DESERT ROSE
a sequel to Rhonda "StuntChick36's "Back to Nature" fanfic
by Cheryl B.

  Cheryl and Richard had been seeing each other for nearly four months, him still keeping a killer schedule on the Feud, and Cheryl quite busy herself working behind the scenes of Wheel of Fortune.

With their crazy schedules, they never knew which of them would get back to Richard's place first on any given night, but whoever did would start dinner, unless it was a night they planned to go out.

But they usually preferred to stay at home. A simple dinner with wine and candlelight, followed by dimming the lights and popping in a movie to watch while they snuggled together on the sofa was just about as close to heaven as either of them could imagine.

Although she wasn't living with him, Cheryl had a key to his place, spending all her evenings with him, then going back to her apartment at the end of the night.

It was a Friday night, and Cheryl walked in the door, knowing by the absense of Richard's car and the quietness that he wasn't home yet. As she changed into some comfortable clothes that she kept in his closet, she heard him pull up.

Cheryl rushed to the door to greet him with a hug and a kiss, but he looked absolutely downtrodden, the weight of the world on his strong shoulders quite apparent to her.

"RIchard," she said softly, helping him off with his jacket and loosening his tie, "what's wrong? You look like you've been rode hard and put away wet... did you have a bad day at work?"

He sighed deeply and shook his head. "You have no idea, darlin'... give me a few minutes, please?"

"Of course," she said with a kind smile, knowing there were times when he needed a bit of space after a difficult day. But she'd never seen him this down before. Cheryl watched as he walked down the hall and headed to the master bedroom, hearing the water from the shower beginning to flow.

After a while, he came out to the living room, wearing black jeans and a burgundy t-shirt, his hair still damp from the shower. Cheryl quietly put a glass of wine on the end table by the sofa where he sat, kissing his forehead gently.

"I know you usually prefer a cup of tea, but you looked like you could use something a bit stronger tonight," she said. "I'll just read for a while and let you relax until you're ready to talk, ok?" She began to head to the easy chair across the room.

Richard took a long sip of the clear red ambrosia and looked at her. "No, please, Cheryl, come over here with me. I"m sorry if I seemed snippy with you..."

She smiled and took her favorite spot beside him, nestling in to cuddle with the love of her life, resting her head on his shoulder and embracing him.

"Don't be sorry," she reassured him, "You must have so much stress doing what you do, having to be 'on' for the cameras all the time. But this is your home, your haven, and you don't have to be Mr. Happy Go Lucky all the time. You don't have to put on a show for me or be anything other than who you are."

Richard stroked her hair. "Thank you, my love. You have no idea what that means to me right now. I ... we got some bad news on the set today..."

Cheryl looked into his troubled eyes. "What is it?"

Richard's face turned cloudy, as if he were fighting to keep control of his emotions. "We've just gotten the axe from the network," he said quietly, "They just gave us notice that we're being cancelled."

With a surprised gasp, she looked at him. She knew he was a big tease and a jokester, but she could tell that this was no joking matter. He was serious, dead serious.

"Oh my god, Richard, I... I am so sorry..." she said softly as she fought back tears. "What happened? Why did they cancel the show?"

He touched her face and laughed. "Wheel of Fortune... you guys have been killing us in the ratings for some time now, but I had no idea it would ever truly be the end of us." Richard smiled softly and looked at her. "Irony's a bitch, isn't it?"

Cheryl sat up and folded her hands in her lap, looking down. "I don't know what to say. I... I feel so bad about the whole thing." She looked at Richard. "The last thing in the world I want is for this to come between us, so I'm going to quit my job tomorrow."

Richard put his arm around her and squeezed her. "Don't you dare! I would never dream of standing in the way of you and your career. It's not your fault we got the old heave-ho, love." He kissed her gently on the lips. "I would never let something like this stand in the way of our happiness."

Kissing him back, she smiled. "You're more important to me than that job, I'd do anything for you, for us. Even quit my job."

"And I love you too much to let you do that," he replied.

"I love you too, Richard," she said with a bittersweet smile, "but at least let me do something to help you feel better..."

She thought for a moment. "You don't have anything planned for the weekend, do you?"

"Yes, spending every moment with my sweet, thoughtful, sexy, traitorous girlfriend," he laughed.

Cheryl playfully punched his arm. "Very funny. You should be a comedian."

Richard laughed. "I am!"

"Really?" she teased, "Since when?"

"Ouch!" he exclaimed, clutching his chest, "You wound me to the quick, my lady..." he chuckled.

Cheryl grinned. "You're lucky I didn't throw tomatoes. Anyway, you hang tight and pack some casual clothes, and I'll be back in a couple of hours for your surprise."

"Yes, ma'am!" he said with a great flourish as she left him with a quick kiss.

In slightly less than 90 minutes, she returned.

"Alright, let's go!" Cheryl jokingly ordered him.

Grabbing his duffel bag, he cheerfully obliged as they hopped into her black Chevy pickup and drove away.

They drove for over an hour, and despite his questions, she wouldn't tell him where they were going. So the little boy in him decided to make her tell him, and if she didn't, at least drive her crazy in the process.

"Are we there yet?"

"No, not yet," she laughed.

"Oh, okay," he replied. "Hey, Cheryl?"

"Yeah?"

He paused and grinned. "Are we there yet?"

"Richard!"

"Well, are we?"

Cheryl dissolved in tears of laughter, wiping her eyes so she could see the road. "Alright, alright, you win! Remember how much fun we had camping?"

He smiled and raised a brow. "Mmmmmm, I vaguely remember....something about a beautiful sky full of endless stars.... making s'mores..... and the sweetest kisses..."

"And falling in love," she said with a wistful smile.

"And falling in love," he agreed, leaning over and nuzzling her neck, kissing it gently.

"You're distracting me, mister," she grinned, "don't make me pull this truck over!"

"And what would we do if we pulled over?" he asked, smiling mischievously. "Maybe I wouldn't mind..."

Cheryl rolled her eyes, but secretly relishing the lovely image that his words brought to her mind. "Just behave yourself, it won't be long until we get to our campsite."

Sure enough, they soon arrived at that familiar spot in the Arizona desert where they spent that magical weekend months before. They jumped out of the pickup and just held hands for a moment, breathing in the fresh air and looking at the beautiful scenery that brought back such fond memories.

"Please tell me you brought the s'mores fixings," Richard said with a small, wistful smile, "I can still remember how you taught me how to make them."

"And I still remember how you taught me new ways to *enjoy* them," Cheryl smiled as she tilted her head up to kiss him.

Leaning in to his ear she whispered "Actually, I brought something different this time...but something that should be just as much fun." He merely sighed a contented sigh in response.

She got to work quickly building a fire as Richard walked around for a few minutes to work out the kinks from the long ride and his stressful day.

"Are you hungry?" Cheryl asked, "I have some stuff to make sandwiches in the cooler if you want something."

"No, I'm fine, thank you," Richard smiled. "But why don't you let me help with that fire, my love?"

"No, this is your weekend to be pampered," she protested, "I want you to relax and enjoy yourself, forget all your troubles for a little while." She touched his cheek. "You do so much for me, it's about time I do something for you."

Kissing her softly, he replied "Darlin', you do more for me than you'll ever know. Do you realize just how wonderful it is to see your sweet, beautiful face at home when I walk in the door at night?"

"I look forward to seeing you every night too, Richard," she said, putting a pot of water over the fire. "When you come home and take me into your arms and kiss me, you make the rest of the world fade away."

They sat in front of the fire on two folding chairs, as he poked at the embers with a stick. "This is a very special place to me, Cheryl - it always shall be. I'll never forget how we finally found the courage to confess to each other how we really felt, right here, in this very place."

She smiled. "Yes, this will always be our spot, right here." She arose when she saw that the water was at a full, rolling boil.. "And now, I think it's time to make a few more memories...."

Richard looked at her with an amused, delighted grin. "What have you got in store for me, my love? Whatever it is, please be gentle..."

Cheryl giggled. "It won't hurt a bit, I promise!"

She reached into the wooden box of food and retrieved two hefty mugs and a jar of hot chocolate mix. "I thought we could sip cocoa under the stars, what do you think?"

Richard looked puzzled but he smiled. "Yes, thank you ..."

Spooning the mix into the mugs, then filling them with hot water and stirring them, she sat them on a little folding tray in front of them. "Wait!," she exclaimed as he reached for his cup. "It's not ready yet..." She went back to the truck and returned with a can of whipped cream.

Richard's eyes twinkled. "Now that's my girl! I knew you wouldn't let me down, darlin' " They both laughed as she sat back down and spritzed a large, white cloud on top of each of their cups.

Richard took a long sip of his hot chocolate, leaving behind a large blob of cream on the tip of his nose, and more on his upper lip and chin.

"You look like Bob Hope posing as Santa Claus!" Cheryl giggled.

He chuckled. "Well, then, come sit on Santa's lap and do somethin' about it, little girl..." She stood up, and he gently pulled her down onto his knee. "Clean me up, love, I'm such a sticky mess."

"Oh you are, indeed..." she purred softly as she gently, slowly bathed his face with her tongue, lapping up the sweet cream like a hungry feline. With every lick, she felt her body go hot, and heard his breathing grow more rapid in her ear.

"All better!" she smiled.

"Much, much better, thank you," he said with a sly smile. "And now it's your turn."

She followed suit, taking a drink of cocoa and getting whipped cream on her mouth and chin.

"I can't take you anywhere," he said, moving close to gently, sensually lick the cream off of her. She closed her eyes as his tongue sought out every drop, the heat and moistness urging her own tongue out to greet his, tentatively at first, then allowing his tongue to delve deeply into her eager mouth.

After several lovely minutes, he whispered "It's getting late, love, why don't we turn in for the night?"

She arose, but looked disappointed at the thought of ending their confectionary kisses...until she saw him grab the whipped cream.

"We'll be more cozy in our sleeping bag," he smiled, "I've certainly not done with you yet, my darlin', not by a long shot..."

They hopped up into the bed of the truck, and Richard took off his blackwatch plaid flannel shirt as they both kicked off their boots and Cheryl zipped their sleeping bags together. He lay down and patted the space next to him, and she slid in beside Richard and snuggled close.

"I love you, Richard,' she said softly, caressing his cheek.

"And I love you too, Cheryl," he replied. "Now, where were we... oh yes..." She looked up at him and smiled into his sparkling grey-green eyes. "Lay your head back and open your mouth," he told her.

She did so, and closed her eyes as he dispensed a puff of whipped cream into her mouth. Cheryl gently allowed the foamy mass to slide down her throat in one smooth gesture. She looked at him with a big grin.

"Stop that..." Richard said in a squeaky voice, clearing his throat, "Stop...*ahem* Stop that right now," he said, still squeaking and grinning, clearing his throat again. "You're putting such unmentionable thoughts into my pretty little head, darlin' " They both laughed.

"Now, let's try this again," he said softly as he hovered over her. Her mouth opened to another flurry of cream, but this time she kept it there for him. Richard began to lick away the mound of whipped cream at a maddeningly slow rate. As he did, he watched her face, a combination of amusement and overwhelming passion. As he worked through the cream and finally reached her waiting lips, he plunged his tongue into her mouth and kissed her deeply and slowly.

Cheryl, feeling like electricity was pulsing through her veins, sighed and gently tugged the bottom of his undershirt out of his jeans, so she could slip her hands underneath and caress his back.

She held him tightly as his mouth found its way to her neck. Richard moved away momentarily to add a dab of the cold whipped cream to her heated skin there, gingerly clamping his mouth to that spot, alternating between sucking and flicking his tongue, causing Cheryl to moan softly and dig her nails slightly into his back.

After a few moments, he lifted his head, looked into her eyes and smiled, tenderly touching the lovely bruise with his fingertip, and leaned down to kiss her once again.

Cheryl and Richard lay in each other's arms, reveling in the moment, in their love, in each other.

"Richard," she said softly, "you are just so unbelievable... the way you make me feel."

"And I feel the same about you, my angel," he said softly, gently rubbing her back. "In fact, I have something for you.' He reached into his pocket.

"Do you remember earlier when I said it was ironic the way this day turned out?"

Her voice was low, remembering the news he gave her earlier. "Yes, I remember...."

"Well," he said, "it wasn't just ironic that you work for Wheel of Fortune. What's even more ironic is what I had planned for us this very weekend."

Cheryl looked at him seriously. "What?"

"Well, I was going to give you this," Richard said with a soft smile, holding out a small black velvet box. "This was the weekend I was going to ask you to marry me."

He touched her face tenderly. "Of course, this day has turned out a lot differently than I'd originally planned, to put it charitably." He smiled. "But if you'd still consider marrying an old, out-of-work bum like me..."

Her eyes filled with tears as she laughed. "Well sure, now you can cook me dinner every night!" Cheryl looked into his gentle, loving eyes and kissed him. "Yes, I would be so honored to marry you, Richard."

"Thank you, you've made me so very happy." She saw Richard brush aside a tear of his own as he slipped the diamond and white gold ring on her finger. "Well, my love, where would you like to go for our honeymoon? Anywhere you want to go."

She smiled. "I don't care where we go, as long as we're together. But I do have one request..."

"Anything for you, my precious angel."

Cheryl's eyes glowed in the moonlight as she looked at him. "On our wedding night, before we head off to wherever we end up going on our honeymoon... bring me here. Please." Her face betrayed a deep love and longing for the man who had absolutely, completely stolen her heart away.

"You said before that you wanted our first night to be special, and I can think of nothing more beautiful and special than to love you right here under the desert stars, in this place that means so much to both of us."

"Oh yes, my love." He put his mouth to her ear and whispered, "It will be magic, I promise..."

"I know it will," she sighed, trembling slightly at his breath and his words in her ear. "In your arms, it couldn't be anything less than amazing." She smiled at him, snuggling closer. "I'll even bring the s'mores."

He had the most mischievous grin on his face as he replied with a kiss.

"And I'll bring the whipped cream...."

THE END

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