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Isabelle's happiness filled him with an unexpected joy and the emotions Grief had held suppressed began to bubble to the surface. Suddenly, mesmerized by the inner beauty of her radiant smile, his expression grew sober. He had fought against falling in love with Isabelle Reed for so long.

"I mean it. Every word." he breathed, softly.

The couple stared at one another, aware of their closeness both physically and emotionally.

Bewildered, Isabelle searched his face for something she desperately needed to see ... and it was there. Not  lust. Not desire. Not even the unsure passion of a struggling lothario ...
Isabelle saw tenderness and, dare she even think it, devotion. Love. She and David Grief had never really explored that particular emotion with one another. Certainly she had felt his pity and, yes, he had been her hero on more than one occasion but they had never exchanged a passionate touch that meant anything more than hunger and need between a man and a woman. Yet, even that had been so very long ago.

When was the last time they had actually ...?

Slowly and very gently Grief moved forward and met Isabelle's inviting lips with his own. The kiss was as affectionate and tender as he could give and Grief became aware that Isabelle's hands, shaking slightly, had moved from clutching her blanket - which had fallen from her shoulders onto the landing she sat on - to rest behind his neck. They gently fed on one another, experimenting, and feeling the simple pleasure such a doting act manifested.
Then reluctantly, their lips parted and, especially for Grief, it was nearly painful. He wanted more ... so much more. His forehead leaned against hers and Isabelle, taking a breath, appeared reluctant to let him go. Yet, eventually, Isabelle pushed back and her hands fell away.

Isabelle's eyes stared into his.

Grief felt loss.

"Are you sorry?" she asked, unsure.

"No." he said promptly, lifting a hand to touch her hair. His pained expression must have confused her. "Are you?"

She averted her eyes and smiled, teasing. "Ask me next week."

Grief chuckled softly and watched as Isabelle lay back on the flat, allowing the sun to caress her luscious, harem garbed skin. He lay beside her, staring up at the sky. They would talk more, find out new and wonderful things about one another, learn all those little secrets that made them the complicated human beings they were. Eventually, when it was right, they would also throw caution to the wind, he thought, and indulge in physical passion. However, until then he would wait patiently. Isabelle needed time to feel her worth and he didn't want to rush the process. He already had heated passion with her, the hungry kisses and outrageous flirting, but now she needed tenderness and to be as sure of David Grief as he was of her.

"David, do you think there will ever be equality between men and women?" Isabelle suddenly asked, eyes closed and hands tucked underneath her head.

Grief, uncertain where the question was leading, propped himself up on an elbow and stared at Isabelle. Laid out as she was the woman was making it a bit hard to concentrate.

Isabelle was well aware that he was looking at her, admiring her figure and the barely there harem outfit. She could feel pleasure about that now.

"I don't know." Grief said but smiled when anticipating her mind set. Still, Isabelle valued honesty. "It's a nice thought but I don't think so. The world is just too large and men will always be men." Satisfied with his answer, Grief lay back down on the flat again, closing his eyes against the bright sunshine.

"Too bad." Isabelle sighed, "I was rather hoping that one day a man might actually come up to my level."

A pause.

His laughter was like sweet music to her ears.

July 27, 2002.