In Search of Paradise
Chapter 1: Reunited

Caution: This Romantic Sex Story contains strong sexual content, including Ma/Fa, Fa/Fa, Consensual, Romantic, BiSexual, Heterosexual, Incest, Brother, Sister, InLaws, Group Sex, Oral Sex, Anal Sex, Masturbation, Petting, Pregnancy, Slow, Nudism,

Desc: Romantic Sex Story: Chapter 1: Reunited - Brandon has spent 15 years accumulating enough wealth to retire at the age of 35, intending to spend his remaining years in the South Pacific islands. But a woman from his past re-enters his life, and everything changes. Not only that, but she's not alone. Read how our hero takes to this development, and how his life heads off in a direction that he never imagined.

Brandon Winters woke to the sounds of the ringing of a telephone screaming in his ear. The clock on his bedside table indicated the ungodly hour of one in the morning, leaving him feeling angry that the first decent sleep he'd had in months had been rudely interrupted. But despite his initial thoughts of ignoring the intrusive noise, he answered it anyway.

"Hello?" he mumbled into the receiver.

It was more of a burble than anything else, and seemed to start somewhere in his chest, then percolate up his throat and out into the atmosphere.

"Brandon? I need your help!" a distressed female voice pleaded.

It was a voice he hadn't heard in too many years, that of his sister, Tracy Keelson. She was one of only three people that he'd ever allowed to get close to him. The other two were his mother and father, now deceased. But with those four words, all their time of separation disappeared. Her plea for help instantly took him back to the days of his youth when he was the one that Tracy unburdened her problems and concerns on, and he'd actually been thrilled to either help or listen.

That tone of fear in her voice scared the hell out of him, and all he could think about was giving her whatever protection she needed. It had been over fifteen years since he'd experienced that burning compulsion, but now that it was back, a familiar apprehension inside became his sole focus, or rather, making it go away was, especially for her.

"Tracy? Where the hell are you, Sis? What's going on?"

"I'm on the corner of West Warren and Damen."

"Stay put! I'll be there as soon as I can. Give me ... ten minutes?"

"I'll be here, Brandon. I've nowhere else to go anyway, and no way to get there. But please hurry? It's cold out here," he listened to his sister's plea.

Quickly hopping out of bed and pulling on pants and a T-shirt, then slipping sandals onto his feet, Brandon rushed down the stairs of the run-down apartment building, jumped into his old Chevy, and fired it up. Usually, he'd wait a few minutes for the twenty-something year old car to warm up, but that morning, there wasn't time for such a luxury. He backed out of the parking space, then stomped on the gas pedal, the squealing tires reverberating as their howl split the night.

As teens, Brandon had been close to his sister, more so than most of his friends had been with their siblings. Back then, he'd gone out of his way to make sure that she was always safe, always protected. By the time she'd developed from a pre-pubescent into a young woman, he'd become her best friend. Any time Tracy needed someone to talk to, Brandon was there.

Unfortunately, it hadn't been a two-way street, and not because she wouldn't listen. His sister had always come to him whenever something bothered her, when she needed help, or even when she shared some of the excitement of her adolescence. And he'd always had the time to listen, to share the excitement with her, or to take charge and alleviate whatever caused her distress. In point of fact, he'd looked forward to those times, revelling in being able to look after his little sister.

While Brandon hadn't had any trouble relating to his sister, he'd never allowed her to get close to him. It wasn't that she didn't want to. Rather, he wouldn't let her, or anyone else for that matter. His emotional isolation was the product of a belief that showing one's feelings was a sign of weakness. To overcome that weakness, he withheld that part of himself from the rest of the world.

He'd seen the evidence of the validity of his theory from other boys that had fallen prey to the charms of some young girl who had wended her way into a guy's heart, then took everything she could before discarding him like yesterday's garbage. He'd promised himself that would never happen to him, and for the last fifteen years, he'd kept that promise.

The day after he'd finished high school, Brandon joined the work force, bound and determined to earn enough money in his early years to stave off the necessity of labouring any longer than necessary. He'd taken on anything that paid well, had lived frugally, and as a result of several successful investments, he'd reaped some impressive financial gains, increasing his personal wealth to a point where he could almost retire at the ripe old age of thirty-five. In that respect, he'd followed his timetable exceedingly well, and was pleased with both the results, and his own self-discipline.

But there'd been a price to pay for his monetary successes, and one of them had been Tracy. While he was proud of his financial independence, he'd missed her more than he'd realized. By the sound of her voice, this was one of those scrapes that she needed his help to get out of. It took a while to admit it to himself, but he liked being able to help her. It made him feel ... useful, and gave him a purpose again.

There was a tightness in his chest as the old Chevy bolted down the streets of Chicago, borne with the worry that maybe this reunion might have come too late to revive their earlier relationship. Memories of his youth came back, even as the blur of stationary objects whipped past the speeding vehicle. Unfortunately, the distancing he'd practised had also cost him, and as soon as he'd heard Tracy's voice that morning, it became a price that he now considered too high. It would take time to learn how to feel again, but if that's what it took to be part of her life once more, and make her a part of his, he'd be the most diligent student the world had ever seen.

Arriving at the corner where Tracy had said she'd be, there were no signs of anyone. The Chevy came to a halt as Brandon scanned all four corners. In the shadows stood a lone figure, barely visible, standing by a brick storefront. Only when she stepped forward into the light from a phone booth did he recognize the figure as being female, and it looked like she'd recently been the victim of a savage attack from the little he could discern. He needed several seconds of concentrated study to recognize the woman as his sister, but once that connection was made, the car was quickly in motion so that he could manoeuver to where she could get in.

In the dim light of the car's interior, Brandon could see the bruises and welts on his sister's face. One eye was swollen half shut and would soon become a real shiner. He barely recognized the face that had, at one time, been the most beautiful sight in the world to him. As he looked at the injuries she's sustained, his anger at her attacker rushed to the surface, and for the first time in a long while, he allowed his anger to rise to the surface, letting his rage boil just low enough to keep from emotionally erupting.

"Sis?" he greeted her. "What the hell happened? Who did this to you? Let's get you to a hospital."

While he asked her those questions, his arms opened and reached out to Tracy in an offer of comfort and safety. At first, the battered woman just sat in the passenger seat and remained close to the door. But as her relief came to the fore, she accepted her brother's offer and allowed him to comfort her. As soon as he held her to his chest, she let the suppressed tears escape, and her shame became wracking sobs. It was several minutes later that she regained sufficient control to answer him.

"I ... I wasn't sure you'd come," she softly expressed some of that inner fear. "We haven't had anything to do with each other for a long, long time, Brandon. You have no idea how glad I am to see you."

"That's my fault, Sis, and I'm so, so sorry. I doubt you can forgive me, and probably don't believe me anyway, but it's true. I really am sorry. I guess I haven't been a very good brother to you, have I?"

"You were, when we were kids. And just by coming tonight, I think you still are. But can we just go? I need to get as far away from here as we can..."

"Sis, someone beat the shit out of you, and you need a doctor. Hell, I need you to see a doctor for my own peace of mind. Just close the door, and let's get you to a hospital."

"Brandon, no hospital. I can't afford it," she was adamant.

"Maybe not, Tracy, but I can. Let's get you looked at, then I'll make some room somewhere in my place for you to stay, and you can tell me all about it. After all these years, it's the least I can do."

Tracy turned and studied her brother's face, wondering if the person he'd been when she was growing up still existed, and found traces of who she remembered struggling to get out, even as he unconsciously fought to suppress them.

"Still the same guy I remember as a kid," she voiced her conclusions. "Still my knight in shining armour, always looking out for me. I've missed that, Brandon. I didn't realize how much until just now. Gawd, I've missed you."

"Not quite the same guy, Sis," he corrected her. "I changed when I left home. For years, I believed that letting my feelings come out was a weakness, and I hid them. Now, they never seem to come out, no matter how hard I try. But there are exceptions, it seems. You, for instance. When you called, those feelings I had when we were growing up? They all came back. I've missed them, and I've missed you, too. So, how about we get you looked at, then see how it goes from there? I'd like to find out if I can still be the big brother you had as a kid. I really need to talk, to learn how to open up to someone, and I think that someone is you."

Tracy continued to silently study her brother, not sure if he was still who she remembered from so many years ago, but hopeful that he might be, and prayed that he'd finally show her those aspects of himself that he'd kept hidden before.

"Yeah, okay, if you insist," she finally conceded.

"Okay?" he needed to know. "Which part? The hospital, or that we can talk?"

"Both," was all she had to say.

Brandon drove a lot slower on their way to the hospital than he had to their rendezvous. The urgency to find his sister wasn't as great, now that she sat beside him. Once in the emergency ward, he insisted on staying right beside her, rather than sitting in the waiting room and feeling useless. At first, his presence was resented by the attending doctor, but as Tracy's demeanor became more accepting of the prodding and poking necessary to assess and treat her injuries, that discord eased off.

Two hours later, the siblings made their way back to Brandon's car, and eventually back to his little studio apartment. For the whole trip, there were very few words between them, not because they were reluctant to speak, but because those feelings they'd had as teens had come back in a flood. Brandon experienced the serenity of being with his sister again, and Tracy had the patience to wait until he was ready to open up. Only as they approached the apartment building was the silence breeched.

"Who did this to you, Sis? Beat the crap out of you, I mean," were her brother's first words of enquiry.

"Darren," was the only identification she gave him.

"Who? Darren? Who's he?" Brandon wanted more information.

"My husband. He got drunk again, and when he gets like that, he can be a little violent sometimes."

"A little? Jeezuz, that looks like more than just a little. What he deserves is to be on the receiving end of a good beating. I'll be having a little conversation with him, that's for sure."

"No, you won't," Tracy informed her brother, "because it's not going to happen. Promise me that you'll leave him alone. He and I are finished, done, over. If you go after him, I'll never get the son-of-a-bitch out of my life. Promise me? Please?"

An intense study of her face told Brandon that if he followed his instincts, he'd also lose his sister again, and that was a price he wasn't ready to go on paying after all these years of having missed her. For her sake, he agreed to her terms, but wasn't happy about it.

"What the hell happened, Pip-squeak? How long has this shit been going on?" he probed for more information.

"Pip-squeak?" she deflected his question. "You haven't called me that since I was ... what, about eleven or twelve? I used to hate it when you did, too, but over the years, I've missed it," she reminisced. "But as for Darren, he used to be the kindest, gentlest man I'd ever met, next to you. However, when the economy went for a shit and he lost his job, then couldn't find work, he started drinking. The more he drank, the more his anger came out. About a year ago, he started hitting me. Not hard, and not often. I thought that when things got better, it would stop, and we could go back to the way we were before.

"But things didn't get better. He drank more and more, and the beatings got worse. I woke up in hospital a couple of times, and swore that I'd never go back to him. Shit, we still owe the hospital money. I'm surprised that they even admitted me tonight. But Darren begged me to take him back, promised that he'd quit drinking, that he'd never hit me again. And like the fool I am, I believed him."

"You're not thinking of going back again, are you, Sis?" Brandon's worried tone asked.

"No, I think I've learned my lesson this time. But where I'm going to go from here is something I haven't figured out. Really, there isn't anywhere. Dammit, Brandon, I'm scared," her dilemma came out.

"It's a small apartment, Sis, and it'll be a little crowded, but until you're ready, you're more than welcome to stay with me, no matter how long that takes. Think you can handle living around your brother again?"

"It's starting to look like I don't have a lot of choice," she confessed. "But are you sure you're ready to put up with a girl that you wanted to get away from when you left home?"

"Huh?" He found that what she'd just said confused him completely. "I wanted to get away from you? Where'd that idea come from? I never wanted that, Tracy. What I wanted was to get on with my life, make my goal of financial independence a reality, and that insane quest for relief from feelings of vulnerability. But when you called this morning, all that suddenly became unimportant.

"When we were kids, I loved to be the one you came to, that you talked to, and that you shared your life with. I've missed that, too, more than I've ever admitted to myself. Do you realize that it's been over fifteen years since we were together like this? I'm not too keen on the circumstances, but being here with you again is like that silver lining they always say is in every cloud. So don't think that I was trying to get away from you, because it's not true."

"So why didn't I hear from you?" Tracy grilled her brother. "No letters, no phone calls, nothing. What the hell was I supposed to think? One day you were there, my big brother that had always been my hero, and the next? Poof. You were gone, and I had no idea where to. That hurt, Brandon. That really hurt."

"Tracy, I really am sorry. I never meant to hurt anyone, and especially not you. Maybe this is my chance to make some of it up to you, if you'll let me," he pleaded.

"Maybe," she started to accept his apology. "It's been a long time, Brandon. Is it possible that I'll finally get to know my brother? When we were kids, you'd never let me into your life, or anyone else for that matter, never shared what was happening. You'd listen to me, but never tell me about you. That has to change. I want to be a part of your life as much as you were once part of mine. I need that. Without it, we're in the same place we've been in for the last twenty years, and it doesn't work for me any more. Think you can do that?"

"I can try, Sis, but it isn't going to be easy, and I'm not sure if I can even pull it off. Old habits die hard."

"Brandon, you've shared more with me in the last twenty minutes than you have in the last twenty years!" she insistently reminded him. "If you can do it once, you can do it again, and the more you do, the easier it becomes. But I need this, desperately. I need to be in your life, Brandon. Not just as someone that you look out for, but as someone that you can share your problems and troubles with, as well as the successes."

"Like I said, Sis, it's not something that I'm used to doing, or very good at, but I'll try. Think you have the patience for that?"

"We'll see, big brother," she sidestepped a firm commitment. "We'll see."

Now parked in the apartment building's lot, Brandon opened the car door for Tracy, then escorted her through the back entrance, up the stairs, and down the hall to his apartment.

"You'll have to excuse the mess, Pip-squeak," he started to warn her. "It's a bachelor's suite, and comes complete with all the usual shit that guys are famous for. I wasn't expecting company, so haven't picked up after myself properly."

Tracy steeled herself for the stereotypical single male's residence, prepared to find dirty laundry, food containers, and old newspapers spread from one wall to the other. What greeted her when he opened the door was not what she expected. The place looked spotlessly clean and well-organized, like something out of a magazine spread.

"This is your version of a mess?!" Tracy exclaimed to her brother. "I'm almost afraid to walk in there for fear of making it actually dirty. Mom would have been so proud of you. Remember how she used to rag on us to clean our rooms? It looks like she got through to you. It's me that's the slob. Still think you want me here?"

"We'll figure something out, Sis," he softly told her, his grin betraying his pride in being able to garner her approval, "but how about we go inside, instead of just standing in the hall all night?"

With that, he placed his hands on Tracy's waist and guided her through the door, and with that one gesture, unintentionally re-wrote a basic parameter of their lives together. For as soon as he felt the soft curve of her body against the palms of his hands, Brandon was suddenly aware that the woman he'd missed for so many years was just that – a woman, and a very beautiful one.

Tracy's hands moved to cover her brother's and he expected her to pull them away from the uninvited familiarity. But she kept them in place, holding him there as he eased her into the apartment. With that one wordless response to his actions, the bonds they'd created so many years ago began to re-emerge.

Now inside, Brandon kicked the door closed with one foot, waiting for the sound of the latch engaging, while still holding the one woman in the world he thought he could trust with his inner self. As soon as they were away from the prying eyes of the outside curiosity of humanity, she encouraged him to become even more intimate, waiting until his body pressed against her. His hands slid slowly from her waist to the slight swell of her belly, and he held her close while tentatively leaning in to nibble her ear.

"Gawd," Tracy broke the silence, "it's been so long since you've done that, Brandon. Whenever I was hurting or crying, you always held me, made me feel safe and secure, and let me know that I wasn't alone. I need that now, more than I realized. I ... I love you, you know."

"I love you, too, Pip-squeak. Gawd, I've been such a fool. I so want to make it up to you," he whispered.

Turning slowly so that he wouldn't let her go, Tracy wrapped her arms around her brother, encircling his neck in the process, and held him tightly. She'd been shorter than him when they'd been a lot younger, but over the years she'd grown, so that now they stood at the same height. She took advantage of that equalization, and resorted to a familiarity that they hadn't shared in entirely too long. She gently kissed the tip of his nose.

"Where was this guy when I was growing up?" she delved into their past. "You used to hold me and make me feel better, but back then, you never let me inside you like this. Do you have any idea how long I've waited for a chance to really know you?"

"Maybe too long?" he wondered, hoping that she'd say he was wrong.

"A long, long time, Brandon, but for some reason, I'm beginning to think that the wait might have been worth it. Let me in? Please?"

"I ... Sis, I don't know how," he confessed, tears beginning to form behind his eyelids. "Show me? Teach me?"

"One day at a time, big brother. That's the only way to do it, but if you really want it, really work at it, it'll happen. I can feel it in my heart. For the first time in a lot of years, I have hope. Just don't let me down."

The electricity in the air between them almost crackled with its intensity, and the two siblings surrendered to the emotions running between them. Slowly at first, but with a growing need to connect again, their lips moved to greet each other, lightly touching, then becoming more insistent with each passing second. Soon, that kiss was less of one between brother and sister and more of an expression that might be found between lovers. Tongues probed, entwined with each other, and implied an invitation to further intimacy between the two.

"Wow! A little painful, after the beating I got, but worth it," Tracy let her reactions come out when they finally parted.

"I'm sorry, Tracy. But that was something I couldn't stop myself from doing. Forgive me?"

"Forgive you? No. There's nothing to forgive. I never told you this before, because I was afraid that you'd push me away, but I've been waiting for that kiss for twenty years. Gawd, when I was thirteen, I was so in love with you! I guess I should have let you know, though, because you pushed me aside anyway."

"You?" Brandon expressed his disbelief. "You were in love with me? Gawd, why didn't I see that? I really wish you'd said something, Tracy. I had no idea!"

"That's because you were too busy being a knight in shining armour for your little sister. That tough exterior of yours got in the way," she informed him, then kissed the tip of his nose again.

"Are you still?" he found himself asking. "In love with me, I mean?"

"I grew up, Brandon. Things changed. You changed, and so did I," she avoided answering him. But her evasion still left him wanting an honest answer, to the point where he had to push the question on her again.

"You didn't answer my question, Tracy. Are you still in love with me?"

"I don't think so," she finally opened up a corner of herself that had been hiding for too many years. "I love you, though, and after that kiss, probably more than I realized. But like I said, I've grown up. Back then, I think it was more of an infatuation."

There was disappointment in Brandon's eyes, which was something Tracy hadn't seen for so long that she almost missed it. While it might have been a small thing for most people, it was also another weak spot in Brandon's armour of self-protection, and as such, only inspired his sister to higher optimism.

"Brandon, I might not be in love with you right now, but every minute we're together like this, I see you beginning to open up to me, unlike when we were young. If you can let me into that secret part of you, I could very easily fall in love with you again. In a way, that scares me, yet it's also something that I'd welcome if it happened."

"You would?"

He couldn't believe what he'd just heard. "I'll let you in on a little secret then, Sis. When we were kids, and I was about fourteen? I think I was in love with you, too. I just didn't have the guts to tell you, and by the time I was fifteen, I'd taught myself to keep those kinds of things to myself."

"You're kidding! You were in love with me, too?" her shock became words. 'Talk about a couple of fuck-ups! Both of us! Why, Brandon? Why'd we both let love slip between our fingers?"

"No idea, Sis. But if I ever get the chance, I won't make that mistake twice."

The two held each other in a warm and tight embrace, both wanting to taste the other, but afraid of bursting the bubble of emotion that delicately held them together.

"I'm too tired to think any more tonight," Tracy softly murmured into her brother's ear, and afraid of advancing their reunion further than either one could keep up to. "How about we get some sleep, then see if we can make some sense of this in the morning?"

"Maybe that's a good idea, Sis. You hungry? Can I get you something to eat?"

"I could use a shower, though," as she passed on the food. "I was going to curl up on your sofa. I'd better get cleaned up before I make a mess in here."

"Let me give you the two-bit tour first," he tried to keep her from leaving him. "This, as you can probably tell, is the living room ... and the bedroom. Around the corner is a tiny alcove that I call the dining room and kitchen." They walked around the corner before he continued. "Over there are two doors. The first one is the bathroom, and the other is a combination linen closet and pantry. When you go into the bathroom, there's a toilet, sink, and shower. Sorry, no bathtub, though."

"You're right. It is a little small. Do you think we'll both be able to live in here without killing each other?"

"We'll manage, Sis. But if it gets too crowded, we can go find something a little bigger," he left the option open.

Tracy headed for the bathroom, but stopped before she went through the doorway.

"Umm, I don't have anything clean to wear. Any chance I can borrow a robe or something?" she asked. Brandon went to the closet and pulled out an oversized T-shirt, offering it to his sister as a makeshift nightshirt.

"Hopefully that'll be big enough for you," he let her know. "I have to do laundry in the morning anyway, so throw your stuff in the hamper. I'll do yours at the same time."

While she was in the shower, Brandon stripped the sheets off his bed, retrieved clean ones out of the closet, and remade the bed for his sister. At the same time, he pulled out blankets to make up the sofa for himself. By the time he'd finished, Tracy had reappeared in the little kitchen in just the T-shirt he'd lent her. The garment came down to the middle of her upper thigh, and revealed two very shapely legs that supported a well-proportioned body, along with two firm, perky breasts that would stretch his shirt all out of shape. Brandon found himself staring as he took in the gorgeous shape of his sister.

"Are those eyeballs going to stay in their sockets, or should I be getting ready to catch them?" Tracy joked lightly, enjoying the attention he gave her.

"Sorry, Sis. But out of curiosity, when did my gangly little sister grow up to be so beautiful?"

"Brandon, you say such nice things to me!" she reacted demurely. "You always did when we were kids, too, and I loved hearing them. Still do, if you want to know. Not that they were true back then, and I'm not so sure they are now, either. Me? Beautiful? I think we need to see about getting you some glasses."

"They were all true back then, and still are, Pip-squeak. But I like your idea of getting glasses. Then I can see even more of that beauty you have."

"If those lines get any thicker, I'll be able to cut them with a knife! Has it been that long since you were with a woman?" she continued to tease her brother.

That kind of ribald banter had been a part of their teens, and that night it acted like an revival of an earlier and happier time for both of them.

"I think it's past your bedtime, young lady," he closed the session off. "Come on, and I'll tuck you in."

They moved to the bed, where Brandon pulled back the covers for his sister. She sat on the edge, then swung her legs up and under the covers, and as she did, the T-shirt clung to her in a way that allowed her brother to see and appreciate more hints of Tracy's soft, curvaceous body. The image burned itself into his head.

"Night, Sis," he bid her, fighting off animalistic, lustful urges that he hadn't felt for too many years. He leaned over and softly kissed her forehead before making sure she was comfortably covered and tucked in.

"Night, big brother," she wished him before going on. "Brandon, can I ask you something?"

"Sure, Pip-squeak. You can ask me anything. I thought you knew that."

"Not always. There were things that we never talked about, back then. Most of them were personal, and a few might have been embarrassing. Are we going to have that problem again?"

"It'll take me a while to learn how to open up that much, Tracy. But if that's what you want, then I'll try. Is that the kind of question you were just about to ask me? One of those embarrassing ones?"

"A little, I guess. Umm, when we were kids, you used to wear pyjama bottoms to bed. Do you still?"

"No, not usually. Most of the time, I find it more comfortable to sleep naked, but while you're here, I was going to wear my shorts to bed. Why?"

"I just wondered," she left her answer there, not going into why she'd asked in the first place. "See you in the morning. Love you."

As sleep suddenly snapped itself out of his system, Brandon rolled off the sofa, not quite remembering why he'd slept there in the first place. All he knew was that he had to get to the bathroom soon, or he'd be mopping the floor.

When he stood up, the sight of his sister in his bed answered his question, and that protective instinct came to the surface instantly. But during the night, the T-shirt he'd lent her had wrapped itself tightly around her body, giving him an enthralling view of her barely covered charms. He could see her breasts straining inside the fabric, as though trying to hide, and succeeding none too successfully. What he saw quickened his pulse.

"Damn!" he thought to himself. "That woman has one hell of a body – and it has to belong to my sister, too. There just ain't no justice!"

Shaking the lascivious thoughts from his head, he made his way to the bathroom, needing desperately to relieve the discomfort in his lower belly. As soon as he stood in front of the toilet and released his bladder, the noise of water splashing sounded like a freight train in the small room. Brandon couldn't believe that he could hold so much inside for so long.

Tracy woke, eventually realizing that what had roused her was her brother relieving himself. There were now thoughts running through her head similar to the ones he'd had earlier, when he'd first seen his sister's cotton-encased body. She visualized in her head what her curiosity had stirred in her mind.

"A real man, just a few feet away, and it has to be my brother! If it wasn't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all!"

Brandon walked out of the bathroom, and was greeted by Tracy's happy smile. His first reaction mirrored hers, and he returned her grin by bidding her a good morning, then followed it up with a light kiss to her forehead.

"Mmm," Tracy hummed as she felt his warmth stir her soul. "I could get quite used to waking up like this every morning."

"And I could get very comfortable starting my day with the sight of a beautiful lady like you," he let her know. "Coffee? I'll only take a few minutes."

"Now I know I could get used to this," she giggled joyfully. "Please. But I have to hit the can first. Back in a moment."

Without a thought about the state of her clothing, Tracy swivelled on the bed and swung her legs to the side. But in doing so, that T-shirt slid up her legs, exposing one of them completely from toes to the top of her hip. The sight caught Brandon's attention, developing another one of those sensuous images that was burned into his brain for all time.

By the time Tracy came back out, the coffee was ready. Brandon retrieved two clean mugs, opened the fridge and took out the cream.

"You use sugar, Sis? All I take is cream, but I have a sugar bowl around here somewhere."

"Just cream for me," she let him know.

Now seated at the little two-person kitchen table, Brandon struggled to find an entrance to the subject they'd started to discuss earlier that morning. But it was his sister that opened their conversation, and Brandon felt a sigh of relief trying to escape his throat.

"So what have you been doing for the last fifteen years that made it almost impossible to find you?" she initiated their morning's discussion.

"Working, mostly," he replied. "After I left home, I went to work on the oil rigs in Alaska. The money was good, and the isolation meant that I didn't spend every cent I earned. By the time I'd put in a year up there, I was working seven days a week, and all the overtime I could get."

"Why?" was all she could think to ask. "Why so much work and no time off?"

"Remember how Dad used to bust his ass at two jobs when we were kids? I saw what it did to him, and promised myself that I'd never get into that kind of a rut. Once the money started to roll in, I figured that if I worked hard and invested as much of it as I could, I'd never have to live like that. So ever since, I've plugged almost every cent I could get my hands on into investments. Over the years, it's grown into a decent-sized nest egg. About two weeks ago, my investment counsellor re-arranged things, and if I'm careful with my money, I'll never have to work another day in my life."

"What?!" her stunned tone echoed around the small kitchenette. "You're kidding! You mean to tell me that, at all of, what? Thirty five? You can..."

"Retire?" he supplied. "Pretty much, Sis. But I must admit that the idea of sitting in an apartment for the rest of whatever doesn't have the appeal I thought it would. I need to get out of here and go do something. Anything to keep me from turning into a vegetable."

"Wow, do I ever envy you! But if you leave here, where would you go?"

"Well, I've been thinking, and some of those dreams we all have as kids keep coming back. One of mine was to travel, see the world, find new people. Ironically, it's meeting and being comfortable around people that I'm no good at. Maybe getting out and doing some exploring might cure me. You think?"

Tracy stood up and leaned over the table to look into her brother's coffee cup, inadvertently giving him a good look at two of the most beautiful breasts he could remember ever seeing. While he thoroughly enjoyed the view, the guilt of ogling his sister caused the blood to rush to his face, and he began to blush.

"What I think," she gave him her verdict, "if that there's more than just coffee in that cup. Brandon, are you a drinker?"

"Not usually," he managed to get his inner turmoil under control. "Every once in a long while, I'll head to one of the bars, have a few stiff belts, then watch the people around me as they run around like heads with their chickens cut off. It's cheap entertainment, but it also reminds me why I don't like others to see inside me."

"I think the phrase is, 'Chickens with their heads cut off'. You sure you don't have something in that coffee?"

Brandon laughed loudly, then explained his turn of phrase.

"Sis, if you've ever been in a bar on a Friday night, it's usually filled with guys trying to score. And most of those guys are hitting on the best looking woman in the place, while the other ones just sit there and dream, or hope, or whatever lonely women do. But those guys are thinking with their small head, and the ones that strike out, which is most of them, run around like their pecker has been chopped off."

"So you pick up one of the plain ones, as you put it. Does that sound about right?" she accused him.

"Once in a long while, but usually, I just meander home again, get up the next morning, and go back to work. It's a life, they tell me, but now that I can retire, I'm not too keen on spending my life looking out of a goldfish bowl in some seedy bar."

"Would you do me a big favour?" she asked in a serious and subdued tone. "Would you let me know ahead of time when you're going to do one of those bar crawls, so I can find somewhere else to be? After Darren's drinking, booze scares the hell out of me, or rather, what it does to people scares me."

"I can take it or leave it, if that makes you feel any better. But the truth is, booze makes some people go crazy. They fight, hurt others, and make complete assholes of themselves. Then there are people like your brother. When I get drunk, I mellow right out. I have a few, then turn into a walking, talking, babbling blob of Jell-O. And right after that, I go home and sleep it off."

"Brandon? Please? Promise me?" she begged.

"I won't promise, Pip-squeak, because I need that release every once in a while. But what I will promise you is that, as long as we're under the same roof, no one will ever hurt or harm you. Not even your own brother – especially not your own brother."

It wasn't what she wanted to hear, but Tracy decided that, for now, she could live with it. She just hoped that he wouldn't prove her trust to be misplaced.

"So how do you want to see the world, as you put it? Buy an RV and see America? Maybe go up to Canada and live among the Eskimos?"

"There's no Eskimos in Canada. They're called Inuit, for a start. I could probably enjoy your RV idea, though. But what I'd really love to do is buy a sailboat and take it around the globe. The idea of sitting on white, sandy beaches in the South Pacific has a real appeal to it. Or maybe find a deserted island somewhere and declare it to be my own country. Just think of the independence. No one else telling you what to do, where to go, or when to be there."

"Sail around the world, huh?! Now I'm sure you've got something in that cup besides coffee! Brandon, either that's the craziest thing I've ever heard or you've lost your marbles! What happens if you get hurt, or the boat sinks, or you get caught in a storm? A little reality right about now could be a plan, big brother!"

"I'm not the first person that's wanted to sail around the world, Sis," he answered, "and I probably won't be the last. Lots of people have tried, and most have succeeded. It's not like I'm planning on flying to Mars, solo. And if something happens, either I survive, or I don't. If I do, it means that I get to enjoy another day. If I don't, how many people in the world are going to give a shit? Really?"

"Umm, me, maybe?" Tracy managed to get out before her tone became more forceful. "Look, I've just found my brother again after fifteen years. If you think I'm going to stand on a dock and watch you sail off into the sunset and out of my life again, I've got some bad news for you, mister. I may not have much, but for the moment, I have you. In my opinion, that's the best, most valuable thing I've ever had. I can't lose you again, and I won't! Understand?"

Brandon looked into Tracy's eyes, saw the pain and hurt in them, and realized that it was he who had put it there. He felt torn between two ideals; his desire to expand his horizons, and his need to protect his sister. If only there was a way to do both, he thought to himself.

"Come with me, Pip-squeak? Just you and me, exploring the world, seeing things that most people can barely dream of, discovering things about ourselves that we'd never know otherwise?

"I can't. I have..."

Tracy stopped, going over in her mind just what it was that she did have. A husband? Not after the last night, and definitely not after all the abuse she'd taken. Children? She'd never had any, and after the events of the last year, she thanked her lucky stars. A home, maybe? If it hadn't been for Brandon, she'd be living on the streets right now.

"This is my..."

Again, she tried to rationalize her reasons for being reluctant. Her home? She found Chicago about as appealing as enduring an all-day plane crash.

In truth, she had nothing. Literally. No husband, no kids, no job, no income, and no one. Well, that wasn't quite true. She had one friend that meant more to her than almost anything else. And for a while, she had a brother again, although it was beginning to look like she'd lose him too. But the idea of running away to some foreign land scared her, although it was an irrational fear and she knew it. But that one friend? The one that she couldn't bear to leave? Maybe that was what kept her in Chicago, and if that was the case, it was also the only thing that kept her in The Windy City. Still, she did have a real anchor in that friendship.

"Brandon, the one thing that keeps me here is my sister-in-law. But she's more than Darren's sister. She's my best friend, and I'm hers. We need each other. I can't go traipsing all over the world and leave her behind. She wouldn't survive on her own."

"From what I see, Sis, you almost didn't survive yourself. Is that what you want? To perish in oblivion, all because some woman can't carry her own weight and is relying on you to make living possible?"

"Brandon! Don't go there! Mom used to heap guilt on me after you left home. When she did, I promised myself that I'd never let that happen again. What I don't need is a guilt trip from you!"

"I don't need to give you a guilt trip, as you put it, Pip-squeak. You're doing that quite well on your own without my help. Look, I'm not saying that you should throw your sister-in-law to the wolves, but you need to look out for yourself, first and foremost. If you don't have you, you've got nothing. Is that what you're going to get through life with? And your sister-in-law, too? A whole lot of 'nothing'? I don't think so."

Tracy let his words sink in, but that despair she'd fought for so long threatened to overwhelm her. Of the two possible courses of action, her brother's made as much sense as anything else in her life. Maybe he was right. Maybe the only way her sister-in-law would learn to stand on her own two feet would be for Tracy to force the issue, to find her own life, to pursue her own destiny.

"Can I think about this for a while?" she hedged. "I mean, it's a big step, pulling up stakes and just going wherever the wind blows me. As much as I love you, I'm not sure I can do it."

"It was just an idea, Tracy. If you don't want to go, I won't push it. But the offer's open until I'm ready to leave. I guess I'm like you, in a way. You have a friend that seems to mean more to you than anyone else, and I admire that, Sis. I really do. By the same token, I have a sister that's important enough to me that I'd do almost anything for her. Almost. But I have to be true to myself too, and that's pulling me in two directions. You coming along was the easiest solution, which is why I suggested it. But maybe there's another? I don't know. All I know is that I'm not in a hurry to be going anywhere for a while, as long as you and I are back in each others lives again. So, until we both decide what we want, can we still be friends? Good friends? Maybe best friends, like we once were?"

"I think so," she offered him hope. "I hope so," she tried to give herself that same kind of optimism.

"Let's get out of here, Pip-squeak. Let's go do something relaxing, fun, whatever. I need to get out from between these four walls, and you need time and space to figure out what you want to do with your life. Let's go take a good long walk. It might help."

Brandon guided his sister out to the car, then headed for the tranquillity of South Chicago and the peaceful scenery of Lake Michigan. Once they'd found somewhere to park, he led her along the lakefront, losing his cares and woes as he gazed out onto the lake at the many sailboats that cruised its waters.

Tracy studied her brother as they strolled, noting that far-away look in his eyes whenever he saw the white triangle of a passing sail. That was the life he wanted, maybe needed, and definitely deserved, she realized. But like her, he needed to be with his sibling, too. He'd invited her to share a life that she couldn't even imagine, yet wanted to be a part of, if for no other reason than to be with him.

As they walked, memories of their childhood came back, and with them, those of how he'd made her feel back then. In her eyes, there was nothing that Brandon couldn't do, nowhere he couldn't go, and no one he couldn't be. Back then, she'd put him on a pedestal, then adored him with all her heart. In her whole life, she couldn't remember happier times than when they'd been together.

And she'd been in love with him. Sure, she'd considered her feelings to be an infatuation. Yet here she was, twenty years later, and he made her feel that way again. Maybe it hadn't just been a young girl's infatuation after all. She'd thought, back then, that she was madly in love with him. Maybe she'd been right.

Tracy remembered the day she came home from school, all excited about having passed her exams, looking forward to the freedom of Summer vacation, and wanting to share her elation with her brother. But he wasn't there. She was told that he'd moved, left home, struck out on his own. She'd cried that day, hiding in her room and almost hating her brother for deserting her. It took over two hours to regain control of herself, and only after she did, did his note to her come to light.

Tracy had read that note several times, trying desperately to understand why her brother had left without so much as an explanation or a fond farewell. It was at that point that she came to the conclusion that he wanted to get away from her, to finally be rid of a young girl that was nothing more than a pest, a thorn in his side. The only thing that she remembered of that note, fifteen years later, were the last five words.

"I do love you, Pip-squeak."

Those five words had been all that kept her sane that summer. They were the thread that she'd grasped in a desperate attempt to hold onto something, and someone, that was more important to Tracy Winters than life itself.

As the memories came back, Tracy found herself walking closer to her brother, finally slipping her hand into his, then interlacing their fingers. At first, she expected him to pull away, to reject her again like she thought he'd done so many years ago.

But he didn't. Instead, he curled his fingers to greet hers, then squeezed gently in a show of the unity and solidarity that was beginning to blossom between brother and sister once more. And with his gentle show of affection, Tracy's heart grew wings as she soared to heights that had only existed in her imagination before this day. But this wasn't her imagination. This was real, and so was the fact that she had her brother back again.

Leaving her sister-in-law behind would be hard, she knew. But Brandon had been right. Celeste, her sister-in-law, had to learn to exist on her own eventually. Maybe Tracy did, too, just as her brother yearned to try for himself. Losing him again was more than her heart could take. It was making that choice between one and the other that she couldn't quite manage.

"Brandon?" she caught his attention. "Were you serious this morning? About you and me taking off together?"

"I've never been more serious in my life, Sis. Why? Are you thinking of coming along after all?"

"I've ... I've got some loose ends to tie up, and they might take me a while. Do you think you can wait until I do?"

Brandon slipped his arm behind and around her waist, still tightly clenching her hand in his, pulling her tightly against his side, then softly kissed the crown of her head.

"I can wait, Pip-squeak – but try not to take too long, okay? Neither one of us is getting any younger. We have a lot of exploring to do, and it's a big world out there."

Hearing that his idea was even being considered brightened Brandon's spirits immeasurably. That euphoria must have been contagious, because when he looked at his sister's face, he could have sworn that her eyes sparkled like a lighthouse beacon in the night.

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