The Promise Of A Lifetime

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


Chapter 19


“This is the last place you need to sign Ms. Boudreaux,” the tall, slender man tapped the final page of the closing documents. “Just sign above your typed name.” His hand muffled a cough, as Jacqueline endorsed the document with a flare and tossed the pen on the conference table.

“That’s it.” He gathered up the copies and placing them in two folders. He removed the fourteen and a half million-dollar cashier’s check from his brief case and paper clipped it to the top folder before he handed it to the attractive woman sitting next to Jacqueline. “Here’s your copy of the closing documents and your cashier’s check.”

Julia accepted the folder and smiled somewhat. “It’s a pleasure to do business with you, Jacqueline.” She placed her hand over the redheads and patted it gently. “Now that the transaction is complete, could I interest you in a nice cold duck dinner at my suite?” The seductress didn’t care that the attorney or his assistant might be embarrassed by her obvious sexual innuendoes. It would be Monday before she could cash the check or have the funds transferred into her account, and she really didn’t want Boudreaux out of her sight until then. Besides, she hadn’t been as aroused or stimulated with anyone in months and the redhead was an excellent lover.

"Julia, I'm amazed," Jacqueline joked as she stood and removed her coat from the seat next to her. "Aren't you afraid this will ruin your… reputation? People might get the idea you’re easy."

"You should be concerned about your own reputation, my dear," she replied. "Having such a beautiful and seductive woman as myself openly invite you to my…suite, will no doubt cause your attorney and his assistant to assume the worst."

Boudreaux glanced across the room, where the man and his assistant were attempting to make themselves inconspicuous until the two women left the room. “They don’t get paid to assume anything,” she snipped, the tone of her voice disrespectful. “Let’s get out of here. You have a good wine to go with that duck?”

“How does three bottles of 1978 Chateau Petrus, red Bordeaux sound?”

“Bordeaux. Is that a play on words?” Jacqueline Boudreaux held the door of the conference room open for Julia to exit.

“Let’s just say, I have always preferred a classic.”

“Classic as in me, or classic as in a thousand dollar bottle of wine?”

Julia didn’t stop, but turned her head slightly, “My wine cellar in Brussels has a hundred bottles of Chateau Petrus.” The statement was flat, and unemotional.

Jacqueline stopped and stood still. She was amazed at the implication from the stunning woman. Her thoughts moved quickly. I wouldn’t base a business decision on a matter of physical pleasure and neither would you, the redhead reflected. Our business is complete and there is no further need for pretense. So why are you keeping up the seduction scheme, Julia?

Still considering Julia’s motives, she caught up with her just before she got to the elevator. She pressed the down button as the seductress turned and stood waiting for the door.

Julia fixed her with a cool, unblinking stare. “You might want to consider the possibility that I want more than an affair.”

Jacqueline fought to keep her face blank.

The elevator door open, and they entered. No other passengers entered the lift and momentarily the doors slid shut. Jacqueline pushed the lobby button, and once it started down, just as quickly pushed the stop button. The elevator stopped just as suddenly as it started. Alarms sounded.

The redhead stepped close to the woman on the opposite side of the small space. “I told you, I never make business decision for personal reasons.”

Julia nodded.

“Well, I lied.”

Jacqueline would never know how Julia got into her arms-whether she jumped or flung herself at her, or whether she had pulled her close. Not that it mattered; the only thing she needed to know was that this was what she wanted-for right now. Whether she would always feel this way, remained to be seen.

There was a long space of time when there were no words; there was no need for any. Finally, Julia buried her face in the long red hair and said indistinctly, “Does this mean you’ll consider-an affair, or something more?”

"An affair? Yes, I would consider an affair. It’s what we have Julia-phone calls, visits, and hot sex. Whether or not there can be more between us depends on your position about combining business with pleasure, and whether or not I feel I can trust you.”

Julia rubbed her cheek against the red hair. “I’m still a businesswoman, you know-not a philanthropist. Oh, yes. I won’t say I didn’t have to look awfully hard for a way to keep you interested-so the property could be sold, but…then…there was more for me, Jacqueline.” She peeked up at here. “I’m not sure you’d agree with that,” she said doubtfully.

Jacqueline stoked her cheek tenderly. “I cared enough to see you again.” Careful old girl! Don’t get caught in her trap. Remember she is a genius at the deception game, the redhead reminded herself. But I’m heads above you when it comes to schemes, so why don’t I stroke your ego just a little…and see where it goes. “I felt like a fool letting you get the upper hand on me before, but to deny what my head said might be true…well…Julia, let us just say…I care.” Certainly I care…just long enough for that deed to be recorded on Monday.

Julia was too aware of her own secrets not to fear the consequences of allowing Jacqueline the upper hand in anything. You can’t handle truth, my dear. Nor will you ever get into my head, much less my heart. “Funny way you have of showing it.”

Most personal of moments were the simple truths. The true irony was…both women were liars. As schemers of the first degree, it seemed to be their jobs to lie, even when it wasn’t necessary. Both had hidden the simple truth from all emotions so long, that it had become a part of their personality. It had been from an early age self first, regardless of the cost. Neither of them bothered to ferret out the lies hiding in the little truths that surrounded their lives; honesty wasn’t a part of their makeup. But…at what cost? Again, neither of the two women cared about the price tag, as long as they were the one that came out on top and had their way. The only trouble with that facade was, only one of them would win in this encounter, but which one, and what would the other do in retaliation for the deception?

Jacqueline reached over and pushed the start button again. “Why don’t we continue this over that cold duck you promised?” Julia flicked her tongue in her mouth before she removed it, then nibbled her bottom lip as she took a step backwards. They continued to ogle each other until the ping announced the lobby as the door slowly opened.

“Why don’t you leave your car in the parking garage, and go over in my rental?” Julia asked, stepping into the lobby.

“I guess I could, but what about getting back to my place…whenever?”

“If you need to leave the suite for the next couple of days, I’ll be happy to drive you,” her lip turned up into a mischievous grin.

“Sounds…plausible,” she stepped behind Julia as the doorman opened the office-building entrance door for them and then followed Julia to the Lexus parked a few feet away.

At the hotel, Julia swiped the card and the double doors opened. She stood aside and allowed Jacqueline to enter, then just as quickly entered the suite and closed the doors behind her.

A feeling of purpose stole over Jacqueline as her eyes swept over the room and the expensive furnishings. She smiled, a smile that was neither superior nor condescending, but an understanding smile, for she knew what had brought her here. It was more than gratifying when Julia brushed her lips and asked for her to open a bottle of the wine, while she called down for the duck and slipped into something more comfortable.

Jacqueline took off her coat, and tossed it on the chair beside the desk and walked over to the sofa where she removed her suit jacket and carefully laid it across the back of the couch. She glanced around the room again and spotted the bar with the three bottles Chateau Petrus sitting next to two large wine glasses. A low laugh escaped her lips. You think you have me all figured out do you, Miss Sexy? Wine ready, cold duck ready to be brought to the room, and you changing into something more revealing.

A corkscrew sat behind the bottles. Jacqueline picked up a bottle of the wine and read the label. A hundred bottles in her cellar in Brussels, my ass! What would you say to a thousand bottles of this very year in my wine cellar, you twit? I never try to convince a woman there’s anything wrong with having a way with women, or even having a woman in your life. It’s fun to simply enjoy watching them try to wiggle into your life. She laughed. I am my own person, and I find my own fulfillment. I haven’t met a woman yet, unless…she stopped twisting the corkscrew…unless it might have been Fletcher Bucannan that I’d like to become part of a couple. Good God, that woman almost had my soul.

Jacqueline sat the bottle down and placed her hands on the top of the counter. Standing there for a full minute, thinking back over the feelings that almost possessed her when Fletcher was around made her shut her eyes and moan. Suddenly, and forcefully she shook her head back and forth to rid her mind of the thoughts. “A woman shouldn’t depend on anyone else for her self-worth. It stands inside her. If she finds it there, she can be successful in any arena, even in a business venture…or as a member of a relationship.” The redhead muffled the words as she picked up the bottle again and hastily worked the corkscrew. My self-worth doesn’t depend on anyone but me, and I don’t need anyone.

She wiggled the corkscrew gently as the cork began to come out. Hell, being a part of a relationship, as in a couple, isn’t the be-all and end-all, and if you aren’t stupid enough to let someone get their hooks into you, you will never be a failure. Being a part of a couple! Hell no! That isn’t for me. The cork was removed and the corkscrew sat on the counter next to the two remaining bottles. A glass was filled half full before she sat the bottle down and picked up the wine. She sipped the wine and allowed her speech to herself to soak in. Julia, you are only business, but you are just like me, that’s why I’m considering what you’ve said. But even if I decide to do something about this…this…this whatever the shit you think it is, you’ll never get the upper hand with me again, and you’ll never take a part of my soul, heart, or any emotional part of me. Jacqueline thought and downed the wine in three gulps.

Julia reentered the room and walked to the wet bar. Giving Jacqueline a beseeching look as she noticed the empty wine glass on the counter, she asked, “Aren’t you pouring the wine?”

“Sure, just waiting for your return,” the redhead piped in her calmest tone, picked up the bottle and filled both glasses, then handed one to Julia.

The smaller woman extended her hand across the counter to Jacqueline. “Come, let us sit on the sofa and get comfortable. They’ve been instructed to sit up the table in front of the window so we can watch the snowfall while we eat the duck.”

When they were comfortable on the sofa, Julia reached over and slowly unbuttoned the two more buttons on the redhead’s blouse. “There are several robes if you’d care to slip into something more….”

“Thought I’d wait until after dinner. Wouldn’t want to get distracted, and you are certainly a distraction in that outfit.” Her eyes slowly went up and down the woman seated next to her.

Julia stared at her, watching the corners of her mouth lift. What a conceited pile of manure you are, Jacqueline Boudreaux. Julia finally smiled. “One of these days, you’re going to sweet-talk your way into a pile of trouble.”

She shrugged with amusement. You smug, egotistical, arrogant broad! Damn, if you weren’t such a hot piece of ass, I wouldn’t give you the time of day. “So you keep telling me.” She turned and carefully set her glass on the table next to the sofa, then raised her head and looked at Julia, her expression serious. “I was pretty damned mad when I found out you’d stuck it to me on the ridge property,” she said quietly.

Julia’s expression instantly changed. Her eyes pierced the woman she had just duped again. If you only knew the latest, Miss Know It All. She tightly clasped her arms in front of her. There was a tense silence, and when she finally spoke, her voice was dry and very low. “It was business, Jacqueline. You were trying to shaft my mother and grandmother. I couldn’t allow that to happen.”

“You didn’t allow me to finish,” her tone was somewhat caustic. Sighing heavily, Julia dropped her arms. “Well?”

The redhead tried to keep the annoyance from her voice. Her eyes gleamed with a rakish sparkle as she gave her one of her utterly disarming grins. “I’m not sweet-talking you when I say, I was more than just happy to hear from you. I…I wanted to see you again.” Her grin broadened.

“It wasn’t for revenge?” her right eyebrow lifted.

The grin on the larger woman’s face disappeared. Moments passed before Jacqueline reached over and gently cupped the woman’s rounded chin “Retaliation is very gratifying, and I’m a master when it comes to reprisals. Trust me when I say, you don’t want to see my vengeance. You said there could be more between us. Have you changed your mind?”

Julia hesitated for a second, then reached up and removed Jacqueline’s hand from her chin. Resting the redhead’s hand against her mouth, she kissed it in the center, extending the kissed down the palm and onto each appendage before she took each finger into her mouth and suckled it before she went back to the palm where she licked it several times. “Does that seem like I’ve changed my mind?”

Jacqueline squinted thoughtfully. Oh, you are so good! I can feel my center throbbing with that little performance. Having you for several days might just make up for your first perfidious action. “Hmm…” She didn’t finish the sentence.

There was a tapping on the door, before a master key card opened it and a formally dressed middle age man pulled a cart into the room. He closed the doors and turned the cart towards the window. Silently he spread a cloth over the window table, arranged the food, and sat elegant china, crystal and silverware before he went to the bar for the wine. He poured both glasses and sat the bottle on the table. Again he returned to the bar, and removed the cork from another bottle of the expensive wine. He shoved the cork back into the opening before he took the bottle and sat it on the marble window sill and left just as quickly as he had entered, not waiting for a tip or Julia to sign for the food.

“Ah,” Jacqueline stood. “Saved by the…food. Shall we continue this after we’ve eaten?” She extended her hand down to the seated woman.

“Yes,” the taller woman took the hand and they walked side by side the table, where Jacqueline held the chair for Julia to sit down.

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

“Hmm, this looks good,” Julia said, lifting the cover from the duck and set off to the side of the table.

“Yes, it does,” Jacqueline agreed and placed her napkin in her lap.

Half way through the meal, Julia glanced at her dinner companion. “How’s your father?”

“What?”

“Earlier in the week, mother had said she ran into your father at the club. He mentioned not feeling well, or some tests or something.” Her knife sliced another piece of the savory duck.

“Didn’t know your mother knew my father?”

“Oh, yes. They’ve belonged to the same club for over thirty-five years.”

“I seldom go there. Actually, I hated all that pretension when I was growing up, so now I only go,” she shrugged her shoulders, “Once (once) in a blue moon.”

“You have a lifetime membership don’t you?”

Jacqueline glanced at Julia as she swallowed and took a sip of wine. “Yes. My father gave it to me on my twenty-first birthday.”

“Jacqueline, I know she gave you half ownership in the club and the golf course along with the membership,” she laughed. “You should go more often. They have good buffet luncheons.” The empty bottle of wine was set aside and the bottle on the sill was uncorked and their glasses refilled.

“After I’ve spent all week either at some logging operation, checking on the mill or one of other enterprises my father expects me to run, getting dressed up and going to the club just to eat isn’t a priority. I prefer my evenings with more appealing appetizers.”

“I see.” The glass was raised, but returned to the table. Instead, the water glass found its way to her lips, a swallow taken before the glass was returned to its place. “Now back to the original question. Is your father having a health challenge?” If you knew he was the one that told mother about needing specific lumber for your furniture manufacturing a few weeks back, you would have avoided my calls all together.

She sounds genuinely concerned about him…hmm…maybe she…NO! You aren’t to be trusted, Julia. The less you know about my affairs or my family the better off I’ll feel. “He’s fine, only his annual checkup. He goes every year around his birthday for the whole tests, x-rays annual thing.” Her hand emphasized with a wave before it reached for her roll.

“Oh. Well I’m glad to hear he isn’t experiencing any health issues. This is really excellent duck isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is,” she said after she swallowed the bread.

The room was quiet for the rest of the meal. Jacqueline finished first and placed her napkin beside the plate, before she reached for her wine glass and drank slowly. Julia’s filled her empty wine glass from the second bottle and held up the bottle to Jacqueline placed her glass on the table to be refilled. “Ah, you didn’t get a full glass.” She sat the empty bottle down on the table.

“You want me to open the last bottle?”

“Hmm…how about you open the bottle, and we have our apples and cheese in front of the fire?”

“Works for me.” She stood and took her partially filled wine glass to the wet bar, but drained it before she sat it down to open the last bottle of wine.

Joining Julia on the thick rug in front of the fireplace, she poured them both another glass of wine.

“Here, take a pillow,” Julia pulled one from the stack against the sofa and placed it under Jacqueline’s elbow.

“Thanks,” Jacqueline leaned over and kissed the woman’s hand.

“Open up,” long fingers held up a slice of apple with a cube of cheese on it. Jacqueline obeyed and returned the feeding gesture to Julia.

They fed each other half of the plate of cheese and apples before Julia pushed the plate aside and held out her glass to be refilled. They lay there drinking the wine and gazing into each other’s eyes.

The red Bordeaux slipped down their throats with sinuous warmth. It tasted of summer grapes and years in seasoned barrels; of brief spring showers and winter snows melted into the soils and enriching the roots of the vine. It was pure essence, soothing and stimulating all at once. Its warmth seemed to flow to every cell of their bodies, leaving all the senses a little subdued.

With a look of surprised delight Julia carefully set the glass down on the hearth of the fireplace. “Always a delightful wine,” she said unsteadily.

Jacqueline set her empty glass beside hers. "Yes, I’ll agree with that. I believe it’s time to get rid of these clothes.” Her hands quickly unbuttoned the remaining buttons of her blouse and tossed it behind her back. With a wiggled, the pumps were off and pushed to the side. As her hand reached for the zipper of her slacks, Julia caught it and pushed it aside, before she made quick work of removing the trousers down off the well built body.

Without a word, they moved into each other's arms, and obsessively, their mouths met. The kiss was not sweet as summer rain, or gentle as a cool breeze, nor fresh as morning. It was boldly demanding. As they kissed, the taste of the convivial intermingling was packed with lust and need, of power and uncontrollable longing, of dominating and conquering the other. It renewed the strength and determination in both hearts, as well as the ache that throbbed at odd times since they had met.

The kisses were scouring fierceness, with determination that was stronger than denial, with need too powerful to fight. As tongues made quick entrances into willing mouths, each felt she was slipping, surrendering, desiring release in a way that both were determined to control. The nubs of nipples were tight, an unmistakable answer to arousal. Frantic fingers tugged at negligee and undergarments until hands slid through hair, thick and wet as a damp night. Their bodies warmed and molded snuggly into the contours of the other, both aware that a decision had been make in the joined clamor of sexual release.

***

The soft light of the dawn streamed through the small opening in the heavy drapes as Jacqueline blinked at the glow and sat up. Unwillingly she tossed back the cover and stumbled to the balcony window, where she jerked the drapes together.

“What are you doing up?” A muffled voice came from behind her as a light came on.

“A crack in the drapes…too much morning light,” she mumbled as she stumbled back to the bed. “Turn off the light, Julia,” she said, her head sank in the pillow.

A click and the room went dark again, only to have long fingers seeking through the curling mat of Jacqueline’s hair until they found the full breasts and flat nipples and caressed them to hardness.

“It’s only been a couple of hours. You can’t want to again,” she replied distractedly, as she turned over to have Julia’s tongue and mouth close over the bud. Rolling it between her lips, she sucked on it deeply.

The redhead groaned beneath her, her breathing deep and uneven. Jacqueline could feel the surging beat of Julia’s heart beneath the palm that nestled against her right breast.

Dipping lower with her mouth and tongue, Julia explored the contours of the long body fully, her warm hands seeking, finding. Firmly, she stroked her velvet smoothness, delighting in the evidence of the redhead’s desire until her hips bucked in release.

“Julia,” Jacqueline moaned, her name a whispered incantation.

Then Julia gasped in surprise as suddenly the redhead took charge, grasping her shoulders and rolling over to trap her beneath her long form. It was Jacqueline’s turn to be the aggressor. Her palms shaped her breast, kneading them gently, then passionately, as Julia demanded she squeeze harder. Pushing her head back into the pillow, Julia arched her body upward convulsively, seeking Jacqueline’s touch.

“Yes,” she whispered, sighing, and knowing hands slipped lower. She sucked in hr breath sharply, wanting, needing the intimacy of the long fingers deep within her. Jacqueline’s touch was pure magic as she aroused her further still, her fingers stroking with a sure, steady rhythm that transported her to a paradise where time and place no longer existed, where nothing mattered save pleasure and sensation and the devastating needs the redhead evoked within her.

“Now, Jacqueline,” she demanded. “Now.”

Then with one last thrust of the three fingers, she was there.

Their lovemaking was wild and primitive as they came together again, a surging torrent of unleashed desire that overwhelmed them both. Jacqueline felt her body tightening with a tension that demanded its own release, her limbs tingling with a heat that spread slowly inward until her entire body throbbed with the pulsating rhythm. Then the coiling knot within her exploded, and she fell over the edge of the world and carried Julia with her, their bodies clasped together in a shuddering, explosive climax.

Jacqueline rolled over onto her back bringing the smaller woman with her. It was a moment before either was able to speak. With her elbows resting on either side of Jacqueline’s head, Julia slumped languidly over her. Equally drained, Jacqueline rested beneath the smaller woman, devastated by an experience that had surpassed all expectations and previous climaxes. What they had shared was draining, and they both knew they were finished for a while.

“Wow,” Jacqueline said softly as Julia rolled to one side, as she reached down to pull the sheet and comforter up over them.

Gazing down at her warmly, Julia smiled. “I know what you mean.”

Flinging her hands up over her head, Jacqueline stretched with feline grace. “I think we’ve given the words endurance and earth shattering a whole new context.”

Leaning up on her side, Julia braced up on her elbow, her head resting in one hand, the other toying idly with the thick strands of red hair that fanned about the pillow in careless disarray. “I knew we’d be better together than last time,” she murmured. “God, Jacqueline, you are one very stamina driven, satisfying woman.”

At that, Jacqueline’s eyes opened slowly, by the compliment. “Thanks,” she said, “You’re quite the vixen in bed yourself.”

“Who, me?” One eye and just the tip of a delicately arched brow peeked over at Jacqueline as her fingers made their way up the woman’s body and rested on a nipple.

“Damn, Julia.” Jacqueline swore. Turning to face her, she grinned up at her wolfishly. “Give me ten minutes before you start that again.”

“They’re just resting there. I couldn’t do anything else right now either.” Julia muttered, shaking her head slowly. “Think I can go back to sleep now, what about you?” She said, as she lifted her head and allowed her arm to drop to the pillow where it joined Jacqueline’s above her head. Slowly Julia lowered her head to the pillow and snuggled closer to the warm body next to her.

“I’ll have no difficulty at all,” her eyes closed.

Within seconds, both women were breathing heavily.

***

Kate sat in the back of the courtroom. Carling and Fletcher were in the witness room waiting to be called. Finley would be joining them for lunch, as she had promised to help Andrea at the medical facility. The sheriff scanned the gallery with observant eyes. No one looked suspicious, but the defendant, Mark Brody. The clean-shaven, logging foreman sat next to a lawyer, who was decked out in a two thousand dollar suit if Kate had ever seen one before. Both the defendant in a newly purchased suit, and the overpriced lawyer made a very unusual client-attorney sight. Brody kept tugging at his tie as if he had never had one before. His attorney turned to him twice before the foreman stopped trying to loosen the knot of the tie.

Fletcher said Jacqueline Boudreaux was footing the bill for her foreman. Hmm, now why would she spend thousands of dollars on this man, even if he has been with the timber company for years? Kate felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end. Her years of law enforcement kicked in and her sixth sense was screaming, ‘responsible for the explosion’, but there wasn’t any real proof. Just because there were cigar butts with his DNA on them only meant he was in the area, even if he had been prohibited from entering the park for five years.

The tall woman crossed her legs, and shifted on the bench. He’s a licensed explosives expert, but they weren’t able to prove any connection to the blast that nearly took Finley’s and Fletcher’s lives. Nor were any explosives missing from the timber company apparently, or so their inventory showed. She lowered her head in thought, and then glanced at the defendant again. With his expertise in demolitions, he could have manufactured any number of explosive devices and hand made detonators from materials he could have been getting from hardware stores for months. His brother will testify he was in Canada hunting with him at the time. So…he has an alibi, which I’d bet my apple orchard on is a lie. The RCMP questioned his brother and cousin for hours, but neither wouldn’t budge from his statement. Said they were at home all day, tying on a good drunk before they went hunting the next day. No one saw them until the next day, when both bought shells.

The bailiff stepped forward and directed they all stand. The judge came in from the side, stepped up on the platform and raped his gavel as he sat down.

As the trial started and the charges read, Kate lowered her head again and scratched her eyebrow. Brody has a brand new truck, paid in full with cash. He simply doesn’t make that kind of money, so who does? Boudreaux. Does she hate Fletcher that much? Heck, they weren’t together that long. Jacqueline is a shrewd businesswoman…Fletcher did make her stop cutting up on the perch ridge. Kate sat back against the bench. It was clear to her that somehow, Fletcher’s former lover was behind the attempts on Fletcher’s life, but proving it would be difficult, if not impossible.

“Call your first witness,” the judge said to the Scott Gaylord, the deputy district attorney.

“Our first witness is, Senior Ranger H. Jamison.”

The bailiff met Jamison in front of the witness chair and held out the Bible for her to take the oath. Jamison was decked out in her olive drab green uniform and polished black accessories, and placed her uniform hat in her lap as she sat down.

“For the court reporter, please state your name and occupation.”

“My name is Hewana Jamison. I’m a Senior Ranger at Adirondacks State Park.”

“You seem to be pretty young to be a Senior Ranger, do you mind telling us your age?”

“I’ll be twenty-seven next month.”

“Twenty-seven. That’s still young to be a Senior Ranger, isn’t it?”

“I’ve worked at the park since I was sixteen, after school, and during the summer. Went to work at the park full time when I was eighteen, and still completed two years at the community college in the evenings. I’ve fulfilled every duty the rangers have and completed multiple schooling in park oriented functions.”

“That’s admirable of you.” He stepped closer to the witness box as he tugged on his ear. “That’s over ten years experience.” He was careful to point out the term of service contributed to the young ranger. “I understand that the Park Director makes allowances for those that want to continue their education.

“Yes, the Chief believes if you better yourself, you better your abilities in servicing the park.”

“As senior ranger, what are your major responsibilities at the park?”

“Taking care of the parks wildlife, forests, rivers, lakes, and tributaries; conducting tours, lectures on the facilities. Head of several teams with various responsibilities in the Endangered Species Program, checking up on the campers, fishing, boating, canoeing, campsites, tracking…”

“Stop there please, Ranger. You said tracking? Could you explain what you mean when you say tracking?”

“A tracker…ah…follows or trails various animals, trails, and people in a range of diverse circumstances and conditions.” “And you’re considered to be a good tracker?”

“Yes, I am.”

“I object, your honor. So she tracks wild animals at the park. We see no relevance between Ms. Jamison being a tracker and a senior ranger.” Scott Mullis, the defense attorney didn’t bother to rise from his chair.

“If we are allowed to continue, it will become apparent why we wish for Ranger Jamison to explain her qualifications as a tracker.” The district attorney faced the judge, and placed his hand on the witness stand rail.

“I’ll allow it, but make your point quickly,” said the judge as he made a note on his pad.

“Thank you, your honor.” He turned back to face Jamison. “Jamison… Jamison,” he repeated. “I’ve heard that name before. Wasn’t it a Jamison that tracked that escape convict down over rocky terrain for over fifty miles in Mexico?”

“Yes Sir, that was my father.”

“Oh, your father. How about up in Canada, last year, when that child was lost and a tracker named Jamison trailed that little girl through snow and sleet? Was that your father also?”

“No, Mr. Gaylord, that was me…uh...I.” The expression on Hewana face didn’t change.

“I see.” He turned and walked over to the jury box and smiled at several of the jurors.

Still facing them Gaylord asked, “When they had to track that killer bear in Montana, a tracker named Jamison was the only one not to give up and tracked the animal for three days and nights without stopping. Was that Jamison your father,” he turned around but didn’t advance towards the witness chair, “or was that tracker you?”

“It was me,” Jamison remained focused and waited for the next question.

“You think you inherited your tracking skills, or did you acquire that ability.”

“I think I probably inherited the basic instincts, and fine tuned it from the various tracking experiences I’ve done.”

“Your honor, we believe we have met the criteria for Ranger Jamison to be qualified as an expert tracker. We could go continue with at least twenty or more other tracking reference if necessary.”

“Mr. Mullis, do you have any objections to Ms. Jamison being qualified as an expert witness as a tracker?”

The defense attorney tapped his pencil on the legal pad several times before he dropped it to the table. “Yes, I have objections, but we’ll probably be overruled.” His voice was full of animosity.

“Mr. Mullis, I don’t know how they respond to judges in Albany, but in this court, your answers will be in a civil tone. Do I make myself clear?”

The well-dressed man rose from his seat, “I apologize to the court. No, I have no objections to this witness being classified as an expert in the field of tracking.” His left hand signed silence when Brody attempted to whisper to him. What in the hell does Boudreaux expect me to do with all this evidence against him. There isn’t any way for me to get him out of the charges. But the retainer was ten times what I’d normally charge, so maybe I can discredit one of the many witnesses. He’d simply put up the best defense he could and hopefully get a light sentence for the man if he could just cast doubt on one or more pieces of the evidence. Don’t think that’s a possibility, but I sure as hell don’t want Boudreaux to take her business elsewhere.

“You may continue, Mr. Gaylord.”

“Tell us what happened on November, 1st of this year?” He leaned back against the witness box and crossed his ankles.

Kate sat attentively as Jamison laid out the events of that day, and how she traced the poacher to his cabin by the marred snowmobile ski. She covered every detail perfectly, including the cigar butt close to the remains of the doe and the snowmobile found in Brody’s backyard. Mullis objected several times during her testimony, to various statements, but was overruled on each objection.

After half the morning went by before Mullis had his chance to cross-examine the young ranger. He tried several different approaches to discredit or cast some small dispersion on her recount of the episode, but Jamison was steady and positive with all her statements. She left the stand after two hours and patted Kate on the shoulder as she left the courtroom.

By noon, several rangers and deputy sheriffs were called to testify. All were credible witnesses, and backed up Jamison’s testimony on each question asked.

Mullis tried to get the deputy that arrived with the sheriff to dispute the search warrant, but he stated the judge had issued it prior to the search at Brody’s and that the guns were confiscated under due process. Brody had told Mullis that the rifle that killed the deer was one the deputies placed in the trunk of the sheriff’s vehicle, so there wasn’t much he could do, except try and taint the search. He thought he might have made a point or two with the rough handling by the deputies, and hopefully, at least one of the jurors would have issues with some form of law enforcement and believe it unjustified. Again, personally, he didn’t think anyone would find fault with the sheriff department’s procedures or behavior.

About eleven-thirty, Finley’s hand rested on Kate’s leg momentarily before she slipped passed the tall woman and sat down next to her. “How’s it going?” she asked softly.

“Have to give Brody’s attorney five stars. He’s questioned everything, seven ways to sunder and back.” She whispered into Finley’s ear. “However, he’s yet to put a doubt in anyone’s mind…that is, as far as I’m concerned.”

“You’ve been to enough of these to get a general feel for what the jury might be thinking, so I’ll assume that the prosecution is ahead so far?”

“I’d say they were way ahead, Finley. However, you can never tell what’s going through that many juror’s minds.” She crossed her legs again, and turned her head to speak into the paleontologist’s ear. “There have been cases that I felt the evidence was staggering, and the jury for some reason felt reasonable doubt, and let the defendant go free.”

“Well, better one guilty person go free, than one be imprisoned wrongly,” Finley stared at the back of the defendant’s head. “Even if your instincts are screaming his guilt.”

“Don’t be letdown just yet. Carling is a very detailed and precise witness. The DNA from the meat on his plate from his house will prove he killed the deer, and will serve time for violating his probation by being in the park and hunting illegally. It’s going to take some open-minded jurors to convict him of reckless endangerment with the shot to Fletcher’s tire. Can’t prove motive beyond reasonable doubt, but there will be additional charges of discharging a firearm illegally, and if he admits he was hunting, that’s another year added to the sentence.” She straightened up as the defense finished cross-examining the deputy that drove Brody to jail.

The judge glanced to the back of the room at the overhead clock. “Before you call your next witness, Mr. Mullis, we will adjourn for lunch. Court will resume at 2 p.m..” The gavel struck the block as the bailiff stepped forward quickly and directed the courtroom to rise as the judge exited the scene.

“We have over two hours for a decent lunch. I’m starving,” Finley nudged Kate to exit. “Do you know where Fletcher and Carling are?”

“Yes,” Kate stepped into the aisle and allowed Finley to proceed down the narrow walkway to the double open doors. Outside the courtroom, Kate caught the shorter woman’s arm, “It’s this way,” her hand went to the right.

At lunch, the women did not discuss how the trial was going, or any of the witnesses, or their testimony. They did discuss the skiing the day before, the folk concert and planned for Fletcher and Finley to visit Carling and Kate in the Catskills the following month. They didn’t realize how fast the time went by, until Fletcher motioned to the server for the check.

“I can’t be in court this afternoon,” Finley said, putting her arms the coat Fletcher held for her. “I’m running some tests on the rocks from outside the cavern with Lira’s assistance, and we need to finish some stats on it while she has a few hours to spare.” She zipped the parka up as she started for the restaurant entrance, followed closely by the other three women.

“That’s fine. Remember we’re having dinner at Mom’s, so we’ll meet you there.” Fletcher held the door open for the women to exit and followed them out onto the sidewalk where the snow was beginning to come down in little flurries. “Drive carefully, Finley. The highway to the park will be icy,” the Park Director hugged her partner and stepped off the curb to open the door of a park SUV for Finley.

“I will, and you three drive carefully too,” she insisted and slipped into the seat.

The three women watched as she backed out and drove off before they quickly walked around the block and across the square to the courthouse through the snow that covered the streets and sidewalks.

Kate went towards the courtroom, while Fletcher and Carling returned to the witness room.

The tall sheriff looked around the room, which was only about a quarter full of spectators. Mostly folks interested in getting out of their homes to see what was happening in court, and others looked as if they might have just come in the room to get out of the snow that had started again as they reached the courthouse steps.

Don’t see Jacqueline here for moral support for her foreman. Guess that high priced attorney was enough support. She thought, as both the defense attorney and the prosecutor entered the courtroom about the same time and made their way to the tables up front. The defense attorney didn’t look all that happy, while his counter part had a very pleasant expression on his face as he opened his brief case and took out a notebook.

Brody was brought to his chair and his handcuffs were removed before he sat down. The man said something to Mullis, who nodded as he brought out a folder from his brief case, then set the satchel on the floor next to the table leg.

The bailiff ordered everyone to stand as the judge entered and sat down. After the bailiff read the preliminaries, he returned to his station a few feet from the judge’s desk.

“You may call your next witness, Mr. Gaylord.”

Scott Gaylord rose from his seat. “Thank you, your honor. The state wishes to call Dr. Carling Reed.”

Within a few seconds, Carling entered from the side door and stood before the witness chair where she took the oath before she sat down.

“Please state your name and occupation for the record,” Gaylord asked as he approached the witness box.

“Dr. Carling Reed. I’m a forensic pathologist.”

“Where are you employed Dr. Reed, and what is your title there?”

“I’m the Regional Director of the State’s Southeastern Forensic Laboratory in the Catskills.”

“And before you became the Regional Director of the facility at the Catskills, where were you employed and at what capacity?” Gaylord stood to the side of the witness box so that the jurors could keep eye contact with Carling.

“I was, and still am, the Chief Forensic Investigative Pathologist for the State’s main facilities in Albany. Although my title has changed in heading up the new facility, my responsibilities as Forensic Scientist for the state remains the same.”

“Impressive,” he placed his hand on the side rail of the box. “You’re an expert in the field of Forensics aren’t you Dr. Reed?”

Mullis stood. “Your Honor, anyone that has been involved with cases involving forensic is well aware of Dr. Reed’s qualifications, and we’re willing to accept her as an expert in that field.”

“Is Dr. Reed your forensics expert, Mr. Gaylord?” “Yes, she is, your honor.”

“Let the record show Dr. Reed is accepted as the State’s expert.” He nodded to the court reporter. “Mr. Gaylord, I want this case to move forward, so if you have other expert witness for the court, please don’t drag out this proceeding.”

“Dr. Reed’s is our only expert in this field, and our last witness for this case. Her forensic evaluations of certain key pieces of evidence and her testimony will be lengthy, but we anticipate this case will be concluded by late today, or by tomorrow at the latest.”

“Very well, Mr. Gaylord. Please begin your questioning.”

“Thank you your honor,” he scratched his head just above his ear. “Dr. Reed, without going into a lot of technical detail that most of us wouldn’t understand, can you briefly explain what can be identified by DNA sequences and some examples of DNA for Forensic Identification?”

“Forensics, specifically DNA identification and sequences can’t always be explained easily because it is a very technical science. However, I’ll try and be specific and as brief as I can.”

“Thank you, we appreciate your candor.”

“Any type of organism can be identified by examination of DNA sequences unique to that species. Identifying individuals within a species is less precise at this time, although when DNA sequencing technologies progress farther, direct comparison of very large DNA segments, and possibly even whole genomes, will become feasible and practical and will allow precise individual identification.”

Gaylord held up his hand. “Wait, you’ve already lost me,” his face full of confusion. “Can you clarify what you just said?”

“The process of identifying individuals with a species is pretty specific, such as when you have siblings, twins, family members etc. Their makeup, although similar, is specific and unique to that particular individual. However, not all species are that easy to identify, because we don’t have samples of every species of man, animal, plants, bacteria and such. For example, certain poisonous frogs in South America can be traced back to a certain species of that poisonous frog, but not specifically to one particular frog.”

“Ah...” he moved to the other side of the witness box and put his hand on the top rail. “DNA segments, and possibly even whole genomes of all species aren’t available from certain species for evaluation…such as the poisonous frogs you mentioned.”

“That’s correct.”

“But you can identify individuals by the DNA regions and most species, am I correct? “Yes, in individuals and a great many species, we can.”

“How can you identifying individuals and their DNA regions?” He turned and walked back to his seat. “But, again, as simply as you can, please.”

“To identify individuals, forensic scientists scan 13 DNA regions that vary from person to person and use the data to create a DNA profile of that individual, which is sometimes called a DNA fingerprint. There is an extremely small chance that another person has the same DNA profile for a particular set of regions.”

“That, I can understand.” He sat down and flipped the page of his notebook. “Now, what about some examples of what you’d use DNA for in Forensic Identification.” He placed a check mark by something in the middle of the page, then looked up at Carling.

“We use DNA to identify potential suspects whose DNA may match evidence left at crime scenes; to exonerate persons wrongly accused of crimes; to identify crime and catastrophe victims; establish paternity and other family relationships; to identify endangered and protected species as an aid to wildlife officials, this could be used for prosecuting poachers; detect bacteria and other organisms that may pollute air, water, soil, and food; to match organ donors with recipients in transplant programs; to determine pedigree for seed or livestock breeds, and to authenticate consumables such as caviar and wine.”

“That seems like a specific set of forensic identifications, Dr. Reed. Let me ask you a question about a couple of those areas,” he looked down at the list he had on the page in front of him. “You said, ‘to exonerate persons wrongly accused of crimes’. Can you give us several examples of such cases?”

“There are many examples of such cases, for an example, DNA Forensic Identification can overturn cases in which an individual was accused of rape, when the DNA turns out not to be his. Another example would be blood at the scene of a crime that isn’t the accused, or even fingerprints that wasn’t the accused.”

“Thank you Dr. Reed,” he checked off several more lines. “Can saliva, or should I say, is saliva an example of exclusive DNA Forensic Identification?”

“Yes, Mr. Gaylord. No two individuals have the same saliva DNA.”

He stood, removed several plastic evidence bags and walked to the box and handed Carling the sealed bags. “Did you examine these cigar butts, and can you tell us what you found?”

Carling examined each bag, and then set them on the rail of the box. Gaylord. “Yes, each have my mark on them. They are of chew down cigar butts. Forensics were run on the contents and all came from the defendant, Mr. Mark Brody.”

“Was there any indication where the butts were found?”

“Yes,” she picked up the first bag and checked the number. “Bag number twelve was marked by Deputy Sheriffs as being found some twenty feet from a partially gutted deer inside the park. The exact location is marked on the bag. Bags number thirteen, fourteen and fifteen are butts retrieved from Mr. Brody’s front yard. Bag number sixteen was bagged from an ashtray on Mr. Brody’s coffee table.”

“Besides the DNA on the butts, is there any other Forensic Identification on the cigar butts?” “I object, Your Honor. I don’t believe there is any Forensic ID that can be told from fifty million cigars produced every year from the same company.”

“If Dr. Reed is allowed to proceed, you will see that there is specific identification on these particular cigars and the half box of cigars tagged from the defendant’s home.”

“I’m going to overrule you for now, Mr. Mullis. However, if Dr. Reed can’t connect the box of cigars and the butts, I’ll uphold your objection.” He nodded to Gaylord to continue.

“Dr. Reed, would you explain?”

“The cigars were without wrappers and each layer of cigars was wrapped between a rum soaked cloth. The rum saturated the cigar from top to bottom. The rum on all butts was the same as on the cigars in the box.”

“Is this the box?” He reached into the evidence container and removed the bagged box and went back to the witness box.

Carling took the box and read the tag. “Yes, this is the box I tested. The box also has Mr. Brody’s fingerprints on them.” She handed the box back to Gaylord.

“We submit exhibit number seventeen for the record,” he handed the box to the clerk.

Walking back to the table he removed four other bags and walked back to Carling. “These bags also contain chewed cigar butts. Can you identify them, Dr. Reed?” he asked, handing the four marked bags to Carling.

Carling picked up each bag and checked the markings, then set them back on the rail. “Yes,” she said. “Bag number eighteen is from a butt submitted from the park, recovered by Ranger Jamison at,” she picked up the bag again and read the location from the back. “Two hundred yards from the site of an explosion at the park.”

“I object,” Mullis stood up quickly. “My client isn’t charged with any thing connected to an explosion, and the butt wasn’t submitted by police authorities.”

“Objection sustained.”

“But Your Honor, we intend to show...”

“I’ve made my ruling, that particular butt isn’t admissible. Move on, Mr. Gaylord.

He moved closer to the witness box. “Dr. Reed, what about the other three bags?”

“They were submitted by the Sheriff’s Department for Forensic Identification. They are three individual butts found two hundred yards from the site of an explosion at the park.”

“I object, Your Honor. These butts have no bearing on my client being charged with hunting out of season, nor of the discharging a firearm, or reckless endangerment.”

“If we’re allowed to continue for just a few minutes more, Your Honor, it will be evident why we want these butts admitted.” Gaylord faced the judge.

“Are you trying to show involvement in another possible charge, Mr. Gaylord? If you are, why wasn’t the defendant charged?”

“We intend to prove, Mr. Brody was in the park more than just the one time in which he killed the deer.”

“Allegedly killed a deer,” Mullis interjected.

“We will prove trespassing, violating his probation, and possibly other charges later, but right now, we will prove he was in the park on more than one occasion.”

“Dr. Reed, will Forensics clear up this matter?” the judge asked Carling.

“Yes, Sir.”

“Very well, I’ll allow the three butts submitted by the Sheriff’s Department, but not for anything other offenses other than the ones originally being charged.”

“But Your Honor,” Mullis started, but was stopped by the judge.

“Sit down, Mr. Mullis. I said we’d hear the testimony about these butts.”

Gaylord turned back to Carling. “Dr. Reed, please examine exhibit numbers nineteen through twenty-one, and your findings?”

Carling picked up each bag and examined it thoroughly before she set them back on the railing. “As I said before, each was a butt submitted by the Sheriff’s Department, which stipulated they were found at a location two hundred yards from the site of an explosion in the park. Each butt was Forensic tested and contains Mr. Brody’s dried saliva and DNA.”

“So Mr. Brody was in the park on another time?”

“I can’t verify that, Mr. Gaylord. I can only authenticate the butts have Mr. Brody’s DNA on them, not where they were found or how they got there, or when, except that the butts were in excellent condition and could not have been in the elements more than a few days before the Sheriff’s Department uncovered them.”

“Fine,” he went back to his seat and checked his notes. “Dr. Reed, are these cigars the same as those in the box found at Mr. Brody’s home?”

“Yes. They have the same rum soaked treatment.”

“Thank you, Dr. Reed.” He looked at his notes again. “Now tell us about… to identify endangered and protected species as an aid to wildlife officials, this could be used for prosecuting poachers?”

“What exactly do you want to know?”

“Police crime labs are overworked as it is. Few are equipped to handle evidence-involving wildlife. So what kind of trace evidence about wildlife is done at the Southeastern Regional Laboratory and do you have proper facilities for this kind of testing…and why do it, with all the other criminal cases you have to handle?”

“The frustration of cases never going to court for lack of evidence has hurt in the past. Many cases weren't solid enough for conviction because the evidence was inconclusive,” said Carling, “but, it was deemed very crucial for a lot of Federal cases, in which crime's involvement in illegal wildlife smuggling and poaching. The situation was so serious that a federal forensics laboratory is devoted to supporting the investigation of wildlife crime, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service sat up what they call the “Scotland Yard of Wildlife Conversation’ to handle just such Forensics. This lab, working with other fish and wildlife biologists and other facilities, now have a library of tissue and blood samples to be identified by species, even to individual animals that can be used by other facilities across the country, including ours down in the Catskills. We have taken on the wildlife identification due to the number of parks throughout the state, where numerous crimes involving wildlife have gone unsolved because there weren’t the proper facilities close enough to handle such identification.”

“Suppose you have a suspect you think illegally shot more than one animal, or one particular animal?” He looked directly at Mark Brody, whose expression was one of hatred, possibly more.

“With the help of all the previous findings from the Federal lab, we can use the DNA analysis to prove the meat was from two individual animals, or from one specific animal.”

“How?”

"We can take two pieces of evidence -- one from a crime scene and one from a suspect -- and tie the suspect to the crime scene," said Carling. “Did you do that in this case?”

“Yes, we did.”

“How?”

“Samples from the partial carcass found in the park, a sample from the spit in Mr. Brody’s back yard, one from the pot simmering on his stove, and one sample from the plate he was eating from, were all tested.” She reached for the glass of water that was on the edge of the Judges stand. After taking several swallows she returned the glass and continued. “Dr. Blake Marlow and I, tested tissue samples and proved they were not from a goat, as Mr. Brody had indicated. Further testing pegged it to the deer/elk family. Even more tests confirmed it was indeed a whitetail deer, and the last test proved the carcass found by the park rangers, and the sample at Mr. Brody’s home were all from the same animal.”

Thank you, Dr. Reed,” he smiled at Carling and returned to his seat. “I have no further questions of this witness at this time.”

“Mr. Mullis, you may cross examine.”

Mullis didn’t rise; he didn’t even look at the witness. He realized there wasn’t anything he could do, but he had seen Shirley Smith in the back of the courtroom, and knew she was Boudreaux’s personal assistant and would report to her employer what was happening in the trial. He needed to at least put up a show of defense, even if he felt it useless.

“You ever make personal mistakes, Dr. Reed?” he asked still seated.

“Objection. Not relevant. Dr. Reed’s not on trial here.” The prosecutor yelled from his seat.

“You don’t have to shout, Mr. Gaylord. Objection sustained. Mr. Mullis, rephrase your question.”

He rose slowly from his chair as his head also rose to stare directly at Carling. He walked slowly forward and stopped five feet in front of the witness box. “Do you ever make mistakes in your work, Dr. Reed?”

“We all make mistakes, Mr. Gaylord, that’s the reason we have several scientists working on the same test…to prevent needless mistakes.”

Mullis continued his stare. “When was the last time you made a mistake at work, Dr. Reed?”

Carling thought for a moment then responded. “Last month when I accidentally broke a vial I was running DNA on.”

“Does this sort of thing happen often with you, Dr. Reed…contaminating or destroying evidence?”

“Objection. Again, Dr. Reed is not on trial here, and this has no bearing on her testimony in this case.”

“It has direct bearing on my client’s case, if Dr. Reed has these…” he turned and faced the jury. “Accidents frequently. How do we know there wasn’t an accident with my clients DNA samples?”

“Your Honor?” Gaylord continue to stand.

“It’s obvious where you’re going with this Mr. Mullis, however, you need to rephrase your questions to this particular case.”

“Thank you, I will,” a half smirk touched the corner of his mouth. His face became straight again as he turned back to face Carling.

“Dr. Reed how do we know there wasn’t an accident when you tested my clients DNA?”

“Because we use two separate examiners, and each verify the findings of the other. Dr. Marlow performed his identification of the dental mold taken from your client at the same time I was performing mine. We both performed the DNA identification for the swap we took from Mr. Brody’s mouth. We both separately and together performed the identification of the rum on the cigars from three bottles from Mr. Brody’s home, where two brands of rum and been mixed together and poured into the third bottle to make up the rum that was used to saturate the cloth in the cigar box and on all the cigar butts.” Carling didn’t even grit her teeth as she responded. She was calm and collective as she answered questions smoothly and proficiently.

“How do we know there wasn’t another …accident…while you were performing these identifications on the evidence in this case?” His face contained a smug countenance as he walked back to the defense table and leaned back on the table, almost sitting on the top.

“It would have been recorded on the surveillance cameras, which not only recorded video, but all audio within the lab. It is standard practice to record every thing in the laboratory, not only because it’s State policy, but to also eliminate any tainted results and maintain the integrity of the evidence we’re testing.”

“What about this vial you broke, and were running DNA on?”

“Blake, Dr. Marlow picked me up and swung me around. When he sat me down, I reached out to steady myself and I cracked the vial in my hand.”

“My God, you folic in the laboratory with your…your confirming pathologist?”

“It was after duty hours, and I’d just performed a DNA for Dr. Marlow. He was extremely happy to learn he was going to be a father of a healthy baby girl. That was the reason for his excitement.”

The smug look on Mullis face disappeared and he reached for his notebook although he didn’t glance at it. He laid it back down and stood up.

“Dr. Reed, why are you attempting to connect my client to some explosion well over fifty miles from the scene of the dead deer?”

“I wasn’t attempting to connect your client to another location within the park, only stipulate the evidence found at your client’s home, at the explosion site, and the scene of the butchered deer, are all from Mark Brody.”

“So you say,” he smugly replied.

“No, so the evidence says, Mr. Mullis.”

“What evidence, a few cigar butts that could have been there for who knows how long and from some samples of goat meat turned into deer?”

“It was deer meat, Mr. Mullis, and the teeth bites in all the cigars, as well as the salvia DNA are from your client. The rum soaked cigars all came from the box found in your clients home. By running all these DNA Forensic Identifications, by accumulating bits of linking evidence in a chain, where each bit by itself isn't very strong but the set of all of them together is very strong, you can argue that your suspect really is the right person.” Carling remained calm but not smug. “All the evidence is from your client. We haven’t even gotten to the slug that killed the deer yet, so before you jump on that question, I’ll tell you that the slug we found in the remains of the doe came from a rifle impounded from your client’s home. His fingerprints were on the weapon, and the weapon had been fired within the last twenty four hours.”

“I object to her response, Your Honor. She’s introducing evidence that the prosecution didn’t bring up.”

“You asked the question, Mr. Mullis, Dr. Reed was only responding to the question you asked. As for as the gun, the deputies and rangers have previously testified to the impounded firearm and the bullet was entered into evidence at that time. Objection overruled. Move along Mr. Mullis.

“Let us get back to this DNA identification, Dr. Reed. With DNA, you can look for matches, based on sequence or on numbers of small repeating units of DNA sequence, at a number of different locations on the person's genome; one or two or even three isn't enough to be confident that the suspect is the right one. Isn’t that right Dr. Reed?”

“Yes, that is correct.”

“How can you say that the DNA on all the evidence wasn’t Mark’s twin brother, and not actually my client’s?”

“You didn’t go far enough with our analogy, Mr. Mullis. We don’t stop at three DNA match sequence, because there would be doubt. We do four, sometimes five matches of a person’s genome. But four are used for most cases and a match at all five is rare enough that you, or a prosecutor or a jury, can be very confident "beyond a reasonable doubt", that the right person is accused. We did five on Mr. Brody, the DNA is his and not anyone else’s.”

“Are you certain, beyond a reasonable doubt, Dr. Reed?” Mullis asked as the returned to his seat.

“Yes,” was Carling’s response.

“No further questions of this witness.” He flopped in his chair.

Gaylord rose and spoke. “May I ask a couple of redirects, Your Honor?” The judge looked up at the prosecutor, “Proceed.”

“In your expert opinion, is DNA forensic technology, the forensic identification reliable, beyond a reasonable doubt?”

“Yes.”

“How small do the odds have to be when conviction of the guilty or acquittal of the innocent lies in the balance?”

“My expertise doesn’t lay with odds, Mr. Gaylord, whether guilty or innocent. The odds that two individuals have the same DNA identifiable strands are like one in an hundred million, even for identical twins, other siblings, or even parents.”

“Sounds like the odds aren’t in Mr. Brody’s favor this time?”

“Again, Mr. Gaylord, I don’t deal in odds. The DNA profile for this particular probe sets were of the defendant and no one else.”

“Thank you, Dr. Reed. We have nothing further.”

“Do you have any re-direct, Mr. Mullis?”

The defense attorney thought for a moment then shook his head. “No,” he uttered barely audible, then jumped to his feet. “Yes, I do have two questions for Dr. Reed.

The judge looked at his watch, then back to the defense attorney. “Proceed.”

“Carling, may I call you Carling?” he smiled but remained at his place.

“Mr. Mullis, I would prefer you address me as Dr. Reed, or Ms. Reed.”

Looking somewhat embarrassed by his assumption, “Very well, Dr. Reed. Isn’t it possible that the eyewitness testimony in a case is far superior to these DNA probes you’ve been talking about?”

“No. The odds for correct identification are about 50:50 when involving eyewitness. With DNA Forensics, the odds as previously discussed are about a hundred million to one that you have the guilty or innocent person.”

“Are you aware that Mr. Brody’s brother will testify that he was with his brother all day long at his home and that he helped with the goat that was killed and he took half the goat with him back to Canada?”

“Mr. Mullis, if anyone was with Mr. Brody earlier, they would have been hunting illegally with Mr. Brody within the park, because Mr. Brody’s DNA was at the scene, and the meat’s DNA was deer.”

“Isn’t there the slightest possibility that someone else other than Mr. Brody was in the park?”

“Not unless Mr. Brody has a clone walking around, killing, and butchering wildlife, and we haven’t evolved enough to have human clones, yet.”

In the back of the courtroom, Kate was snickering under her breath. Give it up buddy. My Honey has nailed the lid shut on this case. Just too bad they didn’t find any explosive devices at that bastard’s house or in his vehicles. There isn’t a doubt in my mind he set off that blast.

“No further questions.” Mullis set down. Brody pull on his sleeve, but the attorney jerked his arm free without responding to his client.

***

Chapter 20

Jacqueline never remembered later how many times they made out the next day and night; it seemed like one fluid dance from floor to bed, to whirlpool to bed, to hot tub to bed, one seamless ebb and flow of aggressive, passionate demanding, taking, and devouring each other.

Monday mid-morning, Jacqueline woke alone. Throwing off the covers reluctantly, she sat up and called out Julia’s name. When there was no response, she picked up the phone. She quickly dialed her attorney’s private number, and waited as the phone rang. “Did you get those papers recorded?” she asked and waited. “Good. I’m going to be tied up for a day or so, unless it’s an emergency, don’t call me.” She hung up without waiting for a response. Her eyes did a quick turn around the room, before she moved slowly out of bed. She was headed to the shower when Julia entered the suite, with two-dozen yellow roses.

“Pooh, you’re up. I was hoping to get back with these before you stirred.” She handed the bouquet to the naked woman and removed her coat and allowed it to drop to the floor. “Don’t tell me you were going to shower before we…” her arms reached around the taller woman and pulled her closer to her.

“Careful, I already have my hands full,” Jacqueline taunted and leaned in to kiss puckering lips. “Damn,” she swore, “Didn’t realize how bruised my lips were.”

“Tell me about it. It was even hard for me to walk this morning, and when I went to put on a bra, my nipples rebelled.” She pulled up her cashmere to show her bare breasts.

“Well, my lips aren’t to bruised to taste those,” Jacqueline leaned down and gently suckled each nipple in turn.

“Oh, God, that feels so good, even if they are tender from all your suckling and handling.” Julia uttered another soft groan before she reached out and ran finger over one of the roses. “The roses are for us to remove each peddle in a nice hot bath together,” she said, “Had to go around the corner to the florist to get these yellow ones.” She dropped her sweater and took Jacqueline’s head between her hands. “Come here you,” she pulled her close and sucked one lip then the other.

“Hmm…” Jacqueline backed away, “What are we waiting for?”

Later in the tub, after another round of sex, Julia sat between Jacqueline’s legs with her back against the slightly taller woman. “We’ve had room service for the last day and a half. Want to get dressed and go have brunch at De’Haledroeo’s?”

“Sounds great, then I’d like a couple of hours sleep, unless you have something else on your mind.”

With that check safely cashed and the money on it’s way to my account in Brussels, we can do anything you want for the rest of the day. Hell, I might even enjoy spending the rest of the week with you before I take off for home. “A nice long nap sounds inviting, and I don’t have anything else planned for the rest of the week…you have any suggestions?” Julia turned over in the water and pulled her body up Jacqueline’s, until their nipples touched.

“Baby, you have more stamina than anyone I’ve met in years. Normally, I can keep up with several a night, and sometimes two at a time, but I can’t ever say my lips, fingers, or my core have ever been as used, or as satisfied as they have been with you.”

“That goes two ways, Jacqueline. I knew we’d be good together…we seem to edge each other on,” her hand went between the redhead’s legs.

“If you don’t remove your fingers, we won’t make brunch,” she leaned forward until their lips met.

“Hmm…tempting as you are, my stomach is craving some of those crepes we had the last time I was here.” She sucked on Jacqueline’s neck and slid down her body. “Come on, I’m craving something besides your sweet nectar.” She stood up and let the water drain from her body before she stepped out on the plush rug beside the whirlpool. A towel was tossed to Jacqueline who caught it and motioned for her to back up so she could dry off her back. Within minutes the two women were walking arm and arm down the snow covered sidewalk to the next block and a hearty brunch.

***

The two women spent the rest of the day and night engaged in satisfying their sexual hunger, with the occasional conversation. They even went for a couple of walks, window shopping and stopping by the flower shop again for more yellow roses. They chatted about numerous things, but neither would comment or even bring up the subject of serious dating or commitment. On Wednesday afternoon they were sitting on the sofa in front of the fire and talking about their last skiing trip to Switzerland when Julia picked up a remote device from the table to turn on some music. Instead, the television came on and a picture of Chris Connor appeared on the screen. “Damn, I thought I knew how to work…No, I picked up the wrong remote. We don’t want to hear any local news, now do we?”

She held up the device to shut it off, when Jacqueline screeched, “No! Leave it there for a moment and cut up the sound.” The redhead’s eyes were fixed on the screen.

Julia glanced at her companion, who had a strange expression as she sat staring at the screen. Her finger found the volume button and she pushed it several times.

“As previously reported, it was Sunday morning before the sheriff’s department was finally able to lift the mangled vehicle from the ravine, as seen in the video showing now. The truck is registered to Ms. Chris Connor, who was driving it at the time. The local authorities impounded the vehicle when a half dozen empty beer bottles were found in the cab. This story becomes more intriguing when the Sheriff’s department released the forensics report of a pair of pliers and a screwdriver found in Ms. Connor’s truck. Seems they were the instruments used to puncture the brake lines of Fletcher Bucannan, in an incident that occurred several months ago. Ms. Bucannan, and a visiting scientist, were unharmed when the Director of the Adirondacks Park, discovered the leaking fluid and switched vehicles.”

Julia watched Jacqueline’s grit her teeth, her eyes piercing at she sat glued to the newscast.

“The Sheriff’s Department is even more baffled as to Ms. Connor’s motive for tampering with Bucannan’s brakes, but it has become apparent to the local authorities that she had indeed, planned harm for the park director. Ms. Fletcher Bucannan was driving the other vehicle when Connor attempted to force Bucannan’s SUV off the road. Chief Bucannan and her passengers were unharmed and the vehicle she was driving sustained only minor damage. As previously reported, Chris Connor, age thirty-eight died Friday evening when her truck ran off the highway while attempting to force another vehicle off the road. We confirmed with Chief Bucannan just before the newscast, that neither she, nor any of her passengers knew Connor, and none of them are aware of a reason for Ms. Connor’s attempt on their lives.” The screen showed a photograph of Fletcher in her uniform as the commentary continued. “Ms. Connor was a new employee at the local newspaper, where she was learning the trade of a press mechanic. The authorities cannot locate any relatives, and Ms. Connor’s remains have not been claimed.” The newscaster’s image came back on the screen and started on another local story.

“Dammit!” Jacqueline swore and rubbed her head in disbelief. First Brody failed, now she’s failed, not once but twice. Damn, she was right. Fletcher does have more lives than a friggin cat. Her thoughts were far away from the woman sitting next to her.

“You want me to turn it off?” Julia asked as her hand went to the redhead’s shoulder.

Still thinking, Jacqueline jumped when Julia’s hand touched her shoulder. “What?” she asked loudly.

“Do you want me to turn off the newscast?” Realizing how it must appear to Julia at her being disturbed by the telecast, she knew she needed to give a reasonable explanation of her interest, without letting on that she knew Chris. “Yes, please. Sorry if I shouted at you. The park director is an old friend. I was concerned she might be hurt in some way, but seems she came out of it unscathed.” Her lips turned to a half smile as she removed the hand from her shoulder and pressed the open palm to her lips. “Now where were we? Oh yes, you were telling me about that little chocolate shop in Zurich and the curvaceous, blond skier.”

Julia chuckled as Jacqueline’s eyebrows wiggled up and down.

The conversation changed to their love of wine when the phone rang. Reluctantly, after continuous ringing, Julia reached behind her to pick up the phone. “I thought my instructions were clear about no calls,” her tone was filled with irritation. She listened to the voice then removed her feet from under her, letting them drop to the floor. “If that is any indication of the concerns they have, it could be a problem.” Her free hand started twisting her hair around it. “Okay, okay, don’t overreact. Schedule a meeting with them on Friday.” The phone started down from her ear, before she pressed it back in place, “And have my assistant get me on the nine o’clock flight out of here in the morning,” she ordered. “No, I won’t be returning today or tonight, I’m committed for something important, and tomorrow morning is the earliest I can leave.” Julia replaced the phone without further comment.

“Your office I assume, and you’re leaving.”

Julia tapped her fingers against the back of the sofa where her arm lay stretched towards Jacqueline. “As you know, advertisers are very fickle people. Any hint of a drop in credibility and they run like a rabbit from a greyhound.” The tapping paused as her eyes narrowed and studied the face in front of her.

Suddenly the feelings of amusement and--excitement that flowed through the bond between them made sense. They were both shakers and chasers. Neither of them would ever let emotions rule their lives, but they both enjoyed the game, the chase, the excitement of getting the upper hand over some big deal, or some woman. Hate to admit it, but I’ve enjoyed the liaison, but you’ll flip when you find out I’ve beaten you again and I don’t won’t to be on this side of the Atlantic when you do. Need to play the game for another day, right down to the time I get aboard my flight.

“Jacqueline?” she asked, feeling suddenly as if she had seen right through her and read her thoughts.

“Yes,” the redhead said. “Are you concerned your people will… misconstrue your instruction on the account…or don’t you trust them?”

“Both,” the tapping of the fingers returned. “I’m mostly concerned about the Agency’s image,” she said, “but the account is over two hundred million dollars that and I’d rather not loose it.”

“For that kind of money, I can see why you’re concerned.” She inched over on the sofa until she was touching the smaller woman. “Your giving us a little more time together didn’t slip by me.”

The physical contact set off a flurry of electric sensations within Jacqueline. She felt Julia tense as the smaller woman tried not to let her suddenly wanton thoughts get the best of her.

“I was hoping you picked up on that detail.”

Both women looked tired from the past few days’ activities. They had only gotten short naps or a few hours sleep at the most, and neither had come out the as conqueror of the other.

“Perhaps you could see me off tomorrow?” “It would be my pleasure.”

Lips made quick explorations of each other’s mouth, as they leaned back on the sofa together. In no time, they rolled off the cushions to the floor for an afternoon of enjoyment.

***

The entire park was decorated in the tradition of the season. There were two huge trees to each side of the headquarters building that had taken volunteers two days to place the Christmas lights in just the right places. Lights were strung on all the buildings and off to the right, a live manger scene with animals under a cover shed gave a more seasonal meaning to the crews at the park. The lounge and recreation rooms of the billet was covered with live greenery intertwined with warm lights. The tree set up in the recreation room almost touched the ten-foot ceiling of the leisure area. The brightly wrapped presents beneath were stacked high. Ruth, Andrea, Burley, Finley and five or six of the firefighters had painstakingly decorated the large dinning area. During the day, the public address system played everyone’s favorite carols and Christmas music.

The tables and chairs had been pushed back against the wall in the dinning room, leaving the center of the room free for the entertainment and the dancing. Burley had prepared a Christmas party feast that the park employees would remember for years to come. She had taking two tables to handle all the food and goodies for the annual gathering in the kitchen area to leave the center of the dining room available for the dancing.

Fletcher sat next to Finley, with Andrea and Ruth on one side and Kate and Carling on the other. Jamison, Tammy, Maggie, Preston, Lira, and Burley finished out the seating on one side of the two tables that had been pushed together. The other side was packed with various rangers, firefighters, and various other staff members of the park after they helped themselves to the overflowing buffet in the kitchen before they sat down at the tables. The other tables had been arranged in the same manner and all were filled with park personnel, eating and chatting merrily as festive music played in the background. At the end of the room, four special tables had been placed together, where the offspring of the park employees sat together and were busy stuffing the delicious food into noisy little mouths.

“Did you notice my grandsons making their third trip to the buffet?” Andrea asked Ruth.

“Yes, but if you’ll notice, your granddaughters are right behind them on their second trip.” Ruth pointed a drumstick towards the girls Andrea had taken into her heart when Preston and Maggie married.

“They’ve put on ten pounds since the wedding,” Preston gave his wife a quick glance. “But, I’m not one to talk, I’ve put on a little myself from Maggie’s wonderful cooking,” he patted his stomach in confirmation.

“They look good to me,” Finley piped in. “They were a bit skinny, Preston.”

“Ho, ho, look who’s talking,” Andrea gave Finley a speedy once over.

“Now Mom, Finley is just fine, and so are the girls. They are only trying to keep up with their new brothers,” Fletcher said as she bumped Kate and pointed to the salt.

“You wouldn’t believe how much they eat,” Maggie threw in. “We go through a gallon of milk in two days.”

“That isn’t unusual for growing children, Maggie. Besides, Fletcher drank a gallon all by herself in two days when she was growing up.” Andrea reached for her coffee and turned toward Fletcher.

“She still does,” Finley added, a big grin covered her face as she leaned lovingly against her partner.

“Honey, do you have any idea why the prosecuting attorney didn’t call you to testify in Brody’s case,” Andrea asked, sipping her coffee.

“No ma’am. Guess he thought he had presented enough evidence for a conviction,” the Park Director responded to her mother, as she wiped her mouth and stood up. “Think I’ll have seconds myself. Burley, this is the finest meal I’ve eaten in quite some time.”

“Thanks Chief. Can’t take all the credit though. Ruth, Andrea and Pete all pitched in and helped with the main dishes, and Tammy there is responsible for the cherry cobbler and the pineapple upside down cakes.”

“Well thanks to all of you, and I hope there is some of the cobbler left, but if all the kids have their way, there won’t be.” She grinned as she left the table.

Andrea looked at Kate. “You were there for all the testimony, Kate, what do you think?”

The Catskill’s sheriff finished chewing the dressing she has just placed in her mouth before she replied. “He had more than enough testimony for the illegal hunting charges. Perhaps, he didn’t want it to seem that he was stacking the deck against Brody for this trial. After I talked to your local sheriff the other day, the investigation of the explosion is still continuing, and he hopes that while Brody is tucked safely away for three years, that he can come up with enough evidence that the defendant can be charged with a more serious offense, and make it stick.”

“The forensics can connect him to the site of the explosion, but not that he was the one that actually tried to seal Finley and Fletcher in that cavern.” Carling flicked her braid over her shoulder and used the opportunity to grab a roll from the basket in front of her. “Those butts proved he was there, now they need something to connect him with the actual explosion.”

“What about the shooting at her on the highway?” Preston set his fork down, and picked up his lemonade.

“Again, the forensic can prove that it was the same kind that killed the deer, and even from one of Brody’s rifles, but it can’t place the man at the scene of the shooting.” Carling covered the rolls back up after she placed one on her plate.

“That son-of-a-…biscuit eater,” Jamison changed the ending of her curse, “was on that ridge and there is no doubt in my mind that he did it. The law had better do more than just check out that pack of lies about him being up in Canada with his brother. He was there!”

“Easy does it, Honey,” Tammy placed her arm around her partner’s shoulders. “We all want him to pay for what he did, but Kate’s right, they need to have more than just a few cigar butts.”

“Tammy’s right,” Maggie added. “If Brody did both the shooting and the explosion, then it was premeditated. I only listened to a couple of hours of the testimony, and when Brody testified, I didn’t get the feeling he was all that hostile against Fletcher. I think there is more to his actions then came out.”

“You’ve hit the nail on the head, Maggie,” Kate tapped her fork in her plate. “What’s the oldest motive on earth for revenge, or any act of violence?”

“Love, hatred, or,” Fletcher set her plate down on the table, “Money.” She sat down and picked up her fork.

“Bingo,” Kate’s hand released the fork in a fanning motion. “It was obvious he didn’t have any use for the law, or Fletcher. He knew there wasn’t anyone keeping tabs on him and he was probably in and out of the park anytime he chose. The probation wasn’t enough of a reason to try and kill her, so what are the other options?”

“Money is the oldest motive on earth. You think he was paid to it, don’t you Kate?” Carling watched Kate’s expression.

“Absolutely,” the sheriff replied. “What would he have to gain by being caught hunting in the park while on probation? He’d forfeit all firearms, and serve six months at the county facility before he was placed on probation again, and loose hunting privileges for life,” she started eating again.

“Big deal! Six months wouldn’t be anything to him, and he’d be out in two because of the overcrowding. He obviously would have and probably will again hunt in the park whenever he chooses. So, you’re saying his getting banned from the park, wasn’t the motive,” Preston said as he passed the butter to Maggie for her corn.

“Seems to me, that fellow had a mighty high priced lawyer for his profession. I mean…well, I don’t know what kind of money a timber foreman makes, but I’ve read about that lawyer fellow. He only takes high profile cases and is expensive.” Burley said thoughtfully.

“Money,” Jamison said slowly. “The bastard tried to kill the Chief and Finley for money.”

“You’re probably right, Jamison. Did you notice that suit he had on, and didn’t you all say there was a new truck at his home?” Carling nodded her head in agreement with the young ranger.

“Yes, he has a new truck, posted at hundred thousand cash bond, has a renowned paid attorney and a suit that probably cost a thousand dollars.” Fletcher’s fork had stopped in mid air. “Brody doesn’t have that kind of money.”

“No, he doesn’t, but we all know who does,” the sheriff raised a roll to her mouth and took a large bite.

“No, you don’t think she’d pay to…” Andrea dropped her fork and it clanged as it hit the plate.

Finley over and placed her arm around her future mother-in-law, attempting to comfort the older woman.

“My God, that sounds just like something Jacqueline Boudreaux would do.” Maggie lowered the ear of corn, set in on the side of her plate and picked up her napkin. “I didn’t trust her from the first moment we were introduced…she reeked of selfishness and conceit.”

“Proving it will be another matter,” Kate said. “That’s why the sheriff didn’t ask the district attorney’s office to press for other changes. He wants time to check out several leads he has.”

“You know that old saying, what goes round, comes round,” Ruth spoke for the first time about the subject. “If she’s responsible for all this, it’ll come out.”

“Yes, ma’am, and when it does, the good Lord will heap coals of fire on the guilty one,” Burley folded her napkin and placed it beside her plate just as fire fighter Theo Thompson stepped up to the table.

“Excuse me folks, just wanted to tell Ms. Burley here, what a wonder feast she spread for us.” His smile was genuine and respectful.

“Thank you, Theo, I had help.” The stout woman’s hand went up to the ladies next to her.

“Well thank you all for the vittles. Hey, Chief, want to thank you for the pay increase and for bringing me down from Whistler’s Peak. That’s the coldest watchtower in the park,” his grin was contagious as everyone at the table couldn’t help but smile in his presence.

“You earned it, Theo. And you know I don’t play favorites, it was rotation time for your crew,” the Park Director laughed.

“Well, it’s good to be back to where I can see something besides mountains and forest covered with snow again.” He turned to Burley and held out his hand. “Would you do me the honor of twirling around this here dance floor? We might as well be the first to cut a rusty and show everyone how it’s done.”

“Theo, I don’t dance very well, but if you don’t mind my clogging,” she held up her hand to him, “Then tell them to put on a swinging CD and let’s give it a try.” She rose from the chair.

“Hey, Earl you old codger, how about some two stepping music. I’ve got a pretty lady on my arm and we’re going to show you turkeys how to really do some stepping.” He called to a firefighter that was going through the CD’s. Earl held up two fingers and gave him the ok sign. Within a few seconds, a Texas two-step song was playing and Theo held out the palm of his hand for Burley. She placed her other hand on his shoulder and away they went. They hadn’t circled the room before all eyes were on them. Even the children stopped eating to watch the couple sashay around the room. When Theo did a swing and drew the cook back to him, the room erupted in applause as well as hoops and hollers.

“Not only can she cook like a five star chef, and sing like an angel, that is some of the best two stepping I’ve ever seen.” Kate’s body began to move with the music. Actually everyone at the table was bobbing and nodding as the couple moved around the floor.

“Come on folks, don’t be shy, join us out here and let’s dance the night away,” Theo called from the floor.

“Want to give it a go?” Kate wiggled her eyebrows at Carling as she moved her shoulders to the music.

Carling looked at the couple on the floor and raised her hands. “Honey, I’ve never two stepped in my life, but if they play something a little different I’ll give it a go later.”

“I’m willing if Carling doesn’t mind,” Lira spoke up.

“Be my guest,” Carling’s hand ushered the scientist towards her partner.

Before Kate and Lira had gone around the room once, Fred and Mark, two older rangers asked Andrea and Ruth to dance.

“Want to dance, baby?” Tammy whispered into Jamison’s ear. “

I’m gonna finish this cobbler first. Then we will, okay?”

“Sure. Hey, when did you get cobbler?”

“The minute Burley and Theo started for the floor. I’m no dummy, and I knew once they’d tasted your cobbler, it would disappear as fast as a winter sunset.” She snickered as she dumped the bowl of ice cream on the cobbler and began eating.

Carling looked over at Jamison’s plate and picked up her spoon. “You gonna share a little of that cobbler?”

Jamison wrapped her left arm around the bowl in a defensive manner. “Nope.”

“Want to go up and get a bowl before the crowd descends on it?” Finley asked Carling as she stood up.

“Lead the way,” she laid her spoon down and bumped into Finley who had stopped. “Opps!”

“Sorry. Sweetheart, you want me to bring you back a bowl?” the paleontologist asked Fletcher.

“I’ll take a piece of the pecan pie, and a scoop of ice cream.” “

Vanilla or buttered pecan?” she asked her lover, “as if I didn’t know.”

“Yep, buttered pecan.” Fletcher chuckled and turned back to watch the couples on the dance floor. By then several of the kids were twirling around the floor, doing the two-step as if it was second nature to them. Fletcher caught sight of Maggie and Preston dancing close, with her head on his shoulder. Everyone was having a good time, and before the song was half over, the floor was covered with couples.

Later that night, Fletcher would give out her annual present to every employee. Not only would they get a hundred dollar food gift certificate, she personally would give each employee a personal check for five hundred dollars. Tonight was also the night she announced promotions. This year there would over twenty moving into a higher position or getting additional stripes on their sleeves. Even though there had been some difficulties the last few months, the year had really been a special year. Not only had several employees excelled in their positions and the community, the park was running extremely well and with the Sterns increasing their monetary gifts to the Endangers Species Program, it would keep the plan going for the next five years. However, none of those happenings had made it the best year ever for Fletcher. It was the most important year in her life because Finley Jorgensen had not only entered her life, she had won the tall woman’s heart.

Yes! It had been a very good year. “Thank you Sky Mother,” the Park Director muttered softly as Finley and Carling returned to the table with heaping bowls of deserts.

After the bowls were consumed quickly, Fletcher and Finley joined the dancers on the floor. Within a few minutes, a different tune played and Carling and Kate bumped into them and they all laughed. The couples changed partners and finished the dance.

Fletcher danced with all her nieces and nephews and with Lira and Preston several times as well before she sank in her chair, exhausted. She politely declined Carling’s request to do the jitterbug, but gently nudged Finley to join the pathologist on the floor.

“You don’t do the boogie, Chief?” Burley set a glass of iced tea on the table and pulled her chair closer to the wall before she sat down.

“You’ve seen my full repertoire, Lady. My feet just can’t do those fancy steps. I’m more of a honky-tonk kind of dancer.”

“You seem to be keeping up,” Kate grinned, “especially the line dances.”

“Well, it’s a lot easier to do the boot scooting boogie, than it is to do the jitterbug.”

“Know what you mean, buddy. Carling has tried her best to teach me to do the tango and the rumba, and my feet get all tangled up and we end up on the floor.” The sheriff glanced at Burley, who was chuckling at the strong women’s confessions. “You seem to twirl around out there pretty good for someone who claims they only clog.”

She shrugged. “Waited tables for a time in this country joint. After my shift, I’d sit in the corner, listen to the band and watch the dancers. Back in my room, I’d turn on the radio and try to remember the steps.”

“You’re good, Burley, really good,” Fletcher flashed her a thumb-up.

“I’ll say, Lady you put us old timers to shame,” the sheriff added quickly.

The stout woman reddened slightly, but managed a half smile. “Thanks,” and moved her feet as Maggie and Preston approached the table.

Preston pulled out the chair for Maggie, before he went to the cooler to get them soft drinks.

“Phew, I’m getting too old for this,” she removed her jacket and placed it over the back of her chair. “Understand you and Carling are headed home tomorrow?” Maggie removed a paper napkin from the table and wiped her forehead.

“Our workload is really backing up, and Carling parents are coming next week for the holidays,” the sheriff replied and stood as Carling and Finley returned to the table.

“Don’t stand, we only stopped by to see who wanted something to drink,” Carling rubbed the front of Kate’s jacket.

“Nothing for me, thanks” Fletcher replied as she glanced round to locate her mother.

“I’ll have another glass of lemonade,” Kate handed her empty glass to Carling.

“How about you, Burley, Maggie?”

“I’m good,” the cook answered, “but thanks for asking.”

“Preston is getting us a couple of sodas.”

“We’ll be right back,” Finley took her friends’ arm as they edged their way through the crowd to the beverage table.

“It’s been a great celebration, Fletcher. Think it’s the best the park has had since that year dad dressed up as Santa and his belt got caught in the table cloth and snatched the punch bowl over on mom,” Maggie stated warmly.

“Thanks, Sis.” The tall woman remembered the earlier Christmas at the park with her parents and her older sister. “Excuse me just a moment, I need to check on something,” standing, she smiled and left the table.

“Well, this is my first year here, but I don’t know when I’ve had as much fun,” the cook moved her feet again as Preston returned with sodas.

Making her way around the crowded room, Fletcher spoke or nodded to people as she passed. Ruth, Fred, Tom and her Mother were discussing the winter carnival to be held next month when she approached them. “Excuse me everyone,” she said, placing her arm around her mother’s shoulders and whispered in her ear.

Andrea smiled at her daughter as she patted her on the cheek. “Taken care of, honey. Three boxes as requested in your utility room before I came to the party.”

“Thanks Mom, you’re the greatest. Everyone having a good time?” she asked the group.

The yeses and greatest time ever seemed to be the simultaneous expressions. Fletcher kept her arm around her mom’s shoulder for a few minutes as she stood there and talked about the carnival until she saw Finley motion to her to join her on the dance floor again.

“Nice chatting, but I’m being summoned for this dance,” she leaned over and kissed her mother’s cheek before she made her way to Finley and another Texas two step.

***

The shorter-haired woman slid her arm around Jacqueline’s waist and leaned against her, her thigh pressing into Jacqueline’s hip. "We could meet in Toronto next month. I’ll be there for a week, or…” her hand reached up and pushed back a lock of red hair, “You could arrange for a few weeks away from your enterprises and join me in Brussels. We could visit some of the sites, including my Advertising Agency, and I’d even give you a tour of one of our manufacturing plants.”

“Sounds appealing,” Jacqueline purred. “Let me see what I can arrange.”

They were standing off to the side of the corridor, next to a pillar when Julia’s flight was called. Her arms went around Jacqueline’s neck and a deep kiss followed. They didn’t care if there were being watched by several other passengers as they went past.

They kissed again as the flight was called for the second time. “You’d best go.”

“Jacqueline, it’s…”

“Don’t say anything, just go make your flight.”

“I’ll call you as soon as I get home,” she promised.

The taller woman acknowledged with a slight lifting of her hand. Jacqueline watched her go through the metal detectors, and pick up her handbag from the conveyer belt. Julia turned and waved one last time and disappeared around the corner.

“Well that was an interesting week. Great sex, great company, and I even enjoyed myself,” her voice rather low so others couldn’t hear. She smiled, turned and made her way towards the preferred parking area and her Jaguar. It was snowing again as she left the terminal. A cold, brisk wind whirled the snowflakes around her as she made her way down the steps to the lot.

In her car, she punched the number for her office on her mounted phone. She needed to find out what had happened at the office, before she arrived. She didn’t like surprises, and things seem to happen when she wasn’t around to keep tabs on them.

“Shirley, I want you to contact Briggs and Briggs Engineering to do a complete survey of the property purchased on Saturday.” She listened for a minute before she interrupted her assistant. “I don’t give a damn that a survey was delivered with the closing documents. I want them to survey it again, making sure they cross-survey and place markers on forty different tracks that are laid out in the folder in my center desk drawer. We might as well get everything ready so we can cut some special timber for our furniture plant in Canada by the end of next month.” She checked the bypass as she pulled onto the interstate in front of the airport. “Anything else happening that I should know about?” she asked as she changed lanes. “No, I’ll take care of that later this morning, but have Frederick set up a meeting with production for two this afternoon.”

The Jaguar gained speed, as the redhead passed several cars to get into the express lane. “What happened at Brody’s trial?” Her eyes checked the rear view mirror as she listened to her personal assistant’s rundown of the trial and Brody’s sentencing. “I suspected that idiot would get time. With all the deer he could have shot from his front door, you’d think he’d be satisfied. But no…no…he had to go onto the park again just to prove to Bucannan he’d go there whenever he choose to and hunt when he pleased.” The palm of her hand slammed into the steering wheel, as she blew her horn at the car in front of her to get out of the express lane and let her pass. “Damn him,” she shouted. “Call Mullis, tell him…” her mind racing, “See if he has anything that can get Brody a new trial, or is there anyone that can get his sentence reduced, maybe a large bond to be forfeited if he violates probation. Check to see if there are any options available in lieu of immediate imprisonment.” Jacqueline hit the steering wheel again. “Good timber foremen are hard to come by, Shirley, and I want Brody out as soon as possible.” She shut off the phone without further comments.

As she sped down the main thoroughfare, little did she realize that the past week would be one of the most costly ones she’d ever had. Not only would she find out her latest purchase was practically useless for many years to come, but now she was without her longtime foreman for the next three years. It would matter little to her the timber on the property would never be cut, or that she had been duped out of millions of dollars. Her biggest upset would be when she found out vivacious Julia had once again outsmarted her.

Her mind wasn’t on business, or Brody, because he wouldn’t be any help to her while in jail. And, with Connor gone, she had to find someone else to take care of Fletcher Bucannan. “But who??? Who can I rely on to get a simple job done?”

Suddenly an idea popped into her head and she picked up her cell phone from off the attachment on the dash, only to toss it in the seat next to her. She pulled over to the side of the road barely missing a car she cut off. Jacqueline rummaged through her purse, tossing her wallet and compact on the seat. Pulling out a small black book, she turned the pages rapidly until one name leaped out at her. “Ah! There you are,” her finger tapped the number she sought. Grabbing the phone, she quickly punched the digits on the dial. “Jacqueline Boudreaux, here. You need to get on a plane today. I have a job for you!”

***

The morning air was chilled as Fletcher and Kate made several trips to their SUV loading luggage and garment bags. “That’s the last one,” Kate slammed down the back gate of the vehicle.

“You sure you guys will get home before dark?” Fletcher asked, taking the steps two at a time.

“With the picnic basket full of chicken and sandwiches, we won’t need to stop except for the restroom or maybe gas, so I think we’ll be home by three,” she joined Fletcher on the porch.

“Carling wasn’t too happy about not staying for the hot potato salad I made for lunch,” the Park Director tapped her friend on the shoulder.

“Yes, well, she’s like Finley, can’t pass up a good meal, but I have a problem at the station and we have to get back. Probably should have left after breakfast, but you saw how Carling and Finley were huddled together talking.”

“More like scheming, because every time I got close to them they hush up and look at me like I was interrupting a war counsel or something,” Fletcher opened the door for her friend.

“Same with me, finally after the third attempt to get Carling upstairs, I gave up. When the concluded their conversation, or their plotting,” she emphasized they word, “Carling wiggled up to me like a Cheshire cat.”

“Finley did the same thing.” Fletcher headed towards the kitchen when she heard the giggling coming from there. “Sounds like they’re at it again.”

“Yep. Bet we won’t find out until they’re ready for us to know about it.”

“Won’t take that bet,” she said as they opened the French door to the kitchen area.

“Hi you two, you about ready, Sweetheart?” Kate removed her Stetson and unzipped her coat a little.

Carling and Finley jumped off the stools in front of the breakfast bar. “Yes, I just need to run use the bathroom and get my parka.” She stood on her tiptoes and kissed Kate quickly before she ran from the room.

Finley came over and wrapped her arm around Fletcher waist. “We’ve had such a good time with you guys here. I’m really looking forward to the visit next month.”

“We’ll plan someth…ing, that is if you and Carling haven’t already planned the visit down to the last detail,” Kate laughed.

“You two should stop trying to eases-drop, you’ll spoil the surprises,” Finley squeezed Fletcher’s waist.

Kate and Fletcher gave each other a quick, ‘I told you so’ glance.

“I’m ready,” Carling reappeared, her coat in her arms.

Kate attempted to take the coat and help her on with it, but Carling shook her head. “I’ll just take it off in the car, so I thought I’d toss it in the back seat. You left the car running so it will be warm enough,” she went to Carling and hugged her with one arm. Then she squeezed Fletcher waist and kissed her cheek. “You two have made us feel very welcome. The food has been wonderful and the skiing was great. Thanks for being such great hostesses.” She kissed Finley on the cheek and walked arm and arm with her out of the kitchen.

Kate and Fletcher glanced at each other again. “Guess that’s our cue,” Kate said as she returned her Stetson to her head and extended her arm to Fletcher. They both busted out laughing as they joined arms and followed their lovers to the front porch.

There were several more hugs before the women went down the steps to the running SUV. Fletcher and Finley, standing with their arms around each other waved one last time as the SUV honked as it pulled disappeared around a curve in the long lane leading from their home.

“Ohhhh, it’s chilly out here,” Finley shivered. “Let’s go in.”

“Sure,” Fletcher placed her arm around her partner’s shoulders as they started for the door. “What have you planned for the afternoon…that is, after lunch which will be ready in about a half-hour?”

“You know what I’d very much like to do the rest of the day?”

“What did you have in mind, honey?” Fletcher asked as she handed her parka to Finley at the hall closet door.

“I’d like to curl up in your big, oversized, stuffed chair in the den in front of a roaring fire and read the last two periodicals from the Paleontology Society and finish that historical novel I started last week.”

“That sounds like a full afternoon. It’ll give me a time to work with Ben in the barn. He has several horses that have to be shoed.” Their arms were around each other as they walked through the great room to the kitchen.

“Great…Uh…You don’t want me to keep you company in the barn?”

“Honey, you don’t need to do that, and besides, Ben gets embarrassed every time we start necking in front of him.” She leaned down and kissed Finley’s nose.

“Phew, I thought you were going to say yes. I really did want to catch up on my reading.”

“That’s fine, honey. Hey, if you set the table and fill the glasses, I’ll finish up lunch?”

“It’s a deal,” Finley went to the sink and washed her hands. “You want iced tea or lemonade?”

“Doesn’t matter, surprise me,” she said, rummaging through the dishtowel drawer for her favorite apron.

Each went about their tasks. They chatted about the up and coming visit to the Catskills, and the Christmas bash at the park as they ate, as well as a dozen or so other things that came to mind.

“You want this last drumstick?” asked the paleontologist with the forceps already in her hand.

Fletcher chuckled, “You know I’m a breast kinda gal. It’s all yours, honey.”

“Oh you,” she snickered, dropping the piece of chicken back to the serving platter and picking it up again.

“You need help with your….leg?” Fletcher asked seductively.

Finley laughed as she pushed Fletcher hand away from her thigh, “Your help will only end up with us in the bed all afternoon, and you have those horses to shoe…remember Ben…the barn.”

“Hum…horses or….” Fletcher joked weakly as she refilled her drink. She lifted the pitcher of lemonade and offered, “Want yours tapped off?” At the negative head shaking from Finley, who had her mouth full of chicken, she set the pitcher back down.

Fletcher watched her partner eat as she sipped her drink placidly. I couldn’t wish for a magical wand to make anything better in my life. I’ve fallen in love with a fantastic woman, who is more than I could have every dreamed of sharing everything with, having, and loving me in return. Oh Sky Mother, life has many mystical happenings, but this is far greater than I could ever have imagined.

For a moment their eyes interlocked, exploring the silence within, and their face altered with tenderness and wanting as Finley brought her fingers slowly to Fletcher’s lips. Her fingers moved slowly over the her cheek, but the wanting was as deep in Fletcher’s eyes as it was in hers, probing to the depths of her very soul. She stroked her face gently with her hand, and in a moment, Fletcher said, “I think you’d better go start your reading.”

Fletcher caught her hand as it left her face, closing her fingers tightly around Finley’s. Her eyes were wide, dark with her promise within her message. “Finley,” she whispered, “I…”

Finley looked at her for a moment, a cautious question in her eyes. She answered it softly, a hint of shyness tingling her cheeks. “Tonight,” she whispered, her eyes wide and luminous as they reached Fletcher’s, “its just you and I. No horses, no Ben, no visitors, just you and I.”

In that moment, they both felt the joy of the world around them, simple and honest. The experience was rich with promise and delight as they sat there holding hands and gazing into each other’s eyes.

Finley let go of her hand. Her fingers trailed a whisper of heat up the inside of tall woman’s arm causing her to draw in a shaky breath. As the deep breath escaped in a sigh tinged with contentment.

Fletcher though she must have been imagining Finley’s intent, but the smaller woman rose, leaned down and kissed her eagerly before she stood up. “That’s to hold you over until tonight.” She started to pick up her plate, but was stopped by Fletcher.

“I’ll clean up in here, you go on and get started on you reading. I’ll come in and check on you before I go to the barn.”

Finley shrugged in a poor attempt at nonchalance. Yet she felt on guilt at abandoning the task. “I’ll be happy to help…”

“Go on…Scoot.” She forced herself to take deep even breaths. She forced her mind to remain clear. Got to get the work in the barn finished and back to the utility room while she’s still reading.

“Make sure you come by the study before you go get all horse smelly,” she smiled, before she walked from the kitchen.

“Hum…All horse smelly? Honey, you have some unique terminology,” a low voice said, followed by a chuckle. Running her fingers through her hair, she tried again to think logically as to the three boxes in the utility room and their placement without Finley entering the room. “Maybe some idea will come while I’m in the barn…” She placed the dishes in the dishwasher and cleared the counter.

Passing through the great room, Icarus jumped off a leather chair near the fireplace and trotted along after Finley, catching up with her as she opened the study door.

“Hi Boy, you want to join me for awhile?” She pushed the door open and allowed the dog to enter first. “I’m going to read, Icarus. So you need to find a nice spot to lay and be quiet, okay?”

The dog looked up at her as if he understood and walked to the side of the fireplace and circled twice before he settled on the plush carpet and laid his head on his front paws.

Finley sat down in the big plush chair. She wiggled to get comfy and decided that her legs weren’t long enough to sit on the floor comfortably so she drew them up under her and muttered, “Yeah, that’s much better.” She felt as light as air…happy…excited…content.

Across from her, the leaping flames reflected on her lovely face. She sat there for a moment gazing into the fire, before she clicked on the pole lamp beside the chair. She reached over and picked up the two magazines and book she had placed there last week and hadn’t gotten back to.

“Hum…” she placed the book and one magazine back on the side table. “Which to start with, ‘The Texas Dinosaur/Man Track Controversy’ or ‘Did Humans And Dinosaurs Ever Live Together’?” She read from the cover before flicking it to the table of contents, “Not sure The Flintstones and Alley Oop were what I had in mind…Ah-hah…Ichnology-Fossil and Recent Tracks and Trails, page twenty-two.” Her fingers turned the pages quickly and she readjusted her feet and began reading.

Fletcher finished tidying up the kitchen. She removed the apron, folded it neatly and returned it to the drawer, before she looked up and check the entranceway. She pushed the draw shut and stepped to the side door that led to the mudroom. On the opposite of the mudroom she attempted to open the utility room, only to find the door locked.

“Good thinking Mom. You know Finley better than I thought you did.” She chuckled as she reached above the doorframe and found the key. Turning it in the lock, she again checked the hallway before entering. She removed the key and slid it into her pocket and closed the door. A big smile covered her face as she examined each box, and then replaced the lid. “That’ll work,” she opened the door but reached back in to turn the inside lock before she closed the door.

She hurried through the house, grabbing her parka from the hall closet and headed toward the study. Fletcher opened the door quietly and stood there observing Finley deeply engrossed in her journal.

Fletcher glanced over at the fireplace and saw Icarus lift his head to see who was there, then retuned it to the floor.

“Sweetheart, I’m going to the barn now. Do you want me to take Icarus with me?”

Finley looked over at the dog and smiled. “We’re both quite content right where we are.”

“So I see,” said the woman leaning against the doorframe. She pushed off from the door and walked over to the chair.

“Honey, there’s an article in here that, “favors birds being the descendants of a maniraptoran dinosaur, probably something similar, but not identical to a small dromaeosaur,” she chuckled and held the article up for the tall woman to see.

“And I know exactly what you’re talking about?” Fletcher gave her a quizzical gawk.

“Never mind, just thought that was somewhat amusing considering the recent find,” she shuddered as she dropped the journal to her lap.

“You shivered. Are you cold?”

“I’m kind of chilly, guess I didn’t notice the fire had burned down. It was burning low when I came in, but I didn’t think to toss a log or two on it.”

Fletcher stepped to the fireplace, removed the screen and placed four large logs on the simmering ashes. As she replaced the screen and stood up she glanced back at Finley and saw her blue eyes fixed on her. The tall woman smiled, “I will get you a warm cover to wrap up in,” she added, as though nothing out of the ordinary had been said or transpired between them.

Finley’s glittering white teeth showed through her smile as she focused on the back of her departing lover. It isn't what happens in your life that matters most; it is what your heart does with it, whom it shares it with and what together they learn from it. I’m a very fortunate woman,” the paleontologist thought before she finally went back to her journal.

Fletcher returned promptly with a hand knitted throw, which Ruth had given her for her twenty-fifth birthday and draped it over the small figure in the oversized chair.

“Thanks, that’s much better,” the paleontologists raised her head and rewarded Fletcher with a warm kiss.

“It may be late afternoon when we finish with all the horses. Want me to get you something to drink before I go?”

“No thanks, Honey. I drank three glasses of lemonade for lunch. Think I just want to read and lounge here.”

“Okay, I’ll see you later.” She kissed Finley once more and left the study.

Five hours later, Fletcher entered the house and removed her coat, placing it across her arm as she gently opened the door of the study. Finley was slumped over on the arm of the big chair asleep. She had pulled the covering up to her chin and was breathing heavily. A book lay open on the floor beside the chair. The tall woman carefully dropped her coat to the floor and walked to the chair, a big grin covered her face as she gazed at her lover. She picked up the book and turned it upside down on the table next to the chair.

Icarus, who has raised his head when Fletcher entered, started to wag his tail. The tall woman placed her finger up to her lips and motioned for him to be quiet. His tail stopped wagging, and he returned his head to the floor between his paws.

The Park Director gently removed the screen from the front of the fireplace and quietly placed two logs over the simmering coals. She picked up the poker, and gouged at the coals. After two or three strokes the ambers shot to life and flames creped around the logs.

That ought to do it until I can get a quick shower and arrange the great room, she thought as she picked up her coat from the floor next to the door, and left the room.

The tall woman quickly took a shower and slipped into matching dark blue trousers and shirt. She quickly went to the utility room and slid the key into the lock. “This worked out really great,” she said softly as she went to work with the boxes.

Forty-five minutes later she stood back and inspected her work. “Perfect, just perfect,” said Fletcher as she turned and kind of sashayed down the hall to the study. Opening the door, she went in and closed on the chair. Finley had thrown her legs over the other arm, but was still breathing heavily. It had been a very busy week. “Guess you were exhausted, not much rest for either of us,” muttered the Park Director as she squatted next to the leather lounger and pushed a lock of hair from Finley’s face.

“Honey,” she whispered gently into Finley’s ear. The paleontologist didn’t move. “Honey,” she said a little louder and this time she kissed the slumbering woman’s ear.

“Hmm…” the smaller woman’s hand went to her ear to flap away the feather kisses on her ear.

“Finley, there’s a Micropator gui flying around over your head,” Fletcher teased the paleontologist.

“Uh-huh,” Finley mumbled as she pulled the coverlet up over her ear.

“Honey, it laid two large eggs on the settee,” the tall woman gently pulled the cover away from Finley’s ear.

“Uh-huh,” the sleeping woman sighed softly.

“Hey, Dr. Jorgensen, the eggs have hatched and the baby Micropatro Gui’s are flying around the room.”

“Mm-mh,” she mumbled in response.

“Sweetheart, the hatchlings are eating all the daffodils on the window sill,” Fletcher blew gently into Finley’s ear.

“Hmm,” the moan was barely audible as Finley pulled the cover back up over her ear again and snuggled deeper into the chair again.

“Finley, do you want to get married next Saturday?” she teased.

“Mm-hm…WHAT? What did you say? I missed something?” Finley sat up and rubbed her eyes.

“You missed a whole lot more! I said let’s go into the great room. It’s almost dark.”

“Eh?” She looked surprised, rather like a little girl suddenly lost.

“Come on sleepy head, there is something you need to see,” Fletcher stood and held her hand down to the sitting woman.

She stared at Fletcher, a faintly puzzled expression crossed her face. “Okay, I’m coming. Has Icarus been inside all this time?” she asked, as the dark haired woman helped her to her feet.

“He can go out shortly,” she smiled lopsidedly back at the smaller woman.

Icarus stood up and stretched at hearing his name. His tail wagged back and forth as he waited for his mistresses to leave the room.

Fletcher gently pulled Finley towards the door and out into the hallway with Icarus following closely behind them. At the entrance to the great room, Fletcher stopped.

Finley’s mouth dropped open. “What is this?” Her hands went to her cheeks

The room was lit by candlelight and covered in rose petals. There were six vases of roses, both champagne and wine in buckets next to the sofa, a large bowl of chocolate covered strawberries, and on one end of the sofa, centered on a white satin pillow lay one beautiful single stem red rose. String music was playing softly in the background.

Fletcher extended her hand to Finley and they entered the large sitting area. The taller woman led her to the sofa.

She was aware of taking several calming breaths, automatically smoothing her hair, forcing herself to relax before she saw Fletcher fall to one knee. Their eyes met for just a second; Finley gave her a cautious, questioning smile, and then spoke. “Honey, are you doing what I think you’re doing?”

“Just making it official. We’ve talked often about a life together, Sweetheart. What happened recently has made me think about a lot of things. About the fragility and preciousness of life. And I realize that you're the most important person in my life, and I want to treasure you, protect you, nourish you and love you. I want to be with you for the rest of my life. Will you accept my promise of devoted love, and marry me please?"

“Yes,” was all Finley could get out before her eyes glossed over.

Fletcher picked up the single red rose and handed it to Finley. “There is something in the center of the rose for you.”

Blue eyes widened as she spotted the emerald and diamond ring in the petals of the flower. Carefully she removed it from the petals and stared at it. “It’s…it’s beautiful.”

“There’s an inscription on the ring that says it all,” Fletcher smiled.

Finley held up the ring. Tears filled her eyes as she read out loud, “All My Love, For All Our Tomorrows.”

Joy illuminated her face before it came down upon Fletcher’s again, and this time, it was full of wonder and promise that swept aside all else.

Finley slipped off the sofa onto the floor next to Fletcher and linked her fingers tightly through hers. For a moment they both just studied their entwined fingers, and looked at the ring in the palm of Finley’s hand. Carefully Fletcher picked up the ring and slowly slid it on Finley’s finger.

“I make you this promise, Finley, you will have all my tomorrows.”

“And I’ll love you through eternity.” She leaned into Fletcher’s kiss, which was long and deep. They held each other tightly as tears filled both women’s eyes. After several minutes of the embrace, they started kissing again. First they kissed each other’s forehead, then the eyelids, the nose and finally, their lips touch. Gently at first, then the kiss turned into another of their long, consuming kisses.

Icarus interrupted their kiss with his insistent barking.

“Guess he wants to go out,” Finley watched the dog fondly for a moment, before her eyes went back to Fletcher’s.

“We could watch the moon come up from the porch while he does his business.” Fletcher said enthusiastically.

“We seem to be doing that a lot lately. It’s as if you have deliberately failed to put in that doggie door for that very purpose,” Finley said, almost in a whisper.

“Could be,” she smiled. “Come on, Sweetheart, we’ll grab the windbreakers from the hall closet.” She stood and helped Finley up bringing her into her arms. “I’m holding you to your earlier promised of a night of just you and I.” She kissed Finley again.

“You can count on it,” she nibbled Fletchers lower lip before Icarus started whining and running back and forth towards the entranceway, then back to the women.

“You ready for outside, boy?” Finley asked the dog that was jumping back and forth beside them.

On the porch, they were wrapped in each other’s arms in a tight and steady embrace that would weather all storms or temptations.

Fletcher whispered against her hair, “I love you.”

Finley lifted her face to the cool breeze and the rising moonlight and repeated, almost in a whisper, “And I, you.”

Icarus jumped back and forth in the snow and howled as he found his spot, unaware that his owners had stopped watching his antics.

Finley looked up at her. Her eyes were steady and tender. “I love you, my dearest, with all my heart.”

Fletcher’s arm tightened around her waist, her lips brushed her hair as joy surged through them in slow pulsating waves. “I will never stop loving you, Finley. You’re my promise of many tomorrows.”

Their lips met in a flood of contentment and happiness too great to be expressed in words. The two women were experiencing the same emotions, sharing a single dream of a life and home ringing with laughter, children, and love filling every corner of their lives. With their pasts behind, their vision was of a future filled with the promise of a lifetime together, and even longer…if that was possible. And with their love, they knew it was possible.

The End (Probably….Maybe, lol)




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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