I haven’t a clue what’s right anymore. I want another chance with you. If you’re willing to give it a second shot, let me know. Only do it soon, would you? I’m about to go out of my mind.


Dearest Brand,

I don’t know what’s right anymore, either. All I do know is how wretched I feel ninety-nine percent of the time. I thought I could forget you, too, only it didn’t work out that way. Believe me, I’ve tried.

Nothing seems to work. I’ll be so glad when we can sit down and talk face-to-face. I’ve never felt like this.

You might remind your friend Romano that we have met. Obviously he doesn’t remember. I attended his wedding with my mom and dad. It must have been ten years or so ago.

Write me again soon. I need to hear from you.


"What do you mean you’ve tried to forget me?" The sharp question was followed by an eerie long-distance hum that echoed in Erin’s ear.

"Brand? Is that you?" The phone had woken her, and Erin hadn’t yet had time to clear her thoughts. She brushed the hair out of her face and focused her gaze on the illuminated dial of her clock radio. It was the wee hours of the morning.

"Yes, it’s me."

"Where are you?"

"Standing in some pay phone in the Philippines." His voice softened somewhat. "How are you?"

"Fine." Especially now that she’d heard his voice. It had taken her several seconds to ascertain that he was real and not part of the wildly romantic dreams she shared with him. She’d fantasized a hundred times talking to Brand and woken hours later disillusioned by the knowledge that several thousand miles separated them. "How are you?"

"Fine. So you’ve tried to forget me."

"Yes… Oh, Brand, it’s so good to talk to you." She scrambled to her knees, pressing the phone to her ear as if that would magically bring him closer. She felt like weeping, as nonsensical as it sounded. "I’ve been so miserable, and then you didn’t write and didn’t write and I swear I thought I was going crazy."

"Sweet heaven, Erin, I don’t know what we’re going to do. I wish to hell – " He was interrupted by someone in the background. Whoever it was seemed to be arguing with Brand.


"Hold on, sweetheart. Romano’s here, and he’s giving me hell."

"Giving you hell! Why?"

Brand chuckled softly. "He seems to think it’s important you know I’ve been behaving like a jealous idiot ever since I got your letter."

"You’re jealous? Whatever for?" Erin found this piece of information nothing short of incredible. For all intents and purposes, she’d been living the life of a nun for three solid months.

Brand hesitated before explaining, "It all started when I heard from your dad. He told me Aimee and her husband had split up and that you two women had gone out on the prowl. Then your letter arrived, and you claimed you’d tried to forget me, and I put two and two together – "

"And came up with ten," Erin teased, having trouble hiding her delight. "Let me assure you, you don’t have a thing to worry about."

"I can’t help the way I feel," Brand admitted grudgingly. "No one’s ever mattered to me as much as you. My mind got to wandering, and I couldn’t help thinking… To make a long story short, I guess I’ve been a bit cross lately."

Once more the conversation was interrupted by Brand’s friend. "All right, all right," Brand said. "According to half the men on the Blue Ridge I’ve been acting like a real bastard. Romano insisted I call you and find out exactly what’s been going on before I jump to conclusions."

"Were you really jealous?" Erin still had a difficult time believing it.

"I already said I was," he snapped.

"If anyone should be worried, it’s me. You’re the one sailing to all those tropical islands. From what I remember, those native women are beautiful enough to turn any sailor’s head."

"I swear to you, Erin, I haven’t so much as spoken to a single woman since we left port. How can I when all I think about is you?"

"Two and a half more months," she reminded him.

"I know. I can’t remember any tour taking so long."

"Me either. I’ve got a couple of letters off to you this week, and I baked some chocolate chip cookies. Dad always loved it when Mom mailed him cookies--- I thought maybe you would too. Old habits die hard, I guess."

"I picked up something for you while we were in port, but I’d rather give it to you in person. Do you mind waiting?"

"No." But Erin noted that neither of them was willing to discuss how long it would be before they’d see each other again. Erin couldn’t afford to fly off to Hawaii, especially after purchasing the piano. And Brand might not be able to get leave.

"Listen, Irish eyes, I’ve got to go."

"I know," she said, expelling a sigh of regret. "I’m so glad you phoned."

"I am, too. Write me."

"I will, I promise."

Yet both were reluctant to hang up the line until Erin heard Romano arguing with Brand in the background.

"Hey, Face, aren’t you going to tell her you love her?"

Romano’s question was followed by a short pause before Brand said, "She already knows."

Smiling to herself, Erin relaxed and grinned sheepishly. Yes, she did know, but it wouldn’t have done any harm to have heard him tell her one more time.

Dearest Erin,

The cookies arrived today. You never told me you could bake like this. They’re fabulous. I can’t tell you how much it means to me that you’d send me cookies.

I don’t know what the men think of me. For the first part of the cruise I was an ill-tempered bear, snapping at everyone. These days I walk around wearing a silly grin, passing out cookies like a first-grade teacher to her favorite pupils.

By the way, you haven’t mentioned the piano lately. Did you know I play? My mother forced me to take lessons for five years. I hated it then but have had reason to be grateful since.

I’m sorry this is so short, but the mail’s due to be picked up anytime and I wanted to get this off so you’d know how much I appreciate the cookies.

Miss you, Brand

P.S. The next time you write, send me your picture.

"Well?" Erin asked for the third time as Aimee reviewed the stack of snapshots. Brand had been hounding her for weeks for a photo. She’d tried to put him off, explaining that she really didn’t take a good picture, but he wouldn’t listen, claiming that if she didn’t send one he’d write and ask her family for a photo. It didn’t take much thinking on her part to realize that her dad would take delight in sending off a whole series of pictures, no doubt starting with naked baby shots. "Which one is the best?"

Aimee shrugged laconically. "They’re all about the same."

"I know, but which one makes me look sexy and glamorous and every lieutenant’s dream?"

Aimee’s questioning gaze rose steadily to meet Erin’s. "He asked for your picture, you know, not one of Madonna in her brass-tipped bra."

"I realize that, but I wanted something special, something that made me look attractive."

"You are attractive."

"More than attractive," Erin added sheepishly. "Sexy."

"Erin, sweetheart, at the risk of offending you, I’d like to remind you we took these photos with my camera, which cost all of forty dollars. If you’re looking for someone to airbrush the finish, you should have contacted a professional."

"It’s just that – "

"Hey, sweetie, you don’t need to explain anything to me."

Erin knew she didn’t, but she couldn’t help feeling a twinge of guilt. Aimee’s divorce was progressing smoothly enough. Matters, however, were starting to heat up now that the attorneys were involved.

"So have you heard from the sailor boy lately?" Aimee asked with a hint of sarcasm. She sorted through the pictures again and selected three, setting them aside.

Falling in love wasn’t a subject that interested Aimee these days. The divorce was proving to be far more painful than she’d ever expected.

"He writes often."

"And you?"

"I… I write often, too."

"How much longer before he’s back in Hawaii?"

Erin had it figured out right down to the number of hours, although it would do her little good. "About six weeks."

Aimee nodded, but Erin wasn’t completely sure her friend had even heard her.

"This one," Aimee said unexpectedly, handing her the snapshot. Erin was standing in front of a rosebush in her yard, where all of the photos had been taken.

She was wearing a dress in a soft shade of olive green, which nicely complemented her coloring. Her sleeves were rolled up past her elbow, and a narrow row of buttons ran down the length of the front. The outfit was complemented by a woven belt and a matching large-brimmed hat that shaded her face.

"This one. Really?" Erin questioned. It wasn’t the one she would have chosen. Her eyes were lowered, unlike in the other photos, and her mouth was curved slightly upward in a subtle smile.

"He’ll love it," Aimee insisted.

Dearest Erin,

The picture arrived in today’s letter. I’d forgotten how beautiful you are. I couldn’t take my eyes off you. It made me miss you so much more than I do already. An empty feeling came over me. One so big an earthmover couldn’t fill it. I don’t know how to explain it. I’m not sure I can.

All I know is I love you so much it frightens me. Somehow, someway, we’re going to come up with a solution to all this. We have to. I can’t bear to think of not having you in my life.

I’m sorry to hear about Aimee and her husband and hope they can patch things up.

And no, I haven’t seen any women in grass skirts lately. Haven’t you figured it out yet, my sweet Irish rose? I only have eyes for you.

Love, Brand

Brand taped Erin’s picture to the wall next to his berth. He’d seen other guys do the same thing and had never understood what led mature men to do something so juvenile. Now he understood. Love did. The last person he saw when he went to sleep at night was Erin, and she was the first one to greet him each morning. Sometimes he’d linger a few moments extra just staring at her.

He loved the picture. Just the way she was standing with her back to the sun, bright shreds of light folding golden arms around her. Her eyes were downcast, and she had the look of a woman longing to be kissed.

Brand ran his tongue around the outside of his lips. It had been so long since he’d kissed Erin he’d almost forgotten what it was like.

Almost forgotten.

What he did remember was enough to prompt a pronounced tightness in his pants. Although she was wearing a very proper olive-green dress in the snapshot, the image of her standing in the sunlight reminded him of the morning she’d wandered into the kitchen in her flannel gown. She’d smelled of lavender and musk, and the yoke of her prim gown had been embroidered in satin threads that emphasized her perky breasts. Erin had beautiful breasts, and the sudden need Brand experienced to taste and feel them was enough to produce a harsh groan. His breath fled. It was time to take a cold shower, something he seemed to be doing a lot of lately. He pressed his fingers to his lips and then bounced them against Erin’s pictures, doubting that she had a clue how crazy he was about her.

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