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Tenderhearted

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Over time, I've been building my castle of love
Just for two, though you never knew you were my reason
I've gone much too far for you now to say
That I've got to throw my castle away

Over dreams, I have picked out a perfect come true
Though you never knew it was of you I've been dreaming
The sandman has come from too far away
For you to say come back some other day
- Stevie Wonder
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The air in the apartment was stale. Newspapers had accumulated on the table, all the curtains were drawn. Doug turned on the light and tossed his coat aside. It felt almost strange to be here. He'd been spending most of his time at Carol's, that is, until this week. Heady with excitement, ready for commitment, Doug had anticipated that Carol would be his wife by now. Only one problem: he hadn't really counted on her rebuffing him. She never showed, she never came, and then later she had walked into her house with that look on her face. He knew. The second she walked into the house, he knew.

The next day, tears, excuses, accusations. She wasn't seeing Powell, she wanted more time. He hadn't considered this. But if it was time she needed, he was willing to give it, and he told her so. Still, things were strained. They met at work, smiled, kissed briefly, but something had changed. Doug, ready to do anything she needed, now struggled to put the incident behind him. He had loved her the best he could, he wanted to take care of her, protect her, cherish her. It had taken him a long time to get to this point, to be able to give his heart to her. But now, once again, his heart was bruised.

Doug sorted through the mail. Nothing of interest. Walking into the bedroom, he took off his clothes, leaving on his boxers, and pulling on a sleeveless t-shirt. To the kitchen to get a beer, then back into the living room. He grabbed the remote and turned on the Blackhawks game. No, that's not right. CNN? No, something to numb his mind. South Park? Yeah, South Park for a time. He turned up the volume and flopped on the sofa.

Within minutes he was asleep. At the sound of the doorbell and tentative knocking, Doug opened his eyes. It was after midnight. "Okay, okay, hang on!"

He turned off the television, then opened the door. She stood there in the darkness.

"Hey."

"Carol, hey, come on in." He smiled and let her in.

She walked in and took off her coat. "We haven't really seen each other for a couple of days, outside of work. I just thought I'd stop by."

"It's kinda late."

"Yeah, well..." She fell silent and just looked at him.

"Um, do you want something to drink?"

"Not right now." She sighed and looked down. "We haven't talked about the other day. Thank you for understanding, for telling me...that I could take my time."

"That's fine, Carol. Whatever you need, it's okay. It's fine."

"I'm sorry, Doug."

His eyebrows raised, he looked at her. "Sorry for what?"

Carol looked away, shaking her head. "Greg Powell, the kiss, everything." Looking back at him, she saw distress in his face. Carol moved closer to him, wanting to comfort to him, but something held her back.

"Um hmm, okay." His face was ragged. For days he had conjured up images of her with Powell, then he struggled to push them far into the corners of his mind, packing them away with other painful things his heart wouldn't let him ponder. A never-ending battle, they would resurface at work, in his sleep. Now. Her eyes closed, her breath coming fast, her lips parted. Her body responding, hungry for someone else. Doug was anguished. He drew his hand to his face, rubbing his eyes. If he didn't think about it, then it could never hurt him. But think about it he did.

He searched for words. Although he was filled with torment, his his voice was quiet and even. "When you...kissed him...did..." Doug looked away. What did he really want to know? "Were you...?"

"Doug, don't do this," she pleaded.

"I didn't do this. You did."

"It was nothing, really, you know how it is."

"No, Carol, tell me, how is it?"

"I don't even know why it happened."

Doug looked at her. "I do. Remember? I was there the last time it happened."

He knew just why she did it. And he knew all about the power of an illicit kiss. He remembered their brief encounter in the trauma room three years prior. Within inches of each other, their lips slowly met, they melted to each other. Yielding to Doug, she had pressed her body into his, he could feel every curve, all her heat. The sexual tension was thick. Carol had walked away in a daze. Doug had touched his fingers to his lips, wanting the sweetness to linger.

Carol pleaded her case. "It wasn't like that, Doug. There's nothing there. There was never anything there." She walked toward him and took his hands in hers. "I'm here, now, with you. I want to be with you tonight." She kissed his cheek and looked into his eyes. The damage she had inflicted was unmistakable.

"Hmm."

"Please, Doug."

Doug looked down, a wistful smile on his face. Being intimate was Carol's way of soothing hurts. Her way of cleansing her soul. "It's not that easy."

Carol put her hands on his face, turning him toward her again. "What's not easy? It's just you and me here. Please." She leaned toward him and kissed him lightly. His arms wrapped around her and he held her fast.

"Carol, I love you. But right now, I just...."

"Then let me love you."

Doug reached up and ran the back of his hand tenderly across her cheek. His hand was warm but his face was distant, conflicted. "It's late. C'mon, why don't we go to sleep?"

Doug walked into his bedroom and turned down the covers. Carol followed and reached up to unbutton her shirt.

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Over hearts, I have painfully turned every stone
Just to find, I had found what I've searched to discover
I've come much too far for me now to find
The love that I've sought can never be mine
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"Carol, wait." She was trying to avoid his wounded eyes. "I'll do it." Never looking away from her, he unbuttoned each button, unhurried, deliberately. He eased the shirt off her shoulders, his fingers trailing behind on her arms. Her shirt fell to the floor and he pulled her hair back with his hand, kissing her tenderly, gently. She sighed and put her arms around him. Her head fell to one side, exposing her tender skin, and then his mouth assaulted her neck, stinging kisses that made her draw her breath in. That feeling again in the pit of her stomach.

His eyes were heavy now, sensual. Now she could not look away. Doug lightly traced his fingers over the lacy top of her bra. "This is exquisite, right here." He cupped her breasts and rubbed his thumbs across her nipples. Needing no more provocation, they hardened under his touch. Involuntarily, Carol arched to him, pressed herself against him, straining to feel him. He pulled on one, then the other, giving them a slight pinch, making her cry out.

Backing away slightly, he undid her jeans. He pulled slowly, letting the zipper's friction vibrate between her legs. He eased her jeans over her hips, down her legs, and removed them, one leg at a time. Standing up again, he was motionless, watching Carol's breath come fast now. Her lingerie was frilly, beautiful. Just the way he liked it.

Doug reached down and pulled her close to him, running his hands down her back, over her roundness. He kissed her shoulder, then her neck, his mouth meeting hers, restrained, barely touching. His fingers grazed the satin of her panties and he could feel her wetness, her warmth, through the cloth. He slipped a finger underneath and felt her black hair, moist and hot. "A man could get lost...." he murmured.

Doug released himself from her embrace and laid on the bed.. "Take your bra off. I want to look at you." Carol didn't move. She was unable to read him.

"Take it off."

Slowly reaching for the clasp between her breasts, unhooking it, she let it drop off her breasts, off her arms. Doug's eyes gleamed in the dark; she was unnerved by his demeanor. Her breasts were stunning, and he spent a long time looking at them.

"Now take your panties off."

Slipping them off, she stood there, naked under his gaze.

Doug took a deep breath. Starting down at her toes, working his way up, his eyes leisurely drinking her in. He was aroused.

"You are a beautiful woman, a sight to behold. Come here. Lay down."

Carol laid down next to him, waiting for his reproach, not really knowing what to expect. Doug moved and hovered over her, his face just inches from hers.

"Roll over."

And she did. Carol hugged the pillow, her body tense. Doug took off his t-shirt, then his boxers. He straddled her, his knees bent, and looked at her again. At her flawless back, her hair spilling all over the bed and pillow. Her shoulders were tense and she was breathing rapidly. Her waist was so slender. The curves of her hips beckoned him. Doug bent over her and ran his lips from her shoulder to her bottom. She inhaled deeply and her muscles stiffened.

"Relax." His voice was quiet and subdued. She could feel his hardness brush against her. Reaching into his night table, Doug got a bottle of massage oil, the kind she loved. He poured some on his hands and rubbed them together, warming the oil. He gently kneaded her shoulders and her arms, feeling the tense muscles loosen up under his strong touch. He spoke slowly and deliberately, his voice resonating in the darkness. "Do you have any idea how I feel? Do you know that I'm in love with you?"

Carol quietly began to sob.

"Shhh, quiet now." Doug continued stroking her back, pressing deeply into each muscle, trying to work the tension out of her body. To the small of her back, down to the roundness of her bottom, his strong hands leisurely worked. He could feel her body shake as she cried, but he worked through it and concentrated on her. "I'm always going to love you. There's nothing you can do to push me away. Nothing."

After a time, when she was sufficiently calmed, when he felt the tension leave her, he gently rolled her on her back. She opened her eyes to see his face, his expression. The pain was still there, and her heart felt ripped apart.

Again he poured the oil into his hands. He stroked her shoulders and then his hands traveled slowly down, to the top of her breasts, his hands lightly stroking, smoothing oil over her, carefully avoiding her nipples, to the heaviness underneath. Carol's body was scorching now, his every touch felt hot to her. She was moaning softly as her body came alive under him. He gently brushed against her nipples and they leapt to attention. He spoke again. "I don't want you to be with anyone else. I don't want anyone else to have you. I don't want anyone else to know how this feels."

"Doug..." She had betrayed him, had spurned him, and here he was, comforting her. Carol felt immensely sad, knowing she had caused him so much pain.

Adding just a bit more oil, he rubbed his palms over her stomach, the points of her hips, and then lightly stroked her inner thighs. Carol was quivering now, afraid to say a word for fear she would confess feelings she would rather suppress. He could vaguely detect her musky scent as it drifted up to meet him, and looked down to gaze at the curly dark hair between her legs. He ran his hands over it, the oil imparting a sheen that caught the dim light. She thrust her hips up now, ablaze with sensation. He gently parted her hair, and he could see her swollen clitoris aching for his touch; she was dripping with excitement.

"Doug." It was a whisper. It was all she could say.

Doug looked up and saw her face, her lips rounded, her eyes half open and wet, laden with desire. He bent down and buried his face in her wetness, and his tongue flicked lightly over her.

Once. Twice. How many times?

Her legs strained apart, her body arched forward and she came, convulsing and crying. He licked her, his tongue dancing over her. She screamed his name, she told him she was coming, that it was huge, that she loved it. It lasted forever, wave after wave, one as strong as the next. She could feel every muscle tense and then explode. Doug had taken her there, and he was enthralled by the enormity of her orgasm. He aroused every single nerve fiber in her body and when she was finished, her whole body was damp and sensitive.

As was customary for him, he didn't let go of her until she was ready. Profoundly sad, he was afraid his words and his lovemaking failed to convey the intensity of his feelings for her. He kissed her lightly, then deeply, reclaiming her mouth for himself. His body hovered over her, and he felt her nipples press against his chest.

Moving his hips forward, he slipped into her. She enveloped him and he thrust slowly into her, sinking deeper and deeper, trying to assuage the emptiness inside of him. He nuzzled to her neck, breathing in her perfume, savoring her. Ever gentle, ever tender, he made love to her and he felt her grip him tighter, clamping down around him. He straightened his arms and held his body above hers so he could look down and watch himself disappear into her. Quiet sounds of their lovemaking met his ears. "Carol," he whispered, "save this for me." Finally, the softness, the heat, the wetness that was inside her overwhelmed him. Groaning softly, he came quietly. He was much more subdued than usual, Carol noticed, and she pulled him close to her, not wanting to be so far away from him.

Carol now held him, stroking his hair, his back, his face. Feeling the need to speak, she didn't know what to say. The words they had spoken in California now took on a new, bitter meaning. "The caretaker of your heart," she had said. When she looked at him again and saw the raw emotion in his eyes, she was filled with regret, knowing she had forsaken him, his heart.

"Doug, I'm sorry; please forgive me."

Doug pulled his head up and kissed her lips softly. "I love you Carol. Please don't hurt me like that again. Don't do that to me again. Please."

"I won't," she said, and she held him tightly until he fell asleep.

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And though you don't believe that they do
They do come true
For did my dreams
Come true when I looked at you
And maybe too, if you would believe
You too might be
Overjoyed, over loved, over me
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