The Promise Of A Lifetime

© 2004 All Rights Reserved
by B. S. Raven
Disclaimer see Chapter 1


Chapter 15


Fletcher removed her pack, and helped Finley to sit down on top of it. The smaller woman almost fell over, but strong arms caught her. “Finley, you have got to stay awake.” She removed her gloves and gently patted the paleontologist’s face. “We’re almost home. I have to get some of this snow off so I can pull the tarp off, then we’ll be on our way to a nice warm fire, but you’ve got to stay awake. You hear?” She continued to pat the cheeks gently.

Finley reached up and caught one hand, “I’m awake. Hurry,” she pointed to the snow mound.

“Just a few more minutes,” she put her glove back on and picked up the made-shift trekking pole she had been using and started raking the loose snow to the opposite side of the snowmobile. Within five minutes she had it down enough that she could reach the tarp. As she grasp the end tightly and clomped to the opposite site, the weight of the snow in her weakened condition was more than she could pull. The trekking pole went back to work. Presently the tall woman was able to pull the tarp and remaining snow off the green shining mobile.

Fletcher’s backpack was strapped into place. Then she helped Finley straddle the craft with her backpack still on. Quickly she jerked the tarp off the dislocated snow and whipped it back and forth across the mound to release any loose snow. Carefully she placed the tarp around the shivering woman then hoped aboard. The motor roared to live on the first attempt. Pays to spend a little more money for a better snowmobile, the Park Director thought as the snowmobile lunged forward as it was given gas.

The wind whipped across Fletcher’s face as she opened the craft up as much as she thought safe on the winding trail. In the back of her mind lay the thoughts of the accident and where the predator might be at this moment. Doubt he would stay around and let his footprints be track-able. More than likely he was out of there as soon as he set off the explosion. Well, you had your fun you son-of-a-skunk, but there won’t be a place you can hide from me. I’ll track you to the ends of the earth. You almost killed the woman I love, and that is not acceptable. You’d better find you a nice hole someplace and crawl into it, because I won’t rest until I cave that hole in over you with my own form of justice. That is my solemn promise, you bastard.

The snowmobile came to an abrupt stop on the porch of the cabin. She was off the craft before it had come to a complete halt and was unwrapping Finley from the tarp. Finley sank to the porch as Fletcher tossed the tarp over the still warm machine. The door was quickly opened before Fletcher returned to the sitting woman and lifted her as if she was a feather. As she cleared the doorway with her bundle, she kicked the door shut with her boot.

“We’re here Finley.” She sat her down on the sofa and removed her gloves. “Gotta get you out of those wet pants and boots,” she squatted down and attempted to untie the shoestring on the boots. “To hell with this,” she reached to her boot and brought out her knife. Within seconds, the strings were cut from bottom to top and the boots and sock removed. The knife was replaced in its sheaf as she hauled the shorter woman up off the couch and undid her belt and zipped the pants down. Long fingers made quick work of the parka and tossed it to the side before she pushed Finley back on the couch and jerked at the hem of her pants. The pants came off with effort, although Finley’s body was flouncing about like a rag-doll from the effort. Fletcher quickly reached up and attempted to pull down the bikini’s, but when they seem to be stuck, the knife was again removed from its sheath, and two quick cuts and the under-panties were jerked from the shivering body.

Fletcher ran into the bedroom, and snatched a jogging suit and pair of socks from the chest and pulled the comforter off the bed and she dashed back to the sofa.

“Need to get that pullover off you, and get these dry clothes on, so you need to try and stand for me, okay?”

The paleontologist made no effort to rise, but was hurriedly pulled to her feet and as large hands quickly dispensed with the pullover. “Good thing this bra fastened in front, or it’d met the end of my blade also,” her voice impatiently filled the room. The jogging suit was finally on the smaller woman and the pair of socks quickly pulled over very icy-cold feet and the shivering body wrapped in the comforter.

The Park Director had a large blaze going in the fireplace before she thought of her own personal comforts and needs. She quickly dispensed with the uniform and boots, and pulled on a much used sweat-suit and knee-high socks before she went to the stove and started a fire. Within a minute, the coffee pot was filled and sat on the burner. Fletcher moved several cans and bottles on the food shelf and found the bottle she was seeking.

“You’ll have something hot in just a minute, but until then, take a sip of this apple wine.” Long fingers twisted the cork out and she squatted on the sofa next to the bundled up woman. “Here, I’ll hold it for you, just take a sip or two,” her hand went behind Finley’s head and pulled up to allow the bottle to reach her lips.

A gurgled sound came from Finley’s throat as she shook her head no more and a little of the wine sloshed on her lips and chin. Quickly Fletchers hand went up and wiped off the liquid.

“Cooo…cold,” the woman whimpered.

“I know Honey, but you need to take a sip of this, then I’ll massage your feet and legs.”

Finley’s lips parted as she accepted the rim of the bottle between them and allowed a small amount to trickle into her mouth. “Good, now I’ll see about your feet.” She re-corked the bottle and lay it down on the sofa before she slid off onto the floor and unwrapped the feet.

“Fle…Fletcher, listen to me…my…my core is way too cold. I need immediate heat, or I might go into shock.” Finley struggled with the words.

“I know, Honey, I know.” She rubbed the one foot and leg before going to the next. “They aren’t warming up fast enough. Damn…” She pulled the socks back on the small ice-cold feet. “THE SPRING!” she exclaimed as she jumped up and ran to put on her boots and parka. She dashed into the bathroom and snatched two towels from the rack and dashed back into the living area and squatted beside Finley.

“Sweetheart, I’m taking you to the hot springs. I’ll take the comforter, but you’ll have to straddle the snowmobile.” The woman was lifted before she finished her explanation and she pressed the small frame into the wall as she opened the door and stepped onto the porch. She shifted Finley in her arms as she pulled the tarp off and sat her on the back of the machine. Quickly she reentered the cabin and snatched the two towels from the sofa, ramming them into the front of her half zipped parka before she scampered out the door, slamming it shut behind her.

She lifted and unwrapped Finley in an instant, and sat her cross-legged over the rear seat. The comforter was wrapped around her quickly before Fletcher mounted the machine and it roared to life. Within a minute, she was lifting Finley off the craft and clomping through the snow to the edge of the steaming springs. Her hand reached inside and pulled out the two towels and tossed them on a damp rock ledge beside the spring. Standing Finley on the towels, she unwrapped her, dropping the comforter to her feet before she snatched her top off and slid the pants and socks to the towels. She picked up the small woman and sat her down on the ledge next to the warm water.

It only took her a minute to shed her own boots, socks, parka and sweat-suit before she joined Finley on the ledge.

“Co…coo..cold,” blue lips quivered.

“I know, I know.” She slid off into the spring, then turned to ease the smaller woman into the water. “I know you aren’t suppose to do this, but it was the only thing I could think of to get you warm in a hurry,” she pulled Finley to her and slowly sank until the warm water touched Finley’s chin.

“Ohh…feels so good.”

“Yeah, it does.”

Fletcher held Finley in this position for a couple of minutes, then slowly began to swirl her around, making sure her chin was just above the waterline. “Try and wiggle your toes, and move your feet and legs if you can. I’ve got you so you won’t sink. Can you do that for me, Finley?” She asked as she held the trembling woman.

Smaller arms wrapped around her back as Finley leaned against her forehead against the Fletcher’s. “I’d do anything for you, My Wonderful Rescuer.” After several attempts, Finley started to whine. “It hurts! The tingling is awful.” Her forehead started to slip down Fletcher’s, but the taller woman tightened her hold and drew her closer to prevent her head from sinking into the steaming water.

“That’ll go away, but you’ve got to keep wiggling and moving them.”

Without warming, Finley burst into tears. She felt strong arms tighten around her and hold her closer, if that was possible.

“Shhhh…it’s okay, I’ve got you.” Fletcher took a deep breath and continued murmuring calming phrases in a low voice, a hand caressing the dark hair.

Eventually, the tears lessened and Finley sniffled in embarrassment, pulling away a bit. “They say a good cry is cleansing.”

Nodding sheepishly, Fletcher replied, “Well, you can cry on me all you want.” Fletcher swirled her around as she laid gentle kisses on her cheek and ear.

“Fletcher, the pain in my legs and feet is bearable, but the pain in my heart is not.”

Fletcher gulped in silence, her nervousness growing by leaps and bounds. What did she mean, the pain in her heart wasn’t bearable? Actual pain, or the happenings between us? The tall woman was almost afraid to ask, but if Finley was in physical pain in her heart she needed to get her out of the pool and to the hospital immediately. “Finley…”

Finley sensed the nervousness and leaned her head against Fletcher’s warm cheek. “How could anyone hate so much that murder was their only remedy? Besides that, my heart hurts that someone was so callused that they destroyed such a priceless piece of history.”

Relief swept over the tall body. She continued swirling the smaller body, getting closer and closer to the spring itself. “Don’t think the site was a contributing factor, or even that the individual knew it what was inside. Physical violence is never the answer, Sweetheart. But, sometimes brute force might seem like the only option to someone…given certain circumstances.”

“Name one situation where brute force is acceptable.”

“To protect someone you love.”

Finley raised her head and tried to see the eyes of the woman holding her. “Fletcher?”

“I’d protect you by physical force. Actually, I’d give my life to shield you from harm.”

“Oh, Fletcher,” she sighed gently.

Fletcher returned the intense gaze.

“I feel that way too,’ she said softly. “I felt the powerful tug of destiny, that first moment I laid eyes on you.”

Their lips met. A soft kiss. A tender kiss. It deepened. It became a kiss of commitment…a commitment they both choose with open hearts.

Fletcher’s eyes left hers, and she buried her head in the richness of Finley’s damp hair. They spoke no words, for there was no need for words. Both felt the depths of the contentment…an eternal contentment that rose up within each. Peace as neither had never known. Joy filled the circling bodies as both had known it could be. They were fused together by a timeless commitment of joined souls.

***

How long the two women circled in the warm springs wasn’t important; or that the two women had kissed each other repeatedly causing more than Finley’s feet and legs to warm up to somewhat of a hotter temperature than the natural hot springs. But when the snow began to come down in a thick sheet, both knew it was time to get out, even if it was reluctantly.

“Your feet and legs comfortable enough to get out now?”

“Do we have to get out?”

“Look at the snow, our clothes are getting covered. We need to get back to the cabin and….”

Lips silenced hers.

Oh, well, another few minutes won’t hurt, Fletcher thought, but a sudden sharp ringing in her head made her change her mind.

“Honey, I’d stay here with you forever, if you want, but…” Her voice tone sounded urgent.

Finley heard the timbre and sensed something was wrong. “Fletcher, what’s wrong?”

“We need to get back to the cabin. I need to take you to the hospital to make sure you’re alright.”

“That’s not…” Finley stopped. In all the commotion of the last many hours, she had never suspected anything wrong with Fletcher. “Darling, don’t start off this relationship with you not being completely truthful with me. Is something wrong with you?” Her arms tightened around Fletchers body, if that was possible.

Fletcher attempted to shrug it off, but Finley persisted. “Fletcher Bucannan, are you hurt?”

“We need to have the hospital check you out, and while we’re there, Maggie needs to take a look at my ear.”

Finley’s face paled. “Which ear? Oh, Allah, what’s wrong Fletcher?”

“Calm down. Calm down, Sweetheart, don’t go ballistic on me.”

“BALASTIC! You haven’t seen me ballistic.” Her hands went to Fletchers head as she turned it one way then the other attempting to see any injury.

“Calm down, Honey.” Fletcher reached up and removed the smaller hands from her head and kissed each palm in turn. “When the blast threw us into the wall, the right side of my head hit a bulge on one of the stones and when I came to, there was blood coming from my ear.”

Finley swirled around in the water to get a look at Fletcher’s ear.

“The water has washed away the blood so you can’t seen anything. However, the ringing in my head is getting louder, and I want Maggie to check it out, okay?”

The smaller woman grabbed Fletcher hand and started for the stone bank and their clothes. “You should have said something, Fletcher. You should have told me…God, you were only thinking about me. You could have a concussion, or your brain could be swelling…”

Fletcher pulled the frightened woman back into her arms and kissed her soundly. “Slow down. Don’t get all worked up.” She kissed her again, but had the kiss broken by Finley, who scrambled up on the rock bank and held her hand down to help Fletcher out of the water.

“Thanks, but I can get out by myself if you’ll move back a little.” Fletcher said as she stepped on a rock that acted as a step and placed her hand on the ledge. Quickly, her body was out of the hot springs and standing beside Finley who handed her a towel.

They quickly dried off and put on their clothes. As Fletcher had not put boots on Finley to come to the, she picked her up in her arms. Finley started to protest, but Fletcher told her she didn’t want to take the chance that Finley’s feet or legs would get damp with only socks on and that she was more than capable of carrying her to the snowmobile.

The comforter enclosed Fletcher’s body as well as Finley’s arms found their way around the Park Directors neck.

Back in front of the fireplace, Finley insisted on Fletcher sitting on the sofa and allowing her to examine her ear closely under the beam of a flashlight. “Oh, Darling, the passageway is almost shut from the swelling, but blood is seeping through the opening. We need to go,” she said, tossing the light down on the couch and jumping up. “I’ll get my spare boots on and we’ll be off.” Her lips brushed Fletcher’s forehead as straightened up and ran into the bedroom.

“I’m going out and get some of the snow off the SUV and turn on the motor so the…”

“Don’t you move from that sofa. I’ll help you with the truck, just give me another minute,” she said as she rammed a foot into the boot.

“Okay, but can I get a cup of coffee?” She smiled, as she got up and went to the stove.

“Beloved, I can tell now, you and I are going to tangle over a lot of stuff,” Finley squatted down and began tying the boot.

Fletcher picked up a mug, and turned to Finley. “Sounds like you and I are going to have an eventful next fifty-sixty years.” A big grin covered her face. “Would you like a cup?”

“Yes, but we need to hurry,” she said, standing and going back into the bedroom and returning with her other parka. This one was a bright red one with matching gloves hanging out of a pocket.

Fletcher handed her a mug and turned to pick up her own. “Just drink a little to get you warm inside.” She raised the coffee to her lips.

Finley held the cup to her lips and blew across the top of the coffee before she took a sip. “That’s good,” her eyes rolled with pleasure.

“Hmm, yes it is.” Fletcher agreed.

Fifteen minutes later they were one the snow covered highway headed to town and the hospital. After a short discussion, Finley had reluctantly agreed to Park Director driving.

On the way, the Fletcher called Maggie to met them at the hospital, and the park to have a team, headed by Jamison, at the site at first light to make a through search of the area. By now, the snow flurries had covered any traces, but Fletcher wanted the area combed for anything that might let them know who was behind this.

It was no longer snowing as the green park vehicle maneuvered its way down the highway towards the hospital. Just as the lights of the town came into view, the car phone rang.

Fletcher reached for it but had her hand caught and placed back on the steering wheel. Finley picked up the phone. “Yes.”

“Chief, Finley? Are you two alright?” Jamison asked anxiously.

“We’re on our way to the hospital. Fletcher’s head…the blast slammed her head into the wall of that concave. It’s swollen and there is blood coming from her ear.”

“Good grief, what…are you okay?”

“I landed in icy water up to my waist. My feet and legs were pretty numb, but Fletcher got me to the hot springs before any serious damage was done. Fletcher has insisted that Maggie see me also, but I’m worried about Fletcher’s head.”

“Can she talk, Finley? If possible I need to talk to her for a minute.”

“Okay, but make it quick. I’ll hold the phone up to her other ear.”

“Jamison, I’m alright, just a ringing in my head, but need my sister to check it out.”

“I’m glad to hear that Chief. Now what in Mother Earth’s name happened?”

“Someone blew up the overhang with us inside.”

“How did you get out?” came the anxious question.

“Crawled out. You know that concave wall, well I kicked a hole in it, we crawled through to the other side. There was a small tunnel on the back wall that came out in an opening about halfway down Eagle’s Falls on the ridge side.”

“Hell fire, that’s half a mile or more,” Jamison whistled into the phone.

“Tell me about it. My knees and elbows will take weeks to get skin back on them. Jamison,” she changed her tone, “After you and a security crew look around at the overhang, I want just you and Max to go over to the Falls. Take tackle and a hand hoist with you. Just inside the opening I want it seal it off with marker stones above the ridge. It doesn’t have to be completely sealed up, but I want enough placed in there that when I show the sheriff, and tell him that when I pushed Finley out the top, my boot dislodged part of the sides and it caved in.”

“Consider it done, Chief. I knew there was a wind tunnel…”

“Jamison, there was more than a tunnel. It was a condemnation chamber with three skeletons in it. They had been killed in the same fashion as those at the Passage Site up in Swisher, sealed in that cavity with even the burrow we climbed through being stoned up. I don’t want anyone to know about it. Do you understand?”

The young ranger was silently processing her supervisor’s comments. As a Seneca, she knew the remains at the hallowed place they called Passage Site, had been brutally killed for violations of a Seneca traditions.

“I understand, Chief. Consider it done.”

“Thank you Jamison.”

“What are you going to tell the sheriff about the overhang?”

“Not much, just that Finley is here examining some geological matters. He doesn’t need to know about the bird, or the remains.”

“You got that straight, and don’t worry about Max. He’s not only Seneca, he’d do anything you asked and keep his mouth shut regardless.”

“That’s why I chose him, Jamison. I don’t want you discussing the original site with anyone either.”

“Tammy doesn’t even know, Fletcher. Besides Finley, you, me and Weahan’s family, no one knows and that’s the way it’ll remain. Tammy believes Finley is here for dinosaur bones or those lava rocks like they found up near the border years ago. That’s….Chief, if we’re the only ones that know, who in the hell tried to blow you two up?”

“Have no idea, but don’t think it had anything to do with the site. I think it was mean for me, but it meant leaving no witnesses either so the perk waited until Finley and I both were in the cavern to set off the explosion.”

“Who in the…never mind. I’m on my way to the park to organize the security team, and I want to get to the area before the sheriff and his crew track up the region. You got any further instructions, Chief?”

“Nope, just be careful, Jamison and make sure everyone is armed properly.”

“Don’t worry, Fletcher. If the creep is still out there, we’ll find him. Oh, boss, if you need anything, Tammy is on her way to the hospital, just tell her.”

“She didn’t have to come…”

“I couldn’t keep her away, even if I wanted to, and it wasn’t an issue. We’re your friends, Fletcher, and we’ve even grown rather fond of Finley, and that’s what friends are for.”

“Well, you might as well know, Finley and me…well…we...ah…”

“Hot damn! You finally realized you were in love with the Bone Collector. Ha ha, just wait until Tammy hears Fletcher Bucannan has flagged her long-house. Hey…when’s the joining ceremony?”

“Keep it up, Jamison, and you will know what being snowed in at Albright Pass really means.”

“Okay, okay. Have to give it to Finley, she had more nerve than anyone I know by taking on someone like you.” The ranger’s laugh could be heard through the phone.

“We’re at the hospital, Jamison. I told the night CO to call the sheriff at o-seven hundred. That will give you time to get to the site and look around before they can even get organized.”

“Okay, Chief. Don’t give them any trouble about staying in the hospital if they thinks it necessary.”

“Drive carefully and Jamison…”

“Yes, Chief?”

“Thanks…thanks for everything.”

“No problem, Chief.”

Finley hung up the phone. The SUV pulled into the emergency entrance and into a visitors parking place. Finley was out her side of the door before Fletcher put the brake on. She opened the door on Fletcher’s side and extended her hand.

***

Maggie entered the room on the second floor to find Finley lying beside Fletcher on one small hospital bed and slowly caressing the side of her face between nibbling kisses.

“Jorgensen your ministrations for my patient is duly noted, but as you are also my patient, I want you back in your own bed.” She flipped the chart open and scanned several reports. Her eyes lifted to see Finley hadn’t moved.

“Can’t she stay here Sis? She is….”

“She’s what? Cute, cuddly, a good kisser?”

“Yeah, yeah, and most definitely” the tall woman grin matched that of the smaller woman.

“You will have the staff in an uproar, and what if Mom comes back…”

“Several of the staff has already caught us. Finley got pats on the back and Mom already knows. She’s okay with it, so can’t she…”

“Nope, not while I’m your doctor, and if she doesn’t get back in her own bed, I’ll have you moved to ICU so fast…”

Finley sat up and looked directly into Maggie’s eyes and saw an uneasiness that she didn’t like. “Would you settle for me sitting in the chair next to her bed? Please Maggie?!”

The physician hesitated, and then nodded towards the chair.

“Until I do a few more tests, I don’t want her head jarred about, Finley. I want you,” her pen pointed directly to her sister, “to keep still for a few hours. If you don’t, I’ll give you a shot that’ll knock you out.” Maggie sat down on the edge of Finley’s empty bed.

“Okay, Okay. Damn, you’re as feisty as Finley.” She pulled the sheet up to her chin and placed her hand on the smaller woman’s back. Finley slid off the bed and pulled the lounge chair as close to the side of the downed rails as she could and sat down.

“All right Maggie, what’s going on with her?” Finley asked and she took hold of Fletcher’s hand.

“We’ll start with you, Finley.” She went to the end of the other bed and removed the chart. “Except for the obvious stress, you are in pretty good condition. I’m not too happy with Fletcher’s idea of brining you out of hypothermia, but it seems to have worked. All your signs are normal, except for the accelerated heart beat, and…” she looked over at her sister, “we all three know the reason for that particular rate.”

“Thank the gods,” Fletcher’s voice trembled infinitesimally.

“I’m keeping you overnight as I told you earlier…just to be sure. You’ll be discharged in the morning if there are no further complications.”

“Fair enough, but what about her head?” Finley kissed the hand she was holding.

“Dr. Collins from Rochester is downstairs reviewing your MRI now. We should have some results from that soon.”

Fletcher starred at her sister. “All right, now give me the rest of it, Sis.”

“First let me say, I don’t think there is any damage to your brain, but I want to be sure, that’s why Bruce Collins is here. Next, and I know how you like hate things sugar coated, so…” she tossed the chart down on the bed and looked directly at her sister. “The ringing in your head is from a ruptured ear drum.”

“Oh my god!” Finley squeezed Fletcher’s hand.

“Can you fix it, Maggie?”

“Not my specialty, Fletcher. Alan King will be see you in a few days down in Albany, he’s the best ear man I know.”

“The ringing?”

“Will go away…eventually.” Maggie slid off the bed and went to stand by her sister’s bed. “Fletcher, you may have lost most if not all of your hearing in that ear.”

“Oh god,” Finley stood up next to Maggie.

“Hey you two, stop with the sad faces. I’m strong, and I heal remarkable fast. Relax, both of you. I’m going to be okay and so is my ear.”

Tears started trickling Finley’s face. “Oh Fletcher, I’m so sorry.”

Fletcher reached up with one finger and wiped the tears from first one eye then the other. ‘Don’t,” was all she said to the pale face now bent down over her.

“But Fletcher,” a finger was placed over her lips.

“Don’t worry, I’ll be fine in no time.”

“I’m giving you a shot to ease the pain, and I want you to try and get some rest, both of you. In a few hours we should know more and you two haven’t slept in over thirty-six hours.”

“I can use a nap, so bring it on.” She smiled at her sister. “Maggie, thanks for everything, for getting up at four in the morning and for calling those special doctors for me.” Fletcher made one last appeal, “Maggie don’t tell Mom.”

“Can’t keep it from her, Little Sister. She has been my shadow for the last hour and she wouldn’t let up. She’ll be in here as soon as I leave and give the okay. She has three cups of our hospital coffee, and she wants to spend a few more minutes with you both before she goes to the park now that she knows you two aren’t going to croak on us.” She walked to the door and turned. “Get your butt back in your own bed, Finley, and don’t back talk my nurse. I’ve given instructions you’re to have a shot also. Sleep is the best thing for you right now also.”

“But I don’t want a shot, Maggie,” she called to the back of the disappearing doctor. Finley watched the closed door, then turned back to her love. “She is a lot more feisty than me, Fletcher. A lot more.”

The Park Director didn’t get a chance to response for a gentle knock on the door announced the return of Andrea Bucannan. In a cardboard carrier she had three cups of strong coffee.

“How you two doing?” She set the carrier on the tray on the opposite side of the bed from where Finley was still standing. “Finley, those gowns are open in the back, and your white buttocks is being flashed to everyone.”

Finley cringed and grasp for the two folds of the gown. “Good grief,” she turned and sat down abruptly in the lounge chair.

“Want some coffee?” Andrea held out the first cup. After the cups were taken and the lids removed, the veterinarian sank into the lounge chair next to the tray and looked at the younger women. “Okay girls, start at the beginning and tell me what happened and don’t leave out anything.”

***

Finley was discharged the next morning but refused to leave Fletcher’s side. When Maggie made her morning rounds Fletcher had attempted to get her to discharge her also, but Maggie wouldn’t. More tests were run and more a battery of doctors paraded in and out all day and the next morning. Adding to the sheriff department personnel traipsing in and out of the hospital only made the hospital staff very anxious to have the Park Director discharged.

Finley was a ‘pain in the butt’ according to Maggie and the majority of the staff and by noon the following day, they were begging Maggie to discharge her sister and let her come back as an outpatient. After threats from several saying they would quit if the two didn’t go, the physician threw up her hands and finally signed Fletcher’s release.

After Fletcher and Finley walked out the door, Maggie was immediately sat down to a wonderful catered meal and presented with two dozen roses. “Well, she is my sister, you know.” Upon looking at several unhappy faces she added, “and my sister-in-law.”

***

Andrea drove them to Fletcher’s home to find a Sheriff’s patrol car in front of the house. “Sheriff Times is keeping two deputies on duty for a few days, Honey. They will stay out of your way, and I’d feel better if I knew you had some extra protection for a few days.”

“I don’t need the protection Mom. The security system is state of the art, but guess it wouldn’t hurt for them to stay for the night. We won’t need them at the Park though,” she stated as she got out of the vehicle.

“I followed Jamison out yesterday and brought your vehicle home. It’s in the garage. I’ve stocked your refrigerator, and I brought a selection of Finley’s things and put them in your room, and I changed the security code. It’s now the name of your first horse,” Andrea said, not getting out of her new Durango.

“Thank you Andrea,” Finley leaned over and kissed Ms. Bucannan on the cheek.

“Thanks Mom, we’ll see you at the park tomorrow. I like your new SUV also. Never figured you’d get rid of the Grand Cherokee though.”

“It was time for a change, but the Cherokee is in my garage. Plan on using it every now an then,” she blew a kiss to her daughter as she raised the passenger window.

Finley and Fletcher waved as the older woman threw up her hand and drove off.

Fletcher nodded to the deputies, then walked up the steps with Finley.

She opened the door and went to the security box and keyed in five-letter code of ‘cloud’ her first horse’s name. “Sweetheart,” she put out her hand to Finley who was in her arms instantly. “You need to learn the security code and keep it on when I’m not around.”

“Sure, this system is the same as my parents, so what’s the code?” She watched as Fletcher put in the code and activated the alarm. “Now you turn it off.” Which, Finley did without any difficulties.

“Fletcher for the past three days we have talked and talked, but we haven’t…we…”

“Yes, I know. I thought we’d have something to eat, then sit in front of a nice warm fire and …talk and then…”

“Okay, let’s see what your mother put in the frig, I’m starving.”

“When aren’t you? But first, let’s get a fire going so it will be warm.”

They walked hand and hand to the fireplace. Fletcher picked up the striker and let the catch log.

As she stood up and turned, Finley twined her arms about Fletcher’s neck and pulled her head to her. The same leap of excitement was there as their lips met, instead of demanding, she kept her touch reassuring. As her mouth settled on Fletcher’s, Finley felt the flutter of desire in the taller woman’s lips gentled hers into acceptance. She’d never before realized the language of a kiss could be so evocative. She already knew she could raise a firestorm between them. But she now learned that besides encouragement of their mutual joy there was also warmth of comfort, as well as an inspiration for faith in her, the promise of love. This time when hers lips withdrew, she kept her eyes remained closed still, savoring the experience. “Oh, my. You do that so very well.”

“So do you.” No sooner were the words out of her mouth than her lips were on Finley’s tenderly at first, then with a growing fire. Instantly a flame ignited deep within Fletcher, and for minutes it raged unchecked, filling her with joy, with hope, with unfulfilled desire. She had long since lost control when Finley reluctantly released her lip and rained kissed over her face.

“Oh, Fletcher, I love you so much,” she breathed.

“I know you do, sweetheart. And I love you with all my heart.”

Finley looked up at her with a tentative smile, uncertain of what to do next. “Does this mean we can sit on the sofa and neck?” she blurted out, then reddened when she realized how blunt it sounded.

A grin split Fletcher’s face and she hooted with laughter, breaking the tension. “Darn right it does,” she said emphatically, reaching down for Finley’s hand and pulled her gently to the extra long couch a few feet in front of the roaring fire.

Fletcher lowered Finley onto it, then sat down beside her and once more cuddled the paleontologist to her.

***

“I cannot believe that woman’s luck!” Jacqueline threw the folder across the room, scattering the contracts every which way. “It’s as if her native gods are hovering over and protecting her sorry ass for some reason.” Her eyes went back to the newscaster and the breaking story of Park Director Fletcher Bucannan and renowned paleontologist Finley Jorgensen’s remarkable escape from a snowy grave.

She picked up the remote and turned up the sound. “The Sheriff’s Department just released this remarkable story of survival. Three days ago, these two women,” the screen cut to two staff photographs of Fletcher in her uniform, and Jorgensen accepting an award at the New York Museum, “crawled several hundred yards through a tight crevice that ended with Ms. Jorgensen tumbling into the icy waters of an undisclosed location in Adirondack State Park and was pulled to safety by Park Director, Fletcher Bucannan. It is reported that Dr. Jorgensen was doing geological examinations of several formations within the massive state park when an avalanche caught them inside one of the park’s many small cavern.” Jacqueline switched off the large television and the remote joined the papers on the other side of the room.

The tall redhead jumped up off the couch and began to pace. “They’re covering up Brody’s failed attempt on Bucannan, but why is the big question?” She paced back and forth, running both hands through her flowing red hair and shaking it as if to think. Officially, I had nothing to do with it, and Brody hates Fletcher too much to give her any satisfaction as to why or who. “Hell, I’m sure Brody didn’t leave any proof that the avalanche wasn’t natural. He’s too smart for that.” She stopped her pacing and went to the telephone and keyed in a cell phone number.

It rang several times without being answered. “Damn,” she punched end and redialed the number and let it ring. One the fourth ring there was a click and a rough voice answered. “This better be damn important to interrupt my dart game. I’ve got a round of drinks hanging on this last dart.” Brody howled into the cell to be heard over the loud music in the background.

“Brody, is Boudreaux, a newscast just announced that Bucannan and some broad named Jorgensen crawled out of an avalanche three days ago and are alive and well in a local hospital.”

There was silence on the other end. That’s fucking impossible. I saw the explosion, there was no way anyone crawled out of that. The gruff looking man threw the dart at the target and hit the bull’s-eye dead center. Cheers when up and they all rushed towards the bar. All that is except Brody, who made his way through the sour smelling crowd to the men’s room and kicked the door shut. He looked under the two doors to make sure the stalls were empty, then placed the cell phone back to her ear to hear his employer yelling into the phone.

“Did you hear what I said Brody?”

“Ms. Boudreaux just settle down. First off, you shouldn’t be calling me, so we’ll say you were checking on me cutting my vacation short by a couple of days to…” the men’s room door opened and a guy started in. “Get the hell out of here, don’t you see I’m on the phone,” he stuck his fist into the air towards the man, who stepped back and quickly left the room. Brody kicked the door shut again, and leaned against it to prevent further interruptions.

“As I was saying, you called me tonight to try and get me to come back early because of production delays, nothing more. Second, they are obviously giving out false information, as you can be assured it wasn’t a damn avalanche, but you don’t need to know anything about what happened up there. And lastly, until you physically see Bucannan and that twit that was with her, you might consider that the authorities are on a fishing expedition of some kind, probably to find out something about the two women. Trust me, Ms. Boudreaux, there are no clues connecting what happened in the park to me and certainly not to you. If they want to say it was an avalanche, then well…avalanches happened don’t they? You don’t worry, and for the record, I’m going hunting tomorrow with my cousin and brother, and will not be back until the end of the week as scheduled. You understand?”

Jacqueline sank onto the couch, relieved at Brody’s explanation. “You’re a good man Brody. Enjoy your hunting, and know that Cheroot does have the production bogged down and you will have a hell-of-a-time getting the schedule back on track.”

“You tell Cheroot, I’ll kick his as…I’ll kick him all the way to Canada if he don’t keep that schedule someplace close to what it’s suppose to be.” Dirty fingernails scratched the week old beard as he moved away from the door to the urinal and unzipped his pants.

“I’ll tell him, although he’ll probably take off after I do; seems he knows your wrath from the last time he messed up. Your new truck was delivered day before yesterday, a nice fire-engine red one.” The sexy woman drew her shapely legs up on the expensive sofa.

“Thanks for the wheels. Gotta go boss, and you stop worrying. If by some miracle Bucannan did make it out of her last dilemma, there are a whole bag of other events waiting for her…trust me on that Ms. Boudreaux.” He lowered the instrument and pushed the end button.

Jacqueline sat there holding the dead phone. A slow smile covered her face. No reason to worry. Brody is probably right, just a fishing expedition. At that she raised the phone and dialed another number. After a couple of rings a soft voice said, “Hello.”

“Hello yourself, you sexy piece of fluff. This is Jacqueline and I’m sitting here on my sofa without a thing on thinking about you.” She purred into the phone.

“Well, instead of sitting way over there, why don’t you throw on a robe and get over here.” The velvety voice returned the purr.

“Put on a bottle of champagne, I’ll be there. I’ll be there in twenty minutes.” She almost pushed the end button, but put it back to her ear. “Sweetie, how about answering the door with that little yellow see-through thing on?” The chuckle rolled off a flickering tongue.

“How about you get a move on and I’ll show you something that is even better than that little yellow thing you like so much,” the voice was thick with innuendos and seduction.

“Make that fifteen minutes.” The phone was tossed to the sofa as Jacqueline jumped up and dashed to her bedroom.

***

Joy Sara Dean, often called J. S. by her friends and acquaintances, sighed impatiently. “I realize your drab type humor is a defense mechanism, Chris and that you are probably experiencing a delayed distress from being locked up for breaking up the bar and my not seeing you, but I don’t need that kind of excitement in my life. Do you understand that?”

“Yeah, I hear you. I busted his damn head cause he was coming on to you and you make yourself scarce for over a month.” Chris Connor tapped her bear bottle with her thumb before she raised it to her lips and guzzled half the beer down.

“Well, you got me fired, and I had to go up to Rochester and live with my sister and her old man and that isn’t my thing.”

“I’ve got money, you could have stayed at my place. Still can, if you want.” Connor’s cackled of laughter ended in a smoker’s cough. She patted her chest and continued. “Oh, it ain’t much, but…”

“Pride is a valuable, but perishable commodity, Connor. I’m young, pretty with a mind like a spider’s web and a body that would make Barbie envious, so what makes you think you could satisfy someone like me?”

“I’ll tell you this J. S., you move in with me and you’ll keep pride intact, cause I don’t want that commodity from you…just some hot sex for…shall we say, until we both can’t stand it no more.”

It pleased J. S.’s vanity to see the lust on other men and women’s faces when she walked into a room. Men and women would nudge each other and say, “Now what I wouldn’t give to have a piece of that.”

“I’ll ask you again Chris, what makes you think you can handle me, even for a night?”

“I know what I want, and I have a philosophy about what I want.” Connor pantomimed a pistol shot with her thumb and forefinger.

“How so?” asked Joy Sara Dean.

“Sugar, it’s like being praised for buying a large deluxe GMC truck. I mean, if you won one or even stole one, there might be some distinction in it, but any fool with a fat wallet can obtain one, so what constitutes the triumph? So if a fat, not overly attractive, middle-age woman snares a beauty, then that’s a coup. I can rent sweet things by the hour, so think about it, why would I be willing to take you on for a long-term lease if I didn’t think I could curl your toes.” Connor smiled and finished the beer.

“You’re pretty confident in your abilities,” J. S. shook her head.

Chris smiled. “My skills have been tested many times. I’ve never had a complaint.”

“Will you stop!” J. S. said, giving her a sideways glance.

“Sure, if that’s what you really want,” she picked up the fork and raked it through the Mongolian beef and rice dish.

J. S. toyed with her shrimp lo mien. “If you want to try it a night or two, and if it doesn’t work out, you’ll let it go, and we both walk away.”

“Sure, whatever rows your boat,” she murmured. “But I can’t wallow around all day, I have a new job, and I work ten hours shifts.”

“I thought you told me a month ago that you had come into some money and didn’t have to work right then?”

“I did, but I don’t want to squander it all away, and I like this new job over at the newspaper. They got an old press that I can make hum…Hey you,” she pointed to the young Chinese behind the cash register, “Turn that up, I want to hear that newscast.”

Connor tossed the fork down when the new announcement about Fletcher and Finley was broadcast. “Damn, that woman has more than nine lives.”

“Who you talking about?” J. S. looked up at the overhead television and then back to Chris.

Connor’s face was getting redder by the minute. The stout woman lowered her eyebrow and gave her dinner companion a shocked expression. “None of your business who I’m talking about,” Chris said briskly. “I’m involved with a deal right now and once it’s concluded, you and me could take a little trip. How’d you like to go down to Florida for a week or two?” She asked, realizing she had been abrupt with the woman she hoped to seduce, so she smiled and offered her first choice of the fortune cookies.

J. S. took the cookie. “Don’t ever talk to me like that or use that tone with me again Chris. Not if you want to get into my pants.”

“Sorry sweetie, just had an unfinished business deal on my mind and forgot my manners. You ever been to Florida?” she asked, but her thoughts were on how she was going to carry out her obligation to Jacqueline and collect the remaining nineteen thousand dollars. Cutting the brake line didn’t work, I wonder how much trouble it would be to get some of that poison in the storage room?

***


Chapter 16


Finley buried her face in Fletcher’s chest and let the sobs and the tears take over. Fletcher just held her close and let her cry. The Park Director was aware of the jerkiness of smaller woman’s breathing and the effect upon her was making it difficult not to break down with her. Theirs really was a destined union. Was there any possibility that they would not be happy together? Finley hoped not, because she knew there was no chance that she could ever be happy without the tall woman in her life. She realized they were connected by powers that were undeniable, and the tears that fell, were ones of happiness.

For a long time they stood wrapped in each other’s arms until finally Finley’s sobs lessened, her tears dried up and Fletcher got her own emotions under control.

She dried her eyes and blew her nose, then looked up at Fletcher with a tentative smile, uncertain of what to do next. “Does this mean we…we…need to do anything about your tribal customs before we…” she blurted out, and then reddened when she realized how blunt it sounded.

A grin spilt Fletcher’s face and she hooted with laughter, again breaking the tension. “Nooo, I’m a leader of my clan, Honey and can choose my own mate,” she said ardently.

“I don’t have to ask your mother or some of the clan elders or something?”

“Nope. Just me.” Fletcher leaned in and kissed Finley’s forehead. “However, this is going to take a little getting used to for me,” she said as she rubbed her cheek in her hair. “For so long I’ve had to stifle all the sharp, urgent impulses that tormented me whenever I was with you. There were times when I didn’t think I could stand one more minute of the temptation to just up and ravish you. It was difficult, and I often had to walk away before I broke down and made an even bigger fool of myself.”

She straightened her shoulders and turned her face up to Fletcher and locked her gaze with hers. “You weren’t giving me a choice either. We just seemed to butt heads and all I wanted to do was love you and for you to love me. Fletcher, I never had any intention of just having an affair with you. I guess I knew almost from the beginning that I wanted more than that, and it frightened me because you were so distant and didn’t seem to care.”

Fletcher took a deep breath as she felt tears behind her eyes and sobs choking her throat. “I guess I’m not very perceptive. You should have come right out and told me to get lost, although you did tell me to go to hell that first day up on the trail. I’m sorry I’ve put you through so much. I just couldn’t help myself.”

“Fletcher, you are dearer to me than life itself.” She didn’t raise her voice, but the anguish in it stopped Fletcher even more effectively. “I love you more than words can say. I want to be near you. You make me feel so safe in your arms. You’re the most wonderful thing that ever happened to me and when I look in you eyes I'm lost in a world of magic and love. I’m consumed by a love so immeasurable that I know it goes beyond everlasting”

“That’s exactly how I feel about you, Finley. I Love You. I love every little thing about you --Your sexy smile, the sound of your voice, and the magic in your eyes. I love your gentle touch and the warmth I feel at your side ... I love dreaming about you, and letting go with you. I love each and every once-in-a-lifetime moment I share with you. Today, tomorrow, forever. If you still want me, I’ll cherish you until you until the end of time. Because my love for you goes beyond forever…you see Finley, forever just won’t be long enough. That’s the best I can offer you. It’s all I have left.”

With tears still spilling down both their faces, their gazes clung, their commitment to each other was complete.

Finley finally buried her face in Fletcher chest again, and both let the sobs and the tears take over. They held each other close and cried tears of joy.

For a long time they sat wrapped in each other’s arms until finally the sobs lessened, their tears dried up and both women got their emotions under control. The older woman reached in her back pocket and handed her a handkerchief. “Here, sweetheart,” she said. “Dry your tears, and I give you my solemn vow that I’ll never deliberately make you cry again for the remainder of our lives.”

Finley knew that was a vow she’d never break…that is, if it were at all in the tall woman’s power. She’d been right when the tall woman had said fifty or sixty years, for that was all she wanted. The realization that she had found her eternal love had brought on the tears. It was overwhelming. The emotional charge was more than anything she had ever experienced. She’d make Fletcher so happy that she wouldn’t be able to live without her, not that she thought she ever would.

She dried her eyes and blew her nose, then looked up at her with a tentative smile, uncertain of what to do next.

Fletcher gently pulled Finley to her and their lips met. Tenderly at first then, the kiss deepened. Fletcher hand slowly moved down from across her back and down her arm and back up again to cup her breast, making her catch her breath as she felt her nipple harden. The large hand moved to her hip and kneaded it gently, sending pinpricks of fire to her core. Fletcher lowered her head and brushed her lips back and forth across hers until she was lost in a swirl of sensations.

There was no more talking for a while as she planted light kisses at the corners of Finley’s mouth, her closed eyelids, her chin, then back to her mouth. This time she claimed it with a mastery that told her control was not as absolute as it had seemed. Finley opened to her without hesitation and welcomed her eager, caressing tongue that probed, explored and tasted her as if she couldn’t get enough.

Through the haze of pleasure, she remembered that she’d never liked French-kissing with other women, but with Fletcher it was deeply intimate and wildly exciting. When Fletcher broke it off she moaned with disappointment.

Fletcher pressed her cheek against her chest. “You like that do you?” she asked huskily.

“Oh, yes,” she answered with a sigh.

“So do I. Oh, darling, you can’t possibly know how much I like that, but we’re pretty combustible together and I want to make this last as long as possible.”

She gathered Finley’s heavy hair to one side and kissed her nape, sending tingles down her spine. “I want to make love to you, not just have sex. Do you understand?”

She could have cried again, but this time from pure happiness of finally making love with the tall woman. She probably knew what she was saying better than she did, or at least would admit to herself. Fletcher was telling her clearly that she cared enough about her to want the commitment of true intimacy, not just quick relief.

Her arms tightened around her neck. “I know what you are saying.” She raised her head and nuzzled Fletcher’s throat.

“That’s what I want, too. I want to hug you, kiss you, stroke you and make you forget all the heartache.”

She felt the taller woman shiver as she nibbled on her earlobe. “Fletcher,” she groaned. “You’re no help at all. Just listening to you talk about it is doing unmentionable things to me. How about changing the subject?”

She allowed herself a secret smile as she rubbed her right palm across Finley’s shoulder and down her chest to rest against the abs muscles under her blouse. “All right,” she agreed. “What do you want to talk about?”

“I don’t want to talk about anything,” Finley said raggedly as she unfastened Fletcher’s belt and tugged at her uniform blouse. “I just want you to keep on doing what you’re doing.”

“You mean this?” She nibbled her ear. “And this?” She fingered the hard nub of her nipple through her shirt and felt her heart pound.

The undershirt came away from the pants, and she muttered, “Put up your arms.” Fletcher did, and she pulled the garment over her head and flung it to the other end of the sofa, then pulled her own shirt off and did the same with it. Fletcher's white bra clearly revealed large nipples pressing into the fabric.

Finley was wearing a blue satin-and-lace low-cut bra, which Fletcher traced the pattern of the lace on her flesh above it with her finger, then leaned down and trailed tiny kisses along the same path. The tenderness of her lips sent a rush of heat that filled Finley’s breasts and made them feel heavy and pliable.

“You have the breasts of an earth goddess,” Fletcher murmured, as she ran her hands over Finley’s bra. “Intended to nourish and replenish, and so beautiful.”

Finley had always been self-conscious about the fullness of her bosom, but now she was thankful for it. She stroked Fletcher’s back with her fingers. “If they please you then I’m happy.”

Fletcher raised her glance to hers. “Please me?” She lifted both hands and tangled them in her hair on either side of her head. “Don’t you know that everything about you pleases me? The highlights in your dark hair, the sweet innocence that sparkles in your beautiful blue eyes, the lushness of your body, the loving warmth of your disposition, and most of all, that magical smile that is made up of equal parts of sunshine and stardust.”

The tall woman leaned forward and kissed her lightly on the lips. “The one that lifts me out of the deepest pit of despair when it shines on me, and casts me into the darkest inferno when it’s withheld because I’ve hurt you or had harsh words with you.”

Finley knew she couldn’t speak. The lump in her throat was too big a barrier. Nobody had ever said such touchingly beautiful things to her before. What could she say in return? Nothing. She didn’t even try. Instead she tightened her arms around her and took her mouth with hers. She put everything she was feeling but couldn’t say into that kiss-her love, her gratitude, her compassion, and hoped she’d understand.

Apparently Fletcher did, because without breaking it oft she put one arm under her legs and stood. She didn’t miss a step as she carried her through the large room and down the hall to the bedroom where they tumbled onto the bed, still clinging to each other.

The jolt forced their mouths apart and they both laughed.

“So much for taking it slow and easy,” Finley giggled.

Fletcher smoothed the tangled hair back from her face.

“By all the Sprits, woman, what did you expect?” Her tone was light, but she was trembling. “I didn’t know you were going to set fire to me right there in the great room.”

Finley stroked the back of Fletcher’s head. “All I did was cuddle up and kiss you.” Her hands quickly dispensed with the white bra covering Fletcher’s full bosoms.

“That’s all it took.” She sounded as awestruck as she felt Finley lower her head and took an erect nipple in her mouth. “Ohhh…”

Finley explored it with her tongue as she moved to lie partially over her with her knee between Fletcher’s thighs, making her stunningly aware of the intensity of her desire for her. Fletcher clutched her bare shoulders and arched against her with a flaming need of her own, and when she began to suckle at her breast, she felt the pull all the way to her center.

Fletcher cried her name, and she pulled up her skirt and caressed her bare thigh as she shifted her mouth from side of her head to the other. The pleasure the smaller woman kept building in her was so intense, it bordered on an untimely explosion. She tried to shift her body further under hers, but when she rubbed her hip hard against her throbbing center, Finley groaned and clenched her thigh between both of hers as she raised his head.

“We.. .we’d better get our clothes off,” Finley said, her voice gravelly with frustrated need.

“Yes,” Fletcher whispered, but made no move to release Finley from her embrace, or herself from hers.

Finley’s questing hands slid slowly over hers small back from her shoulders, downward past the indentation of her waist, and on to the band of her skirt.

When her fingers slipped under the fabric and started working their way around to the front, she caught her breath and tensed but raised her hips slightly so she could wedge her hand between them and unfasten the button. She couldn’t avoid feeling the dampness between her legs as she pushed past Fletcher’s panties and settled two fingers between the lips of her core. At the contact, Fletcher bucked against her with undulating hips and clenched her hands into the fleshy part of her buttocks, bucking and groaning at her release.

She quickly removed her hand. “I’m sorry,” she said anxiously. “Did I…I didn’t mean for you…”

Fletcher didn’t answer for a moment, but then her hold on her relaxed and she rolled over. “Finley, my darling,” she said breathlessly. “Didn’t you know I was on the edge, just touching me was all it took? I told you we needed to take it slow.”

She turned on her side to face her. “Well, I-”

Fletcher looked at her and grinned. “Never mind, it’s all right. You just caught me unexpected. Contrary to us being slow, it darn sure felt intense and good…too good.” She reached for the hand Finley had been using and kissed it after she licked each finger thoroughly. Finley could barely contain herself with Fletcher’s concentrated effort of her fingers.

“Let’s just say my control is severely tested when you put those little hands on the…uh…sensitive parts of me, and it would be best if we each take off our own clothes.”

She sat up and pulled her up beside her. “On second thought, I want to undress you. Stay right there.” She rolled Finley to her side and stood up.

Fletcher bent over and took off her loafers and pulled off the socks. Fletcher unzipped her uniform pants and quickly pulled her beige briefs and pants down her legs to where she could step out of them.

Finley lay there fascinated. She couldn’t tear her gaze away from Fletcher’s body as she undressed herself. Finley blinked several times at the tall shapely figure standing stark naked before her. Fletcher was absolutely magnificent!

Fletcher touched her shoulder and snapped her out of her trance. She blinked, and realized that she’d been staring.

Fletcher smiled as she hunkered down in front of her. “What’s the matter, love?” Her voice was soft. “Didn’t you ever see a naked woman before?”

She shook her head. “Never one as beautiful as you, Fletcher.”

Fletcher looked both startled and pleased as she leaned forward and kissed first one breast, then the other. “I’ll treasure that remark always, but you did see me at the hot springs” she murmured, and bent to slip Finley’s expensive deck shoes off. Putting them aside, she reached around her waist to unzip her skirt. “Now stand up.”

“Well all that steam and frost, and it was a bit dark, I never got a really good look.” She said as she rolled over and stood.

Fletcher pulled the skirt and half-slip down to pool in a circle at her feet. Then she reached for her panties, and suddenly she was shy about removing that last barrier. She burned to enjoy her, but she wanted Finley to indicate it was right for her.

Finley put her hands over hers at her hips. “Fletcher, please hurry.” She looked down at her love. “I don’t think I can do this slow stuff anymore.” She looked away and felt the hot flush in her face and neck. Now she’d really done it. She was an anxious ninny…

She caught her bands and tugged gently. “Sit down, Finley.” She did, making room for her between her knees. Fletcher moved her hands to the top of her thighs and rubbed them slowly from the knee to the hip and back again. Finley’s muscles tightened all the way to her waist, and a rush of liquid heat made her squirm.

“Please Fletcher, I can’t wait any longer,” she said pleadingly. Again she felt the blush. “I’m sorry. I know I’m behaving like a ninny...”

Fletcher leaned forward to touch her mouth to her navel, sending ripples of desire through her. “Don’t ever apologize for wanting to be loved. I just want it to be special for you.”

The tall woman laid her cheek against her silk-covered stomach. “You’re a sweet and loving enigma. A study in contradictions.”

Her thumbs were stroking up and down the inside of her thighs as she talked, concentrating her attention on the tunnel deep in her most intimate recesses.

“There am times when you seem to know just what to say to me, where to touch me, how to look at me, to drive me right over the edge,” she continued, her voice thick with passion. “Then at other times such as now, you’re charmingly raw and demanding.”

Fletcher started trailing kisses down her belly. Spasms of fire rocked Finley, and she grabbed her on either side of her head and stiffened.

“Fletcher!” It was a cry of both need and pleasure. “Oh, Fletcher, please.”

The tall woman stopped her descent but continued the kisses. “Please what?” Her tone was blurred with desire. “Please stop? Or please continue?”

Finley clutched her hands in her hair. “Continue…you torturer,” she moaned. “Just do something quick. I think I’m going to…to fly apart.”

She was in too much of a fog to know how Fletcher managed it, but then they were both on the bed and the tall woman was hovering over her. She felt her strong hands stripping off her panties, exposing the area that was now so eager to welcome her to it.

Fletcher lay down beside her, and ran her hand gently across her stomach. Finley’s muscles clenched, as she leaned down to follow her hand with his mouth.

She writhed under her nibbling kisses, and her hand lowered to cup the throbbing, wet heat of her. Her fingers probed and tantalized until Finley dug her nails into her back and cried out with overwhelming need.

Then there was no more waiting as Fletcher positioned herself over her core and joined her mouth with her fingers. The union melded them together in a rocking rhythm surpassing anything Finley had ever imagined.

She spread her legs wide only to draw her knees up quickly and place her legs over Fletcher shoulders and give herself up to the convulsive cadence of her thrusts that drove deeper and deeper until they released her earthly ties and sent her rocketing to the heavens. It was like the fourth of July, but she wasn’t watching the fireworks, she was the fireworks exploding into myriad pieces of color and design.

For a long time afterward they clung to each other, united in both body and soul, and hovering between heaven and earth. The celestial sphere where Fletcher had taken her was magical, a fantasy of sensations too blissful to describe, too powerful to deny.

When Fletcher finally lifted her head and started kissing her way back up the perspiring body, her head was caught with two hands and she was pulled up the remainder of the way to have Finley’s lips capture hers passionately. The smaller woman put her arm around her and rolled over so that the taller woman was on her back and she was lying on top of her.

She snuggled against her and laid her cheek on Fletcher chest between two still fully erect taunt nipples. Fletcher’s heart was still pounding. “Fletcher, that was…” She rubbed her thumb across a nipple. “It was wonderful beyond description. I didn’t know it could be like that.”

Fletcher’s hands roamed over her buttocks. “Neither did I,” she murmured huskily. “Believe it, Finley, neither did I. I suspect that you’ve bewitched me. I don’t know any other way to explain the exhilaration.”

She kissed the hollow at the base of Fletcher’s throat. “Don’t even try. It’s like attempting to explain a miracle. Let’s just be thankful for it.”

Fletcher’s arms tightened around her. “I’m thankful for you. I don’t know whether you were sent to me as a punishment or a reward, but with rewards like what just happened I can survive a lot of punishment.”

“You’ve more than atoned for any wrongs you may have committed, my darling,” she assured her. “From now on I’m going to make up to you for all the wrongdoings committed against you.”

She twined her legs with Fletcher’s and covered one erect nipple with her mouth. She caressed it with her tongue and then repeated the fondling on the other side. “Do you think we can do that again soon?” she asked lovingly as her seeking hand skimmed down her curved side to her hip.

“Slide down a few inches and find out for yourself.”

She did, and found Fletcher’s curls very wet. “You’re more than ready,” she moaned.

“I’ll try not to come so fast this time,” she promised. “This time we’ll make it last,” Fletcher chuckled.

Finley sat up and straddled her hips. “Don’t count on it.”

The paleontologist tipped her chin up and kissed her softly on the lips before she could speak. In just seconds Fletcher’s entire body was molten with yearning as she responded to lover’s touch. Finley kissed her again, tracing her eyes and caressing her nose as her hands grasped her head firmly and buried themselves in her hair. She devoured her mouth and sparred her tongue into submission with her own. Fletcher’s hands moved urgently over her body, pulling her closer.

“I want you,” the smaller woman said again, as her lips moved gently down her neck. “And I’m going to draw it out, so that your every part of you will be drained,” she insisted with an unshakable determination.

Slowly Fletcher brought her eyes up to her lovers and matched the pools of yearning she saw there. “I want you, too,” she said. “Touch me. Touch me softly…Yes, like that,” she said as she traced her eyes.

Slowly and deliberately Finley nuzzled her ear and sent chills through her as the smaller woman began slowly circling the back of her ear with the tip of her warm tongue. Finley whispered her name and titillated the tracks and the edges of her ears with her tongue. Her hands continued to move gently over her body as they pulled the pillows conveniently around.

Sighing, Fletcher pulled Finley closer until she lay by side and attempted to move above her to become the aggressor, but was gently pushed back with demanding lips and determined hands. Finley’s lips moved slowly over her face, her hair, and skin. She could feel gentleness and wonder radiating throughout her tall frame below her. Her fingers nimbly pinched one nipple languidly, never taking her eyes from Fletcher’s. While she performed the same task for her, the passion in her eyes flared and excitement coursed through her. The younger woman quickly took one nipple in her lips and slowly opened them to allow the tongue to flick across the tip quickly, multiple times. Her mouth moved with hungry urgency towards the other breast and the same ministrations were performed. At the same time, Finley’s other hand made its way slowly down the long body to wet curls. There, long narrow fingers caressed and stroked the mound gently before entering and finding the pleasuring center. Fletcher was transported to a state of rapture she’d never imagined possible. She moaned and murmuring endearments to the woman who covered her body so perfectly.

Nimble, talented fingers of her other hand began to circle the nipple not in Finley’s mouth. The circle began large but gradually the nipple itself was caught between two gentle fingers and caressed back and forth until Fletcher thought the tips couldn’t become any harder.

Finley’s tongue became a flickering fire dancing over every inch of her skin as her hand continued with its sweet massage on the raising and falling center.

Fletcher outlined Finley’s buttocks and gasped and clung to her in abandoned delight when her warm lips covered her breasts again, moving over them in a natural rhythm. Slowly Finley’s lips moved down as Fletcher traced her spine with one hand while the other massaged her shoulder. Fletcher’s fingers on her spine sent tracks of fire through Finley’s loins, as she continued her attention to every detail of the long body.

“Oh, my God,” Fletcher gasped, as she lay back for a moment of sheer delightful agony. “I can’t believe it can be any better.”

Finley readied for her and sent her marauding fingers caressing the hardened center, sending her hips still higher until Fletcher gasped and begged her to give her the final delight.

With practiced use of both tongue and hands she brought her entire body to a pitch of exquisite excitement. Finley merged with her, a great deep spasm sending quivers all the way to their toes. Slowly they rocked, building momentum as she rose above her and swept her away on a powerful sea of sensation.

Their eyes locked. “I love you,” Fletcher gasped. “I love you.” Fletcher gathered Finley to her s they moved with mutual ecstatic abandon, until at last they both shouted in joyous release.

Gradually their pounding hearts returned to normal and their breathing became steady as they lay happily entwined in each other’s arms. Sweetly and softly Finley began to stroke her in a relaxing sensuous message. Fletcher felt an all-enveloping calmness entering every fiber of her being as she began to reciprocate.

“That was wonderful,” she said softly. ‘I don’t think I’ve ever had such an incredible experience.”

“And neither have I,” Finley said, as she dropped a kiss on her shoulder.

They turned over and relaxed into an easy rapport as they deftly arranged the pillows under their heads and pulled the comforter that had been pushed to the bottom of the bed over their moisture covered bodies.

They lay in each other arms and whispered endearments and teased with their bodies until once again, they came together in a perfect, utterly fulfilling union, finally falling into a light sleep.

“Thank you, my darling,” Fletcher whispered when they awoke a little later. “I never thought anyone could make me feel that way.”

“I feel the same about you, Fletcher.” Finley said as her eyes met hers and melted into mutual wells of tenderness.

Fletcher continued to look at her wordlessly for what seemed like an endless moment. She cleared hers throat nervously. “Do you think,” she said softly, “we could think about working this out on a more permanent basis?”

The younger woman looked at her and took a deep breath. She wanted to be completely sure of her intentions. It mattered too much to her. “Are you talking about marriage, Fetcher?”

Finley could see that she was struggling for the right words. Her eyes scanned every crevice of the tall woman’s features, lingeringly over her lips as they moved. “Well, yes, I am,” she said calmly. She felt as if an eggbeater was scrambling her brain. The room whirled around her, until, suddenly a peaceful stillness settled over her. “Fletcher, I’m in love with you, and nothing in the world would make me happier than becoming your wife.”

“Wonderful! How soon? When? Where? Do I need to talk to your parents? Will you move in here right away? Can we…”

Finley covered her lips with two fingers, “Sheeeh,” she shushed her. “We will be married when its appropriate, but we can decide all that later. Right now, we just need to be as one.” She leaned over and their lips became one again…and so did their bodies.

It was a glorious afternoon and night; they spent most of it in bed. And by early morning they were both sated and exhausted. They knew they’d never make it to work the next morning on time. For the past three days and night they’d managed to put aside the cloying shadows of the overhang and had been truly and completely happy. It showed on their face, in their voices, in their laughs, the way they touched each other, and the way they made love.

Both wanted the other to stay that way, happy and content, loving each other with body, and with heart, too. Finally sated, the happy women, surrendered to a deep dreamless sleep.

***

“Every path, every snow bank, every part of a five mile radius was covered by me personally. I crisscrossed the entire area like a fine toothcomb, and I came up empty, Chief.” Jamison sat across the desk from the Park Director, with Max Brand sitting in the chair next to her. “Max and I covered the outer two miles on foot. Then we went an additional five on snowmobiles, which only produced two illegal feeding areas for hunters and one young couple making out at Hopper’s Forge, who were sent scurrying back to their parents.”

“Guess the snowstorm covered the predator’s tracks and anything else that might have been there.” Fletcher swiveled her chair and leaned back. “Thank you both for spending the time out in that weather.” She stood up and rounded the desk and sat on the corner.

“The sheriff’s people couldn’t find anything either. My hopes were with you two, but I didn’t expect you to come up with much. This man is very skilled with explosives, and he knows his way in the woods, regardless of the weather. Should have stationed someone up there the moment you reported your findings, Jamison, but I thought I could give Finley that one last day to finalize her geological data. With the snowstorm and the sleet that started the night you left, I never expected anyone to get to that area.”

“Me neither, Fletcher. It would have taken someone who spends a lot of time in the wilds and a good outdoorsman sense to even make his way through that storm.”

“You don’t have any ideas about who might have done this, boss?” Max inquired as he twirled his hat in his hands.

“Not a clue, Max. I’ve racked my brain, and I can’t think of anyone.”

“Maybe that cook…”

“He wasn’t here long enough, Max, and besides that, he wouldn’t last an hour in the weather we’ve been having,” Jamison interjected.

“Yeah, guess you’re right.”

“It was someone that knows explosives like they know the back of their hand, Chief. The area around the overhang came down in a perfect pattern.” Jamison stated. “It was precision blasting. Would have taken us four or five days, and a lot of equipment up there to dig you and Finley out.”

“I agree with Jamison, Boss. It took an explosives expert, maybe someone from the military, or specialized training,” Max added. “We don’t have many professionals with that kind of ability in this area.”

Precision blasting! A dark thought was forming in the tall woman’s mind. Precision blasting…The kind required in firefighting, construction, mining or…timbering, she contemplated the expert skills required of those professions. Jacqueline Boudreaux’s timber operation has a couple of…Nah, she might be mean and self-centered, and may be a lot of other things, but I don’t believe she’d hire a killer either.

“You need anything else, Chief?”

“Nothing I can think of right now. I want both of you to know how much I appreciate your taking care of that opening for me, and being out in the weather for three days.”

The rangers stood.

“Agreed.” Jamison patted Fletcher’s arm as she went past, “so let’s just forget about that opening. Max shrugged his shoulders and started for the door.

“Thanks again, and both of you need to pick out a night that Finley and I can take you and your guest to the best meal in town. Your choice of places.”

“Well, my wife will want to go to the ‘Smokey Joe’s Smokehouse Lodge’,” Max grinned.

“Yeah, I think that’d be Tammy’s choice also,” Jamison’s eyebrows did an up and down approval dance.

“Okay, both of you get out of here and get back to work. Jamison, send in Mildred with those rosters, please.”

“Will do, Chief,” she saluted as she closed the door.

“Precision blasting,” Fletcher said out loud and she returned to her chair and sat down and leaned back. “Wouldn’t hurt for me to check with the state to see who holds a Class One or Two Explosives Licenses in this area,” her hand went into her desk drawer and brought out her address and phone book.

A tap on the door stopped her from completing the dialing of the state number. “Come in.”

“Here are the rosters you wanted, Fletcher,” Mildred smiled and placed the folder on her supervisors’ desk. “Anything else you need, Chief?”

“Yes, there is Mildred.” She picked up the note pad that she had written the state number on and handed it to the older woman.

“Please call this number for me, and ask for Tom Baxter. See if he can fax us a list of names and address of all individuals that holds Class One or Two explosive licenses.” Mildred took the piece of paper and turned for the door.

“Mildred,” she turned to face Fletcher again, “Ask him to make it the top three rating of licenses and see if he might know someone up in Canada that could get me the same type of list.”

The older woman nodded and exited the office, closing the door behind her.

Fletcher stretched and rubbed her eyes before she slumped over the desk and flipped opened the folder containing the rosters. As she picked up the first list, she sank back in her chair and brought the schedule to her chest.

Her mind went back to a few hours before and the love making with her future wife. She began to get warm all over as a full grin covered her face. With only three hours of sleep, Finley had been reluctant to get up and come in with her, but agreed that she needed to pack her belongs so they could be moved to her new home at Fletcher’s place…now their place.

“Sky Mother, I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve such a wonderful person in my life, but I thank you.” Her appreciative voiced filled the room.

***

The sheriff and a deputy visited Fletcher that afternoon and they again went over the events of four days before. Fletcher stressed again, that they had gone inside an overhand to get out of the weather so Finley could complete her geological data she had been collecting for a week in the area. The small cavern had unusual rock formations and a small concave in the back with a small burrow type tunnel they were examining when the explosion went off and trapped them inside. Fletcher went over their escape again, and about the cave-in at the burrow entrance at the waterfalls. She reported neither she nor the paleontologist had seen or heard anything out of the ordinary during their day at the site.

“Are you certain you didn’t see anyone or anything that made you suspicious up there, Ms. Bucannan, with all your experience?” The sheriff asked for the fifteenth time in the past days. “Not a sight of tracks? It was a clear day…”

“Look, Sheriff, I’ve told you a dozen times already and so has Dr. Jorgensen, we were busy with samples, dimensions, measurements and location.” Fletcher leaned back in her executive’s chair and looked directly into the sheriff’s eyes. “What you mean is who have I pissed off enough to want me dead, as I can’t imagine anyone having any cause against Dr. Jorgensen for exploding tons of rocks and snow down on top of us?” The chair snapped forward as she did. Her eyes became intense as she crossed her arms on the desktop.

“Times, I piss off a lot of people. You violate park regulations and I’m on you quicker than a Blue Jay is when someone is too close to its’ nest and eggs. Furthermore, I enforce the hunting rules to the maximum. Six million acres is a lot of territory and has a lot of game that some hunters feel they ought to be able to take animals when and where they want to, regardless of park policy or the endangered species programs we have in operation here.”

“Do you have any enemies that you might know of, I mean that stand out?” Bill Times asked, hoping to shed some light on the explosion.

“Bill, I do have a couple of things I need to bring to your attention,” she said, looking down at her desk. “There has been two other attempts on my life in the last month.”

“WHAT THE HELL?” The sheriff’s leg slide off his knee and his foot hit the floor with a thud.

“I’ll have my maintenance chief bring over the brake line that was cut on one occasion and the rim that was shot out while I was on my way back from upstate on Old Mountain Road.” She opened her desk draw and withdrew the sealed baggie. “Inside this bag, you’ll find a slug that he took out of the rim.” She passed it over to the still startled sheriff.

“Why didn’t you come forward with this earlier, Fletcher. We might have been able to do something about it.” His was becoming annoyed.

“I thought about it, but this isn’t much to go on and I believed whoever it was would give up.”

“Well, they sure as hell didn’t, Fletcher. This was stupid on your part. We could have kept an eye on you.”

“Wait a minute Bill, there is more,” she reached back into the drawer and removed the baggie with the handkerchief and cigar butt and tossed it across the desk to the sheriff. “The handkerchief is Jamison’s, who found the cigar butt up on top of the ridge above the overhand where someone had been standing and watching the site. She found it the day before the explosion.”

“Bucannan, this is looking really bad. Why didn’t you come forward with this evidence way before now?”

“You’re right, I should have, but Jamison only showed me this the night before the incident. It was beginning to snow and sleet really hard, Sheriff Times, and I didn’t believe anyone would be up on that ridge in that kind of weather. Dr. Jorgensen had some final measurements she needed to make the next day, and as the sleet and snow came down all night and didn’t stop until just after dawn, I was determined to give her that last day she needed. I don’t see how anyone could have been out in that weather and set those charges so precisely. I was wrong, and I apologize for that, but that research date was most important to the work Dr. Jorgensen was doing, and that was to be the last day of the project.”

“Well someone did manage to get out in that weather and you could have prevented what happened because you knew.” He said adamantly.

“Listen you big bag of wind, I used proper judgment and allowed the research to be completed. Delays could have made the study invalid; she had to be allowed to complete her work. The other two incidents were only against me, and as I said before, I thought the idiot would go away. If I had considered for a moment that the first two incidents were connected I would have spoken up sooner. I don’t like the insinuation that I know who’s responsible for this, Times, I don’t like it one bit.”

“Ms. Bucannan, we don’t think…”

“Yes hell you do! You do think I know who did this. Well, I don’t,” she said in a cold, impatient tone. “Dr. Jorgensen almost lost her life and I lost hearing in one ear, believe me, if I knew who did this I’d tell you!” Her voice became louder. “I’ll damn guarantee you, if I knew the son-of-a-skunk, I’d be the one to drag his ass on a chain behind my truck to your office and after finished a few chosen kicks, he wouldn’t be able to hold anything in either hand the remainder of his sorry life.” She slammed her clinched fist down on the top of her desk so hard that both the sheriff and deputy jumped.

“Now Fletcher, you can’t take the law into your own hands,” the sheriff stated weakly.

“Inside this park, I am the law. Why aren’t you and your people out in those ravines searching for the loony-tune that did this?”

“Now…now Chief, don’t go ballistic on me. I understand your position and I can sympathize with it completely. I’ve got several teams out there still, scouring the area and they’ve produced nothing. Hell, our explosives team can’t find any traces of blasting caps or boxes…unless you want us to spend weeks digging and sifting through that refuse down that ravine?”

“That blast was so meticulousness, I doubt you ever uncover anything. But someplace out there is a maniac that has tried to kill a guest of this park doing valuable scientific research and me as well. I want him or her found. I have always cooperated with the local authorities, and have dragged hundreds of hunting violators into your jurisdiction and had them prosecuted. Why don’t you start there?”

“We’re looking into that right now. I’m a good sheriff, Fletcher…you know that. We try and make this a safe county to live in or even come and relax at the park or on the ski slopes. But this just isn’t within our range of expertise. I’ve called in the state’s chief explosives expert, but he can’t get here until tomorrow. We have nothing to show him and it’s snowed three days since the explosion, so that’s probably a waste of time also.” He exhaled in exasperation and placed one leg over his knee again.

“I’ve got my staff calling the State Licensing Board for a list of all individuals that hold explosive licenses. I’ll have her fax it over to you when we get it. That might be worth looking into, as the explosion was so precise that only an expert could have done it.” The Park Director’s fingers were tapping impatiently on the desk, indicating Fletcher’s frustration and annoyance.

“We thought of that two days ago, and we’re going through the list right now. We’ll track everyone on it down and check out their whereabouts on the night before and the day of the explosion.” He said, feeling somewhat defensive with not being able to produce any positive results in the field search.

“In the last five years, we’ve gotten quite a few hunters jailed, fined, or banned from the park. Might check that out also, Bill,” she called the sheriff by his first name to help ease the tension.

“Good idea, Fletcher.” The sheriff turned to his deputy. “See that you continue with the background checks of all those charge with park violations and those that have been banded in the last three years, as soon as we get back to the office, Hastings.” The deputy nodded.

“There are three names on the License list that have had run-in’s with the law,” the deputy inserted. “I’m checking out there whereabouts right now. One died in a construction explosion on a highway job a few months ago, and I’m still checking on the other two.”

“Good, now maybe something will turn up and we can all get our lives back to normal,” she stood and rounded the desk. “I’ve got a ton of past due work, so if you need anything else, just call.”

“Can we get Jamison to show us where she found this butt?” Sheriff Times pocked the two packets and picked up his hat from the floor as he stood.

The Park Director quickly walked to the door and opened it. “Jamison, come in here, please.” She called to the outer office.

Jamison stuck her head in the door, “You wanted me, Chief?”

“Yes, I want you to show Sheriff Times the spot you found the cigar butt. I’ve told him you weren’t sure what the person was doing, but that it looked like he might be watching the overhang. So take a couple of park snowmobiles on the back of your SUV and take them up to that site.” Her voice was nonchalant as if it wasn’t important, and Jamison caught on immediately.

“Certainly Chief, but like I told you when I found the butt, I have no idea who it was or what they were doing up there, and the way I figure it, we won’t find out unless there are some forensics on that butt to point to the person.”

“We’ll decide what’s important rangers, how soon can we get started up to the ridge?” The sheriff asked as he put on his hat.

“I’ll get your coats from the outer office and we can go now if that’s alright with the Chief?” Jamison looked up at Fletcher.

“Take them, and Jamison, show them the burrow entrance at the spring again as well. Don’t want them to think we’re withholding anything.” She turned to the sheriff and extended her hand, which he accepted. “I’ll have maintenance bring up that break line and the rim and put them in the back of your patrol car before you get back.”

“That’ll be fine, Fletcher. Come on Hasting, I need to get my gloves from the patrol car and that camera.”

“Anything else, Chief?” Jamison asked and received a negative nod from Fletcher. The ranger gave a snappy hand salute and left with the two men close behind.

***

It was a little after three in the afternoon, and the tall Park Director had done as much work as she felt she could do with any accuracy. She put on her coat and hat and headed for the general quarters to pick up Finley and her personal belongs. They had talked several times during the day, but hadn’t seen each other since Fletcher dropped her off at the billet early that morning.

She began to smile as she got in her 4x4 and backed out of her parking place and slowly drove to the quarters and kitchen area. She started to get warm all over at the thought of seeing Finley in a couple of minutes. She was humming softly as she parked beside the kitchen entrance and took the steps two at a time. No one was in the kitchen, which was very unusual. As she passed through the double doors and proceeded down the hallway, she recognized the voices coming from Finley’s temporary quarters as being that of her mother, Lira and Burley.

The four women were busy chatting and listening to Finley tell about her skiing experience in some near avalanche or ice hiking she had done with her family in Sweden when the tall Park Director entered the open door, stopped, and leaned against the doorway to hear the remainder of Finley’s story.

Finley had her back to the door and the three women were sitting on the two love seats, captivated as the paleontologist continued the ice caper.

“Dropping down to the river from the road, we encounter an unexpected problem: The river was flowing over the top of the ice cap. The early spring thaw has caused a flood of melt water that surged in icy waves over the original crust, sometimes as much as three feet deep. Our enthusiasm was suddenly dampened, the climbing plan thrown into turmoil with the prospect of frozen limbs and hypothermia.” The younger woman was talking with her hands and the facial expression was one of frigid thoughts of the chilling trek she had taken with friends.

“Finley, that doesn’t sound like fun with the ice and all, why did you continue?” Andrea anxious look was enough for her to explain.

“We weighed the numbness of freezing feet against the rising temperatures-already in the upper 20s-and the possibility that this could be the last climb of the season. So what are a few Popsicle toes?” Finley threw up her hands indicating it was nothing.

“Popsicle toes? Let me tell you I would have found a nice warm pub and had several pints of some really hot cider,” Burley squirmed at the thought of cold feet.

“You went on with all that slush? Darn woman, you are a glutton for punishment,” Lira piped in.

“Remember it was the last climb of the season, and I didn’t know when I’d be back in Sweden again.” Finley grinned, “Besides, it was nothing like that chilly climb a few days ago.”

“Okay, so you had Popsicle toes, was the rest of the trek any better?” Burley asked raised her mug up and sipped the hot coffee.

Finley laughed, “Well sorta, we start slogging through the slush. In the first 20 yards, our boots fill to the brim with ice water, and our feet stung from the cold. This isn't how we like to start an ice climb, but we have no choice-there's simply no other access to the ice wall. A mile later we reach the climb-an ice curtain two hundred feet high and tucked into a notch in the canyon wall. It's good, it's solid, and it’s a beautiful route that cascades down in icy stalactites from the lip above.”

“Don’t tell me you went on with ice water in your boots?” Andrea moved around on the loveseat and lowered her head at her daughter’s lover.

“There is one law in ice climbing, know when to quit, even if you don’t get to do it again for a year. We knew we must conserve enough energy to get down, and we hadn’t even started to climb yet, so…” The younger woman let her foot tap the floor a couple of times. “History is replete with stories of climbers who pushed to the top only to die on the descent, we didn’t’ want that to happen to us, so we turned around and went back to the lodge. Good thing, my two trekking buddies both had frostbite on their Popsicle toes by the time we got back.”

“First sign of your showing any good sense during that visit,” Lira shook her head and smiled as she looked up and saw the Park Director smirking from the open doorway.

Fletcher, who had been leaning with arms crossed in the doorway, grinned. “Ladies,” the tall frame pushed off room the doorway and padded into the room.

They all looked toward the voice, and Finley jumped up and rushed to her. They hugged. “You all packed?” Fletcher asked as Finley’s arms dropped from her neck only to catch her arm with both hands.

“Ready to go. We were just chatting. I told them about my ice-trekking in Sweden on my twenty-first birthday.”

“Yeah, I heard the Popsicle toes part.”

“You’ve got yourself a really nutty adventuress, Fletcher.” Lira stood up and went toward the bedroom. “I’ll help you with one of the bags,” she said as she passed the two women still shaking her head in disbelief.

“Yep, she a cutter all right,” Burley stood and walked towards the bedroom as well, “I’ll help too.”

“Well, I’m not lifting anything, but when you get those bags loaded, why don’t we all have a cup of Burley’s wonderful coffee and she made a special apple pie for Finley. You don’t mind sharing the pie, do you, young lady?”

“Not at all,” she grinned.

“Why don’t you go help Mom, you only have three pieces and we’ll be in to join you shortly. I want a big slice, and I’ll have a glass of milk instead of coffee.”

“Okey dokey,” she tiptoed and planted a quick kiss on Fletcher cheek, then sashayed from the room to join Andrea in the kitchen.

“Damn, she must have put those rocks in this one,” Lira said as she passed Fletcher entering the bedroom door.

“Nope, Jamison has all those boxes up in my office. That’s just her shoes and boots, I think.” Fletcher stepped aside and let the two women pass.

“She sure has a lot of pretty clothes,” Burley scratched her head as she stopped to let Lira get a better grip on her bag.

“Yeah, too many if you ask me,” Fletcher turned to get the last bag and followed the other women down the hallway and out to her SUV.

“Anyone want ice-cream?” Andrea held out the ice-cream dipper over the galleon of vanilla. All heads shook yes as they settled down at the table.

Icarus joined them, standing beside Finley and licking her hand as she reached down to pat the dog’s head. Suddenly her eyes became very large and excited. She looked over at Fletcher sitting beside her and tilted her head. Fletcher did a double take at Finley and the dog.

“Fletcher,” Finley cooed and waited for her reaction.

“What?” At the sound of her name in that tone, Fletcher’s heart raised.

“Icarus.”

Again the tall woman’s eyes went from her lover to the dog and back again.

A smile flickered for a second. “Oh why not. Okay, he can come,” Fletcher’s laugh was throaty.

Finley reached over and kissed her cheek, then joined in the laughter only slightly embarrassed at having her wilds on Fletcher being picked up by everyone at the table.

“Fletcher Bucannan, you are such a softy,” Lira squeaked, with laughter following.

“Just be glad it wasn’t that baby skunk she has taken a fancy too, or you might not be laughing,” Andrea’s fork went into her mouth with pie and ice cream piled high.

“On come on Andrea, you laughed as hard as we did. You know Finley has your daughter wrapped so tightly around her little finger that if she wanted that smelly little skunk instead of this scruffy dog, she be loading it up now,” Lira chuckled.

“You’re so right. She turned into a mush ball,” Andrea chuckled, “But I have to admit, I approve of her choice.” Her hand went out and patted the smaller woman sitting next to her. “You deserve a medal for taking on my daughter, and all the side benefits that go along with it,” she squeezed Finley’s hand.

“Okay, okay, knock it off. So I allow Icarus to come live with us, so…”She looked around the table with a straight face, then burst out laughing again. “So that makes me a mush ball, and I kinda like it.”

“You’re wonderful, mush ball and all,” Finley reached over and pulled her head to her and gave her a soft quick kiss on the lips.

“This is…this is really nice,” Burley looked around the table. “I don’t know when I’ve felt so warm with knowing people like you all. It’s really nice.”

“I’d have to agree with you there, Burley. These really are very special folks, and you are one of us,” Andrea smiled at the robust cook.

“Here, here,” they all said in unison and raised their cups and glasses in acknowledgment.

“Ah shuck, you’re going make me cry,” Burley wiped her eyes with sleeve.

“Come on Burley, have some more ice-cream,” Andrea shoved the tub towards the cook.

Friendships were strengthened that day, and a scruffy looking, cast-away dog went to live in a big house with two loving masters.

***



Chapters 1 & 2
Chapters 3 & 4
Chapters 5 & 6
Chapters 7 & 8
Chapters 9 & 10
Chapters 11 & 12
Chapters 13 & 14
Chapters 15 & 16
Chapters 17 & 18
Chapters 19 & 20



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