January 17th, 2007
Spirits Shared

Can I really accept this? Can I really share Clay with another man? Do I want to?

For the thousandth time since The Revelation, the diamond in Jessica’s engagement ring made a trip around her finger. She couldn’t seem to stop doing that, twisting it around and around, circling back to those same three questions. And every time she did, the ache in her heart burned its way to her eyes.

Outside the tiny diner with its black-and-white tile floor and jukebox, a flash of lightning was followed by a crack of thunder. Dried leaves whipped down the street and old-fashioned wooden signs jerked against the chains holding them in place.

Hohoq. Population…three? And that was assuming someone was manning the general store across the street where Clay was. Her throat tightened and she pressed her lips together to keep them from trembling.

Usually she’d be with him, especially in a place like this, one that seemed apart from the rest of the world. They’d be holding hands as they traveled down store aisles full of interesting knick-knacks and old things, not garish offerings like those sold in tourist traps, but touchstones, something tangible to carry home along with memories, something that’d be treasured rather than relegated to the trash.

She glanced at the gray-haired Native American couple working in the kitchen area behind a counter lined with red-vinyl barstools. They were in their seventies or eighties and obviously in love. They had what she’d thought she’d found with Clay.

The burn in her throat and eyes intensified. Until Clay, she hadn’t realized how lonely she was. Before Clay, she’d never let another man close enough to believe it when he said I love you, or say it back and mean it with every fiber of her being.

It doesn’t have to be over. The ring made another trip around her finger.

The old woman left her place behind the counter, the light catching on the shiny red, white, yellow and blue stones set in a multitude of thin silver bracelets. Dark eyes held warmth and a smile offered encouragement. “Your man will be here in a minute.”

Jessica’s gaze dropped to the engagement ring. Is he really my man? Will he be if we become a threesome instead of a twosome?

A comforting hand squeezed her shoulder. “Things have a way of working out if you let them.”

Jessica blinked away tears and swallowed against the burn in her throat. “Am I that obvious?”

“I’ve heard many a tale of troubles with the opposite sex while serving hamburgers and chocolate shakes. Here comes your man now. By the look of him I’d say a well-done double cheeseburger. And you’re a grilled cheese with tomatoes and you both want fries.”

Some of the ache eased. “No tomatoes on the grilled cheese, otherwise it’s perfect.”

Clay entered the diner along with a gust of wind. His eyes instantly sought and met hers and despite The Revelation, her heart swelled the way it always did and took over her chest.

With his blond hair and blue eyes, his chiseled-to-perfection face and fit body, he could have been a cover model. Instead he was an outdoorsman.

Before him, she’d never been adventurous in or out of the bedroom. Because of him, she’d done things she once wouldn’t have imagined. Hang gliding, whitewater rafting, mountain climbing—though they were baby hills compared to some of the ones he’d scaled.

He loved the outdoors. When he wasn’t putting together group trips, mainly for companies who wanted their executives to bond, he’d often be arranging trips for groups of friends who wanted adventure instead of total relaxation when they vacationed.

He was a man’s man, and a woman’s fantasy. He was hers—or at least he had been before The Revelation. And now… Now she didn’t know.

He tugged off his jacket and slid onto the seat across from her. “Did you already order?”

“Not the drinks.”

The elderly woman smiled at Jessica and cocked her head. “Diet coke for you. Bottled water for your man, though I’d recommend drinking what the house serves. You won’t find purer water than what we’ve got in Hohoq.”

Clay laughed and Jessica’s heart turned over. He could be intense and serious when he was on the job and people’s lives depended on it, but he was quick to laugh and to make others laugh with him. It was one of the things about him that she loved.

Her eyes watered and she looked away, twisting her ring and not wanting him to see what a mess she was. Since she’d said yes and he’d slipped the ring on her finger, he’d asked every day if she’d decided on a date to get married. Not that it would change their day-to-day lives. They already lived together. But marriage meant something to them both, even if so many marriages ended in divorce.

Their wedding would be a small affair, an outdoor event with their closest friends—his outnumbering hers ten to one—though many of his had become hers. His family would be there. She wasn’t sure if she’d invite hers, wasn’t sure anymore if she’d have to make that decision.

Maybe deep down she’d known she didn’t satisfy him completely. Maybe that’s why she hadn’t committed to a date. Maybe deep down she’d sensed the truth. He was enough for her, but she wasn’t enough for him.

Pain returned in waves, sealing her throat. She concentrated on breathing, on the simple mechanics of inhaling and exhaling. She didn’t want to lose him. But either way she would, either completely or to another man.

How could she have been with him and not picked up on the fact that he was attracted to other men? What if later he decided he was mostly gay instead of bi?

His hand covered hers where it rested on the tabletop. She sucked in a deep breath and tried to ignore the burn in her chest and throat and eyes.

“We can call the trip off, Jess,” he said, his voice husky. “We can turn around and go back to the apartment. We can see where we stand from there. I don’t want to hurt you any more than I already have.”

She wiped the tears away. Everything inside her said they’d be over if they went back to their everyday life now.

I don’t want this to be over. She didn’t know if she could share him with another man. She didn’t know if she could share herself with another man, but she did know she didn’t want them to be over.

Covering his hand with hers, she met blue eyes that held pain and love and the same desire to stay together. “Let’s keep going, okay?”


Their food arrived and she pulled her hand away from his, ducked her head and concentrated on eating.

The ache in Clay’s heart grew with every minute of silence. She’d have loved the general store. Any other day and the two of them would have gone there together, then come here, stopping to pump a couple of quarters into the jukebox before grabbing their seats.

She’d be pointing out interesting things, walking one of the carved animals—no way she’d have left the general store without buying one of them—across the table and up his arm. They’d be talking, not that they couldn’t do silence. They could. They did. But not this kind of silence.

His guts had become churning water in a rock-filled stretch of icy river. He didn’t have a clue what he was going to do if she couldn’t handle this. He didn’t know how he could let her go when she was his world.

He hadn’t been with anyone else since he’d entered a bookstore and fallen in love—or at least deeply in lust—with the soft-spoken blonde who was reading to a group of kids in the children’s section.

She was the woman he wanted to marry, to have kids with, to grow old with. He’d known it that day and that sureness about being with her hadn’t changed.

Hearing her say I do and getting a wedding band on her finger was his first goal in the morning and his last goal at night.

Plenty of his friends had told him that he was whacked for wanting the vows and the Mr. and Mrs. but not one of them didn’t get why he wanted Jess. She was beautiful. Centerfold beautiful. Cock-grabbing beautiful. Beautiful enough that as a kid her mother had forced her into competing in pageants. Beautiful enough that if pageants were her thing, Jess’d be winning. But it wasn’t her beauty that had him hooked.

She could take care of herself but he’d discovered that he wanted to take care of her. She could be tough when she needed to be, but she wasn’t afraid to be utterly, submissively feminine.

Fuck. Maybe they could fix this in bed. Maybe he should find out if there was a hotel in this seven-building town and take Jess there. He could reassure her with his body that he loved and desired her. Hell, not only loved and desired, but desperately needed her in his life.

He rubbed his chest but the tightness didn’t ease. Need was too tame a word when it came to Jessica. He craved her like an addict looking for the next fix.

He could be whitewater rafting on rough water and he’d get hard thinking about the way she yielded and went submissive. More than once he’d been rock climbing and gotten a boner he could have used as a chisel from thinking about how she accepted the rougher aspects of his sexuality—not that he’d ever, ever hurt her.

Yeah right, asshole. Look at her and tell yourself she’s a happy camper.

He stabbed a fry into a pool of catsup. Inhaled, exhaled, tried to loosen the tightness in his chest and rid himself of the fear that had been threatening to suffocate him since coming out while he was driving.

Christ! Could he have done something more stupid?

He glanced up from his plate to find her looking out the window. Jesus, he couldn’t stand to see her like this. It was killing him one agonizing minute at a time.

He rubbed his palm over her engagement ring. At least she hadn’t hurled it back at him. She hadn’t screamed or cursed or called him names. Not that he would have blamed her, though if she had he probably would have wrecked the car.

The tightness in his chest became a blockage in his throat, preventing him from breathing. What if she was thinking that this was it? That they’d have one last week of hot, no-holds-barred sex and then say goodbye when they got home?

He couldn’t let that happen. Somehow he had to make this right.

He’d have proposed on the first date, that’s how sure he was that she was the right woman for him. But she was more cautious, a little less quick to grab for the brass ring than he was, so he’d taken the time she needed.

Hell, he needed to be honest with himself. He’d been testing himself with the wait even if a rogue, selfish part of him wished they’d already been married before he’d had his come to Jesus moment of illumination.

But when he’d finally popped the question he’d been convinced that he was mainly hetero. Yeah, he noticed guys and sometimes he fantasized, but mostly he wanted Jess.

The last group trip he’d led ripped that false sense of security away like it was toilet paper. He’d been tempted, tempted to the point where only his ironclad rule to never get involved with paying clients had kept him from doing something stupid.

His heart thundered like it was caught in an avalanche and a chill swept over him. He’d come so close to trashing a future with Jess. If he betrayed her with either a man or a woman, she would never forgive him. He’d be out of her life permanently.

It’d been a wake-up call, not only for the present but for the future. Imagining what might happen down the road made him break out in a cold sweat during the day and thrash with nightmares when he slept.

It was easy to envision a situation where she was home with their kids and he was on a trip where there were guys who weren’t clients. It would happen in a weak moment, maybe after the rush of conquering some span of water or mountain or maybe because he’d gone years without being with another man.

Christ, he would lose everything that mattered to him. Everything. Her. Their kids. His self-respect. Everything.

If he could see a shrink and get cured or take a pill and bingo, no more urge for gay sex, he’d do it for Jess. He’d give up that part of himself. But one, those options weren’t available. And two, she’d never ask it of him anyway.
Jessica had no problem with someone being gay or bi. Hell, that’s what had led to his confession in the car.

He’d intended to wait until they’d gotten to the cabin. He’d imagined himself telling her after they’d made love in front of a roaring fire. But then she’d told him about a book she was thinking of writing, a teen coming out story and he’d come out.

He swallowed hard. Seeing her hurt was tearing him up.

Somehow he had to convince her they could work this out. He didn’t want an open marriage where they both screwed whoever caught their interest. It’d kill him to be with her and wonder if she’d been with someone else earlier in the day, worry that she was falling in love with someone else and would decide that guy could satisfy her completely.

There’d been a time in his life when he’d been quick to fuck anyone who caught his eye. But even before he’d met Jess, he’d slowed down on the casual sex. Not that he’d been a saint, but deep down he was already waiting for the right person—the right woman. He’d never pictured himself setting up house with another guy. He’d never thought much about what it would mean to be bi and married.

The truth was, he’d never been one to over-plan the future. Yeah, he was meticulous about the adventure trips, lives were on the line. But when it came to the big picture of his personal life, he trusted that he’d see the brass ring and be ready to grab it when it came along.

He’d seen Jessica and known she was the one. Now he had to hang on to her. A threesome could work.

They’d get married. Eventually they’d meet someone and his friend Patrick could perform a ceremony if vows in front of friends and family turned out to be important to their third.

Clay rubbed his palm over the engagement ring, the warmth of her hand sinking into his. The wedding band was on the dresser at home, a reminder along with the question he always asked first thing in the morning, You picked a date?

His brother didn’t get it. Bring up how much he wanted to get married and Carter always said, What’s with you? Shacking up is the way to go. Look at Mom and Dad. Think how miserable it would have been if one of them had felt trapped and couldn’t leave for a while.

Yeah. And every time that’d happened, there’d always been the fear that this time, the one who’d left wouldn’t come home.

Clay took his hand off hers so he could shovel the food faster. Forget a hotel room. He’d screwed up by rushing things but he’d have a week alone with Jess to make it right.

Outside the wind gusted harder than when he’d fought his way over from the general store. They’d be better off if they could get ahead of the storm and get to the cabin before the dirt roads leading to it got slick and the danger of mudslides increased.

He finished the last of his burger and fries. Jess polished off her grilled cheese.

Ache spasmed through his heart at her ducked head, at the goodbye he read in her curved shoulders. “Ready?”

“As soon as I stop by the ladies room.”

They both stood. He wanted to pull her into his arms. He didn’t. Nothing he could say or do here could make this right.

The tightness in his chest increased with each step she took away from him. He couldn’t lose her. But maybe either way he was destined—

No. He refused to believe that they weren’t meant to be together.

He left a tip tucked under the plate then went to the counter where their waitress stood behind an old-fashioned cash register. She took the money he offered and gave him change. “Things have a way of working out. Let the Thunderbird into your lives and you will find happiness.”

“Thanks.” Not that he had a clue what she meant by the Thunderbird or that her words of encouragement eased the ache splintering his heart.

Jessica returned. He opened the diner door for her, opened the car door for her. At least she still wore her engagement ring, at least she still wanted to go to the cabin.

They drove away from Hohoq under a sky that continued to darken with gray and black clouds. Thunder pealed in short bursts, moving closer. When they turned off the main road, rain pelted the car, pounding against metal like tiny fists.

In the intimacy created by the storm, Jessica placed her hand on his thigh and whispered, “I love you.”

His throat burned beneath his jaw. He covered her hand with his, rubbed his thumb over the engagement ring. “I love you too. I don’t want to lose you, Jess. You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

The hand on his thigh slid upward and cupped his erection. He managed a shaky laugh and prayed this wasn’t the beginning of her saying goodbye. “He loves you too. He thinks about you constantly.”

She didn’t laugh. She didn’t make an appreciative comment about his cock the way she usually did when he professed its love.

The burn in his throat moved into his eyes. He struggled for something else to say, something that would turn back the clock so things were normal between them, but there was nothing he could say. There was no going back.

The dirt road steepened though they’d stop well before the snow line. He rubbed his thumb over her fingers and the ring, watched for the turn that would take them to the cabin.

“How many have there been?” she asked, her voice so soft he wouldn’t have heard it if he wasn’t fixated on her.

“Male lovers?”


“Do you really want a number, Jess?” He didn’t think she did. Except for at the beginning of their relationship, when they’d needed to assure themselves they were sexually safe, they’d left previous partners in the past.

She closed her fingers into a fist beneath his hand. “No. I guess what I want to know is if you ever loved any of them.”

“Not like I love you. But you’re the first woman I’ve ever really loved. The rest were either crushes or fun fucks.”

He glanced at her face but couldn’t read her eyes. “I’m done with casual, Jess.”

She stayed quiet for a long time before finally saying, “Somebody could get hurt.”

Her voice held the fear that she was the one who would get hurt and his heart wanted to pledge that he’d never let that happen, but how could he make that promise when he’d already hurt her by telling her he was bi? His hand tightened on hers, acknowledging the truth. His throat locked.

Jessica forced her fingers to unclench on Clay’s erection. Could she really give herself to another man for him? Could she really share him with that other man?

She wasn’t turned off by the idea of gay sex and would probably be turned on watching it if she loved the men involved. She’d had fantasies of being with two men at once, but that was fantasy, and there was no possibility of heartbreak and loss in fantasy.

She wanted Clay to say he’d always love her and nothing would change that. She wanted him to promise a threesome would lead only to incredible pleasure and not to unbearable pain. But he couldn’t guarantee those things. No one could.

Even for him, she didn’t know if she could handle this, but she asked, “How would we find a third person?”

“Jess…” His hand nudged hers up and down on his erection. “I’ve been so torn up over telling you…” his voice broke. “I’ve been so worried about losing you that I haven’t gotten past the part where I convince you to keep wearing the engagement ring.”

“I’m not sure I can go through with it.”

Tears glittered against her cheeks and Clay’s throat clogged. He didn’t have the courage to ask her if she was talking about the threesome, or their getting married.

“Maybe just knowing you accept the need will be enough to keep it manageable. I’d rather cut my dick off than hurt you.”

She sniffled and gave a tiny laugh. “I’d rather you not do that. It’s one of your best parts and most redeeming features.”

Some of the ache in his heart eased at being on familiar ground. His throat cleared and he arched his hips to press his cock into her cupped hand. “He’s a big fan of yours too.”

Jessica gave Clay’s erection a little squeeze, ready to push The Revelation out of her thoughts for a little while. “He can show me how big a fan he is when we get to the cabin.”

“He’ll do that.”

They reached a turnoff guarded by totem poles. In the stormy grayness the poles looked surreal. The pounding of rain became ancient drums. The wind became the power of the Thunderbirds perched on top of the poles, their wings outstretched as they claimed everything they could see.

“They’re beautiful,” she said. “Like towering guards serving the earth and wind and water.”

“Yeah, they are. We can hike back tomorrow and get a closer look. This turn leads to the local sheriff’s house. The next one will take us to our cabin.”

The drumbeats became so real that she gave in and asked, “Do you hear them?”

He glanced at the totem poles. The faces of badgers and bears and foxes and birds of prey were carved into the wood beneath the thunderbirds. “What? The birds or the animals?”

“Drums beating.”

He laughed and flashed a smile that had her heart tripping over itself. “Love your imagination, babe.”

Harder winds buffeted the car. Clay took his hand off hers and put it on the steering wheel.

Five miles later the fury of the storm arrived. It was magnificent in its violence, like something alive and primal.

The windshield wipers swiped frantically at water. The car edged forward at a crawl. A flash of lightning streaked across the sky. A crack of thunder splintered the air right on top of them.

Jessica flinched. A rumbling vibration shook the car.

She grabbed the edge of the seat. Clay hit the gas and they jolted forward.

An instant later something slammed into the rear of the car.

She screamed as they spun, heart climbing into her throat as they plunged off the road and careened down the steep incline toward a line of trees.

There was time for a gasp. An instant of blindness as violent impact exploded the airbags.

Shock held her in place for a second. And then she could think.

She turned toward Clay, slumped in this seat and not moving, and a sob choked off breath. Oh god, let him be okay! Please let him be okay!

The driver side window was a spider-web of cracks where he’d hit it. She jerked out of the seatbelt and harness, forced herself to fight the swelling panic.

He’s breathing. At least he’s breathing. That’s a good sign.

With shaking hands, she gently explored his skull. There was a knot already forming on the side of his head. But nothing felt broken and there was only a little blood on the side of his face.

He moaned and the sound lanced into her. His eyes flickered open and she glimpsed uneven pupils before his lids drifted shut. She thought concussion but her stomach churned.

She swallowed, and swallowed again, trying to keep the grilled cheese and fries down. There could be other injuries, injuries she couldn’t see.

His hand twitched as though he intended to reach for his seatbelt. “Jess?” It came out slurred.

She covered his hand with hers. “I’m right here.”

With her other hand, she grabbed her purse and retrieved her cellphone. There was no signal.

Clay opened his eyes. “Jess?”

His voice was still slurred and confused. His pupils looked more uneven and his breathing… Was it shallower? More labored?

He could be bleeding internally. A lung could be punctured. Things inside him could be broken.

She didn’t want to leave him alone with a concussion. But if she didn’t, and there were other injuries, it could get worse, so much worse.

She needed to climb to the road and see if she could get a signal. And if she couldn’t then she’d need to leave him long enough to get to the sheriff’s house.

Tears streamed down her cheeks. She knocked them away. I have to do this.


He didn’t answer. Her heart stretched up her throat and banged in her ears.

She jostled him gently, afraid he’d slipped into a coma. “Clay?”

He stirred. Eyelids flickered. Lips parted and finally, slowly, moved. His voice was too faint to hear but she read the words. Love you.

Eyes stinging she grabbed her jacket and put it on, pulled the hood up though there was a lull in the rain.

“I’m getting help,” she said, pressing a kiss to his forward.

She got out of the car. No bars.

Zipping the cellphone into her jacket pocket, she glanced at Clay. Please, please be okay when I get back.

She climbed, sending small rocks and miniature landslides downward with her hands and knees and feet. Reaching the road, Clay wasn’t visible, but the boulder that must have hit the car and sent them spinning off the road had smashed into several pines, uprooting one and breaking another in two before ripping into a third.

She shivered. If the rock hadn’t hit the rear of the car, if it’d struck the driver’s side door…

Lucky. They’d been lucky. They just needed a little more luck.

She pulled out her cellphone. There was no coverage.

That means I go to plan B.

She couldn’t allow herself to think what failure might mean. She would find help. Clay would be okay.

She took a deep breath and ran in the direction of the turnoff to the sheriff’s house. Each of her heartbeats was a plea. And every slap of her tennis shoes against the muddy, rocky road sounded that same plea.

Let me find help.

Let me find help.

Let me find help.

Her lungs burned and her sides ached by the time she reached the totem poles. Passing between them, she had the eerie impression that the land itself was aware of her presence. And with that feeling came a fleeting sensation that in another life she’d known when Thunderbirds flew and had lived in a world where spirit guides existed.

Goose bumps rose on her arms. Clay’s imagined voice said, Love your imagination, babe, and she swallowed against the added burn in her throat.

She stopped to catch her breath. Doubled over, hands on her thighs.

“Please let him be okay. Please let me find help,” she whispered and a sudden strong wind surged past her, as if catching her pleas and then carrying them swirling upward in a funnel cloud of leaves and dirt.

She pulled her phone from the jacket pocket. A single bar. And it was getting darker faster.

Swallowing against a rush of panic she pushed herself back into a fast run. She had to keep going. That’s all she could do.

The rain returned in a fierce downpour. It drove against her back as if she was the storm’s target.

Lightning flashed with increasing frequency. Thunder obliterated the pounding of her own heart.

A cluster of dark clouds twisted and roiled and hurried across the sky in a beautiful, powerful display. She ducked her head, the wind against her back felt like a hurrying hand.

Her thoughts returned repeatedly to Clay. She imagined him drowsy but okay. She imagined him slipping into a coma. She imagined him bleeding internally, the blood pooling, turning into something life-threatening and killing him before she could get back with help.

She passed a stand of junipers and their scent was Christmas with Clay.

Rain and tears nearly blinded her. The storm deafened her. A white car with a bronze five-pointed star overlaid with the word Sheriff swung around the curve in front of her and her heart soared. Help. She’d found help.

The car braked, sliding into a stop and a Native American man emerged from the cruiser wearing a brown slicker with the Sheriff’s Department logo. Her exhale was part sob. Relief nearly sent her to her knees.