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Road Trip Epilogue Part 1
damien listening guitar
Title: Road Trip Part 1/2
Rating: R (language and sexual situations)
Author: morgan72uk and rogoblue
Summary: About two years later.

As Adelle stepped out of the house, the last whispers of fog had not quite been banished by the soft morning sunlight. The land stretched out before her and in the distance she could just make out the silvery glint of the river that gave the area its name as it wound its way through the valley.

She sipped her mug of tea and turned to look back over her shoulder towards the cluster of buildings that represented ‘home’ these days. She wasn’t the only one who’d had an early start. From the watchtower Tate lifted his hand in greeting – his position afforded commanding views of the whole area and if he hadn’t been satisfied that it was secure she wouldn’t have been allowed to get this far outside. Their security was as important as the wine and that had been drummed into him, possibly quite literally. Fortunately he knew how to follow orders and had enough imagination to innovate when necessary. Laurence wouldn’t leave him in charge if he wasn’t completely confident in his abilities.

The tea had come courtesy of Madeline, who had been preparing breakfast when Adelle had gone into the kitchen. She’d declined the offer of anything to eat, even though doing so had prompted a lecture on why breakfast was the most important meal of the day. It wasn't the first time she'd heard said lecture and after all this time she didn't think Madeline took her failure to eat the meal personally.

“You ready?”

“Of course.” There was no hint of a smile on the wrinkled, wizened face that was turned towards hers – but the cloudy eyes softened a little around the edges as she offered her arm to guide him into the vines.

“Trust your senses, tell me what you smell, what you see, what you taste in the air.” When she and Laurence had first come here, the vineyard and its outbuildings had been abandoned. The location had seemed to have much to recommend it; an easily defensible position, small enough to be manageable and as an added bonus the equipment was obviously rather old fashioned. Normally that wouldn’t be a factor in its favour but in a world where the use of technology was no longer safe, the out-moded machinery had made it easy to get things up and running.

As they had explored the valley, checking for butchers and other threats, they had found a small encampment of estate workers; actuals who had retreated to a more isolated area. Tom had been the leader of that group, by virtue of his knowledge of the land he had worked for over forty years. His failing eyesight had made it impossible for him to continue to work as he once had but his other senses had developed to more than compensate.

He had been caring for his young grand-daughter when the first signal had been broadcast and, though her parents had never returned, he’d kept her safe and well until they had been able to persuade the group to return to the main house and join them.

Katie was almost six now and she was currently chasing the large, fluffy dog Laurence had brought home as a puppy two trips ago. Syrah had been named after a grape, in honour of his dark colouring and because Pinot Noir was a ridiculous name for a puppy. He wasn't exactly a puppy now; though he showed no sign of stopping growing and they had yet to break him of the habit of chewing whatever came into his path.

Without Tom, Adelle didn't know how they would have made this work. He'd taught her everything she knew about the grapes and never stopped reminding her how much there still was to learn. From him she'd understood that she was merely a custodian of this land, of the vines and their history.

He wasn't the easiest of men. Crusty and ornery, his disputes with Bill had achieved legendary status within weeks. Over the years the two men had argued about almost everything – with her as their only possible go-between.

But they’d needed Bill as well – he had a genius for making things work. He could take apart and put back together just about anything and the machinery here responded to his touch like a lover.

She was fortunate that both men liked her – although she wasn't sure how much that was due to her having a half decent palate and how much it was because Laurence wasn't afraid to shoot anyone who caused problems.

Resolutely she pushed those thoughts away, because she wasn't thinking about Laurence at the moment. She wasn’t thinking about the fact that he was late back from a trip, three days late to be precise and that as a consequence everyone was treating her with kid gloves; as though they expected her to shatter at any moment. She had no intention of shattering, for the simple fact that she refused to believe that he wouldn't return. There might come a time when she needed to face, to accept, that his absence was permanent but that time hadn't come yet.

It was pointless to try to explain their relationship – though she understood that among their small community it was a subject of much interest and speculation. They were both rather solitary people and since Laurence's travelling had by no means diminished she still spent a considerable time here on her own. Their reunions were passionate enough, but that passion took place behind closed doors, or at least away from prying eyes. In company they tended to be discrete, talking but seldom arguing, content to leave the fireworks to other couples. When you had torn each other to pieces once there was no need to fling words around as weapons.

No one else understood her the way he did and she cared for no one the way she cared for him. There were other names she could give the emotion but they both tended to steer clear of them and in any case a name was too simple and too limiting.

She missed him of course, desperately at times – though that was knowledge she kept to herself. The small army of cats they had acquired over the years were comfortable companions for an evening of reading, but of little use when it came to a conversation. Her bed was too often empty and even Syrah, who crept in to sleep at her feet, didn't keep her as warm as Laurence did. Since he had reduced his use of boosters over time it was his presence rather than the effects of the drugs which worked the magic these days.

Though she was surrounded by people she was still rather alone. In some respects that was her choice, it had been a deliberate decision to keep her distance – as though she feared what damage she might do by becoming too close. She’d told everyone who joined them a little of her history, tried to explain her involvement with Rossum, what she had done. She couldn't allow the betrayal of trust that would come if people found out at some later date. But the revelation came with a price; she knew that people saw her differently as a result and suspected that they didn’t trust her completely which, in turn reinforced her decision to keep her distance.

Laurence knew her too well to be kept at arm’s length and while he'd agreed with her about telling people she wasn't sure that he approved of the consequences. They'd discussed her reserve and she knew he worried about how much time she spent alone; but while he continued to travel there was nothing that could be done. His need to be constantly on the move had decreased a little over the years and he was generally reluctant to leave – but still he did. She was fairly convinced that by now it was an intrinsic part of his character and she wasn't in the business of trying to change him.

She wasn't completely isolated; there was companionship when she needed it, people to talk to and a group of children who she’d helped teach to read and write. Not to mention the animals that wandered in and out of the house. As well as Syrah, several kittens had found their way home in the Jeep with Laurence and now proved adept at keeping mice and other vermin at bay.

His expression was always the same whether the gift was clothes, a book or another stray; slightly embarrassed but at the same time pleased with himself. She was entirely too susceptible to that particular expression.


“Katie?” The little girl leant against her as Syrah plopped down at their feet.

“When is Laurence coming home?” Just for a moment Adelle froze – the fact that she couldn't answer the question robbing her of speech.

“I don't know exactly,” she said at last. She didn't want to lie, or promise something that might not come to pass. Katie wasn't the only child who lived here and they all adored Laurence. “But he wouldn't stay away and cause us to worry unless he had a good reason.”

“Oh, OK.” Katie frowned – but she was a sensitive and intelligent little girl who knew that the world she lived in was a damaged and dangerous place. She looked between the adults and apparently decided not to probe further. “He'll be home soon then,” she announced, before calling to Syrah and setting off to chase him once more.

“She's right,” Tom told her, “he won't stay away for long.”

“It might not be up to him,” she pointed out, finding it easier to admit as much to Tom because he couldn’t see her expression. The awareness that most of his family had never come back made this a difficult subject and she was reluctant to be comforted by someone who had lost so much.

“As long as it is; you'll always call him back.” Tom had told her once that she was like the Pinot Noir grapes – alluring and mysterious. She had thanked him gracefully for the compliment rather than pointing out that the mystery was reserve and that her allure was somewhat lessened by age. But then, as now - she had wanted to believe him.

* * *

Left arm held across his chest, Laurence Dominic drove for all he was worth. Almost there. Nearly fucking home. He was supposed to have been gone only a week. His trip should have been a simple over and back to trade with a small group who had some yeast Adelle wanted. He’d gotten the yeast, but Dominic didn’t want to dwell on the cost.

The gash across his chest burned. The harsh red outline had spread over the last three days. Antibiotics would knock it back, Dominic hoped. The noise he thought of as evil rose again from the Jeep’s engine as he downshifted. From the sound of things, the transmission was on its last legs too. C’mon, baby. Just a few more miles. I’m really not up to walking them. Not today.

Switching back and forth from cajoling to cursing, Dominic eased the Jeep onto the turn off for the winery he and Adelle had found just over two years ago. He frowned at the ruts in the road. I’ll have to find sand or dirt to fill them and gravel to cover the whole damn thing again. Focused on getting to his destination, Dominic didn’t see the sentries deployed on both sides of the road, but his instincts insisted they were there. He breathed a sigh of relief as the main house hove into view. Slowing down in case any of the kids were playing out front, Dominic parked the Jeep, hoping the noise it made wasn’t a death rattle.

Bill’s eyes widened and he stopped whatever he’d been doing. A small boy shot past him and launched himself at Dominic—not caring that his target was filthy or that the ancient Jeep he climbed down from smelled of burning oil. Dominic met Bill’s eyes as he grunted at the impact of a toddler at speed to the knife wound across his ribs. Bill glanced over his shoulder in the direction of the vines before refocusing on Dominic with disturbing intensity. “You look like shit that’s been eaten and regurgitated, Dom. Her Majesty can’t even glimpse you in this state or we’ll never hear the end of it.”

“We?” Dom muttered, trying to keep the squirming four year old named Charlie from kicking his chest.

“We,” Bill said. “I don’t know why and it sure as hell isn’t fair, but Herself blames us both if you return not hale, healthy and fairly presentable.”

“I’m none of those things, Bill.”

“As a cursory visual inspection so clearly reveals, Dom.” Bill took Charlie from Dominic’s arms. “We need to triage here. Shower and shave before or after seeing the doc?” Bill asked. “I can handle the ritual burning of the clothes you’re wearing. Except for the becomingly battered leather jacket, of course.”

“You can’t burn the T-shirt either,” Dominic said. “Adelle likes it.”

“Liked, Dom. Past tense. It’s a goner. Trust me on this.” Bill draped an arm across Dom’s shoulders and steered him to the communal showers. “There’s no way you want to soil your private bath with whatever you’ve got all over you. Adelle would be pissed.”

Feeling reasonably confident that he could scare up another suitable T-shirt if need be and knowing he’d feel better if he didn’t totally trash their bathroom, Dominic didn’t waste energy arguing. Deliberately not thinking that the T-shirt would have to be a smaller size because he kept losing weight or that Adelle was likely to be more concerned about his incipient malnutrition, her phrase, than a bathroom covered in dirt, blood and all manner of grime, Dominic murmured, “How is Adelle, Bill?”

“Herself is Herself, maintaining the eminently British, stiff upper lip when your short jaunt got longer.” Bill’s eyes were serious as he lowered his voice. “How bad is it?”

“What?” Dom asked.

“The injury,” Bill ventured, pushing Dominic ahead of him into the showers. “The story behind the injury? The Jeep’s condition? Take your pick.”

“I’ll need help with the shirt,” Dominic muttered, slipping out of his jacket, unbuttoning his jeans. “Hurts like hell to lift my arms over my head.”

“Shit,” Bill said, tossing the soiled forest green T-shirt aside, steadying Dominic, apparently highly concerned by the low groan Dominic couldn’t suppress.

Stubborn determination allowed Dominic to divest himself of his jeans, underwear, socks and boots and submit to the spray of cold water. “Fuck,” Dominic moaned. “That’s goddamn harsh.”

“And you’re uber-warm from the boosters, so we’re all good.” Bill’s tone shifted quickly, as Dominic washed his chest. “Jesus H. Christ, Dom. What the fuck?”

Dominic needed no other confirmation that the slash across his ribs was infected. “I … ah … ran into some trouble.”

“What was my first fucking clue? Screw shaving, Dom. Finish up here. Try to do it in under a half an hour and we’ll make a beeline to the doctor.”

“It’ll take me two minutes to shave, Bill,” Dominic said. “I’m doing it. I’ll feel about 30% better if I do. Seriously. I’ve been thinking about shaving for days. Literally.”

More patient than Dominic expected, Bill waited while he showered relatively slowly, washed his hair thoroughly and shaved. The other man took him in hand again the moment Dominic toweled off and donned a UCLA T-shirt that would encompass two of him and faded USC sweats. “Isn’t it the next best thing to illegal to wear these together?” Dominic asked the provider of his clothing.

“Might’ve been, back in the day. Now, not so much.” Bill tugged Dominic along. “No more stalling. To the doctor we go.”

Dominic submitted to an extensive examination. The verdict was what he’d expected, despite being cut by a knife that had been dirtier than he’d imagined. The gash was infected and he had his marching orders vis a vis a round of antibiotics. Also, he’d been cautioned about taking boosters and antibiotics together. Dominic had heard those admonitions before and ignored them. With the young physician’s assistant Daniels had found somewhere, Dominic nodded and assumed what he hoped constituted a look of strictest compliance. Knowing Adelle would be in complete agreement with the woman didn’t change his mind. Dominic did what needed doing. That had been his raison-d’être for longer than he cared to remember. Still was, only about to be modified a bit, if Adelle agreed.

Emerging into the rear yard with Bill, Dominic squinted against the bright sunlight.


“Hey,” he said, turning to face Adelle. “Sorry I’m late.” Looking down, kicking at a few handy clods of dirt, he muttered, “I brought you some yeast and … ah … a couple of other things.”

She approached slowly. Unable to interpret her expression, he specified, “A DVD player and a few DVDs Topher thought you ought to see. The DVDs predate the pulse by several years, so there’re no worries about imprinting or anything. I checked. Four times over.” Her expression hadn’t altered appreciably, although he’d seen a hint of humor in her eyes. “Adelle, say something, please.”

* * *

Saying something was not as easy as he seemed to imagine. After all, what did you say to someone who had returned from a trip to trade on your behalf looking as though he had been run over – or as near as damn it?

He had a fever – she could tell that from the slight flush to his cheeks, even the boosters didn't do that to him. Added to that his eyes were glassy and he seemed less steady on his feet than usual. The unfamiliar, ill fitting clothing implied that whatever he had been wearing had needed to be removed and incinerated. If he hadn't paid a trip to visit their medic he clearly needed to.

She glanced past him to where Bill hovered at his shoulder – trying to look unobtrusive. “Thank you Bill,” she made no attempt to pretend it was anything but a dismissal and he looked between the two of them, clapped Laurence on the shoulder and sketched a vague salute in her direction before making himself scarce.

“Addie?” Laurence ventured.

“Welcome home,” she stepped carefully into his personal space – trying to ascertain where she could touch him and not cause pain. He made the decision for her – pulling her a little closer, pressing a kiss to her temple and winding one hand into her hair as he held her.

She didn't really want to ask what had happened, though at some point he'd probably need to tell her. She heard the long sigh he released and tightened her hold on his waist – his relief telling her as much as any words could. “Did Susan give you medication?” she inquired, referring to their medic.


“No boosters then,” she pointed out. “Plenty of fluids, a square meal or two – rest.”

“You,” he ventured.

“I have a great deal to do.”

“I'll help,” she pressed a fingertip to his lips – stopping him from talking and shook her head gently.

“Not until you are fully recovered.” The very last thing he needed to do was shift barrels, or undertake anything that required significant physical exertion. Getting him to rest was likely to be a challenge though. “Get some sleep Laurence.”

“I'm not tired.” Stubborn. She raised an eyebrow, but didn't debate the point and he trailed after her into the winery.

Their footsteps echoed in the cool space as they moved past the rows of barrels and she admitted, to herself at least, that this time they'd had a close call. Out of sight from the house and other people she let her barriers fall a little, reaching for his hand as she said, “I'm glad you're home.”

“Me too,” he breathed.

Homecomings were often intense - the absence and the danger sharpening their need for each other, still she hadn't expected the urgency to take hold so soon. His kisses were forceful as he pulled her into a quiet corner, pressing her back against the wall as his hands yanked her shirt out of her jeans and then fumbled with the button that fastened them.

“Laurence,” it was meant to be an admonition but it came out as a groan and that only spurred him on. She shuddered at the heat of his touch against her cool flesh and then bit her lip as he found her centre and started to stroke. She wanted to tell him to slow down but he was determined and his clever, knowing hands pushed her quickly past the point when stopping was an option.

“It's all right,” he murmured between kisses, “I've got you.” She didn't know if this was for her comfort or for his and actually it mattered little. She ought to reciprocate, this should be mutual but she was too lost in the waves of pleasure – trembling on the edge until he pushed her over and her sharp cry of release echoed from the walls around them. Only his firm hold stopped her from falling as her knees buckled. “Better?” he asked, mouth tracing the shell of her ear.

She gulped air and then tried to shove her hair back into some kind of order – certain that she now looked as flushed and disheveled as he did. His hips pressed into hers, his condition a salient reminder that what had just happened had been very one-sided. She ran her hand carefully over his back and the way he flinched when she skirted his side gave her some idea as to where he was injured.

“I'll be careful,” she told him as she tugged at the fastening of the sweatpants, grateful for their over-sized fit as she manoeuvered them so that he was leaning back against the wall and she was tucked into his side.

“Adelle,” he hissed her name as she slid her hand into the sweatpants, “I don't need...” She smiled, since it was blatantly obvious what he needed.

“Let me take care of you,” she replied, giving him very little chance to protest. His eyes slid shut, the muscle of his jaw twitched and his breath became laboured. She whispered to him, keeping her strokes gentle until his hips started to move for her. She loved seeing him like this – fighting surrender and relishing it at the same time.

* * *

Adelle DeWitt’s whispered description of how he appeared to her at the moment should’ve embarrassed Laurence Dominic, but her hand moving over his sensitized flesh felt so incredibly good, nothing negative or even neutral could intrude. But, still, some things were intolerable. “I,” he murmured, “I’m nah … not … definitely not … God, Adelle … adorable.”

“You are when you’re like this.” Her murmur flowed through him and took up residence in his crotch.

“Th … this?” he groaned, struggling for control, to still his hips, not to succumb to the lure of her touch.

Her chuckle tickled his earlobe. “Now, you’re fighting me, Laurence,” Adelle said. “You don’t really want to win, do you?”

Fight? Win? What?

Her touch was feather light now, the merest scratch of the tips of her nails along his length. “That’s better,” she whispered, but Dominic had no idea what had changed. Adelle kissed along the line of his throat, suggesting that Dominic had tilted his head to get some distance between his ear and her mouth. “Look at me,” she said. Heart slamming in his chest, Dominic kept his eyes closed, smiling when Adelle laughed. “My stubborn beautiful man.” Even her soft sigh stoked his desire higher. “There was a time I would have been sorely tempted to punish you for disobeying. When I would’ve kissed you until you surrendered your mouth to me, however long it took. When I would’ve seduced you to the edge of sanity and left you there to contemplate what you had done wrong with a whispered plea not to take care of yourself, letting my voice break just a little so you’d do as I asked, because I asked it. So that you would be more than ready for me when we resumed.” Her hand encircled him once more. A soft, yielding kiss opened his lips and eyes. “Fortunately for the both of us, I think,” Adelle said, smiling up at him, moving her hand over him maddeningly, staring at him until he groaned her name. “That time has passed.” After a few moments, she asked, “Do you want me to stop, Laurence?” as she shifted her grip slightly.

“No.” He shook his head as the sensations flooded his system. “Yes. Wait. Adelle, Christ, wait.” Pain ripped through his chest as he spun and lifted Adelle against the wall. Pleasure took over when he lowered Adelle onto him. Pleasure and pain flowed together and separately; Dominic drifted among all of the sensations with only one thought—to replace the expression of concern on Adelle’s face with something far better. He wondered at what she saw in him when concern became alarm before dissolving into something nearly like wonder accompanied by a low moan. Every thrust brought searing pain and excruciating pleasure.

“Laurence,” she murmured, voice low, vibrant, the height of sensuality. “Is … are you … can we … oh, my, yes.”

Dominic felt detached from his body and completely immersed in all it experienced at the same time. The duality confused, tormented and drove him onward. The desire to become one, to become whole, with this woman, with himself overwhelmed the prior, seemingly pedestrian goal of giving pleasure as well as receiving. As if sensing the greater purpose, Adelle both worked him and with him, head thrown back, throat exposed, small whimpers of impending orgasm escaping her lips.

Control a thing of the past, they moved together in utter harmony. Their cries of fulfillment intermingled as the irresistible wave overtook them both. Dominic’s arms trembled and his legs wobbled, but he held onto Adelle, the increasing awareness of the pain in his chest steadying him. Eyes never leaving his, Adelle lifted herself off of Dominic and slid along his body to rest her feet on the floor. They stared at each other for a full minute before he apologized to her bruised lips with his. Still eying each other, they set their clothes to rights.

“I … ah,” Dominic began, grinning slightly. “I guess I’m still alive.”

“I should say so,” Adelle countered, stepping close once more. “How else could you be in such pain?”

“It’s not so bad,” Dominic countered, allowing her to lift his T-shirt and trace the outer edge of the bandage Susan had taped to his chest.

“It’s bleeding,” she whispered.

“It’ll stop,” Dominic said, pulling down his T-shirt.

“Perhaps Susan should have another look at you.”

Dominic shook his head. “I don’t doubt it’s bleeding, Adelle, but I know it’s nothing compared to … how it was at first.”

“Do you wish to speak of it?” Adelle asked, her expression an offer rather than an expectation.

“There’s not much to tell,” he muttered. “Bad luck. Wrong place; wrong time.”

Adelle aimed a quizzical look at him. “Something embarrasses you about the situation you found yourself in?”

No longer questioning her ability to read him, Dominic sighed. “It’s not the easiest thing to admit that I picked a bad spot to take a leak.” Adelle’s mouth twitched, but she didn’t smile, much less laugh. “I thought I was dealing with a couple of dumb shows, but they were fronting for butchers. “The fight was short and brutal, but the two remaining butchers were serious about following me. I couldn’t bring them here, so … that’s why I was late.” Looking sideways at her, he said, “Go ahead, Adelle. Give me the lecture on being careful again. I don’t quite have it memorized.”

* * *

She felt her expression falter and immediately took a step away, turning to the side so he couldn’t see how his words had affected her. “In this instance I’m sure ‘almost memorised’ is sufficient,” she offered. If he didn’t understand that the lecture was the only way she could reconcile herself to letting him leave, to sending him into hell, then she certainly wasn’t going to explain it to him. “No doubt word of your return has spread – we should probably put in an appearance; Katie asked me earlier when you were due home.”

Of all the children here, only Katie had no parents. They were all careful around her as a result, aware that on some level she understood that this made her different. “Charlie was out front when I got back.” Laurence offered – reinforcing the likelihood that everyone now knew he was back.

“He’s going through a phase of throwing himself into people,” she said – vividly remembering being yelled at to ‘catch’ him as he launched himself from the third step.

“Yeah, I got that.”

“You were missed,” she told him.

“Just by the kids?”

“Well, by Bill I suppose – the two of you are drinking buddies after all.” Lifting her eyebrow she dared him to argue. It was easier to find humour in the situation, but those cool eyes of his saw too much and she knew better than to believe she could hide from him. “And I suppose I might have missed you, occasionally.”

“Tough to tell from the way you came just now,” she blushed at the reminder of how easily he’d worked her up. “You were so tense, Addie, you definitely needed that as much as I did.”

“Oh, be quiet you impossible man.” She had to smile and he grinned back – grasping her wrist and pulling her towards him for a kiss.

“Truce?” She nodded, but the loud rumbling of his stomach rendered further comment unnecessary.

“When did you last eat?”

“Um, a while ago.” She took that to mean he couldn’t remember.

The yard was rather busier when they emerged and several people greeted Laurence – most of them asking after either his health, or that of the Jeep. There were a couple of raised eyebrows at the fact they were still holding hands, since they were rarely so demonstrative – but she wasn’t ready to let him go yet.

Madeline’s reaction was unequivocal – she sighed with relief and immediately started to assemble a late lunch. Adelle didn’t realise that she was hungry until she found herself nibbling at the contents of Laurence’s plate. Her appetite had been negligible lately, but with Laurence safely home and following their recent bout of exercise, she found that it had returned.

Madeline was too wise to remark on this, but she smiled and handed over a second plate. As she passed she tapped Laurence lightly on the back of his head, “don’t be late again,” she told him. “It upsets people.”

He was prevented from responding by the clatter of tiny footsteps and before they had time to catch their breath a small army of children plus one enthusiastic dog descended upon them.

Adelle exercised her authority to explain to the children that Laurence was injured and that they needed to be careful. But he had already lifted Charlie up onto his knee and was talking earnestly to Katie while Maia, who was barely walking, attempted to balance using his legs for support. Faced with the mayhem Syrah wagged his tail and retreated to a safe corner – but his eyes never left Laurence.

By the time she chased the children back to lessons and chores he was looking rather better. The grapes called to her, but for once she set aside what she ought to be doing. “Would you like to go for a walk?” Her two companions, one human, one canine responded positively to the suggestion – Syrah thumped his tail and Laurence hauled himself to his feet. Guiltily she realised that she couldn’t remember the last time they had taken a few hours off in the middle of the day to just spend time together. When Laurence was here they tended to keep their evenings as private time – but even those hours were encroached upon. The wine was their livelihood but Laurence was more important and perhaps she had forgotten that of late.

She thought back to their recent lovemaking; to its intensity and their openness. What they had just experienced was special and memorable and she enjoyed how well they knew each other and how that knowledge achieved a physical expression. But she’d like to be with him without the ghost of his next departure hanging over them. She wanted to relax into lazy, early morning sex and not have to store up enough good memories to keep her company through the long absence that would inevitably follow.

* * *

“I’ll be along in just a moment,” Adelle said, smile half way between wistful and sad.

Dominic frowned after her. Adelle waved off his concern, but Dominic wasn’t inclined to be put off. Vowing to discover what he’d said or done wrong, he started at the sound of Madeline’s voice close to his right ear.

“Adelle was afraid for you.”

“Bill said she was fine,” Dominic said, regarding the woman of the family he’d persuaded to leave Caroline’s tender care for a life of winemaking.

Madeline looked at him as though he’d lost his mind. “Living in a house full of men, I know what a woman will allow men to see and what she won’t. Particularly, a woman like Adelle—accustomed to being in command of others as well as herself, unused to depending on anyone, much less a man, for anything, much less the security of her position here and in the world at large.”

“But …” Faced with an implacable and undeniably wise expression, Dominic’s sentence died at word one.

“Bill won’t notice she’s not eating. He’ll never see that her bed isn’t slept in all that much when you aren’t here and not at all these last few days.”

“Could …?” Dominic took a deep breath and began again. “Couldn’t she just have picked up the worried vibes from everyone else?”

“Everyone else picked them up from her.” Madeline put a hand on Dominic’s shoulder. “This trip was different. Get the yeast and bring it back. You weren’t going to be gone but a week. When you didn’t return on time, there really wasn’t an alternative explanation. Something had gone wrong. Not knowing what made Adelle physically sick and she made no move to take care of herself. She just buried herself in the work of the vineyard even more so than usual.” Looking up at him, Madeline said, “Adelle didn’t say anything to me. It might’ve been better if she had. If she had someone she felt comfortable confiding in other than you. I just see more than your average male.”

“I didn’t know,” Dominic muttered.

Madeline made a rude noise. “You should’ve. For goodness sake, Dom, what do you think it’s like for Adelle when you’re gone?”

“I just thought—.”

“No, you didn’t.”

“Is something wrong?” Adelle asked, looking from Dominic to Madeline, calling Dominic’s attention to the tension in the room.

“Nothing that can’t be fixed,” he said, smiling, “with that bottle of wine you have in your picnic basket. I hope.”

Skepticism clear, Adelle let the moment pass. “I’d like you to try our blend and give me your honest opinion.”

Dominic silently thanked Madeline for not pressing the issue, giving her a small contrite smile when he stole another biscuit from the covered basket. “What’s the blend?” he asked, taking a bite of heaven, disregarding the fact that he’d had four already.

“Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah. I’ll tell you the percentages, once you’ve tasted.”

Falling into step next to Adelle, Dominic fed half of the biscuit to Syrah as they strolled away from the main building. Adelle filled him in on what had been going on at the vineyard while he’d been away—everything from issues with some of the barrels, to fights among the children to marital squabbles between Maia’s parents, to spotting something that might have been a form of blight on the Pinot Noir grapevines.

Unnerved by her swinging the basket as though she were a completely carefree person on speed, Dominic took it from her. When they reached the crest of the highest hill on the estate, he stopped, took a deep breath and sighed. Everything they had laid claim to could be seen from here. Dominic turned a slow 360 degrees to take it all in as Adelle set out a bright blue blanket and opened the wine.

“We should let it breathe,” she murmured, pouring a little into the fine crystal goblets she’d elected to bring. “But I think we should make a toast first.” Looking up at him, she asked, “Laurence, won’t you sit with me?”

“Why are you trying so hard to relax?” he asked. “I don’t want you to have to do that with me.” When she didn’t speak, he said, “Damn it, Adelle, this is having some wine with a guy who counts himself lucky every second he spends with you, not some perfect idyll that’ll never be repeated with someone who can meet your every need and then some.” Even as he spoke, Dominic sensed his mistake. “Look, things were dicey out there, this time. I admit that. But it was bad luck. That’s all.” Dropping down into a seated position next to her, wincing at the jostling of his injury, Dominic whispered, “I’m not making things better, am I?”

“Taste your wine.”

“I don’t want to taste the damn wine. I want you to be happy. I want … to be someone who doesn’t add to your pain. You’ve endured enough.”

Her widened eyes shocked him. “Laurence, do you really not see that you are exactly who you wish to be? You make me happier than I can remember being. In the world we live in, that’s no mean feat.” She smiled in a way that accelerated his heart rate alarmingly. “You are quite clearly capable of meeting my every need … and then some.”

“I don’t just mean in bed,” he muttered.

“Neither do I,” Adelle said. “However, we are independent people who have separate obligations. We both accepted that … or so I thought.”

“Fine,” Dominic nearly snarled. “I’m capable of it but I fall short routinely. I don’t want to fail you anymore. You’re too damn important to me.” Picking up his wine goblet, he breathed, “I realized that when I wondered if I’d make it home.” He frowned. “No, that’s not right. I realized it way earlier. I admitted it when the butchers were dogging me.”

“Taste your wine.”

Meeting her eyes, trying to communicate without words, Dominic did. Involuntarily, his eyes darted to his glass. “That’s good.” The smile she bestowed on him lightened his mood and strengthened his resolve to make the changes he’d considered on his unplanned road trip, leading the butchers away from here. “Seriously,” he said.

“57% Cabernet, 32% Merlot and 11% Syrah.” Dominic earned another devastating smile for holding his goblet out for more. Adelle described the thought process behind choosing to blend and the blend chosen. Dominic listened, but his eyes raked over her body. He couldn’t get enough of looking at her, animated, talking with her hands, describing the debates with Tom and Bill that had resulted in what he was sipping.

He raised his glass and said, “You wanted a toast.”

“I do,” Adelle replied.

“To being home,” he said.

“To being home,” she whispered. They drank and kissed and drank and kissed again. Pushing him away slightly, Adelle said, “We’re atop the hill near the last break time of the work day.”

“Are you ashamed of being seen with me?” he said, fully anticipating the withering look he received, not expecting the tempting open mouthed kiss that followed.

“I miss the envious glances when I’m not being seen with you,” she countered.

“I’m going to have you right here,” he murmured, pulling her into his arms.

“I have a better idea,” Adelle said, her expression leaving him in little doubt of her veracity. “After we’ve finished our wine.”

“Only if you let me touch you in the interim,” Dominic said.

“Of course.”

* * *

It was dark outside as Adelle padded barefoot across the bedroom. The room was spacious and located at the back of the house, with stunning views across the vineyard. When they’d first come here she’d questioned whether she and Laurence should appropriate what was clearly the master bedroom. But there was space enough in the house and the out-buildings had swiftly been converted into dwellings suitable for the people who needed them. They’d managed to fashion homes for the growing families within their midst and a workshop come apartment for Bill, who kept very odd hours and seemed to enjoy being surrounded by spare parts and other random bits of machinery.

She had lived in far more luxurious accommodations and sometimes she did think about her large house by the ocean; wonder what had become of it. But then she tended to recall how empty that house had been, how little time she had really spent there. It had never been a home – just another possession.

This bedroom certainly hadn’t been decorated by the latest fashionable interior designer but over the years she had come to appreciate the rustic, comfortable feel of the solid wooden floorboards and whitewashed walls. Now it was filled by the few possessions she’d kept with her over the years, items they had traded for and gifts from Laurence. It had become more theirs and less something that had inherited, or stolen, from the previous owners.

She smiled at the thought of one ‘gift’ in particular, certain that Laurence had already retreated to their own personal sanctuary.

Earlier they had finished their wine, fooled around a little in the open air – taken Syrah for a more substantial walk and then returned to the house. But, as was so often the case, the rest of their evening hadn’t exactly gone to plan.

While Tate had collared Laurence, Tom had been anxious to talk about the blend and where they were going to trade for more of the Merlot. When she’d finished that conversation she had spent some time helping Katie with a maths problem while Laurence and several other men had poured over the Jeep – no doubt trying to determine whether it could be saved. She expected that they would find a way to resurrect it and that Laurence would end up covered in oil and grease.

But that was the point of baths.

She leaned on the door to the ensuite bathroom watching as he undressed, trying to decide if he was going to need help getting the t-shirt off. They mostly used the communal showers like everyone else – because water was such a valuable commodity. But, with a little help from Bill, Laurence had found a way to heat the water for the large old-fashioned bath tub that the previous owners had installed. The use of a private bathroom was a small luxury they allowed themselves occasionally. Although when he wasn’t here she tended to use the showers; bathing together was one of the ways they reinforced their intimacy.

Laurence managed to get the t-shirt off and hissed as he slipped into the hot water. She glided closer, “would you like me to scrub your back?”

“I want you in here with me,” he commanded, “now.”

“Demanding,” she said as she scraped her hair up and secured it with a clip and then started to undress. She didn’t linger over the task, although his expression was avid as he watched her and on another occasion she might have been tempted to draw it out, tease him a little more. But not tonight.

The water was hot and wonderfully soothing. He’d added some scented oil and the aroma of mint was pleasant and manly enough not to worry him. It was also something she knew they hadn’t owned before his return. “I thought the DVD was my present?”

“I didn’t want to admit to bringing you scented bath oil with Bill standing right there.”

She smiled as moved towards the other end of the tub, only to have him take her hand and pull her back. “Where do you think you’re going?”

“I’m sure Susan mentioned something about not aggravating the wound?” She told him, trying hard not to look at the angry red gash across his chest but certain that their normal practice of her leaning back against him wasn’t a good idea given his injury.

“I don’t remember her saying that. You aren’t going to aggravate it Adelle, come here.” Relenting she slid the rest of the way into the water, suppressing a groan at the heat as she positioned herself between his legs, resting carefully against his chest. He pressed his lips to her temple and she let her head fall back to his shoulder - now she thought she could afford to let herself believe that he had come home to her.

* * *

Laurence Dominic rested his back against the tub and sighed in contentment. Adelle DeWitt’s body molded to his as though they were jigsaw puzzle pieces—the kind that didn’t look as though they fit together but did anyway. He felt the jolt from the booster he’d last taken fading away and he welcomed the lazy somnambulant state. Not resisting the temptation, he cupped her breasts in his hands, not to arouse or tease or even in a mild assertion of possession. He touched her simply to do so. In this case, the means was the end. “Why does time always seem to stop when we’re in here?” he murmured, not actually meaning to speak aloud.

“Funny,” Adelle said. “It feels like it speeds up to me.”

“Speeds up? Really?”

Adelle rested her hands lightly atop his, fingertips stroking his skin. “Not just in the bathtub,” she whispered. “Whenever you’re home.”

The clear implication that time slowed down when he was gone gave him a greater indication of how things were for Adelle than anything Madeline or Bill had said. “I think it feels like time stops for me at moments like these, because we’re … kind of unto ourselves,” he said. “Separate and apart from … everything else. Expectations and responsibilities fade away and the only thing left for me is touching you.” Leaning forward, tilting Adelle’s chin, he kissed her. Adelle shifted her upper body a bit and slid a hand behind his head in order to deepen the kiss. Other emotions eclipsed passion—strong, powerful, frightening, both irresistible and disturbing. The tears in her eyes when they parted stunned Dominic for a moment. “Addie? What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” she murmured, smiling as a tear slid down her cheek.

“Then why …?” he said, completing his question by kissing the tear from her face.

“Don’ t worry, Laurence,” she said, amusement entering her expression. “I won’t tell Bill that you occasionally say the sweetest things.”

Eyes widening in mock horror, he said, “Promise?”

“I do.”

“Thank Christ.” Smiling, Adelle resumed her original position and a comfortable silence fell. Enjoying the scent of mint pervading the air even though he’d never admit it, Dominic took a deep breath, hesitant to speak. Adelle relaxed against him, eyes closed, mysterious smile on her face. Knowing the water would stay hot until the propane ran out gave him another excuse to delay, but Dominic wanted this over. “We need to make a few changes,” he said, tone soft yet firm.

“Changes?” Adelle asked, voice mild, betraying nothing. Her accelerated heart rate and suddenly tense shoulders and back did, however.

“Yeah. Nothing too drastic.” When she clasped her hands in front of her as if afraid they’d betray her mood further, Dominic said, “I think Daniels is ready to take on some of the trading with the caravan.” He smiled at Adelle’s skeptical expression as she craned her neck to look up at him. “Haley will give him better value. Or Tate, maybe. They’re both better looking than I am and, more importantly, available.”


How is it possible to imbue that much wariness in one syllable? “I promised him he wouldn’t be stuck at the vineyard forever when I talked him into taking over security.”

“Who will be taking over security from Tate, then?” she asked, sitting up straighter, moving away.

“Will you relax, please?” he said, exerting a gentle pull on her shoulders which Adelle resisted. “I have someone in mind.”

“Tate is competent and respected, Laurence.”

“And bored nearly out of his mind.”

“I see.”

“He needs to get out and face some real adversity before he starts to lose his skills.” Dominic gave up on the gentle coercion and wrapped his arms around Adelle and pulled her back into place against him. “If only we’d been attacked seven or eight times, we might have spared him urge the get out and kick some ass.” Turning Adelle’s head, choosing to consider her resistance token, Dominic kissed her gently. “I’ve got this. I do, Adelle.” He paused, taken aback by the tears welling in her eyes again. “Addie?”

“I don’t want anyone else responsible for security, Laurence. I don’t want anything to change. I don’t want to talk about anything changing. I just want to bask in being in hot water with you for as long as possible.” Her voice lowered to a whisper. “I want to be with you as long as possible.”

Sounds promising. “Ok,” he said. “I just thought this would be a good time to discuss this between the two of us before we broach it with anyone else.”

She sighed and regarded him through narrowed eyes. “Who will replace Tate in this grand scheme of yours?” He shrugged and looked away, suddenly uncertain. “Laurence?” Adelle prompted.

“I was thinking I would.” He’d seen Adelle surprised before. Hell, he’d surprised her. But this was something far in excess of mere surprise. Feeling oddly defensive, he said, “I have a modicum of relevant experience, as you may recall.”

Epilogue Part 2

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Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh!

I have been waiting days to read this because of school and I'm so glad that I finally took the time to do it. This...I can't even express what this epilogue does to me. It's so encompassing of who they are and what they mean to each other that it just breaks my heart with joy! Ugh. I can't even! You guys are amazing, and I know I say that a lot, but you really are. There's just no other way of describing it. I absolutely look foward to reading the second part of this epilogue (so sad it's almost finally over!) and I'm sure that I'll enjoy it as much as I did this chapter and this entire fic.

Wow. I'm not sure what to say other than thank you so much for such glowing feedback. We really felt this story needed an epilogue--that the people who'd read this far deserved to "see" Adelle and Dominic at the winery. And to see how much further they'd come on their journey into this relationship.

Thank you so much for reading and taking the time to comment.

oooohmygosh! Your little details are probably some of my favorite parts of your fics!

As Adelle stepped out of the house, the last whispers of fog had not quite been banished by the soft morning sunlight. The land stretched out before her and in the distance she could just make out the silvery glint of the river that gave the area its name as it wound its way through the valley. Such a pretty opening paragraph! It gives everything a nice, soft mystical allure/feel to it. :)

Syrah had been named after a grape, in honour of his dark colouring and because Pinot Noir was a ridiculous name for a puppy. Pahahaha! That's so cute! And there are cats everywhere! I can just see Dom bringing home little mewling kittens one at a time all, "Whoops...look, isn't it cute?" Heeheeheehee!

And you brought Bill back! :D

And then you hurt Dom... I am embarrassingly pleased with that... Moar chest wounds! Moar injuries that require comforting! Mwahahahhahaha!

And then he insists on shaving... Oh, Dom, your priorities... Although, I do approve, lol.

“Isn’t it the next best thing to illegal to wear these together?” Heh! Yessss! Or at least possibly hazardous to your health if their fans are anything like our fans....

And then there was bonding and serious discussion and googly eyes and ~*~feelings~*~ and eeeee!

Details are key and my co-author is great at atmospheric writing (the quote re the land). Me--not so much.

Dogs and Dom bringing kittens was too cute to pass up. Seriously. Animals mean ... home to me, at least.

Couldn't abandon Bill. That would've been wrong, don't you think?

Hurting Dom is just what I do. Especially in this context. He needed to be reminded of what's important, that he actually had something to lose.

He wants to get that gray out of his beard before he faced Adelle, knowing that he's hurt and she won't care for it.

Feelings are key (and bathtubs). Adelle wants him to do the right thing for the right reason. He just wants her. Fitting.

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