See Part 1 for all the important stuff.
Caitlyn stopped dead and slowly turned around. She was completely at a loss as she stared in dumbstruck awe at the woman standing there in the lobby of the hotel in all her gorgeous glory.
“Dr. Stone?” Caitlyn took in the woman's elegant attire.
Brandan wore a spaghetti strap evening gown of sapphire blue that shimmered when she moved. Her dark hair was piled high on her head with one curl draped over a bare shoulder. A white ermine fur coat was draped over one arm as she leaned casually against the wall with a warm smile that showed perfect white teeth.
“In the flesh,” Brandan looked down at her gown. “So to speak.” She then looked up again with a small smile. “How are you, Caitlyn?”
“I'm…um…good,” Caitlyn couldn't help but feel incredibly inadequate in her jeans and t-shirt. “Would you like to come up to my room? I really need to get ready for tonight. I'm kinda in a rush.”
“You're playing at the Kennedy Center tonight?” Brandan walked to the stairs behind Caitlyn.
The building they were in was less like a hotel and more like an apartment building. It had a rickety elevator that no one trusted, including Caitlyn. She had decided to rent a room there while there in Washington, D.C. for the duration of the performance. It was far better than running back and forth on the train between D.C. and New York. At least it wasn't too far from the Kennedy Center.
“Yeah,” Caitlyn ran up the stairs in her sneakers without looking back over her shoulder, despite the fact she really wanted to. But she knew that her legs were too shaky for her to look at the gorgeous woman climbing the stairs behind her. “I can't believe you're here—in D.C.. What are you doing here, anyway? Tell me you didn't come all this way just to see tonight's performance.”
Brandan took her time climbing the stairs behind Caitlyn. The view was much better than she could have imagined and she wanted to savor every moment. She couldn't quite believe she'd found out where the woman was staying. It was a little odd that she'd run into Caitlyn's physical therapist in New York just that afternoon. The guy was a little starry-eyed when he found out she'd been the one to do the surgery on Caitlyn's hand. And he hadn't argued when she'd asked for particulars on where Caitlyn was. Good thing Caitlyn liked to talk to the guy. She had mentioned that she had a loft in Washington, D.C. that she would be staying at for the performance.
They reached the third floor and Caitlyn stepped up to a nondescript door. “It's not much,” she said as she pushed the door open and let Brandan precede her inside. “I'm only here for the next few nights. Sorry for the mess. It's been a little hectic lately. And the landlord didn't get a chance to clean up before I got here.”
“So,” Brandan draped her coat over a chair and sat on the arm of the couch. “How's the hand?”
“Good,” Caitlyn called down as she rushed into the bedroom to change.
Brandan heard some noises and waited patiently for Caitlyn to finish changing. There were a few tense moments as Caitlyn mumbled unintelligibly. A door shut and opened again. There were a few expletives, too. Brandan couldn't help but smile as she surveyed the space around her and tried to get a sense of the woman who was staying there.
“Have you had any problems with it? Any pain or discomfort?” Brandan asked.
“Nope,” Caitlyn emerged in a crisp white dress shirt, a long black skirt and panty hose. She had a pair of black heels in one hand and a garment bag draped over her other arm. Her hair was freshly brushed and down. She was also wearing a little makeup. Not too much. Just enough to look natural. “I wish I wasn't in such a hurry. But I really have to get back to the Kennedy Center. We have rehearsal in…” She glanced at the clock. “Shit!”
Brandan just chuckled. “Want to share a cab?”
Caitlyn stopped in the middle of slipping on a shoe. “A cab? Are you serious? You do know this is Washington, D.C., right? Traffic is a bear and it's almost impossible to hail a cab around here. This neighborhood isn't exactly a high-traffic area.”
“Well,” Brandan said. “There's a taxi waiting across the street. My hotel isn't too far from downtown and it wasn't too hard to get the doorman to hail one for me.”
“Oh, you are…” Caitlyn blushed to her roots.
“An angel without wings?” Brandan finished for her. “Yeah, so I've been told.”
“I was going to say ‘my hero',” Caitlyn corrected. “But angel works, too. I thought I was going to have to take the train back. It takes forever and I probably wouldn't make it in time. Maestro Abraham hates it when we're late.”
They left the loft and headed downstairs. Caitlyn took her time, not wanting to take a chance of falling down the steep stairs in her heels. It gave Brandan the opportunity to walk with her and study Caitlyn close-up.
“You didn't answer my question,” Brandan said as they hit the second-floor landing.
“How's your hand?”
“I think I already answered it,” Caitlyn gave her an annoyed glance. “I said it's good.”
“That really doesn't answer the question, Caitlyn,” Brandan prodded.
“What do you want me to say?” Caitlyn stopped on the last step. “It aches sometimes, but I'll take that over not being able to use it at all. I am eternally grateful to you for doing the surgery, Dr. Stone. Are you happy?”
Brandan was a bit taken aback by the confrontational tone in Caitlyn's voice. She just stood there with her mouth open slightly as Caitlyn turned on her heel and continued across the lobby.
“I'm…” Brandan didn't get the chance to finish as Caitlyn stormed outside and marched across the street to the waiting taxi. “Shit.”
Caitlyn climbed into the cab and sat there with her garment bag in her lap. Brandan got in on the other side and studied the silent woman for a moment.
“Where to, ladies?” The cabbie asked in a heavy Middle Eastern accent.
“The Kennedy Center, please,” Brandan replied and received a nod in the rearview mirror from the man. She then turned to Caitlyn. “I'm sorry.”
“For not doing this right. For annoying you. For…everything.”
Caitlyn looked at Brandan. “Why are you here? You never answered that question.”
“I live here, now,” Brandan replied. “Well, actually I live in Manhattan. Accepted a position at Mount Sinai and moved east a few weeks ago.”
Caitlyn's brow furrowed. “Why?”
Brandan considered the question for a moment. A few answers popped into her head, but she decided on the truth.
She shrugged. “I want to be with you, Caitlyn,” Brandan said. “I haven't stopped thinking about you since your final appointment. I've missed you. I…” Brandan stopped and shook her head. “This wasn't how I imagined doing this. Not in the back of a cab, anyway.”
Tears sprang to Caitlyn's eyes at the heartfelt confession. She had imagined the woman giving her a number of answers, but that one was not one of them. She put a hand to her mouth and looked away in an effort to stop the tears from falling. She sniffed and composed herself, although it took a monumental effort to do so.
“What about that whole patient-doctor relationship code of yours?” Caitlyn asked, as she carefully wiped her eyes so she wouldn't smear her makeup. “Honestly, I left Minneapolis under the impression we would never see each other again. This thing between us was over before it had a chance to begin.”
“I'll admit that I tried not to think about you,” Brandan said. “I tried so very hard and failed oh so miserably. I even took some time off from work to refurbish the cabin I keep up north, because my feelings for you were affecting my attitude and people around me took notice.” She smiled. “Terrance was ready to go all diva-bitch on me a couple of times. He finally told me not to come to the clinic until I got my shit together and stopped snapping at the patients. On the upside, his numbers looked better that month.”
Caitlyn chuckled. “I can just see him doing that.”
“Yeah,” Brandan said with a small half-smile. “They've been calling me Cold Stone behind my back for months. Sam Johnson, my boss, finally sat me down and had a heart-to-heart. Told me what people were calling me. He also told me about the opportunities at Mount Sinai and Johns Hopkins. He even called both places beforehand and asked if they had any openings for a talented ortho surgeon. They both made me really good offers. Hopkins tossed in a fellowship, as long as I shared my surgical techniques with the next generation.”
“And you chose to take the offer in New York, instead?” Caitlyn asked.
“Yes,” Brandan nodded. She then looked Caitlyn right in the eye. “I've come to realize that my life has been missing something very important. You. I wanted to be in New York and as close to you as possible. I need to make this right, Caitlyn. I just want to be with you.”
Caitlyn nearly burst into tears again at the sincerity behind Brandan's confession. Instead, she closed her eyes and tried to concentrate on something else.
“I can't do this right now,” Caitlyn finally said in a small voice.
Luckily, the cab pulled up just outside the Kennedy Center. “We're here, ladies!” The driver announced.
Caitlyn practically jumped from the vehicle and raced toward the entrance where several bystanders were milling about. She didn't even greet anyone as she hurried inside. She yanked her tie, cumber bun and tuxedo jacket from the garment bag that she just dumped on the floor next to her cello case. She then grabbed her cello and hurried onstage.
Most of the orchestra was already there and they waited for her to get to her seat. Maestro Abraham glared daggers at her until she was settled.
“Are we keeping you from something important, Ms. Bradley?” He asked snidely. “Perhaps you have better things to do than show up to rehearsal on time?”
“No, Maestro,” she said breathlessly as she adjusted her position and settled her cello. “I'm sorry I'm late. Traffic was…”
“Yes, yes, yes. We know how traffic is. Washington, D.C. is a lot like New York City in that respect,” he impatiently tapped his baton on his music stand and raised his hands. “Shall we take it from the top, people?” He then looked pointedly at Caitlyn again. “If that's all right with you, of course, Ms. Bradley.”
Hearing the sarcasm in his tone, she didn't reply. She just readied her bow and waited for his cue. All thoughts of Brandan Stone flew right out of Caitlyn's mind as she concentrated on the music in front of her.
Brandan considered telling the cab driver to just turn right around and take her back to the hotel. Having Caitlyn suddenly bolt as soon as the taxi pulled up in front of the Kennedy Center was enough to throw her into a tailspin. She hadn't really expected the reaction she'd gotten from the woman. Surprise? Yes. Anger? Possibly. She didn't blame Caitlyn for any of it. Brandan knew she'd made a poor decision. Not that she regretted doing the surgery. She didn't.
“You gonna just sit here, lady?” The cab driver's voice brought Brandan instantly out of her musings. “I got other fares, ya know.”
“Oh,” she reached into the small bag that hung from her wrist and pulled out some money. “Here you go. Thank you.” She handed the money through the partition and exited the taxi.
Brandan then stood in front of the building for a moment and just stared up at it. There were quite a few early-arrivers milling about outside. Brandan just ignored them.
“So,” a voice from behind made Brandan turn around. “Hey, sugar. Long time no see.”
“Terrance?” She hugged him and then held him at arm's length so she could survey his duds. “The monkey suit again?”
“Figured you needed a date, sugar,” he adjusted his flashy rainbow tie. “Decided to use my frequent flyer miles for something besides visiting my brothers in Rikers. Rode the train up here just to make sure my best girl was okay.”
“How'd you know I would be here in D.C.?”
He gallantly offered his arm. “I have many skills, sugar.” She wrapped her arm in his and they sauntered slowly toward the lobby entrance, garnering more than a few curious stares from those milling about. “Besides, I just happened to do a little online investigating and figured you'd show up to this particular event. I even broke out my best tux for the occasion, since it'll be broadcast live on national TV and there are sure to be a few celebrities present. Maybe Cuba Gooding, Jr. will grace us with his presence. He's such a delicious specimen of chocolate goodness. Mm-mm.”
A few heads turned in their direction as they entered the luxurious lobby. Terrance took Brandan's coat and his own to the coat check, while Brandan stood just inside the door. She glanced around at the opulence of the place and noticed the stares and glares as Terrance returned.
“We seem to be an item,” she leaned close to him and said quietly. “You'd think we were both dressed in jeans and sweatshirts the way some of these people are giving us the stink eye.”
“It's that dress of yours, sugar,” he looked her up and down. “It's spectacular and really makes those eyes of yours pop. They're just jealous.”
“That was the general idea,” Brandan replied with a small smile. “Thought Caitlyn would…” She swallowed over a sudden lump in her throat.
“So, it's true, then?”
“She's here tonight? And you came to see her?”
She glared at him. “What do you think?”
“I think you should be a little nicer to a brother,” he replied with a shrug. “The ticket to get into this shindig cost me a pretty penny. Not to mention what I paid for the plane and train tickets to get here. Those things ain't cheap, ya know.”
“I didn't ask you to come, Ter,” Brandan shot back in irritation.
“No, you didn't,” he agreed. “But I sure wasn't going to miss out on your little reunion with our little Kit Cat. Not after what happened the last time the two of you did this whole meet and greet thing.” He looked around with feigned interest. “This is just like old times. You. Me. Our little cellist. A beautiful venue. What more can a body ask for?”
“I saw her. Rode in a cab with her earlier.”
Terrance gave her a double take. “Say what?”
“You heard me, Ter,” she walked over to the bar. “Seven and seven, please,” she said to the bartender and then she turned to Terrance. “You want anything? I'm buying.”
“Rum and coke, please,” Terrance winked at the bartender, who merely nodded.
Brandan paid the handsome young bartender and took her drink. She took two long swallows for courage and then met Terrance's expectant gaze.
“I found out where she's staying and went there to wait for her,” Brandan explained. “Waited over an hour. She showed up and was in a hurry to get back here, so I offered her a ride in the taxi I had standing by. Didn't really figure I'd see her before the concert.”
“Stalker,” he teased with a playful grin. He sobered instantly when she didn't take the bait. “So, what happened? Details, sugar. I want details.”
“She wanted to know why I was here in D.C.,” she continued. “I told her about the job offers from Johns Hopkins and Mount Sinai. Then I…” She took another drink and looked away. “I put my damned foot in my mouth.”
He studied her for a moment and noted the unshed tears swimming in her blue eyes.
“Talk to me, sugar,” he said softly, as he slowly sipped his own drink.
Brandan was silent for several moments as she stared out at the reflecting pool beyond. She could just make out the lights from several landmarks in the distance. She wasn't planning to stay in Washington, D.C. for more than a day or two, unless things worked out with Caitlyn.
“I spilled my damned guts to her,” Brandan stared down into her drink.
“She bolted from the taxi just as soon as we pulled up here,” Brandan downed the rest of her drink and handed the empty glass to Terrance. “Can you get me another?” She then gave him some money. “There's enough there for you to get another one, too.”
Terrance pocketed the money and just stood there.
“You told her you love her?” He asked.
“Not in so many words, no,” she replied. “I just told her I really missed her and wanted to be with her.”
“You dropped a bomb on her right before she's to perform in a nationally broadcast concert at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts?” He glanced around the place and whistled quietly. Then he looked pointedly at her with a raised brow. “How did you think she would react? The two of you haven't seen or spoken to each other since she moved back here. Then you show up out of the blue and tell the poor woman that you want to be with her on the very night she's supposed to perform in front of millions of people? How the heck was she supposed to react, sugar?”
It suddenly dawned on Brandan what she had done. “Oh God,” she groaned as she closed her eyes. “What have I done?”
“Yeah, I'm sure the good Lord is up there laughing his ass off, right now,” Terrance said sarcastically. “Man, Brandan. You doctors really do have the sense God gave a turnip when it comes to matters of the heart. Damn, sugar. Poor Caitlyn is probably wondering what the hell she did to deserve this.”
Brandan turned to the window and stared outside. If she could have kicked herself, she would have. Good thing she had Terrance there to do it for her. The gown she wore was a little tight and didn't have much give to it.
“I am such an idiot.”
“You're telling me,” he said as he finished off his drink. “I'll be right back with another drink for you. I'm sure you need it, right about now. Don't go anywhere.”
Brandan didn't move. She just leaned against the wooden railing that ran around the windows at hip level and mentally kicked herself. What had she been thinking? Obviously she hadn't been thinking about anyone but herself. She certainly hadn't considered Caitlyn's feelings or the fact that the woman had to get up on stage and perform in front of all those people after Brandan's selfish admission.
“It's a beautiful view, isn't it?”
Brandan glanced over to find a gorgeous woman in an elegant evening gown of shimmering gold standing next to her. The woman held a flute of champagne and was sipping it between full, red lips. Her brown hair was pulled back into an elegant chignon and she had the chiseled features of a fashion model. They were almost the same height.
“It is,” Brandan replied dejectedly.
“I just love this place,” the woman continued in her sultry voice. “It's the only reason I'm still here in D.C.”
“I don't live here,” Brandan said. “Just here for the performance tonight. Then I'm headed back to New York.”
“Ah,” the woman smiled thinly. “The Big Apple. Now there's a place I wouldn't mind visiting. I just adore Park Avenue. So many little boutiques and specialty shops. It's lovely. And Broadway is fantastic.”
“I'll have to take your word for it,” Brandan replied. “I've only been there for a few weeks and haven't had a chance to take in any of the sights, yet.”
“Oh?” The woman studied her for a moment. “Where is it you're from, then?”
“Minnesota,” Brandan said. “The Twin Cities area.”
“Ah,” the woman nodded. “I've heard it's nice there. I don't get that far west very often.”
“Like any metropolitan area, it has its good and bad,” Brandan said.
Terrance chose that moment to return. “Here's your drink, sugar.” He gave the other woman a quick once-over. “Who's your new friend?”
“Victoria Van Hessen, of the Baltimore Van Hessens,” the woman held out a bejeweled hand to him and gave him a small smile. “Charmed.”
He took her hand and kissed the back of it. “Terrance Stadler, of the New York Stadlers. It's a pleasure, Ms. Van Hessen.”
“The pleasure is all mine, Terrance,” her smile widened at his charming gesture. She then looked pointedly at Brandan with an inquiring lift of her penciled brow.
“Dr. Brandan Stone,” Terrance corrected. “She's one of the premier surgeons on the East Coast and just accepted a position at Mount Sinai.”
“Oh?” Victoria gave Brandan's attire the quick once-over. “Who designed that dress of yours, Dr. Stone? It is simply exquisite.”
“It brings out the color of her eyes, doesn't it?” Terrance added with a sly grin.
“It certainly does,” Victoria said over the rim of her champagne glass as she continued to gaze at Brandan lasciviously. “Absolutely breathtaking.”
Brandan hid her discomfort at the openly flirtatious look Victoria was giving her. The woman looked like she wanted to undress Brandan right there and have her way with her.
“You ready to go find our seats, sugar?” Terrance said, right on cue, as he offered his arm to her.
“Yes,” Brandan took his arm a little too quickly. “It was a pleasure, Ms. Van Hessen. Nice to meet you.”
“Oh, the pleasure is all mine, Dr. Stone,” Victoria watched them leave. “Maybe I'll see you again after the performance. I'll be anxiously waiting right here for your return.”
Brandan spared a brief glance over her shoulder before they entered the theatre. Valerie Van Hessen was staring right at her with a feral look that said more than words ever could.
“If things don't work out with Caitlyn…” Terrance said quietly.
“Not a chance,” Brandan cut him off. “That woman is a viper with fangs…and claws. There's no way in hell I would ever consider starting a relationship with someone like her.”
“Oh, honey,” he said. “Relationships are overrated. I'm sure she's a tigress in bed. She certainly wanted to undress you with those sultry eyes of hers.” He chuckled.
“Drop it, Ter,” Brandan growled.
They continued to the front row in silence as an usher escorted them down the aisle. As the usher stopped at the front row, he glanced at Terrance.
“I don't believe your seat is in this row, sir,” he said a bit snidely.
“Yes, you're right, my good man,” Terrance let go of Brandan's arm. “I was just escorting the lady to hers.” He then looked at Brandan. “See you after the show, sugar?”
Brandan looked down the row of seats and noticed that hers was the only one that was still vacant. Every seat that close to the stage was already occupied. Actually, the entire place was packed.
“Maybe I should sit where you're sitting, Ter,” Brandan said to him. “Where is your seat, anyway?”
Terrance took out his ticket and squinted at it.
“May I, sir?” The usher reached out and Terrance handed the ticket to him. “You're in the 2 nd Tier, sir.” He pointed to the upper balcony. “You can either take the stairs or the elevator out in the lobby. An usher will be happy to show you to your seat.”
“Thank you, my good man,” Terrance took the ticket back and tucked it the inside pocket of his jacket. He then turned to Brandan and gallantly took her hand and kissed the back of it. “Enjoy the concert, my dear. I'll see you afterwards.”
Brandan didn't have time to reply as Terrance headed back up the aisle and disappeared through the door to the lobby.
“You'll need to take your seat, miss,” the usher said. “The performance will begin shortly.”
“Yes, of course. Thank you,” Brandan made her way down the row to the only vacant seat and sat down.
She was so close to the stage that she could actually hear shuffling behind the heavy velvet curtain in front of her. She felt a sense of anticipation at the prospect of seeing Caitlyn again. But then she remembered their earlier conversation and her heart sank.
A moment later the lights dimmed and the audience applauded as the curtain parted. The musicians were all seated toward the back of the stage, leaving space between the front row of seats and the actual orchestra. The first-violinist's chair was vacant.
Then a woman entered from stage right, bowed to the audience and sat down in the vacant chair. The audience applauded. A moment later, Maestro Abraham entered stage-right. The first-violinist stood back up, grabbed the baton from her stand and walked up to the man. She handed the baton over without a word and the audience applauded again.
Maestro Abraham took his place on the raised podium in front of his music stand and raised the baton. The concert began with a classical piece written by Mozart.
Brandan spotted Caitlyn, immediately. The woman was seated at the end of the cello row in the first-cello spot. Brandan couldn't help but smile proudly. She knew Caitlyn had had to re-audition for a place on the Philharmonic, but she hadn't expected the woman to be sitting as first-cellist.
It wasn't long before Brandan was completely entranced by the music and was completely lost in it. The next piece was more difficult than the first. Brandan was completely focused on Caitlyn and lost track of what was happening around her.
Then a cameraman passed right in front of her, stopped and stood between her and Caitlyn. The spell was broken. Brandan noticed more cameras scattered throughout the concert hall and a long boom camera overhead. The music continued and she tried to lose herself in it. But the magic of the evening was lost.
Caitlyn kept her eyes fixed on her music as the concert progressed. She didn't want to look out into the audience and risk the possibility of seeing Brandan Stone sitting out there. She knew she needed to stay focused on the music. Her emotions were just too close to the surface and she wasn't ready to face her feelings on live TV.
Besides, her family was supposed to be watching. She really didn't want to break down in tears in front of them. But that didn't keep her mind from going back to that earlier conversation. Not to mention the fact that Brandan was there in the first place.
Caitlyn closed her eyes as the MC droned on and on about the history of the New York Philharmonic and their debut at the Kennedy Center. A nudge from the person next to her and Caitlyn opened her eyes.
“You okay, chica ?” Rosemarie whispered loudly from a few chairs down.
Caitlyn merely nodded and returned her attention to the music in front of her. She just stared at it without really seeing it. That was far better than looking up to find a camera lens focused on her or…
The MC finished his monologue, the audience applauded and Maestro Abraham stepped back up onto the podium. He raised his baton and the music began. Caitlyn didn't have time for further musing as she poured her soul into the next two pieces.
One piece after another followed until they came to the final piece of the evening. The MC returned to the stage and said a few words. He then said Caitlyn's name and loud applause followed. Caitlyn looked up in surprise and realized every eye was on her.
“Stand up, Caitlyn,” Emily whispered.
Caitlyn slowly stood up and her gaze took in the front row of the audience. It didn't take her long to pick Brandan out from the rest. She was sitting dead center. The doctor smiled at her and Caitlyn nearly lost it. She quickly sat back down and returned her attention to her music.
The lights were suddenly too bright. The audience was too loud. Her clothing was too tight, especially her tie, and it was way too hot up there beneath all those lights. Caitlyn felt the panic rising as her heartbeat increased along with her breathing. She felt like she was going to throw up as the MC droned on, the cameras moved and her eyes found Brandan Stone again.
“You okay?” Emily's quiet voice brought Caitlyn back to the matter at hand. “You look really pale, Caitlyn.”
“Fine,” Caitlyn managed to squeak out between panicked breaths. “Just wish…”
She didn't get the chance to finish what she was about to say, as the audience applauded, the MC exited the stage again and Maestro Abraham resumed his place on the podium. He raised his baton, glanced in Caitlyn's direction and noticed her ashen features. He silently mouthed something to her and she gave him a wan reassuring smile. He nodded and gave them the downbeat.
Caitlyn felt the panic slowly subside as she played her part. Concentrating on the flow of the music was more relaxing than anything else. Soon she was playing her solo and was so engrossed in the music that nothing else mattered. The world fell away as her fingers and bow slid over the strings.
But it wasn't long before she reached the end of the piece and lifted her bow off the strings. Silence echoed for a few heartbeats and then the entire hall erupted in loud and enthusiastic applause. Maestro Abraham motioned for them all to stand and take their collective bow. He then took his own bow as they sat back down. Then he motioned for Caitlyn to stand up and take a bow.
She felt the panic hit her all over again as the audience rose to their feet and they applauded louder. There were a few whistles and shouts of “Bravo!” Caitlyn blushed profusely and she felt like her heart was going to beat right out of her chest. She bowed quickly and sat right back down. The applause continued and Maestro Abraham took another bow.
Then the curtains closed and the applause died down.
Caitlyn just sat there in stunned silence as her fellow musicians scrambled to leave the stage. She had never experienced such a whirlwind of emotions in such a short period of time. It was all so confusing and frightening and…
“You okay, chica ?”
Caitlyn looked up to find Rosemarie watching her with concern. She shook herself out of her stupor and tried for a reassuring smile.
“I'm…” She just shook her head. “That's never happened to me before, Rosie.”
Rosemarie sat down in the vacant seat next to Caitlyn and wrapped an arm around her shoulders.
“You were amazing,” Rosemarie squeezed Caitlyn's shoulders. “I'm sure your family is very proud of you, chica .”
“I'm sure they're wondering why I looked like a deer caught in the headlights,” Caitlyn chuckled mirthlessly. “I can't believe I froze like that. I've never had stage fright in my entire life.”
“There was a lot going on tonight. Even I was a little intimidated by all the cameras and that master of ceremonies who just kept droning on and on about funding for the Arts. I still can't believe this was broadcast live on national TV.”
“That wasn't the worst part,” Caitlyn said quietly as she glanced at the closed curtain.
“What do you mean?”
“She was right there,” Caitlyn pointed to the middle of the curtain. “In the front row. Dead center.”
Caitlyn nodded silently.
“So, what now?” Rosemarie said after several moments of silence. “You can't hide here forever, chica . The others will start wondering where we are and come looking.”
Caitlyn shook her head. “I can't.” She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Every time I had to go in for an appointment and see her…” She finished with another shake of her head and a shuddering exhale. “I can't go through that heartbreak again. I just can't, Rosie. Those were the worst months of my life.”
Rosemarie squeezed Caitlyn's shoulders again. “Maybe this is different. Maybe things have changed and she wants to make things right between you.”
Caitlyn impatiently swiped a tear from her cheek.
She looked up to find Jason standing just offstage in the shadows. There was someone else there behind him, but Caitlyn couldn't see who it was. She could, however, see the Cheshire grin he was giving her.
“What's up, Jace?” Caitlyn called back.
“There's someone here to see you,” he stepped aside.
Caitlyn's heart leaped into her throat as Brandan Stone stepped forward into the dim lighting that was softly glowing onstage. The elegant woman heading toward her was beyond gorgeous. She was stunning. The blue gown shimmered as she walked and her eyes sparkled as she smiled.
“I'll just take Annette and put her away for you, chica ,” Rosemarie grabbed Caitlyn's cello and headed off the stage.
Caitlyn barely heard her friend and couldn't take her eyes off the tall woman approaching her. She didn't even comment at Rosemarie's use of the nickname they had playfully come up with for Caitlyn's cello.
Annette. As in Annette Funicello, the famous Disney actress from the bygone days of the original Mickey Mouse Club. Caitlyn and Rosemarie had been completely drunk one night when they decided their instruments needed nicknames. It was kind of like giving a nickname to a car and they had laughed about it for weeks afterward.
Rosemarie named hers Enrique, after the hot and sexy—her terms, not Caitlyn's—young Latin singer, Enrique Iglesias. Caitlyn thought Annette was the perfect name for her cello, especially considering they were both so drunk that turning Funicello into funny-cello was hilarious at the time. Both nicknames stuck, even after they were sober again and they realized how ridiculous they'd been.
Caitlyn didn't notice Rosemarie's swift retreat from the stage and she barely registered the glance Brandan spared the woman as Rosemarie passed her. Caitlyn just sat there trying to stifle the urge to bolt in the other direction. Her fight or flight—and mostly the latter—kicked into high gear and it was all she could do to sit still.
“Hi, Caitlyn,” Brandan greeted her with a wary smile.
“I wanted to come backstage and apologize,” Brandan turned the chair around in front of Caitlyn and sat down. “I'm really sorry about what happened earlier.”
Caitlyn was tongue-tied and could barely put together a coherent thought as she continued to stare in silence at Brandan. The woman was absolutely breathtaking in the sapphire-blue evening gown that matched her eyes so perfectly. There were just enough stage lights still on to catch each movement Brandan made. But that was nothing compared to those deep-blue eyes that gazed intently back at her.
“Are you all right?” Brandan asked in concern when Caitlyn remained silent. “You seem really…um…off.”
Caitlyn shook herself. “I'm fine,” she managed. “It's just been a really long day. I'm a little tired.”
“Understandable,” Brandan nodded and broke eye contact. “I'm probably not making things any easier for you, either.” She stood up again. “Well, I just wanted to let you know how sorry I am for what happened in the cab on the way here. I didn't mean to upset you right before your big night.” She was just about to turn and leave, but stopped. “You were incredible, by the way. No one would ever know from the way you played tonight that you'd had surgery on your hand only a few months ago.” She then reached down and took Caitlyn's hand in her own. She ran her thumb over one of the small scars and then met Caitlyn's gaze. “Amazing.”
“Yeah,” Caitlyn said breathlessly, as her entire body suddenly smoldered from that simple touch.
Blood pounded loudly in Caitlyn's ears and every fiber of her being was urging her to stand up and move closer to Brandan. She didn't even realize that she had done just that, until she was staring at the full lips just inches away from her own.
“I really want to kiss you, right now,” Brandan said in a soft whisper.
“Me, too,” said Caitlyn.
They moved even closer until they were breathing the same air.
Both women instantly jumped apart at the sudden interruption.
“Dr. Stone, might I have a word?”
Brandan turned in time to see a red-headed woman moving intently toward her with a cameraman in tow. The woman held a microphone and said something to the cameraman, who moved off to one side and lifted his camera to his shoulder.
“And with Ms. Bradley, of course,” the woman added with a charming smile as she moved to stand between the two women and lifted the microphone to just below her chin. She then turned to face the camera. “I'm here with Dr. Brandan Stone and first-cellist Caitlyn Bradley at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on the opening night of what is sure to be hailed as one of the New York Philharmonic's most historic performances. Ladies,” she greeted them with a reporter's plastic smile. “Can you tell us a little about what brought the two of you together and why you're both here again tonight? I'm sure America would love to hear all about the tragedy-turned-triumph that culminated in this amazing evening here at the Kennedy Center.” She then held the mic out to Brandan. “Dr. Stone?”
Brandan's eyes widened slightly, before she caught herself. “I, uh, well…”
“Let me provide just a little backstory,” the woman interrupted quickly. “It is my understanding that Ms. Bradley here was named first-chair cello of the Philharmonic when they embarked on their national tour last spring. The tour kicked off in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where you were working as an orthopedic surgeon for a prestigious and world renowned clinic. Is that right?”
“Yes,” Brandan replied stiffly.
“And it's also my understanding that you were there the night the Philharmonic kicked off its national tour. Is that correct, Dr. Stone?”
“So, tell us what happened on that fateful night,” the woman then turned to Caitlyn. “Or would you rather be the one to share your harrowing experience, Ms. Bradley?”
“I…” Caitlyn stammered and shook her head.
The woman smiled into the camera. “Well, ladies and gentlemen, it appears we have a couple of shy ladies with us this evening. And since we're a little pressed for time, I'll just go ahead and fill you in.”
The woman continued to talk into the camera, while Caitlyn tried not to look directly into the bright light above it. She only half listened to the woman talk about the accident and the injuries she suffered. Caitlyn thought it was strange to hear someone else explain what she went through, as if the woman knew exactly what Caitlyn felt during those excruciating moments.
Mentally distancing herself from what was going on around her, Caitlyn wanted nothing more than to get off the stage and find a nice, quiet place to sit and gather her thoughts. She knew Brandan Stone was standing only a few feet away on the other side of the nosey reporter. She couldn't see Brandan and didn't know what was going through her own mind at that particular moment. Caitlyn still felt like her body was on fire for the first time in a very long time. And then she blushed when she realized they'd come very close to kissing right there on that very stage.
“Is there anything you would like to say to Dr. Stone, Ms. Bradley?” The woman suddenly turned and shoved the mic into Caitlyn's face again.
“Thank you?” Caitlyn managed to utter.
“And, Dr. Stone,” the woman turned to Brandan. “Ms. Bradley's triumphant return to the Philharmonic after the miraculous reconstructive surgery you performed to give her full use of her hand again must be an incredible accomplishment. Do you have anything you would like to say to your patient?”
The last word stunned both Brandan and Caitlyn. Brandan stood there for a moment as the mic hovered just in front of her mouth. A thousand thoughts raced through her mind as she caught Caitlyn's wide-eyed glance in her direction.
“I'm just glad the surgery went as well as it did,” Brandan said finally. “Caitlyn is a very talented musician, as evidenced by her performance this evening. I hope she continues to grace us with her music for many years to come.”
“There you have it, America,” the woman said brightly. “This is more than just a charming human interest story. It is a true testament to the dedication and hard work of two very talented women who were brought together by tragedy and managed to turn that tragedy into triumph. This is Sarah Delacroix, reporting to you live at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Now back to Mike and Matt in the studio.”
The camera light faded out and Caitlyn suddenly noticed a small crowd of onlookers standing behind the cameraman. The crowd applauded and Rosemarie moved toward Caitlyn with Elsa, Brenda and Emily in tow.
“That was…er…interesting,” Brenda commented.
“I've never seen anything like it,” Elsa added sarcastically.
“Knock it off, you two,” Rosemarie chided. “She was just nervous.” She then addressed Caitlyn directly. “Sorry, chica . The woman just barged right past us before anyone could stop her. We had no idea what she was up to until it was too late.”
Caitlyn caught a glimpse out of the corner of her eye of Brandan talking to the reporter just about the time the reporter laughed at something the doctor said. Brandan smiled as the two continued their conversation in hushed tones.
“You didn't hear a word I just said, did you?”
Caitlyn's head snapped around and she found Rosemarie glaring at her. “Huh?”
“She's in la la land again,” Emily added with a grin. “Poor Kit Cat is having a little trouble concentrating.”
“Kitty Cat has her attention on a certain dark-haired woman in blue,” Elsa said with a wink. “Not that I blame her. I wouldn't mind finding out what's underneath that…”
Two hands covered her mouth before Elsa could finish. The woman just poked her tongue out and smirked when Rosemarie and Brenda both instantly pulled their hands away.
“Okay, amigas ,” Rosemarie gave Caitlyn an apologetic half-smile. “Why don't we go backstage and see what the rest of the group wants to do to celebrate.”
“Aww,” Elsa pouted. “Why can't we stay here and find out how this story ends? This is oh so much more interesting than…”
“Come on,” Brenda grabbed Elsa's hand and dragged her away before she could finish.
“I'm kinda with Elsa on this one,” Emily said to Rosemarie, who simply glared daggers at her. “Okay, okay, Rosie. You don't have to give me that scary death glare of yours. Sheesh.” She then slowly followed the other two.
Rosemarie waited for the women to disappear backstage before turning back to Caitlyn.
“Will you be okay, chica ? Or do you want me to stick around for a little bit? I'm a pretty good wing-man.”
“I'll be fine, Rosie,” Caitlyn said with a small smile. “You go on ahead. I'll catch up in a bit.”
Rosemarie gave her a hug. “You were sensational, chica .”
“Thanks. So were you.”
“I'll call you when we figure out where we're going,” Rosemarie stepped back. “We might just go to that tavern across the street from our hotel. It's pretty cozy and will hold all of us.”
Rosemarie walked away, leaving Caitlyn standing there to one side of the mostly empty stage. The reporter and cameraman were still with Brandan, but it looked like their conversation was winding down. Then the reporter shook Brandan's hand and she and the cameraman walked away.
Caitlyn really didn't want to stick around and wait. So, she slowly made her way offstage and around toward the back entrance. She took the left-stage route, so it took her a little while to wend her way through the extra music stands and chairs that were stacked neatly behind the back curtain.
“Hey,” Brandan managed to catch up to her just before Caitlyn reached the side door. “Caitlyn, I…”
Caitlyn turned expectantly and caught the wary expression Brandan wore.
“Yeah,” she nodded sadly. “I know.”
Brandan's brow quirked. “You know what?”
Caitlyn grabbed her coat and scarf from the hook next to her cello case. She reached into her coat and pulled out her cell phone. Checking to see if there was a call from Rosemarie, which there wasn't, she shoved the phone back into a pocket and donned the coat. Tying her scarf around her neck, Caitlyn met Brandan's gaze.
“This will never work between us, Dr. Stone,” Caitlyn made a point of being formal with the woman, despite the fact her heart was breaking all over again. “You and I both know it. So, why don't we just…” She shook her head and looked away. “My friends are expecting me. I have to go.”
“Wait,” Brandan grabbed Caitlyn's arm before she could escape. “Caitlyn, please.” Her tone was pleading as Caitlyn stopped and hesitantly turned back. “I—I'm not very good at this sort of thing.”
“Me, either,” Caitlyn conceded. “And…” She finished with a shake of her head as tears sprang to her eyes. “Please. Just go, Dr. Stone. We both have our careers to think about. This was just never meant to be. We come from two very different worlds and...”
“No,” Brandan's tone hardened as she took a step closer. “I don't believe that and neither do you, Caitlyn.” She tucked a lock of hair behind Caitlyn's ear as she studied her features. “I—” She closed the distance and words no longer mattered.
The instant Brandan's lips met hers, Caitlyn was lost. Every protest she'd been prepared to utter suddenly vanished in a haze of breathless enchantment as those luscious lips pressed against her own. And when Brandan's tongue traced a searing path against her closed mouth, Caitlyn groaned in hungry anticipation as her lips parted.
The world fell away and all that existed was the two of them. Caitlyn clung to Brandan like a lifeline as their tongues explored and tasted. Every fiber of her being suddenly screamed for more as she pressed her body closer to Brandan's.
“Girl on girl action! Awesome!”
They sprang apart so suddenly that Caitlyn stumbled back against the cello case propped against the wall behind her. She regained her balance on shaky legs just as Brandan was about to go after the bearer of the untimely interruption.
“No, Brandan! Wait!” Caitlyn managed to grab Brandan's shoulder to stop her. “He's not worth it.” Caitlyn then glared at the man standing a few feet away. “Go away, Tony. This is a private moment.”
“Why?” Maestro Abraham casually sauntered over to them, despite the dangerous glare he was receiving from Brandan. “You two seem so…” he looked them both over hungrily, “perfect together?”
“Brandan, don't,” Caitlyn kept a firm hold on Brandan's shoulder, even when the woman jerked toward the conductor. “If you know what's good for you, Tony, you'll just leave. Please don't make a scene.”
His eyes narrowed at Caitlyn. “Why not make it a threesome, little cat?”
He never saw the blow coming. Brandan's fist connected squarely with his jaw with such lightning speed that he was sprawled on the carpeted floor an instant later. He was also very slow in getting up, as Brandan shook out her fist and winced.
“Damn!” Brandan hissed. “That hurt more than I thought it would. Sonofabitch had it coming, though.”
“You actually thought before doing that?” Caitlyn grabbed Brandan's hand and examined it. She then glanced at the groaning man still trying to get up off the floor. “He's not worth it, you know.”
“No, but you are,” Brandan gave Caitlyn a lopsided smile. “And I would do it all over again,” she winced and sucked in a breath. “Except that it hurts like crazy.”
“We need to get some ice on it before it swells.”
“Yes, doctor,” Brandan grinned.
“Crazy bitches!” Maestro Abraham finally got to his feet and held his jaw. “What the fuck is your problem?” He glared at Brandan. “Dyke bitch! You fucking loosened one of my teeth!”
“Leave her alone,” Caitlyn moved between them. “You had it coming and you damn well know it, Tony. So, just get lost.”
He turned his glare on Caitlyn. “You're fired, bitch!” He then stormed away without a backward glance.
Brandan put a hand on Caitlyn's shoulder. “Can he do that? Fire you, I mean?”
“No,” Caitlyn turned to face her. “But I can report him to the board. They're the only ones who can hire and fire anyone in the orchestra. And it takes an act of God to get them all to agree on something like that.”
“Well, that's good,” Brandan ran the backs of her fingers lightly down Caitlyn's cheek. “I'd really hate to be the reason you were fired, especially after such an incredible performance.”
Caitlyn cocked her head and grinned. “My hero, again.”
Brandan glanced at her hand. “Some hero. I think I may have broken a knuckle or a finger.” She winced again.
“Come on, Tyson,” Caitlyn took Brandan's other hand and headed for the exit. “Let's go find some ice and maybe an emergency room.”
“No ERs,” Brandan didn't resist as Caitlyn pulled her outside. “And no clinics, either.” She suddenly stopped. “Oh, crap!”
“What about him?”
Caitlyn glanced around the deserted street. “He is? Where?”
“I left him in the lobby,” Brandan made a beeline toward the front of the building with Caitlyn close on her heels. “He kinda surprised me and just showed up out of the blue.”
“Yeah, I know what that's like,” Caitlyn commented dryly.
They reached the front of the building and were brought up short by the crowd that was still milling about outside the place. There were a few limos waiting out front and several news crews were parked near the building. Lights flashed as photographers snapped pictures of the celebrities who had attended the performance.
“Holy shit!” Caitlyn exclaimed as someone in the crowd spotted them and a mass of bodies were suddenly swarming like bees in their direction.
Just then, a taxi pulled right up and the back door swung open.
“Hurry up and get in, you two!”
Brandan shoved Caitlyn into the back and then ducked inside herself. The flash of cameras followed their every move until they were safely inside the cab.
They were greeted by a grinning Terrance as Brandan slammed the door shut just in the nick of time. Several reporters and cameramen tried to catch a glimpse of them and jockeyed for position next to the cab as its tires squealed away from the curb.
“Damn, girls!” Terrance sat back and looked them both over. “You really know how to make an entrance.”
“Or an exit, apparently,” Caitlyn added. “What was that all about, anyway?”
“You,” Terrance looked at them wryly. “That Sarah whatshername who interviewed the two of you broadcast that little piece live as she was doing the interview. It caught the attention of every news station in D.C. and they were suddenly all over this place like flies on shit. I decided to find a cab and see if the two of you needed a quick getaway.”
“Thanks, Ter,” Brandan said. “I owe you one.”
“You owe the driver some cab fare,” Terrance replied. “These things don't come cheap, sugar.”
“So, where to, people?” The cab driver suddenly piped up.
They all looked at each other. And then Caitlyn's cell phone rang. She quickly pulled it out of the pocket of her coat and answered it.
“Hello? Hey, Rosie. Yeah, we barely made it out of there before a bunch of reporters swooped in on us.” She listened for a moment. “Okay, that sounds great. We'll be there in a bit. Yep, bye.” She tucked the phone back in her coat. “You guys up for a little celebration?”
“Are you buying, sugar?” Terrance asked hopefully.
“Terry,” Brandan chided. “What is wrong with you?”
“I'm broke, sugar,” he said point blank. “Took all I had to buy the plane ticket and get that seat way up there in the upper stratosphere of the nosebleed section,” he looked at Caitlyn, who was seated between him and Brandan. “Great job, by the way, sugar. You really nailed that solo. I was completely mesmerized, even way up there. Or maybe the thin air was just getting to me.”
“Thanks,” Caitlyn grinned wryly at him. “I think.”
“Someone want to tell me where you all want to go?” The cab driver asked impatiently. “The meter's running here.”
They both looked at Caitlyn.
“The Brew,” she told the driver. “It's on the corner of…”
“Yeah, yeah, I know where it is,” he said. “You want the scenic tour? Or the straight shot?”
“Straight shot,” Brandan replied, then chuckled at the pun. “So to speak.”
Terrance and Caitlyn just looked at her in bewilderment.
It didn't take long for their driver to navigate the side streets and pull up in front of a tavern-style corner building with an old-style carved wooden sign hanging above the door. The sign had a large pint of beer painted on it that was reminiscent of the 17-1800s. The building itself was tan with dark-brown trim and looked like it should have been parked on a cobblestone street in Europe, not America.
Brandan handed the driver some cash, as the other two got out of the taxi and waited on the sidewalk for her. As they entered the dimly-lit establishment, they shed their coats and hung them on pegs near the door. They were greeted with smiles and cheers from the tavern's patrons.
“You made it, chica !” Rosemarie came over and gave Caitlyn a hug. She then eyed the two people with her. “And this must be…”
“Brandan Stone and Terrance Stadler,” Brandan held out a hand to the woman.
“Welcome!” Rosemarie gave Brandan a quick once-over and then hugged her, too. “I'm so glad you made it and brought your friends.” She then turn to Caitlyn and leaned in conspiratorially, “Save me from these crazy people, chica .”
Caitlyn chuckled as Elsa sauntered up and eyed Brandan from head-to-toe with a lascivious grin.
“Back off Else,” Caitlyn took a step back and wrapped a possessive arm around Brandan's waist. “She's mine.”
Brandan looked at Caitlyn with a happy and somewhat surprised grin.
“Ooooo, sugar,” Terrance chuckled from Brandan's other side. “She's a keeper.”
“Get in here and have something to drink,” Rosemarie encouraged. “We have beer and pretzels. If you're hungry you can order a sandwich from the grill. They also have pizza, nachos and any mixed drink you can think of.”
“Oh, darlin',” Jason suddenly appeared and eyed Terrance up and down with a sly grin. “Who's your friend, Rosie?”
Terrance stepped forward. “Terrance Stadler. But you can call me…”
“Delicious?” Jason finished while running his tongue over his lips. “Can I buy you a drink, honey?”
“Sure,” Terrance walked to the bar with Jason after giving Brandan a quick wink. “Don't wait up.”
“Looks like yet another conquest for him,” Brandan commented to Caitlyn.
“Which one?” Caitlyn chuckled and watched the two men with their heads together. “Jason has a love-‘em-and-leave-‘em reputation that is second to none.”
“So does Terry,” Brandan said. “Looks like they have their work cut out for them tonight.”
Rosemarie grabbed Caitlyn's hand and pulled her toward a table. “Come on, chica . Time for some serious drinking.”
There was Washington Redskins memorabilia on the walls, as well as autographed pictures of a few celebrities and politicians. Dark wood paneling covered the walls and there were rustic beams in the ceiling. There were also several TVs set strategically throughout the place.
They all sat down and a pitcher of beer and several glasses were set in the middle of the table by a waitress in a low-cut blouse tied at her waist and showing off a silver stud in her belly button. Once Rosemarie had all the glasses filled and distributed, she coolly studied Brandan over the rim of her glass.
“So, tell me what happened after I left, chica ,” she said to Caitlyn, as she continued to study Brandan cooly.
“Not much to tell, really,” Caitlyn sat back with Brandan's arm draped over the back of her chair.
She didn't even think twice about how comfortable they suddenly were with each other. It just seemed so totally natural. Like they'd been a couple for months.
“Your performance tonight was fantastic,” Brandan said to Rosemarie. “The whole thing had me mesmerized from the moment the curtain went up.”
“Thank you,” Rosemarie let the hint of a smile show. “We've been working very hard on the music for weeks. And our little Cat deserves most of the credit. She's been working the hardest of anyone. And it really paid off. She was absolutely extraordinary tonight.”
Caitlyn blushed. “We're a team.”
“Not just a team, chica ,” Rosemarie added. “We really missed you on tour. It just wasn't the same without you. We played the music, but there was no passion behind it. That's what you bring. Passion.” Her gaze met Brandan's. “I'm just happy to have you back with us. Please don't ever leave again.”
Brandan felt the very air crackle with challenge at the look the Hispanic woman shot her way. It was as if Rosemarie was silently letting her know that Caitlyn was more than just a friend and she would do whatever it took to protect her. Rosemarie reminded Brandan of a little pit bull, in a way. All the woman had to do was growl and bare her teeth in a warning snarl.
“Oh, crap,” Caitlyn suddenly exclaimed. “I totally forgot about what happened back at the theatre…”
They all turned at once. Brenda pointed to the TV above the bar and all eyes were suddenly on the screen.
“Turn it up!” Someone shouted.
Caitlyn's and Brandan's pictures popped up on the screen with some footage of them getting into the cab with Terrance. A voiceover explained that the two were seen together leaving the Kennedy Center. Then Maestro Abraham appeared on camera.
“Yes,” he was standing just outside the Kennedy Center and holding an ice pack to his jaw. “That's right. I was just minding my own business and walking backstage when I saw those two making out. I just happened to get a little too close and suddenly this fist comes at me from nowhere. The next thing I know I'm on the floor and my jaw is on fire. It was totally insane.”
“And what did you do then?” A familiar reporter's voice asked.
“I just got out of there as fast as I could,” he replied. “I wasn't there to pick a fight. I was just passing through.”
“Did you notify the police, Maestro?”
“Yes, yes I did,” he nodded and winced. “I told them everything. And, for the record Sarah, I believe Caitlyn Bradley was just as responsible for this as Dr. Stone. I'm sure she was egging the doctor on the whole time. Not to mention there seems to be something off about the two of them, if you know what I mean.”
“Thank you for your time, Maestro Abraham,” the camera panned around to Sarah Delacroix. “So, there you have it, America. Quite the eventful evening here at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. A stunning performance by the New York Philharmonic featuring first-chair cellist, Caitlyn Bradley, in her triumphant return to the stage after the accident that nearly cost her a talented career. Dr. Brandan Stone's unexpected appearance in the audience during her patient's triumphant return. A strange twist of fate that could possibly mean an ongoing relationship between the doctor and her patient. An assault on the conductor of the New York Philharmonic involving both women. Did I miss anything? I don't think so. It appears that Washington, D.C. won't be known for scandals involving politicians and call girls from now on. Not after what we've seen tonight. This is Sarah Delacroix, reporting live from the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Good night, everyone.”
The station went to commercial. Caitlyn sat there in stunned silence. She just stared at her glass of beer with unseeing eyes as the conversation resumed around her.
“I can't believe he did that,” she said after another moment. “And what is up with that reporter?”
“Hey, chica ,” Rosemarie poured more beer into Caitlyn's glass. “Don't worry about it. Tonight we celebrate. Tomorrow is another day. Just put what that punta said out of your mind.” She raised her own glass in a silent toast. “Cheers.”
“I'm with Rosemarie on this one,” Brandan said as she took a long drink. “That reporter puts the snoop in snoopy. She just kept trying to get me to say something more after the interview. It was nuts. And from what I've heard, she's got a reputation for not reporting the facts.”
Caitlyn shook her head. “You don't understand. The members of the board of directors were probably watching and saw the whole thing. They don't like scandal. The Philharmonic has no room for scandal and has a strict policy that forbids any musician from tarnishing its good name.” She turned toward Brandan. “I'm sorry.” She pushed her chair back and stood up. “I just can't. I'm sorry.”
Grabbing her coat on her way out, Caitlyn made it to the sidewalk and was in the process of hailing a cab when she heard someone come up behind her.
She refused to turn around. Tears sprang to her eyes as she just stood there at the curb with her arms wrapped around herself. She wanted so much to turn around and look into those warm blue eyes. But she couldn't do it. To do so would put everything that she'd worked so very hard for in jeopardy.
“Caitlyn,” Brandan said quietly. “Please.” Caitlyn shook her head and still didn't turn around. “Come on, Caitlyn. Don't do this.” Brandan put her hands on Caitlyn's shoulders. “Please just give us a chance.”
Caitlyn spun around to face her. “Seriously?” Anger flared in green eyes swimming with unshed tears. “You of all people should know what's at stake. You're the one who put her career before anything that might have been, Dr. Stone. How can you stand there and ask me to give us a chance when you didn't have the guts to stand up for us when it really counted? Do you know what kind of hell I went through with my hand? And then you just turned me away? You quit and gave up before we ever had a chance. Then I had to come for my appointments and see you and pretend that I no longer had feelings for you. All the while I felt like my world was collapsing in on me. I didn't know if my hand would ever be the same again. I didn't know if I would ever be able to play music again. And you just…” The tears spilled unheeded down her cheeks. “I loved you and…and…you just…”
Unable to think of anything to say, Brandan just closed the distance between them and took Caitlyn in her arms. She held her close as Caitlyn cried into her white ermine coat. Brandan didn't care about the coat. All she cared about was the woman in her arms. And her heart broke into a million pieces as she realized what she'd done to Caitlyn.
“I'm so sorry,” she whispered against Caitlyn's hair as she continued to hold the sobbing woman.
An icy breeze ruffled Brandan's hair as she stood there with her back to the wind. Caitlyn's sobs slowly subsided and then she pulled away slightly.
Caitlyn sniffed. “Your coat…”
“It's fine,” Brandan let a grin lift one corner of your mouth. “I'm sure I can find a good dry cleaner when I get back to New York.” She smiled. “I'm more concerned about you.” She gently wiped the tears from Caitlyn's cheeks. “How are you doing now? Feel any better?”
Caitlyn shivered as a gust of wind hit her. “Brrr, it's really cold out here.”
“Tell me about it,” Brandan replied. “This dress isn't exactly geared for cold weather. The wind is riding right up the slit in the back. My ass is frozen”
“That slit is sexy,” Caitlyn stepped back and eyed Brandan from head to toe. She then looked up at Brandan with a lascivious grin. “The whole dress is rather sexy, you know,” she smiled saucily. “I especially like those open-toed shoes. You have beautiful toes, by the way.” She cocked her head. “Actually, the whole package is incredibly gorgeous. Hair, eyes, lips…”
“Are you flirting with me, Ms. Bradley?” Brandan pulled her close again. “Brrr! Shit it's cold out here. Why don't we go back inside and warm up? If that's okay with you, of course.”
“Yeah,” Caitlyn wiped the remaining tears from her cheeks. “Then maybe we can share a cab to…”
“My place,” Brandan put an arm around Caitlyn's shoulders and held the door open for her. “I've seen that place you rented. Mine is much more…er…”
They managed to sneak back in without anyone noticing.
“Elegant?” Caitlyn said as she hung her coat on its peg and waited for Brandan to do the same. “I made an ass out of myself, didn't I?”
“No,” Brandan covertly moved them to a quiet, out of the way corner. “Caitlyn, I don't care anymore about my career. I realized it right after you left. There was this…” She swallowed hard. “I felt like there was a gaping hole right here where my heart is.” She pointed to the low-cut cleavage that exposed just enough and not quite enough for Caitlyn's taste. “I couldn't sleep—couldn't do much of anything,” Brandan continued without noticing where Caitlyn's eyes were fixed. “I was a complete idiot for letting you go in the first place. I want to be with you, no matter what I have to do in order to make that happen. I'm even willing to give up being a surgeon and maybe open a general practice somewhere. I...” She took a deep breath for courage and let it out slowly. “I love you, Caitlyn Bradley. I know it's crazy, but I've never felt this way about anyone. I…”
“Shh,” Caitlyn put a finger to Brandan's lips, then took both of Brandan's hands in hers and studied one and then the other. She noticed some swelling and redness on the knuckles of Brandan's right hand and frowned. “You're a gifted surgeon, Brandan. These hands,” she kissed the palm of one and then the other, “were meant to help others. You can't give up doing what makes you happy. I won't let you.” She smiled up at the taller woman. “But we really need to get some ice on this,” she turned Brandan's right hand over. “Does it hurt?”
“A little,” Brandan shrugged. “But not when you're doing that. It's nice.”
Caitlyn continued gently stroking Brandan's hands with her thumbs, as she looked up and her expression turned serious.
“I love you, too, Brandan,” Caitlyn admitted. “I know that now. I'm just not sure…”
“Shhh.” It was Brandan's turn to press a finger against Caitlyn's lips. “We'll figure it out together, if that's what you want. Maybe if we put our heads together we can come up with something that will work out for the both of us. Sound good?”
“Yeah,” Caitlyn nodded as Brandan pulled her close again.
“Can I kiss you, Caitlyn?” Brandan looked around and noticed that no one was paying any attention to them. “I would really like to kiss you, right now.”
Caitlyn leaned closer and wrapped her arms around Brandan's waist. “I'm okay with it if you are, Dr. Stone,” she replied in a low purr.
“Oo, I love it when you say my name like that,” Brandan rested her forehead against Caitlyn's. “Sends a shiver right…”
Her words were effectively cut off as Caitlyn's lips met hers. The kiss quickly deepened and grew heated as they pressed their bodies even closer to each other. They didn't even notice when they were no longer alone.
“Get a room, you two,” Terrance interrupted.
Brandan turned her head just enough to glare at her friend. “Get lost, Ter,” she growled. “I'm a little busy here.”
He held up his hands in surrender, turned around and walked away. “Okay, okay. I know when a brother isn't wanted.”
Brandan continued to hold Caitlyn close and returned her attention to the woman. “Now, where were we?”
Caitlyn nipped the swollen lips so close to her own. “I think we were about to get some ice for that hand of yours,” she said as she wrapped her arms around Brandan's neck and kissed her again. “But this is really nice, too.”
“More than nice,” Brandan replied between kisses. “But I really want to take you back to my hotel and…”
“Yeah,” Caitlyn said.
“Then why don't you two get out of here before you get so hot and heavy that you light this place on fire,” Rosemarie's voice broke in. “ Dios mio! Se está haciendo calor aquí! ”
“She just said it's getting hot in here,” Caitlyn translated. She then glared at Rosemarie. “We are not taking off our clothes, so don't get any ideas, mi amiga .”
“Did I say you should take off your clothing, chica ?” Rosemarie countered. “I don't think so. You might want to go someplace a little more private for that.”
“I told them to get a room,” Terrance sauntered up again with Jason in tow. “I'm thinking of heading out, myself.”
“Me, too,” Jason gave Terrance a sidelong glance. “I'm really in the mood for a little chocolate after all this beer and pretzels.”
“White chocolate for me,” Terrance teased back with a playful grin.
“Maybe you two should get a room,” Caitlyn snickered. “Wait, aren't you already sharing one with Matt, Jace?”
“Hush, Kit Cat,” Jason chided. “Matt and I have an understanding. I don't bring any boys back to our room and he doesn't spray that god-awful shit he calls cologne when I'm around.”
“Let's go to my place, sugar,” Terrance said. “Then you don't have to worry about getting into any trouble with your roommate.”
“Fabulous,” Jason brightened as they left together, arm-in-arm.
“There goes the neighborhood,” Rosemarie rolled her eyes and then turned to find the two women glaring at her. “Yes, I know. I should go back to the party.” She then winked at them. “Don't do anything I wouldn't do, chicas .”
Brandan and Caitlyn stood there in each other's arms for a moment longer. They were so comfortable together that they didn't even realize they were still embracing. It was just—natural.
“Can I ask you something?” Brandan leaned in close.
“Anything,” Caitlyn met the sapphire-blue gaze.
“Can we go back to my hotel room now? Or do you want to stay here and…”
Caitlyn didn't wait for Brandan to finish. She grabbed her coat and headed for the door faster than Brandan thought possible. Quickly catching up to the musician, Brandan shrugged into her own coat and followed Caitlyn outside. A few flurries were drifting in the breeze and the temperature had dropped another five degrees. Brandan pulled her coat higher around her neck and raised an arm to an approaching taxi that pulled right up to them.
“How the hell do you do that?” Caitlyn asked as they climbed into the back.
“Height,” Brandan grinned. “It pays to be taller than the cars parked along the curb.”
“Hardy har har,” Caitlyn groaned. “Short jokes. What a way to start a relationship.”
“The Four Seasons,” Brandan told the cab driver. Then she pulled Caitlyn close to her side. “Is this really what we're doing?”
Caitlyn looked up at her and couldn't mistake the smoldering passionate gaze Brandan was giving her.
“I'm warning you,” Caitlyn said. “Two months from now you're going to be sorry you decided to move to New York.”
“Why?” Brandan's brow quirked. “Is there something wrong with New York?”
“Other than the fact the snow turns to black gunk after a day or two, traffic sucks, people can be rude and Christmastime is a real bitch? There's nothing wrong with New York at all. It's me you're going to get sick of. I'm going to be sticking to you like glue.” Caitlyn wrapped her arms around Brandan's waist and rested her head on the woman's shoulder. “I don't like to share.”
Brandan chuckled. “Me, either.”
“That was amazing,” Caitlyn sighed contentedly as she rolled to her back and stared up at the ceiling.
Brandan had a suite at the Four Seasons and the bedroom was absolutely breathtaking. Louis XIV had nothing on the opulence in that room. Gold filigree seemed to have thrown up all over the place. It was on the walls, around the framed pictures and around all the furniture. The bed had a lace canopy overhead and the sheets were of the finest Egyptian cotton. It was luxurious and extraordinary. And the perfect setting for making love.
“Yeah,” Brandan added. “Magical.”
“Passionate,” Caitlyn giggled. “I think I actually saw stars that last time.”
“Stars? Really?” Brandan turned on her side and propped her head on her hand. “You're beautiful, you know that?” She played with a lock of Caitlyn's hair. “So soft.”
Caitlyn turned on her side, as well. “Not as beautiful as you,” she glanced down at Brandan's cleavage. “I especially like that little scar you have, right there.” She pointed to a scar just above Brandan's left breast and then replaced her finger with her lips. “Beautiful.”
“Mmmmm,” Brandan purred. “Not sure I can go another round, baby. I'm a little exhausted after the last four rounds.”
“Then let me do all the work,” Caitlyn moved her lips lower as she tasted and licked and savored the salty-sweet skin she encountered.
Brandan was in blissful heaven as Caitlyn slowly and attentively worked her way down even lower. She felt a nibble on her belly that sent a jolt to her very center. Then something touched the sensitive skin on the back of her knee and she nearly flew right off the bed with a loud yelp.
Caitlyn giggled as she continued her playful explorations.
“Ticklish?” She snickered against Brandan's calf.
Caitlyn ran her fingertips lightly over Brandan's skin, tracing small circles and other shapes against the sensitive flesh that quivered at her touch. Brandan groaned louder with each passing moment, until Caitlyn replaced her fingertips with her lips. When she moved higher and caressed a bare hip, it was almost Brandan's undoing.
“You are definitely going to be the death of me,” Brandan's voice was throaty with need.
Caitlyn's head popped up beneath the covers. “You want me to just get it over and done with?” She asked saucily with a playful cock to her head. “Or would you rather I…”
She skimmed her fingertips against the inside of Brandan's thigh and elicited a deeper groan from her lover. Satisfied with the result, Caitlyn moved just a bit higher and found the slick folds of Brandan's sex.
“God, you are so wet and ready for me,” Caitlyn shifted her body so her lips were mere inches from those luscious folds. “I want you so much. You smell and feel so good.” She flicked out her tongue. “Mmmmm.”
“Fuck me, baby,” Brandan said breathlessly. “Please.”
Caitlyn didn't hesitate. She just let herself go as she took Brandan to the very edge of blissful oblivion and they both plunged over the precipice into pure ecstasy. The world around them disappeared completely and all that remained was the passion they shared.
As soon as Caitlyn felt Brandan's body shudder with the first waves of yet another orgasm, she hung on and waited to taste the sweet nectar she knew was coming. She was ready and wanted to savor every juicy morsel as it flowed from her lover's body.
“That's right, baby. You're so sweet that I can't get enough.”
Brandan was on fire as her body continued to respond to her lover's mouth pressed against her. She felt Caitlyn's tongue dart out and lap up her juices. It was surreal and exhilarating at the same time. Every fiber of her being cried out for more as she felt another wave of release wash over her. Her cries of passion only seemed to drive Caitlyn further until Brandan was sure that her entire body would explode from the incredible sensations she was experiencing.
“I've got ya,” Caitlyn moved higher until she was sprawled on top of Brandan and their bodies were one. “I've got ya, sweetheart.”
Brandan panted heavily from the exertion of experiencing so many orgasms all at once. Her mind was spinning and she knew there was no way she could stand, much less walk. Her legs continued to quiver in the aftermath and every muscle in her body felt like Jell-O.
“Where…” she panted breathlessly. “Who…”
Caitlyn chuckled, as she rested her chin on her hands on Brandan's chest and just watched her through hooded lids.
“Not sure I should tell you that,” Caitlyn replied. “Not on the first date, anyway.”
“Not our first…date,” Brandan took a deep breath and let it out slowly in an effort to get her errant body back under control.
“Oh?” Caitlyn cocked her head. “Enlighten me, Dr. Stone. When was it we went on our first date?”
“Pizza,” Brandan managed to utter tiredly. “Hospital.”
“Ah,” Caitlyn nodded. “I remember that night. But it's not like that can actually be considered a first date. I was a little laid up at the time. Couldn't really use my hands.” She wiggled her fingers at Brandan to emphasize her point.
Brandan finally managed to calm her breathing enough that she was no longer panting. She then tried pulling Caitlyn up higher, so they were nose to nose. Unfortunately, her arms weren't cooperating.
“Can you scoot up here, so I can kiss you?” Brandan asked nicely. “I'm kinda curious about something.”
Caitlyn gave her a slightly confused look, but then did as she was asked. “How's that?”
“Mm,” Brandan couldn't help but enjoy the feel of Caitlyn's pressed body against hers. “Nice.” She then lifted her head and kissed Caitlyn squarely on the lips. “Mmmm,” she groaned as the kiss deepened and then ended abruptly. “I taste really good on you.” She licked her lips and smirked. “Sweet.”
Caitlyn blushed to her roots. “You taste really good, period. Not sure I like sharing, though.”
Brandan tangled her fingers in Caitlyn's hair and pulled her down for another smoldering kiss. Their tongues met and vied for dominance, as they both enjoyed the taste and touch of the other. When they finally came up for air again, they just lay there staring into each other's eyes.
“I'm so glad I came here,” Brandan said as she ran her fingertips along Caitlyn's cheek. “You are so worth it. I can't believe I almost let you go. Dumbest mistake of my entire life.”
“I can't believe I left,” Caitlyn nipped at Brandan's lips. “I almost missed out on the best sex ever.”
Brandan's brows furrowed. “Is that all this is to you? Good sex?”
“Not good, hon, the best,” Caitlyn snickered and then sobered when Brandan's expression didn't change. “I was kidding, sweetheart. It was a joke.”
“Loving you is no joke, Caitlyn,” Brandan's tone was completely serious. “If I could, I would marry you tomorrow and spend the rest of my life making you the happiest woman in the world.” She wrapped her arms around Caitlyn's bare body and hugged her tight. “I can no longer imagine life without you, Caitlyn. You are my life now and that's no joke.”
Tears sprang to Caitlyn's eyes. “I'm sorry. I…”
“No,” Brandan shook her head as she brushed the hair back from Caitlyn's face. “Don't be sorry, baby. I'm the one who should apologize. I know this is probably a lot for you to deal with. It's all happening kinda fast.”
“No,” Caitlyn shook her head and several tears spilled onto Brandan's lips. She just licked them off. Caitlyn gently wiped the remaining ones away. “I love you, too, Brandan. You're the most…” She looked up as she tried to find the right words. “I've never known anyone like you. You're sweet and thoughtful, funny and such a wonderful lover.” She met Brandan's gaze and smiled. “You make me feel more alive than I've ever felt before. You're the most amazing person I've ever met and I want nothing more than to spend the rest of my life with you, too.”
“But?” Brandan asked hesitantly.
“No buts,” Caitlyn pressed her palm against Brandan's cheek. “I would marry you in a heartbeat, sweetheart.”
Brandan's eyes widened. “Did you just propose to me, Caitlyn Bradley?”
Caitlyn chuckled. “I think I just did.”
Brandan flipped them over so that Caitlyn was lying on her back looking up at her.
“God, I love you, woman,” Brandan growled as she met Caitlyn's lips in a kiss so full of passion and need that it left both their heads spinning. “Hell, yes. Let's get married and spend the rest of our crazy-assed lives together. You just made me the happiest woman in all of New York.”
“Um, we're in Washington, D.C., sweetheart,” Caitlyn corrected with her nose scrunched.
“In the whole fucking world!” Brandan shouted at the top of her lungs.
“Shhhh,” Caitlyn giggled as Brandan sat up in all her naked glory. “What are you doing?”
“I'm letting the world know that I am head over heels in love with you, Caitlyn Bradley!” Brandan shouted even louder. “And I will never stop loving you for as long as I live!”
“Shut the fuck up, you crazy bitch!” Someone shouted from nearby.
Both women broke out into helpless giggles as Brandan hovered over Caitlyn. She then sobered again as she stared into those green eyes shining with laughter.
“I love you, Caitlyn.”
“Oh, yeah?” Caitlyn wrapped her arms around Brandan's neck and pulled her closer. “Then show me.”
Brandan pressed her body to Caitlyn's and took her mouth in a smoldering kiss full of all the passion and need that she possessed. Their lovemaking continued long into the night and well into the next morning, until they collapsed into a dreamless sleep in each other's arms.
The sun rose and morning broke over the nation's capital, but neither woman moved as they lay together in a tangle of arms and legs in blissful sleep. Two hearts beat as one and two lives began again. The world could wait. Problems would get resolved. But in that moment, as they lay in each other's arms, nothing mattered but their love. Nothing existed but the two of them.
“Do you, Caitlyn Edith Bradley…”
Brandan's head snapped up and she mouthed Caitlyn's middle name in disbelief and received an eye roll and a tolerant nod in return. She tried not to chuckle and failed miserably.
“And do you, Brandan Alexandra Stone, take Caitlyn as your lawfully wedded wife. To have and to hold…”
Caitlyn's brow rose in open challenge.
“I do,” Brandan said softly. “Always.”
“Then by the powers vested in me by the state of Vermont, I now pronounce you wife and wife,” the female preacher chuckled and leaned in conspiratorially. “Always wanted to say that and get very few chances to do so.” She then addressed those gathered. “Ladies and gentlemen, I am very happy to present Dr. and Mrs. Stone. Ladies, you may kiss your bride.”
Whoops and hollers from those gathered followed as Brandan took Caitlyn into her arms and kissed her passionately on the lips. The kiss lasted a bit longer than was customary and soon the onlookers were just standing there in stunned silence.
“Okay, you two,” Rosemarie stepped up next to them. “You have the rest of your lives to do that. Can we just get on with the celebrating?”
Caitlyn turned a saucy grin on her matron of honor. “Just giving the kids the show they all came to see.”
Brandan actually snorted.
“As your best man, sugar,” Terrance came up next to Rosemarie and adjusted his bow tie, “I suggest you save the hot lesbian lovemaking for later, when you're alone. It makes a brother very uncomfortable.”
“Not to mention your parents look like they're about to bolt for the woods in a panic,” Rosemarie added with a chuckle.
“Why don't you two take your customary walk down the aisle as a couple,” the preacher suggested. “Then we can all enjoy some champagne and a light lunch.”
The woman nodded to the harpist and cello quartet just off to one side of the archway that was covered in white lilies and greenery. Elsa, Brenda, Emily and another cellist started Mendelsohn's Wedding March for the recessional.
Brandan took Caitlyn's arm in hers. “You ready, Mrs. Stone?”
“Absolutely, Dr. Stone,” Caitlyn smiled brightly.
They moved up the aisle without really looking around. Neither woman had eyes for anyone else. They were totally engrossed in each other and it was their day. But as far as they were concerned, no one else existed.
“How are you doing, hon,” asked Brandan.
“Perfect,” Caitlyn replied. “Perfect day for a wedding. Perfect weather. Perfect location. And my wife is absolutely stunning in that gorgeous outfit.”
She looked Brandan up and down with interest as they made it to the end of the aisle and ducked into a private alcove just off the main hall of the inn. A few candles in tea cups provided just enough light to see by as Brandan pulled Caitlyn into her arms and kissed her passionately.
“Mblah,” Caitlyn uttered when they finally parted for air. “God, I'm glad that's over.” She wrapped her arms around Brandan's neck and let her forehead rest against Brandan's. “Can we just skip all the reception festivities? I want to go back to our cottage and get you out of those clothes. See the stunning body underneath.”
Brandan chuckled. “As much as I would love nothing more than to get you naked, I think we need to at least thank our guests for coming to the wedding, hon.” She pecked Caitlyn on the lips. “Especially your parents and your sister's family. Don't want to piss off the in-laws on our wedding day.”
“You two need to get back out here,” Rosemarie's voice intruded on their private moment as she popped her head in and out of their little room.
Caitlyn rolled her eyes in exasperation. “Damned woman will be the death of me.”
“She's your best friend and your matron of honor, baby,” Brandan said. “She's just trying to keep us in line.” She reluctantly moved back a step and took Caitlyn's hand. “Come on, Kit Cat. Let's go greet the guests, so we can sneak out when no one's looking.”
“You took the words right out of my mouth,” Caitlyn gave her a wry grin.
They went back out into the main hall and were greeted by a cheering crowd of guests. Several musicians came up and hugged Caitlyn, while Brandan stepped aside.
“Hello, Brandan,” Sam Johnson came up next to her with a mixed drink in his hand. “It's good to see you. Thank you for the invitation. It was a beautiful ceremony. And the two of you are good together. You look very happy.”
“Thank you, Sam,” she smiled. “I'm glad you approve.”
“Here you go, sugar,” Terrance walked up and handed Brandan a seven and seven. “Thought you might need a little pick-me-up.”
Brandan took the glass from him and downed half in a few gulps. “Thanks, Ter. You know Dr. Samuel Johnson?”
“Hello, Terrance,” Sam greeted the man with a warm smile. “I'm still waiting for your answer on that little proposal.”
“Yes, Dr. Johnson,” Terrance glanced at Brandan, who was eyeing them curiously. “He wants me to open another clinic closer to his practice. He's willing to subsidize it and pay me a decent salary to run it.”
“And what about the free clinic?” Brandan asked.
“I got another brother to oversee it,” Terrance replied. “Jay Jay has a good head for numbers and doesn't take shit from anyone. He'll keep it running like a well-oiled machine. No worries, sugar.”
“Oh,” Brandan nodded.
Terrance suddenly ducked behind Brandan and peeked over her shoulder.
“Save me, sugar,” he said in her ear. “He's relentless.”
Brandan searched the sea of guests and noticed one in particular heading their way. Jason looked like he was searching for someone.
“Mm-hm,” Terrance nodded. “Don't let him know I'm here. I'm begging you.”
“Why?” Brandan said quietly. “Did the two of you have a falling out or something? Is he going to make a scene?”
“Not exactly,” Terrance said. “We kinda…well…it's a long story.”
She glanced at him over her shoulder. “You don't do long stories, Ter. Spill it.”
“We dated for three weeks while I stayed in D.C.,” Terrance explained. “Got really close. I like him. He's fun and interesting. Has a good sense of humor. You know, for a white gay guy. But then…” He shook his head. “He suddenly starts talking about moving in together and love and stuff.” He shuddered. “I can't do that sort of thing, sugar. It goes against everything I believe in. I'm just not a man who can put all his eggs in one basket. Know what I mean? I'm not like you, sugar. I need variety.”
“He's coming this way, Ter,” Brandan warned. “I think he's spotted you.”
Jason made a beeline for them and Terrance suddenly found a means of escape. Brandan just moved closer to Caitlyn, who was talking to her sister.
“Congratulations, Brandan,” Tammy hugged her. “Welcome to the family—as crazy as it is.”
Caitlyn's parents then came up and joined them. Brandan possessively put her arm around Caitlyn's shoulders. She pulled her close and kissed the top of Caitlyn's head, smiling as her wife wrapped an arm around her waist.
“Well,” Jacob eyed both women warily. “I guess I'm supposed to be happy that my little girl found someone that makes her happy.”
“Daddy…” Caitlyn started.
“Jacob,” Marion stepped up beside her husband. “Please don't make a scene, sweetheart. Not here.”
“Then where, Marion?” He continued to glare at Brandan and Caitlyn in turn. “My little girl comes to me and tells me she's one of them…” he waved a hand at them. “And wants to get married. What's a father supposed to think? Huh?”
“I'm not your little girl anymore, Daddy,” Caitlyn said. “I'm a grown woman and I've been on my own for years. I can make my own decisions and I chose to marry Brandan. I love her and she loves me. So, you and Mom can either be happy for us or…”
“Take your bigoted attitudes back to Pine City,” Tammy piped in. “Because they're not welcome here.”
Anger flared in Jacob's eyes. “You can't talk to me that way, young lady.”
“Jacob…” Marion said and received an angry glare from her husband.
“Can I talk to you in private for a moment, Mr. Bradley?” Brandan waited a moment, then ushered the reluctant man toward the same room that she and Caitlyn had ducked into earlier.
“Yeah?” Jacob turned on her the instant they were alone. “You gotta know I don't take kindly to this sham of a wedding. It's just plain asinine. Women don't marry each other, even if it's legal. It's not natural.”
“I love your daughter and only want what's best for her, sir,” Brandan said coolly. “Now, you can either accept that or you can walk away and never see her again. I don't want that any more than you do because I know how much Caitlyn loves you both. But the simple truth is that she's my family now. My brother, my aunt—they were my family before Caitlyn came along and stole my heart. But now that heart belongs to her and there isn't a soul on this earth who can take that away.”
He studied her for a moment with his typical stern expression. “You really love her?”
“Yes,” Brandan nodded emphatically. “With all my heart. And I will spend every moment of my life making sure she is happy. I've already done everything in my power to make sure this wedding outshines any other moment in her life. And this is just the beginning.”
“And her music?”
“I would never take that away from her,” Brandan said. “It's one of the things I love most about her. Caitlyn's passion is her music.”
“She said she's moving back to Minnesota,” Jacob continued. “How's she gonna play in the Philharmonic if she's living there? And I thought you had a job at some fancy hospital in New York.”
“I did,” Brandan said. “I also received a grant that allows me to study different orthoscopic techniques and teach them to others. I decided to use the money to open my own practice and Caitlyn has accepted the first-chair cello position with the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra. She's also decided to open her own music conservatory and teach, as well. We purchased a place near Edina and will be moving into it when we get back from our honeymoon. She'll be closer to her family and I'll be close to mine. Win-win for both of us.”
He studied her silently for several moments. “You two planning on having children?” He finally asked.
Brandan crossed her arms over her chest and narrowed her eyes at him. “You do know that's not possible, right?”
He chuckled. “And there are ways around it, Dr. Stone. I do know that.”
A dark brow rose on her features. “You looking for more grandchildren?”
“I love my grandkids,” he said. “I just never thought Caitlyn would be the one to give me any. She was always so engrossed in her music. Was never very interested in sharing that with her family.”
“We haven't discussed it,” Brandan said. “But I'm sure the subject will eventually come up. I'd like to have children, especially if they look like her. A beautiful little girl with blonde hair and green eyes, just like her mom.” She smiled.
“Or dark hair and blue eyes,” Caitlyn said as she entered the room and slipped an arm around Brandan's waist. “Are you two finished yet? People are starting to talk.”
“Your dad and I were just discussing a few last-minute…um…details,” Brandan moved Caitlyn's hair aside and rubbed the back of her neck.
“Children?” Caitlyn grinned up at her.
“I think I'll just…” Jacob pointed a thumb over his shoulder at the door and then slipped out.
Caitlyn turned in Brandan's arms and looked up at her. “You were discussing children with my dad?”
“He brought it up first,” said Brandan. “But, yeah. He wanted to know if we'll be having children.”
Caitlyn frowned. “He does know that's not possible, right?”
Brandan chuckled. “I think he's aware of the biological aspects of two women trying to conceive children together. Yes.”
“What did you say?”
“I'm all for it,” Brandan said. “I think our children would be incredible. Talented. Intelligent. Beautiful or handsome, depending on the gender. And you would make an outstanding mom.” She leaned in close until they were breathing the same air. “I look forward to spending hours and hours trying to make a baby with you, Caitlyn Stone.”
“It won't matter how many hours you work on it, sweetheart,” Caitlyn replied wryly. “There is no way we'll ever conceive a child together. It's a proven fact that eggs plus eggs with no sperm yields nothing but PMS.”
Brandan kissed her lightly on the lips. “But it still might be fun to try.”
“Oh, I'm with you on that,” Caitlyn agreed. “We might just have to go with the more traditional sperm bank method if we want to actually see any actual children out of the deal.”
“Okay,” Brandan kissed her again and then smiled. “So, does that mean you want kids?”
Caitlyn shrugged. “Eventually. Right now, though, I think I'd just like to get used to the idea of being the wife of a doctor. I never really thought I'd ever get to say that.”
“Okay, Mrs. Stone,” Brandan stroked Caitlyn's cheek. “How about we go back to our party for a bit and then find a way to sneak out and finish this at the cottage. I really want to make mad, passionate love to my incredibly beautiful and sexy wife.”
Brandan looked Caitlyn up and down with a lascivious grin. They were dressed similarly in off-white long skirts and sleeveless blouses with matching jackets. Their jackets had lace and pearl edging along the lapels and cuffs. Caitlyn wore an emerald and diamond necklace and matching earrings that Brandan had given her for Christmas. While Brandan wore a teardrop sapphire necklace and matching earrings. Both outfits were simple, yet elegant.
“I think someone's coming to interrupt our little moment,” Brandan said as she heard the click of heels on the floor outside the room.
“Would you two get back in here for the toast, please?” Rosemarie popped her head inside the door. “There are hungry guests out here and the band just arrived. People want to eat and clear away the tables so the dancing can begin.”
Both women sighed at the same time.
“Be right there, Rosie,” Brandan said. “Just give us another minute.”
“Okay, fine,” Rosemarie huffed. “But don't blame me if you have a mutiny on your hands, chicas .”
Brandan waited for Rosemarie to disappear, then she pressed her lips against Caitlyn's.
“Well, Mrs. Stone,” she said with a playful grin. “Guess we'd better get back in there before the natives get too restless.”
“I agree, Dr. Stone,” Caitlyn gave her a sultry smile. “But once we have the toast and that first dance out of the way, it's time for you and me to make our escape and let the rest of them party until the sun comes up. Okay?”
“Oh, absolutely,” Brandan kept an arm around Caitlyn's shoulders as they walked back into the main hall. “On second thought, do you think they would really miss us all that much if we just made our escape right now?”
Caitlyn just chuckled as they headed for the table where Terrance and Rosemarie were already seated. They sat down in their respective seats and accepted the glasses of champagne that were handed to them. Then Terrance stood up and raised his own glass, as someone brought him a microphone.
“Good evening, everyone,” he said into the mic. “And welcome to this glorious wedding celebration for two of the most wonderful people I know. It isn't every day that I get to stand up and make a speech, so I'll try to keep this as short as possible.” He looked at Brandan. “Brandan, sugar, I've known you for quite a while now. We've been through some good times together and some troublesome times, too. No matter what, though, you've always managed to weather the storms.” He then looked at Caitlyn. “And you, little Kit Cat. I have never seen anyone beat the odds the way you did last year. Not only did you survive that awful accident, but you managed to melt the heart of one of my closest friends. I never thought I'd see the day that Dr. Brandan Stone would stand up before God and everyone and proclaim her love for another. But you, Caitlyn, managed to do the impossible. Here's to a long life together for you both. May you find joy in the happy times and may the good Lord shine down on you during the hard times. And may you do it together. To Caitlyn and Brandan Stone!”
“Here! Here!” Came the resounding response from everyone present.
“And now it is my turn,” Rosemarie stood up next and accepted the mic from Terrance. “Caitlyn, mi amiga , I am so glad you are my friend. We have had some good times together. And we have played some beautiful music together, chica . I hope and pray that you and Dr. Stone have a happy, healthy and long life together. May God bless you both and may your family grow in love with each passing year. Cheers!”
With the toasts out of the way, everyone converged on the tempting buffet set up on one side of the room. Brandan and Caitlyn just sat there contentedly and patiently waited for the first wave to die down.
“It was a beautiful ceremony, Brandy,” Mildred came up and sat in the vacant chair next to Brandan. “Thank you for inviting us.”
“You're more than welcome, Aunt Millie,” Brandan replied with a warm smile. “I'm just glad you and Silvia could come all the way to Vermont for the wedding on such short notice.”
“We wouldn't miss it for the world, Brandy honey,” Mildred leaned forward and addressed the woman leaning against Brandan's other side. “So, how are you doing, Caitlyn? You holding up okay?”
“Other than the fact I'd really like to drag this one back to our cottage and…” A hand over her mouth stopped her from saying more.
Brandan pulled her hand away almost immediately, when Caitlyn licked and nibbled her palm. “Hey!”
Caitlyn smiled saucily. “Just giving you a little taste of what's to come, sweetie.”
Mildred smiled at the two of them and their playful banter. “Well, I'm sure you'll find the right moment to slip away and have some alone time together.” She patted Brandan's thigh. “I'll leave you to it and get back to Silvia. She's probably wondering…”
“There you are, Millie,” a silver-haired woman in thick glasses toddled up and put a hand on Mildred's shoulder. “Thought you were in the buffet line until I looked up and saw you here, instead.” She smiled at Brandan and Caitlyn. “Thank you so much for including me in the invite to your wedding. It was beautiful. And you two make such a wonderful couple.”
“Thanks, Silvia,” Brandan said. “So glad you could come with Aunt Millie.”
Mildred wrapped an arm around Silvia's waist. “We girls have to stick together.”
“Absolutely,” Caitlyn added with a grin as she hugged Brandan tighter. “Kinda wish the two of us could sneak away for alone time, though.”
“Oh?” Silvia glanced around and then leaned in conspiratorially. “Go ahead, you two. We'll run interference for you. No worries.”
Brandan and Caitlyn exchanged surprised looks.
“Well?” Mildred added. “What are you waiting for? You heard, Silvia. Get on out of here before someone else comes up here to wish you well or congratulate you. We'll take care of everything.”
Both younger women jumped up at once.
“Don't have to tell us twice,” Brandan smiled at her aunt and kissed them both on the cheek. “Thanks a lot. We owe you one, Aunt Millie. Silvia.”
“You're the best,” Caitlyn wrapped an arm around Brandan's waist as they managed to slip away.
Ducking into one of the rooms off the main hall, the two women found an outside door and escaped. It was pitch black outside, except for the few small lights on some trees and bushes. They managed to find their way in the darkness, until they were at the rental car.
“Whew!” Caitlyn sighed. “Can't believe we made it without anyone seeing us.”
“Oh, I wouldn't say that.”
A figure stepped out of the shadows and both women froze.
“What do you think you two are doing?”
Caught in the act of climbing into the rental, both Caitlyn and Brandan squinted to see who was coming toward them. Brandan was the first to recover and move into the person's path.
“What are you doing here?”
“Hey, is that any way to greet one of your guests?”
“Who is that, Brandan?” Caitlyn joined Brandan at the front of the car where there was a little more light from a nearby gas lantern.
“Her brother, Aaron,” the figure held out a hand to Caitlyn.
“I didn't invite you here, Aaron,” Brandan shoved his hand away. “Where the hell did you get the money for airfare, much less permission from your parole officer to leave Minnesota?”
“Hey, I didn't come here to cause trouble, sis,” he held up his hands. “Aunt Millie mentioned you were getting married and really wanted to be here to see who the lucky…” he glanced at Caitlyn, “woman is.” He stepped further into the light and held his hand out to Caitlyn again. “Hiya, sis. I'm Aaron Stone, Brandan's little brother.”
“My pain in the ass little brother,” Brandan added darkly. “He's currently on parole after serving three months in jail for possession of drugs. How was it you got caught this time, little brother?”
“It wasn't mine,” he replied. “I told the police that and they didn't believe me.”
“Yeah, not sure why that is,” Brandan's tone was full of incredulity. “Not like it wasn't your first bust or your second, for that matter. Let's see. How many times have you been to jail in the last…”
“Brandan,” Caitlyn cut her off in mid-rant. “Please, sweetheart. He's your brother.” She shook his hand. “It's nice to meet you, Aaron. I'm Caitlyn.”
“It's a pleasure, Caitlyn. Welcome to our crazy, dysfunctional family.” He then shot his sister a glare. “You sure you're ready to join the fun?”
Caitlyn wrapped an arm around Brandan and hugged her close. “Positive.” She then smiled up at Brandan. “There's no place I'd rather be than right here.” Brandan smiled down at her. “Why don't you go on inside, Aaron. We were just heading out. Your sister and I have a date in front of a cozy fire with some primo champagne.”
He glanced from one woman to the other and rolled his eyes. “Yeah, you two have fun with that. I'm gonna see if there are any hotties in there.” He paused and turned back. “This isn't one of those all-gay weddings, is it?”
Caitlyn chuckled. “If you mean happy? Then, yes. Otherwise, there might be a few straight hotties in there for you. Just watch out for Jason.”
Brandan and Caitlyn didn't wait for a reply as they climbed into the car together.
Brandan snorted. “You handled that very well, hon.”
“He's your brother, sweetheart,” Caitlyn shot her a tolerant half-smile. “Eventually this too shall pass.”
Brandan snorted again. “Yeah, not holding my breath.”
“Let's just get to the cottage, before someone else decides to come out here and waylay us,” Caitlyn rested her head against Brandan's shoulder and a hand on her thigh. “I really want to get you out of these clothes.”
“Yes, ma'am,” Brandan chuckled as she pulled the rental away from the inn. “Your wish is my command.” Caitlyn's hand shifted a bit lower and Brandan nearly ran into a parked car. “Er, you might want to wait to do that until we're at the cottage, hon,” she squeaked.
“Oh, sorry,” Caitlyn returned her hand to the top of Brandan's thigh with an apologetic grin. “Guess I'm just a little anxious to kick off this honeymoon.”
“Yeah, like we've been two celibate nuns for the past few weeks,” Brandan snorted and then chuckled. “Except for last night. I really thought your sister was going to go all ape shit on my ass when I tried to sneak into the room with the two of you. Why didn't you tell me you were bunking down with her? Sheesh.”
Caitlyn laughed. “Tammy thought it would be like old times—just like when we were little kids. Except for the alcohol.”
“I missed that?”
“I had three glasses of champagne before bed,” Caitlyn sobered. “That was on top of the six beers I had at the bar earlier. Woke up with one wicked hangover this morning, let me tell ya.”
“Ohhhhh, so that's why you looked like death warmed over this morning,” Brandan snickered. “I just thought your sister kept you up too late.”
“That, too,” Caitlyn moved her hand on Brandan's thigh again and smiled when that elicited another squeal from the woman. “There's our cottage.”
“Home sweet home,” Brandan grinned. “You think anyone knows we're staying here tonight?”
“I didn't tell anyone,” Caitlyn replied, as Brandan pulled up in front of a cozy pine-log cottage near a small lake. “Did you?” She asked as she climbed out and waited for Brandan to unlock the door to the place.
“Are you kidding me?” Brandan said as she threw the door open and then lifted a surprised Caitlyn into her arms. She looked into Caitlyn's eyes as her wife wrapped her arms around her neck. “Welcome to our little honeymoon getaway, Mrs. Stone.” Brandan then kissed her soundly on the lips as she carried Caitlyn inside and kicked the door shut behind her.
Crickets chirped in the chilly night air. Stars twinkled high overhead and the moon shimmered down on the ripples of the little lake. Neither woman cared as they came together and let go of everything around them. Passions burst into flame and consumed the final barriers between them—Cold Stone was no more.
Return to the Academy