." Sean turned her in his arms so that she was facing him, he took her chin in his hand and made her look him in the eyes.

"I know you have, I'm just wondering if you have to be. I think I can count on one hand, the number of times you've had to work a lot of overtime since we've been together. And even when you do, it doesn't go on for more than a week or two. This has been going on for quite awhile, and it's only getting worse. If I ask you a question, will you answer me honestly?"

"I'll try." Saron said, and Sean noticed instead of looking him in the eye she was looking over his shoulder.

"Are you happy with me? Are you thinking about getting out of this relationship?" He tried to make his voice sound casual, but he thought he might die waiting for her answer. She didn't think for more than a second. She looked at him with a stricken look on her face. The thought that she was causing him that much self-doubt, and that much worry, broke her heart. She was struggling with a lot, not to mention the feelings of guilt she had, because she was letting her past hold her back, and she was hurting Sean in the process.

She took his face in her hands, and looked him in the eyes this time."I'm very happy with you Sean. I don't mean to be hurting you, and I understand if you're tired of waiting for me. If you want to leave I'll understand. I'll be miserable without you, but you've been very patient, and I want you to know how much I love you for it."

Sean wrapped his arms around her, and she buried her face in his neck. "'Im not going anywhere darlin'. You know I want to get married, but for some reason you don't. That doesn't mean I'm going to give you up. I love you, and if I can't have you as my wife, then I'll just continue to live in sin with you." This last remark had the desired effect, and Sharon laughed. "I wish you would come to me with whatever's bothering you, though. It seems to me, whatever this is, it's a lot for you to handle by yourself."

"I'll keep that in mind." Sharon said with a small smile. "I don't know about you, but I'm exhausted. Are you ready to go to bed?"

"Sure." Sean said. He went over to check the front door, and he made sure he had his cell phone as well as the house phone in the bedroom with him, just in case. If Ethan or Charlotte needed to reach him tonight, he wanted to make sure he was available. By the time he reached the bedroom, Sharon was getting into bed. She was beautiful with all of that glorious red hair falling all over the place. He knew tonight though, anything that happened would have to be started by her. Something told him if he tried anything tonight, she would pull back. He was pleasantly surprised then, just when he thought she was asleep, she rolled over, and began kissing him.

Later, as he was falling asleep, holding her in his arms, Sean thought how desperate her lovemaking had seemed tonight. He didn't know what to do except hold her, and be there when she finally decided to tell him what he wanted to know.

Long after Sean was asleep, Sharon lay awake, with a thousand thoughts racing through her head.

Swansong

Unlocking her apartment door, Charlotte flipped on the lights, immediately struck by how boring her apartment looked. As much as she was ready for a change in her personal appearance, she was desperate to do something different with her decor. She was after something more cutting edge; furniture with clean lines and a sexy organic color scheme. She noted the changes happening on her inside, and was anxious for her home environment to reflect her transformation. The romantic antiques and overly girlish pallet had become tiresome, and she smiled to herself, looking forward to numerous shopping trips uptown.

She scooped up a pile of mail she had been ignoring for days, plopped down on the sofa and sifted through various bills, advertisements and correspondence. After the dinner with Sean and Sharon, and that phone call from Ethan, she was feeling restless. Her apartment felt so empty and dark... and she was lonely... missing him. Leaving the mail on the sofa, Charlotte kicked off her shoes and shuffled through the apartment turning on all the lamps and light fixtures. But even with all the lights on, she still felt like she was suffocating.

Should she turn on the television, or listen to music? Would that distract her from thinking about Ethan? Her life had been so suddenly and drastically effected by him. One moment he was the untouchable handsome stranger in the lift, and the next... he was in her bed doing unimaginable things with her.

She shivered at the thought of his hands, his eyes... the way he smelled. She was so caught up in him, and it worried her that she might loose herself in this relationship, as she had in all the others.

Finally after opening and closing the fridge half a dozen times, Charlotte settled on a glass of wine... her third of the evening. She shrugged of her clothing, changed into a bathrobe and switched on the DC player. Sighing deeply she sipped her wine, allowing its pungent burgundy warmth to spread into her body, worrying that in the end, Ethan might be too much for her.

How would a woman like her keep a man like Ethan happy and satisfied? They were so unlike in so many ways. Even if she did work on the changes she wanted to make her life, they had to be for her and not for him. As much as she loved him, she had reached the point where she couldn't just let herself disappear in a man. Not even a man as powerfully attractive and wonderful as Ethan, was worth going into that dark place again... the place where she questioned everything about herself, and always wound up the same shy girl looking down at her feet.

She supposed that it was her father's fault she had so many self doubts. She chuckled softly thinking about all the times she had sought his approval... but never managed to win it. No, she was never quite smart or cleaver enough, and she never measured up to his expectations, even though she had spent half her life trying.

Since her teens, every guy in her life had been able to push or bully her into being something and someone she wasn't. After her father had f**ked with her brain for all those years, she really didn't know who the hell she was. It was much easier just to draw up a thick protective shell around herself, and deny all the things she dreamed of, thinking that she wasn't good enough to have anything beautiful or lasting.

And then Ethan had looked right into her eyes, despite her insecurities. And everything had spun into a beautiful and overwhelming kaleidoscope of feelings and mind blowing sex. At first she feared that he was trying to change her too; that he wanted a lioness in bed, when she was more like a frightened kitten in his arms. And yet he had been so gentle as they were both caught up in days of fiery passion... hardly even surfacing from the sheets to eat or meet with friends. In fact in those few days with Ethan, it seemed as though the rest of the world had ceased to exist. All that mattered was their entwining flesh, and the rawness of need and emotions between them.

Deciding to take a bath, Charlotte padded in her bare feet to the bathroom, set her wine glass down on the counter, and lit a few vanilla scented candles. Turning on the faucet, she poured bath crystals into the bottom of the tub, and ran her fingers through the warm stream of water as it filled. She remembered that she had left her cell phone in the other room, and stepped out to retrieve it, stopping to turn up the CD so that she could hear it in the bathroom.

The bathroom flickered with fragrant candles and smelled of the bath crystals, the mirror fogging with Charlotte's reflection. Slipping off her robe she slid into the silken water, moaning as she leaned against the inflated shell bath pillow, the ends of her long blonde hair floating around her.

Again her thoughts turned to Ethan, as she soaped up her arms and legs, her fingertips lingering on her breasts and nipples. Was Ethan only trying to change her too, and if so, shouldn't she break things off with him, before she lost herself again? And what about his own issues? Was she really ready to deal with his complexities and flaws? From their earliest meeting, she had known that he couldn't possibly be as perfect as he appeared. She recalled wondering if he were gay, and laughed out loud at the preposterousness of that notion. She had never been around any man who was as unambiguously masculine as Ethan.

Taking another sip of wine, Charlotte slipped her head under the water, luxuriating in the vanilla warmth and foamy bubbles. She sat up and poured shampoo through her hair, massaging her scalp until it tingled, then slunk back against the pillow. No, she decided, Ethan was not like her father or the other men she had known.

Instead of trying to change her into something she wasn't, and could never be, she realized that Ethan was helping her become who she really was; and that somewhere buried beneath the shy mousey girl, was a confident, sensual woman.

Charlotte could not wait to discover her.

Charlotte lingered in the tub until the water had cooled, the soap bubbles dissolving around her. She stepped down onto the rug and grabbed a yellow towel, drying off her body first, and then wrapping it around her head in a tight turban. Using a washcloth, she wiped off the mirror and tended to her nightly skin care regime, grimacing when she noticed a few pimples on her chin.

Shaking her head she laughed out loud, "Well there you go Charlotte... worrying over every little flaw! Knock it off girlfriend!"

Blowing out the candles, Charlotte drained the tub and cleaned up her mess, then slipped her robe back on, and pulled a hair brush from the drawer. She sat down on the edge of her bed, untwisted the towel and shook it off from her head. With long strokes she brushed through her wet hair, closing her eyes as Ethan's face materialized in her thoughts.

There was something so special about him. She couldn't put her finger on it, but it was as if he had known instinctively her need for him. From the very first she sensed that he was extraordinarily intuitive. As if his radar had picked up on her insecurity, he noticed her... when other men would have looked away.

Her stomach tightened as she contemplated what he was doing at that moment. Was he with Lynn? Were they talking things over? Did she really have anything to fear from Ethan's past? It was impossible not to be jealous of a woman like Lynn. She was the sort of women all women were jealous of. Independent and beautiful, sultry and mysterious... all the things Charlotte was not. Knocking herself on the head playfully with her fist, Charlotte lay back on the bed and laughed, "Knock it off!" she scolded herself, "There you go again putting yourself down!"

Just as Charlotte was about to turn down the bedding.... her cell phone rang. Jumping up from the bed, she ran into the bathroom and grabbed the phone from the counter, praying that it was him.

As she pushed the talk key, she closed her eyes and took a deep breath..... "Hello?"

"Hi Char," Ethan's voice sighed. "How's my girl?"

Suppressing a nervous giggle, Charlotte squinted her eyes and smiled, walking back into the bedroom, and sinking down onto the mattress.

"Oh Ethan, I'm so glad you called back... I was just now thinking about you."

"Yeah, I was thinking about you too luv, so how are you, and what have been up to?"

Drawing her knees up to her chest, Charlotte tucked the phone against her cheek and sighed. "Well I just got back a little while ago from Sean's." she replied.

"Did you have a good time with my buddy?" he asked with a yawn.

"It was nice.... I'm glad I met them Ethan, and Sharon is great... we're going shopping this weekend."

"Oh good, I mean that's great, I'm glad you two hit it off." Ethan spoke, his voice sounding groggy and far away.

"So how about you Ethan..... you doing better now?"

There was a pause, and Charlotte's stomach lurched. Was she sensing reluctance in his voice? He sounded different somehow, and it made her uneasy.

"Char?" she heard him speak softly, "I didn't drink.... I wanted to, but Lynn hid all the frigging booze." he said laughing.

So Lynn still cared enough for him, to keep him from drinking... Charlotte wasn't sure she liked the sound of that, although she was glad Ethan hadn't slipped.

"I'm glad Ethan, I've been worried since Sean's." Charlotte answered. "Hey Eath?"

"Yeah darlin'?"

"Is everything.... I mean, is everything okay with Lynn?" she stammered, biting her lower lip.

"Well.... we have an understanding.... I mean I set her straight Charlotte. I told her that I wasn't looking to stir things up with her, because of you luv. I made it clear that this friggin' trip was gonna be all business, and that if she tried anything, I would get the hell out of here... job or no job."

Charlotte had to smile, despite the weariness in his voice, he was still so passionate about everything. God she loved that about him.

"Wow Ethan," she answered, "You said that?"

"Yep.... she's in her room, and I'm here alone.... missing you."

Closing her eyes and running her fingers through her wet hair, Charlotte whispered, "I miss you too Ethan."

Again there was a pause, and Charlotte thought she heard Ethan groan.

"Char," he whispered huskily after a few seconds.

"Yeah?'

"What are you wearing?"

Charlotte sat up and pulled the brush through her hair, working out some tangles. "Um.... well I just got out of the tub, and I'm wearing my bathrobe, why?" she answered.

"Take it off luv." he rasped, making Charlotte tingle from head to toe.

"What?" she asked, lying back down on the bed.

"Take off the bathrobe, cause I'm picturing you naked right now."

The sound of his voice, that irresistible scottish accent was going right through her. Sitting up

again, she shook off the robe, pulled back the blankets, and slipped in between the sheets.

"Okay Ethan...I'm, well I'm naked now... how about you?" she heard herself ask, excitement building.

"Me too luv, and I've got your pillow." he whispered, "I've got it right here against me Char... God I so want you right now!"

Turning over on her side, Charlotte buried her face in Ethan's pillow, catching a whiff of his citrus cologne. "I want you too Ethan," she breathed, squirming against the sheets.

"Do something for me darlin'." he drawled, sounding half asleep. "Have you got my pillow with you?"

"Yeah Ethan, I'm laying my head on it right now." she replied, making circles with her fingers on her belly.

"Do you love me Charlotte?" he asked, his voice almost muffled.

"I do," she answered, her hand moving to the soft curve of her hip. "I love you Ethan."

The line was quiet.

"Ethan?"

"Yeah..... I'm still here." he groaned.

"You falling asleep on me hon?" she teased, not wanting him to hang up.

Ethan chuckled softly, clearing his throat, "Oops..... just nodded off for a minute there, yeah I gotta get some sleep darlin', big meeting tomorrow."

"Guess I should let you go then huh?" she asked, disappointedly.

"Erm....I suppose so," he answered, his voice deepening, "But do something luv, just for me..... for when I get back."

"Okay....what?"

"Sleep with my pillow so it smells like you."

SporranTart

Tuesday morning came too quickly for Ethan’s groggy head. He had finally gotten to sleep after that last phone call with Charlotte – confronting Lynn and establishing ground rules and then talking to Charlotte finally put the committee in his head to rest and allowed him a few hours of dreamless sleep. When the alarm sounded at 7:00 it took him a few minutes to realize where he was. “Uggghhh, Chicago and a day full of REAL committees to deal with” he muttered as he dragged himself up out of bed and ran his hands through that mass of misbehavior on his head. He was about to go into the bathroom when he heard the water running and realized that Lynn must be in there already and he’d have to wait. He knew that NY was an hour ahead of Chicago and that Charlotte should be on her way to the office by now, so decided to make use of the delay in getting his morning wake-up shower by giving her a call on her cell phone.

Picking up on the first ring Charlotte chirped “Hello sweetie, how are you this morning.”

“Hey love, your voice is the best way for me to get this day started. How did you know it was me?” Ethan queried.

“I saw the area code on the display and knew the call was coming from Chicago – who else could it be? Did you get any sleep?”

“Yes, after talking with you I was out like a light, didn’t wake up til the alarm went off a couple of minutes ago. Did you do as I asked with my pillow?” He could almost see her blush over the phone as she sheepishly replied “Yes, my love, I did, and I dreamed of you all night.”

Encouraged by her answer Ethan asked, “Where are you now, at work yet?”

“I just picked up a latte at our favorite coffee shop and I’m headed into the office. What’s on your agenda today?” Charlotte was really interested in just what his work in Chicago entailed.

Ethan was pleased at her interest in his job, “Well, we have meetings all day with the owner and the lender to review the plans for the building and find out what revisions they are going to ask for. They’ve already broken ground and run into some problems which is why this meeting got moved up.”

“What kind of project is this, Ethan?” she asked

“Oh, sorry, love, I guess we never got around to discussing it before I had to leave. It's a multi-use project, includes several floors of high end retail space, a luxury hotel and the top several floors will be penthouse condominiums. Very big budget, but this owner, Mullaney, has a reputation for wanting champagne while only paying for beer, so the negotiations could get a bit heated,” Ethan responded with a bit of trepidation.

Charlotte was so proud of him, “That sounds like a major project, I’m sure you’ll do great in the negotiations. I’d love to see your renderings of it when you get back. I don’t know much about architecture but I am fascinated with buildings that seem to have something special to catch people’s attention. Would you show them to me?”

Ethan beamed, “I’d love to, Char. I can’t wait to get back and hold you in my arms again, and share my vision of this project with you too.” He heard Lynn leaving the bathroom through the other door and knew it was time for him to get ready. “I have to jump in the shower and get myself ready for the big showdown. Wish me luck?”

“Of course I wish you luck, sweetie, but you won’t need it. I know you’ll do great and knock ‘em dead, “ Charlotte said with a little laugh.

“Thanks for the vote of confidence, I think I needed that today. I promise I’ll call you tonight and let you know how it went, and Char, don’t forget, I love you with all of my heart,” Ethan said, with conviction.

“I love you too, Ethan, and I’m anxious for you to return.”

Ethan hung up the phone with a smile. Charlotte’s confidence in him was just the little boost he needed this morning before facing Mullaney and the representatives from the lenders who were putting up the financing for the project. He hated talking to the finance people. They always looked at a building in terms of numbers, return on investment, occupancy rates, and all those things that don’t mean a fook to the artist who designs the building. His job was to make them see that there is value in aesthetic things, the way a wall curves, or the angle at which a window is placed, that can make so much difference in how a building looks, how it pleases the eye, whether it is just another big steel and glass box in the middle of a big city or it is a showpiece that can become a landmark, a place that people go out of their way to visit. He had no interest in designing boxes, his heart was in making something that would make the entire city of Chicago proud to have it there. Lynn was there to reassure them that his designs were structurally sound as well as visually impactful.

Before jumping into the shower Ethan took a look in the mirror. “Arrgghh, I paid the price for all that s**t last night” he thought as he saw what he looked like. He decided that for this meeting he better look as respectable and business-like as possible, so though he loved the scruffy look of a few day’s growth of beard, this morning he pulled out the razor and gave himself a clean shave. He jumped into the shower and when he got out wrapped a large and cushy yellow towel around his waist. He was always impressed with the amenities at the Hyatt. So many hotel chains skimped on the linens, but not here. The color of the towel gave him a bit of a rush in his loins, as he recalled the towels in Charlotte’s bathroom, which were the same shade of buttery yellow. God, he missed her! But, now he had to concentrate on taming that mass of curls atop his head. That was going to be a bit more of a challenge than the shave, and after trying to bring some order to it he gave up and decided that the curls would just have to do.

He dressed in his charcoal gray pinstriped suit with a matching charcoal gray shirt. He wanted to wear the top buttons open, he just HATED wearing a tie and felt so much more comfortable without one. He decided to leave the top buttons open and rolled up a tie and put it in his briefcase, just in case he changed his mind later. As he was wincing at the bit of sting as he splashed cologne on his clean shaven face there was a knock at the adjoining door. He opened it to find Lynn there in a royal blue skirted suit with a blue paisley silk blouse. Her raven hair was pulled back in a tight bun, she was armed and ready for business, and she was still stunningly beautiful.

“Are you ready to go, Ethan?” she asked with a bit more timidity than he’d ever heard in her voice.

“Yes, let’s get this meeting over with. You know how much I hate dealing with the lenders on these projects, ” he replied

“I know. There is a car waiting for us downstairs to take us to Mullaney’s office. Did you bring a pair of steel-toed shoes for the job site visit later?”

“Oh, thanks for reminding me” Ethan said as he stepped back into his side of the suite and retrieved another pair of shoes.”

They left the suite together and headed for the elevator.

When Ethan and Lynn got to the car he was relieved to find a large steaming cup of his favorite coffee waiting. “I knew you wouldn’t be able to face this meeting without your caffeine fix,” Lynn said with just a little smile.

“Thanks, Lynn” Ethan said. He was about to comment on how she still remembered that about him but knew that would be breaking his own rule about discussing their past together.

In the car Lynn asked Ethan if he had been filled in completely about what the problems were on the project. He said he was aware that the City had raised some concerns about the environmental impact during the permitting process but he thought those had all been resolved before the backhoes started digging. He knew that they were already installing the shoring for the building foundations and wondered why they were having problems now.

Lynn said, “well, I don’t think the city is the big problem anymore. We gave them a revised environmental impact report and assured that the streets could handle the traffic and I worked with the traffic engineers for the best patterns for ingress and egress to keep the flow moving in the area once the building is erected. Now I think the problem is with Mullaney and the lenders. Your design is magnificent, special, amazing. The building would be the showpiece of the city, and big names with big money will be tripping over one another to own those penthouse condos with 360 degree views from the lake all the way to the far side of the city. But you know Mullaney wants it to look great but still wants to cut corners where he can, and the lenders are always willing to listen to him if it means it might come in under budget.”

Ethan groaned, “yeah, that’s what I was afraid of. I know Mullaney’s reputation and we’ve already had a few run-ins during the design process when he wanted to compromise the integrity of the design to save a few bucks. I was able to get him to back down in most cases, and in a few I made slight changes in order to value engineer the design a little without losing the features that make this so unique. I don’t look forward to seeing what he wants now.”

They arrived at Mullaney’s office, in one of those big steel and glass boxes that Ethan loathed. It wasn’t that there was anything wrong with it, the lobby had some beautiful marble floors and walls, expensive stuff, but through the eye of an architect it held not one thing that made it stand out from all the other boxes around it.

Lynn and Ethan were led into the conference room by a cute but efficient receptionist. She offered them coffee, which they both accepted. Ethan reluctantly took the tie out of his briefcase and put it on, fumbling with the knot a bit. Lynn didn't dare offer to help, his warning still fresh in her mind. After a few minutes they were joined by Mr. Mullaney and two suits, the lenders. Handshakes, introductions and exchange of business cards all around and it was time to sit down and find out why they were called here so urgently.

Mr. Mullaney began, “Ethan, your design is wonderful, a building that will be talked about globally. But we do have some concerns that must be addressed. You are incorporating some fairly new ideas into this building, new materials and methods of installation that haven’t been tried before. This makes the lenders, and me, nervous, and even the city department of building and safety has been reluctant to issue some of the necessary permits because they aren’t sure whether these ideas will work.”

Ethan knew he had to reign in his hot temper today, he had to stay calm and cool and answer their questions from a position of rationality and not emotionalism. Though his heart and soul were in this design, and anything that brought it into question or jeopardy felt like it might rip a hole in his mid section, he couldn’t let them see that. “OK, Mr. Mullaney, I realize that some of these ideas are rather new, but none of them are completely experimental, though they may not have been utilized in that many buildings yet. What are your specific concerns?”

Mullaney looked at one of the lenders’ reps and continued, “well one of the things we question is the use of interlocking pavers in all the exterior hardscapes. They look nice but they are more expensive than just concrete so why do you insist on using them?”

Ethan took a steadying breath and said, “over the years it has been proven that interlocking pavers not only improve the appearance of the hardscape substantially, and increase the property value by far more than they cost, but they have many structural advantages as well".

Ethan looked to Lynn to confirm what he’d just said and she nodded, telling Mullaney, “Ethan is right Mr. Mullaney. You are building this project and your company plans to manage it when it is completed. It makes much more sense from a longevity and maintenance cost position to invest the money in the better materials now because they will more than pay for themselves in a very short time. With pavers you have an added advantage that if maintenance is required on anything under the surface, like gas or water lines, a section of pavers can be pulled up and then reset after the work is done and you will have no 'patchwork' look like you would have if you had solid concrete or asphalt surfaces. They won't crack like other surfaces and the manufacturer offers a lifetime guarantee on the product, something you won't get with any other hard surface. And with the different shapes and designs you can have a look that works perfectly with this project."

Mullaney seemed impressed with this explanation. But he had other concerns. “Ethan, this part of the design that includes the notched corners. It just seems so unnecessary and costly to build this in. The value engineers have suggested just putting normal square corners, we could probably save at least $3 million on the budget by making that change.”

Ethan seethed, these were the kind of suggested changes he hated the most, they wanted boxes, plain ugly boxes, and he wasn’t about to give that to them. “Mr. Mullaney, with all due respect, I must ask you if you really want to build something that is going to be a must-see for everyone who comes to Chicago, something that every multi-millionaire in the world is going to want a piece of, or do you just want another generic multi-use building? Because if it is the latter you want then you hired the wrong architect. My design is about innovation, it is about getting the building, and you, noticed and written about and photographed, on the cover of magazines around the world. My design isn’t about just giving you a box to put rooms and stores and offices into. Yes, innovation and artistry cost money, but they will also bring money into your pockets and into the city of Chicago’s as well. If you want the Mona Lisa you don’t get it by purchasing a paint-by-numbers kit.”

Lynn sat there stunned at the passion that Ethan put into his plea. In the years since they had been together he had really grown as an architect, and as a man. With the booze behind him he had put his soul into his career, and it showed. She was sorry that she had walked away, or run away, that she had missed seeing him come into his own, become his own man with his focus clear. What a fool she had been. And last night he’d made it clear that there was no chance for them again, that he was even willing to walk away from this project that meant so much to him, if she overstepped that line he had drawn in the sand. Her heart was heavy with thoughts of what might have been and while she was still a professional and therefore held up her end of the meeting as the negotiations continued throughout the day, and through the job walk, a part of her was absent, the part that so much wanted to be with Ethan the way they once were.

Swansong

The meeting lasted just over four hours, with Ethan pressing for his designs to remain intact, against the numerous objections of Mullaney and the lenders. Half way through the grueling proceedings, he unbuttoned his collar and removed his tie, slinging his jacket across the back of the chair. Despite his impassioned argument, he could not convince the bastards to follow through immediately on his plans. They insisted on yet more time consuming studies, which would set the whole project back and require major revisions to his original design, as well as additional expenditures. Though he maintained his cool on the outside... he was furious that suits and a Millionaire who had no comprehension of true architectural beauty, wielded the power to shut him down.

Drinking far too much coffee, Ethan suffered through the meeting, the arm pits of his dress shirt soaked through and his sleeves rolled up to the elbows. He grimaced and fidgeted, while Lynn kept watch, hoping that he would not storm out of the room, or worse, insult Mullaney. She shared Ethan's love of design, but was better at negotiation and compromise than he was. She admired his passion, true, but also feared that it might one day cost him his career.

In fact, it seemed to Lynn that Ethan was more than a little frustrated with his career.... his passion was for melding together the art and functionality of brilliant architecture, but he loathed the business end of things. Still, in her eyes, he was never more erotic and beautiful than when he fought for what he wanted. Hs eyes blazed with emerald heat, and that little vein on his forehead grew more pronounced, just as it did when he made love. She found his sweaty forehead and tousled hair potently sexual, and crossed her legs, remembering what he felt like between them.

Finally the meeting ended at a stalemate. Ethan shook Mullaney's hand like a gentleman, but Lynn recognized his stiff posture and the firmness of his jaw.

The whole ride in the elevator, Ethan silently scowled, his jacket draped over his shoulder. He had no choice but to cave into their demands, and yet another boxy steel and glass building would soon blight the Chicago cityscape. What he hated most was that his name would be forever linked with the Mullaney project, and he took the whole thing as a personal insult.

"Damn it!" he growled as they exited the elevator.

"I've had it up to here with this, Lynn, these assholes don't know true art from a pile of turds!"

Following him out the double doors, Lynn tried to calm him down, but it was no use. He stomped out to the waiting cab and slammed his fist into a lamp post, "Son of a... I gotta get the hell out of here Lynn, you go ahead and get some lunch... I'll see you back at the hotel later."

Standing on the sidewalk with a hand on her hip, Lynn slipped on her sun glasses, "Where you going hon? Sure you don't want some company?" she asked with a half smile, careful not to touch him.

Knowing what she suspected, Ethan squint into the sun and forced a smile, "I just need to walk this off, that's all... I'm not going drinking if that's what's worrying you."

Reluctantly, Lynn allowed him to open the cab door for her, and watched disappointed and concerned as he walked down the side walk, and then ran across the street out of sight.

Ethan stormed down the street trying to get a handle on his temper. He had half a mind to hand off the whole project to a junior member of the firm, but that was out of the question. He had hoped that at this stage in his career, his prestige would have given him more power and control. Instead he found himself constantly buckling under the pressure of high finance and government bureaucracy. There were days when he seriously considered chucking the whole thing, but had worked too long and too hard to climb up the glass ladder. None of it had been easy, as a young member of the firm, he was expected to prove himself, while other guys just screwed off half the time, traveling across the world and living like lords of the land.

Ethan wandered into a B&N book store, not looking for anything in particular. Having drunk enough coffee to float the Titanic, he sauntered over to the juice bar and ordered a bottle of water. Drinking it down he wandered through the aisle, and found himself standing in front of a display of romantic poetry. Digging through the pile of bargain books, he spied one by his favorite Scottish poet, Robert Burns, who was simply known in Scotland as the rabbie. Thumbing through the book he grinned and chuckled, his thumb planted on one of Burn's most suggestive works. Deciding to purchase it as a gift for Charlotte, he stepped up to the cash register, just as his cell phone rang.

He handed the clerk his credit card, and then answered the call... hoping it wasn't Lynn checking up on him.

"Hello?" he said, signing the receipt as the clerk dropped his purchase in a bag.

"Oh mum.... wow, hey how are you?" Stuffing his wallet back in his pocket, Ethan walked to the back of B&N and flopped down in an overstuffed chair.

"Yeah... I've sure missed you too, but you sound great." Ethan spoke, leaning his head against the cushion.

His mum, who was ordinarily the picture of health, had recently faced a cancer scare, and he hated that he hadn't been able to get away when she needed him. He worried that the health care in Glasgow was inferior to what she might have gotten in the states, but she would hear nothing of leaving her beloved Scotland. As it turned out, the lump was benign...and she had quickly gotten back to her old self. But that never stopped him from worrying.

"Oh I'm in Chicago on business mum, but I've got time to talk yeah, so what's up?"

Ethan loved the sound of his mother's voice. Though he had lost a good bit of his accent, hers was still as thick and charming as ever. Compared to her, he sounded like a yank!

"Oh my God, you're *&^% kidding me.... erm, sorry mum," he apologized sheepishly, "I know I shouldn't curse so much, but I mean, so when's the wedding?"

Taking a swallow of water, Ethan cleared his throat and fingered the seam of his slacks, " Two months.... that soon?..... well how long have they known each other.... wow, that's fast."

Listening to his mother's chirping brogue, Ethan was taken back to his childhood, and memories of his little red headed brother Randy flooded his mind. Now the strapping bloke was about to be married, and Ethan could hardly believe it. He never thought that boy would settle down... there was a wild streak in him worse than Ethan's. He hadn't seen Randy since their sister Fiona was married a year and a half ago. With them both living out high powered careers, there was never time for more than phone calls. Scratching his chin, Ethan ticked away his schedule, trying to determine when he might get away. He'd have to check with his secretary.... but after what had happened at the meeting, a trip back home seemed like a dream.

"Well yeah mum, let me see what I can do, cause you know I'll break my butt to be there for him."

Not wanting to worry her, he kept a few things to himself, such as the reunion thrust upon him by Lynn, and his subsequently finding out about a baby that might or might not have been his. He also neglected to tell her about the trouble at work, and the malaise that had settled in his soul. He would never tell her that he had been tempted drink again... she'd be on the first plane to New York if she got wind of that.

"Oh I'm fine mum, been keeping busy.... erm well actually, I am seeing someone." he stammered, Charlotte's face materializing in his mind.

Ethan and his mother were extremely close. With his father's desertion in Ethan's early childhood, she had been the one to raise him. He had given her hell, but no matter what he put her through, she had always stood by him, encouraging him to follow his dreams. He knew that she was anxious for him to settle down with some nice girl and have a family, and she often reminded him that she still had no grand children.

"Well her name is Charlotte mum," he muttered, fidgeting with his shoelace, "No mum, she's nothing like Lynn.... really mum, I think you'd like her. She's blonde with blue eyes, and she's kind of shy, but so sweet..... of course mum, Charlotte is beautiful, but in a natural kind of way."

Ethan was amazed that at the mere mention of Charlotte's name, he could smell her hair. He couldn't believe how much he missed her, and was anxious to get back to the hotel so he could call her in private. He had a mind to read some of Burn's poetry over the phone, and raised an eyebrow, smirking at the x-rated images in his mind.

"Only for a few days.... but, we've spent a lot of time hanging out.... well I'll tell you all about it when I get there." he explained, and now his stomach was growling. But suddenly he was struck with an idea, and bolted upright in the chair... a slow smile spreading across his features.

"Hey mum, what would you think of me bringing her along?" he enthused, his mind whirling while he squeezed his knee excitedly, "She's never been to Scotland.... and I, well I mean, yeah if she can arrange it with work."

Charlotte in Scotland with him....he was shocked that he was moving so fast with her, already wanting his mom to meet the shy girl from the lift. Inhaling sharply, he felt a pang, missing Charlotte... wanting to touch her and kiss her again. The morning had been miserable, and Ethan wanted nothing more than to loose himself in her silkiness. But instead he would be forced to go back to the hotel alone; and there were still details to be ironed out with the Mullaney account before he could go back. He figured they would be there at least two more days.

"Well you tell Randy that I'll do my best. I've got a disaster on my hands with this latest project mum, and I need a f**king break." he swore, apologizing again for his colorful use of the English language. Ethan usually made an effort not to curse in front of his mum, but he was still riled up from the meeting, and he was growing hungrier by the moment. Edgy and irritable, a trip back home was becoming more and more attractive. He made a mental note to have all his woolens dry cleaned. Scottish winters were devilish cold and wet.

"Okay mum, but before I let you go... how's Heathcliffe?" standing up and brushing the imaginary lint from his slacks, Ethan sauntered out the door, his bag in one hand, cell phone in the other.

Pausing outside the door, his brow furrowed, and he pursed his lips with concern over his prized horse. "Oh s**t no.... but what did the vet say? Well at least it's nothing serious..... well maybe he just needs to be ridden more... you know how he hates being ignored. I swear mum, that boy has an ego bigger than Randy's and mine combined!" Ethan chuckled. "Well I'll give him a good rub-down and brushing," he continued, "Can't wait to get him out on the bluffs."

Visualizing the waving green grass and the quiet emerald sea beyond the bluffs, Ethan felt his chest tighten. As a young man he couldn't wait to get out of Glasgow and see the world, but at times like this, he yearned for the salt air and sight of fishing boats on the horizon. He was sick of the city with its blaring horns and endless seas of stressed out people. He longed for a warm hearth and long walks on the rocky shore. He had to laugh though, knowing that in only a matter of weeks of being in Scotland, he would be bored out of his skull and ready for city action again, but he found himself brooding, missing Charlotte, and wanting a bit of peace.

Sighing heavily, Ethan closed his eyes and shuffled his feet on the pavement, "Yeah mum, I think a view of the sea through your kitchen window is just what I need right now.... okay mum.....yeah, I promise I'll come.... love you too, Bye."

Ethan slipped his suit jacket on, dropped his cell phone in his trouser pocket, and continued down the sidewalk, feeling somewhat less agitated, but still not quite relaxed. The news of his brother's wedding couldn't have come at a better time, and he mentally had his suitcases already packed. It would be so great to see his mum again, and to eat her home cooking. Though he was himself a fairly decent cook, nothing could compare to her shepherd's pie and sausages. His mouth watered just thinking about it, and he could smell the garlic and onions, and her special blend of spices.

"Damn I'm hungry!" he spoke under his breath trying to spot a decent restaurant down the street. There were numerous kiosks for hot dogs or pretzels, but Ethan had a hankering for a big bloody steak and home fries. Glancing across the street he noticed an attractive shop window, displayed with ladies undergarments and sleep wear. Chuckling to himself he smirked, and peered through the window at half naked mannequins, dressed in thongs and lace teddies.

"Hmmmmm, he sighed, Pushing the door open, "What have we here?"

Strolling up and down the aisle of lingerie, Ethan fingered the soft laces and satins. Unlike many men, he liked his ladies dressed for bed... and enjoyed the process of removing their nighties, or garters and stockings. Pulling a lacy black little number off the rack, he licked his lips, imagining Charlotte; her long blonde hair contrasting with the black. But on closer observation, he decided that the gown was a bit too cheep looking for his girl. She needed something elegant that showed just enough flesh to drive him wild.

He continued through the store looking over racks of nightgowns, until he found what he thought was exactly right for Charlotte. He selected a black velvet gown cut below the waist in the back, just enough to reveal her butt crack. The gown had thin crisscrossing spaghetti straps and a plunging neckline, trimmed with tiny crystals. Figure hugging yet not too tight, it was slightly flared at the hem, and lined with silk, it would feel like heaven against her skin. He checked the price tag and snickered... a bargain at $150.00, he swooped it across his arm and headed for the check stand.

As he waited patiently for the woman in front of him, he noticed a bin of panties. Fishing through the pile, he hooked his pinky through a pair of back lacy bikini's, smiling to himself when he realized that they were crotch-less. Instinctively, he held them up to his nose, then placed them on the counter with the gown.

"Would you like these gift wrapped sir?" the lady behind the counter asked, her eyes making no secret of her interest in him.

"The gown yes, wrap it up very special," he said with a dazzling grin, "But these," he hissed under his breath, swinging the panties between his fingers, "These are staying with me."

As the sales woman watched dumbstruck, Ethan winked, and tucked the panties in his jacket breast pocket, rakishly allowing a bit of the lace to spill over the edge.

Handing her his credit card, she ran it through the machine, then passed him the silver and purple wrapped garment box.

"Have a nice day luv!" he called out as he pushed through the door with his purchases. The woman stood there with her mouth hanging open, fanning herself with her hand.

Semmsb

Ethan stood under the hot shower, trying to wash away the feelings of anger and frustration that still coursed through him. He leaned his head against the tiles, letting the hot water beat into his tense shoulders, and course down his back. His hair clung to his head, in wet curls. This project was going to be the death of him. But talking to his Mum had made him feel so much better. Just hearing her warm voice made him feel comfortated. She had always been there for him, even through the worst days of his drinking.

Closing his eyes, he thought of Charlotte. So different to Lynn, but so sensuous and erotic, in her innocent way. He grinned as thought of the first time he had spoken to her, her blushes as she stared at the lift floor, and then the way her body came alive under his touch. She was incredibly sexy, and not in that “Man Eater” way that Lynn had. Just innocent, and raw. He loved that. He was amazed that he had suggested to his Mum that he take her to Scotland for his brother’s wedding. He grinned to himself, again thinking of nights by the fire, but this time with Charlotte. He grinned even wider, thinking of the gifts he had bought her. She would be shocked at the panties, and he could just imagine the priceless look on her face when she saw them.

Finally, he turned the shower off, and shook his head, sending droplets of water flying in every direction. He felt marginally better after the shower, but still unbelievably tense.

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Semmsb

After roughly drying himself, he padded naked in to the bedroom, and pulled on a pair of black boxers.

Remembering that Charlotte was having dinner with Sean and Sharon, he decided to give her a quick call at their place. Waiting impatiently as the phone rung, he pictured her laughing at Sean’s silly jokes, and couldn’t help but feel jealous of his mate, enjoying her company. Finally the phone was answered, and Ethan could hear female laughter in the background.

“Hey mate” he greeted Sean.

“Oh, Hi. How are you going?” Sean sounded concerned.

“Better than last night. I’ve had a crap day though. Bloody suits.” Ethan grimaced again. “Let me talk to Char.”

“Sure mate, let me grab her.”

There was a slight pause and then Charlotte’s soft voice greeting him.

“Hey Char, how are you going?” Ethan felt better just hearing her voice.

“Good thanks. Sharon’s cooked a great meal, but Sean’s telling lies again.” Ethan could hear Sean’s laughter in the background. “But it would be better if you were here. I really miss you.” Charlotte’s voice dropped.

“I know, love. I’ve had a shocking day. I just wish I could crawl into bed with you right now.”

“Really? Tell me about it.” Charlotte replied.

Ethan hastily filled her in on the meeting, and how frustrated he felt. He mentioned his call to him Mum too, but didn’t elaborate on the trip to Scotland. He’d discuss that with her when he got home.

“I’m sorry you’ve had such a bad day, Ethan,” Charlotte said warmly. “I wish there was something I could do to make you feel better.”

Ethan groaned. “Me too Char. You have no idea. Well, you can actually, tell me, are you wearing my favorite panties?”

He heard her embarrassed giggle. “Er, yeah, I am.”

He laughed. He knew she was trying to be circumspect, with Sean and Sharon in the room. “I bought you a new pair today actually. Can’t wait to see them on you. And something else. I am dying to get home so you can model them for me. ”

Charlotte giggled again, sounding shocked. Ethan could just imagine her blushing to the roots of her hair in front of Sean and Sharon.

“Ok, I have to go, Sharon has dessert ready.” She said.

“Are you trying to escape?” Ethan asked.

“No, Sharon really does have dessert ready” Charlotte protested, laughing. “You really are a wicked man.”

“Hmm, let me guess, Strawberries?” Ethan responded.

Charlotte laughed. “No actually. I’ll save them for when I’m with you next time.”

Ethan groaned. “I think I’ll hold you to that. They’ll go well with the gifts I bought you. All right then, you’d better go before I start something. I miss you.”

“I miss you too.” Her voice softened.

They said goodbye, and Ethan dropped his cell phone onto the bed. He ran his hands through his dark curls.

He felt even more frustrated after talking to Charlotte. It felt good to have a sympathetic ear, but her voice stirred up all his desires. Coupled with the anger that had been simmering in him all day, he felt hot and uncomfortable.

Grabbing a pile of paperwork, he decided to try and distract himself. He sat for about 40 minutes, unable to concentrate. Words danced before his eyes, and he had to read and reread sentences over again. Finally, he gave up, and decided the best thing to do was to go to bed. At least he’d be well rested, and hopefully look a bit better at tomorrow’s meetings than he did today. He needed a good nights sleep. There were huge dark circles under his eyes, and he knew he looked like crap. Stripping off the boxers, he sank into the bed. He lay for a while, thinking about Charlotte. Finally he feel asleep, after tossing and turning.

Swansong

Charlotte lay in bed, hugging Ethan's pillow to her breast, soft music playing on her portable CD player. Ethan's voice on the phone had sounded so damn sexy, and she couldn't seem to fall asleep, though her day had been exhausting. She was amazed at how easily the mere sound of his voice could arouse her, and she groaned, turning over first on one side, and then the other, unable to relax or get comfortable.

Glancing at the clock on her night stand, she sighed, thinking that if tomorrow were anything thing like today, she needed to get some sleep. But it was already past midnight, and she was still wide awake. There was absolutely nothing good on television, and her eyes were too tired from hours of close hand-work and beading to read. Closing her eyes, she wondered what Ethan was doing and groaned his name, picturing him sprawled out naked on his bed; his beautiful toned body awaiting and wanting her.

Finally after another half hour of frustrating restlessness, Charlotte crawled out of bed and slipped her bathrobe on over her flannel nightgown. It was a chilly night, and she had turned the heat on high, but still felt cold. Pulling her hair back in a ponytail and securing it with an elastic band, Charlotte brushed her teeth again and then wandered out to the living room. She needed a distraction, something to take her mind off missing Ethan, and the crummy day she had at work. Thank goodness she had spent time with Sean and Sharon afterward. At least for a few hours, she had forgotten the monotony of her job, and laughed her butt off at Sean's always entertaining antics. Two glasses of wine with dinner hadn't hurt either!

Charlotte found that the more time she spent with Sean and Sharon, the more she grew to love them both. She hoped she was wrong, but there were moments however, when she felt an underlying tension between the two. At times Sharon seemed withdrawn... even a bit depressed, and Charlotte wondered what was going on.

Deciding to fix a cup of hot chocolate, Charlotte padded in her pink fuzzy slippers to the kitchen. Opening the cupboard she pulled out the tin of cocoa mix, and then put the kettle on. As she waited for the water to boil, she gave the counters another wipe down, then selected a mug and spooned in the powder liberally. Once the water boiled, she poured it in the cup, and then added a few marshmallows for extra sweetness.

Sinking down in the sofa, Charlotte sipped her hot cocoa, and thought over the miserable day. It couldn't have begun worse when her supervisor had yelled at her again for being late. It wasn't her fault that traffic had been snarled all the way down Fifth Avenue, though she admitted that the extra 10 minutes she spent at Starbucks hadn't helped. Thanks to Ethan, she couldn't start her day without a steaming vanilla latte.

Shrugging her shoulders she admitted inwardly that she was really sick of her job. It had been fine for a while... paying the bills, but recently she just felt antsy all the time, and dreaded walking into the studio. She had taken the job hoping that it might eventually lead to more exciting and creative work in the design industry... but instead repeated the same alterations, trim work and boring routine every day. She was moody and subject to bouts of depression, having no real outlet for her true passion.

With a long exhale, slurping the rest of her chocolate and licking the melted marshmallow from the rim, Charlotte set down the cup and stretched to her feet, raising her arms above her head. Having chosen to spend time with Sean and Sharon during Ethan's absence, she had missed her work-out two night in a row, and she was already feeling it. Tomorrow night she would have to double up on her routine at the gym. Besides, she thought to herself with a chuckle, a good sweat might take her mind off Ethan... as if anything could.

Just then his handsome face swirled into her mind and she literally felt warm tingles between her legs. She blushed, just knowing that he had that effect on her, and shook her head muttering to herself, "Girl, you have got to get a hold of yourself... this is ridiculous!"

Wandering across the floor to the hall closet, Charlotte opened the door, and parted the coats and sweaters which hung from the rack. At the back of the closet she kept the evidence of her forgotten dreams... the expression of her true passion.... a passion she had given up after Jack had broken their engagement. Reaching through the darkness of the closet, she took hold of the handles and pulled a large leather portfolio out onto the floor. Blowing and patting it free of dust and cobwebs, she lay it down flat and unzipped the binder, then lifted the covering.

Some of the canvases had yellowed, the water color pieces faring the worst with curling corners, but overall her paintings were intact, and her gut tightened as she sifted through years of her artistic endeavors; paintings of seascapes, children, some abstracts and experimental pieces, along with numerous portraits of Jack. Setting aside the water colors, she lifted out the heavier canvas paintings. These were her favorites, and she stooped down to stroke the brush textured oils, a slight scent of linseed oil and dust tickling her nose.

Pulling out one particular piece she had a special affection for, Charlotte felt her eyes moisten, remembering what a joy it had been stroking the paint across the canvas; her visions coming to life through her art. But after her broken engagement, Charlotte had gone into depression, and just gave up those things that had once given her so much joy and sense of fulfillment. Since then she had tried to paint on a few occasions, but it just wasn't the same. For over a year now, she hadn't touched her oils or brushes, and her supplies remained stored away under her bed, gathering dust, the paint probably dried out in its tubes.

Why all of a sudden did she feel that familiar itch in her fingers.... the desire to open up her tackle box and squeeze out the oils, to smell that familiar mixture of turpentine and pigment? As she stared down at her discarded work... she suddenly felt choked with the urge to paint again. But she had no clean canvases or even an unused sketch pad! Even her charcoal, pen and ink sets were packed in boxes, and she stood there nearly overcome by the desire and need to create.

Where was this coming from... why after all this time were her creative juices flowing again? As She reorganized her artwork, Charlotte analyzed her feelings; putting the whole phenomenon down to one word.... Ethan. Somehow, without realizing it at first, knowing him and being loved by him was effecting every aspect of her life. She smiled, supposing that his runaway-locomotive passion for everything he did was seriously infectious... maybe even dangerous.

A broad smile lighting her eyes, Charlotte shoved the portfolio at the back of the closet, slammed the door closed and ran across the living room to her corner desk, where she grabbed a pen and note pad. Grinning and giggling, she began making an extensive list of all the supplies she would need. Before heading to the gym for her workout tomorrow after work, Charlotte was determined to make another stop. Art Media was right down the street from the studio, and though she hadn't been there in over a year, she was about to spend a ton of money on canvases, paper, paint and other brand new supplies. She only hoped that she hadn't yet spent the limit on her Visa card!

After Charlotte had excitedly jotted down her list, she made the mistake of glancing up at the clock above her desk and groaned. It was nearly 1:30, and she still felt wired, even a bit agitated. Along with the anticipation and thrill of painting again, came a whole cascade of painful memories; the loft she had shared with Jack, and the many large and seriously cutting edge paintings she had done, stacked up against the stuccoed walls. Her easel in the corner by the huge widow, and the skylight that poured natural light all around her as she painted barefoot in one of Jack's old shirts and her underwear. For a while, it seemed as if they had discovered paradise together. Though he was a member of the professional community, in many ways he had the heart of an artist, and at first had encouraged her to go back to school and get her degree. She closed her eyes and willed the memories to subside... not wanting to revisit his affair, and the subsequent pain which had slowly stripped so much of her soul away.

Walking back into the bedroom, Charlotte hugged her sides, remembering the day she had moved back in with her mother.... all of those paintings, those pieces of the life she had shared with Jack were still stored in her mother's basement. She hadn't looked at them in long time. Once she had even imagined showing her work in a gallery... but Jack had changed all that, gradually bearing down on her with his own demands, using their lengthy relationship to isolate her from her friends and all the things she loved.

Charlotte shook herself and made herself think of Ethan. She had told him very little about her relationship with Jack, and nothing about her interest in art. They had rushed so passionately into a scalding physical union, that here had been little time for talking at all. Now she couldn't wait to tell him everything. To share the parts of herself that only a few people knew. She was determined that once she had that Scottish hunk back in her arms, she would drive him mad with lust, and speak endlessly of all she dreamed of and longed for.

"I wonder what he's doing now," Charlotte whispered to herself, "I wonder if he's asleep."

Throwing herself face down on the bed, Charlotte kicked her feet and flailed her arms, "God I miss you Ethan!" she shouted into his pillow. "I gotta get some sleep!", she moaned, turning off her lamp, and then rolling over on her back. Again Ethan's face and form wafted across her brain; that sensuous mouth of his, those beautiful hands doing such delicious things to her.

Slowly, Charlotte untied the belt around her middle and peeled off her robe, slipping it out from under her body. She felt warmth spreading down through her belly into her thighs, and licked her lips, recalling Ethan'; the warm swell of his body, pressing all through her, exploring her, and making her his in every way. He had laid claim to her with his lips and tongue, the dark embrace of his mouth taking her. She could feel it; his hands sliding over her body, his powerful thighs against her, and his beautiful face etched with the moment of oneness.... beautiful and erotic like a painting.

Suddenly Charlotte was overcome with burning, her body flushed and her need pulsating, tingling. Timidly, she began unbuttoning her nightgown, then sat up on the bed and pulled if off, letting it fall to the floor. Lying back down in only her panties, she closed her eyes, and floated her fingers across her neck and her shoulders, remembering how he touched her, and the fire his fingers had blazed across her skin. She let her fingertips drift down to her breasts, shocked at the sensation that shot directly into her core like an electrical current.

Squirming against the sheets, Charlotte felt a mixture of shame and pleasure. Tentatively she spread her hands downward over her belly, gradually slipping them lower. With her eyes still closed, she pulled the panties down over her hips and legs, kicking them off.

She could smell him... the scent of his cologne, and the organic fragrance of their joining. She wanted him... her entire body tensed with longing, loving the pleasurable sensations. For a few moments she lay still like that, her knees drawn up and her body's heat surging on the inside. Whispering his name Charlotte sighed, her nostrils flared, and her eyelids fluttering.

She was well aware that many girls pleasured themselves regularly, some of her friends had discussed it openly., sharing their experiences and techniques. But Charlotte had never felt comfortable in her own skin, and though she had attempted self gratification several times, she had never been able to fully give in to herself. Her strange upbringing, coupled with her own insecurities would not permit her to let go, and guilt always followed each attempt.

But somehow Ethan had awakened that part of her that she had so long denied; the mystery and beauty of female sexual desire.... her body's natural craving for release and fulfillment. Trying to relax, she began to recreate the feeling of Ethan's potent embrace. But after only a few moments, she withdrew, too shy with herself and still afraid to give in.

She rolled over on her side, hungering for Ethan.... needing that amazing feeling of his flesh melting into hers. Lifting up her head, Charlotte grabbed Ethan's pillow. She hugged the pillow up tightly against her, imagining him next to her.

She finally drifted off to sleep, with Ethan's name on her lips....

Semmsb

When Ethan awoke the next morning, he stretched luxuriously in the bed, arching his back until, enjoying the sensation of his muscles stretching.He rolled over, burying his face in Charlotte’s pillow. He could hear the shower running in the bathroom between his and Lynn’s rooms. He had managed to avoid her after the meeting yesterday, but he knew that he would have to face her today. He groaned, another day of meetings was the last thing that Ethan felt like doing today. He lay for a few minutes, and when he heard Lynn leave the bathroom, got up.

Hastily he ordered a huge breakfast from room service, and then headed towards the shower. He stood again under the hot water, and couldn’t help a naughty grin as he remembered last night’s activities. Well, he sure felt more relaxed.

After showering, he stood for a few minutes attempting to battle with his dark curls, and shaved. He hated shaving every day, but unfortunately on trips like this it was a necessity. The suits looked down on any one not turned out properly, and Ethan wanted to present the best image. Every little bit helped his cause when he was battling for his work. He dressed in a white shirt, black tie and black suit. It was a basic look, but one he favored.Room service delivered the mammoth breakfast, and he sat with paperwork while he devoured it. Just as he was finishing his coffee, there was a knock at the connecting door. Ethan groaned inwardly, but called out “Come in.”

Lynn stood in the doorway, dressed in a conservative suit, with a bright blouse underneath. She looked very inch the high-powered career woman, but Ethan had to grudgingly admit that she still had that smoldering sexual appeal.

“I was worried about you yesterday,” she stated simply.

“Well, I was fine. Thanks.” Ethan responded stiffly. “No drinking if that is what you are concerned about.”

Lynn looked faintly stung.

“No Ethan, that’s not it. I knew how angry you would feel after the meeting. You just disappeared, and I was…" She paused. “Well, it doesn’t matter anyway. We need to leave in 10 minutes.”

Ethan nodded. “Fine. Just let me grab some papers. I’ll be there soon.”

As they traveled towards the street in the lift, Lynn stood thinking. She knew she was losing Ethan, and couldn’t work out why. Yesterday, he had been ready to explode with anger, and he had stormed off before she could placate him. In the past his anger had lead him one of two ways, into a drinking binge, or explosive sex. She had half hoped that they would return to the Hotel together, and the night would take its natural course, but he hadn’t returned until late. She looked side ways at him from under her lashes. He had definitely changed over the years they had been apart. It seemed that the angry, rash boy he had once been, was battling with a confident, self-assured man. Lynn knew that Ethan still had problems dealing with his emotions; the scene that ensued when she told him about the affair and the baby had proven that. But years ago, he would have had a melt down after yesterday’s meeting. She sighed. It was unbelievable to her that he would choose Charlotte over her. He needed a confident, self-possessed woman, not a wimpy teenager. As she stood in the lift, she formulated a plan, a last ditch attempt to win him over. There was no way she’d give up without a fight.

Ethan was perfectly aware of Lynn’s scrutiny. He tried as best he could to ignore her. There was no way he was going to react. In the past she had known exactly the right buttons to push to get a reaction, and he was determined that he wouldn’t give her the pleasure any more. He just wanted to get this trip over and done with, and go home to Charlotte. How was he going to last another 12 days?

The morning was again filled with meetings and discussions that Ethan found almost unbearable. Having to defend his designs to a bunch of moneymen who were trying to save a few dollars in the short term made his blood boil. He longed to tell these penny pinchers where they could stuff their miserly ways, and jump on the next plane home. But he knew that would be career suicide. Instead he gritted his teeth, and again drunk cup after cup of strong coffee. By the end of the morning he felt tense and angry again, the excess caffeine and stress combining to make him jumpy and irritable.

Finally it was decided that they would break for lunch, and then visit the site. Ethan was desperate to stretch his legs, and wanted to find a nice park to eat his lunch in. The desire to sit outside and feel the sun on his face was becoming almost unbearable. Quickly standing, he shook hands with the finance men, and picked up his discarded suit jacket.

Lynn licked her lips, and turned to him. “Lunch?” She used her most beguiling voice, trying to win him over. To her frustration he shook his head, and turned to leave.

“I’ll meet you back here before we visit the site.” He tossed casually over his shoulder before disappearing out the door. Lynn stood in the empty conference room, boiling with anger and frustration. She felt like stamping her foot. What was going on? Obviously she needed to ramp up her campaign. Well, that was fine. She’d spend her lunch break plotting on how to achieve her success. She could almost feel her hackles raising as she thought of Charlotte. There was no way she was going to loose Ethan to a little blonde bit of fluff like that.

Ethan meanwhile grinned to himself as he strolled down the street. He could imagine Lynn, her face pinched with anger at his casual dismissal. He knew that her frustration was increasing. She had come to Chicago to win him back, and so far wasn’t succeeding. He grabbed a take away meal, and found a nice park to sit in. As he relaxed on a bench, the sun shone on his face. He winced as he thought of the site visit. But at least they would be out doors, not stuffed in to that bloody ugly office building again.

As he ate, he thought about the situation between Lynn and himself. He knew that they would have to have a discussion before he left Chicago. There were too many loose ends to tie up. They had shared a long and turbulent past, and Ethan needed to finalize everything. He couldn’t return to Charlotte with all these issues buzzing around in his head. He wanted a clean break, and definite ending. His stomach churned as he thought of the baby again. Where would he be now if he and Lynn were still together? He thought of himself at that time, and knew that he couldn’t have coped as a father. He could barely cope with his own life, let alone guide a child through the world. He had been desperate to have a family with Lynn, but seemingly blind to his own deficiencies. He wondered why he had tried to push her into it. What void had he thought a child could fill?

After sitting, ruminating for a long time, he looked at his watch and swore. He had totally lost track of time, and was about to be late. He hurriedly stuffed his let over in a bin and headed back to the Mullany building.

MishW

It was Wednesday morning, and Sharon was sitting behind her desk. She was pleased to see that she had a light schedule today. This would give her time to call her hairdresser and make the appointment for her and Charlotte on Saturday. She knew exactly the hairdresser to request for Charlotte. Gustavo was a character, and he was also brilliant. Charlotte said she didn't know exactly what she wanted, and Sharon knew Gustavo would do something amazing with her hair, but wouldn't do anything that would go against Charlotte's personality. He would spend the first half-hour looking through books with her, just talking, and trying to get to know a little bit about her.

Sharon picked up the phone and made the call. She was pleased to hear that her hairdresser, Marlee, had just had a cancellation and could fit her in. Gustavo had a tight schedule, but he was confident he could do little rearranging, and make room for Charlotte. Everyone at the shop loved Sharon, and would do what they could to accommodate her.

Sharon was really excited for Saturday. She was surprised at herself in fact. She really didn't have that many women friends, she never had. She always seemed to connect more with the guys. Who knows, maybe it was the lack of competition or something. She hated the backbiting, and the one upping that tended to go on with women, even women who were friends. She was also the only girl in her family, and had 4 older brothers, which could explain why she seemed to relate better to guys. She had had one close friend, since she moved here to the states, and that turned out to be a nightmare. She thought she could confide in her friend, and told her story for the first time ever to another woman. Until then, no one outside her family knew what had happened. She poured her heart out, and then the tables were turned on her, and more than a year later, her secret was held over her head. It was used as blackmail against her. Lynn told her if Ethan should find out about her pregnancy, then she would tell Sean everything. Sharon had seriously considered telling Sean herself then, but before she could decide, Lynn disapperared, and Sharon relaxed. As it tuned out, after the pregnancy came out, Sean felt Ethan shouldn't be told anyhow, because it would destroy him, and he was on the edge already. Sharon agreed completely. Lynn had turned out to be the wrong person for any of them to trust.

She always found being friends with guys so much simpler. It started when she was young. She first met Ryan when she was 9, and he was 10. They played together as kids, and their relationship grew from there. Then... No, Sharon refused to allow herself to dwell on that.She had been doing it far too often lately, and it was waring on her relationship with Sean. She had to move on. She adored Sean, and she knew how much he loved her. The first time she had turned down his marriage proposal, he hadn't coped with it well. They had a huge blowout fight, and she ended up throwing him out. She told him if he couldn't take her she was, that he couldn't have her all. She told him to pack and get out. He had. He'd stayed with some friends, and even with Ethan, but the situation with Ethan at that point had started becoming a little difficult too. Ethan was drinking heavily, and when Sean was with him, he joined in. He didn't stay with Ethan long, because of what had happened with Lynn. To this day, Sean was still convinced that Sharon didn't know what had happened, but she did. Lynn delighted in making sure she knew. She was "only concerned" and "just thought that you should know." Fortunately, Sean seemed to learn quickly how destructive his drinking was, and was able to put a stop to it himself. After about a month, Sean showed up at her doorstep wanting to talk. Sharon told him she was not ready to get married, and didn't know when she would be, if ever. Sean would have to accept her as she was if he wanted to be with her. Sean made it clear that he would not stop asking, always with the hope that she would change her mind, but that her answer was no, he would accept it, and her answer always was no. She knew it would be unfair to marry Sean with all of the conflict she had going on inside. When Lynn found out they were getting back together, she had tried to convince Sharon she was making a huge mistake. She kept telling her over and over that Sean would never be faithful to her. Sharon was convinced then, as now, that Lynn couldn't handle losing in any way shape or form, and she was concerned for what this might mean for Ethan right now. Then though, she saw Sean's coming back to Sharon as losing. Sean did have to take some measure of the blame for what happened with Lynn. Yes, he was drunk, so his common sense was right out the window, but that was no excuse. Sharon, however, knew Lynn well enough to know that the major part of the blame rested with her. There was no doubt in Sharon's mind that Lynn initiated everything, and that Lynn was not drunk, as she claimed to be. Lynn never lost control of herself, through drinking or anything else. Sharon refused to take her advice, and from that moment on, she knew she would probably live to regret opening herself up to Lynn. Sharon also noticed a change in Sean's demeanor around Lynn. Sharon asked him about it, and he said, Ethan was in for big let down eventually, and all he knew was that he needed to be there for him when that happened, even if it meant putting up with Lynn in the meantime. Sharon hoped to God to Ethan kept his head together and did not go back to that woman. He had to know that Charlotte was infinitely better for him, and she couldn't see how he could even consider choosing Lynn over Charlotte. The two women were like night and day.

Sharon was really surprised at the connection she felt with Charlotte. She couldn't help but feel an almost sisterly affection for her. Over dinner last night, she felt like she really got to know her. They actually had a lot in common, even some parts of their upbringing. It was obvious how much Charlotte loved Ethan, and how much the separation was killing her. Sharon had to laugh when Ethan called, and how Charlotte tried to keep her voice quiet, all the while her face getting a brighter shade of red. Even Sean had noticed and laughed. He stood, gave Sharon a leering look and suggested they go in the kitchen and have a little fun of their own while Ethan and Charlotte had some phone sex. Sharon smacked him and laughed herself. She felt Sean smiling down at her, and knew he was pleased that she seemed to be enjoying herself so much. She knew she worried him with her mood changes, and she tried not to. Having Charlotte around though kept her mind off of things. It was nice having another woman to talk to, and Sean seemed to adore her also. He told hysterical stories about the trouble that he and Ethan got into as schoolboys, and made Charlotte laugh until she cried. At the end of the evening Sean again walked her down and put her into a cab. Sharon smiled again, because Sean also seemed to look at Charlotte, almost as a sister too. She had never seen him be so attentive to one and Ethan's girlfriends. It was almost like he felt he had to protect her, while Ethan was gone.

Sharon knew she needed to get some work done, and also wanted to be thinking about the stores that they should visit on Saturday. She had some definite ideas, but she wanted Charlotte to make the clothing choices herself. Sharon just intended to show her the right places to go, and help her gain the confidence she needed to choose clothes that would knock Ethan's socks off.

Just then, her phone rang, and she had no time to think about it again for the rest of the day.

SporranTart

Ethan hated being late so he ran back to the Mullaney building where he arrived flushed and out of breath to find Lynn, Mullaney and the suits impatiently waiting for him in the lobby. He apologized for his tardiness and the group went out to hail cabs to the site. Ethan could tell from the predatory look on Lynn’s face that she had something cooked up in her brain, and the natural order of things would put them in a cab together, so he decided to thwart her again by asking Mr. Mullaney to share the first cab with him, leaving Lynn to ride with the suits in the second cab.

Ethan’s little plan had a dual purpose. Not only did he avoid having to spend time with Lynn alone, before he was ready for the inevitable final confrontation with her, but he could talk to Mr. Mullaney without the bean counters around.

“Mr. Mullaney,” Ethan began, “we’ve spent the past two days in heated discussions about the design of this building. It was my understanding that you initially hired our firm to design it because we have a reputation for being on the cutting edge and bucking the status quo. Yet here we are in Chicago and you are allowing the money men to strip every shred of creativity right out of the project. Why didn’t you just go ahead and choose an architectural firm whose reputation better fits the “glass and steel box” genre to begin with? It would have saved us all a lot of grief.

Mullaney mulled it over a bit. “Ethan, I appreciate your frankness and your passion for what you design. However you really don’t grasp the importance of budgets and the constraints that get placed on a project by the bankers and investors who are willing to put up the cash. While it may be my project it isn’t being built with my money.”

Ethan countered, “You are right, Mr. Mullaney. I don’t understand the power of the lenders, my heart is in the creation of something special and I can’t put my head around why anyone would want to squelch that just to save a few dollars. Especially when the recognition that could come along with building something that is strikingly beautiful as well as completely functional would bring in more money in the long run.”

They arrived at the job site and Ethan’s opportunity to further bend Mullaney’s ear came to an end. At least a job walk was something Ethan usually enjoyed – it was outdoors and suit jackets and ties were discarded. There was something so “concrete” about watching a building he had designed come out of the ground. Designing a building is art, it is like sculpting and painting and drawing all rolled into one – and when all was completed and people began to use your building for its ultimate purpose, you had a bit of immortality. That was the feeling that Ethan loved the most, and it was part of the reason he fought so hard to keep his designs intact. What was the pride in watching something completed if it looked nothing like what you had envisioned?

As Ethan exited the cab he looked up and saw the large billboard at the corner of the job site, the one that made up part of the barrier wall built to protect passers-by. There was a painting, about 20 feet high, of the building as he had conceived of it, with the words, Architects: Hugh Denton and Associates. Ethan wasn’t even yet one of those “and Associates” in the firm, he was still an up and comer. His reputation for combining function with beauty in his designs had earned him some prestigious commissions over the past 5 years, but this project was beginning to make him think in a whole different direction. What would it be like to see his name up there on that billboard instead of the name of the man who started the firm for which he worked? Pulled from his ponderings when the site superintendent handed him a hardhat, Ethan joined the others to walk the site.

The great hole had been dug and the shoring was being installed that would anchor the foundation. It was a noisy site, nearly impossible for anyone to hear each other speak as the pile drivers pounded a regular beat. The huge cranes were in place that would be used to lift the steel beams, gunite was being shot onto the rebar that lined the edges of the great hole. This was just the beginning, this was what would support the building.

Ethan tried to pay attention, but the early job site walks were not that interesting to him, it was when the building itself began to take shape that he would get excited. Well, if it was looking like he designed it, but right now he wasn’t too sure that he wanted to see what was going to come out of the ground on this one. He was still thinking about what it would be like to be his own boss.

Lynn was talking animatedly with the lenders, as a structural engineer even this early part of the construction was of great importance to her. The project accountant had joined them, she had the schedule of values in hand with the percentages of completion so far which the lenders had to review and agree upon before transferring the funds that would pay the contractors. Lynn was pointing out to the lenders the actual work that corresponded to the numbers on the billing.

Ethan’s attention was pulled back when he heard Lynn saying, “So you see, thanks to the innovative design even at this early stage of the construction we are both ahead of schedule and budget. Every time you ask Ethan to change the design you are going to spend money, both in redesign, drafting, re-submittals for permits and your end result will not be anything like what people are seeing and admiring in that picture on the corner right now.”

While it touched Ethan that she was fighting almost as hard has he was for his vision, in the back of his mind he knew that she was also fighting to get back into his life, and his bed. He had to be ready with a battle plan of his own.

Swansong

By the time Thursday evening had rolled around, Charlotte opened her apartment door frustrated and tired. Nothing in her week had gone as she had planned. There was so much to do for the upcoming showing in Milan, that she and half her team were forced to work overtime. She had grabbed a light lunch and scarfed it down with needle in hand, finishing up the various gowns, and outrageous designs at her station. All day long she questioned why she just did not walk out. A job that she had hoped would lead to real career was little more than sweat shop labor. Handling the gorgeous fabrics and stylish garments had once been a thrill... but now she needed something more, and sensed that something was about to change.

Her extended hours at work had postponed her trip to the gym for the third day in a row, but on Wednesday evening, she had managed to make it to Art Media before they closed. What a thrill it had been, walking through aisle after aisle of paints, pastels, professional grade art supplies and mediums. The familiar smells brought back so many memories; bittersweet in light of her falling out with Jack. But she could hardly contain her excitement as the cute sales clerk wrote up her order, with instructions to be delivered to her apartment.

Her apartment was too small to set up a studio in the living room, so with Sean's help, she had re arranged the furniture in the spare room. Removing the bed entirely, she had set up her new easel in the corner by the window. She had excitedly, pulled down the lace curtains, leaving the window bare. It wasn't the same as the skylight in the loft, but its southern exposure was would provide adequate lighting. Packing away all the girlie stuff, she had taken down everything from the walls and cleared out the closet.

Wanting to surround herself with inspiration, Charlotte had retrieved her portfolio from the closet, and made plans with her mother to have some of her larger works sent up from the house. She had covered the walls with her favorite water colors; hanging up pieces she had painted from five years ago, the most recent, a piece she had done shortly before the big break-up. The canvases she lined up along the floor, leaving plenty of room for new additions. An old dresser had been cleared out and was arranged a long side the easel. She had filled the dresser drawers with supplies, and covered its top with jars of paintbrushes and trays of paints, organized by color. In order to protect the carpet, she had covered the floor with heavy canvas drop cloths.

The anticipation of telling Ethan her exciting news was making her crazy, and more than anything, she hoped he would like her work. As an architect she knew that he was himself an artist, and it was even more exciting to think of what their mutual interests might mean to their relationship.

She wondered if Ethan would call her tonight, and pondered calling him first. He had been out on location over the last couple days, and though he hadn't said much about it over the phone, she sensed that things weren't going as he would have liked. His voice sounded controlled and he was less easy going, his words clipped and his tone serious. Even his bawdy sense of humor seemed out of sorts. Their conversations had mostly been brief, and had only further stirred up her need and desire for intimate conversation and lovemaking. Even her efforts at teasing and flirting with him hadn't lightened his mood. The few times she had questioned him about Lynn, he avoided the subject, choosing instead to talk about the restaurants where he had eaten, or other unrelated topics. She was relieved at least, that his temptation for a drink had passed without incident, and she admired him for resisting, but wanted so much to comfort him... and to just be with him.

She was concerned, and glad for something take her mind off things.

After a glass of wine and light supper, Charlotte wandered into her brand new art studio and looked around, pleased with herself.

Her little room couldn't compare with the loft studio, but it was enough for now. She stepped over to the easel, spread with a fresh sheet of textured watercolor paper. Her fingers itched to pick up the brushes and render her sketch in color, but she was far too tired after her exhausting day. Turning away from the easel she switched off the light and walked out the door, disappointed, but looking forward to her first chance to sit down and paint.

Glancing at the clock, Charlotte grew antsy, she needed to hear the sound of Ethan's voice and picked up her cell phone, but hesitated. He might still be in meetings, he had already put in some late hours. She didn't want to disturb him, or make him feel pressured. Still, she felt edgy, and kept her hand on the phone, willing him to call.

Lying down on the sofa, Charlotte picked up the remote and turned on the news. It was all bad; hurricanes in the south... more terrorist bombings in London and the price of oil sky rocketing. She channel surfed, looking for a distraction, and settled on an old movie playing on T&T classics. Fluffing up the pillow under head, Charlotte lost herself in the colors and sounds of Debra Kerr and a dashingly young and handsome Gregory Peck. She had always loved the old romantic films. Steph was constantly making fun of her for her collection of DVDs from the 30's and 40's. She loved the soft romantic lighting, and the way the film lent a glow to the glamorous stars of the past. She much preferred old hollywood romance to the stark realism of contemporary films.

Closing her eyes, she visualized Ethan as one of those romantic leading men. She pictured him in a white dinner jacket, his hair slicked back and a thin pencil mustache on his upper lip. She broke out into a fit of giggles, and turned over on her side, hugging her knees to her chest. He certainly had the good looks and charisma equal to or surpassing any of todays male stars. In fact, despite his often rumpled appearance, Ethan carried a certain grace about him. His elegant posture and natural classiness hearkened back to that era... she much preferred him without the mustache though, and imagined the feeling of his ultra soft scruff against her cheek.

"Oh why don't you call!" she yelled at her cell phone.

God she was missing him. She fidgeted for a-while, channel surfing during commercials, but was finally swept away by the movie and relaxed, her breathing slowing and her eyes growing heavy.....

She awoke with a start. The movie was over and some blazingly loud informercial was on the tube. What time was it? She looked up at the clock and frowned, amazed that she had slept for over 3 hours on the sofa. Ethan hadn't called. It was already passed 11:00, and she had to get to bed. But why hadn't she heard from him? Unfolding herself slowly from the sofa, she sluggishly padded to her bedroom and plopped down on the bed. This separation from him was killing her! She was so glad that tomorrow was Friday, but wondered how she would ever get through the day... and the there was the whole weekend! She hoped that her shopping trip and make-over with Sharon on Saturday, would take her mind off how much she missed him, but for now she was alone in her bed, and he hadn't called.

Setting her alarm for 6:00, Charlotte miserably readied herself for bed. She grabbed Ethan's pillow and hugged it to herself, closing her eyes.

Friday morning began with Charlotte's usual rushing to get to work on time. She hadn't slept well, worrying and wondering why Ethan hadn't called. She had a splitting headache, and gulped down her latte, hoping the caffeine would ease the throbbing in her temples.

One of her team had called in sick, which had nearly doubled Charlotte's work load. A million different scenarios plagued her thoughts as she tackled the pile of sewing, represented by racks and racks of unfinished garments. Maybe Ethan was ill, or what if he'd been in a car accident... or worse, maybe it was Lynn. What if Lynn and he were.... no, she would not allow herself to go there. He was fine, probably just busy.

By midmorning Charlotte's headache had worsened. She took a couple of Excedrine Migraine capsules, and drank a bottle of water. She had trouble focusing her eyes, and finally excused herself, heading downstairs to the employees lounge, where she collapsed on the sofa and closed her eyes. Sleeping briefly, Charlotte's eyes snapped open when her cell phone rang. Reaching in her purse, she swam up out of the fog of her headache, and grabbed the phone, her stomach queasy.

"Hello?"

"Hey sexy!" Ethan's deep voice purred.

There was a lot of noise in the back ground, the sound of voices and what Charlotte assumed was heavy equipment.

Groggily she sat up, smiling despite the pain above her right brow, "Ethan.... oh my God, where have you been... I've been so worried!"

"Sorry I couldn't call you last night luv," he said over the sound of men shouting, "I was just beat and crashed early... I had a shitty day, and today isn't going much better."

"I'm sorry Ethan," she replied rubbing her temple, "If it makes you feel any better, I'm having a shitty day too, and in fact... I think I'm going home... I don't feel well."

Concern registering in his tone, Ethan spoke as sweetly as he could over the racket at the site, "What's the matter luv, coming down with a cold or something?"

"Naw, just a stupid migraine," she answered closing her eyes against the glare from the window. "But it's getting worse, and there's no way I can work like this."

"Well listen Char, it's friggin' noisy here, and I can't really talk now, but I'm going to call you later when you're at home and we can be alone...okay?"

"Okay Ethan, I really miss you, you know." Charlotte sighed, leaning her head back against the cushion.

"Me too luv," he crooned softly, "I can't even tell you how much... but I'll make up for it tonight Char, I promise."

He paused and she could tell he was covering the phone with his hand, "Oh no, I gotta go!" he shouted.... bye Charlotte, I love you!"

And then the phone went dead. She never even had a chance to tell him she loved him too.

"Damn cell phones!" Charlotte swore, looking around to make certain no one had heard a preacher's kid cursing in public. But oh how she loved it when Ethan said F**k... it gave her such a guilty pleasure just knowing how shocked her father would be at Ethan's charming and sexy as hell potty mouth. Just hearing his deep voice and Scottish burr made her almost happy, but she decided right then that she'd had it for the day.

Charlotte prepared herself a cup of tea and headed for her bedroom. Her headache had subsided just a bit with Ethan's lunch time phone call, but she still wasn't feeling all that chipper. Her supervisor hadn't been thrilled when she left work early, but since there was a rash of flu going around, there was little she could do about it. Several employees had already come down with the bug, and Charlotte had rarely missed a day at work in two years.

She crawled into bed and pulled the blankets up around her shoulders, snuggling down for warmth. After a half hour or so of reliving the last few day's events, she fell asleep.

Waking up an hour later, Charlotte felt much improved, in fact, her headache was gone and she was starving. Slipping into a pair of jeans, Charlotte looked through her closet for a top to wear, and discovered Ethan's blue denim shirt hanging there. She had forgotten that he left it with her, and took it off the hanger, burying her nose in the soft-baby blue worn fabric. She pulled down the straps of her bra, and unsnapped it, letting it fall to the floor. Sliding her arms into Ethan's shirt, Charlotte hugged herself, loving the feel of it against her naked breasts. She imagined him in the shirt, with his arms around her. The shirt tales hung nearly to her knees, and she shivered at the thought of his tall and muscular lean build.

Sauntering into the bathroom, she pulled out her brush and a hair clip. Scooping her hair into a twist, she clipped it in the back, leaving a few loose tendrils around her face. Her stomach growling, she made her way to the kitchen and heated up a frozen Lean Cuisine chicken and rice dinner, then ate quickly, not wanting to waste another moment.

Ethan would be calling her tonight, and he had sounded so mysterious over the phone, hinting about their phone call. She was just glad she'd finally have the chance to talk to him without distractions, but intended to keep busy until then.

Excitedly, Charlotte entered her art studio. She flipped on the overhead light, and turned on the state-of-the-art artists halogen lamp over her easel. Sitting down in her brand new adjustable chair, she swiveled around several times with a big smile on her face. Pulling the levers, she set the angle of the back of the chair to suit her, and then raised the chair's height so she could sit with her feet comfortably on the foot rest.

At last, she had a few hours of peace and quite, time to herself to do the thing she loved the most in the world.... well, one of the things she loved to do! Opening a drawer, Charlotte pulled out her tray of charcoal pencils, then replaced the watercolor paper for a large sketch pad and tore off a sheet, laying it across the easel. She had a particular project in mind, and giggled as she roughed out the features of Ethan's face by memory, her fingers flying across the acid free velum. She sketched and rubbed her fingers in the areas where she wanted shadow, her hands soon blackened by the charcoal dust. She loved the feeling of physical contact with her medium, and was soon caught up in a frenzied search for Ethan's soul.

As she worked on his lips, getting the bow-shape just right, she could almost feel them kissing her. She concentrated mostly on the upper lip, and those adorable bits of flesh that bowed down at the sides of his mouth, which often adhered to the bottom lip when he spoke. Then there were the sweet lines at the corner of his mouth, the cleft in his chin, only visible when he was clean shaven. She adored his nose, and worked to draw the length and lines just right, trying to capture the aristocratic bearing. Shaping, shadowing and highlighting, Charlotte slowly got the results she was after. Finally ready for her biggest challenge, she roughed out the shape of his eyes.

"Ethan's eyes," she sighed, closing her own eyes to visualize his blue/green orbs. Never had she seen more expressive eyes on a man. She loved the way one eyelid drooped a touch lower than the other, and the little lines that crinkled when he flashed his boyish smile. The expression she gave him was somewhat enigmatic and sultry, with just a hint of that devastating crooked smile. She gave the eyes an inner light, but contrasted the sparkle with depth and shadow... pleased when his eyes seemed to look back at her mysteriously, as if to say, "You don't really know me.... there is more to me than meets the eye."

Hours passed with Charlotte making love to Ethan's portrait. She poured her own soul into the face that was now always present in her mind and heart. Finally pleased with his facial features, she laughed as she scratched the outline of his unruly waves, and then went to work with her fingers, blending and smoothing out the lines to render the softness and texture of Ethan's thick hair. She could practically feel his dark waves beneath her fingers... and drew a few strands swooping down over his forehead.

Now she was ready to use the side of her hand and rags for some finer blending... when her cell phone rang where she had left it in her purse on the desk. Dropping her pencils and rag on the dresser, she jumped down from the chair and flew out the door, running in her fuzzy slippers out to the living room. Certain it was Ethan, she scooped up the phone breathlessly and pushed talk with out hesitation.

"Ethan?"

"Hey beautiful!" he muttered huskily, fresh out of the shower, "How come you're out of breath?"

She had no intention of telling him about the portrait, that was to be a surprise gift for his return. So she lied and told him she'd been doing housework.

"Oh I'm mopping the kitchen floor." she said cringing.

Ethan laughed easily, amused by her tidiness, "Well good God woman, knock it off and talk to me... I've been waiting all friggin' day long to hear your voice again!" Ethan stepped out of the adjoining bathroom, a yellow towel wrapped around his waist. In his excitement of finally getting a moment alone with Charlotte, he neglected to lock the bathroom door into his room. Plopping down on the bed, he scratched his head and fell backward against the mattress.

Charlotte, laughing with him, pulled out the desk chair and sat down, her heart slamming with excitement. God he sounded good, and far more relaxed than previous calls. There was a velvet gruffness in his voice she found immediately arousing.

"What are you doing, besides calling me?" she asked.

"Oh I just got out of the shower luv, and I'm still wet." he teased, practically hearing her blush over the phone. Ethan's hand subconsciously moved across his thigh and rested on his groin.

"Oh," Charlotte mumbled, "You mean you're naked?"

Closing his eyes with a grin Ethan sat up straight and yanked off the yellow towel, throwing it down to the floor with a chuckle, "Now I am!" he announced, "Naked as the day I was born!"

"Oh God." Charlotte moaned picturing him in all his masculine glory, "I wish was there with you Ethan, I miss you."

"Miss you too luv," he drawled, lying back down on the bed. "So Charlotte luv.... what are you wearing?" There was a laugh in his voice, but Charlotte picked up on the lust behind it.

"Me?.... oh I'm actually wearing your shirt Ethan, and my jeans."

Picturing her in his shirt made him smile, "I bet you look sexy as hell Charlotte... but I think we can do without the jeans."

"W....what?" she asked, scooting her chair back.

"Loose the jeans sweetheart," he rasped, "And take everything off. I want you naked."

God the sound of his voice was dripping with sex, and Charlotte's breathing sped up as she fumbled with her snap and zipper, "Okay Ethan... I'm, I'm taking them off.

"Good," he whispered, running his hand across his bare torso. "The panties off too?"

"Yes," she answered, sitting down in the chair, shocked by the cool feeling of leather on her bare bottom.

He could hear the shyness in her voice; that sweet innocence that had drawn him to her the first time he had seen her in the lift. God how he wanted her, and his body reacted to that desire.

"Charlotte, do you love me?" he asked.

"Oh God Ethan.... I love you so much." she replied, feeling that familiar warmth spread into her middle.

"Charlotte.... I have to have you now," he hissed, his breathing uneven.

Not sure what he meant, she just listened, sensing a seriousness in his tone, "Did you know Charlotte, that we can have each other when we're apart like this?"

Shaking her head, she said nothing, unsure what to make of his remark.

"Are you there luv?" he asked, his voice growing huskier.

"I'm still here," she replied.

"Good, for a minute there I thought I lost you." he chuckled softly. "Listen sweetheart, I want you to do something for me."

She paused a moment and then replied, Okay... what?"

"Are you still wearing my shirt?" he asked, his eyelids half closed.

"Yes."

"Take it off luv."

He waited while she laid down the phone, picturing her soft breasts recalling what they felt like.

"Are you naked yet?" he asked.

"Yes."

"Good," he replied, "Are you sitting, Charlotte?"

"Yes." she replied.

"Okay Char, are you ready to make love with me.... are you ready to let me have you over the phone?"

Charlotte gulped, finally understanding what he meant, "I, I guess so, she stammered, Um... how do we...... I mean what do I..."

"Don't worry luv I'll talk you through it." he interrupted gently, finding her inexperience intoxicating. "First I want you to relax," he spoke lowering his voice just above a whisper. "Picture me there with you darlin, let your hands become mine, and my hands will become yours on my own body."

She was silent, "You with me so far?" he asked.

"Yes."

Feeling embarrassed and aroused all at once, Charlotte followed his instruction.

"Does it feel good sweetheart?" he asked.

"Yes." she rasped into the phone, chewing on her lower lip.

"Tell me how it feels." he replied.

Charlotte struggled for a moment, trying to put into words what she was feeling, but beginning to relax with the sensation. "I dunno, it feels like electricity, all warm and tingly."

"Yes it does," he growled into the phone, "Now Charlotte..." he breathed some more instructions into the phone then paused, "how does that feel love, do you like it?"

"Oh God Ethan... I love it," she purred.

"Now we're getting somewhere," he thought to himself.

He coaxed her some more, and his words were answered with soft moans in the phone, so he continued his gentle instruction, while patiently preparing himself. Just uttering the words of his desire to Charlotte made him sweat

"Ethan," she moaned, "I want you... Oh God, I need you with me."

He could picture her, ready for him, soft and warm. "Oh God Charlotte, I want you so much. Remember that it's my hands, my body.... go with it love, just let it happen."

Throwing her head back, she let go.... forgot about her father's words of warning; forgot about her fears and insecurities; abandoning herself wholly to the feeling, picturing Ethan's face above her.

"Oh God" she panted, " Ethan, I feel you!"

"I'm there luv," he murmured, tightening with pleasure, "I'm right there with you! Let go Charlotte.... let's do it together." he breathed through his teeth, his body ready to burst.

"Are you ready Charlotte?"

"Yessssss!" she cried out, feeling the fiery blaze of her flesh, beginning to consume her, "Oh God Ethan!"

"NOW Charlotte!" he growled, "Oh, hell.....NOW!"

Charlotte felt the onslaught of her pinnacle rocking her back in the chair, nearly dropping the phone as she shuddered, her mouth forming a perfect O. Flying high she expelled her breath, and then slowly floated down.... easing back into the chair. Her breathing evened out and she sighed deeply, washed over with warmth and totally relaxed.

"I love you Charlotte," Ethan whispered, his body limp and suddenly craving a deep sleep.

"I love you so much, oh God Ethan, that was..... well," she moaned, "When the heck are you coming home?"

His wits returning, Ethan laughed softly, his voice gruff and his lips dry, "Soon as I can luv....I'll be home as soon as I can......

Beanie

Lynn had been ready to call another frustrating day to an end. Having taken a long bath, she was now lying in bed, bathrobe on and towel on head, trying to read a book. But the words just wouldn’t register. It was late. She put the book down and sighed, thinking of the last few day’s events.

The site visits yesterday and today had been exhausting in more ways than one. Wrestling with the different factions that made up this project was one thing. She thought she had done a fairly good job of putting them back on track to the original design, but it had been delicate work, starting yesterday, and continuing today. She really did believe in Ethan’s plans for the building. He was an artist, and not only did his buildings look beautiful, but they made SENSE too. They weren’t just art for arts sake, or designs that were too esoteric to only be appreciated by a select few; they were art with function. He had really come a long way in his skills, she had noted. He had developed a style and sensibility all his own, and it was evident to her that he would be going places; if only he could get more of his original ideas off the ground "as is". She was proud of him, and wanted to do everything starting with this building.


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Guest Beanie

Beanie

She had found herself steering Ethan at times, too, worried that his usual impatience with narrow minded people would get in the way. Ethan was a guy that sometimes wouldn’t back down, based on his “principals”. In the past he had gotten into trouble because he had said he “refused to play games” with the men who ran the show. Either they would take his project and opinions, or they wouldn’t. He wouldn’t beg. But Lynn didn’t mind playing to a certain extent, and was good at not ever letting the ones she toyed with know they had ever been manipulated. She was exceedingly clever at finding out what a person most needed or wanted, and found ways to speak to those needs. In this case, the worry was money. Easy. While Ethan focused on the virtues of spending money on esthetics, she knew that what would really get to them is the threat of the project costing more each time they changed Ethan’s plans. Sometimes, she knew, it was no use making your opponent understand you. It was your job to understand them, and then you’d win, because they’d never expect that. Ethan had scowled at her a few times, undoubtedly dubious of her motives, but had turned on the charm when it was needed. In the end, today’s effort was an acceptable if not stellar meeting, and she was hoping that the suits were beginning to see the project Ethan’s way. At least, she felt she had the ear of Mullaney, and thought he might try to reason the others his way.

But Lynn had been mistaken in one thing. She had thought that Ethan would appreciate her pulling for him, maybe even say thank you, or soften a bit. But he hadn’t. At least, not the way she had hoped. Yesterday, he had fairly ignored her efforts, staring at her with slightly narrowed eyes at times, and going solo when the day was done. Tonight, he had at least leaned over to her as they were looking at the plans and said, “You’ve been doing a great job negotiating. I had forgotten how calm-headed and effective you could be in these situations. Thanks.” He had touched her arm for the briefest of moments, and she felt it like an electric charge up her skin and all over her body, instant and pleasurable. But she had seen him stiffen and pull back immediately afterwards, as if the touch had been a lethal electric charge for him. So, she realized that the touch had been habitual, and not deliberate. It crushed her, and she was surprised at how badly. She realized now that she really did want Ethan back, with her whole heart. It wasn’t just a competition between her and Charlotte – it was all those things she had missed about Ethan, plus the way he had developed and grown as a man. He was off the booze, he was talented and self assured in his work, he was more in control of himself in some ways, and endearingly vulnerable in others. She thought to herself, if he had been this way years ago, they would still be together. She never would have thought to do the things she did, and she might have even considered having children with him. Maybe she and Ethan would have gotten back together and...

She suddenly exclaimed, as she felt pain searing through her finger. She had been idly picking at her nails in her anxious state, and had managed to tear one to the quick. Swearing a bit, she shook it to numb it a bit, and then stuck it in her mouth. She would need to trim it, but her nail clippers were in her toiletry bag in the bathroom. Getting up off the bed, she made her way to counter in the next room, not even bothering to turn on the light, and began picking through her toiletry bag. So intent was she on her own thoughts, that she would have left and thought nothing of what was going on in Ethan’s room, but she heard him laugh. Softly, but laughing just the same. Her curiosity piqued, she just couldn’t help but listen for more... and got an earful. At first, she thought she must be imagining things in her state of heightened anxiety. But slowly, she began to piece together bits of conversation, and knew of a certainty what she was listening to when she heard him practically breathe the name, “Charlotte”.

Her hackles rose up, and her heart sank to her stomach. Jealousy like a bright unquenchable flame sprang up in her breast, and she couldn’t help herself. She was caught, unable to move away or resist hearing the rest of the conversation. Very quietly, she sat herself down on the floor lest she fall down from the sudden sense of vertigo that was taking her over. Quieting her breathing by sheer strength of will, she heard every delicate detail of Ethan making love to Charlotte over the telephone. Her own center lit up like a fire, recalling so many times when Ethan had made love to her. She could imagine every action he described to his new lover, as if he were doing it to her. It drove her mad with desire, and she couldn’t help but participate in the passion play Ethan was directing. When she heard his fevered resolution, she suddenly reached hers too, and had to bite down on her hand to prevent any sounds from escaping her lips. And afterwards.... she heard Ethan pouring out his heart to Charlotte with words Lynn so wished to hear him say to her. She felt tears coming on, and choked them back, swallowing them, refusing to give in. She got up, unsteadily, and made her way back to her bed.

The minutes ticked on, and Lynn was at war with herself. She wanted him. She wanted him back with ever nerve, every fiber of her being. But if she made a move.... she could lose him forever. In spite of her resolve, a single tear made its way down her cheek, and she brushed it away angrily, all the feelings of competition she had only recently thought put away, rising up again. “If only!” she thought, “If only I had called the moment I found out Ethan would be on this job. That would have made sure he never started things with miss lily white milquetoast.” Why had she waited? She had been weak and afraid. She had wanted to be sure of what she would say before she called. Unfortunately, she had waited just a few days too long. A few days!!! The injustice of it all cleaved into her psyche like physical pain. How could he toss her over, whom he had loved for YEARS in favor of an insipid little nothing like Charlotte? She didn’t have the fire or the passion to sustain him – in fact, she had no idea what Ethan saw in her at all. Sure, she was pretty in a cute sort of way, but even that didn’t seem a strong enough trait to keep his attention for long. Lynn knew him too well. She felt he was making a big mistake. But what could she do? She was damned if she did, and damned if she didn’t. Did she wait for things to fall apart for Ethan and Charlotte as they were bound to from all their differences in personality? Or did she try to make a move now, despite his warnings to her. He HAD softened a bit towards her today.... even if it was only the smallest, tiniest amount......

She bit her lip. She was more uncertain than she had been in years over anything, and it left her feeling off balance. In the end, she felt she would go mad if she did nothing. She looked at the clock: a little over an hour had gone by. Not exactly sure what she would do, she nevertheless got up and went into the bathroom again. Just for a lark, she tried the door leading to Ethan’s room, and.... unbelievably, it opened. Noiselessly, she pushed it a little more, and peered inside. Only the illumination from the alarm clock lent any light to the room, but as her eyes adjusted, she could eventually make out Ethan’s face. He was asleep on his back, one arm clutching a pillow that he must have brought from home. “Charlotte’s?!?” she wondered incredulously. She brushed that thought aside, and studied Ethan’s face in repose. God, he was still so beautiful. And even more-so in sleep, his features relaxed and angelic looking, framed by those Raphaelite curls. She nearly gasped she was so taken by him, and wanting him even more. Her eyes now fully adjusted to the darkness, she was able to let her eyes wander down from his face, and took in the rest of his long lanky form, covered only by the bottom sheet, and then only loosely. Warmth seeped into her lower regions again, seeing her ex-lover lying there, so close and so unaware.

Finally, she made up her mind. “God help me,” she thought desperately as she crept into the room, “but I just have to try.” She knew Ethan. She knew more than anything, that the way into this man’s psyche was through his desire: it was the one place where Ethan’s mind and emotions could always meet up and make sense of things that were important to his heart and soul. It was the place she intended him to meet up with her again, tonight, to remind him that she was far better suited to him than any little nitwit goody-two-shoes of one week’s interest.

Steeling herself, she moved finally to the side of his bed, and gazed tenderly at his face. “Ethan, my boy,” she sighed to herself, “Its time to remember the woman you really belong with: the one who really knows you and can love you for whom you really are.”

Ever so gently, she started drawing back the sheet, half expecting him to stir, but he didn’t. If anything, it looked as if he sank a little deeper into his slumber. She managed to get the sheet down around his feet, and smiled a bit. He had made this very easy. He was nude, and on his back, with his legs splayed apart, his left leg bent only a little at the knee. It would be more than enough room for her without waking him. She silently shrugged off her robe, and untangled her hair from the towel. It was still damp, but there was nothing for it. She twisted it and let it lie at her back, hoping it wouldn’t get loose. Then, gently as a cat, she placed herself at the foot of the bed between his feet. Staring one last time at his magnificent form, she stifled a shudder of desire, and leaned down to position herself. Gently but with feeling, she found him, and lowered her mouth. His body responded, sleepily at the start, but then with conviction as she continued her attentions. Ethan himself only seemed to register it from far away, at first, moaning a little, and turning only ever so slightly. But as his desire grew, he became more feverish in his response, giving furtive but soft sighs and moans. He started to move then, seeking more of her attentions, driving himself towards her to receive it from her, and Lynn was turned on as she hadn’t been in years. Calculating in her mind whether the time was right, her body’s signals overran her last logical arguments, and she rose from him, to position herself so that she could join with him fully, and fulfill that aching need she had felt for so long. He was moving more insistently now, and in the throes of deep desire, seeming to agree with her drive, wanting more. She had herself poised, and suddenly felt both his hands on her hips, warm with want and need, pushing her down to find him, and moaning with anticipation. With a sigh, she connected with him and began her own motions in surrender to what she wanted and knew he must too.

+++

After his ‘tryst’ with Charlotte, and feeling more content and relaxed than he had in days, he fell into a deep sleep and dreamt of her, loving her the way he had described over the phone. Soft warm thoughts enveloped him, and he dreamt he felt Charlotte all around him. He saw her face, felt the touch of her skin against his, heard the whisper of her voice as she told him she loved him, and felt the touch of her lips against his skin as he moaned and said he loved her too. His hands could not get enough of her as he dreamed, and his longing had him imagining that he could somehow take her within himself, to keep her with him always and never be parted again. His dream suddenly sharpened, and he felt warmth spreading through his loins, igniting his passions, as he felt a mouth on him, coaxing him to a fever pitch. Charlotte was so good at this, he thought from his dream state – she had done the same to him only nights before, and he thought he could never get tired of this treatment. He moaned a little and moved, both in his dream and in real life, and felt the actions being performed on him intensify till he thought he would go mad. Suddenly, it ceased, and he was in a no-man’s land of confusion, slowly feeling himself rising to consciousness, but willing himself to remain sleeping, to continue this dream with Charlotte. The next thing he felt was unmistakably feminine, and he sighed to himself, a vision of Charlotte in his dreaming mind, poised for that final act, that coupling which would bring both of them to that final ecstasy. He reached out with his hands to grab her and pull her down to him in his dream, and was slightly confused when he felt his conscious self do the same and make contact with actual flesh. He moaned, still gripped mostly by his dreaming self, and felt himself being surrounded by soft warmth, agonizingly beautiful and feminine and....

He opened his eyes, not knowing if he were asleep or awake, but sure of the heady sensations he was feeling, and the pleasure he was receiving from them. Suddenly, his eyes came into focus in the darkness, and though there was only the light from the alarm clock, it was enough to see his deepest fears come true. The shock, horror and a crazed sense of guilt ran through him like a lightning bolt, and he was all movement and fury in a dizzying moment.

“You BITCH!” He screamed, taking his hands and pushing her up off him one moment, then tossing her to the floor the next as he twisted out from under her. “You lying, conniving, frigging BITCH!!”

He spun out of bed, screaming and cussing, groaning inwardly as he thought of Lynn taking him, and him enjoying it, wanting more, thinking it was Charlotte. The sense of dismay and betrayal drumming in his ears and eyes, was overwhelming, making him blind and deaf for a moment, sensing only a deep and dreadful rage. He fumbled for a light switch so he could look at the source of his fury full in the eye. She was partially crumpled on the floor next to the bed, suddenly looking up at him, with abject fear. Still in his nakedness, and not caring, he reached down, grabbed her by an arm, and wrenched her to a standing position. Staring her straight in the eye, he was like a madman, fury seething from every pore, his eyes dilated and looking crazed with hatred. When she seemed as if she would fall down again, he grasped her other arm too, and said with white hot intensity, which was worse than his previous screaming, “WHAT? What were you DOING? You crazy BITCH!!!” He gave her a hard shake with every word, forcing her off balance, and backwards until she was up against a wall and trembling. He brooked no hesitancy on her part to answer, and gave her another shake, spitting at her like a snake, “ANSWER ME!!!”

“E – Ethan,” she gasped hysterically, trying to speak, but unable to

“What, woman. Spit it out NOW.” He punctuated his demand by pressing her closer to the wall. Fully pinned, she looked into his eyes, terror pouring from hers. Ethan was unrelenting. “What,” he tormented her, giving her another little press each time he asked her and no answer came. He was wild with anger and betrayal, and hell-bent on exacting his revenge on her. “You’re so sure you want me, huh? You sure you want me now?” He leveled his gaze even with hers, and stared at her until she closed her eyes in fear. “Ah, yes. Now I know you want to kiss me, right, Lynn?” He savaged her mouth, giving her a kiss with all the anger his soul possessed. When he broke it off, Lynn turned her head and wept, terror and regret overcoming her. He finally stepped away, releasing her arms. Lynn sank to the floor, her legs unable to keep her standing any more.

He looked down at her for a moment, and grunted, “You disgust me.” Without a further glance, he busied himself getting dressed, then left the room.

Lynn sat in the corner whimpering for a few moments, unable to come to grips with what had just happened. She had really thought that he had woken and had wanted her... how had she gotten it so wrong? And his fury at her!!! She was never so afraid of him, even when he had been drinking. For once in her life, she thought he would really hurt her. That he didn’t was only just starting to register with her... he had made her life flash before her eyes, but he hadn’t put a mark on her. She looked herself over just to make sure, unbelieving that he had held back, and feeling incredibly lucky that he had. She was just trying to stand on her shaky legs, when he popped back into the room. Hardly looking at her, he lifted her up none the less, and bussed her back to her room, through the adjoining bathroom.

“Get dressed – NOW.” He demanded in a hard voice. But he remained in the room with her, looking through her drawers and the closet. As she was putting on her blouse, she saw him get her suitcase from the closet. Quickly and methodically, while she was still shaking and finding it hard to get her buttons done, he was packing up her suitcase with all her belongings. She was too stunned to ask, and she let him continue, while she was trying hard to maintain her composure and finish dressing.

“Is there anything else?” he asked in a clipped tone, as he closed the last drawer

“J-just some stuff in the – in the bathroom” she managed to stutter. She had never been this unhinged before, and she was probably more frightened of that than anything.

He seemed to key in on that, and his eyes took on a hard glint as he turned on his heel and went towards the bathroom. He returned with her toiletries, and had obviously seen the robe she had worn into his room from the bathroom as well, for he had that draped over his arm. “Yours or the hotel’s?” he motioned to the robe.

“Mine” she murmured, wondering what this was all leading up to.

He loaded it into the suitcase with the toiletries, closed the suitcase, and hauled it out of her room to the suite.

She followed him, in a daze. Everything had changed so quickly in the space of 30 minutes, her head was spinning. Her bowels were spinning too – suddenly, she ran to the bathroom, and vomited.

Ethan stood out in the suite, wave after wave of anger still crashing over him. It was all he had been able to do to keep himself in control. Had Lynn been a man... he smiled grimly to himself suddenly and thought that in some ways she was like one. But, he returned to his thoughts, if she had been a guy, and had gotten him that mad, he knew he’d be sending her to the hospital. It was only his firmly held conviction that violence against a woman was tantamount to sacrilege that had kept a hold on him. Now, as he heard Lynn vomit in the bathroom, he had only the vaguest feelings of pity for her. He knew he had scared her. But what she had done to him had deserved a good trouncing. Never in all his life would he have guessed that she would stoop so low to get him back. He had heard of male rape in the past and had laughed it off, thinking if a man didn’t want a woman’s attentions, there was no way a woman could rape him (for obvious reasons). Now he found himself second guessing that belief. What Lynn had done to him sure felt like rape – at the very least, he felt deeply violated, and yes, shamed. Shamed!!! He had never been made to feel that way before! He felt his anger rising in him again, but choked it down, deciding instead to check on Lynn.

She was just getting up from the toilet, wiping her mouth with her hand, a look of fear in her eyes as she saw Ethan standing there watching her.

“You done?” was all he said to her, tonelessly.

She looked at him briefly and nodded, then ran the water in the sink, cupped her hand, and rinsed her mouth out.

“Fine,” he said, “Finish that and come out to the suite.”

She came out to find him standing next to the sofa, her suitcase by the door. He motioned for her to sit, saying, “You have 5 minutes before security gets here. If you have anything you want to say, you’d better say it now. It may make the difference between you being escorted to another room, or escorted to the police station.”

Lynn’s face went deathly white at the mention of ‘police’. She hadn’t reckoned her actions to be that serious – but, thinking about it now, she supposed she had made a grave error in judgment.

Ethan, staring down at her, arms across his chest, saw her reaction, and knew he had gotten his point across. What she had done was outrageous – even he wouldn’t have imagined it of her. But somewhere deep inside him he knew it was the actions of a desperate woman. As infuriated and violated as he was, he wouldn’t turn her in to the police. She was all done now, anyway. Her career would probably be in question, and she might never recover. He didn’t relish her losing her job, but she had dug her own grave.

No use having a police record on top of that.

“Ethan,” she began with what he knew was extreme effort, “I – I overheard you on the phone with Charlotte,” she saw his face cloud with renewed anger, and went on, “I swear to God, I didn’t mean to!!! I had been thinking in my room, about the job and wanting it all to work out, and wondering why you weren’t more appreciative of how hard I’ve been working for your project,” she was babbling now, but she didn’t care, “ and anyway, I was anxious and fooling with my nails, and ripped one to shreds, “ here she held up the finger as if to prove it, then went on blindly, “and I was in the bathroom looking for my clippers and heard you laughing....”

Ethan listened, half angered, half amused at her explanation that followed. He knew she was too scared to dissemble, so he took it all as truth. In the end, he could only pity Lynn. She had been desperate, and had lost her cool, something he had never thought to see. He supposed she really did have deep feelings for him, but she had never been able to be HUMAN about it. It was always love mixed with something else... control, or manipulation, or possessiveness. Love for certain, yes, but never just love. In the end, he supposed, it all boiled down to respect. She had no respect for him, not really, and any she might have learned right now had come way too late.

They stood staring at each other, Lynn with a stricken look on her face, Ethan with a cold calm look on his. There was not much left to say. “Well, Lynn,” Ethan said, shifting his weight and breaking the silence, “I won’t report you to the police. But you are leaving this room. Take another one here, or go across town to another hotel. I don’t care, the choice is yours.” He sighed, not relishing the next bit, but knowing it was probably a fair warning, “However, if I were you, Lynn, I’d look hard to your career.” Lynn suddenly looked up at him, and he explained, “I warned you, Lynn, that if you pulled any more garbage, I was out of here. And well, you pulled something more grandiose than anything I could have even imagined when I gave you that warning. I’m out of here on the first plane I can get my butt on.”

“But your career,” she faltered, then fell silent at his steady gaze.

“Frig that, Lynn. If you had really cared about my career, you would have just kept doing your job and stayed out of my bedroom. What it boils down to, Lynn, is respect.” He came over to the couch, put his hand on the back cushion, and lowered his eyes to her level, “And I’ve come to realize today, that you don’t have an ounce of it for me. Never did. I’m realizing I can’t work with people who don’t respect me. It’s the one part of my job that makes me want to quit. Well, I quit this job. Those suits don’t respect me either. I’ve had it. I’m not prostituting myself out anymore. Not to them,” he paused, and gave her a small, mean smile, “and certainly not to you.”

Lynn swallowed, and tried to say something, but there was a knock at the door. Ethan rose up, and pointing a finger at her as he went to answer it, repeated, “Look to your career, Lynn. And no use blaming everything on me – I’ll bury you if you try it. Take this as me letting you off easy, and run with it.”

He opened the door, to the concierge manager and a security guard.

“You phoned about a problem, sir?” The manager asked

“Yes, gentlemen,” Ethan said firmly but not unkindly, “this woman needs assistance in finding another room. It seems these arrangements are unsuitable.”

“Did you want to press any charges, sir,” asked the security officer

“No,” Ethan waved the question off, “I think removal from the suite is sufficient at this time, thank you.”

Mustering as much dignity as she could, Lynn rose, and taking her luggage with her, followed the two men out.

Ethan closed the door behind them, and leaned against it. Standing quietly like that for a moment, he suddenly felt the damn within him break, and sank to the floor, tears coming out of him at the suddenness and awfulness of the ending of this chapter of his life. Sobbing into his arms, he could only wonder why Lynn would do something so desperate and stupid, causing him to be cast into a living hell once again. All he wanted now was to get the frig out of here, get back to Charlotte, and try to find some normalcy, some balance in his life. He didn’t care if he never came to Chicago again, didn’t care if this damned building ever got built, didn’t care if Lynn lived or died. He just wanted to go home. Letting his shame, his shock, and his anger wash out of him with his tears, he eventually came to himself quite some time later, emptied and grim, but at last able to act. He picked up the phone, and made the calls needed to get himself back to NY.

MishW

Charlotte woke the next morning and immediately thought of Ethan. She blushed as she thought about their phone call the night before, and tried to decide if things were better or worse now. She missed him more than ever, and while her body had been temporarily satisfied, She also craved his touch more than ever now. She thought of his hands moving over her and began to wriggle under the sheets.

Just then her alarm went off. It was 730, and she was meeting Sharon at the coffee shop at nine.

She got up and showered, again thinking of Ethan and how much she love to have him in here with her, and she imagined all of the inventive things he would do to her if he were.

When she got out, she dried with her yellow towel and dressed in a sweater and the skirt that Ethan bought for her on their less than successful, but stimulating shopping trip. She smiled as she thought of him in the dressing room with her and of their little interlude in the alley.

She dried her hair and twisted into a knot at the back of her neck, and pulled loose a few wisps at the side to soften the look. She slipped on a comfortable pair of shoes and headed out to meet Sharon.

When she got to the coffee shop, Sharon was already waiting for her. She smiled as she saw Charlotte walk in the door and waved from the table that she was holding for them. Charlotte went and got her coffee and joined her at the table to discuss their plans for the day

"I have an idea of the stores we should go to, but there are also a few of the smaller boutiques that are great too, depending on the look you want. What were you thinking. Did you have any ideas?" Sharon began.

Charlotte had been thinking this over carefully, and had decided her new look should reflect her renewed interest in her painting. "Well, I know I need everything from bras and underwear on out. I was thinking I should probably have a suit or two, but those aren't things that I'd wear very often. I have plenty of jeans, so I don't need those, but maybe a few sweaters in brighter colors. I would really like the main part of my wardrobe to consist of longer flowing skirts. Maybe with some tank tops and some looser blouses. I really want to stay away from the neutrals. My entire wardrobe is based on natural colors. I think I mentioned before that I only selected clothes that would help me blend in. Its time I stopped doing that."

Sharon smiled at her, seeming to understand. "I know exactly what you're doing," she said. "Sean told me he came over and helped you set up your art studio, and you've decided to start painting again. He told me he saw some your old work, and you're very good. You're going for an artist look aren't you?"

Charlotte laughed, "I suppose I am. Not a starving artist look, mind you, but something that reflects my more creative side. Comfortable and flowing, and very feminine."

"In that case, I know exactly where to go. Let's get started."

They took the coffee with them and headed for a small string of boutiques that Sharon knew about that fit exactly what Charlotte was looking for. There were so many things to choose from. She didn't even know where to begin. She was starting to feel overwhelmed, when Sharon simply said to her, "all you need to do is go through the store and pick out anything you like. Anything, as silly as this sounds, that speaks to you. If you like it, pick it up. That doesn't mean you have to buy it, and don't think about if it's practical or if it's going to look good on you, or if it fits your body type. Anything that catches your attention and you like, pick it up. Then you'll go try things on, and I'll decide what clothes look good on you and what clothes you should pass on. You said you''re always too critical of yourself, so leave the decisions to me."

Charlotte was so grateful for her friend's help. She was actually surprised how easy things were once they got moving in the boutiques. She picked out several long flowing skirts, in both prints and solids, but absolutely nothing in a neutral tone. She picked the matching blouses, some jackets, tank tops, casual dresses and even a few hats and scarves. Then it came time to try things on. Charlotte found something wrong with everything she put on. There were a few things that Sharon had recommended against, but mostly, she loved everything. She also took time to explain to Charlotte what she liked, and why she felt the outfit complimented her. Charlotte started seeing herself in a new light. After they'd hit three or four stores, charlotte had most of the clothes that she needed. Sharon told her that it was time to go to Saks and take care of a few more practical issues. While they were there, Charlotte picked out two suits that would be perfect if she ended up having meetings with gallery owners, and a couple of dresses that were very beautiful, but more conservative, and would be more appropriate, if she accompanied Ethan to a business function. The next up was a shoe store, where she bought some ankle boots and knee-high boots, sandals slip ons. She ended up with about eight pairs of shoes by the time she was finished. She was amazed at the amount of money, she was spending, but when she thought about it, this is the first time she had actually been shopping for herself since right after Jack left. She had been wearing the same jeans and the same sweaters since then The few really nice things that she had, the things that she wore when she went out with her friends, were things that had been given to her by Stephanie. Never one to shop herself, Stephanie couldn't figure out how anyone else could ever like to either. On one or two occasions, she had given Charlotte an outfit that she had worn once, or had never worn, and decided it would look better on Charlotte that on her.

Their last stop was a lingerie store. While Charlotte went around choosing matching bras and panties. She saw Sharon over looking at the lingerie. Charlotte walked over to join her, and they admired a couple of beautiful pieces. One was an exquisite Teddy. It was a soft shell pink, with beige lace and a long matching robe. Charlotte thought she'd never seen anything so beautiful. She didn't see the point in buying anything here, because it was something that she would wear for Ethan, not for herself, and it seemed to her that she never had a chance to put anything on when Ethan was around. She laughed and said as much to Sharon.

Sharon replied, "I know you and Ethan haven't been together that long, but here's little secret about him. Don't look at me like that, Sean tells me things. You're right, most guys could care less about the lingerie. They go from whenever you happen to be wearing straight to nothing. No in between stops. Ethan on the other hand, loves lingerie. I can tell you right now, if you were to buy a few of these things it would drive him out of his mind."

The two women started laughing and began making a few selections. Charlotte covered all the categories, elegant, demure, and she even managed to find something that was a little bit slutty. She laughed at the thought of seeing Ethan's face when he saw that one. Sharon even picked out a couple of things, and the two women started joking and comparing notes while they shopped. Charlotte was surprised to find that compared to Sean, it seemed Ethan had a little bit of a kinky streak. She was glad to know it wasn't just her and her limited experience. The sales clerk came over to ask them if they needed any help, attracted by the laughter. They cut the conversation short and Charlotte was hoping they would pick it up again, over lunch. She really loved Sharon, and having her out here like this on her own without Sean, she seemed much more relaxed. Hopefully she would get to the point where she felt comfortable enough with Charlotte to discuss exactly what seemed to bother her so much. They noticed the time and realized they needed to get to the hairdresser's. They had been having all of their packages sent onto Sean and Sharon's apartmen, but Charlotte had one bag she insisted on carrying with her. It was her favorite outfit out of all the ones that she'd picked today, and she was thinking about wearing it home after she had her hair done. She was a little nervous about all the changes she was making and she figured she'd like to get Sean's first reaction when he saw her. It might give her a little more confidence about seeing Ethan.

They reached the hairdresser, and Sharon introduced Charlotte to Gustavo. His face immediately lit up, and Charlotte could tell he had ideas running through his head already. They went over and sat down in a corner with a bunch of hair styling books and started looking through it. He had her do something very similar to what Sharon had had her do. Go through and just point out hairstyles that she found attractive, regardless of what she felt it would look like on her. Gustavo also asked her a lot of questions about herself and asked her things like how much time she wanted to spend on her hair everyday. Then lastly, he asked to see the outfit in the bag. She pulled the dress out and showed it to him, and he asked her if this was typical of her style. She told them that it was, or least it was now, and he smiled. He seemed to know exactly what he wanted to do. Charlotte sat in the chair and turned herself over to him.

Nearly 2 hours later, Charlotte was finished. She sat looking amazed into the mirror, finding it hard to believe that it was her reflection staring back at her. Gustavo had trimmed her hair, and given her already blond hair blonde highlights, which brightened up her whole face. The trim had brought up the natural curl in Charlotte's hair. Curl she forgot she even had, it had been so long since she had done anything with her hair. It now came just past her shoulders, and had large loose and bouncy ringlet curls. Not too many of them, she didn't look like Shirley Temple, but they were soft around her face and would complement of all of the flowing feminine clothes that she purchased. Gustavo had also done her makeup and taught her how to do it. He told her the trick was putting on your makeup so that it looks like you have on no makeup. Charlotte just couldn't believe what she was seeing in the mirror by this time, Sharon was sitting in the waiting area, her hair not having taken as long. Gustavo took Charlotte back into one of the empty waxing rooms and told her to change. He handed her bag with her dress and her shoes, stepped out and closed the door. Charlotte put on the dress. It was a tank style dress with a high waistine, and was a salmon color. The skirt reached nearly to her ankles, and hung in long flowing folds around her. She finished getting dressed, and walked out to find out what Sharon thought. When she walked into the waiting area, Sharon glanced up, and looked back down at her magazine. Then she suddenly looked up again. She was out of her chair in an instant, hugging Charlotte, and exclaiming over her hair and the "new Charlotte". Charlotte laughed, and her stomach growled. It was after 1:00, and the two hadn't eaten anything since the coffee shop. They decided to go for lunch, and headed off to a nearby bistro.

Dr Em

Charlotte and Sharon bounded down the sidewalk chattering constantly. Sharon couldn’t believe the difference in Charlotte’s whole demeanor, simply by having a more updated look. Ethan would indeed be pleased with the transformation. Sharon recalled a time she had been so blissfully in love...

Charlotte noticed the sudden change in Sharon's countenance and wondered what she had said to upset Sharon. “Sharon, what is it? Did I say something wrong?”

“What?” Sharon exclaimed a little embarrassed that she had allowed her memories to take hold of her once again. “No. No. Hey, let’s try the new French bistro just up the road a few. I haven’t had a chance to try them yet.”

Charlotte knew something was amiss with Sharon, but didn’t question her further. Perhaps the time alone would allow them the opportunity to get to know each other a little better. Charlotte had felt a unique kinship with Sharon she hadn’t felt for another woman for a good long time and she had sensed Sharon felt the same. Maybe Sharon would finally open up to her and tell her what was disturbing her so. What exactly was it that was preventing Sharon from marrying Sean? The curiosity was killing her, but she thought it may be a trifle delicate to just come right out and ask Sharon why she didn’t want to get married, so she felt it best to tread lightly on the subject, but was determined to ask. Charlotte didn’t want to pry into Sharon and Sean’s relationship, but she was growing to love them more and more each day – she just wanted to see them happy she rationalized.

Charlotte and Sharon settled on a corner table allowing them a bit of privacy for their girl talk. The waiter, unambiguously gay, took their order commenting on the “fabulous” ensemble Charlotte was wearing adding how the jewelry was just perfect. After taking their order the waiter walked ever so femininely to the kitchen.

“There you go! You know you look good when a gay man gives you a compliment!” Sharon pronounced with a wave of her hand. They giggled for a moment then began talking about Ethan and Sean and the stories they had regaled of their childhood, realizing they both had exaggerated their tales and had conflicting accounts – both being the heroes in one version!

The food arrived and the two friends consumed the sparse meal in little time between conversation, commenting on the price for such a small meal and resolved to stop at a Baskin-Robbins on the way home.

Sharon spoke animatedly about Sean, but there was an underlying sadness lurking just below the surface.

Charlotte knew this was her opportunity to find out the truth, though she was a little unsure how to ask. She felt she and Sharon had become very close in a short amount of time, but was Sharon comfortable enough with Charlotte to open her heart to her? Charlotte finally decided it was “now or never,” and, after a slight lull in the conversation she spoke, “Sharon, I hope you don’t mind me asking….” Sharon peered over her plate her brow furrowing a bit waiting for the question, hearing the seriousness in Charlotte’s voice.

“Yes?” Sharon encouraged Charlotte.

Charlotte mustered her courage and continued, “Why is it that you won’t marry Sean?”

Sharon lowered her fork and wiped her face with the lush linen napkin looking up to gaze at Charlotte. Sharon knew this was coming, she just hadn’t expected it so soon. She knew the time had come for her to share her pain with someone – she just hadn’t had anyone – well, not since Lynn to confide in and that hadn’t turned out so well. But she knew Charlotte was different. Charlotte didn’t have any agendas as Lynn always had.

“I mean, it’s not like you don’t love him. It’s obvious that you do. So why?” Charlotte finished.

Sharon looked off into the distance, seemingly lost in another time and place. Her typically brilliant, cheerful green eyes transformed to heartbreakingly lifeless and an overwhelming sadness reflected from them. Charlotte immediately felt as if she had gazed upon something so sacred and special -- something she was not worthy of witnessing, and began to apologize, “Oh, Sharon, I’m so sorry.” Charlotte gasped as she reached for Sharon’s hand. “I’ve overstepped my boundaries and I’m so sorry.” Charlotte could feel emotions rising to the surface even as Sharon assured her it was, “fine.” There was something in Sharon’s gaze which told Charlotte it wasn’t fine, and she had gone too far this time.

There was an awkward silence for a moment as the usually self-assured Sharon, visibly shaken, attempted to quell the tide of emotions threatening to sweep her away from the present. Sharon closed her eyes and breathed deep, somehow imagining these small gestures would act as barriers to the impending surge she had so vigilantly fought against releasing.

Charlotte sat quietly, still holding Sharon’s motionless hand, afraid to even move. The jovial mood of a few moments before was now one of quiet reverence and awe. It seemed as if -- for that small moment -- the earth had stopped rotating and all creation paused, waiting for Sharon to return.

Only a moment had passed, but in that moment, an eternity.

Sharon, awash with emotion, began the journey to the present. Charlotte sat in wonder as she observed the metamorphosis of the Sharon of yesteryear to the Sharon of today. And then, with a shake of her head and a roll of her shoulders – Sharon, the poised, beautiful, cheerful woman Charlotte knew and was growing to love, returned.

Sharon opened her eyes and brushed a few errant tears from her cheeks, laughing nervously as she realized how silly she must have looked, lost in her yesterdays.

“I’m so sorry Charlotte! I really don’t know where that came from.” Sharon remarked uncomfortably while pulling her hand from Charlotte’s and raking her hands through her luxurious red hair.

Charlotte quickly exclaimed, “Sharon, no, please, I obviously opened some old wounds and I’m so sorry.”

With that, Sharon’s dazzling emerald eyes deepened and she spoke in barely a whisper, “Old wounds. Yes. That would be a good way of putting it.”

Charlotte didn’t know how to respond, so she simply waited for Sharon to continue.

Sharon exhaled, “Oh, Charlotte!” Where do I start?” She had asked the question, but really wasn’t looking for an answer.

Charlotte took her hand again, squeezed it gently and looked into Sharon’s eyes giving her strength and encouragement to continue. Words weren’t necessary.

Sharon began slowly, “Have you ever met someone that you knew everything about before you really knew them?”

Charlotte looked quizzically at Sharon and Sharon chuckled. “Okay, so maybe I didn’t word that right. Are you sure you want to hear this? It’s a good story, but it’s a long one.”

“I’m sure.” Charlotte knew she wasn’t about to leave the bistro until Sharon told her the whole story – even if it meant staying out until midnight!

“Okay,” Sharon sighed, “here we go.” And with that, Sharon narrated the tale of days gone by.

“When I was growing up, there was a family my family was very close with. We did everything together – family picnics, campouts, you name it - we did it together.”

“Well, this family had a boy, a year older than I was and from the moment we met, it was as if our souls recognized each other from another time and place.” Sharon started laughing, “Wait, that sounds strange! I’m not saying we were reincarnated or anything like that, it’s just that, well, we just knew each other.”

“Ryan and I did the typical things together that young kids did and while at the matinee one day, Ryan actually got up the courage to hold my hand. We couldn’t have been more than 10 and 11!”

“Then as we got older, we kind of did our own things. I became a cheerleader and he was the big basketball star. Our houses were close together and in our neighborhood we had a clubhouse complete with basketball court, tennis courts and swimming pool. My house looked down on the clubhouse and I had a clear view of the basketball court. I remember watching Ryan practice basketball from my upstairs balcony thinking, ‘Someday, I’m going to marry him.’” Charlotte noticed Sharon’s eyes welling up with tears again. But she continued, “Ryan was blonde, athletic and charismatic as hell! A smile from Ryan left many a young girl weak in the knees. All the girls at school fell in love with him, and no wonder, he was a sight to behold – all 6’ 4” of him.”

“When I was 13, my parents divorced and we had to move from our beautiful house on the hill to the burbs in town. It wasn’t a bad neighborhood, but it wasn’t up to the standards we had grown accustomed to either. The worst part about the move was not being able to see Ryan on a regular basis.” Sharon paused as she remembered the pain of the divorce and of moving from her friends and all that she had known.

“Anyway, we went to different schools, and, after the divorce, we stopped doing much as families together anymore. In other words, we grew apart.”

“Then a co-ed dance was coming up at my high school and I decided to ask Ryan if he would go with me and he agreed. It was a wonderful experience and I remember dancing with him and feeling as if we were in a whole different sphere. I’ve never felt anything like that in my life.” Sharon looked off into the distance once again, as if to capture that moment all over again.

“Oh, at this rate, I’ll never get to the good stuff.” Sharon and Charlotte both laughed and Sharon continued her story.

“So though Ryan and I dated other people during our high school and college years, there was always this ‘something’ that kept pulling us back together – kinda like some sort of giant magnet! It was strange though because we really didn’t ‘date’ each other, we were just sort of around each other. Later on, he told me he was afraid of me and that’s why he didn’t take me out more! Afraid of me! Can you imagine?” Sharon made grandiose gestures with her hands pointing to her puffed out chest and Charlotte started giggling trying to imagine anyone afraid of Sharon.

“Anyway, one day, a friend of mine and I decided we were going to try our hands at tennis. Oh, we dressed the part, in our short little skirts and tight white shirts, but to watch us play was really quite comical. We were awful! After Taunya and I had decided we had embarrassed ourselves sufficiently, we collected our gear and started walking from the court, when lo and behold, out of nowhere, comes Ryan. He had been watching us play and apparently got quite a chuckle out of observing our ‘technique’. So Ryan asked if he could teach me a few pointers and I said, ‘of course.” Well, Taunya could see what’s going on and she left. Ryan and I were a couple from then on.” Sharon paused for a moment before gathering her thoughts once again.

“Oh, he was so beautiful! Is it okay to say a man is beautiful?” Sharon asked.

“Sure, why not!” Charlotte chuckled.

“Well, he was. Not just physically, but spiritually, emotionally, every way you can possibly imagine. He knew me, really knew me and loved me so unconditionally. He encouraged me to be everything I wanted to be and was there for me when I stumbled – which was often.”

Then Sharon moved in a little closer to Charlotte and said quietly, “Then there was the lovemaking. Oh, he was a master – I mean a complete MASTER lover. He took his time with me, discovering each and every erogenous zone my body possessed. He taught me so much about myself and about our bodies and how they worked so seamlessly together. We were like two pieces of a puzzle – we just fit perfectly. He loved finding new ways to arouse me and, well, have you ever heard the term ‘white death?’” There was mischievousness in Sharon’s eyes which piqued Charlotte’s curiosity and she shook her head.

“No?” Sharon nearly shouted, then looked around as she realized she had spoken a little too loudly as the other patrons broke from their conversations to turn and look at Sharon. Sharon put her hand to her mouth and she and Charlotte leaned over the table and started giggling like teenagers discussing sex for the first time.

When they had calmed down, Sharon raised her eyebrows and began her explanation, “’White Death’ is the be-all-end-all of all orgasms. You haven’t REALLY experienced an orgasm until you have experienced ‘white death.’” Sharon leaned back in her chair, closed her eyes and felt her body tingling reveling in the sensations her sexual recollections were taking her.

Charlotte slapped Sharon’s hand jokingly and started laughing, “How about you just tell me about it,” and she leaned in closer to Sharon before saying, “instead of having one right here,” then Charlotte punctuated each word, “IN THE BISTRO!” They both started laughing loudly which drew more attention to them from the drone of patrons dotting the bistro.

“Okay,” Sharon started, “’White Death,’ or ‘Little Death,’ is when your climax is so intense, you actually,” Sharon paused for emphasis, then said each word slowly as she whispered, “Pass out for a few seconds. The sensations are so powerful that they literally take you away.” Sharon looked at Charlotte impishly and nodded. Charlotte HAD experienced that for the first time with Ethan just the other day! Charlotte blushed at the memory and Sharon started laughing then stopped as she realized what exactly Charlotte was blushing about, “You’ve had that happened to you, haven’t you?”

Charlotte winced, shrugged her shoulders, and whispered, “Yes, with Ethan the other night, for the very first time in my life! But I didn’t know it had a name!” She paused for emphasis, “You learn something new every day!”

With that, Charlotte and Sharon broke out in another fit of uncontrollable laughter. They didn’t care who saw them or what they thought. This was a release Sharon had needed so badly. She had been so consumed with guilt for so long and as the pressure built, she became more and more withdrawn, forgetting even how to laugh – those hearty laughs that make you weak afterwards. Oh, how she had missed that part of her.

And at that moment, Sharon knew she could trust Charlotte and that the betrayal she experienced with Lynn would never happen with Charlotte. Charlotte and Lynn were about as different as two women could ever be. Lynn only became someone’s friend if she felt it benefited her in some way. Charlotte, on the other hand, was genuine and sincere and Sharon knew it was time to tell someone what was holding her back from marrying Sean. She was determined now that that someone would be Charlotte. She just couldn’t hold on to her despair any longer. She felt if she could tell Charlotte, maybe, soon, she could tell Sean and hope and pray that he would understand her need to keep her past from him.

Upon realizing the time had come to release herself from the past and all the guilt that came with it, Sharon began speaking slowly and deliberately. “When Ryan asked me to marry him, I felt as if heaven itself couldn’t be better than living the rest of my life with him.” Charlotte could feel her heartbeat quicken as she began to grasp how difficult this momentous revelation would be for Sharon.

“The wedding was two weeks away.” Sharon began solemnly. “We had spent the day playing hooky, just to be with each other. With all the stress that came from planning the wedding, we just weren’t spending the time together we liked to spend. Then he had that damn business trip to St. Louis.” Sharon suddenly became agitated and raised her voice ever so slightly and Charlotte could hear the raw emotion in her voice.

“We decided to spend the day in bed - just loving one another. Oh, Sharon, I loved him so much.” The tears had begun to well up in Sharon’s eyes and Charlotte sensed the anguish Sharon was feeling. Charlotte’s eyes urged Sharon on.

“We made love all day, sleeping only long enough to gain our strength before making love again.” Sharon chuckled, but it was pain she felt. “I told Ryan he needed to get ready to go to the airport, but he kept saying he had time for just one more…” The words trailed off as Sharon began to cry in earnest. “I should have been more insistent that he get ready, I just shouldn’t have let him make love to me that last time, I just shouldn’t have!”

Sharon took a moment to collect her thoughts and continued, “He missed his flight.” She looked right at Charlotte boring into her soul. “He missed his flight Charlotte, and it’s because of me!” Sharon hung her head and wiped the tears from her eyes, her body shaking with emotion.

“Sharon, you don’t have to tell me anymore…” Charlotte finally managed to whisper.

Sharon looked at Charlotte and slowly spoke, “Charlotte, I need to tell you the rest, I just need to get it all out so that I can finally begin to live again.”

“I’m here for you Sharon.” Charlotte said while patting Sharon’s hand.

“Ryan’s father was a pilot and he had a small Cesna four-seater he would fly for recreation, so Ryan called and asked if his dad could fly him to St. Louis. His dad told him it would take a little while to file his flight plans and such, but that he could probably take him.”

“It didn’t take too long before his dad called and told Ryan it was all set. Ryan would be a little late to the hotel, but after a call to hotel reservations, that was all arranged. Ryan and I said our momentary good-byes - still having a hard time with the thought of being away from one another. Ryan’s mom picked Ryan up at our apartment and drove him and his dad to the small private airfield just outside of the city limits. He promised to call me the moment he got settled in his room and we would continue on phone what we had been doing all day.” Sharon blushed remembering the very words Ryan whispered in her ear. ‘Be naked when I call.’”

“As they were driving away, I just felt sick. I can’t explain it, but I felt like…like I was going to throw up. I went back into our apartment and paced the floors, watching the clock slowly tick by. I honestly felt I was going to go crazy with worry. That’s just not like me!” Sharon shook her head and resumed the tale.

“By the time it was 10:00 p.m., I knew Ryan should have called me. I just wasn’t going to wait for him, I decided to call his cell phone and give him an earful, but I only get his voice mail. I called the hotel and they said he hadn’t checked-in yet. I was really starting to panic, but I kept trying to tell myself all was well. But I knew it wasn’t. I knew he had left me.”

“Ryan’s mom called me at 10:30 and asked if I had heard from Ryan as she hadn’t heard from Roger, Ryan’s dad yet. I told her I hadn’t and tried to remain calm for her, but I had this overwhelming sense of dread that I just couldn’t shake. I didn’t know what to do.” Sharon paused and started breathing heavily to contain the geyser of misery preparing to blow.

“The phone call came at 2:12 a.m. and I knew. I remember staring at the phone thinking, ‘Maybe if I don’t hear the words – it wouldn’t be true.’ But I answered anyway, knowing full well the words that would confirm my worst nightmare. It was Ryan’s mother and she was crying.”

Charlotte couldn’t move. She was riveted on Sharon’s face watching the story unfold before her.

“The plane went down just outside of St. Louis in an empty field. There were some witnesses who called it in, but it took some time before they could identify the bodies and notify the family.” Sharon was crying openly now as was Charlotte.

“I don’t remember how Ryan’s mom told me Ryan was dead, I only remember falling to my knees and curling up in a ball as Ryan’s mom sobbed in my ear.”

“The next few days were a blur and I was so sick of hearing, “I’m sorry,” I could just scream. ‘Sorry. Ha! Sorry? What the hell did they know?’ Sorry didn’t cut it! Damn it Charlotte! He left me here! Why the hell didn’t I go with him? Why didn’t I make him get to the airport on time! Why! Why!” Sharon wept openly. And for once, she didn’t care who was watching.

Charlotte started to say something, but Sharon interrupted, “So you see Charlotte, it’s my fault that Ryan is dead. If it weren’t for me, Ryan would be here today. We would have been married and probably have had two or three babies by now. But he’s gone and I haven’t allowed myself to live since.”

“Oh, honey no! It’s not your fault, Ryan chose to be with you! He chose to fill his last days on earth with love! Did you ever think that maybe he knew he would be leaving you? They say that when it is time for people to die, they sense it.” Charlotte really didn’t know what she was talking about, but it sounded good to her at the moment and she was desperate.

“Maybe he wanted to spend every moment he had left on earth with the one he loved more than life itself. Did you ever think of that?” Charlotte was pleading with Sharon, reaching out to Sharon’s broken heart. It all made sense now – all of it. Sharon had vowed never to marry, because she blamed herself for Ryan’s death.

Sharon peered into Charlotte’s eyes feeling the love of a true friend saying anything she could to comfort her. Sharon knew she had made a friend for life and that this was one of those pinnacle moments which would redefine their friendship forever. “Charlotte,” Sharon began, “I know you mean well, but I don’t deserve to be happy. I killed Ryan. Don’t you get it?”

“Honey! You didn’t kill Ryan, it was just a terrible accident! Just an accident!” Charlotte shouted as loud as she dared. These sorts of things happen everyday, you don’t see people being charged with murder for accidents, do you?” Charlotte knew she was grasping at straws, but she didn’t care. “Sharon, listen to me. You have been dealt a terrible hand, but don’t go thinking that you can’t live because Ryan is gone. Do you really think he would want that for you? You said he loved you – how could he want you to be unhappy for the rest of your life?”

Sharon had heard it all before, it all made sense in her mind, but not in her heart. The wound had been too devastatingly deep and she wouldn’t allow it to heal – not until now. Sharon ceased crying for a moment and closed her eyes.

Charlotte watched in wonder as an astonishing look of peace colored Sharon’s countenance. Charlotte could feel the hair on her arms raise as she felt...felt…what?

A strange unearthly silence engulfed their little corner of the world and Charlotte could see the tears resume their path down Sharon’s cheeks.

Sharon was now smiling, a wan smile, but a smile nonetheless. Sharon encircled her chest with her arms and rocked gently back and forth in her hard wooden stool as if holding an imaginary lover close to her breast.

Charlotte was mesmerized and couldn’t take her eyes off of the scene playing out before her!

Then, as if on cue, the music in the bistro – which had strangely stopped for that moment in time – began playing once again. It was “their” song, Sharon and Ryan’s.

And then the moment was gone.

The bistro once again became bustling with activity. Charlotte had to shake her head before looking around, trying to discern whether what she had just experienced had really happened or whether it was just her wild imagination once again playing tricks with mind.

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Dr Em

One look at Sharon and Charlotte knew it wasn’t a dream or her imagination. Sharon was basking in the afterglow of her true love of that Charlotte was certain.

Sharon slowly opened her eyes and looked at Charlotte – neither able to speak.

After what seemed an eternity, Charlotte spoke softly and reverently, “He was here wasn’t he?”

The look on Sharon’s face said it all. Barely audible, Sharon whispered, “Yes.” She paused for a brief moment before continuing, “And it’s time I talk with Sean.”

SporranTart

Ethan was grateful he had been able to get a flight out of Chicago on such short notice. He had stood under a scalding hot shower for an hour after Lynn left the suite, trying to wash away any trace of what had happened with her. He was still angry, and hurt, and even a bit humiliated by what transpired. Thinking of Charlotte, sweet, beautiful, passionate Charlotte was the only thing that kept him from falling apart completely. Getting home to her was all that mattered now. Walking out on this project wasn’t a good career move, but he felt that it might all be some sort of God shot, letting him know that the time for a change was now. He’d been thinking for awhile what it would be like to go out on his own, to design homes for people who appreciate innovative designs and no longer having to deal with committees and suits who wanted to make all designs generic and cared only about counting pennies.

Ethan packed his things, grabbed a cab and headed to O’Hare and the flight that would wing him back home, to Charlotte. He mused about how quickly he had come to think of Charlotte as “home”. They had known each other such a short time and yet she had gotten under his skin and deep into his heart, she had almost become as necessary to him as breathing. How on earth did that happen so quickly?

He checked in at the airport, walked to his gate and his flight was already boarding. Ethan had again upgraded to business class, but this time not because of Lynn. He just wanted the extra space for his long legs, and for his thoughts. He was against the window with the bulkhead behind him and fortunately nobody was seated next to him. This flight would be a little respite for him.

Leaning against the window Ethan let his mind wander over the whirlwind of his relationship with Charlotte. It started out like so many of his relationships did, with white hot sex, but something about Charlotte made it different. He truly cared about her, about her well being, about what makes her tick and not just in the bedroom. What did she dream about (besides him)? If she was unhappy in her job what would fulfill her? Did she have a talent she’d never pursued, was there something that would make her feel like he did when he finished designing a building?

Suddenly he thought back to the job site visits of the past couple of days and how little attention he paid to that stage of the work. The shoring, the rebar, the concrete pours never really interested him, he only cared about seeing his creation come to life above the ground. But like a shot he realized that if attention wasn’t paid to the foundation, to the underpinnings of the building, then that beautiful building could come crashing down with the slightest tremor or strong wind.

Ethan raked his hands through his hair as he realized that he also never paid much attention to building a real foundation in his relationships. He wanted the end result, the passion and the excitement, but he never paid much attention to building something deeper, something that could sustain the trials and tribulations that life can throw at you. Consequently his relationships usually crumbled. Even with Lynn, though they were together for years, they never built a strong foundation together. They had fabulous sexual chemistry but what happened last night only proved that there had never been anything concrete beneath the surface. That’s what drove Lynn to use the only weapon she felt she had to get him back – and that was sex. Had there been a strong base to their past then she wouldn’t have resorted to something so desperate as what she did last night.

This was an epiphany of sorts for Ethan. He was bound and determined that with Charlotte things would be different. He loved her and of that he was certain, but he wanted to make sure that the relationship they were building had something besides white hot sex to hold it together. When he got home he was going to start working on that with her – he would find out about her as a person, her family, her upbringing, what made her so shy in some ways and yet a tigress in others. He would find out if she had dreams that he could help her to fulfill and he would tell her all about his. He didn’t want to hold anything back from her – if this was going to become something that might last a lifetime, the kind of relationship that produces children and grandchildren and two old people sitting side by side holding hands then he was going to put as much effort into this as he ever put into any of his buildings, and more.

Beanie

Charlotte and Sharon quickly paid the bill and left the bistro. The time had gone by fast... they were now looking at a sun sitting low in the sky.

“Sean will probably be wondering what the heck we’ve been up to,” Sharon smiled, and Charlotte could see real eagerness in her face, a light that hadn’t been there before when she mentioned Sean’s name. Charlotte grabbed her hand and gave it a squeeze, communicating in that gesture everything that words would have been futile to try. Sharon squeezed back, and her smile broadened.

Hailing a cab, the two joked and chatted all the way back to Sean’s building, and kept on making a chatty ruckus all the way to the apartment door. They looked and sounded as if they had been bosom pals all their lives. Sharon put the key in the door and opened it, Charlotte entering the apartment first in the middle of a full-on laugh. Suddenly, Charlotte stopped short, the laugh dying on her lips. Sharon took a quick glance at her, and then let her eyes follow Charlotte's gaze...

Sitting in the side chair across from Sean, who was on the couch, sat Ethan.

Charlotte didn’t know whether to laugh again or cry. She saw Ethan’s eager glance up to her, and a brief smile linger on his lips as he registered the changes in her, but she sensed something else, too. He looked spent, and drawn, a worried crease furrowing his brow, his eyes looking a bit glassy and... what? Had he been crying?

Ethan had arrived home mid afternoon, and had first called Charlotte’s apartment. When he got no answer, he belatedly remembered that she had mentioned something about spending a girl’s day out on the town.... desperate to talk to her, he silently cussed to himself, and phoned Sean.

Telling Sean that he was back in NY, he registered his friends surprise, and went on without offering a chance for Sean to deny him, “I’m coming over mate, right now.”

He hung up the phone and changed into his favorite pair of jeans, holes worn in just the right places, and, thinking of seeing Charlotte again, a casual white button down shirt: again, most of the buttons escaped being fastened. He raked his hands through his hair in the mirror, and gazed at the stubble just barely beginning to show after his clean-shaven look for the suits. His eyes were bleary from exhaustion and travel, his face a little pale he supposed, from the same, but he couldn’t help but think he looked different in another way. Maybe more determined, more focused. Hell he didn’t know. He ran out of his apartment and hailed a cab to Sean’s.

He knew he cut an almost desperate figure in Sean’s doorway as his friend opened the door, but he didn’t care. He stepped in quickly, and stood there fidgeting, not even knowing where to start.

Sean took an appraising glance at Ethan, and rubbed his face with his hand, “Holy hell, Ethan,” he sighed. “I think I”M gonna need a drink to hear all this.” He grinned, meaning it only as a joke. He wouldn’t dare drink in front of Ethan after the turmoil he knew he’d been through in the past few days... what new hell could he POSSIBLY have found himself in now? “Right.” He said shortly, “Go sit down. I’ll get you a glass of water or something.”

Ethan wordlessly made his way to the side chair in the living room, seating himself sprawled out in it, legs splayed, hands on the armrests, head tilted back on the cushion. Sean found him that way when he came in with the promised ice water. He pressed it into Ethan’s hand, saw him register it with a nod, and sat down heavily on the couch across from him. They sat there quietly for a moment, neither one really wanting to get into this conversation, but knowing they had to. Finally, Sean broke the silence, “Uh, Ethan...” he drawled, “don’t tell me everything went so great at the job that you got to come home early.”

Ethan smiled wearily at Sean, but was able to finally start, “Yeah, mate, I wish it were so. Actually, I don’t know if I’ll even have a job to go back to on Monday, but for once I just don’t care.”

Quietly, intensely, Ethan began the litany of events that had occurred in the past few days. When he got to the part of Lynn’s final outrage, he paused and shuddered slightly. Licking his lips, and taking a sip of water, he began, to unravel his feelings about it to a furious Sean, “That woman....” he felt the rage begin to rise in himself again, as well, and felt his grip on the water glass tighten, “I don’t think I have ever been so frigged with in my entire life, both literally and figuratively. I really thought she was Charlotte, mate!” It was all too much for him. He hid his face in one of his hands and wept, his broad shoulders shaking with the effort of trying to contain himself.

Sean rose and took the water glass from his hand, freeing it for Ethan to further hide his grief and shame. He didn’t begrudge his friend his tears, not one bit. He was a man through and through, but some things just didn’t brook ignoring. As it was, Sean felt a murderous rage towards Lynn himself, which almost brought him to tears of frustration for his friend. If it had been Sean instead of Ethan with Lynn in the aftermath, Sean was sure he’d have been in jail right now for doing serious damage to the woman. Ethan might cut a terrifying figure when roused to fury, but he was amazingly adroit at reigning it in when he needed to – maybe just barely, but he reigned in just the same.

Sean sat down on the couch again, quietly, averting his eyes in respect of his friend’s grief, and listened as the man continued to come to grips with his experience. “I had just gotten off the phone with Char before I went to sleep. I was dreaming about her – God it felt so good. I had been feeling more relaxed than I had the whole trip. Well, I let my guard down.... I thought Lynn was finally getting the message. She had seemed good at the job site, was great at doing her job, was actually plugging for my project like no tomorrow. I even thanked her I was so impressed. She must have thought it was an in – hell, I don’t know WHAT the hell runs through that woman’s brain any more. I must have left the door to the bathroom unlocked. What an arse! But I honestly never really thought she would try anything so....” he looked up at Sean, his face a mask of pain, and saw in his friend’s countenance a look that said, “Oh, yes she would mate.” He was immediately brought to mind of the affair Lynn had pulled with him. He was immensely and infinitely relieved that he had forgiven Sean that whole mess, years ago. Sometimes gut feelings, though they made no sense at the time, were the right way to go. “Yeah, well,” Ethan said grimly, and went on, “I can’t even explain to you how I felt when I woke up and realized....” his face contorted again with an effort to hold back his shame, and Sean said quietly, “You don’t have to, mate.” He let Ethan compose himself, face in his hands once more. Time seemed to stretch on and on, but there was healing in it too. Sean let the moments fend for themselves, and waited for his friend to continue.

Ethan’s countenance suddenly changed, and his eyes were full of wrath, “I wanted to kill her,” he snarled, “I have never wanted to actually kill another human being before, let alone a woman, but I’m telling you with every fiber of my being, I wanted to murder that bitch.” Sean looked on, not surprised at what he was hearing, if a little afraid of the look in Ethan’s eyes. He suddenly realized just how close his friend had come to it. “I could see it, mate. I could see her blood in my minds eye. And it shocked me. I knew I could do it with my bare hands. I’ve never understood how a person could take another’s life before. Now I know.”

“How on earth did you stop yourself, Eeth?” Sean asked with real respect.

“It scared me. For the first time, I think I actually scared myself. And she’s a woman...”

Sean outright snorted, “Hmph. Poor excuse of one if you ask me.”

Ethan smiled a small crooked smile and agreed, “Yeah, the thought had crossed my mind, too. But I guess I just really don’t have it in me. Thank God, or she would have won forever. I would have been no better than her.”

“So I’m guessing the influence of Lynn in your life is well and truly over,” Sean grinned.

Ethan grinned back, though a little less enthusiastically, “Yeah, as soon as I talk to the suits from the Mullaney project and my own firm...” he rubbed the back of his neck, thinking about that briefly.

“Ah, yes.... well, er.... What do you think they’ll all say?”

“Damned if I know,” Ethan sighed, “I really don’t want to think about that right now. Heads are gonna roll, so be it if one of ‘em is mine. I paid my pound of flesh. I’ll be damned if I’m gonna worry about it beyond that. I’m in a good position, I’ve got a lot saved up. Maybe it might be nice to take a break from it all.” He stretched out his legs again, sighed, and sank back into the chair.

Suddenly, he and Sean could hear the unmistakable sounds of women acting crazy out in the hall. Ethan sat up straight and stared at the door as it opened.

He had been so keyed up to see his Charlotte again, to really be in her presence, to soak her in through all his senses. But the vision that greeted him when the door opened nearly took his breath away. It was Charlotte, but even better, it was Char the way HE envisioned her in his mind’s eye; self confident, vibrant, beautiful, even a bit coquettish in her new look. His heart leapt as he knew he must be making it through to his lover. That he really did make her feel all those things he believed about her. He managed only a small smile, though what he really wanted to do.....

Suddenly, he noticed the uncertainty on Char’s face, and involuntarily rose to meet her, wanting her close, wanting to let her know his approval and love for her. He held both his arms out to her as he closed the distance. Reaching her he felt her melting into him as he finally embraced her. He couldn’t help himself. The circuit complete, he found himself almost sobbing into her hair, stroking her with his hands, murmuring incoherent words of tenderness to her that he only hoped would make it into her heart.

They stood like that for a while, rocking back and forth in each other’s arms. Sharon telegraphed a questioning look towards Sean, and was shocked to see tears almost forming in her own lover’s eyes. What in the world was going on here?

Sean motioned for her to join him on the couch, then held her close when she obliged. “Patience love, he’s been through hell and back. Give them some time” he whispered in her ear. Sharon, her own hell having finally been traversed, buried herself in his arms wordlessly. Sean felt her totally giving herself over for the first time in ages, and wondered to himself, but didn’t ask.

Ethan emptied himself into Charlotte until he felt stable again, so grateful that she allowed him to without question. Finally, he stepped back, and with a face still full of emotion, took a good look at her. She was beautiful. There was no other word for it, and he told her so. “My love,” he purred, “You are beautiful. You look perfect.”

“You like it?” Charlotte said a little uncertainly, due to his unexpected response to her arrival

Ethan fully realized the source of her discomfort, and gave her a warm smile, eating her up with his eyes, running his hands through her ringleted hair, “Every last bit of it. You are the girl of my dreams. I think we need a room...” he grinned mischievously at her and laughed as she blushed a bit.

Sensing the tension broken, Sean clamored from the couch, “I don’t know about you ladies, but we men need something to EAT.”

Ethan turned and walked to the living room with Charlotte under his arm, and squeezed both of them onto the couch with Sean and Sharon. They all giggled a little bit at the tight quarters, but stayed put. None of them wanted to part from their sweethearts. Pizza was finally decided upon by the men, the ladies having had their languid meal so recently.

Sean made the call, and returning to the couch, broached the subject of Ethan’s return for the benefit of the ladies, “Uh, now for the hard part of catching you women up to steam.” He glanced over at Ethan, and saw him clutching Charlotte to him, kissing the top of her head absently. Ethan closed his eyes, willing Sean to take this job upon himself, as he was too raw to live it out in his words again.

Sean obliged. Skipping over Ethan’s internal emotions concerning the events, he nevertheless painted a good picture of the outrageousness of it all, giving Ethan respect for his handling of the matter.

Charlotte and Sharon were shaken to say the least. Charlotte gazed every so often at her lover as the narration unfolded, only to see Ethan far away behind his closed eyes. Her heart felt like it could break into a million pieces at any moment. But she was proud of him as she had never been of anyone in her life. Most of all, she was proud that he was HERS.

Sharon just seethed within herself, seeing Lynn’s handiwork again, good as it was only for destruction. In the back of her mind, she supposed she felt a certain amount of pity for this creature, but it was fleeting. In the end, it was agreed by all that it was good riddance of this woman from all their lives. A silence seemed to stretch on after that, and then, thankfully, the pizza arrived.

Shaking himself from his cocoon with effort, he glanced down at Charlotte and saw nothing but love in her eyes. She held her hand up to his face and kissed him, sending a blanket of warmth around him. He got up and raised her to her feet to follow him into the kitchen, and smiled at her. He couldn’t wait to get her alone tonight, but it would be good to cushion their time together with some light banter and food after all that revelation being poured forth.

Dinner wound up being a balm for everyone’s souls, mirth and merriment rising from the ashes of so much grief. Ethan found himself laughing till he thought his sides would split at the repartee between Sharon and Charlotte. He was so glad they had become fast friends. And something else had transpired, he could tell – he didn’t know quite what, but he saw a change in Sharon, saw a softness in her eyes when she looked at Sean that hadn’t been there before. As the evening wore on, and Ethan sensed the looks between Sean and Sharon becoming more tender, he knew it was time to leave them and take his own love home.

Whispering in Charlottes ear, he said, “Hey, sexy, wanna come home with me?”

Charlotte grasped his arm hard in response, her eyes filling with the desire that had been building all night. Almost startled, Ethan made his goodbyes to Sean and Sharon a little too quickly, prompting a wicked gleam in his friends eye.

“Ah, right then,” Sean said and grinned mischievously, “Guess there won’t be any question what you’ll be up to then.”

Ethan laughed and retorted, “Look to yourself, man! As if you won’t be doing the same!”

Sean winked and replied right back, “Yeah, but at least I’m already home. Be a sport, Ethan, and make sure you get your fine lady to your apartment before you ravish her, eh?”

Ethan looked at his good mate in consternation, but couldn’t help but laugh. Charlotte took it in good stride too, a sure sign that she really felt comfortable with his friends – strike that, THEIR friends.

Taking their final leave, Ethan and Charlotte walked hand and hand down to the street to catch a cab.

Ethan’s mind was spinning the whole way to his apartment, but he kept himself in check, knowing there were things he needed to say to Charlotte, to start this thing over, to start it right. He gladly held her as she folded herself against him, but stayed off the sexual tension for the duration of their trip home.

Once inside his apartment, he embraced her fully for a glorious moment alone, then prompted her as he felt her pulses rise, “Char, sweetheart, we have to talk.” Seeing a sudden look of doubt in her eyes, he reassured her, “It’s nothing bad my love. But it’s important. C’mere.”

He led her to his own couch, slouched himself half sitting, half lying in a corner of it, and pulled her down to rest on top of him. “Comfortable?” he asked, nuzzling her hair

She sighed, resting her head on his chest, hearing his heart beating and his voice sounding as if it were resounding through her own body when he spoke. She nodded her head, and he stroked her hair, taking his time with his words, wanting for once in his relationship with Char to get them right.

He took a breath finally, and began, “Char, you know I love you, sweetheart. I thought I loved you before I left, but I feel I can put some weight behind the words now that I’m back. I learned a lot while I was away. I guess maybe I’m just figuring out that I’ve had a rather warped view of love in the past – that all became evident with this last episode between Lynn and I.” he felt Charlotte tense slightly, and stroked her arm, “No, no, it’s ok, love. To a certain extent, I had it coming to me. I never wised up, not truly. As much as I loved you, what happened between Lynn and I in Chicago could never have occurred if I had had my mind set straight. And I’m realizing, hopefully not too late, that I want things with you and I to be radically different.”

He fell silent, knowing he was talking in circles, unsure of how to proceed to his point. Then decided to put it to her exactly as it had come to him, “What I mean, Char, is that I want so much more. I’m always the one thrilled to see something getting built. I love the final product. Well, I’m realizing that the relationships I’ve built in the past were crap because I’ve always neglected what I’ve considered the boring parts, the foundation. I mean, I skip right over the ‘getting to know someone deeply’ phase. I’m interested in the people I’m with, no doubt, but I never really stopped to find out what really made them tick. I always only went on what I saw, and never really got down to the level where they thought. If I had done that with Lynn, I might have saved a lot of people a ton of grief... maybe I was just afraid of what I’d find under that pretty exterior we had built ”

He paused, suddenly at a loss, then regained his momentum, “I suddenly realized, Char, that I need to go back to the start with you. I want you hon. I want all of you. I want to know what you dream about. I want to know what makes you happy, what makes you scared, and the things that happened to you as you grew up that made you into who you are today. I’m done with just going on day to day knowing the outside of you, or the parts that nearly everyone you’re close to gets to know. I want to know the inner parts of you, your foundation, so I can understand you and really love you.” He glanced down at Char lying on his bosom, and tried to discern how she was hearing this.... she saw her eyes closed shut, a world of emotions behind them, and knew she was understanding him perfectly. He sighed inwardly with relief.

“And love, I want you to get to know me too. I know I’ve been a hard case and haven’t let you in. It’s just been my way for so long. I had thought that I had closed off that part of me since Lynn, but I’m realizing now that I never let ANYONE in, not completely, in my whole life. I’m offering that to you, darlin’. Do you want me?” he let the question hang in the air, not even knowing why he asked it, but suddenly needing an answer.

Charlotte tilted her head up to gaze in the face of her lover, joy washing over her at the words she was hearing him say. She could hardly believe it. She had sensed a change in him, even over the phone when he was in Chicago, but never hoped to hear him so honestly state his thoughts, and in such careful detail no less, with no sexual tension, no physical aid. With her heart on her lips, she kissed him, and said simply, “Yes”

Ethan closed his eyes and felt his world click into place. This time, it WAS going to be different. “Ok, Char,” he said, “This is the real thing. Finally for once in my life,” he felt himself starting to be overcome, but held it back.

He sighed, getting to the hard part, “You and I, my love, need to take a step back.” He looked down at her, so she knew he was being serious. “I know it seems counterintuitive, but I think we need to slow down a bit and actually start dating more. We need to give each other space to talk.” He giggled a bit to himself, hearing these seemingly foreign words coming from his own mouth, “Hah! Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? But I’m actually making a plea here to cool things down a bit.” He felt Charlotte stir and knew she was taking that the wrong way, “Just physically cool it a bit – not emotionally. Not by any means.” He kissed the top of her head and sighed, “God help me, I hope I’m able to keep my hands off of you so we can get to build this foundation. I want you for my own, Char. I want you so much.”

He felt Charlotte stiffen in his arms a bit, and looked down at her face as she tilted it up to his.

“Cooling things off....”She said plaintively, “Starting when?”

He smiled down at her warmly, and said, “Not tonight, my love. I have a promise to keep to you. I told you I would show you just how much I love you when I got home, and I’m gonna do just that. I think we’ve just done a nice excavation for that foundation tonight, so this won’t harm things a bit. Tomorrow we can start laying the rest.”

MishW

After Ethan and Charlotte left, so full of each other Sean thought the rest of the world had ceased to exist for them, Sean couldn’t help but grin. His friend deserved to have something so wonderful in his life for a change. Ethan had made a lot of bad decisions in the past, but Sean was sure this was the best decision he had made so far. Sean had actually choked up himself witnessing their reunion.

As soon as the door closed behind them, Sharon said,

“Finally! The last of us has realized that woman's not to be trusted." Sean looked puzzled. He knew something had happened between Lynn and Sharon, but he never been sure what. Lynn took this as her opening. She took Sean’s hand, and pulled him back down onto the couch, settling comfortably in his arms. Finally, this felt so right to her. For the first time in ages, there was no guilt associated with it. “I know I’ve never told you this,” she said, “but I confided something to Lynn years ago, and she turned around and blackmailed me with it later, threatening to tell you if Ethan found out about her pregnancy."

Sean didn't think he could get any angrier, that Lynn would take the confidence told to her by Sharon - who had a hard time confiding in anyone - and use it against her. No wonder Sharon didn't make women friends easily! She felt Sean stiffen, and sat up so she could look at his face.

Sean decided the time had come to come clean with everything about Lynn, and be rid of her once and for all. "There's something I need to tell you too." Sean said. "After you turned down my first marriage proposal, when we broke up for that month, you know I spent a lot of time with Ethan, and I started drinking heavily with them. I screwed up one night, Sharon, and I ended up sleeping with Lynn. That's what my falling out with Ethan back then was about. I was very lucky that our friendship withstood it. For a while, I thought that it wouldn't. I know, I should've told you about it long time ago, but since it happened when we weren't together, I rationalized it, and convinced myself it wasn't necessary. I screwed up Sharon, and I can't say how sorry I am. For what I did, and the fact that I didn't tell you about it." Sharon gave him a sad little smile, and that's when he realized. "You knew all this time! How did you find out, and why didn't you say anything?"

"I found out from Lynn, of course. She made sure she told me, “for my own good.” I didn't tell you, because I knew if we had a falling out about it, Lynn would win. She wanted to cause problems between us, and keep us from getting back together and I refused to allow it. I knew I loved you, and I was not going to let her poison that. Don’t misunderstand, I was mad at you at first, I suppose in a way I still am for being so stupid," Sean smiled, "but she manipulated you, just like she manipulated Ethan and me. She wasn't drunk that night Sean, she knew exactly what she was doing."

"I figured as much." Sean said. "I was never sure, but I suspected."

“Now,” Sharon said, what do you say we never mention that woman’s name again.”

Sean smiled, “My pleasure.” He leaned toward her, and took her into his arms, and began kissing her. There was something different in her, and she responded to him as she hadn’t in years. Sean was dismayed then, as he felt her stiffen and pull away suddenly.

“Sharon, what is it? When are you going to realize you can talk to me?” he said, frustrated, and trying not to let his voice betray him.

“I do realize it Sean, and you’ve been so wonderful all of these years. Most men would have given up ages ago.” she looked at him, and he could see she was nervous about something. “It’s time that I tell you everything Sean.” She gave him a questioning look, hoping he meant what he said, and was relieved when he took her in his arms, and snuggled her close. He seemed to sense it would be easier for her if she were looking away from him.

He said, “I want to hear whatever you’re comfortable telling me darlin’”

Sharon closed her eyes, and began recounting the same story she told Charlotte that afternoon. Sean listened intently. This whole thing was about Ryan. He couldn’t believe it. He knew Sharon had been engaged once, that the engagement had been broken for some reason, and Sharon had been crushed. Could it be that this distance he had been fighting so hard to close was over another man, one that she still loved? His chest tightened, as he listened to her speak.

Sharon continued on with her story, Keeping her eyes closed as she spoke. Sean never said a word, and she finally reached the part when she received the phone call from Ryan’s mother. She felt Sean’s arms tighten around her, and she was surprised at how much less raw the emotions were this time.

She concluded with, “So all of these years, I’ve been blaming myself for Ryan’s death, and refusing to allow myself to be happy. Today, I told Charlotte the story, and the most amazing thing happened. Finally the things that my family, and Ryan’s have been trying to tell me for years sunk in. Hearing them from Charlotte for some reason helped them to get through, and it was like Ryan was there, telling me to let go of him and be happy. I have a wonderful man right here in front of me, who I’ve been keeping at arms length for years, punishing him while I was punishing myself, even though he had done nothing to deserve it. “ She pulled away, and turned to look at Sean, shocked to see tears streaming down his face.

Suddenly her heart was filled with such love for this man, completely filled. Nothing held back anymore. “I’m sorry I’ve been so unfair to you Sean.” she said as she began to kiss the tears from his face, hers beginning to fall now too.

Sean took her face in his hands and looked into her eyes. There it was, the love he had wanted to see in her so desperately all this time. He began kissing her, and was shocked by the love and passion he felt being returned to him in her kiss. She finally pulled away from him and stood. He looked at her questioningly.

“Come on,” she said, holding out her hand to him, “we have a lot of missed time to make up for.” Sean stood, scooped her up into his arms, and carried her to their bedroom, whispering his love to her all the way. They made love that night, for the first time, without the ghost of Ryan between them.

Beanie

Ethan pulled Charlotte up further to him, so he could easily reach her lips. He took another gaze at her new look, her beautifully curly hair, that bare touch of makeup that made her face look even more stunning, and then let himself sink into those blue eyes of hers, wanting to touch her soul with his.

He bent his face down, and brushed his lips against hers, feeling all the tension and grief of the past days wanting to slip away from him. He kept moving his lips against hers, feeling them, committing them to memory, feeling their softness against his own, tracing their shape, their fullness. Finally, with a small sigh, he pressed his mouth more firmly to hers, moving sensuously and deliberately, giving her body the first signals of his want, of his need of her. Finally, he entered her mouth with his tongue, deliberately and slowly making his presence felt, mastering her with a sureness that sent a thrill through her whole body, making her shiver outwardly.

Ethan felt her trembling in his arms, and was overcome. He himself felt almost unable to contain his own passion, his need nearly outstripping his mind. He rose from the couch, coaxing Charlotte to do the same, and grasping her hand tightly, brought her unswervingly to the bedroom. He paused for a moment, standing with her just inside the doorway, caressing her with his eyes and his hands, feeling himself to be on the edge of a cliff of emotion. With his last ounce of restraint, he motioned for her to stay put, then set about lighting the candles in his room. Still silent, he closed the door to the room, making them feel like they were shut away from the outside world.

He rounded on her, and he knew she could see the love smoldering in his eyes as he drank her in. He felt his breathing coming more heavily from his chest now, and felt his mouth actually watering. He swallowed hard, and reached for her hand, a feeling of electricity seeming to spring from the touch and travel up his arm, all over his body, into his fevered brain. A soft moan escaped him, unbidden, and he slowly but deliberately pulled her to him. He held her close to him, still only grasping her hand, and stroking her hair with his other one, marveling at the softness of her skin, the alluring acceptance her upturned face. Swallowing hard again, he felt himself start to fall over that precipice. He took a deep breath and kissed her, and feeling her tongue enter his mouth, was suddenly aflame.

He slipped the bounds of his constraint, and was upon her, clutching her body to him like a drowning man, his breathing coming in gasps as he came up for air between deeply shared kisses. He was all movement and motion against her body, needing to touch her, to feel her every curve, her every nuance, claiming every part of her as his with his hands.

He felt her trembling once more in his arms from sheer desire, and he moaned her name into her hair, fitting her to his body as if she were a long lost part of him, wanting to ease her longing with the feel of him against her, giving her something to hold onto. He felt her hands sliding up and down his own body, her fingers sending shockwaves through him that ignited his need and drove him mad, feeling he would burst with pleasure. He pressed that part of him heavily against her, and heard her gasp with want.

His fingers found their way home to the zipper of her dress, and he had it sliding off of her to the floor before either of them could fully register it. Then her hands were at his shirt, tearing madly at the buttons, till finally in haste she lifted the shirt above his head and off to be done with it. He felt her press her body against his chest again, her mouth tasting his skin, driving him crazy with warm dark sensation, peaking when she found his nipples and gently teased them with her teeth. He found himself moaning more than staying silent, but couldn’t help himself. If he didn’t give some vent to what he was feeling, he was afraid it could actually overwhelm him and be all over with.

Letting himself experience everything that Charlotte wanted to give him, he only lately discovered the feeling of something silky and diaphanous beneath his fingers, and feverishly held her back from him a moment to look... Charlotte caught a glimpse of loving awe in his eye as he saw her dressed in that beautiful shell pink teddy and matching bikini briefs. He let his hand slide appreciatively along its folds, tracing the outline of her breasts through the fabric and lace. Charlotte had worn this on a whim, seeing as it had just enough support for under her dress, and wanting to step out feeling secretly sexy. She was ever so glad she had, seeing the look in her lover’s eyes.

Ethan bent his lips to her breasts, and kissed them through the fabric. He got more and more aroused as he did so, loving the feel of her breasts under the slick fabric, loving the look of them covered but still so visible in the teddy. It was enough.

Picking her up suddenly, he carried her to the bed and laid her down, leaving her to moan and writhe a bit by herself as he hurriedly undid his pants and freed himself from the last of his clothing. Then, he was next to her on the bed, not even knowing what he did, kissing her, touching all of her, wanting to make his experience of her last, but not knowing how much longer he could hold on.

He felt her reach down and touch him, and he shook with the effort of waiting. He grabbed her hand gently but firmly, and positioned himself close beside her, cradling her head in his other arm. He tasted her sweet mouth again, moving against her suggestively, driving them both wild.

“Charlotte,” he gasped in her ear, “Oh God, sweetheart, I just want you for always. Tell me love, tell me I have you for my own.” He felt himself coming apart a little at the seams, betraying his innermost self to her at what he felt was a critical moment for him. His mind was on fire with love for her, wanting assurance that his efforts wouldn’t be in vain.

He heard her murmur assuredly to him over and over again, “Yes, my love yes,” and prepared to give himself up to his passion.

“Charlotte, I,” he tried to explain to her, to warn her that he was a man beyond strength to control himself, that his emotions wouldn’t allow him to be gentle... Looking at her with hooded eyes, his breath coming raggedly, he saw she seemed to understand, and saw her rising to his challenge, a fevered look in her own eyes.

In an instant, he became focused on his goal, pressing her to himself, rocking back and forth with her in his arms, teasing her with his desire, feeling it hotly between them both. He continued caressing her unceasingly, kissing her with the warmth of his mouth, moving unstoppable all along her body, till each one thought they would die from anticipation.

Finally, he lay on top of her. With one final soulful look into her half closed eyes, he allowed himself to take her, and rested for just one moment, clasping her close and clamping his eyes shut against the raw emotion of being part of her finally. And then he listened to his body, and rose to the rhythm beating in his head, in his heart, in his soul. He spared Charlotte nothing as he played out all the agonies and anguish of the past days, and all the desires and hopes for the future between his body and hers, rising like a stormy sea above her, and crashing into her with each wave of emotion. He felt Charlotte beneath him, around him, holding on to him in tune with his need, wanting him just as much as he did her. Finally, feeling completely in synch with her and everything his battered soul cried out for, he felt his body quake and called out to Charlotte. She joined him in a release so potent it left them both moaning and gasping, grasping each other for support when it was done.

After a long while when their breathing had slowed, Ethan felt himself still holding on to Charlotte as if she were a lifeline. He gulped, and buried his face in her hair, not caring if she caught his deep emotion. She was his, and he was hers. Repeating that to himself as a mantra, he finally allowed himself to relax and sink into sleep, accepting the loving support of his Charlotte’s embrace to keep him through the night.

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Guest Beanie

Swansong

Charlotte and Ethan lay in each other’s arms, drowsily content, their limbs entwined and their hearts swelling. For some moments they gazed misty eyed, not speaking... and not needing to. Charlotte looked at Ethan’s face feeling that she was seeing him for the first time. The suave lover who had breezed into her life was no more the perfect fantasy man, but a vulnerable and soulful human being. For over an hour she snuggled up against him as he drifted in and out of sleep, not wanting to break the reverie that had them in its thrall. Their lovemaking the night before had healed something inside her, while at the same time, revealing deeper wounds. Though he had ravished her repeatedly throughout the night.... she had the uncanny sense that it was her soul and not her body he sought to own. The love he rained down upon her was selfless, as if he was pouring his own life force into her with each kiss.

So much about the night before was unreal; from the moment she saw him sitting on the sofa at Sean’s, to the moment he had entered her body. The entire time he had been gone, she longed for his nearness, but their reunion was almost too precious, too intimate. The time had come for her to open up to him, as he had with her, and yet she feared giving herself... exposing those deep and secret shadows that no one knew. She had spent her whole life creating defenses, and to let them down, allowing another to see her trembling and scarred essence was like jumping off a careening train. Could she do it? Could she trust him utterly? There was something so raw and honest about the man. If they were to share a real life, she must give herself over to that trust competely and without reservation.

He had confessed his desire for a firm foundation undergirding their love, but she feared that building a foundation, would first require tearing down what was hidden beneath. She wasn’t certain she wanted those ruins unearthed.

Ethan stirred beside her. His eyelids fluttered, and he reached for her, burying his head in the crook of her neck, “Good morning,” he sighed into her hair, “How do you feel Miss Arielle?”

Hearing him call her by her last name took her back to the moment he had first spoken to her in the lift, and she closed her eyes, a lump planted firmly in her throat, “Wonderful,” she spoke softly, brushing his cheek with her fingertips, “I feel wonderful.”

Stretching and yawning, Ethan grinned, “Me too Char.... never felt better! That was some wave we were on last night luv, thought I’d never come down from that one!”

Charlotte felt her cheeks burning, remembering their enjoyment of each other. At the sight of her blushing cheeks, Ethan grabbed her in a bear hug and growled into her ear, “Now that’s my Charlotte, God I love it when your face turns red!”

Charlotte pushed away slightly, tickling his underarm, “Are you making fun of me?” she teased.

“I would never do that sweetness, “You’re just so damned iresistable when you blush, makes want to do unspeakable things to you!” he giggled, adding with a rakish wink, “Oh wait..... I already have!”

“Oh you!” Charlotte chuckled, punching his arm playfully, “You are so bad!”

They toyed and flirted, tickling and kissing until the bedding lay on the floor and the pillows had been tossed across the room. Charlotte would have been content to lie with him there hours longer, but Ethan had other ideas, and slapped her naked bottom, “Time to get up luv!” he exclaimed, “I’m starving to death!”

“Awwww Ethan,” she whined, “Can’t we just cuddle a little bit longer?”

Ethan tackled her, stradding her with his legs and licked the tip of her nose, “Now listen here miss Arielle,” he said chucking her chin gently, ”I know what you’re up to. You’re trying to keep me here so that you can ravish me all over again.... but I’ll not fall for your feminine wiles... and besides my love, you wore me out last night!”

“I wore you out?” she laughed, rolling her eyes, “Who woke me up at 3:00 AM?”

“Oh yeah.... I forgot about that!” he laughed, kissing her lips softly, “Well I have plans for us today my lady, so I order you to unhand me!”

He was like a little boy, so playful and carefree. Much different from the intense lover who had trembled in her arms last night. His voice was boyant, and the shadows were gone from beneath his eyes. He was relaxed and happy, and his mood was infectious. Charlotte felt more uplifted and secure gazing at his dimpled smile.

“Plans?” she asked, the excitement in her voice unmistakable, “What plans?”

“If you do not get your butt up out of bed woman, you’ll never find out what I have in mind for us..... curious?” he taunted, rubbing his scruff against her cheek.

“Well yes, as a matter of fact I am!”

“Good... first things first.” he shot back, his eyes sparkling.

Jumping off of her and up from the bed, Ethan bounded across the room and opened his suitcase, smiling mysteriously, “Close your eyes Char... I have a surprise for you.”

Digging to the bottom of the suitcase, Ethan pulled out the shiny silver garment box. As Charlotte sat on the bed covering her eyes with her hands, he fished out the crotchless panties he had purchased, setting them aside for the appropriate occasion. He had wanted to give her his gifts to celebrate their reunion last night. He had worked out the whole romantic scenario of presenting his gifts, on the plane ride back to New York, but was so swept away by the sight and closeness of her, that he had forgotten the whole thing. He wasn’t certain the morning was right for his surprise either, since there was no way in hell he’d have her model it, or they would never get out of the bedroom.

He glanced up at her, taking her in like a work of art. She was naked, her eyes closed, and she sat Indian style on the bed, messy blonde waves framing her sweet oval face. His eyes couldn’t help but travel downward over her body to the curve of her hips. It was perhaps the most sensual image he had seen of her, and he moaned softly, telling himself, “Not now.”

The box in his hands, Ethan approached the bed, and knelt on the edge of the mattress with one knee. He bent and kissed her neck softly, crooning against her throat, “Open your eyes now Charlotte.”

Charlotte sighed when she saw the beautifully wrapped box. Ethan placed it on the bed next to her, and then sat down on the mattress, expectantly watching her open it. He knew he had made the right choice by the way Charlotte’s eyes glistened as she peeled away the silver tissue from the black velvet nightgown. Pulling it by the straps, she lifted the glamorous gown up to her body, allowing its soft folds to pool across her naked thighs and belly.

“Oh Ethan,” she sighed petting the velvet, her eyes brimming, “I have never seen anything so beautiful. Is it an evening gown?”

“No luv,” He purred, his eyes suddenly darkening, and the corner of his lip curled, “It’s a gown for you to wear for bed..... so that I can have the pleasure of removing it.” he added, stroking her shoulder with a fingertip.

Recognizing that come hither look in his eyes, Charlotte blushed hotly, and reached out her arms. No man had ever given her anything so lovely, “Oh Ethan.... I absolutely love it, thank you.” she whispered as he folded her to himself, “Should I try it on?” she asked shyly.

Springing up from the bed Ethan laughed, raising his brows until they nearly met his hairline, “Heck no woman! If I see you that, we’ll never get out of this room.... I need a cold shower!” he announced, laughing.

Charlotte refolded the gown while Ethan showered, made the bed, and straightened up the room. Dressing quickly in the clothes she had worn last night, she popped her head into the steamy bathroom, just as he stepped out of the shower. Carefully ignoring his god-like nakedness, she suggested he meet her at her apartment in an hour. She needed a bath, and wanted to change into one of her new outfits. Ethan smiled, amazed that after all the times she had seen him naked, he still managed to make her blush.

Back in her own apartment, Charlotte bathed, blow-dried her hair into soft curls and applied a subtle hint of shimmering make-up. She changed into a flowing chiffon skirt, silky scoop neck tank top, and a cropped crochet sweater. She added a pair of chandelier earrings and crystal beaded rope necklace, pleased with the classy yet bohemian fashion statement. Admiring her reflection in the mirror, she did a little spin, the skirt flaring out in a cloud of swirling turquoise, blue and olive green. To complete the look, she slipped on a pair of ankle boots, and grabbed her leather handbag.

Ten minutes later, Charlotte almost squeaked when she heard the knock on her door. She was so nervous she could hardly think straight, anticipating Ethan’s reaction to her own surprises. When she opened the door, she was breathing hard as he raked his eyes over her, motioning for her to spin around so he could get the full effect of her new look.

“Miss Arielle,” he drawled languidly, his eyebrow cocked, “You take my breath away! Look at you Charlotte.... you’re absolutely sexy gorgeous!”

“You like?” she smiled prettily, striking several model-like poses.

“C’mere, and I’ll show you just how much.” he growled, pulling her against him.

“No no no no,” she teased, pushing him away with a giggle, “You keep your hands to yourself Mr Morgan, cause I’m hungry, and I want you to take me to breakfast!”

At the mention of food Ethan grinned like a cheshire cat, as she led him through the door and into her living-room.

Gliding across the floor, Charlotte ordered Ethan to close his eyes, and took hold of his hand, ”Now I have a surprise for you!” she spoke giddily, turning the doorknob to her studio. “No peaking until I tell you.” she insisted.

“Does this involve sex?” Ethan murmured with a clipped laugh.

“Ha!” Charlotte countered, “Is that ALL you think about? No, it’s not about sex you pervert!” she teased, giving his hand a good hard squeeze. Taking a deep breath, she swallowed hard and said, “Okay.... open your eyes!”

Charlotte fastened her eyes on Ethan’s face as he took in the sights before him. She could barely breath as he wordlessly flicked his gaze from one side of the room to the next; from the walls, to the paintings on the floor, the easel and then, finally back to her, “What is all this?” he muttered, his lips pursed, and his eyes glinting, “You been holding out on me Char?....I mean, is this.... well is this what I think it is, did you paint all these?”

Grinning from ear to ear, her heart ready to burst and her stomach churning fiercely, Charlotte breathed out, “Yes Ethan... these are all mine. Some of them I painted years ago, and others more recently, but they’re mine.”

“Oh my God!” he exclaimed turning his attention to each piece of art she displayed, “You’re a frigging artist, and I had no idea.... and you’re good Charlotte, I mean, some of these are bloody brilliant! Why didn’t you tell me, My God woman... I don’t even know what to say!”

Charlotte laughed, and pressed herself into him, “We haven’t done a whole lot of talking you know.” she sighed into his white shirt, “In fact since we met, all we’ve been doing is screwing.” She watched to see how that would affect him, and was delighted when he scrunched up his nose and burst out laughing,

“Miss Arielle, I believe I have sufficiently corrupted you, and I frigging love it!... But seriously, why didn’t you tell me about this, I mean, I’m just blown away by your talent.”

Taking a more serious tone, Charlotte stepped away from his embrace wistfully, her eyes taking on a faraway expression, “Well Ethan, there is a lot I haven’t told you.... but I promise that’s all going to change.” Whirling around to face him again, she squeezed his hand, and dragged him over to the easel, where she had placed a blank sheet of drawing paper over his portrait.

“I have one more surprise for you before we go.” she enthused, her face positively glowing. Slowly lifting the covering away, she watched as Ethan’s grin turned to wonder, his lips parted. Silently his eyes scanned the portrait, taking in each accurate detail of his own face. Each feature was true to the reality, and yet it didn’t appear as a copy of a photo, but rather a rendering that seemed to capture his very soul. He stared at the work dumbstruck, just squeezing Charlotte’s hand. Finally after what felt like an eternity to her, he spoke softly, his eyes watering, “Is his how you see me Charlotte?” he asked, his eyes flicking over her face, “Is this who I am to you?”

Moving closer, nestling in the crook of his arm, she leaned her head against his shoulder and sighed, “Yes Ethan, this is how I see you..... do you like it?”

“Like it?” he asked sarcastically, gesturing his arms out to his sides, “My God Charlotte, how did you, how the hell did you do that? It’s the real me luv, the real me behind all the bull.... I mean there it is, all of it, the good and the bad of me right there in that face. I don’t know what to say, you just rocked my world sweetheart, and God I love you!”

With that, Ethan drew her into his arms and held her wordlessly, fighting back the emotions sweeping over him. This girl knew him.... she saw him for who and what he was, he could see that in the way she had drawn him, and the power of that knowledge shook him to his core. In that single moment Ethan realized that his and Charlotte’s meeting could not have been mere coincidence. They were meant to be, their love was a precious gift that he intended to hold onto at all costs. He felt at peace, and yet his flesh tingled with a sense of purpose and fate.

Leaning down, he cupped her face between his two large hands and kissed her soundly on the mouth. They were both fully clothed, but the kiss felt strangely intimate and special, “What other secrets do you hide from me my love?” he kissed his words against her lips, “I’m madly in love with you Charlotte, do you know that?” he groaned, trailing kisses across her cheeks and down to her velvety earlobes.

“I love you too Ethan,” she kissed back, her fingers lost in his thick waves, stroking the back of his neck and shoulders. "I’m glad you like the portrait, I probably could have done better if you had modeled for me, but I just couldn’t help myself. I picked up the charcoal, and well.... it just happened.” she explained as he nuzzled her.

"Nothing could be better than this Charlotte," he said into her hair, "And stop selling yourself short.... you are frigging brilliant!"

Finally, Ethan pulled away from her, and looked again at his portrait, “Do I get to keep that?” he asked, weaving his fingers through her hair. “I want you to have it.” she answered, “It’s my gift to you.”

“Then I shall treasure it as if it were the Mona Lisa, Charlotte.” he spoke softly. Narrowing his eyes with a raised brow, he bounded toward her and wrapped his arms around her waist, lifting her off her feet, “But now I want to hear all about your secret life!” he shouted happily, “I have the whole day planned out. We’re gonna do nothing but talk and eat, and get to know one another... that is, if I can keep my hands off you!”

The day breezed by in swirl of color and activity. First they ate breakfast at small diner, followed by a trip to the bakery where Ethan stocked up on donuts. They held hands and cuddled; window shopping, drinking coffee, and taking in the sights and sounds of the city. For lunch they stopped by Charlotte’s favorite Deli and stuffed themselves with Reuben sandwiches and giant dill pickles. They visited music stores, art galleries, and Ethan helped Charlotte research purchasing a lap top computer. She was so proud to be seen with him, and each time she caught their refection in a window or mirror, she bit her cheeks with happiness. Ethan was completely attentive, making sure she had enough to eat; opening doors, assisting her in every way like a true gentleman. He joked and giggled, burning her ears with outlandish stories of his teenage antics. He spoke of his mother, of Scotland and his family, enthusiastically describing Christmases and other holiday gatherings. As they poked through antique stores, he spoke of his college days, and of how he developed his interest in architecture. She loved to hear him talk and listened enraptured, amused by the way his arms flailed and gestured with passion.... but as the evening approached, her stomach tightened, knowing that it would soon be her turn to talk.

At first they considered heading back to the apartment building for a nap and change of clothes before their dinner reservations, but decided there wasn’t quite enough time. It was a warm afternoon for early fall, and the turning leaves in Central Park were gorgeous, contrasted against a crisp blue cloudless sky. Charlotte loved the smell of roasting hot dogs on every corner, and the fragrance of carmel corn wafting out the door of Kornbladts Candy Store. Though Charlotte had brought along a jacket, she didn’t need it, and enjoyed the light breeze rustling through the folds of her skirt. She had never felt more beautiful, and clipped along beside Ethan in her high heeled ankle boots, trying to keep up with his long mannish strides. Ethan wore a pair of pressed black jeans, and a black leather bomber jacket over his white button up. She noticed women trying to catch his eye, but just held onto his hand thinking to herself, “Too bad ladies, this one is mine!”

They were early for their 6:00 dinner reservation at Sylvia's, but fortunately were seated anyway. With candles lit in red glowing jars, wine bottles hung from the ceiling and soft italian music playing over the speaker, the atmosphere was charged with old world romanticism. Though their table was nestled in a quiet corner, Charlotte still did not feel sequestered enough to speak the things that were on her heart. She did tell him about her days in art school, and of how she had left school because of her father’s illness, but beyond a few details, she spoke little of her family or childhood.

The pasta was incredible, brimming over with fresh shrimp and sun dried tomatoes in a sweet roma tomato sauce. Ethan seductively hand fed Charlotte bites of shrimp, while stroking her knees and thighs under the table. She laughed and slapped his hand away, but that only encouraged him, and the next thing she knew, he had slipped his hand beneath her skirt, inching his fingers upward on her leg, while looking wickedly into her eyes.

He kissed tomato sauce from the corner of her mouth, and they ignored the stares of patrons as they made out in their little corner. Two hours passed before they finally emerged from the Italian bistro. Ethan helped Charlotte slip on her jacket as they wove down the sidewalk arm in arm. Crossing the street he spied a horse drawn carriage, and suggested they go for a long ride through Central Park.

After he paid the driver, Ethan helped Charlotte up into the cab, and then slid in beside her on the seat, and tossed a few blankets across their laps. Wrapping his arm tightly around her, he sighed contentedly, “I swear to God Charlotte, this has been one of the best days I have ever had!”

Charlotte nodded her head mutely, and snuggled against him as the horses trotted off to the park. “You’re awful quiet all of a sudden,” Ethan said, drawing her tighter against his hip, “Everything okay?”

“Yeah.... I mean everything is wonderful Ethan, this has has been just so...”

“Romantic?” he completed her thought.

“Yes romantic, it’s been amazing Ethan... I’ll never forget it.” she spoke smiling.

The park rolled by at a lazy pace, and the two cocooned themselves in their blankets, kissing and holding each other. At last Charlotte pulled away from Ethan’s kisses and looked up into his eyes, her own swimming with emotion.

“Ethan,” she began, squeezing his hands,”There are some things I want you to know about me, things that might help you understand why I am the way, well..... the way I am, but I need for you just to listen for a bit, and not say anything while I talk.... can you do that for me?” she asked, her eyes wide and her expression grave.

“Sure Charlotte... anything you want, I’ll sit here like a good boy, I promise.”

“Okay” she took a deep breath, and let her mind drift backward to the days of her childhood. Drawing up the painful memories and yet feeling safe beside Ethan, Charlotte opened her soul, “You know how I’ve felt all my life Ethan.... I’ve felt as though I was born premature, and that all of my parts and organs were never fully formed. I walk around as an adult woman, but there are entire regions of my being that don’t function quite right, which is why I can’t seem to get passed my fears. People think I’m just shy, but really... I’m afraid.”

He listened intently, focusing all his energy into hearing her words. He honed in on her, letting her voice carry him into the places of her he didn’t yet know... but wanted to, “Afraid of what sweetheart?”

“I don’t know exactly,” she began again, her eyes searching for faded images, “I guess of just being who I am, without ridicule. It’s hard to explain Ethan, but when you grow up without the love and approval of someone you adore, it does things to you. You never learn to trust yourself, and it’s like you can’t have a thought in your head without doubting your worth.... well that’s how it was for me, growing up I mean.”

The carriage passed by the large street lamps, and Charlotte told her story, leaning against Ethan's broad shoulders for support. Her father was the pastor of a large church, he was loved by all the congregation and respected by everyone in the community where she grew up. At church he was always warm and friendly, shaking hands, hugging babies and spending time talking to the people who sought him out after and before church every Sunday. But at home he was a different man. He was cold and demanding, and was never satisfied with anything his wife or daughters did. The house was never clean enough, the girls schoolwork was never up to his standards, and as the youngest, Charlotte got the worst of his criticism. No matter what she did to try and please him, he always managed to find fault with everything. She loved him, as all girls love their handsome dads, but there wasn’t a day that she didn’t hurt. She ached for his love, while he spent less and less time at home. He was always running off late to meetings, or traveling to speak at conferences. When she hit puberty, he was hardly ever home, and her mother often dryly remarked that he “lived” at the church.

“My mother was miserable most of the time Ethan, because daddy was never home.” she continued, “It felt like he cared more about his rotten church than he did for his own family. Well we lived right next door to the church, and sometimes mom would send me over to his office with lunch if he couldn’t get away. He might be in a meeting or something, and I wouldn’t disturb him, but just put the lunch in the portable fridge in the waiting room. When I was about 11 years old, my mom gave me a plate of leftovers and told me to take it to him. She said not to disturb him, and that he was counseling one of the church members. Well, when I walked into the waiting room, I did as I was told, and put his meal in the fridge like always, but I heard voices from his office... and I was curious Ethan.... you know how kids are curious?”

Charlotte paused and took a deep breath, gathering her thoughts, while tears stung her eyes. The memory was so fresh, as if it been tattooed across her brain. The memory of quietly tiptoeing across the rug and stepping up close to her father’s office door. There were voices inside, his voice and a woman’s voice, and they were making strange noises and laughing. Without thinking she pushed on the door, which normally was locked, but this time it wasn’t. When Charlotte opened the door she stood horrified and confused, watching her father doing something she had no understanding of. Sexual things were never discussed in their home, and she hardly ever saw her father kissing her mother. Only on special holidays, and then only on the cheek. Charlotte started shaking......

“He was bent over this woman Ethan, and she had her pantyhose down around her ankles, and her skirt hiked up over her hips... I saw everything, I even saw my daddy’s, well he was naked from the waist down, and he was...” Ethan gave her a little squeeze to tell her he understood exactly what her dad had been doing. Charlotte stammered, the tears starting to fall. “I just stood there not knowing what to say or do, and I guess I made a sound, because he looked up at me.... and God, I thought he would send me to hell, he was so angry. He yelled first at the woman for not locking the door, and then he yelled at me, and told me not to tell my mother. I don’t know what happened after that, I just ran all the way home crying. I thought I would be punished, and I waited all day to see if he would come home and spank me for spying on him.”

Charlotte recalled that he came home very late that night, and in the days that followed, she waited for her punishment, but it never came. Her father never said said a word about the incident, and acted as if nothing had happened. She never told her mother, and kept it all inside.... where it festered and poisoned her soul.

“After that Ethan, I guess mom found out anyway, because there were lots of fights, and mom cried all the time. My parents got divorced a year later, and it was all over town.... that my daddy had affairs. He was fired, and everywhere I went, people starred at me.”

Charlotte stopped talking and buried her face in Ethan’s jacket while he held her, “You know the whole time I thought it was my fault... I always thought everything that went wrong in our house was my fault. Daddy messed with my head so bad Ethan, that I grew up blaming myself for my parent’s divorce. He was a God damned pastor!” she cried, “He was supposed to love and care for us.... but he lied. He made me think that sex was dirty, and there he was, screwing this woman right in the church! God, I hated him after that... I still hate him, even though he’s been dead for 3 years!”

“Oh Charlotte,” Ethan comforted, “None of it was your fault, your dad was an arse, and you were just a sweet little girl.... you still are, a sweet grown up girl.”

“But he was my hero Ethan,” she sobbed against him, as he drew her into his arms and held her closer, “I only wanted him to love me, and I don’t think he ever did.... so I grew up thinking that I didn’t deserve to be loved, not by anyone.”

“Oh God Charlotte, I’m so sorry.... honey, but your horrible excuse of a father was wrong, you deserve to be loved, and God I love you... I do, I wish I could take it all away.”

Charlotte wept quietly, feeling the aching subside with Ethan’s strong arms around her. He was so warm, and his whole body pressed into her. He kissed her wet cheeks and forehead, resting his forehead against hers until she stopped crying.

As the carriage rolled away from the park gates, Charlotte leaned her head on Ethan’s shoulder, knowing for the first time in her life.... that she was really loved

Semmsb

Later, as they sat together on the sofa in Charlotte’s apartment, snuggled together, and sipping hot chocolate, Charlotte thought how perfect the day had been. It was wonderful to spend time with Ethan; he was so full of life, and passion. She closed her eyes in contentment, feeling his broad chest against her back. He wrapped his arm around her from behind, and gently ticked her ear with his tongue. She couldn’t help but giggle, but her giggles swiftly become sighs as he started to nip and lick the soft skin over her shoulders and neck. She let her head sag back against his shoulder, and sighed with pleasure. She felt him smile into her neck.

“Hmm, I’d better stop that hey?” he rested his chin on her shoulder.

“Not necessarily,” she responded, turning to kiss him.

“Mmm, yes I’d better.” He mumbled against her lips, “or I’m going to ravish you on this couch.”

Charlotte giggled again. “Been there, done that. And, I’m out of strawberries.” Ethan laughed.

“I wanted to talk to you about something anyway” he sounded serious suddenly.

Charlotte turned to him, “Spoilsport.” she grinned

He raised his eyebrows. “I’ll get to that later. I promise.”

“Ok, well, what do you want to talk about?” she asked.

He sighed, and made that characteristic gesture of running his hand through his dark curls. “I’m not sure what’s going to happen with my job, after leaving Chicago like that. I spoke very quickly to one of the partners before I left, to let him know I was going. But I didn’t go into great detail.” Ethan shuddered as her remembered the events that had lead to his swift departure from Chicago.

“Are you going to tell them?” Charlotte questioned.

Ethan shook his head. “Look love, I think Lynn has screwed up her life enough. I’ll tell them as much as I need to. I’m not going to go into great detail. I just want to forget it anyway.”

Charlotte frowned. She knew that Ethan wanted to sweep the incident under the carpet as quickly as possible, but she was concerned that by protecting Lynn he would be jeopardizing his career. He had suddenly walked away from a project that he admitted was probably one of the most, if not, the most important of his career. Charlotte bit her lip. She sat for a moment, deciding whether or not to question him. He paused, watching her face, knowing she had reservations.

Finally she decided to voice her concerns. Ethan listened to her, and even agreed.

“Look Char, I can see what you’re saying. But, frankly, I’m not sure I want to go back there. I’m fed up with having to fight for my designs. I’m fed up with the constant pressure and frustrations. I just want to get away for a bit.”

Charlotte looked at him, digesting everything he said. “What are you going to do then Ethan?”

He grinned at her, contemplating if now was the time to mention the telephone call from his Mum. He had decided pretty much as soon as he saw her in Sean’s apartment that he wanted to take her with him. He certainly didn’t want to leave her again. “Well, how do you feel about tartan?” he grinned.

Beanie

Ethan saw Charlotte turn her face to him quizically and ask, "Tartan? What's that supposed to mean?"

Ethan chuckled and put down his drink. Taking Charlottes' mug from her hands he put that safely aside next to his. Reclining a bit more into the couch, he pulled Charlotte after him, making her comfortable against his chest. He began, "Well, Char, I got a phone call very recently from my mum in Scotland. Turns out my brother is getting married out there in a few months."

"You just found out now?" Charlotte asked, confused.

"Um, yeah, I guess moving fast on certain things sort of runs in the family" he grinned, "They've only even known each other for 6 months. At first I wondered if maybe they had gotten into a spot of trouble, but nah -- guess its just true love." He stroked Charlotte's hair, contemplating their own fast paced relationship and wondering if it would lead to the same conclusion. He wondered too, if Charlotte was thinking the same thing. She shifted slightly in his arms, and he smiled. She was. "Anyway, m' girl, I was thinking of going out there maybe a week before the wedding. I thought it would be nice to bring you along with me and show you off. I'd love for you to see where I came from. Scotland is so beautiful." He couldn't help but feel a swell of pride as he said those words to Charlotte. "What do you think?"

Charlotte looked up at him again, a bit wide eyed. "Show me off? Ethan, you might give your family the impression that..." Ethan's eyes settled into a look of such tenderness, that Charlotte knew that's exactly what he was after.

"Yes, hon. I think it might be nice for them to meet the blonde haired vixen that I hope will...." he let the sentence trail off, not fully able to say the words out loud yet. He cleared his throat and absently stroked her forearm "In any case, the whole family should be there... one stop meet and greet." He smirked, seeing Charlotte tense up suddenly, aware that she suddenly felt the pressure of meeting his whole family. "Don't worry Char... they're all a fun bunch. And they'll know that if I'm bringing you around, its gotta be serious. They'll be kind, not wanting to scare you off - most of 'em are chomping at the bit to see me settled." He laughed at that and rubbed his eyes with his hands. "You'll be doing me a big favor, saving me the trouble of being set up with some friend of a cousin's uncle at the wedding." He grimmaced. "Blind dates are bad enough, but set-ups from family members are particularly gruesome."

Charlotte laughed, so pleased to see Ethan speaking so animated and freely. His eyes twinkled and his embrace was warm and comfortable, completely devoid of the stresses of the past week. This was the Ethan she could imagine herself marrying indeed. "Sounds wonderful," she smiled back, and, letting her finger trace the outline of his chest through his shirt, said, "And weddings are always so romantic. But where does the tartan fit in?"

"Ha!" He chuckled, "You get to see me in a kilt."

Charlotte thought for a moment, and then couldn't help herself. She giggled, "I've always wondered about them -- do they ah... I mean do you - "

Ethan raised an eyebrow in mischief and finished for her, "Wear anything underneath?" she nodded, still giggling. He gave her a playful squeeze and said knowingly, "Only what the good lord gave me at my birth."

Charlotte nearly fell off the couch roaring with laughter. "Oh my gosh! I thought that was just a rumor!" she said, tears streaming from her eyes.

"No, its true," he chuckled back, and then, more sensuously, "you might really find it to your liking."

Charlotte stopped laughing long enough to give him a kiss and replied, "You just might be right. I foresee a hidden allyway in our future? Just time enough to duck away from the rest of the guests and..."

Ethan laughed loudly and said, "I've corrupted you Charlotte!" They both cracked up for a while, just imagining the scenario and a few funny twists. Finally, Ethan calmed down and lifted her chin to look into her eyes again.

"But I do want to talk to you seriously now, sweetheart," he said when she had calmed too. "I don't want you to think that I didn't pay attention to what you told me in the carriage earlier today."

Charlotte's eyes looked a little grave at that, not wanting to get serious now when she was having so much fun. Ethan knew that, but it had also been his tactic to bring some levity between her revelation and his addressing it with her. He had needed time to think about it himself, to figure out what it meant to him.

Ethan had felt mostly shock at the revelations Charlotte had shared in the carriage. He had known that there must have been something in her past that made her so unaccountably shy and insecure, but he had never imagined something so horrific, something so deep in her soul. He had sat there listening, stunned, as all the pieces of Charlotte’s personality which had confused him, dropped into place. It was all he had been able to do to say anything to her at the end of it, wanting to take her mind off those terrible memories. He was afraid he had come off sounding trite in what he had said, but Charlotte seemed not to have noticed, eager herself to forget it. The knowledge had burned secretly inside of him the rest of the day as he tried to make sense of it. He knew it had to be brought out into the light again and discussed.

But even now he wasn’t sure how. In his own childhood, he had dealt with disappointment and abandonment when his father left while he was still very young. He still remembered his dad, though vaguely. At the time of his disappearance, he had wondered why his father would leave without even saying goodbye. That made it too easy for him, for many years afterward, to fantasize about his father returning. But always, it was a caring, fun, and involved dad he fantasized about, not the real one; brooding, distant, and angry. Years later, they had learned that he had started another family and died young of a heart attack; not surprising for his personality type. Even though his dad had been a nonentity in his life, Ethan had still suffered a feeling of loss. That was as close to understanding Charlotte’s pain as he could get. He somehow wondered now, if he had gotten the better deal, having an absent father instead of a present, but emotionally abusive one.

Now so many things were starting to make sense to him. He had been wrestling with the inconsistencies he saw in Charlotte. He saw her as incredibly sexy, smart, and genuine –truly a quality person. Add to that the recent revelation of her amazing artistic abilities, and he had been left scratching his head as to why she was so shy. He couldn’t help remembering that blow-out they had had last week, as well, centering around her deeply felt insecurities. And her sexuality – well, it was no wonder she was so conflicted about that.

He had felt an overwhelming sense of rage as he thought about her past, feeling a deep hatred for this man he had never met, who had hurt Charlotte as a little girl so long ago. He knew now why he had always had a sense of wanting to protect Char – some part of her psyche had been frozen back in that time, and he could still see glimpses of the little girl in this woman. He also had to wonder at the mother who obviously had never managed to bolster her daughter up after the breakup. Ethan had been lucky in that – he had had a wonderful mother who worked hard to build up her children’s self esteem and look past their troubles. He was wondering if he would be able to break through and do the same for Charlotte. He sighed from his soul, knowing that such wounds taken in childhood took long years to recover from, and he knew it would be a struggle for him to remain patient. But he was bound and determined to try. If she really loved him, she might find trust enough to let him help her. And he knew as much as he could that he really loved her, and was willing to fight.

“Char, love,” he began carefully, “I know you don’t want to talk about this now, but I think it’s important that we do.”

He felt her hunker down against him, wanting to run away rather than face this again. He kissed her head and held her gently, rubbing her back to ease her tension.

“Hon, you don’t have to say anything right now. Let me just tell you what I’ve been thinking.” He felt her relax a bit in relief, and went on, “What I said in the carriage today probably came off as a little glib, but I was in a bit of shock. I think you were too, probably disbelieving that you had just told me all the details” He looked down at her, and she nodded in agreement, turning her face slightly so he couldn’t see it. “I’m glad you did,” he breathed into her hair, “Its important for me to know these things, if I’m going to get to know you from the ground up. And I am so serious about doing that, love.”

He shifted his position on the couch a bit to get more comfortable, petting Charlotte as she fit herself to him again. He cleared his throat, “I’m not gonna pretend that I know exactly how you felt, or still feel to this day. But I want to try. There are so many things about you...” he stopped, thought for a moment and tried again, sighing a bit, “I think you are wonderful. You are beautiful, you are incredibly talented, you are an honest and genuine person. You have great taste in men,” he laughed along with her as tested to make sure she was still with him, “and I love you.”

He gave her a kiss on her forehead, and looked into her eyes. “I’m asking you to trust me, here, Char. Believe me. Believe in what I see in you. Don’t believe that guy who was only your father in the biological sense. He didn’t see you. I do.” He held her close, and saw her welling up with tears. He held his hand to the side of her face and continued, “You have been letting that friggin' bastard win, hon. I hate him because he’s robbing a part of you away from me even now. I want that part back. You’re mine now, and he can’t have you any more. There’s gonna be trouble, Char, if you won’t let me kick the bastard out.”

He ran his thumb along her cheek as the tears began to spill from her eyes and continued softly, “I love you, and I only want to see you reach your full potential. So many worlds lie in front of you – but you have to fight for it. Very little comes by luck or chance. You have great talent, but you need to show it to the world and fight for your place.” Ethan paused a moment, knowing he was speaking from his own experience. It had been a fight for him too, one that he would have to renew come Monday. “You have to believe in yourself as much as I do. I know that’s a hard thing for you,” he looked at her sympathetically as the tears started flowing more freely from her, “because you don’t know what it feels like. All you’ve ever known is all these doubts and guilt. I can see you fight it every once in a while, but I can tell it’s scary for you. Don’t believe the fear. Believe me. I believe you can do anything. Anything at all, if you really want it.”

She tried to hide her face in his chest, nearly overcome with emotion, but he held her firmly to look into her eyes, “And I’m warning you now that I’m not gonna let go of this. I’m gonna be here helping you. You may well call it nagging you by the time this is all done – I’m gonna be here kicking your arse if it needs to be kicked. I’m not afraid to do that. But you’ve got to start to live, Char. I want you here with me – and I need you to start living a life so I’m not worried about you all the time.” At this, it was just too much for Charlotte, and she sobbed. Ethan held her to his chest finally, cradling her as she wept years of pain which she had stuffed down so deeply inside of her.

She knew he was right. She had stopped living years ago. This man was the first one who had been able to reach down to her from where she had been hiding in the depths of her soul. He was right about another thing: it would be a painful trip back up to her life. But for the first time, she felt a world of possibilities open up clearly before her, and felt optimistic about herself. She clung to this wonderful man of hers, and poured all her grief out while he held her, taking it, and buffering her from it.

Ethan was overcome with empathy for her, and rubbed her back, her face, her hair, all the while murmuring endearments and encouragement. Finally, when the last of the tears were done, and she lay sniffling lightly from the efforts of her unburdening, he raised her face to his and kissed her. It had been a long arduous night, and they both needed rest.

Coaxing her up from the couch, he led her to the bedroom and closed the door. Without fanfare, without wantonness, he simply and honestly made love to Charlotte as one soul to another, reaffirming that connection between them both. Soon after, they both fell into a deep and dreamless sleep until morning, needing no other proof that they were truly each others.

i'd pick erik

Ethan was awakened early the next morning by the early autumn sun filtering in through the window. He lay there for a few moments feeling the rise and fall of Charlottes breathing beside him. He was well and truly happy. Ethan tried to think back to a time when he could honestly remember feeling so complete. He was watching Charlotte, thinking how angelic she looked while she was sleeping when his cell phone started to ring. Charlotte awakened with a start as Ethan grabbed the phone.

“Hello?” Ethan said, his voice still thick and groggy with sleep.

“EJ!” said the voice on the other side. “What the heck, bro… you still asleep at this time of day??”

“Damn it, Randy!” Ethan said, his voice immediately lighting up at the sound of his brother’s voice. “It’s only bloody 7 am!!!"

“Oh.” He responded, “Well, I’ve never been good with that time difference thing…”

Ethan was overjoyed to talk to his brother. He couldn’t wait to tell him all about Charlotte.

“So,” Randy said, “Mum tells me you’ve got a girlfriend. Better than that strumpet Lynn I hope?”

Ethan knew that his brother hadn’t heard what had happened with Lynn in Chicago. They were both so busy they never had a chance to talk anymore. “Well, Randy, I must say that chapter of my life is officially over. And I’m glad.”

“Good.” Randy said with a stern tone. “She wasn’t good for you. I wouldn’t wish her on my worst enemy!”

Desperately wanting to change the subject, Ethan said, “Randy, I’m planning on coming to Glasgow about a week or so before the wedding. Think there’s a chance that we’ll all be able to hang out a bit? I’m bringing Charlotte with…”

Charlotte rolled to the edge of the bed and mouthed the words “I’ll get breakfast.”

She slowly dressed in the black velvet nightgown that Ethan had given her and slinked toward the door.

“Erm… what was that Randy?” Ethan stammered, having not paid any attention to his brother’s words. “I… um… dropped my phone.”

Charlotte pulled a small plate from the back of the fridge. “Ethan is in for more than he’s bargained for this morning.” She thought to herself as she pulled the saran wrap off the plate of ripe strawberries. She walked slowly back into the bedroom and stretched out on the bed.

She leaned over to whisper in Ethan’s ear, “If you hang up, you’ll regret it…” She smiled wickedly at him and started to slowly lick the strawberry in a circular motion, stopping to lightly suck the tip into her mouth.

Setting the strawberries aside, she crawled over to where Ethan was talking on the phone, trying to carry on a normal conversation. She straddled his legs and lightly kissed his neck.

The last thing Ethan remembered hearing on the phone line was his brother’s voice saying, “Sure we’ll see you guys at mum’s house. Really, I can’ wait to meet this girl she sounds amazing!”

Ethan hung up the phone and looked at Charlotte. She had a grin on her face from ear to ear. “Oh, Ethan, what a bad boy. I told you that if you hung up that phone that you’d regret it.”

Ethan stammered, “But Char… that’s not fair! He hung up first!” Charlotte giggled and reached down beside the bed…

Swansong

"Okay Char look here," Ethan spoke pointing to his wrist watch, "Remember love, today is a work day, and much as I would love to see what sexy mischief you're up to, I have to get into the office today and straighten out the mess with Lynn."

Charlotte moaned her disappointment, "But Ethan, you don't have to be at work until 9:00, that means we have just enough time to...."

"No no we don't Char," he chuckled, tickling her sides, "I need to get in there a bit early today, but listen love, I want you to model that gown for me another time, I have something special planned for that nightgown with you in it, and it involves a romantic weekend away."

Charlotte sighed and rolled her eyes, then bent down and kissed Ethan full on the lips, smiling coquettishly, "You sure you can resist me Mr Morgan... after all, you've taught me everything I know!"

Grinning and squirming beneath her Ethan groaned seductively, weaving his hands through her slept-in sexy hair, "And I am please to see that my little blonde vixen is a damned fast learner.... but no really Char, I've got just enough time to get a shower, breakfast and a cup of coffee, and I'm out of here. I have no idea what kind of shite will hit the fan, but I've got to confront this thing head on."

"Oh all right," she moaned, crawling off of him, I don't wanna be late for work either, guess my timing sucks huh! God I hate Mondays"

Ethan, sat up on the edge of the bed and flashed her a dazzling smile,"Don't worry m'Love, I'll make up for it another time, I've got a few more tricks up my sleeve ya know." he added huskily, trailing his fingers across her velvet clad thigh.

Charlotte lay on her side as Ethan rose up from the bed. She stared at his naked body, pushing back the desire, and her body's craving for intimacy. Somehow telling him about her father had given her a sense of freedom, and she felt ready to explore this new sexual, and sensual side of herself. But Ethan was right, the situation with Lynn had to be dealt with. Though she didn't even want to think about what that might mean, as far as Ethan's career was concerned, she trusted him to do the right thing.

As Ethan stepped into the shower, Charlotte tapped on the door playfully, "Sure I can't scrub your back?"

The sound of his laughter through water made her giggle, "No woman, you cannot come anywhere near me right now!" he gurgled.

Resigning herself to the demands of the day, Charlotte slipped out of her nightgown and carefully hung it on a hanger in Ethan's closet . She smiled noting that she had quite a little collection of her own clothing hanging up beside his garments. Grabbing her sweater, underwear, bra and favorite jeans, she dressed herself, and headed to the kitchen to make him an outstanding Denver omelet to accompany the fresh strawberries.

"I hate mondays!" she grumbled.

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So, the smilie was to remind someone that this is still here? ::D: :;): I know you're busy, Beanie! No worries!

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Guest Beanie

Aaaagh! LOL. Yes, yes, I will post more this week. Mish posted so that I could paste some more into her post.... I was having problems because it started merging all my threads (which our site does now when you post multiple times under the same name) and was cutting off parts when the posts got too big. Sooooo.... you girlies can help out a whole lot if when you see me post, you would just do another little post after me so that I can paste more in under your names. Make sense? :;):

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Yes, yes, I understand! :smile: The merging post thing can get kinda frustrating. So.....here.

::D:

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:bump:

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I wanted to give this a big :bump: because I'm going to take over the editing job and get more of this up. It's HUGE, mind you, so It's going to take a while.

Bear with me.

:hugs: Lish

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Hooray! :cheer:

I wondered about that, since Beanie had to leave the mod squad. :cry:

Oh, and Lish...you might wanna run it by me first before you post it....just so I can make sure it really IS "tame". :lol:

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Had planned on it, Abs. You're the barometer for Vanilla! ::D:

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SUSAN~SPORRAN

Ethan was grateful he had been able to get a flight out of Chicago on such short notice. He had stood under a scalding hot shower for an hour after Lynn left the suite, trying to wash away any trace of what had happened with her. He was still angry, and hurt, and even a bit humiliated by what transpired. Thinking of Charlotte, sweet, beautiful, passionate Charlotte was the only thing that kept him from falling apart completely. Getting home to her was all that mattered now. Walking out on this project wasn’t a good career move, but he felt that it might all be some sort of God shot, letting him know that the time for a change was now. He’d been thinking for awhile what it would be like to go out on his own, to design homes for people who appreciate innovative designs and no longer having to deal with committees and suits who wanted to make all designs generic and cared only about counting pennies.

Ethan packed his things, grabbed a cab and headed to O’Hare and the flight that would wing him back home, to Charlotte. He mused about how quickly he had come to think of Charlotte as “home”. They had known each other such a short time and yet she had gotten under his skin and deep into his heart, she had almost become as necessary to him as breathing. How on earth did that happen so quickly?

He checked in at the airport, walked to his gate and his flight was already boarding. Ethan had again upgraded to business class, but this time not because of Lynn. He just wanted the extra space for his long legs, and for his thoughts. He was against the window with the bulkhead behind him and fortunately nobody was seated next to him. This flight would be a little respite for him.

Leaning against the window Ethan let his mind wander over the whirlwind of his relationship with Charlotte. It started out like so many of his relationships did, with white hot sex, but something about Charlotte made it different. He truly cared about her, about her well being, about what makes her tick and not just in the bedroom. What did she dream about (besides him)? If she was unhappy in her job what would fulfill her? Did she have a talent she’d never pursued, was there something that would make her feel like he did when he finished designing a building?

Suddenly he thought back to the job site visits of the past couple of days and how little attention he paid to that stage of the work. The shoring, the rebar, the concrete pours never really interested him, he only cared about seeing his creation come to life above the ground. But like a shot he realized that if attention wasn’t paid to the foundation, to the underpinnings of the building, then that beautiful building could come crashing down with the slightest tremor or strong wind.

Ethan raked his hands through his hair as he realized that he also never paid much attention to building a real foundation in his relationships. He wanted the end result, the passion and the excitement, but he never paid much attention to building something deeper, something that could sustain the trials and tribulations that life can throw at you. Consequently his relationships usually crumbled. Even with Lynn, though they were together for years, they never built a strong foundation together. They had fabulous sexual chemistry but what happened last night only proved that there had never been anything concrete beneath the surface. That’s what drove Lynn to use the only weapon she felt she had to get him back – and that was sex. Had there been a strong base to their past then she wouldn’t have resorted to something so desperate as what she did last night.

This was an epiphany of sorts for Ethan. He was bound and determined that with Charlotte things would be different. He loved her and of that he was certain, but he wanted to make sure that the relationship they were building had something besides white hot sex to hold it together. When he got home he was going to start working on that with her – he would find out about her as a person, her family, her upbringing, what made her so shy in some ways and yet a tigress in others. He would find out if she had dreams that he could help her to fulfill and he would tell her all about his. He didn’t want to hold anything back from her – if this was going to become something that might last a lifetime, the kind of relationship that produces children and grandchildren and two old people sitting side by side holding hands then he was going to put as much effort into this as he ever put into any of his buildings, and more.

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