She knew Johnny loved the heat of summer, and she tried to enjoy it with him. Today they were taking a ride. But the heat was relentless, the bugs were bad, the horses werenít happy, and neither she nor Johnny had much to say. When he turned his horse south and trotted up a hill she very nearly stopped; she was ready to go home. But her horse followed his to the top, and as she caught up she saw the stream and the little lake below. "Looks refreshing, donít it?" He grinned at her.
The horses picked their way slowly down to the lake. "Can you swim?" he asked.
"A little," she replied, "but I wasnít expecting to swim today." She meant she didnít have a bathing outfit.
Johnny gave her that great big smile. "Me, neither, but hey, thereís some water!" His voice was smiling too.
They dismounted, led the horses forward for a drink, then left them loosely tied in the shade. Johnny grabbed her hand and pulled her down to the edge of the water. He plopped down on a convenient flat rock and took off his boots and socks, rolled up his pants, and stepped into the clear water. "Hoo boy this feels good!" He laughed up at her. "Címon, join me!"
She removed her shoes and socks as well, and rolled up the bottom of the riding pants she wore. The water was cold and took her breath away for an instant. She wobbled a little and Johnny moved to her, steadied her, and then pulled her close. His kiss surprised her and she did not return it right away. He looked into her eyes and she saw the "why" in his; when he lifted her chin with the crook of his gentle fingers and their lips met again she did not hesitate. Now it was not the water that took her breath away. His kiss was soft, and deep, and lingering. She had never been kissed like that. "Donít ever stop," she whispered when they broke apart, and he kissed her again.
"If weíre gonna swim weíve got too many clothes on." He stepped back to undo his gun belt and laid it carefully on the rock. He threw his hat next to it and began to pull his shirt off over his head.
"Johnny, what are you doing?" She didnít know whether to be embarrassed or mad or excited. She decided to be all three.
"Taking off my clothes. You should, too. Want some help?" He grinned as he threw his shirt on his hat. He took her gently around the waist and slowly began untucking her shirt. Once it was free he carefully unbuttoned it. She was afraid to move, afraid to breathe. Her arms rested on his bare shoulders. He kissed her as he slid his hands inside her shirt, up her ribcage, then down her arms to remove her shirt. "Is this OK?" he asked as he tossed her shirt next to his; she nodded. Her chemise was thin and lacy; when he pulled her into his embrace she felt his chest on her breasts. She was no longer embarrassed. Or mad.
"Gotta get our pants off if we really intend to swim," Johnny said after another kiss. His voice was soft and a little husky. His eyes never left hers as he undid his own pants and stepped out of them, then pulled hers off down over her hips. Their two pairs of pants joined the other clothing on the flat rock.
He was wearing cut off long underwear; she was wearing knickers. Now Johnnyís eyes strayed over her body, taking in her breasts, her hips, before traveling back up to her face. "Oh, you are lovely," he sighed as she stood in front of him. She looked him up and down as well, at his muscles and his legs and the undeniable sign of his attraction to her.
"Now would be a good time to swim," Johnny said, "because if we donít Iím going to have to take you right hereÖ" and he fell backwards into the water, splashing and laughing and totally obliterating the spell he had woven.
She grinned and dove after him.
The coolness of the water stayed with them as they sunned themselves on the rocks. She lay on her back. Johnny, lying on his side, propped himself up on one elbow to look at her. "I do want you, you know," he said quietly as he toyed with her hair. "I think you want me, too."
She was silent. What could she say?
"What are you afraid of?" How did he know she was afraid?
She closed her eyes so she could reply without falling into his. "Iím afraid youíll be disappointed with meÖ"
He laughed softly and shook his head. "Thatís crazy talk," he said. "How could you possibly disappoint me? You are so lovely, and so sweet, and when I kiss you my heart jumps around in my chestÖ"
She smiled at that. "Oh, mine too. But you have so much moreÖexperience than I do. Iíve only ever been with one man," she said. "We were married and it was his right and my duty. He was good to me and kind enough, I guess, but it was never anything that really meant anything to me. I know you have been withÖladiesÖwho know so much more than I doÖ"
He started to laugh at her again, but saw her eyes stayed tightly closed, hiding from him.
"Look at me," he said. She opened her eyes to meet his. "Itís not a contest. I love you. I want to be with you. Yes, Iíve been with others. So have you. That doesnít matter now."
She was unconvinced.
"When I was younger I spent a lot of time in whorehouses. The women there, most of them, didnít have a lot of choices. They were stayiní alive as best they could. It doesnít take any particular talent to be a whore. You just gotta be willing to take what comes your way."
She appreciated his matter of fact approach; she adopted it. "I bet you liked some of them better than others, though. What made you like one lady more than another?"
"It depends. Sometimes I liked it if they just kept their mouths shut and got on with it. Other times I liked it if I could talk to Ďem, laugh with Ďem. When I got older and it was less of a novelty, then skill maybe entered into it."
"Thatís it right there, Johnny. How does a woman who isnít a whore learn those skills?"
Johnny looked at her with a grin, his eyes dancing. "I guess she learns Ďem from her man! And I would dearly love to teach you, lovely lady!" She couldnít help but grin back at him, but she was still afraid.
"How many women have you loved, Johnny?"
He was surprised, and carefully considered his answer. "Usually I get asked how many men have I killed. Iím not sure I like this question any better."
She didnít take the bait. Sitting up, she hugged her knees to her chest. Her eyes sought his-looking for reassurance, he felt, that she mattered more to him than the whores she worried about.
"Let me tell you about sex. Sometimes a man can take his pleasure wherever itís offered-itís a natural fact that men like fucking. But when a man is in love, really in love with a special person who means the world to himÖ" and he looked straight into her worried eyes so she could see he was speaking the truth; his voice got softer, musical, "then sex becomes so special. It becomesÖ" he struggled for the right word. "It becomes a song, a sacrament, a way for two separate people to become as close to being the same personÖ" his voice trailed off.
"Have you ever felt that way about a woman? " It wasnít easy for her to ask that question. She had never felt that way; she couldnít help hoping that he never had, either.
Now it was Johnny who squeezed his eyes shut. He understood what she was asking, and why. He didnít want to hurt her. But she deserved the truth.
"I have." He offered nothing more.
When he opened his eyes she saw a hint of sadness pass by. Then he smiled gently at her; she smiled back. "And now, I feel that way about you. When I tell you I desire you Iím telling you I love you, and that I want to make you as happy as you make me."
"And if I tell you I desire you, too, but that Iím not ready yet, will that change things between us? "
With a sigh Johnny rolled over onto his back. He opened up his arms in invitation, and she lay against him. He held her close and spoke softly into her ear. "I love you too much to ask you to do something you arenít ready for. Just promise me one thing."
"What one thing?"
"That when you are ready Iím the first to know."
She smiled. "I promise."