Rya nudged her brother and said, “For God’s sake, Mark, aren’t you going to say thank you? Jenny probably looked all over town for that.”
The boy blushed. “Oh, sure. Thanks. Thanks a lot, Jenny.”
“Rya, you’ll notice there’s a small brown bag in the bottom of the cage. That’s for you.”
The girl tore open the bag and smiled when she saw the three paperback books. “Some of my favorite authors. And I don’t have any of these! Thanks, Jenny.”
Most eleven-year-old girls liked to read nurse novels, romances, perhaps Barbara Cartland or Mary Roberts Rinehart. But Jenny would have made a serious mistake if she had brought anything of that sort for Rya. Instead: one Louis L’Amour western, one collection of horror stories, and one adventure novel by Alistair MacLean. Rya wasn’t a classic tomboy—but she sure as hell wasn’t like most other eleven-year-old girls, either.
Both of these children were special. That was why, although she had no particular affection for children in general, she had fallen for them so quickly. She loved them every bit as much as she loved Paul.
Oh, yeah? she thought, catching herself in the admission. You’re just brimming with love for Paul, are you?
Enough of that.
Love, is it? Then why don’t you accept his proposal?
Why won’t you marry him?
Well, because— She forced herself to stop arguing with herself. People who
indulged in extended interior dialogues, she thought, were candidates for schizophrenia.
For a while the four of them fed the squirrel, which Mark had named Buster, and watched its antics. The boy regaled them with his plans for training the animal. He intended to teach Buster to roll over and play dead, to heel when told, to beg for his supper, and to fetch a stick. No one had the heart to tell him how unlikely it was that a squirrel could ever be made to do any of those things. Jenny wanted to laugh and grab him and hug him—but she only nodded and agreed with him whenever he asked for her opinion.
Later they played a game of tag and several games of badminton.
At eleven o’clock Rya said, “I’ve got an announcement to make. Mark and I planned lunch. We’re going to do all of the cooking ourselves. And we really have some special dishes to make. Don’t we, Mark?”
“Yeah, we sure do. My favorite is—”
“Mark!” Rya said quickly. “It’s a surprise.”
“Yeah,” he said, as if he hadn’t almost given away everything. “That’s right. It’s a surprise.”
Tucking her long black hair behind her ears, Rya turned to her father and said, “Why don’t you and Jenny take a nice long walk up the mountain? There are lots and lots of easy deer trails. You should work up an appetite.”
“I’ve already worked one up by playing badminton,” Paul said.
Rya made a face. “I don’t want you to see what we’re cooking.”
“Okay. We’ll sit over there with our backs to you.” Rya shook her head: no. She was adamant. “You’ll still smell it cooking. There won’t be any surprise.”
“The wind isn’t blowing that way,” Paul said. “Cooking odors won’t carry far.”
Anxiously twisting her badminton racket in her hands, Rya glanced at Jenny.
What a lot of schemes and calculations are whirling around behind those innocent blue eyes of yours, Jenny thought. She was beginning to understand what the girl wanted.
With characteristic bluntness, Mark said, “You got to go for a walk with Jenny, Dad. We know the two of you want to be alone.”
“Mark, for God’s sake!” Rya was aghast.
“Well,” the boy said defensively, “that’s why we’re making lunch, isn’t it? To give them a chance to be alone?”
“I’ll be damned,” Paul said.
Rya said, “I think I’ll cook squirrel for lunch.”
A look of horror passed across Mark’s face. “That’s a terrible, rotten thing to say!”
“I didn’t mean it.”
“It’s still rotten.”
Looking at her out of the corner of his eye, as if he were trying to assess her sincerity, Mark finally said, “Well, okay.”
Taking Paul’s hand, Jenny said, “If we don’t go for a walk, your daughter’s going to be very upset. And when your daughter is very upset, she’s a dangerous girl.”
Grinning, Rya said, “That’s true. I’m a terror.”
“Jenny and I are going for a walk,” Paul said. He leaned toward Rya. “But tonight I’ll tell you the shocking story of the hideous fate that befell a conniving child.”
“Oh, good!” Rya said. “I like bedtime stories. Lunch will be served at one o’clock.” She turned away and, as if she sensed Paul swinging his badminton racket at her backside, jumped to the left and ran into the tent.
The stream gushed noisily around a boulder, surged between banks lined with scrub birch and laurel, descended several rocky shelves, and formed a wide, deep pool at the end of the hollow before racing on to spill down the next step of the mountain. There were fish in the pool: darker shapes gliding in dark water. The surrounding clearing was sheltered by full-sized birches and one gargantuan oak with exposed and twisted roots, like tentacles, thrusting into the leaf mulch and black earth. The ground between the base of the oak and the pool was covered with moss so thick that it made a comfortable mattress for lovers.
Half an hour above the camp and the meadow where they had played badminton, they stopped beside the pool to rest. She stretched out on her back, her hands behind her head. He lay beside her.
She didn’t know quite how it had happened, but the conversation had eventually given way to a gentle exchange of kisses. Caresses. Murmurs. He held her to him, his hands on her buttocks, his face in her hair, and licked lightly at her earlobe.
Suddenly she became the bolder of the two. She rubbed one hand across the crotch of his jeans, felt him swelling beneath the denim.
“I want that,” she said.
“I want you.”
“Then we can both have what we want.”
When they were naked, he began to kiss her breasts. He licked her stiffening nipples.
“I want you now,” she said. “Quickly. We can take longer the second time.”
They responded to each other with a powerful, unique, and utterly unexpected sensitivity that neither of them had ever quite achieved before. The pleasure was more than intense. It was very nearly excruciating for her, and she could see that it was much the same for him. Perhaps this was because they had wanted each other so fiercely but had not been together for so long, since March. If absence makes the heart grow fonder, she thought, does it also make the gen**als grow randier? Or perhaps this electrifying pleasure was a response to the setting, to the wild land’s sounds and odors and textures. Whatever the reason, he needed no lubrication to penetrate her. He slid deep with one fluid thrust and rocked in and out of her, down and down, filling her, tight within her, moving her. She was transfixed by the sight of his arms: the muscles bulged, each well defined, as he supported himself over her. She reached for his buttocks, hard as stone, and pulled him farther into her with each galvanizing stroke. Although she rapidly came into her cl**ax, she coasted down from it so slowly that she wondered if there would be an end to it. Abruptly, when the sensations in her had subsided, he grew still, pinned by the power of his own orgasm. He softly said her name.
Shrinking within her, he kissed her br**sts and lips and forehead. Then he rolled off her, onto his side.
She moved against him, belly to belly, and put her lips against the throbbing artery in his neck.
He held her, and she held him. The act that they had just Completed seemed to bind them; the memory of joy was an invisible umbilical.
For a few minutes she was not at all aware of the world beyond his shadow. She couldn’t hear anything except the beat of her own heart and the heavy drawing of breath from both of them. In time the voices of the mountain filtered back to her:
leaves rustling overhead, the stream splashing down the slope into the pool, birds calling to one another in the trees. Likewise, at first she couldn’t feel anything but the slight ache in her chest and Paul’s warm se**n trickling out of her. Gradually,
however, she realized that the day was hot and humid, and that their embrace had become less romantic than sticky.
Reluctantly, she disentangled herself from him and rolled onto her back. A sheen of perspiration filmed her br**sts and stomach.
She said, “Incredible.”
Neither of them was ready to say more than that.
The breeze had almost dried them when he finally raised up on one elbow and looked down at her. “You know something?”
“I’ve never known another woman who was able to enjoy herself as thoroughly as you do.”
“Sex, you mean?”
“Sex, I mean.”
“Annie enjoyed it.”
“Sure. We had a fine marriage. But she didn’t enjoy it quite like you do. You put everything you’ve got into it. You’re not aware of anything but your body and mine when we make love. You’re consumed by it.”
“I can’t help it if I’m horny.”
“You’re more than horny.”
“It’s not just sex,” he said.
“You’re not going to tell me that you like my mind too.”
“That’s precisely what I’m going to tell you. You enjoy everything. I’ve seen you savor a glass of water like some people do good wine.” He drew a finger down the line between her breasts. “You’ve got a lust for life.”
“Me and Van Gogh.”
She thought about it. “A friend at college used to say the same thing.”
“If it’s true,” she said, “the credit belongs to my father.”
“He gave me such a happy childhood.”
“Your mother died when you were a child.”
She nodded. “But she went in her sleep. A cerebral hemorrhage. One day she was there—gone the next. I never saw her in pain, and that makes a difference to a child.”
“You grieved. I’m sure you did.”
“For a while. But my father worked hard to bring me out of it. He was full of jokes and games and stories and presents, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. He worked just like you did to make your kids forget Annie’s death.”
“If I could have been as successful at that as Sam evidently was with you—”
“Maybe he was too successful,” she said.
“How could that be?”
Sighing, she said, “Sometimes I think he should have spent less time making my childhood happy and more time preparing me for the real world.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that. Happiness is a rare commodity in this life. Don’t knock it. Grab every minute of it that’s offered to you, and don’t look back.”
She shook her head, unconvinced. “I was too naïve. A regular Pollyanna. Right up through my wedding day.”
“A bad marriage can happen to anybody, wise or innocent.”
“Certainly. But the wise aren’t shattered by it.”
His hand moved in lazy circles on her belly.
She liked the way he touched her. Already, she wanted him again.
He said, “If you can analyze yourself this way, you can overcome your hang-ups. You can forget the past.”
“Oh, I can forget him all right. My husband. No trouble, given time. And not much time at that.”
“I’m not innocent anymore. God knows, I’m not. But naïve? I’m not sure a person can become a cynic overnight. Or even a realist.”
“We’d be perfect together,” he said, touching her breasts. “I’m certain of it.”
“At times I’m certain of it too. And that’s what I distrust about it—the certainty.”
“Marry me,” he said.
“How did we get around to this again?”
“I asked you to marry me.”
“I don’t want to be set up for another fall.”
“I’m not setting you up.”
“You can’t live without taking risks.”
“I can try.”
“It’ll be a lonely life.”
She made a face at him. “Let’s not spoil the day.”
“It’s not spoiled for me.”
“Well, it will be for me soon; if we don’t change the subject.”
“What could we talk about that’s more important than this?” She grinned. “You seem fascinated with my tits. Want to talk about those?”
“Jenny, be serious.”
“I am being serious. I think my tits are fascinating. I could spend hours talking about them.”
“Okay, okay. If you don’t want to talk about my tits, we won’t talk about them, lovely as they are. Instead—we’ll talk about your prick.”
“I’d like to taste it.”
As she spoke the soft center of him swelled and grew hard.
“Defeated by biology,” she said. “You’re a minx.”
She laughed and started to sit up. He pushed her back.
“I want to taste it,” she said. “Later.”
“I want to get you off first.” “And do you always get your way?” “I will this time. I’m bigger than you.” “Male chauvinist.”
“If you say so.” He kissed her nipples, shoulders, hands, her
navel and thighs. He rubbed his nose gently back and forth in the crinkled hair at the base of her belly.
A shiver passed through her. She said, “You’re right. A woman should have her pleasure first.”
He lifted his head and smiled at her. He had a charming, almost boyish smile. His eyes were so clear, so blue, and so warm that she felt as if she were being absorbed by them.
What a delightful man you are, she thought as the voices of the mountain faded away and her heartbeat replaced them. So beautiful, so desirable, so tender for a man. So very tender.