Chapter One

Dawn Oliver was in her element. She loved creating and tending lush, colorful, fragrant gardens. She enjoyed few things more. Some people thought keeping a garden was work. For her it was pure joy. Spending time in the dirt was one of her deepest pleasures. The smells, the sights, even the feel of her hands in the dirt centered and calmed her.

This was true whether she was in her own yard or at the shelter for abused women where she volunteered twice a week. She taught them basic gardening skills. Sharing the peace that came from working in the garden was deeply gratifying. They had many things to do to rebuild their lives and exist on their own, but time in the garden could be an escape into something almost spiritual. They didn’t have to think about bills, job hunting, if they’d be found, or any of the hurdles that lay ahead. Gardening was a respite for Dawn. She was humbled to share that with others.

Dawn heard someone approaching. When she saw the timid, dark-haired woman glance her way, she said, “Good morning, you must be Meg.”

“How did you know?”

“When I came in this morning Trish mentioned you were new and that you enjoyed gardening. I haven’t seen you around before, so I took a chance. I’m Dawn.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Dawn. Do you mind if I join you?”

“Of course not. Please do. Do you know where everything is?”

“Yes.”

Dawn waited while Meg gathered a few tools and a pair of gloves. Once she was settled a few feet away, Dawn spoke again. “Did you have a garden before you came here?”

Meg slumped her shoulders and frowned. “Yes.”

“It’s hard to leave something you’ve nurtured even if you are leaving it to make your life better.”

Meg studied Dawn for several moments and then nodded in acknowledgement.

“The great thing about gardening is you can start over, start fresh in a new place. Even with a small patch of dirt, give it care and you can bring things to life. Your garden can blossom anywhere, and it’s so much sweeter when you’re at peace where your garden is planted.”

Meg smiled for the first time. “You have a point.”

 

v

 

When she returned home later that morning, Dawn decided to continue working in her own front gardens. Now, with the sun shining on her back and a light breeze against her cheeks, she couldn’t be happier. Feeling the soil crumble in her hands and an occasional bee buzzing around—these meant one thing to Dawn: spring, her favorite time of the year. One of the reasons Dawn loved living in San Diego was being out in the yard all year long. Even when the weather wasn’t right for growing, she could prune, weed, or work the soil, amending it and preparing it for the coming season.

It was the middle of March, and she was excited spring rains had finally come. She had started her annual adventure a couple of weeks ago. The rains were infrequent anymore. Dawn hummed a catchy tune she heard on the radio earlier while getting ready for her day, not even sure what song it was. She transferred the new flowers from the containers she’d bought when she decided the garden needed more color. Lost in her own world, alone with her plants and flowers, she amused herself with the patterns and lines she wanted to create. In her garden, like on canvas, she often saw the final picture before she brushed the first stroke or planted the first flower.

Occasionally though, she had no idea what would emerge when she started. She knew she would have to return to the studio at some point, but spending time in her gardens each day rejuvenated her and kept her ideas fresh, allowing her painting to flow more freely after she took time outside. It was a careful balance but a necessary one if she was going to make a living as an artist. She knew she was lucky—most artists were never able to support themselves. She did.

A moving truck with a broken muffler pulled into the driveway next door, shattering her solitude. She sat on her heels and watched the new arrivals for a few moments. A sleek motorcycle pulled in beside the truck, and a small SUV pulled up to the curb. From the glimpse she caught of the motorcycle, she knew it was a nice bike. Two large men jumped from the moving truck and moved to the back. She heard the door roll. Then two women climbed out of the SUV, one with collar-length blond hair, the other with wavy brunette hair that flowed past her shoulders. They joined hands and walked toward the house.

Dawn couldn’t see the motorcycle or who rode it since the moving truck blocked her view. The quiet mostly returned, with occasional bits of conversation floating across the yard. She returned her attention to her flower bed, enjoying the beautiful day. The rhythm of preparing the soil and transferring plants from pots to ground quickly absorbed her focus. She barely noticed the low hum of activity next door.

v

 

After a while, the sun’s rays grew too hot and Dawn went inside to cool off. She poured a glass of lemonade and wandered into her studio to ponder her current work in progress. It was coming along nicely. Not quite ready to start painting, she went to the living room and peeked out her front window to see the move progressing next door. As she stood there, she wondered about her new neighbors.

She decided to take over sandwiches and lemonade as a “welcome to the neighborhood” gesture. Surely her new neighbors had their hands full and would be too busy to make lunch. Dawn made a pile of both cold cut and hummus sandwiches. She mixed a fresh batch of lemonade and packed everything in plastic containers and carefully arranged it in a basket. At the last minute, she remembered cups and napkins since the kitchen would not be unpacked yet.

Dawn rang the doorbell and waited. The woman who answered the door was stunning. Dawn had expected one of the women she had seen earlier, and the surprise had her tongue-tied. Standing in the doorway in dark jeans hugging well-toned thighs and a black T-shirt that accentuated firm muscles, was the most gorgeous woman Dawn had ever seen. Oh my. Midnight black hair cropped short, gray eyes that darkened as she focused, a strong jaw, and lips that softened the almost too angular face made the whole package one of exquisite beauty. Dawn stood motionless.

She realized she was staring a moment too late. For a moment, Dawn froze. Then the woman glanced at the basket in Dawn’s arms, breaking the intense gaze. Whoa!

“Hello?”

“Hi, um, I live next door. I thought you all might like some sandwiches and lemonade about now.”

“Wow, thanks. Come on in.”

“No.” Dawn cringed inwardly at the harshness of her tone and softened it. “I mean I don’t want to intrude. I just wanted to bring this over.” Dawn pushed the basket into the woman’s hands and beat a hasty retreat. Smooth, Dawn, real smooth.

 

v

 

Dawn stood by the window for a few minutes thinking about the exchange. No woman had ever had such an immediate effect on her. The chiseled features on the olive-skinned, black-haired Adonis were etched in her mind. She shrugged and let it go. It didn’t matter. Nothing would happen there. Dawn turned away from the window, walked to her computer, and checked her email.

After she read her sister Ali’s latest response about how school and work were going, it was time to stop procrastinating. Dawn changed out of the long-sleeved shirt she wore to protect her fair skin from the sun and into a loose T-shirt already splattered with paint. She strolled into the studio where she spent most of her waking hours.

This was her work, but it was also a pleasure. Nothing came close to the ongoing affair she had with an easel and canvas. Art was always a part of her life. Virtually a constant companion she could count on. Nobody in her life, except her family, had ever been as steady. She thought there was someone that she could count on once, but Lori had turned out not to be that person, and she had been hurt badly. She wasn’t going to make that mistake again.

Dawn stepped into the room awash with natural light from the bank of windows on two sides plus the skylights she’d had installed the previous year. Depending on the time of day and the angle of the sun, the shadows cast in the room offered interesting contrasts. The space inspired her creativity. In addition to the easels scattered around the room with paintings, there were blank canvases of various sizes, a drafting table cluttered with sketches, and one entire counter was packed with jars and tubes of paint. It was very full but not cluttered, as Dawn had everything meticulously organized. In the far corner, on a small desk, her work computer contained all the specialized software she needed to create some of her other works of art.

After two years, it still amazed her the way her boutique T-shirt design business had taken off as quickly as it had. The company that bought her original designs back then took over the manufacturing and contracted her to design more. She had added other clients over the last couple of years and made a surprisingly good living, but she would never give up her painting. Like her gardening, it was a part of who she was.

Not so long ago, she had been too hurt and afraid to find the inspiration to paint. She had lost confidence in her skill as an artist because of Lori’s insults. It was agonizing. As a result, she now treasured her art more than ever before. Now she nurtured it—art was what pulled her through that dark time. Once she started to turn feelings into colors on a canvas, she let them go. Letting go was creating, but she would never forget.

Dawn picked up her palette and began squeezing the blue, gray, black, and white paints slowly, carefully. The paint emerged from the tubes steadily like caterpillars inching onto the palette. She studied the painting in front of her from several different angles before picking up a brush. From the first stroke of paint across the canvas, she was engrossed. Painting consumed her, freeing her mind of all conscious thought. Her brush moved across the canvas with ease, strokes quickly giving shape to the vision that existed only in her mind. Sometimes she had soft music on in the background. Today, she forgot to turn it on. It didn’t matter; it rarely registered anyway.

When she painted, she fell into the colors, the depth, and the textures of her art. Often she lost track of time. She loved the process and those who loved her knew her habits and were never surprised when she didn’t answer her phone or even the door. When a sound broke through her concentration, it surprised her.

Dawn set her palette down and laid the brush aside. She stepped away from the painting. Something had distracted her. She heard it again. Someone was knocking on the door. Who could possibly be at her door in the middle of the day? She peeked at her watch. It was later than she thought, much later in fact. She hadn’t noticed the hours passing as she was absorbed in her painting. She grabbed a rag to wipe her hands as she made her way to the front door. She glanced out the front window and realized the moving truck was gone. Out of habit, she peered through the peephole and saw the soft butch blonde from the SUV next door. She opened the door. “Hello?”

“Hi, I’m June.” She had a contagious and friendly smile that seemed genuine. Dawn couldn’t help but return it. “I’m sorry to disturb you. I’ve been next door helping my friend move in and we want to celebrate with a bottle of wine, but we can’t find her wine opener. Would you happen to have one we can borrow?”

“Uh, sure, hang on.” As she started to walk away, Dawn remembered her manners. “Actually, why don’t you come in out of the heat? It’ll only take a minute.”

June stepped through the door and closed it behind her. “Thanks, I appreciate it. By the way, thank you for the sandwiches earlier. I had one of each and both were delicious.”

“No problem. I’ll be right back.” Dawn stepped into her studio and swirled her brush through the jar of water next to the easel. Then she went to the kitchen and grabbed her wine opener. She returned to the living room where June was looking at the canvases along one wall.

“Here you go.”

June didn’t turn from studying the art on the walls. “Is this your work?”

“Yes.”

“They’re amazing.”

“Thank you.”

Finally, June turned. “I’m sorry. I didn’t even ask your name.”

“It’s not a prerequisite for borrowing a wine opener.”

“So you’re not going to tell me?” June asked with amusement.

“I’m Dawn.” She held the corkscrew toward June and smiled.

June accepted it but was still examining Dawn’s work. “Thanks. Do you ever paint on commission, Dawn?”

“Sure.”

“Do you have a card? I would love to have you paint something as a surprise for my fiancée.”

Dawn walked to her desk and pulled out one of her business cards. “Here you go. Give me a call when you want to discuss the details.”

“Great. I’ll do that.” June slipped the card into the back pocket of her jeans. “Listen, I should get back. Kate and Cam will wonder if I got lost crossing the yard. That will be funnier when you know me better.” She made her way back to the front door, then turned. “Why don’t you come over and have a glass of wine with us?”

“Thanks, but I should get back to work.”

“On Saturday? Come on, just one glass.”

Dawn hesitated. She was leery of spending time with the handsome woman she met earlier, but if there were other people to act as a buffer, she thought it might be the perfect time. “When you work for yourself, there is no such thing as a weekend. But since I do work for myself, I suppose I can take a break and go over for a few minutes. Let me just change my shirt real quick.”

“Seriously? We’ve been moving things for hours. We’re sweaty and dusty. If you freshen up you’ll make us all realize just how dirty we are.”

Dawn examined the paint splattered T-shirt she had pulled on hours earlier. She hesitated. She liked to make the best impression possible and dressed nicely when she left the house, but she didn’t want June to feel uncomfortable. She supposed it wasn’t all that bad. “Fair enough, but I really do need to wash my brushes first if you wouldn’t mind waiting a couple of minutes.”

“Sounds like a plan.”


Chapter Two

Dawn and June stepped outside, and Dawn pulled the door closed behind them.

“I noticed your flowers on the way over. Your garden is beautiful,” June said.

“Thank you.”

“Are you this good at everything you do?”

Dawn raised an eyebrow. “I’m not sure I know what you mean.”

“Well, you have an award-winning garden in your front yard and incredible works of art hanging on your living room walls. I just wondered if there was anything you don’t do well.”

“Sure, lots of things.”

“Will you tell me one?”

“I can’t cook to save my life.”

June chuckled. “Thank goodness. We can’t have too much perfection in the neighborhood.”

Dawn was still shaking her head as she entered the house next door. She saw boxes everywhere but was surprised at the progress. When they walked into the living room, the willowy brunette from the SUV glanced over. She knelt on the floor arranging books from a box on a bookshelf. “Oh, hi. We thought maybe you’d gotten lost.”

June glanced at Dawn and rolled her eyes playfully. “Told you.” She gave the brunette an easy but affectionate kiss. “Kate, this is Dawn. It is my fault it took so long, but only because I got lost looking at Dawn’s paintings. She’s quite a talented artist.” She turned back to Dawn. “This is my fiancée, Kate.”

Dawn extended her hand. “Nice to meet you, Kate.”

“You too, Dawn. I’m glad you could join us. I would love to see your work some time.”

“Sure, any time.”

“I hope June thanked you for lunch. It was very sweet.”

“She did. It really wasn’t a big deal.”

Before Dawn could say anything else, the gorgeous stranger from earlier entered the room. June broke the silence. “I believe you two have already met.”

“Not officially. Dawn, is it? It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m Cam. Thanks for lunch and use of the corkscrew.”

Cam held out her hand to Dawn. Dawn returned the gesture. When their hands met, Dawn’s breath caught. She hoped she was the only one who heard it. Cam’s eyes darkened. She was mesmerized as a corner of Cam’s mouth lifted into a grin. Dawn mentally shook herself and pulled her hand away as nonchalantly as she could manage. Her hand was warm with sensations. “No problem. It’s nice to meet you too.”

June and Kate stood behind Cam, so neither saw her smile deepen. It made Dawn’s heart gallop in her chest. When Cam turned to her friends, Dawn took her first full breath since Cam entered the room and managed to pull herself together.

“Shall we move this party outside? At the least the yard isn’t a moving zone,” Cam said.

They headed for the kitchen. Cam grabbed a bottle of wine off the wine rack, June grabbed plastic cups and paper plates, and Kate grabbed the pizza and napkins. They were so in sync Dawn imagined the three of them had done this many times before. June headed into the backyard. Dawn followed her. Kate and Cam quickly joined them.

Dawn tried to calm her racing heart and clear her muddled brain. Luckily, nobody paid much attention to her as she chastised herself. It’s true, Cam’s gorgeous. It doesn’t matter. You can’t let it matter. You have to calm down. She’s your neighbor. Just keep it friendly. You can handle this. You’re an adult. Just relax and try to enjoy yourself.

They ended up on the covered patio. As Cam opened the wine, Kate put pizza on plates and June pulled out cups, then she set out napkins. Dawn surveyed the yard. The grill and patio set were already set up, but there was a heavy bag leaning against one of the posts of the patio cover. Then she turned her attention to the yard. It was as deep and wide as hers with almost no landscaping, just green grass all the way back to the fence. Functional, she supposed, but plain, an empty canvas to fill with color. She would love to get her hands on it. She laughed at herself. Then she noticed the gigantic doghouse in the corner of the yard under the one tree in the back corner of the yard. Just as she was about to comment on it, Kate got her attention. “Dawn, would you like some pizza?”

She started to decline until she realized she hadn’t eaten since breakfast and it was nearly four in the afternoon. “Sure. I’d love a slice. Thank you.”

She rejoined them at the table. When Cam handed her a glass of wine, she took it easily. “Thank you. So, do you have a dog?”

“Yes, two. Jack is a golden retriever and Mozz is a black lab. The boys are staying with friends today. I wanted to spare them the chaos of the move.”

“Mozz? That’s an interesting name.”

Cam inclined her head. “It’s short for Mozzarella. Jack’s short for Sonoma Jack. All my dogs seem to end up with cheesy names, pun intended. It’s become a tradition. When I got my first puppy at ten, I named him Cheddar. I don’t know why my parents let me stick with the name, but I guess they decided since he was my dog I should name him.”

“That’s great,” Dawn said.

“I think my favorite name was Muenster,” June said.

Everyone laughed.

“Just how long have you all known each other?” Dawn asked.

“Since college,” they answered together.

The three of them shared a look like being this in sync was a common occurrence.

Dawn sipped her wine. “It seems like there’s a story there.”

“So many stories,” June said. “We all met the first day of college. The three of us lived on the same floor. Cam and I were roommates and soccer teammates. Kate lived down the hall. The three of us instantly clicked. We hung out all the time, got really close. It got to the point when someone saw one of us they expected to see the other two.”

“And you’ve been the best of friends all this time?”

“Well, not exactly,” June admitted. “Like any friendship, ours has had its ups and downs. But we’ve always made amends and come back together. We can’t seem to stay away from each other for long. These two know more about me than anyone in my life. I don’t know what I would ever do without either one of them.”

“Likewise,” Cam said.

“Me either,” Kate said softly.

“Wow. That’s great. So, June and Kate, is that when you two got together?”

Kate glanced warmly at June. “No. That happened after college. Back then we were so busy trying to deny our feelings and not wanting to ruin our friendship that we made things pretty bad between the three of us for a while. Cam got caught in the middle of a lot of the crossfire. She’s the one who finally helped us see what we couldn’t or wouldn’t see on our own.”

“How did you manage that?” Dawn asked Cam.

“I kissed Kate and told June all about it.”

“What? You didn’t!”

“It’s true and I got punched in the face for it,” Cam said.

“I had never hit anyone in my life,” June said. “I don’t know what came over me. One minute Cam is talking, and the next thing I know I’m hot and angry. Then—bam! I didn’t think about it. It wasn’t a conscious thought. I reacted. I hit her. I still can’t believe I did it. And I’ve never hit anyone since. I didn’t know what was going on. Cam did though and she helped me figure it out. I learned a lot about myself that day. Some realizations weren’t so good.” She turned to Kate. “Others were.” June took Kate’s hand gently. “Thank the Goddess she did or I would probably still be hiding from the truth.”

“Did you know before you kissed Kate that June had feelings for her?” Dawn asked Cam.

“Of course. It was obvious to everyone except the two of them.”

“So, why kiss her and risk your friendship? Why not just talk to June about it?”

A mischievous grin spread across Cam’s face. “Well, first of all, look at her.”

“Why thank you, gorgeous,” Kate said.

Cam’s smile widened and she met Dawn’s intense gaze evenly. “But also I had tried talking to June and I had tried talking to Kate, but both of them were too bullheaded to hear me. So I figured I had to do something to shake things up. Things had gotten pretty bad, and I didn’t want to lose either one of them as friends. I figured maybe, just maybe, if each of them could see what she was hiding from, things might get better. There wasn’t much chance the situation could get worse. The two of them weren’t even speaking to each other by that point. I thought if I could get them riled up enough to at least talk to each other, life might improve for all of us.”

“Well, I guess your plan worked.”

“It did, eventually,” June said. “Kate and I still danced around the issue for a while trying to feel each other out before either one of us would spill our guts. Finally though, I showed up on Kate’s doorstep one night and told her we needed to talk.”

“So we talked,” Kate said.

“And the two of them have been together ever since,” Cam said. “I love it when a plan comes together.”

Kate stood to refill everyone’s wine. “So, Dawn, now that we’ve talked your ear off, tell us about yourself.”

“There’s not a lot to tell. I’d rather hear more about ya’ll. Besides, it seems the three of you have a lot of stories.”

“Ya’ll? Are you from the South?” June asked.

“Born and raised in North Carolina. My twang tends to come out when I’m tired or drinking.”

“Tell us more about you,” June said.

Dawn thought a moment. “Okay, let’s see. I have my own business designing T-shirts. I also paint and am currently working on several pieces for a show next month. I love gardening and spend as much time as possible in my yard. What do you all do for work?”

“I’m a computer programmer,” June said.

Kate said, “I’m a dance instructor at night, which is my passion, but I’m also a substitute teacher for elementary school.”

When everyone looked at her, Cam said, “And I’m an IT Manager for a midsized company in Hillcrest.”

Dawn had hoped by asking about their work, they’d forget to come back to her. Not so easily put off, June and Kate started to ask questions over one another. “How long have you lived here?” “Is your family here?” “Any great loves?” “Besides gardening what do you do for fun?”

Dawn laughed at the rapid-fire questions. “What is this, speed dating?”

June and Kate laughed at themselves too. June said, “We’re just curious about you.”

“Well, thank you. Let’s see…I’ve lived in San Diego for about eleven years, but I only bought my house here in Normal Heights about two years ago. My parents still live in the same town where I grew up in North Carolina, but my little sister, Ali, recently moved to Seattle to work on her doctorate. Besides gardening, I like to go dancing and to classic car shows. Sometimes I think I was born in the wrong decade because I love the fifties styles so much.”

“You forgot one,” Kate said.

“What’s that?”

“Any great loves?”

Dawn looked away before answering softly, “No.”

Cam, who had watched the exchange silently up to this point, said, “That surprises me. You’re very attractive.”

Dawn felt herself blush and silently cursed her pale skin. On impulse, she used the same mockingly seductive tone that Kate had used earlier. “Well, thank you, gorgeous. You’re not so bad yourself.”

June and Kate laughed heartily. For the time being, the subject was dropped, much to Dawn’s relief. It took her a few seconds, but she realized Cam saved her from having to answer. She glanced over and became aware that she was being studied. She held Cam’s gaze for a moment and silently mouthed, “Thank you.”

Cam inclined her head slightly to acknowledge Dawn and then she turned back to June and Kate. This allowed Dawn time to do some studying of her own.

 

v

 

Cam stood with Dawn at the bottom of the porch. She waved to June and Kate as they climbed into their truck. As June drove off, Dawn turned to Cam. “Well, I’ll see you around.”

“I’ll walk you home.”

Dawn stopped. “That’s silly. You can see my porch from here.”

“Humor me. I don’t like to let a lady walk home alone.”

“Suit yourself.”

Walking beside Dawn for a moment in silence, Cam surveyed the gardens in Dawn’s front yard. Even in the waning light, she could see the riot of colors, which at first glance appeared to be random. But when she took a second look, Cam could see it was all a part of a well-planned pattern. “You have a beautiful yard. Did you do all this?”

Genuine pleasure lit Dawn’s entire face. “Yes, thanks.”

The wall Cam sensed between them all evening came down for a moment. Dawn was even more beautiful when her defenses lowered. She wondered again what had happened to Dawn to make those defenses necessary.

At her front porch, Dawn turned to Cam. “Good night.”

“Sweet dreams, Dawn. Thanks again for everything. You’ve made us feel at home.”

Dawn smiled. “Sure thing.” She hurried into her house.

 

v

 

Before the sun breached the horizon the next morning, Cam was already hard at work organizing her things. She wanted to have the majority of the boxes unpacked and put away before she picked up the dogs later that day. Dawn’s striking face stuck with her. It was beautiful and pale with the faintest dusting of freckles across her cheeks and nose. The afternoon sun had glinted off the deep red hair that was pulled up and away in a haphazard bun. A blush of color had crept across those cheeks when their eyes locked. There had been interest in those green eyes when they first met yesterday afternoon. Cam was sure of it. She hadn’t decided how she felt about the fact that her last thoughts before sleep overtook her and her first thoughts this morning swirled around Dawn.

It had been years since that place was held by anyone other than Melanie. From the day she and Mel met, they were in sync. She had been the love of her life. They’d planned to be together forever. Then she’d gotten sick and worse. The devastation in Cam’s heart had overwhelmed her for a while, but Mel had helped her see that Cam wasn’t the one leaving. She needed to figure out how to continue to have a full life even after Mel was gone.

Cam had reached the conclusion that meant a full life on her own because she never expected to be interested in anyone else. Mel had claimed her heart. Before she’d died, she made Cam promise that she wouldn’t ever turn her back on the potential of finding someone else. Mel hadn’t wanted her to be alone forever. It was an easy promise to make because she didn’t think it would ever be an issue. She couldn’t imagine finding a spark like she had with Mel with anyone else.

Cam led a full life. She loved her work. She had wonderful, enriching friendships. She volunteered. There were days she still thought of Melanie and missed her painfully, but she had had time to say good-bye. She tried to make a life for herself Melanie would be proud of, and she was tremendously fulfilled. Recently, she had dated casually, but was happy being on her own. She didn’t think she ever wanted a serious relationship again.

For the first time since she’d made that pledge to Mel, that she wouldn’t close herself off, she found herself intrigued. She always found women interesting and enticing, but it wasn’t often she couldn’t figure one out without much difficulty. There had been sparks between her and Dawn when she had taken her hand. Cam had flirted lightly throughout the evening but hadn’t received the slightest indication of any type of response.

For the umpteenth time, she reviewed what she knew, although Cam admitted it wasn’t much. Dawn was an artist, businesswoman, and gardener. She drank wine, ate pizza, and somewhere in her past, she had been hurt badly. Cam realized she was only guessing about that last piece of information, but she’d seen Dawn’s face last night when Kate and June pressed her to answer their questions about her great loves. Cam couldn’t get that haunted expression out of her mind. She shook her head trying to clear it. She’d seen and felt Dawn’s initial reaction to her, but then Dawn hadn’t responded to her the rest of the night in any way other than as a friendly neighbor.

She had two options: forget about it or gather more data. Cam easily admitted she already knew she had to find out more. She couldn’t ignore such an intriguing woman right next door. She would have to learn her story. Cam laughed at herself. Time to get the pups. At the moment, her doorbell rang. Right on time.

Cam opened the door. “Hey, Cindy.”

“Hi, sweets.”

Cam opened the door wider. “Want to see the place first?”

Cindy stepped into the house. “Yes! I can’t believe it took you so long to ask.”

Cam gave Cindy a quick tour of the house before heading out.

 

v

 

As the first rays of sun peeked through the window, Dawn woke and stretched her whole body. She’d dreamt about a tall, dark, sexy woman. It didn’t take any time at all to picture Cam. She was all of those things and gorgeous. Cam is too handsome for her own good, and mine too for that matter. Dawn gave herself a moment to feel everything. Then she shook her head and climbed out of bed. It doesn’t matter how handsome my new neighbor is or how nice she seems. I am not going there. I’m not putting myself in that position ever again.

She planned on working for a couple of hours before giving herself a break to plant some new annuals in the backyard. But first she needed coffee. As she passed through the living room, she glanced outside and saw a truck at Cam’s place. At that moment, she saw Cam and a stunning blonde walk out to the truck arm in arm. They appeared to be engaged in deep, intimate conversation with their heads close together.

Cam opened the passenger side door for the blonde and walked around to climb in the driver’s side. Cam pulled down the driveway, and Dawn quickly lost sight of the vehicle as it rounded a curve in the road. Well, that makes things easier. Given this new information it should have been a piece of cake to put Cam out of her mind. She had a girlfriend. Therefore she was completely off limits. Even if Dawn dated, she wouldn’t ever date someone who was with someone else. So why couldn’t she forget about Cam? Dawn went back to the kitchen. She still needed coffee.


Chapter Three

The following weekend, Dawn was busy at her studio computer when the doorbell rang. She had spent the better part of the day working on a new T-shirt design. She wasn’t expecting anyone, but since Cam moved in next door, either June or Kate popped over occasionally to see if she wanted to join them. It hadn’t escaped her notice Cam was never the one who invited her over. She always had fun, especially with Kate and June, but she remained cautious around Cam.

Dawn peeked through the peephole to see who was at the door. She smiled as she opened the door to Kate. “Well, hi there.”

“Hi, yourself.”

“Come in. What are you up to?”

“We’re hanging out at Cam’s. She’s about to grill steaks, and we’re talking about going bowling afterward. We wondered if you’d be interested in joining us for either or both?”

An image of the blonde she saw with Cam the other day floated through Dawn’s mind. She wondered why she never hung out with them. She hadn’t asked June or Kate about the woman because that would make her more important than she was. It shouldn’t matter. It didn’t. She wasn’t interested in Cam.

“Earth to Dawn,” Kate said with humor in her voice.

Kate’s voice brought Dawn back to reality. “What?” She covered as best she could. “Oh sorry, I was just thinking. I was working, but I love bowling even though I haven’t had a chance to go in ages. So, yeah sure, I need to finish a couple of things, and then I’ll head over.”

“Great. We’ll see you in a little while then.”

“Anything I can bring? A bottle of wine or a six-pack of beer?”

“We never turn down alcohol of any kind, but we’d just love to see you. You don’t have to bring anything.”

“Okay. Well, then, I’ll see you soon.” Dawn closed the door behind Kate. What am I getting myself into?

Soon Dawn went to the bedroom where she quickly changed into dark jeans and a long-sleeved blouse. She grabbed a bag from the back of the closet. She stopped in the kitchen and opted to take a six-pack of beer. It was more appropriate for a night of steaks and bowling.

Kate had left Cam’s front door open, so Dawn walked in, set her bag by the door, and closed the door behind her. She took the beer to the kitchen where she found June.

“Hey, glad you could make it.” June wrapped Dawn in a warm embrace.

“Sounds like fun. Should I put this in the fridge?” she asked, raising the six-pack.

“Sure. The opener is on the counter, if you want to pop one open now.”

Once Dawn opened a beer, she and June walked out back. Cam stood at the grill watching the steaks. Kate sat under the gazebo chatting with her. Cam looked over as she and June came outside. “Hi, Dawn.”

“Hi. Those steaks smell delicious. Thanks for having me over.”

“Sure. Glad you could make it.” Conversation flowed easily as they shared the meal Cam prepared. Once dinner was finished, everyone pitched in to clean up and then they headed to June’s truck to go bowling. When June saw Dawn’s bowling bag, she laughed. “Uh-oh, Cam, looks like you might have some serious competition on your hands.”

“I enjoy a challenge.”

Dawn blushed but didn’t respond as she climbed into the backseat with Kate. Certainly Cam was being friendly, not flirting.

Once in their lane, they quickly paired up, Cam and June versus Kate and Dawn, for two games. The first wouldn’t count; it was a warm-up. But the second game had teeth. The winning pair would pick the song the losing team had to sing at the karaoke bar attached to the bowling alley. Dawn had never wagered on bowling before, but she figured the worst that could happen was three minutes of humiliation.

Well into the first round, it became obvious the teams were well matched and the next round could get interesting. Dawn hadn’t bowled in a long time, and the first round helped her to find her groove again. Kate and June were equally matched, so it came down to a competition between Cam and Dawn. Cam managed to keep it close until the sixth frame. Then Dawn started pulling away. Kate cheered Dawn on as she threw strike after strike. They won handily.

Dawn and Kate shook hands with Cam and June. Dawn smiled as she ever so briefly touched Cam’s hand before pulling away. “Good game.”

Cam shook her head at Dawn’s reaction to her. “That was an outstanding game, Dawn, where did you learn to bowl like that?”

Dawn sat, already pulling off her bowling shoes. She shrugged. “I grew up in a tiny town. Not a lot to do on Friday and Saturday nights.”

Kate sat next to Dawn. “So what song should we make them sing?”

“I honestly have no idea. You should pick it.”

“No way. We wouldn’t have won if it weren’t for you. Come on, let’s look through the book and pick something good.”

Dawn and Kate had their heads close together bent over the song list when Cam and June found them crowded on one side of a small table. They had gotten more beer on their way over. When the two of them sat down, Kate laughed. “This is going to be good.”

Dawn said nothing but smiled shyly.

June asked, “So, what would you ladies like us to sing for you?”

Kate slid the song request across the table. Cam and June grinned good-naturedly.

Dawn did all she could to avoid making eye contact with any of them when Kate took the slip of paper to the DJ. They enjoyed the other performers until Cam and June’s names were called. As Cam and June stood to walk to the stage, Dawn risked a glance at Cam. Cam winked at Dawn and walked away. Dawn was caught by surprise. She gasped softly and her heart raced. She was busy chastising herself and the next thing she knew the music started. She looked toward the stage and was held in Cam’s gaze. Dawn laughed along with Kate as Cam and June hammed it up for the audience as they sang.

Dawn couldn’t help but compare Cam to Lori. Lori was wickedly competitive. She suspected Cam was as well in different circumstances. But if tonight was any indication, she was also a very good sport. Her demeanor hadn’t changed at all as the game turned in Dawn’s favor. She’d never stopped laughing or the teasing banter. Unlike Lori, she had not gotten silently angry and sulked as Dawn took the lead. Not that Lori had ever bothered to go bowling with her, but when they’d played other games Dawn found herself changing the way she played so Lori would have a chance to win. It couldn’t be obvious though, or she would have to deal with the aftermath. Dawn hadn’t needed to change anything about how she played tonight. She hadn’t had a moment of fear about what would happen if she won. She and Kate had beaten Cam and June handily, and she felt good about it. They didn’t detract from the victory. In fact they celebrated it with them. They held up their end of the bargain and helped her revel in the win.

 

v

 

Dawn’s art reflected her world. Places, people, landscapes, animals, and all other things she found important or inspiring ended up in her pieces. Today, she was working on a simple neighborhood scene. There was the movement of children playing and moms pushing strollers, but also the stillness of people sitting on front porches chatting and flower gardens basking in the sun. She stepped back and studied the canvas. She’d been working for hours and the painting was almost done, but something was missing. She just couldn’t figure out what. Perhaps after a break it would come to her. She swirled her brushes in a jar and reached her arms up and stretched her whole body to work out the kinks. After cleaning her brushes, she glanced at her watch and realized it was late afternoon. It should be cool enough to work in the garden for a while.

She headed directly to the back door and pulled on her long-sleeve work shirt and floppy hat. She grabbed her gardening bucket and went around the house to weed the beds in the front yard where the shade already crept across the yard.

Dawn noticed too late that Cam was out front working on her motorcycle. There was no gracious exit. She waved and tried to go about her weeding. She tried to ignore Cam, who was less than fifty feet away, but quickly realized that would be impossible as long as she was this close. Instead she decided to engage in neighborly conversation.

Dawn set her tools in her bucket, stood, brushed the dirt from her knees, and peeled off her gloves. Then she headed toward Cam.

Cam smiled. The genuine joy Dawn saw on Cam’s face disarmed her. She faltered. She shouldn’t get any closer. Cam hadn’t made any move to get to know her without June and Kate, and Dawn was grateful for that. She was still uneasy around Cam. There was a pull when she was around, but Dawn didn’t want to explore it. She would rather ignore it completely. Perhaps she should just leave it at that. But it felt weird to ignore Cam when she was so close, and if she couldn’t talk to her about a common interest, what kind of neighbor was she?

Cam was in the jeans and tight black T-shirt she favored when she wasn’t at work. Cam didn’t even have to try to be enticing. Dawn shook her head, trying to dispel the thought. “You look happy.”

“I am. It’s always a pleasure to see you.”

Dawn didn’t miss the suggestive tone of Cam’s remark but chose to ignore it. She nodded toward the bike. “Is something wrong with it?”

“Nah, I just like to tinker sometimes. You know, make sure she stays finely tuned.”

“Sure.” Dawn ran her hand over the seat. “She’s a gorgeous machine.”

“You know bikes?”

“Yeah, I grew up with them. All the guys I hung out with had them. I learned about them to keep up. Then I learned to ride. We had a great dirt course just a couple of minutes outside of town. Of course once I got good, I figured out pretty quickly that beating them at their own game wasn’t good for maintaining friendships. Luckily, it didn’t matter to me. After a while, I just rode for fun. But that was years ago. I haven’t ridden in a long time.”

“You have so many secrets, my red-haired friend.”

Dawn laughed it off. “Not a secret, just something you didn’t know.”

Cam wiped her hands on the rag she had nearby. “It’s a gorgeous day. Why don’t you let me take you for a ride? I’ve got an extra helmet in the garage.”

Dawn’s heart beat hard in her chest. She was tempted, so tempted. She thought about feeling the power of the engine humming between her legs, the wind rushing by. She missed the sensations of riding a motorcycle, but there was no way she trusted herself to have that experience with Cam. To climb on a bike behind Cam, wrap her arms tightly around her, and feel her heat through the T-shirt she wore. No way. Dawn couldn’t risk what that might do to her. Simply thinking about it was enough to rev her engine. But temptation did take her as far as glancing at the garage. That’s when she saw the truck, Cam’s girlfriend’s truck. She must be in the house.

“Thanks, but I should get back to my weeding,” she said, trying to back away graciously.

“Dawn, what are you scared of?”

“What are you talking about?”

“You’re afraid to climb on this bike because it means you would have to get close to me. Why does that scare you?”

Dawn’s cheeks flamed. She thought about mentioning the girlfriend. But that made it seem like she was jealous. “Just because I don’t feel like a ride today, you make it into something more than it is. It shouldn’t surprise me.” Okay, that was probably a little harsh.

“What does that mean?” Cam asked.

“Nothing, it doesn’t mean anything. Sorry, I just need to get back to my weeding. Enjoy your tinkering.”

Dawn turned and walked away before Cam could respond.

Dawn stabbed the spade into the dirt with more force than necessary. Damn, she irritates me! Just because I don’t want to go for a motorcycle ride she thinks I have the hots for her, like she’s God’s gift to women or something. It couldn’t be as simple as I don’t feel like going for a ride? So maybe it’s true that I don’t want to get too close. She has a girlfriend. She shouldn’t be flirting with me. Geesh. Just because she offered me a ride on her bike doesn’t mean she wants to get in my pants. Maybe she was just being friendly because I expressed an interest in motorcycles. This is just too complicated.

Dawn yanked weed after weed from the earth and shook the soil from their roots. Her mind whirred in circles. I was only trying to be a friendly neighbor. Look where that got me, more confused than before. Why the hell does Cam have to be so damn attractive? This isn’t getting me anywhere. I just need to go back to work and get my mind off her. As Dawn flashed back on the piece she’d been painting, it hit her, and she knew what was missing. After she finished weeding, she’d go back into the studio and paint a woman working on her motorcycle. That would complete the painting nicely. But damn if it didn’t irritate the hell out of her.

For a second, Cam thought about going after her. Maybe we should just have it out and get whatever is standing between us out of the way. I’m ready to have that conversation, but I bet Dawn isn’t, and without two willing participants we won’t get anywhere.

She let Dawn go. She watched her pull her gloves back on and attack the few weeds that dared sprout since she last tended the front garden. Cam suspected if Dawn wasn’t dead set on making a point, she would have simply gone inside and finished her weeding later. She turned back to her bike, whistling. She seemed to be getting under Dawn’s skin.

It wasn’t actually her goal to irritate Dawn. She simply wanted to get to know her better. The exchange they had just now was the first one Dawn had initiated since the day they met. Cam wanted to figure out a way to learn more about Dawn without scaring her away. They were neighbors, and she didn’t want to be at odds with anyone who lived that close.

v

 

Cam and Kate had a standing lunch date for Wednesdays when Kate came downtown for classes. Cam was still close with both June and Kate and most often saw them together, but she also regularly got together with each separately to maintain her individual connections. As she waited for Kate, Cam caught herself staring into space again. This wasn’t like her. At work, she was usually focused and efficient.

Over the past few weeks, she found her mind wandering at the most inopportune times, during meetings, while talking to her staff, even talking to her boss. This wasn’t good. She couldn’t stop thinking about Dawn. She intrigued her as few women had. Dawn had developed a quick and easy rapport with June and Kate, but whenever Cam was around it was different. She was quiet and reserved. She wasn’t unfriendly. She just seemed to keep her distance. Dawn had a strong, sturdy wall around her, and Cam couldn’t seem to get around or through. It puzzled her.

It had always been easy for her to put women at ease, get them talking. Dawn was different. There had to be a way to loosen her reserve. Thankfully, Cam was stopped from meandering down this uncertain path for the eleventeenth time by a knock on her office door.

“Hey,” Kate said. “You look totally lost in thought. Where were you?”

Cam locked her computer screen. “Trying to solve a complex problem.”

“Do you need some time? I’ve got a few things I can do.”

“No. Maybe a distraction will help. Let’s go.”

Cam and Kate walked down University Avenue, in the heart of Hillcrest, to one of their favorite Thai restaurants and grabbed a booth.

Once settled, Kate said, “Confession time. You don’t daydream, so what’s going on?”

“I wish I knew,” she said, exhaling deeply and sinking into the bench.

Kate leaned close and put her hand on Cam’s arm. “Is everything okay?”

“Yes. Everything’s fine. It’s just that…this is going to sound strange, but here goes…I can’t figure Dawn out.”

“What do you mean?” Kate asked.

“Okay, so hear me out. She’s intelligent, smokin’ hot, talented, funny, and fun to be around, but I don’t think she ever goes out. It’s like she doesn’t have a life outside of her house.”

“Maybe she’s busy getting ready for her show. Or maybe she goes places when you’re at work.”

“I thought about that, but she seems to have time to garden and hang out with us when we ask. When you came in I was thinking about how reluctant she is to engage me in conversation. Everything seems to be easy between her and you and June. But between her and me it’s…different.” Cam groaned. “I sound pathetic.”

Kate laughed. “Maybe a little, but I think it’s cute. You have a crush.” Cam glared at her. “No really, Cam, you have a crush and she’s not making it easy for you. When was the last time you had to work to get to know someone?”

Cam stopped to think.

Kate nodded. “Has it ever happened? I know from personal observation you don’t usually have any trouble getting women to talk to you. In college, at clubs there were times when women literally fell over themselves to get your attention. Even you and Melanie clicked immediately. Now there’s someone who seems indifferent to you and you have no idea what to do with that.”

Cam lifted both hands off the table imploringly. “So what do I do?”

“Honestly, June and I both thought you would have asked Dawn out weeks ago.”

“I want to, but I can’t get a read on her. Not completely. I know I’m in trouble because I’m not even sure she’s into women.”

“You’ve never been wrong in that department. Why are you questioning yourself?”

Cam shook her head. “I don’t know. I can’t put my finger on it. There’s just something different about her. I can’t stop thinking about her, and I want to know her story, her whole story, but she resists. She doesn’t share anything about herself. She’ll talk about her art or gardening, but personal stuff—that’s off limits. I’ve tried to breach that divide with no success. None. In fact, she downright refuses my every suggestion.”

Kate shrugged. “The way I see it, you have a couple of options. You can wait and see if she warms up to you. Or you can ask her out and get an answer pretty quickly on how she feels about you. Since we’re not in junior high, I’m not going to offer to find out if she likes you.”

Cam laughed at the absurdity of Kate’s last comment. “Right, I’ll take it from here.”

“I’m certain you will. I’m always here when you need to talk.”

“I know, thanks. Anyway, enough about me, what’s happening in your life? How are your new dance classes going?”

“Things are going okay. Slower than I expected. I’m still trying to drum up more interest. I know there have to be more women out there who want to learn swing dancing. I’ve put flyers up at the Center and I’ve gotten a few calls, but interest seems low. Hopefully, the class that starts in three weeks will fill. Don’t you know anyone who would want to take dance lessons?”

“I’m not sure, maybe. Let me send some emails. Do you have an extra flyer with all the information?”

“Sure.” Kate pulled a colorful piece of paper out of her shoulder bag. “Here you go. I’ll email you one, too. You should think about taking the class too.”

“Why? I already know how to swing.”

“I know. So come for fun and to help me. I can always use an extra set of hands. Most people need a lot of attention when they’re first learning. Besides, you could come right after work. It’s just down the street. It will get you out of the house and maybe your mind off other things.”

“I’ll think about it.” A distraction might be exactly what she needed.

Kate nodded. “That’s all I can ask.”


Chapter Four

Cam glanced at the clock by the television when she heard a knock at the door. Both dogs stood facing the door, ears up and tails wagging and low barks alerting her about the soon-to-be intruder. She turned off the iron she was using to prepare her clothes for the week. “Jack, Mozz, settle.” Cam opened the door to see Dawn. “Well, hello.” She smiled but noticed something wasn’t right. “What’s wrong?”

“If I remember right, you’re in IT. Please tell me you know something about computers.”

“I do. What’s going on?”

“I’ve been working on a proposal for several weeks, and it’s due by tomorrow morning. All of the sudden, my computer died. I turned it off last night and this morning I can’t get it to
turn back on. I’ve called everyone I can think of who knows computers and I can’t get hold of anyone. You’re my last hope. I’m sorry for interrupting your evening, but I don’t know what else to do.”

Cam didn’t hesitate. “Let’s go take a look.”

Walking across the yard, Dawn turned to Cam, her relief obvious. “Thank you so much.”

“I haven’t done anything yet. Let’s wait and see what’s going on.”

As Dawn led Cam through her house, Cam took a quick look around. She had lived next door for almost two months, and even though Dawn had been to her house several times when June and Kate were over, Cam had never been invited into Dawn’s home. As she followed Dawn, she caught a glimpse of the same pictures that captivated June on her first visit. Even with the abbreviated view, she knew June hadn’t been exaggerating when she said Dawn’s work was marvelous. Cam trailed Dawn through another doorway and stopped, awestruck. She was surrounded by art in all shapes and sizes and mediums. She could see Dawn’s talent spread across the canvasses. “Wow.”

“Cam, the computer is over here.”

Dawn’s voice broke through Cam’s thoughts, and she managed to turn away from the canvas she was studying. “Right, okay, let’s see what we have.”

Right away, Cam noticed that while the monitor had power the computer did not. She checked the connection and found it secure. Cam glanced up at Dawn. “Do you have another power cord?”

“Um, only the one on the other computer.”

“Where’s that?”

“In the other room.” Cam followed Dawn.

Cam retrieved the power cord from the computer in the living room and returned to the studio. She replaced the power cord, unplugged the monitor, and plugged the computer into the spot where the monitor had been. So she knew she was using a known good cable into a known good outlet, still no power on the computer. “Okay, I think your power supply is toast. I eliminated several possibilities, but we need some parts.”

“That doesn’t sound good. Can you fix it?”

“Not tonight. I need a replacement power supply and no store is still open that will have one.” When Cam saw Dawn’s crestfallen face, she added, “But I might have a workaround so you can get your proposal sent out. No promises though.”

“I’d appreciate anything you can do.”

The expression on Dawn’s face made Cam want to leap tall buildings to help her. She made quick work of removing the remaining cables from the computer in the studio and took off the cover. She quickly disconnected the hard drive and she stood with it and the extra power cord in her hands.

Dawn stared at the innards of her computer. She looked at Cam uncertainly. “This looks bad. What are you going to do with that?”

“I’m going to try to make it a secondary drive on your computer in the living room so you can access your files.” Seeing Dawn confused expression, she asked, “Trust me?”

“Do I have a choice?”

Cam’s eyes narrowed. “You always have a choice.”

Dawn started to speak and then stopped. Finally, she said, “Please do whatever you have to.”

Cam wondered what she’d stopped herself from saying. “Okay, let’s go.”

They made their way back into the living room. Cam disconnected the components from the computer and removed the cover; she checked the jumper on the hard drive from the studio computer, and connected it to a cable inside the machine. She replaced the cover, then reconnected all the wires and power cord. “Well, here goes our best shot.”

Dawn held her breath when Cam pushed the power button. She breathed a small sigh of relief when the machine powered on.

“That’s not the tricky part,” Cam explained. “We need the computer to recognize the hard drive from your work computer.”

Cam knew what she was doing and was confident in what she did. Soon, the familiar screens appeared on the monitor. In no time at all a file was opening on the screen and Cam pushed the chair back from the desk. She nodded toward the screen. “Is this the proposal you were working on?”

Dawn’s gaze flew back to the screen. “Yes. Oh my God, yes.” She pulled Cam into a quick, hard hug. “I don’t know how I can thank you. This is amazing. You have no idea how much this means to me.”

“You seemed pretty desperate,” Cam said.

“So, you have some ideas on how I can thank you for rescuing me?”

“I do. I’m hoping you can help me with my yard. It’s in desperate need of color. Next to yours, it’s plain and inadequate. Would you mind helping me with a plan for my yard and go with me to help me pick out some plants and stuff?”

“Really? You want me to help you with your yard?” Dawn asked excitedly.

“If I had known how thrilled you would be, I’d have asked ages ago.”

“I’d love to. I’ve been trying to think of a way to get my hands in your yard since the first day I saw it. It has so much potential. Of course I can help you with it.”

Cam was surprised by Dawn’s enthusiasm. “Great, then it’s a deal. I’m working from home tomorrow. Are you free to go to the nursery in the morning?”

“Sounds like a plan.” Dawn’s mind seemed to race ahead with what she could do with Cam’s yard.

“Great. Go ahead and send off your email and I’ll clean up the mess in the other room.” Cam walked to the studio. First, she did what she needed to do and noted the make and model of the computer before squaring it away. She liked to finish what she started, so she would find a new power supply and replace it for Dawn tomorrow. Then, she turned to do what she had wanted to do since the moment she entered the studio. She moved from piece to piece, taking in Dawn’s work. The way Dawn created movement in water when she painted streams, rivers, and the ocean was splendid. But the overall effect of her art was breathtaking.

Cam reached a piece that stopped her in her tracks. At first glance, it was a simple scene of a turbulent sea during a storm. The harshness of the waves battering the rocks of the cliff was powerful, almost painful. As she stepped closer to take in the details, she noticed the lighthouse but no light shined. No beacon to navigate safely. It made her feel…sad, despondent, and vulnerable. So many people were going to get hurt.

After she finished sending off the proposal, Dawn returned to the studio and found Cam staring at one of her paintings. She stopped at the threshold and studied Cam. She had never seen anyone look at her work in quite the same way. The intense concentration emphasized the strong angles of Cam’s chiseled face. She was overwhelmed by Cam’s unguarded expression.

Dawn painted for herself. It was something she was compelled to do, but seeing the effect her art had on others was always a thrill, which is why she occasionally agreed to show her work. However, in all the years she had shared her art with the world, she had never seen the look she saw in Cam’s eyes. It made her heart race. She moved quietly to see what piece captured Cam’s attention. When Cam turned, she hadn’t had time to control her thoughts or feelings. As her gaze locked with Dawn’s, the raw emotion took Dawn’s breath away.

Dawn felt like she had intruded on a private moment. “I’m sorry if I disturbed you,” she said softly.

“Don’t be. It’s your house. I was just appreciating your work. It’s…expressive and passionate. The intensity pulls you in. It’s very powerful.”

“Thank you.” Dawn focused on the picture Cam had been studying, and her heart skipped a beat. She hadn’t shown this piece to anyone. She wasn’t ready to until recently. She was considering putting it in her upcoming show. It had been sitting in her studio since she painted it more than two years ago. Cam was the first person to view it. Now the expression Dawn saw on Cam’s face was more special because the emotions still swirling in Cam’s dark eyes reflected the intensity Dawn felt when she painted it.

Dawn looked back up. Cam studied her face just as she had studied Cam’s moments earlier. She felt her cheeks flush. She and Cam stared intently into one another’s eyes. For the first time, Dawn didn’t look away. She didn’t want to.

Cam moved to Dawn and lifted the back of her hand to Dawn’s cheek and stroked it. “Do you always do this when someone compliments your work?”

Dawn pulled back but didn’t drop her eyes. “No.”

Cam closed the distance once more. “Maybe one day you will tell me about this piece and share what or who caused you such anguish.”

Dawn’s breathing hitched as Cam hit the mark of the emotion that inspired that piece. She left the comment unanswered. Everything that came to mind seemed inadequate.

Dawn figured out Cam’s intention the second before it happened, but she didn’t stop it. Her first instinct was to push her away. She raised her hands to Cam’s shoulders but didn’t follow through. Cam held her lightly, tenderly. She lost herself in the kiss. Cam’s mouth was soft but firm. The warmth sent shivers down Dawn’s spine. When Cam’s tongue gently pressed for entry, Dawn didn’t hesitate. She opened her lips, and as Cam’s tongue met hers, her insides melted from the heat.

Dawn thrust her hands into Cam’s hair, adjusted the angle of her head, and kissed her harder. There was no thought. Lust shot through her, and she craved more…more tongue, more skin, more—

Cam’s dogs barking loudly finally penetrated her short-circuiting brain. She pulled back. “Cam…”

“Just ignore them. They’ll stop in a minute.”

Dawn stepped back as realization crept in. What have I done? Another step away from Cam. “They’re not stopping. You should probably go check on them.”

“I could come back.”

“That’s not necessary.” Dawn was trying really hard to remain calm.

“Okay. I’ll see you in the morning to go to the garden center.”

Dawn walked Cam to the door and shut it behind her. She wasn’t sure how long she stood there staring at the door. Whoa. She hadn’t expected the kiss, not really. A part of her had been worried something like this would happen from the day she had met Cam, but she’d kept her distance. Dawn started to think maybe it was all in her head.

Then it hit her. This was the first time she allowed herself to be alone with Cam for more than a few minutes. That’s not fair. True, she kissed you, but you did nothing to stop her. You even participated. You can’t blame her for that without accepting your part in it. Okay, but I’m not attached. What about the blonde Cam is with?

Dawn was dismayed. How can she kiss me while she’s seeing someone else? Why does it surprise me? That’s one of the reasons I kept my distance. How dare her. She didn’t know Cam that well, but somehow this just didn’t feel like something she would do. Maybe she and the blonde had broken up. Cam had never mentioned her. Maybe it was all in Dawn’s head. Even with the cloud of confusion Dawn worked herself into, she could still feel the heat of Cam’s lips on hers.

 

v

 

As Cam crossed the front yard and walked into her house, she thought about the emotion in Dawn’s art and about the kiss. The intensity of the kiss didn’t surprise her. She knew it would be incredible. It also didn’t surprise her that she very much wanted to walk back in there and finish what she started. But she knew Dawn wasn’t ready for that and it would break every rule Cam had to push Dawn before she was ready. Even kissing her as she just had bent the rules because she sensed Dawn was not open to it. She’s just wasn’t sure why. After more than two months of holding herself back whenever Dawn was around, she had to push just a little. She knew it would be immeasurably more difficult to restrain herself in the future. Now that she had a taste, she wanted more, much more.

Cam hadn’t anticipated the willingness and eagerness of Dawn’s response. She sensed Dawn’s moment of hesitation, and then Dawn wrapped her arms around Cam’s shoulders and pressed her body against Cam. She’d almost lost herself in the kiss. It had taken everything she had to step back from the edge, to move away from Dawn. She didn’t question it was the right thing to do. Sometimes she wished it wasn’t so important to her to do the right thing.

What disquieted Cam was her reaction to Dawn. She hadn’t felt that intensity from a simple kiss since Melanie died two years ago. Melanie was the love of her life. She found that one of a kind love early and knew no one could replace her. So what was it about Dawn that had her so intrigued?