The Promise Of A Lifetime

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


Chapter 17


Fletcher met her mother and Finley at the main quarters for lunch before she returned to her office. When she arrived, Jamison and two other rangers were in a circle having an intense discussion.

“What’s going on?” Fletcher asked, taking off her hat as she entered the office. She slipped her coat off when she stopped beside the trio.

“The patrol up at Campton’s Valley came upon a partially gutted doe, Chief. The carcass wasn’t more than a few hours old. The predator only took the hindquarters and left the rest lying there.” Patrol Sgt Adam Haley filled in his supervisor.

Fletcher laid her coat and hat on the counter in disgust. “Was it a suckling doe?”

“Yes,” Haley answered. “They’re scouring the area for the fawn now.”

“Chief, you and I might need to go up there and take a look.” Jamison suggested with urgency in her voice.

The Park Director raised her eyebrows at hearing Jamison tone. “Because?”

“The tracks lead to a snowmobile, and a discarded cigar butt was found. A chewed down cigar butt.” The young ranger emphasized the chewed down part.

Fletcher’s face tightened. “Mildred, call the heliport. Have them get the Huey loaded with two snowmobiles. I want Carl to fly Jamison and me up to Campton’s Valley. Adam, radio the patrol to meet us at the carcass with a flare. We’ll be there in twenty minutes.” She walked around the counter and picked up the phone, punching in the kitchen number. “Mildred, also call Sheriff Powers and tell him to have a couple of his deputies met us at the outcrop above the valley. Tell him we are tracking poacher and that he needs to plan on being out until…” She held up her hand, “Hello Burley, is Finley there? Okay thanks.” Fletcher dialed the medical facility number. “Mom, is Finley there? May I speak to her please?” She signaled Mildred to wait for her to finish. “Hi, I’m going to be gone the rest of the day and maybe into the night with Jamison up to the north end of the park into the next county. I want you to go home with Mother and I’ll pick you up from there, okay? No, I don’t want you to go home alone. Just go home with Mom and I’ll call you later. Ok, love you too.” She hung up the phone and turned to the waiting staff. “Tell him to plan on being out until we track this man down. Have him to call Sheriff Times for a briefing as to why.” She turned back to Jamison, “You’d best call Tammy, as we may be back really late.”

“We might want to tread carefully here Fletcher, by his leaving tacks and discarding that butt,” Jamison said as she picked up the phone, “he obviously doesn’t think he will be tracked, and he is armed.”

“Yes, but it was scheduled to be a really heavy snow fall starting about ten, that didn’t materialize. Perhaps he thought his tracks would be covered as well as the carcass before either could be found,” Sgt Haley interjected.

“Maybe, but Jamison is right. Get two Winchester’s from the gun cabinet, Adam, and an extra box of shells for each of us.”

“You think you’ll need rifles besides our side arms?” He questioned as he approached the locked gun cabinet.

“Make mine the 30-06 in stead of the Winchester 30-30,” the young female ranger said, dialing her partner’s number.

“Just want to be prepared,” Fletcher responded as she picked up an area map and stuffed it into her parka pocket. “Jamison, get us both a compass, and fill our canteens, please. I need to call Sheriff Times and fill him in. I’ll be right back.”

***

The old Huey circled the ascending smoke marker, and landed to the right of the group of waiting rangers. The rangers quickly unloaded the two snowmobiles and waved the helicopter off.

“Come on Jamison, I’ll show you where the tracks start,” the senior patrol ranger mounted his craft and started it up.

“Go on Hewana, the snow won’t hold off for long, look at those clouds there,” Fletcher pointed to the west. “We’re lucky it isn’t coming down like forecasted.”

Jamison nodded, “Don’t worry Chief. If it’ll stay clear for a few hours, we’ll get this horse’s ass.” She mounted her snowmobile.

After looking at the tracks, she motioned for Fletcher. “The right ski has a broken edge which leaves definite markings. I’m going to cover this track so a cast can be made of it. If we find the snowmobile, this will be further proof.”

“Good thinking, Jamison. Tom, call headquarters, have the chopper come back with two additional security rangers with snowmobile and something to make a cast of this track. After they make the cast, I want them to find the fawn before it expires.” Fletcher stopped pacing and glanced in the direction of the tracks.

Jamison went and jerked her poncho off the back of her craft and secured it over the track. “Tom, we’ll need yours, too. We need to have two clear and definite casts several feet apart.”

Several times in the next three hours, the young ranger would dismount her craft and squat in the snow looking at the tracks. After looking around the area and using her binoculars, she would wave her gloved hand in a different direction and remount her snowmobile, taking off in the specified new course.

After four grueling hours on the back of the snowmobiles, Fletcher called a short break for the tired rangers and herself. She radioed the Sheriff’s office their location and was told that two deputies on snowmobiles would join her at that location in ten minutes, to wait there for them. She and Jamison and the other female patrol ranger went behind a large snow bank to relieve themselves while the male rangers went on the opposite side of the trail to do the same.

“He’s stopped zigzagging, Fletcher. He undoubtedly lives in the vicinity of Bixby because that’s the closest settlement around.” Jamison again squatted beside the tracks.

“You don’t think he has a truck waiting for him and his game?” the other female ranger posed her thoughts.

“Nope,” Jamison stood. “If that was his intent, he’d have had it stashed at Barley Grove close to the highway. But he’s cagey, and doesn’t think anyone has found the doe yet, and although he did meander for hours, he has inadvertently come round-about in the direction of Bixby.”

“Here come the deputies, let’s get on with it Hewana. We don’t need to lose the trail because it’s too dark.” Fletcher stated as she pulled her gloves back on and headed for her snowmobile.

“If it doesn’t sleet or snow too heavily, I could track this trail at midnight,” she replied as she waved to the two deputies that were familiar to her, and pointed in the direction the trail was going. The deputies waved back and pulled in behind the rangers.

Winter is normally, a relatively quiet season in the Adirondacks. A time to enjoy the tranquility and sights the Park has to offer, where both traveler and resident are at ease, have occasion to relax and talk, and have fun! A time when the banks in bossy, over-curling drifts, compacting and cementing the snow to make photographic scenes that are breathtaking. It is time to enjoy the park’s crystallized rivers, iced-over lakes, snowed-in forests, and frozen waterfalls. But that was not being enjoyed by the seven person search team that was wind chaffed, and seat weary for the hours on the back of the snowmobiles. To make matters worse, it was beginning to get dark, and visibility to most of the patrol was poor. Only Jamison and Fletcher’s keen eyes kept them on the track.

Jamison slowed her craft and held up her hand for the group to stop. At her signal they turned off their machines and waited as she dismounted and walked towards a ridge ahead of them. She looked around as Fletcher joined her.

“You smell it, Chief?” she asked quietly, turning her nose to the scent coming across the ridge.

“Yeah, smoke,” the tall woman sniffed the air again. “Hickory smoke laced with the smell of charred venison.”

“Roasting over an open pit,” the young ranger added and slowly climbed the rim of the ridge.

“It’s a good half mile away,” she hunkered on the crest of the summit and pointed in the direction of a flickering glow off in the distance.

“Jamison, you have the eyes of an owl,” Fletcher strained to see the light.

“My daddy says I have bat eyes, boss. We’d best go on foot from here, and tell those heehaw deputies to step only where I step and not to make any noise.”

“I’ll do that, and bring the rifles up also.” The Park Director stood and retraced her steps back down the snow-covered knoll.

It took almost an hour for the group to get within sight of the house. There was smoke coming from a pit in the back yard and more smoke circling above the house from the fireplace. In the front yard, two trucks were parked. One was a faded out old blue one, the other a bright, new, red GMC.

“We have probable cause, Chief.” A deputy whispered as he squatted beside her in the snow. “Sheriff Powers said follow your lead, and make any arrests you deemed necessary. With Jamison’s expert tracking and that burning pit, there is more than sufficient cause so what do you want us to do?”

“First radio in, and have a patrol vehicle meet us here.” She pointed to the house. “Do you know this area?” she asked the man.

“Yeah, it’s Turner’s Hollow and if I’m not mistaken, that’s Mark Brody’s place. I was out here on a domestic disturbance three or four months ago when his wife filed charges against him before she left.”

Fletcher wrenched at the name. Brody had been a thorn in her side for years until, finally last year, she had been able to get him suspended from hunting in the park for five years. He had made nasty threats when he was arrested, but she passed it off as being idle annoyance and nothing more. She’d had dozens of hunters banded from the park, and not one had attempted to harm her, and usually all of them were allowed to return to hunting the vast park without further violations.

“Damn,” she sighed, “If I’m not mistaken, Brody works for Boudreaux Timber Ltd.”

The deputy glanced over at her, “Yes, I believe you’re right. I think it was Ms. Boudreaux that posted his bail so he could go back to work.”

“Well, fan out and tell everyone to be careful. I don’t want the jackass to shot one of you…or me,” she whispered as she stood and moved behind a tree a few feet ahead.

Within five minutes, the deputies were banging on Brody’s door. The unshaven man opened it with a napkin tucked in the top of his collar still chewing something. “What the hell you fellows want? I ain’t seen my old lady since she left, and she ain’t coming back.” He bellowed sarcastically, reaching up with one finger and picking at something caught in his teeth with a blackened fingernail.

“Mark Brody, you are under arrest for illegal hunting,” one of the deputies extended a pair of handcuffs.

“Illegal hunting? You’re crazy! I ain’t done no hunting since last week up in Canada with my cousin and brother. Stop shoving me; you don’t need no damn handcuffs,” he stopped abruptly when he saw Fletcher walk up to the light. “I might have know it was you, Bucannan. You won’t give up will you?” He spit towards the Park Director, but missed.

“You’ve gone too far this time, Brody. Be glad you’re out of the park, or we wouldn’t have to bother with the sheriff’s men. I’ll do everything in my power to see you get a long stretch.”

“A long stretch for what?” He scowled, then picked at his teeth again. “I told you boys, you don’t need no handcuffs, and besides that, I wasn’t doing any illegal hunting.” But the deputies forced his hands behind his back and put the cuffs on him.

“We’ve tracked you from Campton’s Valley Brody, where you killed that doe. You have one of the rumps smoking out back,” the senior deputy patted down the man.

“Hell you say, I ain’t been in Campton’s Valley and that is goat smoking, not venison.” The accused nodded ironically before he jerked from the deputies grasp. “It’s goat I tell you…same as what’s on the table.” The deputies again forced the man against the wall.

“Alright fellows, take it easy, I ain’t going anywhere. “Hell guys, my brother and me didn’t even get a buck last week. The only thing we saw were herds of does, and regardless of what Bucannan says, I didn’t even shot a doe up in Canada, much less here.”

“You’d better bag some of what’s on his plate, as well as what’s in the pot. That quarter on the spit needs to be secured and tagged as well.” Fletcher suggested, but never entered the house.

Brody raised his head and said in a firm, clear voice, “You take all the samples you want Bucannan. You can’t prove shit. It’ll be me that laughs last. I’ll be out within an hour,” he hissed, with an unwavering grin. “Just a fine, and I’ll be out--free to conclude a little unfinished business.”

“Why you son-of-a-…” Fletcher started up the steps, but was pulled back by Jamison and Tom.

Jamison threw her arms around the tall woman, locking her hands in the back to prevent Fletcher from tossing her aside. “He isn’t worth it, Chief. Don’t jeopardize what the law will do to him. We aren’t in the park here, and he could walk.”

“Hewana is right, boss,” Tom added, holding her around the waist.

“Okay, okay let go,” the tall woman said, “I won’t break him in two.”

Jamison continued her hold on her friend. “Back up, Fletcher. Cool down and I’ll let loose.”

Fletcher exhaled and shrugged, “Okay, I’m alright, Hewana.”

The ranger dropped her hold, but continued to stand between her supervisor and the open door.

A hideous sneer came from the doorway. “You’re nothing but a damn whisk, Bucannan.”

Jamison and Tom both grabbed Fletcher again. “Easy does it boss, easy does it.”

“You’ve got nothing, Bucannan, nothing. I won’t serve a day.”

“You’ll do time Brody. You violated a court order preventing you from entering the park. You were hunting illegally. You took inappropriate game, and I’ll see that trespassing and reckless endangerment is added.” She jerked her arms free from the rangers.

“You can’t prove nothing. Nothing you hear! You can’t prove I was there, and I’m telling you all the meat here is GOAT!”

“Jamison, you and one of the deputies go check his snowmobile. It isn’t inside a shed, and it’s in the open. Check the tracks leading to this property.” She put up her hands and backed up from the two rangers. “Deputy, you see that cigar butt in the snow beside the steps, I want you to bag for some forensic testing.”

“You think you’re smart, Bucannan, but you ain’t. Cigar butts and tracks can’t prove zip.” He looked up at the sky. The snow was coming down in a steady flow.

“Jamison, get those tracks covered before…”

“Consider it done,” the woman didn’t give Fletcher a chance to finish before she was headed toward the back of the house, but stopped when lights appeared and a patrol car pulled up in front of the house. The Sheriff and two deputies got out and came toward the house. “You got things under control?”

“We need a tarp to cover some tracks out back, sheriff.” Jamison said as she started for the back of the house again.

There was no doubt in Fletcher's mind that this sack of manure in front of her was responsible for the explosion that nearly took Finley and her lives. It was deliberate, preplanned to the letter and he had waited up there for a long time for things to just right for the explosion. But why would someone want her dead just because she was the cause of his being banded from hunting in the park? There had been over fifty men that fell into the same category, and none of them had attempted to kill her. Yet, she knew in her subconscious that this was her assassin, and that she would have difficulty in proving it.

"You have nothing but circumstantial evidence, Bucannan. I won't serve a day for anything, not even for hunting in the park, which you can't prove."

"You're mistaken there, Brody, we can prove you were there by the cigar butt you left near the carcass with your saliva on it, and one of the butts at your door step," Sheriff Powers spoke up as he walked between Fletcher and her two rangers and the handcuffed man. He placed his hand against the man's chest and gave his rights. "I suggest you get an attorney, because we are not only going to level several charges against you for illegal hunting, but one of suspicion to commit murder."

"You're full of crap, Powers," the unshaven man spit on the ground. "If I tried to kill Bucannan, she'd be dead already." He sneered at the Sheriff. "Besides, like I said, there is not proof I was in the park, and I heard about some avalanche down in the park with Bucannan and some other broad, but I was up in Canada at my brother's while that was happening. You guys don't have a thing on me for that, and like I said before, I wasn't in the park."

“We aren’t talking about the avalanche, but about a shot in Chief Bucannan’s tire up on the north highway. I’d be willing to bet that that shot came from this particular rifle,” the deputy held up the gun as he walked down the steps.

“Here’s our search warrant, Brody.” The Sheriff showed the handcuffed man the warrant, then folded it and poked it back into his jacket pocket. “Consider this and the other three rifles in the house confiscated as evidence. If this isn’t the rifle for the shooting, I’d bet my next weeks pay, the one Parker has there,” he pointed to another deputy exiting the house with three rifles in his arms, “will match that slug exactly.”

Brody laughed, “If I’d shot at that bitch, her head wouldn’t have been in one piece.”

“We’ll let the Forensics lab down in the Catskills decide which one did the shooting.” The Sheriff opened the trunk of his patrol car so the deputy placed the rifle inside, then stepped aside for the other deputy to place the other three weapons in the truck.

“Didn’t shoot at Bucannan, and didn’t shoot no deer in the park,” Brody insisted as he was pulled towards the patrol car.

"We have tracks from your snowmobile that matches the one out back in your shed. We have a search warrant for house, property and will be taking the snowmobile, these cigar butts, and the meat from the spit out back, from your pot, and from the very plate you were eating from that will be submitted as evidence of your violating your probation. The warrant also includes the confiscation of any and all weapons, explosives or explosive devices for the possible shooting at the Park Director a few weeks back. An explosion up in the park reeks of you being the finger behind the blast that almost took the lives of a visiting paleontologist and Chief Bucannan. So, I've advised you of your rights, now keep your friggin mouth shut until you have an attorney." The Sheriff motioned to the officers on each side of the handcuffed suspect to get him in the car, then had one deputy to re-enter the house to get a coat for the suspect.

Jamison let go of her supervisor, but stood very close to her as she spoke. "You notice he didn't blink an eye when the sheriff mentioned the shooting a few weeks back. He didn't even ask, what shooting. He just continued that snarling grin of his. I bet they'll find one of those rifles matches the slug you gave to the sheriff," she whispered to Fletcher.

"Seems logical, Jamison, but, I have this sense of him knowing more about what's going on then he lets on, and wouldn't have left that rifle in the house or on his property. It's probably up in Canada at his brother’s or his cousin’s." Fletcher removed her hat and banged the hat against her trousers, causing the snow to fall from the brim of the Stetson.

The Sheriff walked back to where Fletcher was standing. "The Sheriff down your way wanted you to know about the other two individuals that have explosive licenses--said tell you one was a Harold Wove. Wove was in county lockup over in Bisborne for drunk and disorderly," he paused.

"And?" Fletcher asked of the smiling Sheriff.

"The other is our friend over there in the back seat of the patrol car," he answered with a satisfying grin.

"Why that lousy, son-of-...." Fletcher started towards the vehicle, but what blocked by the Sheriff and grabbled again by Jamison.

"Hold on Chief," he insisted as he held out both arms to prevent the tall woman from passing. "We have cause, that's for sure, but we still have to check out him being in Canada at the time of the explosion."

"It was him. You know it. I know it, and that bastard isn't getting away with it by some lousy put up alibi."

"Easy Chief, let the justice system have a go, and if it can't do its job, then I promise you, none of us will rest until he is so shadowed and checked on that he'll think his life is under a microscope," the sheriff promised.

"That's little comfort, but I won't break his neck now...."

"Don't finish that sentence, Chief. I can't and didn't hear anything negative or threaten today, and I'd like to keep it that way." He slapped the shoulder of the woman standing in front of him.

"Come on Chief, we got him. Let the sheriff and his men do their jobs now and us get back to the park. You don't want to give the snake any possibilities of tainted evidence, so let us call the chopper and get out of here." Jamison pulled out her radio and nodded to her supervisor for approval.

The tall woman turned away from the vehicle and replaced her hat. "You're right Jamison, radio the park and have them met us at the that field we passed about a mile back. We'll set out the flares when we hear them coming. Give them the location from your map." She turned to the Sheriff extended her hand. "Thanks. Tell your deputies thanks too."

She started toward the ridge where they had left the snowmobiles then stopped. Turning, she stared at the Sheriff. "Don't screw up on this one." It wasn't a warning, but the tone in her voice left nothing to misunderstand by the Sheriff.

"Count on it, Chief. Everything by the book." He nodded, turned and walked back to the patrol car where he banged the hood and signaled the two deputies to take the man away before he and his deputies reentered the house to collect more evidence.

***

The next day at court, enough evidence was produced to bind Brody over for trial on six or seven counts, including illegal hunting, violating probation and a further pending case of attempted murder for the shooting incident. The prosecution would probably be forced to reduce that charge to reckless endangerment if the slug didn’t match any of Brody’s weapons. Because the evidence was damaging and the Prosecution made it clear that it felt the defendant was a flight risk with his ties in Canada, the judge ordered an ankle location bracelet for Brody. He would only be allowed to go to work and home, and his whereabouts would be monitored day and night until trial.

Brody was released on bond, which was put up in cash by his employer. The hairs on Fletcher neck stood on end when the defendant’s attorney stated Jacqueline Bordeaux had, once again, come to the man's rescue. Although, she hadn't appeared in court, the tall woman knew her ex was also paying the expensive prestigious defense attorney. Was Jacqueline behind all the brutal and heavy-handed events? Fletcher found it difficult to believe, but things were starting to look that way. Even if Brody was the best foreman the timber company had ever had, it wasn't like Jacqueline to waste time or money on someone that was simply an employee, no mater now efficient he might be.

What are you up to, Jacqueline? What connection does Brody have with you that you're handing out so much cash? That's not like you at all. It's always been about making money, having several fast women available at a moment's notice, and even faster cars, but never about wasting money on someone that may flee the country...so, you're feeling really safe about not loosing your bond money...but why? How are you and Brody involved, and what is your hand in all this? She silently questioned as she stood up from the back of the courtroom after the judge allowed Brody to be released on a cash bail bond.

***

Almost two months went by without any unusual happenings at the park or with Finley and Fletcher. The evidence in the Brody case had been sent to the new State Forensics Laboratory that had been established in the Catskills several months before for processing.

Although Fletcher was ever watchful of the events and activities around her and her new relationship, things seemed almost back to normal in the park. Normal that is, if you consider the Park Director went around with a big smile on her face, and looked as if she had swallowed a canary all the time. She was constantly humming and singing and all the staff only shook their head in amazement at that unusual incidence. The employees had praised Finley repeatedly for what they considered a miracle with the Park Director. Fletcher let them have their fun-loving, jovial jabs and would come back with regular threats of station transfer to the tallest, most distant location in the park as punishment. So-events in the Adirondacks were back to “normal”.

A couple of weeks before Christmas, Fletcher and Finley had two houseguests to come and stay with them for the trial. A long time friend, Kate McGuinness the sheriff of Catskill County and her partner, Dr. Carling Reed, the States leading Forensic Pathologist, and Director of the new Forensics Laboratory. Carling was to testify in the trial of Mark Brody. Kate had taken annual leave from her responsibilities in the sheriff’s department to accompany her partner and finally meet the woman that had captured Fletcher Bucannan’s heart… Finley Jorgensen.

This particular evening, the four women were scheduled to go out to dinner in a nice restaurant nearby. Fletcher entered the large living area with two cups of hot tea and handed one to Kate as she sat down next to her on the sofa in front of the roaring fire.

“You think they will be down soon?”

Kate took the cup and crossed her legs. “Well, when they threw me out of the bedroom half an hour ago, Finley was putting Carling’s hair in a French braid.” She blew on the cup rim before she took a sip of the tea.

“You’d think they were sisters the way they’ve taken to each other.” Fletcher drank deeply of the hot beverage.

“Yeah. Kinda nice.”

“Yes, it is.” The Park Director looked over at her long time friend. “Have you noticed how they go from one language to another and never miss a beat?”

“Sure have, it’s like they were long lost buddies and they can’t catch up fast enough in English.” The older woman chuckled at her partner’s chattering with Finley in Arabic, German and Swedish.

“What do you think would happen if we suddenly only spoke Mingo or Seneca?”

“Well, old buddy, I think they’d look at us as if we were attempting to keep them out of the conversation.”

“And?”

“Carling would give me that certain look she has, and then probably speak one of their many languages to Finley, stating ‘I think our lovers are feeling left out’.” Sipping the hot tea, Kate Bucannan’s brows furrowed.

One hand rose in agreement, Fletcher nodded her head. “Finley would probably agree with her, and I’d be the recipient of an evening of loving attention and swift nibbling kisses.”

They both chuckled.

Kate stared into the blazing fireplace. “Remember back in the summer when you and your team of divers were down at the lake helping us locate that missing boat and its owner?”

“Yes?” Fletcher glanced over at her friend and grinned. “Oh, yeah! On the barge I asked you if Carling had a sister?”

“Yep, that’s the time, but you told me if she didn’t have a sister you’d just keep looking.”

“Yeah, I remember. When it’s time, the right one will come into your life.” Choking back tears, Fletcher rubbed her eyes. “Kate, I’m a really bless woman.”

“Another part of the conversation that day stands out in my mind from that day Fletcher is when you said, ‘being in love looks good on you’.”

Their eyes met.

“Well, my friend, it looks good on you.” Kate held up her cup in tribute.

“Thanks. It feels good.” Her cup clicked with the sheriff’s.

“How was it when you met your in-laws?”

“It was really great. Took right way to her dad, and her mother, well, she is a sheer delight. Bold too. She asked me within ten minutes of being there when was Finley and I going to give her grandbabies,” Fletcher gave Kate a wry grin.

Kate let out a sharp whistle. “Phew, it was on our second visit that Carling’s parents asked how many children we were going to have. Not if, or when, but how many.”

Fletcher set her cup down on the coaster. She looked down and refolded one sleeve, her voice low so Kate could barely hear her. “I’m kind of scared of even thinking about children.”

There was something in her voice that made Kate know the feeling, as if some force were drawing them together. “It is scary, Fletcher. I’m petrified of the idea myself.”

Not that she was the only one affected. Kate sensed Fletcher was fighting to hold her emotions, but knowing that only intensified her own overwhelming feelings. It was as thought they were at the same chasm that was impossible to span.

It seemed that they could sit there forever, neither of them speaking, the silence compounding the tension. Unable to endure it any longer, Kate finally screwed up her courage. “I think we both are overwhelmed, not only by how fortunate we are to have these two women in our lives, but the idea of sharing them with little ones is pretty overpowering.”

Fletcher’s arm was braced against the frame of the sofa, her eyes fixed on the flames of the fireplace. “I’m scare stiff, Kate,” she whispered.

Kate made no response for several moments, then finally she turned and looked at her friend, a halfhearted grin creasing her face. “How about we become each other’s godparents? You know, kind of help each other through this having children thing.”

There was a certain edginess about Fletcher, as thought she were dealing with a very awkward situation, and her hands weren’t quite steady as she re-rolled back the cuffs of her shirt. “I’d be happy with that arrangement, Kate. We probably need to run it by our partners. I don’t think that would be an issue with Finley though.”

“Carling mentioned it to me last night when we were getting ready for bed. She planned on bringing it up with Finley today,” Kate responded.

“We’ll sure be two terrified, but doting godmothers, don’t you think?”

“Yes, but you know something, Fletcher, I think we can both handle this. In the long run, I think not only will we be good mothers, but think how much fun it’ll be spoiling our godchildren.”

“You think either of those two women up stairs are going to let us spoil our own children, much less godchildren?” Fletcher’s voice rose.

The looked at each other and burst out laughing.

“We’ll both have the rottenest rug rats on earth,” Fletcher quipped.

“You said a mouthful then, my friend.” Kate replied. “A helluva set of parents.”

“Mommy,” Fletcher said. “I like the sound of that.”

Kate wrapped her arm across the Park Directors shoulders and looked over at her, her eyes filled with love and eager anticipation for the life they both had been given. “So do I,” she replied. “So do I.”

“I want to thank you for going out of your way to come up here with Carling. We don’t see enough of each other,” she said quietly, an odd huskiness to her voice. There was a strained hesitation, then finally raised her gaze and looked at Kate, her eyes dark and very solemn. “This is going to be a difficult trial. I’m sure he’s the one that set off that explosion.”

Her frankness touched a responsive cored in Kate, and suddenly needing something appropriate to say as she set her cup down too. “It wasn’t any big sacrifice on my part,” she responded, her own voice uneven. “I wish there was something I could do to make sure he doesn’t get away with it, but all I can do is lend support. Carling’s testimony about the forensic evidence should at least get him behind bars for a good long time. A lot of things can happen in prison, especially with that jerk’s attitude.”

“Yeah, but he might have killed Finley, and that isn’t something I will ever overlook.”

“I know, Fletcher. But don’t let it eat you. I’ve seen what happens when a person can’t let the hatefulness and ugliness go. I don’t want you to become like that.”

“Neither do I,” Fletcher whispered. “I don’t think I can talk about that anymore right now,” she said, feeling a strange quiver in her chest.

“Okay. Just know that Carling and I are here for you and Finley. You want to talk, or anything else, we’re here.”

“Thanks, Kate.” She sighed meaningfully.

“You’re welcome. So how’s Finley taking to commuting back and forth to New York?”

“She doesn’t like it, but is very excited about the new exhibit there even though it won’t be complete for another couple of months. She wants it just right and is a stickler for details.” Fletcher looked at her watch and shook her head. “She’s having to juggled two hats right now with her taking the position of Director of our Geological and Paleontology section here at the park and fulfilling her obligations to the museum at the same time.”

“I can imagine. It was the same way with Carling before the field lab was finally set up in the Catskills.” Kate said, as she also checked her watch. “Will they hold our reservations?”

“If they don’t come down…” Fletcher’s head turned to the stairs and the sounds of Finley and Carling giggling. “Ah…our other half’s commeth.” She stood.

“Do you hear the dialects? They’ve switched from Arabic to Swedish and then to German all in the same sentence.” Kate stood also.

“We heard that,” Finley said at the bottom of the stairs.

“That has to be the two most beautiful women in the world,” Fletcher nudged Kate standing by her side.

“I’ll agree with you there, Fletcher,” Kate smiled.

“Finley and I were talking about that very thing upstairs and realized we were making it difficult on you two, so we’ve agreed to limit our foreign conversations,” Carling raised herself on tiptoes to kiss Kate. As Kate pulled her close, she whispered, “Honey, I’m sorry for the language thing. Will you forgive me?”

Kate grinned. “Only if you give me another kiss.” The sheriff gathered her into her arms. Their lips met.

Finley wrapped her arm around Fletcher’s waist and looked up at her, her eyes filled with love and concern. “Sweetheart, I’m sorry also. I just don’t get the chance to speak a number of languages with someone I like. But it was thoughtless of me to exclude you. Forgive me?”

Fletcher’s chin fell like lead, leaving her mouth gaping open while her eyes blazed loving flames at the keeper of her heart. “Of course. Do I get a kiss also?” Finley’s lips were on hers before Fletcher could blink.

“Hum, maybe we should forget dinner and…” Finley brought her hand up and brushed her knuckles across Fletcher’s cheek.

Fletcher nodded quietly and dropped her eyes to Finley’s fingers as they settled on her shirt. A sizzling moment passed between them before the taller woman broke the tension. “Our guests…reservations.”

“Later?” Finley asked as her fingers moved over to the pocket area of her lover’s shirt.

Fletcher swallowed hard, “God, you are….”

“Come on, Fletcher. Kiss her and take us to dinner,” Carling chirped from Kate’s arms.

“All right, all right, get your coats on, it’s a good drive.” Fletcher’s nose rubbed gently across Finley’s several times.

***

The four friends chatted non-stop to the restaurant, with Finley and Carling doing most of the talking. Fletcher’s vehicle came to stop in the turn lane and waited for an old truck to pass before she pulled up to the front door.

“It’s packed, so I’ll let you three out here and I’ll park around back.” The Park Director received a kiss from Finley before she opened the passenger door and hopped out. “I’ll only be a minute,” said the tall woman and smiled as her lover closed the door. “Kate, please see our ladies get to our table and order me a hot apple cider.”

“My pleasure, old Buddy,” said the sheriff as Carling and Finley took the extended arms of the older woman and proceeded to the door.

The driver of the old truck did a double take as it passed Fletcher’s vehicle. “Damn! Now don’t that just twist your titty,” a husky voice said, signaling to ease into the center lane of the highway. “And me with plans for having a brew or two over at my honey’s new place of employment on my night off.” The vehicle waited for the string of traffic, then did a u-turn and headed back towards the restaurant. The truck slowed as the bistro came into view. Stabbing eyes watched Fletcher Bucannan saunter round the building and enter the front door of the elegant eatery. “Well, if they’re going in to eat, I have a good hour to get myself something to drink and eat,” the driver mused, pressing the gas peddle as thoughts of an idea began to formulate.

Inside the conversation was warm and friendly, with the two younger women keeping the older ones in stitches with their constant joking behavior.

They were almost finished with the meal, when Fletcher heard Jacqueline Boudreaux’ flirtatious laughter behind her. Kate recognized the voice almost as quickly and looked around to locate the sound. Fletcher started to turn around in the direction Kate was looking, but refused to allow herself to rise to the laughter.

“She’s coming right past us,” announced Kate.

Finley and Carling looked first at Kate then Fletcher.

“She who, is coming past us?” asked Carling as she raised her napkin and dabbed her lips lips.

Kate realized too late that she had brought attention to a former relationship of Fletcher’s, that both of them would rather forget.

“Who are you talking about, Kate?” Finley glanced around the room and saw two beautiful women following the maitre d’.

Kate cut her eyes first at Fletcher, who looked like she wanted to crawl under the table, then eyed Carling. “Uh…well, it looks like Jacqueline Boudreaux.”

“Didn’t you tell me that she was Fletcher’s former girlfr…Oh shoot,” Carling realized the situation might be awkward for the park director and didn’t finish her sentence. Instead she reached for her water glass quickly.

Finley glanced up at the two women that passed directly by their table, but both were busy chatting with each other to notice anyone else in the room. They were ushered to the opposite side of the dinning room to a private alcove. “Which one?” asked the paleontologist.

“The red-head.” The sheriff said softly and immediately placed a piece of chicken in her mouth.

Finley took another quick fleeting look at the woman, who had stepped aside and held out her hand, allowing her companion to pass. “Satte du verkligen på den djävla baconpuggan?” She asked her lover non-chantingly as she raised the fork of asparagus to her mouth.

Water spewed from Carling’s mouth before she could get her napkin. Kate reached over and gently slapped her on the back to help relieve the strangling-coughing sounds. “You okay, Honey?” asked Kate.

Carling’s head went up and down as she continued to cough into her napkin. Finally, she lowered the napkin as she gazed directly at Finley. “I can’t believe you said that,” her head shook back and forth in disbelief.

Fletcher glanced from Finley to Carling and back again. Her fork was placed in her plate and she unceremoniously picked up her napkin. “Do I want to know what you said?

“Probably not,” Finley forked another stem of asparagus into her mouth and chewed slowly.

“You want to tell me what she said, Carling?” The Park Director’s eyes remained on her lover’s face.

“Not really,” came the reply.

“Carling, please?” asked Fletcher again.

“Ok, but remember, I’m only the translator.” Carling gazed at her newly found friend then back to Fletcher. “She said, and I quote, ‘Did you really fuck that bloody piggish fucked-the-shit-out-of bitch?’

Catching her breath, and forcing herself to act normally--if that could be done when absolutely nothing had been normal since Jacqueline walked in the room, Fletcher continued to fumble with her napkin. “Yes, for a brief period, years ago,” she whispered, feeling more vulnerable than she’d ever felt in her life. It was something she hadn’t been proud of then, much less now.

“You’re forgiven for having such poor taste in women. I’m not pleased about a previous relationship myself, so let us agree we’re even. But, be warned, if that Al-Bahira,” she looked sweetly at Fletcher, “And before you wonder, Al-Bahira is a milking she-camel, whose milk is used to be spared for idols and other false deities,” she pointed out as she continued smiling at her lover, “If she comes over here, I can personally guarantee you, there won’t be a strand of that fiery red hair left on her head.” a warm smile and full lips puckered into a kiss then went back to eating.

“I’d be willing to bet she’d do it too,” said Kate as she picked up her fork and was about to continue with another comment before she felt Carling’s hand squeeze her leg. “Uh, never mind. Hey, does anyone want to order seconds on this wonderful chicken?”

“Not me,” stated Carling.

“Me neither,” Fletcher added.

“Well, I certainly will have seconds, I love the chicken and the asparagus.” Finley replied warmly.

Sensing the tension still in her partner, she leaned over and pulled Fletcher’s jacket towards her and whispered in her ear. “You look so cute when you blush. We both have our pasts, which we can’t change no matter how much we want. Rest assured, I’m very positive about our relationship and where we are with it, my Darling. I’m only a little resentful of the she-camel. I love you.” She blew into Fletchers ear and backed off slowly.

Fletcher spoke no words, but she felt the depths of Finley’s contentment and commitment. The joy swelled again within her as the love in her eyes met, and mingled with Finley’s. This was bliss without limit, without end. The older woman would have liked nothing better than to lean over and kiss Finley, but settled for the “later” promise look in Finley’s twinkling eyes.

“We can have all the seconds you want,” Fletcher looked genuinely pleased as she motioned for their server.

The atmosphere at the table went back to the relaxed, pleasant mood it was before the redhead entered the area with her dinning companion. They even had desert all around and several cups of fresh coffee before the four-some left the restaurant.

“Look at the snow coming down,” Carling snuggled closer to Kate and shivered a little from the chilling wind. Kate placed her arm around her shoulders and looked out at the falling flakes.

Fletcher reached over and pulled Finley’s parka’s hood up over her head. “Why don’t you three wait under the canopy while I go and get the SUV?” She flipped her hood up and carefully stepped off the concrete onto the entranceway ramp. “I’ll be right back,” Fletcher’s hood blew back off her hair as she turned towards the corner of the restaurant and hurried down the snow-covered sidewalk.

“It’s about damn time,” cursed the husky voice as a beer bottle was lifted to anxious lips. “I’ve had to run my truck for the heat for the last twenty minutes.” The beer was guzzled and the bottle tossed to the floor.

The stalker watched as Fletcher’s SUV pulled to the front and a tall woman opened the front door for Finley to enter, then proceeded to the back door for a smaller woman and herself. “Too bad you had to have people with you tonight, Bucannan, but that’s the luck of the draw. I’m not passing up a chance like this.” The vehicle was pulled forward from the side of the convenience store parking lot as the lights were switched on. The SUV pulled onto the highway and headed back in the direction of the park. The pickup had to slam on breaks to avoid hitting an oncoming van. “Damn women drivers,” came the huffy curse as both lanes of traffic were check this time before the beat-up truck pulled onto the highway and sped up to keep the taillights of Bucannan’s vehicle in sight.

Carling had snuggled up to Kate in the back seat. The sheriff’s left arm was draped around her shoulder as her right hand held her hand.

“We are going to get in those couple days of skiing you promised, right Fletcher?” Carling asked as she raised Kate’s larger hand to her lips and kissed it several times.

The Park Director smiled into the rear view mirror. “How about all day tomorrow and Sunday afternoon after church?” Fletcher turned her head to Finley. “Sweetheart, you did make reservations for us for both days as I asked, didn’t you?”

Finley’s hand reached out and brushed the side of Fletcher’s cheek. “Certainly. We can hit the slopes tomorrow morning as soon as the lift opens, and we have four slots open on Sunday at one in the afternoon. I thought we could eat lunch at the lodge before we went skiing on Sunday.”

“Sounds good.” Fletcher’s hand reached up and squeezed her lover’s before returning it to the steering wheel.

“This fresh powder will make the slopes very fast,” said Kate.

“Yes, it’s suppose to snow for several hours tonight and we may even have some about daybreak.” Fletcher stopped at the highway crossing and put on her signal to turn left on the road towards the mountain highway that lead to her home. “Maybe just a bit fast for me tomorrow. I’m not as good a skier as Kate or Finley, and I don’t know how well you ski Carling, so if you’ve some doubts, you might not want to take course A or C. Those slopes are tricky.

The women in the back laughed. “Fletcher, she can ski circles around me,” Kate replied.

“That’s right ranger. I grew up on ski’s, but I’m probably not as good as Finley.”

“Ho ho ho, aren’t we the boastful one,” Fletcher teased good-naturedly.

“I’ve skied both Scavengers Ridge and Hardpack Slope on many occasions with my family.” Carling rested her head on Kate’s shoulder.

“Well you shouldn’t have any trouble tomorrow, my mistake.”

Kate moved her arm around on the seat back to make her lover more comfortable. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught a glimpse of headlights wobbling on the road behind them. “You might want to watch out for the vehicle behind us,” she warned Fletcher. “It seems to be weaving on the road.”

“Yeah, I saw it back there at that last curve.” Fletcher checked her rear view mirror again.

“It had better not be doing that on the up coming curves. Those bends are difficult enough to maneuver in daylight and good weather, even for those used to them. Fletcher’s mother and I slid a little earlier in the week when we went into town to shop with Maggie.” Finley turned to check out the lights following them.

Suddenly the lights waved again and started getting closer to the SUV. “Fletcher, I think he’s going to try and pass you,” said Kate as her arm tightened around Carling’s shoulders.

“Turn around Finley, and the all of you hold on,” the Park Director searched the road ahead for oncoming lights then glanced at the mirror again. “Darn, he must be doing seventy and there is no place for me to pull over.”

“Just slow down and let him shoot past,” Kate suggested. “Here he comes!”

Fletcher took her foot off the gas and slowly applied the brakes as the truck came along side them. There wasn’t anything Fletcher could do about avoiding the truck as it swerved over the centerline and headed for the front of their vehicle. Fletcher’s instincts and reflexes went into action as she stomped the brakes and steered to the right a little. The truck body impacted with the front of the SUV and spun completely around before it hit the guardrail and toppled over the embankment. The SUV slid sideways, but Fletcher’s driving skills maneuvered the vehicle slowly around again and brought it to a stop in the right lane.

“Everyone okay?” she asked, looking over at Finley who was as pale as a sheet, her hand rested on her lover’s shoulder. Finley nodded her head she was all right.

“We’re okay back here, but that was close.”

“Finley, please radio the park, tell them to have the sheriff, an ambulance, and a tow truck come here,” she said, unfastening her seat belt and opened the door and stepped out. Taking a bearing as to their location, she leaned back in and said, “tell them it’s the third bend of Snakes Curve.”

Kate got out from the other side. “You have a couple of flashlights?”

“Yeah, in the box in the back.” She bent back down and pushed the release button for the trunk and looked over at Finley who was speaking to the park. She finished the conversation and placed the radio back into the cradle.

“Finley, you need to set out the flares and caution lights both front and back, while Kate and I go down to check on the driver.”

“Okay,” Finley zipped up her parka and opened the door.

“I’ll help,” said Carling as she joined the trio at the back of the vehicle.

Kate pulled out the two caution lights and turned them on. Then took two flares from the safety box. “Do you know how to work these?” she asked both women whose heads affirmed they did. “Good. Make sure you place the flares about fifty feet ahead of the flashers and the flashers need to go at least a hundred yards from the front and back of the SUV.”

“Got it,” Finley said, grabbing the flasher and heading off to the front of the vehicle. “Wait, take this flashlight with you, Finley. Here’s one for you, Carling. Be careful of oncoming traffic, and walk to the side of the road.” The Catskill’s sheriff took command of the situation, handed a flare to Fletcher, who knew it was to go at the front of the vehicle and close to the middle of the road. Kate walked back with Carling for about twenty feet, then broke open the flare and tucked it in the snow in the center of the road. “Be careful, Darling,” she whispered to Carling, who raised her hand and quickly moved down the road.

Kate quick stepped back to the SUV and found Fletcher with a climbing rope and backpack on.

“First aid kit and fire extinguisher are in my pack,” she said, lowering the tailgate and stepping around to her door. Kate closed their door and met Fletcher at the rear of the vehicle. “Ready?”

“Yeah, let’s do it.”

The climb down the embankment was slow and treacherous. Both women slipped on several occasions and Kate’s arm took the impact of a tree trunk when she stepped off a rocky ledge and tumbled into the tree.

“You okay?” Fletcher asked, reaching the older woman.

“Yeah, but I’ll be sore tomorrow.” The sheriff flashed her light down the ravine. “We have about fifty more feet to go, I don’t think we can get down from here.”

“No, it’s all ledges and cliffs here, but…” Fletcher moved her light to the right and along the edge of some trees, “It’ll go a lot faster is we work our way over to those trees, then descend.”

“You lead, I’ll follow.” Kate raised her arm and moved it around in the joint several times. “Carling will kill me if I get hurt, so keep this between us, Fletcher.”

The Park Director stopped and looked back at her long-time friend. “You don’t have to tell me, Kate. Finley is the same way.” She held the light on Kate’s chest. “There isn’t anything really wrong is there, I mean, you only bruised it, right?”

“Just my arm and the shoulder. I’m not as young as I once was, but I’m a quick healer. If it was anything more, I’d tell you and believe you me, I’d never keep anything serious from Carling.”

“Okay.” Fletcher turned and headed towards the trees. “Be careful here, you’ll need to slide off this one ledge to the second ledge below. Only about four feet, but not knowing it’s there, you could end up on the ledge below and that’s about a twenty foot drop.” She cautioned as she squatted down and slid from sight.

“Great, just great,” Kate murmured, stepping to the place where her friend had been and proceeded down the snow bank to join Fletcher who was waiting for her.

Ten minutes later, they reached the mangled truck, which was on its side. “Don’t hear anything, do you?” Kate asked as her light searched around the area and then back to the truck.

“I don’t see anything on this side either,” Fletcher called from the far side of the vehicle. “CAN ANYONE HEAR ME?” Fletcher yelled out.

They listened for any sounds. When none were heard, they climbed onto the side bed of the truck to the cab, where the passenger door hung from only the bottom hinge.

Kate shined her light into the cab and sighed. “I don’t think I can climb in with my arm like this, so you’ll need to go in and check for a pulse. Don’t think you’ll find one, but we’d better check.”

Fletcher squatted down and handed her light to Kate, “With that steering column in her chest that way, I don’t think I will either, but we need to be sure.” She slipped off her backpack, and eased into the cab of the truck. Once inside, she reached up and took her flashlight from Kate who was lying partially across the door opening.

“You recognize her?” Kate asked, as she held the light on the still body.

Fletcher removed her glove and cupped the woman’s face to the light. “No. I’ve never seen her before.” Her fingers went to the pulse point on her neck. After a minute she switched to wrist of the heavyset woman. A last effort at hearing a heartbeat was made by Fletcher leaning in and placing her good left ear to the chest of the body. Finally she rose back up and replaced her glove. “No pulse.” She placed her foot on the back of the seat and hefted herself out of the cab. Replacing her coat, she shinned the light back on the body once more. “I only saw one person in the truck when it passed us, did you see a passenger, Kate.”

“No, I only saw one in the truck.”

“Think there could have been a child or animal in the passenger seat?” Fletcher shinned the light back up the incline while Kate shinned hers’ down the slope.

Kate had been a sheriff a long time, and had seen many accidents such as these. “Look at her again, Fletcher.” She shinned the light back on the body, then to the bottles all over the cab. Most were broken, but several lay lodged in the seat cushion and one was between the legs of the driver. “She was probably drunk, and I doubt there was anyone else was in this vehicle, but we’ll check the area, just to be sure.” Her light spread across the terrain. “You check that side and I’ll check this one.” She carefully stepped onto the side panel of the truck and hopped to the ground with Fletcher following close behind.

They were still searching the area when the rescue crew came down the incline in tack and harnesses. “The paramedics are on their way down,” the team leader spoke as he unclasped his harness.

“No hurry, the driver is dead.” Fletcher held the light to her feet. “We’ve searched the area for a passenger, but we didn’t’ find anyone.” Her hand swiped the hood from her head.

“You’ll need a chop saw to get her out,” Kate moved her shoulder round and around to help ward off the stiffness she had felt for the last thirty minutes.

“It’s a woman?” The deputy questioned in astonishment.

“Yes, and you might want to have a forensic technician standing by when you raise the truck. There’s beer bottles all over the place and the cab reeks of the smell. Kate shook her head. “She was probably drunk as a coot.”

“Okay, thanks for the information.” The deputy gave her a convinced look. “The sheriff is waiting up top. Seems he has a special interest in you, Bucannan,” he pointed a gloved hand towards the lights above them.

“We’re going.”

“You can use our harness to get back up.”

“Thanks, Joe, that’ll make the climb much easier,” she glanced at Kate who was still rubbing her shoulder. We they had walked a distance from the deputies hearing, Fletcher stepped beside her friend. “You think your arm and shoulder can make it back up with the harness, or do we need to get a harness seat sent down?”

“I can make it up, but I’ll tie the safety rope to you, just in case,” her voice unruffled.

Fletcher only nodded and picked up the harness and began buckling it around her. “You need help with your harness?”

“I’ve got it,” Kate winced as she slid her arm through the harness and pulled it tight across her chest. “Here’s your end of the safety,” she said, passing the rope to Fletcher.

As the reached the top, two deputies helped them off with the gear. “The sheriff wants to talk to you two. He’s over there sitting in your vehicle, getting statements from the passengers.” The deputy told the women as he picked up the harness.

“With all that’s happened lately, he’s going to ask you if you think she was trying to run us off the road,” Kate said in a cool voice.

“Yeah, I suspect as much.” A vein in Fletcher’s temple twitched, and a flash shot though her obsidian eyes. The Park Director dropped her hands to her sides in accepted resignation. “Come on, let’s get it over with.” She slid her hand into her parka pockets and glanced back toward the group of deputies who had just placed the chop saw in a basket to be lowered over the embankment.

As they approached the car, the sheriff got out of the passenger side and extended his hand to Kate in recognition. “Evening, Sheriff McGuinness, Bucannan.”

“Evening, Tim,” Kate withdrew her gloved hand from the casual handshake.

“Well, it started off a nice evening, Sheriff. The incident just tossed a unpleasant kink into an otherwise enjoyable evening.” Fletcher extended her had towards the sheriff’s outstretched one.

“I’ve talked to Dr. Jorgensen and Dr. Reed. They don’t seem to think this was nothing but an accident. What do you two think?” He leaned against the hood of the vehicle.

“I’m not going to second guess anything anymore, Sheriff. However, with tabs being kept on Brody with the security ankle bracelet and me not knowing the woman driving the truck, it might just be that…an accident.” Fletcher voice dropped. Something inside her quivered, when she leaned back against the fender next to the sheriff.

“What do you think, Kate?” Tim asked his Catskill’s counterpart.

“Fletcher didn’t recognize her, and the cab does reek of beer. She was weaving on the road behind us for a few miles, and driving somewhat erratic.” A slow frown dawned across her face as the floodlights were turned on.

“I can hear the but in your voice, Kate.” Tim crossed his arms.

“No buts, Tim, just caution. I’ve seen to many drunk drivers in my time. The way she sped up and swerved back over on our side of the road, I’d say it was deliberate.” Her voice dropped in pitch and volume, but that underlying note of certainty still pulsed through it. “If Fletcher hadn’t been skilled with mountainous, snow-driving and handled the vehicle as she did, there is not doubt in my mind we would have been pushed through the guard rails by that heavier truck,” she shrugged, “but, that’s just my opinion.”

“Damn.” A slow frown crossed his face. “Your opinion is good enough for me, Kate. But what kind of connection can this woman possibly have with Brody?” He removed his had and wiped his glove across his hair.

“From what Fletcher has told me of the incidents, you might want to check if there is any connection between them. Might not be any, and then again, it might. You might want to have forensics check out that cab thoroughly.” Kate opened the back passenger door. “I’m going to sit down, and get warm.”

“Good idea. Both of you need to get warm, I’ll send a thermos of coffee over for you. However you’ll need to stick around for awhile.” He pushed off the fender and turned to Kate. “Hate to do this, but both Dr. Reed and Dr. Jorgensen will need to take a look at the body when it comes up. If they recognize her, this whole thing might go in a different direction.”

He clapped Fletcher on the back as he walked towards tow truck that just pulled up near the floodlights.

Finley bit her lip as she turned to face Kate. “We heard what you said. You don’t think it was an accident?”

Carling slid over closer to Kate and took the glove off her left hand and held it tightly. “Honey?” Something in her chest tightened.

“No.” Kate shrugged back against the seat.

Fletcher removed her gloves and unzipped her coat. “If it was deliberate, there is always the possibility it wasn’t meant for us,” she glanced into the green eyes seated beside her.

“What do you mean?” Finley reached up and brushed the snow from Fletcher’s hair.

“She means, someone else might be the target this time and not you two.” Her words broke off and she swore under her breath.

Carling shook her head in disbelief. “Not you Kate? You don’t mean you?”

The tall woman placed her arm around her lover and drew her close. “I’ve made many enemies during my time as sheriff. But…” she kissed Carling’s forehead, “I have to admit, I’ve never had anyone try to kill me before.”

“You said you nor Fletcher recognized the woman, and if the sheriff wants us to stick around to view the body, does that mean it might be Finley or me,” Carling gasped as Kate tightened her hold on her shoulders.

“No, I don’t mean that either. He’s just eliminating every possibility and if one of you recognized the woman, then that’ll be a place to start.”

“I don’t like this, Fletcher.” Finley scooted closer to the Park Director.

“None of us do, Sweetheart, but we need to be sure, okay?”

“Okay, but I still don’t like it.” Finley placed her hand on Fletcher’s chest.

The coffee was delivered to the SUV and was slowly drunk by the four women while they waited. They watched the stretcher being lowered over the embankment and the floodlights being adjusted.

Moments later, they saw the stretcher with a body bag being set on the highway behind the ambulance. The sheriff motioned towards the vehicle where the four friends sat.

“He’s ready for us,” Kate opened the door and held out her hand to help Carling from the vehicle.

Fletcher replaced her gloves, and gazed into Finley’s eyes. “Honey, I’ll be right there beside you.”

“I’ve seen bodies before, Fletcher, but I don’t want you to let go of my hand, okay?” Finley slid out the driver’s side of the vehicle and took the gloved hand held out to her.

“Count on it,” the Park Director replied, closing the door and stepped towards the stretcher.

“Just unzip it enough so Dr. Reed, and Dr. Jorgensen can see her face,” Tim said to his deputy who was kneeling beside the stretcher.

The bag was unzipped to reveal the head as the deputy shinned his light on the face.

“Either of you recognize her?” The sheriff asked, as he directed his light towards the two women’s feet. “Make sure, please.”

Carling shook her head negatively and stepped back into Kate’s arms. Finley however, stepped around the stretcher to view the face from the other side. Fletcher continued to hold her hand as they squatted beside the deputy for paleontologist to get a better view.

“I’ve never seen this woman before, and I don’t know her,” Finley and Fletcher stood up together.

“You’re both certain you don’t recognize her?” Tim questioned the women again.

“No, I can’t identify her.” Carling spoke clearly. “She doesn’t even look familiar to anyone I know,” she added.

“Me neither,” Finley felt Fletcher’s arm circle her shoulder and gently nudge her around the stretcher.

The medic who had remained with the ambulance spoke up. “They may not, but I sure as heck do. I met that woman the other night at the annual Christmas party over at the newspaper where my wife works. That’s Chris Connor, one of the newspaper’s presspersons.” He squatted down to take a better look. “Yep, that’s Connor for sure. Thought I was gonna have to bust her head, the way she kept coming on to my wife,” said the medic, standing up to face the sheriff. “Didn’t have to because Mr. Shouffe, the editor made her leave because she was so loud and drinking. You know that old man’s a tea-totter and they only have punch at all the paper’s functions. Connor there, had a flask she sipped from all evening before he told her to go home and sleep it off.”

“Well, that’s a break. We’ll check this out,” Tim turned to the four women. “Thanks for your help. You’re free to go. We’ll take down formal statements on Monday before the trial starts. Can you all be in the office at eight o’clock?”

The all acknowledged the appointment and left the scene. A few minutes later, the ambulance carrying the remains of Chris Connor turned on its flashing lights and slowly moved down the dangerous highway towards the morgue.

The sheriff had ordered the cab and all contents be secured. He wanted forensic to examine each and every item. Little did he realize the examination of the toolbox would reveal a screwdriver with dried brake fluid caked on the end; a screwdriver whose jagged, partially broken point would match the rips in the piece of brake line from Fletcher’s Bucannan’s sabotaged vehicle exactly.

***

Chapter 18


She would get her show, her pound of flesh, thus fulfilling her thoughts of revenge and reaching her goals, but she’d be damned if she allow herself to suffer for it for the rest of her life! Was that having it all? No it wasn’t, and Jacqueline Boudreaux intended to have everything and everyone she wanted. Suddenly she wasn’t all that certain she wanted to cooperate with Julia, or sign away the options that made life a challenge by falling for the beauty that had pulled a fast one on her, even though she realized there could easily be feelings for the woman sitting across from her. But telling herself the expensive champagne had gone to her head, she snuffed out her rebellion and tried to appear cooperative.

“Julia, you need to sweeten the pot more, because just a few dips between your legs won’t be enough this time.” Jacqueline emptied her glass and motioned for their private waiter to bring another bottle of chilled Don Peron.

Julie had to fight down the desire to laugh. “Why Jacqueline, do you think I’d hop into bed with you just to get you to buy more property?” She too, emptied her glass and toyed with it briefly before she set it down gently.

She looked very sober. “You know what we want for the Canadian land is reasonable” Eyelashes raised slowly as the seductive eyes moved from the cleavage above the lowly buttoned blouse across from her, upward to waiting eyes. “Or have you lost interest in the timber tracks adjacent to those you already have options for here in the States?”

The redhead didn’t look glad at all as her head shook back and forth indifferently. “The timber company could use the land, so why don’t you cut out the bull shit and make me an offer I can’t refuse.” Jacqueline leaned back in the plush chair and gestured the waiter away after he filled both glasses and placed the bottle into the ice bucket beside Jacqueline. “Come on, Julia,” she soothed. “You don’t have me backed into a corner this time, and I’m rapidly losing interest.”

Julia looked disappointed. For a split-second, she considered throwing a frantic fit of sort, simply because Jacqueline so clearly expected something of the sort. But the moment of madness passed. “With all your hemming and hawing around about how tight money is these days, how can I really be certain you’ll commit if we barter about the price?”

“Well, that is something you’ll have to take as a gesture of good faith.” The redhead picked up the full glass and downed it in three swallows before she placed it back on the table and reached for the magnum in the bucket.

Good grief, Julia thought. I wouldn’t take anything you say on good faith, Jacqueline Boudreaux. I’m conceited, but you believe yourself to be superior in every way. Well, my redheaded pigeon let us see how guidable you really are. “As a matter of fact, there is something I wanted to mention. It has nothing to do with our business dealings though.” She let a definite warmth edge into her tone.

Jacqueline pushed assigned her glass and lazily glanced over at the woman across from her. “What’s going on Julia?” she asked indifferently. “It must be something cosmic. So…are you going to tell me, or do you want to continue this cat and mouse game of yours?”

Julia’s jaw dropped. “I’m surprised at you, Jacqueline.”

The redhead couldn’t tell if her sigh was sincere or not. “Really?” A definite chill crept into her voice.

“You’re probably going to laugh, or not believe me, but all those nights together…well, I missed you when I went back to Brussels.” Her green eyes gazed directly into Jacqueline’s and held her unwavering gaze for a long silent moment. “Truly, I more than missed you.”

What a magnificent opportunity for revenge, Jacqueline thought. She wouldn’t have to say anything much, really. Julia would leap to conclusions, and the getting the property cheaper and have the beauty sucking on her might make for an interesting few days. In fact, in one swift blow, she could not only pay Julia back for all the ridiculous assumptions she’d made over the land deal, but strike a blow at Julia’s ego as well and still have a hot, sexy time for a time. If she could think of just the right angle to embarrass her right now…

Jacqueline let the moment pass. Stunts like that were satisfying to think about, but they almost never worked out the way they’d been intended and if she was to get what she wanted, she need to have time for planning.

She shrugged. “I don’t know what to say, Julia. I’m running a business, after all, and money’s money.”

“And that’s all?” Julia acted crestfallen.

“I don’t know what else you expected.”

Damn, how predictable. I see right through you, Jacqueline. I play this game much better than you. Julia’s teasing words floated out, “Maybe you just came to get the pieces of property of the family empire you missed last time around,” she said, toying with the champagne glass again. “I try to express myself to you in a personal manner and you throw it away as if there is only business between us.” Her eyes became centered on Jacqueline’s again. “There’s business, Jacqueline…and there’s you and me.”

This is going to be fun, Jacqueline thought, would be fun to start and fun to watch her squirm when I have the property and drop her as quickly as I would any tart I’d tired of…or had enough of their body. You might screw me over once, Julia, but don’t ever think you’ll get the opportunity to repeat the action. “There’s a you and me?” she baited the woman.

“I believe there could be,” her hand extended across the table and her long fingers gently ran down the length of her intended quest’s hand.

Boudreaux had to fight down the desire to laugh. Her years of self-control paid off and she simply allowed the fingers to caress her hand.

Julia looked very sober. “I hope you’ll understand.”

The redhead frowned a little. “Understand?”

The long fingers stopped their movement. “You don’t believe I’m capable of having feelings for someone that is just as intelligent and cunning as I am, or aren’t you capable of any personal feelings?”

Jacqueline began to laugh, just a little at first, but by the time she caught herself, she was giving in to full-fledged howls.

“It isn’t funny!” Julia rasped. “It was ludicrous of me to think you capable of feelings!”

“You’re not really upset,” she said when she caught her breath. “You’re taking this personally.”

“No, I’m not!” She removed her hand and picked up the glass and emptied it. “It’s just so incredible….”

“Incredible?”

“Yes, you jackass. Incredible that I’d have any feelings for someone like you.” Her tone dried up a little, only to erupt again. “How could a womanizer, as you call yourself, have so much contempt for women?”

“I do not have contempt for women! Just the ones who---”

“Just the ones who don’t follow all your beliefs,” she said. “The ones who go by their own set of rules.”

“Rules! Most women don’t have rules! They’re willing to sell themselves like a side of beef for a few bobbles or a good time between the sheets.”

“Life is a gamble for some women,” Julia said, her eyes sobering slowly. “I don’t want the woman I want to have in my life be afraid of taking chances, but I want her to be a faithful companion.”

“Taking chances is one thing. Jumping to a relationship, or anything permanent with someone you know has or will use you, is another.”

“You did jump into the situation with me Jacqueline. You wanted the land, and you were willing to do just that, jump between my legs and take a chance that you were better at the game than I am.”

“There won’t be any more jumping. I don’t need the Canadian property that much.”

“I didn’t make this dinner engagement because I wanted to unload the property, you simpleton. I wanted to see you again. I didn’t want to make my final decision about you, until I’d spent some time with you.”

“You mean more casual sampling, like before?”

Julia’s face became tight. “You really are taking the past personally. Your face is red.”

Jacqueline sprang up and faced her squarely with fists perched on her hips. “I can just see you returning the money personally to me. Tell the truth, Julia. You aren’t really looking for a permanent commitment, much less a long-term relationship, are you? You’ve just stumbled on an ingenious way to score with me, haven’t you?”

A red flush climbed Julia’s neck. “Maybe you’re just mad that you have deeper feelings for me than you want to admit.”

“Give me a break,” she said, eyes narrowing with angry fire. “I’d rather spend the rest of my life without another woman, and without another piece of your families property, than become duped by you the second time. I’m immune to those ‘seductive’ Julia eyes.”

“Are you?” Julia asked, her voice rose. “Well, let me tell you something. If you were my permanent type, which you obviously believe you aren’t, I could charm you in twenty seconds flat. But since I realize I’d be wasting my time, I’ll spare you any further personal sentiment.”

“Thank you so much,” Jacqueline said fiercely, leaning inches from her face to show she wasn’t’ intimidated. “Because trying would be a colossal waste of your time.”

“You think so?”

“I know so!”

“Well, we’ll just see about that!” Julia said, and before the redhead saw it coming, she stood quickly, took her in her arms and laid claim to her lips.

Jacqueline squirmed and squealed against her mouth as Julia pried her lips open. A soft, velvety tongue slipped inside to flirt with hers unmercifully, and she warned herself that if she gave any sign of enjoying the encounter, that she’d be tempted to pull her adversary down on the carpet floor and have her there. Even though they were in an enclosed alcove, and only the waiter’s arm could be seen from the entrance, it was a public restaurant and Boudreaux didn’t want a spectacle to hit the papers, not with Brody’s trial coming up in three days. Instead she allowed her tongue to circle Julia’s slowly, and then gradually pull her mouth from the eager lips.

“Okay, so you are sensuous. What does that prove except you are sexy?”

“I’m not playing, Jacqueline. You can think what you want, and I even expect you to reject any business situations that might be out there. Perhaps, we should just forget about all business and let this…this…Hell, I don’t even know what to call this.” Julia sank back down in her seat.

The redhead’s stomach tightened as she too, sat down again. What game is she playing now? Jacqueline speculated, as her eyes studied the figure that pulled the magnum from the bucket and filled her glass. Okay, I’ll play along; nothing like having your cake and ice cream too. “I’ll purchase the Canadian property for fifty thousand less than your asking price; that is, if you’ll sign the paperwork by the middle of the week. That’s my final offer. Either accept it now, or get up from here and leave now and we’ll forget any future dealings, or…this.”

Damn, I’m better than I thought. My family would have settled for half of what I quoted, just to unload the property. Oh, Jacqueline, what a foreseeable finagling, slut you are. I don’t intend to be in the same country when you find out, the Canadian government won’t allow any timber to be cut in that area for another twenty years after their new environmental plan goes into effect in just over a month. Hmm…it’ll be a sweaty few days, but I might as well enjoy the sex. Hate to admit it, but she is really skilled in bed.

“Jacqueline, you are certainly a tight wad. You know my first offer was below market value, but as I want you to know what I said was true about missing you was true. I’ll accept the offer and sign the papers tomorrow, if you will think about what I’ve said.” She leaned back against the plush chair with a defeated expression covering her face.

“You’ll sign the paperwork tomorrow?”

“If you can get it arranged by then, and we can put that out of the way, and get on to….” She leaned forward in the seat and extended her hand to cover Jacqueline’s again.

The redheaded woman’s mind was whirling. “I can call my attorney right now. He can have the paperwork ready by tomorrow night.”

Julia’s fingers started the long decent down Jacqueline’s fingers. “Excellent. Why don’t you do that, then we can put business aside and spend a pleasant and…” her fingers left the hand on the table and long fingers found themselves inside the champagne glass. The seductress twirled them several times in the expensive liquid before she raised them to her lips and licked one finger at a time until all three of them were clean. “Then we can spend the remainder of tonight and tomorrow doing more…” her eyes lowered to Jacqueline’s open blouse once more, “satisfying things.”

I’ll have the property by tomorrow night, and what the hell, I like the way she performs. Jacqueline picked up her cell phone and pushed a programmed number. “Harrison, this is Boudreaux. That Canadian property I was hoping to acquire, I want you to have the paperwork ready for signatures by tomorrow evening,” She demanded. “I don’t give a damn what plans you have. Cancel them, and have that paperwork ready by five o’clock tomorrow afternoon. All parties will be at your office then to signed them.” She snapped into the phone, and shut it without taking her eyes off the luscious beauty across from her.

“That meet your approval?”

“I’ll be signing for my grandmother and mother. I have power of attorney for all property transactions.” Julia’s said softly. “What did you order us for dinner, I’m starving?” Her tongue licked her lips as they curled into a halfway grin.

Jacqueline snorted at the insinuation of Julia’s lips. “Starving, huh?”

“Yes, but that starving can wait until I have something in my stomach to quench the growling.”

“Okay,” she turned to the alcove entrance and called the waiter. He turned to face the redhead. “We’ll have our meal now.” He nodded and left the alcove.

***

The ride back to Julia’s hotel seemed to go on forever, and they finished it in pants and grunts, as both women seemed to be in heat and couldn’t keep their hands off the other. Jacqueline was happy she had taken her chauffeur driven limousine so she could concentrate entirely on the luscious body next to her. The no-see through window had been up since the redhead settled into the back seat with her dinner companion…her evening guest for another night of hot, uncomplicated sexual endeavors that would last until dawn.

Back in the suite, Julia offered a perfunctory ‘thanks’ for the dinner and asked if Jacqueline would like a drink before they went into the bedroom.

The redhead smiled, then fixed her gaze on Julia’s dropping attire and said politely, “I appreciate the trouble you took tonight, and why don’t we take that chilling bottle I see there in with us, and we drink a toast to a pleasurable evening.” Jacqueline knew the woman had taken precisely no trouble in arranging the evening, and also knew she didn’t miss her implication.

“How kind of you to mention it,” she said gently. “If I should find myself needing a favor in return…”

“Julia, if you think this means I owe you one…”

“Of course it does. But you needn’t hold your breath. I make it a point never to blackmail a lady.” Julia’s voice whispered as the her thong was removed, held out to her side and ceremoniously dropped on top of the pile of clothes on the plush carpet.

Jacqueline chuckled almost all the way across the room until she reached the stunning body before her. “When did either of us become a lady?” asked the taller woman as her hand went out to grasp the back of Julia’s head and pull her gently forward.

“Might be open to interpretations,” Julia mused. “Considering the circumstances, I might get very favorable terms from one particular Lady,” said the shorter woman as their lips met.

Keep thinking of terms, you meaningless piece of fluff. The only terms you’ll get from me, tonight, tomorrow, or ever is sweet revenge, and oh, how sweet this will be once I have that signed deed, Jacqueline thought as she released her lips.

“Why don’t you get undressed? I’ll take the champagne in, and turn back the covers,” Julia turned away and picked up the ice bucket with the magnum of champagne and sashayed into the other room.

Her long red hair was tossed back off her face as she watched the swaying nude body. She had this planned all along, right down to the chilled champagne. We must have stayed longer than expected at the restaurant, for the bucket was only half full of ice. I best be very cautious with this one, for she’s one of the most cleaver, unpredictable woman I’ve come across. But she doesn’t know whom she’s dealing. You might make a fool out of me once, but don’t think I’m the least bit gullible to your unbelievable suggestion of having feelings for me, honey. You will have to live a much longer before you pull the wool over old Jacqueline’s eyes the second time. She removed her clothes and placed them carefully on the sofa then walked to the open doorway and stopped.

“Wow! I’d forgotten just how very beautiful you are, Jacqueline,” said the seductress perched on the bed with her back against the padded headboard.

“Come here and let me show you just how desirable you are,” her hand went out to the figure in the doorway.

Jacqueline moved into the room and stood beside the bed, still not taking the outstretch hand. Her gaze skimmed from her hair to her bare toes, lingering appreciatively over the length of her legs. “May I get you a drink?”

Julia’s hand dropped. “Why of course, we need to have a little champagne,” she raised her leg slowly and lowered her head but kept her eyes fixed on Jacqueline’s. You look as if you’d gotten too close to a fire, my lovely. You’re blushing all over from desire.

The cork made a plunk sound as she pulled it out. Filling the two glasses on the nightstand, her mind was working rapidly. She had to admit she’d been happy to receive Julia’s call, and even somewhat happy to see her. She was even happy…no relieved that tonight there would be no expectations…just satisfying, uncomplicated desires and needs being filled. I never expected to be grateful for that, she thought.

There was music coming from the system in the suite. The music was Rachmaninov, a moody piece. Julia remembered my favorite composer, Jacqueline deduced. For all the good it will do you my little pigeon, a smile formed as she turned and handed a glass to her companion.

***

“Height, as well as size and weight, is a factor. Light trucks ride high off the ground and many do not engage the bumpers or side floor structure of passenger cars and can directly strike an occupant's head. Protecting heads is important in truck-car collisions, but the shorter stature of women and children can leave them more vulnerable.” Kate explained as she held the door open for Carling and Finley. “Because Connor’s truck being so much older and heavier from all the steel in the body, when she impacted the rail at that speed, the rail gave way, and the vehicle went over the ledge.”

“Fletcher’s quick thinking in swerving and putting on brakes prevented us from going over that embankment I’m sure.” Carling removed her coat as she entered the foyer followed by Finley.

“I was surprised at the damage done to the fender and the bumper from just a glancing sideswipe like that,” Finley placed her coat in the foyer closet and hung Carling’s coat on a hanger then turned to take Kate’s.

“Skillful driving indeed. Sky Mother was looking over our vehicle tonight,” said Kate.

“Amen to that,” Fletcher said as she removed her parka and hung it in the closet.

“Ladies, I don’t know about you, but I’m certain I can’t make a seven a.m. ski lift.” Finley hugged Fletcher as they entered the great room.

Checking her watch, Kate said, “It’s almost one o’clock. How about we make the skiing for…say around nine this morning?” She looked at Carling who was falling to sleep on her feet.

“How about ten? I’m bushed,” requested Carling as she took Kate’s hand and pulled her towards the stairs.

“Ten sounds fine,” said Finley. “I’ll leave a message on their answer machine changing our reservations. She released Fletcher and went to the phone. “That okay with you, Sweetheart?”

“Sounds good. Give us a decent night’s sleep.” Fletcher stopped and stretched as she waited for Finley to complete the call.

“Nite,” Carling called as she and Kate reached the stairs.

“Good night, Ladies. See you later this morning,” Fletcher nodded to the two women, and received Kate’s nod in return.

“Sweet dreams,” said Finley as she picked up the phone.

“Don’t wait for me, Honey, go on an brush your teeth, I’ll be right there,” Finley puckered her lips towards Fletcher.

“Okay, but don’t be long,” her lover said, and turned and walked towards the hallway.

A few minutes later, Finley joined her in bed and was immediately in her arms. “I love you,” Fletcher whispered to her lover.

“I love you too, Fletcher. You’re my everything.”

“I feel the same way, Darling. You’re my life. I shiver at the thought of what happened tonight. I will always try to keep you safe, but tonight…” she sighed, “Tonight Sky Mother’s hand was over us. I couldn’t stand it if something happened to you, Finley. I love you so much.”

“I always feel safe when I’m with you. What will be, will be, Fletcher. And you and I were meant to be.” Her lips settled on Fletcher’s as she was gently pulled over onto the top of the taller form. She was tired, but never to tired to make love with the woman she intended to spend the rest of her life with, and even longer, if eternity existed.

Later as Finley lay in her lover’s arms, she felt the deepest satisfaction. Not just from being close to Fletcher, but from how right and complete her life was now with the tall woman. She signed contently as she thought of the passionate loving they had just concluded.

She savored the gentler side of Fletcher’s lovemaking. Steeped in pleasure, she sighed with contentment as she kissed and caressed. The pleasant sensations curling deep inside her lulled her into believing that passion, at least her own passion, was a quiet whisper.

Her lips trailed her throat, then dipped lower to her breast. Without warning, a demon seemed to spring to life within her. The pleasant sensations were suddenly writhing and twisting, demanding to be set free. The quiet whisper became a roaring of blood throbbing inside her temples. Fletcher had sensed the change in her and thrilled to it. Here was more than mere pleasure--more even than passion.

This was need, raw, demanding. Need that had long slumbered within her, awaiting the right touch to awaken it, and Fletcher had awaken every fiber of her body. Finley could read it in her eyes, taste it on her lips. Hot. Wild. Pulsing.

Fletcher’s fingers tangled in Finley’s hair as she drew her head back and covered her mouth in a devouring kiss.

“Now,” she whispered against her mouth, “I’ll show you all the things I’ve thought of doing all evening.”

With teeth and tongue and fingers she moved over her body, touching, tasting, until Finley was unbearably aroused. Following Fletcher’s lead she brought her arms around her waist and buried her lips in her throat. She felt Fletcher’s muscles contract violently. With a new sense of power, she explored her as she had never explored her, daring to touch, to taste, to entice.

The taller woman’s body was alive with need. She had planned to go slowly, to make this a gentle loving. But now, with their passion fully unleashed, she had to call on every ounce of self-control to keep from losing herself in Finley.

With exquisite tenderness Fletcher kissed her until they were both breathless. At her whispered sighs, Fletcher lowered her head to Finley’s breast, nibbling, suckling, until she moaned and writhed and begged for release. Instead of giving her release, she moved to the other breast, feasting until the smaller woman clutched at the sheets beneath her.

Finally, the intensity eased, and gentleness reappeared as both women lay snuggled together, completely satisfied.

This is so blissful and wonderful, she thought, before she closed her eyes, surrendering to a deep dreamless sleep.

***

“Winter Breakfast! One of our favorite things-to-do! Is there anything cozier that a nice warm winter breakfast at an old inn with people you love?”

Kate asked sitting her plate down on the old wooden table off to the side of the roaring fireplace.

“Couldn’t agree with you more, Darling. They have everything under the sun on that buffet. I’ll probably wobble out of here and won’t be able to ski for hours,” Carling grinned as she sat down beside her partner.

“Doesn’t this place remind you of pictures from story books, or Currier and Ives prints?” Finley sat her overflowing plate on the table.

"Sure does,” replied Carling.

“This Inn was built in 1896, and has been in the same family for four generations.” Fletcher joined the group and sat next to the window beside Finley.

“What a wonderful country experience on this lovely morning. The snow is falling and drifting outside while we watch through the windowpanes from a warm and cozy inside with great people, great food, super atmosphere, and a roaring fire!” Carling exclaimed seasoning the hash browns.

“This has got to be the best table in the house.” Fletcher peppered her eggs, and sprinkled Tabasco sauce over them.

“Yes, we called ahead and ordered the corner table by the window and close to the fireplace just for us,” Finley picked up her fork and gazed at her heavily laden plate. “I love eating here.”

Fletcher glanced over at her lover’s plate and chuckled. “Honey, you love eating anywhere,” and was promptly elbowed for her remark. “Ouch, your elbow should be considered a lethal weapon.

“Don’t feel you’re alone, Finley. I love to eat, and Fletcher kids me about it all the time.” She leaned over and gently bumped her lover’s arm.

“Let’s just say, we have two women with healthy appetites and are happy for them to be so,” Kate grinned and poured maple syrup on top of her pancakes.

“You’re right there, Kate.” Fletcher smiled at Finley. “Honey, I love every thing about you, including your desire for food.”

“Okay, okay. But you have to admit, the buffet is superb.”

“Certainly is, I may have to walk around for awhile before we hit the slopes,” Carling cut a crepe into sections and quickly placed one portion in her mouth. The yummy expression on her face spoke volumes about the food.

“Are they going to have that folk concert tonight at the town hall?” Kate asked, placing a fork laden with pancakes in her mouth.

“Haven’t heard anything about it being cancelled. Jamison picked up our tickets when she picked up theirs earlier in the week.” Fletcher set her fork down and reached for her coffee cup.

“Carling, you and Finley are in for a treat. The folk music show has always been a sellout and very good.” Kate’s head nodded as she spoke.

“I’ve been looking forward to this since Fletcher told me about it last month.” Finley finished her crepes and started on the cooked apples.

“Me too,” said Carling. “What better way to start off the evening.”

“Well, I’m looking forward to the sleigh ride afterwards,” Finley drank heartedly of her milk. “I’ve been picturing something right out of Robert Frost every time Fletcher talks about the snowy woods in back of the house.

“Fletcher has the best sleigh I’ve seen anywhere and the woods…well, she has some beautiful land. When you go through the snow-puffed woods on one of her two-horse open sleighs, it is just awesome and awe-inspiring.” Kate raised her water glass towards her friend.

“You’re just building it up so you won’t have to tell them about he time you turned us over near the cherry patch when you tried to miss those rabbits.” Fletcher grinned.

“Now we don’t have to go into that. They were only trying to get to past the bank and it was them or us,” her face turned red.

“Ah, you two have a colorful past that you aren’t telling,” Finley said reaching for the maple syrup jar.

“Not really. But we have had lots of adventures that are memorable,” said Fletcher.

“I can imagine some of them were more than memorable,” Carling snickered. “Like the time you fell in when you two went ice fishing.”

Fletcher looked over at Kate. “You had to tell her about that?”

“It kind of slipped out,” the sheriff chuckled.

“Hmm, and you couldn’t resist adding the details,” Fletcher teased her friend.

“I had to tickle her unmercifully to get the story out, and she even told me about the two fish in your waders,” snickered Carling.

“Oh, great!” Shaking her head, the Park Director blushed.

“Ahhah…now I know why you were chuckling when we went past that one spot weekend before last, when you took me ice fishing and you wouldn’t tell me what was so funny,” Finley smiled and reached over and rubbed her partner’s shoulder.

“Okay, enough about ice fishing. I listened to the local ski news, and there is plenty of snow. They said all areas are operating and Scavengers Ridge has a base pack of fifteen inches.” The Park Director tried to change the subject and rush the breakfast along to get to the ski lift.

“Sounds like a plan.” Kate wiped her lips and placed her napkin in her plate.

“Don’t rush me, Honey. I was planning on having seconds on these pancakes,” Carling stood and went towards the buffet.

“Hey, wait for me, I want some more of the crepes,” Finley joined her new friend on their second trip to the breakfast buffet.

“Where do those two munchkins put all that food?” Kate asked, as she picked up her coffee cup.

“Beats me,” Fletcher paused, her eyes on the two smaller women. “They both must have hollow legs. If I ate like that, I’d weigh two hundred pounds.”

Kate nodded and said, “Me too. But…would we want them any other way?”

Fletcher glanced towards the women again then back at the sheriff. “Nope, I like them just the way they are.”

The smaller women, with plates piled high, sat back down and begin eating again. The waitress returned to fill Kate and Fletchers coffee cups, but was waved away when she attempted to fill Finley’s milk glass the second time.

There didn’t seem to be much to say as the two older women waited for their partners to devour the second serving of food. Steam coated the panes of the window beside Kate and Fletcher. With two fingers, Kate made squiggly lines, vertically on one piece of glass, horizontally on the next.

“Brrr! That looks cold.” Fletcher shifted in her seat and looked away.

“Yes,” Kate replied. “It seems to be getting colder outside.”

“Hmm, will be great for the slopes if the wind doesn’t pick up.” The Park Director’s sipped her coffee and glanced over at the fire.

A sizzling log make a popping sound and rolled off the grate onto the stone hearth. From the side double doors of the room, an older gentleman appeared with an arm full of kindling. The firewood was placed in the old iron bin, before he carefully replaced the log on the grate with the iron tongs. He stirred the wood and added another log on top. The fire blazed upward, sending a fragrant hickory smell throughout the dining area. It made the area feel homely and cozy for the patrons.

Kate and Fletcher finished their coffee and sat quietly as their partners continued to eat.

Finally, Finley wiped her mouth and moaned a little. “Great meal,” The paleontologist said, enunciating each word.

“I second that,” the pathologist closed her eyes and added her own moan. “If I didn’t want to get in some skiing, I’d vote for a day on that large sofa at Fletcher’s, in front of a roaring fire.” Carling said, sounding serene.

“Forget that,” Kate stood, and removed her ski parka from the back of her chair and put in on. “Up you go, Sweetheart, the slopes are calling our names.” She stood back and pulled Carling’s chair out for her to stand.

A chair scraped as Fletcher also stood and assisted Finley with her seat.

Within fifteen minutes they were on the ski lift to the top of the mountain, where they skied for hours.

Kate had stayed up with the younger skiers, but her shoulder was beginning to tell of the event of the night before. She begged off the last two runs and was finally joined by Fletcher, who said she too, had enough for one day. Finley and Carling went back up the lift several more times, while their partners sat on the terrace of the ski lodge. The older women watched as the younger ones waved to them from the ski lift.

Fletcher looked skyward through a dazzling sheet of fine snowflakes and shifting mist. “This should be their last run. It’s getting tricky up there.”

Kate crossed her arms, and rubbed her sleeves, rapidly, “It’s getting much colder also. “We should be able to see them in about a minute, want to walk over to the end of the run?”

“Sure,” she stood and pulled her collar up as high as it could go before she stepped off the terrace and grabbed her skis from the edge of the terrace where she had leaned them an hour before. “Your shoulder better? I can carry your skis.”

“Nope, I can manage. Shoulder just needed a rest. We did ski for over six hours, even if we did stop for that short lunch. I bet our women will be ravenous by the time we have dinner before the folk concert.”

“You’re probably right. Just glad we had all that hot chocolate.”

“Yes, it was warming at least.” Kate laid her skis over her shoulder and then joined Fletcher for the short distance to the end of the run.

At the top of the trail, two lovely skiers stopped before they made their decent.

“It’s getting dark and it’s so cold that my face if falling off. I’m going down,” the paleontologist swung one ski to flip a turn, then turned towards Carling.

“Want to race down, Finley?” Carling adjusted the wristlocks on her gloves.

“You’re on,” Finley said, starting downhill. “You coming?”

Carling didn’t answer, but when she rolled over the snow ridge and plopped onto the trail, Finley passed her, a flash of green in her wind suit, skiing back toward the main run.

“You go girl,” Carling murmured, setting off in her tracks.

By the time she copied her sharp turn from the trail to the narrow and very expert downhill piste, the surface of the packed snow was glittering in the gathering dusk like millions of starburst dancing on shimmering blue-white satin.

Carling let Finley set the pace. The paleontologist carved her way down the mountain with the kind of style that would make an average skier drool. Carling smiled and tried to ignore the pain in her ears from the bitter wind. She made several sharp turns, catching moguls and lifting into each snatched moment of airborne weightless power. Her blood sang. It had been on snow like this on a European mountain that she had competed for a world title, only to lose it the last minute. She had never become a talented also-ran, but the thrill of racing had been a prize in itself. Ahead of her, running like the wind was a gold medallist, who had succeeded at racing and cross-country skiing and shooting. Carling was thrilled to share the slope with Finley, even if she made her look like an amateur.

“Yip! Yipee!” Carling yelled sliding sideways, her skis throwing up a spray of icy clumps.

A final curving cut through sparse trees opened onto the broad area at the foot of the mountain. The lifts and the gondola had stopped running and the last skiers of the day had converged, forming shouting, neon-garbed clusters. Finley stopped beside Fletcher.

Without a word she released her bindings, stepped out and popped open the top buckles on her boots as Carling came to a stop a few feet away.

“Lady, you fly,” the pathologist’s broad grin covered her face.

“You’re not half bad yourself. Not many can keep up with me, and you were only seconds behind.” Finley stepped out of the skis and bent down to pick them up.

Carling glanced to where the first of the ski patrol members, their orange jackets iridescent flags in fathering gloom, descended from their final sweep of the day. “Half an hour more and we’d have been bringing up the rear guard for those guys.”

“Wouldn’t be the first time,” Finley said, then closed her mouth firmly.

Fletcher eyed her sharply but decided to save her lecture on prudent ski behavior for another time. She also thought better of offering to carry her skis. With poles banded on top, she already had them over her shoulder. By the time Fletcher, Kate and Carling, followed suit, she was prodding towards the yellow lights of the lodge entrance and parking lot, only a few hundred yards from the lifts.

The snow had been cleared from the cobblestones, which shone wet. Around the entrance, the windows glowed, vying with another for most-jammed or most colorful, but the lead designed entrance doors won hands down.

Finley turned as she entered the parking lot, “Hurry up you guys, I’m famished and the folk concert will begin with or with out us, and I want to see Burley doing the opening act with her guitar.”

Fletcher blew out an exasperated breath. “Okay, okay. Just prop your skis on this side of the SUV and Kate and I’ll secure them on the rack.”

“Here is mine, Honey.” Carling placed hers next to Finley’s and scooted around the vehicle and hopped in behind Finley.

“You’d think they hadn’t eaten all day,” Kate muttered, pulling the strap tight on the first set of skis.

Fletcher glanced at her friend and smiled, “Like we said this morning, we wouldn’t have them any other way.”

Kate grinned and tossed a set of straps to Fletcher. “I’m kind of anxious to hear Burley myself. We got a sample Thursday night at the park, while we were waiting for you to get off.”

“Yeah, she’s good. Almost as good a folk singer as she is a cook, but if anyone suggests she give up cooking, I’ll throttle them.” Fletcher pulled the last strap tight and opened the door for Kate.

“Why thank you, kind lady,” the sheriff tapped her boot to get rid of some of the loose snow before she slid in next to Carling.

“You’re most welcome,” she replied, pushing the door shut and opened hers.

“All set. We still going to the house to change?”

“No way, Sweetie, head straight for the Inn. I don’t care who sees us like this,” Finley leaned forward and removed her ski jacket.

“I agree with, Finley. I’ve worked up a tremendous appetite, and we won’t have time to change and eat. So, I vote for eating and go to the concert as we are,” Carling snuggled closer to Kate.

“What about the tickets?” Kate asked as she helped Carling out of her jacket.

A grinning Finley waved four tickets over the back seat, “I put them in the glove compartment. Figured we wouldn’t want to come down off the slopes until the last minute.”

“That’s my, woman. Brilliant, thoughtful and oh, so lovely,” Fletcher leaned over and claimed a quick kiss. “Next stop, a hot fire and a good meal.”

The four friends ate a hearty mean and hurried to the civic center where the concert was being held. They shed coats as they took their seats beside Ruth, Andrea, Maggie, Preston and the four children. On the other side of them sat Lira, Jamison and her partner Tammy. There were about forty rangers and firefighters from the park in attendance at the folk concert.

Burley was announced and received hoots and hollers as she adjusted the guitar mike and sat down on the stool. The lights dimmed and only one spotlight covered the amateur entertainer as she started with a medley of ballads. The crowd sat enthralled as the stocky woman strummed and picked the guitar as if it were a part of her. When she finished, there was a moment of silence before the crowd burst into applause. Burley received a loud standing ovation, which continued until she returned for two encores.

After the concert, everyone waited around outside until Burley made her way to the front of the building. She was congratulated and hugged by so many people that she had to beg to be let go so she could catch her ride back to the park with Lira. Of course, everyone recognized the cook’s embarrassment, but convinced Lira to bring her by the local pub for several rounds of hot apple cider and coffee before they went back to the park.

After the four friends left the pub, full of hot coffee and hot chocolate, they headed back to Fletcher’s and their sleigh ride.

“Honey, Carling and I will grab the blankets, cups, and a thermos of hot chocolate while you and Kate are hitching up the sleigh,” Finley said, as Fletcher pulled into the garage and clicked the door opener for the door to decent back to the floor.

“Sure, only bring my parka will you, this ski jacket won’t be heavy enough,” the Park Director opened the mudroom door and stepped aside for them to pass.

“I’ll bring yours when I come, Kate. You need anything else from our room?” Carling unzipped her ski jacket and looked up at Kate who was about to go out the side door to the barn out back.

“Nothing but the parka, Sweetheart…and you of course,” she smiled as she nodded and followed Fletcher out the door.

“Me, you already have, now and forever,” Carling called after her lover.

“Carling, do you know how very lucky we are?”

“Never a day of my life goes by that I’m not thankful for Kate entering my life.”

“I never thought it would happen. Of course, I hoped, I longed for that special someone, but as the years past, I just gave up.” Finley tossed her coat on the back of the chair as they entered the kitchen. “The thermos is in that cupboard,” she said, pointing to the door next to the sink. Opening the cabinet door, she pulled out a large box of hot chocolate and set it down on counter next to the stove. Next came the gallon of milk from the frig which Finley poured half of it into the pot she removed from the hanging rack above the island stove and returned the jug to the refrigerator.

“My grandmother always told me, when I was ready, and stopped looking, it would happen,” Carling rinsed out the thermos and sat it on the counter next to the hot chocolate box. “She was right, and all I had to do was stop the fooling around, put my own life in order, and bingo, when I least expected it, in walked the woman of my dreams.”

“Same with me, only Fletcher and I seem to have this antagonistic attitude towards each other, until we realized it was our inner selves refusing to admit we were instantly attracted to each other, and that almost immediately we felt our hearts intertwined and go bonkers over each other.” Finley removed a large spoon from the rack next to the pots and stirred the milk.

“What are we going to put the cups in,” Carling inquired of her new friend.

“On the other side of the sink, bottom cabinet, you’ll find a picnic basket. Thought I’d throw a few sandwiches in there along with some pickles. Maybe we can make snow angles down at Fodders Creek. It’s a full moon and will give up all the light we need. Besides there are great banks there that will make for great snowball fights, or making snow angles,” her eyebrows went up and down doing a dance.

“Ha ha, you are a woman after my own heart, Dr. Jorgensen.” She went to the refrigerator and opened the door. “What kind of sandwiches should I make?”

“Hmm…Hey, why not peanut butter and jelly? Not romantic, but Fletcher loves her peanut butter and smear some grape jelly on it and she considers it a gourmet meal.”

Carling chuckled at Finley’s suggestion. “Couldn’t be that you don’t cook worth a flip, and she sort of lets you off the hook with food preparation?”

Finley stopped stirring and looked over at her friend. “You know, I’ve never thought about it, but she does do most of the cooking. Hmm…but the first time we ever had sandwiches, and it was her suggestion, she wanted peanut butter and jelly.”

“Kate likes peanut butter as well, but I see apple jelly in here, could we have that instead of grape?”

“Great,” Finley continued to stir the milk, then looked down and lowered the heat on the boiler.

“I’ve been picking at Fletcher to tell me all about the Seneca joining ceremony, because I think it would be very appropriate for us,” Finley announced.

“Same here, but Kate says we need to have two ceremonies, one for my parents, and one for her side of the family.” She pulled down the door to the bread box and removed a loaf. “We’ve decided in the spring for the Seneca joining, and then we’ll have a union ceremony in Vermont the day after.”

“Well, Fletcher insisted our joining be in the old ways of her ancestors, but she also insists we go to Sweden for our union ceremony.” Finley glanced at the milk once more, gave it one quick stir and set the spoon down on the stove. Walking over to the cabinets, she removed a box of Baggies and placed them next to the apple jelly on the counter. “Did you know that Seneca kin relationships, as with all other Iroquois tribes, were determined by maternal decent?”

“Yes, I did. Kate and I have discussed their traditions many times, and Kate’s mother has filled in any gaps that Fletcher didn’t think important.” Carling spread the fourth slice of bread with peanut butter and reached for the clean knife Finley placed on top of the jelly.

“Thought it was significant that all males left their homes as soon as they married and lived in the long-house of their wives.” Finley jerked out four Baggies and laid them on the counter. “Don’t think we need pickles with the peanut butter, do you?”

“Not unless one of us is pregnant, and don’t look at me,” she laughed.

“Well, I’m not either. After we have some time together, maybe next year, we’d like to start a family,” Finley twisted the top back on the peanut butter and returned it to the cupboard. “Fletcher and I were tickled pink that you and Kate will be the god-parents of our children.”

“Not as tickled as we were when you two agreed to be our children’s god-parents. Heck, even my parents thought our selection quite appropriate.” She piled the jelly extra thick on the bread, and grinned as she squashed the two slices together and some oozed out.

“Like them messy, do you?” Finley returned to the milk.

“Yep, and I know Fletcher does, because that’s the way she makes them when she comes to visit us,” Carling almost licked the access from the bread, but decided against such action and placed the sandwich in the baggie. “Finley, did Fletcher or Andrea tell you that, except for weapons, clothing and personal possessions, all property belonged to the women, including the long-house and farming tools back in the olden days of the tribe?”

“Actually, Andrea did, and some still do that to this day. We’ve decided to dress in the traditional way and have the three day ceremony, before we go off for our night in our own hand-made longhouse.” The chocolate mix was slowly added to the warm milk. “You like your strong, or medium?”

“Make it strong.” She placed the sandwiches in the basket before she returned the jelly to the frig. Washing her hands at the sink, she dried them on a towel as she turned. “If you don’t need anything else, I’m going to run up stairs and get our parkas.”

“Go ahead. As soon as it starts to bubble, I’ll pour it in the thermos.” Finley bent down and smelled the mixture before she stuck the spoon back in and continued a slow stir on the hot chocolate.

A few minutes later, she wiped the thermos off and placed it beside the basket before she rushed from the kitchen to their bedroom to get their coats for the sleigh ride.

Carling was waiting in the kitchen when she returned. Before she could speak, the side door swung open and Fletcher stuck her head in the opening.. “We’ve got the horses hitched to the sleigh, and we’re ready to roll, Ladies.”

“Here, switch coats,” Finley handed her the parka.

“Kate’s waiting in the barn. Hey, what’s in the basket?” she asked as she slipped her parka on and zipped it up.

“Surprise,” Finley handed her the basket. “I’ll get the blankets,” she turned and left the room.

“Here, let me have the thermos, and you carry Kate’s coat.” Fletcher took the container from the smaller woman. “From the smell coming from the basket, I’d say peanut butter and apply jelly,” she said, sniffing at the picnic basket. “Guess Finley has plans for Fodders Creek,” she grinned.

“You in for a snowball fight?”

“Nope, much to pretty a night for a snowball encounter. How about we settled for snow angels instead?”

Carling chuckled, “That’s exactly what Finley suggested,” she put on her coat as Finley returned with the blankets.

“All set, come on, the snow angles await,” Fletcher placed the thermos under her arm and opened the door for the two women.

The full moon shone over the glittering snow, lighting the area in a nice glow as the horses pulled the sleigh along the old trail and down towards the small stream that ran through Fletcher’s property.

“The snow is first built out from the banks in bossy, over-curling drifts, compacting and cementing until the streams are spanned.” Fletcher clapped the reins on the rumps of the two horses. “They then flow in the dark beneath a continuous covering across the snowy zone, which is about three miles wide here in the valley. All the rivers and their tributaries in these high regions are thus lost every winter,” the Park Director said and pointed toward the ridges, glimmering brightly from the luminous moonlight, “as if another glacial period had come on.”

“It’s surprising that any wildlife survive in this climate. Not because of lack of water, but for the food supply,” Carling cleared her throat and passed her tongue over her lips.

“Here, use my lip gloss,” Kate reached into her pocket, removed the tube and handed it to her partner.

“Thanks,” Carling spread the gloss over her lips before recapping and returning it to Kate.

“That’s not necessary true, Honey,” Kate replied and accepted the tube and pushed it back into her parka pocket. “Sometimes water is the primary survival necessity for animals, right Fletcher?”

“At times running water is hard to find, and even animals instincts let them know you can’t put too much snow into your body.

A light went off in Finley’s brain causing her to turn towards Fletcher with her realization. “Because of hypothermia! They are as unsuitable to hypothermia as we are at times!”

“Yes, they are. They might have those thick coats for staying warm, but even the wolves will try to find water. Ever seen them jumping around on a rocky area in the sunshine. Sometimes the snow splashes down on the rocks beneath, or the deadfall, and once the bushes are moved a little, there might be a mouthful of water that isn’t filled with chunks of ice.”

“That’s what those wolves were doing last week, when I went out with Jamison and her crew to check that area for vegetation and the geological impact the snowfalls were creating.” Finley threw up her hand and pointed toward the ridge to the left. “Look! There are two wolves up there.”

“They’ve been trotting in and out, along the crest for the last fifteen minutes. I believe they’ve been keeping an eye on us,” Fletcher told the trio. “They must have a den close by.”

“Think they are part of your Endangered Species Restoration Program?” Kate asked and dragged the blanket back up on their laps that Carling dislodged when she turned quickly in the seat to get a better look at the wolves.

“Not these two,” the Park Director told her passengers. “They are long time residents of this section and have three or four different dens they favor.”

“Fletcher, the creek is frozen, where do they get water from out here…Oh, isn’t that three terrace waterfall someplace over in that direction?” Finley pointed up ahead of them. “But, I don’t hear the rumble of the falls?”

“Frozen solid, water went underground just above the falls, and comes out at Reihard Pass.” Fletcher pointed out, “there isn’t a drop of running water to be seen around here, except at a few points where large falls occur, though the rush and rumble of the heavier currents may still be heard.” She pulled back on the reins and the sleigh came to a stop. “If you listen really carefully, Honey…You’ll hear the falls at Reihard Pass.”

Finley strained to hear the rumble of the water. After listening for several minutes, she jerked her head around to a face her lover. “You’re pulling my leg again?” She tapped the taller woman playfully in the shoulder. “That falls is…is…I don’t know how many miles from here.”

“I hear it,” Kate spoke as she adjusted her arm around the back of the sleigh.

Finley turned in the seat, “You hear it? Come on, Kate. You’ve got to be pulling my leg too?”

“We both hear it, Finley. Call it instinct, six sense or our backgrounds, but it’s there.” Fletcher drew up her shoulders, and slapped the reins over the horse rumps again and the sleigh moved forward slowly. After another gently rap of the reins the horses were walking quickly through the snow.

“Well, I’m be…” Finley settled back into the seat and snuggle closer to the taller woman.

“Don’t feel you’re by yourself, Finley. I didn’t hear it either.” Carling said softly.

Finley let out the breath she’d been holding. “Phew, I though something was wrong with my ears.” A golden warmness washed over her. “It’s the Seneca thing. That’s it, isn’t it, Fletcher?”

“Maybe.”

“Maybe?” Finley turned in the seat and asked Kate. “It’s the Seneca thing, right?”

“Probably,” was the only thing Kate uttered.

“Probably?” She turned back around in the seat. “What is it with you two and the…”

“Honey, we just did. Not necessarily our Indian heritage, which is a possibility, but it probably from our years of professional training.”

Carling flexed the muscles in her jaw. “Kate does that to me all the time. She can hear the duck and geese way off, even before they come into sight. Says she heard their wings flapping.”

“Just another of their many talents.” Finley pointed to the wolves again. “Hey, they stopped at that bluff.”

Fletcher looked up and paused before she responded. “Must have trailed us far enough from their den, and no longer consider us a threat.”

The women became silent, lost in the comfort of their friendship and the lovely scenery that filled their view. As the sleigh moved along the terrain, each considered how keenly every particle of this wondrous cloth of snow was flashing out jets of light and lit up the loftiest summits. In the distance, the white banners of the snow obliterated the black peaks, altogether. The glare flashed gloriously brighter as they entered a small dale where there were numerous large snow mounds, to which the sleigh steadily made its way.

From the back seat, Carling leaned forward and sighed. “Gracious, that is so beautiful. Hey guys! I feel a snow angle contest coming on.”


***



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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