Carling was nudged into wakefulness by the early morning rays of the sun. For the first time in months, she'd had no difficulty in falling right to sleep. Her body felt accustomed to the surroundings and she felt completely at ease being in the house.
"This hasn’t happened to me since I was a little girl; such a contented feeling." She hopped out of bed, selected suitable work apparel, put on her boots and headed downstairs.
She was careful not to slam the door as she left the bedroom. Kate did not need to be awakened so early. This would give her a chance to see other parts of the house. The night-light was on in the foyer, illuminating the stairwell as she tiptoed down them.
Entering the living area, she flipped on the light. "Whoa! What a huge room and look at that massive fireplace. I’m impressed." Her eyes took in the comfortable, but fashionable furnishing, and rested on the large grand piano, nestled in front of the bay window. "Bad place for this beautiful instrument, Kate. Means you have to have it tuned often." She exclaimed, lifting the lid and running her fingers delicately over the highly polished wood.
"Somehow, I can’t picture you playing the ivories, Mary Kate. Just doesn’t feel like you."
Closing the lid, her fingers moved slowly down the instrument, and slowly traced the outline of the half dozen framed photographs on the top of the piano.
Carefully, she picked up one and looked inquisitively at it for several minutes. A younger Kate and an attractive redhead were standing with their arms around each other. "Lois Strong, I presume," she muttered and stared at the photograph for a long time before she returned it to its place. The next one was of a woman almost as tall as Kate, and with the same features. "Has to be Mrs. McGuinness." She carefully placed the photograph back on the piano.
A large recliner was noticeably placed beside the large fireplace, with direct line of sight to the piano. "Must have wanted to be able to see the piano, or the pianist, or to better hear the music. Hmm, perhaps all three."
The dining room was quite formal, with a huge maple table with twelve dining room chairs snug around it. A glassed-in china cabinet had a beautiful set of elegant china and crystal. "Why such a large formal setting, Kate?" She questioned the absent sheriff.
Strolling into the kitchen, she was impressed by the bay window, which housed a maple dinette with four matching chairs. "I bet this is where you eat, and not that oversized dining room." She felt her face light up into a comfortable smile. "Your home is really nice, Mary Kate, and it feels--it feels like you. Comfortable."
"Guess I’ll make us a nice breakfast." Carling mused. Going to the sink, and washing her hands, she spotted the under the counter coffee maker. "Well, I know how to work this one," she beamed, "Just like mine." Opening the cabinet next to the maker, she found the ground gourmet coffee.
Quickly dispensing with the coffee-making chore, she searched the refrigerator for the needed ingredients for the preparation of a gourmet breakfast. "I hope she likes omelets." Carling busied herself with the elements, and anxiously awaited the last drip of the pot before she filled her cup, and went back to the meal preparation.
Kate rolled over and stretched. Her eyes slowly opened as she turned to look at the digital clock on the nightstand. "Oh, goodie! I don’t even have to wait for the buzzer to go off," she moaned. With a shudder, her muscular arm reached over to the clock radio, pushed off the alarm, and turned the radio on. She adjusted the sound so it was only playing softly. Easing her frame into a sitting position, she sniffed the air.
"Coffee? Mary is outdoing herself this morning, she doesn’t normally show up until six."
Putting on a fresh uniform, she made her way downstairs and into the kitchen.
"What!? What are you doing up so early? It is still dark outside." A surprised sheriff asked, motioning to the bay window.
"I’m an early riser, Kate. Thought I’d fix us a hearty breakfast before we left.
"That’s nice of you, Carling, but you don’t have to do that."
"But, I wanted to prepare your breakfast, to say thank you for allowing me to stay here. You didn’t have to have me here, and this is the least I could do. I hope you like omelets?" The reddish-blonde asked, motioning for the taller woman to take a seat.
"Yeah, I like omelets. Sometimes I get them at the diner on my way to work." She poured a cup of coffee, and sipped it before she sat down in a chair next to the window. "Great coffee. Mary usually makes it so strong that the spoon stands up in it." Carling started a chuckle, but was interrupted by…
"Did I hear my name mentioned in here?" The elderly housekeeper asked, sticking her head in the door of the kitchen.
"Mary, you know it’s the truth. And no matter how many times I tell you, you still make it that strong." The friendly bantering began, just as it always did when the two started on the shortcoming of the housekeeper.
"Your father didn’t mind, and neither does your mother. John will have it no other way, and so as long as I fix the coffee, it will be my way." Tugging on her apron, she glanced directly at Carling, "You must be that forensic person?"
Carling had been startled by the housekeeper, but recovered instantly. "Yes Ma’am, I’m that forensic person. Please call me Carling." She finished buttering the toast, "Would you like some breakfast? I have plenty. Seems I always overdo it when it comes to omelets."
"Had my breakfast with my John an hour ago. But, I’m willing to try that coffee, Mary Kate was raving about." Going to the cabinet, she retrieved a mug, and poured a cup of the beverage in question. Taking a small sip, she looked directly at the smaller woman. "Honey, you are as pretty as a bright new sunrise, but you don’t make coffee worth a fart."
The coffee spewed out of Kate’s mouth. The sheriff had not anticipated a derogatory remark from her housekeeper, nor had she expected such a flat out honest one either. Nevertheless, when she looked toward the smaller woman, she saw a grin on Carling’s face much to her surprise.
"Thanks, Ma’am. From what the deputies tell me, that is quite the compliment," she responded still smiling.
Looking over at the young woman, the housekeeper, mused, and spoke directly to the investigator, "Don’t you pay no mind to those shave-tailed deputies of Kate’s. They don’t know good coffee, from mud. Wait until you taste that stuff they call coffee at the sheriff’s office. Now that stuff will curl the hairs on your chest and elsewhere," the sincere older woman affirmed, taking another sip of the coffee.
Carling was blushing at the inferred remark, and turned to keep either of the women from seeing her slight shade of red. Quickly she placed the draining bacon on the two plates, and reached for the browned bread that popped out of the toaster.
"Now, Mary, don’t go insulting my guest. You know you couldn’t cook an omelet if your life depended on it, and this coffee is good. Honest Carling, it’s grrrreeatt," she purred, sounding like Tony the Tiger.
Turning to face the housekeeper again, "No insult taken. Mary," the young cook extended her hand to the older woman, who accepted it warmly.
"Don’t mind my bantering with you, Carling. If I let Kate get away with bringing someone in here that cooks better than I do, she’d never let me live it down." She smiled at the younger woman. "Besides, she forgets her manners, most of the time anyway."
"Sorry, forgot my manners. Mrs. Mary Walters, this young lady, is our forensic pathologist and investigator, Dr. Carling Reed sent down from Albany to help us with some investigations we’re doing."
"Your manners do need to be worked on, Mary Kate. Katilyn would take a switch to your backside, if I told her your guest had to introduce herself. Now you two go on with that egg stuff, and I’ll be about my cleaning." She squished her nose as she took one more sip of the coffee and sat the mug down in the sink. "I’ll be down here to make some more coffee, after I take care of the upstairs. Nice meeting you Carling." The housekeeper smiled towards the young doctor.
Before she could leave the room, Kate asked, "Mary, what are you doing here at five-fifteen, you don’t normally get here until close to six or thereafter?"
"Need to get my work here done by noon, your mother wants me over to tidy up a little. Seems she might be expecting some company a bit later on," she gave the impression of quizzing Carling, as she looked directly at her. Receiving only a puzzling look in return, she turned and addressed Kate. "You haven’t asked her yet?"
"Mary, I haven’t had the chance. Mother and I only discussed inviting Carling over to her house for dinner last night. Go, get about your cleaning, and I’ll take care of things down here."
"Rug-rat, you watch your manners. You still aren’t too big to get your britches warmed by my broom." The housekeeper smirked, and swished out of the room.
"Colorful, to say the least." Carling said. "Bet you didn’t give her much sass growing up?" She sat a plate down in front of Kate and quickly picked up hers’ from the counter and joined Kate at the table.
"No, I didn’t get away with much, and I did get many… uh…talks growing up."
"Talks?" queried the younger woman. "I got my fair share of tanning, too. Both my parents, and Mary, made sure I conducted myself with some semblance of being brought up properly," recalling her youth, she smiled.
"Uh huh," was all the younger woman said.
Both women started eating, with Kate’s face lighting up as she sampled the savory omelet.
"Fantastic omelet, Carling. And I wasn’t lying when I said the coffee was great."
"Thank you Kate. Now, what is this about going to your Mother’s?"
Kate almost choked again. "Well, I didn’t--we didn’t--Carling, Mother and I were discussing you being here for the case, and well, uh--we were wondering if you’d care to go over to her house for dinner?"
"That sounds wonderful," she replied eagerly. When?"
"When ever you say. All I have to do is call her."
"I’ll go to your mother’s tomorrow night, if you will have dinner with me tonight? Kind of a thank you for allowing me to intrude upon you."
"You don’t have to do that, Carling. No thanks necessary."
"I know." She said simply. "But, I want to take you to dinner." "Okay, we’re on for dinner, but you need to let me treat you. I know a good place, just up the river."
"Where-ever you choose will be fine, but it’s my treat."
"MARY KATE?" the high-pitched voice called from the stairs. "Never mind young lady, I’ll come down there."
The housekeeper marched into the kitchen and stood directly beside the sheriff.
"What is this?" Holding up the muddy stained uniform, she continued, "You’ve been told a million times, to pre-treat stains on your uniforms or I'll never be able to get them clean!"
Slinking further down in her seat, she gazed up with her best weapon, those baby blue eyes. "Sorry, Mary. I forgot."
"Forgot? Forgot my Aunt Tilley’s tulips." She tossed the uniform back into the laundry hamper. "You’re not too old for my broom to warm sánö'sha' únö'sha'." Mary jerked up the basket and continued mumbling as she left the two women for the mudroom where the laundry facility was located.
"Obviously, she didn’t see yours, or you would have received the same scolding, Dr. Reed."
"Wrong, Miss Smarty. Those were mine on the bottom of the basket. I was smart. Used my handy travel spray-off before I carefully folded and placed them in the hamper." The reddish-blonde puckered her lips at the older woman sitting next to her.
Kate couldn't say a word, but she did raise one eyebrow and stuck her tongue out in response.
"Kate, what does sánö'sha' únö'sha' mean?" Carling asks and went back to her eating.
"It means buttocks, your buttocks! It’s Mingo. She sometimes goes back to her native language when she wants to really cut me down a notch." Kate answered.
"Mingo? I know Mingo is an Iroquoian native to the areas of western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio and West Virginia and I realize Mary is Native American, but that doesn’t explain her speaking a little known language so beautifully?" Carling asked, laying her fork down and picking up the coffee cup.
"Mary and John are both full blooded Seneca Indians, Carling. John’s father and a dozen or so other natives deliberately went to West Virginia to select brides from that area that were fluent in Mingo. They wanted their heritage to be passed on to their decedents. As my mother’s side of the family has both Seneca and Greek, she insisted I at least knew a few words of Mingo as my grandparents spoke a lot of Greek around me."
"You have a natural bronze tan, but I would have never suspected you being part Native American with a name like McGuinness." Carling laughed.
"Well, the McGuinness came from my fathers side, and I’m just as pleased about the Scottish birthright as my heritage from mom." Kate responded and finished off her coffee.
"Golly, you’re Scot, Greek and Native American. Do you speak all three languages?" The young blonde asked.
"Just a bit of all three. But Mary and John spoke Mingo so often around me while I was growing up, I had to learn more of it than the other two, or get my backside warmed when I didn’t respond to the Mingo." She grinned.
"Interesting. Does Mary only speak Mingo when you get into trouble?"
Kate cut her eyes over at Carling as she stood in front of the coffee pot, "She doesn’t speak Mingo much around me anymore, but you’re correct. She spouts off a handful of words when I’ve rubbed her the wrong way. She does it to be a general nuisance for she knows I understand her, but won’t reply."
Carling looked at Kate’s well-shaped butt and raised her eyebrows. "Well, she spoke it rather sharply today, lady. You’d best watch your step the rest of the day, or I believe she will take that broom to your buttocks." Carling laughed, and raised her cup for Kate to refill. "Is Mingo taught in the schools here? I thought it was almost a lost language."
"It is a seriously endangered, with very few native speakers remaining. However, in recent years, there has been increasing interest language among Mingo descendants, both in the traditional homeland areas, as well as across the country. The Seneca Nation of Indians upstate is attempting to keep the language going with their children and grandchildren." Kate refilled Carling’s extended cup and her before she placed the coffee pot back on the stand.
"Have Mary and John attempted to pass this beautiful language along to their children? Uh…I mean do they have children to pass this on to?"
"Actually they have two sons and a daughter that live upstate that are members of The Seneca Nation. That is one of the six tribes of the Iroquois Confederacy who occupy aboriginal lands in New York set aside by the Treaty of Canandaigua of 1794. All three are school teachers there, and yes, they all are well versed in Mingo and are teaching their children the language." Kate shook her head no, as Carling drained her cup again.
Kate placed her dishes in the sink and turned to her houseguest. "If you are interested in Mingo, you might ask Mary to tell you one of her favorite stories in the language. She knows many Indian tales." She said, turning the water on the dishes for a moment before shutting it off and turning around again. "I have to go, Carling. Willa will be here for you shortly. If you need anything, call me on my cell phone. See you later." She smiled and left the pathologist to finish her breakfast.
Kate had gone to the far side of the lake, for a follow-up at the Stern cabin. Then she spent several hours at the Sheriff’s substation near the county line, with Fletcher Buchanan and several of her park rangers. A farmer had called at eight a.m. that the wild wolf was spotted crossing the creek on the backside of his property in the northern part of the county. That was a good thirty miles from Phillips Inlet, where Kate had encountered the animal on the old timber path just the day before.
The sheriff and park director had an excellent working relationship, and by mutual consent, they came up with a strategy hoping to capture the endangered wolf. Kate would not be available to participate because of the two current cases she was working on, but she detailed four deputies to assist the Park Director with the recapture of the wolf.
Willa had taken Carling to the Clayton’s and they proceeded to gathered evidence from the interior of the building. About one in the afternoon, Carling stated she needed to process some of the bags. Willa loaded up the boxes and took them and the forensic investigator back to the Coroner’s office and laboratory.
Later, after some sensitive laboratory work, and looking through the microscope at some hair samples she had obtained from the bed, Carling motioned for Willa to look through the lens.
"This is one of the hairs we found at Clayton’s, Carling?"
"Yes." The Pathologist placed another hair between the two pieces of glass slides and placed it under the microscope. After focusing on the new hair, she turned to Willa. "Tell me if you see the difference from the first trace evidence and this one?"
"Yeah, it’s different, even the color." The redheaded deputy looked up at the young investigator. "Carling. From my training I know trace evidence is material, fibers, body fluids, etc removed at a crime scene or from the victim or perpetrator of the crime. Usually it is present in small quantities and is often not seen with the naked eye," the deputy spouted off her limited knowledge. "That about sums up trace evidence and the collecting process doesn’t it Carling?" She had that know-it-all look on her face.
"That would be a wide-ranging explanation, Willa. However, you need to get a little more on the techniques to get the full picture and importance of the process. For example, it is recovered from clothing or fabric using a variety of techniques, including removal of visible material and using sticky tape lifts to remove material not readily apparent. Such as the dried semen, and the female vaginal discharge we took from the sheets. Examination of the material recovered from a victim's or a suspect's clothing, or linens in this case, may allow an association to be made between that individual and other people, places, or things that are involved in the investigation."
"Huh? Oh, yeah! Now I get you." Willa pointed to the slide, "This isn’t animal hair then?"
"No. Both specimens are human, from two different individuals."
"Both of these from the bedding, or is one of them what we found in the bathroom?" The redheaded deputy asked. She wanted Carling to know she was interested in her work, hoping the investigator would notice her in personal ways other than work.
"These two are from the bed. However, they are identical to some trace evidence we recovered from the towels in the bathroom, and from the floor."
"You said human hair, don’t you look for animal hair also?" Willa attempted to inconspicuously lean closer to Carling, who was standing next to the counter that held the microscope, but the maneuver didn’t go unnoticed by the young pathologist.
"That’s correct." Carling answered, and was glad she hadn’t used her expensive, seductive perfume this morning when she dressed. She heard Willa breathe in gently, attempting to catch her scent. She refrained from chuckling at the apparent sniff. ‘No need to make an issue of it.’ She thought silently, for she knew she would be working with the young deputy for weeks and didn’t want any friction between them.
Carling looked over at the deputy and smiled. "We collect all the trace evidence available to make the forensics complete. Willa, a common type of trace evidence recovered from clothing and bedding is animal hair. Animal hairs differ from human hairs in microscopic appearance so the type of animal from which the hair came may often be determined by examining the hairs under a microscope. Although individual animals cannot normally be identified, the finding of similar animal hair on two items recovered during an investigation may be circumstantial evidence that these two items were in contact with each other or with a common source of animal hair. For instance, a victim has a cat, and the perpetrator’s vehicle has cat hairs. Comparison of the hair from the vehicle with the cat is evidence that the perpetrator was in the presence of the victim. As I said, this isn’t animal hair though, and we found no animal hair inside the building." Carling glanced at the deputy again, before she reached over to the right and pulled out two labeled slides.
"Here, let me put in this blood slide for you." Carling, had already placed some of the blood samples in test tubes for different tests, but she wanted the deputy to see the blood on the slides.
Willa leaned back from the Microscope, but didn’t move. She gulped when Carling stepped close to her to place the slides in the holder.
"The first slide is from inside the building at the Clayton’s. The second one I’ll show you is from the wood planks on the pier."
Willa looked at both slides before asking, "How does this blood let us know anything?"
"Several things are analyzed, first to ascertain whose blood it is, and then other studies give us more information. Such as blood spatter analysis involves the study of the distribution and pattern of bloodstains at a crime scene. By understanding the effects of various types of physical forces on blood, and the interaction between blood and the surfaces on which it falls, it is often possible to determine many things. Such as, the nature of the event that caused the blood spatter, the location of the person shedding the blood, the location and actions of an assailant, and the movement of the assailant or victim during the incident."
Willa looked at the pathologist somewhat differently when Carling didn’t take offence with her off handed remarks, and unhurriedly continued to explain the forensic techniques to her. The deputy realized the young pathologist was not only extremely good at her job, but was a natural teacher as well. ‘Lord, she is not just a pretty face with a body to kill for, but she is one smart, considerate lady.’ The young deputy thought as she stepped away from the microscope.
The investigator sat down at the instrument, removed the slide, and put in two new ones. "These are two samples from the Stern cabin on the opposite side of the lake where the shooting occurred. The first is from the bullet the sheriff discovered in the tree trunk, which passed through Longgear's shoulder and lodged in the tree. The second is from the bloodstained gauze used to clean Raven Longgear’s bullet wound." Carling adjusted the lens before she got up to allow Willa return to the stool.
"Golly, this is incredible, but I can’t really tell much other than they look somewhat alike." Willa was beginning to feel a little excitement with the investigator’s easygoing explanations to her.
"The blood on the bullet and from the gauze is both Longgear’s." Carling stepped around the seated deputy and retrieved a brown folder from the counter top. Taking out several photographs, she placed them on the counter next to the microscope.
"Willa look at the bullet photographs, see the indentations, striations or patterns? Hand guns and rifles all have a characteristic pattern unique to that weapon. Unless someone has gone to the trouble of filing down the barrel, we can match a bullet to a gun just like a fingerprint to a hand. You find the rifle, and I’ll be able to tell you if it was the shooters weapon." Carling replaced the bullet photograph into the protective covering, and slid it back into the evidence folder.
"Man, we didn’t get into this at the academy, or even at the class Kate had some of us attend a few months back," Willa shook her head at the valuable instruction she was receiving.
"It takes time and training, Willa. Tomorrow, we’ll be able to tell Kate for a certainty, what type of rifle this bullet came from, and point out several identifying marks on the actual bullet."
Shaking her head, the deputy seemed totally bewildered. "Very interesting material, Carling."
"Yes, it can be. You'll see tomorrow how photographic and video documentation at the cabin can aide in building a case. Specialized techniques can be used to document important evidence such as blood spatter or bullet trajectories. Any physical evidence present at the crime scenes is thoroughly documented, collected and preserved for subsequent laboratory analysis. Like the bullet work we have already done, and the blood specimens from the cabin. And tomorrow, we’ll be able to tell Kate the exact trajectory of the shot."
"Well, that’ll make her day, but until she catches the shooter, and finds Tommy Clayton, she will be impossible to live with."
"Live with?" Carling asked, feeling a hint of jealousy.
"You know what I mean, impossible to be around, work with, until she solves the crimes."
"Oh." The investigator nodded, her little tinge of jealousy subsiding with the deputies explanation. She removed the white throwaway lab uniform and tossed it into the trashcan before she removed her rubber gloves and they joined the soiled attire. "That’s it for today, Willa. Could I get you to run me to out to the Sheriff’s house?" Slipping on her jacket, she clicked her notebook shut, picked it up, and waited for the deputy to finish removing her protective laboratory gear. She waited until the deputy had tied up the removable trash bag and held the door open for the deputy.
"I’m at your beck and call, Dr. Reed, on duty or off… I’m still open for dinner?"
"Thanks anyway, Willa, but I have plans. Shall we go"?
"Tall and dark haired," murmured the rejected deputy. "With vital statistics to match, I’m guessing?" The deputy caught the investigator’s disapproving eye. Willa turned her smiling gaze on Carling. "Can’t say I blame you."
Carling did not respond. Instead she held the door open patiently, with the keys in her hand waiting for the young deputy to exit the office so she could secure the room. Entering the passenger side of the patrol car, she quickly secured her seat belt. Leaning back against the headrest, she went over their day in her mind.
As a final point of their day together, she spoke quietly to her driver.
"The collecting of evidence went very well today, Willa. Tomorrow when we do genetic analysis of the biological evidence, using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) techniques for DNA examination, I’m sure we will come up with a pretty conclusive primary report for the Sheriff. You do good work, deputy. Have you considered advancing to Forensic of some sort?"
The deputy’s head swung around to view the investigator. Not sure Carling was being sincere in her praise, she was pleased to see an approving smile on the young scientist’s face.
"Uh, well no, I haven’t thought about forensics much, Carling. I didn’t do too well in biology or science in school. And, to be truthful, I actually just skimmed by at the police academy. But, I really enjoy being a law enforcement officer, though. Heck, I’m due for promotion to corporal next month. Kate is a great sheriff, and she expects the best from her officers. I sometimes fall short of her expectations." She grinned at her passenger, "I don’t always focus on being a deputy sheriff, and that is a definite deterrent in going into anything except regular law enforcement work. Kate says my potential is untapped…Shoot, she’s right. But, I’m a bit single-minded at times." The redheaded deputy blushed at the admission.
"Do I need to guess, Willa?" Carling chuckled, already knowing the answer.
"Good lord, woman, the uniform is undeniably a… " Willa blushed again.
"I get it, Willa. I get it." She chuckled at the deputy.
"Enough of that, huh? Okay, we have our share of crime here, but Kate, pretty much has a handle on everything. This shooting, and disappearance is really out of the ordinary for us."
Carling and she continued talking about the sheriff’s department until Willa dropped her off in front of Kate’s home. This time, the deputy didn’t speed out of the driveway.
As Carling hit the top of the stairs, she heard the shower in Kate’s room. She would need to hurry, bathe and dress before she joined Kate downstairs, and yet, she wanted to look especially nice for her first date with the tall sheriff.
"I haven’t seen Kate in anything except her uniform and yeah, those cute purple shorty pajamas she had on last night. I wonder if she will still wear her uniform?" A low chuckle escaped her lips as she removed her clothes, and hopped into the shower.
Having completed the dressing chore in a beautiful, smart, pale green dress with matching light-weight jacket, which brought warm lights to her flashing green orbs. She slipped her comfortable shoes over her panty hose, which she hated, but felt the need to wear. She shook her loose hair once more before she eased downstairs, and casually sat on the sofa, waiting for her dinner date.
Gently tapping the side of her clutch purse, she stopped the moment she sensed Kate on the stairs. Although there was no telltale noise, the allure of the tall woman was almost mystical, with its powerful pulling effect, producing a magnetism that Carling was at a lost to fathom. But she knew when Kate was nearby, and what’s more, she felt comfortable with the feeling. It was as if a part of her had been unlocked from darkness and brought into the light.
"I hope I didn’t keep you waiting," she said in slow, resonant voice that Carling would have recognized anywhere.
Carling breathed in deeply, smelling the soft musk scent of the tall woman.
"Just sat down. You look absolutely great," she flashed a charming smile, giving the taller woman a quick, up and down glimpse.
Kate’s eyes were yielding, a startling blue, searing with warmth. Her soft, rustic-brown hair was tamed; parted low and swept across her forehead. It was trimmed just above the collar of her cream-colored silk shirt. She wore an exquisitely cut imperial azure suit, with a casual air of a well-dressed woman. Her slip-on-shoes were of soft Italian leather. Her hands were manicured and her nails had a clear coat of polish freshly applied. Kate’s dark tan suggested she’d spent weekends on a beach someplace, rather than long days in the field, searching rugged, wooded terrain for a missing man, or her Greek and Native American heritage. The sheriff stood leisurely just inside the living room door, with a bunch of pale pink roses clutched in her hand.
The late afternoon sun shining through the windows radiated around the young pathologist, setting her off in a halo of golden shimmer that seemed to accentuate her personality and power; the power of a woman reeking of self-assurance and determination.
Kate’s gaze ran caressingly over Carling’s face, dwelling on her full red lips. When she caught her glance again, there was a curious vulnerability behind her soft eyes, a tentative searching that seemed to devour Kate’s defenses, and she felt herself sway toward her again.
"Thank you. I take it those are for me?" Carling flashed her a charming smile nodding towards the flowers.
"No one else," she drawled, handing the bouquet to Carling.
She took the flowers from Kate, and lifted them to her face. They had a tangy, sweet smell that Carling loved.
Lifting her eyes to the blue ones, "Thank you, Kate. These are beautiful. She said, her smile growing a bit devilish.
"Are you ready to go to supper?"
The younger woman nodded, "I’ll put these in something. Be right back."
"I’ll get the car and meet you out front," she added quietly.
Kate watched the smaller woman exit the room, and then quickly went to the garage. She backed her Grand Cherokee out, and pulled it to the front of the house. She opened the passenger door just as Carling closed the front door.
"Why Sheriff, aren’t you full of surprises? Aren’t we going in your patrol vehicle?" Carling turned a playful pout toward the tall woman beside her.
Chuckling, Kate responded, "Thought you might be tired of patrol cars?" She closed the door smoothly, and retraced her steps around the Cherokee.
Fastening her seatbelt, she glanced over at her already secured passenger. "Actually, Carling, I don’t use the county vehicle when I’m on personal matters."
"Sounds like a good policy. Where are you taking us for supper?"
"We are going to Silvermire Inn. It’s a good half hour drive from here. The Inn is a restored mill located on the other side of the lake."
"Oh, I’ve heard of Silvermire," she said excitedly.
"Silvermire is a community with a unique and interesting heritage. It has been settled since colonial times and has evolved through many phases to what you will see today. Water powered mills, agriculture, artist colony, and suburban living are all part of the Silvermire story. Silvermire is not a town, Carling, but part of three towns, Catskill, New Wilton and Rivertown."
"Is the artist colony active?"
"Yes. They do a booming business in the summer, and during the ski season they do even better. Numerous artists, architects, and writers live along here and enjoy the natural beauty of the Silvermire valley. In the summer you will see beautiful gardens and landscaping all along the walk. In winter, after the leaves fall, you get a clearer view of the river and the water falls that still remain."
"Sounds wonderful. Will we be able to go through some of the shops this evening?"
"Yes. That is the reason I chose this particular place."
"I’m starving already." Green eyes flashed a brilliant grin.
"Well, we can eat first, and then walk around?"
"Although Willa and I only had a tuna sandwich for lunch, and my stomach is rumbling, I would like the full tour first."
"That’s the plan. Carling, you can visit the Silvermire in spring, summer or fall and you can dine outdoors on tree-shaded deck over looking the millpond. Here wild ducks glide patiently below, awaiting an occasional morsel. Come winter, dining is by a crackling fire, with everyone savoring the American folk art and artifacts that grace the walls. Whatever the season, whatever the occasion, I promise you award-winning cuisine and a never-ending supply of their irresistible, oven-fresh honey buns."
"Honey buns? Lady, you are talking my language. I love honey buns."
She chuckled again as she licked her lips at the thought of the sweet treats.
"Mine too, only I have to watch it, or the weight just jumps on."
Questioning eyes scanned the figure beside her, "Kate, you don’t have to worry about mass."
"Oh, yes, I do. That is why I eat more apples than honey buns." Kate glanced over at Carling.
"Apples, huh? That the reason you live next to an apple orchard?"
"Yes, and the fact that I own the orchard."
"You own the apple orchard? How big is it? How do you manage to take care of an orchard and be sheriff too?"
"Hey, one question at a time," she laughed. "Actually, the orchard is a joint ownership between Mother and me. We both have one hundred fifty acres each. Bless her heart; she manages it and the freighting enterprise as well. You’ll see the storage warehouses and facilities when we go over there tomorrow night."
The young investigator quizzically looked over at the older woman who wasn’t talking anymore. "Kate?"
"Uh… The first one hundred acres of the orchard were my grandparents. They moved back to their ancestor’s home from Minnesota to raise apples. Mother was in her third year at college when they picked up, lock, stock and barrel for a change in scenery, livelihood and a returned to the Native American activities here. Our family ancestry has always had deep roots in this area. There was a few dozen acres of already grown trees when Grandpa Blackstone bought the orchard and a small shed. He purchased another two hundred acres, and over a ten year period, planted and grafted the trees that you now see outside your bedroom window."
"If your grandparents and your mother were and are apple farmers, where did the law enforcement come in?" A puzzled look filled the investigator’s face.
"My Dad’s side of the family." Kate shrugged.
"And?" Carling pressed for details.
"My father was in law enforcement all his life, and sheriff for the last twenty five years prior to his death. His father was a judge, so was my great-great grandfather, and my Aunt Betina. Both my uncles were cops. Uncle Shawn is still commanding officer of the New York Highway Patrol, active and as sharp as a tack for a man in his seventies. Uncle Matt was sheriff for thirty years in the next county over. My brother Eric was Deputy Police Chief up in Buffalo before he died. So you see, my family comes from a long line of law enforcement, in one way or the other."
"That is putting it mildly, Kate. I’m impressed. Now, what about you?"
"Yes, you, Mary Kate! Tell me about you?"
"Not much to tell really, graduated with degree in criminal justice. Served as a deputy sheriff under my dad. Served out his term as sheriff, and have been elected to the position for the last sixteen years."
"How old were you when they elected you sheriff?"
"A few weeks short of my twenty-fourth birthday."
"That is very young, Kate. Don’t misunderstand, your record speaks for itself."
"And Dr. Reed, just how old were you when you received two Doctorates?"
"Okay, so we are both overachievers." They both laughed.
"What about your family, Carling?"
"All physicians of one sort or the other. Dad and Mom are both MD’s. So were my grandparents on both sides. Mother’s sides of the family are mostly shrinks. The fraternal side has been general practitioners since the 1700’s. My brother is deputy coroner in Albany; my sister is a surgeon there." Her eyes were still on Kate, studying her facial features.
"Why did you deviate from the family’s profession?"
"Medicine didn’t interest me, but Forensics was so new and exciting, I just couldn’t resist. And before you ask, my family didn’t push for the MD status. They have always allowed me to make my own decisions."
"Thought never crossed my mind, Carling. I imagine you received just as much support from them as I did from mine. Even in my personal decisions and life style." she added as an afterthought.
"Mine too. Can’t say they approved of my escapades for the first three or four years after I realized I was a lesbian. After they saw I wasn’t going to quit school, or cause myself any lasting harm, they did sit me down and encouraged me to be a little more selective in my exploits." Carling’s grin was positively wicked.
"We all learn from our experiences, Carling. You don’t strike me as ever having been the scared little bunny rabbit… More like a panther on the prowl, stalking and prancing around their next prey."
"I won’t even dignify that with a reply," she sniffed with a grand, self-righteous air. She folded her arms across her chest and stared stonily at the older woman next to her, pretending that she was waiting for some sort of apology or explanation. But she wasn’t. Kate was right. She had never been a scared little bunny rabbit. She wanted to experience all life had to offer her, and yet, she had always been ultra selective about who she chose to practice it with. However, no one but Kate had ever affected her so intensely. All of her senses responded to the sight and sound, the smell, and feel of her. And her desire kept growing stronger, the longer they were together.
Desire had become need and she knew it. There was no use denying it. She was in love with Kate, there was no use denying that, either. But telling her… Did she dare? She was accustomed to examining and analyzing all sides of a situation before making an advance of any kind, and she did so now. Tell her I love her? When she has already told me she had nothing to give, nothing to offer, and had made a point of the age difference. I have obviously disrupted her life…
It was all so new to her, being in love and feeling uncertain. It was unsettling to realize she couldn’t control Kate’s emotion, or her own. It was more than unsettling; it was downright terrifying! She had resolutely tried to think about something else, anything else. But nothing diverted her too long. Kate claimed her thoughts as well as her heart and soon, she hoped her body.
"Carling, I assure you I meant no disrespect." Kate sounded truly alarmed. She had been taken aback by the smaller woman’s remark. Her heart thumped and she quickly glanced over at the stone-faced passenger, whom she had fallen irrevocably in love with; she was feeling insecure about the idea only due to the difference in their age. It bothered her that she was almost a dozen years older than the young woman.
"What’s going on?" Kate hadn’t realized she’d spoken her thoughts aloud, until she heard her voice break the silence in the car. Kate turned in time to see a voluptuous blonde beauty slide next to her and gaze up at her with reverent green eyes.
"Kate, my love, you are priceless." Carling’s eyes narrowed to slits and her mouth tightened into a firm straight line. She’d been looking for something to break the silence and advance their jaunt, and Kate’s confusion filled the bill perfectly.
"Pull over Kate."
She’d taken Kate totally by surprise and Carling honed in on her advantage. Her hand rested on Kate’s arm, and she leaned over and rested her head on the taller woman’s shoulder.
Kate was perspiring now and had turned a chalky white. Her heart was racing, and suddenly her throat was extremely dry. Breathing was becoming somewhat difficult.
"No Kate, pull over. Please," she repeated sweetly.
The sheriff gripped the steering wheel tightly. Mary Kate McGuinness, the stoic, reserved woman admitting her unshakable confidence and maddening arrogance was completely shattered by the young woman sitting so close to her. She was stunned at the revelation and Carling’s obvious influence over her. It seemed the perfectly acceptable thing for her to do now, surrender her feelings to the young woman, because she knew they were right for each other. There had been a time that the age difference would have been a barrier, an obstacle she did not want to concede. But deep within the hidden recesses of her heart, Kate knew a bond that transcended time joined them. They had come a long, long way in a relatively short period of time. Love had reformed and redeemed them both and age, and boundaries be damned.
She checked the rear view mirror for traffic and eased the vehicle off the pavement onto the shoulders of the road. Sitting there for a moment, she felt Carling’s hand tighten on her arm. She slowly pushed the shift into park.
Kate pulled her into her arms for a long, hungry kiss, holding her lovingly with a passion that would never be extinguished.
Carling reached up to rub Kate’s chin, tilting her face toward Kate’s, as her head began to spin, the colors blurring in a wild, sensual melt heated by emotion. The only solid, real thing left was her vital essence. She stared at her face, going over each feature as she might the parts of a well-loved sculpture. It had been so long, but she knew each line, each plane, as though it had been only seconds before that her lips had clung to hers in total surrender.
"I believe you have stolen my heart, darling," Carling whispered when Kate lifted her mouth from hers once more.
Kate smiled down at her. "Mmm, and what do you suppose you have done with mine?"
She drew back from her, linking her arms around Kate’s neck and gazing into the blue depths of her eyes. Her hands moved gently across the tanned cheek. "I wasn’t sure if you realized that or not," she exclaimed.
"I was sure you did, Carling. I’ve been waiting for you to tell me how you felt."
The smaller woman sighed happily and snuggled closer to the taller woman. This had to be one of the sweetest moments of her life, she thought, and was not at all surprised when her eyes filled with moisture.
"And don’t you dare mention anything about age differences," she looked up at her with lively, but tearing, loving green eyes.
"Not a word, I promise." She leaned down to kiss her again, and then asked seriously, "Are you happy about this, Carling? We haven’t done anything that would prevent us from…"
"Not another word, Kate." She pressed her fingers across the tall woman’s lips. "Our souls are joined even now, and there is no turning back for us. No turning back, EVER!" she added lovingly. "Hades Kate, together, we can face anything," the young blonde said in a lighthearted tone far removed from her usual responsible, serious mode…the serious mode that matched Kate’s to a tee.
"We are going to have obstacles, Carling." Kate whispered to the side of the blonde head pressed against her face. "You sure you don’t want to reconsider…"
"Yes, I’ll reconsider our situation in about forty or fifty years. As for obstacles, well, we’ll just whittle away at them one at a time, and finally they too, will be nothing but toothpicks." She leaned up and touched the warm lips with her trembling ones. It was a soft kiss of commitment that satisfied both women for now. But only for now.
"Darling, I don’t want to be the one to break away from your soft lips and your warm arms, but don’t you hear my stomach rumbling? Do you suppose we could tie a knot in this, and pick it up later?"
Leaning into the lips one more time, Kate responded, "We can certainly take this up again soon. We are actually only about five minutes from the Inn."
She straightened up, pulled the shift into drive, and slowly eased the car back onto the road. But her right hand was now securely being held by the smaller hand, which repeatedly brought the long fingers to her lips for tender kisses. Long, lingering uncomplicated kisses.
"Carling?" Silence. "C-a-r-l-i-n-g?" Somewhere close she heard her name and lifted her head.
"Carling you were asleep. Are you still hungry, or do you want to go up to bed?" Kate asked as she removed her hand from the shoulder of the young investigator after having shaken her gently.
Carling snapped to attention. She had been fast asleep on the sofa. It had all been a dream. "Damn, I knew that was too easy." She couldn’t believe she had been dead to the world, with the tall woman captivating her dream.
"What was too easy? Carling, are you sure you want to go out? You must have been exhausted, you were sound asleep." She rose up from the smaller woman and placed her hand in her jacket pocket.
Carling stared up at the taller woman, who had on a black trousers, a soft, black flannel shirt and matching hip jacket. The black loafers had a high shine on them and covered the black socks. Kate did not have flowers in her hand, instead, car keys hung between two of her long fingers.
"We can do this another time, Carling?"
"Not on your life," she almost jumped off the sofa, and grabbed Kate by the arm. "I’m ready. Shall we go?"
Kate looked down at the investigator. ‘That must have been some dream? She is still licking her lips.’
"We’ll be taking my car. Let’s go out through the kitchen." Motioning for Carling to precede her, but instead, the petite woman continued to hold onto Kate’s arm and walked beside her through the house.
Sure enough, Kate drove a Cherokee, but they didn’t stop on the side of the road. Neither did Carling slide over to be closer to the older woman.
The conversation was mostly on business, and the investigations being conducted.
Once they were pulling into the parking lot of the Silvermire Inn, Kate smiled at her and said, "You’re in for a treat if you like jazz, for they have a couple of hot groups playing here for the summer." She went around to the passenger side and opened the door for Carling to get out. "You might need to bring that light jacket, for we will be dining outside…unless you think it might be too cool for you?"
"Sounds wonderful, and I love jazz," she said, and reached back into the Cherokee for the jacket.
"Our reservations aren’t for another hour, so I thought we’d take a quick walk, first, if that is okay with you. It’s really beautiful here this time of the year."
"You’re in charge of the evening, lead on, Kate." She placed her arm around Kate’s, and they strolled on the plank walk. Kate pointed out several items of interest as they casually ambled along. The sun had just gone down, but the twilight illuminated the rustic area and gave it somewhat of an enchanted look, and feel.
"The Catskills have oodles of tourists both in summer, and in winter for the skiing, but Silvermire has a following all it’s own."
"Now that you mention it, I’ve heard of Silvermire and the artist colony here. But you’re right, I’ve only been here in the winter for the slopes, which I think are some of the best in the world."
"I agree with you on that. The mountains are packed from the first snow until the last. It’s almost as bad in the summer months. Then, it’s a nice get-a-way for the big cities group." Kate noticed the added pressure of Carlings’ hold on her arm. It sent sprigs of warmth throughout her body, and at times, it was difficult to keep her mind on the scenery and not take the smaller woman into her arms and smother her with hungry kisses.
‘Steady, Kate old girl, she is here to do a job and not to fulfill your fantasies.’ The sheriff had to keep reminding herself of the reason for the pathologist’s visit. ‘It is strictly business. ‘Right? Yeah, right.’
"You say something, Kate?" Carling squeezed her arm lightly.
"Uh.. No... Yeah…uh… As we go down River Road, we will be walking parallel to the Silvermire River. In the eighteenth century when water- power drove the engines of industry, this river had a good fall and terrain for building dams to power mills. There were 12 or 13 mills covering several miles along the river in Silvermire. Silvermire mills included a leather tanning works, sawmill, and a spool works. The Tavern pond is created by a dam you will see at the end of the walk."
She pointed to the buildings in question, and leaned against the railing on the walk for the young woman to see the dam. As they proceeded along, Kate could feel Carling’s hand slowly descending down her arm.
"The River and area are called Silvermire or Silver Mines on very old maps of the area, but to our knowledge, there was never any silver found. There are several sites that purport to be the silver mine, but none are convincing. Down River Road, the first house on the left there," she pointed to an isolated structure, "Was on what was a strawberry farm, and it is about 125 years old. Before Silvermire was a suburban residential area, it was typical family farmland, not covered with trees as it is now." By this time, she felt small fingers clamp over her long ones. ‘She sure isn’t bashful.’ Thought Kate as she closed her fingers tightly over the petite woman’s smaller ones, and continued walking.
"That light brown house, very close to the road, is a converted barn. The town line between Catskill and New Canaan passes through the living room. As you stand with the house to your back and look across the river you are looking into Wilton at the point where the boundaries of the three towns come together."
"Is this still in the county you’re responsible for?" Carling asked, as their joined hand began to swing gently back and forth between them.
"Yes, this is still a part of Catskill County. Catskill itself once included what is now Wilton and most of New Canaan. Originally church parishes in those towns were formed in the early 1800s by the New York General Assembly. At that time, they each wanted some of the industrial land along the river." Kate felt Carling squeeze her hand and returned the light pressure.
"Carling, along Mill Road over there," she pointed to the opposite side of the river, "was a winding lane for horse and wagon that served the mills, are many homes representing colonial, Greek revival, modern and eclectic styles. Most have been restored to the same condition of days gone by."
"It’s a beautiful place, Kate. I think anyone would find it difficult to give up living here." She closed the distance between their bodies as they walked.
Laughing at the prospect, Kate replied, "Most have been family homes for a couple hundred years. The majority of the artists reside here year round," she admitted to the young woman.
"Up the rise and down the hill, there are two barn red buildings on the right. These are the remnants of the Buttery Sawmill, built in 1672. Operated by Franklin Buttery until the flood of October 1955, it was the last water-powered sawmill in the area. Long after steam and electricity had made waterpower obsolete, Buttery continued to operate the mill. Henry Ford offered to buy the mill and set it up at his Greenfield Village Museum, but Buttery wanted to keep it going in Silvermire. The original heavy wood guardrails on the Merritt Parkway were cut here at the Buttery mill. In the flood, the dam was wiped out and the mill damaged beyond repair."
Kate looked down at her date to see if she was boring her stiff, only to find her face filled with awe at the sights. "Over the next hill on the right is a glass A-frame house which is the top level of a multistory house. Although only the entrance is visible from the road, the living area goes down the riverbank, offering unparalleled views both up and down the river. Just past the A-frame is the waterfall most easily seen from the road and visible year round." Carling dropped her hand and placed it around the waist of the taller woman. It felt so right, so good, that Kate gently placed her arm across the shoulder of the shorter woman.
"If we had the time, at the stop sign take a brief detour to the right onto the Borglum Road Bridge. Beyond the steep hill straight ahead is the studio of Solon Borglum. Borglum was an internationally known sculptor most famous for his portrayals of the American West. Studies in the American West and Paris led to a very successful career in New York. He began spending time away from New York and moved to Silvermire in 1906. From his Silvermire studio, known as Rocky Ranch, he created works now in museums and private collections around the world. Borglum's presence drew other artists to the area. They eventually founded the Silvermire Guild of Artists from an informal group that met in his studio to discuss each other's work. The comments were honest and not always kind so the group became known as the Knockers' Club. His brother Gutson, also a sculptor, who went on to carve the presidents on Mount Rushmore, visited Solon in Silvermire. It is still a working studio, but it is not open to the public now."
"Gutson… Uh huh! Now my memory comes back to me. Rushmore…Yes, and Solon Borglum has two huge pieces in the New York Museum. I saw them just a couple of months ago, while on a case in New York." She smiled.
Just then they heard a bell sounding from the Tavern Inn. "Ops, guess our tour will have to hold for another time, that is the reservation bell which sounds every thirty minutes and it’s time for us to be seated for dinner." Looking down at her young date, she asked. "You hungry?"
"Starving," she exclaimed.
"We’d better hurry, they only give you five minutes to report in, or you go to the bottom of the reservation list." She grinned as they turned, again rejoined hands and quickly covered the short distance to the Inn entrance.
"Whew! I didn’t think we’d make it." Carling exhaled and quickly took another deep breath.
"Reservations for McGuinness," the tall woman informed the matra’de.
Upon striking out the name, the woman looked up, "Oh, Sheriff McGuinness, I didn’t realize it was you. Haven’t seen you around here since the break-in about a month ago." Agnes Samples gave Kate a pleasant smile, and Carling received a quick once-over before she picked up menus and told them to follow her.
Carling had consciously declined to drop Kate’s hand, so the two strolled side by side, hand in hand to the outdoor table next to the paddle wheel, on the tree-shaded deck over looking the millpond. Here wild ducks glided patiently below, awaiting an occasional morsel. The matre’de stopped at a choice table a few feet from the outdoor stage, and placed the menus on the table.
Carling saw a few individual diners look towards them, but quickly resume their dining as if the couple were an every day sight. However, rest assured, Carling Reed, and Mary Kate McGuinness were anything but an every day sight.
After Kate pulled out Carling’s chair for her and settled into her own seat, she pointed to the wall at the back of the deck. "See those gears behind us, Carling? They are made in the old-time way, but of such fine material and with such excellent workmanship that they are very efficient. Some of the Gears have iron and some wooden teeth. A magnificent engineering accomplishment."
"This is the finest example of a restored mill that I have ever seen. If the food is anything like the astrosphere, this will be a regular dining spot of ours." Carling reached over and patted Kate’s hand.
Kate, in the meantime, had turned a bright crimson. ‘A regular dining spot of ours?’ Her hand trembled at the thought, and she quickly picked up the menu.
The platform dining area was filled to capacity. The jazz band waited patiently on the side of the stage for the announcer to come out.
Giving the menu the once over, she sat it down and asked Kate, "What do you recommend?"
"Carling, anything from the menu is beyond words. But, in the summer and fall, I usually go for the complete dinner. The New England Buffet is a Silvermire tradition for over 50 years. Start with a delicious house made soup, and then help yourself to the salads, side dishes and main courses at the buffet. Corned beef, and roast beef are chef carved at the buffet. Save room for the dessert buffet where you help yourself to their baker’s seasonal desserts. Coffee and tea are included too. But if you prefer something from the menu, rest assured it will be worth the wait and you won’t go away unsatisfied." Kate assured Carling, whose stomach took the opportunity to growl.
Both women laughed at the rumble. "Guess that means I try the buffet. How about you?"
Kate stood, and motioned to the food bar next to the wall.
"Do they charge for the live Dixieland Jazz band?" Carling asked as she filled her plate with various salads.
"No, it comes with the meal." She placed a large bowl of soup on a plate and filled in around the bowl with warm breads before she went back to the table.
"Would you care for a glass of wine, Carling?" Kate inquired when the shorter woman had sat back down.
"Yes, how about a glass of burgundy or some kind of red wine. Will you join me?" Carling asked.
"No, Carling. I don’t drink anymore, not even a beer. I almost lost it, about ten years ago, and I don’t want to ever have to go through that again." She spoke with remorse, and motioned for the server.
"Sorry, I didn’t mean to try and…"
"Forget it. You didn’t know." Smiling at Carling, she looked up at the server and ordered. "Please bring a carafe of the house burgundy with one glass for the lady, and I’ll have a pot of your hot apple cider." With that, the server was gone.
"They have hot apple cider?"
"Yes, some of the best I have ever tasted, and before you ask, it hasn’t fermented yet, but it’s tart enough and it really goes well with the corn beef."
"Hum, maybe I’ll have a mug of that also… along with my desert." She laughed and her mouth started watering at the overflowing plate of salad.
"We’ll have to come to their Champagne Brunch Buffet on Sunday."
Carling’s eyes became larger, "Good, huh?"
"New York Magazine has voted it the "Best Brunch" in the Catskills for 20 years. Their buffet features such old time favorites as French toast, cheese blintzes, potato pancakes, and corned beef hash, as well as bacon, sausage, broccoli cheddar soufflé, Eggs Benedict, vegetable lasagna, and a variety of fresh fruit and chilled juices. Pancakes are made to order, while you watch, with your choice of fillings and served with genuine New England Maple syrup. Of course, there are always their famous honey buns and fresh baked muffins and bagels," she announced, as she peppered her soup, and picked up a large chunk of bread.
"You are going to have to work out with me, Kate. I can see myself looking like a blimp with all this food." Carling announced as she forked a large slice of cucumber and dabbed it in the freshly made ranch dressing.
Before Kate could answer, the announcer stepped up the microphone.
"Silvermire’s Tavern’s Inn is happy to introduce its special late jazz features. We know you all are an appreciative and attentive audience of our "real jazz for the jazz lover". So sit back, relax, and tap your feet to the beat of the best in local, regional and international jazz performers in the world. Their music covers the standards, bob, cool and contemporary original compositions. Whatever the style, the music is delicious and fun, here at the Tavern Inn. Two of our most popular groups have made "Live at Silvermire" recordings, the John Masturro Quartet and the Eddie Zinnaha Quintet with the lovely Natasha. You can’t beat great jazz in live performance. So, put your hands together and welcome our first group tonight, Mr. John Masturro and his quartet." He stepped off the platform and the quartet quickly took its place.
The next hour was filled with jazz, fine food and warm looks between the two women. At the end of the first set, Carling leaned over and spoke to her escort, "Kate, this is the best food, best music and best time I have had in quite a spell. Can we please come back on Sunday?"
Kate grinned at Carling. "Sure, if you want. But on Sunday, besides the brunch, they will also have Live Dixieland Jazz. You get to enjoy a brunch feast with the toe tapping, knee-slapping rhythms of The Jazz Cats. That is a six-piece band that has played Dixieland together for years. The Jazz Cats have made numerous recordings and are well known at the Traditional Jazz Festivals throughout the Northeast," she informed the smiling female next to her.
"That sounds marvelous. You are quite the dinner date, Kate. I could get used to this very easily." Her eyes looked dreamily into the violet-blue ones looking back at her. Both women were turning a soft crimson, but neither looked away and maintained the deep gaze. "Did you enjoy the jazz?"
"Oh, yes. It was incredible." The server interrupted Carling.
"Ladies, will there be anything else," she asked, as she placed the bill inside the dark padded cover in her hand.
"You want something more, Carling?" She asked.
"What I want, Kate isn’t on the menu." The soft sensual voice uttered for only Kate to hear.
Blushing again, Kate took the bill from the server, only to have it removed from her hand by the swift action of Carling.
"I insist, Kate. So, don’t give me a hard time about it." She pulled out several bills from her clutch purse and dropped them between the padded cover and handed it to the server. "Thank you, Miss. The food and service was excellent," her voice cheery and sincere.
"You’re most welcome, Ma’am. Hope you both will come back soon." The middle age woman was impressed by the substantial gratuity of the young blonde.
"You can count on it. We will see you on Sunday." She looked towards Kate. "Do we need to make reservations now?"
"Yes. We’ll do in on the way out."
"Thank you for dinner, Carling." Her voice was low, and husky.
"My pleasure, I assure you, Kate," she responded just as huskily.
"We have a little time before the shops close. Want to check out the antiques or maybe the crafts shop?" Violet-blue eyes asked.
"I was hoping there would be time to perhaps select a gift for my sister. Her birthday is in a couple of weeks." Flashing green eyes answered.
"Sure, this way." Kate motioned to the buildings kitty-corner across the street from the Inn. Carling grinned and automatically grasped the taller woman’s hand in hers.
"You have something particular in mind for your sister?"
"Can we browse first, and check out the sculptures--possibly something different?"
"Different? As in unique, or something diverse and bizarre?"
"Uh…how diverse and how bizarre you talking? Although my sister is very unique in her own way, we are very close."
"Okay, how about the antiques store first?"
"Hey, that is an exceptional old looking piece of brass," the smaller woman pointed to an urn in the window.
"After you, milady," Kate held open the door for Carling to enter. The bell on the door had three glockenspiels that ding-a-ling in three distinct, but different tones.
"Thank you kind lady." Came the reply as she sashayed through the open door. "Now those door bells were nice." Carling looked toward the chime as Kate entered.
"Yeah. No doubt about someone coming in," she grinned.
Carling was fingering the bell as soon as Kate closed the door. "I’m serious Kate, this would be ideal for her office. It has such a beautiful tinkle." She continued to toy with the bell, until interrupted by a voice behind her.
"You need help with something?" A middle aged woman leaned over the counter.
Carling had flinched at the voice, not expecting someone to speak so soon. Turning to face the direction of the inquiry, "Yes, could I see something like this bell?"
"That’s one of a kind, lady. Angus McGuiver tooled that triple dome especially for me. But, he has created several other designs along the same line." She moved to the far side of the counter and picked up four dome creations and sat them on the counter for Carlings inspection.
Moving swiftly to the counter, Carling gazed carefully at the four domes. "Kate look at this one," she held up a mug looking object with two spindles inside as the strikers. "LISTEN!" she chuckled as the medicine urn made a ting-ting sound.
"What on earth?" One eyebrow hiked up to complete the puzzled look on her face.
"Kate, it’s a pharmaceutical medicine-mixing urn with two matching crushing spoons made into a chime. Ha! Now, is that different or what?"
"Yeah, I’ll say." The sheriff looked at the doorbell, shook her head and then walked over to a shelf full of carved animals.
The couple browsed through the antique shop, with Carling making several purchases, and spent another hour at the craft shop. Carling bought two paintings, which Kate carefully placed in the back of her Cherokee.
"This is what I call a successful evening. Don’t you agree Kate?" She asked, as she slid in the passenger side of the vehicle.
Kate closed the door gently, and didn’t answer until she had fastened her seat belt. "Yes, it was most enjoyable. I can’t believe you bought that cow bell thing for your sister."
"Well, she’ll like it much better than that medicine cup thing." She laughed as her eyes settled on the woman beside her. "Thanks for bringing me here, Kate."
"You’re most welcome." She turned the vehicle onto the road and headed back towards the orchard, and her home.
********** Chapter 5
Kate asked about the laboratory work, and Carling filled her in on the day’s procedures and informed her she would have a preliminary report in the next few days, but that some of the tests would take closer to a week.
"You get along okay with Willa today?" The question had an official tone.
Carling had turned slightly in the seat and placed one knee on the seat. She looked directly at Kate and waited.
Kate turned and caught the direct stare of the flaxen-haired woman. "She didn’t give you any problems did she? She is a good deputy, but sometimes has difficulty in keeping focused on official duties."
Carling chuckled, "She did very well today. Extremely helpful, and willing to please."
Kate heard the snigger and the tone in the "willing to please", and questionably glanced over at the investigator.
The sigh from the sheriff spoke volumes. "Willing to please! Need I ask?"
The young forensic investigator chuckled again, "I have to agree with you about her focus, but remember Kate, she is young. She’ll get over her flirty ways, with a bit of luck, in time."
"Carling, some habits are very hard to break. Willa seems to have one thing on her mind, and it hasn’t changed since… uh…she was thirteen, maybe fourteen."
"Be patient with her Kate. I was the same way. Actually I have only settled down the last few years." Her grin was almost a smirk. "After all, I hit on you within the first three hours of meeting you."
Kate was at a complete loss at the openness of the attractive woman beside her.
"I am very patient with her. Sometimes, she just can’t seem to keep her… well, she can’t…uh...her maturity isn’t all that needs to be exercised."
"Her antics will calm down, once she fools around some and then one day she’ll met her counterpart. I calmed down, and have been waiting for my match, Mary Kate. But I was pretty rowdy myself. My youthful escapades could have gotten me into a lot of trouble," Carling explained.
"Would you want your youthful escapades bantered about on everyone’s lips?" The stoic woman asked.
"Kate, Sweetie, they were." Her eyes held Kate’s without blinking. "Willa is a cutie. She’s eye-catching. Rest assured, she’ll settle down before you know it. I did!" The young investigator reassured her. "But, not until I enjoyed the exploits, and the chase for a season or two."
"Somehow, I just can’t see you being wild and …"
"Flirtatious?" The reddish-blonde answered, then added. "I’m usually very straight-forward with my desires, Kate. Okay, I do know how I got to this place in my life. I was just like Willa, only I believe I never had to flirt to get what I wanted. Knowing I was a very beautiful girl, even as a teenager I was smart, talented, with gorgeous hair, and what most could call a perfect figure. Popular wherever I went, and even now--guys adored me, and women--well, they ogle me worse than the men. Both sexes phoned me after midnight just to say goodnight and they cherished me as an unattainable siren. Maybe more. I had many girl friends, and yes, a boyfriend or two. But I was cool, and, yes, insensitive, as well. But they never knew that. Oh, what a bitch I was! I acted like I was attracted to them very much. But never, ever, did I feel something for any of them." Carling reflected, feeling a little ashamed of her past, but wanted to be open and honest with Kate.
"Yes, Kate, I played the games. Now, I don’t. A very gloomy relationship about five years ago was a wake up call for me. The last few years, I have waited for Miss Right to enter my life. I have been waiting for my sole desire my entire life. Don’t get me wrong; I do date regularly, but nothing serious. I have had some charming experiences in search of a romantic and monogamous, permanent, lifetime, and committed relationship. But you’re accurate with your assumptions. Nowadays, I don’t usually flirt. You, Mary Kate are the exception. With you, it is different. I enjoy flirting with you, and what’s more, I like the way you blush when you don’t think I see it. And I’ll be even more truthful; I want this to develop into more than just dating. Don’t kid yourself, you feel the same way, and you know we are so right for each other. There, now it’s out in the open. I’ve said my piece. I feel for you in a way I can’t explain, but I don’t think it needs to be, do you?"
Kate’s mind was spinning. When Carling sprang into her verbiage, she wasn’t expecting any such elucidation, or enlightened details, and certainly was caught off guard. Yet, she knew it was true and simply replied, "No." She ground out in a tortured voice, more as a shield against the power of Carling’s presence than in reply to her query, and at her answer the mask slammed into place again, turning her features to stone. ‘This feels so right, but…But what Kate?’
"You might as well get that stone expression off your face, Kate," she deduced, as they pulled into the driveway to Kate’s home. "We can talk about this later. Right now, I would love for you to show me your lake. I saw it from the porch this morning, and it reminds me of my family’s place. You aren’t too exhausted or sleepy are you? Her voice suddenly softened. Kate did not answer.
The garage door opened, and Kate pulled the car into place and pushed the kitchen door closed as they entered the house.
"Surely it is not such a dreadful thought?" Carling teased, her tone light but her eyes filled with concern.
"Of course not." Kate managed a pert smile, knowing the fear flowing through her veins would, if she allowed it, made it difficult for her to respond to the deep hunger she felt for the younger woman. Should she keep from responding to the longing? Did she even want to? Should she allow their age distinction prevent their building fusion? Was she rushing into this without giving consideration for Carling? Did she trust Carling? Did she trust herself? She looked to the woman in question, only to find her emerald gaze steady upon her.
"There is nothing appalling about our yearning, Kate. I know I’ve come on pretty strong, but I believe in fate. Don’t you?" The young fair-haired woman glanced unfalteringly towards the violet-blue orbs fixed upon her.
Kate caught her breath, knowing the truth when she heard it. The languid warmth she had come to associate with Carling’s presence grew within her at the prospect of a life with this younger woman. Could she manage to hide the response she knew was inevitable? Did she even want to?
But before Kate could voice an objection or an endorsement, Carling leaned closer to her. Her emerald gaze was so intense, so fixed upon her that her trepidation evaporated.
Kate swallowed, and her gaze flickered away, as though she could not find the words. Her dark brows drew together and Carling was surprised to see this confident woman so obviously unsettled. Clearly, such confessions did not fall easily from her lips, and Carling felt honored that she showed restraint, for she was having a difficult time in that area… She’d be happy to fling self-control to the wind to have Kate in her life, for always.
"I would be happy to share the pier with you, Carling" she said, her voice yet lower. "Let me grab a blanket for us to sit on, as the dock might be damp, unless you want to sit in the rocker?"
"The pier would be fine."
As she stared at the tall woman, struck speechless by her words, Kate slid closer to her. In one smooth gesture, she engulfed her jaw in the gentle strength of her hand. Carling shivered in anticipation, and moved closer to the tall body. There was no need for pretence between them…after all, they were about to merge… to bond. Carling wanted this more than anything she had ever wanted in all her days. Indeed, she wanted this, and everything else that Mary Kate McGuinness possessed.
"Wait a moment, Kate. I…I want to…"
Kate leaned closer until her breath mingled with Carling’s own. She looked deep into her eyes, and found the same intensity looking back at her. She locked her lips over Carling’s with a surety that made her heart pound like thunder.
Carling felt her hands rise to Kate’s shoulder, as if of their own accord. At her response, Kate gathered her closer, the firm caress of her hand making every fiber of Carling’s being come alive as it never had before.
Kate lifted her head, her cobalt eyes smoldering with sensual heat. Carling felt herself flush at the gaze, and felt the warmth sliding its way up her body. Kate’s thumb slid across her lips. That caress both stole her words, and raised her blood to boiling. She wanted to feel her hands on more than just her lips.
Kate took her into her arms again and murmured into her ear, "Bear with me, Carling, I… it’s been awhile and I don’t want to rush this." She sealed her words with yet another kiss. This one was more leisurely than the last. Carling opened her mouth to her oral embrace, and wished with all her heart that this moment would never end. In her heart, she knew it never would. This was their beginning…
"Of course, but you’ll need to bear with me also, if I get too impatient." She spoke softly into the lips of the taller woman.
"Okay, where is that blanket? Oh, yeah, mudroom." Kate broke the kiss and they walked arm and arm through the house. Opening a cupboard in the laundry room, the taller woman retrieved a thick blanket and opened the back door for the young honey-haired woman.
Before she closed the back door, she flicked the switch to the outdoor lights. They strolled hand and hand through the garden, and slowly down the gravel walkway to the dock, where Kate switched on the pole light to illuminate the pier.
"Oh, Kate, this is nice. This has to be a lake, for it’s too large to be a pond like ours back home."
"It is a lake, and it is mountain stream fed, so it stays about the same size year round, but of course, in winter it does freeze over in most places. We use it for irrigation for the apple orchard during the summer."
"Hmm. Look at the geese and ducks over there," she pointed to the waters edge.
"Yes, they use the lake until it’s time for their migration. Soon now, they will be taking off for the Carolinas and other places instead of staying around for the hard winters we have here." Carefully spreading the blanket on the end of the dock, she offered her hand to Carling to sit down, then sat down beside her.
"Golly be, those ducks looks like the ones my mother had when I was growing up and that black and white one looks just like her resident pets."
"Your mother finds time to maintain ducks and geese with her medical practice?"
"Sure, she and Dad both. It’s their way to relax, and maintain some semblance of sanity. They both belong to the Audubon Society." Carling grinned at the ducks and geese both swimming toward the dock in hopes of being feed.
"Before you ask, they aren’t going to get any food tonight, or we will have the dock covered with ducks, geese, feathers, and most of all--poop." Kate stated firmly.
"Ugh! Don’t want that, do we?"
"No, and besides, they are feed daily by one of the workers from the orchard."
"That’s good. Does your mother have a dock on the water too?"
"Yes. But it’s around that bend there, but you can’t see her place from here." Kate pointed toward the left side of the lake.
"Does she maintain natural places and feeders for the ducks and geese?"
"Absolutely, plus two golden haired Collies, four parakeets, a barn full of chickens, about thirty tame ducks, several gaggles of geese, two separate families of rabbits, and four horses."
"Now that sounds familiar." She looked adorable as she scooted around the blanket, her hair coming away in wisps from the sides of her head, her skin a warm honey color from her obvious outdoor activities. She even had a sprinkling of light freckles across the bridge of her nose.
Kate’s heart turned over as Carling wrinkled her cute little nose at the geese’s antics. Sometime during the two days, she’d become aware that Carling was as important to her as her ability to direct a busy sheriff’s office with over forty deputies and four substations. Thoughts of her colored every aspect of her day. The question of whether a top forensic investigator could adapt to slower county life was an issue for Kate, but certainly not Carling. She had such curiosity and generosity of spirit, she’d probably be as happy as a honeybee in clover wherever she was, and had made it clear she could be reconciled here for the long-term.
"Come here," Carling said, catching one of her larger hands. With a little tug, she sat practically nose to nose with Kate. "I promised myself I wouldn’t rush things, that I’d give you time. But," her head turned up as she neared her delectable month, "I think you should know I have no intention of letting you disappear from my life as easily as you came into it."
Carling saw the impact of her words as Kate’s eyes widened. "Why are you so surprised?"
"You…you don’t really know anything about me, Carling."
"On the contrary," she cupped her chin, lowering her face even closer. "You’re lovely, outside and in. Everything you’ve done, said and expressed, demonstrates the type of person you are."
"You’re the one that reveals charm and allure, Carling. And I’m not talking about your knock down gorgeous beauty either. I’m talking about the inner you, your strength of mind and self-discipline to succeed in life and choosing a profession that has primarily been for men and becoming the best at that too. Lady, I’d be a fool if I didn’t say I’m enthused you’re interested in an old woman like me."
"Kate, don’t start about that age drivel. You know it doesn’t mean a thing with me, and it shouldn’t you either. Now, where were we? Oh. You’re empathetic, sympathetic, and talented. Give me another week and I’ll add to the list. Most important is the fact you’re uniquely qualified to fill my dreams."
Kate still looked stunned so she leaned forward and brushed her lips against hers. She wanted to take her in her arms and convince her of her deep desirability and that she had fallen for the taller woman. But she bit down hard on her longing. Kate’s feelings right now were more important than hers.
The older woman blinked "Are you saying you… you’re smitten, or you love me?"
"I must not have been doing too good a job of it or you wouldn’t be asking."
"But… Don’t you think you’re being a little hasty?"
"By that you mean you think I am." She took a look at the confusion lurking in the depths of Kate’s beautiful eyes and said, "Why don’t you tell me what you’re feeling?"
Kate closed her eyes briefly struggling to overcome the mental wall she’d built over the years. "This isn’t easy for me to say, but I think relief is mixed up in there, too. Relief because . . . oh, because I’d sensed a… a connection between us, more of a pulling, an attraction, if you will."
"Ah, now we’re getting someplace," Carling grinned. "So you’re attracted to me, huh?" She kissed the tip of Kate’s nose. "Though I have to tell you, Mary Kate that you’ve done a helluva job disguising it."
"That’s because I also wondered about my morals. What kind of person am I to immediately, within a few minutes, become attracted to a much younger woman?"
"I’d stick with relief, if I were you," Carling said still grinning. "That little twinge of conscience was nothing more than guilt at being happy when society says you should have been miserable with the attraction." Carling had to smile at Kate’s logic and shook her head at the rationale.
"Look, Kate," she said, picking up one of her hands and playing with her fingers, "I did some mental gymnastics and realized the spot you were in." Her grin turned sly. "You’ll note I was also smart enough to know the attraction was mutual."
"Pretty sure of yourself, aren’t you, young lady?"
"No, just observant. And very, very hopeful" Carling raised her hand and brushed it against her cheek before her lips touched the large knuckles. "If you didn’t feel something, there was no reason to go to dinner with me, or discuss me with your mother. It was either that, or you loved my unseen dog and gaggle of geese stashed back home."
Kate smiled at her nonsense, realizing that her ability to make her laugh was one of the things she liked most about her. "If you want to tell me you love me, too, don’t be bashful sheriff. Jump in anytime."
The pleasant haze Kate had been enveloped in started to evaporate, and she tensed under her hands. "Oh, Carling." She knew she liked her tremendously, but love? How could she trust her judgment anymore? The thought brought a frown and she said, "All kidding aside, do you see my dilemma, Carling? Everything has happened so quickly. I… I’m not sure of anything right now."
"Don’t feel I don’t understand," she said, stroking her fingers with her thumb. "Like I said, I’m jumping the gun. I’d meant to wait, give you some time to get accustomed to me, and get over the age business, but somehow I just couldn’t seem to wait any longer."
That little girl grin stretched across Carling’s face, and Kate yearned for her to kiss her again. "My mouth gets me into a lot of trouble, Mary Kate."
Kate could believe it. Any woman who kissed as well as she did would find herself in trouble.
"If you don’t already know, I have a tendency to say things sometimes before my brain’s connected to my mouth."
"Then why don’t you quit talking, Carling and kiss me?" Kate asked with an easy grin.
"Always happy to oblige a lady," Carling said.
Several minutes later, Kate asked on a happy sigh. "When did you know?"
A radiance in her eyes had replaced that stunned look "Kate, if I’m honest, it was probably a lot sooner than I admitted to myself. Probably when I stood up and turned around from my car trunk and there you were. Most intelligent women my age have formed some idea of the type of woman it would take to make her happy. You’re taller than the mental image I’d fixed on, but believe me, you’ve got all the essential equipment and then some." She grinned. "And just as important you’ve got the heart. Like I said, lovely outside and in."
"I happen to think you’re very special too," she said, stretching to meet Carling’s soft lips.
Carling heard the ‘but’ in her voice and as she’d told her, she did understand. So she set about reassuring her. "Let me put it this way I’ve got enough confidence for both of us, but I’m not going to rush you to the altar, Kate. I’ll let you get used to the idea first."
She ran her finger along Kate’s bottom lip. It wasn’t easy being a patient lady, and she hoped it didn’t take Kate too long to realize they belonged together. Meanwhile, there was her lovely mouth.
Carling was moving too quickly for Kate’s peace of mind, but before she could formulate a coherent rebuttal to what she’d said, Carling’s lips settled on hers again.
Kate’s warm glow returned and grew under Carling expert touch. This was how she’d expected to feel: taken out of herself so one action followed another naturally. She didn’t have to worry which way her mouth slanted under Carling’s, she didn’t have to wonder if it was too soon to caress her face and touch her lovely lips with her fingertips. She didn’t have to fear she’d hate the feel of her tongue as it slipped through her lips to duel with hers. She didn’t have to think about breathing because her body had taken over and done it for her, allowing her to concentrate upon the texture of the smaller woman’s lips, her tongue, her mouth.
Carling drew in a shaky breath as she rolled away from Kate and lay with her eyes closed. "I should be shot for taking advantage of you this way, but…" She made a vulgar sound. "That’s twice now. All I can do is promise to try to be a lady and wait, but it’s not going to be easy."
She concentrated on getting her breathing under control, as well as her aching body. She needed to focus on Kate’s feelings. She might know there was no reason for them not to become lovers, but Kate apparently had some catching up to do mentally. And when she did, she expected incineration if that was an example of…
Kate’s unnatural stillness next to her penetrated her harmonic euphoria. Carling rolled to her side and looked up at her, at her taut, unhappy expression. "What is it?" she said, reaching for her in concern. "What’s wrong?"
"You don’t have to pretend just to spare my feelings." Wasn’t that always the way it worked for her? Just when she thought she had the brass ring, reality intruded. "I assure you I’m used to this reaction."
Kate tried to rise, but Carling simply leaned further over and pinned her to the blanket. She stared at her and shook her head.
"I don’t understand. I must’ve missed something,"
A crushing weight filled Kate’s chest. But it wasn’t the dear feel of the small body next to hers; only the disappointment that her age was probably the reason Carling had stopped. As in the past, pride came to her rescue, and she fought the quick flash of embarrassment warming her by staring into her eyes.
"I know my age, stoic demeanor and physical response leaves a lot to be desired." Kate’s expression slipped farther into bewilderment, and she became irritated. "Several women have already told me that so…"
Suddenly, Kate found herself sitting upright and staring into blank astonishment. After a moment, Carling’s hands relaxed. The blonde’s fingers slid up to cup her shoulders at the same moment a grin returned under her sexy eyes. Kate was surprised by Carling’s confidence.
"Honey, someone’s been pulling your leg. I can assure you there’s nothing wrong with your response." Carling’s grin split into a full-blown smile. "In fact, the only reason I backed off was because I was enjoying it a little too much."
Kate would have pushed her away then if she could have, even though she wanted to believe her. But Carling had continued to slip her hands over Kate’s shoulders until her arms pinned Kate against the smaller body. "If you like," she said, her lips almost upon hers, "I’d be more than happy to give you another demonstration." She didn’t wait for permission.
She resisted the pressure of Carling’s mouth for a few moments, but the small hands at her back urged her closer. Without knowing how, Kate found herself on her knees with her body imprinting itself on the smaller one. The smaller hands drifted lower, cupping her bottom and raising her until the apex of their thighs met, and she could feel the heat from the taut thighs. With Carling’s compact body pressed against hers, she could no longer doubt the young woman’s sincerity--or the proof of her words. She melted against the small figure with a sigh.
Kate’s surrender was so sweet and Carling’s need to reassure her so great that it was several minutes before the smaller woman could bring herself to ease the taller woman’s embrace. Her mouth continued to trace a trail of light kisses along the tight skin of Kate’s throat. But when she found her lips questing farther south, she pulled Kate’s head to her chest and rested her chin on top of the soft russet-brown hair.
"Kate, if that doesn’t prove anything to you," she said unsteadily, "Then I think it fair to warn you the next attempt will bare more than my soul."
Through the thudding of Carling’s heart next to her ear, Kate heard her words and smiled. Her blood raced as fast and warm as the blonde’s, but the knowledge she could affect her so also calmed her. And while her words conjured visions of titillating excitement, they also tickled her. She was the one that usually did the seducing, and had never been seduced before. It was quite pleasant, and she felt delighted with Carling’s attempt at restraint.
Kate pulled back with a little laugh. "What, before God, the ducks, geese and whoever else might be watching us?"
Carling grinned at her. "I don’t think God would mind, but if it bothers you that much, I’ll shoo away the ducks and geese, and blindfold whoever else might want an eye full."
Linking her hands behind Kate, she leaned away and surveyed her as she chuckled as if she had been tickled. Laughter was good for Kate. And revealed her sensitive side. Her stoic sheriff had been too solemn when she first met her.
"I’m glad you can see things in a truer perspective and laugh about it. But what other idiot besides that over-sexed hospital administrator was fool enough not to realize what a treasure she could have had?"
Kate twined her arms about her neck and pulled the small head to her. The same leap of excitement was there as their lips met, instead of demanding, Carling kept her touch reassuring.
As her mouth settled on the smaller woman’s, Kate felt the flutter of desire as Carling’s lips gentled hers into acceptance. She’d never before realized the language of a kiss could be so evocative. She already knew she could raise a firestorm between them. But she now learned that her age difference didn’t matter, that besides encouragement of their mutual joy, there was also warmth of comfort, as well as an inspiration for faith in the smaller woman, and the promise of love.
This time when Carling’s lips withdrew, Kate kept her eyes closed and remained still, savoring the experience. "Oh, my. Oh, my Carling, you do that so very well."
"I’d like to remind you I didn’t do it alone." Carling gathered her close, and rested her head next to Kate’s heart. "And I think that’s my point. It takes two to tango, as they say. Why would you let someone say you were stoic, non-responsive and tell you the blame was yours?"
"I’m only now beginning to realize that it wasn’t." Kate released her arms from around the smaller woman, and set next to her on the blanket.
"I had never been seriously involved with anyone until my second year at college. Most of the feelings Lois and I had just developed from our childhood, and in the second year, our friendship turned into a relationship. It was the first and only one for either of us. When we returned here, we had already lived together for close to three years. Well, not actually true. We were roommates all through college, but I mean lived together as partners. We purchased a house in town, close to the high school where she was an English teacher. Our resolve to start a family brought about our decision to build out here in the grove. Then we found out she had cancer. She insisted the construction on the house continue, but she never had the opportunity to set foot inside, as she passed away about a month prior to its completion. Her last year was one of constant pain, and I watched her go from a robust figure to skin and bones." Tears filled the dark woman’s eyes and slowly ran down her cheeks. Her large hand quickly wiped away the tears and she sighed deeply.
"The next couple of years after she died, I wasn’t nice to be around. I felt and lived the grief. I cried the tears. I could not let her go. This resulted in my efforts to drown my sorrows. It’s a good thing I was so proficient in my duties as sheriff, and I had a tendency to only drink from the time after work until the next morning when I returned to work, mostly still intoxicated. Mother had some difficult times on her hands, but, finally she convinced me that I was on the way to self-destruction, and I took off work for a month and went to a clinic to dry out. I haven’t touched a drop in almost eight years. That’s why I’m addicted to apple cider." The stoic woman hung her head, and breathed deeply.
Carling instinctively placed her hand on the small of Kate’s back, and began to gently rub circles on the area. It was a simple comforting gesture, and had a very soothing effect on the tall woman.
"About six years ago, I started seeing Gloria. When it became clear she wanted our friendship to develop into something stronger and principally, a relationship and knowing that I didn’t care for her in that manner, I ended the liaison." Kate sighed.
"She has had a lot to say over the months that followed, but I have tried to maintain a casual friendship with her, due to our being friends since childhood. Sometimes she cuts to the quick with her comments. I have dated other women, off and on, these past three years, but only as a companion to accompany me to the movies, shows, dinner and such. Guess I decided I’d had my one good relationship and that I had little of myself to offer anyone."
Peeking at Carling, she saw her brows had furrowed, but she didn’t interrupt or offer false platitudes, for which she was grateful. But she also realized with her newfound knowledge that remembering the experience didn’t pain her as much. Gnawing guilt about her poor showing as a woman had been alleviated, and only sadness remained for Kate, but she was now ready to deal with even the sadness that had soaked her heart.
"That experience, unfortunately, only deepened my impression of not having very much to offer someone. Looking back, I can see my anxiety only made me become more inhibited as I grew older."
Carling enfolded her hands in Kate’s, raising them to her lips. "Reserved, yes. Inhibited, no." She kissed her hands again and said,
"Go on." Carling prompted.
"Gloria more or less snuck in through the back door." At Carling's questioning look, she explained, "She made herself my shadow for months on end after Lois’s death. She attempted to make herself essential and I found out, deliberately casting aspersions on my physical abilities, not only to those that might have been attracted to me, but to members of my family. Knowing her since our youth, I was used to her being around. When my father died, Gloria was there to help Lois and I through most of the trauma. Later, during my drinking period, we spent so much time together that when she raised the question of us living together, I did consider it. It seemed almost a natural extension of our lives, but I wasn’t comfortable with her in that aspect, and I couldn’t and wouldn’t do it. Though I trusted her overall."
Carling was aware that Kate wasn’t finished with her story, and unhurriedly began the slow circling movement on the tall woman’s back again.
Kate wrinkled her nose and made a face. "A mistake, of course. But even before I realized that, I’d begun to have second thoughts about the trust. Gloria wasn’t so patient any longer with my reserved; I believe is the word you used--my reserved attitude. The more she pushed, the more panicked I became."
As they sat quietly, Carling’s hands linked with the larger ones, and the smaller woman probed gently. "So, you gave the witchie pooh her marching orders?"
A little sigh escaped her. "Unfortunately, no. Before I could work up the courage to break things off, I discovered her interest in me pretty much paralleled my college sweetheart’s. Lois had kept it from me, but had told Mother about the innuendos and advances from Gloria. Lois knew I’d kick Gloria all over this county, or worse. When I spent so much time with Gloria, Mother became fed up, and again sat me down for a heart to heart about Gloria’s advances toward Lois."
Kate’s rueful expression told Carling in more than words that her healing process had already begun. However, if that bitch ever came within a yard of Kate again, she’d pay the harlot back for hurting Kate, in coin the idiot could understand.
Kate looked at her uncertainly. "Do you want to know more of the sordid details?"
"No, not unless you want to me to," she declared, taking Kate in her arms once more. "It makes my blood pressure rise to even think of how she must have hurt you."
The taller woman didn’t tell the young beauty that her ardent soothing was unnecessary; she enjoyed it too much to protest. She was surprised to find she looked serious when at last she pulled away.
"I got the idea when I met you, that you were pretty well rounded and quite the catch. What you’ve said only reinforces that impression. But I want you to know you have nothing to worry about from me, and I won’t push you. It won’t be easy, but I can provide a comfortable atmosphere for you to get accustomed to us." Carling tightened her arms around the shoulders of the stoic woman. "Just understand I love you. You with your splendid heart and wonderful talent, whether you might find that a bit pushy now or not."
"Oh, Carling…" Hers words touched her so deeply that her image wavered through sudden tears. Now was the time to tell her all about the real Kate, and she meant to. She swore she did. But Carling kissed her tears away and said they’d talk later; they had to take advantage of the glowing moon and watch the antics of the ducks and geese that were quacking and hissing beneath the dock. Soon she lost the ability to think at all.
They sat in each other arms for what seemed like hours, as the birds put on a special show for the two women. They laughed at the antics of the waterfowl, and even scooted to the edge of the dock and let their feet hang off the pier.
Finally, Carling spoke. "Kate, when I was growing up, we all lived on the south side of Albany, where my parents still reside, on a creek which flows into the Great South Bay, a beautiful big body of water which then empties into the Atlantic Ocean. While summer there is pure heaven, a perpetual vacation with warm weather and ocean breezes, the winter is also delightful to me. When the bay freezes, our creek doesn’t. At least the part by our house and north doesn’t, so all sorts of ducks come to feed. My parents even have a pair of beautiful Great Blue Herons that enjoy fresh eels from our pond!" The investigator lay her head over on the Kate’s shoulder.
"Permanent year-round residents include my Mom and Dad, Rustar, our latest, adorable Labrador puppy, Gabby and Caleb, littermates of my dog Shelby and my parents original Labs, Ariel, our Amazon Blue Front parrot and Queenie, our cockatiel, assorted Muscovy ducks, six Peking ducks - three all white and three multi-colored, a magnificent pair of swans called Drake and Maggie Beth, and lots of friendly squirrels. Our visitors, who return each year, include Mother and Father Goose, Ms. Betty Goose, seven all white Peking ducks… the "cousins", wood ducks, egrets and a pair of American coots." Lifting her head off Kate’s shoulder, their lips touched gently, and both sighed.
Placing her head back on its rest on the stoic woman’s shoulder, Carling continued. "Whenever I watch Maggie Beth and Drake glide so effortlessly along the surface of the water, barely making a ripple, feathers, so pure white, glistening in the sun or glowing under moonlight, I can’t imagine a more beautiful or serene sight. Then, as they see me and swim to me, reality sets in. For Drake is anything but serene! My first encounters with Drake were a little on the scary side, Kate." She related.
"How so, Carling? You were afraid of a swan?" Kate asked.
"Yes, and you would have been too, Miss Tall and Mighty Sheriff. We keep our boat alongside the dock in our back yard. I was filled with dread every time I had to climb on board. Drake refused to let me on or off the boat. My father finally had to get involved luring Drake away from the boat so I could hurry on or off. Drake treated Maggie Beth just as shabbily! He was forever biting her and chasing her. Maggie Beth was as terrified of him as I was. She and I certainly had a lot in common in those early days!" The small woman snuggled closer to the warm body beside her.
"One day, Maggie Beth just disappeared. Each day I would look for her. I just couldn’t believe she was gone. The first few days Drake didn’t seem to miss her at all. But, as the days turned into weeks, he became very melancholy. He refused to eat. He even seemed to come to me for sympathy! Each day, I sat on the dock gently talking to him, trying to coax him to eat. Nothing worked. Ever the romantic, I was certain that Drake was going to die of a broken heart! I called a family friend, Barbara, a veterinarian, for some advice. She told me that it’s not unusual for an "abused" female swan to leave her mate for a while to teach him a lesson. One week turned into two and two into three and still no sign of Maggie Beth. I was still consoling Drake. It broke my heart to see this big, aggressive swan so sad.
Then, out of the blue, Maggie Beth returned. At first, she seemed a little hesitant around Drake, a little wary, almost waiting for Drake to bite her. But, he didn’t; he seemed to have missed Maggie Beth immensely.
Unbelievably, and to Maggie Beth’s credit, she had transformed Drake into "her kind of swan" - attentive, caring and non-violent! I guess Maggie Beth, in her ladylike way, taught him a lesson he wouldn’t soon forget. In fact, it’s been about four years and I’ve yet to see him behave in anything other than a gentlemanly manner with Maggie Beth - and even with me!" Carling chuckled at the recollection.
"Sounds like the old fellow needed a lesson in love. I don’t know if swans mate for life like the wolves and other animals do, but one pair of mother’s geese were together their entire life span. You knew who the offspring's father was without a doubt. That was the ugliest gander I have ever seen." Both women chuckled at the depiction.
"I believe they mate for life," Carling threw in, "Well Maggie Beth and Drake have anyways. Guess the old boy learned his lesson. It’s another story, however, with the Canadian geese in our creek. Each spring as Maggie Beth begins to search for her nesting site, Drake refuses to allow the geese in the water. He spends literally hours patrolling the creek, his beautiful wings raised in attack mode. The geese have also nested alongside the creek for years, so they know exactly how to stay out of his way. Still, Drake swimming at top speed and in full armament is a sight to behold! Both Maggie Beth and Drake have come to trust me more each season. Last year, for the very first time, I was privileged to witness their courtship ritual. I cannot adequately describe the beauty and delicacy of their movements, their long graceful necks dipping into the water, splashing water, first one, then the other, then both, until they ultimately tenderly placed their faces together, arching their necks, forming an actual heart. Truly a sight I shall never forget. Maggie Beth and Drake have also been bringing me their babies at a younger age each year." Carling wiggled her back a little.
"Last year, I noticed Maggie Beth’s wings upraised and rounded in what looked like an awkward position. Closer inspection revealed five little gray heads sticking out from between her wings. I watched her as she gently lowered her body so they could scramble down into the water. And, yes, even she had a baby who didn’t want to leave the safety of his mommy!" Shadows of the geese and ducks movements played over the water as the two women looked on.
"A few summers back, one of their cygnets had fishing line wrapped all around him. He was so scared, Kate," The young woman stated. "He was frantically swimming all over the creek, with Maggie Beth following him. Of course, the more he swam, the tighter the fishing line became. I was horrified. I called to the swans to come to my duck ramp ‘Swans, bring your baby, I‘ll help him’, hoping all the time that none of my neighbors or my Dad heard. I was sure they would have me committed! I could not believe my eyes when Maggie Beth and Drake began pushing the baby to me and up the duck ramp. I had my trusty fishing net and very slowly caught the cygnet and pulled him up the duck ramp. Maggie Beth and Drake were on either side of the ramp intently watching me. I kept waiting for them to hiss at me or get upset, but they seemed relatively calm, much calmer than I was! I got the baby on the dock and lifted off a portion of the fish net. Fortunately, I was able to unravel the fishing line and get it all off. I then gave him back to his mommy and daddy. He stayed in the water watching me warily as Maggie Beth and Drake and the rest of their children calmly walked up the ramp to eat their dinner from my corn can. The baby took a few days to come back up to me. Ever since, whenever one of their babies is caught in fishing line, Maggie Beth and Drake bring him to the duck ramp and allow me to help." A small Madonna-like smile played around her mouth, making it even more tempting.
"Carling, you need to tell mother that story, and let her tell you about the goose incident with the baby chicken." Kate deliberately avoided the enticing lips, and leaned over and gently brushed her lips across the forehead that had just been placed back on her shoulder.
"I’d love to swap stories with your mom, I bet she has a million stories about her pets, and of course, I want to hear every thing about you as you were growing up." A blush warmed her cheeks at the prospects of finding out about Kate’s youth.
"Now don’t go get carried away, Squirt, some of my younger days were filled with one catastrophe after another." She breathed out, but her voice not all that imposing on the subject.
"Careful, Oh Mighty Sheriff, I’m a very inquisitive…" She was intercepted.
Beep, Beep, Beep. Kate’s pager went off, forcing the tall woman to take it out of her pants pocket and hold it up to the light.
"Sorry, Carling. We need to go up to the house, I have to call the office."
"Oh, rats," the young woman hesitated for a moment. "If we have to, we have to." She leaned forward and engulfed the taller woman in a gentle hug before Kate arose and helped the younger woman stand up.
Kate quickly gathered up the blanket. The two women returned to the house enveloped in a warm glow.
Entering the back door, "Here, let me have that," she took the blanket from the sheriff, "You go make your call, and I’ll put this away."
"Thanks. I’ll make it brief," she smiled down at the investigator and disappeared into the kitchen to place the call.
Carling folded the blanket, but feeling a slight dampness, she unfolded it and spread it out over the appliances to dry out. Not wanting to pry on Kate’s call, she walked into the living room and sat down on the sofa.
Less than a minute later, Kate entered the living room. "Sorry Carling, but I’m afraid our evening has come to an end. An emergency at the office," and with a deprecating roll of her shoulders, she tossed the information out.
Carling’s face was an open book. Clearly disappointed by the announcement, she stood up and approached Kate. "I’d be lying if I said it isn’t a let down, but I know you have a job to do." She was now within arm’s reach of the sheriff.
"It can’t be helped, Carling. I’d ask you to wait up for me, or even go with me, but I don’t know how long this will take. It might even be morning before I get back." She took the smaller woman into her arms, and was immediately engulfed by Carling’s arms around her neck.
"No need to give details, Kate. It’s getting late anyhow, and a good nights rest will help with my schedule for tomorrow. I’ll settle for a proper good night kiss?" To allay any unease Kate might be having about being called out on their first date, she pulled the dark head down to claim the requested lips.
"Hmm, now that is something I believe I can handle," Kate’s shoulder twitched in an easy roll Carling was beginning to recognize as a preliminary gesture of lowering her head for a kiss.
When she had kissed the younger woman thoroughly, she murmured another apology. "I'll make it up to you," she whispered, nuzzling her temple.
"Hmmph. You can be sure of that, Sheriff," she said with a grin.
"Oh, Lord. Something tells me, I’ll have my hands full with you." She groaned.
"Well, Mary Kate, they seem to be the right size for taking care of the situation, and I do believe you’re just the woman to handle me," she teased, and gave her a quick kiss before she backed away. "You’d better get going. Drive carefully, Kate. It was getting foggy out when we came home." Her eyes sparkled as she walked hand and hand with the sheriff to the foyer.
Kate stopped at the stairwell, "I have to run up and get my revolver and badge. You want to wait here, or come up with me?"
"Might as well go up with you, and turn in."
They walked up the stairs, and into Kate’s room for her to get her equipment belt. She placed the badge on her jacket and quickly strapped the belt around her waist. She clipped the radio on her lapel.
"You know, you’re very impressive, even without the uniform."
"Thanks. Might you be a little prejudiced?" She smiled as she shoved the cell phone in her pocket.
"Naah. Truth is the truth. Remember what I said on the dock--inside and out." She reached up and flipped the sheriff’s jacket collar back into place. She stepped back and grinned. "You’d better get on the road."
"Yes." She looked down at the green eyes once more, "Sleep well, Carling."
"I’m sure I will, thanks. See you in the morning."
"Nite." Carling rose up on her tiptoes and gave the sheriff a quick goodbye kiss.
Kate smiled, and quickly left the room. Her hurried footsteps could be heard on the stairs, and in the foyer as she went through the house to the garage to get her patrol car.
There was a lot to be said for concentrating on the mundane, Carling decided as she tumbled into bed that night. Her day’s activities had kept the mind too busy to ponder her personal state of affairs. But now that there was nothing to distract her--no reports to be prepared or, no Kate to kiss her senseless-- she couldn’t escape her thoughts.
Happiness filled her as memories of the events of the evening rushed back, and she spent many minutes lost in a glorious reverie. Yet it was unclouded joy. A sliver of anticipation remained from the events. As much as she wanted to believe she could build a new life in the Catskills, she was realistic enough to realize there were problems she would have to face, and Kate’s acceptance was foremost.
Sure the people here and the seemingly simpler lifestyle enthralled her now, but would that wear off in a matter of weeks or months? She didn’t think it would, but was she capable enough to make a living here, and would it be in her life’s chosen forensic work, or was she kidding herself? That too, she knew wasn’t important. She could always write. After all, it was her hobby, and that hobby had been very fruitful with three best sellers in fiction based on some of her most interesting cases. There was the television show that was coming up based on one of the characters she had created in her books. Not only would she serve as a consultant, but would be writing some of the scripts for the series. Then there were her speaking engagements that resulted from her publications. Yes, that too was a possibility. Lastly, there was her inheritance if she wasn’t able to work in forensics, or her books stop selling. Most important of all, how would Kate react when she told her about the possibility of giving up forensics to remain here?
"No, Carling that particular conversation would only make her more steadfast about the age, and the missed opportunities. She’d bring up any potential deterrents that she believed would cause you to be resentful or sorry that you had pursued this path. I wonder if the State has thought of a substation here in this area, for they certainly don’t have a forensic laboratory within a hundred miles of here? Maybe I’ll give Dr. Thompson a call tomorrow and throw out a bug about that little idea."
She’d felt nothing but disappointment this evening when Kate had left because of yet another emergency. However, she realized Kate would always be out on one crises or urgent situation, but there would always be a homecoming and that would be worth the wait.
‘Oh goodness,’ she thought, ‘the returns would be one tremendous adventure after another.’ The young blonde giggled out loud at that possibility. "And she mentioned they had wanted to start a family. A family! Have to admit children has never been foremost in my mind, but… but it might be one of the more valuable possibilities. Lord Almighty, life with Kate has so many possibilities." Speaking to the un-responding room, she pulled the cover up a little higher and sighed. She’d wanted to hug to herself a little longer the undiluted pleasure of the evening, but tiredness from the day’s technical workload caused drowsiness to take over. Before long, the green orbs closed, and took her to dreamland.
********** Chapter 6
The phone ringing beside her bed brought her from her dreams. She turned over and reached for the instrument.
Not opening her eyes, she answered, "Hello."
"Good morning, Carling. Did I wake you?" Kate asked cheerfully.
The young investigator looked at the clock and shot up out of bed. "Heavens to Mergertroy! I’ve overslept. Willa will be here before I can shower." She hastily grumbled into the earpiece.
Kate started laughing. "Calm down, Carling. That’s the reason I let you sleep and am calling now. Willa won’t be picking you up. She is at the hospital with me. She was on call last night and we had a severe drunk driving accident, with two fatalities. So my young houseguest, you can take your time with the bath, as Paul can’t pick you up until around eight."
She plopped back down on the bed, "Sorry to hear about the deaths. Anyone you knew?"
"No, all were tourists staying at the Catskill Club Resort. Looks like it was just stupid behavior of friends that went out partying and didn’t leave the driving to a cab. One of the passengers in the lead car stated the dead driver slammed on his breaks to avoid hitting a deer that leaped across the road, and the other car plowed into them. Both cars went over the guardrail and down into a gully. There was one fatality from each car. The other six are all in the hospital."
"Sorry to hear that."
"Useless waste of life. Looks like both vehicles were doing close to eighty."
"Darn it Kate, that speed is suicidal in the daylight with the winding and twisting roads you have here."
"Yep. Some folks never learn. The other reason I called Carling, is- - well- -I was wondering if you could come out to the scene and do some forensics on the skid marks and impact, etc?" Kate asked, uncertain of the response.
"I know it doesn’t have anything to do with the current cases, but this one will be a tickler as the driver in the second vehicle is a well known, high profile attorney from New York. I don’t want to take any chances of him walking away from vehicular homicide, and with the forensics, I believe the state’s attorney’s office will be able to make their case even more solid. I wouldn’t push quite so hard, if I hadn’t pulled up this man’s driving record. His driving record isn’t pleasant, and he has had another DUI accident where he was at fault, but was never brought up on charges."
"Oh! Sure! No problem. Paul will have to swing by the lab before we come. Is the accident scene intact?"
"Yes. The cars were going so fast and the impact so great that they took down a ten-inch tree, which is blocking the highway. We’re rerouting vehicles on the alternate highway," she said.
"Good. Oh, and Kate, you need to get the hospital to do breath analyzer on the driver, and blood samples if possible."
"He, and three others are having to have blood administered, so we have samples of his blood, and the bloody clothes he and the others were wearing, as well. Willa and I bagged and tagged each item. We are playing this by the book, Carling. They even had two open fifths of bourbon in the second vehicle, as well as one in the first. We’ll need photos and videos of everything, and I want prints lifted from the steering wheel, the gear shift and every print on both bottles."
"You’ll get the complete works, Kate, never worry. I’m known as Miss Thorough." She stood up, "Kate…" She was hesitant to continue.
"Never mind, it can wait. I need to hit the shower if Paul will be here at eight. See you shortly?"
"Sometime this morning, but I need to finish up at the hospital before I join you at the scene."
"Fine, see you there."
"Carling," Kate hesitated, "Uh… about last night… well, I just wanted you to know I had a great time, and I think you are one heck of a kisser." With that she quickly blurted out a hasty goodbye and hung up.
Laughing at the dead line, she placed the phone back in the cradle.
"Beat me to it huh, sheriff. I knew you liked to lead. Well lead on Mary Kate. Lead on." She threw her gown on the bed and headed to the bathroom.
The day had been a complicated one for Kate. Two more passengers of the car wreck died, one from the back seat of the front car, and one from the back seat of the second car. Two more passengers were on the critical list, and not expected to make it. The driver of the second vehicle had come out of surgery, and was the only person involved in the accident that wasn’t on the critical list.
Carling had spent most of the morning gathering evidence at the crash site. She had to stop and film the removal of a half dozen small bags of cocaine from under the front seat of the second car by Kate and Paul. The evidence was bagged along with everything else.
Additionally, when the wrecker was hooked to the front vehicle, to raise it from the gully to the roadway, the second was pulled a few feet and hit a rock, and the trunk popped open. In the trunk of the second vehicle, an additional pound of cocaine was discovered. That much coke, in all probability wasn’t for personal use. The street value would almost certainly be over $300,000, or more. What started out to be a vehicle accident was turning into a county sheriff’s unwanted nightmare.
Carling had finished with the accident in the early afternoon and Paul brought her back to the laboratory. She did the paperwork on the accident, and was very careful with the fingerprinting of the drugs, and the liquor bottles that were returned to the lab. After she completed her forensic on the cocaine, it was placed in a lock box, and the Sheriff and a deputy removed it to the county sheriff’s safe. Kate didn’t want to risk compromises of any sort or have evidence come up missing.
The rest of the afternoon, the young investigator worked on the forensic evidence of the missing man, and completed her ballistics report on the slug retrieved from the tree at the Stern cabin.
Carling was more than ready to call it a day when Kate called and asked if she was at a stopping point. Paul dropped her off at Kate’s and went to the south end of the lake to relieve the deputy on the roadway to the boat ramp, and would be relieved himself by another deputy at midnight.
The young investigator took time to run a hot bath, and swished her hand in the bubble bath she had brought with her. She sighed as she sank into the warm bath, and closed her eyes as she leaned back against the end of the tub.
A smile crossed her face and remained there as she thought of the evening before and the warm feeling she felt in Kate’s presence. Her lips lifted in amusement. It felt…well, it felt really good, and it felt so right.
Then the fair-haired pathologist remembered they were dining with Kate’s mother and the smile disappeared as quickly as it came.
Unexpectedly, the very confident investigator was feeling a little queasy. What should she expect? What kind of impressions would she make on Mrs. McGuiness? Carling swallowed hard, for some reason this meeting was causing her a little anxiety. Then just as quickly, her uneasiness disappeared and she felt calm. She knew Katilyn would accept her, and more so, she felt confident she would approve of their relationship.
Kate arrived home close to six, and quickly went to shower and change for their dinner at her mothers.
The two discussed the day’s events on the short drive to the two-story farmhouse on the other side of the grove.
Kate parked her Cherokee Jeep in front of the house and went around to open the door for Carling. But the young woman had already exited the vehicle and was waiting for the taller woman to accompany her to the front door.
Just as they stepped in front of the heavy door, it opened to find Mary standing there with her shawl in her hands.
"Evening Kate, Dr. Reed," she stepped back and opened the door further for the two women to enter. "Good evening, ma’am," Carling said.
"Evening, Mary," Kate spoke as she allowed Carling to enter the foyer before her.
"Kate, your mother wants you to get Carling settled in the drawing room. Then, she wants you to run me over to the warehouse to catch a ride with my husband before he leaves, if that isn’t putting you out?" The old housekeeper stated.
"Sure, let me show Carling to the great room, and I’ll be right with you." The sheriff smiled.
"Right this way, Carling," she indicated the first door to her right. Kate opened the double French doors and stepped back for Carling to enter the room.
"What an exquisite room," Carling expounded as she stepped inside the area.
"Yeah, Mother has quite the taste. Just make yourself comfortable, please. I’ll run Mary over to the warehouse and be back in a few minutes." She smiled at the younger woman.
"Take your time, Kate. I’ll just wander around and look at the photographs." The petite woman grinned, then walked over to the mantel.
"Okay, Mary, my darling, you ready?"
"I’m always ready, Mary Kate." The old housekeeper patted the tall woman’s arm. "Katilyn will be in here with refreshment in just a moment, my dear." She stated to the young woman standing in front of the fireplace.
"Thank you," Carling smiled at the older woman as she turned and left the large room, followed by Kate.
Carling looked around once more. It was like she’s slipped into another age as she surveyed the room full of ancient dark oak carved furniture, brighten velvet coverings, dozens of photographs in heavy ornate frames, and various figurines and ornaments! She walked over to the grand piano nestled in the far corner. She ran her hands over the fine instrument before she pulled out the piano bench and sat down. She slowly lifted the keyboard cover and slid it back, exposing the polished keys.
She was so captivated with the huge concert-sized grand piano, which was obviously in frequent use, that she didn’t hear Kate’s mother enter the room with a serving tray.
"Ahh! I see you’re admiring my piano," said Mrs. McGuinness, as she sat the tray down on the massive coffee table. "Are you fond of music, Doctor Reed? Do you play?" Katilyn asked the younger woman, nodding her approval, she held out her hand in greeting.
Carling smiled as she rose from the bench and walked over to where the older woman stood.
"Yes, Ma’am, I love music, and I do play. But I’m sure not nearly as well as you obviously do." She extended her hand to the older woman who took it firmly in hers. "What a pleasure it is to meet you, Mrs. McGuinness."
"The pleasure is all mine, I assure you young lady. Come sit down and have some apple cider with me."
The older woman was almost as tall as her daughter and almost as slim, her posture regal. Her hair was iron gray, jaw-length, center-parted and held up at the sides with silver bars that had definite designs on each. Carling couldn’t help but think that Majesty was a more apt nickname. Her lined face had displayed a very welcoming expression when she first saw her and her blue eyes, bright as a bird’s, had flashed friendly acceptance of the younger woman.
Though undeniably handsome, she didn’t look a whole lot like the glowing young woman in the photograph on the piano. Yet, Katilyn was probably only twenty-five when it was taken. Which was hardly surprising. After all, about twenty-five years had passed since that picture had been taken.
"Please sit, Carling," Katilyn motioned to the sofa beside her. "Would you care for hot and spicy apple cider, or tart and fermented?"
Carling smiled at the beverage suggestion. "I’ll take the tart and fermented, please." She sat down on the couch next to Katilyn.
"Now, where were we?" The older woman questioned as she poured the hot cider in the cups and handed one to Carling. "Yes, you’re going to tell me about your interest in music." Mrs. McGuinness’s face was kindly and full of understanding. However, Carling knew the pronouncement about music was just that, a clear declaration if the younger woman had ever heard one.
Smiling up at the Kate’s older image, she sipped the cider and her eyes widened. "Whoa! That is some potent cider." Carling declared.
"Make it myself. Never did like my cider without a kick." Katilyn said.
"Well, it certainly has that; quite a kick I might add." Both women grinned.
"Kate doesn’t drink the tart, that’s the reason for the extra pot." The older woman interjected, then looked directly into the green eyes. "Now, let us discuss music."
"Well, I have been playing since I was three. Even considered making music my life’s work, but in reality, I enjoy my writing much more." Carling responded.
"Writing? I thought you were a forensic scientist?" The older woman looked puzzled.
"Yes, Ma’am, I am. Forensics has always been my primary field of endeavor, but writing is really where my heart lays."
"Hmmm. Not only smart, but artistic. Your parents must be very proud of you?"
"Yes, I believe they are. They have always encouraged me to follow my heart. Guess music comes a close third though," Carling heaved a sigh. "Does Kate play? That grand piano in her living room is a concert piano isn’t it?"
"No, unfortunately Kate doesn’t play. She eats, sleeps, and dreams law enforcement. Guess it’s in the blood. The piano belonged to her aunt, who was a concert pianist."
"Oh! For some reason, I thought it might have been Lois’s." Carling said.
Violet-blue eyes looked over the cider cup at the younger woman and she smiled. It was a smile of knowing. "Young lady, the only thing in Kate’s house that was Lois’s besides the photographs, is the painting in Kate’s study. It’s of Kate’s old dog Avenger. It was painted down by the old wooden bridge with Avenger lying asleep in the sun, with the leaves falling all over. It’s one of a set. The other is on display at one of the local resorts."
"I haven’t seen in Kate’s office, yet. I just assumed… the piano…well, you know what I mean."
"Carling, my Kate was extremely close to her aunt. When she passed away, Kate just couldn’t let the piano be sold or just sit someplace in storage."
Ringgg, Ringggg, Ringgg… the telephone interrupted their conversation. The older woman excused herself and went to the hall to answer the phone. Upon returning she announced, "Kate has been asked to help at the warehouse for about a half hour. She suggested I show you my pier. Seems you and I have a fetish about ducks and geese."
Carling couldn’t help but be impressed by Kate’s apparent concern about her hitting it off with her mother.
"I think that is a great idea. Would it be alright if we took full cups of cider to the pier?"
"Wonderful idea, my dear." The older woman proceeded to pour both cups full of the tart cider.
"This way, young lady. And you might as well start by telling me about this bossy waterfowl you are so fond of," chuckling, her open palm directed Carling towards the door to the left of the room.
"Bossy water fowl? Oh, she must mean Drake and Maggie Beth." The reddish-blonde woman chuckled about the bossy waterfowl comment.
"Actually, Drake and Maggie Beth were both bossy swans." Carling held open the back door of the house for the older woman.
"You love nature don’t you, Carling?" Katilyn asked.
"Yes, Ma’am, I really do." She answered as she glanced around the beautiful flower garden. "Your garden is lovely. Now I know where Kate gets her green thumb from."
"Thank you, Carling. But half the credit goes to her father. He and Kate were always working in the garden. Those rose bushes you see over there are replants from some he originally cultivated over twenty years ago." Katilyn relayed with pride.
"They are beautiful. Mrs. McGuinness, are those bushes in Kate’s garden originally from here?"
"Yes, they are from original cuttings. Kate and her dad planted these that line the walk to the pier, the year before he died. She has taken a great deal of time to replant and make sure they are tended."
They stepped on the square landing, and Katilyn motioned to the slider that took up one end of the deck.
Sitting down, Carling said, "Oh, this is absolutely wonderful. What a novel idea."
"My husband hand made this slider for us. I wanted a swing, but he convinced me, the slider would last much longer." She took a deep breath as she slowly sat back. "We enjoyed many an evening out here just watching the stars come out." Her voice was filled with a loving tone.
"Look! My water friends are about to swarm on us." She directed Carling’s attention to the flock of ducks and geese making their way toward the pier that extended out into the water from the landing.
"Goodness, just like at my parents home."
"Is this where Mr. & Mrs. Bossy reside?"
"Yes, and a menagerie of other fowl." She laughed.
"You’re very found of them aren’t you?"
"I guess you could say fond of them, and yes, I am a doting caretaker. But then, so is my mother. Dad, well, that’s another story."
"He doesn’t enjoy the fowl?"
"He isn’t overjoyed at some of their antics." She chuckled at the memory of her father and the geese."
"Let’s just say, Dad might have good cause." The snicker caused the older woman to look at her inquisitively.
Carling sipped the cider and caught the curious look from her hostess.
"Mrs. McGuinness, it’s a long story." She paused.
Looking over at the green eyes, the blue ones sparkled with curiosity. "We probably have the time before Kate comes back."
"Well…" She stopped as several geese flew up on the dock landing and were promptly swooshed off by the older woman.
"You’ve been fed, get off my landing," Katilyn used her free hand to discourage the geese. Both women chuckled as the geese acted as if their feeling had been hurt.
"Same thing my Mom’s do each time they think they can get away with it."
"They are spoiled, but if I don’t do it who will?" She commented.
"I know what you mean." Carling responded, and lifted the cup to her lips once more.
Kate’s mother settled back into the slider, and also lifted her cup of cider and took several large swallows of the tart cider.
"You were saying?" Katilyn encouraged Carling’s continuance.
"Each February Mother and Father Goose come to our dock. For a week or two they just lovingly sit next to each other, then they begin their ritual of searching for a nest. Mother Goose always ends up in the same nest site - directly across the creek in the corner of the dock. Amid the dredging company’s equipment, she patiently builds her nest of grasses and twigs and, I guess whatever else was lying around. Father Goose then patiently sits on my dock and watches over his wife. He vocally and physically challenges any male goose that comes anywhere near Mother Goose. He jumps into the water, honking very loudly, and is not satisfied until he chases the other males all the way down the creek." Carling relayed the waterfowls nesting habits.
"Sounds just like our gaggle," Katilyn interjected. "Especially the chasing away of other males. Especially protective of their own." She smiled.
"Mrs. McGuinness, we as humans should be so protected." Carling looked over at the older woman, who was nodding her head in agreement.
"Humans sometimes fail in that category don’t they?" The older woman posed.
"You’re right, but most of the animals I have run across are especially protective of their own."
"They are that way here at the grove too, Carling. Please resume."
"Yes, Ma’am. Father Goose always calls Mother Goose at feeding time. Like a proud father-to-be, he patiently waits for her to fly across the creek, leads her to the food and then diligently stands guard, protecting her, while she eats. Their routine changes about three or four weeks before their eggs are due to hatch. Father Goose abandons my dock and begins to spend every minute with Mother Goose. He mostly stays in the water defending her nest and chasing away any goose that dares to come near. This past spring he’s discovered a new vantage point--a small boat tied at the dock alongside the nest. Both barely eat anything. I sometimes wonder how they survive. Mother Goose only gets off the nest once or twice a day to bathe in the creek for a few short minutes. She returns to the nest immediately." Carling shifted in the slider and drew one leg up under her.
"When the babies hatch, usually sometime in early May, I so enjoy watching their little golden brown bodies scampering along the edge of the dock. When they are a day or two old, they are ready to tumble into the creek and have their first swim. This is the last I see of them for once Mother and Father Goose have their babies, they don’t come back onto my parent’s property until next year. I am certain this has something to do with the fact that the swans, who now have babies of their own to look after, spend a lot of time at the foot of my duck ramp and up on the dock in the sanctuary. Both Drake and Maggie Beth attack anything that comes even remotely near their babies."
"Your parents love their lake and the fowl?"
"Yes, very much so. But I have to admit my Dad is not as fond of the geese as either Mom or me. Whenever he thinks we’re not looking, he always tries to chase Father Goose into the water. He paid dearly for his mistake! When I was rescuing Scrapes, that’s one of Mom’s mischievous geese, I had to climb over Mother Goose’s nest, which I did very slowly and very carefully, fully expecting her to attack me. It was heartwarming to see just how much she trusted me as she allowed me to cross over her nest without so much as a ruffled feather. Not the case, however, for my father - "The Goose Chaser" who surely got his just desserts! The minute he tried to step over Mother Goose’s nest, Father Goose, who was watching from his vantage point across the creek, flew off my dock, in a rage, honking as loud as he could, attacking and dive-bombing my Dad. Mother Goose, Mother, and I had the last laugh! Who says geese don’t take care of their friends???" The young investigator let her leg slip out from under her and back onto the floor.
"They are just as protective of their own here. Wish I could say the same of our human visitors!" She winced at the statement.
"From the short time I’ve been here, Mrs. McGuinness, I have seen mans inhumanity to man. Look at the speeding accident last night and the useless loss of life." The pathologist commented. "Kate must have her hands full with the many, and varied visitors?"
"She certainly does. I don’t think I’ll ever get use to the guests we have here." The older woman stated, somewhat reluctantly.
"Unkindness is so unnecessary, don’t you agree?"
"Absolutely, so unnecessary. Visitors invade the Catskills every summer, and even more so during the winter ski months." Mrs. McGuinness agreed with a bit of annoyance in her tone. "Always in hurry Have to see every historical site in seven days or die trying. Have to ski every slope at least ten times. Always complaining about the prices of the souvenirs. One woman from Massachusetts told me quite frankly that our apples were of inferior quality to those she had gotten when in Washington. Obviously she was from the Dark Ages. Loud, too." Blue eyes glimmered puckishly.
"Our fellow American visitors complain, wanting everything their way, saying nasty things about the food we eat, making remarks about how they do it better where ever they are from--and all the while their newspapers have more stories about the turmoil their homes are in than ours have. They throw their money around as if it was confetti, too. Got too much money, that’s the trouble--you can tell that just watching television." Katilyn breathed out her thoughts.
"Aren’t tourists supposed to throw money around," Carling said with what she hoped was an amiable smile. "It’s part of their job description." Interjected the blonde, knowingly.
"Yessss…" Katilyn drew out the word.
"You object to individual wealth, Mrs. McGuinness?"
The stoic woman looked over at her guest, blue eyes glittered brightly as the sun sank slowly. Carling could tell she was weighing her answer before responding to her question.
"I’ve no objection to individual wealth, Carling. Visitors throwing it around to buy their current faddish, to be disrespectful to others, or the hopes of purchasing temporary happiness at others’ expense is a different matter."
"Oh! I see."
"Do you Carling?"
The younger woman turned and looked directly into the aged, violet-blue eyes watching her every facial expression.
"Yes, Ma’am, I understand. If I read you correctly, you’re stating in a very specific manner that you know I have money, and am I planning on using that money to… to attempt to buy Kate’s affection."
"Well, are you?" A voice rang oddly unyielding and rational as it landed upon Carling’s hearing.
"In the first place, Mrs. McGuinness, you and I both know Kate can’t be bought, not for any offerings, or any amount of money. Secondly, I want Kate in my life, true, but the want isn’t a visiting want. It’s a long time fulfillment of wanting my soulmate to be with me in this lifetime."
"You believe Kate is your soulmate?"
"Yes, Ma’am, I do."
"How do you explain the age difference?"
"What’s to explain? It makes no difference to me how old she is, or how young she might be this lifetime. We both needed for certain events and lessons to be learned before we could be together again. Is this going to be an issue between us?"
Knowing eyes continued their evaluation of the green ones. The older woman’s silent apparent castigation was halted by a quiet voice drifting from her consciousness, and spoken to the concerned face of the younger companion. "Carling, I knew from the tone of Kate’s voice several nights ago, that her wandering soul had finally been brought to an end. I know that ending destiny is you."
Carling was taken back by the frankness of the older woman, and yet, she felt relief inside. Her face started a slow smile, which turned into a cheek-to-cheek grin.
"I want nothing more than to spend the remainder of my days with her in my life, Mrs. McGuinness."
"Kate will never leave here, Carling. Are you willing to give up Albany for the restraints of our little community? What about your profession? You have achieved monumental success at such an early age."
"What achievement is more important than spending every day with the destiny of your heart?"
Katilyn continued her gaze on the younger woman, but her face softened, and she reached over and took one of the hands of the smaller woman’s in hers. "Carling, she won’t make it easy for you. But don’t give up on her. She is worth it."
"I know she is, and I never intend to let up on her, nor will I allow her slip from my life." She squeezed the larger hand that had enveloped hers.
"Will my money pose additional problems for us?" She asked.
Katilyn raised her head, and a slow mischievous chuckle escaped from her throat. Finally the older woman turned back to the blonde, "Do you think Kate is a fortune hunter? How much money we talking here, Carling?"
"No, I don’t believe money means very much to Kate, but when you have as much as I do, it may overwhelm her just a little." Her green eyes lowered as well as her voice.
"How much, Carling?"
"Give or take, about thirty-eight million." The voice uttered sheepishly.
Shaking her head realistically, she chuckled again, "You are in for a surprise, my dear, young lady. You can forget about the money being an issue, Carling. You see, Kate could match you several times over and still have thirty or so million left."
"Like you said, wealth doesn’t mean anything to Kate. It’s about what is inside a person that counts with her." She patted the younger woman’s hand.
"But! How? Wow!" Escaped the young lips.
"Her grandparents on her father’s side left her millions. Then her aunt left her even more, but I doubt she even knows how much she is worth. She is doing what she wants to do, and she lives in an area that is dear to her heart. Now that you have finally arrived to fill the empty space in her heart, I think we can lay this issue away, don’t you?"
"Golly gee, she doesn’t behave like she’s rolling in dough sort of a woman. Amazing. I’ve fallen for a woman that won’t ever consider how much I have and don’t have."
"I wouldn’t go so far as to say that, Carling. She may question your profession, and how much that means to you."
"Shoot! That’s nothing. We can work it out."
"Sure you can…."
"Hello you two," they were interrupted from a strong voice calling from the back door of the house. "I’m about to fall asleep on my feet and my stomach is growling so strongly that I’m surprised you didn’t hear it from the warehouse. Can we eat now?"
The two women stood up, and walked hand and hand back to the house. Kate was propped against the doorframe watching the two most important women in her life. ‘I don’t think I want to know what they have been talking about. The grins on both their faces were a dead give away. They are united, and I bet I don’t stand a chance if I go afoul of either one of them.’
She backed up, allowing the two women to enter. "Do I want to know what you two have been up to, or is it best I just mind my own business?"
"It would probably be in your best interest if you minded your own business, darling." Her mother interjected, and walked to the kitchen.
Carling stopped beside Kate and stretched up to give her a quick kiss, before she joined her hostess in the kitchen.
"Need me to help with anything?" She asked the two women.
"You can pour yourself a glass of milk, if you aren’t going to join us with a glass of white wine." Her mother stated.
"I’ll pour the milk. Want me to pour the wine?"
"Please do, Mary Kate." The older mirror image replied.
Carling could hardly believe her eyes when she sat down to the table.
There was pink grapefruit and endive salad, mustard glazed fresh ham with cider sauce, cranberry-jalapeno chutney, double-corn spoon bread, garlicky braised collards, balsamic-roasted sweet potato wedges, caraway twists, lemon and fresh raspberry dacquoise, and two amazing desserts, gingerbread cake with caramelized pineapple and the other cake with the caramelized pineapple and rum cream.
The conversation during the meal was pleasant and it was as if they had been a family for years. Each let out a slow moan as they went away from the table, murmuring they had eaten too much.
Kate stated she couldn’t sit down as she knew she would fall asleep, and asked Carling if they could go home early, as she needed to get into bed. Carling agreed, and both women received tight hugs from the older woman as they left the house.
A quick, but deep kiss on the upstairs landing and Kate shuffled off to a quick shower and the much needed bed. Carling checked on her a few minutes later to find her stretched over the bed sideways and breathing heavily. The younger woman removed a quilt from the rack along the wall and covered the taller woman, before she slipped from the room.
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