Sequel to SixSix


Rating: An eventual M for a lot of different reasons. Violence, language, graphic sex, maybe some non-con. Read at your own risk.

Summary: Widow Vivian finds a stranger without a past on a snowy road.




Up until that night, Vivian Peace had lived what many thought was a fairy-tale sort of life. Not so much in the wicked step-mother, rescued by magic sense, but she did find her Prince Charming.


She was working her way through college, and learning the skills she would need to be a veterinarian. Vi was a good student, she worked hard and studied long hours to maintain a high grade point average. When she wasn’t studying, she was working – volunteering her time as a vet tech or waiting tables, going and going until she was so exhausted at night she could barely make it to her bed.


Vi loved every minute of it. Her mother Lily had a work ethic that put other people to shame, and it had rubbed off on her. Vi did not know, nor did she care, who her father was. He had left when he’d found out that her mother was pregnant and Vi had never been curious. Lily had been enough. She passed away during Vi’s junior year of college, after having suffered a brain tumor quietly. It was just like Lily to keep that sort of thing to herself, to not want to be a bother to anybody.


Vi wished she could be too busy to mourn her mother, who was also her best friend, her most trusted source of advice, and her own personal cheerleader. She felt lost for nearly a year, plugging forward but feeling as if it was all for nothing.


That was until she met Lincoln Peace.


It was her senior year, and Vi was in the midst of her large animal clinicals. She worked with horses, she worked with cows, on a few occasions there had been exotic birds like emus, and even a llama at one point. Most of the other students spent more time pissing and moaning than learning, but Vi loved it just as much as she loved working with domesticated house pets. She was a natural at it. She possessed something, some quality that put animals at ease, even temperamental horses and bulls. She had a knack for it. It was odd for a person whose only pet in her entire life had been a hamster.


It was during her large animal clinical that Vi was assigned to a veterinary practice that routinely went to various farms and ranches and offered vaccinations. Most of the ranches did their own, but there were always some who were willing to get free medical care for their animals from nearly trained students.


Vi spent that first day listening to her mentor, a vet by the name of Richard Miller. He was older, in his sixties, but it was obvious that he had a soft spot in his heart for the big animals. He was raised on a ranch in Wyoming, and taking care of animals was his calling. They arrived at the first place, an average sized chunk of land by comparison to some. She had noted the small sign posted near the gate that opened on a long curving drive. It said simply ‘Fair View’.


She had to admit that was a vast understatement. Once they reached the house and climbed out of the van, the view was more than fair. The house was at the top of a hill and while the view from the front was pretty enough, it was the vista from the back of the house that took Vi’s breath away. There were hills rolling away in every direction, and she could see the clearings where barns had been constructed amidst dark evergreens. The sky was a flawless blue, and the animals grazing just added something…some quality she could not name. She had never been in love before but she figured this was close to it.


She could have spent all day taking in the view, but there were dozens of cattle to vaccinate. Miller put her to work and soon they were lost in the job at hand. Vi was a bit slower than Miller, but not because she was unsure. She took a moment to rub each cow on the neck, something she did without thinking. After a while she had the feeling that she was being watched. Vi looked over her shoulder and saw two men standing there. That they were father and son was obvious. They both had the same tall frame, the same blue eyes. The older man’s hair was a sandy blonde that was going to white at the temples. The younger man had the same shade, minus the gray. She did not get the feeling that she was being looked at critically, just curiously.


At lunch, Vi learned that they were indeed father and son. Ray Peace owned Fair View, and his son Lincoln was going to inherit it at some point in the future. His wife, Rose, cooked for everyone, including the hands who were helping move the cattle through the vaccination clinical.


And Vi found herself falling in love for a record second time in one day.


She was fascinated by Lincoln; Link to his friends. He was a soft spoken 28 year - old, a bit on the shy side, but smart. Ray had announced with evident pride that Link was the first Peace in his line who had finished college. His degree leaned more toward business management, which would help him with running the business end of the ranch. Vi talked to him through most of lunch, and during the long afternoon of giving shots to animals one after another. They finished just in time for a late dinner with the family, and while Miller had been eager to set out for the next destination, it was not far, and he accepted Rose’s invitation for them to use two of the guest rooms upstairs.


Vi was inwardly ecstatic about that. After dinner, Miller and Ray went into a wood paneled study to look at some of the past records of the ranch animals while Rose went to the kitchen to clean up. Vi offered to help, but was shooed out of the room with a laugh. Rose did not let guests help around her kitchen. Plus she had sensed something between her son and the attractive college student. Ray would call her silly of course, but she knew the signs of puppy love when she saw them.


So Vi had gone out the back door, breathing in the crisp air that had cooled considerably as the sun went down. The view was just as stunning, but instead of the land, it was the stars that caught her attention. The moon had not risen yet, so the stars looked like diamond chips set on black velvet.


“Doesn’t matter how many times I look up there, I always feel like it knocks the wind out of me.” Link spoke from her left. Vi hadn’t noticed him joining her. She did not jump, instead she looked at him and smiled.


“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything so beautiful.” She said, looking up again.


“I feel the same way.” But Link wasn’t looking up. He was studying her profile in the meager light. Vi was what Rose would have called an exotic beauty. She had dark hair, a shade of chestnut that missed being auburn by about a whisper. Her eyes were a light green, especially striking when coupled with her deeply tanned skin. It was her looks but it was also the way she was with the animals – even some of their ranch hands who had been doing this for years did not have the touch that she had with their animals. And some of the cattle were not prone to liking strangers. It was odd but true. Usually if they kicked or acted out it was against someone they did not recognize.


They were both quiet for a while. Eventually they talked. About school, about her work with animals, his love of the ranch. Even though they both had an early start the next day, they stayed up well past midnight. Link’s family ties were strong, and this was the only home he had ever known. Vi had been fairly nomadic during her younger years, not settling down until her mother had found just the right town, the right school, the right job.


It seemed only natural that Link would eventually hold her hand. They took a short walk, away from the light of the kitchen. Rose had left the small light over the stove on so that they would not go into a completely dark house. The moon had risen, and it lent a pale glow over the fields. It was in the shadow of the nearest barn that Link kissed her the first time. Fifteen years later, and Vi would still remember it as one of the best moments of her life. The feel of his work calloused hands on her shoulders, and his soft mouth against hers, tentative at first, growing bolder. She recalled every detail down to the soft rasp of stubble when she cupped his cheeks in her hands, to the way he hitched in a breath when she parted her lips for him to deepen the kiss further. It was perfect.


Vi would have been perfectly happy standing there, kissing him for hours. But reality had to win out. She had just met this man, and while she wanted nothing more than to melt into him and do things to him there in the dark in the grass, Vi had some common sense. With real regret she pulled away. Link did not seem to mind, in fact he laughed at himself for getting carried away. He led her, still holding her hand, back to the house and to the door of the room she’d be using. He kissed her again, this time on the cheek, and wished her a goodnight. Vi had sighed dreamily and headed for the shower.


She was tired as she crawled into bed that night, but restless. It took an hour for exhaustion to really take hold and pull her down to sleep, but Vi went with a smile on her face. She did not even mind the five in the morning wake-up knock on the door from Miller. She got up and got dressed, feeling sad to be leaving but so oddly happy at the same time.


They ate breakfast with the family again, and Vi noted happily that Link sat in the chair next to hers. He flashed her a shy, lopsided smile and they spoke a little as they ate. Every now and then he would reach under the table and touch her hand, or squeeze her fingers. Vi could not stop smiling. Especially when they got a moment alone. They exchanged phone numbers, and Link stumbled and asked if she would be interested in seeing a movie with him that Saturday night. Not wanting to seem too desperate, Vi had thought it over for all of a quarter of a second before saying yes.


It was about a year and a half later that they got married. Another decision she did not really have to think about. Link had given her a diamond on a white gold band, and got down on one knee. Vi had said yes almost before he could finish asking the question. And as hard as it was for some people to believe, Vi and Link had waited until their wedding night to consummate their relationship. Neither of them were virgins, but it had been Link’s idea to wait and make it special. Of course after dozens of sessions of making out with no relief he had regretted being a gentleman.


But he had been right. Vi had gone to bed that night nervous as any virgin, and for nothing, because Link had been gentle but passionate. That first year, Vi spent time building a veterinary practice. Not out of necessity – Link and Ray ran the ranch and made money, and had money saved. She just loved the work. She and Link also oversaw the construction of their own house, located a bit closer to the road. It was still within a quarter mile of the main house.


It was their first year in the new house when Vi found out she was pregnant. She and Link had discussed children on occasion, usually in passing. Neither had bothered with birth control. They figured if it happened, it happened. And it did in fact happen. It was in the early morning hours, during a blizzard that dropped nearly two feet of snow that she gave birth to a healthy, squalling, nearly eight pound Josephine. Josie had her daddy wrapped around her finger from the moment he set eyes on her.


And time passed. They were happy together, and content. They dealt with the jokes about Link marrying lucky and finding free care for his animals. They also dealt with finding out that although her pregnancy with Josie had been normal to the point of boring with no complications, more children would be near on impossible. Link and Vi had talked about it, and decided that they were fine with that. Josie was a natural with animals, like her mother, and not squeamish about taking care of them in the least. She was a dynamo, filling the house with giggles and love from the moment they brought her home. She was enough. And again – whatever happened, happened. It became their motto.


Josie got a puppy for her eighth birthday, a mixed-breed pup with pretentions that she – for reasons only an eight year old girl could understand – named Bridger. They’d had good years together, with surprisingly little fighting, a lot of lovemaking, even more love itself. That was why when it ended it was so damned hard on everyone.


It was nearing the first day of summer. Josie had finished up her third year of school with the highest marks, so Vi took her into town on their first free Saturday for a bit of a girl’s shopping trip. While Josie could be a bit of a tomboy, she had a streak that loved shoes and clothes. So they shopped all afternoon and ate dinner at a restaurant near the mall. They were both tired after the excitement so they were quiet on the drive home. It took over an hour. Vi would regret that in the days to come. She had always loved the isolation of the ranch, but on that night the remoteness was a curse.


Josie spotted it first. Something odd, a glowing on the horizon. But not their house. It was much too far back from the road. Horrified, thinking the worst, Vi sped down the driveway, past their place. She did note that Link’s truck was not in its usual spot. He was probably already dealing with what looked like a fire.


Feeling sick, Vi made the final turn and gasped in shock. Ray and Rose’s house was swallowed in flame. Black smoke billowed upward, and ash coated the ground around the house. Vi parked well back from the fire and told Josie to stay put. She got out of her SUV and ran forward, calling out names. She saw something move to her left and ran in that direction, relieved to see her father-in-law, a man who had been like a father to her for more than a decade, laying on the grass and coughing weakly. He was burned, along his arm and shoulder. Some of his white hair was gone on the right. He wheezed and waved a hand at the house.


“Where’s Rose? And Link?” Vi asked, spying her husband’s truck near the house.


“Link…went back…” Ray gasped and started shaking. Vi was frozen for a moment that felt like a year before groping in her pocket for her cell phone. It seemed to take forever to punch in the numbers and even longer for a dispatcher to answer.


Vi rattled off her address, informed them it was the house further back, was informed that help was on the way, and then she tried to go into the house. She screamed Link’s name over and over, but it did not good. It was too hot to get close to any of the doors or windows, and even as she tried she heard the unmistakable sound of the second floor collapsing down onto the first.


Vi sank to her knees next to Ray and held his hand. He was still shaking, and she realized with an emotion she could not name that her father-in-law was having some sort of seizure. She checked his airway, and smoothed a hand over the side of his head that was not burned trying to soothe him as her tears fell.


It took twenty long, agonizing minutes. The fire trucks that finally came wailing up the driveway could do nothing but make sure the grass around the house did not burn or the fire spread. An ambulance appeared and Ray was taken off as fast as possible. Vi heard the paramedics talking and heard the word ‘stroke’ mentioned several times, but it might as well have been in a foreign language. Josie was out of the SUV and the two of them were sitting in the grass in front of the vehicle, the little girl on her lap. She was rocking her back and forth, and humming something under her breath, but was unaware of that too.


It took the firefighters almost four hours to find the bodies.


Josie had fallen into a shocked sleep by that time. Vi still sat, holding her, tears streaming down her cheeks as men wearing so much gear they looked alien ventured into the remains of what had once been a beautiful home. They did not want to show her the bodies, because the fire had been so hot, and it had burned so fast. But the investigator did show her what they had scavenged. A wedding band. White gold, and worn smooth. It was Link’s. The investigator told her it had been found still on the hand of one of the bodies.


Vi only kept functioning because she had Josie to take care of. Ray had indeed suffered a stroke, definitely worse than mild. He lost all feeling, temporarily, in his right side. He was also unable to talk. Vi postponed the funeral, where mother and son were buried in the family plot at the same time, until Ray was well enough to leave the hospital in a wheelchair with a paid nurse to help him.


Josie was inconsolable at first, crying nonstop and taking her comfort from her mother, her dog, the dozens of animals on the ranch. She steered clear of the wreckage that had once been her grandparent’s home, not able to face it yet.


Vi tortured herself with it. She walked their daily at first, and stood where the driveway ended, looking at the burnt remains of the house she had spent so much time in. And she cried to herself, out there alone where no one could look at her and think she was weak in any way. She had to be strong for Josie’s sake, and for Ray. But she felt like she was dying herself. Vi felt as if she had lost half of herself when her husband had rushed into a burning house to save his parents.


The investigator spent some time inspecting. Eventually he filed his report, stating it had been an electrical surge that caused a spark from a malfunctioning outlet. It was plausible, and if Vi had been in her right mind she would have seen the troubled look on the man’s face as he got her to sign the paperwork. He seemed uneasy as well, but she did not notice that either.


After two months, Ray came home. Vi had gotten a few renovations done in that time, and now what had once been their family room was converted to a bedroom for her father-in-law. He could not handle steps, so it worked well. It was right off the living room, and had a separate bathroom. She had a special tub installed so that he could give himself showers and baths, and bought all the things the doctors said she would need.


Eventually Ray got back some of the feeling in his side. He could walk short distances, and did more with his hand as time passed. He still could not talk. He would write notes if he had to, but after a while Vi and Josie got used to his signals and could usually figure out what he wanted without much prompting.


Ray remembered almost nothing about the fire. Vi had asked him to tell her anything and he had written for several minutes on a piece of notebook paper. And it came down to Link’s urge to protect his family overriding his sense of self-preservation. Ray had been downstairs and easy to get out of the house but Rose was up in the bedroom and Link had gone back into the burning house before Ray knew he was gone.


Time passed. And while losing the love of her life was not something Vi ever thought she would get over, the constant nagging pain settled down to a dull ache. Eventually that faded as well, so she would go hours, even days, and not think of what she had lost. But it would come back to her and she would spend an hour at the burned house, crying and mourning again. Ray and Josie both thought it was time to clean it up, to get rid of the reminder. Josie was twelve now, a sandy-haired, blue-eyed dynamo who carried the stamp of her father’s genes quite plainly. Ray was almost his former self. There were times when he would have trouble with his coordination, and he would never be able to comfortably ride a horse again, but he had refused the idea of getting rid of his cattle. He still ran the place, with Vi’s help. And Josie’s, of course. Josie had a healthy love of the land and the work, and Vi knew that Ray was counting on her carrying on in her father’s place.


Things had settled into a sad, somewhat boring rut over time. Four years was not nearly long enough to get over such a loss. Vi wasn’t sure forty years was going to be enough. Every time she thought she was ready to put it behind her, something would happen to rip open the wound and make it fresh again. The pattern held for years – work, Josie, Ray, ranch, cry at the house at least once a week, ho-hum. Repeat.


At least that was the pattern until Vi found the naked man laying in the road.




Vi yawned sleepily and eased up off the gas as she rounded a bend in the road. It was well past three in the morning, and it was snowing so hard the visibility was horrible. In ordinary circumstances she would not be out driving in such a mess as an early spring snow storm, but one of her neighbors had a horse who had a foal, and the foal had been breech. Vi oversaw the birth and recovery, delivering a healthy little boy to an exhausted mare. Now she just wanted her house, a hot shower, and bed.


If she had been going the speed limit she never would have seen the man. As it was, all she caught was a flash of something in the snow to her right, at the side of the road, too close for comfort in this mess. She pressed the brake, felt the end of her SUV skid, and eased back off the brake all without thinking about it. She had lived here long enough that driving in this type of stuff was, while not fun, almost second nature.


She hoped it wasn’t a deer, or worse, one of the cattle had gotten out of the fences. Vi thought that was damn near impossible, considering their herd was battened down for the storm in the barns and protected areas. But she had to check. It could have been her tired eyes playing a trick on her but she would not be happy until she’d looked for herself. She blamed it on her inability to let a sick or wounded animal suffer.


She pulled over as far as she could short of going off the road and turned on her bright lights and emergency blinkers. They wouldn’t be seeing a snow plow out this far from town, usually the farms and ranches did for themselves, but a person never knew who would be out driving. Vi zipped her coat to her chin and tugged her gloves on before opening her door and stepping outside.


The wind took her breath and stung her eyes. She had a scarf but it was in the passenger seat where she’d tossed it earlier. She lowered her head and walked, using a hand to shield her eyes from the thick snow. And there it was, the thing that had caught her attention.


Vi’s steps faltered. It was not an animal, at least not the barnyard kind that she had expected. It was a man. He was lying on his side in a drift of snow. Two things registered. One – the man was completely naked. From her angle and with the aid of the fancy LED lights on the SUV, she could see he wasn’t wearing a stitch of clothes.


The second thing was that even lying down and half covered with snow, he was the biggest man she’d ever seen.


Vi shook herself and forced herself to move, slogging through snow and feeling it slip down the sides of her boots. She picked her way to the man’s position and stooped down, stripping a glove off so she could feel his neck. Either her hands were freezing or he hadn’t been in the snow for long, because he actually felt warm against her fingers. She felt a slow steady pulse beating and breathed a sigh of relief.


It was short lived. What was she going to do? Calling an ambulance was obvious enough, except in this weather and their location it would be at least an hour and maybe more to get help from town. That was if the service was even running. The closest hospital was an hour further than that, two in this kind of storm, and…well. Vi could practically spit on her house from here, it was just another couple of minutes up the road. She could get the guy inside, out of the elements and then call for the paramedics. That sounded like a much better plan to her. She’d spent most of her life taking care of animals, and she viewed this as much the same thing as horrible as it might sound to an outsider.


“Hey!” Vi had to raise her voice over the sound of the wind. The guy didn’t flinch, or make any indication that he heard her. So she leaned down toward his ear. “Hey…I’m gonna try to help you, all right? Just…I’ll be right back.” It had been on the tip of her tongue to tell him to sit tight, which struck her as morbidly funny. She looked for a reaction and got more nothing, so all she could do was go as fast as she could back to her SUV. She had blankets in the rear storage area, and a staple roadside emergency kit that Link had always insisted she keep with her. Vi thanked him mentally as she ripped open a few plastic pouches that were labeled ‘instant heat’. She shook them up in one hand and grabbed a couple of the blankets in the other. She probably should have pulled the SUV closer but she didn’t want to risk going off the side of the road. She had four-wheel-drive but she’d learned that it only worked when it wanted to. Mother Nature had a way of negating the best intentions of the manufacturer.


Vi shook a blanket open wondering how exactly she was going to move such a huge guy on her own when her footsteps faltered again. Hell, faltered? She almost went face-first off the side of the road. The guy was now standing up, pretty well ignoring the wind whipping his long dark hair around. And also seemingly oblivious to the fact that he was nude. Vi was already thinking frost bite and hypothermia.


But the guy just stood there for a moment, looking utterly confused but unbothered by the elements. His eyes fell on Vi as she started moving toward him again, but he didn’t move, or speak. Vi thought he might be in shock. And that was sort of obvious by the way he seemed to lose focus almost as soon as he spotted her.


Vi reached him finally and after having the wind work against her for what felt like an hour, managed to get a blanket over the guy’s shoulders. She had thought he was big lying down. Upright he was a downright giant. If he wasn’t close to seven feet tall she’d eat one of the blankets she was carrying. And he was solid muscle. She gave herself another mental shake, because out of habit she had dropped into thinking like the guy was some sort of animal.


Vi grabbed his arm and wrapped it over her shoulder and pulled/led the way back toward her SUV. She kept talking the entire way, which was something else she did with animals. She had been doing it so long she no longer really heard herself. She got the man settled in the passenger seat after shoving her stuff to the floor and sliding the seat back as far as it would go. He went willingly enough. There was that on her side at least.


Once he was seated, Vi reached over and cranked the heat up to the red HI mark, and the fans to full blast. She’d swelter but the guy – who had felt warm just a few minutes ago – was shivering now. She finished shaking the heat packs and tucked them into his blankets, not touching his skin, against his sides.


That done, Vi stood for a moment and studied the guy’s face. He looked normal. As in no visible injuries. He wasn’t bleeding, and his eyes were clear if still unfocused. 


“How the hell did you end up out here?” Vi asked softly, using her hands to feel his head and neck. She figured a head injury would maybe explain part of it. But again, there was nothing. Not a bump, lump or scar. His eyes drifted to hers and Vi stared at him a moment. He had hazel eyes, dark in the interior lights, but she got the feeling he was once again actually seeing her. And for some reason, even though she should have maybe had second thoughts – he was a stranger after all, and a humongous one at that – Vi just trusted him. Probably stupid on her part since she had always paid more attention to the good in people than the bad. But still...


His eyes went far away again. Vi sighed and exited the door, shutting it behind her. She turned back to the place he’d been lying and looked around, kicking at the snow with a booted foot. She was just curious to see if maybe he’d had anything with him that fell – maybe even his missing clothes. Surely he’d been wearing something, and not long ago considering he wasn’t a gigantic human shaped popsicle.


There was nothing there. And something else registered after a moment. There were no tracks other than her own and the ones they had made together. So how in the hell had he gotten there?


And then it hit her. Maybe someone had dumped him. Someone in a van or an SUV like hers, someone who could drive in this weather. The road had been used a few times, and snow filled tracks pretty fast. It was possible. Probable even. But why? Didn’t people usually make sure the one they were dumping was dead before shoving him out into a ditch? Or maybe they counted on the cold finishing him off. Then again – he didn’t have any wounds she could see. So maybe he was drugged? She’d have to get him under a better light to check for obvious needle marks, but if it was something that he’d swallowed or…


Vi made herself stop. She was standing in snow up to her knees, staring at a spot on the ground, and had been there for maybe ten minutes while her mind raced with questions that she had no answers to. She turned and went back toward her SUV, climbing inside the driver’s seat with a sigh of relief as hot air washed over her.


She looked at her passenger again. His head was down, his chin against his chest. He might be sleeping or dead for all she could tell in the dark vehicle. Vi reached over, hesitated, and laid her fingers once more to his neck, feeling for the slow bump of his pulse. Her hands were cold, she’d forgotten she had taken off her gloves, and the guy jumped and jerked his head up, shocked awake.


“Sorry… “ Vi pulled her hand back and kept her voice even and low. Out of habit of course. The guy glanced at her looking a bit shell-shocked but that was better than not reacting at all. As she gingerly pressed the gas pedal, the guy let his head go back against the seat and he sighed. She could hear his teeth chattering too. “The hospital is too damn far and my house is right up the road…we’ll get there in just a minute and then we’ll call for help out.”


The guy didn’t answer her. Vi risked a quick look and saw that he’d closed his eyes again. Being cold made a person sleepy, she knew this. With an interior sigh of her own she guided the SUV over the snowy road to the drive that led to the house.


As she turned and slowed for the small hill in front of her, Vi wondered what the hell it was she was doing. Taking a strange man to her house where her daughter was sleeping? What the hell was she thinking? She glanced at the guy again, and he was still out. And Vi wondered again where her mind was. What if he was some kind of psychotic rambler who baited people by playing dead on the side of the road? In remote places, where the nearest help was miles away?


“Shut up, brain.” Vi said that out loud, as she often did. There was nothing wrong with her thought process, but sometimes she wished it would take a day off. She was tired of over-thinking everything. The guy was big, yeah, and nude – but so what? The weather plus the undressed state smelled more of him in trouble than him being trouble. And it wasn’t like Vi was completely helpless. She lived on a ranch, Link had come from a long line of males who enjoyed guns as a collector’s hobby, and he had enjoyed shooting as well. He’d spent hours at least once a month with targets set up, shooting the hell out of marked hay bales with whatever weapon he wanted to play with.


Vi had learned too. And when Josie was old enough to understand how dangerous the guns were, she learned how to shoot them. Link insisted, and Vi had no good argument against it. Some people might think a gun in the hands of a child was a dangerous thing waiting to happen. She believed that if the child was taught the proper respect and precautions there was no harm in it. Josie had taken to it like she had taken to everything else. She wasn’t nearly as interested in the guns as she was in other things, and she practiced more out of a duty toward her father than out of any real urge to shoot something.


The house came into view. Ray had left some of the lights on – living room and kitchen. Vi breathed a sigh of relief and pulled to a stop, cutting her headlights so she wouldn’t disturb her sleeping father-in-law.

She shouldn’t have bothered. As she rounded the SUV to the passenger side, the front door opened and Ray stood there wrapped in a heavy robe. He worried when Vi was out late, especially when the weather was bad. She should have figured he’d still be up. He peered at her through the blowing snow and made a gesture, raising his hands. Vi looked through the window, saw the guy was still sleeping, and went toward the front porch kicking snow out of the way.


“Found a guy…in trouble.” Vi explained, knowing he’d seen the man in the passenger seat. The gesture had been a ‘What’s going on?’ sort of thing. “He’s in a pretty bad way and I was right outside the front gate…” The wind whipped Vi’s hair around her face and she huffed and pushed it back. “I need some help getting him in the house. And then to see if an ambulance can come get him.”


Ray nodded and slid his feet into a pair of boots by the door. Vi hated to drag him out, hated to see him tax himself, but she wasn’t sure she could do this on her own. Sure the guy had helped the first time, but she couldn’t count on that happening again. And what if he did and he collapsed halfway up to the door? Or worse, fell over on top of her because she was too exhausted to hold him upright?


This time her “Shut up, brain” was muttered quietly. She really was tired.


Ray held the passenger door open while Vi climbed onto the step and leaned in past the man in the seat to turn off the engine and take her key. He shifted a little, and when she pulled back his eyes were open again. Open and focused. It was nice to see. Maybe he’d be helpful after all. She wasn’t going to take a chance though. She looped his arm over her shoulders again, and Ray did the same from the other side, and they guided the man through the snow toward the front door. He was walking, and that was good, and Vi got the feeling that Ray was taking too much of the guy’s weight, but she was struggling a bit through the snow. Definitely tired beyond reason. Of course she’d been up for nearly twenty four hours and had not stopped. Hell, she couldn’t even remember the last time she’d had something to eat.


They made it through the door and Ray looked around the big man’s chest with a raised eyebrow. Vi sighed heavily. “Upstairs for now. We can’t put you outta your room, and I don’t think you’re bed is gonna be big enough.”


Ray smirked at that and nodded. As long as he was holding on, he should be able to manage the stairs, and Vi would help him down when she got the stranger settled in.


He seemed to be more with it than previously, so the stairs were actually pretty simple. All they had to do was guide him. He was fairly docile, and showed absolutely no interest in his surroundings. Vi wondered if he even realized they had switched him from the SUV to the house. If he did, there was no reaction again. Worry gnawed at her, and it surprised her. She didn’t know this guy. Why did she feel he was her personal problem to deal with?


If Ray could talk, he’d make a comment about Vi bringing home strays. She had done it on occasion but only on a temporary basis. She always found them homes. She couldn’t help it. It was her nature. She was a veterinarian after all, what did he expect her to do.


Ray was looking at her again as she managed to hold onto the guy’s arm and yank the covers on her bed back. She had an odd thought pop up out of nowhere, that this was the first man other than Link who had ever slept there not counting the dog that snuck in on occasion. The thought left her with something she could not define twisting her stomach in knots. Ray’s face was concerned, and she knew that he was wishing, and not for the first time, that he had the ability to speak. He could vocalize, there was no problem there. But the speech patterns that formed language were lost to him, too complex for him after his stroke. Someday, with a lot of work, he might gain a few words, but he was disheartened and had not really been putting forth an effort in the therapy department.


Vi shook her head. Her thoughts were really scattered at this point. She got the stranger turned around and onto the bed with no problem, and he stretched out all on his own without prompting so something was obviously getting through. She tucked the blankets and comforter around him, then went to the closet for the other heavy comforter. When she was satisfied he was sufficiently covered, with just his head showing above the blankets, she went to help Ray back down the stairs.


He looked at her again, eyebrow up. His universal “What the hell?” look. Vi waited until they were downstairs to explain what had happened, slower this time, fueled by sips of a soda she was drinking. She needed the caffeine and sugar. It must have shocked him, what happened, because he groped across the kitchen table for the notebook and ink pen that were sitting in the usual spot.


Vi waited while he scribbled. He pushed the notebook toward her and pointed with the pen. Read it. Yes, she understood all his little gestures.


How could a guy just be layin in a ditch?

Wasn’t hurt? No blood or bruises?

Gonna have to call town and get the EMT out NOW. Don’t like how the man’s kind of ‘out’ there. Also don’t like not knowin how he ended up the way he is

Stop frettin. You did right bringin him in


Vi smiled at that last bit. Approval was always good. “Glad you think so. And no blood or bruises or bumps anywhere. I can’t help but wonder if I just brought some kind of clever ax murderer down on our heads.”


Ray grinned at that. If she trusted anyone’s judgment it was Ray’s, and he saw nothing to worry about. So Vi relaxed and reached for the cordless phone on the counter.


She hesitated a moment before dialing the non-emergency number. A 911 call, at this hour of the morning…it wasn’t an emergency really. The guy was all right, just in shock, cold, and probably confused as all get out. Plus she wanted to know who was on duty. The emergency dispatcher wouldn’t know but general dispatch would.


When the phone was answered, Vi felt a lift in spirits. It was dashed after just a few seconds. The man who answered was Pete Freeman, an old high school buddy of Link’s. Unfortunately, the town’s two ambulances were out busy with a car accident that had produced serious injuries and a transport for a man who had fallen and had possibly broken his back. Their small hospital was more a clinic and it wasn’t equipped to handle long term care. Ray had been transferred after being stabilized. It was how they did things.


Pete told her if it were an emergency he could send a police cruiser out. Vi thought it over for a moment but declined. If it came down to it, she could take the man herself. Not that it wasn’t a police matter. Or was it? Vi didn’t know, and wouldn’t know until the guy told her. So she thanked Pete, told him she’d call if she needed the transport, and hung up with a weary groan.


Ray gave her a pat on the shoulder. He lifted his eyes toward the ceiling too. Yes. She should definitely go to bed, to the guest room. There were bunk beds in there, and it was where Josie spent her sleepovers before Vi had a custom bed with a trundle built for her. She hadn’t figured out what to do with the extra room so she left it as it was. Now at least she’d get some sleep in the lower bunk.


“You go to bed too.” Vi told Ray, tossing her empty soda can into the trash. Ray smiled serenely and shook his head. Since the fire, and his rehabilitation, he slept a total of about three hours a day. Apparently he’d already hit that limit. Or he wasn’t yet tired enough to fall asleep. Vi had lost her husband of ten years but Ray had lost his wife, his partner, his best friend of forty. He was outwardly reserved and together, but nights especially were hard for him. After sleeping next to a person for more than half a lifetime, getting used to their absence was something that never quite happened.


Ray pointed upstairs again, then at himself. Vi shook her head. “I don’t think so. I don’t want you trying to go up and down the stairs too much. What if you fall?”


He smirked and shrugged.


“Fine. Fine. I’ll help you up but you have to promise me you won’t come down again until Josie or I can help you. And you can have the bunk beds, I’ll sleep in with Josie.”


Ray smiled at that. He slept in his hospital type bed because of the height, and the way he could change the angle so he could be comfortable, but he did not mind an occasional foray into a regular bed.


Vi helped him upstairs yet again. He gave her another pat on the arm at the top of the steps and turned toward the bathroom at the end of the hall. Vi stretched and yawned, dragging her hands through her wind tangled hair. She was way overdue for a cut. Shoving her hair out of her face, she went into her room once more, noting that the stranger had not moved at all. His eyes were closed, and his breathing was steady. Vi hesitated, then reached out to touch his forehead. He was not cold. In fact he seemed sort of warm. He could be coming down with a fever. She wouldn’t be surprised. She’d probably catch a fever too if she took a naked dive into a snow drift.


She peeled off the top comforter and a layer of blankets, leaving him with the regular amount that had been on the bed. He didn’t even shift. He was definitely sleeping. Vi shook her head and wondered just what the hell she was supposed to do now. Leave him here alone? What if the guy woke up in the middle of the night and got wanderlust and murdered them all in their sleep? Or, ok, since that wasn’t really likely, what if he had a convulsion or…Vi had a very clear vision of Ray’s seizure the night of the fire. Something like that while everybody was sleeping. She felt responsible for the big guy because she’d been the one to find him. She…


Vi almost screamed when a hand fell on her shoulder. She’d been so lost in her thoughts she hadn’t heard Ray enter the room. She put a hand to her chest and gave his amused face a sour look. Sometimes he enjoyed scaring the hell of out of her. He claimed it kept her on her toes. At least that was what she took from his expression.


Ray winked, pointed at himself, then at the stranger sleeping away on the bed. She raised an eyebrow and looked to her father-in-law again. He was just looking at her, a sad sort of smile on his lips.


Vi sighed and nodded. “But if you want to sleep…you come wake me up. I don’t want him left alone while he’s sleeping.” Vi thought that was implying that leaving the guy alone while awake would be ok, but she was too tired to care. Ray was still a bit weak on the right side, and the guy on the bed had to be damn near twice his weight, or close enough to it to spit on it, but Vi trusted Ray to watch out for them more than she’d trust the entire US Army. He was tough as old boots, another of her mom’s random sayings that stuck with her through the years. She gave him a kiss on the cheek and a hug before checking on the sleeping stranger one last time.


“He might be running a temperature.” Vi ducked into the attached bathroom and came back out with a bottle of liquid. It was Josie’s and it was technically kid’s medicine, but it was aspirin and it would be all right for the guy to keep his fever in check. “If he gets warmer, make him swallow a few droppers of this. We’ll switch to solid aspirin when he wakes up.”

Ray nodded and took the bottle. Vi watched as he went into the hall, only to return moments later carrying a book. From Josie’s room by the look of it. He turned on one of the small lamps in the corner where Link had often sat to read. A habit he had picked up from his dad, no doubt. It hurt her heart to see Ray there instead of her husband, and she missed Link more in that moment than she had in quite a while.


Vi took a deep breath and pulled herself together before she could start bawling in front of her father-in-law yet again. She was just so tired she couldn’t think straight, that was all. She whispered a soft ‘goodnight’ and grabbed her pajamas on the way to Josie’s room. She’d take a shower in the morning. She just wanted to lie down and close her eyes for a few minutes to try to clear her head.




Vi woke up with something heavy lying on top of her stomach. She cracked an eye open and winced at how bright the room was. She’d probably overslept. She was used to getting up by six in the morning so she could get Josie to school, but with last night’s accumulation school had been cancelled for the day. She expected Josie to still be snoozing away but when she looked up at the bed it was neatly made and empty. Bridger was stretched out across Vi’s stomach, taking advantage of her body heat. He was not a small dog anymore by any means, and Vi really must have been tired to not notice the sixty pound dog crushing her.


She pushed him off, got a look of absolute sorrow from him, and sighed heavily. Vi reached over and scratched Bridger behind the ear as she yawned and tried to get her mind in gear. It took a moment to remember the guy she’d brought in the night before, which was funny considering he was the reason she was sleeping in Josie’s room.


Speaking of which…the house was awfully quiet. Vi got up and stretched, glancing at her daughter’s bedside alarm clock. It was just past eight in the morning. Vi walked into the hallway with her head cocked to the side, listening for the sound of the television or at the very least, a one-sided conversation as Josie talked her grandfather’s ear off. There was nothing. Vi peered into the guest room, completely unsurprised to find it empty as well. Ray was an early riser period. He might have dozed during the night but Vi doubted it.


She hesitated before going into her own room. The big guy from the night before was still there, so there was that anyway. He’d turned onto his side and had kicked the blankets down. Vi straightened them, and touched his forehead with her wrist. He wasn’t a bit hot anymore, which was good. Maybe it had just been a reaction to the cold. She would dig up her digital thermometer and check for sure eventually. For now she was content to let him sleep off whatever had happened the night before.


Vi went to her dresser and quietly tugged out some fresh clothes. She hesitated again before deciding to just shower in her bathroom. All her stuff was in there after all, and it wasn’t like she couldn’t lock the door. If he woke up and had to pee, tough on him. She went into the bathroom and locked the door before getting into the shower. She made it a quick one, just in case the guy did wake up and decide it was a potty emergency. She dried off and got dressed, pulling on a pair of jeans and a black shirt. She opened the bathroom door as she dragged a comb through her hair, peering at her sleeping patient. And yes, he was still sleeping.


Vi put her comb up and left the room, heading for the stairs. She saw two things. Her keys were gone from the table by the door. Plus there was a note. She expected something from Ray, but it was her daughter’s careful printing. She and Ray had run to the store. They’d be back as soon as they could.


Well. That certainly explained the quiet. But Ray really should not be driving when the roads were bad, and doubly especially shouldn’t be driving on bad roads with his granddaughter in the car. Vi sighed heavily and dropped the note back on the table. She could lecture him but it wouldn’t do a bit of good, so she kept mental fingers crossed that the morning sun had melted the snow off the roadways.


Vi went to the kitchen and rummaged in the fridge, pulling out bacon and eggs to make for breakfast. She was starving and her stomach rumbled as the smell of bacon frying filled the kitchen. As she buttered some bread for toast she spotted a pan and two bowls in the sink. Ray and Josie had apparently eaten some oatmeal. The thought made Vi smile. Oatmeal was one of those things she absolutely could not stand but everyone else around her absolutely loved it. Plain, with sugar, with syrup, with fruit – it didn’t matter. Ray had said once that it was something else that was also in the Peace family genes, and Vi didn’t doubt it.


She shook her head and filled the sink with warm water and soap so she could wash the dishes after she ate, and turned to check her bacon. And almost screamed in surprise. The strange guy was standing in the archway, looking at her with an expression of mixed confusion and curiosity that normally Vi would have found funny. He had a blanket wrapped around him, so at least he’d thought to cover up before coming downstairs.


“Sorry. I thought you heard me come in…” His voice was a deep rumble. He sounded hoarse, which did not surprise her a bit.


Vi let her hand rest against her chest, feeling her heart galloping away. In the bright kitchen light, she took in his face, the scruff of beard over his jaw, and the long hair that was full of tangles. He looked like someone who had just gotten over a short illness, which also did not surprise her. He color was a bit pale at the moment, and his hazel eyes were still a little clouded but Vi put that down to confusion.


“It’s all right. Uh…” She shook her head. “I’m Vivian. How are you feeling?”


The guy frowned a little and tilted his head to the side. “I guess…ok? I…” He lifted the hand that wasn’t holding the blanket shut and rubbed at his forehead. “A little headache.”


“I have some aspirin. So what’s your name?” Vi went to the cabinet over the sink and pulled down the bottle she kept there. She shook out three pills and turned to hand them over.


He was frowning again. “I…I don’t remember.”


Vi raised an eyebrow and got him a glass of water to wash the pills down with. “Did you get hit on the head?”


“I have no idea. I…where am I?” Belatedly, he seemed to catch up to the fact that he was in a strange place with a strange woman.


“You are in my house. I found you lying beside the road last night during the storm. Um…kind of found you as you are. No clothes.” Vi finished weakly. “There wasn’t an ambulance available and you were sleeping so I figured that we could put off a trip to the hospital until today.”


The man went to the table and took a seat, shifting the blanket to keep himself covered. It was the equivalent of locking the barn door after the horses were stolen in Vi’s opinion, but she kept it to herself.


“I don’t remember…I was…” He frowned again, looking down at the polished oak tabletop. “Well…I think I was walking…” He trailed and raised his hands again, massaging his temples. “I can’t remember anything. Like I just woke up here and that’s it.”


Vi checked her food, processing what he’d said. She started cooking more, because she figured he’d be hungry as well. “Well you didn’t just fall from the sky.” She finally spoke, in a low voice more as thinking out loud.


He made a low sound behind her. Vi looked over her shoulder to see the man had put his elbows on the table and his head in his hands. “I just…can’t remember anything. Just…fog.”




“It’s a blank. Smooth…nothing there.” He pulled back and looked at his hands thoughtfully. “So maybe I did fall outta the sky.”


Vi smiled at that. He had a slight accent, almost unnoticeable, more a soft southern drawl on certain sounds than a hard twang she associated with the deepest south. So he could be from anywhere.


She finished cooking and piled up a plate for each of them with the food. She considered it for a moment then added a couple of extra slices of toast and a bigger portion of the eggs to his. He was bigger than her and it was hard telling when he’d eaten last, so she was willing to cut back so he could have more. Except for the bacon, which she rarely ate and even less rarely shared.


Vi set his plate in front of him but he’d gone back to holding his head in his hands. He’d tucked the blanket around his chest like a towel. She frowned and turned back to the fridge to pour them each a glass of orange juice.


She sat down and studied him for a moment before picking up a piece of bacon and nibbling on it. “So you can’t remember anything? Not something from your childhood or something from last week?”


He sighed and shook his head, finally sitting back and eying the food in front of him. “I just…woke up. Here. There was a dog licking my hand.”


Vi smirked. “That’s just Bridger. Being a pain. You’re lucky he didn’t try to shove you off the bed.”


“So…I really was out by the road? Like this?” He gestured at himself, obviously meaning the bare chest above the blanket. Vi nodded and took a bite of her eggs.


“Exactly like that.” Vi watched as he pulled the plate closer and picked up his fork.


“And you don’t know me? Never seen me before or…”


“I would remember seeing a guy your size around.” But she frowned when she said it. Vi actually did remember seeing a guy around town who might have given this one a run for his money height wise. And at the school during one of Josie’s seemingly endless plays or pageants or family nights. Maybe even during all of it. Vi had not been the most social creature on the planet for the past several years, but at least she had a good reason.


“And you brought me here? To your house? Weren’t you worried I was gonna go nuts or…maybe I was already crazy and just waiting until your guard was down?” He jabbed a fork full of eggs but paused on the way to putting them in his mouth.


“I didn’t have much of a choice. Besides that…” Vi shrugged. She couldn’t explain it to herself let alone to him. “I just had a feeling it would be all right. And I guess I’m not wrong on that, at least not yet.”


He ate in silence for a minute, lost in his own thoughts again. Or probably trying to remember something, anything. Vi finished her bacon and started to work on her toast when Bridger padded into the room. He seemed to look from Vi to the stranger, than decided the stranger was probably a better bet and went to him, dropping his head on the man’s leg. The big dog startled him but he smiled a little and scratched Bridger behind the ear and slipped him a piece of the bacon off his plate.


Vi shook her head. “He can find the sucker in every room.” She said it with a bit of affection in her voice. And the stranger got another point in the harmless column. Bridger was a bit overprotective of the women of the house, but around this guy he was perfectly at ease. So Vi relaxed a little more. “I guess we’re going to have to find some clothes for you. I’d offer up some of Ray’s but I don’t think they’d fit.”




“My father-in-law.” Vi smiled again. “He’s out shopping apparently. We’ll figure it out. I really should at least take you to the clinic to get checked. Technically speaking, I’m a glorified horse doctor.”


The man looked at her for a minute, frowning slightly. “I feel ok. All things considered. I just wish I could remember…anything.” He put his attention back on the dog that was looking up at him with sad brown eyes.


“Well maybe there’s a missing person bulletin or something.” Vi shrugged. “I guess a trip to the sheriff’s office would be in order too.”


He nodded, still frowning thoughtfully. They finished eating in silence. Vi was drinking her juice and once more watching the guy scratch at Bridger’s ear as he fed the dog the last bit of egg off his plate. Bridger licked his fingers before turning and walking to his water bowl near the sink.


The stranger dragged a hand through his hair, wincing at the tangles. “Would you mind if I…”


He didn’t get to finish. The sound of a vehicle outside pulled his attention to the window near the table. It opened to the side of the house, and the driveway. A dark SUV rolled to a stop and a blonde-haired girl bounded out. She was talking animatedly to a man who was a bit slower at exiting the vehicle. The girl disappeared around the back of the SUV along with the man.


He heard Vi’s soft sigh and glanced at her. She looked relieved. He wondered for a moment if it was because she was alone in the house with him. And then it dawned on him that she had just been quietly worrying over the kid and the man in the vehicle. He looked to the window again in time to see the girl carrying a large bag through snow that almost reached her knees. In some spots it was a bit patchy, but the wind had caused some big drifts.


Vi cleared her throat. “I guess I should warn you. That’s my daughter, Josie. She’s twelve going on thirty, and she’ll probably drive you crazy asking you questions. It doesn’t matter to her if you can’t answer her.” She laughed at that. The stranger smiled at the sound. “And Ray…he…uh. Well he doesn’t talk. He had a stroke, and it kind of messed with his ability.”


The man nodded and looked down, noticing as if for the first time he was hardly dressed to meet a young girl and her grandfather. “Should I go upstairs?”


“And hide indefinitely? You’re fine. Just uh…try not to flash anybody, and we’ll all get along.” Vi smiled and got up, taking their plates with her. There was talking from the front of the house, and suddenly the little girl was in the kitchen, talking a mile a minute.


“Gosh, Mom, you shoulda seen the grocery store. Granddad said it looked like a bomb went off. There…was…”


Vi snickered as her daughter ran down like an unwound watch. She had finally noticed the big man at the table. They eyed each other for a very long, very quiet minute. Ray appeared in the doorway with a smirk tilting his lips.


“Granddad said you needed some stuff.” Josie finally spoke. “I kinda thought he was joking.”

The man smiled. “If by stuff you mean clothes, and a shower? Then yeah, I definitely need stuff.”


Josie grinned and set her bags down on the table. “Granddad guessed at your size. The woman thought he was joking. About the sizes.” She said, as if he hadn’t figured it out. “So what’s your name?”


“Jos…” Vi finally distracted her, still smiling. “I’m afraid our guest here has a little memory problem. He can’t remember anything, including his name.”


“Really?” Josie looked at him with renewed interest and took a seat across from him. “Does that mean we get to name him?”


Ray made a low noise, and Vi turned to see he was laughing. Sort of. Ray laughing these days was rare, and usually it was only Josie who got him so tickled. He shared a look with Vi and winked.


“He’s not a stray, Josie. I’m pretty sure he’s got a perfectly good name. It’ll come back to him eventually.” Vi said, taking the bag that Ray was carrying. He’d bought some toiletries, and he gestured at the stranger. Vi set that bag with the others. “If you were going to ask to take a shower before, I guess you can do that now you have the stuff.” She said. “Bathroom is upstairs, at the end of the hall on the right.”


“Ok. Good. Thank you.” The stranger smiled at her, and included Josie and Ray in his gratitude before gathering the bags and heading for the stairs. Ray watched him go and reached for his notebook.


Vi was rather surprised at that. He averaged about one written note a week. Here was his second note of the day. Technically speaking. It must be something important.


He scribbled quickly and handed her the notebook. Vi read it with a raised eyebrow.


Saw the sheriff out shopping. He said he’d stop in before lunch.


“Well. Good then. Saves me the trouble of calling.” Vi handed the notebook back and glanced at Josie. “Did you tell him everything?”


“Granddad told me to tell him you found that guy passed out by the side of the road, and that you just wanted to get him checked out.” Josie eyeballed the dishes in the sink and the pan on the stove. “Do I have to do the dishes?”


“No, I’m getting to…” Vi had no more than said the ‘no’ when Josie was up and dashing for the stairs. No doubt to her room to start playing her video games. If it was bad weather, she played non-stop even though at other times she forgot the games existed. She shared another look with Ray. He was still smiling, although now it looked troubled. “Any news in town about our visitor?”


Ray shook his head. He went to the coffee pot on the counter and poured himself a cup from the pot he’d made before they had left. Vi hadn’t noticed. She wasn’t a coffee drinker, so she didn’t bother with it. Ray sipped slowly and looked out the window for a moment before looking at her. She saw the way his eyes went back to the window and smiled.


“I think we’re all right here, Ray. You go on and get to work.” She kissed him on the cheek. “And thank you.”


He gave her a pat on the back and a quick squeeze before heading for the door. He wanted to go out and work with the ranch hands, and that was fine. As long as he didn’t over do it. And of course he would over do it, because Ray threw himself into working around the ranch to ease the loneliness at having lost Rose. Vi understood that if she didn’t anything else.


She heard the shower come on upstairs. With a sigh she went to the sink and washed up the breakfast dishes. She had a day full of nothing ahead. She toyed with the idea of building an actual veterinary practice here, near the house, instead of just waiting for the odd job to come to her. All of her hard work through college and she was barely using what she’d learned. And while she and Josie both worked around the ranch, they did not put in nearly the work that Ray and the other hands did. Sometimes she felt useless, even though this was her home and she was a trusted vet around town.


Twenty minutes later her kitchen was clean. Vi climbed the stairs to check in on her daughter but only had to go about halfway up the flight. She could hear Josie talking, and the deep voice of the strange man answering on occasion. Vi peered along the hallway and saw that the man was wearing clothes, even shoes, which just went to show that Ray really was sharp. She would have forgotten something so simple, had it been her shopping. The t-shirt was a little snug on him but otherwise, he looked presentable. He’d combed out his long hair out too.


Josie was in the midst of the world’s longest explanation for a video game ever when he noticed Vi standing there. He smiled and tilted his head toward Josie’s room. “I got challenged to a match, and I’m not even sure I understand the concept of the game.”


“Josie. Really. Not everybody in the universe wants to play video games all day long.”


“Well it’s not like you people have any plans.” Josie called back. Vi snickered and Josie giggled. The stranger just kept that questioning smile on his face.


Vi went all the way to Jose’s doorway and looked around the room. Bridger was sprawled over the bed, of course. Josie had tucked the trundle back under the bed, and she was sitting on the floor in a beanbag chair looking up at her television. “Do you think it would be possible to pry yourself away long enough to take your mutt out for some exercise? He’s starting to get a gut on him.”


“I guess.” Josie sounded so put-upon that even the stranger had to chuckle a little.


“And then go help your granddad work the herd. It’s time we started looking for the ones who are close to calving.”


That perked Josie’s interest. “You said I could help this year!” She got up and shut off her television.


“Yes. I know this. And you will if we can figure out which one is gonna have the baby so she doesn’t wander off into a corner an do it by herself.”


“I know. I know!” Josie went to her desk and grabbed the gloves and hat she usually wore when she worked around the ranch. “Do you want to come with me?” She directed that at the man who was still standing in the doorway, watching the two of them talk.


He raised his eyebrows in surprise and looked to Vi. She thought it over but shook her head. “I think that we’re expecting company before too long. So maybe later you can give him the grand tour, huh?”


“Sure.” Josie grinned at her mother, then at the strange man. “I still think we should at least name him.”


Vi laughed and shook her heard again. She motioned for the man to follow her so Josie could get her chores done. “So…are the clothes all right? We can make another trip into town later and…”


“They’re fine.” He smoothed a hand down his chest, over the shirt. “I don’t know how I can repay you guys for buying the stuff. Unless I remember I stashed a wallet with money stuffed into it somewhere.”


“Don’t worry about it. You can work it off. There is always plenty to do.” Even though just a few minutes ago Vi had been feeling the opposite she knew it was just griping for the sake of griping.


“Your daughter has a point, though. Not that I need to be renamed, but I don’t like the idea of being called ‘hey, you’.” They had reached the bottom of the stairs.


Vi turned to face him and realized, yet again, just how very big he was. Her eyes were about chest level on him. And she had to actually tilt her head back to look him in the eyes. “Let’s just take this one step at a time, huh? First we’re going to talk to the sheriff. Then I am going to take you to the clinic to get checked out. And we’ll figure out the rest from there.”


He sighed and nodded. “All right. I just…I hate putting you out. You don’t know me. At all. I don’t know how it is you’re so accepting about this.”


“Link and I had a personal motto. ‘Whatever happens, happens’. It’s kind of how I live my life. So I’m generally a pretty accepting person.”


He smiled. “Link?”


Vi’s own smile was sad. “My husband.” She raised her left hand where she still wore her wedding band, and toyed with the band that was attached to a silver chain around her neck. “He passed away a few years ago.”


“I’m sorry. I didn’t realize…”


“How could you know? Don’t worry about it.” Her smile was more genuine that time. “And did you want to go out on the ranch with Josie? I have no idea when the sheriff will be here. I kind of figured you didn’t want to be dragged from one end of the property to the other already though.”


He looked toward the front windows thoughtfully. “I see your point.” He looked down at her again. “Besides…I think your sheriff is already here.”


Vi raised an eyebrow and turned to look out the window. Sure enough, the vehicle pulling up next to the SUV was a dark brown Jeep with a rack of lights on top. She had figured before lunch meant that he would be there pretty quick, and she hadn’t been wrong.




They ended up at the sheriff’s department anyway.


The sheriff himself, Steve Austin, had spoken to both Vi and the strange man, and had admitted he knew nothing about a missing person. As he spoke to the stranger, Vi got dressed and got ready for the trip to town. She couldn’t find a coat big enough for the stranger, so he settled for wrapping a blanket over his shoulders for the walk from the porch to the car.


Once at Steve’s office, the stranger was fingerprinted and Steve scrounged up a jacket that the man could wear. “It’s gonna be at least a couple of hours to get anything back on the prints.” Steve explained to Vi as the stranger washed ink from his fingers at a sink in the corner. “And that’s local. If he’s not local we’re lookin’ at a couple of days on the national registry. Not like they show on TV. We don’t have fancy instant fingerprinting tech.”

Vi grinned. “You wouldn’t use it anyway.”


“I called Jess and told her you were on the way.” Steve went on, flipping open a folder. “Of course you might wanna stop and get that man a coat that fits. We’ve got more cold comin’ at least for a couple weeks.”


“Yes, Dad.” Vi accepted a few papers from Steve. “What’s this?”


“Papers for Jess to fill out. Just in case somebody did report your friend missing, we gotta make sure we get him in all the right databases. Plus she’ll do the DNA swab while you’re there.”

“Right. Ok then.”


“Viv…” Steve was the only person who called her anything but Vi. “You sure you’re all right, with him at your house? I mean you don’t know him…”

“It’s fine.” Vi didn’t let him finish his train of thought. Her new friend was still at the sink, talking quietly to one of the young deputies whose name had slipped Vi’s memory.


“I’ll check in. And I’ll let you know as soon as we get anything back.” Steve got to his feet and gave Vi a rough hug. He wasn’t the demonstrative type when it came to things, so it surprised her. Steve and Link had a longer history than most people in town going all the way back to elementary school. Steve was usually reserved, and it always shocked her when he offered physical contact. “You all be careful.”


Their next stop was the clinic. The store could wait until they were done, at least in Vi’s opinion. Her new friend didn’t protest it either. Steve had called ahead so his wife Jess was waiting on them. She ushered them into an exam room and spent a minute looking over the papers Steve had given Vi.


“I can’t believe you’re still working.” Vi said to Jess as her stranger friend excused himself to use the restroom.


Jess rubbed her belly and smiled. “I can’t just sit at home. Every time I get a muscle spasm, Steve is convinced it’s labor. Better I work right up to it. Besides…if I go into labor here I won’t have to go far.”


“Bet he still doesn’t like it.” Vi said with a smile as her visitor came back into the room.


“Of course he doesn’t. But Steve will get over it. Now…” Jess turned her attention to the very large man who stood there uncertainly. “If you want to sit down on the exam table we’ll go over things.”


The man did as she asked. Vi sat down in a chair in the corner and listened as Jess asked questions and looked the guy over. Of course there wasn’t much he could answer, other than the fact that he felt all right and nothing really hurt.


Jess stopped writing on her chart for a moment and glanced from Vi to the man on the exam table. “Since my friend here found you lying in the snow, you haven’t noticed any discoloration or numb spots have you? Your fingers look fine…”


“Nothing.” The man shrugged. “I did see this…” He started to roll up his shirt sleeve, then changed his mind and yanked it over his head instead. He turned a little so his shoulder was more or less point in Jess’s direction. “A scar. Not that I remember how I got it or how old it is.”


The puckered tissue ran in a diagonal line along the man’s upper arm. From Vi’s seat it looked to be about three inches or so in length. Jess raised an eyebrow and leaned closer, turning the guy’s arm a little so she could see it better.


“It’s not an old scar. It’s still kind of puffy.” Jess pressed on the skin next to the scar and shook her head. “But not really recent. It’s not red at all. Could be a year old or more, depending on how your body heals. If it was older, it would be sunken a little. And probably lighter.” She made another note on her chart. “Any other scars? Birthmarks, moles, tattoos, lumps, bumps or bruises?”


“Nothing.” The guy glanced thoughtfully down at his arm and looked up, meeting Vi’s eyes from across the room. She could not be sure because Jess wandered into her line of sight, but she would have sworn that the guy flushed a little as he pulled his shirt back on. Which made her realize she’d been studying his chest a little bit too closely. Vi smirked to herself and looked at Jess.


“So your verdict?”


“I don’t know. It’s odd…the memory loss with no trauma.” Jess was looking into the man’s eyes again. “Unless you saw something traumatic. But I’ve never heard of complete amnesia before. You don’t remember anything at all?”


“Nothing.” The man agreed, adjusting his shirt around his waist. “I woke up in bed at Vivian’s house. That’s it.”


“Well.” Jess rubbed her belly and studied him. “I’m not quite sure what we can do until we know who you are. You’re healthy as a horse, no sign of even marginal trauma, and besides the memory I don’t see anything else that could be considered wrong.”


He smiled at that. “Good. Not that I was worried. Like I said, I feel fine.” He emphasized the word. “I just wish I could remember something. Anything.”


Jess looked troubled for a moment. He caught it but Vi didn’t because Jess still had her back to the other woman. Something flickered in her expression. He could not explain it better than that. He couldn’t even begin to guess at what it meant either.


“I’ll make a few phone calls, and see if I can’t find some information. Maybe someone else has had some experience with this kind of thing.” Jess finally said. “Will you be staying in town? Steve can probably get you set up in the…”


“He can stay with me. Not like we don’t have enough room.” Vi interrupted her. “Besides that, Caroline and Nick are in California until the end of the month.”


“Oh. I forgot.” Jess laughed and went back to scribbling in her chart. Nick and Caroline owned the town’s small motel. Theirs was not a tourist destination type of town, so closing for the winter months was not unheard of. They did well in the summer when there were travelers. “Ok. Well if you’re sure…I’ll just use your address. And we have to do a DNA swab. So give me just a minute to go grab the kit and I’ll be back.”


Jess practically waddled out of the room. Vi grinned and shook her head.


“You don’t have to put me up. I’m sure I can find something else until we figure out who I am.” The guy said, crossing his arms over his chest.


“Well you won’t have to, because we don’t mind at all. Even the dog approved.” Vi’s expression turned serious. “If you aren’t comfortable at the house…”


“It’s not that.” He said, shaking his head. “I just don’t want to inconvenience you more than I already have.”


“You have?” Vi looked puzzled. The events of the past day were interesting, yes. But she wouldn’t classify them as an inconvenience. Now if the guy had two broken legs and required 24 hour care, then she might feel put out. “Look…we have the room. And we can always put you to work around the ranch if you feel like you have to earn your keep.”


He opened his mouth, probably to argue, but Jess re-entered the room with a small box in her hand. “Ok. So this is probably gonna take at least a couple of weeks to get back. Probably more. We don’t have the facilities to do it here at the clinic, so we have to send it off.” She explained as she opened the box and pulled out a tube and a long cotton swab. “Just gotta open your mouth.” She swabbed the inside of his cheek then put the swab back into the tube. She labeled it and taped it then put it back in the box. “I’ll get this out of here this afternoon. Other than that…we’re done here. If you have any kind of pain, soreness, dizziness, or just anything out of the ordinary you call me or come in. Got it?”


“Yes, ma’am.” The guy smiled. Jess smirked and gathered her things.


“I’ll call you with results, Vi. Unless he stays elsewhere – just make sure you let me know.”


“Ok.” Vi stood up and pulled her coat on. The stranger followed her lead. They were all the way back into the SUV before he decided to break their silence.


“It doesn’t make any sense.”


His low voice surprised her. Vi had been lost in her own thoughts. “What?”


“I can’t remember anything. At all. Shouldn’t I have flashbacks or…” He ran a hand through his long hair in frustration. “Hell. I don’t know. And I’m not hurt. I feel pretty damn good for someone that was almost a human icicle twelve hours ago.”


Vi smiled at that. “That depends on how long you were there before…” She trailed off, her hand on the gear shift.


He looked at her, frown of concern creasing his brow. “What?”


“Well. I was just thinking that…obviously you weren’t there long before I spotted you. Because you’d be in a lot worse shape now.” Vi bit her lower lip. “And a thought occurred to me. That maybe it happened that way on purpose. Maybe you were put there for me to find.”




“I don’t know.” She sighed and put the SUV in gear. And also shifted the conversation in a new direction. “So I guess in the meantime we’ll go get you more clothes and then head to the house.”


The guy looked down at his borrowed jacket and the jeans and shirt he’d been given that morning. “You have already done plenty.”

“Well, no more running around naked for you. At least not until it warms up. Than you can feel free to wander the roads in the nude all you want.” Vi smirked and noted the redness the crept across the man’s cheeks.


“I’m happy I don’t remember that at least.” He finally said as Vi pulled into an empty parking spot in front of a clothing store that catered to the working people around town.


It took more than an hour to find everything Vi thought the guy would need, and he protested every step of the way, but eventually she was satisfied he was taken care of. A good coat was a priority, also a pair of boots because spring time not only brought snow at the drop of a hat - it also brought mud and rain. Boots were invaluable. A few more pairs of jeans, some work shirts, and gloves and he was set. He still grumbled even as Vi paid and they carried the bags out to the SUV.


“Consider it a loan.” She finally said when he paused for a breath. He just looked at her a moment. “Although like I said you can work it off. I’m pretty sure Steve won’t tell the IRS on me if we paid you under the table, at least until we figure out who you are.”


“Ok…fine.” He smiled a little. “I’ll pay you back. Somehow. And thank you, Vivian.”


“You’re welcome.” Vi grinned. “I don’t think anybody has called me by my full name since I was a kid.” She slid into the driver’s seat once more and waited until the man got himself buckled in. “You can call me Vi. Just about everybody does.”


He nodded, that half smile still tilting the corners of his mouth. “If you say so.”


“I do. And we’d better head back. I have to get supper going and…well there’s a million things I need to do before bedtime.” Vi smiled and drove them out of town back toward the ranch. “I guess this gives me the motivation I need to really get my guest room straightened out.”


The man looked over at her, questioning smile on his face. She explained about the bunk beds, and he nodded. “I don’t want to put you out of your room.”


“You aren’t. You won’t fit in the bunk bed. Hell, Josie can barely still sleep in them.” Vi laughed. “But I think that can be your first job. Helping me get it fixed up.”


“Sounds easy enough.” They shared a comfortable silence until they reached the house and Vi parked the SUV near the porch. Before he could get out, she turned to face him.


“I have to tell you something. Since you are going to be staying here.” She began toying with her wedding ring, spinning it around her finger. “Our family suffered one hell of a loss a few years ago. Josie might act like she’s past it, but…she has nightmares. If she wakes you up at night...”


He reached over and covered her hands with his. Vi noticed for the first time just how big his hands were. She looked down at his fingers for a long moment before taking a deep breath. “I have my moments too. Ray probably doesn’t mind you being here, because Ray is pretty open-minded. But there might be talk.”


“I don’t think a little talk is gonna bother me.” He said, stroking the back of her hand with his thumb. “Will it bother you? Are you saying I need to lay low or…”


Vi shook her head. “Not at all. I just don’t want you to be worried about the gossip mill. My mom…well. She would have said ‘small town, smaller minds’. And while that’s not exactly true for everyone in town, there are a few that are going to stick their nose in and try to make trouble.”


“Sounds like you’ve had experience with it.”


“Right up until my wedding.” Vi smiled and shook her head. “Malicious and jealous females was all it boiled down to, and after the wedding it stopped. So don’t let the gossip mill bother you.”


“I’ll keep it in mind.” He smiled and gave her hand a pat before letting her go and sliding out the door. He grabbed his bags while Vi held the front door open for him to head inside and take his things upstairs. She went into the kitchen to wash up and figure out what to make for dinner.


She was in the midst of making meatballs for Josie’s all time favorite meal when her phone rang. Vi sighed and washed her hands before quickly grabbing the phone and answering. “Hello?”


“Hey, Viv.” Steve’s drawl came over the line. Vi smiled and went back to her meatballs.


“Hey. What’s up?” She decided she’s made enough and slid the pan into the oven. Steve let the silence drag out, and Vi finally noticed he wasn’t talking. “What is it? Did…oh. Did you get something back on our guest already?” It was the only thing she could think of.


“Actually…yeah. We did.” Steve didn’t sound too thrilled at the prospect. Vi wiped her hands on a towel and sat down at the kitchen table, worried.


“So…what? Is he an escaped convict or…a wanted murderer or something?”


“No. Sorry Viv, I’m just reading over this stuff again and…” Steve cleared his throat. “His name is Glen. Glen Jacobs. From a little town about a hundred fifty miles away. We did get his prints through a police file but not because he was arrested.”


“Oh really? Was he a cop?” Vi asked, letting the name settle on her for a moment. Josie would be sad she wouldn’t get to name the guy, but that was all right. She was sure he’d be grateful.


“No…I don’t know what the hell to make of this.”


“What to make of what? You’re starting to freak me out a little bit.” Vi laughed nervously.


“I’m sorry. I don’t mean to. I just…I’m confused as fuck right now.” Steve sighed heavily. “He wasn’t a cop and he wasn’t arrested. If these prints are right…and I’ve got a hell of a picture to go with them now that says they are…your house guest is dead.”


Vi said nothing. She wasn’t sure she could have spoken if someone were holding a gun to her head. “Dead?” She finally squeaked out. “That can’t be…”


“It’s crazy. I know. But…it gets weirder.”


“How is that even possible?” Vi asked.


“It’s possible. According to the reports…he was murdered. When he was eighteen years old.” Steve paused for a moment. “That happened about forty years ago.”


“Wait a minute…wait a minute…” Vi shook her head. “That’s not possible. He’s not a kid but he sure as hell isn’t a sixty year old man.”


“Wanna guess as to how old he is?” Steve asked.


“If you forced me to…I’d say mid to late thirties. Forty is pushing it.” Vi huffed out a breath. “I can’t wrap my mind around this. How sure are you, Steve?”


“Pretty damn sure. The prints were an exact match.” Steve must have been flipping through papers because Vi could hear the rustling noises. “I think you need to get down here. And bring him with you.”


“Should I tell him?”


“If you want.” Steve sounded resigned. “Better yet, I’ll come out there. Gotta go home anyway. The uh…I don’t want Josie seeing this stuff if we can help it. Girl doesn’t need more trauma laid at her feet.”


“Is it…bad?”


“It ain’t good. Case is old and unsolved. But a lot of it got hushed up...got a theory about that too but it’ll keep til I get there. Gimme about an hour?”


“Yeah. Or…” Vi felt her stomach roll, nervous about seeing whatever it was Steve wanted her to see. “After dinner might be better.”


“You’re probably right. I’ll be over there in a couple hours then. Ray might wanna be in on this too.” Steve said.


“Of course.” They said their goodbyes and Vi sat for a few minutes, holding the phone and staring out the window at nothing. She was trying to process what Steve had said but obviously Steve had made a mistake. The guy upstairs might very well be named Glen. But he certainly seemed alive and well to her.


She hesitated another minute before the sound of the front door and her daughter’s voice got her motivated. Vi checked her meatballs, tossed some pasta into the boiling pot of water on the stove then headed for the stairs.


The guy – Glen, she corrected in her mind, might as well get used to it – had changed from the t-shirt into one of the long sleeved work shirts they had bought with the cuffs rolled up to his forearms. He was standing at one of the two windows, arms crossed, looking out over the property. While the view wasn’t as grand as the one from the main house had been, Vi knew that it was pretty enough.


Josie was still talking downstairs, apparently excited about something and using Ray as a sounding board. Vi thought she’d better make this quick.


“Hey.” She kept her voice low and got the guy’s attention. He had been lost in thought, and had not heard her come in. He glanced at her and smiled.


“Hey. Sorry…guess I was in my own little world for a minute there.”


Vi smiled back, but it felt sort of pasted on. He definitely did not look like a guy who was pushing sixty. There was no way. “Steve called. He might have found something.”


“Oh, really?” He turned to face her. “Please tell me I’m not on somebody’s most wanted list.”


“No. Nothing like that.” Vi’s smile faded. “Does the name Glen mean anything to you?”


He maintained that puzzled, curious expression but Vi saw something flicker in his eyes. She wanted to write it off as wishful thinking on her part but the guy – Glen, damn it, she had to start thinking of him by his name – tilted his head to the side and closed his eyes.


“That’s my name.” It wasn’t a question. It wasn’t really a statement either. “Glen…something. Something with a J.”


“Jacobs.” Vi supplied it for him, watching as he raised his hands to rub his temples. “Are you all right?”


“I don’t know. I guess.” He made a noise that sounded like a choked laugh. “That’s my name. As soon as you said it, I thought ‘well yeah, that’s me’.” Glen looked at her. “It’s not good is it? Whatever your sheriff found.”


“I don’t know yet. He’s going to come by after supper and we’re going to sit down and talk about this.” Vi heard the sound of her daughter climbing the stairs. “Supper will be ready in about twenty minutes, Glen.” There. She said his name, it sort of made it cement in her mind.


“Ok. Thank you. Do you need a hand with anything?”


Vi was surprised he’d asked. “I don’t know. How good are you are chopping up lettuce for a salad?” Glen smiled and followed her lead as she headed for the stairs. He got the feeling that Vi dreaded the sheriff’s visit and for reasons that she wasn’t comfortable explaining.




It was nearly eight when Steve arrived. Vi ushered him into the kitchen, explaining as they walked that Ray and Josie had taken Glen out to show him around a little. It was dark out, and cold, but Vi figured they could all use a break from sitting around waiting. She preferring hearing whatever Steve had to say by herself, and then break the news to the others.


Steve took a seat at the table and accepted a cup of coffee. He had brought a folder with him. Now he set it down on the table and waited until Vi took the seat across from him.


“Go ahead.” Vi prompted him.


Steve shook his head. “Hard to even start. It was like pullin’ teeth to get what little I have, and what I have isn’t close to bein’ all there is. And it’s muddled as hell.”


“Well, maybe we can figure it out.” Vi reached for the folder. He let her slide it away with a sigh.


“It’s not pretty. Apparently they were sleepin’ when somebody broke in, or walked in on a burglary. At least that’s the workin’ theory. Mother was a white female, around forty years old. Kid was eighteen, male. A neighbor was expectin’ the kid to help with yard work and got worried when she didn’t hear from them. She found the bodies.”


Vi listened and flipped the folder open. The first few pages were the official report, but much of it was blacked out. What Steve was saying was basically what was left in the report. She hesitated before turning past the slim stack of papers. And saw a picture of a woman with dark hair and sharp green eyes. She was smiling and looking at something off camera.


The next picture made Vi smirk. It was Glen…the man she’d found in the snow…only younger. There was no doubt it was him. This picture was a graduation photo, taken next to the woman from the first image. It looked like the picture had been damaged at some point – there was a jagged tear along the side. Glen’s hair had been short, but he’d been tall and broad. He reminded Vi of the guys she’d been in school with who had played football. It just struck her that he had probably been one of those guys, once upon a time.


One more picture was under the graduation photo, and in this one Glen was by himself. He was wearing a half-smirk, and had his head tilted to the side, a pose that made Vi think he’d been caught by surprise by the camera. There was no doubt in her mind that this was the guy she’d found by the road. But she couldn’t believe she was looking at a picture that was forty years old.


Steve reached out before Vi could flip that final family picture over. “Gotta warn ya. It’s pretty bad, the two pictures they sent. I printed ‘em out of my email, because they won’t send copies in the mail. You don’t have to look.”

Vi smiled grimly. “Why is so much of the report blacked out?” She asked, changed the subject. Steve let go of the picture and rubbed a hand over his head.


“That’s what I can’t figure. They didn’t have a suspect, the case wasn’t solved. But it was in the closed case files. Which is a damn sight stranger than having an old unsolved murder.”


“So they say it is solved?”


“No. They never questioned anybody. In fact, it’s like it got swept under a rug. Half their shit is missing, and some of the evidence was destroyed because according to the deputy I spoke to there was a fire. But you don’t close a murder case unless you rule it an accident or you find a killer. And this damn sure wasn’t an accident.”


Vi nodded and turned the picture. For a moment she wasn’t sure exactly what she was seeing in the printed photo beneath it. A room, yes. But the walls were a harsh red. “Is that…blood?” She asked softly, leaning down to study the picture closer. She could see a couch, also soaked red. That led her eye downward to what was in front of the couch. “Oh my god…That’s her right? The woman?”


“Her name was Celeste. Yeah. That’s her.”

It was hard to make it mesh in her mind that what was left of the smiling, beautiful woman in the previous pictures was thrown on the floor like a pile of garbage. There was so much blood it was hard to make things out but eventually Vi spotted a hand, the hollow of an eye, a jaw line. The woman had almost literally been torn to pieces. “It’s like a wild animal attacked her or…”


“That’s one of the weird things. I have close-ups at the office. I didn’t wanna bring ‘em because I think seein’ the wide angle is plenty for anybody. But there are claw marks on them both. But not animal marks like I’ve ever seen. More like…” Steve hooked his fingers and scratched his own arm. “Although I can’t think of a single person who could do that amount of damage with just some fingernails.”


Vi studied the picture for a few more moments, trying to make sense of the amount of blood she was seeing. And something else strange hit her as well. “Where’s the picture?”


“What picture?” Steve asked, leaning forward.


Vi tapped her finger on the wall in the picture. There was a framed studio portrait of Glen, obviously taken during his senior year of high school. Next to it there was a blank white square of wall. The square was almost too perfect. As if something had hung there, gotten splattered by blood, and then removed.


“I have no idea. I didn’t even see that. Or if I did I figured it was something the cops took as evidence.” Steve frowned and shook his head.


Vi turned to the last page Steve had printed. And saw immediately that it was a very large man. He was in a corner, covered in blood, his head at an angle that suggested a broken neck. Although the blood made it hard to pick out detail other than red, Vi could see if was Glen.


“You all right?” Steve asked, when he felt that she had stared at the picture maybe a little too long.


Vi looked up and met his eyes. She was feeling rather calm, all things considered, but had to blink a few times because tears had formed in her eyes. “So you said you had a theory?”


“Well…kinda. Not a solid one. And not one anybody would admit to.” Steve hesitated. “Maybe...and this is a long shot…but maybe this is a faked picture.”


“Faked? Why would anybody fake this?” Vi looked down at the picture again. Time and the printer had faded the colors, but it looked real enough to her. In fact, looking too long made her feel a little sick to her stomach.


“Maybe because your friend wasn’t killed. Maybe because he was in some kind of witness protection program.”


Vi raised an eyebrow and looked at Steve for a long moment. “But how would that explain the fact that he apparently hasn’t aged past 40?” She had seen some people, men especially, who looked much younger than their years, but once a person hit a certain age, nothing short of surgery could turn back the clock. “What?” She asked when Steve only looked at her.


“That’s another odd thing. Because I figured along those lines. But Jess tells me the guy doesn’t have any scars or marks besides the one on his arm. And she checked his eyes and ears, she would have seen the surgery scars.”


“Which means…what?”


“Means I don’t have an answer for you. If he was being hidden and protected, I couldn’t tell you why he’d get dropped in your lap now. Although after 40 years it’s an even bet the guy who did the murderin’ is long gone. I can keep diggin’.” Steve added at Vi’s frown.


“That’s not necessary. If this is our new friend, and he doesn’t remember any of this…” She tapped the picture. “Then I don’t think I’ll be refreshing his memory anytime soon.”


“Maybe it would jog somethin’ loose.”


“Yeah. And maybe it would do more harm than good.” Vi flipped through the folder and slide out the family style pictures of Glen and the woman, Celeste. There was a slight resemblance between mother and son, although the woman was pretty small compared to the teenager at her side. “Can I have these? I want to show him.”


Steve shrugged, then nodded. “I can print more if I need to I guess.” He swept the rest of the folder toward him and put everything back inside. “You sure you don’t need the rest?”


“No. Not unless he really presses. And I don’t like the idea of Josie looking at those pictures.” Vi’s face showed her distaste at the idea.


“Still having nightmares?”


“Not as often as she used to. And she’s gotten better when it comes to stopping herself from waking me up even though I keep telling her that it’s all right if she does.”


“That kid is stubborn.” Steve smirked. “And she’ll be all right.”


Vi smiled dutifully. “I think for now I want to keep this between us.” She gestured at the folder. “Like I said…if he presses, I’ll tell him. Other than that I’ll just say…I don’t know.”


“Tell him he got fingerprinted as a kid. And maybe that an old neighbor of his supplied the pictures?” He made it sound like a question. Vi sighed heavily.


“I guess. Thanks Steve.”


“I’ll say it again, because it needs repeatin’. I can keep on diggin’ around. Eventually somebody will spill something.”


“If Glen remembers anything, or decides he wants to know, then I’ll leave that up to him. I won’t choose for him.” Vi rose to her feet and took Steve’s empty coffee mug to the sink. He hesitated before leaving his seat.


“Guess I’ll head on home then. Jess doesn’t like bein’ on her own for too long these days. I wish she’d go ahead on her maternity leave.”

“You know Jess.” Vi said with a smile. “She’ll probably work right up until the baby starts walking.”


“That’s what worries me.” Steve grinned and tucked the folder under his arm. “I’m gonna get outta here. Tell the family I said hi.” Vi walked him to the front door and waved at him as Steve climbed into his Jeep. With a sigh she headed for the kitchen to finish washing up from supper. It would give her something to do with her hands while she tried to figure out how exactly to take the things that Steve had told her.


It was almost another hour before Ray, Josie, and Glen came back into the house, stomping snow off of their shoes. Josie was chattering away, obviously excited over something. Vi wiped her hands on a dish towel and smiled as her daughter entered the kitchen.


“No calves yet. Not hiding cows either.” Josie managed to sound disgusted. She could be impatient. “And Rick says there are only two cows that’ll be calving. They checked them all today.”


Vi nodded. “Figured as much. Most of them calved in January. You want a hot chocolate?”


“Sure.” Josie sat down at the table. “Rick also said he can put Glen to work as early as tomorrow morning if you want. They’re going to go out and patch the fences.”


Vi raised an eyebrow. “Ray must have filled him in.” Rick was technically their ranch manager. He took care of most of the day to day work now that Ray had to cut back. He lived on ranch, in a small bunkhouse. There were three on the property, one of them with twenty beds. While they were not a huge spread, and did not have a full staff year round, they were busy enough that they needed a few live in ranch hands.


“I guess. I was just tellin’ Mom what Rick was saying.”


Vi looked over her shoulder. Josie was talking to Glen, who had entered the kitchen. He looked at her with a slight smile. “I said I’ll do whatever needs to be done. Got to get to paying you back.”


“No rush. Hot chocolate?”


“Sure.” Glen took a seat next to Josie and Vi saw his eyes drift to the pictures that were on the table. She watched his expression as he picked up the print-outs one by one, studying each.


“Hey. Is that you?” Josie, uninterested in his reaction, picked up the picture of Glen with his mother. “Wow. She’s pretty.”


“Yeah. She is.” Glen looked at Vi. “I get that this is me...” He touched the picture in Josie’s hand. “But who is the woman?”


“You don’t recognize her at all?” Vi shut off the heat under the pan and stirred some chocolate powder into the milk. She added a little cream, a little sugar, and poured the hot drink into three cups.


Glen took her distraction to study the pictures more closely. He was frowning slightly, a distant look in his eyes. “I guess I’ll make the obvious assumption. Is this my mother?”


Vi nodded and set a mug down in front of him, and another in front of Josie. “I’m afraid she passed away…a long time ago.” She finished rather weakly. In her mind she kept looking at Glen and wondering how those pictures could be forty years old.


Glen just shook his head. “I don’t remember her.” He picked up the photo of Celeste by herself. He was quiet for a few long minutes, and even Josie bit her tongue. Vi sipped her hot chocolate and watched as he grew more frustrated by the second. Glen finally sighed and dropped the picture. “Nothing. She might as well be a stranger.”


“You’ll remember.” Vi reached across the table and touched the back of his hand. Glen looked at her with a slight frown on his features.


“What if I don’t?”


“Then we’ll figure something else out. For now, you have a place to stay and a job. And we know your name.”


“I think we still coulda named you.” Josie muttered around her mug of hot chocolate. Glen smiled at that and looked at her, the frown gone.


“I suppose I should be grateful for that, huh?”


“Damn straight.”


“Josephine, really.” Vi said with a laugh. It broke the tension that had fallen over the two adults. So she couldn’t get mad about that. Josie grinned impishly and drained her mug. “Now, smarty pants. Go hit the shower and get ready for bed. You have school tomorrow.”

“Yes, Mom.” Josie rolled her eyes and sighed dramatically before getting up. She set her used cup in the sink and left the kitchen yelling for Bridger. Vi shook her head and sipped her drink.


“She’s got a lot of energy.” Glen stated, cupping his hands around his hot mug.


“That’ll change. She’ll be a teenager soon. Instant energy drain.”


Glen smiled, but it was distracted. He was looking down at the pictures again. “I wish I could remember something. Anything. Did your friend have anything else?”


Vi shrugged. “Not much. Apparently you weren’t a habitual criminal or anything.” She braced herself for questions. He surprised her by pushing the pictures aside.


“I would just as soon not look at those. I don’t remember anything…but…” He shrugged and seemed unable to go on.


“But what?” Vi urged, picking up the pictures and looking at them again.


“I don’t know. They just make me feel…bad. Sort of sick to my stomach, but not really sick. I can’t describe it.”


“You don’t have to.” Vi stacked the papers and tapped them on the table to straighten them out. “I’ll put them away. You can look at them when you want to. No rush. You’ll remember when you need to remember, that’s all.”


“Thank you.”


“And you don’t have to just jump right into the manual labor at the crack of dawn tomorrow…”


“I think I do. I want to.” The frown had returned, momentarily, but Vi’s change in subject caused him to smile. “I owe you.”


“Yes, well…like I said. No rush.” Vi turned her empty mug in her fingers. “I suppose you’ll want to go out when Ray does. There’s an alarm clock. You might want to get a shower tonight, and set it for about four-thirty. Because he likes to start really early.”


“Yeah. I figured that about him.” Glen’s smile faded. “Can I ask a question?”




“When we were walking…there was a burned out foundation on one of the hills. I would have asked Ray, but I figured he wouldn’t have been able to give me an answer…” Glen trailed off as he finally noticed the way the corners of Vi’s mouth had turned down. “What is it? Is something wrong?”


Vi shook her head and took a deep breath. “No. It’s fine. It’s just…that’s where the main house was. It burned down about five years ago…”


“Oh. And Ray’s wife…and your husband…that’s what happened to them?”


“Yeah.” Vi’s hand went to the ring she wore on a chain around her neck. “It’s not something that I like to talk about. But that’s where they died.”


“I’m so sorry, Vivian.”


“Thank you.” Vi took another deep breath. She wasn’t going to cry. At least not until she was alone. She still did not like condolences. She did not know how to really react to the sympathy. “If you’re done I’ll take that…” She indicated his mug. Glen nodded and watched her curiously as she went to the sink and cleaned up.


He decided it was his turn to change the subject. “We didn’t have time to rearrange the guest room today.” Glen pointed out.


Vi smirked at that. “I forgot. It’s all right. I’ll take the guest room. We’ll deal with the rearranging Saturday.”


“I don’t want to put you out.”


“I already told you, you are not putting me out.” Vi finished washing their cups and dried her hands on a towel.


“I could stay in the bunkhouse. Rick said that sometimes he hires on people who don’t show up and there would probably be a couple of spaces to fill.”

“If you want to stay in the bunkhouse when it warms up a bit that would be fine. But there’s no heat out there. That’s why nobody is in there now. Generally we shoot for the first of April for the ranch hands to get in there.”


“Oh. Well.” Glen cleared his throat. “Thank you, then. I know you don’t have to keep on helping me. But thank you.”


“You are welcome.” Vi smiled and picked up the pictures. “I’m going to put these in the desk in the living room. You can have them back when you’re ready.”


“Ok.” Glen’s eyes didn’t even flicker to the papers she held.


“I’m going to go get ready for bed, then. If you need anything, I’ll be up for a bit reading.”


“Thanks, Vivian. Good night.”


Vi nodded and didn’t bother correcting him on her name again. She went to the living room and tucked the pictures into a folder in the center drawer of her desk before heading for the stairs. She had some work to do herself in the morning, including breakfast duties for everyone. And the night before had left her exhausted. She was still recovering. The excitement of the day had helped keep her going, but now that things had calmed she felt as if she were dragging.


Vi pulled on her pajamas and brushed and braided her long hair. She stopped in Josie’s room, told her she’d be across the hall, and accepted a good night kiss and hug. Josie was in bed already, reading one of her books. She promised to have the light off by ten, which was good enough for Vi. Josie’s sleep pattern, without nightmares, was usually reliable. She’d be snoozing by five after ten.


Vi set her own alarm and crawled into the small bed. She shifted around and tried to find a comfortable spot on the rarely used mattress. She had no trouble sleeping in with Josie because she had really been at the bottom of her energy reserves. Even though she was tired now after the long day they’d have, she had way too much information to process. And none of it made sense to her. How could Glen be dead but not dead? Even if it was, as Steve had theorized, some kind of protection program that Glen had come from…he’d be nearly 60. It just did not mesh. There was something else going on, something even stranger, but she was too tired and too overwhelmed to figure it out.


She contemplated going into her bedroom and snagging her own pillows but the sound of footsteps in the hall, and the soft thump of a door closing, told her that Glen had apparently decided early to bed would be best. She felt sorry for the guy. Here he was with no memory of how he got here, or even who he really was. It was the way he’d looked at the pictures that really got her. It was the same reaction – polite curiosity – that she would expect of a stranger looking at some other person’s family photographs.


Vi just did not know what she could do. He had shown absolutely no interest in the pictures, or even in Steve’s detective work. She knew that she would be spilling over with questions had it been her. Of course with his memory loss there was no telling what his normal reaction would have been.


Vi was so tired she felt like she was thinking in circles. She forced the thoughts away and focused instead on Josie’s birthday which was coming up. It was hard to believe that Josie would be 13. It felt like just yesterday she had been a toddler, tripping over her own feet and getting into everything.


Josie had said she wanted a ‘real’ party this year, which had made Vi laugh and ask for an explanation. Instead of the now annual sleepover when Josie invited five or six of her squealing friends, she wanted Vi to rent out the pool hall in town. It sounded odd to people who were visitors to their town. The pool hall was also the town’s only bar. On occasion the owner would rent the entire place for private parties. For Josie and her friends, it meant that the actual bar part of the place in the corner was off limits. But they would have the run of the rest of the place, which was huge. There was a dance floor, and what the locals called the kid bar. It served soda and basic bar food, mostly deep fried stuff Vi normally didn’t let Josie near. But since it was a special occasion, she supposed it couldn’t hut.


Vi finally drifted to sleep, curled on her side. Tomorrow was plenty enough time to tackle the things that needed to be done. They would figure out what the next step with Glen was, and she would get started on Josie’s party. And things would work out. Things usually did.




Instead of working out, things just fell into a pattern.


Not that things were bad. Once Glen got used to the hours and the work he fit right in. The other ranch hands liked him because he worked hard and kept busy. And it did not take him long to figure out Ray’s wavelength which was a plus. Ray didn’t carry a note pad with him through the day and the people who worked for them were accustomed to his methods of communication.


Vi finally got the guest room cleaned out, repainted, and refurnished. This time with a much bigger bed. Glen still protested that he could sleep with the other hands but even Ray was against it. He never actually gave a reason, but Vi could figure it out. Glen was a stranger, sure, but Glen was also a very large healthy guy. Ray worried about Vi and Josie. He figured that Glen was an extra pair of eyes in the house to keep tabs on things.


Vi should have been pissed, but she found it sort of amusing. And a little touching. Eventually Glen gave in and moved his stuff into the spare room. Vi moved back into her own room. He did however still protest the fact that she asked him questions on the decorating of the room. She thought it would be natural that he’d have different tastes than her. He kept saying it was her house and she could do whatever it was she wanted.


And while he did not recover anything in the way of his memories Glen kept proving he had more than just a good work ethic. Vi got to listen, once more amused, as several of the people she’d known since moving to town gushed over how polite he was. Lynn Stewart was an elderly woman whose cat was in Vi’s care and she blushed and was flustered as she complimented him on his manners. Vi was beginning to think that Glen had been the king of all boy scouts before his memory loss. He was polite, he opened doors, he rose from his chair when a female entered the room - she had even seen him help an older woman cross the street.


And he was smart. Not just in a smart enough to figure stuff out way, but intelligent. Vi had been cooking dinner one evening with Josie bemoaning her math homework at the table behind her. And Glen had looked over the book for a minute before he explained things in a way that Josie actually understood. And it wasn’t just the math – he helped her write a paper for English, and another for history. If he didn’t know an answer, he found the answer, usually faster than Josie could on the computer. Another thing Vi noticed…when Glen wasn’t working, eating, or sleeping he was reading. Josie asked him over dinner one night if he could survive without a book attached to his hand, and he’d given her a look of mock indignation that had left the girl giggling.


Josie was already attached to Glen in a way that Vi could not really understand. She was pretty sure a therapist would call it misplaced father figure issues or something similar. And it was hard not to get attached to the guy. Vi had developed a fondness for him and she didn’t try to kid herself about it. He was easy to talk to, he had interests that did not involve the ranch, and he was articulate. He also knew when to talk and when to be quiet, which was a quality she had thought was rather rare.


Everything seemed to fall into place, and things ran a predictable, comfortable course. At least until the night of Josie’s birthday party.


Vi did cave to Josie’s party idea, and had been amused to watch her daughter invite pretty much every kid she had ever made eye contact with. Between getting things ready and doing her normal work around the ranch, time flew by.


Josie’s party was on a Saturday. Ray offered to take Josie and her best friend Grace to the nearest mall to spend the birthday money that was surely burning a hole in her pocket. That gave Vi enough time to get the enormous cake finished and the pool hall decorated, with a lot of help from Glen.


“You sure it’s all right if I don’t stay the whole time?” He asked, for what felt like the millionth time, as Vi drove them back toward the house to get showered and dressed. She grinned and shook her head. One of their ranch hands had pretty much pestered Glen into agreeing to go out with him and his girlfriend – and a friend of hers who was visiting for the weekend. So a blind date. Vi thought it was a pretty good idea, but Glen had been looking for ways to get out of it for the past week.


“I am pretty sure that we will survive. As long as you’re there for the cake.” Vi was repeating something that they’d been saying all week. Josie had pouted but in the end, she would have plenty of other people around to keep her occupied. Glen had no idea how long they would be out. Ray would be spending the night in Rick’s bunkhouse, participating in what was a seasonal get-together of guys playing poker, smoking cigars, and drinking beer. And Josie was going to be spending the night with Grace after the party, because they would be going to the zoo with Grace’s parents the next day. So after all of the activity and craziness of the past month, Vi was actually looking forward to a night of quiet to herself.


Of course she would have to get through the party to get to it, and the clean up after, and she would probably be too tired to do much more than fall into bed when she got home.


Vi had rented the pool hall from 6 until 10 that night. Four hours with screaming teenagers was about the limit that Vi could put herself through. Not that there wouldn’t be adult supervision. Quite a few of the parents would be there.


At 6, Glen held the door for Vi, Josie and Grace as they entered the pool hall. There were already quite a few people there, most of them the kids who went to school with the girls. The girls took off for the back room and the pool tables before Vi could do more than point out the bar that had been set up with food and drinks for the guests.


Steve popped in, but only long enough to get a hug and hand Josie her birthday present. Jess was due any day now, and was in fact a few days past the date set by her doctor. She had finally, with a lot of protesting, taken time off from the clinic. Steve reported that she hated sitting at home with nothing to do but wait.


The rest of the evening was a busy. Vi had hired a DJ, and he played songs that Josie loved, along with requests from her friends. She also regretted agreeing not to bring her camera. Josie thought it would be too ‘embarrassing’ to have Vi snapping pictures through the night.


So Vi let her go with her friends and decided to make herself scarce. Which meant sitting in a dark corner near the dance floor and watching the kids have a good time. Glen eventually sat down with her and set a tall glass of soda in front of her.


“Shouldn’t you be mingling?” He asked, raising his voice a little to be heard over the noise of the music.


Vi smiled and sipped her soda. “Josie’s mingling enough for both of us I think.” And that was true enough. Josie flitted from group to group, talking, laughing. She was a natural born people-person, there was no doubt of that.


To be perfectly honest, it was more than just letting her daughter be the hostess at the party. Vi had been all right until she had sat down. Now she could feel those cold fingers of depression prying at her again. Lately it had seemed to be a daily battle. She was fine during the day when she was busy but as soon she had a minute to herself she just felt like crying. It seemed that lately she just could not pull herself up as far as she could before. It was another reason having time alone would be nice. It would give her a chance to deal with it.


Glen looked at her, a concerned frown creasing his brow. “Are you feeling all right?”


Vi met his eyes and forced a smile. “Fine. It’s just hard when your baby gets older. Trying to digest the fact that’s Josie is officially a teenager. Five years and she’ll be going to college.” Now there was a really depressing thought. But happy as well.


“She’s a great kid. If you think she’s growing up fast, maybe that means you know you’ve done your job right as her mom.” Glen smiled at her. “I’m going to cancel my plans.”


Vi raised an eyebrow. “Why would you do that for? And you’d better not say because I’m in a mood, because I’ll kick you out.”


Glen smirked. “Fine. It’s not because you’re in a mood. It’s because the thought has occurred to me that I won’t have anything to talk about, because I can’t remember anything.”


Vi smiled sweetly at that. “And don’t forget, you could even be married. Maybe with 5 kids and a mortgage.”


“And thanks for that, Vivian. I didn’t have enough to worry about.” He sat back in his chair and sipped his soda, shaking his head when she laughed. “What if I am? What if I have a wife and a kid or three out there somewhere?”


“Don’t you think they would be looking for you by now?” Vi asked, wondering if he were still joking or if he was seriously considering that. Sometimes it was hard to tell.


“Maybe they just don’t like me anymore.” Glen said with a shrug and a smirk. Vi smiled and sipped her drink, looking around the crowded room. Josie was on the dance floor, talking to a small group of kids. Eventually she wandered in their direction.


“Why are you hiding in a corner?” Josie asked, sitting down next to Vi.


“The better question is…why are you hiding in my corner?”


Josie cast a glance in Glen’s direction before looking at Vi again. “You aren’t thinking about Dad are you? You looked kind of bummed out for a minute.”


Even from across the room, in the dark, Josie had picked up on Vi’s mood. The problem with being close to people was that it was impossible to hide things. “I might have been. For a minute.”


Josie leaned over and laid her head against Vi’s shoulder. They sat that way for a moment, being quiet.


Josie was always quick to recover though. “Can we do cake now?”


“If you want.” Vi gave her a quick kiss on the temple. “Go round up your pals and we’ll get it started.”


Josie wandered away to find Grace and gather her friends. Vi turned to see Glen was studying her with a troubled look on his face. She rolled her eyes. “I’m fine! Stop staring at me. You are going out. Josie’s going out, Ray is going out. I do not need a babysitter.”


“I didn’t say you did, Vivian.” A half smile tilted his lips. “Maybe some alone time is what you need.”


“Finally you understand.” Vi got to her feet. “Let’s go get your cake before the kids destroy it.”


The rest of the evening, Vi put more energy into having a good time, rather than moping in a corner. And in the end Josie had a great night. She spent most of it giggling with Grace about a few of the boys who were in attendance. And while Josie did put up a fuss when first Glen, and then Ray, had to leave, it was most definitely for show. Glen went rather reluctantly, still obviously not wanting to go.


At ten, most of the party-goers were trickling out the door. Josie helped Vi load her SUV with her presents, since she wouldn’t be going home with her mom. Shortly after ten, Josie and Grace gave the remaining people last hugs and thanks before heading out for their sleepover.


With a groan, Vi started cleaning up. It wasn’t nearly as bad as she thought, especially since quite a few of the guests who were waiting on rides pitched in to help. It took a lot less time to break things down and clean than it had to decorate, that was for sure. Once everything was done and her SUV was loaded with the leftovers, Vi went on a last walk-through of the place just to be sure she hadn’t forgotten anything.


And that was when she saw the guy.


Vi had remembered thinking that she’d seen him around town before, that night she’d found Glen beside the road. She was surprised she’d forgotten, because he was also a very tall guy. He had long hair, tied back in a braid. He was sitting on a barstool at the real bar, his back to Vi, drumming his fingers against the top of the bar itself. He struck her as someone who was waiting on someone else.


Vi felt her curiosity getting the best of her. She picked up the light jacket she’d brought with her, and her purse, from the office and went back toward the bar. The guy was still there, with a coffee mug in front of him this time. She thoughtfully looked around, noted that a few teenagers were still hanging around and taking advantage of the pool tables, and decided to get a drink for the road. If they wanted to kick the underage kids out so the adults could drink, Vi was not going to help them. The party was definitely over.


So she went to the bar, smiled tiredly at the young woman who was bartending, and asked for a fresh soda in a to-go cup. She pulled her jacket on as the woman turned to fill her drink. And then she looked to her left, at the guy who was sitting not two feet away. And found that he was looking at her.


Up close, he was of course tall, and big but not big. It was too dim even by the bar to tell what color his eyes were or to really see the color of his hair, but she saw he had a neatly trimmed goatee, and a ton of tattoos visible on his arms past the sleeves of the shirt he was wearing.


The bartender set her drink down in front of her and Vi smiled to herself and dug in her pocket to pay for it, thinking that the guy probably thought she was nuts for scrutinizing him.


“You must be the birthday girl’s mom.”


The guy’s voice was deep, low, and tinged with a hint of accent that Vi couldn’t place. She picked up her drink and looked at him again. “Yup. Did one or all of your kids get sucked into Josie’s invitation vortex?”


The guy smirked at that. He looked over Vi’s shoulder and tilted his head. “That’s my son, Andrew.”


Vi glanced back toward the pool tables and saw a tall kid. A good looking kid as well. And one that was vaguely familiar as one of the many boys that Josie had developed crushes on since third grade. “Drew…Calaway, right?” The name finally came to her.


“Right. I’m Mark.” He offered her his hand.


Vi smiled and shook with him. “Vivian. Or Vi, since that’s what most people call me. Nice to meet you.” She turned to accept her change from the bartender and glanced at the guy – Mark, she automatically corrected it in her mind – one last time.


And knew that it had been a bad idea as soon as her eyes met his.


Vi was no stranger to physical attraction. Even though her husband, her soul mate, the love of her life had passed away it did not mean that she did not on occasion have urges. She had not acted on them though, because that still felt wrong to her in a way she could not explain. And it was not just that she thought Mark was attractive. There was something in his eyes that seemed almost familiar. And it occurred to her it was familiar because she had often seen that expression in her mirror at home, on those days when getting out of bed seemed to require too much energy. It was hurt, loneliness, and pain underneath a carefully constructed mask of calm.


Instead of walking away, which she should have done, Vi sat down on the stool next to Mark. She noticed something else as she took a drink from her cup. He was wearing a gold wedding band on his left ring finger. Which apparently kicked her memory into gear. And she remembered Josie, sad, because Drew’s mother had passed away. That had been almost 2 years before they had lost Link and Rose in the fire. Even at age 6, Josie had a decent understanding of life and death. She was raised on a ranch – they encountered both extremes daily. Of course it had not prepared her to lose her father and grandmother.


Mark must have caught Vi checking out the ring because he looked at it himself and raised an eyebrow. She thought it was more out of surprise – like he had worn it for so long that he forgot it was there. And she figured that might be close to the truth of things.


“How long were you married?” Vi asked, glancing for a moment at her own ring.


“About twelve years.” He met her eyes again.


“Oh. I’m sorry.”


“It’s all right. Sometimes it’s like it just happened yesterday. Sometimes it feels like it happened a lifetime ago.” He smiled rather shyly and ducked his head, closing his left hand around his mug of coffee. He sipped the hot drink and sighed. “It was a car wreck. I woulda lost my boy too if…” Mark cleared his throat. “Well. I woulda lost him if things had worked out different.”


“I’m so sorry.” Vi repeated. And hated herself for asking the next thing that popped into her head. “Was it a drunk driver?” She tried to remember what she’d heard about the wreck, but nothing really came to her. She’d been busy, working with the animals and Josie’s brief foray into cheerleading.


“No.” Mark shook his head and finished his coffee. “Drew says a lot of good things about your daughter.”


Vi knew the strategy of changing the subject when she heard it. She let it drop. He was obviously going through the same things she was. Avoiding it in public was always important. “Josie would probably be thrilled to hear that. She’s recently discovered that boys are not all germ infested.”


Mark smirked again. “I think his exact words were that she was one of the few who didn’t giggle his ears off.”


“He said that about Josie?” Vi took another drink of her soda and smiled at the thought. Josie must undergo personality changes when she was at school. She would be sure to point it out next time Josie and Grace kept her up until three in the morning during one of their sleepovers.


“Yeah. Right before I dropped him off here earlier.” Mark motioned to the bartender and asked for a coffee to go. Vi declined a refill. The caffeine was bad enough. She would probably also be up to use the bathroom every 10 minutes as well from drinking so much soda.


“Hey, Dad.” They were interrupted before Vi could say anything else. It was Drew. Up close the resemblance to his father was stronger. “I’m ready to go when you are.” Drew looked at Vi and smiled. “Hi, Mrs. Peace. Great party.”


“Thank you, Drew.” Now that he was closer, Vi had a pretty solid image of him as a little kid in her head. In fact, it seemed he’d been at one of Josie’s earlier parties – maybe her fifth birthday? She would have to look at pictures. Vi also would have remembered meeting Mark back then, which meant that she probably had not. He struck her as the type of person who left an impression. “I should be heading home myself. I have twelve tons of presents to unload.” She shook Mark’s hand again and said goodbye to the two of them before sliding from the stool and heading for the exit.


Vi paused for a minute and took a deep breath of the cool night air. The thump of music from behind her was low thanks to sound proofing, and there was no traffic noise. It was times like this, when she got a moment to herself that she appreciated all that she had. She had lost important aspects of her life, but she had Josie. A beautiful house, a father figure, a job she loved, money, friends…


It was the reason she hated it when the depression really settled its claws into her. Because she had so much to be grateful for, getting down because of something that had happened so long ago seemed almost to be a slap in the face. At least in her eyes.


The music got louder for a moment as the door behind her opened. Vi glanced over her shoulder and saw Mark step outside. “He’s still saying goodbye to his friends. You would think they wouldn’t be back in school Monday.”


Vi smiled at the sarcastic tone of his voice. “I vaguely recall those days.”


He shoved his hands into his pockets and stood there with her, looking around. “Do you need a hand unloading your stuff?” Mark nodded toward her SUV which was not far. And even in the dark it was obviously full of stuff.


“Nah. Thanks anyway. There’s nothing in there that won’t keep until Josie gets home tomorrow.” Vi shrugged. “I’d better head home before I decide to just camp here. It was nice to meet you, Mark.” Vi smiled up at him one last time and headed for her SUV. On the drive home, she thought overall it had been a good night. And it ended on a rather interesting note.


Of course it wasn’t over yet.


She pulled into her driveway and parked, and knew even before she shut the engine off she was not going straight inside the house.


The depression she’d been feeling on and off throughout the past several days was rearing its head again. Vi had been feeling pretty satisfied, and pleased that Josie had enjoyed her party just a few minutes before. Now she felt like crying. And for no reason. Yes, she was still mourning her loss but surely the mood swings would have to stop at some point.


She got out of the SUV and tucked her key into her pocket. With a sigh she headed around the side of the house and followed the narrow driveway. It wasn’t a long walk, and the cool night breeze blowing against her face would help to clear the cobwebs. She got to the burned out remains of the main house, as always surprised by how fast she seemed to reach it.


There was a swing in the yard, a leftover from happier times. Vi sat down, not taking her eyes from the destroyed home. She was leaning against the side of the swing, one foot on the ground, setting the swing into motion. And she cried. Because that was what these trips to the old house were for. It felt like her heart was breaking every time she did this. And even though the trips to the house were fewer and further between, the sobbing just seemed to get worse and last longer.


Vi didn’t really think about anything when she sat there. She just let the swing rock her and cried until she felt wrung out and weak. The walk back to her own house would be hard, because she would be emotionally and physically drained, but that was part of it too. Maybe part of it was punishing herself. For not being home, for not trying to save Link or Rose…for every little thing she could have done differently.


After a while her sobs tapered off to sniffles and hitched in breaths. She dug into her jacket pockets and found a small pack of tissues. She used one to wipe her nose and dab at her eyes. But she’d be leaking like a broken faucet for a while yet. She knew that as well.


It was a noise from her right that drew Vi out of her morose thoughts. She jumped and turned, surprised to see Glen standing not twenty feet from where she sat. He was looking at her with concern stamped across his features as he crossed the grass to where she was sitting. He knelt down in front of her and looked at her for a long moment before reaching out and covering her hands with his.


“You’re freezing out here, Vivian.” Instead of commenting on the tears that still slid down her cheeks or the sniffling, he rubbed her cold hands.


“I’m fine.” She pulled her hands away from him and shoved them into her jacket pockets. “What are you doing here? You were supposed to be out.”


“There isn’t really anything to do around here after one in the morning.” Glen was not put out in the least by her tone or her curt attitude.


“One?” Vi shook her head and looked up. The moon had risen at some point, although for the moment it was nothing but a sliver of pale white in the sky.


“Two now. It took an hour to get back. And figure out that you weren’t in the house. And wonder where you’d wandered off to.” Glen reached out and brushed her cheek, wiping her tears away. “Let’s go back to the house. We’ll get you warmed up and a strong drink. And things will look better in the morning.”


Vi only sniffled at that. But when he held out a hand she did not hesitate to put hers in it. He helped her to her feet and brushed at her cheeks again. She was still crying, but it was tapering off. She hated that he had seen her though. Vi thought that crying, while not a sign of weakness, was something to be done in private.


Glen held onto her hand the entire way back to the house. Vi spared one last glance back at the black rectangle that was barely visible in the shadows. Once they were inside, Glen sat her down on the couch and went to the kitchen. She heard him sliding things around in the cabinet and a few minutes later he came back, carrying a glass with two fingers of dark liquid. Vi wasn’t much of a drinker, but she kept a few things in the house on the rare occasions when she did partake. This looked like it came from the bottle of bourbon she kept on hand. She drank it down quickly and closed her eyes, feeling it burn her throat and stomach, and start a warm tingling through her.


She felt Glen take the glass from her hand, which was good because she probably would have dropped it. Vi sighed and blinked, clearing her eyes. “Thanks. Guess I needed that.”


Glen gave her a crooked smile. “Are you all right now?”


Vi nodded. “I’m sorry.”


“For what?” He looked genuinely puzzled at that.


“I just don’t like…crying…in front of people.” Vi made it sound distasteful.


“Well you weren’t in front of ‘people’. Just me. And if it helps you…” Glen shrugged. “It doesn’t hurt anybody. Just get it out and let it go. Now…do you want me to run you a hot bath? You deserve a little relaxing.”


Vi raised an eyebrow. “I can run my own bath. Not like my arms are broken.”


“Do you ever just accept somebody’s help or is it always a fight with you?” He asked, but it was apparently rhetorical because he got up and walked away. Glen didn’t sound angry but Vi figured she had pissed him off somehow. A few minutes later she heard the sound of water flowing through pipes. It made her snort a choked laugh out. He was running her a bath anyway.


Vi slowly got to her feet and shrugged her jacket off, dropping it onto the back of her desk chair. And she kicked her shoes off as well. She was still tired, and the thought of the stairs almost made her decide to just pass out on the couch but she slowly climbed.


Glen was waiting for her at the bedroom door. He had a look on his face, like he was daring her to argue with him for taking it upon himself to turn on the water in the bathtub. But he looked rather amused as well, and it took a moment for Vi to realize that her sniffles had dried up. In fact, besides being tired she no longer felt as if she were drowning in her own sorrow.


“Now you are going to soak. I will give you an hour. Then I’m going to check to make sure you haven’t fallen asleep in there.” He informed her as he ducked into the bathroom to check the water level. Another minute and the water shut off. Vi had taken the time to pull her pajamas from her dresser. She had her favorite nightshirt resting on her shoulder when Glen stepped back into the room. He looked down at her and shook his head. “Maybe I should amend that to 30 minutes.” He reached out and cupped her chin, tilting her face. Vi hadn’t realized she still had a few stray tears falling. He brushed them away with the ball of his thumb.


Vi looked up at him, sensing that he wanted to say something. From the way he was hesitating it was probably not going to be something she would like to hear.


Instead of talking, Glen ducked his head and brushed his mouth over hers. Vi was so shocked by that, by the feel of his lips touching hers, that she could not move. He was still cupping her chin. Now he slid his thumb down and brushed the corner of her mouth. Vi parted her lips and he flicked his tongue out, tentatively touching hers.


Vi tilted her head and lost herself for a moment. It had been a long time since she had gotten more than a kiss on the cheek, and while it felt good and part of her wanted to deepen it…another, bigger part held her back.


Glen seemed to sense it. He didn’t try to force a bigger response. When Vi finally got the wits about her to break the kiss, he backed off willingly enough.


“I’m sorry. I can’t.” Vi said simply.


“I know.” Glen stepped back another pace. “Go on. Your bath will get cold.”


Vi nodded and hesitated again before she stepped into the bathroom. Before she could turn and say anything else, Glen closed the door behind her. She dropped her nightshirt to the floor and touched her lips with her fingers. Maybe she was just too tired to really process what had happened. The day had been exhausting. She forced herself to undress and slip into the steaming water, deciding that the morning would be soon enough to worry about what the kiss had really meant.




Vi eventually managed to stumble down the stairs the next morning. Sunday had dawned bright and clear, and the sun coming through the window had woken her up. She felt hung over, but didn’t blame the one shot of liquor she’d had. It was the crying and the emotional roller coaster. That was also something that happened when she had her moments of wallowing in her grief.


She tied her robe and stepped into the kitchen, raising an eyebrow when she saw Glen standing at the stove, stirring something. He looked over his shoulder and smiled at her. “Good morning.”


“Mornin’.” Vi went to the fridge, contemplated a soda, and decided that she’d have to do without. She grabbed the orange juice instead, and a glass.




Vi peered around him, saw he was making scrambled eggs, and wrinkled her nose. “Not really.” She was not really a breakfast person under the best circumstances.


“What time is Josie getting home today?” Glen asked, choosing not to harass her for not eating. He figured she’d eat when she got hungry.


“Not til late. They’ll have to drag her kicking and screaming out of the zoo. She loves that place.” Vi sat down at the table and sipped her juice. Glen eventually sat down across from her with his plate of eggs and toast.


He took a bite and looked at Vi thoughtfully. “So about what happened…”


Vi sighed and finished off her juice. “It is way too early to get into that.”


“I just don’t want it hanging over us or…”


“It’s not.” But Vi found she had trouble meeting his eyes this morning.


“It might. I’m not sorry it happened. I just felt like you needed it.”


Vi half-smiled into her empty cup. “That would be a first.”


“I have to get this out in the open. I didn’t sleep for shit last night because I kept thinking about…well. I just couldn’t stop thinking.” Now it was his turn to look down.


“Glen. You are a great guy but…you have your own problems to deal with. You don’t need my baggage on top of it.”


“I think that would be something I could decide for myself.” Glen stated, looking up and meeting her eyes. Vi felt herself flushing. This was the first time she was seeing that particular look from him, a look full of heat. It made her feel so strange she could not pinpoint why. She felt weak. And sad for reasons that went beyond being a widow.


Vi didn’t know what to say to that, either. She’d only known Glen for a month, and she did not really “know” him. How could she get to know a person who couldn’t remember anything before the night she had found him?


Glen seemed poised to say something else, but he sighed heavily instead and seemed to switch gears completely. “I told Ray I’d ride the back fences today, to see what we’d need to start on tomorrow.”


“Stick to the trail.” Vi reminded him, making him smile. The trail was a set of tracks worn onto their property from years of vehicles, horses and cows moving near the fence. The property was big enough that sometimes animals and even a ranch hand or two had gotten lost in the woods that overlapped the fence line.


“Will you be ok here by yourself?” Glen asked, finishing his breakfast.


“I’ll be fine. Believe it or not, on occasion I can handle being alone.”


“I never thought you couldn’t.”


“Besides…I’ll be leaving in a little bit. Got some grocery shopping to do. We didn’t have time yesterday.” Vi glanced at the clock over the stove. “If you really want to worry over somebody, stop by and check on Ray.”


“I was planning on that anyway.” Glen smirked and took his plate and their empty cups to the sink. “I unloaded the stuff out of the SUV last night. Good thing I did since you’re going shopping.”


“You didn’t have to do that.” Vi smiled. She had forgotten all about that stuff.


“I put it all up in Josie’s room.” Glen went on as if she hadn’t spoken. “I told you…I couldn’t sleep.” Vi’s smile faded. Glen looked over his shoulder and frowned in concern again. “What is it?”


Vi shrugged. “Nothing. Just sorry if it was my fault.”

“It wasn’t your fault. It was all mine. So don’t worry about it.” Glen dried his hands on a dishtowel and turned to face her. “I do want to ask you a favor though.”

“What favor?” Vi’s tone was cautious.


“Maybe one day this week, would you be willing to take me on a trip to the house where I lived as a kid?”


“The place where…” Vi didn’t finish. She didn’t have to. Glen was already nodding.


“I think it might help. Jog something.” He rapped his forehead lightly with his knuckles.


“Sure. I’ll get the address from Steve tomorrow and we can go on Tuesday or Wednesday.” While Glen drove around the ranch, he wasn’t street legal. Since he had no way of proving who he was, it was sort of hard to get him a license. Vi was working on it though. Steve had been helping but it really was like pulling teeth to get help from the authorities on the other end.


“Thank you.” Glen touched her shoulder and tilted his head toward the door. “I’ll be back in a bit. And I’ll check in on Ray.”


Vi nodded and watched him thoughtfully as he went out the door. And felt sad again, but in a completely different way from yesterday. Any normal woman would have been tickled pink by the fact that a good looking, intelligent, hard-working man showed an interest in her. Vi could not help but wonder if it was just misplaced affection because of everything she had done for him over the past month. And going on his date last night might have somehow triggered it. With a sigh she pushed the thoughts from her mind and got ready to head into town.


Two hours later she was walking through the grocery store, looking at the shelves. She had already stopped and done a few other errands on the way in, so the store was her last stop. It didn’t take her long since she did not have Josie stopping her every three minutes to ask for random items.


She was rearranging her emergency kit and the other things she’d bought to make room for her groceries when someone spoke from her right. Vi looked over her shoulder and saw the guy from the night before, Mark, standing there. His hair was still back in a braid, and he had a pair of dark sunglasses covering his eyes.


“Got your hands full?” He sounded amused.


“As usual.” Vi was trying to shift the big bags of dog food she’d picked up. With Bridger, and the clinic, it seemed like she bought more food for the animals than for the humans in her life. Vi could do basic surgeries, but more often she kept animals overnight – or even for a few days – after they got surgeries elsewhere. She also took in random strays and took care of them until they were fit enough to go to the nearest shelter for placement. With the weather warming up, she expected an influx of animals. It usually started in the spring and kept on through mid-summer.


“Need a hand?” He had a single bag dangling from his fingers. Vi stepped back and shrugged.


“It’s your back. Go ahead and throw it out.”


That got a chuckle from him. Mark handed her his bag and leaned into the storage compartment of the SUV. He shifted the heavy bags around without breaking a sweat. And then he started putting her groceries in. Vi joined in, wondering what was up with these random men she had met lately who always felt the need to help. Was she seriously putting out a damsel in distress vibe? She would have to work on that.


Vi tucked the last bag in and stepped out of the way so Mark could close the door. “You’re a vet?”


“Did the four-hundred pounds of animal food give me away?”


“That. And I think somebody might have mentioned it a hundred or so years ago. I just never put a face to the name, I guess.” He reached over and took his single bag back from her.


“Is that a nice way of saying I look old?” Vi asked, raising an eyebrow.


Mark smirked. “Nah. I might have exaggerated a little bit.”


Vi smiled at that. “Well thanks for the help.”

“Anytime.” He stepped out of her way and watched as she got behind the wheel. She backed out of the space, tipped him a wave, and headed for home.


Vi glanced into her rearview mirror once, and saw Mark getting into an enormous black truck. She focused on her driving and headed for home. She was started to feel hungry, and was contemplating what to fix for lunch as she pulled into the driveway.


After the busy month of planning, and having Glen around, and Josie’s birthday, and her own emotional hiccups, it was nice to be doing something so mundane as frying up a few cheeseburgers for lunch. She started unloading her groceries, leaving the dog and cat food, and other supplies for later.


As she was walking outside to grab a few more of the bags, the phone started ringing behind her. Vi hesitated, maybe too long. It only rang three times before it stopped. If it was Josie calling – which was something that only happened if Josie was sick – she would have let the phone ring off the hook. She would check it when she went back in.


Outside, Glen had appeared. He was standing at the back of the SUV, hand resting on the side, looking at the things she hadn’t unloaded yet. He shot her a crooked smile.


“Ugh. You’re gonna offer to help. I know you are.” Vi grouched, reaching past him to grab a few more bags.


Glen made a soft huffing sound. “Not if you keep up that attitude.”


“I don’t have an attitude.” Vi watched him as he hefted one of the big bags of dog food over his shoulder. “So, seriously – do I just look like a helpless female who couldn’t possibly function without man-help?”


“Sure. You’re weak as a kitten.” As it to illustrate how weak Vi was, Glen grabbed another bag. “To your office with these?”


“Yup. But you coulda driven the SUV over to the side and saved yourself a long walk.” Vi could only shake her head at his snort. So she apparently looked helpless, and she’d questioned his manly ability to carry heavy things. Vi grinned to herself and headed for the house.


Twenty minutes later she had thick burgers sizzling on the stove. Glen finished unloading the SUV and kept her company while she sliced tomatoes and onions for their burgers. Vi had just started building her burger when the phone rang again. It reminded her she hadn’t checked the caller ID the first time.


“I got it.” She said when Glen raised an eyebrow. Vi grabbed the cordless phone, glanced at the caller ID and saw that it was a number she didn’t know. She hit the button and propped the phone between her shoulder and ear. “Hello?”


There was a beat of silence. “Hi. Vivian?” It was a male voice, very deep. Vi paused in her burger making to shift the phone to the other ear.


“Yes?” She said it cautiously. She figured it was someone calling looking for vet services. She got a few of those each week, usually from people who knew of her from friends and neighbors.


“Hey. It’s Mark.” He sounded cautious too. Odd. But Vi placed the voice about half a second before he said his name.


“Hi. Did I forget something in the parking lot or…” She left it hanging there, because she honestly did not know why he would be calling.


“Oh. No, nothin’. I uh…” He made a soft noise. Vi realized it was a huff of laughter. “I’m not very good at this kinda thing.”


“What kind of thing?” Burger forgotten, Vi cast a look at Glen and walked into the living with the phone.


“I wanted to know if you’d wanna have dinner with me. Tomorrow or the next night.” Mark finally said.


Vi spent an entire minute unable to answer. She had been asked out a few times since Link’s death, and she’d offered them her usual ‘I’m not ready’ speech along with an apology. It was weird it hadn’t automatically popped out.


“You still there?” Mark asked in a voice still laced with caution.


“Yes. Sorry. I guess I wasn’t expecting a dinner invitation.” Vi tried not to sound too stunned.


“Well I figured if the kids are gone on that field trip…”


“Oh. Shit. I forgot about that.” Vi laughed. “Sorry. That’s tomorrow night isn’t it?” Josie’s science class would be traveling and going for an overnight trip to the local university. Vi wasn’t entirely sure what exactly it was – only that it involved the planetarium at the school and the new telescope the school had just built. She’d signed the permission slip over a month before, and had paid the fees.


“Yeah. Drew’s excited about it. And uh…well. I just figured some company couldn’t hurt.”


Vi thought it over. And could not believe she was seriously considering it. Obviously something was wrong with her. She still had a lot to do, and she would be taking Glen on a trip to his childhood home if it was still there. She had to keep that in mind. There were a dozen other things she could think of right off the top of her head. So it rather surprised her when she spoke again.


“I guess that would be all right.” Mark chuckled at that. Vi smiled wryly. “Sorry, I know I should sound more excited…”


“No worries. Should I pick you up?”


Vi bit her lip. “Where were you planning on going?”


“I hadn’t given it much thought. I could cook something here. Got some steaks I could thaw…”


Under normal circumstances that would have thrown up a few hundred red flags and alarm bells in her head. Vi was surprised again when she agreed that sounded like a good idea. “And you don’t have to pick me up. I’d rather drive myself.” She hoped that didn’t sound too abrupt but she wanted to have her car so she could leave if she had to, without relying on him.


“That’s fine. How about six-thirty?”


“Sounds good.” Vi went to her desk as he told her his address and directions to his house. She had thought she lived in the boonies – he was even further out of town than the ranch. But she knew the general area, and had in fact seen his house a few times when she’d driven past. “Do I need to bring anything? A dessert or…”


“Just yourself. I think I can handle the rest. See you tomorrow.”


They said goodbye and Vi just stood there looking at the directions she had jotted down. She had to have been crazy, accepting a dinner invitation from a stranger. Not only that, she was going to go to the stranger’s house. Alone.


She jotted down the phone number as well, and folded the paper to tuck into her back pocket. She had an entire day to worry about what Mark’s intentions were, and she could just call and cancel if she decided not to risk it. That decided she went back to the kitchen to eat. 


Glen was sitting at the table, already digging in. “Something wrong?” He asked as she hung the phone back on the charger and grabbed her plate to add some potato chips.


“Nope. Just talking to a friend of mine. Good thing too because I got reminded about Josie’s trip tomorrow night.”


That seemed to satisfy him. Glen didn’t ask any more questions. What Vi could not figure out is why she felt the need to hide the fact that she would be going to dinner with a guy she’d met the night before. Then again…Glen had shown an interest in her. He had kissed her, after all. And all but admitted that he thought he was developing feelings for her. But Vi did not know if she could trust it. She thought it could have been misplaced gratitude for the things she had done for him. And until he got his memories back, she wasn’t sure she could ever accept that he might like her.


So obviously, she did not want to hurt Glen’s feelings. And it was just a dinner. And it felt as if she would finally have someone to talk to who had been through just as much as she had. Mark was someone who might understand her depressive phases, her mood swings, or her inability to move on. At least that was the chance she was taking, having dinner with him.


Vi forced the thought out of her head. She’d been doing an awful lot of that lately. Sometimes she had to. She was easygoing most of the time, but when she worried she put all her energy into it. She sat down across from Glen and smirked as she watched him take a big bite of his cheeseburger.


“At least I know it’s edible.” Vi joked, picking up her own burger and taking a more ladylike bite.


“It’s great grub. Thanks.” Glen took a drink of the tea he had poured for himself. “So about that road trip…”


Vi looked at him expectantly. “I haven’t forgotten.”


Glen smiled. “I talked to Ray for a minute. He said he’ll be back tomorrow, by the way.”


“A two nighter? Must have been one hell of a poker game.”


“I guess.” Glen smirked. “I’ll be helping with the fence tomorrow, patching a few spots. But Tuesday should be good.”


“Ok. Well, I’ll eat, and then call Steve, and we’ll go from there.”


“I wonder if the house is even still there.” Glen said it in a low voice, obviously more thinking out loud that expecting an answer.


“I suppose there’s only one way to find out.” Vi smiled and took another bite of her burger. “We’ll have to be back by six, so I can pick Josie up from school.”

“That shouldn’t be a problem. I don’t want to camp there or anything.”


“I never said you did.” Vi said with a smirk. “Do you think going there will really do anything?”


Glen shrugged. “I have no idea. I’ve been reading a little…about memory loss. And amnesia. It’s rare to have a completely blank past. And rarer still that I  remember how to do a lot of things. I just don’t remember what happened to make me learn those things.”


“Well. We’re going to figure it out.”


“Are we?”


“Of course.” Vi sounded confident. She could afford to sound confident. Maybe all Glen needed was to be in a place associated with his childhood. “So this reading you’ve been doing…any thoughts on why you might have the blank past?”


“Nothing. The books all say extreme trauma – and I’m fine – or experiencing something so horrific the mind just shuts down and hides the memories from itself. But…what could have been that bad? I know you said that my mother died…and I thought maybe I did see it happen. But wouldn’t I remember from then until now? I understand forgetting the actual trauma, but completely losing everything?” Glen took another sip of his tea. “Nothing makes sense.”


“Well, we’ll make it make sense eventually.” Vi smiled reassuringly at him. She only hoped that if they did find something to remind Glen of his past, it was not something that only brought the bad. As horrible as going through Link’s death had been, Vi had so many good memories. They’d had a great life together. She had those good times to pull from when she needed to. And oddly enough, it was those good memories that often caused her depression. That she had lost the best thing that ever happened to her…and that she wasn’t sure she would ever be able to find it again without Link. It was just sad.


“Hopefully, it helps.” Glen said grimly, picking up the remains of his burger. He took a bite and looked out the window as he chewed thoughtfully.


After lunch, Glen offered to wash up the dishes. Vi let him, because arguing with him was usually counterproductive. He would do the dishes while he tried to argue his point, and get them done and it made arguing with him sort of unfair. Vi made her phone calls. Steve was reluctant to give her the address but she wore him down. And he admitted something that was another surprise for her. The day had been full of them.


“House is empty. Hell…that place has been sitting empty since that shit went down. They had a cleaning crew in, and they put it on the market, but it never sold. Got a reputation. I wouldn’t go s’far as to say it’s haunted, but small town, small minds.” Steve drawled out. “I’d offer to go with you, but Jess is having contractions.”


“Finally!” Vi smiled happily.


“Yeah. Fifteen apart. They don’t wanna see her at the hospital until she’s about 5 minutes apart. So we’ll see.” Steve perked up, talking about the impending birth of his child. “You all be careful out there. And take a couple of those business cards I gave you. If you go poking around that house, somebody might call the local cops on you and you’ll have to explain why you’re there.” Steve did not need to explain why that would be a bad thing. Vi could figure it out on her own. If Glen had been in trouble, and had been hiding from something, she shouldn’t be taking out ads in the paper talking about it.


“Good luck with that baby. And tell Jess I’ll come see her in a couple of days whether she has that kid or not.”


“I’ll warn her.” Steve chuckled. “Ya’ll take care.”


Vi hung up the phone and thought that had been a little too easy. She went upstairs to find Glen and let him know that she had the address. She wasn’t too familiar with the town though, so she also wanted her laptop so she could look up the neighborhood. The sound of water running told her Glen was taking a shower. It only took a few minutes to print out a map with decent driving directions.


And at that point there was really nothing more to be done. She could go to her clinic, and take care of some paperwork. But she didn’t feel like it. She heard the shower shut off and a few minutes later Glen appeared in the doorway, long hair dripping onto a towel that was wrapped around his shoulders. She told him the trip was a go for Tuesday and handed him the printed directions. He nodded and smiled gamely.


“Hopefully something comes of it. I don’t want to feel like I’m wasting your time.”


“It is not a waste of time. If it was wasting my time I would get somebody else to take you.” Vi smirked.


“Well thank you anyway.” Glen smiled. “I keep thinking I was pretty damn lucky. You finding me. Taking me in. It could have ended with me dead there by the road.”


“It didn’t.” Vi said softly. “So it’s not worth thinking of things that way. Right?”


“If you say so.”


“I do say so.” Vi nodded. “Want to watch a movie?”


Glen smirked and shrugged. Sundays were not nearly as busy as the rest of the week, and normally Vi didn’t bother with the TV but she felt like making an exception. She wanted to watch something totally mindless that she wouldn’t have to think about. They both went downstairs and settled onto the couch in the living room for a quiet afternoon watching DVDs from Josie’s collection.


Unfortunately none of the movies could fully distract Vi from her thoughts. She’d gone from happy about Josie’s birthday to miserable, confused to amused, all in the space of twenty-four hours. She could only wait to see what the rest of the week would bring. So far it was shaping up to be even more of a roller coaster.




Vi almost cancelled her dinner plans a dozen times.


She had a busy morning, and a slow afternoon that seemed as if it would never end. She was updating her paper files onto a computer, which was what made everything drag.


Any other day and she would have already cancelled. But that morning Vi had found that not only was Josie going to be gone, Ray would also be spending another evening and night at Rick’s. And Glen was going out again with the people he’d seen Saturday. He was reluctant but he did not want to be rude so he agreed to go.


So that left her with a night alone to fill. She could spend it moping around the house, eating too much and being lazy, or she could go hang out with somebody. Vi kept debating with herself through the day but in the end decided to go. What could it hurt?


Dinner turned out to be rather interesting. Mark was not much of a talker, but oddly enough Vi never really felt uncomfortable around him. Mostly they talked about the kids. She did find out that Mark worked as a contractor, and he’d had a hand in building quite a few of the houses in the area over the past ten or so years.


She had left without telling anyone she was going. With Josie gone, Ray only stopping in to get clothes, and Glen going out there didn’t seem to be time. Of course she wasn’t sure she would have told Glen anyway. He might think that he liked Vi and she wasn’t sure how he would take the idea of her having dinner with some other guy.


After dinner, they went out to sit on the deck at the rear of the house. Mark had a pool in his back yard, and from the deck they had a view of the clear water and the woods that backed up to the property. It was just starting to get dark out. Vi was thinking she would have to head home soon. For now though she was content to sit and enjoy the quiet.


“Do you want a refill?” Mark asked, noticing her glass of lemonade was empty. He was drinking a beer. Vi had said no to the alcohol since she would be driving.


“No, thanks. I think I’ve hit my limit.” She set her glass aside.


Mark nodded and looked down at the beer in his hand, studying it in the fading light. “You seem a little…happier…than you did the other night.” He said softly. “Maybe not happier. Maybe just not as obviously upset.”


Vi smiled glumly. “Yeah. Well I have my moments.” She had been sort of dreading this conversation. Sometimes she knew it was coming. It was worse when it came out of left field. At least she’d braced herself.


“So…what happened? I know you lost your husband...”


Vi sighed and for a second wished she had accepted the beer. Or twelve of them. Hopefully talking would not dredge up the remnants of the depression. “There was a fire.” Mark looked at her steadily, saying nothing. Vi looked out over the yard, toward the pool. “He was trying to save his parents. He got his dad out. Ray…” Mark nodded at the name. He knew of the older man, and knew the ranch. “He went back in for his mom. But...I guess it was too late. Too much damage, too much smoke, and it was too hot.”


“I’m sorry.” Mark said softly. He was still looking at her, studying her profile in the fading light. “Do you know what caused it?”


Vi shrugged and played with the ring on her finger. “Bad wiring. It was something electrical. That’s all they could figure based on what was left.”


“So tell me….how did you meet your husband?”


The question caused Vi to look at Mark. She haltingly explained about her veterinary studies and how she’d lucked into working at the ranch. As she spoke she smiled more. Because sometimes the good memories were very good, even when they hurt. “How about you? How’d you meet your wife?” Vi asked after she was finished.


Mark smirked and looked at his mostly empty beer bottle. “I kidnapped her.”


He sounded so serious Vi had to laugh. “Kidnapped, huh?”


Mark shrugged, still smirking. “She changed my life. I was in a bad place when I met Rayne.” He finished off the beer and set the bottle aside. “Woulda probably gone back to that bad place if it wasn’t for Drew.”


“Was he supposed to be with her when it happened? Because you said you might have lost him too.” Vi asked, curious.


Mark shrugged. “He woulda been with her. She took him to school usually but that morning I said I’d do it because I had to go take care of a couple of things before I went to work.”


He lapsed into silence. Vi said nothing, just waited him out. She kind of figured he needed to get it off his chest, and she had been through this hell herself. Who better to commiserate with?


“I keep wondering if maybe I knew but I ignored it. Like I knew enough to save Drew, why didn’t I know enough to save Rayne too?”


Vi raised an eyebrow. “You can’t blame yourself for that, Mark.”


“I’m an old hand at playing the blame game.” Mark rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “I got comfortable, that’s what it comes down to. And I forgot.”


“Forgot what?” Vi frowned. He wasn’t making much sense.


Mark looked at her again, and looked surprised. Like he hadn’t expected to see her still sitting there. “I don’t know. I guess I always thought I was supposed to protect them.” To that Vi could think of nothing else to say. The silence stretched out for a few minutes before Mark spoke again. “I don’t worry so much about Drew. He’s a strong kid. He deals with it better than me most of the time.”


“Josie’s the same way. Most of the time.” Vi echoed, smiling rather sadly.


“I’ll be honest with you. Inviting you over for dinner was Drew’s idea. I don’t think he likes the idea of me rattling around the house alone when he’s gone.” Mark said, a note of humor creeping into his voice. It was much better than the sad monotone he’d used when talking about his wife.


“I think Josie is more about spreading her wings. After the fire…I guess I might have been a little overprotective of her. Kept her with me all the time, checked her a hundred times during the night. I even called the school to check in on her. And Ray too, I guess. I worried…worry.” Vi corrected. “I can’t seem to help it.”


Mark mulled that over for a moment. A few lights came on around the pool, controlled by sensors. He finally shook his head. “I think with me it’s the other way around. I want him to be self-sufficient and get out and do things. And he worries about me being alone.” He smirked at that. “I don’t want him going through what I did to get where I am now.”


Vi nodded thoughtfully. She was looking at the pool again, watching as a breeze rippled the water and made the reflected light dance on the surface. Clouds were building up to the west. There would be fast moving storms in the area overnight. Vi hoped the kids got their eyeful of night sky before the clouds moved in.


They sat in companionable silence for a bit longer. When Mark spoke again, he changed the topic to much lighter things. Vi was glad but after talking about things she did not feel upset. While that might still come later, she actually felt…relieved? She wasn’t sure that was right, but it had been nice to get her tragedy off her chest and talk to someone who understood. Mark hadn’t asked prying questions, and he did not act uncomfortable to hear about her past, which was nice.


It was just past 11 that night when Vi told him she had better head home. Mark was a perfect gentleman even to the end – he walked her out to her SUV and gave her a hand in. She rolled her window down and smiled at him.


“Thanks for dinner. And the ear to bend. It was nice.”


“You’re welcome. And we’ll have to do it again soon.” Mark reached through the window and touched her arm. “Thanks for listenin’ to me ramble. Drew doesn’t like to talk about his mom…”


“I know how that is. Believe me.” Vi smiled.


“He has said something a few times that kinda hits home for me. He tells me ‘Dad, you gotta stop actin’ like Mom is gonna come back tomorrow’.” Mark smirked at that. “Which is his way of saying to stop dragging my feet and rejoin the human race.”


“I hate to admit it, but the kid makes sense.” She smiled but it was a sad one. “It never really goes away, does it?”


“Some days are better than others. Some days are worse.” Mark shrugged. “We’re still fine so I must be doin’ something right.”


“Yeah. I tell myself that same thing.” Vi’s smile grew more sure. “Thank you again for dinner.”

“No problem. Next time, bring Josie with you. Drew would love the company.”


Vi laughed and agreed to call him later in the week so they could make more solid plans. And she drove home feeling much more settled than she had felt in a lot time.


The kitchen light was on, as was the light over the front door. Glen apparently had not returned yet from his evening out. Vi went upstairs, humming under her breath. It was nice to actually feel good for a change. She had spent so much time dealing with her loss that she forgot how good it can feel to just talk and relax. She put on a brave face but getting things out in the open had helped. She was still smiling as she crawled into bed and pulled her blankets up to her chin. She had set her alarm earlier than usual for the road trip the next day. And she was just tired enough that sleep came easily.




Glen tilted his head, feeling cool fingers slide under the bottom edge of his shirt. He was sitting on one of the overstuffed sofas in Rob’s living room, kissing Amanda while she tried to urge him to go further.


He didn’t know how he’d been talked into this. Rob worked at the ranch, and it was through his girlfriend Rebecca that Glen had been set up with Amanda. She was definitely a good looking girl, there was no denying that. She had honey blonde hair and deep brown eyes. Unfortunately Glen was pretty sure the hair color came from a bottle. Also, considering how she was pressing herself against him, her hair wasn’t the only thing Amanda possessed that was fake.


Rob and Rebecca had disappeared into the bedroom, leaving Glen and Amanda to fend for themselves. And without the buffer of the other couple, he found out pretty quickly that Amanda couldn’t carry a conversation in a bucket with both hands. She was more than willing to skip getting to know him mentally to get to know him physically, obviously.


So he was kissing her. And she was scratching her nails lightly across his stomach, under the shirt he had on. She did not seem to care that he had no past, and since she would be leaving in a few days they had no future. Even on Saturday she had practically sat in his lap during the movie they’d seen, and she’d taken every opportunity to touch him.


Being left alone she’d gotten more bold. This time Amanda was in Glen’s lap, straddling his legs, pressing her mouth against his. He knew if he wanted to take things further, she wouldn’t say no. Hell, she wasn’t giving him a chance to say no. So he kissed her and tasted her mouth with his tongue, letting his hands grip her blue-jean clad hips.


Amanda broke their kiss and pressed herself closer to him, wiggling herself against him. She was breathing heavily as she leaned back to pull at his shirt. “I don’t know how long they’ll be…” She nodded in the direction of the hallway. “So we’d better make this fast.”


Glen lifted an eyebrow at that. What, he was supposed to do this…here? On the couch where Rob or Becca could wander in at any time? And worry over being caught was being overshadowed by something even more embarrassing.


He did not know if he had ever done this before. Not just the heavy kissing but sex itself. Glen really had no idea what he was doing. He was going on instinct. Apparently he was a good enough kisser because Amanda had her mouth against his again.


For all Glen knew, this could be his first time. Since he couldn’t remember any other time, he figured he might as well face the facts of it. He was as lost as any other guy who’d never slept with a woman. And while Amanda was willing enough, he knew even as her hands stroked his chest, that it would go no further than groping on the couch. If he was going to do this…sex…thing…it was going to be where he wouldn’t feel rushed or pressured into it by an oversexed woman who wanted a fling.


Glen tried to hide his relief when Rob appeared at the end of the hallway. It was midnight, and Rob looked as if he’d been put through a wringer.


Rob seemed not to notice or care that Amanda was trying everything she could to get Glen to do more than just kiss her. “You wanna stay the night here or…”


Glen didn’t even let him finish. “I can’t. Gotta get up early and head out. I’m ready for a ride home.” Amanda made a huff of annoyance. Glen looked at her apologetically as Rob went to get his keys. “Sorry. I do have to go. And when I do this…I want to do it right.”


She smiled at that, and licked her lip thoughtfully. “I could go with you and stay the night at your place. Becca won’t care.”


Glen did his best to hide his horror at the thought of taking this woman to the house. To the room that Vivian had given him. He had a feeling she would not mind him bringing someone home, even if it was just a one night stand, but the thought left him feeling sort of nauseous. He couldn’t do it.


“I have to get up early. I shouldn’t have stayed out this long anyway. But you distracted me.” That came out sounding smooth enough. Amanda smiled and traced a finger over his lower lip.


“How about tomorrow night then? Rob and Becca are going to see her cousin, and I wasn’t planning on going. We’ll have the house to ourselves.”


Glen tried to smile convincingly at the thought. “If I get back into town early enough…” He left it hanging there, not wanting to commit to anything more firm. Because he had to seriously think about this before he did it.


Finally she gave him his shirt back and got off his lap. He kissed her one last time before he and Rob headed to the truck. Rob was in a talkative mood, chattering on about ‘the girls’ and how well Amanda and Glen were hitting it off. Except for the occasional noise to show he was listening, Glen kept his opinion to himself. In a way he would be glad to see Amanda go that weekend. And he sure as hell was not going to let Rob set him up again.


Rob dropped him off in front of the house. Glen let himself in, trying to be quiet. The house was silent, and the only light came from the kitchen. He tiptoed up the stairs and peered into Vivian’s room. She was a vague shadow on the bed, and he could hear her soft breathing as she slept. And just listening to her breathing there in the dark did what all of Amanda’s groping and panting and kissing had been unable to do. He was suddenly, almost painfully, aroused.


Glen closed his eyes and turned toward his own room. No. He turned again, toward the bathroom door. He needed a shower. That was number one. Amanda wore perfume and he could smell it clinging to his skin and clothes. It made him feel like gagging.


He ran the water as hot as he could stand it and soaped himself from head to toe. He rinsed off and notched the water temperature down to a less scalding setting and let it hit him on the back of the neck and shoulders. Now that he’d gotten the smell and the feel of Amanda off of his skin, Glen felt himself relaxing.


At least, most of him was relaxed. At another time he might find it rather funny. He was standing in a shower with a hard-on that would not go away, and he’d been stupid enough not to use the convenient outlet when it presented itself. He was not sure he could dislike himself that much though.


This had happened once before. Saturday. The night he’d kissed Vivian and she’d pulled away. Not that he blamed her…he did not know why he had done it other than it seemed to be something to do. Maybe to force her to think of something other than the ordeal she had been through. And he’d had a sleepless night after that until nearly dawn, when the pressure had been too much. He’d stroked himself to a climax, thinking about the taste of her on his lips the entire time, and he’d had to bite the heel of his hand to keep himself quiet when he came.


As if that wasn’t embarrassing enough…now this. He considered cranking the shower to full cold but decided that if he ever wanted to get some sleep he should just deal with his problem now.


Glen leaned one hand against the shower wall and with the other began stroking the length of his cock. Again he thought it was ridiculous…to do this when a phone call from him would bring a very willing Amanda running. Thinking about that did not appeal to him. So feeling guilty for even considering it, he thought of Vivian.


The appeal was that Vivian was beautiful but she did not know it. Even in her sadness, even at a time when she considered herself to be at her worst, she put women like Amanda to shame. It wasn’t just the fact that she was ‘real’. Vivian possessed qualities that a spoiled oversexed woman like Amanda could not begin to fathom.


He stroked himself a little faster, squeezing the shaft. It was so wrong to think about Vivian, someone who had taken him in with no questions and given him a life when it seemed he had none. But he kept replaying that kiss…the hesitant touch of her tongue against his, the soft sound she’d made when he had urged her mouth open to taste her.


Glen had to bite his lip to keep a moan in as he imagined what would have happened. If she had not put a stop to it after that one unforgettable kiss. He wanted to touch her and taste her and ease the ache in his body that came whenever he thought of her.


It wasn’t a far leap to imagine it was Vivian’s hand stroking his heated skin, her fingers sliding up and down along the hard shaft. And then he pictured her mouth wrapped around the head of his cock and that was all it took. With a shudder and a suppressed moan he came into his own hand. He stood there, head down, breathing heavily for the better part of five minutes. Mostly, he wondered what the hell was wrong with him. Why was it that he could imagine Vivian in so many ways beyond the friendship she willingly gave him, but no one else? He’d tried. First on Saturday, and now…


Glen finally turned and washed off again. At least now he might be able to sleep without tossing and turning and fighting a libido he did not quite know how to control. As long as he didn’t look into Vivian’s room on his way past or think about her in any way. He shook his head and shut the shower off, as done as he was going to get. He dried off and wrapped the towel around his hips for the short trip to his bed.


He didn’t get far down the hallway. Bridger was standing in the doorway to Vivian’s room making a low, uneasy noise in his throat.

“Shh…you’re gonna wake her up…” Glen whispered thinking, as he always did, that he had picked up Josie’s habit of talking to her dog as if he could understand. He rubbed Bridger’s head trying to calm him down and did what he said he wouldn’t do. He looked into Vivian’s room.


She was still in the bed, but now she was moving a little. Glen’s first thought was that she was having a nightmare. But the low moan that came from the direction of the bed did not put him in mind of a bad dream. In fact, it sent a tingle up his spine that was not the least bit unpleasant. Vivian got quiet and stopped moving, and after a moment the soft sound of her normal breathing resumed.


Glen scratched the dog behind his ear. Bridger was still standing with his head slightly lowered, and he was shivering. Glen frowned and stroked the mutt’s head. After a couple of minutes the dog’s head came up and he started to wag his tail. Whatever it was that had spooked the dog seemed to be over now.


Glen hesitated for a moment before squatting down to look at the dog. Bridger breathed in his face, making him wince. It was like the odd shivering of a moment before had never happened. Glen looked once more to the bed, where Vivian had turned on her side away from the door. “Go on, boy. Back to bed.” He finally shooed the dog into the room. Bridger went willingly enough and stretched out on the floor at the side of the bed, his usual spot when Josie wasn’t home.


Another shiver worked its way down Glen’s spine. This time was much less pleasant. It was more a cold chill, as if something unseen had passed him in the hallway. He finally went to his room but left the door open before he pulled on a pair of shorts and got into bed. If anything else happened during the night, he wanted to be sure to hear it. Even as the thought formed, he was dozing off.




Glen was being awfully quiet.


Actually, maybe quiet was not the word. Morose. That was better. Vi had gotten up early as planned and he was already up, and dressed. Ready to go. She asked if he wanted breakfast before they headed out, and his only answer had been to shake his head.


He had not spoken a word to VI through the entire two hour drive. She asked if he wanted to stop for breakfast on the way and he’d shrugged. So he was giving off weird vibes that morning. Vi had woken up in a pretty good mood, considering how early it was and the errand she was running that day. Vi figured he was just worrying over what might happen once he saw the place where he’d spent his childhood.


The house was fairly easy to find. It was on a dead end lane that led through the woods. At about the hallways point the trees were cleared from the roadside and small houses began appearing. Vi slowed the SUV and looked for the correct house number. The houses were all set back from the road, and the one they were looking for was easy enough to spot. It was the only one so far that was overgrown, the gravel track choked with weeds.


Vi turned the SUV onto what was left of the driveway and went at a crawl toward the house they could both see at the end. Aside from the overgrown yard and the fence in the back that was falling down, the house itself just looked a little…dated. Not falling apart or derelict in any way. Even the windows were intact, something that was amazing to Vi. She had seen her share of abandoned buildings in her time and knew that the first thing to go was usually the windows. And usually it was because kids decided to lob rocks through the glass.


The house was all a single story, and smaller than Vi had thought it would be. Tiny in comparison to some of the places they had passed along this road.


Vi parked the SUV as close to the house as she dared. She rolled the windows down and cut the engine and just sat there, looking at the empty windows as if the house itself would speak.


And it was actually Glen who broke the silence.




One word. That was all he said. But it sent a chill down Vi’s back. She looked at him and saw he was studying the front of the house with an expression she could not quite define. Slowly he dragged his eyes from the windows and looked at Vi.


She reached over and covered his hand with hers. “You sure you want to do this?” He had been ready before but now he looked almost ill. All the color had gone out of his face, and he was breathing harder than sitting in the SUV merited.


Glen turned his hand over and gripped her fingers with his. “You’ll stay with me?”


“Every step.” Vi promised, squeezing his hand. He nodded grimly and let her go to slide out of his seat.


Glen rounded the front of the SUV and grabbed onto Vi’s hand again before she could go more than a few steps. He shouldn’t have worried. Vi was more focused on his reaction now than the house itself.


“What is it? Do you remember anything?”


Glen hesitated and shook his head. “I don’t know.” He looked at Vi again and she saw that odd mix of emotion again. A mix of fear and anger and such pain that it made her heart hurt to see it.


“We don’t have to go in.” She said softly, gripping his hand and laying her other hand against his forearm.


“But I do. I have to. I have to know.” He’d lowered his voice to a near whisper.


“Then let’s get this over with.” She said, forcing herself to sound more sure than she felt.


Glen nodded and walked with her toward the small front porch. The door was, of course locked. Vi wondered out loud if they should try the back but Glen just pressed his lips together in a tight line and shook his head.


Still holding onto her hand, he stepped to the right. There was a porch light, an old iron relic that was hanging on by one rusted screw. Glen laid his free hand against the wall and slid it down a bit, to the right a bit further, and then hooked his fingers into a loose half brick. He pulled. The brick slid out and he let it drop to the ground to stick his fingers into the hole he’d made.


“What are you doing?” Vi asked, watching as he pulled his hand out. And caught between his fingers was a key. She looked from it to his eyes. He was looking at the key as if he’d picked up a poisonous spider. “How did you know that was there?”


“I don’t know. I don’t remember it really…but…I’ve been here before. Do you know what I mean?” He looked at her, his hazel eyes confused.


Vi didn’t have a clue what he meant but she squeezed his hand reassuringly. “Maybe it’s like muscle memory. Sometimes even when your mind forgets how things go, you did it so often your body does it automatically.”


Glen sighed and looked back to the key. He tried it on the door lock. With a little wiggling, it turned and the door opened. “The further we go, the more I think this is a bad idea.” He said softly.


Vi was still looking at him. “It’s just a house. An old empty house.”


“It looks like an old empty house. But something’s not right here.” Glen said, dropping his voice even lower. “I can feel it. Like I have something heavy sitting on my chest.”


“You don’t have to go in there.” Vi said, stepping sideways so she was closer to him. “We can go home and forget this and start building up new memories for you.”


Glen was shaking his head. “I feel like I have to. I don’t want to but I have to.” He looked down at her and Vi sensed his helplessness. It was a bright, sunny, warm spring morning but she shivered.


“Then let’s get it over with.” She said resolutely, not liking that his odd bout of fear was starting to get to her. Vi did not wait for him to lead the way. She stepped resolutely across the threshold and he could either follow or let go of her hand.


Glen chose to follow her. And as soon as he stepped foot through the door he felt as if he’d be hit in the stomach. All the air went out of the room and he could not breathe. Vi looked at him, alarm written across her face.


“What is it? What’s wrong?”


Glen could not put it into words. For just a second there he had seen…even as he tried to define it, it faded. Red. Maybe blood. And it had been everywhere. Now that Vi had spoken, and he’d blinked, it was just a room. The door opened onto the living room of the small house. It was dusty, and completely empty of furniture, but it had been cleaned, painted, and re-carpeted at some point in time.


He finally muttered a curse under his breath and shook his head. Whatever it was that had weighed on him was gone as suddenly as it had come on. It was just a room. An empty room. An archway to the left led to a kitchen that almost had enough room to turn around in. It was sort of anti-climactic, especially after his reaction to stepping into the place.


It wasn’t until they had gone up a short hallway that Glen had another odd moment of unease. He tightened his grip on Vi’s hand as if worried she was going to run off without him. The first door on the right led to a bathroom that was surprisingly big. It was the door on the left, across the hall that really set off that feeling of familiarity. Glen opened the door to another empty room. This one was a bedroom, small, just a simple square with a door in the corner that led to a closet.


He did not know how he could know. “This was my room.” Glen spoke in a whisper. Up to that moment they had not spoken, and the house had been utterly silent.


Vi had glanced around, but spent most of the time focused on Glen’s face, his expressions. For the most part he was conveying just regular old curiosity. But now, in this room, there was some sort of recognition on his features.


He led the way to the next room and stood there a moment, looking puzzled. As if he had been expecting something else. Maybe an epiphany that would shed light on everything else. When that did not happen, Glen and Vi went through the final doorway. It was yet another bedroom, about the same size as the first. The single window overlooked the overgrown back yard.


Glen stood there for what felt like an eternity. Vi waited him out, not rushing him. He finally sighed and visibly relaxed. His death grip on her hand eased up a bit too. “I thought maybe there was something…but it’s gone now. Whatever it was I might have remembered.” He said softly.


“That’s all right.” Vi mustered up a reassuring smile. “You ready to go out and get some air?”


Glen nodded and allowed himself to be led back through the house. And he did not pause to reconsider any of the rooms. What good would it do? Once outside he stopped on the porch and replaced the key and the brick after locking the door. He did not know why he bothered, but it felt like the right thing to do.


They walked toward the SUV and he opened the door for Vi, but kept a hold on her hand for a few minutes longer. “Vivian…thank you.”


She gave him a puzzled smile and squeezed his hand again. “For what?”


“For bringing me here. For going through it with me.” He shrugged and ducked his head. “For everything you’ve done for me since you found me.” He added, threading his fingers between hers.




“I don’t know if I’ll ever figure out what’s locked away up here…” He tapped a finger from his free hand against his temple. “I don’t know if I want to figure it out.”


“You don’t have to. It doesn’t matter.” Vi had turned to look up at him. “Maybe it doesn’t have to be such a bad thing…that you don’t remember. You’ve got the chance to start over again from square one.”


Glen reached out with his free hand and cupped her cheek against his palm. “What if…what if I was a bad person? What if I hurt somebody or…”


“That’s a lot of ‘what if’.” Vi said with a slight smile, feeling a shiver go down her spine as his fingers brushed her hair back behind her ear. “Even if you were, what does that matter now? You’re not a bad person now. Do you feel like you’re missing something because you don’t know?”


“Sometimes.” He admitted, tracing the outer curve of her ear with a fingertip. “Mostly I’m just glad you found me. And that you took me in and gave me what passes for a life.”


Vi snickered at that, making him smile. “I’ll assume you meant that as a compliment.”


“I did.” He still wore that troubled smile. “Vivian…” Glen seemed unable to speak after her name. Instead he dipped his head and caught her lips with his.


Vi was a lot quicker responding this time. Glen felt her fingers tighten on his, felt her sway forward until she was pressed close up against his body. Her lips parted and the first moist touch of her tongue on his caused a pleasurable shudder to work its way down his body. He slid his hand around to cup the back of her head, tangling his fingers into her silky long hair.


Vi moaned softly into his mouth, unable to help it. It felt so good to be held, to be kissed, to be wanted. She reached up with her free hand to stroke her fingers along his cheek and down his jaw. Glen was still holding onto her other hand. He moved it so they were holding hands behind her back. When he tightened his grip, it caused her back to arch and her hips to press closer to his.


Glen finally had to break their kiss so he could catch his breath. He dipped his head lower to kiss and suck on her neck, willing the urge to grind himself against her down to a controllable level. He let go of her hand and moaned as she wrapped her arms around his shoulders and held him close.


All he could think was that he wanted to touch her. He pulled at the back of her shirt and slid a hand up her back, feeling her shiver at the light touch of his fingers on her bare skin. He let his hand drift, tracing circles across her back. She was pressed maddeningly against him, her breasts against his chest, one of his thighs between hers, and he was not quite sure of exactly how they ended up that way.


Glen lifted his head from her neck and caught her lips again, delving his tongue into her mouth as his hand gave up feeling the smooth skin of her back. He slipped his fingers around her side, and upward, until he cupped her full breast against his palm. Even through the soft lace of the bra she wore, he could feel the hard outline of her nipple pressing into his hand. It made him whimper low in his throat as he once again broke their kiss to lick and nibble his way down her neck.


Vi moaned softly as his fingers caught her nipple, feeling her whole body break out in goose bumps at the sensation. She dug her fingernails into his shoulders as he squeezed her and rubbed her, while his mouth did distracting things to her neck and ear. Every time she moaned near his ear, Glen’s fingers against her breast would tighten, or he would pinch her nipple a little harder, and answer her with soft sounds of his own.


Vi let her head fall back against the side of her SUV, feeling dizzy at the sensations that went through her body. She stroked Glen’s hair and sighed into his ear as he found a sensitive spot right where her shoulder met her neck. Vi was prepared to lose herself completely, maybe to pull him into the backseat and…


A movement from one of the living room windows in the house caused her to jump and suck in a breath.


“Glen…” She sounded hoarse and breathless. The thing in the window moved again and Vi could see it was a person. Someone was in the house – and someone was watching them. “Glen…please…” She pushed at his shoulders and he reluctantly stopped sucking on her neck.


“I don’t wanna stop…” He muttered against her neck. Vi laughed breathlessly, but there must have been another note there besides just lust because Glen pulled back to look into her eyes. He saw the way she stared at the house and turned his head. “What is it?” He asked, letting her go, turning so that he was facing the house, putting himself fully between Vi and the building. Vi peered around him. The figure in the window – if it had ever been there – was gone.


He turned back to face her, still breathing a little raggedly. Vi was looking up at him, her light eyes troubled. “Nothing. I guess. Just…I thought I saw something.”


Glen reached for her hand again. Vi wrapped her fingers around his and smiled, although he could tell it took an effort. “I’m not going to apologize for…”


“Don’t. You don’t have to.” Vi assured him, leaning close to him again. “I didn’t want to stop either.” She whispered it out, like she was telling him a secret. It caused a smile to cross his lips.


“Vivian…” He hesitated a moment before continuing. And he surprised himself by saying the same thing he’d said the night before. “I want to do this. With you. You don’t know how much I wanna do this with you.” He smiled at her soft laugh. “But not here. I wanna do this right.” At least when he said it to her, he meant it.


Vi nodded against his chest. She was glad he was now blocking her view of the house, but it did not stop her from feeling as if they were being watched still.


“I don’t even know if I’ve ever done this before.” He said, sounding both amused and annoyed. Vi laughed and it seemed to break the tension between them.


“You ready to go home?” She asked, pulling back to look up into his eyes.


“Yeah. Home would be nice.” Before she could slide in behind the wheel, he kissed her again. Just a quick press of his lips to hers. Glen pulled back before he got swept up and forgot himself again. Vi reached up to stroke his cheek before getting into the vehicle.


Glen cast a last glance back at the house before going to the passenger side and getting into his seat. He wasn’t quite sure what exactly he had hoped to achieve by coming here, but he was not going to complain about the outcome. Especially when they had reached the main road and Vi reached over to take his hand again.


Vi insisted they stop for lunch, because neither of them had eaten breakfast. They found a small diner on the way and stopped in for some food. They spent an hour, talking quietly about the house they’d just seen, the area it was in, the odd upkeep of the place…anything but what had happened once they’d gone back outside. Vi was still processing it and Glen figured it was best to not dwell on it in a public place unless he wanted to embarrass himself. It was hard though, because he could still feel her pressed close to him, and could still feel the weight of her breast in his hand and the puff of her breath across his ear as she moaned.


Of course reliving that was dwelling on it. He forced his mind to focus on his food and soon enough they were back in the SUV for the drive home.


Glen was quiet again, looking thoughtfully out the window and holding Vi’s hand across the center console. She glanced at him on occasion, wondering if she’d finally lost her mind. He was still a virtual stranger, and probably always would be, but it did not change that fact that if not for the odd thing she’d seen at the house, she might have – no, scratch that – she would have definitely let him do whatever it was he wanted to do to her. With her. On her, over her, and under her for that matter, right there in the SUV, or the overgrown yard.


She could not decide if that thought amused her or annoyed her. She did contemplate for a moment that Mark’s son had been right. Link would not be coming home. And maybe it was time she moved on. Or at least try to.


They reached the house a bit after noon. The trip had been quicker than Vi had expected, but that was only because nothing had truly sparked a memory or even a need to learn more from Glen. That was all right though, because what she had told him was true. He had a chance to start again, to build new memories.


They entered the house and Vi looked around for a moment before taking Glen’s hand again. He seemed surprised at that, but smiled as she led him toward the stairs. Before they could climb, she turned and put her hand against his chest.


“I want to be with you.”


Glen seemed even more surprised by that. Maybe he had figured she would back off, considering they were back in her house, the home she’d shared with her family…


But Vi had been thinking of that too.


“I can’t…in my bed. Because that wouldn’t feel right.” She admitted, glancing at the stairs.


“Vivian, you don’t have to…”


Vi didn’t let him finish. “In your bed would be all right. Because it’s yours. Do you get what I mean?”


“Yes. But…” Glen hesitated. “Vivian, are you sure?”


Instead of answering she moved back and went up a step. Then two. When Glen followed she turned and climbed the rest, still holding onto his hand. She did not even spare her own room a glance as she turned toward his.


Glen had barely stepped inside when Vi was pressing up against him again, wrapping her arms around his waist. Of course he wasn’t going to complain either, especially when he felt her run her hands up under his shirt. Much like he had done earlier, she stroked his back and tilted her head back so he could kiss her. He did, deeply, moaning at the touch of her tongue against his.


Vi felt him shaking as he wrapped his arms around her and broke their kiss to lean back and reach up, cupping his face in her hands. She looked into his hazel eyes, so close to him now that she could see the blue undertones. “What’s wrong?” She asked, keeping her voice low.


Glen shook his head and his lips curved in a slight smile. “Just nerves, I guess.”


“You don’t have to be nervous.” Vi pulled him closer and brushed her mouth over his.


“I just don’t want to disappoint you.” He said softly.


“Because you can’t remember?”


Glen nodded and let his forehead rest against hers.


Vi stroked his face with her fingers. “It may not surprise you at all to know that I haven’t been with anybody since Link passed.”


She felt him raise his eyebrows at that.


“Which means I am just as nervous as you are.” Vi went on, still letting her fingers trail over his skin. “But I want this. I want you.” She punctuated that with another light kiss on his mouth.


Glen thought she could not have said anything better than that. He didn’t understand why he felt so suddenly shy or nervous. He’d wanted this to happen, and now it was.


He kissed her this time, lightly touching his lips to hers. He raised his hands and cupped her face, much the same way she was cupping his, and angled his mouth over hers. Her teeth nipped at his lower lip, and his tongue slid along hers to delve into the depths of her mouth.


Vi let her hands slide down his neck, his chest, and his stomach, until her fingers brushed waistband of his jeans. She hooked her fingers into his belt and pulled, walking backward at the same time. The bed hit the back of her thighs and she pulled Glen down with her. For a moment she couldn’t catch her breath as Glen’s full weight came down on her, but he shifted and braced himself on his elbows.


“You all right?” He asked, his voice hoarse. And deeper than normal. It sent a shiver down her back, and in a very good way.


“I’ll be better in a minute, I think.” Vi smirked and grabbed a double handful of his shirt. She pulled, and he lifted his arms long enough to get rid of it. He made short work of getting rid of her shirt along with his. She found his belt again and her fingers worked the buckle. “I’m not trying to rush you or anything but less clothes would be great right about now.” She pointed out when he did not shift to make the job easier.


Glen chuckled and pushed away, shedding his jeans and the shorts under them, and kicking off his boots as he skimmed the jeans down his legs. Vi did the same on the bed, twisting and arching her back to get her jeans off, until she was as naked as he was. He stood there for a moment, looking at her from head to toe, noting that the reality was better than the fantasy he’d had in his head. She was all smooth tanned skin and soft curves.


Vi got her elbows under her and sat propped up, studying him in return. She’d already seen him naked of course, but she’d been more worried about the cold and snow than admiring his well built body. She hated that her mind immediately compared him to Link, but of course her husband had been the last man she’d been with. It might even be normal to do that. But they were different in so many ways it did not seem a fair comparison.


She pushed herself up and took his wrist, pulling Glen down onto the bed. On top of her again. This time though he was ready and watched the landing. Vi wrapped her arms around him and sighed out a soft moan as he slid against her, bare skin against bare skin.


Glen groaned and nuzzled her neck. “You feel so good…” He muttered next to her ear, making her smile.


“Do I?” She grabbed his hand and guided it to her breast. “How about now?”


He didn’t answer. Instead he squeezed her gently, catching her nipple between his fingers. Glen ducked his head and flicked his tongue lightly across her nipple, drawing a louder moan from her. He caught the tight little bud between his lips and sucked, getting rewarded by the feel of her hips grinding upward against him at the sensations. He kissed a wet trail between her breasts and repeated the process on the other side, going back and forth as his hands massaged her.


 Eventually, spurred by Vi’s whimpers and moans, Glen kissed his way down her stomach. He chuckled thickly when she jerked and tried to speed him past her ribs and sides. Apparently she was a little ticklish. By the time he got to her lower stomach though, and dipped his tongue into her naval, she’d given up on trying to get away and had her hands tangled into his long hair.


Glen trailed his fingers down her legs as his mouth continued tasting her warm skin with his lips. Vi let go of his hair and once more propped herself on her elbows to watch as he kissed his way down the flat plane of her lower belly. His fingers slid up her thighs, stopping just inches from touching her center.




“Hmm?” He was nipping at the skin over her hipbone, making Vi jump.


“Sometime today…would be…nice.” Every time Vi tried to talk, he found a new place to flick that tongue across and it was all she could do not to moan.


He looked up at her, slight smile curling the corners of his lips. But Glen let his hands slide up those last few inches. He parted her folds and Vi gasped out a breath as he found the hard nub of her clit with his finger and stroked his fingertip against it. Her hips came up again and she pressed herself firmly up into his hand.


Glen closed his eyes and focused on stroking her, driving her closer to the edge with even the lightest touch of his fingers. He slid down a little further, hesitated, then slid back off the bed, pulling her with him so that her legs were dangling over the side. He ran his hands up the backs of her thighs, stopped for a moment to squeeze her rear, and kissed his way up her inner thigh. Vi tensed herself for the touch of his tongue but still could not hold in the moan of pleasure that came from low in her throat. She let her head fall back, feeling his tongue and mouth and teeth play against her clit, her skin slippery now. He hooked his hands around her hips and forced Vi to hold still while he toyed with her clit, once more driving her right to the edge.


Instead of letting her finish though, Glen would pull back and nuzzle her thigh, or drop hot wet kisses along her lower stomach. Vi groaned in frustration each time it happened. After the third time, she finally reached for him got a handful of hair. She yanked it playfully, and he looked up at her with that lazy, self-satisfied smile once more on his face.


“Are you trying to torture me?” Vi asked, pulling on his hair and forcing him to crawl up her body. She slid backward at the same time, so that she was on the bed again.


“Is it working?” He asked, and the look in his eyes said he knew full well it was. He was poised over her, one of her legs caught between his. Vi reached down and stroked him with just the tips of her fingers and Glen jerked away. “Don’t do that…” He said on a hiss of breath. “I wanna be inside you.”  His eyes focused on hers. “And if you touch me too much, I might not make it that far.” He finally said.


Vi laughed breathlessly and pressed her hips upward. He hissed in another breath and closed his eyes at the contact. His erect cock was against her thigh and she bit her lip as he rubbed it against her leg. “I want you inside me.” Vi finally spoke, careful not to move. It was easy to see how very close he was…the way his hips jerked instinctively, the sheen of sweat that had appeared on his brow. He was grinding his teeth too, trying to regain control of himself.


Vi reached up and cupped his face in her hands once more, pulling him down. She looked into his eyes for a long moment before catching his lips with hers. He shifted, his knees between her thighs now, bracing himself on his hands again. She broke the kiss and slid her hands down his chest, around his sides, stroking him lightly with her fingernails.


Glen reached between them and guided his cock to her opening, closing his eyes at the feel of her against his throbbing flesh. This was what happened, he thought, when you spent a couple of weeks fantasizing non-stop and finally get a taste of the reality. He felt like he’d go off like a rocket before he did more than touch the head of his cock to her.


He found her entrance and Vi wrapped her arms around his shoulders, moaning as he filled her inch by slow inch. As she’d pointed out, it had been a very long time for her, and he was a very big man. She felt stretched nearly to the point of pain, and gave a breathless groan when he finally filled her completely, hips pressing tight against her. Her nails dug into his shoulders, making him wince.


“Am I hurting you?” Glen asked, keeping his voice soft. The way Vi held herself and the noise she made kept him from moving, putting the brakes on his sex drive much better than he could through sheer will alone.


“No…” She breathed out the word and rubbed his shoulders where her nails had bitten in. “Just...be careful. You aren’t exactly small.”


He snorted at that and experimentally pulled his hips back. Just a little. Enough to feel the ripple of her interior muscles against his shaft. He pressed inward and Vi moaned, setting off a warm shiver of pleasure down his back. He did it again, fighting the urge to up the pace, letting Vi get used to the feel of him.


It did not take too long though. Vi’s hips finally moved, up from the bed, trying to keep him deep inside her when he pulled back. Glen let her dictate the speed of his thrusting by following her lead. She wrapped her legs around his waist and he felt her nails bite his back again, this time as far from fighting off pain as she could be. He hardly noticed, so intent was he on the friction between them.


He felt her push at his shoulders, and rolled easily enough, taking her with him. Vi ended up on top of him, really in control of things now. She sat up and rotated her hips slowly, closing her eyes at the noises he made. She grabbed one of his hands and guided it toward the place where their bodies met. He did not need any encouragement to begin rubbing her clit in circles as she slowly eased him in and out of her body.


Eventually Vi began moving faster, her breath coming in harsh gasps as his fingers and the feel of him inside her brought her over the edge of her climax. Glen stopped stroking her clit and focused on the way her body gripped him, the wave of muscle movement playing against his shaft, drawing a hoarse groan from deep in his throat as he climaxed at the apex of hers.


Vi braced her hands against his chest and held herself still as the aftershocks sent shivers down her back. Moments later, Glen was pulling her down onto his chest and holding her close, stroking her back with his hand. He felt protective of her, more than he had been before. He figured it was part of the experience, the odd tenderness that settled into him as she got her breathing back under control and dropped a tired, contented kiss on his chest.




Penelope heard her sister coming long before she appeared in the doorway.


They all heard her. It would be impossible not to hear Cassandra screaming and carrying on. And she stomped everywhere.


“Where is he?” Cassandra didn’t bother to lower her voice. Not even here, in the room where their father sat and presided over matters in their realm. She was spoiled. Damn near to a fault.

“Cassandra. Surely you have noticed that we are conducting business.” Adam was a tall blonde who leaned against the wall near the doorway. He spoke, mainly because it was often Adam who could calm Cassandra when she got into one of her moods.


“I do not care.” She said through clenched teeth. Her eyes settled on her father. Haden looked back at her with mild dark eyes, a neutral expression on his handsome features. Although Penelope was 30 and Cassandra 28, Haden barely looked old enough to be their father. He had been mistaken as their brother on occasion, by people who should have known better.


“Clear the room. I will have a moment with my daughters.” Haden finally said, nodded at the chair to his left. Cassandra sneered at Penelope, who sat to their father’s right, as she took the seat he had indicated. In moments the three of them were alone. “Now. Calmly. What is the problem?”


“He is gone. I can find him nowhere.” Cassandra still spoke through clenched teeth, but she lowered her voice.


Penelope had to bite the inside of her cheek to keep from smirking. She could see how angry Cassandra was considering her dark eyes were nearly completely red. Cassandra’s abilities relied on her emotions. Penelope was grateful, once again, that her abilities were a bit more subtle.


Haden glanced to Penelope. He attempted to read her, something that was so simple he could do it to anyone else without a thought. Trying to read her, or hear her thoughts was like listening to the ocean through a conch shell. “Perhaps he is out hunting.”


“You sent him out?” Cassandra visibly relaxed. It did not last long.


“I have had no occasion to send him anywhere.” Haden turned his gaze back to his younger daughter. “One of the others…”


“They have no business in speaking to him! Or assigning him missions!” Just like that the temper was back. Her eyes flared red again. “He is mine! Mine! You promised me!”


“Cassandra. My promise does not change the fact that he has other uses besides being a plaything for your amusement.” His eyes drifted to the mark on her upper arm. It was a blade, double edged, tinged red with blood. “You are more connected to him than any other. Can you not sense him?”


Cassandra huffed and shook her head. “There is nothing. He is not dead – I would know that. But he is not here!” She thumped the table with her fist.


“Return to your rooms. I shall find out if anyone else had a job for him.” Haden dismissed her, ignoring her sputter of protest.




“Cassandra. I cannot have you charging into my meeting, causing a scene.” Haden spoke as if to one of his servants, which only served to make her angrier. She had always been the favorite and hated to be denied what she wanted. “Adam? Escort my daughter to her rooms and see that she stays inside.”


Adam had appeared in the doorway at the sound of his name. He led a still protesting Cassandra out of the room.


Haden spent another long moment studying Penelope’s profile. “Do you know anything of this?”


Penelope met his eyes. Unlike Cassandra, who favored her father in looks, Penelope favored her mother. It was one of the reasons that Haden had spent less time catering to her whims. Her mother had been beautiful, according to all the stories she had heard. Penelope shared her light copper hair and clear blue eyes. She was Haden’s constant reminder of failure. Her mother had committed suicide shortly after Penelope’s birth. He had been a bit overzealous in his eagerness to have a child.


It irked Haden to no end that not only did Penelope so closely resemble her mother she also shared her mother’s temperament. She did not have the rages that her sister experienced. And her powers were not based in the destructive arts which had long been a trademark of their family. Yet he let her sit in on their meetings because unlike Cassandra, Penelope could plan ahead and she could often see things that none of his other advisers could see.


“Her missing plaything is no business of mine.” Penelope answered with an amused twist to her lips.


Haden peered at her for another long moment before nodding and rising to his feet. “Reconvene the others in one hour, Penny.”


Penelope watched her father walk away, humor fading. She hated being called Penny. He might think he was showing affection when he said it but she thought it was his way of demeaning her. There was a grudge-fueled bond between them but she was his blood too no matter how much she resembled her mother.


The smile returned momentarily. It was so rare for Cassandra to be denied what she wanted. Penelope was not vindictive – she actually did not care that her sister was the favorite. Eventually their father would have to reap what he had sown with his headstrong younger daughter. She walked through the halls of her father’s home and passed along word of the meeting. That done, she decided she would not be rejoining them in their planning.


The only reason Penelope had been in the meeting was due to her father’s far-reaching properties. Many of their people did not trust Haden because he could be cruel when pushed. Most of them liked Penelope. She did not threaten or intimidate. Yet she still got things done. Haden was not sure if that was a burden or a blessing, but he used it if he could.


She wandered outside and headed south, not going anywhere in particular. Of course she knew where Cassandra’s toy had gone – not the exact location, but generally speaking. She’d owed a favor, and the benefits were many in repayment – getting one over on her spoiled sister was merely the icing on the cake.


Penelope glanced up on occasion. For no reason other than she often did. There was no sky here. There was light, but the source was not known by anyone. After about three hundred feet, the air above darkened considerably. Another hundred and it was completely black. She had heard their place called the underground since she was a child, and it was as apt a description as any.


She absolutely hated it.


Penelope had never fit in here. It was the only home she had known, yet it was as if she were among strangers all the time. Of all the things she kept from her father, she knew the secret with the biggest impact, the one that he might actually kill her if he knew about it was simply the fact that she had – on several occasions – ventured out of their realm. The others made it seem hard. And she supposed to them it might be. But for her it was as simple as opening a door.


After nearly twenty minutes of wandering aimlessly through a maze of passages, she came to a familiar door. She had no clue why she felt the need to come here but here she was nonetheless. Penelope knocked softly and waiting only a moment before the door was opened.


The man who stood there looked to be Penelope’s age. In reality he was older than even Haden – why he chose to live in seclusion here in the wastes instead of overseeing his own realm she could not guess. He smiled when he saw her and stepped aside so she could enter the small house.


“To what do I owe the pleasure of your company, Penelope?” He asked, gesturing at a chair that was situated next to his dining table. He had been eating lunch.


“It has been several weeks. I wondered if you had checked progress, Jason.”


Jason sat across from her, still smiling rather enigmatically. “Your sister finally noted the absence, I take it?”


“Oh, yes. Five minutes ago.” She smirked at that. “Is it all still holding together?”


“Quite well actually.” Jason picked up his fork and resumed eating. “Although there could be some trouble. He is closer than I would have liked. If I had known before that he lived so close…”


Penelope nodded. “Why protect him?” It was a question she had wondered from time to time, but had not dared to ask. Now it seemed to be prudent to know.


“I owe him a debt. And he made his sacrifice.” Jason offered her a bite of his food. Penelope shook her head and leaned back. He looked at her for a long moment, studying her carefully with his light grayish-green eyes. “Will your magic hold?”


Penelope smirked again. “Of course. Until I say otherwise.”


“Then we have nothing to concern ourselves with. As long as your sister – or your father – do not figure out what we have done.”


“What have we done, Jason?” Penelope asked.


“We have saved some lives. Or many lives if you can look on the bigger picture as I do.” He was referring to Cassandra’s plaything, who was also Haden’s unfailing assassin. “How many did he kill? Humans or others such as us?”




“Hundreds.” Jason corrected her. “More than either of us can know about. Because he was also under your sister’s bidding and she is as vindictive as your father.”


“And if they find out?”


“You know the risk as well as I do.” Jason said softly. “Your father probably thinks he’ll be able to call him back at will.”


“He can try.” Penelope said with a shrug. “It does not mean he will be heard.”


“Are you venturing another trip? Is that why you stopped in?”


Penelope shrugged again. “No. Not yet anyway. To be honest, I do not know why I am here. I just needed to get out of the house.”


“They may be too late to call him back anyway.” Jason spoke as if he had not heard her explanation. He pushed his unfinished food away. “All things considered.”


Penelope made a soft noise in her throat but said nothing. She only hoped that things worked out as Jason wanted them to. It had taken him over thirty years to find one particular woman. Penelope had no idea what it was that made this particular woman special – she only knew that Jason had been insistent. And an insistent Jason was nearly irresistible.




Vi woke with a start, for a minute completely unsure about where she was.


Slowly her mind registered the fact that she was on her side, right up against a very large back. And then the afternoon she’d spent with him replayed itself, making her relax. She saw the alarm clock over Glen’s shoulder and raised an eyebrow. It was four o’clock. She would have to get up soon. She had to pick Josie up at six, and get dinner together and…


Glen muttered under his breath and turned to face her. “Time to get up?” He asked, still mostly asleep.


“For me. I have to get a shower and take care of stuff.” Vi closed her eyes and snuggled closer to him for a moment, enjoying the feel of his arm around her and his chest against her cheek. She was worn out, completely sated, languid…she could think of about a dozen other words that described her current state.


Vi extracted herself from his arms, smiling at his noise of protest. She had to get up and get going now, otherwise she’d never move. She slid to the edge of the bed and sat there for a moment, feeling sore in place she’d never felt sore before. She felt Glen touch her back, running a finger down her spine.


She looked over her shoulder at him, taking in his messy hair and sleepy eyes. And she could see red marks on his shoulders – made by her fingernails.


He looked as content as Vi had felt, and she hated to bring him down because…well. Thinking about responsibilities often had a way of bringing her down.


“About this…”


Glen propped himself up on one arm and continued tracing circles over her back. “What is it?”


“As…” Vi almost said ‘nice’. A vast and stupid understatement. “As incredible as this has been…I don’t want Josie to know.”

“You don’t want her to know what, exactly?” Glen sounded amused.


“Ha.” Vi saw how badly she’d worded it, and shook her head. “Whatever there might be between us. And what happened today, and what might happen tomorrow, or next week, or next month. I would rather we keep it just between us. I don’t know how she’d react and even more important, she’s already attached to you. If something happens and she pinned all her hopes on you filling some sort of male role model need in her, and we ended up not working out, it would…I just don’t want to put her through that.” Vi realized she was rambling and shut her mouth, wishing she were better at verbalizing.




“If you think it’ll be too hard to keep it quiet, then it might be better if this doesn’t happen again.” Vi went on, ignoring his attempt to interject an opinion.


Glen gripped her arm above the elbow and pulled her back until she was leaning against him. “Vivian, I wouldn’t wanna hurt you or Josie for the world. If you wanna keep this just between us, I can live with that. Josie’s sharp though. She’ll figure it out.”


“Josie figuring it out on her own is better than one of us flat telling her.” Vi turned a little so she could look into his eyes. He did not look a bit put out by her demand, which was good.


“As long as we’re not going to pretend this never happened, I’m ok with whatever you wanna do. I’ve already lost a lifetime worth of memories. I don’t wanna lose this too.”


“I wouldn’t do that.” Vi reached out and ran a finger down his jaw-line. “I said we’d get you a fresh start.”


“That you did.” He turned his head and kissed her fingers.


Vi smiled and stroked her thumb across his lower lip. “I need to get in the shower. You coming?”


Glen lifted an eyebrow. “I dunno if you can trust me in there.”


“Oh really? Are you not tired enough?” She started to shift away from him but he caught her and pulled her down, kissing her hard on the lips.


“Plenty tired. But not done. Not nearly.” He said hoarsely when he let her go. Vi grinned and slid to the edge of the bed again so she could stand up.


They ended up sharing the shower but Glen kept his hands to himself. Good thing too, because Vi’s legs hurt. But she felt so good overall it didn’t matter. The hot water helped. Glen washing her back and rubbing her shoulders wasn’t too horrible either.


She hurried them along, because she was really behind schedule. Glen offered to get supper started, and she was grateful for that. At five til six, she was parked at the school waiting for Josie to get off the bus.


On the drive home, Josie chattered a mile a minute. Typical Josie. She’d had a great time and hinted that she might like to own a telescope. Vi did not commit to a yes or a no, because by tomorrow morning her daughter’s newfound love of all things astronomy would either solidify or completely disappear. She had learned that lesson after buying Josie a guitar. And a flute. And an expensive chess set that was now collecting dust in the attic.


Luckily, Josie’s excitement over her trip left her too preoccupied to notice it if her mother was acting a bit strange. Vi did not feel bad of course, but a little guilty? Definitely. She wouldn’t change what had happened but that did not mean she couldn’t fight with herself about it.


Back at the house, Ray had appeared. He and Glen were in the kitchen finishing up supper. Soon enough they were all seated at the table, eating dinner and listening to Josie’s rambling talk about her weekend. Every now and then Glen would look at Vi with a wry smile on his lips. She smirked to herself and tried to keep up with Josie’s news.


After supper Vi set about doing dishes, refusing offers of help. She rather liked the quiet half hour with her hands in soapy water. It gave her time to clear her mind. She was specifically trying not to think about the more physical aspect of their day together. Instead she focused on the house they had visited that morning.


Glen had remembered some things. The key. His room. But the rest of the house he’d looked on as anyone would – it was old, empty, dusty and sort of depressing.


So now the big question was did he want to remember? Did she want him to remember? Vi’s main problem was that she did not like surprises. She liked Glen as he was, but still wondered about what sort of baggage he was carrying that he did not even know about.


Vi drained her dishwater and dried her hands on a towel before turning to wipe down the table. Ray had come back in at some point. He sat at the table, scribbling away in his notebook. She’s been so lost in thought she hadn’t heard him enter the kitchen.


She raised an eyebrow and worked around him, cleaning the table before taking a seat and waiting him out. Finally he looked up at her. He was smiling, but he also looked wary. Vi took the notebook and read over his neat printing.


Vi looked up at him in surprise a few moments later. “You want to move out?”


He smiled again and tapped the notebook. Vi didn’t need to read it again. She got it. He had written that he and Rick got on well, and that he thought it was time he got on with running the ranch full time. And since Rick wasn’t married either, and they were closer than brothers, it made sense. He wanted to remodel the bunkhouse Rick was using and turn it into a home for the both of them.


“If you think you’re ready for that, I won’t try to make you stay.” Vi obviously surprised him in return by not arguing. She smiled at that. Ray reached over to pat her hand. “Have you already told Josie?”


He got a troubled look on his features as he shook his head.


“Well. It’s not like you’re moving to Alaska. You’ll be a five minute walk away.” Vi surprised him again by saying that, she could tell. He reached for the notebook and wrote something else down before turning it back to her. Vi read it over with a slight frown. He’d asked about the old place, the house that had burned down. “I’ll take care of it.”


At that Ray covered her hand again. Vi looked into his eyes and saw sympathy there. It made her feel like crying. “I mean it. Maybe it is finally time to let it all go. Even that.”


He smiled sadly and nodded. And spoke – which was another surprise for Vi. Of course, it came out very slurred and low, as if Ray was speaking through a mouthful of wet cotton but she understood it anyway. “Let him go.”


She smiled grimly. “I’m trying. When are you planning on going?” She asked, turning the conversation back to his move. He winked and help up two fingers. “Two weeks? You can renovate in two weeks?”


Ray nodded and grinned. He seemed happier. More at peace. It was something she had not seen in years. It was strange, but she was so happy for him at the same time…maybe his step forward could help her. She could hope anyway.


They decided to hold off telling Josie, because neither wanted to ruin her current good mood. It was hard to gauge what her reaction to things would be. Part of it was losing her father, but the rest was purely new teenager mood swings.


But for that night, they had a good time. Josie brought out a stack of board games and they played a few games before it was time for her to head to bed. Whether Josie sensed all the changes or not it was hard to say. She was her usual, hyper talkative self. She even went to take a shower and get ready for bed without her usual arguments for a later bedtime. Ray excused himself shortly after that, because they were going to get an early start the next morning working at the bunkhouse. Glen had offered to help – apparently Ray had told him while Vi had been out picking up Josie.


“You need a hand with that?” Glen asked from behind her as Vi sorted the games and put them up. It made her smile.


“Seriously. Stop.”


“Stop what?” He asked, smiling a little.


“Always trying to help me. It’s starting to get a little ridiculous.”


“Well, I was just trying to be nice.” He said, grinning at her tone.


Vi smirked at that and finished stacking the boxes. “Here. You can throw them in the closet. And you’ll get a gold star for helping for the day.”


“Pretty sure I earned that earlier today.” He winked and picked up the games, heading for the closet.


Vi snickered and refused to comment on that. Instead she headed upstairs to get ready for bed. She stopped to give Josie a kiss goodnight before going to her own room. By the time she had brushed her teeth and hair and changed into her pajamas the rest of the house was quiet. She slid into bed and pulled the blanket up to her chin, tired but not sleepy. And lonely. It was odd to feel that way, especially after the day she’d had but there it was. Hell, maybe it was because of the day she’d spent.


She toyed for a moment with the idea of going down the hall and slipping into bed with Glen. Not that she was remotely limber enough for another go-round with him. She had not realized how much she missed sleeping with someone. Actual sleeping, curled up together. Vi smiled sleepily. And thought about Josie’s reaction to that – on top of learning that her grandfather was moving out of the house, waking up to find her mother in bed with their new friend might put the kid into orbit. Vi figure that they should just take it slow, and let things progress as they would without forcing it. Glen seemed willing enough to abide by that, for which she was grateful. Things had definitely taken a turn for the interesting around their house. There was no denying it.




He snuck into her room instead.


Glen slept deeply, but not for long. He did not know what it was that woke him up, but it was pitch black in his room. He blinked slowly and his eyes slowly adjusted. It was raining. He figured maybe that had been what had awakened him but it wasn’t a storm. Lightning flickered in the distance but there was no thunder to accompany it. The sound of rain falling was soft and hypnotic. He cocked his head to the side and listened, hearing nothing else.


The thought formed, that he should just lie down and go back to sleep. His days started early whether it was raining or not. Instead he found himself in the hallway without realizing he’d gotten out of the bed. He was in front of the door to Vivian’s room, looking at the crack of darkness that showed the door was ajar. He pushed it open, dread filling his stomach. He didn’t know why.


Lightning flashed again, briefly, but in that flash he saw Vivian lying at the end of her bed. She was on her back, dark red blood smeared across her bare throat, chest, and stomach. As the room dropped back into complete darkness, Glen strode forward, not believing what he had just seen.


The next flicker of lightning was followed by a soft rumble of thunder as the storm drew closer. Glen had reached out a hand to touch Vivian, to check to see if she were still drawing breath. But in the brief flicker of light he saw that Vivian was laying on her pillow, curled onto her side, her blanket tucked around her. There was no blood, and she was fine, just fine. In fact, he could hear her soft breathing.


He frowned and eased himself onto the edge of the bed next to her. Vivian murmured and shifted but did not wake up. Once again, Glen tilted his head to listen, wondering what was wrong with him. Vivian was fine; everything was as it should be. Maybe he’d just had a bad dream and the remnants were still spooking him. He was glad he did not remember it, if that were the case.


He got up and walked toward the door.


And somehow found himself in bed with Vivian.


Not just in bed with her. Inside her. It happened in the blink of an eye. And while he was sure he had been wearing a pair of shorts when he’d gotten out of his own bed and walked down the hall, and he was even more sure that Vivian had been wearing her usual night shirt, now they were both naked and there was the rub of her skin against his, the feel of her bare breasts pressed close to his chest, and her thighs sliding over his hips.


From what felt like a great distance, Glen heard Vivian talking, urging him on, begging him to take her faster, harder. Her nails raked his shoulders and she bucked against him, moaning as he gave her what she asked for.


Another blink, another flash of lightning, and Vivian was screaming at him to stop, hitting his shoulders and back ineffectively as he pounded into her unwilling body. He was hurting her but could not seem to stop no matter how she begged and cried. In fact, every time she screamed in pain it seemed to heighten his pleasure, and that made him slam into her even harder. She squirmed and tried to get away from him but he was too heavy, he had all of his weight on her and in her.


He felt his end coming fast, too fast really, but she was so tight…her voice was breathless as she pleaded with him to stop, just stop, please stop. He couldn’t stop even if he wanted to, that was the problem. It felt too good to just take her even if she was crying tears of pain and shame. He ducked his head and ignored her begging, instead flicking his tongue out to taste the tears and sweat that coursed down her face. He moaned at the salty taste and ducked lower, latching onto her neck, sucking, feeling her pulse beat against his mouth and tongue.


He forced his jaws together, his teeth cutting into the soft smooth skin of her neck. Hot blood filled his mouth as he came inside her, his growl of completion muffled by her weak scream of pain and revulsion, muffled by the blood that filled his mouth, muffled by burying his face against her still sweet smelling neck.


She was still begging for him to stop, to get away from her, to leave her. He pulled back, blood dripping from his chin onto her chest. He ignored her protests and stroked his hand slowly, tenderly, across the smooth skin of her chest, over her breasts, spreading the blood. Her neck was still bleeding from the teeth marks that now marred it, but it was slowing. He hadn’t bitten her to kill her. No. That was something that was to be savored just like the release he’d just had. He pressed his hips down, harder into hers, forcing her legs farther apart. Vivian whimpered in pain and turned her head, sobbing wordlessly now. Maybe because he was still hard as a rock inside her. Maybe because the sight of her blood on his face in the flickering lightning had scared her more than the rape he had just committed.


He huffed in disgust. He had enjoyed her fighting too much, this sudden acceptance of her fate set off a chain-reaction of rage inside him. “Fight me.” He growled out, slamming himself into her once again. Vivian blinked and winced but did not make a sound. She did not even look at him. He drew his hand back and swung, hitting her on the jaw, forcing her head to turn toward him. That got a moan of pain from her and a soft sob. He felt a corresponding flutter of lust in his lower belly at the sound.


Vivian fought. Of course she did. Her lack of resistance had just been a lull in the storm so to speak. She took advantage of his weight being shifted to suddenly move, almost too fast for him to grab. She almost got off the bed. He managed to tangle a hand into her hair and jerked her back against his body with a laugh. “You’ll have to try harder than that.” He whispered it in her ear and licked her neck, letting the tip of his tongue draw a line through the blood there.


A boom of thunder, a flash of lightning. Vivian was begging again, this time for him to go harder and faster. Her breathless moaning and the wiggle of her hips made it near impossible for him to keep control. She was wrapped around him, arms around his shoulders, legs around his waist, writhing up to meet his thrusting. “Oh…Glen...” She moaned his name and tangled her fingers into his long hair, holding onto him as he pumped his hips, finding the rhythm and the pressure than she wanted, going by the sound of her moans.


When she climaxed the first time, she yanked his hair and her moan sent a shudder of pleasure down his back. Her mouth was against his ear, her breath sending warm puffs over his earlobe. He slowed his stroking, letting her come down from the high of her release, closing his eyes as her inner walls milked him. He slowly eased out of her, smiling at her noise of disappointment and loss as he moved. He turned Vivian onto her stomach, and ran his fingers lightly over her shoulders, the dip of her lower back, and the curve of her ass. At his wordless urging she was on her hands and knees on the bed, and he entered her from behind, filling her slowly from this new angle.


Vivian loved it, obviously, given her louder moans and her panting breath. He pressed into her as far as he could and held there, feeling her push back against him, his hands gripping her hips to hold her steady. She reached back between her own legs to feel him slide the length of his cock out and in again, repeating the slow process. Her fingers moved to her clit and she mimicked his speed with as he began the process of sending her over the edge again. Given the position, and how deep he could go, and how she squeezed her inner walls around him, it was not long before he could not help but go faster. He was mindful not to hurt her, to let her find her pleasure before he found his.


When Vivian climaxed with a wail of release he slid his hands up and gripped her shoulders to pull her firmly against him. The feel of her was all it took – he came inside her with a satisfied moan that came from deep within his chest. He rubbed her shoulders, squeezing in time with the contractions as the aftershocks of his orgasm ran through him. He blinked at a bright flash of lightning.


And felt Vivian flinch as thunder cracked overhead, close enough to rattle the glass in the windows. He didn’t care. Right now all he cared about was his eminent second orgasm, and the squealing, pleading woman who was pinned under him, her stomach and chest against the bed, his weight forcing her down as he slammed into her from behind. From this new angle he could really hurt her, and he had, growling at her scream of pain and pounding into her faster and faster. He wrapped his hands around her neck, squeezing her as he neared the edge.


Vivian struggled and cried out in relief when he suddenly jerked away from her. The relief was short lived. He straddled her and shoved her onto her back, crawling up her body. “Open.” He spoke in a low whisper. Vivian shook her head and tried to scramble away but he smacked her again, this time with the back of his hand. “Open. Now. And no biting unless you want me to knock your teeth out. Either way, it’s goin’ in your mouth.”


Vivian sniffled but didn’t try to move. He guided the head of his cock to her lips and rubbed it over the bruised, swollen skin. He had hit her a few more times, but that was all blurred in his mind. And it didn’t much matter. Given the other bruises and injuries, a swollen lip was the least of her problems. He found that amusing as he forced himself past her lips. She didn’t suck, and she tried to keep her tongue off the throbbing head and shaft, but it didn’t detract from the hot wet sensations as he fucked her mouth. She gagged and coughed, trying to breathe around him, but he ignored that too.


 Another few thrusts and he bit his lip as he filled her mouth. Vivian gagged and coughed more, trying not to swallow any of his spend. He should have made her but what was done was done. She turned her head as soon as he pulled his now sated cock away from her mouth and spit, crying again.


Smiling, feeling oddly pleased with himself, he wrapped a hand around her neck. She didn’t even fight him. The last bit of what he had done had apparently been what had put her over and caused her to lose touch with reality. Interesting.


He squeezed, cutting off the flow of air, the flow of blood. He focused on the moisture on her lips, watching as she tried to suck in a breath. He felt her dying, felt the force of her life leaving her as he choked her to death, his fingers slippery due to the blood on her neck. She weakly groped for the hand that held her and grabbed his wrist, but for what he did not know. It wasn’t like she could fight him off now. She was broken, done, used up. A waste really, because she had been so tight, and so responsive up to that point. And just like that he was mad again, that she’d just give up after showing so much potential. He squeezed harder, putting his weight into it, not stopping until he heard the crack and snap of her neck breaking under his palm.


Glen woke up with his breath caught in his throat, his heart hammering in his chest, and his head pounding sickly. He was shaking as thunder cracked overhead. He looked around, taking in the familiar surroundings of his bed, the dresser, the framed pictures on the walls. He was in his room. In his bed.


And he’d just had the mother of all dreams.


He sat up and swung his legs off the bed to sit on the edge, his elbows on his knees, his hands covering his face. It was a jumbled mess in his mind, the dream. He tried to catch his breath and palmed sweat from his forehead.


He was scared.


Glen would have laughed, had there been in humor in the thought. A dream that realistic that left him feeling like this…he wondered if maybe he had gone wandering in his sleep. And done something. Something bad. Like the dream.


It had been two weeks since he and Vivian had slept together. With the people in the house, the work, the errands, and dozens of other things, finding time to have a repeat was looking to be impossible. He wasn’t frustrated. In fact – he was sort of glad of the distance. Because he had been feeling things and wanting things from Vivian that he did not feel it was the right time to expect. Especially considering he had no past, and that her past was so clouded with memories.


That did not stop him from wanting, though. It seemed like every night, he went to bed with an ache in his body that no amount of attention and imagination could touch. Hell, he had the real thing to base the fantasies on and it wasn’t enough. He wanted her. He wanted her so badly that it was now spilling over into crazy dreams where he got sex and death and about a dozen other things confused.


He slowly got to his feet. He was still wearing the shorts he’d put on before crawling into bed. He ran his hands over his chest and shoulders, feeling nothing. No scratch marks. He sighed in relief at that, because either way the dream went he could clearly recall Vivian clawing at him. He glanced at the alarm clock and saw with a groan it was just past 3 in the morning. He would have to be up in 2 hours. But he could not go back to sleep just yet.


Glen went into the hallway, listening. The rumble of thunder was moving on, becoming softer by distance. Josie muttered from her room, to the left. He turned right and went silently to Vivian’s door. It was ajar, just as he’d dreamed it. Of course. She always slept with the door cracked open, so she could hear Josie if she was needed. He pushed it open and realized he had gotten one thing wrong. In his dream it had been very dark. But Vivian slept with a light on, a small nightlight that worked as a flashlight in case the power went out. There was one in every room of the house, except for Glen’s room. He found he could not sleep with even the dim light from the small bulb.


Vivian was sleeping comfortably, curled onto her side, her arm across her eyes. There was a book lying open next to her, one of her veterinary textbooks. She had said she would go over them on occasion just to keep things fresh in her mind. His relief at hearing her breathing softly and seeing her sleeping trumped his relief at being scratch free. He would never hurt her…and he did not know why he would have such a crazy, mixed up nightmare.


He fought the urge to wake her up. What would he say? He’d had a dream he’d murdered her after raping her but somehow had also slept with her in a way she’d liked? Even to himself it sounded insane, and he was the one who had experienced it.


He shuddered and turned back toward his own room. No. He would not disturb her. Especially because of the content of his dreams. It was not just the fact that he had done those vile things. It was that he felt out of control, a passenger in his own body. As if something or someone else was in control and he was forced to watch. Even when Vivian had enjoyed herself it had felt that way, although he had been more amenable to it. The rape though…and hitting her. Killing her. Being so mad that she would stop fighting him. It made no sense.


He grabbed a pair of jeans and shirt, and headed for the bathroom. He was done sleeping. He could already tell that dropping off would be impossible. He had a few lonely hours to kill before he could start his day, but that was all right. He did not want to risk another hellish nightmare.


Vi yawned and headed down the stairs, wrapping her robe around her. It was cool in the house that morning, the rain from the night before had left a cold front in its wake. The smell of coffee made her stomach growl. She entered the kitchen, and saw Glen sitting at the table, steaming mug in front of him, looking morosely out the window.


 “Hungry? Josie put in a request for pancakes this morning.” She asked with another yawn. Glen turned to look at her and the smile that had formed on her lips faded quickly. She frowned in concern. “Are you all right? You look pale.”


“I guess. I’m fine. A little tired.” Glen shrugged and picked up his mug. After his initial glance he looked away, unable to look at her for longer than a second.


“Are you sure?” Vi asked, reaching out to touch his forehead. It was a force of habit really. Between Josie and the animals, fevers were a commonality in her life. Glen’s forehead was warm but not hot. He pulled away from her after a moment and stared down into his mug of coffee. Vi frowned and dropped her hand to her side. “What is it?”


Glen would only shake his head. And he was saved from more questions by Josie thundering her way down the stairs. Vi cast one more worried glance at Glen before turning to make the pancakes she now no longer felt like eating.


The odd aloofness lasted all day. Every time Vi saw Glen, he avoided her. She caught him looking at her thoughtfully a few times, but he would look elsewhere if he noticed her noticing him. It made her feel jumpy. Luckily she had Ray to keep her occupied. He was packing his things and she helped after checking in on the two dogs she was caring for at her office. Josie had been upset, but it had only lasted a day. She understood why Ray wanted to move on, and was happy for him overall. And since he was still almost within shouting distance, letting him go was easier than any of them had thought.


Glen showed up to help Ray move his things. He looked more tired than he had that morning, and unhappy in a way Vi could not define. She resisted the urge to ask if he were all right again, because once more he spent his time avoiding her in every way possible short of telling her to get lost.


All she could figure was that he was mad they hadn’t had another chance to be alone. It wasn’t for lack of trying. She hadn’t done anything too obvious, but it was hard to have a secretive sexual relationship when a person had so many other things to balance. Her practice, the ranch, Josie, Ray moving. It just seemed like the past 2 weeks had been all go and no pause. There had been no time alone.


She would have to remedy that. If only because she wanted the chance to tell him that things would not always be so crazy around their house, and that she had not changed her mind. In fact, Josie was going to spend the night with Grace so the two girls could have what they called an all night horror movie marathon. Vi thought it was more Josie wanting to be gone so she would not have to see her beloved grandfather moving out. She put on a brave face but Vi knew it would take some getting used to.


So she fully expected to spend that night alone with Glen. And she was surprised when she found out, through another ranch hand, that he was going to be going out with Rob and Rebecca. Vi didn’t ask for details but sort of figured it had to do with their friend that Glen had gone out with. Amanda had returned for another weekend and Vi knew she’d called Glen on several occasions over the past few weeks – at first angry that he’d blown her off, then pouting to get together again. He had not even pretended to be interested. So yes, him going out with her again, when he knew full well that they could spend some time alone, did come as a surprise.


The only other words she spoke to him that day were just before he left to take the last of Ray’s things to his new place. Vi had walked onto the front porch as he was putting the last of the boxes onto the back of the truck. He’d glanced at her and his expression – a mix of emotions that defied her ability to interpret – had her looking at him in concern again.


“What’s wrong?” She asked again, not expecting an answer. It would fit the pattern of the day.


Glen went back to not meeting her eyes. “Nothin’. Just tired.”


Vi raised an eyebrow at that. If he was so tired why would he be going out on the town? She told herself it wasn’t jealousy that made her ask that. More like curiosity of the odd behavior he’d been exhibiting that day. She didn’t say another word. Instead she gave him one last long look before turning to go back inside. She heard the noise of the truck engine fade away a few moments later.


The house was way too quiet. She knew that Glen would be back, since he would want a shower and a change of clothes before going out. But since he was acting so damn weird that day, she couldn’t count on even that happening. She went to the kitchen, eyed the chicken she’d set in marinade that morning, and figured she’d just make the whole thing as planned. She could eat the leftovers for lunch the next day. She wasn’t a fan of cooking for one. Her eye fell on one of Ray’s notes, one that asked about the burned remains of the original house. Vi had been putting it off again of course. She did not have to look at it every day so she could afford to. But at least calling around for information would occupy a few minutes of her afternoon.


She pulled the phone book out of the drawer and wondered who exactly she should call. Steve? He would know who could help clean up the remains. She idly flipped the pages and reached for the phone. As she dialed Steve’s number, her eye fell on a familiar name. While they hadn’t gotten together for another dinner, Mark had called her a couple of times over the past few weeks. Once he wanted to know if she and Josie were interested in joining him for dinner. Vi had declined because she and Josie would be spending the day out shopping. The second time had actually been Drew, calling to shyly ask if he could speak to Josie. She tried not to make too many comments about how very adorable that was after Josie had put down the phone.


Hell, what could it hurt? Mark was a contractor, and Vi realized that she hadn’t heard from Steve since Josie’s birthday party. She’d been so caught up in her own things that she had completely forgotten that Steve and Jess had been in labor, and that the baby was probably already here. She would definitely have to make up for that – and figured that the next day would be a good day to get some visiting done.


So she dialed Mark’s number instead. It was Friday afternoon, and nearing on 3, so she fully expected no answer. She got surprised again when he picked up the phone himself.


“Secretary go home for the day?” She asked with a smile after saying their hellos.


“Secretary? I am the secretary around here.” He sounded amused. “What can I help you with?”


She didn’t need much more invitation than that. Vi quickly explained exactly why she was calling, thinking he would know somebody who could deal with her little problem. He listened and was quiet for just a moment before speaking.


“I can take care of that.”


“You don’t have to. I just thought maybe you know of a place that does those clean-ups after a fire or…”


“I do. That would be us.” He sounded amused again. But also a bit sad. Vi knew that not many people would pick up that sad vibe from him, but she knew it well. “When do you want me to come check it out? I’ll need to poke around and see how many people I’m going to need to do the real work.”


“Well. Whenever you want.” Vi said, thinking it over. It wasn’t like she had anything pressing going on.


“I’m going to be dropping Drew off at school at five-thirty. The football team is takin’ a trip to see the spring training camp.” She heard the sound of papers shuffling. “I could drop in after that, if it’s not too late. It shouldn’t take too long either. Not just lookin’ the place over.”


Vi thought it over. Hell, why not? It wasn’t like she would be busy. “That would be fine, as long as you aren’t put out – if you had plans or…” She trailed off, leaving it hanging. It would not have surprised her. Mark was a good looking guy after all, and even if he was still mourning his wife she didn’t expect that would stop him from being social when the mood took him.


“Nah. House is too damn quiet when Drew’s not in it. So I’d rather be out and about. I’ll see you around six?”


“Ok.” Vi smiled and said goodbye before hanging up the phone. That was another thing she could check off her list of things to do she supposed. Ray would be proud. And at least it would give her somebody to hang out with for a bit. She smiled ruefully. How very sad that thought made her - she practically had to hire someone to spend an hour in her company. It was ridiculous; she had a feeling that she could have just as easily called Mark and asked him to dinner and he’d have been just as agreeable.


The rest of the afternoon went exactly as she had predicted. Glen returned and haltingly told her about going out with his friends again. Vi already knew that but he didn’t know she knew. She was in the kitchen, peeling potatoes, when he explained his plans. She smiled and told him to have a good time. Obviously there was something in her voice because he frowned in concern. It was an odd switch after the way he’d been acting all day.


In the end he went upstairs to get ready. He was meeting Rob at the bunkhouse and they’d be leaving from there. Vi once again had a big empty house to herself. She sighed and finished prepping her dinner, the potatoes sliced and boiling, her chicken in the oven roasting slowly. She was in the middle of mixing a salad when the phone rang, startlingly loud in the quiet house. Even Bridger was making himself scarce these days, spending more time outside roaming now that it was warm again.


She picked up the phone and saw a number she did not recognize. With a sigh she answered. “Hello?”


“Vivian…” Glen’s voice. He sounded upset. And annoyed. It was funny how much she could pick up from just the sound of her name.


“What’s wrong?” She asked, for what felt like the hundredth time that day. “Whatever it is, tell me so we can figure it out.”


“I’m sorry. I’ve been acting like an ass today and I…I just…” He stumbled for a moment. “I had a rough night. Bad dreams. And I guess I was just processing it.”


Vi sat down, concern stamped on her features. “Why didn’t you wake me up? I would have helped…you know that. If anybody knows about nightmares, it’s me.”


“I know. I didn’t want to bother you though. Gotta eventually learn how to work through stuff on my own.”


“Do you want to talk about it?”


He hesitated, and in the background Vi could hear the sound of female laughter and water splashing. “I don’t remember much.”


Vi raised an eyebrow, because she could hear the lie in his voice. But why would he lie about something like a bad dream?


“I just don’t need to be taking it out on you. I’m sorry. I…wanted to stay there with you tonight; I really did but…maybe its better right now if I don’t.”


“What are you talking about?” Vi asked softly. She had thought he was too busy ignoring her to notice the fact that she’d be all alone, and now she knew he had noticed. Noticed and decided that he didn’t want to be around her.


“I can’t explain. Not in a way that won’t freak you out, or scare you.” Glen said with evident sorrow. “And even if it doesn’t, it scares me.”


“You’re scaring me now.” Vi pointed out with a shaky laugh. Nervous laughter – how she hated it.


“I’m sorry, Vivian. I really am. I want to be with you, you can’t even imagine how much I want to be with you. But I can’t. I don’t trust myself right now.”




“I have to go. I don’t know what time I’ll be home…but maybe tomorrow will be better. And we can talk then. All right?” He spoke right over her quiet protest. Vi could do nothing but agree with him. He said goodbye and hung up before she could really digest what he’d said.




Mark showed up right at 6. All of the food was ready, so Vi set it in the oven to keep warm while she walked with him out to the burned foundation. If he noticed she was not as talkative as usual, or generally bummed out, he didn’t press her on it.


She stopped by the swing in the yard, not wanting to go any closer. Vi had a feeling that no matter how cleaned up and redone this portion of the land was she would never fully get over what had happened here. Mark didn’t force that issue either. He gave her a friendly pat on the shoulder and went toward the blackened rectangle.


“Be careful – there’s a basement.” Vi called after him. She wouldn’t walk on what was left of the rubble, because she had actually heard things falling as time wore on and the floors that didn’t burn dropped into the basement. The whole place was sort of spongy feeling as well.


It didn’t seem to bother Mark even though he had to outweigh her by quite a bit. He walked through, peering through cracks and piles of blackened, unrecognizable furniture. He fixated on one spot for what seemed like a ridiculous amount of time, shook his head, and made his way back to her spot by the swing.


“I guess I didn’t realize how bad it was.” Mark spoke softly, turning to look at the ruins one more time. “We can either dig it all out or cave it in and fill it. Depends on how clean you want the spot to be.” He wore a troubled frown on his face. Vi noted it, even in the midst of her own current distraction.


“What’s wrong?” She was getting pretty damn tired of asking that particular question today.


Mark shook his head and lifted an eyebrow. “What was the official cause? Do you know?”


“Electrical fire.” Vi said, suppressing a shudder.





He shrugged. “It just looked kind of odd, I guess. But I’m not an expert.”


“What was odd about it?” Vi asked, turning away from the wreckage to look at him.


“I don’t know.” He smiled a bit ruefully. “The basement is burned up too. Maybe when they built the house, fire-breaks weren’t required. I would have to check the code. But that’s not really necessary for what you want to do.”


“What do I do?” Vi asked, refusing to look at the mess again. It just made her feel bad, and it brought up things that should have been laid to rest. “You’re the expert at least in this part, so what do you think?”


“I’d cave it and fill it.” Mark said, eying what was left of the house. “Bring in some fresh top soil and sod maybe. That’s one hell of a view of the property.  You might wanna make it a memorial place.”


“A memorial?”


“Yeah. A garden or something. Some benches or another swing…” He must have seen something in her expression because he frowned, concerned again. “If you aren’t ready to do this, don’t do it.” Mark said softly, putting a hand on her shoulder.


“It has to be done.” She took a shaky breath. “Ok. A garden. I can see that. Do you do that too?”


“Not really but I know some guys.” He rubbed her shoulder absently and looked around again. “It wouldn’t take too long to do it. Maybe a week. If you want to do the garden, it’s planting season.”




“I’ll set you up with the guy I’m thinking. He does landscaping.”


“I would rather not.”


That seemed to surprise him. Mark lifted an eyebrow again. “Well, you should have a say in how it comes out. It’s for your loss…and for the ones who are gone.”


“I trust you. You figure it out. I don’t even want to look at it again until it’s done.”


Mark studied her for what felt like a very long minute. “Ok. If that’s what you want. Shouldn’t take long – a week maybe. I’ll call you on Monday and let you know for sure when we can start.”


“Thank you.” Vi smiled weakly. Now that it was going to get taken care of, instead of relief, she felt sort of sick to her stomach. And she had been so looking forward to her dinner. “So how much will it cost?”


Mark looked thoughtfully back toward the ruins. “Not sure. Have to crunch some numbers.”


At least he wasn’t immediately offering to do it all for free. Vi was grateful he wasn’t going to test her pride on top of her resolve to get this done. She cleared her throat. “So…do you want to stay for dinner?”


His eyebrow went up again. Vi almost smiled for real at that. He had a very expressive face. “I haven’t even started working yet.” He finally said with a smirk.


“Well. This is payback for last time. Plus…I find myself in an empty house with too much food.” Vi started leading him back toward the house. Mark fell into step beside her.


“Yeah. I know that feelin’ all too well.” He still sounded amused. But Vi knew without looking she’d managed to touch a nerve. She should know – it would have bothered her too. “And I’d love dinner. Saves me the trouble of goin’ back to town for a pizza.”


Vi smiled at that. She let him into the house and headed for the kitchen, Mark following behind her and looking around curiously. It only took a few minutes to get everything set out and their plates fixed. Mark sat across the table from Vi and they ate in companionable silence for a few minutes.


“This is really good.” Mark finally commented after swallowing a bite of his chicken.


“Thanks. I made way too much.” Vi smirked and ate a fork full of mashed potatoes.


“Lucky for me.” Mark said with a grin. It was not the slight curve of lips smile that she was used to seeing so for a minute she could just stare at him, once again thinking that he had a very expressive face. He kept himself on a tight rein but she could see flashes of personality that he either reserved for those closest to him or he had forgotten over time how exactly to use. She knew the feeling. Sometimes she felt like laughing was an affront to her memories of Link, because he was no longer able to do so. It might seem an odd way to think, but Vi could not help it. “Thanks for asking me in. I really didn’t want pizza. Actually I was thinkin’ about getting falling down drunk but this is much better.”


“It’s still early. You can always get drunk later.” Vi smiled and took another bite of potato.


“You have a point.” He was looking at her intently. “Is something else wrong? Besides taking care of the other place? Because I keep getting the feeling you’re upset about something.”


Vi shrugged her shoulders, not wanting to go into it. “It’s just been a long day. Ray moved out…I told you when you called that he was shifting to the bunkhouse with the foreman.”


Mark was nodding and studying her closely. Vi would have been uncomfortable had it been anyone else. She didn’t know why it wasn’t bothering her now.


“You sure that’s all it is?” He finally asked.


“I’m sure that’s all I’m going to say about it.” Vi smiled a little. “No offense, but it’s personal. And I don’t feel like talking about it.”


“Ok. Sorry for butting in.” He smiled apologetically. Vi found herself smiling back.


“You didn’t. Much. So how is Drew doing with the football team?” She didn’t even try to be subtle when she changed the subject. He smirked about that but didn’t call her out on it. Instead they spent the rest of dinner talking about the kids, and about Mark’s business and her vet practice. He purposefully avoided the subject of the project she wanted done there on the ranch, because he knew that even if she said she wanted it to happen, it was still a raw nerve.


Mark even helped her wash the dishes after they were done, even though Vi protested it. All in all it was a pleasant evening. It was nearing nine when he decided he’d imposed on her enough and said he would head home. Or rather…


“Guess my beer isn’t gonna drink itself.” Was how he put it, which made her laugh.


“I’d offer you one but I don’t have any around.” Vi said, still smiling. She walked with him out to his truck and stood next to him, looking around. The air was warm after the coolness that morning, and smelled sweet like it usually did after rain.


“You wanna come with me? Maybe grab a drink in town?”


Vi wrinkled her nose. “I’m not much of a public drinker.”


He smirked at that. “Well, I have plenty at the house. You’re more than welcome to come by. I’ll share a little bit.” His smile faded. “Got an anniversary this weekend and I’m glad Drew is outta the house, because he doesn’t like to see me moping. But I don’t mind the company.”


Vi looked at him for a moment, thinking it over. “Anniversary?”


“Yeah. Weekend that changed my life. For a lot of different reasons.” He left it at that but Vi knew it had to do with his wife. Not their wedding, which she had learned had taken place in August, or her death which had been in October.


“I don’t want to intrude.”


“You wouldn’t be.” Mark said with a slight smile.


Vi debated with herself. He let her, not speaking, just standing with his hands tucked into his pockets and his eyes turned up toward the stars that were coming out.


“Well. I guess I could go hang out. I can’t drink if I’m driving myself home.”


Mark shrugged. “So stay. I have a guest room. Let’s get hammered. You might need it as much as I do.” As he spoke, his smile got bigger. Vi snickered and shook her head.


“I guess. Since my most pressing plan before your invitation was a hot bath and a book.” She couldn’t believe she was agreeing to this. And agreeing to spend the night? She must have hit her head. No. Actually, she knew she just did not want to be alone. Not after the odd way Glen had been acting, not with Ray moved out and Josie upset and pretending everything was fine.


“I don’t know if I’d be a more exciting alternative but at least I won’t feel like an alcoholic, drinking all by myself.” Mark said with a smirk. “I’ll wait for you while you grab what you need.”


Vi shook her head and went back inside the house. Even as she was thinking about how crazy it was she pulled a small overnight bag from her closet and put in some pajamas and jeans and a t-shirt for the morning. She added her brush and toothbrush and figured that would do her for a 12 hour sleepover. The thought made her smile as she went down the stairs. She paused for a moment at the entrance to the kitchen, looking at the notepad on the counter. She was going to leave a note, but the odd way Glen had acted…and his even odder phone call…replayed through her mind. She sighed and left, figuring she was old enough to not have to inform anybody of her social life.


Twenty minutes later, she parked her SUV behind Mark’s truck and got out, slinging her bag over her shoulder. Just being away from the house made her feel as if a weight had lifted off her shoulders. It wasn’t long after that they were sitting on the deck in the back, each of them with a bottle of beer. Again they had one of those companionable silences, for which Vi was grateful. Sometimes talking was overrated.


Eventually they did talk. Vi kept the conversation light though, because she sensed it would not take much to tip either of them over into the sadder memories they were both trying to avoid. She did note that Mark had not been joking – he was drinking two beers to each one of hers, and on occasion took a shot from a bottle of bourbon that he had brought out with them. Of course he was bigger than she was, and Vi was not much of a drinker to begin with, so she got tipsy faster. Two shots of his bourbon and her head swam pleasantly. It was nice to feel giddy, even if it wasn’t real and the feeling was just the result of impaired thinking.


It was just past one in the morning when she decided she was done drinking. Mark was still sipping his beer. If she hadn’t seen the amount of liquor he had ingested over the last few hours, she would have thought he was sober. He hid it well. But he was more relaxed, and did tell a few of his funnier on-the-job construction stories.


Vi had been staring rather fixatedly at the water of the swimming pool. He had turned on a set of rope lights that ran the length of the pool on either side. The water was completely still because the night was windless. Mark watched her watching the pool, and when she finally noticed him looking at her he gestured at the water with his bottle.


“You can swim if you wanna. Water’s heated. It’s not gonna be warm but your heart won’t stop if you jump in.”


Vi smiled at that. “I didn’t think to grab a bathing suit.”


Mark shrugged at that. “Can’t help ya there. I might have a pair of trunks you could wear.” That made him grin again. It made him look practically boyish. “Be kinda funny to see you try to wear ‘em though. They might not be your size.”


She shook her head. And regretted it. It made her feel dizzy. But that was not a bad feeling at all. She stood up and felt the alcohol hit her full force. She swayed for a moment and laughed at herself. “I don’t know if getting into some water would be the smartest thing in the world at the moment.”


“I wouldn’t let ya drown.” The alcohol made Mark drawl his words. It was the only real difference she could hear in his voice.


“Well…” She looked down and snagged a finger into the collar of her t-shirt. Mark chuckled as she studied the bra she’d put on earlier that day. It was black, and not see-through lace. Just a plain black bra. And matching underwear. “You have to promise not to look though.” She said, tugging her shirt over her head without waiting for him to promise her anything.


“How am I supposed to be a lifeguard if I don’t look?” He asked, even as he averted his eyes. Vi kicked her shoes off and pushed her jeans off her hips, taking them and her socks off at the same time. It wasn’t like she was naked – her underwear was practically modest, and didn’t show off anything that wouldn’t be showing if she were wearing a bikini.


“I guess I can’t argue with your logic.” She finally said, smiling when he shot her a glance. He had a smirk on his lips too. “Are you gonna get in the water too?” Vi asked as she headed for the steps that would lead to the patio and the pool beyond.


“If you’ll wait seven seconds so I can go put on some shorts.” He said, eying her in the dim light from the pool. “I can turn on some more lights too.” He set his bottle down and got up but Vi was shaking her head.


“Leave them off. I wanna look at the stars.” She said softly.


He nodded and turned toward the house. It took longer than seven seconds. Vi was busy, swaying, humming under her breath. She could not remember the last time she had felt so lightweight, and so mind-numbingly relaxed.


Mark finally came back outside. He had stopped to grab a few towels on his way out. He handed one to Vi, and she immediately tossed it onto the chair she’d recently vacated. She was looking at him with interest.  He had a lot of tattoos, on his arms and his stomach. And he wasn’t too hard on the eyes, which was nice. Especially in her current state of inebriation.


He was right about one thing. The water was definitely not warm. Vi used the steps and gingerly got in, a little at a time, holding the railing in a death-grip. Eventually she ducked under, deciding to just get the worst of it over with. After that, swimming around was pretty easy. As she adjusted to the water it started to feel warm, and she floated on her back looking up at the stars.


Mark swam out to the deep end and back, then to the side where he’d set his bottle of beer. He took a sip and eyed his guest as she smiled to herself. “Happy thoughts?” He asked, setting the bottle down and wading toward her.


“No thoughts at all. It’s kind of nice.” Vi let her legs drop and stood up, every move exaggerated by the water. Her balance was off. It was pretty funny. “I don’t think I’ve been this drunk since my freshman year of college when I refused to let some boy win a drinking contest.” She admitted, laughing.


Mark grinned again. “You deserve it every now and then.”


Vi moved her hands through the water, letting it slip between her fingers. “Can I ask you something? Personal?”


Mark raised an eyebrow. “How personal?”


“I just wondered...how long after…how long did you…” She couldn’t seem to form the words. He figured that wasn’t just the alcohol talking.


“How long did I what?” He asked, reaching out and cupping her elbow as she swayed again. Vi smiled and let herself be led toward the side of the pool. Her arms were getting cold again so she pulled Mark with her into deeper water. She could touch the bottom and keep her chin out of the water if she was on her tip toes. She felt weightless again.


“How long did you wait…after your wife…before you had…” Vi haltingly spit it out. Most of it. But he figured out what she was getting at way before she could make herself just ask it.


“Ah.” He pushed a hand back through his hair and made a face. “I dunno. A couple of years?” He snorted. “Or three or four. I don’t remember. I know it was a while and I know I felt guilty as hell when it happened. Just a one-night stand.”


Vi nodded and looked up at the stars. “Nothing…serious?”


He hesitated a moment. “No. Nothing.” Mark was studying her again. This close to the edge, the rope lights lit her face pretty well. She looked sad again. “Just…a night every now and then. And not even a whole night. If you get what I mean.”


She smiled. “Yeah. I get it.”


“Have you?” He asked, curious since she’d brought it up. Vi looked at him and for a moment there was such a confusing mix of emotion on her face he thought he had insulted her somehow.


“Have I…slept with somebody?” She asked, able to finally say it.


Mark nodded and smiled. “Feel free to not answer if you don’t want to. But why do you ask?”


“I…” Vi finally reached over and grabbed the edge of the pool. She used it to hold her body up so she wouldn’t have to keep hopping on the bottom. “There was one time. And at the time it felt right, but now…I don’t know.”


“Well, at the time was at the time. Now is now.” Mark shrugged.


Vi huffed an odd sounding laugh. Her at the time technically was still now. It had only been a couple of weeks. The mixed signals and the strange phone call…was Glen trying to scare her off? Did he decide that he’d satisfied his curiosity about her enough and now he was trying to find a way to fob her off without hurting her feelings by making her worry she was causing him some kind of distress?


Her head hurt from thinking so much about it.


“Easy for you to say.” Vi managed to finally get out.


“What’s the matter?” Mark stepped closer to her and reached out to touch her shoulder. “Is that why you’re having a rough time now? Something happened and you’re feeling guilty?” At her unsure nod, he smiled a little and let his fingers slip over her damp skin. “Believe me, I have been there. And I’m still there sometimes. But for a little while it’s nice to be close to somebody again. Even if it means second-guessing ourselves for a while after.”


Vi looked at him again, and found him studying her closely. “Does it ever get any easier?”


He smiled a bit sadly. “I’ve been told it does.”


She nodded and pushed away from the wall, swimming across to the other side of the pool without another word. Mark watched her, a thoughtful look on his face. He ducked under the water and swam to where Vi had stopped against the far wall. When he came up for air he was right in front of her. She laughed at that, because she’d been so lost in her own thoughts she had not noticed him swim toward her. Mark blinked water out of his eyes and stared at her intently.


He ducked his head. Vi felt her breath catch in her throat as his mouth drew closer to her own. He stopped, not even an inch separating them, so close she could smell the light scent of the cologne he wore and the sweeter scent of the alcohol he’d been drinking. She fought the urge to lick her lips and closed her eyes, fully expecting his mouth to cover hers.


It didn’t happen.


She opened her eyes after a moment to find he was still there, as if halted by an invisible wall. He was looking at her through half-open eyes and it made her feel weak at the knees.


But instead of closing that tiny gap, Mark pulled back. He had a look on his face that she could only interpret as confusion.


Vi remembered to breathe again. It was shaky, but she managed. He had almost kissed her. And she would have let him. Did she want him to? Maybe. She did not know. Was it smart? Probably not. Especially not with Glen in the back of her mind. And it didn’t help matters that she felt an attraction toward Mark. It had started as finding someone who could understand her grief. And it was still that, it was still the fact that he could understand exactly what she was dealing with.


Confused, Vi finally waded to the shallow end and climbed out of the pool without saying a word. She grabbed her towel and wrapped it around her shoulders, shivering. Mark eventually followed her, snagging his empty beer bottle on the way back onto the deck. He dried off absently, mindless of the cool night air.


“If you don’t mind, I’m going to take a shower.” Vi said. Mark nodded and watched as she disappeared into the house.


Thirty minutes later she was dried off, washed, and ready for bed in a pair of shorts and a tank top. Mark had showed her the room she’d be using and she went inside and tried to settle down. She heard his shower cut off after she stretched out on the bed, and the creak of floorboards as he moved around to get ready for bed.


Eventually it got quiet. Vi lay awake, staring at the ceiling, unable to easily fall asleep in a strange place. She wanted to stop thinking about what had almost happened in the pool, wanted to stop thinking about Glen’s behavior, wanted to stop thinking period. Her buzz was definitely gone.


An hour passed. Still no closer to sleep she kicked the blankets off and got up. Mark’s room was right across the hall and the door was closed so she knocked softly.


“C’mon in.” He kept his voice low, but he did not sound as if he had been sleeping. Vi opened the door and her eyes adjusted to the dark slowly. Mark was in bed, his hands behind his head, sprawled across a king-sized bed. “What’s wrong?” His voice was all concern as she walked across the room.


“I can’t sleep.” Vi felt him grope for her hand and she wrapped her fingers around his and let him pull her onto the bed. “Strange place, strange bed, and I think the alcohol is making me hyper.”


Mark chuckled at that. “That would be a first. You wanna sleep in here?”


Vi hesitated for a moment before answering. “I don’t want you to think that…”


Mark didn’t let her finish. He pulled her down until she was lying on the bed next to him, still holding onto her hand. “Not thinkin’ anything. Except that it’s kind of nice not just listening to myself think for a while.” He shifted, and she felt him pulling the blanket up over her.


“The worst part is sleeping alone.” She said softly with a yawn.


Mark knew that all too well. He held her hand and listened as her breathing evened out and slowed. He finally closed his eyes and followed her lead, soothed by the sounds of Vi sleeping.




When Rob was ready to take Glen home, he had no reason to want to hang around. It wasn’t like he could tell the other man about his odd fear of doing something to Vivian that he would regret. Even to himself it was crazy, this fear caused by a stupid dream that was probably brought on by too much working in the sun and too much daydreaming about her when he had a moment to himself.


Staying with Rob meant he’d have to deal with Amanda, and she was still being her forward self. She gave him looks and barely veiled innuendo that even he had trouble pretending not to notice. He did not want her though, that was the problem. It was making him even more confused than when he started. And it had been a hell of a day, when every time he saw Vivian or she asked him what was wrong, his body would react in ways that were way beyond what just looking at a woman should have done.


And it was just Vivian. For all of Amanda’s overtures, and “accidental” brushes against his arm or side, he felt nothing. Oh, he had a feeling if he had to he could use her and get a release, but other than that? She might as well have been an extension of his hand. Relief without satisfaction.


He was just going to have to deal with it. Rob dropped him off and Glen noticed immediately that Vivian’s SUV was not there. He raised an eyebrow and let himself into the house. It was completely quiet. He stopped in the kitchen and got a drink of water, glancing at the notepad. There was nothing there. It was late. He wondered if maybe something had happened to Ray or Josie…


But she would have left a note. So maybe something had come up with one of the animals or hell – maybe she’d gotten tired of being alone and she’d gone out. If he hadn’t felt so damn out of sorts all day he would have taken her out. He went slowly up the stairs, feeling the beginnings of a headache forming. He took a shower to once again get the smell of Amanda’s perfume off of him and went to bed, not bothering with pajamas. Hell, he was lucky he managed to dry himself off. He was completely exhausted.


When he woke up it was nearly ten in the morning. After weeks of getting up before the sun, sleeping in so late made him feel especially slow and tired.


At least there hadn’t been any crazy dreams. None that he could remember, anyway. And even though his head was still aching and his neck and shoulders were sore, he felt much better than he had the day before. He gathered his things and stepped into the hallway, meaning to take a hot shower to work out some of the kinks. And he heard a noise from downstairs. And the sound of Vivian’s voice as she spoke, apparently on the phone. He couldn’t hear what she was saying but something inside him relaxed at hearing her.


Fifteen minutes later he toweled off and got dressed, raking a comb through his hair, before heading down the stairs. Vivian was not on the phone – it was quiet except for the sounds of pans being moved and the hiss of water in the sink. He paused in the doorway and watched Vivian for a moment. She didn’t notice him yet, she was concentrating on mixing some eggs and keeping an eye on the stove where she had bacon cooking. So she’d slept in as well. It made him smile. And feel horrible for how he’d acted the day before.


Vivian turned a little and saw him there and jumped, raising a hand to press against her chest. “You scared the hell out of me!”


“Sorry.” Glen was still smirking. He hadn’t been trying to sneak up on her.


“Have you had breakfast yet?” Vivian asked, smiling a little and turning back to the food she was cooking.


“No. I just got up.”


“Must be a sleep in kind of day.” Vivian observed, transferring the bacon that was done onto a plate that was covered by a paper towel to catch the grease.


Glen went to the fridge and helped himself to a tall glass of orange juice. He poured one for Vivian too and she smiled at him before taking a sip.


“You look better today.” She observed as he took a seat. Glen shrugged.

“I’m sorry. About yesterday and how I was acting…” He trailed off. “Stupid dream. I felt off all day.”

“You were off all day.” Vivian agreed, pouring the eggs into the pan her bacon had been in. “And you don’t have to apologize. Everybody has those days.”


Glen smiled grimly. “Yeah. But I…” He sighed, unable to really complete the thought. What could he say? Vivian had just said an apology was not necessary but he got the distinct feeling she was still upset – she was just hiding it. “I took it out on you and you don’t deserve that. You deserve way better than that.”


Vivian glanced at him over her shoulder. “Did you remember something? Is that what it was?”


Glen shook his head. “I wish. Just…it was a bad dream…and you were in it. And it just left me feeling weird all damn day.”


Vivian turned away from her eggs to really look at him. “You could have told me. You could have gotten me up and I would have talked it out with you.”


“I know. Like I said…I didn’t want to bother you.”


“I would rather be bothered. Seriously.” She smiled. “Sometimes it’s better to just get that kinda thing out in the open and not let it sit and fester.”

“Yeah.” Glen sighed and dragged a hand through his still-damp hair. “Well. Today is better. I slept like a rock last night.”


“Good. You needed it.” She turned and stirred the eggs once more before putting them on the plate with the bacon. She’d made toast as well. She brought everything to the table and they were quiet while they fixed their plates.


“So…” Glen began after taking his first bite. “What time is Josie coming back today?”


Vivian smirked. “Six. Tomorrow night.”  She laughed at Glen’s raised eyebrow. “They’re going to the drive-in tonight. The idea is apparently just intriguing enough to make Josie pass up on hauling the grill out of storage and eating some ribs.”


Glen smiled at that. Hopefully this would be a chance to make up for being such a jerk the day before. Instead of saying that though, he picked up his fork and resumed eating.


Vi did the same, although to be honest she wasn’t really that hungry.


She’d woken up at eight that morning, expecting a hangover but actually feeling pretty darn good for somebody who had been drunk just a few hours before. Mark had scooted up to her back and he had an arm over her waist and his face was pressed up against the back of her neck. It had been his breath moving her hair and tickling her neck that had pulled her out of a deep sleep.


She had stretched and that was what had woken Mark up. He didn’t sound as sluggish as she would have expected given the amount of liquor he’d put away. He offered to cook her breakfast and she had been tempted – but she’d also thought that Josie would be home before noon. So they’d laid in bed talking for a little bit. And Vi hadn’t complained when Mark pulled her up against his side with her head on his shoulder. They spent about an hour waking up all the way, and then Vi got up and got dressed. Mark gave her a one-armed hug and one of those rare grins when she said her goodbyes, and that was it. She’d had a good time all things considered, and she hoped that she’d taken his mind off of some of his worries for a bit as well.


“So what do you have planned for the day?” She asked, wanting to just drop what had happened and move on. If he’d had a dream, and it had bothered him, Glen seemed fine now. And Vi had to remind herself that it wasn’t like he had past experience to draw on. His past being a blank meant that these things were happening pretty much for the first time.


“Nothing. I guess.” Glen shrugged and smiled ruefully. Sometimes on Saturdays he worked, but there wasn’t really anything going on around the ranch. The next week there’d be painting to do including the barns, bunkhouses, and fences. This weekend was sort of the calm before the storm.


“Oh. I figured you might go out with your friends again.” Vi said with a half-smile.


Glen grimaced. “I don’t know what Rob is doing, and I don’t think I care. I only went last night to be nice. And…to be honest, Vivian, I wanted to get out of the house for a while. I needed to think.” He sighed heavily. “Am I going too far out on a limb by saying you probably needed time away too? Because you weren’t here when I got home…”


Vi raised an eyebrow. She figured that was his roundabout way of asking where she had been the night before. She did not know why she wanted to keep it to herself. It wasn’t like anything had happened. But her reply was only honest in the most basic sense. “I spent the night with a friend. Since nobody was here, and I got offered a chance to unwind.”


If he sensed an evasion in her answer, Glen did not point it out. He only nodded with a pained expression on his face. “Well – I really don’t want to waste today like I wasted yesterday. Do you want to go out and do something? Or…I don’t know. Watch movies?”


Vi smiled. “Well I was going to go out and lay in the sun for a while. You are free to join me if that’s not the most boring sounding thing in the world. And maybe later we can do dinner and movies and popcorn?” She made the last a question.


Glen smiled at that. “I’d like that. Even the laying in the sun part.”


And overall that was exactly what they did. Vi kept things on a light note, not letting either of them get too serious through the day. There were a few times when it was hard. The first was when Glen spread lotion on her back. It felt so nice that Vi practically purred. And he was being very touchy-feely throughout the day. In other words…he was acting more like the man she’d gotten to know over the past few months and nothing at all like the oddly morose guy who’d made her so uncomfortable the day before.


After dinner they started watching a movie. About halfway thought Vi noticed Glen rubbing the back of his neck with a wince on his face. “What’s wrong?”


“I don’t know. Slept weird?” He was sitting on the couch and Vi on the floor. She looked at him with a frown.


“Is your head hurting too?” She saw the way he kept squinting his eyes at the TV.


“A little bit.” Glen sighed and rolled his neck on his shoulders. “It was all right when I was up and moving around. I might have to call it an early night.”


“I have aspirin if you want…” Vi got up and went to the kitchen and grabbed the bottle. She also got him a glass of cold water. He smiled gratefully at her when she handed them over. And instead of getting back on the floor she gestured to him to slide off the couch. “You sit and I’ll rub your neck. I don’t know if it’ll help but it’s worth a shot.”


Glen smirked at that and made himself comfortable on the floor with his back against the couch. Vi watched him take a few of the aspirin then took the bottle and glass back to the kitchen. She came back with a small tube of lotion in her hand. She sat down and got behind him with her legs on either side of him. And then she eyed his shirt.


“You could make this easy on both of us if you’d strip about half your clothes off.” Vi said with a snicker. Glen glanced over his shoulder with a smirk and tugged the shirt over his head. She got an eyeful of his broad back and muscular shoulders and mentally fanned herself. He had been in great shape when she’d found him. Working around the ranch had toned him up quite a bit more.


Vi shook her head and poured some lotion into her hand then rubbed her palms together to warm it. She started with her fingertips against his neck, rubbing lightly, applying more pressure as she worked the lotion in. She felt him relax bit by bit as she kneaded his shoulders and neck, working her way up, her fingers slipping into his hair to massage the base of his skull.


The entire movie passed with Vi rubbing his neck and shoulders with half of her attention on the TV, the other on the big guy in front of her. Every now and then he would moan softly, which to her meant she was doing something right. It made her smile at any rate. Even as she enjoyed the silken glide of her fingers across his smooth skin, she knew that this was about as physical as they would be getting. As attractive as she found him, she knew that it had been a mistake that first time no matter how utterly mind blowing it had been.


She liked a mystery as much as the next person and she was as attracted to Glen for his mysterious past as she was to him physically. And she’d been an idiot. The day before had proven it. He had scared her, and she wasn’t sure exactly why she was scared, or even why she should feel that way. And she had a feeling that it did have to do with his past. Either he had dreamed something that had happened and had somehow gotten her mixed into it, or….


Hell. She didn’t know. What she knew was that she could not let her guard down again, not that way. The real problem was she did want him, but Vi was not sure it was Glen she wanted, or just the sexual contact. He had awakened urges in her that had been dormant for a long time. She was so confused about everything, more confused than at any other time in her life.


Lost in thought she didn’t notice the movie end. By that time it was nearly 11 at night, and the house was mostly dark. They hadn’t bothered with lights. Glen shut the television off but didn’t move away from where Vi was stroking his shoulders again for a few more minutes.


“Thank you, Vivian.” He finally said, reaching up and touching her hand with one of his. Vi smiled and shook her head.




“Lots. You want a drink?” He got to his feet, using the couch to leverage himself up.


“No. Thanks though.” Vi watched as he disappeared into the kitchen with a troubled look on her features. She got up finally and put the DVD back into its case. She popped in the second movie and turned to find that Glen was sitting on the couch again. She sat down and pressed play for the second movie.


He was obviously not interested in watching it. Vi felt him move and turned to see that he’d slid over next to her. Glen ducked his head and kissed her, a bit hesitantly, raising a hand to stroke his fingers across her chin.


Vi went against everything she had been thinking and kissed him back. It just happened, that response, and it felt good. It was nice to be wanted, and it was nice to feel his mouth against hers and his fingers touching her skin.


Glen let his hand drift lower, his fingers tracing a line down her throat. He tilted his head and angled his mouth across her, deepening the kiss as his fingers found the top button of the shirt she’d put on. He tugged and the button opened, giving his fingers room to trace the warm smooth skin of her chest.


Vi would have given in and gone as far as he wanted to go. Except that reserved part of herself, the part that was usually sensible and cautious, finally piped up and reminded her that this was not something she could do. Not right now. Not if she wanted to be able to look at herself in a mirror in the morning.


She put her hands against his chest and gently pushed him back, breaking the kiss, trying to catch her breath.


Glen backed off willingly enough, unable to fully hide the confusion he felt at being rebuffed.


“Glen…” Vi’s voice sounded husky to her own ears. She cleared her throat and tried again. “I can’t. Not right now. I thought…yesterday…I would have. But I don’t feel right about it tonight.”


He looked at her for what felt like an eternity, his expression unchanged. Finally he sighed and raked a hand back through his hair. “I’m sorry. I should have figured you’d want your space after the way I was acting.”


Vi raised an eyebrow at that. Because he didn’t sound like he meant the apology. Even more – he sounded a bit angry. It was in the way he clipped his words.


“Don’t be mad at me. Please. I just…you were acting so weird and I…” Vi cut herself off for a moment and buttoned her shirt once more. “I don’t know enough about you. And you aren’t telling me everything. So even though you don’t have your entire past to share, you’re already hiding things from me. And I don’t particularly care for it.”


“If you knew, you’d probably be even more worried about it.” He said, sounding tired. He rubbed a hand over his face. “You’re right. I’m sorry. But I promise you, I only don’t want to talk about it because I honestly do not want to go through it again. It was bad enough the first time. But it was just a dream.”


He sounded more like his normal, soft-spoken self. Vi sighed, a bit relieved. “I don’t want you to think that I’m not attracted to you. Because I am.” She admitted. “But I told you, it’s been a long time for me. And this is not what I would call a normal re-introduction to relationships.”


Glen chuckled a bit at that. “Yeah.” He looked at her and reached over to rub his knuckles along her jaw. “I won’t pretend that I don’t want you. I don’t think I could do that. But I can wait until you’re ready.”


“Thank you.” Vi smiled weakly. “For now I think I’ll go to bed. I’m still a little tired. I was up late last night.”


Glen nodded thoughtfully and watched as she left the room. He wasn’t remotely tired. But he no longer had an interest in the movie that played on the television.


Vi tugged on a nightshirt and crawled into bed, just a little tired but a whole lot confused. She’d had time to think about their first time together, and time to beat herself up over why she’d done it, and that was one of the big problems. As nice as Glen was, as attractive, as overall sweet she could never really know him. Not until they figured out who he was and where he’d come from. And it did not help matters in the least that she’d met another guy in the midst of all of this and that she found herself attracted to that guy for completely different reasons.


She drifted off finally but she didn’t rest well. She was restless. And just when she finally got into a comfortable spot and her sleep deepened, she felt hands touching her. Vi thought she was dreaming it, that her tired mind had been going over and over this so much that it had followed her into sleep. And she enjoyed it for a moment, feeling big hands slide over her body, touching her. She murmured in her sleep as a hand closed over her breast and squeezed. A hot wet mouth closed over her nipple moments later making her moan softly.


Vi convinced herself it was a dream right up to the moment when she felt fingers sliding under the material of her panties and pressing into her center, long fingers that stroked her clit and dipped lower. Her eyes fluttered open as her hips rocked against those fingers without her controlling them. The small nightlight had either burned out or was not working because it was completely dark. She blinked a few times and made out the big man who was stroking her clit and moving so he was on his knees between her legs.


“Glen?” Vi felt groggy and disoriented. She tried to scoot back but he had her hip and was holding still. She noted rather belatedly that she was no longer wearing her panties and that her pajamas were pushed up to her chin. Apparently she’d been sleeping deeper than she’d thought. And his fingers were doing things to her that made thinking very hard.


He didn’t answer her. It was like she hadn’t spoken. He kept on rubbing her clit, holding her down easily with his free hand. He leaned down, using his weight to pin her so his hand was free, groaning a little as her bare chest touched his. Vi felt him shift and felt the hard outline of his cock through the shorts he was wearing against her thigh. At least he still had some clothes on.


Unfortunately he was so heavy that she could not really move. And she couldn’t even pull in a deep breath. “Glen…” She panted his name out, not meaning for it to come out sounding as husky as it did. “I can’t…not here…” It dawned on her that she was in her bed. The bed she had told him specifically that she would not do this with him in.


He still didn’t answer. His mouth latched onto the skin of her shoulder and he sucked while his fingers dipped lower. Vi tried to clamp her muscles down but she might as well have done nothing. He slid a finger easily inside her, then added a second one, his thumb rotating against her clit in small circles.


As scared as she was – had she not told him that this was not going to happen? – Vi felt the familiar coil of heat through her stomach, the tightening of her thigh muscles. She actually fought back against it, trying to ignore the climax that was building. She did not want this. Not now, not here. The thought made her angry, and that helped but apparently her body and her mind were no longer connected as one cooperating thing. She felt Glen close a hand around her breast and his mouth latch onto the skin at the top, sucking harder as his fingers plunged into her over and over. Vi couldn’t help it…she tried to clamp a hand over her mouth to keep in the moan that rose from her throat but found that he had pinned her arms against her sides.


Glen moved slightly and his fingers left her. For a moment. When he touched her again his cock replaced his hand but he did not enter her. He slid the length of his shaft along her slit, rubbing against her clit with the soft skin, making her shake at the sensation. Vi made a noise caught somewhere between a sob and a moan and came, her hips involuntarily arching up to press her clit into closer contact with the throbbing shaft that rubbed her. She heard him grunt in response, and felt his hands clamp down…one on her breast, the other on her hip now, his fingers digging in painfully. He was still sucking on the smooth skin of her upper breast. Her moaning and panting and movements against him were all it took. He came before he ever got close to being inside her, and his teeth closed over her skin at the apex of it.


Vi cried out at the pain of his teeth and his fingernails that dug into her skin. And oddly enough the feel of his spend on her…it caused her stomach to roll in revulsion. She struggled, trying to get out from under him. Glen grunted again as she moved against his now oversensitive cock, but he finally let go of her with his mouth.


“Get…off…of…me.” Vi said it between panted breaths, still not able to suck in enough air because of his weight.


“Vivian?” Glens said it slowly, as if he did not know exactly where he was. She would have laughed. Right. He wanted to pretend he had no clue how he’d gotten into her room?


“Get off me!” She screamed it at him that time, jerking her hips sideways and feeling relief flood her when he went easily enough, backing off to the far side of the bed. Vi pushed with her feet and slid up until she was sitting with her back against the headboard, as far away from him as possible “What the fuck are you doing in here? What…why…?” She was so mad she couldn’t even ask the questions.


“I don’t know. I went to bed. And then I was here.” Glen sounded wounded, upset, and confused all at once.


Vi shakily raised a hand to her breast, the one he’d squeezed. There was a dull ache there, and another on her hip. “I told you…I told you no. Told you not here. Why would you…why…” She still couldn’t get it out. At least not the words. Now tears were spilling from her eyes. She was beyond angry at that point.


“Vivian…” He reached over to touch her shoulder. Vi jerked away like he’d scalded her.


“Get out. Get out of my room.” She said it through clamped teeth.


“I don’t know what…”


“Get out!” She screamed that at him too, knocking away the hand that had paused in trying to touch her.


Glen hesitated and got up slowly. “Vivian I’m sorry. I just…I thought I was dreaming and…”


“Get. Out.”


He went. Reluctantly. Vi followed him but only long enough to slam and lock her bedroom door. She went to the bathroom and winced when she turned the light on. First things first – she cleaned herself up and got the sticky feel of his spend off her lower belly. Her stomach nausea eased as soon as that was done. And then she turned and looked in the mirror. She looked herself over, shocked at the sight of blood trickling down her breast. He’d bitten her hard enough to break the skin.


Not only that. Her hip was also bleeding. Not a lot. Just enough to see where he’d dug his fingernails in. She looked closer and saw the same scratch marks over the breast he had squeezed so hard. It throbbed dully, making her wince. She turned the shower on and got into water as hot as she could stand it.


She scrubbed herself down with soap and rinsed, then scrubbed herself down again. She didn’t know what the hell had just happened, or if it would qualify as some kind of rape type thing but mostly what she felt was anger. At herself. For letting him do that, and for her body betraying her by finding a release in the midst of what he was doing. She did not even realize she was still crying. And shaking. She finally shut the water off and wrapped a towel around her before going into her room. She checked the nightlight and saw that it was on the floor. So she resolutely plugged it in again.


She eyed her door for a moment then went to the chair in the corner. The reading chair. She pushed it and shoved it under her doorknob, not trusting the lock. It was crazy to do it, she knew it but she felt better when it was done.


Vi pulled on fresh panties, a pair of shorts, and a t-shirt. But she didn’t get in bed just yet. First she yanked all the sheets and blankets away to expose the mattress. Then she went to her closet and got fresh bedding out as well, changing everything, even her pillow cases.


She left the bathroom light on. Vi crawled into her bed and pulled her blankets up to her chin and brushed absently at the tears that slid down her cheeks. Sleep was a long time coming, even if she suddenly felt so exhausted she could not move.


She heard Glen moving in the hallway. He did not stop at her door, and he did not bother to ask if she were all right. Instead his footsteps went down the stairs. She heard the sound of the front door being slammed. After a while the faint noise of a vehicle came to her. He had either driven off – maybe around the ranch, or he’d gotten someone to pick him up. Either way. Good. Vi felt herself relax a bit but even that was not enough to make her want to let her guard down with sleep again.



Glen took a long swallow from the bottle of bourbon that Amanda handed to him as soon as he got in the truck.


He was angry. Actually angry did not touch what he was. Who the fuck needed somebody like Vivian? She was weak, and she was making him weak in response to it.


He took another drink and handed the bottle to Amanda. She was driving them down a dark country road, her face an odd green in the back-glow of the instrument panel. She took her own shot from the bottle and handed it back. “You sounded like you needed it more than me, hon.” She said with a smirk.


Glen couldn’t argue with that. He drank again, feeling the alcohol burn its way down to his stomach.


“Find a place to park.” He said gruffly, not even looking in her direction. Amanda raised an eyebrow and guided the truck onto a one lane road. She found a spot to pull in between some trees along the side. She shut off the engine and lights and they sat in the dark listening to the engine ticking. She had borrowed Rob’s truck, without really asking to. He was sleeping, and she hadn’t wanted to wake him up.


“Now tell me what’s wrong.” Amanda said, scooting closer.


Glen huffed and drank more bourbon. A part of him – a very tiny, very weak part – wondered just in what the hell he was doing. He liked Vivian. He did…he liked her looks, he liked her intelligence, he liked her way with people and animals and…yes, her way with him. And that part was trying to assert itself, although weakly. Glen once more felt like he was a passenger in his own body.


“Was it your friend? The one you kept blowing me off for?” Now Amanda was running her fingers up his shoulder and neck. “Did she not give you want you wanted?”


“The fuck would you know about what I want?” Glen said sourly, wondering what had gotten into him.


“Big, strong guy like you…you need somebody to take care of you…” Amanda practically purred, not put out by his gruff attitude. In fact, it seemed to excite her. She dropped her hand onto his crotch and rubbed him through the material of his jeans. “You can do whatever you want to me…do anything you want. Anything that she wouldn’t let you do.”


At that Glen turned his head and looked at her. She licked her upper lip and smiled as his eyes followed the movement.


“Do you want to hurt me? Is that it?” Amanda grabbed his hand and pulled it up, putting it against her chest. “Do you want me to pretend I’m her? Will that make it better? Just tell me what she looks like and…”




“Oh.” She was momentarily distracted by his voice. Then she smiled and drew his hand upward until his fingers were wrapped around her throat. “Fine then. You can do whatever you want to me. Just tell me what you want.”


Glen rubbed the smooth slim column of her throat thoughtfully as he drank a bit more of the bourbon. “Anything I want?”


“Name it.”


He dropped the bottle and shoved Amanda back, covering her, his hand tightening around her throat. “Fight me off.” He growled out, using his free hand to rip at her clothes. Amanda smiled to herself and did exactly as he ordered her there in the cab of the truck.


Glen blinked and was in his bed, feeling achy, his head pounding. It felt like something fuzzy had crawled into his mouth and died while he slept. Sunlight poured in through the window, making him wince.


He groaned and sat up, blinking at the clock. It was just past eight in the morning. He shook his head and grabbed some clean clothes and headed for the bathroom.


Vivian’s door was shut, which was odd. He glanced at it and had a flash of something, either he had upset her…or…


Glen couldn’t remember. It was weird too because he remembered very clearly sitting with her and Vivian giving him a shoulder rub that nearly put him into a coma, it had felt so nice. And…going to bed? He frowned and shut the door behind him, trying to remember.


He turned on the water and glanced at the mirror. And immediately did a double take.

He had scratches on him. A lot of scratches. Most on his shoulders, a few on his neck, and across his chest and arms. He turned and craned his neck and saw more going down his back.


“What the hell…”


There were other marks as well. A bruise on his neck, and another on his lower stomach. Small, round and…well. Yeah. Probably caused by a mouth sucking a little too hard. Which was strange because he and Vivian had not done anything but watch movies the night before.


He kept telling himself not to freak out. Obviously there was an explanation. He just had to figure it out. He got into the shower and washed off, expecting the scratches to sting. They didn’t. In fact…they did not seem nearly as bad as they had just moments before. By the time he was done in the shower and toweling off the marks had faded until they were barely visible. Except for the bruises. They remained.


He left the bathroom and glanced once more at Vivian’s room. The door was ajar now, and for some reason he got a sense of apprehension just looking at it. She wasn’t in there…at least not in the area he could see through the open door. He headed down the stairs and paused in the doorway to the kitchen.


Vivian was standing at the sink, drinking a glass of orange juice. Her eyes were red and swollen and she looked as if she hadn’t slept well. A concerned frown crossed his features as he stepped into the room.


“Vivian, are you all right?”


Vivian jumped and whirled around, dropping her almost-empty juice glass. Glen caught it, barely, before it could shatter on the floor. His head might be pounding to beat the band but his reflexes were still decent. He set the glass in the sink and eyed her with growing concern as she backed away from him, staying well out of arm’s reach.


Something flashed behind his eyes, something…touching her? Or kissing her? On the couch, yes, he could remember he’d kissed her on the couch when they had started the second movie. But…


“What is it? What’s wrong?”


Vivian just looked at him, and he caught something in her eyes…a flash of anger maybe, and something else, something he could not define. It made him feel about three inches tall, whatever it was.


Glen took a step toward her and Vivian backed up, keeping the distance between them the same. “Don’t.” She said. Her voice was hoarse.


“What happened last night? Vivian…”


She laughed. It sounded harsh, as if she were really trying not to cry. “You’re going to act like you don’t remember?” She asked, incredulous.


Glen sank down into a chair and tried to think of anything he could have done…anything at all…but there was nothing. Except for the one thing he did remember. “I kissed you. You rubbed my neck and then I kissed you. And then…then…” He trailed off, frowning again. “I went to bed? We were watching a movie and…” He rubbed his temples, feeling his headache worsening.


“You came to my room.” Vivian said softly. Glen looked up at her and saw she was not even looking in his direction. Instead she stared out the window. “You woke me up…you tried to…you were…”


“I was what? Did I…” Glen swallowed. “Did I hurt you, Vivian?”


She nodded and blinked a few times, and he realized with a sinking stomach that she was trying not to cry. And it made him feel even worse, even if he still remembered nothing.


“God, Vivian. I’m so sorry…I don’t remember anything after the movies and kissing you last night. Hell I don’t even remember getting in bed.” He wanted to go to her and wrap his arms around her but figured she would just run away if he tried it. “What did I…” He trailed off and sighed. That stupid dream from the night before flashed in his mind. “Did I force you? Because…”


Vivian sank down into a chair across from him. She just shook her head as she reached for a napkin that was on the table to wipe her eyes.


“Vivian…” Glen reached out for her and felt like the wind was knocked out of him when she pulled back so he could not even touch her hand. “What did I do?”


“You…you touched me. And…” She hitched in a breath. “I can’t do this. Not anymore. I told you I had one request and that was not in my bedroom. And then you just…after I told you I wasn’t going to sleep with you…you come in while I’m sleeping and…and you touch me…”




“And you hurt me…you bit me and you held me down and…” She rattled on very fast, as if saying it quickly would make it hurt less.


“I don’t remember any of this.” Glen said softly, trying to think. “Vivian…what the hell is wrong with me? You know I’d never hurt you. Don’t you?” He asked, a pleading note entering his voice.


“You did.”


Glen bit his lip and shook his head. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I had that dream and…I bit you?”


Vivian nodded slowly. She was wearing a button down shirt so she undid a few of the buttons and slowly moved the material so he would see the ring of teeth marks he’d left on her. He also saw the edge of a bruise that disappeared under the shirt. His could only sit there with his mouth open as she buttoned up again.


“This doesn’t make any sense.” He finally said in a flat voice. “Vivian…I don’t know how or why I did that. I had a dream. The night before last – and I dreamed I was…hurting you. Biting you. But…then I was…” He was at a loss for words.


“Are you trying to say you maybe sleep-walked into my room, touched me…” She took a shaky breath. “Did things to me. And you don’t remember any of it?”


“I swear to you, Vivian. I don’t.” He cupped his forehead in his hands and leaned forward, his elbows on the table. “Why? Why would I do such a stupid thing?”


Vivian said nothing. She just sat there. He wondered if maybe she were in some kind of shock. His stomach clenched up and he felt ill when he realized that maybe…


“Did I force you, Vivian?” He looked up. Vivian was once more looking out the window. Tears were falling, leaving tracks down her cheeks. “Not just the biting or…or the touching. Did I? Did I actually…” He couldn’t even bring himself to say it.


And Vivian saved him from saying it anyway. She shook her head and sniffled. “You used your hand. And then I…I…you…” She could not seem to continue.


Glen studied her for a moment. “Vivian.”


“You just finished. Not…inside me. You didn’t get there.” She finally said, roughly wiping her tears away. “And then I made you leave. And you left the house.”


“I did?”


At his honestly puzzled question, Vivian finally looked at him. “Are you saying you don’t remember that either?”


“I don’t remember any of this.” He said, meeting her eyes. “We watched a movie. I kissed you. On the couch. Then I’m waking up this morning with a headache and feeling like I got hit by a truck.”


Vivian bit her lower lip and took another one of those shaky, watery breaths. “I meant what I said. Nothing else can happen between us. I can’t. Not after this.”


Glen could only nod his head. “I’m not gonna be able to say ‘I’m sorry’ enough times to make you believe it, am I?”


“For now? No. Because now I feel like I can’t trust you.” She blinked back more tears at that.


“Vivian...do you want me to leave?”


She looked surprised at that. “Leave?”


“I could get a place somewhere else. I’ve got money saved up. Or one of the bunkhouses if you still want me to work around here.” It almost killed him to bring it up. He liked staying here with Vivian, Josie and Ray. It felt like home. “I’ll go if you want me to. Whatever you need to make you feel safe, I’ll do it.”


Vivian sniffled and frowned thoughtfully. “I don’t know. I need to think.” With that she got up and left the kitchen, heading outside to walk. Glen watched out the window until she disappeared over a small rise.


Vi went toward the remains of the original house without even thinking about it. She had to be crazy, to even consider letting Glen stay in her house after the night before. But as much as she hated it, she believed him. He didn’t remember, and he had seemed as repulsed by what had happened as she was. But he wasn’t the one walking around with someone’s bite marks, scratches, and bruises on him to prove it had really happened.


She stood by the swing and stared out over the burned mess, not really seeing it. Josie – her daughter should be her first consideration. She absolutely loved Glen, and Glen obviously cared for her. Even given what Glen had done the night before, she never once questioned that her daughter was safe around him. Should she? Probably. But Vi got the distinct feeling that whatever it was that brought him to her room the night before was focused only on her.


And it was Spring break. Josie would be home all week. Vi felt her stomach knot at that, because even knowing her daughter wouldn’t be home until later that evening she knew there was no way she could cover this up. Josie would sense something wrong.


Well that was easily dealt with anyway. Grace and her family were going to a cabin they had rented a few hours away, something they did every year. In fact, Vi and Josie had gone with them a few times. Josie had been invited, but with the painting around the ranch she had been hesitant. Josie loved the painting – or more accurately, she loved making a mess – but if Vi said she could go to the lake with her best friend…well. She figured it would even out.


So that was settled. Now what about herself? Was she supposed to barricade herself into her room every night just in case? She was so tired that she could barely keep her eyes open as it was, could she spend every night as restless, wide awake and listening for the sound of someone trying to get into her room? Because that’s what had happened the night before. Vi had finally fallen asleep as dawn began lighting the sky to the east, and she still had not heard Glen return home.


The hell of it was – Vi blamed herself. She had given in once. But it had been so damned long since she’d been with a guy, and it had felt so nice to be wanted again. And she had been curious of course, especially considering his memory loss and…


Vi dragged her hands through her hair in frustration. Ok. So she had messed up royally. Not by sleeping with him the first time. She would not take that back if she could, because hell…they both needed it. She’d put him off, and when opportunity had come she had told him no and why? Because he’d had a bad dream and hadn’t wanted to talk about so she was taking it out on him?


It sounded plausible in her head. Vi also knew that wasn’t the reason that she’d turned him down. And she got mad at herself all over again, for responding to what he’d been doing to her the night before, for not having the will to make her body ignore what he had been doing to her against her wishes.


She turned and walked back to the house, not feeling better or worse, but getting an idea she thought she could live with. Vi let herself in and saw Glen still sitting at the kitchen table, looking miserable.


“You can stay.” She cut right to the chase. “But tomorrow you go back to the clinic and we get you checked again. Because if what you did was really sleep-walking, then I can’t trust you won’t try it again.”


Glen nodded miserably. “I’ll do whatever you want.” With that he got up and headed for the stairs.


Vi looked after him for a moment before turning to the phone the call Josie and tell her she’d changed her mind about letting her go. Josie heard something in her mother’s voice, because she carried the phone outside where it was quiet.


“Is something wrong, Mom?”


Josie’s concern was almost enough to make Vi cry again. Instead she sucked in a big breath and forced herself to sound cheerful. “Everything is fine. I’m having the old house cleaned up finally and…well. I guess I thought we could both use the break before it happened.”


“Oh.” Bringing up the old house was all it took. Josie knew how her mother felt about it. “I’m sorry, Mom. Do you want me to stay with you?”


“No, no. You go have fun at the beach and please don’t come back fried to a crisp. I’ll drop your things over there after while. I have to go out grocery shopping anyway.”

“Ok. Love you!” Josie was all happiness as they said goodbye. Vi held the phone for a moment and jumped when it rang in her hand.


“Hello?” Vi asked cautiously, still feeling that she would either laugh or cry. Maybe both.


“Hey.” Mark’s familiar deep voice in her ear caused her to smile at least.


“Hey yourself.”


“Are you all right? You sound kind of stuffy.”


Wow. He’d picked that up out of three words. At least she wouldn’t have to hide nearly as much with him. “This has not been a very good morning for me.” She admitted.


There was a pause as he thought about that. “Come over. I’ll try to improve your day.”


That actually made her smile for real. “I’m not sure I need to be around anybody right now.”


“Well consider it an open invitation.” Mark said, sounding a bit concerned but trying to cover it. “Drew is leaving me again – football camp. I kinda miss the days when he wanted to sit around and play video games non-stop.”


Vi glanced over her shoulder at the stairs and sighed. “Does your invitation include another overnight stay?”


That caused another pause in the conversation as Mark processed that. “You wanna stay the night here?” He asked finally.


Vi hesitated and cleared her throat. “Well I want to get out of the house for a while. Maybe I should take a trip this week or…”


“You said you didn’t want to be around anybody. That’s the only reason I asked.” Mark interrupted her. “Consider the guest room yours for as long as you need it. I’d like the company.”


“Not sure I’m gonna be the best company for anybody at the moment.”


“Don’t go sellin’ yourself too short. Come on out. We’ll grill some steaks and talk about the kids.” In other words, he was telling her without actually saying it that he wasn’t going to push her on what was bugging her, for which Vi was eternally grateful.


“Ok. Thank you. I’ll be there in…” She glanced at the clock. It wasn’t even ten yet. The day just seemed to drag on forever. “I have to take Josie her things and pack and take care of a few other things but I’ll be there this afternoon.”


“I’ll look forward to it.” Mark said goodbye and Vi stood there for moment wondering if she’d lost her mind. Was going to stay with Mark again really the smartest plan she could come up with?


She thought of spending the night in her room with Glen down the hall and suppressed a shudder. It wasn’t that she was afraid of him – even considering what had happened. His reaction…he hadn’t remembered a bit of it. And she believed that. She wasn’t trying to force herself to believe it. He was speaking the truth. And that was what scared her. That he could forget something like that, where he could have hurt her much worse than a bite and some bruises.


Vi shook her head and hurried upstairs to Josie’s room to get everything together. She wanted to put this whole thing behind her, and forget it had ever happened. She envied that at least, since Glen didn’t remember it anyway. Maybe a couple of days out of each other’s hair would do them both a world of good. She only hoped that were true as she packed her own bag.


She hesitated at the top of the stairs, trying to decide if she wanted to say something or if she should just go. And she did not know why but Vi put the bags down and went to the door to Glen’s room. It was open, and he was sitting on the edge of his bed, looking out the window.


He looked over his shoulder when he heard her. Vi knew, just in that look, that she was doing the right thing. Because too much of that and she’d really start thinking she had been the one to do something wrong. “I’m taking Josie some things and then I’m going to spend some time with a friend. I really can’t be here right now.”


Glen nodded and went back to looking out the window. “I’m sorry, Vivian.”


“I know you are. That’s why this is so hard.” Vi sighed. “Would you tell Ray when you see him in the morning? I’ll leave a note at the clinic…” Luckily she hadn’t been very busy that weekend. “And I’ll be back when I get my head straightened out.”


“I should be the one leaving.” Glen said softly. “This is your home and I’ve done something to mess it up for you and…”


“Doesn’t matter. I need time. And I don’t need to be here.” Vi said, not letting him go on. “I’ll be back tomorrow afternoon. Just…I’ll be back tomorrow.” She stopped herself from saying anything that would mean either of them were off the hook. Glen only nodded again.


Vi turned and grabbed the bags and went down the stairs. She quickly wrote her note and went to hang it on the office door. Then she called down to one of the bunkhouses, and asked for Frank. He was one of their younger hands and he’d helped around the clinic from time to time. Vi asked if he would check in at the clinic during lunch, and be sure that things were as they should be. That taken care of she was set to go.


She dropped Josie’s bag off and decided to take her out to eat before she was gone for the week. The spent a leisurely hour eating hamburgers and drinking milkshakes and being silly together. Josie must have sensed that Vi needed that. Vi felt better just being around her daughter, and found that she wasn’t having to struggle to act happy. She was happy. Josie had that power sometimes.


She dropped her off once more, and made sure Josie had everything she needed. She tucked some money into her pocket as well, just in case. They would be leaving in a few hours with a stop along the way for dinner.


Vi declined their invitation to join them, even though a week on a beach sounded nice. She couldn’t just go on a moment’s notice though, because of the clinic. Just leaving for the day put her behind on a few things. So she kissed Josie goodbye, told them all to have a great time, and got back into her SUV. She glanced at the clock and figured she might have killed enough time. Hopefully Mark wouldn’t mind if she showed up a little early.




Vi didn’t think Mark was put out a bit by her early arrival. He’d answered his door, the start of a smile on his face. It had faded when he’d taken a good look at her. She tried to force a smile but obviously her acting ability was wasted.


“What’s wrong?” He asked, holding the door for her to step inside.


Vi could only shake her head. “I really don’t want to talk about it right this second, if that’s all right.”


Mark nodded and studied her closely. Any other time it would have made her uncomfortable. As it was, Vi barely noticed. “Why don’t you go up and lay down for a little bit? You look tired.”


“Is that the polite way of saying I look like reheated hell?” Vi was tired. Her sleepless night had caught up to her on the drive over. It was all she could do to stay upright.


“You just look tired.” He said with a smirk. But there was more concern on his face. “Come on. Take a nap and we can talk after while. I got a few things I can do while you’re out.”


Vi let herself be led up the stairs. She protested when he offered up his own bed, but didn’t have the energy to fight him really. He took her bag and set it on a chair near the door then shooed her into the bed. She kicked her shoes off and stretched out, sighing in relief.


“I’ll come back and get you up for supper.” Mark said softly, tugging a blanket up. Vi made a low noise but did not really answer. She was already drifting off. He frowned in concern and leaned over, brushing some hair back from her face. She did not even move – she was definitely out of it. Mark shook his head and smiled a little, turning to head downstairs.


When Vi finally woke up it was dark. She panicked for a minute, unsure of exactly where she was. She could barely make out the dim shapes of furniture around the room.


A warm hand closed around her wrist and she jerked back, a scream caught in her throat.


“Hey…” A sleepy sounding voice right beside her ear spoke low, and the hand on her wrist let go long enough to wrap over her shoulders. “It’s just me. It’s ok. You’re at my house.” Like he knew what she had thought when she’d opened her eyes.


“Mark?” Vi had to ask. Mostly to cement it in her mind.


“Yeah. You scared the hell out of me, popping up like that.” He sounded amused. He rubbed her back lightly. “I tried to get you up to eat…but you didn’t budge. So I let you sleep. You wanted to come stay…remember?”


“Yeah. Yeah I know. Just…wow.” Vi huffed out a breath and laughed a little. “I really must have been tired…I’m sorry. And I took over your bed too.”


“Well it wasn’t like you were putting me out.” Mark said. He let go of her and shifted, fiddling with something next to the bed. A dim light came on. Vi still had to blink a few times to clear her vision. She caught sight of the alarm clock next to the bed and snorted. “I was asleep for almost twelve hours?”


“Pretty much.” Mark said, wincing at the light. “I saved you some food. Figured you might wake up hungry.”


“I’m good. For now. I do need to use your bathroom and change clothes.” Vi looked down at her t-shirt and felt grubby. She hated sleeping in her clothes. “Sorry I woke you up. I just forgot where I was.”


“You’re fine.” Mark said with a smirk. He lounged back on his pillow and watched as she went to her bag and grabbed it before ducking into the bathroom. Fifteen minutes later she was back, this time wearing a pair of shorts and a tank top. Vi had also taken the time to braid her hair back away from her face and brush her teeth.


She crawled back up on the bed and stretched out on her own pillow, smiling when Mark drew the blanket up over her again. She turned on her side, facing him, and sighed. He took that as his cue to reach over and turn off the light once more, dropping the room into darkness again.


“You work today?” She mumbled sleepily.


“Only if I feel like it.” Mark said with a smirk. “You gonna go back to sleep?” He sounded surprised at that.


“I was thinkin’ ‘bout it.” Vi felt him shift and drop an arm over her waist, pulling her closer. That was all right. It felt nice actually. She felt warm, safe…given her rotten night she would have thought the mere idea of a guy touching her would make her want to throw up. But apparently not this particular man. She let herself be pulled until she was up against his chest, her head pillowed by his arm, his chin on the top of her head.


As soon as she got comfortable she slept again. Mark smiled sleepily and followed her lead. He wasn’t going to begrudge her an extra long night of sleep, given how she’s sounded on the phone and how she’d looked when she’d arrived. But obviously she had a lot on her mind.


Vi woke up again a few hours later, just after the sky grew light. She blinked slowly and yawned, orienting herself once more to not being in her own bed. Her cheek was pressed against Mark’s bare chest and her hand had snaked around his waist at some point. He was still holding on to her in the same way they’d fallen asleep the second time.


“You’re still up too damn early.” Mark grumbled, his chin hitting her head when he spoke. Vi smirked and pulled herself out of his arms to stretch and move to the edge of the bed.


“So go back to sleep. I’m hungry.”


“Yeah? Help yourself.” Mark mumbled thickly and grabbed her pillow, using it to cover his head and block out the sunlight that was just starting to shine through the window. Vi shook her head and slipped from the room, heading down the stairs.


She was a little out of her element, in a strange kitchen and strange house, but she figured it out. She dug through the fridge and cabinets, grabbing things she’d need. In fifteen minutes she was cooking pancakes. Usually she reserved those for Josie, but she was so hungry that morning she figured it would fill her up.


She was almost done with the first batch when she heard footsteps overhead. Apparently Mark decided he wasn’t going to spend all day in bed the way she had yesterday. When he appeared in the kitchen she saw he’d put on a white t-shirt and was wearing the shorts he’d been sleeping in.