Copyrighted © 2003 All Rights Reserved

By B. S. Raven


Love/Sex: This story features strongly consensual relationship between adult women, and some inferred f/m relations. Love is love, no matter where or with whom it is found. So, if this bothers you, is illegal in the State, Province or Country you live, or if you are under the age of 18, please find something else to read. There are many general stories out there more acceptable for you.

Language: Some mild language is used, but nothing severe, certainly nothing vulgar.

Violence: There isnít any brutal violence in this story, but there are brief depictions of previous crimes, an accident and a recovered body. A little police work and forensic investigations are mixed up with the story, however those aspects are not violent.

Hurt/Comfort: There are a few brief scenes of jealousy, which shows some hurt/emotional discomfort, but nothing heavy. Self-discovery and dealing with fears is a subplot, with victorious avenues opening when doubts are thrown out and love is allowed to appear. This is basically a story of two people getting to know each other, falling in love and has a happy ending. Oh, yes, quite the happy ending.

Dedication: This story is for Svetla. May your recovery be swift, and may your life be measured by unnumbered years of happiness.

Special Dedication For Mare: Your enthusiasm, dedication, loyalty, and most of all for being there for me is most appreciated. Thanks a million Mare.

Acknowledgments: To Helen, Mary, Nancy and Ruth for their beta reading, suggestions, critiques, reviews and locating my many errors. It would have been impossible to complete this story without your valuable assistance. Words canít properly express my gratitude Ladies, but thanks.

Special Acknowledgments: Dr. Brenda H. for all the Forensic profiles, review of that information and suggestions made, and the use of part of her credentials in the characterization of Carling. For specific techniques, methods in Forensics procedures, report writing, testifying, DNA, blood, evidence gathering and bagging, her personal life experiences, and for the use of her professional website, we are extremely grateful. "B" for any of the scientific stuff goofed on, I apologize in advance. Sheriff Aaron G. for the technical support and advice on Sheriff Department, diving operations and details, the use of public access SOP (Standard Operating Procedures) used by the Sheriffs Office in gathering evidence, procedures, and operations is acknowledged. Thank you for the publicly accessible case files, documentation, and web-site allowed to be used in this story and his constant reminder to make them human!! And last, but not least, to Dr. Olmala (her Seneca name) F. for her assistance with the Mingo language and Native American ideas, beliefs, (including burial ceremonies) and use of her various web pages about the Seneca Nation. I couldn't have made it as real without all three of you. Thank you for your support. .

Special Notice and Acknowledgements: For ideas of eye contact, looking for a real woman, and expanding our traditional horizons are credited to How Two Meet Women and used by permission. I'm also grateful to CircleofLlife, for several passages used with permission, and Soulmates, Soulfuture and Spirituality for some passages in this story. Sites available upon request. Further credit goes to DuckTales, Our Creek and Adopt-A-Pet; to which I belong and contribute. All are fine organizations, and all materials used from their sites were via written permission. If you are interested in Ducks or Pets In Need, I'll be happy to supply their web-sites to you. My dog Shelby used in HSD is from Adopt-A-Pet, but that is another long, funny story for another time. Lord Byron's She walks in Beauty is used in this story, and is fully acknowledged within the story. Lastly, no copyright infringements occured in any aspect in the writing of this story.

Copyright: This material has been copyrighted under Federal and International Laws with all rights reserved. For your reading pleasure only, and please, do not reproduce in any form except for your reading enjoyment without permission.

Further, this is a story of fiction, and any resemblance's to any person living or dead is purely coincidental. Some of the areas mentioned in this story are real, but may not be exactly as depicted in the story.

FEEDBACK: Comments are appreciated. All feedback will be answered, whether it is nice or not; just make it constructive and I will be happy to respond to any criticisms:

Chapter One

Sunlight rayed through breaking clouds and the last drops of the light shower fell off the gray slicker of the county sheriff. She made her way from a blue shadowed hollow, up a brush covered slope on the small over grown timber trail. She paused on a hilltop, deeply conscious of the many miles of wilderness that stretched before her.

In the absolute silence, she felt the beginnings of loneliness.

Abruptly, so near that it might have come from her side, the howl of a timber wolf rang out. The long, musical wail swelled, rising high and clear to warn the creatures of the sky, lowering and deepening to hurry small things into their burrows. It spread across the land to send the deer away to safer grazing, singing in the valleys and echoing from the hills, filling the quiet spaces of the forest.

Ancient instinct tightened her muscles and raised the hairs on her taut neck. As she relaxed, her sense of loneliness subsided. A wolf song has been company for manís solitary journeying since the days when men first trained wolves as hunting companions.

She turned back toward the inlet where her launch was tied up, thinking of the clean, green land of yesterday, untouched by man-made good and evil. But all that had changed yesterday afternoon, as manís evil reared its nasty head. An unknown sniper had taken a shot at two women across the lake, wounding a well-known woman photographer. Later that evening, young Tommy Clayton had come up missing from the Claytonís Store and Boat Rentals. She had also learned from Thomas Clayton Sr. that a speedboat was missing from its slip. Her departmentís search of the grounds surrounding the lake turned up nothing. Not one piece of evidence was gathered to identify the elusive shooter, or assist them in the disappearance of the young man.

This was the eighth inlet she had personally searched today, and her legs began to ache from the rough terrain. "Geesh, Iím out of shape," the tall woman mused.

Halfway down the narrow path from the road to the water, she met a wolf, a big fellow all of five feet long, with a might of power in his heavy muscles. His thick coat was a shiny gray, shading to lighter tints on his under-parts and legs, with a beautiful wash of black flowing down his back and onto his bushy tail. His puffy cheeks gave the impression of a stifled grin as he looked at her steadily from interested, spring water-clear green eyes.

Sheriff Mary Kate McGuinness slowly reached back and unsnapped the holster guard on her 9mm, as she continued to observe the animal.

Apparently classifying her as harmless, he spread his forefeet, stretched his head up, and yawned. Kate saw his strong teeth and heard the snap as his powerful jaws came back together. Then this animal, whose charge could have knocked her senseless, whose jaws could have broken an arm or leg effortlessly, turned into the maple brush beside the path.

While she walked past, he watched cautiously, and then trotted away.

She re-snapped the holster safety, and continued down the rarely used path. "Well, thatís another first," confessed the sheriff, as she removed her hat and beat it against the damp slicker to rid it of excess moisture. "Fletcher Buchananís endangered species boldly blocking my way." She spoke to the unresponsive trees.

The sheriff stopped abruptly, scanning the direction the wolf had vanished. ĎThe interesting point was not the face-to-face encounter with the big boy, but that the wolf, in this instance, behaved like a reserved dog upon meeting a stranger. And that certainly wasnít the case. He was as wild as they come. But there was nothing about him to inspire the fear and hate that has led to his almost complete annihilation in the United States.í Pondering this she replaced her hat and continued down the path. "I wonder what he is doing a good hundred miles from the park, and Fletcherís watchful park rangers. I wonít even speculate where his mate is," she again spoke softly to the woods.

Reaching the waterís edge, the sheriff scanned the area once again, placing one foot on the rail of the Sheriffís Patrol Boat, while the other rested on the mushy ground. One hand was resting on her hip, just above her holster. She bent over and placed an elbow on her knee. A deep exasperated breath escaped her lips.

"Why do all my instincts and a deep gut feeling tell me that the shooting yesterday over at the Stern cabin, and our missing boat ramp manager on the same day, are connected? That youngster would have never left that prized truck of his just parked beside the bait shop. He and his dad had worked on that old clunker for two years after his sixteenth birthday. There is no way on earth he would have left it. That boy didnít voluntarily leave this lake."


The reddish-blonde strands of Carling Reedís hair fell forward and shielded her emerald eyes as she ejected Cherís CD "Believe" and slid in Fleetwood Macís "Mirage". Pulling her long tresses and twisting them into a knot, she jabbed a pen through to hold it on the top of her head. "Dog-gone-it! I knew I should've put this mess in a braid before I left Albany. Iím going to whack it off one of these days."

She glanced at her watch and noted with relief how fast the trip was going. She would make the sheriffís office well before lunch. "Good, Iíll be able to get some work done on the cases today." The young pathologist began to sing along with Fleetwood Mac, keeping time with constant hand tapping on the steering wheel.

A screeching siren behind and to the left brought her back to the task of driving. Her eyes immediately sought the speedometer and a "Phew," escaped her lips when the highway patrol trooper sped by her BMW.

Looking back over the last few days, the young woman shook her head in disbelief. "Geez Louise, what a killer week," her hands went to the hair on her head and re-arranged the knot and ballpoint.

Carling turned up the CD player and touched the down button for the passenger window. Her mind slowly drifted back over the past week, taking a deep breath and exhaling slowly.

Carling watched her friend as she set the antique vase of house-warming flowers on the entertainment center.

"Thank you for being my friend Carling, for the arrangement, and for helping me out with this," her hand motioned towards the room. Itís small, but itís been a lifesaver. I canít thank you enough for helping me find it, and for moving my things for me. Working those double shifts the past two weeks has made it impossible for me to unpack anything." The spark of laughter in her eyes flickered and died, to be replaced by the longing that had been present for days. "WasÖ. was Janet there when you packed my things?"

Settling on the newly purchased couch that dominated the room, Carling motioned for her to sit down before she said dramatically, "Was she there? Does New York have the Yankees?" Carlingís amusement could not be contained. "I had a feeling sheíd be there. She blew up when I refused to tell her where you were. Iíve never seen Janet so livid! Iím sure glad I took Stella along for reinforcement.

"Stella was there?" she asked, blinking in surprise. ĎĎBut why?íí

"I asked her to pack your clothes while I did your books and CDís. And was I glad I did!" Carling laughed at the memory. "Your sister really gave Janet a piece of her mind! Even told her youíd probably be there today if she hadnít been such a flirt and an idiot to boot. Any fool could see you were falling in love with her. But what did she do? Treated you like a one-night stand instead of the woman sheís been looking for all her life!"

Color washed over Nancyís face. "Oh, no!" Did the whole world know about that night? No wonder Janet was fuming. "What did Janet say?"

"She laughed." Carling shook her head in bewilderment. "I canít understand it. One minute sheís so furious she canít see straight, and the next she laughs. She agreed she didnít handle the situation right, but she couldnít understand why you walked out without telling her off. Evidently you were never shy about venting your irritation."

So she only agreed that she had treated her badly, not that she loved her, too. Despair weighed Nancyís spirit. Tiredly she tried to explain the situation to her best friend. "I was convinced that we wanted different things from a relationship. You see, I thought a little breathing space would clear my mind so I could focus on things, see things straighter, but nothingís changed. Janet would rather have her freedom than be tied down to any woman, including me. And I wonít be her part time lover Carling, much less her shared lover. Thereís no future in it." Pointedly she changed the subject. "How about some iced tea before more of the hot work? It wonít take me a minute to fix it." Nancy stood, and went into the small kitchen.

The almond skinned brunette inspected the kitchen, though it couldnít really be classified as a room because only a counter separated it from the living area. It was nothing like the spacious townhouse, next door to Carling, that she had shared with Janet.

Her mind was blank, empty of everything except despair. She had moved to the tiny apartment to escape Janet, but her stubborn thoughts remained with her. Janet held her heart more than she would ever know. Agonizing, heart-wrenching pain coursed through her, bringing a sob to her tight throat.

Carling had joined her friend in the small nook, and opened her arm to the sobbing woman. "Let it go, NanceÖjust cry it out." The young blonde held the sobbing nurse, and consoled her friend as best she could.

After a few minutes, Nancyís tears stopped, but the sniffing continued as she poured the tea and sat it on the counter.

"You feel better, Nance?" Carling asked, rounding the counter to one of the barstools.

When they were both sitting, the nurse met Carlingís green gaze bravely. "YesÖYes, I feel a little better. Thanks again for being here Carling. Not much of a Saturday for you, though."

"Youíre my friend, and thatís what friendship means. Youíd be here for me if the situation were reversed. You sure youíre alright?" The younger woman asked.

"YeahÖ Really. IÖI guess I was just lonely."

"Itís no wonder," Carling retorted gruffly. "Youíve kept yourself cooped up in this apartment like a hermit for two weeks now? All youíve done is go to the intensive care unit, back here, and then fall into bed. Nan, if youíd get out more, you might be able to put Janet out of your mind."

"I canít," she whispered, hardly able to get the words out. "Donít you realize, Carling, it doesnít matter where I am, or who Iím with? If I were in a crowded subway in New York City, or alone at the North Pole, she would still be with me."

"All right, so youíre in love with the woman," she retorted flatly. "I know it and you know it. But does Janet know?"

"Yes! And it didnít make a bit of difference!" Her cheeks were bright with color. "I told her, but she still wanted just an affair. Face it, Carling. I have. Janet doesnít love me."

"How do you know?" she demanded. "Just because she didnít say so doesnít mean she doesnít. I donít think sheís ever been in love before. Maybe she was working up the nerve to tell you. After all, she has all that legal crapola and her family to deal with. Mom told me she has been to the hospital a dozen times, but they wouldnít let her up on the ICU floor to see you. My God, how could she not love you? If itís any consolation, I know of two women at the hospital that are crazy about you!"

The intensity of her expression quickly softened to compassion, "Oh, Carling, I know June and Hilary are infatuated, and Iím so sorry. I do love them as friends, but nothing more than that," her shoulders sagged, "If that is any consolation, Carling."

Carling shrugged. "Iím sure they will think it is about as much consolation as my kissing your sister, which will never happen, but itís better than nothing, I suppose." Taking her hand, Carling studied her seriously, all amusement gone. "Really, Nancy, I think you should talk to Janet and discuss this thing with her. If not for yourself, then do it for her. Iíve known Janet for a long time, and I know she feels more for you than sheís letting on. Heck, girlfriend, she wonít even go downstate to discuss that partnership with that prestigious New York City law firm, and you know how important her work is to her. Any time she starts letting her work slide, somethingís wrong. I think you are the "whatís wrong". Face it Nance, that woman would be at your beck-and-call, if you would just set some boundaries, stick to them, and talk to her." Carling finished her iced tea and took the empty glass to the sink.

"You really think so?" The brunette looked over at her young friend.

"Iíve never seen her in such a foul mood, Nance. She snaps at everyone and everything. Yesterday afternoon I went to the DAís office to go over my forensic report on a case before I leave for the Catskills in a few days. Janet came in and started questioning me about your whereabouts. When I told her you would contact her over the phone, Janet was furious. Actually she said a few choice words that shocked even me, and believe me, I thought Iíd heard everything. She went storming out, probably to the nearest bar."

"She probably went to be with one of her girlfriends, Carling. Another one of those little games the two of you used to play in college. Fortunately, you quit playing around and painstakingly changed your life. You are saving yourself for that special someone you say you know is out there somewhere. She hasnít. But Iím different. I donít play like that. It galls her to think that a woman would actually refuse to jump into bed or enter into an uncommitted relationship with her." She paced restlessly before Carling.

"Seeing her arguments were getting her nowhere, Carling relented. "All right, Nancy. Maybe youíre right. Iím sorry. But I still think youíre not giving Janet very much credit. I know her better than just about anybody, Nance, and I donít really think she would do what youíre suggesting. Heck, youíre a fine catch! Youíre classy and youíre beautiful. Anyone can look at you and see youíre not the type to jump in and out of bed with women as if you were trying out different brands of shampoo, much less put up with sharing! Nancy, as for our questionable activities in college, that was a different matter altogether. Those women knew exactly what we were up to. Regardless of what you think, Janet would never deliberately seduce an innocent woman just for the hell of it, or cheat if she had agreed to a relationship, or a commitment. Sheís not like that."

When the young brunette started to protest, Carling raised her hand to stop her. "Okay, I know you donít agree. Why donít we drop it and work on the apartment?"

At Carlingís look of disappointment, Nancy smiled halfheartedly. "Okay. Iím sorry Iím such rotten company."

When Nancyís eyes flickered in pain, Carling said solemnly, "Youíre going to have to face her sooner or later, Nance. After all, you were living together, not just having an affair, and you do own the townhouse jointly."

"I know. Somewhat agitated by her friendís persistence, she jumped to her feet and went to stand beside Carling at the sink. Sighing, her fingers touched her friends face in an open gesture. "I know." She repeated huskily. "And I will speak to Janet. Just give me a day or two more without her knowing where I am." Looking down at the soft green eyes, she cast Carling a brave smile to hide the trembling of her lips. "I go to the hospital tomorrow for a private duty case of your motherís, then Iíll contact Janet. Okay?"

"Okay." Carling pulled her friend into a comforting hug. Nancyís eyes were overly bright with tears, her smile forced. "Would you like me to be present when you see her?"

Momentarily Nancy considered her offer, ready to grab it as a drowning person does a lifeline. Carling was a sensible, levelheaded woman, who would go the extra mile for a friend. But Nancyís innate sense of fairness would not allow her to use Carling so callously. Regretfully she shook her head. "Thanks, Carling, but I couldnít bring you in on this any more than I already have. It might jeopardize your friendship with Janet. It will be better if she and I meet privately without bringing in a third party. Surely we can maintain a thin veil of politeness."

"Okay. But Iím here if you need me, Nancy. Iíll always be here for you." The shorter woman smiled a contagious grin towards her friend. "Youíre doing the right think, Nance. Janet loves you, just give her a chance."

Nancy forced a smile and shook her head in acknowledgement of her friends comment.

"Now, how about we work on thisÖ."

"Tiny, stuffy corn crib." Nancy offered.

"No! Your temporary hide-a-way cell," Carling chuckled. "Come on girl, what can we do with this place." It wasnít a question.

Carling and Nancy spent the rest of the morning trying to make the apartment homey, but blinds and bric-a-brac could only do so much for the tiny place. By late afternoon it looked as good as they knew it could. Carling offered to take Nancy out to dinner, but the brunette begged off, citing complete exhaustion. Carling hugged her friend before she left, making the older woman promise she would eat something later.

Shutting the door on her BMW, she reached for her cell phone and dialed a well-known number. "Hi, Grams. How are you?" Listening to her grandmotherís reply, she put the car in gear and pulled out of the apartment parking lot, even though she knew driving and using her cell phone was against the law.

"Grams, you know I havenít had time to go to the movies in weeks. My workload has doubled this month with two pathologists on vacation. Iíve been working long hours on multi-cases and havenít had time to do much of anything lately, certainly not time to go to the movies. My office is sending me to the Catskills for a case, and Iíll be leaving on Friday." She stated. "I was wondering if I could come over for awhile this afternoon, Grams? I need to talk to you." Carling asked.

The BMW stopped for the traffic light and put on her blinker to turn. "Great, Iíll be there in twenty minutes," she said, checking the traffic before she turned and quickly slid the phone into her jeans pocket.

Having heard her granddaughterís vehicle pull into her driveway, the petite silver headed woman opened her patio door for her namesake.

"Hello, Little One," the older woman welcomed Carling, and opened her arms for her youngest grandchild.

"Hi, Grams. I hope I didnít ruin any plans you might have had this afternoon." Carling placed her arm around the older womanís waist.

"No plans, Carling. Went to the matinee with Hester earlier. Come in the kitchen, I have brownies in the oven. You hungry?"

"Your brownies? Lead the way, I could eat my weight in them." The younger woman laughed and licked her lips. Entering the cozy kitchen, Carling sniffed the air. "Golly, that makes my mouth water."

"You want hot tea, or milk, Little One?" Marie asked while placing her large mitten on, and opening the oven door. She reached in and pulled out an oblong cake pan and sat it on the stovetop to cool.

"Iíll get it. You want milk, Grams?"

"Yes, but not as large at that one," she pointed to an extra large glass Carling was holding in her right hand.

"Okey dokey, one peewee glass coming up," she grinned. Carling and her grandmother had always had a close, loving relationship. The older woman doted on her granddaughter, and Carling thought the sun rose and set with the older woman.

"Humm, this is so good," Carling moaned as she took another bite of the brownie using her hands instead of using a fork like her grandmother was doing.

"Glad you like them, Dear," Marie smiled, using the utensil, she placed another piece of the brownie into her mouth. "Whatís on you mind, Carling?" She asked, picking up her glass and drinking several swallows of the milk. .

Carling had just shoved the last piece of the brownie into her mouth and chewed the sweet cake only a couple of times before she swallowed it and washed the remains down with some of the milk. "I would be fibbing if I said this was a spur-of-the-moment thing." Carling, sitting beside her grandmother, rested her elbows on the counter.

"You want to go into the sitting room, Little One?"

"No, Maíam." Carling turned sideways in her chair and hitched up a knee.

The older Carling Marie froze, her concentration fully on her granddaughter. This was one time she would have to wait for her namesake to take the lead, even though she had a pretty good idea where the conversation was going. They had been having lengthy discussions on matters full of meaning for years, but for over a month now, the talks had become quite deep and intense. From her instinct, Marie knew her granddaughter was about to have a personal revelation of a monumental nature.

"Gram, we have talked about our purpose in life, intuition, the supernatural, logic, our fate, spiritual beliefs such as auras, reincarnation," Carling paused, drawing a breath into a suddenly tight chest.

"Carling, donít forget out of body experience and, especially, soulmatesÖour sole desire. Weíve been discussing those topics for years." Marie added to Carlings list.

Younger green eyes blurred slightly as Carlingís head turned towards her grandmother, "Iíve been wondering, what is love? Grams, what is this phenomenon called love?"

Marie lifted her chin and gazed directly into matching green eyes. "Mmm. Carling, are you grappling with humankind's most difficult question? Or, my sweet child, is that really your question?" She asked, her voice natural, but full of support.

Carling stiffened for a moment, then relaxed, "How and why are we drawn to the ones that we love? Is it just chemistry, or is there something more that is also tied to other, larger mysteries of existence?"

The older woman hesitated. "Honey, an entertaining and enticing theory of existence that places love at the center of not just relationships but of BEING itself is wonderful, but you have to experience it also. Carling you have to experience every part of your being, and the acceptance of a shared love into your existence. It is pure, positive, invigorating, effervescent and joyful energy that flows in abundance to anybody who is open to it. It is about learning to open all channels to flow this energy maximally at all times, and in so doing, blending with it, becoming one with it, and living it. You are the source of all that you are. You are the source of love, Carling."

"Grams, to do this I know I must find myself, to accept myself. To find my true love, I must find who and what I am. But what about this craving I have to seek, to have, to be with that special one, to be with my sole desire?"

"Honey, We are all trying to find the one we loveĖour other." Marie said softly.

"Ever since I accepted the assignment in the Catskills, I have had such a premonitionÖsuch an overwhelming sense that my sole desire was about to be revealed to me." Carlingís leg dropped down and caught on the chair rim."


"My dreams are of my ideal love, Grandmother. My dreamscapes are filled with my heart of hearts. I wonder if such a person exists. Have you ever yearned for the partner who matches you perfectly, Grams?"

The older woman laughed, "Of course I have. We all have! There is a good reason for these feelings, Carling. You do have a soulmate, your sole desire, who is unique and belonging only to you. Your grandfather was my sole desire. I knew the first time I saw him. So will you, honey. So will you."

"Why these feelings now? Why are they so strong?"

The gray-headed older woman smiled at her granddaughter. "Deep in the heart of every human lies the knowledge of his or her sole desire, covered over perhaps by the disappointments of previously experienced relationships. Now at the time of your human awakening, the awareness of your sole desire becomes of primary importance. Itís your time, Honey."

Marie placed her napkin on the desert plate before she continued. "Oh, Little One, you canít even conceive the great power of your one sole desire love. I will tell you this. It can create anything you can dream of. It can easily free you from the confines of selfishness. I can tell you that true love can change everything. And it must, Honey!"

"The waiting has been so long, Grams. Seems like it has been forever in coming. Now it seems so imminent," the younger woman expounded in plain words.

"All of your life you have waited for the touch of true and tender love and the ensuing ecstasy. Now, at last, you feel it is beginning to happen to you. This, my dear, is how it is going to be for you as you accept the love within you, and that love draws your soulmate. It is a spiritual awakening of soulmates or of your sole desire that will bring about the transformation of complete love." Marie offered helpfully.

"Do you really believe I will know, Grams?"

"Yes, I do Carling. I did, and I think you will know with a certainty."

HONK! HONK! A semi-truck blew its horn as it attempted to pass the BMW, diverting her remembrance of the previous events. Startled, she skillfully turned the steering wheel of the car until the vehicle was close to the edge of the highway, permitting the truck to pass on the downhill incline.

"Whoa! Enough of that line of thinking, Carling," the woman shook her head, chastising herself for being preoccupied instead of watching the road and her driving. "Okay, Carling Marie Reed, change the mental picture here." The young forensic investigator said with a touch of personal contempt. "You are a successful part-time writer. What manifestation will bring happy thoughts to mind? Hmmm. Shelby! Sure, my wonderful, spoiled rotten lab," she smiled at the image of her golden retriever that had been a large part of her life for the past four years.

"She certainly didnít want to come in last night for me to take her over to Mom and Dadís. It would have been nice to be able to bring her with me like the trip to Rochester a few months back. But not knowing this sheriff or the location, it wouldnít be practical," her gentle voice filled the car.

"Ha, ha, haÖShelby donít chase the ducks and swans, or Mom will put you on a running leash at the kennel, instead of allowing you to run free with your liter mates. She wonít take the chance of having her flower beds ruined again by you. Dad promised to put the phone to your ear when I call home to check on you. He likes you and promised to throw the Frisbee with you if you behave yourselfÖHAÖbehave yourself! Not much chance of that, is there Your Royal Mischief Maker," Carling chuckled at the pun.

She reached over and adjusted the volume on the player as Fleetwood Mac sounds poured out, letting her mind drift back to the events of the night before and her hairy housemate.

"Look at her. She's standing on the picnic table again, staring off into space. What can she be thinking? SHELLBBBBYYYYYYYYYY!!!!!!! Time to come in girl." Carling called to the golden Labrador and waited. " SHELLBBYYY, did you hear me? Get in here! I have to take you to visit Caleb and Gabby. Come on girl, we need to go over to Mom and Dadís to see your brother and sister. Come in, Shelby," the fair-haired woman called her pet again.

Shelby, staring off into space, is thinkingÖ ĎCarling always wants something when it's inconvenient for me. She constantly demands attention and craves affection. It's so hard to have a life of my own. Still, she is cute and cuddlyÖplus those opposable hands make them useful for opening cans, removing burrs and scratching behind my ears. On the downside, her senses of smell and hearing are remedial. I have to lead her to everything. Why, she actually has to be close enough to see an object before she know it's there. How my young blonde human survived in the wild before I came to live with her is beyond me. When Carling and I go to the park, she is constantly running around in circles.í Shelby lets out a small yep, then continues with her thinkingÖ. ĎIt's a lot of responsibility caring for Carling. She is so vulnerable and helpless. Sometimes I wish I were free and not tied down with a familyÖKeeping people is not easy. They are so NEEDY. Maybe I should just get some parakeetsÖNaaaah, who would catch the Frisbee and tennis balls for her and take me to visit Gabby and Caleb.í The dog looked at the moon once more, hopped down off the picnic table and scurried to the open door.

"Ha Ha Ha," she laughed at her creative ability. "When you live with a dog, love is forgiving, love is kind, love is gentle, and love is steadfast. Good grief, dog love is messy" Carling shook her head and laughed out loud at her mischievous doggie thoughts. "If anyone heard me, theyíd have me committed." With that she flipped the turn signal to get over into the right lane having seen the Catskill exit sign extended over the interstate.


Kate removed her slicker and tossed it onto the seat. Nope," she straightened up and stepped into the front seat of the boat, "He never left this lake. Iíll bet my next monthís pay, we will end up cordoning off this area and pulling divers in to dredge every inch of this lake bottom. He is out there someplace." She expressed conclusively as she turned the key and the motor roared to life.

Backing the craft up slowly, she headed for the Claytonís boat dock once more. She needed to check on her deputies, and make sure they didnít allow anyone to contaminate the area before the stateís Forensic Investigator could come and check out the blood stains they had found yesterday afternoon, and take a look at the bullet that had been dug out of a tree over at the Sternís cabin.

The boat sped along, until the Claytonís place came into view. Kate lowered the throttle, and slowly maneuvered into an empty slip on the longest pier. Deputy Paul Carter touched the brim of his hat, and placed his boot on the side of her craft to hold it in place.

"Anything going on, I should know about, Paul?"

"Nothing, Sheriff. As you can see, weíve cordoned off the entire store and most of the parking area. Mr. Clayton tried to get into his store this morning but was turned back by Mark. He didnít like it, but stated he understood.

"Good. I donít want anything disturbed until that State Investigator gets here," she complemented her deputy.

"Whenís that going to be, Sheriff?"

"Well, I called in a big marker with Thompson up in Albany. He is sending his chief forensic expert over today. She is suppose to be some super hotshot that solved those murders in New York City last year."

"A woman?" He asked.

"Yes, a woman. You have some problem with a woman investigator, Paul?" she questioned, her eyebrow rising and her eyes holding his firmly

"Not at all, Sheriff. I just hope she isnít nine hundred years old and a doggone know-it-all like the one they sent us a few years back." He muffled his comments nervously.

The sheriff agreed, then they both laughed, knowing that it was almost a given that different law enforcement agencies rarely got along. They both wanted to be the ones calling the shots

"Weíll find out soon enough I guess. Should be rolling into town anytime now. You bring anything for lunch, Paul?"

"Nope, neither did Mark. Donít suppose you could talk Elaine into bringing us some of her fried chicken, do you?"

"I already asked her this morning. You boys will have to be satisfied with burgers, I guess. She is still pouting from that little joke you fellows pulled on her last week."

"Heck, Sheriff, she is so gullible, and we just couldnít resist the temptation." He beamed, attempting to suppress a chuckle.

"You guys will just have to suffer the burger joint then. Because she told me, in no uncertain terms, that until each and everyone of you apologized and made it up to her, she not only had brought over her last fried chicken, but not to hold our breaths until she baked another apple pie for the station." She slipped the gear in reverse, and nodded to the man, who pushed the boat off with his boot.

"Heck, Kate, I wasnítÖwell, I was too Ö Iíll apologize when Iím relieved this afternoon. Kate, you know we all love Elaine, and we think her African beaded braids are beautiful, just as she is." Paul hung his head shamefully.

"Then perhaps all of you should tell her that. Remember she is just as proud of her African heritage as most of you are of the Seneca blood that courses through your veins as well as mine. Something else you and the others might want to consider about Elaine, she has always been supportive of our traditions and customs, right down to covering for us when we participate in tribal festivities. Most of us are half-breeds, whereas, Elaine is a pure blood and can trace her lineage back to African tribal chiefs." The seated woman admonished her deputy in a direct, but calm tone.

Paul nodded in agreement, "Iíll talk to the crew. It wonít happen again." He removed his hat and wiped his forehead. "And make that two cheeseburgers, with lots of onions," he called.

The sheriff waved her hand in acknowledgement, steering the boat into the outlet and pushed the throttle forward. The sheriffís patrol boat was speeding north on the lake toward the municipal pier when the radio on her belt came to life.

"Sheriff, this is Elaine. You on your way back?"

"Yes, Elaine. You need something?" The solidly built woman said, clicking her radio in response and attaching it to her lapel instead of her belt.

"Well, I could use a raise, my house painted, and if you can get Frank to buy me that new car, Iíd appreciate it. Oh, and Frank to take me away to some romantic rendezvous, and make mad passionate love to me for three days and nights. But, I know you canít do any of those, so Iíll have to be satisfied with letting you know that State person just arrived at the office."

Laughing, the sheriff clicked the radio again, "Elaine, you are something elseÖ and I wonít say what. Did she bring equipment with her?"

"Yep. The back seat of her car is full, and so is the trunk. You want I should have something done with her gear?" The deep almond skinned dispatcher asked.

"Yes, have someone load it into the back of my SUV parked in front of the office. There is a spare set of keys to the SUV in the key cabinet. Iíll be taking her over to the hospital, so she can set up her equipment in the old coronerís lab. Iím about five minutes away."

"I donít think Iíll have any problem getting Willa Marie to do the unloading. She is practically falling all over her as it is," The dispatcher chuckled into the radio.

"Falling all over her? She is supposed to be checking the other boat ramps, to see is if they have any missing boats." The irritated woman stated tersely.

"I heard her call all of them earlier, and she has made it her job to entertain theÖtheÖuhÖthe investigator."

"Elaine, please step in the back and ask Booth to go out and help Willa get that equipment transferred to my 4x4. I can see the municipal ramp now."

"Will do Sheriff. Out."

Sheriff McGuinness glanced around the lake to make sure she had the right of way, and eased the boat into the empty slip between two other sheriffís vessels at the municipal dock. After tying up the craft, she reached over and grabbed her raincoat, which she no longer needed. Her steel-blue eyes scanned the lake one last time as she turned, replaced her hat and headed up the ramp to the sidewalk and walked quickly towards the combination jail and sheriffís office located a block away.

She nodded to the postmaster who was standing in front of the post office as she passed. Looking towards the squad cars in front of her office, she came to a complete stop just before she got to the front entrance. She couldnít help herself. There, bent over in the rear of a gray BMW was one of the shapeliest behinds she had ever seen. The female was clearly seeking something in the trunk of the vehicle.

Kateís pulse began to beat rapidly. ĎWhat is this? Is your libido going bonkers, Mary Kate? Am I actually aroused by this womanís presence? Get a grip McGuinness; you donít even know her, or anything about her. Sheech, are you out of your gourd?í The thoughts were running rapidly through her brain. She shifted her stance to break her staring, and noticed Willa Marie was doing the same thing. Except, the deputyís mouth was open and she looked to be actually drooling at the body half submerged in the vehicleís trunk.

"You get that equipment loaded, Willa Marie?" She stiffened and regretted the tone instantly.

The deputy blushed faintly, "AhÖ sure did Sheriff."

ĎPoor Willa,í she thought with a touch of sad amusement. Iím as bewitched by the well-formed body as she is. ĎLay you ten to one; she has already made several passes, and at least one dinner invitation. Canít say as I blame her though, that is one attractive backside.í

The shapely figure in question rose up, pulled a briefcase from the rear of the vehicle and turned to face the sheriff. She pushed her thick, slightly reddish-blonde, long hair nonchalantly back behind her ear and lifted her chin in the afternoon light.

"Hi. You must be Sheriff McGuinness?" She extended her small hand to the approaching woman. "Iím Carling Reed. Dr. Thompson from the State Forensic Office sent me." The perfectly formed lips twitched into a smile.

"Yes, Iím the sheriff. Please call me Kate." Her larger hand covered the smaller one. Instantly both women sensed the warm stirring from the contact. "Welcome to the Catskills," her voice thoughtful and sincere. "We definitely need your expertise." The sheriff forced herself to release the small hand.

"Iím happy to be here. Hope I can be of assistance. And please call me Carling," the stunning young woman replied.

"Iím sure you will. Iíve had your equipment put in my SUV. It will be easier for us to transport it to the lab, and to the scenes." She came straight to the point. "If you arenít too exhausted, weíll drive over to the lab now, and then out to Claytonís. We also have a bullet from the Stern shooting ready for you."

"That soundís fine. The drive was pleasant, and I got plenty of sleep last night, so let us be off." She nodded in agreement. "What time do you expect we will be back? I havenít arranged for accommodations yet?"

"Well, if you donít mind, Miss Reed, our budget is limited, and I thought if it wouldnít cause a problem, Iíd put you up at my place while youíre here. We, of course, will take care of the remainder of your expenses. I expect Thompson to bill us for the lab, tests, reports, and of course, your time." A sudden surprising grin crossed the sheriffís face and she paused. "If you object, then, we can afford some of the lower priced facilities, but the resorts are definitely out," she shrugged.

"Sheriff, thatís a wonderful idea. Sure sounds much better than a hotel or motel. If it wonít be too much of an inconvenience, I promise not to be a colossal nuisance. I would appreciate the comfort of a home, in lieu of a stuffy rental someplace." The forensic investigatorís expression became wistful.

"Itís settled then. Weíll pick up your car on the way back from the southern end of the lake, and you can just leave it at the house. We will lend you a patrol car and, when necessary, weíll have a deputy drive you."

"Great. Shall we go?"

"Just a moment, please." She stepped inside the door of her office and spoke to her dispatcher. "Elaine, call Fletcher Buchananís office, and tell her to get down here and trap her prize wolf. I ran upon him at Phillips Inlet this morning. He didnít have on his tracking device either."

"You sure it was that treasured wolf way down here again?" The older woman questioned.

"A big fellow all of five feet long; probably two hundred pounds, thick shinning gray coat, under-parts shading lighter, beautiful wash of black flowing down onto his bushy tail, and with fangs about this long," she held up two fingers to indicate two inches to her dispatcher.

"Iíll call Fletcher. Darn, I never thought that wolf would wander down here again so far from the park reserve." Her voice all but shrieked, "Did you see his mate too?"

"Nope, just the male. Tell her I donít want some antsy resident shooting that animal with a shotgun, so sheíd better get here quick."

"On it sheriff. Phillips Inlet you say?" Elaine picked up the phone and flipped her Rolodex around to find the number.

"Yes." She said, then turned and headed to her vehicle.

Deputy Chief Jailer Daniel Booth looked at her questionably? Finally, Booth spoke, "That wolf put a scare in half the county the last time it wandered from the park. You sure his mate isnít here having a new liter?"

"Didnít see her, Booth, only the big fellow, but you never know." Sheriff McGuinnes turned and looked at her jailer.

"Willa, you and Booth follow us over to the hospital please, and help get Dr. Reedís equipment in place."

"How did you know Iím a PhD. Sheriff? I didnít mention it." Carling stared at the tall woman in surprise.

Kate chuckled. "Thompson faxed me your profile yesterday. Believe me, Carling, I was most impressed."

"Oh." Her voice lowered. "Iím really not an overachiever, Kate. IÖIÖ well, I just Ö my folksÖoh, forget it," the soft voice said.

Kate laughed. "Modest huh? Okay, hop in." She went to her patrol vehicle and motioned for the shorter woman to join her.

"You came upon a wild wolf here in the Catskills? How did that happen? I know they arenít indigenous to New York, or at least I donít think so." The petite younger woman asked, buckling her seat belt.

"Yes. About five years ago, the regional director of the park service was given a bundle of money by the Stern family in an attempt to preserve some endangered species. She started out with a couple of wolf cubs, a few coyotes, some little brown bears, a pair of black ones, a family of otters for one of the smaller lakes up there, and about a half dozen other endangered species." Her words were forthright, and factual.

"The reserve is over a hundred thousand acres, and Fletcher has had remarkable results. She is extra protective of her charges, but three years ago, the leader of the pack and his mate, for some reason ventured off the reserve. They were killing chickens and farm animals up at the county line. We spent two weeks in the snow helping trap those two and I donít want the residents to get in an uproar again," her voice lowered, and she relaxed visibly.

The smaller woman had a very soothing effect on the robust, even-tempered woman. The butterflies that appeared when she first saw Carling began to settle. ĎStop it Mary Kate! Youíre acting like a schoolgirl on her first date. This is merely a young woman sitting beside you. Yeah, rightÖ a twenty-eight year old PhD, who might think you are an old woman trying to hit on an un-suspecting innocent.í Her eyes were glued to the road, but out of the corner of her eye, she could tell the longhaired woman was watching at her. ĎI donít know what it is, but I feel such a strong spirit and intellect emanating from herÖalmost a kindred spirit, and yet, Iíve never laid eyes on her before today.í

Carling had been studying the features of the older woman sitting beside her. The chin was defined, the eyes, although clear, definitely showed sadness hidden away. ĎSuffering succotash, Carling! She is beautiful. I wonder if she is in a committed relationship. Someone like her canít be availableÖor is she? I donít see a ring on either hand. What is this feeling resonating between us? I know she is feeling the same connection, a bond of some sort, but what? She isÖ She is what. Carling? She is exactly what I have been seeking all my life. I feel so comfortable in her presence, almost as if Iíve known her for years, and that she is a part of me. ComfortableÖ this feels so comfortable, and exactly what I have been seeking? Yes, she isÖ.í

The woman had switched off so that Kateís voice resounded through the vehicle, then a hand reached over and touched hers, bringing her back, I- - Iím sorry," she stammered. "My thoughts- -eh- - elsewhere. What did you say?" Carling was rather taken aback by her own imagination and the compelling feeling she was experiencing with the woman next to her.

"I said weíre here, Miss Reed, Doctor." She stared at Carling, and the girl smiled nervously, then she broke into a grin before her hand reached to the door handle and exited the vehicle.

Kate drew a deep breath. She was beginning to think Elaine and her mother were right about her needing to get out more. Carling smiled directly at her, and Kate found herself smiling in return.

Carling found her heart doing funny things as her green eyes met the darker ones. How different she looked when she smiled!

ĎWhy am I feeling this woman knows all there is to know about me, when I realize she doesnít know anything at all about me. Oh, well, she supposed, we will get to know each other in time, and if it doesnít work out, Carling can always go home. Jesus! Where did that come from?í Kate thought as she held open the side door of the hospital for the investigator.

The deputiesí patrol car followed at a dragging distance behind the sheriffís SUV, with a slightly irritated redheaded deputy muttering under her breath.

"What the heck you mumbling about Willa," Booth asked.

"Kate. Carling will be staying at the Sheriffís. Iíve asked her to dinner, and I hate the thought of having to pick her up at Kateís, you know?" The redheaded replied, the tone of her voice filled with loathing.

"Dang, Burkett, you donít leave any moss growing on you, do you? The woman has only been here an hour and you already set your sights on jumping her bones?"

"Never said that. She is just one foxy lady, and what is wrong with having a nice cozy dinner with a beautiful woman?" The woman asked cattily.

"Well, if you ask me, that foxy lady is out of your league. Didnít you see those credentials the State office faxed? And what makes you think she isnít already attached to someone. Sexy ladies like that usually arenít on the market, much less on the prowl, or they have all kinds of professionals sniffing around after them," the deputy tried to reason with his antsy co-worker.

"She accepted my invitation, Booth. Donít you worry about my league. Why man, I have moves that would turn your wife," she crooned.

"You leave Beth out of your schemes, or you might get your pretty little nose broken." He pointed his finger at the redheaded deputy. "Besides that, Kate has warned you about your little innuendoes and liaisons. You are going to get into so much trouble one of these days, that even Kate wonít be able to get you out of, and she will can your butt, if you keep on."

"Oh, Kate is just jealous of my youth. She was ogling that shapely behind the same as me."

The man shook his head, his eyes rolling into the air. "Willa Marie, I was there, remember? I saw the both of you. And just remember this: Kate has experience on you, and she has finesse. She has grace, poise and refinement. If she turned on her charm, you wouldnít stand a chance with anyone she put her eye on. Trust me. You are no way in Kateís league, and I donít care if she is almost forty."

"Listen to you. How long has it been since you have seen the sheriff go after someone?"

"When she is ready, Willa, she will. She was really dedicated to Lois. They were together for a really long time."

"Thatís what Iím saying, she is still Lois Strongís."

"Youíre wrong Burkett. Kate simply respects Loisís memory. But I have seen her dating off and on the last couple of years." Booth replied.

"Yeah, well, this foxy lady is having dinner with me, not Kate, so let us talk about something else. How are those boys of yours doing with those new puppies you got them?"

The patrol car pulled up next to the sheriffís car. Soon they were unloading the special equipment and taking it into the laboratory.


Within the hour, the laboratory had been set up as Carling had directed, and both Willa and Booth had been sent back to the station for other duties.

Willa slammed on the brakes, coming to a screeching halt in front of the station. The door to the patrol car was slammed so hard Booth thought the windows would crack.

Stomping into the front door, she strutted around the counter, and over to the dispatch area. "Elaine, let me see that fax from the state FS office on Dr. Reed," she demanded.

"If itís really any of your business, Willa Marie, it can be found right where Kate put it, on the top of her desk." Her tone matched the irritated deputyís, as she picked up the ringing telephone. "Sheriffís Office, Elaine Tharpe speaking."

Willa stuck out her tongue at the dispatcher, and proceeded directly through the open door of Kateís office. There, in plain view was the fax. Willa picked it up and sat down in one of the two chairs in front of the desk and swung one leg over the arm of the chair.

Her eyes became larger when she scanned the document. "Glory be." She muttered, then let out a low whistle.

"Hey Booth, this is quite impressive to say the least. Here, listen to this: B.S., Criminal Justice, Rochester University, M.F.S., Master's in Forensic Science, Georgetown University, Washington, DC, PhD in Criminal Justice, from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a PhD in Forensic Science from John Hopkins University. She has fellowships and internships from the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, Washington, DC, and John Hopkins University School of Pathology. Internships with the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office, in Chicago, IL, and Advanced Studies in the Medical Examiners Office, New York City." Willa whistled again, stood up and leaned against the doorframe of the sheriffís office.

Willa looked up to see if Booth was listening to her. He had deposited his large frame in a chair next to Elaine, and both were waiting patiently for Willa to conclude her advisory, even though they both had read the entire fax the day before.

"Guys, this woman has advanced professional training in Homicide Investigations, National Law Enforcement Institute, Fire/Arson Investigations, National Fire Academy Field Course, Reid Interview and Interrogation Techniques Workshop, Blood spatter Evidence Workshop, Family Advocacy Command Child Abuse Workshop, National Center for the Prosecution of Child Abuse, Law Enforcement Institute, Workshop on Interviewing Child Victims of Sexual Abuse, Omnichrome Laser Workshop, Medicolegal Death Investigator's Training, Advanced Forensic Pathology, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, Forensic Dentistry Course, Hopkins Institute of Pathologyís DNA and Special Investigations. Forensic Psychology Services Evaluation of post-traumatic psychological conditions, Malingering of Psychological Symptoms, Expert testimony, Trial Consulting." Willa couldnít believe her eyes as she continued to spout off Carling Reedís qualifications.

"Seems sheís been a Special Agent, Regional Forensic Consultant, Special Investigator, FS Instructor, Forensic Pathologist, and Investigative Analyst. She has eight years experience in blood and body fluids, crime scene investigation and trace evidence collection. And, our guest has worked over 280 crime scenes, including Field Investigations, Laboratory Analysis, Forensic Serology-DNA Analysis, General Criminalistics, Crime Scene Reconstruction, Case Review and is the States top Forensic Testimony Trial Expert. She is a member of all kinds of associations and has publications up the yee-yaw and back." She lowered the paper and looked over at her co-workers who were sitting there smugly looking, with their arms crossed. "Holy shit, is there anything this woman isnít experienced in?"

"I told you she had credentials a mile long, and was way out of your league, Willa." Booth unfolded his arms and stood. "I have to finish up in the jail. Catch you later Elaine. Willa, Kate said you were to relieve Ben over at the Sternís cabin so he can get something to eat and have a few hours off."

"Yeah, yeah. Iím going."

"You left out the part about her getting those two Doctorates by the time she was eighteen, Miss Know It All Deputy." Elaine tossed out, and turned back to her computer.

The redheaded deputy only stuck her tongue at the back of the almond-skinned dispatcher once more.

"Doggone, Iím having dinner with a genius. But, damn, she is one more cute, sexy genius." She breathed a low whistle, and hastily replaced the fax on Kateís desk. "Iím off to the other side of the lake, Elaine. My patrol car radio isnít working again, so weíll have to rely on the lapel radio." The deputy grabbed her hat from the counter, signed the in/out roster posted on the wall, and dashed out the door to her assignment not waiting for a response for the dispatcher.


Glancing around the lab, the scientist spotted the box with a variety of specimen jars and bags she would be using. Not knowing how many she would need, she placed the entire box under her arm to take to the crime scene.

"With the two boxes of equipment left in your vehicle, and this box, Iíll be able to start collecting samples as soon as we get there." The young investigator leaned toward the sheriff, looked deep into her intriguing eyes, holding her transfixed with the dark intensity of her gaze.

Giving an engaging smile Carling spoke. "Kate, you are quite intriguing. I think Iím really going to enjoy getting to know you sheriff." The words came out in a deep sensuous tone.

Kate stepped back at the remarks. The younger womanís voice was full of meaning and hopefulness. Carlingís voice sounded as if it was murmuring sensual words of love as easily and evenly as she would recite the alphabet. Now, expressing such hopeful comments, the tone was almost irresistible.

"You, young lady, obviously, donít get out much, and apparently need to have your eyes checked, or you donít have your glasses with you?"

"Wait, Kate." Carling couldnít let her go on; had to speak in order to allow the sensual spell the sheriff had already weaved around her not be broken. "I donít wear, nor do I need glasses. I know when Iím in the presence of an enchanting and stimulating woman." It was if a fire had been lit somewhere inside her. The heat seemed to be licking at her body, warming the blood in her veins, so that it pulsed upwards, flooding the rest of her. But it went deeper than that and Carling knew the feelings coursing through her were the same ones she had felt for the past month or so. They were the feelings of realizing her sole desire. Her heart leaped into her throat.

Kateís arms and legs were almost like rubber as a result, and the skin on her upper body was so sensitive that even the soft cotton of her uniform was an agony of abrasive friction against the tender tissue of her flesh. Her breasts felt swollen and tight, and forceful waves ebbed and flowed along every nerve, threatening to betray her by staining her face a wanton, rising color.

"And you feel the same; I know you do." Reaching out, Carling brushed the knuckles of one hand softly down the taller womanís cheek, her smile growing when she saw Kate indrawn breath.

"You proved it just now. Which is why the next few days of working together, and sharing the same house should prove very interesting."

It took perhaps the space of two heartbeats for what she had said to sink in, but when it did the effect was like a bolt of lightning striking straight into her heart. With a laser-like force it burned away the golden net of enchantment that sensual voice had been wearing around her. Kate brought her head up sharply, repulsing her lingering caress with a violent jerk of her chin.

"Next few days of what?"

A new quirk to the young lips told her that she knew only too well that she had heard her perfectly the first time.

ĎYouíre in trouble, Mary Kate. This young woman has just kicked down barriers you have had up for years. Yes, youíre in deep trouble. Damn it all to hell, she is too young to be so impetuous and forward.í

"Look, Dr. Reed, I admit there is some sort of pull between us. Something I canít explain here, for whatever reasonÖ." She reached for her hat, and placed it squarely on her head. Then she reached for the box under Carlingís arm. "Iíll take this for you."

"I have it, Kate. Thanks, but you better save your strength for the days ahead." She chuckled, turned and walked out of the room leaving the startled sheriff standing open-mouthed.

Exiting the door, the young woman walked into the arms of Gloria Carey, the hospital administrator. "Ooops!"

"Sorry. I wasnít watching where I was going."

"Thatís okay, no harm done." The older, blond-headed woman smiled, and eyed her with amusement. "Not everyone wants to run away from our notorious sheriff."

"Iím not notorious, Gloria, and she wasnít running." Her voice chilly, Kate appeared in the doorway.

The hospital administrator gave the young woman a very scrutinizing once-over and gradually allowed her eyes to meet the dark violet-blue ones shooting daggers at her. "Whatever you say, Sheriff."

Kate shook her head in disgust at the actions of her long time acquaintance. "Gloria Carney, Hospital Administrator, meet Dr. Carling Reed, State Forensic Investigator. Sheíll be using the coronerís office and lab while she is here."

"Yes, Dr. Musicale told me during his morning rounds that you had requested assistance from the State FS Department. I am not to spread it around about her presence here or what she is working on." With her lips curved into that deceptive softness, all she could think of was how she had hoped it could be between her and the russet-brown haired sheriff.

She could recall so vividly how it had felt to run her hands through the dark silk of her short hair, to have that firm mouth against her own, but once they got to that stage, Kate had ended the relationship. No more rendezvous, no more familiarity. Kate simply did not want the closeness, and casual friendship was all she had offered these past years. It seemed a friendship was all Kate sought from her, or at least, until she could convince the taller woman otherwise.

"Very pleased to meet you Ms. Carney." Carling stood with her hand outstretched. The administrator looked down at it, and finally, shook it firmly.

"Anything you need, just ask someone in the office if Iím not around. Dr. Edward Musicale and Dr. Charles Clark have coronerís duty this quarter. Their numbers are posted on a pad next to the phone in the cornerís office. Both of them said call them if they could assist you in any way." She quickly dismissed the young woman, and gave her full attention to the sheriff.

"Mary Kate, you havenít been around in weeks. Old Jackson called, they are having a run on fish up on the Aldrimac River. How about you and I getting away for a day or two andÖ." She wasnít allowed to complete the invitation.

"Sorry, Gloria. Iím just too busy to take off." She looked solemnly at her long time acquaintance. "Too much going on."

Carling noted the interaction between the two women. ĎHmmm, something tells me there was a small possibility of something between those two once, but the elusive Kate wasnít happy with it, or wasnít having any of it.í

"You ready, Dr. Reed?" Her tongue seemed frozen and stiff inside her mouth. ĎHow could Gloria be so obvious, and she was somewhat rude to Carling. Jesus, I hate it when women let their jealous side show.í

"Right. Nice to meet you Miss Carney." The sheriff noticed the emphasis on Miss, but Gloria was still fuming at being cut-off, and hadnít noticed the reflection, or tone of the younger woman.

Kate and Carling walked out the side door of the hospital. Only in seeing the young scientist swish down the sidewalk, did Carney notice the very striking and curvaceous figure the blonde had. "Nice ass. Yeah, very nice ass you have there Dr. Reed. I wonder???" The hospital administrator uttered in a very different tone, and watched the woman until she had entered the vehicle and it disappeared from view.


Silence filled the SUV, as they headed toward the main highway. Kate didnít know exactly what to say about the flirtation, or about Gloriaís behavior. She pulled in at Ruthís diner and shoved the gearshift into park.

"I havenít eaten, and I need to pick up some burgers for the deputies on duty at Claytonís. You think you could stand a bit of something? Uh, maybe a sandwich, or the meatloaf is pretty good here."

The young woman turned and faced the stone-like expression of the sheriff.

"Sheriff? Kate." Carling repeated on a very different note, one so sensual that it seemed to have the power to draw her soul from her body and straight into her outstretched hand.

"I donít want to throw up barriers between us. I may have come on a little strong, but that is how I feel, and I am a very straightforward individual. Truthfulness is one of my chief trademarks. I meant every word I said. When Thompson told me about your request, even then, I felt somethingÖ some connection, which I canít explain. Iím willing to just let it ride and go with the flow. Until, well, until we can sort this out." Her green eyes blazed at her blunt declaration.

"Dr. Reed, believe me, I am honored. Honored and flattered. You are a very stunning young woman. No! No, you are a very beautiful woman. If I were ten years younger, I might really consider your remarks. But, the truth is, I am not looking. And believe me, I have nothing whatsoever to offer you. If you think otherwise, then you have most definitely misread the signals. That is, if I was sending any signals." A betraying quiver that she couldnít quite suppress deprived her words of the force she had aimed for.

"Perhaps." Her tone implied that she very much doubted the older womanís statements. "But I seriously doubt it. We will just let time take care of this, Sheriff." Exhaling a deep breath, she reached over and patted Kateís hand. An iniquitous smile curved her lips, revealing perfect white teeth.

"You say they serve good meatloaf here? Great, one of my favorite." Lips twitched into another smile, and she winked at the stunned sheriff, opened the door and exited before Kate could react, or say a word.

Drawing a deep breath, Kate snatched at the one thing she hoped would convince the young woman once and for all. Or was she trying to convince herself?

ĎGet it through your thick skull, even though itís a beautiful skull, that I am not available! ĎIíM NOT AVAILABLE. Iím Not! Right? Right!í The thought pounded home the uncertainty.

"OK," she said casually, shrugging her broad shoulders in a gesture of supreme indifference. "If that is how you want it," she raised her voice to the woman grinning back at her from the sidewalk. She pushed open the door and joined her in front of the diner.

She felt somewhat calmer, until she noticed Carling looking at her quizzically.

"What?" Came Kateís ironic voice, but her feeble attempt at speech was brushed aside, falling to the ground like splintered glass as it came up against the smiling mask of the beautiful woman waiting for her.

The young woman bit her lip to keep from giggling. "Why, nothing, Sheriff. I didnít say a word." The smile continued as she turned toward the door of the diner. Momentarily she looked over her shoulder, and whispered loud enough for only Kate to hear. "Youíre flustered, Kate. My understanding was you are even-tempered, and orderly at all times. Or, is this bewilderment because of me? We are really going to have such fun." Carling added in a sensuous voice, and entered the eatery before the sheriff could respond.

ĎYes, Iím bewildered, and I donít understand. I have know this woman less than two hours, and already my methodical life isÖ Is what, Kate? Jesus, this isnít even logical and my life suddenly appears to be upside down. Get a grip woman. You must stay in control! Yeah, right. Like I have a choice. I do, donít I?í

Chapter Two

During lunch, Kate was determined to bring the situation back to a professional level, and proceeded to layout the crime scenes in detail for the investigator. Carlingís trained proficiency took over and her inquisitiveness on each aspect of the missing man continued on the ride to Claytonís Boat Landing and Bait Shop.

Later at the boat ramp, Kate showed Carling around the scene. "Youíve showed me the blood stains in the building and what appears to be washed out blood on the wharf; is there any other spots or stains in the vicinity? Have you located the missing boat? Or where or how the perpetrator gained access to this site?" The pathologist-investigator quizzed the sheriff.

"No other recognized spots, or stains. If youíll follow me, I believe there was a vehicle parked at the rear of the store, behind the overgrowth." She walked behind the bait shop, and pointed out the area in question.

"The only access to this spot," she squatted down on the ground about three feet from the tire tracks and the one partial footprint, "is that chained off driveway. The Claytonís put that blockade up several years ago, to keep people from running vehicles behind the building. Principally, to keep them from using the property for boat launchings instead of paying a ramp fee, but chiefly, to keep them from running over their septic tank, and drain lines." The sheriff pointed to the four posts protecting the septic container, which were about fifteen feet ahead of the tire track.

"You will notice the chain has a lock. The surrounding trees prevent any access to these tracks, unless Tommy had unlocked the padlock and let someone in. We have no idea how it became relocked, and a thorough search of the building and the area with metal detectors has not turned up the key. Mr. Clayton was emphatic that the key always being kept on a nail behind the counter. He stated the only time this area was unchained was when the pumping company came and pumped out the tank. Before you ask, the pumping companyís trucks havenít been here in two months."

"Iíll need to make a plaster cast of the tire and partial footprint before the rain comes again and washes them completely away." Carlingís glove covered hand motioned to the small amount of water already on the ground in both areas.

"Okay. You need to also look at the trash drum on the side of the building. We found remains of a lifejacket. Someone set it afire. As you know, state law prohibits this particular lifejackets being destroyed this way due to the materials used. Tommy knew the law, and he would not have attempted to burn it." Kate stood up and nodded toward the trash barrel.

"Iím assuming everything has already been photographed?" Carling asked.

"Yes. Paul is an experienced photographer, and we have four or five rolls of undeveloped film already."

"Well, to make sure, Iíll re-photograph everything before I start. If that is okay with you?"

"Do whatever you believe is necessary, Carling. I donít want to take any chance with this, or when we go across the lake to the Stern cabin."

Carling had used a stick to lift the partially burned life vest, spotted several beer bottles beneath the soot. "We might have something there," she directed the sheriffís attention to the concealed beer bottles.

"Let us hope so."

"Kate, is there any possibility the young man went off with someone for whatever reason? I mean he was only twenty-one. Some cute young thing- -sexual escapade--maybe the woman was married."

"Come over here, Carling. You see this truck? Tommy Clayton would not have left this truck. Not even if the most beautiful woman in the world promised him a night and day, or a week of sexual fantasies. He would have insisted on them going in this, his pride and joy." She patted the fender with her gloved hand.

Carling looked in the side window of the vehicle, and attempted to open the door, only to find it locked. "Hmm. Did you find his truck keys?"


"Well, let me get started. I wonít finish this afternoon, but I will do as much as possible. Iíll need some help with the plaster cast."

"Paul," Kate called to the deputy, who was standing on the pier. "Dr. Reed, will need your assistance for awhile."

"Thank you, Kate." A tiny smile tugged at the young pathologistís lips.

"No problem. Just have him do anything you want. Tomorrow, Willa will be your driver, and your assistant."

"That will be fine. Thanks again." The investigator walked toward the approaching deputy, who was neatly placing his lunch wrappings back into the brown bag. Carling directed him to the back of SUV to remove the bag of plaster.

Carling removed her camera, and spent a half hour or so shooting the bait shop and surrounding terrain. Finally, she turned on the faucet as the deputy held the plaster bag under the water to liquefy the mixture. This accomplished, the investigator and deputy disappeared behind the store.

Kate walked out onto the pier, and studied the area again. A terrible sense of loneliness suffused her being, a feeling of dread that was all the worse for having no rational explanation. The fact that she could think of no reason for the feeling only added to her already deeply uneasy frame of mind.

"Maybe I should talk to someone about this? But who? Now Kate, who is the only one you trust explicitly? Guess you will be getting a visit from me soon, Mother." Speaking to the open air covering the lake, her voice had returned to the ominously dark intonation that had enveloped her mind earlier today at Phillips Inlet.

"What exactly is forensic scientific investigation?" Paul asked Carling squatting down to carefully pour the plaster in the track.

"Forensic Science is the application of the scientific method to solving mysteries. Forensic scientists draw on skills from a number of disciplines in order to gather evidence and draw conclusions about an event." Carling glanced over at the young officer, who returned a puzzled look.

"Paul, a forensic scientific investigator is a general criminologist with experience in the examination of physical evidence from a wide variety of incidents. Physical, chemical, and microscopic analysis is used in the examination of a variety of types of physical evidence, including impression evidence, such as fingerprints, shoe prints, tire tracks, and tool marks, and other trace evidence, such as paint, hair, or fibers. Just like the evidence collecting we are doing here. These analyses can lead to the identification of perpetrators, association of one individual with another individual or a scene, or a more comprehensive understanding of the series of events that occurred during an incident under investigation."

"No wonder Sheriff McGuinness called for assistance. Sheís degreed in criminal justice and law enforcement, but I donít think this forensic stuff is one of her better skills. I know my police academy training only touched on the barest methods you mentioned." His gloved hand lifted the bag and stopped further flow of the plaster. "You want the footprint next?"

"Yes. Here, you pour and Iíll hold the sticks in place around the partial, so we have it framed better."

"Forensic Science has been around for a long time really," she continued, "but in the last decade, specialized techniques and training have changed completely. Now a scientist has to be prepared and trained in a variety of techniques not previously available to law enforcement."

The deputy was a man who listened without interrupting. He had wanted to increase his training, and even talking to this brilliant investigator made this complicated science somewhat clearer to him.

"Just think Paul, the new DNA data has made remarkable changes in evidence. And remember this, DNA can be obtained from bones or hair fiber, or a variety of things that are very old. It can mean a person once convicted on certain evidence, and wrongfully imprisoned for years, now has a chance to prove their innocence. Look at all the recent rape cases that have been overturned because the DNA proved they were innocent."

"Yeah, that is one of the reasons Kate insists we all attend seminars, workshops and training to update our law enforcement skills, and to make sure we obtain whatever evidence is at a crime scene, no matter how insignificant. Half of the sheriffís deputies had to attended the PCR given over in Albany a couple of months ago."

"Sounds as if your sheriff wants to keep a modernized department. I wish all law enforcement officials felt the same but, you know how some people think."

"Yep. Some are just old fashioned, and worse--plain hardheaded."

"You think highly of your sheriff, donít you?" She asked, wiping her hands on a towel before she handed it to the deputy.

"Kate? Sure do. But, Iím not the only one. Most people in this county think she walks on water. She doesnít stand for nonsense, and yet, she is one of the fairest individuals you could ever want to meet." He removed his gloves and accepted the towel.

"HmmmÖ Somehow, I already had that impression. Okay, let us go take a look at that trash barrel."

Carling directed a methodical crime scene gathering investigation. Paul asked questions and the investigator answered willing. By the time five oíclock rolled around, they had collected several dozen bags of outside evidence. Meticulous documentation was logged in the investigators evidence journal, and each bag had all been itemize exactingly before being placed in crates in the back of the SUV to be transported back to the coronerís lab.

Kate had called Clayton and obtained permission to use one of his boats to check out the two closest inlets. But long, draining inspection of the areas had turned up nothing. Her boots were covered with mud and debris from the soggy ground downstream from the ramp. She had slipped on one of the sharp inclines, ramming her knee into the muddy ground. Her khaki uniform pants clung to her leg, showing the shapely muscles. She had removed her hat, and was on her lapel radio when Carling approached her sitting on the side of a boat tied up at the pier.

"Make sure the shift replacements get here before sundown, Elaine. I donít want this scene compromised in anyway."

"Theyíre on their way now Kate, ten minutes from you. Justin is getting a cup of coffee before he relieves me. If there is nothing else, Sheriff, Iíll see you in the morning?"

"Youíre proficient as always, Elaine. Thank you, and you have yourself a great evening." She let the lapel radio click off and glanced up at the young woman standing before her.

"You look like you could stand a bath." The young blonde sat down next to her on the side of the boat.

"I believe youíre right. You look like you could go for a nice long shower yourself. Paul must not have told you, but your nose and face are covered with soot andÖ" She reached over and plucked a piece of debris from the front of her hair, held it up for the blonde to see and threw it down on the ground. "I doubt that needed to be bagged."

"Probably not. Yes, Iím ready for a shower. Think we might call it a day and head towards a bath?" The young forensic investigator asked the taller woman.

"Ready when you are."

They both walked wearily to the sheriffís SUV, where Paul had placed all the equipment and collected material, and was closing the rear door on the boxes. He smiled and nodded to Carling as he opened the passenger door for her. "Thanks for answering all my questions today, Carling. It was very informative."

"You are welcome, Paul. See you tomorrow." The investigator smiled as the deputy closed her door.

Kate waved to the shift relief as she reached the end of the drive, and turned the car onto the highway towards town.

"I donít know what time you normally dine, but if youíre hungry, I can stop and get something for you, or warm-up something at home. I normally get a bit on the way home, but with my clothes in this condition, I need to go home first."

"Actually, Kate, I have a dinner engagement. Willa asked me earlier if she could take me to dinner." Carling interposed quietly, rising stiffly in her seat.


"Is that a problem?" Her eyes swiveled quickly around to glance at Kate.

"No." The older woman continued driving, and stared straight ahead. It was an effort not to clinch her teeth. ĎWhat did you expect, Willa has always been a fast worker.í

The young womanís eyes traveled to the opposite side of the vehicle several times during the trip to the jail. She didnít know when she had been so vastly displeased at having accepting a dinner date. ĎShouldnít have accepted. Shouldnít have accepted.í Her disturbing undertones seemed to grow more and more ominous with each repetition. The fact that she could think of no reasonable excuse for breaking the dinner engagement only added to her already deeply uneasy frame of mind.

ĎShouldnít have accepted. Shouldnít have accepted.í

The silence was thicker than a blanket, but neither woman attempted to speak until they reached the temporary lab in the hospital, where Kate and Carling placed the evidence under lock and key. The silence continued to the sheriffís office and Carlingís parked BMW. Kate indicated she was to follow her. Within twenty minutes, they were pulling into the long driveway that lead to Kateí dwelling.

Kate pointed toward the circular driveway in front of the house, or motioned to the open garage on the side. Carling pulled her vehicle to the front door and stopped. The sheriff pulled into the garage, got out and closed the garage door as she entered the house. Proceeding to the front door, she opened it, and went out to help Kate with her luggage.

"If youíll take the travel bag, and my computer, I can handle the other piece and the garment bag," the blonde said.

"Okay. Youíll be upstairs, first door on the left." She left the young woman to complete her tasks.

Sitting the luggage on the cedar chest at the foot of the bed, she went to the door on the left side of the room, opened it, and checked to see that fresh towels were on the racks. Retracing her steps downstairs, she passed Carling at the foot of the stairs.

"You have the guest bath completely to yourself. There are clean towels already out, but the hall closet has spare linen if you need more. Carling, make yourself at home. Iíll dispense with the grand tour tonight. You must want to get cleaned up, as Willa will probably be here within the hour for you. If you need anything, Iíll be in mudroom, working on these boots before the caked-on muck canít be removed. Thatís a spare key on the table there, so you can come and go, at will." One dark eyebrow quirked up in frank skepticism, and her voice held an undertone that Carling was beyond interpreting. Upon finishing, the older woman turned, and walked quickly away from the younger woman.

"Thank you Kate." Carlin called graciously after the taller woman, but Kate had disappeared down the hallway into another room. "Shouldnít have accepted the dinner invitation. Well, itís only for one evening." Mumbling, she shook her head, and proceeded up the stairs.

The room was large, well-lit and quiet cozy. It was tastefully decorated, and Carling could tell by the fresh lemon smell, that someone had cleaned and polished the furnishings recently. She ran her hand over the hand-stitched cover before she laid her luggage on the cedar chest next to her other bags. The garment bag was hung in the closet. Quickly unpacking, and placing her clothing inside two drawers of the empty dresser, she went to large double windows on the side of the room. Looking out, she saw a well-maintained apple orchard. "Yummy. Nice, I love apples."

She sat down on the padded window bench, and removed her boots. Upon looking at them, she got up and found the bathroom. After clicking on the light, Carling looked curiously around her. The walls were white, except for the black tile surrounding the tub and shower. Pine enclosed the lavatory. The boards were slanted at an angle to give the knots and grain a unique look. A dressing bench to match was built at the end of the tub. "Very nice bath." She took the boots, and placed them on a towel on top of the dressing bench. "Kateís idea was a good one. "Didnít realize they were so muddy."

From her overnight bag, she retrieved a shammy, and took it back to the bathroom. Running water over the muddy boots made it easier to remove the remaining stuck on grime. She turned the shammy over and folded it as she buffed the boots all over and returned them to the towel on the bench to dry overnight. Washing the cloth out under the tub faucet, she hung it over the rack inside the shower.

Striping her clothes, she stepped into the tub, and pulled the curtain against the wall. The water flow felt so good as it ran through her hair and down her body, she moaned. She knew her hair would need to be blown dry before she went out. "Perhaps, I should braid it tonight?" She reasoned with the stream of water that was running down her face. Blowing water out her mouth, her mind returned to the form of the woman downstairs.

The sensual deepening of the feelings, together with the glimmering of the violet-blue eyes, had hot color rising in her cheeks and to her lower pelvic area. She was only too well aware of the strength of those sinewy, tightly muscular arms of the olive skinned woman. She was also uncomfortably sensitive to the sensual impact of the way their impressive power was shown off to advantage by the short sleeve of the khaki uniform shirt she wore. She could almost feel those strong arms close around her in the throes of passion. The wet uniform pants had left little to her imagination as to the shape of the thighs, and she could almost imagine them tightening around her body.

She had been so caught up in her reminisce of the taller woman, she almost drowned. She coughed the water out of her mouth, and placed her head against the shower wall.

"Oh, Kate!" Realizing what she was about to say immobilize her tongue. She didnít speak, but the gentle tapping of her head against the tile spoke volumes.

ĎAnd this after knowing her for only a few hours.í She thought, and turned off the shower.

Kate had cleaned her boots, and left them in the mudroom to dry. Sheíd wear a different pair tomorrow. Waiting to hear the shower upstairs turn off, she came in from the back porch that overlooked the garden. Although it was small, it had taken her weeks to select the flowers and several weeks after that to arrange and plant them. The weather was still mild for this time of the year, and the flowerís fragrance would remain for several more days before fall set in. A brisk current of air had caused Kate to rub her arms fiercely, before she pushed the half glass double doors back into place and turned the lock for the night.

She climbed the stairs slowly. The muscles in her legs were tight from the morning terrain search. Thinking a hot bath would sooth the muscles; she leaned down to turn on the water, but changed her mind. "Iíll just take a fast shower and go into town for a quick bite to eat."

It only took a moment to strip out of the grimy clothes, and place them in the dirty clothes hamper.

"Mary is going to love how that thing smells tomorrow from all that tree slime and stain on the uniform." She stepped under the pulsating spray of the adjustable showerhead.

Completing her shower and rubbing the towel over her wet hair only took a few minutes. She entered the bedroom again, and went to the closet to put on clean clothes, but remembered Willa was taking Carling to dinner. That thought caused a frown to form. She replaced the clean uniform on the rod in the closet. From the chest, she pulled out a pair of short plum pajamas instead, and tugged on a pair of knee length socks as an alternative for bedroom slippers.

"Guess Iíll just go down and eat some of that leftover roast Mary cooked yesterday instead of going back into town. No sense in running into anybody. They might think Iím snooping." The tall sheriff spoke to the agreeing reflection in her dresser mirror. Slipping on a knee length purple terrycloth robe, leaving the sashes untied, she went back downstairs, and into the kitchen.

After blow-drying her hair, Carling washed her hands with rose-scented soap then dried them on a thick yellow towel. She looked at the image staring back at her. She didnít look as disheveled as she thought. Yet, she could see the faint lines of fatigue beneath her eyes.

Quickly she pushed her long hair away from her face, after deciding not to braid it as she had previously thought. Kate would not be waiting for her she realized. Somehow, someway, she had to let her know her reason for going to dinner with the young deputy. It had been spontaneous, and she hadnít even met her yet. It was important to her that Kate didnít feel uncomfortable or take any offence for the dinner arrangement.

"She just has to understand, it is harmless. Besides that, I know she realizes Willa is so young, and such a flirt. It was for no other motive except to eat!"

Checking the full-length oval mirror that stood by the recliner, Carling rearranged the high-grove herringbone camel skirt by Ann Taylor. The inverted side pleats defined the detail of the long, ankle length, flattering skirt. This wool-silk-nylon-poly blend fabric was one of her favorites. A classic crewneck in a rich brown hue and soft, lush cashmere, with fully fashioned seams and fine-rib trim at cuffs and hem fit accented her body just enough.

She slipped on the imported brown soft leather pumps. The snipped toe and high, two-inch heel, and subtle tonal stitching on toe-box and sides lent relaxed elegance to the feminine pump as the young blonde twisted the shoe from side to side.

"Thatíll do," she picked up the wool blend with silk tweed jacked and slowly pulled the three button jacket on over the crewneck and exited the bedroom.

At the foot of the stairs, she listened for any sound indicating Kateís whereabouts. Not hearing any, she followed the smell her nose had inhaled, and found herself walking into an oversize country kitchen, including paneling similar to that in her bath. Carling realized she was very hungry as she entered the room, and breathed in the smell of the roast beef. Kate was standing by the cabinets, gazing out the window. At the sound of footsteps, the sheriff turned and faced her.

The shorter woman sniffed again, "That smells heavenly. Didnít realize I was so hungry." She smiled at the taller woman.

"Willa should be here any minute. One thing you can say for her, she is prompt." The dark headed woman informed her.

A large part of her wished she had refused the date. Now, she didnít even know what to say to the violet-blue eyes scanning her appearance.

"Well, you sure clean up really first-rate, Dr. Reed. You look almost good enough to eat!" Kateís off handed, flattering remark cut the tension instantly.

Chuckling at the tribute, the young blonde acknowledged, "Iíll remember that, Sheriff McGuinness. You clean up prettyÖ edible yourself," Carlingís sentence breaking revealingly in the middle. "Carling, would you like a cup of coffee whileÖ"

The doorbell interrupted Kate from completing the sentence.

"Nope, you donít have the time. Thatíll be Willa. Donít forget your key on the hall table."

"Thank you, Kate. For the coffee offer, for allowing me to stay here in your home, and for--well, just know I appreciate youíre kindness, and allowing me to invade your personal space. Iíll keep the coffee invitation on the top of my list," she turned to walk out of the kitchen. Stopping at the doorway, she looked back at Kate. "I promise, I wonít be late, and Iíll be really quiet when I return." With that, she disappeared from sight.

Kate heard the front door close, and went to get her dinner out of the microwave. Setting it on the maple table in the breakfast area of the kitchen, she reached over and removed the phone from its cradle on the wall before she sat and looked down at the steaming food. She had thought of getting a portable phone for the kitchen, but settled for one with a long extension cord. It was the only phone in the house with a cord as all the others were portable.

Punching a programmed number, she held the receiver to her ear. On the second ring, a pleasant voice said hello. "Hello, Mother, how are you?"

"Why, hello darling. Iím doing well, and how is my little girl?"

Chuckling at the depictive salutation, "Mother, your little girl is a very fatigued woman tonight. It was a rough day. But, I donít want to talk about me. Did John finish on the north grove?"

"Yes, he did, honey. Even started cleaning out the warehouse, checking to make sure the baskets are all in order." The soft voice on the other end of the phone replied.

"Thatís good. You think heíll need help on Saturday. I can lend a hand for most of the day, I think?"

"Iíll ask him tomorrow, Kate."

"Mother, I want you to talk to Mary about coming over to your place more."

"Now, Mary Kate, donít you start again. I donít need someone here everyday, and I donít need her to clean the house but the three days a week, as you have already insisted."

"I worry about you Mom. Iíd feel much better, if you just came and lived with me. There is plenty of room, andÖ. "

"Forget it Mary Kate. And stop worrying about me. Iím healthy. Iím active. I run a three hundred acre apple orchard and warehouse shipping facility, and I donít need my daughter trying to pamper me."

"Iím not pampering, Mom. I just think you should take it easier, you know, spend more time with your friends."

"Doing what, Mary Kate? Playing cards every other day? Young lady, Iíll have you know I spend as much time with them as my restraint can stand. Canasta and bridge are okay once a month, but not several times a week. Now, if they played poker like you do, then I might consider that possibility." She laughed.


"Donít you Mom, me. I thought we agreed the last time we talked about this, that you would lay off me, and I wouldnít meddle in your affairs, if you kept out of mine?"

"We did Mother, butÖ"

"No buts, Kate. Iím not moving in with you, until there is a need. So, letís change the subject and tell me about your day. Have you found Tommy yet?"

"I suppose Mrs. Clayton called you?"

"Of course she did, honey. We have been friends for forty years. They love that boy so much. Even more since Barbara ran off with that fellow."

"Mother, Barbara didnít run off. She and David were engaged for three years. With David coming down every weekend from Rochester was becoming a strain on the both of them."

"To hear Joyce Clayton talk, her daughter abandoned her, and Tommy was their life."

"We both know that isnít true. Why Barbara is with them now. She arrived late last night after finding out Tommy was missing. Mom, she and David bring the kids to see their grandparents almost every other weekend. There just isnít any abandonment." She insisted.

"I know honey, but Joyce still believes Barbara and David could have lived closer to them. All us Senecaís are extremely close and family oriented, as you well know. "

"Yes, Mom, I understand the family ties. However, David was promoted to regional manager of the hotel chain. Barbara was promoted to district manager. Thatís the reason she left the resort, and moved with David. Their jobs are just as important to them as the orchard is to you, but neither of them will ever forget the blood ties. You know Dad never attempted to get you to quit what you love, or give up the farm. So why should Barbara and David?"

"I know, Kate. But Joyce has a missing son, and needed someone to talk with about how she is feeling. We have been friends for years, honey."

"Suspect she will be needing more than thatÖ soon." Kate cut the carrot into with her fork, and poked it in her mouth.

"Sounds like you donít think he ran off for a whoopee time with some bimbo?"

Kate swallowed the carrot she had been chewing. "No maíam, I donít. Donít tell Joyce just yet, Mom, but I donít think Tommy left at all."

"Youíre a much better sheriff than your father, and he was a very dedicated sheriff. If your instinct has you convinced, then youíre probably right. You think he is Ö heís dead?"

"Mom, I donít believe Tommy willing did anything, much less left the area. His truck is still where he always parked it. My instincts tell me he was somehow, and I believe reluctantly, he was involved in the Stern shooting. I think whoever took that shot at Joanna Stern and Raven Longgear, used the Claytonís missing boat to get to that side of the lake. I donít think Tommy let him, her, or them have that boat willingly."

"Oh, Kate. I hope youíre wrong, but you donít make statements like that unless youíre pretty sure of them. Joyce and Thomas will fall apart."

"I know, Mom. But, all the evidence points in that direction. We donít know anything for sure thus far, so donít broadcast my thoughts."

"I wonít honey. Did you say Joanna Stern? Isnít that Rosalin Sternís niece?"

"Yes, Maíam, it is."

"Was either woman severely hurt? Is Rosalin over there?"

"Longgear spotted the weapon being pointed at them, and threw them out of the porch swing onto the floor. The shot went through the top of her shoulder, but she is all right. Miss Stern didnít receive any injuries. Miss Rosalin isnít there, but Ambassador Stern has a full compliment of security personnel over there around the clock. He has a well-known private investigator looking into the shooting already. Seems, young Stern had felt she was being watched, or stalked, so her father already had an investigator checking it out. He called me personally to let me know it was not any negative reflection on me or my department, but that this New York detective had been on the case for a couple of months."

"Well, thatís good. I didnít mean that only one of them was shot, but that the injury wasnít serious. Honey, did you say Raven Longgear?"

"Yes, Maíam, I did."

"Unusual name. Is she by any chance the well known photographer that had those photographs in LIFE, a few months back?"

"She is one and the same, Mom. She had taken a lot of shots of the area, including the lake. There were several shots that had a Clayton boat appearing in the image, so Iím having the state FS investigator look at the negative to see if it can be blown up enough to see if we can make an identification of the individuals in the boat."

"Thatís good thinking, honey. Now, Katie, you didnít really call me just to check on me, or run your day by me. Whatís up?"

"Mother, nothingÖIÖ"

"We have been close all your life, and even closer since your older brother was killed in the line of duty. I know you like a book. What do you have on your mind, honey?"

Kate cut the last potato, but sat her fork down on the plate without putting the vegetable in her mouth. She picked up her napkin and wiped her mouth. After folding the napkin carefully and laying it next to the plate, she pushed her chair back and crossed her legs.

"Mom," Kateís hesitant voice was actually quivering, as she bent her head and closed her eyes. "Go on, honey. Iím here."

"Have you ever met someone, and in a few minutes sensed they were yourÖ your destiny?"

Katilyn McGuinness heard the question. Her heart went out to her daughter. "Honey, you have never asked me that before, not even with Lois. But to answer you, yes," she rubbed a finger along the straight line of her nose and spoke pensively.

"We have never discussed your father and me in this light, Katie. But when I sat down on the counter stool next to your father all those years ago, when he uttered his first sentence to me, I knew, without the slightest doubt, he was my destiny."

"No, you have never told me about knowing that with dad. I know there was a large age difference between you two. Once when Grandma McGuinness was talking to me, she did mention she had a lot of concern at first about the age difference, but that was soon not an issue." Kate twisted the cord of the phone on her finger, until she had almost cut the circulation off. Quickly unwinding the phone line, she switched ears.

"Katie, Iím assuming this is someone you have just met, and there is obviously an age difference?"

Mary Kate didnít respond immediately.

The elderly woman exhaled slowly, and asked, "Honey, do you think your destiny has been made known to you? Has actually walked across the threshold of time without end to be part of you?"

"Yes." An effortless declaration escaped Kateís lips.

The younger woman offered no other explanation, or clarification on the asked questions.

"In that case, Mary Kate, you should be jubilant. Countless souls wonder through eons of time without reaching that point of connection to their eternal destiny. We only have one eternal soulmate, Kate. Victoriously claim that prize, cherish and honor it, for if not, you may wander endless, throughout infinity, without that joining ever occurring again."

Kaitlyn could hear the sniffles of her daughter.


"Mom, IÖ. IÖ well, why donít I bring her over to dinner one night this week? Iíll have to wait and ask her what night."

"That will be fine, honey. Just call and tell me when. If Iím not here, you can leave a message on the machine."

"Oh, Mother, she is soÖ so very young. Too boot, she has a once in a lifetime position in Albany."

"Kate, does this young lady feel the same way?"

"IímÖ Iím not one hundred percent certain, but I believe she does."

"Then stop trying to build obstacles that would keep you two apart. Go with your heart Kate. If you and she are each otherís destiny, you should work together to eliminate those alleged obstacles. Remember what your father used to say, there are no barriers you canít climb, if you remove one block at a time. Treat each obstacle as stepping stone to success."

"Correct me if Iím wrong, Mary Kate, but am I right with my assumption that this connection was not the same as with Lois?"

"You are correct, Mom. What Lois and I had wasÖ. Well, it was so familiar, not all at once and bang, we were together."

"Listen to me, Katie. Lois and you first met when you were only two years old, playing in the same playpen in the apple orchard. You were friends since you both learned to pull each otherís hair. You and she were together throughout school, and were even roommates in college. That is a lot of years, and you two just grew on each other.

"I did love her, Mom. I still do, probably always will."

"Thatís a given, Katie. No one should have to go through what you did, much less have his or her partner die that way. Cancer is no respecter of person, regardless of his or her age. You donít have to tell me you loved her, I was there. You drank half the booze in the state, not to mention not eating and the weight loss. But, honey, she wasnít your soulmate. She was your loving partner, your lover. That canít be compared to this. It isnít the same, and you know it."

"Lois was a force in motion, a bright flame, Mom."

"That is so true. But she isnít here. Lois would not have wanted you to spend the rest of your life without some loving woman to share it with you. Have you forgotten your promise to her?"

"No, I havenít forgotten. But until now, there just hasnít been anyone to fill the emptiness."

"And now, that might not be the case?"

The tall woman stood up from the table, "Yes, I believe so."

"Darn it Kate, donít throw up roadblocks up with age differences, opposite poles or once in a lifetime jobs. If it is predestined for a joining of your two souls, then just allow the process to work. Stop being your fatherís daughter and act more like mine. What is ordained to be, will be. It doesnít need your stubborn sense of what is right to assist it along, or hinder it either. Just this once Kate, donít fight fate."

A long silence filled the telephone line, and then the younger woman answered, "Alright, Mom. Iíll give the fates their chance."

"Good. Now tell me something about this mysterious woman. I can hardly wait to meet her."

Kate smiled, and walked to the refrigerator and refilled her apple cider glass before she returned to the dinette chair sank back down on the maple seat. Her sock foot pushed another chair out from the table, which she immediately placed both feet, crossing one over the other, and conveyed Carlingís assets for the next hour.


Willa pulled her Jeep into the parking lot of the Catskill Inn. "They serve the best buffet here. Have tons of vegetables, and several extras to choose from. Thought about taking you to the Steak House, that is where most of the locals go unless they want a variety of fresh vegetables, then they come here."

"This will be fine, Willa. I could eat a horse, Iím so hungry." Smiling at her companion, she opened the door and scooted out.

"Carling, I was a bit tongue-tied when I picked you up, and I didnít tell you how fantastic you look. That is one nice looking outfit." The red-haired deputy blushed slightly at having been so late with the compliment.

"Thank you, Willa. Shall we go in, my stomach is starting to rumble," she laughed and motioned toward the door of the resort restaurant.

It never fails at a resort that the restaurant was crowded. As they stood in the lobby, Carling spent some time admiring the paintings on the wall. In one, the sun was sinking in a clearing ragged cloud and strings of ducks were obviously flying south for the winter. It reminded her of her parentís pond in upstate New York, and the summers she helped her mother make the necessary preparations for the many ducks she loved to accumulate and have as pets. A lingering smile came to her bright shinning face. The other painting was a view of trees and an old worn bridge, with an old brown collie asleep in the sun. Hung side by side, they were, surely, the age-old contrast of the Catskills.

"Beautiful arenít they?" The deputy had been watching the reflection of her dinner partner in the protective glass covering the paintings. She wondered if she would be allotted the opportunity to run her hands through the healthy silk hair of her date.

"Yes, they certainly are." Leaning forward, she attempted to make out the name of the artist. "Louis Strung?"

"No. The artist was Lois Strong. Well, she wasnít a full time artist, anyways. She was a teacher at the high school. Taught literature and English. Her hobby was dabbling in painting from time to time."

"You said, wasÖ?"

"Yeah, Lois died, ohÖ probably a dozen years ago. She was a very pretty woman, but not as beautiful as you." The redheadsí attempt at sweet talk seemed to have little or no effect on the shorter woman.

"You seem to know quite a lot about the artist. Iím assuming she was from somewhere around here?"

Willa saw her opportunity to put Kate in somewhat of a comprising light, which might eliminate any thoughts Carling might be having towards the sheriff. "Actually, sheís Kateís partner. They were together for years. To be truthful, Kate is still Lois Strongís. If you know what I mean?" She tapped her skull with one finger and then her heart.

Carling sensed the raw implication and resentment of the young deputy. In her most quelling tone, she responded, "Really." It wasnít a question. "Alright, Willa, thatís enough," she said severely. "I donít think sheíd want you to tell me about her personal affairs. Neither doÖ"

"Hello!" Piped a quizzical voice from behind her before she could complete her remarks.

Carling jumped and felt like doing so again. Standing beside her with her hands behind her back was the tall figure in a floral shirt and mustard trousers. Gloria Carey. It had not been quite her intonation. Or was it? It was hard to decide. Anyway, she didnít really want to engage in a conversation with this woman. She might show the same rudeness she had displayed to her earlier.

"Hello," the investigator said doubtfully.

A hand came out of hiding, but was intercepted by the deputy. "Look at you, Aunt Gloria," the deputy thrust her hand around the waist of the older woman. "Donít you look nice? You here by yourself, or is that Brenda waving for you?" She motioned to a woman standing on the opposite side of the restaurant.

"Oh, yes!" She said with flagrant irritation at her nieceís interruption. "Isnít she something?" The lips moved, but neither of the younger women could catch what they said. More disarmingly, Gloriaís willowy arm encircled Carlingís neck and pulled her ear to her mouth. It was an unruffled whisper. "She has no panties on!" The administratorís eyes were like gum drops at the thought.

Seeking to soothe the situation, Willa said reassuringly, "Well, itís so warm in here, Aunt Gloria, she wonít catch cold, and besides, it will be easier for you later."

Gloriaís nostrils flared, but without comment she turned, and quickly pranced across the floor and joined the now seated middle-aged woman.

Carling looked directly into the eyes of her dinner partner. "Willa, I just want to eat. If that is a problem, or if this invitation has another agenda planned, then we might need to consider an alternative here. Is that understood?" the young investigator informed the deputy in no uncertain terms.

"Now before you say another word, Carling," she began as the manager picked up the menus and said to follow him. "This wasnít planned, and I do apologize for my auntís obvious deficient behavior. Sheís had this thing for Kate since- -Well, heaven knows, for always. Anyways, for as long as I can remember." She held up her hands as if to surrender, "I promise, weíll just have a nice dinner, and no further objectionable comments. Okay?"

The green eyes looked really bothered. "Donít start a struggle with your family member on my behalf. This has been very ungallant, to say the least. But Iím sure this isnít what youíd intended." Carling said lightly. "We are being seated on the opposite side of the room, so, letís just eat and let this go. Okay?"

"Okay." The deputy said, thankful she was going to be allowed to continue the meal with the investigator and not have to try and amend the earlier banter. ĎShoot, so much for asking Carling to spend the night with me. Best laid plansÖí

"Would you care for some wine, or something stronger before dinner?" The red-vest server asked as she filled their water glasses.

"I believe Iíll just have coffee, Willa. I have a long day tomorrow."

"No problem." The deputy looked up to the server, " Please bring me a mug of draft beer, and the lady will have a coffee. Weíll order once we have the drinks."

Carling maintained an even composure during the meal, and tactfully asked Willa about her decision to enter law enforcement. Anytime the conversation strayed from the meal, law enforcement, the local area, or the weather, the investigator would diplomatically bring it back to acceptable topics.

When the deputyís Jeep turned off the main highway onto the lane that led to Kateís house, Willa was determined to see the sensual woman again.

"That was a delicious dinner, and I know this marvelous place on the river a few miles from here, that serves the best succulent fish within fifty miles. Iíd like to take you tomorrow night, Carling?"

The vehicle stopped in front of Kateís house, and Willa started to get out, but her arm was caught by Carling. "Willa, Kate has left the front door light on, so there is no need for you to get out. " She removed her hand and picked up her jacket from the back of the seat. "Iíll have to pass on tomorrow night, I have other plans." ĎYes, I have other plans, washing my hair, trimming my nails, my emails. One dinner was enough, thank you Miss Young Seductress Deputy.í

She opened the car door and stepped out, addressing the deputy once more. "Willa, I appreciate your coming to pick me up and thank you for a very nice dinner. Kate wants us on the crime scene early. So, Iíll see you about seven in the morning. Good night, and do drive carefully." Closing the door gently, she walked quickly to the front door and inserted the key. She partially turned and waved to the young deputy before she opened the door, and cross the threshold without looking back again.

"Well, that doggone sure didnít go as planned. I could wring my auntís neck for her intrusion." The redheaded woman rammed the gear into drive and spun the wheels as she pealed off.

Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

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