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      Welcome To Four Free Chapters Of
          A Mountain Too High ~
      If You Enjoy It - Information On How You May Read
      The Complete Story Online - See Chap 4

      A Mountain Too High  
          © By Duke Stevens


      Chapter 3
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              Ashley had finally gotten back to her novel’s plot.  She finished the chapter just before noon.  Glancing toward the clock she saw it was time to take a break.  She stopped working to eat a light lunch.

              She was wiping off the kitchen-table when she heard the telephone ring.  Hoping it was Gary calling, her heart began beating faster as she hurried to answer it.



              Her legs weakened when she heard him speak her name, “Yes,” she replied.

              “This is Gary Alexander.”  His chest felt tight.

              “I know...” she said softly.

              The two words told him she had hoped he would not forget her.  The low intimate tone of her voice reached out to embrace him.  Gary felt as though she had already slept with him and woke up remembering.  A rush of adrenaline soared through him and he chuckled to himself thinking, “I must've been good!”

              Tightening his hold on his whimsy he didn’t share his thought.  Instead he asked, “Are you busy?  We could get lunch if you haven’t already eaten and then spend some time together... if you’re interested.”

              “I’ve had a light lunch but I’d love to see you again.”  Before he could suggest that he come to her home and pick her up, she said, “I’ll meet you at our beach in twenty minutes, Okay?”

              He felt the words, “our beach” flow through him with happy acceptance.

              Gary couldn’t miss that she was remaining cautious with him in spite of yesterdays encounter and day spent together.

              Clicking out of the phone call he accepted that he would need to find a way to give her more information about himself that she could check out.


              Ashley spent longer than usual getting ready.  Winding down to the finish she put on a pair of legs-embracing bluejeans, a white blouse, short dangling silver earrings and light blue tennis shoes.

              She finalized her cosmetics with a light creme, applied a soft pink gloss to her lips and brushed her hair.  Stepping on the scales she saw the usual one-hundred and seven pounds pop-up.  Not dissatisfied with that number she gazed at herself in the full-length mirror and hoped he would like what he saw.

        ~~Twenty Minutes Later~~

              When she had driven into the parking lot she noticed that he was waiting for her near the beach walkway.  By the time she had gotten out of her car he had turned around and realized that it was Ashley walking toward him.

              He liked what he saw.

              Her smile drew him into herself.  He felt the welcome in her eyes reach out to touch him.  He started toward her.  Something stopped him.  He knew in milliseconds that he wanted to watch her walk toward him.

              She moved toward him within a natural slow sensual sway subtle in its suggestion.  Her femininity flowed out of her like a pleasing aroma spreading out into the atmosphere.  He felt his body respond to the intense awareness in her eyes that she was celebrating her womanhood and praising his manhood.

              He felt desire reach out and hold him.  Cautioning himself, he turned his gaze away from her in an effort to steady himself.  He noticed two sailors who had stopped what they were doing.  Their eyes were glued on Ashley.  Picking up his quick glance toward them, they looked at him and smiled.

              Following Gary’s eyes she saw the two sailors staring at her.  This type of reaction had become familiar in Ashley’s life from the first time she had recognized male awareness of herself as an attractive woman.

              The more time had left its traces on her face she learned to accept that her smallness and self-care still attracted male interest especially from a particular type of man in and of, itself.  More recently she had either ignored or dismissed most of these reactions by men toward her.

              Until Gary Alexander.

              Reaching Gary, she smiled up at him, “Hi.”

              “Hi,” he said returning her smile.

              He wanted to lean over and kiss her.  Smiling into his eyes she wanted her lips on his mouth, his arms to surround her and the opportunity to press her face against his chest.

              With careful watch over their thoughts they kept the words unspoken.

              Gary said, “I would like to show you where I live.  Would you be willing to go there first?”

              She smiled, “To University Park?”

              He grinned pleased that she had remembered, “Yes.”

              Why don’t you follow me over.  You can park your car at my place.

              She nodded, “Okay.”

              They looked into each other’s eyes each assessing the other.  Ashley broke the eye contact by glancing down at his hand.  She slipped her hand into his.  They began walking back toward the parking lot together.

              Ashley followed him to his home.  Gary entered a gated community and turned down the third street from the gate’s entrance and to his right.  She could see that neatly landscaped townhouses lined the streets.  Traveling down the street he had entered he drove past several houses before pulling up and stopping.  He motioned her to park in his driveway.

              She steered her car into the driveway, turned off the engine and got out of her car.  Waiting for his approach she kept her eyes on him while he got out of his car and began walking toward her.

              Ashley drew into herself the sensual image he created.  His tallness and his strength thrilled her.  Watching his easy male stroll bring him closer to her, she felt her body respond to the experience.

              His hair free from restraint flowed to his shoulders.  The wind blew strands of his hair against the sides of his face as he walked toward her.  Her eyes moved to the muscles in his arms, igniting a desire to be within them to her body and mind.  She felt imprisoned in the grip of this mesmerizing picture of his powerful masculinity.

              She wondered if her eyes would reveal to him what she was feeling.  Smiling up at him when he reached her, he smiled down at her in return.  His eyes held an awareness of his effect on her.  She fought back an impulse to reach up and run her fingers through his hair.  She wondered if he would have allowed it.

              Walking toward the front entrance of his home he took a moment to explain to her that University Park had attracted his interest for several reasons.  One of the most important reasons had been that the designers had provided many greenbelts for the use of those living in the area.

              While they continued their move toward the front of his home, Ashley glanced around trying to return her mind and body to the wider environment around her.  She saw well-kept landscaping, a brick courtyard and double-entry oak doors topped with large fan-shaped windows.

              Stopping at the oak doors Gary took out his house key and fit it easily into the lock while continuing to speak about the greenbelts.

              “The footpaths meander throughout the area.  There are quiet spots where you can read a book or simply rest in the shade.  Another thing I like about this area is that it was developed on the West side of the San Diego freeway.  This put it closer to the marine layer than other parts of Irvine.  It stays cooler, rarely dropping below fifty degrees in the winter or rising above eighty-five degrees in the summer.”

              Ashley was impressed with the care he had taken in finding a personal environment that provided daily pleasure to him.

              Opening the front door, he backed off slightly and allowed her to enter a large living room space.  Looking around she saw bookshelves, a large, comfortable brown sofa, a like armchair, small tables holding lamps, magazines and small pictures she assumed were family photos.  A beautifully created painting of the desert in bloom hung over the open fireplace.

              Walking by the bookshelves she noted several books on politics and the Civil War.  One of them by Lloyd Lewis on Sherman she had read.  Other shelves held firefighting training manuals, books on emergency rescue, medical information and forensics.   Moving nearer the bookcase, her eyes took in several magazines on health and fitness, crime investigation, gardening, sailing, fishing and travel and a large family Bible on the bottom shelf.

              A guitar was standing upright between the wall and the bookshelves.

              Wondering if it were his or his son’s, she asked, “Is this yours?”


              “Are you good at it?”

              Grinning he said, “I fool around with it.”

              Ashley thought it likely he was better at it than he implied.

              Glancing into the bonus room just off the living room he explained that it was now primarily a personal office space.

              Turning to her, he asked, “Would you like a juice, soda or water?”

              “Water... Thank you.”

              “Coming up!”

              Following him into the kitchen she took in its clean interior, its granite topped counters and fresh yellow daises sitting on the counter near the telephone hanging at the end of the row of wall-hung shelves.

              Handing her a glass of water with ice, he said, “Would you like to look around?”

              Nodding, she said, “Yes.”

              He took her on a house tour pointing out the greenbelt view behind the house just off the brick patio.  A large wooden lattice-work, painted white, covered most of the patio’s width and length.  Winding, blue morning-glory vines, covered one-side of the lattice-work.

              On the patio an out-door oven had been built into a long row of countertop shelves, topped at one-end by a gas range.  Tapping it, he said, “I rarely use this anymore.”

              For some reason his remark sent her to quickly examine his financial situation.  She thought it unlikely that he had retired on full pay accepting that his divorce and early retirement had caused him to reexamine his financial priorities.

              Entering the house once again she followed him upstairs.  He pointed out the two spare bedrooms empty for the most part of signs of occupancy.  One of them looked to be a teen-age boy’s room.  A tennis racket hung crisscrossed on the wall over another one.  Two posters of Ana Ivanovic the tennis star were pinned-up beside them.

              She entered the room.  Walking over to a boy’s picture inside a silver frame standing upright on a large dresser,  “Is this your son?”

              Moving closer to her, he nodded, “Yes, he was fifteen when that was taken.”

              She smiled looking from the photo to Gary, “He is handsome; like his father.”

              He smiled, “Thank you.”  She saw sadness enter and then linger at the back of his eyes.

              When they entered the master bedroom her glance took in the large windows overlooking the greenbelt and a king-size bed with a plump gray comforter on top of it.  Not far away from the bed stood a music set with speakers.

              Glancing around she saw firefighting magazines on a small side table, several shelves with more books, DVD’s and CD’s within a tall bookcase and a master bath that held a large inviting whirlpool bathtub.

              Ashley glanced toward Gary.  Her legs lost strength visualizing him naked inside it.  The feeling was strong and powerfully exciting.  It brought the urge to quickly remove herself from the master bedroom.

              Turning she walked toward the door, “You have a lovely house and lot.  Thank you for showing it to me.”

              Gary smiled and turned around to follow her out of the room.  He wondered if she had the same desire rush through her as he had when her eyes had taken-in the whirlpool bathtub.  He would have enjoyed seeing her slip out of her clothes and slowly allow her body to lower itself into the whirling bubbling water of a warm bath.

              He wondered if he would have joined her.

              They heard the knock at his front door at the same time.  Ashley glanced at Gary.  Raising a questioning eyebrow, he smiled at her, “I’m not expecting anyone.”

              Opening the door, Gary saw his father, “Hi... Come in.”

              Ashley took in tall heavy-set man.  His long white pony-tail fell to his shoulder-blades.  It was held together with a rubber-band.  His feet in work shoes, he wore bluejeans and navy-blue sweat-shirt.  His eyes were focused intently on Gary, his body in tight attention.  He topped Gary’s height.  She thought he must be six foot three or four inches tall.

              Gary stepped back and motioned toward Ashley, “Ashley, meet my Dad, Buck Alexander.”

              Buck Alexander jumped in his skin.  When he had entered the house he hadn’t seen her.  He now turned to plant on her a piercing look of appraisal.  He took all of her in from the top of her head to her toes.  She felt as small as a fly on a wall that he intended to smack out of existence and as naked as when she was born.

              Slowly everything about him began to relax, “Nice to meet ya,” he said in a low, husky voice.

              Turning to Ashley, Gary said, “Please excuse us for a few minutes?”

              She nodded and walked over to the large cushioned armchair and sat down.

              His father followed Gary into his home-office.  Gary didn’t shut the door but spoke in low tones to his father, “Is something wrong?”

              Glancing toward where Ashley sat in the living room his father said, “Sorry... Carolyn called and wanted access to Kevin’s college account now and I wasn’t sure if you knew she was going to ask for it before he’s eighteen.”

              Gary waved the apology aside, “Dad, that’s your money for Kevin.   Carolyn doesn’t include me in her doings anymore.  You need my signature to close the account?”

              His father nodded his head, “Yes. I’m not going to argue with her.  Kevin knows about it but he’s not challenging her right to use it.  So maybe she’ll make it up to him at some point?”

              Gary, signing the account document heard the question in his voice, “I don’t know.  Like, I said, she doesn’t include me in her finances unless she is asking for more money than I’m required to give her for Kevin.”

              His father looked thoughtful, “Thanks for signing.  I don’t like this, but too busy to deal with Carolyn right now.... and Lena won’t.”

              The image of his step-mother flashed before him.  Gary wasn’t surprised Lena didn’t want to deal with Carolyn.  Ignoring his father’s comment about Lena and Carolyn, he asked, “You’ve got a new project going?”

              “Right.  We’ve started building homes in the new Langston Homes parcel in Riverside County.”

              His father reached for the signed paper, looked once again toward Ashley, muttering sharply, “She’s good-lookin’  But I’ve got a wife, remember?”

              Gary sighed internally.  Long familiarity with his father’s cutting sense of humor, he understood his father’s intention.  He decided to give back as good as he got, “You’re too old for her, Dad.”

              Unexpectedly Buck Alexander lifted his head and laughed outright, “I hear ya, Boy!”

              Gary smiled without letting it show, thinking a familiar thought, “When is he going to get that I’ve not been a boy in years.”

              Ashley looked up when she heard his father’s outburst of laughter.  Buck Alexander shot out of Gary’s office nodding his head as he strode rapidly past her, “Good-day!”

              “Good-bye,” she returned.

              Gary came over to her chair and looked down at her, “Some paperwork he wanted me to sign.  He’s quite a character.  Never saw anyone work as hard as he does.”

              Lifting herself up out of the armchair, she asked, “He’s not retired?”

              “No, he’ll probably die on the job.  He runs a construction company out of Riverside.  Alexander and Sons.”

              He answered the question in her eyes, “He had high hopes that one of his sons would become his business partner.  It didn’t happen.”

              Ashley thought she had an idea why it hadn’t happened.  He had entered and left Gary’s home within a concentrated intensity.  His bearing had signaled, “No small talk allowed.”

              She thought he had the manner of a General Patton on duty during wartime.  She didn’t doubt that he commanded top performances from his employees both in respect to time worked and in their quality of workmanship.

              She wondered what quality of himself he had given to his sons during their childhood or to their mother.  She suspected that his sons hadn’t gone into business with him because they may have been unwilling to become just another employee under their father’s all-encompassing thumb in spite of the father’s business intentions they would be partners.

              Ashley cautioned herself in the attempted analysis of what she had witnessed about his father in such a narrow time-frame.  She had watched Gary and his father’s interaction and verbal exchange with interest.  The son hadn’t seemed much like the father.

              Not willing to dislike Gary’s father at first sight she placed this experience into a wait-and-see mental file.  She reminded herself she may never have the opportunity to meet him again.

              Gary reached into his back pocket and removed his billfold.  He handed her his driver’s license, “I’d like you to examine this.  The address of this house is on the license.  The picture is an earlier one but I think it's clear that’s me.”

              He paused then finished, “I’m who I claim to be.”

              Ashley felt uncomfortable but relieved.  She smiled and examined it.  The address was what he had stated it would be.  The photo was clearly Gary.

              She noticed his date of birth.  Feeling she was betraying herself, she had fought and lost the battle to not look at his date of birth.  When she did something rose up to tell her that there was something familiar about that date but she couldn’t retrieve it and let go of the search for it.

              Smiling, she handed his license back to him, “Thank you.”

              A sense of the impossible shadowed the moment.

              Ashley experienced an awareness of self-diminishment by her intention to hold back her own driver’s license with its exposure of her birth-date unless he stayed within her life.

              She attempted to displace the flash of renewed anger that was flowing through her at the enormous power of the self-anointed powerbrokers within this youth-obsessed, entertainment culture to deny any woman her sensuality past a certain chronological age.

              She felt disappointment in herself that feelings of dehumanization could still be activated within herself by the simple gesture of looking at a date of birth.

              For long seconds Gary and Ashley stood beside each other silently their eyes remaining connected.

              Ashley felt a question with its accompanying answer peek into view.  The longer she stared into his eyes the answer increased into a certainty that he already had guessed her date of birth and he didn’t care.

              The warmth of his welcoming gaze within his awareness that he knew and didn’t care about anything except who she was at this moment in time reached out to her, lifted her up and placed her on a mountain top.

              It was here at this spot in Gary Alexander’s home that Ashley began to wonder within an exquisite and sweetfully painful desire to know what it was that this uncommon man wanted most out of the rest of his life.

              She felt a terrible and unyielding longing to be able to have the ability and opportunity to give it to him.


              They spent the rest of the day together.

              Before leaving Gary’s home they talked over what they might enjoy doing together ending-up with a decision to visit San Diego’s Old Town State Historic Park.

             On the drive down to the San Diego area Gary was hoping she would talk more about herself.  After they had entered the South 5 freeway, he glanced toward her, “Tell me about yourself?”

              She began with her youthful marriage that had failed quickly and then moved cautiously into the marriage that had produced four children.  Reluctant to expose the wounding injury to herself that the second marriage had brought her, she briefly explained the circumstances of the married life that had produced the children who had given her a new perspective on her own value.

              Gary glanced toward her again, his mind going back to her first marriage, “You said you married young?”

              Ashley leaned her head back against the head-rest turning her face toward his, “I was more sixteen than seventeen.  Today, I understand why I married so early.  At the time, I was lonely and had little confidence in myself.  I was trying to get out of an environment where I had lived in loneliness and fear.”

              She saw him nod his head.  She wondered what it meant.

              Ashley glanced out of her side window and paused.  Would she be able to allow him to really ‘see’ her?  Making a rare decision she decided that she would risk letting him see some of her painful history, “I had a lonely childhood.  Our home was often full of anger.  My mother regretted marrying my father and would have eruptions of implacable rage that would last all night.  It was terrifying.”

              He took his hand off the steering wheel and covered her hand lying still on her left leg, “I’m sorry.”

              She sighed, wishing she could lean her head on his shoulder,  “I’m sorry too.  I suppose the expected thing to do at this point in my life is to accept it was a long time ago so its not pertinent to now.  But that isn’t true.  The damaged past can spread destruction into the future even when you want it to just go away and never have to look at it again.”

              He said, “I’m not sure we ever escape the past.  Memories are in our brain within an immediate access to them.  When they come to the surface it can feel as though they just took place.”

              His words comforted her.  She smiled thoughtfully, “Perhaps that explains why we often make the same mistakes.  Isn’t it early behavior patterns we seem to endlessly repeat?”

              Gary smiled.  He wanted to ask her to talk more about her second marriage.  Recognizing that he had refrained from explaining his own marriage failures to her within a closer examination he decided to let further inquiry into her second marriage go for now.

              Thinking about what she had told him he understood her cautious, self-protective manner toward him within a deeper perspective.  He was convinced that they had connected and she was strongly attracted to him.  Gary felt immersed in the moment recognizing that her pull on him was becoming more powerful.

              Several more minutes passed within their silence.  He looked at what was taking place between them more closely concluding that he was not uncomfortable with what he was feeling.  He wanted her within an increasing interest to remain in his life.

              Glancing toward her he wondered if she had the courage to stay in it.


              When they entered an Old Town parking lot they found an empty space quickly.  Surveying the area, they decided to take a few minutes to stroll around the center of the park, exploring the shops.  Coming upon the Plaza del Pasado restaurant they stopped to eat a late lunch on its patio.

              After the waiter had taken their order, he stopped to explain to them that the Old Town district was the first European settlement in California.  Telling them it had begun as a Spanish Mission in seventeen sixty-nine and later moved further inland.  The waiter completed his tourist spiel, “Settlers coming later moved closer to the water in the eighteen twenties leaving ‘Old Town’ behind.”

              During their meal Gary and Ashley talked casually about the historic park, going through the tourist pamphlet their waiter had given them making a decision on what to visit next.

              They stopped to see California’s first schoolhouse, the blacksmith’s shop and had just left the state’s first newspaper office and stable when Gary’s cell-phone rang.


              Ashley listened quietly to Gary’s reaction to the caller’s message.

              “Really...  Was there an explanation for why it was sent?”

              Gary had stopped walking.  He motioned toward a park bench for them to stop for a while.  When she lowered herself into it he sat down beside her.

              Listening quietly for several seconds, he said, “If you’d like...   Sure, that’s fine.  I’ll be there.”

              Clicking out of the call he turned toward her, “That was Roy Hudson...  The station received a letter today.  It must have been sent the same day the call came in to the station.  It again was referring to Johnny Hart’s death.  Roy says no other fingerprints on it but his and no return address.”

              “Did he tell you what was in the letter?”

              Gary paused, “Yes, it was a copy of a prescription for Zopiclone, a sedative.  It was in Cassy’s name filled a month before Johnny died.”

              He paused once again not sure if he had told Ashley that Cassy was his friend’s widow.  He finished, “Cassy was married to Johnny Hart at the time.”

              “What would a prescription for his wife have to do with your friend’s death?”

              Gary inhaled deeply, glanced away from her then back, “Roy seemed to think that it implied things were not as they had appeared between them at the time Johnny died.  The second option in Roy’s mind is that the letter-writer intended to suggest that Johnny may have been the target for the sedative and not Cassy.”

              “That’s a pretty big leap, isn’t it?”

              “Yes, it is.  My first reaction to this second reference to Johnny dying was why would this caller and letter-writer -- if the person is one and the same who made both contacts with the station -- want Cassy to be implicated in her husband’s death in the first place.”

              “Has she remarried?”

              “Yes, she married another firefighter.  Todd Hamilton.”

              “That scenario can open-up some possible problem situations.  Perhaps Todd Hamilton has an ex-wife or a woman he had a relationship with that resented his marriage to Cassy?”

              Gary caught her eyes in a steady gaze, “It’s a hell of a way to get even.  Involving an entire community of firefighters to activate an official investigation, forcing large expenditures of taxpayer money.  It also might expand into a wider area of taking up the time and resources of federal investigators.”

              Ashley nodded in agreement, “You’ve said that no one knows who is making the contacts with the station or why.  Apparently whoever it is doesn’t care about the wider consequences.  He or she might want them to be played out.”

              Gary frowned, “Whoever is doing this has been careful.  So far, no statement has been made that makes a charge that a crime has even taken place.  The first contact was suggesting a reinvestigation into Johnny’s death and now there is a letter with a copy of a prescription for Cassy dated a month before Johnny died.”

              Ashley said, “I thought medical records were confidential.”

              “Right...  The person has or had access to her medical records at some point.  This person could have found it in her home or the trash or he or she might work in the doctor’s office or at the pharmacy where it was filled.”

              “Was the prescription a copy or the original.  It must have been a copy, right?  The pharmacy usually keeps the original.”

              Gary nodded his head, “Yes, it was a copy.”

              Abruptly he stopped talking and stood up, “I’m sorry!  We shouldn’t be doing this.  This afternoon is for us.  Let’s put this discussion on hold and enjoy the rest of the day, Okay?”

              Taking out his cell-phone, he turned it off.


              They spent the rest of the day looking around Old Town.  Discussing whether or not to try an evening tour that promised a ghost story but which would take them out of the area they decided to leave that experience for another time.

              Ashley felt a rush of pleasure when Gary had suggested that it would be something they could do at a later date.

              Just outside the Old Town area they found the Whaley House certified to be haunted.  They took this tour, enjoyed it and survived with no terrifying incidents to talk about.

              Finishing the day at Old Town with a tour through Heritage Park they explored seven Victorian-style homes built between 1887 and 1910.  They left the tour laughing and joking about the ‘trials’ of their present-day lifestyles, pretending playfully that the Victorians didn’t have it so bad.

              They both knew that they were thankful that they lived within present-day conveniences.

              Driving back toward University Park Gary felt contentment enter the moment.  Glancing toward Ashley he could see that she was tired but had a smile on her face when she turned toward him to meet his glance toward her.

              “Thank you.”

              He smiled, “Thank you.”


              Watching him drive toward his home she felt the strength of his sensuality enter the quiet moment within the reflection of their day together.

              Their busy afternoon had placed her feelings into a subliminal reservoir that being with him was a sexual experience in itself.  She had found herself throughout the afternoon battling the desire to reach out and touch him.

              She had lost count of the times within an informal and light moment that her emotions had ignited an impulse to reach out toward his hand, his arm, his shoulder, his chest, his back, his leg or to run her fingers through his hair falling against the sides of his handsome face and in that desiring instant she had halted the movement toward him before it had begun.

              When he had first taken her hand in his, she had felt the contact run through her like an instant blaze of fire.  It had inflamed a desire that his touch not stop with her hand.

              “I’ve only known him for two days,” she cautioned herself.  A sense that she surely must have known him for a much longer time shot through her.  She felt a happy laugh rise up inside her.  She held it back.

              Gary was thinking of her response to his whirlpool bathtub.  He wondered what her reaction would be to a suggestion she take time to relax in it before having dinner with him.  Wandering around this idea for several seconds he decided against it.


              Driving back toward his home they reminisced about the day.

              Entering into his gated community he drove slowly up the street and parked in front of his house, “Will you stay for dinner?  I’m not a great cook but I have a fruit salad already made in the refrigerator.  I have roast beef.  We can slice it for sandwiches and there is wine, coffee, juice, milk or water to drink.”

              Ashley glanced toward the clock and realized that if she stayed for dinner, it would be dark by the time she would be leaving his home.  She didn’t want to tell him she felt uncomfortable driving alone after dark.

              The longer she thought about it the more she knew that he would be worth a few minutes of later insecurity.  Nodding her acceptance, she said, “Sounds good.”

              Gary had noticed her glance toward the dashboard clock.  It hit him that she might not want to drive home when night fell.  When she had accepted his invitation to stay, he smiled at her, “Great!”

              Hesitating he added, “If you now trust me enough I’d be glad to follow you home.”

              She once again felt the protective canopy of his presence that she had experienced at the beach rescue scene.  The expression on his face revealed no sense of disapproval or belittling sentiment inside himself that she might have reservations driving alone after dark.

              Ashley wanted to lean toward him and put her lips on his.  She felt the power of his kindness wrap her in a seductive protective warmth.  Accepting that if he followed her home he would find out her home address she chose risk again, “Thank you.  Yes, I would like that.”

              Entering his home he shut the door behind him, “Let’s go round-up that dinner.”

              Following him into the kitchen she put her purse on the floor under the telephone.  Noticing the flashing light on the telephone message machine she began walking out of the room to allow him privacy in hearing it, “You have a message.”

              He said softly, “You don’t have to go.”

              Clicking it on he heard his ex-wife’s voice tense and angry, “You could have told me about Roy Hudson’s visit!”  The tone of her voice sounded hard with an assumed familiarity with Gary.  Ashley winced internally.

              Gary listened quietly.

              Carolyn’s rant wasn’t finished, “Cassy knows something is going on about Johnny’s death and she wants to know what it is.  Doesn’t she have that right?  No one ‘officially’ is talking to her about whatever it is that’s going on.  It is too fuckin’ bad, you feel more loyal to the station than to Cassy!”  They heard the bang of the receiver as she slammed it down on its cradle.

              Ashley could see Gary inhale as he erased the message.  Turning toward her, he said, “Sorry...  Sometimes she assumes that once being married to me gave her a life-pass to talk to me like that.”

              Ashley moved toward him.  She didn’t know what to say.  The tone and manner of his ex-wife had offended her for Gary.  She leaned her head on his shoulder and brought her fingers up to touch his hand.  She brought her fingers slowly up his arm, caressing it from his wrist to his shoulder.

              He felt the sweetness in her touch.  Her fingers sent pleasant messages throughout his body.  Putting his arms around her he held her within a silent warmth.  He found it difficult to believe he had only known her two days.  Standing with her in this quiet moment he wondered again what or who had wounded her so deeply that the experience had allowed her to react within such an immediate empathy to him.

              She was a new and moving experience for him.

              After dinner Ashley helped him clean off the table and fill the dishwasher,  “That was good.  I was more hungry than I thought.”

              With a soft laugh, he said, “Thank you!

              Realizing she was going to leave him in a few minutes he grappled with the awareness of his loneliness that she had made disappear, “Would you like to stay and watch television for a while?”

              She remembered where she had seen his high-definition television set.  He had placed it in his bedroom.

              Ashley felt an overpowering desire to lie in his bed with him, “Okay.”

              Climbing the stairs to the master bedroom Ashley followed him carrying a 7-Up for herself and bottled water for Gary.  He carried two large pillows from the sofa.

              Entering the room he walked to the bed, tossed the two smaller pillows away from the top of the bed, put the two large sofa cushions in place and then replaced the bed pillows against them.

              Smiling she tossed off her shoes, put the drinks on the stand beside the bed and climbed onto the comforter.  Taking off his shoes he jumped onto the comforter beside her.

              Leaning against the sofa cushions he let out a relaxed sigh and reached for the television remote.  He asked her what she would like to watch.

              His cell-phone rang.  Taking it out of his pocket he looked at the number, “Enough already.”  He turned it off.

              Ashley assumed it was another call from Carolyn and that there might be another message for Gary being placed right now on his cell or on the kitchen telephone message machine downstairs.

              Trying to forget Carolyn may have once slept with Gary on this bed she snuggled down next to him.  She felt a frightening peace flow through her.  Turning her face to his, she said, “You fill this room with magic.”

              Startled at her words he saw the day with her in its totality.  He felt desire flow through him.  They had not engaged in any discussion about their attraction to each other.  He had moved through the day with her accepting that it existed. Being with her had strengthen his conviction that he wanted to see her again.  He thought feelings for him had increased within her but he hadn’t been able to place that sense within a certainty into his mind.

              He remembered her understanding touch, her interest in what they had shared, her willingness to discuss Roy Hudson’s call.  He remembered that he had enjoyed laughing and joking with her.  He had fought a constant battle to touch her.  Yet he had not kissed her today.  She had not kissed him today.

              He looked into her eyes, leaned over and put his lips on hers, whispering, “Then you are the magician.”

              Holding her breath, she felt the pleasure of his mouth’s gentle message flow through her body.  Telling herself that if she fainted and he might not know it for a while she might miss some of the good stuff.  She told herself to not faint and kissed him back.

              Snuggling closer to him, she moved her welcoming lips under his.  She kissed the side of his mouth, drawing his responding lower lip just inside her mouth within a gentle sucking tug.  He moved his lips over her own inviting her exploratory seeking of his mouth’s response by an invitation of his own.

              Moving her hips snug against his body she felt his hardness match the desire flowing between them.  She slid her right leg up and over his left leg moving her pelvis against his erect penis.

              Holding her the image of his ex-wife entered the moment shattering his rising passion and his contentment.  He felt sadness flow through him.  He didn’t want to make love with Ashley on a mattress Carolyn's body had known.

              He became still.  She heard his gentle, whisper, “Slow, Sweet Ashley...”

              Every part of Ashley’s body didn’t want to stop what they were doing.  Looking into his watchful eyes she felt forced to surrender to his words.  She moved slightly away from him, “Is something wrong?”

              She saw him drive the contemplative thought in his eyes deeper into his mind.  In a forced lightness he tried to rescue the moment, “I don’t want to get you pregnant.”

              Ashley understood what was happening.  He was attempting lightness because something that had taken place within him had bothered him. He was playing with irony and metaphor.  Wondering why he didn’t want to tell her what was really going on inside him, she laughed lightly hoping he would see she understood, “I’m glad you are a careful man.”

              He smiled, thankful that he had not offended her.  Pushing a pillow between their hips he drew her once again toward him.  He kissed her slowly.  She kissed him back slowly.

              They touched each other cautiously, exploringly.  Winding her fingers in his hair, she nibbled at his neck and ear, her free hand began moving under his shirt and across the firmness of his chest.  She played gently with his aroused nipples.  He felt anticipating pleasure flow through him as though he were on a raft beginning its trip through rapids.  He fought to control the escalating desire racing through him.

              Ashley couldn’t escape his incomplete commitment to their first real intimate touching.  She wanted to make love to Gary without restraints.  She wanted to pull the pillow out from between them.  She felt a deep longing to experience his nakedness.  Ashley fought against the restraint that his behavior had put on their sensuality.

              Gazing into his eyes, her sexual longings suddenly melted into empathy, “Maybe we should stop this.” she whispered.

              Gary moved away from her sadness flowing through him.  Removing his arms from around her, he said hesitatingly, “I’m sorry... the pillow... I ...”

              She smiled gently, “You don’t have to explain.  If you would have been comfortable in telling me why you put the pillow between our hips, you would have already done it.”

              Gary felt relieved and anxious at the same time, “Ashley, it’s not about you.”

              She reached toward him and ran her finger down his cheek, “I think that’s true.”

              He drew her once again tightly against him and kissed her.

              This time she believed him.

        You have finished Chapter 3
        Of A Mountain Too High
        By Duke Stevens

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